Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Tree of Life (Or, The Movie That Could Have Been Great)

I'm not really sure what I just watched, but it was kind of pretty.
The Tree of Life is an overly ambitious venture into uncharted territory. Director Terrence Mallick tries to tackle the big subjects of death, life, beginnings, ends, nature, and grace with subtlety and beauty, but ends up feeling pretentious and becomes too abstract to make any sense.
I turned the movie off about half way through, simply because nothing was making any sense. I was bored and honestly, watching had become a chore.
The cinematography is stunning, and the score is quite stirring, and the acting is adequate (Jessica Chastain is particularly good here). But there is literally no narrative in the tree of life. None. I tried to be open to the movie, but The Tree of Life definitely would've benefitted from some actual story telling. It's very stream of consciousness story telling, but it doesn't work in this instance. I really needed some sense of direction in such an abstract movie.
I respect what The Tree of Life was trying to do, but it falls short of it's huge goals. There's a reason this movie hasn't been made before,  and that is because all of the things the film tries to cover are just too big for 2 and a half hours. It was a valiant effort though.
In conclusion:


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Iron Lady Review

Oscar season came and went too fast for me. I still haven't seen a couple of the movies I vowed to see before the ceremony (although I did see everything that won. Just flaunting my hipster status). The only movie I had yet to watch that won anything important was The Iron Lady, for which Meryl Streep won Best Actress for portraying Margaret Thatcher.
I finally got a chance to check out the movie with my mom today, and I really enjoyed it. It's an interesting portrait of a little talked about political figure (well, on this side of the pond at least).
The story is told mostly in flashbacks. A very aged Margaret Thatcher keeps hallucinating that her husband, a very hilarious Jim Broadbent,  is talking to her as she sorts through his old things, giving way to flashbacks from her political career from beginning to end.
The acting is excellent, and the content is made interesting through good screenplay and excellent source material.
The film makers use real footage with the movie as well, giving it a really real feel. The Iron Lady is not an extremely dramatic biopic. It feels realistic in my opinion.
Something interesting that I noticed was that the colors in the flashbacks are more vivid than in the present-day scenes. There is a lot of blue in the Iron Lady, navy in the past and pale in the present. It was just a  cool way of making everything work together to tell a story.
I did get a little bored a few times. The story is interesting, but the movie wears out it's welcome.
But it's definitely an excellent British drama. I'd recommend it to those who liked films like The King's Speech.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Born To Die by Lana Del Rey Reviewed!

Occasionally, Amazon will run these really great sales on MP3 albums, which I usually don't get, but sometimes it's just too tempting to pass up.

So I was checking my updates from them tonight and I had five bucks left from a bookstore trip, and Lana Del Rey's "Born To Die" pops up under the lovely price of three dollars, so I gave it a go.

Out of the 12 tracks on the album, only about five of them are worth even listening to. And most of those were on the short EP that was released before the album.
The fact of the matter is that the lyrical tone, pace, and instrumentation of the album is consistently the same except for two songs. It's slow, sad, swirling, lush music put to the syrupy, 60's inspired "vocals' of Miss Del Rey.  If that description makes you a bit sleepy, the actual album will be more effective than a sleep pill for you.
I'm not saying that it's all horrible and awful and nobody should be allowed to listen, it's just very blah and boring. Lana tries for scandalous beats and an old fashioned sense of sensuality, but hits the "I'm trying really hard to be hipster" level. It's almost sad really, because there are some genuine moments on the album.
For example, the song that launched her fame, Video Games is easily the best song on the album. It sounds like what everything on this album wants to be, but isn't. There is a sense of sweet sadness and the slow, moving, instrumentation is all really soothing.
One of the other highlights is Diet Mountain Dew. Whereas the early demo was slow and dreamy, this one is the only track on Born To Die where the speed of the song actually speeds up and feels alive.
I also liked Blue Jeans, Summertime Sadness, and the title Track, because while Lana's sound is distinct and easily recognizable, it's also very boring after 12 tracks. These 5 tracks are the best taste of the album you will get.

The other 7 tracks are disappointing to say in the least. Off To The Races and Carmen are especially abysmal. Something happened during the writing of Born To Die, and it seems like all the creative power that may or may not have been Lana Del Rey lost steam and really really wanted to write about something else instead of the melancholy love story that is all Born To Die seems to talk about. Literally three quarters of the lyrical content can be summed up in a bit of the chorus from Blue Jeans: "I will love you 'til the end of time/I would wait a million years/Promise you'll remember that you're mine/Baby, can you sit through the tears?
I myself could not sit through said tears. While I will admit that my life is not sunshine and rainbows, this album is so slow and depressing towards the end that it's hard to keep from falling asleep or doing laundry while listening.
It feels like Miss Del Rey was trying to create a portrait of a corrupted world where hot guys with tattoos always leave like you expected them to stay, trips to The Hamptons aren't that expensive, and maybe material success isn't all you'd hoped it would be. ALL of the album tone can be summed up in more lyrics, this time from the aptly titled National Anthem: "Money is the anthem of success/Now before we go out, kiss kiss/....or /God, you're so handsome/take me to the Hamptons.

I can honestly say that if this album had been more varied in it's lyrical content and instrumentaion, I would've liked it better. Lana's voice is smooth and her image is interesting, but it becomes so old and stale and boring after the first five songs that it's easy to give up on.

Say what you will about Born To Die, but there are some shining moments. They're just outdone by all the bland tracks that follow.


Friday, March 23, 2012

(Actual) Hunger Games Review!! (This Will Contain Spoilers)

Sorry for the little prank-y thing I pulled there. I'll review the movie now.

Well, the deed is done. The Hunger Games has been unleashed upon the world.
And I am so happy that the movie has come out the way it has.
As a  movie critic, and as a fan of the books, this movie truly satisfies both mindsets. I'm incredibly impressed.

Let's divide this  up into categories so I can get it all in my head.

-Jennifer Lawrence delivers a powerful performance as Katniss Everdeen, a role I was sure would take a miracle to pull off. She does it effortlessly and accurately, portraying Katniss exactly as she was in the books. I am so happy that we have her as our leading lady for the movies.

-WOODY HARRELSON IS THE BEST! Haymitch is my favorite character and I am so glad he has been done justice here, used for full comedy effect, but also serious when he needs to be. If you loved Haymitch in the books, you're gonna love him even more here. Oh my Gandalf, he was amazing. I'm really looking forward to his scenes in the coming movies.

-The leading men, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth, do well also. I liked Hemsworth more than I thought I would. And Josh carries Peeta's sweetness and shy humor with ease and really embodies the character. I was initially really hesitant about these guys, but they passed my expectations.

-Elizabeth Banks and Lenny Kravitz as Effie Trinket and Cinna respectively also shine for the screen. Elizabeth plays Effie just so, striking the balance between crass and naive. Cinna is a hard character to mess up, but the calm assured aspects of Kravitz's take on him are perfect. Spot on.

-One of the aspects I loved most about the film as a whole was that not everything was handed to you on a plate. They never say that Haymitch is smarter than everyone; you already know from the way they portray him. Katniss never says anything about Rue reminding her of Prim; you just know it from the way she acts around her. It's really nice to be treated as an intelligent audience member.

-I liked how they expanded everything from Katniss' perspective. The movie almost makes Seneca Crane a main character, as well as President Snow. You see a lot of the Game Maker's quarters, The Everdeen's watching their Katniss, Gale watching Peeta and Katniss kiss for the cameras, Haymitch keeping a watchful eye on the T.V., ect. It was a book fan's dream.

-The score was really effective. It was futuristic, but at the same time very Appalachian.

-The violence is toned down, but not in   a way you expect. Gary Ross pulls an Alfred Hitchcock and lets a lot of the violence happen off screen. For example, Rue's death is shows, and Katniss ings to her and covers her in flowers, but the spear wound is small and doesn't bleed  much. And Cato's death is over in a matter of seconds (Thank God). It definitely stays within the confines of it's PG-13 rating.

-The Arcade Fire song at the end "Abraham's Daughter" is so great. I'm glad that the companion album wasn't used in the film, but this song fits the movie so well.

-The only thing that put me off a bit was all the shaky camera work. Most of the combat scenes are filmed with a handheld camera so it disorients you a bit, which I think is the point of the technique, but it still gets you a bit dizzy.

One more thing before I go.  A lot of people were complaining that the political stuff was cut, and I do agree, but here's how I see it:

1. Character relationships
2. Political Intrigue.
3. Good action sequences.
4. Slower bits.
5. Good acting.

Pick three. Gary Ross definitely went with what younger fans would want. I hope he gets to more of the political intrigue in Catching Fire though.

I'm so happy with The Hunger Games. Recommended for fans of the books and newcomers as well. Not to be missed.


Hunger Games Review!


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Happy Hunger Games!

The day has come! Tonight is the midnight permiere of The Hunger Games, a dystopian book trilogy that's taken the world by storm. Girl will wear I HEART PEETA shirts, parents will be in aghast at what their children have been reading, tears and blood will be shed in equal (in the movie and real life probably), popcorn will be popped, and I will be there.
I've been waiting for a Games movies since I finished the first book in 2010. It's been really amazing to watch the movie be cast, the trailers released, the fan girls arise, etc. So here are some things I have to say about the movie.

Jennifer Lawrence is poised to be a really big star.  I can't wait to see her delve into being Katniss. She really seems to understand the character from what I've heard from her in interviews.
Josh Hutcherson also seems to understand Peeta well, and he also has the added plus of being pretty adorable as well. Liam Hemsworth is the only one I'm concerned about really. I just don't know about him.

I'm also really really really really want to see Woody Harrelson playing the drunken yet intelligent Haymitch Abernanthy. We've seen very little of him in the trailers which was disappointing, because Haymitch is one of my favorite characters.  It's the same situation with Rue as well, played by Amndla Steinberg.

What are y'all excited about? May the odds be ever in your favor (when you try to get good seats in the theater).

I'll write a review for the movie tomorrow.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Divergent by Veronica Roth Review

Divergent is a strange little book. It was hyped up for sure, but it wasn't abysmal like many hyped up books are. But I'm not saying it's the best either. 
I'm going to divide this into a Good and Bad list for my sanity. 

The Good 

-The world building is cool, but half-baked (I'll get to that in the bad section). The factions are interesting, and being a super nerd, the names fit perfectly. 
-Beatrice's evolution as a character is thoughtful and interesting (but also with it's problems). 
-All the plot twists actually MEANT something. 
-The initiation was interesting in the way that the Hunger Games was interesting (very twisted and wrong but undeniably interesting). 
-The tension builds up very nicely. 
-The plot twist at the end and the epic battle were super cool. I don't remember the last time I got an actual showdown in a book. I honestly just can't think of one in the last two years. 

The Bad 

-The world building has no scope. It makes it seem like the factions are really really small and close together, but also very far apart. It was really disorienting. 
-Disappearing and/or confusing Side Character Syndrome runs rampant in Divergent. There are hosts of random characters whom I could never keep track of and it became incredibly confusing towards the end of the book. Not good. 
-The whole "OHMYGOD FOUR IS SO FRIKKIN HOT I LIKE HIM A LOT" thing just kind of doesn't do anything for me at the start of the book. I like it better as it goes on, but in the beginning it's more than a little weird, considering Four may or may not be a brutal killer. 
-The pacing is SO LONG. I know a lot of stuff is bulit up to and the Initiation does have it's good bits but it goes on forever. I wish we had more time for the epic (view spoiler)
-Beatrice is really annoying sometimes. There are moments, however short they may be, but every so often, where she talks about how selfish she is. While everything she does might seem a little selfish after living in Abnegation, I still don't understand why you couldn't save whoever it was or stand up for whoever while you're moping. It's downright ridiculous. 
NOTE: I still enjoyed this book for what it was worth.