Tuesday, July 22, 2014

How She Move - A Dancing Snoozefest?!?

Movie: How She Movie
My Rating: 1 star

Yikes!  This movie managed to take all the joy out of the cheesy dance flick.  I normally love these things.  And, I never dreamed that the genre would ever fail me!  I can’t resist all the overwrought acting, the ridiculous fashion choices, and of course, the almost mandatory slow-mo, outdoor, dance number in a rainy parking lot.  But man, this movie couldn’t have been more of a condescending snoozefest!
You know the basic story here.  They’re essentially all the same.  Raya (played by Rutina Wesley) is a smart girl from a poor family.  She’s determined to get out of the projects by studying hard in private school.  She wants to become a doctor.  But, when her older sister dies from a drug overdose she makes the difficult decision to come home to provide emotional support for her mom and dad.  And, this is a particularly hard transition.  Raya’s old friends think she’s too uppity now that she’s been off to private school.  But, her family may not be able to come up with the money to send her back next term.  There’s a scholarship competition that may help send Raya back to school, but she fears she may not be ready for the rigorous exam—especially now that she’s reconnected with her long-forgotten love of step dancing!  She had thought she had her life all figured out, but now it looks like Raya will have to start over from scratch.
While she’s home, Raya has a lot of soul-searching to do.    She’d forgotten a lot of her old friends in her attempts to get ahead in school.  But, can a person really be happy without any personal relationships?  And, Raya discovers that she can find some joy in helping others get ahead too.  It’s all very clich├ęd and trite.  But, all these dance movies trade pretty heavily in these kinds of platitudes.  So, I guess my main complaint is that this film doesn’t even attempt to have a little fun with the material.  The Step Up series has certainly learned how to do that.  It took them a few tries, but now they’re getting delightfully silly with the movies.  I guess this film is a little older.  It came out in 2007, so it’s from the generation of dance film that is a little more earnest.  But, I still wanted a little more.  Also, I hate to say it, but the dancing wasn’t all that impressive either.  I know, I know—dancing is hard.  And, step dancing is particularly rigorous.  I certainly couldn’t do what these actors do.  But, the beauty of film is that you can create magic in the editing process.  To not take advantage of that is practically a crime in this genre!

You really don’t need to see this movie—even if you are a big fan of silly dance movies, like me.  This one just doesn’t have the payoff that I’ve come to expect from these things.  Sure, there are some personal struggles that get resolved by the end.  And, there is a final dance battle.  But neither are very exciting or impressive.  Don’t waste your time on this one.

Friday, July 18, 2014

300: Rise of an Empire - All About Eva (Green)

Movie: 300: Rise of an Empire
My Rating: 2 stars

This movie is another big, ball of cheese that helped me get through a transatlantic flight without pulling out my hair.  I knew it wasn’t going to be any good, but there was no way I was going to skip this one.  The original 300 had a barely passable story line.  But, it had so much eye candy that I loved it anyway (and have watched it multiple times).  And, I’m not just talking about all the burly, oiled up, men wearing leather panties.  I just love Frank Miller and Zack Snyder’s aesthetic.  The live-action, graphic novel look is just so cool.  So, I was hoping for a little more of the same from this film.  But, it just didn’t live up to the magic of the first movie.
This installment has a lot more story than the first, but the cinematography just isn’t as impressive.  I guess it’s because it has a different director—Noam Murro, instead of Zack Snyder.  Both, Snyder and Frank Miller were still both involved in writing this second film, but the whole thing feels fundamentally different.  This story follows the less-exciting Athenians, rather than the strapping, insane, Spartans.  Themistokles leads the Athenians into battle against the Persians.  He’d like the help of the Spartans, but those guys are lone wolves, with no interest in a united Greece.  To make matters even less thrilling, the soldiers are engaged in naval warfare, so we don’t even get to see the (admittedly fit) warriors running around, engaging in impressive feats of athletic barbarism.  It’s just a dude yelling to sailors to raising the rigging, and swinging the boat around starboard.  It’s a bit anticlimactic.  Oh well.
At least this movie features plenty of totally sweet, lady action.  This movie is all about Eva Green.  She plays Artemisia, the commander of the Persian navy, and she’s an absolute siren in all her run-way fabulous, battle gear.  I love it!  And, I want every single dress she wears on screen—especially the one with the decorative, gilded spine built in.  I couldn’t manage to track down one of those for the photo shoot, and I’m pretty upset about it.  Artemisia is a ruthless, bloodthirsty killer, who is totally dedicated to her king.  And, she’s not used to losing battles.  So, as she’s thwarted by the skilled Athenians, she becomes even more cruel and calculating.  She really makes the movie.

But, I can’t say that I recommend this film to you guys.  It’s just disappointing after the campy ridiculousness of the first film.  This one takes itself much more seriously than that first one, and that’s always a mistake.  But hey, I’ve never been above watching a movie just for the costumes.  That’s the sole reason I watched both 27 Dresses and MarieAntoinette.  I wanted to see those dresses, dammit!  And, Eva Green’s dresses are definitely spectacular.  But, you’re going to have to decide whether that’s enough for you.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Particle Fever - Doing Science!

Movie: Particle Fever
My Rating: 3 stars

I hardly know how to describe this movie.  It’s nominally a documentary about the creation of the Large Hadron Collider.  But, it’s really about the personalities that surround the project—the scientists who get really worked up about the ideas and implications, and who pull their hair out from the stress of the whole undertaking.  There are many technical setbacks and political roadblocks that had threatened their work during the early stages.  Although, some of the tension is diffused for the viewers, since we already know from all the news coverage that the venture was a success.  But, it’s still fun to watch all these adorable scientists get really animated discussing the project.  I like watching stories about just about anyone who loves what they’re doing.
Of course, I’ve always had a bit of a weakness for scientists, and that definitely came from being raised by them.  So, I really have empathy for these super-awkward kids.  Not that the individuals in this documentary are youngsters.  They’re all fully-grown adults, and some of them are even elderly.  But, they do exhibit a kind of child-like wonder and enthusiasm that feels very youthful.  These scientists can’t wait to tell us all about their experiments, and they seem really excited that we’d even be interested enough to ask.  It’s charming, even if I didn’t fully understand all the implications of the numbers and charts they were thrusting into my face.  Of course, I understood the general concepts that these guys were discussing, but since the documentary had to fit into the standard, ninety minute format, there was only so much detailed explanation and clarification that they could go into.  So, they had to settle for a bare-bones outline.  But, I still feel like I appreciated what this film was about.   We live in a world full of jaded hipsters these days, so it’s really fun to see people without a hint of cynicism.  And, it’s nice to celebrate people with an actual skill, rather than just a carefully crafted image.

This is a pretty interesting documentary, but it isn’t exactly the most action-packed film in the world.  I don’t think I’d recommend it to you unless you’re already a little curious about science news and principles.  If you don’t really care about that kind of thing, this film isn’t exactly going to wow you with either revelations or cinematography.  But, if you are interested in learning more about the creation of the Large Hadron Collider (and the secrets of the Universe, by implication), definitely seek out this documentary.  Of course, I do like that kind of material, and I enjoyed it very much.  So, I’m not trying to warn you away from this one.  I’m just trying to help manage your expectations.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Snowpiercer - Slow Motion, Night Vision, Axe Fight!!!

Movie: Snowpiercer
My Rating: 4 stars

I was really excited to see this movie.  Bong Joon-ho is one of my favorite directors ever.  I loved The Host.  And, Mother and Memories of Murder are just chilling.  So, I couldn’t wait to see his next creation.  And this installment was particularly interesting because it was going to be a shift for him—his first English language film.  This movie turned out to be kind of a mix of all of his previous films tonally.  It has the sinister social themes of the two murder movies, but the grand scale of The Host, with all the exciting CGI.  And, it turned out pretty well.  Is it a ham-handed social allegory?  Sure.  But, sometimes that’s the story structure you need to make a particular point.  And, this movie is trying to make a lot of points—the cost of a life, the cost of social order, the grey nature of right and wrong.  There’s a lot going on here.  So, it was a valid medium for Bong to choose.
The story is set in a dystopic, post-apocalyptic future.  In an attempt to combat global warming, the world powers have sprayed the atmosphere with a cooling chemical, unwittingly freezing the world, and killing everyone on it.  But, one man was prescient—the legendary and reclusive Wilford—the engineer of The Train.  The Train is the mythic and sacred vessel that preserves the lives of all those aboard.  It’s been engineered to be a self-sustaining ecosystem that never stops, never slows down, and that makes a circuit of the globe once per year.  All those who boarded before the world froze remain alive.  But, they’re also imprisoned aboard that ever-moving vehicle.  And, the society on the train is highly stratified into a rigid caste system with the wealthy, first-class passengers at the front, living in luxury, and the huddled, dirty masses of the poor, crouching at the back, living in squalor.
And, this movie is absolutely packed with tons of my favorite actors!  Although, for some reason all the marketing was going bananas, giving top billing to Chris Evans, as if I was supposed to care about him especially.  But, how could I have, with all my other favorites sharing the screen?!  That dreamy Jamie Bell as a revolutionary.  Octavia Spencer as a tragic, yet wisecracking mother.  My sweetheart, Tilda Swinton as a simpering, grasping middle manager.  Song Kang-ho, (Bong’s darling), playing his usual, bumbling and surly hero.  Ko Ah-sung reprising the role of Song’s daughter.  Allison Pill as a psychotic schoolteacher. Tomas Lemarquis (from Noi Albinoi) as a forbidding henchman.  This is a dream cast!

I was really glad I saw this film in the theater.  It was a very limited release, so it was a little bit hard to track down.  But, I highly recommend you put in a little legwork to see this one in the theater too.  There’s enough black humor in the film that it makes it worth it to laugh along with others in an audience.  And, how can you say no to a slow motion, axe fight on the big screen?  Unless you’re passing it over to get to the slow motion, night vision axe fight.  That was pretty sweet.  Run out and see this film before it moves on.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth - Surprisingly Moving

Movie: Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth
My Rating: 4 stars

So, I decided to watch this movie for a laugh.  It was another one of the selections available on my flight over to France.  I had heard that this one-man show that Mike Tyson had performed on Broadway was a total hoot, so I wanted to check it out.  Tyson is known for many things, but I hadn’t thought that organizing his thoughts, and writing a compelling narrative was one of them.  So, I was curious to see just what he’d come up with.  And, I was actually very surprised.  I really wasn’t prepared for just how special this program ended up being.  It really was remarkable. 
The show is an enchanting evening with Tyson, as he gives us a little family history, tells stories about coming up in the boxing world, jokes about some of his more infamous blunders, and tells heartbreaking accounts of some of his sorrows.  The show is accompanied by a slide show with images from his life, as well as some music and sound cues.  And, this guy really is a charmer.  I didn’t think he had it in him.  Mike Tyson has had a hard time over the years with relationship drama, struggling with drugs, and the rocky road to sobriety.  So, I had still thought of him as something of a manic, basket case.  But, it was clear after watching this movie that Tyson has really gotten his act together.  He addresses all of the most troubling episodes in his life, head-on, and gives simple, honest explanations of each, free from tabloid and media-hype.  It’s a very disarming performance, and I think of him in a totally different light after seeing this.  Tyson sheds some of the “star” and “celebrity” image and becomes more of a regular man with understandable motivations.  The show is moving, and emotional, and you may even find yourself crying in places.

I was very impressed by this movie.  And, I was quite inspired by Mike Tyson’s candid and endearing performance.  I did notice at the end of the film that the script for the show was written by his current wife.  So, Mike did have a little help throwing the show together.  But he still deserves much of the credit for totally memorizing the dialogue and rehearsing the choreography so well that the entire show came off as a very natural, impromptu story-telling session.  I recommend this show very highly, even if you’re not necessarily a Tyson fan, or even a sports fan.  I’m not either of those things, and I found the film to be very moving and enlightening.  And, I’m always in favor of learning, and surprising yourself by challenging old prejudices.  So, give this one a shot.