Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The End of the Year Bonanza: Top 5 Least Favorite Movies

Hello, all, and welcome to the beginning of the end of the year streak of HWR. I figured you guys would get a series of countdowns this time, so I thought I'd start...

...with the movies I really, really didn't like this year. Let's face it. This year was a pretty good year for movies, I think, but there were some movies that were only all right to downright embarrasing. So I give you today's countdown...

The Top 5 Movies I Disliked Most

5: Alice in Wonderland

Yeah, it's a little underwhelming to start with one of the most hyped movies of the year, I think. But you know what? Tim Burton's movie didn't live up to any of the hype. Poor Mia Wasikovska was done complete disservice by its script, I didn't feel that the plot led up to anything, and it was very disappointing. Yes, it looked nice, but I didn't exactly like it all that much. Nevertheless, it's pretty low on this list because I did actually feel some excitement from it. But it was a very disappointing movie, and I expected much more from the man who gave us a rather good film adaptation of Sweeney Todd.

4: Clash of the Titans

This is on this list for the same reason that Alice in Wonderland is on this list: it was very underwhelming. Which is a shame, as I'm a rather quiet fan of the original movie. But here, I didn't feel any reverence to the original movie, and I didn't feel like there was much of a point to the whole enterprise. I never mentioned this, but rather boring performances from most of the cast doesn't exactly help on that front. It all looks nice, but I didn't feel invested enough in anything about what was going on.

3: The Book of Eli

I've mentioned this movie more than once, even becoming the subject of a musing for when I took a look at My Soul to Take. I've said it many times, and I'll say it again: the movie's twist is absolutely terrible. I feel it requires too much suspension of disbelief and shatters the realism found within the universe around Eli-- and that's not counting the rather large plot hole that appears. Again, this is pretty low on the list, because everything else is good about it. But the twist... Never have I been so insulted by a plot twist in my life.

2: A Nightmare on Elm Street

I always thought going into this movie that it would be a pointless remake. And on that count, I was completely right. The original movie is one of the best horror movies of all time, in my opinion. The remake? Pff. The only remotely good thing about it is Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy Kreuger. Everything else? There's very little tension at all, characters do gapingly stupid things, all the deaths are the same, and it wasn't helped by very spotty acting from everyone else.

1: Skyline

Yes, Skyline is so bad, I consider it worse than New Moon. And that, my friends, is a god-damn accomplishment.

I couldn't find anything good about Skyline: it has just about the most terrible script of the year. And that means that all of the characters are unlikeable, undeveloped idiots, hosts some of the hokiest dialogue of the year, and it hosts an ending that has a mood whiplash so enraging that it almost beats out Book of Eli for worst ending of the year. Almost. It has good special effects, but that can't hold the movie together when some of the CGI is conspicuous as hell in some shots. I regret ever seeing this movie, and I wish I could have my 11 dollars back.


So these are my top 5 least favorite movies of the year.

The fact that almost every other movie I've seen this year has two and a half stars and higher is a good sign, I think.

Okay... that gets most of the negative stuff. I'll probably return to the stuff I didn't like before I finish this countdown series, but for now, I have reason to celebrate.

So this is Herr Wozzeck Reviews, and I'll see you guys next time with a countdown of my favorite performances by an actor of the year.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Herr Wozzeck Comments On: Racial Casting

Okay, so I'm going to comment on a piece of movie news that's come up this week as we head towards the end of the year.

Well... for those of you not in the know, the first trailer for Thor was released a couple weeks back. It looks like fun, we get to see some screentime from Natalie Portman...

...and the first thing that gets people in a tizzy is a black guy.

*Warning: rant impending*

Apparently, there are some people who are taking enormous issue with casting Idris Elba as Heimdall. According to these people, casting a black guy as someone who is supposed to be a white guy by definition is a bit egregious. Why? I don't know.

But when you get the hyperconservatives on it? You get stuff like this:


Yes, I'm not kidding. There are a group of people who are willingly going around telling people not to watch this movie, soley because of Idris Elba's casting.

And it's not even on topic anymore; now, it's become a website where they insult liberals for their ideals. And I attempted to comment tearing their argument apart: it got deleted by the mods of this website. So they don't even want to hear anything the liberals might want to say, no matter how good their point is. And for all the liberals that attack them? They all point to them being the same people who attacked the casting of The Last Airbender from last summer.

But their biggest sin has to be this: they say stupid shit like the following:

"Both authors immediately resort to infantile name-calling rather than making their own arguments. They know they can’t win based on the facts!"

Yeah, right. I find it hard to take seriously when there are a few facts you can't even get right:

-They cite the Black Panther TV show as being produced on Black Entertainment Television-- despite the fact that the show in question hasn't even gotten an air date yet!
-The entire website is based on the assumption that 'Europeans' are the same everywhere in Europe. Now, I don't know how true this is, but I can tell you that I took a general tour of Europe once, and I can tell you without a shred of doubt that there are major differences between all the major European cultures.
-Avatar: The Last Airbender was an ANIMATED TV SERIES!! How the hell could you fuck up a simple fact like that?

It's stupidity like this that really makes me hate websites like this. They claim that 'racism is a term they use when you can't win' when they're engaging in almost the exact same behavior as the people they're attacking--with the same allegations, no less! And when someone points it out? They don't wanna hear it!

I can't begin to tell you how much this pisses me off.

*End rant*

But... you didn't come here to listen to me rant about how much I hate hyper-conservative America, so I'll get back to the actual question Idris Elba's casting brings up: should we be more racially accurate?

The answer... is a bit more complicated than yes or no.

The problem is that people have always been casting actors of different ethnicities for their roles. In a way, they may always do it, from here to the end of human civilization. One is pressed to remember the term 'black-face', in which white actors were covered from head to toe in black make-up to play black people. This originated from a time before black actors were ever heard of, so it was driven by necessity. It was still very racist, however, and once black actors rose to prominence the practice fizzled out.

And in Hollywood? Oh, people have always been casting people of the wrong ethnicity/nationality, so to say that it's anything new is ridiculous. I'll go down some old movies and see what I can come up with:

-South Pacific: has a French plantation owner and two Polynesian women. The French guy is played by an Italian actor (Rossano Brazzi). The two Polynesian women are played by a black actress (Juanita Hall) and a French actress (France Nuyen, who, granted, was half Vietnamese, so it's a little more accurate than most of the casting choices we're talking about here).
-The King and I: takes place in Siam, thus incurring asian influences. All the major Asian characters? Played by a Russian (Yul Brenner), a Brit (Martin Benson), two Americans (Patrick Adiarte and Carlos Rivas) and a Puerto Rican (Rita Moreno).
-Lawrence of Arabia: takes place in the Middle East, and has a whole group of Arabian characters, fictional and non-fictional. And a lot of the major ones apart from T.E. Lawrence are Arabian. Exactly one of these was played by a guy who was actually Middle Eastern (Omar Sharif). The rest? A Brit (Alec Guinness), an American (Anthony Quinn), a Puerto Rican (Jose Ferrér), an Anglo-Brazilian (Michel Ray), and a Bollywood actor (I.S. Johar).

So the problem is that people have always been casting people into ethnically/racially incorrect parts, and much more egregiously, too.

And I don't see a single person yelling about any of the casting choices I just mentioned. Not even myself, granted: I grew up with South Pacific and The King and I, so it's tough to yell at them when I see them from the nostalgia angle (though it's also a little easier to forgive some of the ethnically incorrect casting in those two movies by the fact that Yul Brenner and Juanita Hall both originated their respective roles on stage). As for Lawrence of Arabia, I couldn't care less: the performances were all good.

And that's the key thing that I think everybody is forgetting here: were the performances good? If so, fine; does it ultimately matter what ethnicity the actor playing the character is? If it's a good performance, it's a good performance, and that should be the end of the story.

So my thoughts on casting Idris Elba as a person traditionally thought of as a white person? I say, give the guy a chance. All we have of Idris Elba's performance at the moment are a few seconds of a trailer. We won't know if his performance is good until the final product comes out. I say, give it a shot.

And if you talk about the casting of Idris Elba as Heimdall as if it's the next big political issue in America (*ahem* Ian Huyett, I'm talking to you), you need to be hung, drawn, and quartered. Especially if you can't be bothered to look up your facts about the origins of a certain Nickelodeon TV show.

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

...with announcements.


Right. Now that I've got your attention...

I won't be able to review many more movies this year. Why? I'm home on break. So consider HWR to be on break for the winter. So technically, this is the end of the year for HWR.

It's been a great full year for HWR, with a lot of really, really good movies, and a lot of mildly bad ones as well. I'll be providing opinions on the end of the year in the form of countdown lists, and hopefully you'll stick around for that.

So thank you all for a great year of reviews, and you'll be hearing from me with the countdowns soon.

P.S. And if you want a really freaky casting decision? The actress who played Aphrodite in the original 1982 version of Clash of the Titans was a woman... who used to be a man. I'll let that sink in for a bit.

Friday, December 17, 2010

"Tron: Legacy"

Okay, so... how do we react to sequels made thirty years after the release of the original?

Good question. I don't know. I didn't see the first installment of this franchise, and all attempts to were sort of... killed by Disney executives, what with not making the DVD of Tron available on Netflix. (Thanks a lot, Disney.) What we get, then, is having to judge its sequel on its own merits.

Which is surprisingly easy...

I'll just get to today's movie.

Tron: Legacy

Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) vanishes while developing something that will change humanity, thus leaving ENCOM in greedy hands. His estranged son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) thus becomes a rather rebellious young man. However, when a call is made from his old arcade from the 80's, Sam heads over there. Before he knows it, he finds himself on the Grid, and finds himself facing off against malevolent program Clu (also Jeff Bridges, with a Fountain of Youth CGI job). He does this with the help of Quorra (Olivia Wilde), and sets off on an adventure to stop Clu from reaching a portal that will take him to the real world.

Okay. So... you'll notice I haven't mentioned anything about the events of the original. Well... aside from never having seen the original Tron, there's no real need to. The sequel manages to give enough information about the first movie as is needed for us to get the general gist of what's going on. And it all does it without our noticing it; honestly, I felt that it could've stood on its own as a movie, which I think is the best thing that can be said about a sequel.

That said, it does suffer a few minor issues with the script, most blatantly in pacing. I wouldn't call this movie a slowly-paced film, but I would say that it still has quite a few problems with pacing, mainly in how uneven the pacing is. Plot developments sort of come and go, but there's always something off about how the plot developments are paced. Sometimes it feels like there are too many things being told to us at once; other times, it feels a little slow. As well, there are a couple of points where really important things happen, but they don't really amount to anything within this installment. (In fact, whenever those things happen it feels like they're preparing us for a possible sequel, which I think should rarely be done.) I think this movie could have done with a nice long session of script doctoring to help iron it out. That said, this script is far from being the worst script of this year, so while it's not perfect it still does what it needs to.

Of course, there's something to be said for how they manage to make the script work, and the execution is really good. The movie is one of this year's most visually impressive films, using its 3D to the best effect in a live-action film since Avatar. And of course, there's some very good acting from all of the leads, particularly from Academy Award-Winner Jeff Bridges; all of the leads take the script where it needs to go, and they do so with grace and dignity even despite the uneven pacing.

So all said and done, Tron: Legacy is a reasonably good film. Its script has a few pacing issues, but apart from those it's an entertaining movie for the holidays with its strong visuals and very good acting. I say, check it out.

And Disney, please do something for me: the original Tron so we can all watch it. Please?


It has a few flaws, but it's still worth checking out.

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

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Herr Wozzeck Muses: Symbolism through Adaptation

Warning: This musing will contain spoilers for Black Swan. Viewer discretion is advised.

There's an interesting adaptation dilemma that comes up whenever someone adapts Swan Lake to any medium other than ballet. It's not a fact known by the general movie-going public, but it's still pretty vital to some things to think about whenever adapting it.

And that, is this: Swan Lake has multiple endings.

Tchaikovsky was apparently a little indecisive about how he wanted to end Swan Lake. The plot moves along fine and dandily throughout the first three acts, but at the end, there's no specific indication on how it ends. And so, productions get to pick and choose from one of several endings. One of the endings is a happy ending where Rothbart is defeated and the swan queen and her prince are married forever. Yes, the original ballet can have a happy ending, but this ending rarely sees any performances outside of Russia.

What are much more common are the unhappy endings: the most often used ending is one where both the swan and the prince kill themselves at the end, thus breaking Rothbart's spell and freeing all the other swans. It's more bittersweet than anything, but hey. From there, the unhappy endings range from the swan queen being trapped in swan form forever because of the prince's unwitting betrayal of her to Rothbart killing the prince and leaving the swan queen to mourn.

It leaves a very interesting open-ended question to anyone who adapts it, then: which ending do you use?

It's a question I'm sure Darren Aronofsky and his screenwriters poised to themselves when they began conceiving Black Swan. It's definitely not the easiest one to answer, as anything can be done.

Hence, why I think one of the best parts of Black Swan is the symmetry of the ending of the production and the ending of the ballet.

It's interesting that the production of Swan Lake danced in Black Swan ends with the queen killing herself: it's never explicitly mentioned if the prince does so too, but it's implied that's not the case, seeing as how there was only one mattress and she didn't have to get off of the mattress immediately. On one level, it works as an ending to Swan Lake that could be used in a production.

But on another level, it completes the story arc of Natalie Portman's character in a fairly symbolic way within the ballet. By this time, she's completely lost her mind, and laying on the mattress after her character has just killed herself, she's dying from a wound in her stomach inflicted by a shard of glass. It's a strange sort of symbolic ending: it's the best performance she's ever given, and it's one where the character and the performer are almost indistinguisheable. However, for Nina Sayers, that doesn't end so well, as she's become so lost in the pressure of having to be the swan queen that she's become the swan queen, and so dies with her character.

It illustrates one of the biggest strengths of Black Swan; it uses the fact that it's a quasi-adaptation of Tchaikovsky's ballet to its symbolic benefit rather than just as a story to tack on to the movie for no reason. It's one of the more difficult things to think about when adapting a movie, but I think Aronofsky made a great choice in terms of endings when it came to this movie. And on a symbolic level, it really helps the movie out enormously.

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

Saturday, December 11, 2010

"Black Swan"

Okay, so for those of you who know me, I am a music student. So when the name Tchaikovsky comes up, you'd expect a lot of people to say "oh, you mean that ballet composer whose Nutcracker you do every year in every major dance company". Well... except if you live in Russia, apparently, in which case you probably know him better for his operas than for his ballets.

But that's not the point. There's a certain ballet of his called Swan Lake about a girl who gets turned into a swan, falls in love with a prince who is deceived by a deceitful twin conjured up by the wizard who placed the curse on the girl.

So when one decides to pseudo-adapt it, we decide to have fun, right?

Well... let's go into today's movie, shall we?

Black Swan

Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is a dancer at the company of Thomas (Vincent Cassel). She has just gotten the chance to play the role of the Swan Queen in their new production of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, and is thrilled about it. However, when new dancer Lily (Mila Kunis) begins to take hold of her life, paranoia sets in for Sayers as she finds herself squashed under the pressure that everything around her--including her own subconscious--is throwing at her.

And it gets kind of trippy from there.

And I mean that in the best possible sense of 'trippy'.

Where to begin... where to begin... Well, the narrative is very tightly woven by director Darren Aronofsky. I'll admit I'm unfamiliar with his work (seriously, shame on me), but from what I see in Black Swan he can really fucking direct. Every event that happens in this movie probably would've come off as cheesy under anybody else's hands. But Aronofsky manages his material with an impeccable style and grace that's almost like the ballet dancers he's telling a story about. It's an experience to watch things unfold from his masterful direction.

And this is most apparent when things start getting bat-shit crazy in the middle of the third act. This movie has one of the most compelling portrayals of a slow descent into madness I've ever seen on celluloid. It starts of slowly, with only a few subtle things that happen around Nina. But it continually builds up, and by the time we get to the end it's absolutely jaw-dropping to behold everything that's going on around Nina. Aronofsky's direction helps keep everything in focus, and we're always somewhat aware of what's going on around Nina as she slowly loses her mind.

Ultimately, though, what keeps everything together is what I think to be the best performance of Natalie Portman's career. I've seen her in everything from the Star Wars prequels to Brothers last year, but nothing I've ever seen her do in any of her other movies has ever been as compelling as it has been during the running time of this movie. Much like Nina Sayers in the story, Natalie Portman has to embrace her dark side slowly, all while she's losing her mind. I imagine it's a very difficult thing to portray during the course of one movie, and Portman nails it. Here's hoping she gets nominated for an Oscar, because she really deserves it.

So... what else can I say about Black Swan that's positive? Not a whole lot, but that's not a bad thing. It's impeccably directed, incredibly acted, and sports one of the most jaw-dropping portrayals of a descent into madness ever committed to film. If there's one last thing to say about this movie that is positive, it is that Black Swan is one of the best films of the year. I can't think of anything more positive to say than that.


A must-see picture of the year.

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

Sunday, December 5, 2010

"The Warrior's Way"

Okay... so, genre mash-ups. What do you think when you see a genre mash-up? Fun times, right? Fighting? All that stuff?

Well... we have our first fairly big genre mash-up that I've seen today.

I'll bring it to today's movie soon enough.

The Warrior's Way

Yang (Jang Dong-gun) is a warrior who has sworn to kill every person in a rival clan of his own. However, when he saves a baby, his own clan chases him. Thus, Yang escapes to a small town in the American West to find somewhere safe for him and the baby to hide. While there, he encounters Ron (Geoffrey Rush) and Lynne (Kate Bosworth), and comes to like his new way of life there, right up until a nameless Colonel (Danny Huston) goes around, doing his typical mischief on the town. Thus, Yang resolves to... yeah, you get the idea.

I'll just get to the good stuff...

"Ninjas. Damn."

Which is never used in the fucking movie! Damn it, trailer! I guess this is the most important problem I have with this movie: it doesn't give us our pay-off soon enough. When we see a mash-up of genres, we expect to see a lot more action than we're given here. But pretty much the entire movie is a ninja getting used to life in the West. No, really. In fact, the fact that Yang's being chased by his own clan is sort of only touched on.

Fortunately for us, when the genre-mash-up finally comes, it's a little more rewarding than you'd think. While it never fully reaches the apex of how creative it can get by having ninjas clash with cowboys, it manages to create a reasonably fun time with some fairly fun action set pieces. And the best part is that this final action scene is the most substantial action scene in the movie: pretty much every action scene before hand is generally either too short or not engaging enough for us to care.

But until then, we get treated to a bunch of scenes of... character development. I'll admit, I didn't mind the character development, and honestly, I give the film-makers props for trying to get us to relate to the characters. (After all, action scenes do get better when people you care about are fighting.) The only problem is... it takes itself far too seriously during these scenes. It's at its best when it's being playful and knows what it is, but it doesn't always seem to know that it's not trying to be completely serious.

It also hosts some fairly atrocious special effects; the CGI was very conspicuous in this movie. The acting was surprisingly competent, thankfully: everyone was fairly good in their roles. And yes, this includes the baby.

It's... a bit tough to say how much of a mixed bag The Warrior's Way is. On the one hand, it doesn't have enough action, and takes itself too seriously. But on the other hand, when the mash-up finally happens, it's actually pretty fun, and you have to give the film-makers credit for at least trying to get us to sympathize with the characters. So all things considered, it's only really okay. But that's not a bad thing.


If you want to go see it, go see it. If you don't want to go see it, don't.

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

P.S. Dear Regal Cinemas:


Sorry, I had to get that off my chest. I'll see you guys next time with a review of Black Swan.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Herr Wozzeck Muses: On 3D

Well... I put this discussion off for long enough, I think. I've seen Toy Story 3, Legend of the Guardians, My Soul to Take, Saw VII, Megamind, and Ta-- er, pardon my parseltongue-- Rapunzel in 3D. And every chance I've had to comment on 3D, I've never taken it for various reasons. Toy Story 3 was due to not being on Blogspot yet, I talked about other things with nearly everything else, and you get the story.

So I think I've held this for long enough. But... well, here are my thoughts on 3D:

I mentioned in my musing related to Legend of the Guardians that there was a survey that was handed out after the screening that asked us questions about the movie, and questions about 3D products in general. Now, it's been over three months since I took that survey, but I can remember some of my answers well enough to approximate the questions. So I'll talk about a few of the questions and how I responded.

One of the first questions it asked about the movie pertaining to 3D was whether I had gotten extra motivation to see it because it was in 3D. For this question, I replied that I actually would have preferred a 2D screening, even if it was only a yes or no question. This is completely true: I would have seen all of the movies I mentioned above in 2D if they were playing on a 2D screen. Hell, I went to go see How to Train Your Dragon earlier this year in a 2D showing.

Another question it asked at one point was 'would I be interested in getting a 3D TV'. Uh, no. I think 3D movies are fine, but please, I'd like to keep 3D away from my home. My TV functions perfectly without needing to have glasses on, thank you very much. I think I'll survive without the need to put those things on. So no, I wouldn't bring 3D home with me.

It also asked a couple of other questions about what I have at my house and whether I would be buying LotG when it came out on video (to which I said 'maybe not'), but the survey brought to light my opinions on 3D. And for that, I have to say this:

I think 3D is okay, if you're careful not to make it too gimmicky. But honestly? I think 3D is beginning to take over the movie theater, and not in a very good way either. It's interesting how I was able to go to a 2D screening of How to Train Your Dragon, yet I couldn't find a single 2D showing of Saw 3D, Megamind, or  Rapunzel at the very same theater just half a year later. This, I find, is a little disturbing, as it means I can't see as many movies in 2D as I want.

But I don't mind 3D if it's done well. And to be honest, most of the movies I've mentioned use their 3D rather well. The one movie I'd say doesn't do a good job with its 3D is Saw VII, and that's mostly due to the justifiable post-production 3D on all the footage that's appeared in the previous movies of that particular franchise.

But if it's too prominent? I tend to count it against the movie.

After all, a gimmick can't hold a movie. If you rely on the gimmick, then people's enjoyment of it depends entirely on how much they like the gimmick in question. The movie still has to have engaging characters, a great story, and good film-making if it's going to be held up at all. This is something I don't think studio heads have realized, and I fear they won't realize it until the money stops rolling when we get tired of 3D all over again (hey, it's come and gone in the past, you know?). But if it works with the movie, then it's all right.

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

Sunday, November 28, 2010

"Tangled" Review

I don't know why, but... I thought I'd review another Disney movie again.

Seriously, what is it with me and Disney lately? I don't really know. I think I'm slowly making up with them, but hey, I think our relations have improved over the past. Especially when they returned to hand-drawn animation with last year's The Princess and the Frog... which then proceeded to get blown away by singing chipmunks. Seriously.

So this year? Well... today's movie should tell you all about it.

Tangl--Wait, wait, stop the press!

I refuse to call this movie Tangled any longer. You know what? No. I won't play along with Disney's cheap marketing ploy. So from here on out, I will never refer to it as that. Instead, I shall refer to it as it was orginally titled, and how it should've been titled for release:


Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) is a lost princess who was stolen by Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) after a golden flower was used to save Rapunzel's birth mother that Gothel had been using to keep herself young forever. She is thus trapped at the top of a tower from her birth. However, all this changes when loveable rogue Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) comes into her life. Hoping to figure out the significance behind the lights that appear in the sky every night on her birthday, Rapunzel sets out with Flynn on a wild adventure.

Okay, so my first complaint: why the hell isn't this movie hand-drawn? I don't get it; a piece of me really wishes this was hand-drawn animation instead of computer animation, as Princess and the Frog proved they can still do hand-drawn animation really well. Take it with a grain of salt, though; all the animator's traditional tools are still there, and the movie looks gorgeous even if its computer animated.

My second complaint: Disney, what the hell were you thinking with your advertising campaign? I can understand trying to appeal to a wider audience, but come on! Misadvertising your movie as being a desperate Dreamworks knock-off is not the way to broaden appeal. Especially not when your marketing includes leaving out the fact that it has songs by Alan Menkin in there. (Yes, this movie has songs. And yes, they're all pretty good.) Yes, there are plenty of adventure elements, but at its core its a story about a princess; I think you can find some way to market it to boys without intentionally misadvertising your movie.

And... that's about it, I think. Everything else seems to click into place. As I mentioned before, the animation is gorgeous, but it's also helped by a very tight script that keeps everything together especially well. The characters are engaging, everything comes back somehow, and things are all good. Does it fit a little too well into the standard Disney Princess mold of story? Perhaps, but I found I didn't mind. The voiceover work for this movie is also astoundingly good; you can tell the chemistry between Rapunzel and Flynn is sizzling just by how effective the VA work between Moore and Levi is.

And the characters are also engaging, mostly because almost all of the major ones go somewhere. It would be a spoiler to talk about this in detail, so I won't. But let's just say that I've found one of my favorite villains of the year in Mother Gothel. Only at Disney can I get such effectively compelling villains, let me tell you.

And so, Ta-- er, excuse me, Rapunzel stands as another strong addition to the Disney animated canon. It's not exactly the most original Disney movie, but it's helped by an engaging script and beautiful animation. Perhaps the biggest drawback against this movie is the marketing campaign, and that's not a fault of the movie, so it shouldn't be counted as such.


It has a few flaws, but it's still worth checking out.

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

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Herr Wozzeck Muses: Harry Potter and the Nerdicus Intotalus

I'll start this musing by stating the following: Harry Potter was the second affirmation I had ever gotten in my life that I would have something of a happy relationship with fictional properties.

It should come as no surprise that I am not a Harry Potter fan. Well, not in the most hardcore sense, and not as much as I used to, anyhow. When I was younger, I knew who Harry Potter was, I knew who Voldemort was, and I knew what was going on with everything pertaining to him. However, my curiosity was pretty involved, such that I can consider myself a fan.

The whole Harry Potter phenomenon is sort of attaching itself to me in a meta-sense, too: for the longest time, I had people telling me I look like Harry Potter. Which, if I'm donning my glasses, you can definitely see where they're coming from; I really did look very similar to Harry Potter. All I'd need would be the signature lightning-bolt scar and a not-fake British accent and I would be the spitting image of Harry Potter.

So naturally, I got pretty curious. And with that in mind, I set off on my Harry Potter journey.

So... I went and saw The Sorcerer's Stone when it came out in theaters. I'll admit I started reading its book, but never finished it. I forget why that is, but... I greatly enjoyed the first Harry Potter movie. I had never finished the book, but I could tell that they had put real effort into telling the story of the book as closely as possible. I was awed at the special effects, I felt for Harry Potter, and it was an incredibly entertaining story. So naturally, I was quite invigorated for the rest of the franchise.

So I went ahead and saw Chamber of Secrets and The Prisoner of Azkaban in theaters. I liked both quite a bit, even never having read the original books. The second movie was a little darker, but it still maintained the great adventure factor that the first one had, and it was quite enjoyable for all the same reasons. And the third part was also great for the same reasons I liked the first two parts. Even then, I knew something had changed between the second and third movie, but whatever it did it made the third one the best of the bunch.

In fact, I still maintain that Prisoner of Azkaban is the best HP film so far. Of course, the name Guillermo del Toro didn't ring any bells back then, but now, looking back and knowing about his other work (most specifically the piece of surreal awesomeness that is Pan's Labyrinth) I think that placing del Toro as the director was one of the smartest moves that they made for that film. But everything else clicked into place too.

By the time Prisoner of Azkaban had been released in theaters, I had begun to get caught up in the whole Harry Potter phenomenon. I was getting so into the movies that they in turn got me into the books. So I read Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix.

But, as I began the article, I'm not exactly a fan anymore. So what happened?

Well... Goblet of Fire was released in theaters. I don't remember ever being so disappointed at a movie; back then, I felt that they were putting far too much emphasis into the three trials for the Triwizard Tournament and left out so much of the interesting character development that even the first three movies were able to work in so well. I was also really annoyed that they completely cut the Quidditch match, as it broke the flow of the beginning of the movie. And on a personal note, I hated that they cut the entire Rita Skeeter subplot, as that was my favorite subplot of the book. I felt they focused too much on the action and not enough on the characters.

And so, Goblet of Fire killed my interest in the franchise. I didn't see Order of the Phoenix when it was released in theaters, and I didn't read the last two books. And I still haven't, to this day.

In recent years, though, it's had something of a light resurgence. I had an opportunity to see Half-Blood Prince in theaters last summer when I went over to a movie theater with my summer festival. I ultimately didn't, though, and those of you who read my review of Bruno way back when I started HWR can probably guess at what happened then.

So when the final chapter comes out? I finally decide to myself, 'oh, the hell with it'.

Will I ever fully get back into Harry Potter? Not completely. Will I ever forget my Harry Potter fan phase? Definitely not. It's created some rather fond memories, particularly of a group of Chinese girls I once had the pleasure of knowing when I visited Japan a couple of years back who noticed the similarity between me and the epinonymous wizard. And I think it was second hint I'd ever get in my life that I would become a nerd later in my life. A nerd for video games like Mass Effect and Heavy Rain, granted, but a nerd nevertheless.

And now? After so much has happened in my life, I'm proud to be a nerd. And it's this pride that allows me to say that at one time in my life, Harry Potter was one of my heroes.

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

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Ah, Harry Potter. The boy who lived, and worldwide phenomenon of story-telling. Also getting movies based on your exploits, I see.

Well... I personally have mixed feelings on the franchise. Personally, the first three chapters were things I liked greatly, but then part 4 turned me off to the film franchise. I read the entirety of Part 5, and know only the obligatory spoiler for Part 6.

So when the endgame for Harry Potter comes along? You better believe I want in on the action.

Without further ado, then, I give you today's movie...

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is in an incredible predicament: Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) is now chasing him down to try to kill him, and now the world of magic is transforming all around him to become far from the cheery thing he remembers as a child. Thus, he and Hermoine Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) set out to find and destroy the horcruxes, the only things that can kill Voldemort.

So... the first thing I have to say? Well, if you haven't kept up with the series, this probably isn't the entry to get started on. Fortunately, I'm familiar enough with the Harry Potter mythos that I was more or less able to fill in the holes from what I remember of the franchise. But it doesn't really attempt to fill in anything for newcomers, so I wouldn't recommend jumping in without knowing the plot of all the previous installments.

It means the movie doesn't really stand on its own all that well; it relies on the entire rest of the franchise to do its work. But that's not a bad thing. One of the things that the movie does well is that it sets up the tone for what's to come. It can't help but feel like a prelude of sorts, but it makes the wise decision of taking a breath instead of constantly trying to wow us with special effect. Yes, they're still there, but it's not all prevalent.

And that's a strength for this movie; it allows us to really see into the characters and how they're reacting to things. As in the previous installments, it focuses on Harry, Hermoine, and Ron, but this time the stakes are so much higher. And the movie is not afraid to establish how much is at stake without resorting to infodumps, which I think makes the movie all the stronger. It has excellent characterizations to this effect, and we're allowed to feel the true gravity of the situations they find themselves in by virtue of what happens all around them. The fact that it doesn't ask us to buy into a ludicrous amount of action scenes attests to this, and I think it's for the best as we go around.

Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is a very good way to begin the finale of the Harry Potter franchise. It only ever really feels like a prologue, but it takes its time to establish the stakes here, and for this it proves to be a very effective movie, even if it can't stand on its own. The fact that it never tries to resort to action scenes creates some of the best characterization of the year, and it establishes how dire things are.

In short: this may be the movie that gets me back into the Harry Potter franchise.


Most definitely worth checking out.

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

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Herr Wozzeck's Pit Fight: Skyline Vs. District 9

Warning: This pit fight will contain spoilers for both Skyline and District 9. You have been warned.

Okay, so I went to see Skyline last weekend, and I did not enjoy myself. It was a terrible movie, with terrible actors and a terrible script.

So if I told you that speculation was that it would be the next District 9, I'm sure you'd be hard-pressed to believe me on that. Yes, people actually thought it would be the next District 9, soley because both are low-budget sci-fi flicks about aliens. In fact, checking facts, Skyline was supposedly made for 10 million less than District 9.

That can't be the only link between them if Skyline is meant to be the next District 9.

So I've decided I'll pit them in a pit fight to prove once and for all that Skyline never had a chance in hell at being the next District 9.

Skyline Vs. District 9

Round 1: Story

And right off the bat we begin to see different things.

The focus of both movies is on the smaller people caught up in larger things. In the one, it's a group of ordinary people caught up in things; in fact, half the movie is spent watching things happen from that high-rise they're all in. In the other, it's just some guy doing stuff and then getting caught up in something greater than himself when he begins to mutate into an alien. Both have interesting angles on many things.

But there's one thing that seperates them; the method of first contact. One of the key things about District 9 was how it handled its aliens; they're more closely resembling African refugees than they are all-powerful invaders. This is one of the first things that should have tipped people off about it; the angle used for the aliens in Skyline is the same as it's always been with alien invasion stories. In District 9, meanwhile, the aliens aren't treated as invaders, but as victims, and the fact that they get thrown into an apartheid-type situation is more than enough proof that they are as different as can be. So the stories are automatically different.

In terms of plot, however, District 9 beats out Skyline. Yes, D9 might have a couple of plot holes for some people, but I'll take a plot hole over stupid characters doing face-palm inducing things just because the plot says so. As well, Skyline leaves a few plot threads hanging at the end, as well as having too many characters for its credit. D9 is more concentrated on a small group of characters and concepts, but it executes them all and explains them all well enough.

Winner: District 9

Round 2: Characters

Again, the two movies are completely different; both have fairly down-to-earth characters that are going about experiencing things beyond their control. And how they're written makes all the difference.

And both start off with fairly unlikeable main characters.

The problem, therefore, lies in the fact that the characters of Skyline aren't made to be jerks intentionally. Wikus of District 9 gleefully participates in what can arguably be termed genocide early on in the film, and some of it is truly difficult to watch. But it's intentional. In Skyline, we're introduced to the characters by watching them party. Oh, and they're also glaringly homophobic, which is something I didn't mention in the review because it's besides the point when they're all unlikeable for all sorts of other reasons.

The difference, then, lies in how they're written. And in this regard, District 9 easily beats Skyline. The problem with Skyline is that we're expected to sympathize with characters who are wholly unlikeable and have no development. Thus, we don't care about them. In District 9, however, we're not expected to until the plot demands it. And when the shit hits the fan in that movie? We actually do come to care about the main character. Wikus is written so much better than the entire cast of Skyline is chiefly because of this.

And the fact that we can sympathize with someone who's participated in the persecution of a race of sentient beings is what gives District 9 the point.

Winner: District 9

Round 3: Acting

Again, another similarity between the two is that the actors are all small in both movies. Although, that's also a bit of a stretch: most of the cast of Skyline are actors with fairly large reputations on TV: Jarrod was played by Gabe on Six Feet Under, Terry was played by Turq on Scrubs, and Oliver was played by Angel Batista on Dexter. This is a bit of a stretch, given that Sharlto Copley was virtually unknown in America before District 9 came along-- in fact, one could say it launched his career, if Copley's role in the recent A-Team reboot says anything.

And yet, the TV veterans all lose to the unknown man. This may have something to do with the fact that most of District 9's screenplay is improvised, but overall District 9 has much stronger acting than Skyline. The TV veterans can't get any kind of great emotion, particularly from the ladies who stand around to be nudged around by the men of the movie. And the acting as a result is terrible. I think the improvised screenplay of District 9 allowed Copley to bring something more personal to the table, and I think for this his performance is so much more effective because he actually lets the emotions ring through. And that's a lot more than I can say for Skyline

Winner: District 9

Round 4: Material

This can be summed up like this:

Skyline: Unlikeable characters with no development do incredibly retarded things while going on and on with melodrammatics about the state of the world and how stuff is horrible and oh who the fuck cares by the time we reach the one hour mark anyhow? Oh, and that ending comes right the fuck out of nowhere and is needlessly dark when compared to the rest of the movie.

District 9: An unlikeable character somehow becomes likeable because he's thrown into stuff and begins to see the true horrors of what's unfolding around him and oh my god he's turning into an alien and it's all gritty and stuff. Oh, and that ending is as dark as the rest of the movie, and there is an actual tear-jerking moment at the end.

I think you have a clear idea of where I'm going with this, but I'll add one last variable to this plate: one reason why District 9 is probably more effective is because it fleshes out its universe. We get development on basically everything, which suits its apartheid allegory. It gives the world of District 9 the feeling of being alive, which is much more than what can be said for Skyline. It's arguably fitting given that the world is being gutted in the latter, but it also means we care less about what is going on around the characters.

So I think you know what gets the point by now.

Winner: District 9

Round 5: Special Effects

And for our 5th round, we have special effects on the plate. Both are low-budget movies that have to give off impressive special effects to give the feeling that this really is an alien invasion.

Basically, both movies use a ton of CGI, with a couple of practical make-up jobs where applicable. That's the simplest I can put it.

The problem? Skyline's CGI is far too conspicuous. There were a couple of points where it's obvious it's CGI, and it frequently calls attention to itself. This is especially telling considering that the Strause Brothers are VFX experts.

But then again, so was Niell Blomkamp, and the CGI for District 9 is so much better than it was for Skyline. The aliens actually feel real, and it's extremely difficult to tell that they're CGI. It's a real credit to VFX people when the CGI doesn't call attention to itself at all.

So the point, and the match, goes to District 9

Winner: District 9

General Winner: District 9, performing a TKO on Skyline.

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

Monday, November 15, 2010


Okay, so... First contact stories. What about them?

Well, they generally go into one category: the alien invasion movie. You know, that genre of movie where the aliens come down in their ships and their hyper-advanced technology and their this and their that and the other?

... You know what? I honestly don't care enough about this movie to give it an exciting lead-in.

I'll just get going with today's movie...


Something has descended upon LA in the form of a bunch of wierd blue beams of light sucking people in either to aliens or to flying motherships. Stuck within the same building, it's left up to Jarrod (Eric Balfour), Elaine (Scottie Thompson), and a group of three other survivors who are reeling from heavy partying the night before to survive the alien invasion.

Cue special effects spectacle. This movie does sport some impressive CGI sequences throughout that are actually quite well-done. They create some great action, and it is generally quite fun to watch these special effects...

...or it would be, if the script wasn't as awful as it is.

I'll put it forward simply: this movie has the worst script I have ever seen since I've started reviewing movies: even movies like New Moon have a better script than this piece of crap. How it even got greenlit by Universal, I have no idea. There are too many characters that get killed off like flies throughout the entire movie. This could actually create some tension, if I actually cared about who these people were. I didn't, and so I kept on waving my hand saying "Jesus Christ, get to the next fucking action scene already". The dialogue is incredibly heavy-handed as well, and it's so melodramatic I seriously shook my head in disapproval more than once.

It doesn't help that the plot can be face-palm inducing at a lot of places; all the characters can do incredibly idiotic things, especially when the plot says so. Things happen that are utterly ridiculous, and very few plot points are actually explained, especially in relation to what happens with these blue lights that the aliens use to suck people in. It keeps pulling stuff out of its ass, and the result is a plot that is an absolute mess by the time we get to the end. And the end? It's needlessly dark, and has one of the stupidest plot elements that comes right the fuck out of nowhere. (Even if you're paying attention.) Oh, and by the way movie, tactical nukes do not work like that!

It doesn't help that the acting is atrociously bad. I think there is only one competent actor in the entire movie: everyone else is incapable of portraying more than one emotion at any time. The fact the script gives them almost nothing to work with doesn't help this, but I place greater blame on the actors as they can't even portray fear correctly, which is the one emotion they should be able to get right for something like this. If they can't even get that right, they're in over their heads.

In short, Skyline is a terrible movie. I regret ever spending more than a matinee ticket on this movie, and in a way I wish I could get my eleven dollars back. The script is terrible, the acting is atrocious, and I don't care about any of the characters, thus cheapening the experience. If you want to see this movie (which I don't know why you would want to see anything from the minds behind such masterpieces as Aliens Vs. Predator), do yourself a favor and go see something else.


Skip it.

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

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cloud Cuckoolander Treatise: A Letter to Metroman

Note: Hello, all, and welcome to a new idea for a column I've had. So... the Cloud Cuckloolander Treatise... That is where I go absolutely nuts and allow fridge logic to run free for any movie I've previously reviewed. It won't always make sense, but then again, it won't have to. So I hope you enjoy this new idea I've got.

Warning: The following treatise will contain major spoilers for Megamind as well as a few minor spoilers for the Saw franchise. Read at your own risk.

Dear Metroman,

I firmly and very solidly believe that you had a liaison with Jigsaw at one point before the events of Megamind ever occurred. Why?

Well... one can't help but get the feeling that the entire movie is a gigantic gambit to make Megamind a superhero with his brains and all that stuff. I mean, what with doing stuff that makes Megamind reconsider where he stands, forcing him to take measures to reconstruct his life...?

What, you don't know what I'm talking about? Well, Metroman, you're one sly jokester, faking your own death within a copper dome so you could retire from your superhero life? I don't think you did it because you like music; where is your tour? You've only been hiding under your schoolhouse hideout ever since you "died", after all, growing that beard and drinking ice cubes that haven't melted yet.

Well, at least until Roxeanne and Megamind both found out about your reverie. And then you finally come out...

... to congratulate Megamind on becoming a superhero. No musical numbers (Michael Jackson posthumously took care of that, thanks), no superheroic return, nothing. You're just there to say "good job".

You can pretend that you wanted to be a musician all along, but think about it. You studied under Jigsaw at one point, I imagine.

Think about it; despite being dead for four movies, Jigsaw has still managed to make a presence of himself with Amanda and Hoffman. He was incredibly brilliant; all of his traps were metaphoric representations of their victims, after all. And he perpetuated an idea as well, which is very dangerous when you're referring to him. You learned the art of the Xanatos Gambit from him, no doubt, as you engineered everything based on a principle of your rival's behavior and manipulated it-- much like the way Hoffman got Strahm killed in Saw V.

I do have to give you credit for one thing, though; at least the lesson didn't fly right over the head of the person you were teaching it to. It succeeded with flying colors.

But I take it you had a pleasant time with Jigsaw? If you did, please do tell us all about it.

-Herr Wozzeck

Monday, November 8, 2010


So... DreamWorks. Well, I'll start off by saying that not a whole lot of their work is that original. And it rarely ever takes that many risks with its stories (with the sole exception of the rather excellent How To Train Your Dragon from earlier this year). So naturally, we all tend to think of them as being very much the same.

So when the latest movie comes up, what do you expect? We get more of the same, seeing as how it works for all of us.

But is that an entirely bad thing? Well, let's bring the subject to today's movie:


Megamind (Will Ferrell) is an evil supergenius with a Kryptonian origin story, which also holds true for his rival, Metroman (Brad Pitt). After Megamind's lates scheme to defeat Metroman goes horribly right, however, Megamind finds that being evil without a hero to fight him is boring. So he resolves to do something about it, while wooing reporter Roxanne Ritchie (Tina Fey) as another person and dealing with her cameraman Hal (Jonah Hill).

Okay, so right of the bat, we get the feeling that not a whole lot about this movie is going to be original. We've all seen Superman origins play out, we've seen something very similar to this somewhere before, we know the main character's gonna get the girl at the end, we know it's all gonna have a happy ending...

...but that's besides the point when one constantly gets the feeling that the unoriginality of the whole enterpise is part of the punchline. This movie basically takes all the superhero tropes it can and milks them for all they are worth. The result isn't always successful, but it manages to distract from the fact that nothing is really that original in this movie.

And the studio is also clearly having a lot of fun with playing with such a premise. Will Ferrell and Tina Fey both have a ball with this movie, and it's especially obvious in some of the bigger action set-pieces, in which there's comedy thrown all over the place. As well, it looks really great in the end anyhow, as all the action set-pieces are a joy to watch, even if some of it isn't all that rememberable.

Despite the fact that Megamind isn't all that original, it succeeds thanks to the fact that it plays with almost every bit about it that's unoriginal. It may not be entirely memorable, but it's perfectly harmless entertainment, and you may even have quite a bit of fun with it while you're in the theater.


If you want to go see it, go see it. If you don't want to go see it, don't.

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

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Herr Wozzeck Muses: After the Seventh Day of Sawdom

Warning: This musing will contain spoilers for the entire Saw franchise. Viewer discretion is advised.

I've been providing thoughts about the Saw franchise all throughout my Seven Days of Sawdom retrospective, and it's been quite a ride going through the entire franchise and providing my thoughts on it. My final thoughts are a little mixed; while half of it that's good, the half of it that isn't good isn't really worth remembering, in my opinion. But those that are good are usually pretty good.

But... I've been saving one of my favorite parts of the franchise for this musing. And my favorite part?

Well, it's none of the things I've been mentioning. My favorite part of the franchise is how the traps can serve as a kind of metaphor for their victims.

One thing I've noticed about many of the traps in the franchise is that often the traps will have a fairly metaphorical significance to whoever is participating in them. It tends to get smothered under the extreme levels of gore and the amount of attention paid to the series' overarching mythology, but for those that look, they can find it screaming in their faces.

It's something the series has always had from day one, albeit in a slightly different form: Dr. Gordon in the original movie has to kill Adam because his family is being held hostage; it's a strange way of getting Dr. Gordon to realize what he's been neglecting whenever he goes off to sleep with his secretary. That's the most rudimentary it gets. In Saw II, the entire house trap that the movie is documenting ties into Eric Matthews needing to realize what his son means to him.

Usually, it's often about Jigsaw trying to prove a point to whoever he's testing. It's something that's always been with the franchise; the main games are trying to prove a point to whoever is participating in them. And this was only the start of it: as we ventured later into the franchise and everything got more elaborate, the metaphors began to really kick off, I think.

Let's take the overarching trap of Saw VI, as I think it's one of the best examples of this in the whole franchise given the nature of its traps and the anvillicious nature of it in general. William is the healthcare administrator who denies people necessary health insurance based on a formula of his own devising. Thus, the main traps of Saw VI put that formula to the test. The first game tests William's resolve to live, appropriately pitting him against the janitor of the building who smokes. It's an appropriate start to everything, and sets the mood. The second test is meant to pose to William the question of 'should people be denied their right to live because they've had medical complications in the past' by forcing him to choose between the sick secretary who has a family and the physically well file clerk who has no family. The third trap is meant to show William an example of how far people are willing to go for their right to live, as shown by Debbie's rather violent attempts to attack William with a buzz-saw. The fourth trap is meant to show him how much death his formula can deal by the fact that 2/3rds of all applications are denied thanks to his formula: he must then choose which 1/3rd of his six most reliable staff members will live, and four of them must die. And at the end, he doesn't even get to choose his own fate; the wife and son of someone he denied insurance to based on a previous medical condition get to choose his fate. It's a method of posing the question to their victim about the subject of the previous things.

As I mentioned earlier, it's also present in the rest of the franchise, but the larger traps really start to pick up in Part 3, so I'll run down the metaphorical meanings that I found in each:

Part 3- This I felt is where the theme of forgiveness derived from. All the victims that Jeff has to save are related to the death of his son, and he has to choose whether to forgive them or not. When Jeff gets to Jigsaw, that doesn't end too well.
Part 4- All of the traps of this movie are meant to point out to Detective Rigg that he can't save everyone, and to give him a glimpse into Jigsaw's mind. He tries to do it anyway, but Jigsaw makes it a point that he can only do so much to save people; in the end, Jigsaw feels people must save themselves and Rigg must throw his obsession with saving everyone aside for this reason. And when he fails his ultimate test... it's not pretty.
Part 5- Yes, even the worst installment of the franchise has this metaphorical undertone. All five of the victims of the main trap were involved in a housing fire, and all were involved in it for things that met their own selfish ends. Jigsaw mentions in the opening tape for their games that instinct will tell them to do one thing, but they must do the opposite: this alludes to their selfishness, and that they must do the opposite of self-preservation. Of course, the metaphor is lost on them, so they don't realize that until the very end when they realize that if they had worked together the final trap would be easier.
Part 7- Bobby's lying about being in a Jigsaw trap catches up to him, and in this one Jigsaw puts all of his lessons up to Bobby to test them out. All of them involve his press crew, and at many points the wisdoms given from his book are posed in front of him, usually right before he has to take part in a test. (The only thing this doesn't apply to is the second letter, which serves to point him in the right direction on how to get to the others.) It forces him to take his own medicine, in a way, while also showing how his lies can hurt those around him.

The idea of a death trap serving as a metaphor is honestly one of the strongest things about the Saw franchise in my humble opinion. And there seem to be others that are picking up on it: David Cage implements a similar concept throughout the PS3 game Heavy Rain; wherein main character Ethan Mars has to undergo trials that test his resolve to save his son. Very few of them bring it up to Jigsaw's level of gore, but they're a little more effective for that, I think.

Yes, the traps can often be preposterous, particularly as we go further and further into the depths of the franchise (and especially Part 7; don't get me wrong, those were some pretty good traps, but some of them were absolutely impossible for a rogue detective to pull off). Yes, it can be lost in the gore if it's not heavy handed. But the metaphorical properties of the traps are the most interesting thing to me in the entire Saw franchise.

And I think it's something worth thinking about.

This is Herr Wozzeck Reviews, finally hoping to put Jigsaw to rest. It's been a hell of a ride with the series, and I'll see you guys next time.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Seven Days of Sawdom: Day Seven

Hello, all, and welcome to the final day of Sawdom, where we come in with the final chapter of this horror franchise.

I'll get started soon, but first, disclaimer:

There will be spoilers for extremely plot-sensitive details from the previous Saw movies. If you have not seen any of the previous installments of the franchise, turn back now and watch them before reading the review. You can't say I didn't warn you when your franchise is spoiled.
With that said, we move on to the final film of the franchise:

Saw 3D

Bobby Dagen (Sean Patrick Flanery) is an author who helps previous victims of the Jigsaw killer while purporting to be one of those victims. He eventually gets involved in a big trap of Jigsaw's design, and he finds he must get through it if he wants to save his wife. And while this is happening, Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) is pursuing Jill (Betsy Russel) for revenge for nearly killing him.

So... where to begin with this one?

Well... it gets a very definite feel of endgame, although it decided to avoid the angle that Saw III went with like the plague. Instead, it seeks to resolve the overarching mythos of the franchise to the point that it gets a bit obsessive about it. And my, does it pull quite the asspull to accomplish that. As well, Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) hardly ever appears throughout the installment, and the reported return of Cary Elwes to the franchise didn't amount to much. The closure of the series is still pretty interesting, though... it's convoluted, and yet it brings everything full circle in a strangely satisfying way. Honestly, the ending was the best part, if only because of how it brings everything full circle and for no other reason than that.

And the traps... Oh, boy. It's all bigger and gorier in this installment, with death scenes the likes of which we've never seen before. The gore is taken to all new levels here, and it's absolutely insane in that regard. But by this installment? It's grown exceptionally tough to care, as we all know the formula for these kinds of traps; the players all end up failing, people die in gruesome ways, and it's all insanity from there. The sad part? Some of the payoff for the traps isn't even all that great when we think about it. It's all big, and it's all gruesome, but sometimes the payoff doesn't amount to much of anything. And that is quite unfortunate...

And thematically? Forget it. There isn't a whole lot to work on here; now we see the franchise bogged down into the franchise's reputation as a schlock fest with a whole ton of gore. And there's hardly anything worthwile about it.

Saw 3D therefore comes off as a minor disappointment. It's not the way I would've ended the series (especially not with the big ass-pull they made at the end), and the traps aren't all as crazy as they could have been, but it redeems itself with bringing the whole series full circle in very interesting ways. But even then, it's not a great installment.

And on the 3D? It made things pop out at you and was very gimmicky. Although in a case like this, that helps the experience.

So the final verdict of the series' finale?


It has its moments, but overall you might be left disappointed.
Now... what's my final thoughts on the franchise?

Well... like any franchise, it went down the toilet after the third installment. The sixth installment was the best of all the installments after three, but unfortunately it never recaptured the suspense and the tough decisions of the first movie. So in this regard, this is my ordering for how good the installments are:

Saw II
Saw VI
Saw 3D
Saw IV
Saw V

So yeah, the first three movies and the sixth movie are the only ones that you should really bother with. The others can be skipped and you won't miss a whole lot (with the exception of a lot of background mythos for part VI).

The series started quite serious, but it ended on a heavily convoluted note. I'm not sure what to make of the overarching mythos; on the one hand, it's fascinating to see all of it unfold, but on the other it can come across as a little cheap (particularly during Saw V, which I now realize felt disjunct because it was trying to sew up the plot holes that were present with Saw IV's big reveal). And ultimately, it doesn't amount to a whole lot given the angles they went with.

As for the series' traps... Well, I guess I'll run down each installment and go over my favorite traps.

1: The central plotline's trap, mostly for how difficult the decisions were, but also because it's the least ludicrous of all the traps of the franchise.
2: None of the traps here are really that memorable, but if I had to go with one I'd probably go with the needle pit trap, as it has some very disturbing psychological undertones to it.
3: The pig vat trap; it's one of the few traps that someone walks away alive from, and it's the only trap in the entire franchise in which someone does what they're supposed to do before the victim dies.
4: I'd be inclined to go with the impalement trap, as it's got fairly disturbing undertones to it. On a side note, this installment houses my least favorite trap in the franchise: the hair trap. For God's sake man, cut her hair!
5: The pendulum; oddly enough, this is one of exactly two traps I've enjoyed in the franchise purely for how it works at fucking people up, and also because it helps develop Hoffman's character.
6: The carousel; it's a very difficult trap to watch because the decision making is extremely difficult. On a side note, the carousel also has the honor of being my favorite trap of the whole franchise.
7: I'll go with the throat pierce trap; it's one of the most ludicrous traps of the whole franchise, but its implications are very disturbing.

As for the best part of the traps? Well... I'll cover that in this week's musing.

This is Herr Wozzeck Reviews, at sunset on the final day of Sawdom. It's been a hell of a ride reviewing the entire franchise, and I hope you've enjoyed my retrospective.

And I'll see you guys next time.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Herr Wozzeck Muses: I Know The Victims!

Warning: the following musing will contain minor spoilers for Paranormal Activity 2. Mind you, they are minor, and it may not spoil too much, but this warning is here just in case.

So for those of you that saw Paranormal Activity 2, you have a horror sequel that's more intelligent than your average horror sequel. In the shortest sense possible, it relies more on the formula set by the original movie than most other horror sequels would think to rely on. So there's that element that helps the horror out, as well as some really well-paced story.

But perhaps the strongest tool of any horror film is its ability to get us to sympathize with the people that are being given hell. We hardly care about what's going on to a person unless we can understand and sympathize with their struggles. We want people to persevere in a horror story, and if we come to dislike the characters it's the worst sin you can perpetrate to a horror victim since we son't care for them the way we should; instead of cheering them on, we hope for whatever evil is plagueing them to kill them off finally. Ask the remake of Nightmare on Elm Street; we couldn't be bothered enough to care about the people there to want to sympathize with their struggle.

This is something that Paranormal Activity 2 does fairly well, given its set-up as an average family being subjected to not-so-average things, and all being terrified of it.

But in my case, it went a little farther than the film makers intended, I believe. Why?

That could practically have been my family in that house.

To be perfectly honest, my own family is so similar to the family in Paranormal Activity 2 that part of that fear transfered into "this could happen to me". It wasn't as distracting as you'd think, to be perfectly honest. In fact, it was the similarities between the PA2 family and my own that really began to eat away at me.

I can see my family's Nicaraguan housekeeper in Martine, even if my family's housekeeper probably never will be as superstitious as Martine is. I can see traces of little Hunter in my younger brother Augie: about 18 years separate the two of them, but given his mental disability he still needs people to look after him. My older sister is visible in Ali, along with being a fairly big social butterfly to match. My dad is a hard-ass much like Dan, and I couldn't help but feel a major similarity between Dan's assertions that nothing out of the ordinary was going on and my own fathers' attitude towards people telling him his faults. And my mom is very similar to Kristi, even if she's still my dad's only wife and she doesn't have any sisters like Katie. Hell, we even have the loveable dog to match! The only thing missing from this to be a near-perfect microcosm of my family would be myself.

And somehow, this made me relate to the whole movie on a completely different level. I facepalmed a little at Dan's assertions that nothing was out of the ordinary, mostly because it mirrored my own father's behavior when we try to bring up his own faults to him. I felt very sorry for Martine when she gets fired about ten minutes into the film, mostly because it mirrors my own fear of the housekeeper who's been a part of my life for as long as I can remember being suddenly fired and forced to go away. My fear of Kristi when the shit really hit the fan mirrored Ali's fear because I know for a fact I would be terrified if my mother was in a catatonic state. And the climax scared me a lot in relation to little Hunter because I could practically see my own brother being in that situation where he doesn't know what the hell is going on around him.

Ultimately, it ties into one of those musts of horror; the audience must be able to relate to the protagonists somehow. If it doesn't, the movie has no chance in hell of being even remotely good. On what level the audience relates to the protagonists is left up to the film makers, but my experience with PA2 says that sometimes it can run deeper than 'this is their motivation, now watch shit happen around them'. I hope that horror directors in the near future would keep this in mind, and I hope they actively try to find different ways to get the audience to relate to the victims.

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

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Seven Days of Sawdom: Day Six

Hello, all, and welcome back to my retrospective of the Saw franchise. Today sees the final installment that we'll need to watch from home before Saw 3D hits theaters this weekend. And it's a pretty crazy installment.

And I mean that in more than one sense.

So... spoiler alert!

There will be spoilers for extremely plot-sensitive details from the previous Saw movies. If you have not seen the previous five installments of the franchise, turn back now and watch them before reading the review. You can't say I didn't warn you when your franchise is spoiled.

With that said, let's go into today's movie...

Saw VI

William Easton (Peter Outerbridge) is the head of a health insurance company that Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) went to when he was being treated for his cancer. William denied Jigsaw said coverage for a revolutionary new cancer treatment. Now that he is dead, Jigsaw throws William into the midst of a game of his own where he must put his own faulty healthcare policies to the test. All this goes on while we take a look at Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) and Amanda (Shawnee Smith) while Jigsaw's ex-wife Jill (Betsy Russell) becomes involved in Jigsaw's will in a way she doesn't want.

Okay, so let's get started.

Well, the choice of having a health insurance man there brings to point an especially big anvil for this movie; namely, that health care in America is ineffective. It honestly gets to the point where it feels a little anvillicious sometimes, and it can distract from the overall plot of the movie as a result. This does not bode well, although I can see why the message is there given that it was first released in the middle of a gigantic health care debate that was raging at this time last year.

Fortunately, everything else is back in action. The games in this installment almost all guarantee that someone's gonna get fucked up badly given that it makes one person choose between other people and who should die and who should live, much in lieu of the health care message. The gore is extremely well done, though it still does distract a little bit from the tension being built throughout.

But unlike the previous installments, we get to see what is going through William's head as he makes these decisions on who lives and who dies. The characters are given backstories and other things to help flesh them out as victims of something greater, and it gives us reasons to care about the characters. It also goes into enough detail to give us William's motivations as to why he spares the people he spares. All this helps us get a return glimpse into the suffering that the franchise started out with, and as such the movie doesn't feel like it falls in line with the torture porn reputation the other movies had.

It's this return to form that makes Saw VI one of the better installments of the series. The healthcare message is distracting and the gore can be as unsettling as ever, but apart from that it's a return to form that manages to elevate this installment above the others.


If you want to go see it, go see it. If you don't want to go see it, don't.

Okay, so... Heading into the weekend, my thoughts?

Well... it's starting to get a little more convoluted from here on out, but I get the feeling that the next installment will see very decreased input from Jigsaw and a lot more involvement from Hoffman's side of things. See, it was revealed in this installment that Hoffman was more of an asshole than initially believed; he blackmailed Amanda into doing her actions from Saw III (which I hold against the movie since it partly retcons a lot of the thematic development present in that installment), and he's just a jerk. I imagine the traps will only get more intense at the end of the franchise as a result, so... We'll see what happens plotwise.

All I can say, though, is this: thank God they decided to condense the last two installments into one. Yeah, there were originally supposed to be two installments after this. Thank goodness Paranormal Activity came in and said "uh, no, we're not gonna let you get away with that". To be perfectly honest, the decision to condense Saw VII and Saw VIII makes quite a bit of sense from a story view; I think it's a very ill-informed decision to stretch the resolution of this whole thing out across two movies; it's probably better to pack it into one movie, as it can stretch the pacing way too thin for a lot of people's tastes.

As for the traps? Some of them look absolutely insane from what we see of the trailers. I'll be hard-pressed to admit it, but one of the things I've really liked about this franchise is its ingenuity in its traps. Not what they do to people, mind you, but what they mean. It's something I've been noticing quite a bit as the franchise has gone on, so I'll talk about it once I've seen the whole franchise.

As for the 3D? Well, I'll be willing to give this one a chance for that, seeing how this installment was apparently filmed in 3D instead of using that idiotic post-production process. This is a bit of a relief, although I will still try to see if I can't see this installment in 2D.

But other than that? I'm looking forward to seeing how this franchise ends.

This is Herr Wozzeck Reviews, at the sunset of the Sixth Day of Sawdom. I'll see you guys next time, and I hope you'll join me on the Seventh Day of Sawdom when I review Saw 3D.

Monday, October 25, 2010


Heyo. If you know me, you know that I'm very into a lot of things. I'm into thinking quite a bit about the state of things, and how things go about in the world today.

But one thing you might not know about me is that one subject that frequently comes up for me is death. I tend to think about death all the time for some reason, and it's something I can rarely take my mind off of.

So when Clint Eastwood makes a movie about the afterlife? Well... I couldn't help but check it out.

Which brings me to today's movie...


George (Matt Damon) is a psychic who doesn't do any readings since he views his supposed 'gifts' as a curse. Marcus (Frankie McLaren) is a boy whose twin brother dies in a car accident. Marie (Cécile de France) is a reporter who had a near-death experience during a tsunami while investigating a story in Indonesia. All three find themselves pondering about the afterlife and what they go to when they die, and it profoundly affects all three of them.

So yeah. This movie is a little disjointed at first; it starts with three seperate stories that all converge at the end that ponder various things about the nature of an afterlife. It's a very slowly paced meditation on death, and it really has a few things to say about the afterlife. Honeslty? I found it to be fairly stimulating, but god damn it was it depressing. George and Marie's stories laid it off on the sadness a bit, but god damn it Marcus' story was super depressing, and I felt the most moved by his story. It actually creates a bit of a schism when we start comparing stories, however, and that shift took me out of the movie.

As well, the convergence of the storylines might come off as being a little cheap to some viewers. The events that occur have a bit of a bent to them, as well, and some may find those elements can make the viewing experience a little less moving. I found the ending to be the only way it could really have closed the movie, even if it did rely on supernatural elements a little too much. Some of the plots also felt a little clichéd and melodramatic at points, and it detracted from some things. It really didn't pause on the meditation of the afterlife that occurred, however, and the to me brought closure to all the thoughts that it had been bringing up until that point.

And it was helped by excellent performances from the entire cast as well. Everyone that was in this movie did a good job, though of particular note is Frankie McLaren, who apparently never acted before. He does an astoundingly beautiful job as a boy trying to come to terms with the fact that he's lost his brother. He was seriously the best actor in the movie, which is saying something considering he has to work with Matt Damon.

Hereafter is certainly one of the most depressing movies of the year, but fortunately it's for all the right reasons. Sure, the plot may not be the greatest, but its meditations on where we go after life are very thought-provoking and beautiful in their own kind of way. So I say go check it out.


It has a few flaws, but it's still worth checking out.

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

Sunday, October 24, 2010

"Paranormal Activity 2"

Okay, so remember when Paranormal Activity became a smash hit last year and single-handedly managed to topple the Saw franchise's stable hold on Halloween weekend? Well, in addition to launching Orin Peli's career, it also warranted a sequel. Why?

Because whate else is there to do with a successful horror movie but make a sequel to get money?

Well... you may be surprised to find out that this particular sequel is actually pretty good. Why?

Well, that brings me to today's movie...

Paranormal Activity 2

Kristi Rey (the sister of Katie from the first movie) is married to Daniel, has a stepdaughter named Ali, and an adorable baby son named Hunter. However, Kristi's household begins to get haunted by similar things that plagued Katie and Micah's house in the first movie. And so... they sort of go about trying to figure out what the hell is going on as things get stranger and stranger.

So... let's get started.

As per usual sequel mechanics, things get a lot bigger in Paranormal Activity 2. The house is bigger, the group of people affected is bigger, there's a dog involved, there's a Hispanic housekeeper involved, and...

There are more cameras. It's security cameras this time around, and about five of them. And that's not counting the handheld camera that isn't erected on a tripod anymore for roughtly 2/3rds of the movie. This typically works against the movie, as we're given too many vantage points and it lessens the tension slightly. I remember one of the most frightening moments in the original was when Katie was dragged out of bed by something invisible; part of what played into that particular scare was not knowing how the tussle between the demon and Micah would end. Sure, there are some areas of the house that aren't under surveillance, and they do play with some of the camera angles from time to time, but that factor of the unknown doesn't play into the video footage anymore.

Actually, unknown is given the finger throughout. This fleshes out a couple of things in the first movie, and even sheds light on why Katie and Micah were being attacked in the first place. This could be a problem, but... one thing that benefits the movie is that when explanations come, the implications of them actually make things a little more frightening. Sure, it takes some of the tension away when we can relate some of the events to how they played out in the first movie, but it's that kind of knowledge that frightens you the more you think about it.

And the movie gets going a little faster than it did the first time they did it. The really insane scares that people felt were lacking in the first movie come a little sooner, and given the larger area of the house it has a lot more it can work with to at first creep us the hell out and then outright scare the shit out of us. And ultimately, the build-up and the pay-off is enough to override what tension is taken away by the knowledge of stuff.

All this makes Paranormal Activity 2 a worthy sequel. Is it as good as the original? No. But it still offers the same brand of intelligent horror that the first movie offered. So it manages to be more than a cash-grab sequel.

And the most scary thing about it? That will be the muse.


Most definitely worth checking out.

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

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Seven Days of Sawdom: Day Five

Hello, all, and welcome back to my retrospective of the Saw franchise. Today's look at the franchise presents perhaps the most... well... needless installment of the franchise. I'm not sure what else to say about this; this is the one film in the franchise that I don't really see much of a point to.

I'll cut to the chase right away and talk about today's movie... But first, disclaimer:

There will be spoilers for extremely plot-sensitive details from the previous Saw movies. If you have not seen the previous four installments of the franchise, turn back now and watch them before reading the review. You can't say I didn't warn you when your franchise is spoiled.
With that said, let's go on...

Saw V

The events of Saw III and IV leave Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) and Amanda dead, but his work is far from finished given the reveal of Detective Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) as Jigsaw's second apprentice. However, FBI agent Peter Strahm (Scott Patterson) is on to Hoffman, and it's up to him to figure out how to bring Hoffman in while five people play another of the now-posthumous Jigsaw's games as carried out by Hoffman.

See? I told you it would eventually be impossible to keep the spoilers out. From here on out, I'll assume you've seen the first four movies of the franchise.

Here, the gore gets taken to all sorts of new levels, such that it becomes incredibly insane. Now they're really going full-out with how badly they can fuck up people. And it's gotten to the point where it's not there for the tension so much as it is for the shock factor. But we're not shocked; we're startled. In fact, at one point I actually laughed at the gore since it was obviously fake. And that is perhaps the worst sin perpetrated by the gore. What doesn't help is that some of the actors they got for this are absolutely terrible at what they do; some of their deliveries are very flat for the kinds of ridiculously life-threatening situations we find ourselves in, and it doesn't help us sympathize with them all that much.

But what makes it all worse is the fact that for a franchise that banks on it, there isn't all that much there. Most of the movie is spent following Hoffman and Strahm around as Hoffman gets acquainted with the Jigsaw killer via flashbacks (even being seen helping Jigsaw set up one of the traps from the first movie and the big trap from the second movie) and as Strahm chases Hoffman around. And not all that much goes on.

And unfortunately, there's not enough of a really obvious correlation between the main game of the movie and the attention put into Hoffman's history with Jigsaw for there to seem like there's any actual worth to what's going on. The entire thing thus comes off as entirely pointless; we don't really need to see Hoffman's history with Jigsaw all that much, and it doesn't really relate at all to the so-called 'Fatal Five'. Perhaps if we had concentrated more on Strahm, we would've had a way to connect with the film, but that was not to be. And as a result, the whole thing comes across as a bit of a mess that doesn't really know what it wants to do with itself.

And that is a shame, as Saw V has a lack of focus that ultimately renders the whole enterprise pointless. The story of Hoffman and Jigsaw is interesting enough, but it doesn't relate to the rest of the movie well enough for us to really care. It's the worst installment of the franchise, mostly by how useless it feels from how unfocused it is.


Skip it.

All right...

I could very easily see this as being integrated into the plot of one of the other Saw movies, seeing as how there wasn't a whole lot that happened. There were many hints that some of what we saw at play will get worked into the next installment of the franchise, but for me it didn't feel like there was enough substance within this film to do that.

As a result, this feels more like a filler episode than anything. And appropriately, it's the worst of the series as a result. There's really not a whole lot more to say...

In terms of the franchise's general plot, I can see why they concentrated on Hoffman's history with Jigsaw; it felt like a bit of an ass-pull, and this installment serves to reinforce the fact that yes, this actually happened. But it did so while distracting from the main theme of this particular installment. If they had worked it into a different installment, it might actually have worked. But we'll see when we get to the next installment.

And that's really all I have to add. Not much was added with this installment, but we'll see what happens when we hit part Six.

So yeah.

This is Herr Wozzeck Reviews, at the sunset of the Fifth Day of Sawdom. I'll see you guys next time, and I hope you'll join me on the Sixth Day of Sawdom when I review Saw VI.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


So... remember when I reviewed Expendables towards the very end of the summer? How I mentioned it was a fun little action piece? How I mentioned the humor mostly worked? How I mentioned that I had a good time?

Take it to the rocket launcher.

This movie is the one that's all of those things, and more...


Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is a retired CIA agent living life. He's just got one problem; someone's trying to kill him and several other people. So he sets out to find out who is trying to get him killed along with the help of his old friends Marvin, (John Malkovich), Joe (Morgan Freeman), Victoria (Helen Mirren), and a pension clerk caught up in events that Frank is falling for (Mary-Louise Parker). And so, explosions and one-liners galore ensue.

So yeah. Expendables? Pssh. Move over.

This movie is somehow even more ridiculous than that. Bruce Willis walks out of a twirling car casualy while firing guns at someone. Helen Mirren uses a submachine gun. Morgan Freeman is allowed to have a gun at a retirement home. And John Malkovich shoots a rocket and makes it blow up. And all that, is among other things. And it's every bit as fun as it sounds. It's big. It's loud. This movie has a ball with itself, and the result is difficult (if not impossible) to like. The fact that it's older people having this much fun is... well, quite strange, frankly, but it's still great to see they can own basically everyone else.

And we can see it all, too. Nothing about all this 'shaky cam' business; the action here is incredibly crisp, incredibly clean-cut, and we can actually see what's going on. And this only means the action gets more intense and more fun.

It also helps that all the zingers that frequent the script all work extremely well. It helps quite a bit too that with the older actors the acting is quite stellar, and thus every single actor nails the one-liners. While some bits of the plot don't make a whole lot of sense, it's so tightly scripted that we're still with the characters all the way through every little plot convenience. And honestly? I didn't mind all the plot conveniences, as I was just having so much fun throughout I scarcely cared.

And that I think is RED's strongest point. Its plot can be a bit convoluted, but I wasn't vested enough in the story to care. Everyone has a great time with this, and it really shows in how much fun this movie is to watch. The action is incredible, the one-liners are all really fun, and it's brought together by a tight script and especially tight acting.


Most definitely worth checking out.

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