Tag: 2012

Movie Review: Mirror Mirror (2012)

Mirror-Mirror-Lily-Collins-Bird

Seen: On my laptop, streamed from netflix instant.

The other day I was exhausted and felt like lying in bed with a movie on, intending to fall asleep eventually. Wouldn’t you know I put on Mirror Mirror on a whim and ended up watching the whole thing, curled up in bed. This re-imagining of the Snow White tale begins with the wicked Queen (Julia Roberts) describing how she took over a magical kingdom by bewitching the king, causing his death, and essentially placing his daughter, Snow White (Lily Collins), under house/castle arrest. She’s obsessed with beauty and glamor and wealth, and bleeds the people dry with her tax demands under the cover of paying for protection against some mysterious beast. After she turns 18 the timid Snow finally gains some backbone and plots to reclaim her kingdom with the help of a confused prince (Arnie Hammer) and a band of valiant dwarf bandits. The queen is pretty set on murdering Snow through various magical attacks, though, so Snow will have to acquire some self-defense skills through a TRAINING MONTAGE. Oh yeah.

Let me state for the record that the regular story of Snow White is pretty sucky, mostly boring and maudlin and sexist, so I’m totally down with updates of it, and Mirror Mirror does a decent job of it. The sarcastic humor, exaggerated visuals (Helloooo Tarsem!), and, most importantly, focus on the main character’s development as a multifaceted human woman instead of a bland, beautiful damsel in distress, are all welcome cinematic elements. I’m not really into Julia Roberts but she is gleefully malicious and sardonically funny as the wicked queen, while gliding about in hilariously huge ball gowns. She’s evil but also kind of incompetent, and she’s less a threat and more tangible motivation for Snow to stand up for herself. Collins is a little too subdued in her performance, I think, but for the most part I liked her, and I liked how her character was handled. Young and naive but also brave, stubborn, and a surprisingly good fencer. The dwarf characters steal the show, as goofy as they are badass, and I dug their action scenes on accordion stilts.

As a whole the film is a bit slow but I must say between the clever script and drop-dead visuals I was entertained the whole time. I mean, it’s Tarsem Singh, I knew it would be pretty, and man is it pretty. Eiko Ishioka’s fanciful, colorful costumes are icing on an already delicately baked cake. Everything is just sugary and colorful and elaborate, and while the CG landscapes aren’t always the best the sets are truly elegant. And Arnie Hammer’s multiple bouts of shirtlessness aren’t anything to complain about, either. All in all a fun, sweet film that manages to subvert the typically passive Snow White characterization while still keeping the atmosphere light, funny, and adventurous. There’s a nice Bollywood-style dance number at the end, too, as I am never one to scoff at unexpected musical numbers cropping up in movies.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: I think its tone, sourcing, and general fantasy-satire thing are in line with Enchanted, which I enjoy a whole lot.

Movie Review: Friends With Kids (2012)

Friends-With-Kids-4

Seen: On my laptop, streamed from netflix instant.

I missed this in theaters and had wanted to check it out mainly for the great cast and because I always mean to pay more attention to Jennifer Westfeldt. The main premise centers around long-time best friends Jason (Adam Scott) and Julie (Jennifer Westfeldt), who love each other platonically and sadly watch as their married best friends Alex (Chris O’Dowd) and Leslie (Maya Rudolph) and Missy (Kristen Wiig) and Ben (Jon Hamm) struggle through the emotional strain of child-rearing. Jason and Julie both want a child but aren’t in serious relationships, and so they decide to have a baby together as friends, with completely equal custody, finances, and time commitments but none of the romantic fallout. Their experiment works surprisingly well for several months, but their situation becomes more complicated when they each find their supposed “one” and their feelings for one another gradually change.

Remember that I’m weirdly a sucker for romantic comedies, and even though most of them suck I watch them more often than you’d probably think. The combination of actors I like and indie cred lent Friends With Kids a positive aura, even if I remember reading unfavorable reviews. For me it was an enjoyable, well-written film if hackneyed and drawn-out in its conclusion. The foundation of Julie and Jason’s friendship is really strong, and I always enjoy stories about platonic friendships between men and women just because you don’t see it too often where it isn’t secretly about sex and/or love. Several of my closest friends have been dudes so I like seeing it represented, even if in this case I knew it would probably ultimately end in romance. Scott and Westfeldt are funny and believable in their friendship (though they’re both naive and self-absorbed as people) and it was actually pretty interesting to see how their experimental baby-rearing worked out. I liked how the film wasn’t really about children, but about how having children can affect adult relationships. It’s shallow and ridiculous at times but it does try to grapple with these issues in a realistic way.

The dialogue is often hilarious and I liked most of the cast in their roles- though Wiig didn’t get much to do, sadly, and Chris O’Dowd, while great, was not convincing me with that accent. And yes, Megan Fox is there as a sexy young person who doesn’t like kids, which I can dig, but her character is kind of a non-entity. The real failing, for me, was how the story progressed. A lot of time passes over the course of 107 minutes, and the constant movement of years and months later made it drag and I just felt like the plot moves erratically. The ending is also pretty stupid. I mean, I knew this was all going to end in lovey-dovey cliches but jeez, the way it was done was just weird. And while Jason was a good friend, he seemed like a dick boyfriend, so I actually just wanted him and Julie to remain friend-parents and maybe forget the romantic stuff. Like they could realize that this great friendship was so strong they didn’t really need to fret over serious romantic commitments, or something?

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Mmm I don’t know, I would recommend Westfeldt’s debut Kissing Jessica Stein which is also about the line between friendship and romance, but honestly I don’t remember it very well so I can’t say how good it is? For more Adam Scott being a lovable jerk there’s always Party Down.

Movie Review: The Man With the Iron Fists (2012)

Man With The Iron Fist

Seen: On our projector set-up, streamed from Miles’s harddrive.

So it’s my understanding that RZA is just a big kung fu nerd, and all he wants is to hang out in East Asia with people doing martial arts, and I think that’s pretty cute. The Man With the Iron Fists is his personal tribute to Asian martial arts movies, focusing on a small town where warring gang members are always seeking vengeance for something or other. It becomes known that a traveling envoy carrying treasure for the emperor will be passing through, and suddenly everyone in town has an eye for power. The major players include the ruthless Silver Lion (Byron Mann), conniving brothel owner Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu), mysterious visitor Jack Knife (Russell Crowe), and vengeful Zen Yi, The X-Blade (Rick Yune). Caught between them all is the local weapons maker known as Blacksmith (RZA), who just wants to save up enough money to leave with his lover Lady Silk (Jamie Chung), who works for Madam Blossom. There’s, um, lots of fighting.

I recognize that this isn’t an especially well thought-out movie, or even well-made, but I can’t say it isn’t fun. The story is convoluted and most of the acting is either terribly exaggerated or hilariously flat (usually purposefully, I think/hope), and the whole thing is obviously a rather self-indulgent project for RZA to share his love of Asian action films. Luckily, the cast is excellent, and the action is generally very well-done, anddddd I have low standards. I loved the ridiculous characters and weird non sequiturs, especially the totally bizarre end credits sequence. There’s an interesting range of weaponry, and lots of attractive people fighting, plus magic for some reason! Like, there’s a dude whose body is secretly made of brass (he’s called BRASSBODY) and a little bit of Dragonball Z shit thrown in for good measure. I was most taken in by the Geminis, who were either married or brother and sister (who cares?). Their fight scene is fucking extreme, and that’s the point where the movie won my favor. I mean, seriously, these two like merge to create an ultimate fighting machine and they kill a hundred bad guys and it’s the most badass thing! And also later Lucy Liu and her ladies all become slinky poison warriors and it’s a nice payoff for their otherwise passive presence in the film.

I didn’t like Russell Crowe at all, his character didn’t make any sense plus his fight scenes were boring, but he’s not a particularly major figure since it’s really more balanced ensemble piece. And at least his knife/gun contraption is kind of cool. RZA isn’t too charismatic but he doesn’t give himself many lines, and when he gets the titular iron fists (spoiler?) he manages to get in some good action bits even though it’s clear he’s not a trained fighter. If anything, I could tell he was having a blast making this movie and it was endearing. As a partially self-aware, partially genuine throwback to martial arts movies of the 70s, it mostly works, though it’s necessary to not think too much about it to truly enjoy it. What it lacks in writing and performances it somewhat makes up for in enthusiasm, anyway.

Oh and the soundtrack is great, obviously!

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: The styling of the gangs and the referential elements reminded me of Sukiyaki Western Django, and the over-the-top violence and imaginative weaponry put me in mind of Yakuza Weapon. You’d have a fun, bloody triple feature with those!

Movie Review: Searching for Sugar Man (2012)

sugar manSeen: On our projector set-up, streamed from Miles’s harddrive.

Well you know me, consistently behind on all the hot documentaries of any given year, but I finally caught up with Searching for Sugar Man. Tracing the short-lived career of folk-rock singer Rodriguez and its strange aftermath, the film follows the impact of his music on the people of South Africa during Apartheid. Though virtually unknown in his United States home, there Rodriguez is more revered than Elvis Presley and his politically-charged songs are considered integral to the development of revolutionary opposition in the 70s and 80s. Long thought dead by a dramatic on-stage suicide, he is discovered alive and working in construction in Detroit decades after his only two records had been released, thanks to the efforts of diehard South African fans in the music business. His rediscovery leads to huge shows in South Africa and the possibility of a new album.

I’ve got some mixed feelings on this one. It’s an interesting story and Rodriguez himself makes for a fascinating and likable subject, but the actual doc has some problems. Certain information is passed over to make the story of his rediscovery more dramatic, and the talking heads seemed intent on maintaining a sensationalist approach to the tale. The thrust of the film is definitely the musician’s impact on and loyalty of his South African fans, as opposed to Rodriguez himself. He remains something of a soft-spoken mystery, either because that’s how he actually presents himself or that’s how the filmmakers wanted him to appear. It’s a little frustrating, because while he seems like a really talented and intelligent guy, I felt like there was this manufactured enigma built around him. His music is great (I don’t really care about the “cheap Bob Dylan” comparisons since I don’t listen to much Dylan), and his biography is pretty engaging. The scattered and questionable nature of the film’s narrative is what made it disappointing, since it always felt like there was more to tell about a certain aspect of it. I wanted more of Rodriguez himself, more about his short career, more about his music’s impact during Apartheid, more about the search for him and the record company who owned his work. It’s not that the doc needed to be longer, it just could have been more focused or more comprehensive.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Ack, I don’t know, I haven’t really seen many music documentaries. Maybe Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods since that’s another portrait of a somewhat enigmatic artist with a cult following?

Movie Review: Hodejegerne (Headhunters) (2012)

headhuntersSeen: On our projector set-up, streamed from netflix instant.

Goodness will the stream of 2012 movies I missed never end? Probably not, since I’m typically terrible at catching up with these things. Anyway Headhunters tells the woeful tale of smarmy jerk Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie), a headhunter who knowingly compensates for his shortness by becoming an art thief so he can shower his super hot wife Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund) with gifts and generally live beyond his means. When dashing retired businessman Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) waltzes into Diana’s art gallery for an appraisal of a Rubens stolen during WWII, Roger sees a perfect target. But when he sets out to steal the painting, everything goes downhill, like really downhill. Like, jumping off a cliff. Literally.

With a gross protagonist and a twisted plot, Headhunters is a darkly funny, somewhat gory thriller that moves its way slightly into mindfuck territory. You’re kind of equally horrified and terrifically entertained as the plot moves into unexpected areas and Roger contends with worse and worse challenges to survive. I hated Roger, the dude just sucks, but it was fascinating to see how he handled this crazy life-or-death situation as he ran from a mysteriously driven mercenary. No one is especially likable in this movie, I don’t think the filmmakers were out to get us on anyone’s side. I’ll admit I was rooting for Clas Greve, mainly because he’s so handsome! And scary.

Initially I thought this was more about art heists than it actually is, it’s more a mad dash for survival with a few sexy bits and relationship squabbles thrown in. Plus a mystery, kind of. It’s still a very good film, even if I was caught off guard by how harsh it was. Good twists, great action, and an interesting premise; my main issue is with the ending. *Spoiler Alert* I really didn’t want Roger to get away! He was such a dick, and far less capable than Clas, it just seemed so unlikely that he could win. And the fact that he didn’t even have to move or anything, I figured at the very least they could have him starting over in a new city or something. Jeez. It was just too ridiculous.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: The Scandinavian black comedy-thriller atmosphere reminded me of Terribly Happy, a Coen-esque Danish film from a few years ago.