Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Case for Movie Greatness

POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is a really long title.  But the film is all about being big, bold and making a name for oneself - in particular, a name that attracts sponsorship.

You may know Morgan Spurlock from other documentaries like Supersize Me.  He's a very aimiable man, brimming with confidence and a sense of the absurd, and not averse to making a bit of a dick of himself.  Which helps in this movie, as he is both selling himself out and staying true to himself by investigating how people can sell themselves out.  POM Wonderful, Mini Cooper, a restaurant and pizza chain, a brand of shoe and an airline all come on board - eventually - to assist in making the movie about getting sponsors on board.

Of course, part of the movie is looking at how sponsors can influence product that they have been brought in to support.  This is all pretty obvious stuff - product placement can be incredibly obvious, though Spurlock showed me how it can actually be even more prevalent than I thought.

I won't dwell on this film.  POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is everything it says on the cover, and not really that surprising.  Trusty doomsayers like Noam Chomsky and Ralph Nader are wheeled out to provide their two cents, but there is no real confrontation of "sell outs" to see what they think of having sold their souls to the advertising devils.  I laughed, I loved the horse/human shampoo, and I have had a craving for POM's pomegranate juice ever since.

Verdict: There's not much I can say about POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. It's an entertaining movie, and enjoyable enough, but already dimming in my memory, even if the desire to imbibe a certain antioxidant-rich fruit juice.  7 Hyatt hotels out of 10.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Case for Cinematic Beginnings

You may have noticed, this blog is devoted ostensibly to films.

I see a lot of them. Really. And, as I wrote the last entry, something struck me recently upon which I have not really dwelled. 

As you know, before each film comes the little “promo” sequence for the company or companies who have made this triumph/travesty possible. 

As the Family Guy pointed out, some of these intros are pretty impressive and some of them are spectacularly long, sometimes taking on the appearance of a mini film themselves: 

I have previously mentioned that I like the Relativity Media one for fairly obvious reasons:

And the Universal intro is pretty cool, especially when it is “mixed up” for the movie that follows:

The Fox (nee 20th Century Fox) introduction is a classic, though for me it will always be associated with Star Wars, except for the campy version which precedes The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Paramount’s is a bit dull, as is the one for United Artists, but they’re inoffensive rather than irritating.  I do like the Warner’s “resting on Casablanca’s laurels” version, though it is not overly inspirational either: 

Now for some brickbats. 

I am not sure if it is part of a “big evil corporation” feeling I have about the company, but the CGI Disney introduction is one of my least appreciated.  I always notice that the door seems to be part of a moat these days (perhaps reflective of the impregnable, unassailable Disney empire?) and for some reason this really annoys me.  Oddly enough, I don’t find the simplified Pixar version of same quite as disagreeable.  Odd.

But, to round off the “ughs”, I can’t really go past the Dimension Films one; I mean, well, its just pretty dull really.  How many Dimensions is that again?  Ah well.

Verdict: The production company credits definitely do not make or break a film, but they are fun to judge nonetheless. If you have your own favourites or pet hates, let me know. 8 credits out of 10.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Case for Western Aliens

I wonder if they alternate the opening "studio" credits for Cowboys and Aliens?  I personally quite like the Relativity Media titles, which were not shown, though we still got the silent Paramount stars, the fishing Dreamworker and, my favourite, the fantastic opening fanfare of the Universal Pictures introduction which always makes me feel totally ready to invade the puny planet around which the logo orbits like a protective equatorial shield. 

The number of contributing companies to this movie is perhaps a little bit of a warning: were the movie houses so unsure of this film that not one of them was keen to fund the whole thing by themselves?  Or is it an indication that the Special Effects budget was too big for just one of them to handle?

Whatever the reason, the combined power of all these studios means that Cowboys and Aliens enjoys a huge budget and suffers from a story designed by a cliché committee.

I could not fault the pick of leads that such a budget allowed, with Daniel Craig his regular stonily stoic self, battered and beaten at every opportunity, and with Harrison Ford all gruff charm.  The rest of the cast kind of fade into their clichéd characters (even Sam Rockwell), looking pretty in a dirty way and contributing little besides being the living cardboard upon which their cartoonish characters are drawn.

While the plot may have been drawn in crayon (colourful but childlike), when things happen, it all gets very exciting.  Aliens are always good villains (unstoppable until they are. stopped), and as Craig is a bit of a masochist, the hero gets bloodied in several fairly physical encounters.

But the faults in the movie are more apparent when things slow down, because it all gets frightfully boring.  Besides Craig and Ford, I was pretty okay with all the humans dying and was in fact a bit disappointed when a few of them were still alive.  There are attempts at manly bonding and inspirational speeches and I think something approaching humour, but it all falls pretty flat and unfortunately stays lying there for far too long. 

The film runs to two hours but it feels so much longer.  I got bored with the number of times the main posse would set off riding, encounter a group (human or alien), have some sort of altercation, and then head off riding again just to run into another group (human or alien) for the next altercation.  And so on.  And, at the end, while the final climactic showdown is pretty explosive stuff, quite why tides and turned and what tactics work make little (to no) sense.

But I knew that Cowboys and Aliens would be dumb going in, thanks to TV3's Kate Rodger.  I listened, but I ignored.  And, despite the stupidity, I have to say I came out having enjoyed it more than having been annoyed by it.  A minor victory, but a victory nonetheless.

Verdict: Cowboys and Aliens looks and feels expensive, and is all style over substance.  It's always great to see Harrison Ford all swash buckley, but there is far too much risible "serious" stuff in what really should be good old fashion hokum.  5 scalps out of 10.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Case for Some More Odd Photos - Mid 2011 Edition

Some of the odder images of what I saw in my recent trip to Cambodia:

1)  Never had I seen so much boob enhancing cream.  Never had I even suspected it existed.

2) There was just something so WRONG about the look of this cereal

3) You could jet around town in a batmobile...

4)  Who wouldn't want to belong to this bank?  Well, possibly those who do not like tomatoes...

5) The Sibling Band.  The name is definitely descriptive.

6)   I may have misunderstood this. I mean, it is mis-spelled.  But did I really?

7)  What everybody wants - a Bieber cut.

8)  Anti Hair Fall Shampoo?  Jackie, I should have listened to you a whole lot sooner!

9) Not an odd photo at all - just lots of chocolate!

10) Another in my ongoing "odd mannequin" collections.

11) There used to be a Hungry Kiwi Pizza brand in NZ - could this be related?

12)  And finally - what is the asterisk for?  Does fun come with conditions?

Verdict: Oh, how I love travel!  I find the oddest things highly entertaining - and with the age of the digital camera, snapping said images to share with others has never been easier!  9 snaps out of 10.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Case for Avenging First

Become the best you can be, and the best in the world, by the injection of chemicals directly into your body!  While that seems to be the motto of Olympians, Tour de France cyclists and bodybuilders these days, the original patriot to take the chemical advantage for God and country was good old boy, Captain America.

The morality of how Captain America: The First Avenger gains his superpowers is never really mentioned (well, they wouldn’t have back in WWII either, I am sure), but his qualities as a true blue, fair dinkum, all American boy just wanting to do the right thing are well established in his first film, even while the whole film is structured as a lead in for the super cadre film, Avengers, due next year.

Chris Evans takes the whole thing very seriously, looking very blond and buff in the part and playing everything incredibly straight.  It’s therefore left to Tommy Lee Jones to liven up proceedings, cracking the (successful) jokes and at least looking like he is having a bit of fun.  Hugo Weaving is very good at playing bad, and as the Red Skull gets to add a German accent to his nationalities of evil, though he is evil with a capital E and so does very dastardly stuff and has a master plan to destroy the world (starting with the USA of course), all in a pretty formulaic way.  And Hayley Atwell as the love interest does a great Kate Beckinsdale impression, all prim and proper Britishness with a twist of potential naughtiness.

From the above, you probably can guess I was a little underwhelmed by the film.  The film is over two hours long, and feels it, dragging in parts of the beginning and the middle, and even a little bit at the end.  The magnificent war machines are wonderfully mad, but the morphing and action CGI that go on around Chris Evans are, if not always bad, then unfortunately obvious, and the most vim and vigour seems to have been invested in an interminable patriotic investors’ rally.

For all that, the film is not bad.  It hovers around a Green Lantern level on the recent superhero movie releases, and it is miles better than the attempt at a Captain America movie from last century.  There are lots of explosions and ticks all the cliché boxes, including a brief appearance by Stan Lee.

But again it feels a bit perfunctory, made just to provide the origin story of the good Captain before the Avengers are assembled.  The preview for the Avengers movie which followed Captain America: the First Avenger film definitely looked appetising, though I think the appearance of Robert Downey Junior had a lot to do with that. 

As for Captain America: the First Avenger, a few people behind me found it the greatest movie ever (by their reaction) though their delayed excitement may just have been a sign that they had thawed after being amongst the few people to go to Readings in the snowy weather (I don’t think I have ever seen the food court so empty on a Tuesday).  For me and my companions though, we all agreed that it was good, not great.  But I was glad I saw it.

Verdict: Captain America: the First Avenger was a passable movie, with heaps of action though none of it terribly convincing, and a bit of humour very sparingly sprinkled.  It will be interesting to see what the combination of this, Thor and Iron Man turns into.  For now though, Captain America: the First Avenger is... okay.  6.5 American Flags out of 10.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Case for Movies in Miniature

I wasn’t able to see many of the International Film Festival films this year due to a scheduling conflict.  But I was able to make it to one.  And a quirky little film it was too.

Tiny Furniture, held in the confines of the cell phone cancelling cinema in Te Papa (actually, that’s a pretty good idea, but perhaps there are health and safety and potential terrorist attack reasons that cell phone dampeners are not employed in all cinema salons?), started off as a very cute little film that seemed almost like a college effort, judging by the occasionally groan worthy acting on display.  Then I realised that the major groans were reserved for the stilted delivery of Aura’s mother (ouch, very painful; perhaps she is the director or something?) and the less polished performance of the teenage daughter.  The performances of the main, post college cast (held together by the dry confidence of the aforementioned and pretty awesome Aura) were actually all pretty solid, even if their characters may have left a bit to be desired.

“Quirk” can go several ways.  It can either be an oddball character kind of thing, where almost everyone has some strange traits that make them goofy/lovable/annoying in a laugh-at-them kind of way, or it can be all about really strange happenings occurring to some otherwise relatively normal people.  While I would tend to put Scott Pilgrim Versus the World in the latter, Tiny Furniture definitely falls into the former.  Aura and her family are the (baseline) normal characters in their New York of aspiring young people currently adrift, waiting for something to kick them along.  Nothing does, but it is that type of film.

All the characters are annoying, to one degree or another.  The guys are either moochers or users, and the females are… well, almost everything else.  Aura is definitely the most sympathetic character, which her apparent lack of modesty (refreshing, considering her not quite Hollywood physique), but her friend Charlotte, though appalling in many ways, plays the Patsy to Aura’s Eddie and so ends up stealing almost every scene that she is in.

It would be nice to say that this film is more “real” than Hollywood fare, and from a certain point of view, being an Independent film and all, it kind of is.  But the lives, while perhaps mundane, are far from ordinary (well, they are pretty fantastical to my own experience, but that might not be that hard) and the film definitely seemed to strike a chord more with the University students in the audience than almost anyone else.  One young lady next to me was snorting so much at certain points in the movie that I was a bit worried she was going to end up on convulsions on the floor, while a man behind me found certain scenes so amusing his belly laugh meant that his head ended up merely a few centimetres from my head.  My movie companions, meanwhile, were on the other end of the spectrum of reaction, running from less impressed than me to not impressed at all – and I was the eldest.

Verdict: Tiny Furniture was a fun, slight film to go and see.  Never taking itself too seriously but never really going anywhere, it seemed happy to wander around, with characters popping in and out, and a strange bookend about the early life of Aura’s mother that probably was meant as something quite profound but which passed me by in my puzzled, aged state.  6 small chairs out of 10.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Case for Cambodian Coincidence

The smile.  The mullet.  The dark complexion.

Is this man the Cambodian John Rowles?

Verdict: The world is a very strange place, but it's nice to know that there is a John in every country.  5 cheesy smiles out of 5.