Saturday, March 24, 2012

"The Hunger Games"

(Herr Wozzeck's Note: Oh my God, would you look at the date? Holy shit, I haven't updated this blog in forever!

I am so sorry, guys. As some of you know, my profession lies elsewhere. Unfortunately for me, though, this meant that real life caught up with me, and for a large span of time that took up most of February and the first weekend of March, I was stuck doing grad school auditions in composition. So far, my results are great (I've gotten accepted to two schools), but it's meant that this has taken a back seat. Hopefully now that that's over, though, I can get back to this with some sense of regularity.

So now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.)

Young adult novels... young adult novels...

What to say about them? They've got heroines. They've got plotlines. And they've got... some rather non-descriptive prose. But people also eat them up like they're going out of style. Hence, why they make good movie fodder: you adapt the latest craze into a movie, and bam, instant success.

Hence, why today's movie does stuff with that. Is it any good?

Well, let's dive right in, shall we?

The Hunger Games

Now, since this is one of those rare times where I've actually managed to read the book before seeing the movie, and seeing as how I somehow became a pretty big fan of the books once I started reading through them all (yes, I read all the way through the entire trilogy), I find that I'll have to give this movie two ratings because my judgment of the movie might be affected by how well I know the books. So one rating will be for how it stands as a movie on its own, and the other rating will be for how it stands as an adaptation.

Now, let's go on with the show, shall we?

It is the future, in North America. Now, all that's left of North America is a country called Panem. In this nation are twelve districts, and each district is under the command of the Capitol. The Capitol hosts a series of yearly games in which each district sends one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to a gladiatory contest to the death that is broadcast all across the nation (in a pointed satire/criticism of reality television), in which only one can come out victor. Stuck in one of these "Hunger Games", as they're called, is Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a girl from District 12 who volunteers to keep her younger sister Prim out of the Games. This puts Katniss' skills to the test, and she must deal with twenty-three other tributes to survive, and hopefully to help fellow District 12 tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) survive as well.

Now, let's get to the first rating: this movie as a movie.

Overall as a movie... well, I think that it stands on its own as an entertaining movie. Is it perfect? No. Is it good? Certainly.

I'll start off here: the acting and casting of this movie are, in a word, impeccable. Everyone is perfectly cast in their roles, and they literally become these characters. I had faith that Jennifer Lawrence would be able to play Katniss Everdeen perfectly--in a way, she already played the same sort of character in her breakout film Winter's Bone. So it was great to see that my faith in Lawrence was well placed. There are many moments throughout the film where it can't benefit from being able to glance into Katniss' mind the way the first person narration in the books can, but Lawrence perfectly conveys what her character feels, particularly during one scene relatively late in the movie pertaining to the death of a character. Everyone else is good too, but they don't get as much screentime as Lawrence. Standouts are seen from Josh Hutcherson, and from Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy, Katniss and Peeta's tutor that they work with before the games. All around, the acting is stellar.

It's a bit of a shame, then, that they were stuck with director Gary Ross. Ross cannot seem to lay off of the shaky cam, and in the first hour of the film the editing can get very disorienting to the point of making one's eyes hurt. It also doesn't help that a good portion of the film's action scenes are not as well-shot as we would like. I didn't seem to have the problems with the action scenes that most people had, but sometimes the action can get a little incomprehensible, particularly in the final fight of the whole movie (which has no sense of continuity whatsoever: literally the only reason I knew what was going on was because I knew how the fight was supposed to go in the book, and that is not a good thing. The fight as seen in the movie is disjointed, confusingly edited, and uses so much shaky cam that it was almost a relief to see the camera pan back.). They could have gone with a slightly better director, I think. (I say slightly, because of one of the things with the adaptation I'll mention below.)

I also had the feeling that the movie was fighting against its own rating, though in this regard it wasn't as bad as I've seen in other examples. (*coughPriestcough*) It was unavoidable, unfortunately: some of the injuries as described in the book are actually very R-rated, considering that it's aimed at teenage girls. Given that the movie has a PG-13 rating, they had to downplay the gore. Even so, the movie manages to be as brutal as it can be, and there are some shockingly violent things that are for a PG-13 movie (such as one instance of a tribute's neck being snapped on-screen).

As for the plot... well, that ties in to how I view the movie as an adaptation. I'll get to that in the adaptation's review, but let's just say for now that while it doesn't quite get around to following through with all the digs against reality television/the American obsession with being beautiful/dictatorial governments that it sets up, that's less a fault of the movie itself and more the fact that it's how the book is (and I'd argue that much of the first book of the Hunger Games trilogy isn't really about commenting on any of those things, anyhow: that's what the other two books in the series do in much greater detail).

So as a movie? I liked it. It featured strong performances from a bunch of actors who really understood how their characters are, which was enough for the movie to overcome its over-reliance on shaky-cam and particularly the clumsily-edited action scenes. So as a movie? Give it a chance.


It has a few flaws, but is still worth checking out.

Now, let's get to my rating of this film as an adaptation.

As an adaptation? This movie hits a home run out of the ballpark. It's a rare thing to see a movie that manages to be good while staying extremely faithful to the source material, but somehow this movie managed to do just that.

I think a lot of it actually has to do with Gary Ross' vision for the film. Now, I harped on him earlier for his action scenes, but I can't deny that he's got an eye for how to realize the finer details of the book. There's supposed to be a major dichotomy between Katniss' home of District 12 (a little grungy, gritty, down to earth) and then its contrast against the Capitol (which is colorful to the extreme of having people that you'd think would fit better in a Dr. Seuss book), and the movie nails the aesthetic difference. One of my big fears going into the movie was that it would underplay the out-of-control opulence that's seen in the Capitol, and I was quite glad to see that everybody looked as ridiculous as I envisioned them to look when I was reading the books. It also takes on minor aesthetic details in a way that I think actually works in the movie's favor.

The plot of the book is also very faithfully adhered to. There are a couple of subplots that are cut for time (the cuts are particularly noticeable as far as the world-building and much of the first part of the book goes), but otherwise, this is as faithful a movie of a book as you can get. As well, in the few times where it deviates from the book the deviations actually works in the movie's favor, such as taking one scene that wasn't in the book (and actually couldn't have been featured in the book, given that the book is told from Katniss' point of view) to explain a little further about why they have games instead of killing all 24 tributes right off the bat. This is especially telling considering that the movie had a lot of material to cover. (That's most likely the reason why this movie runs at nearly two and a half hours long, by the way. It's two and a half hours long, and it moves very fast.) I had a small issue with some of the world-building that was cut, and especially how it will affect the sequels that will no doubt be spawned from this series' popularity (the book series does have nearly 27 million copies in circulation, from what I hear).

Overall, it was a good adaptation of a book. If you're a fan of the books, I'll tell you this now: you should definitely see this movie.


A must-see picture of the year.

So those are my two verdicts on this movie.

This is Herr Wozzeck Reviews. I'll see you guys next time. (Hopefully, next time won't be a month and a half... and two missing countdowns as well.)

Monday, February 6, 2012


(Note: Yes, I know I'm extremely behind on the EotYE for 2011. I'm sorry about that, and I'll try to get to it as quickly as I can. But it's been a very busy semester, so...)

Well, something must've happened. I have no idea why, but 2012 has gotten off on a darn good foot this year. We've barely even hit the summer season and already we've got two movies that are action packed and quite good. I already talked about The Grey, though, so this is for other things.

What are those other things, you ask?

Well.... Let's take it to today's movie, shall we?


Andrew (Dane DeHaan), Matt (Alex Russell), and Steve (Michael B. Jordan) are three high-schoolers who come across a hole with an object. Soon after they come into contact with it, they begin to exhibit strange telekinetic powers. Once they begin exhibiting these powers, they begin bonding over them, using their powers to play harmless pranks on people. However, as their powers get stronger, Andrew's dark side is coaxed out, and he eventually becomes a danger to everyone around him.

And you have your standard rise and fall kind of arc that you'd get in a superhero movie. Is it familiar? You can imagine so.

Is it still impressive? You better believe it.

I guess I'll start by addressing the fact that this movie uses the 'found footage' gimmick that's used often by a lot of movies these days. But after a while, this found footage gimmick takes on an odd property, given that once the telekinesis comes into play, the characters start levitating the camera around them. I have to admit that in some instances this leads to the viewer forgetting that it's supposed to be a found footage movie. Its use remains rather uneven throughout: while there are a bunch of things in the third act that make incredible use of this gimmick, there are a few cuts between cameras that sort of ruin why they would use the gimmick in the first place. But when the use of it works, it really works.

One way it really works? It really works in constructing the action scenes. There are a lot of examples peppered throughout, but the final action scene that's embedded in the third act is absolutely nothing short of jaw-dropping. The way that entire finale is cut is incredible to behold, and it results in one of the most visceral action sequences I've seen since the rotating hallway from Inception, and for much the same reason.

And of course, this gimmick ends up taking a back seat to what's going on in the movie, which is some intense characterization. Watching the trailers for this movie, I felt that these were going to be some of the most unlikable characters in the movies. And yet, I was with the characters pretty much all the way. These characters are fully realized and fully fleshed out. Andrew's violence is extreme, but it comes out of an extremely hostile environment (horrible father, dying mother, and quite a few bullies) and we can understand where his anger comes from. The other two characters are also quite interesting to watch as they realize their telekinetic powers, and the result is a movie with characters who we root for pretty much the whole way.

And the acting? Well, I almost forgot these were actors for a second. While the fact that these three actors were a bunch of unknowns helped a bit, it's also worth noting that they had quite an easy rapport going throughout the entire movie. The chemistry between all of them sizzled when their friendship built after seeing the object, and the acting helps carry the movie where it needs to go.

So with a tight script, excellent direction, and excellent acting, Chronicle serves as yet another really good film to start the year off with.  I think best of all is that this movie sheds light on some incredible talent. (This is Josh Trank's directing debut, and yet you wouldn't know it from the way the movie is cut.) So overall? Go see Chronicle.


Most definitely worth checking out.

This is Herr Wozzeck Reviews. I'll see you guys next time.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

"The Grey"

Wow. This is a record. We're only one month into January, and yet here we are with one movie that's already blown me away.

That was certainly fast, in a year where I don't expect a lot of movies to be good. So here we go.

Let's get going with today's movie.

The Grey

Ottway (Liam Neeson) is a guy who kills wolves to keep them from killing people at an outpost in Alaska. On a flight to get out of the worst weather of the year, however, the plane he is on crashes in the middle of the wilderness. Thus, he bands together with the other remaining survivors to attempt to make it out alive while battling a pack of wolves that is always encircling them.

And uncompromising stuff ensues from there. It's of course an action survival film, with some very good set pieces. While some of the cuts are a little too close for comfort, I still had a good sense of what was happening in each action scene, which is always a good thing. The action itself is also compelling, which works on itself. Sure, the CGI on the wolves can be a bit questionable at times, but overall there is still quite a bit of tension involved.

But honestly, I think the action is the least of this movie's concerns. Because there is so much more that happens in this movie than the action. Rather, it's a meditative piece that's more about the characters than anything. And what compelling characters they are. We see their reactions as they are slowly picked off one by one, and we see them think about their situation as it gets more and more hopeless. And it unfolds beautifully, because we eventually come to like all of the characters in the story. This folds back on the action, making it compelling even when it gets difficult to tell what's going on.

And without the right actors in each role, it would've completely fallen apart. Every actor here gives it their all, and while Neeson is undoubtedly the center of the show, the other actors are all up to par with him. Of special note is Frank Grillo, who has a character arc so compelling I don't think I'll ever see a character arc quite like it throughout the rest of the year in film. Everyone else is great as well, and the ensemble overall is incredible.

There's not much more to say about The Grey. If you haven't seen it yet, change that, because it boasts some of the best character drama you can find in an action movie, and it's even better that this kind of movie can do this kind of thing so early in the year. It almost gives me hope for the rest of the movie-going season.



A must-see picture of the year.

This is Herr Wozzeck Reviews. I'll see you guys next time.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

End of the Year Bonanza: Top 5 Favorite Male Performances

Hello again, and welcome back to the End of the Year Bonanza, with a bit of a late entry considering that the Oscars are getting very close to being announced. So here we go.

5) Chris Evans, Captain America

Ah, Steve Rogers. That perfect wholesome American guy who always saves the day because of stuff. This performance is on my list mostly because Evans managed to take an archetype that I personally hate and turn the character who used it into someone I actually rooted for. I didn't find him to be annoying in the least, which is what tends to happen with characters like these. Thus, for taking a character archetype I hated and making it into something I like, I think it's worth taking note of Chris Evans.

4) Gary Oldman, Kung Fu Panda 2

Ah, Gary Oldman. Who knew that you voicing an animated villain would be so incredibly juicy? Well, anyone who watched The Book Of Eli, but I'm not going to mention that atrocity for obvious reasons. But here, Oldman manages to make his villain character incredibly fun. Every so often I need my deliciously fun villain roles, and Gary Oldman provided exactly that.

3) Owen Wilson, Midnight in Paris

This is on this list for the sheer fact that Owen Wilson is a joy to watch. His comic timing is great, he's got command of a great character, but Owen Wilson here brings a certain charm to the role of Gil Pender that I don't think any other actor could have successfully brought to the role. This is ultimately why Wilson is here on this list, for creating a charming performance that wins the viewer over.

2) Ryan Goseling, Drive

As the old adage goes, 'less is more'. Ryan has less than twenty lines over the course of this movie, but his gestures end up being more important than anything he could possibly say. We see everything that goes down in his mind from how he acts, and somehow the gestures all add up even when he doesn't say that much. It's in this very strange way that Ryan Goseling commands this movie, as the Driver is mysterious in the best way possible.

But as you'll recall, I had a similar character type show up as my number one on the list. So who could top that?


1) Michael Fassbender, Shame

Even before I was making this list, I knew Fassbender was going to be at the top of the list for Shame. X-Men: First Class already solidified that he is a very solid actor, but with his performance in Shame... Shame is one of those movies that hinges on an electrifying lead performance, and in this Fassbender throws himself into his character. To say that Fassbender is astounding in Shame is something of an understatement, as he shows us the many complexities of Brandon's sex life and how it affects his home life, all while doing things that I imagine would make most other actors run away in fright.


So those are my favorite roles of the year. Now... Now we have to move on to other things.

Like my favorite performances from an actress.

I'll see you guys next time.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

"The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo"

Okay, so... I decided I'll be taking a break with my end of the year bonanza, but only temporarily. Why?

Well, I had some minor catching up to do for some releases that came out at the end of the year. So here we are.

And what are we talking about?

Sexual violence, of course. Let's take it away with today's movie!

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is a disgraced journalist who gets contacted by Henrik (Christopher Plummer) to look into the mysterious disappearance/possible murder of his grand-niece Harriet. Mikael thus comes over to a different part of Sweden to investigate, where he eventually enlists the help of teen hacker extraordinaire Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) to find out what happened to Harriet.

This is... a very interesting movie. It's a thriller, of course, which requires great pacing all on its own. In that... it's kind of iffy. On the one hand, the murder mystery that occupies almost the whole film is intriguing and very well-plotted, but on the other, when the murder mystery is done the movie limps to its final shot for a little over ten minutes too long. Uneven pacing issues like this drag the film down, but the parts that do work really work. And thankfully, we get more parts that work than parts that don't work, which means that the movie is a tense, very arresting movie. Well, that is, while the murder mystery is still going on.

And this movie is also harsh and uncompromising in every sense. There's something to be said about the fact that this movie's story has tons of sexual violence in it, and in this regard this movie takes no prisoners. Graphic depictions of rape, uncompromising angles of talking about the act... it's all so tightly controlled that in some bizarre way every element works to its advantage.

And that's something I think goes for the performances. It's clear that director David Fincher has got tight control in the acting in this movie, and it works exactly how it should. Daniel Craig is of course very good as Blomkvist, though the fact that his British accent stood out amidst a sea of false-Swedish accents was a little distracting at times. Stellan Skarsgard as the main bad guy works wonderfully as the villain, giving an understated performance while waiting for just the right time to rear his ugly head. And as for Rooney Mara, I'll only say this: she's come a looooooooooooooooong way from when she starred in the abysmal Nightmare on Elm Street remake with the star-making role of Lisbeth.

So with a reasonably good plot, excellent acting, and an uncompromising vision, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a very good movie. Is it great? I don't think so: there are severe pacing issues with the third act that means that the movie kind of overstays its welcome. But when it works, it really works.


Most definitely worth checking out.

This is Herr Wozzeck Reviews. I'll see you guys next time.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

End of the Year Bonanza 2011: 5 Worst Movies

Oh hello again. Missed me?

Yeah, sorry about the silence on my end. I've had a heck of a time here, running around doing things. But now, things have cooled down slightly, and I'm able to get back to this.

So... seeing as how I was unable to watch a movie on my last night in Boston, I thought I'd get to the chase with the end of the year show. So as with last year, I'll supply some of my best and worst lists for the year.

So I'll start us off with the movies I really didn't like. Let's get to it:


5. Sanctum

This goes relatively low on the list. While it was bad, it was thankfully mostly inoffensive. I felt the plot just went wherever it wanted to, I felt the characters were all cardboard cut-outs, and some of the interactions baffled me. But it was bad enough to warrant a place on this list, so there we go.

4. Priest

This one, was a movie I was expecting to be okay at least. I mean, it's vampires being fought by religious guys weilding all kinds of Jesus-themed weaponry! How could that not be awesome? Well, it wasn't awesome, because the plot was a mess, the characters were flat, they had a terrible, terrible screenplay to work off of, and it felt like a movie that was fighting against its rating. Oh, and the 3D was atrocious. That too.

3. Battle: Los Angeles

Aside from being noisy and headache-inducing, I just found this movie to be incredibly dull. It's a shame, because it had the potential to be so much more than it was. I was hoping it could be a movie that explored the hopelessness of fighting against an alien invasion. Instead, it became just another military-style "America f*** yeah" movie which laid on the army-related cliches, flat characters, and really incomprehensible action scenes as much as they could. The end result was a really, really dull movie.

2. Abduction

If I had to give the above three movies any credit, though, it's that they're all only boring. Abduction... Now that actually really angered me. It's a bad sign when notable actors can't elevate the screenplay they're working with, so I'll just put that out there now. But what really gets me about this movie is how the people behind it somehow didn't realize how audience-insultingly stupid the screenplay really is. The screenplay of this movie is offensively stupid, to the point where I wanted to hit the screenwriter over the head.

As offensively stupid as it is, though, it doesn't change a thing about the movie I hated most this year...

1. Atlas Shrugged Part 1

The fact that this is the first movie I've ever walked out of in my life should tell you everything you need to know about why this movie is in this slot in the list. It's not even that I don't agree with Ayn Rand's politics (which, let's face it, are a huge piece of every fictional work she ever wrote): I was able to sit through The Fountainhead and actually enjoy it even through its preachy parts. No, I hated Atlas Shrugged Part 1 because it was a completely incompetent production on every level. It was noticeably cheap, it had truly atrocious acting, it had an unengaging, flat script that couldn't make economic/political conversations interesting, and just felt rushed. I'm pretty sure that Ayn Rand herself would have disowned this adaptation simply on the strength of how bad it is.


And that's my list.

So next time? You'll be seeing another list on my favorite performances of the year.

This is Herr Wozzeck Reviews. I'll see you guys next time.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Herr Wozzeck Muses: Lingering Ideas...

Shame brought up a very interesting question for me, I think. Most of these questions were actually fairly critical to how I thought about the film, and it brought me to realize one of the great things about that movie.

My question was this:

Why does Steve McQueen linger on some things for a much longer period of time than others?

It was something I noticed a lot when I was watching Shame, that McQueen would tend to linger a lot on certain pieces of certain scenes. The camerawork tended to live in slightly longer cuts, particularly in Fassbender's scenes where he interacts with other characters. I will admit it was a little jarring to see that the director lingers a lot on the same motif for several minutes, staying on that for a while before something interesting happens. There's a date scene that goes on for a while, there's a scene of intimacy that goes on for a while, and there's an entire scene that messes with our perception of time that goes on for a while close to the end.

But at the end of the day, I think this works to its advantage. For when we get subjected to so much within a certain amount of time, it really jumps at us when something happens. The date scene is necessarily long for a reason that becomes clear later on: it serves as a characterization bit that lets us peer into Brandon's mind when he tries to have sex with her later and ultimately can't bring himself to go all the way with it. A long scene of Carey Mulligan singing focuses almost exclusively on her face, with only a brief glimpse of Brandon's face that tells us everything we need to know about what he's feeling.

But ultimately, I think the fact that McQueen lingers on the same topic for so many minutes is best demonstrated by the last sex scene that occurs in the movie. Let me relate the camera work of the final sex scene of the movie so you can see what I mean...

So the final sex scene is a threesome with Fassbender and two women. What entails is a bunch of extremely close shots of the sex, with some shots getting almost pornographic in how graphic they are. It always cuts to flashes of flesh, bare flesh and nothing but as these three people engage in the act. However, the scene ends not with a wide shot of the act itself, but with a close-up of Michael Fassbender's face as he orgasms. From his facial expression, however, we get the all-too-clear sense that this is an orgasm that is wrought with pain and anger and a great amount of sadness. While Fassbender's acting does so much for the shot, it's the fact that we've seen so much sexualized flesh in the preceeding two or so minutes that really makes the shot work. This is partly because it's the first full shot of Fassbender's face in such a scene, partly also because we don't see the other parties in the shot, and partly because seeing that expression in what's supposed to be the height of ecstasy is rather jarring for the audience, and casts the entire two or so scenes beforehand in a completely different light. It sums up everything about the events leading up to that point in a way that no other edit of the film could have, and it's a critical shot for a character-defining moment.

And in all honesty, that singular shot that lasts for about six or so seconds was literally the point where, at least for me, Shame took a step up from being just a really good movie, and became a movie that I can say is unforgettably great. If we had seen such a shot earlier, I doubt the impact would have been as great as it ultimately was. But thanks to the fact that he lingered on other things before presenting the shot was what ultimately contributes most to how powerful it is.

And that is why lingering on something can be a virtue in film making.

This is Herr Wozzeck Muses. I'll see you guys next time.