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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Roundup for September 2012

As you may have noticed, I have fallen somewhat behind lately. As such, here are some quick reviews of the films I have not yet had a chance to cover that came out this month.

The Flowers of War: I'm strangely ambivalent about this one. On the one hand, you have some good performances, not least of which from Christian Bale, some pretty beautiful war cinematography and a story that is not without its more moving moments. And yet, it's way too long, over-egged in both its emotions and its storytelling and is surprisingly forgettable. And yes, the criticism that this is yet another film all about how a bunch of helpless Easterners get saved by a heroic Westerner is sadly justly earned and the rest of the film isn't good enough to make this central flaw all that easy to overlook. Also worth mentioning is just how unapologetically biased it is. The Japanese in this film are very, very bad, while the Chinese are very, very good. Whether this is a criticism or not, I'm not sure, but it's definitely something that sticks out in this day and age of politically correct filmmaking

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days: The third installment in this surprisingly enjoyable kids franchise is a definite step down from its predecessor with less laughs and lead actors who are quickly becoming too old for their parts. On the plus side, it should still work brilliantly for its target audience of 10 year old boys and even if it's more a collection of crazy hijinx, childish pranks and overly dramatic pre-teen angst than a proper narrative, it's still both fun and charming enough to get away with it. Once again the highlight of the film is Steve Zahn who throws himself head-first into the pre-pubescent fun and it's hard not go there right along with him. At this point though, you should probably see the previous films first just to get a basic understanding of who these characters are.

A Monster in Paris: Despite the ominous warning on the poster that this is from the director of Shark Tale, A Monster in Paris is a massively flawed but ultimately rather charming animated film whose French origins give it a distinctive flavour in what is becoming an increasingly crowded market. On the other hand, there is also a feeling that the humour gets somewhat lost in translation as almost all of its jokes fall decidedly flat. Of course, this being the director of Shark Tale, it might just not be funny. Still, regardless of its failure as a comedy, it works decidedly better as a somewhat strange monster movie and as a flat out adventure film. It also boats some decent English-language voice acting, beautiful animation (in certain respects this is an animated - if notably inferior - alternative to Martin Scorsese's Hugo) and a number of really impressive musical numbers.

The Lady: Much like The Flowers of War, The Lady is a historical drama that is frustratingly uneven. Michelle Yeoh stars as Aung San Suu Kyi, the real-life Nobel Peace Prize winner who spent years away from her family in England under house arrest as the central figurehead of a fight for democracy in war-torn Burma. Yeoh is wonderful and she is backed by the typically great David Thewlis but there is a sense throughout that this clearly phenomenal story is not being given the justice it so rightly deserves. Luc Besson is almost entirely known for his genre work so, though The Lady is decidedly well intentioned and nicely shot, it's surprisingly lacking in any real bite. It's a strange complaint to hurl Besson's way but The Lady ends up feeling overlong, anemic and a bit dull when it should be hard hitting, emotionally involving and, if nothing else, never less than compelling. It's not as unspeakably awful as some have suggested, but The Lady jut isn't good enough considering its subject matter.

Savages: I was tempted to give this thing a full review but honestly, I would rather save that for something truly worthwhile. As it is, Savages is a film that has largely divided audiences and critics between those who absolutely love it it and those who absolutely loathe it. Personally, my opinions on the film aren't quite so extreme but, it has to be said, I thought it sucked way more often than it soared. On the good side, it has attractive leads, attractive scenery and some fun turns from its villains, Benicio Del Toro, John Travolta and, best of all, Salma Hayek. On the more problematic side though, it's a total mess - and a vacuous, dull and misjudged mess at that. Oliver Stone is a fine, if erratic filmmaker, but there is a bizarre lack of coherence to its storytelling, its tone and its moral centre. Stone tends to make films with some sort of point at its centre and if this is supposed to be more Wall Street or JFK rather than Natural Born Killers then one has to wonder where its "message" went and why it feels so very, very empty. If, on the other hand, its just stylish exploitation trash like Natural Born Killers then why is so much time spent on its unengaging "heroes" over its more charismatic bastards and why the hell is it so long and so drearily paced? Really, Oliver, maybe I'm just thick but what on earth were you going for here?

Dark Tide: What a surprise: another unspeakably terrible Halle Berry movie. Now sure, Dark Tide has some nice shots of Cape Town and nicer shots of Halle Berry walking around in a bikini but there is nothing else at all about this Jaws wannabe that lifts it above even the lowest of the low direct-to-DVD crap. Porn-levels-or-so-I'm-told of dialogue and acting? Check. A plot that is essentially a rip-off of a rip-off of a rip-off of one of the Jaws sequels? Check. Annoying stereotypes in place of characterization? What do you think? Even the "suspenseful shark scenes" are nothing of the sort because a) they spend most of the film telling us that sharks are cool creatures that don't generally attack humans and b) when they finally do, the carnage is set in stormy waters, in the rain, at night, with the cumulative effect of it being absolutely impossible to make head or tails of what is going on. You have to wait for the film's unsurprisingly shite epilogue to even figure out who lived and who died. Toilet. Total toilet.

Hotel Transylvania: Cartoon Network legend Genddy Tartakovsky (Samurai Jack! Powerpuff Girls! Dexter's Laboratory! Star Wars: The Clone Wars!) brings his considerable talents to the big screen for his very first 3D CG-animated feature film and the results are... surprisingly bad? To be clear, the animation here is terrific as Tartakovsky's hyper-kinetic animation style and old-fashioned-but-not-in-a-bad-way designs help to set this film apart from the many, many CG animations we see each year. It's such a pity then that the story, the characters, the voice acting and the gags all fall so seriously flat. Granted by lead voice artiste, Adam Sandler's ever plunging recent standards, Hotel Transylvania is Toy Story 3 but that doesn't change the fact that once you get past the lovely animation work, there's so very little to enjoy here. Worst of all, it may be short, but Hotel Transylvania is, in spite of itself, mind-numbingly boring. Here's hoping that next time Tartakovsky brings along with him a way better screenwriter because this just ain't up to snuff.

And that should do it for now. There are a few smaller films that I haven't seen that I will possibly tackle if and when I see them. Also, I was going to include a quick review of Ruby Sparks in here but I really don't want it to get lost among the rest of this steaming pile of mediocrity and flat out garbage. Sorry for that very mixed metaphor. Look out for a full review of that soon, as well as another genuinely good romantic comedy that opens up this week as well! 

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