Archive for October, 2012

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (2012)

Starring- Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer, Andy Richter, Tom McGrath, Frances McDormand, Jessica Chastain, Bryan Cranston, Martin Short, Chris Miller, Christopher Knights, Conrad Vernon

Directors- Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath, Conrad Vernon

PG- some mild action and rude humor

Trailer- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVEinXUrEp0

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted is probably the worst DreamWorks Animation movie of all time.

Yeah. Meditate on that one.

(It is worth mentioning, if it changes the significance of that statement at all, that all memory of Shark Tale and Shrek the Third has been thankfully purged from my mind.)

(Also, I may or may not actually have seen the second one. I honestly cannot remember at all.)

In the third installment of the (apparently) hit franchise, Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer), and Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) continue on their journey back to the zoo that was originally their home, along with forty-two trillion other characters.

This time, they go to Europe, where they team up with a struggling and incompetent circus while trying to escape the watchful eye of Animal Control officer Captain DuBois (Frances McDormand).

On the whole, it’s beyond my understanding how this franchise continues to stick around. From the beginning, it’s seemed forgettable and mediocre, perhaps even purposefully so.

If the first two films were exercises in mediocre films being made somewhat less mediocre due to the presence of mildly amusing side characters, this is the one where those characters seem as though they don’t even amuse their creators anymore.

If one central problem could be identified with Madagascar 3, it’s that the whole thing feels phoned in to the umpteenth degree. It is a film lacking entirely in patience, in the ability to move an actual story forward rather than just generate random sequences of events.

The plot begins very nearly within the first shot. There’s no establishment of location or time or place. It’s just stuff happening, stuff happening, stuff happening. It’s another movie that feels like it ought to be over half an hour into its running time.

It’s paced like a Looney Toons cartoon, honestly, which wouldn’t be a problem, except that Looney Toons cartoons are fifteen minutes long. This movie is exhausting to watch, a cacophony of noise and color and light and action and stuff happening. Sparks of genuine imagination are rare, reserved for perhaps one or two scenes at most, both of which are reserved for the end of the film.

Visually, it’s a mess. The films have always taken a simple animation style, stylizing the characters and generally steering clear of texture and extreme detail. This is the first of the three films where it starts to look like a cop-out rather than a simple art direction.

Everything lacks detail, looking pasted on. Grass is rendered as a fuzzy green carpet-like substance that the characters stand on. The backgrounds frequently resemble matte paintings.

The climax is an impressive visual experience, for what it’s worth. Unfortunately, a full hour of flat, dry movie precedes it.

The humor is wildly inconsistent as well. The novelty of the secret agent penguins and King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen) has worn off something fierce, and they just can’t rescue the film anymore.

There are a few laughs to be found, admittedly, but they’re packed in a movie whose humor is so consistently dumb that you feel kind of cheated when you do chuckle, like the movie sneaked past your defenses and violated your intelligence somehow.

There’s very little to like about it that I can find. It’s unfunny in a way that approaches being aggressive, obnoxiously stereotypical, exhaustingly fast-paced, and almost entirely devoid of story, character, heart, and imagination.

And somehow, it’s Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

Leave your comment, and tell me what I missed.

-Matt T.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012)

Starring- Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Maggie Smith, Ronald Pickup, Celia Imrie, Dev Patel, Tena Desae, Lillete Dubey, Diana Hardcastle

Director- John Madden

PG-13- sexual content and language

Trailer- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDY89LYxK0w

Hey.

Hey, guys.

I just realized.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a movie wherein people bring Dev Patel all their elderly.

ha ha ha references only i understand

Anyway.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is mainly provoking reactions in me akin to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and The Woman in Black, in that when I try to place it in my yearly film list after completing this review, I’ll spend forever trying to decide if I basically liked it or was mostly left cold.

This isn’t helped by the fact that the movie is a mostly disparate collection of subplots, each with their own protagonist(s), some of which really world and some of which just don’t.

But, for simplicity’s sake, on the whole, it’s pretty much what you’re expecting — not terribly deep or complicated, pretty standard and somewhat basely manipulative, but, you know…sweet and largely likable. Take that as you will.

The film’s setting is the titular Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, an retirement home of sorts, located in India. The film follows a group of several British characters who each come to the hotel for a variety of personal reasons. Evelyn (Judi Dench) has been forced to sell her home in Britain after being left with her late husband’s debt. Judge Graham Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson) is facing down poor health, as well as a few personal demons. Douglas and Jean Ainslie (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton) are a struggling married couple looking for a new lease on life. And so on and so forth.

Naturally, the hotel turns out to be less than promised, aged and dilapidated. Despite the efforts of committed and overly optimistic manager Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel), it likely faces closure. But as Sonny likes to say, “Everything will be all right in the end, and if it’s not all right, it’s not the end.”

The film works in pretty much exactly the way you’d expect, with a cast like the one it has — performances. The actors were almost certainly selected for their chemistry. Despite being the type of film you’d expect to be replete with unsubtle developments — and it is, don’t get me wrong — it generally doesn’t have to spell out the characters’ relationships all that ham-fistedly, one or two exceptions aside. It’s very easy to get a fix on how these individuals feel about one another, and further developments come rather naturally out of this setup.

If there’s an exception to this rule, it pains me to say that it’s Dev Patel. It’s a shame, because I’m constantly rooting for the guy, being pretty much the only Indian actor with a shot at stardom, or at least a career, in America. Well, the only one who doesn’t strictly play ‘wacky minority guy’ roles.

So, it ends up being problematic that Sonny kind of is a wacky minority guy. It’s weird, because he shouldn’t be — he’s given depth and is the protagonist of his own subplot, trying to convince a stern parent to give blessing on his planned marriage to a woman of his own choice, in addition to trying to save the hotel. The problem is more that he plays the part the way Shia LaBeouf would, all stammering, speaking quickly, gesticulating in this wild and twitchy way. The character is likable off the bat, but his delivery wears thin.

The film tells its story as a ‘weaving of subplots’ type thing, where unrelated characters become connected by something as their own narrative arcs are carried out. The general problem with this — and the reason why I can’t say if I liked or disliked the film on the whole — is that some of these just work better than others.

Judi Dench is very likable here and is probably the easiest character to follow. So is Tom Wilkinson, for that matter. Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton exist in a strange midway point, however. They are interesting in their interactions with other characters, especially on Nighy’s end of things, but their own relationship is a touch stale. Their marriage is clearly crumbling, but this is painted in very broad strokes and without attention to detail. Beyond that, it is resolved in such a way that it essentially takes the easy path out, sweeping it under the rug and paying no heed to personal history, responsibility, or even potential consequences. They’re taken with varying degrees of seriousness as well. Ronald Pickup’s and Celia Imrie’s collective end-of-life-crises are more sitcom-like in presentation.

To be fair, even the film’s strongest characters are sketched rather broadly. This is not as bothersome as it might have been due firstly to the strong performances and secondly to the fact that it’s not really out to hurt anyone. The characterizations aren’t broad for the purposes of making anyone an explicit hero or villain who can be rooted for or against without any guilt sneaking in. Even the film’s more flawed characters are meant to be sympathized with and understood rather than hated, such as Maggie Smith’s quintessential Racist Grandma character. This should be one of the primary purposes of art, to bring out the humanity of all.

More bothersome for me personally is the fact that the film just plays out as so much “been there, done that,” with a pervasive sense that it’s setting up the pins just to knock them down. The resolution of each subplot is transparent largely from the outset, and it all plays out as expected.

One would expect that in a film full of aging characters, one of them would die before the credits roll. And indeed, one of them does. And so, the film makes sure to give that character a compelling arc, resolve it, and then kill him/her off immediately afterward. The purpose of this, naturally, is that audiences will be sad that he/she died, but bittersweet because he/she died happy.

I mean, I’m not heartless. I was sad during this scene. Emotional manipulation like that is only used because it works. But I was also aggravated, because all of a sudden, this character became nothing more than a construct to make the audience feel. That entire arc wasn’t there as part of the plot or themes, except in a very broad sense. It was there because it lent potency to the death scene. What I mean is that that character existed only to die.

It isn’t always manipulative on that base level, at least, not in the sense that it’s bothersome or decreases the quality of the film. But it’s moments like that that make the film feel like it’s simply playing out, like it knows what it’s expected to be and isn’t interested in being anything more than that.

The subplots, again, vary in quality. The one that results in death, disappointingly, is one of the better ones. But the others carry a lot of charm and a bit of humor. The film isn’t written or crafted with a brilliant hand, but it is a steady one at least. It doesn’t deserve to be hated. It has no ill intentions.

No, more frequently, it feels like a film that understands storytelling only in the way that it sees other movies doing it. It’s not cynically manipulative. Rather, it seems manipulative because, well, that’s how movies are made, right?

It has charm and sweetness, dashes of humor, and a few likable characters, and it means well overall. It’s not worth hating, maybe not even worth disliking. But loving? It’s too typical, and it vanishes from the memory too quickly for that.

 

-Matt T.

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)

Starring- Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Sam Claflin, Sam Spruell, Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, Johnny Harris, Brian Gleeson, Vincent Regan, Noah Huntley, Liberty Ross

Director- Rupert Sanders

PG-13- intense sequences of violence and action, and brief sensuality

Trailer- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DgfYBJoPFFw

For something like the first fifteen to twenty minutes of “Snow White and the Huntsman,” I was convinced I was going to come away thinking of it as sorely underrated.

How important it is that a movie work as a cohesive whole.

“Snow White and the Huntsman” is the sort of film that works wonderfully in moments. Take any given scene on its own and show it to people, and you’ll find few of them have much of anything negative to say about it. It’s how those scenes gel together that exposes cracks in the overall framework.

The film opens on lovely cinematography, including a number of particularly haunting and memorable images. The framing, color contrast, lighting, it all looks great. It’s extremely dark, as the trailers so strongly made clear, but it starts off convincingly enough to persuade even the most critical viewers that it might work. It’s difficult not to be immediately drawn in.

Problem is, it keeps its hand in the same bag of tricks and continues to draw from it over and over again. It exposes not a lack of imagination, but rather a limit on its scope. It has only so much to offer, and as great as that is, its monotone quality becomes its undoing.

By the half hour mark, I was bored. And it was all downhill from there.

When a harsh winter claims the life of the queen (Liberty Ross), the king (Noah Huntley) falls into depression and despair. Seizing upon his weakness, a dark army appears on the borders of the kingdom. The king leads his own forces against it and routs it, in the process rescuing one of its prisoners — Ravenna (Charlize Theron).

Of course, it was all part of the plan.

On their wedding night, Ravenna murders the king and inherits his throne, keeping his daughter Snow White (Kristen Stewart) as her prisoner. Years pass, and the spells that keep Ravenna young are losing their potency; she continues to feed off beautiful village girls, but it is less and less effective.

When her magic mirror informs her that within Snow White, the only living soul fairer than herself, lies the secret to her immortality, she pounces. But Snow White escapes and flees into the woods.

Ravenna’s own men find the Dark Forest impenetrable, so she seeks out someone who has been there before — the mysterious Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), a debt-ridden drunkard trying to bury his past.

But he has an agenda of his own and soon finds himself in an uncomfortable alliance with Snow White. The two of them begin forging their way to a rebel encampment, their only hope for salvation — and, perhaps, for that of their kingdom.

What’s primarily wrong with “Snow White and the Huntsman” is that it is an impossibly dour film, persistently and pervasively dark in a way that gives the heaviest moments of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy a run for their money.

This is not intended to say that a dark take on the Snow White story is impossible. In fact, the film makes a pretty good run of it, considering how it could’ve gone — and how the unintentionally humorous trailers made it seem like it would go.

The problem from which it suffers is the same one that somewhat bogged down this year’s “The Dark Knight Rises” — its mood is primarily, almost exclusively grim. It starts out in full-on apocalypse mode. Lighter, more humorous moments are almost entirely nonexistent. There are perhaps two or three. Of those, only one is filmed with actual colors and lights, rather than the gray overtone the other ones possess.

Ravenna is said to have broken this world. Unfortunately, that means very little to the audience. We never see what it looks like when it isn’t broken. We never see the characters in human moments — when they laugh, when they cry, when they love. They are all business and war and dire warnings. At a certain point, it becomes tiresome.

“Oh, a brown landscape shrouded in fog. This is a new thing.”

The dwarves go a long way toward remedying this. As is the norm with Snow White adaptations, they are the film’s liveliest characters. They also get the least amount of time devoted to them — and, naturally, it’s split eight ways.

But, on the darkness… Well, it’s clear “dark and gritty” is in, and nothing I say will do much of anything about it. I expected utter disaster from this; it’s not. As previously stated, in terms of moments, the film works; it just doesn’t cohere into a natural whole.

However.

A man gets impaled on the bottom of a jagged tree stump. Ravenna slowly sucks the life force out of dozens of simpering maidens. There is an attempted rape. Soldiers are doused in oil and burned to death. Around the time that Snow White tripped and collapsed face-first into a pile of decomposing bird corpses, it became clear to me that “Snow White and the Huntsman” had firmly crossed that line between “dark because it needs to be” and “look at me, I’m a big kid movie for big kids.”

It’s rather a shame, because there is skill on display throughout, much more than I had been led to expect. Rupert Sanders is a skillful director. In any given scene, he’s making the best of the imagery therein. The editing isn’t always spot-on, but it does the job. It’s somewhat a more patient and perhaps even subtle film for the norm in its genre. And though the film is noticeably miscast (Charlize Theron is over the top too often, making her outbursts predictable rather than jarring, and Kristen Stewart, while not unattractive, is simply not believable as the fairest in the land), Chris Hemsworth continues to impress, stealing the show once again. It even contrives a surprisingly convincing backstory for the normally unassailable Ravenna, one that makes some sense in context and lends her more depth than is spent on its protagonists.

But so much of it appears borrowed.

In particular, Sanders appears to have been a fan of Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood.” Perhaps beach battles are nothing new; perhaps even medieval beach battles are nothing new. But I have seen precisely two beach battles that looked like the ones that appeared here, and they are strikingly similar.

But it’s not simply that. I easily identified shots from “Lord of the Rings,” sets and art direction from “Harry Potter,” and a general sense of Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” throughout.

The film is its own thing for about fifteen minutes. After it burns out its own imagination, it begins borrowing ceaselessly, and that is its undoing.

To be honest, I didn’t particularly expect “Snow White and the Huntsman” and “Mirror Mirror” to be good films (though the former certainly has a few high-profile defenders). However, it surprises me greatly to say that I find “Mirror Mirror” to be the superior of the two. It was fundamentally obnoxious, sure, but well cast, visually varied, and fully aware of what it was.

“Snow White and the Huntsman” is dour and self-serious beyond any rhyme or reason. It looks nice. It is competently assembled. Its dark moments work, but they are swimming in a sea of other dark moments. It’s a monotone experience, ultimately, oppressive and exhausting.

 

-Matt T.