Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Seven Days of Sawdom: Day Two

Hello, everyone, and welcome back to The Seven Days of Sawdom. Today, we continue along where we left off in the franchise, which shouldn't be too bad. So with that said, I'll cut to today's movie, as you know the drill...

Saw II

Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) is in a bit of a dilemma: the Jigsaw killer (Tobin Bell) has been caught. But it's all part of his plan, as his son Daniel (Erik Knudsen) is trapped in a house with seven other people that are being exposed to a potent nerve gas, one of whom is a survivor of one of Jigsaw's games (Shawnee Smith). It becomes a race against time as Eric tries to save Daniel and the seven people trapped in the house try to fight their way out.

The first thing that comes to my mind is that there seems to be a staple of the series arising already: they show lots of human suffering, and they don't try to make it look pretty. The amount of seriousness invested in these movies is beginning to skyrocket; the treatment of death as an absolute is incredible here, and it never takes it self too lightly. The characters too are shown to be vulnerable, and after a while we begin to really hope they'll survive against the improbable odds stacked against them.

And this is the first of the franchise where we really start to see a reliance of gore to get the point across about how horrendous this all is. Now the depictions of death get graphic, from one guy getting shot in the eye on camera to where we see the slitting of a throat on screen. The amount of gore gets a bit of an upgrade, and it becomes quite horrific.

Unfortunately, the tension that was prevalent throughout the last installment suffers a slight dip. I won't blame it on the gore, as there are a lot of other factors at play here (I'll go into it more once I give my rating), but a lot of the tension of 'holy shit, what's gonna happen now' isn't really as dire as it was. But I will explain more when I give my thoughts on the direction the franchise is starting to take here. I attribute it to a change of director (Darren Lyn Bousman took over the franchise from James Wan), but again, I'll go more into that after the rating.

This is not to say there's no tension at all, however; there's still a certain tug at our 'will they make it' sense. There's really only one asshole victim in this movie, and fortunately the others are treated as victims of something greater than themselves. As well, the tension is helped greatly by a cleverly constructed plot twist at the end (which I will not spoil for you, but I can't guarantee it won't be spoiled somewhere down the line as the franchise continues), and the plot twist is very well executed. It also starts to build backstory for the Jigsaw killer through his scenes with Eric Matthews, and we begin to get a fascinating character study.

So while it's a step down from the previous installment in terms of the build-up of tension, Saw II still works as a competent horror film. I don't really have much else to say, so...


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

Okay, so my current thoughts about the franchise?

Well, I attribute the slight drop of tension to a few things. The one is that they're starting to unravel the mystery of the Jigsaw killer. I think this works great for character studies, but really movie, take it one step at a time. After all, things stop being scary the more we know about them. I'm beginning to sense that the focus is now turning on the traps rather than the killer, but it's trying to hang on to the character of the Jigsaw killer. While it's admirable, it does distract slightly. Given what I've heard of the rest of the franchise, I think it might tear itself apart.

Another thing is that they reveal why the people are in the house a little too early for my liking. I would've liked it if they had kept why they were in the house secret for about five minutes longer than they actually did. That said, though, the twist at the end was beautifully executed, so I'll forgive them for that.

The last thing? It's starting to rely on the gore a little more as a device to build dread. Fortunately, the gore was fairly mild here; headshots, a slashed throat, all fairly easy stuff to swallow. The traps aren't too elaborate, but we'll see as the franchise goes on, because from what I hear they get fairly elaborate. If this is the case, I'm a little afraid about what we'll see as the gore gets more complicated.

So as for how it'll turn out? If what I hear about the franchise is correct, then it'll start going way downhill real soon. But again, we'll see. We haven't gotten to the two dreaded installments yet, so there is still hope for the franchise, I think.

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

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Herr Wozzeck Muses: On The Animation Age Ghetto

Animation is a very interesting thing. It's just another way to tell a story from a certain point of view, I should think, and it all goes without saying that it can do it quite well.

The problem... is that people don't know which audience animated movies should aim for. Some say it should only pander to the kids, and adults be damned; after all, it's the kids that are important, right? Others say the adults should be able to enjoy the movie, too, and there should be something for everyone in there.

Personally? I'm of the crowd that thinks you should aim for all audiences, because in the end you'll please everyone except the film critics that are incredible attention whores (Armond White, I'm looking at you). Kids will be entertained by anything you put in front of them; I remember I used to like Ferngully a lot before I realized how bad the songs in it were, as well as how obvious (and annoying) it is about its environmental message.

But adults aren't the same way. By that time, they'll have things they like and don't like. So why gear an animated family movie for the family? A few reasons:

1) The parent is buying the ticket. I don't think it'll be good for the parent if they buy a ticket to a movie they don't really like when everything is said and done.

2) It's good for the moviegoers that don't have kids, for similar reasons to the parent buying the kid the ticket.

3) Most of the time, animation is classified in family movies. If it's geared only to the kids, then the term 'family' is a bit of a misnomer since it implies the rest of the family should be able to enjoy it, no?

4) They age better if you leave elements for everyone. After all, those kids are going to grow up at one point or another. If you use only pandering kiddie humor, they'll grow out of it as they get older. If you leave a couple things for the adults to appreciate, they say 'oh, I never noticed this before'.

Why do I bring this up now?

Well... a funny thing happened on my way out of the screening of Legend of the Guardians I attended. There were these two ladies that were outside that were handing out surveys pertaining to the movie and to the use of 3D. So I decided to fill it out. (Yes, I saw it in 3D. I'll give my thoughts on LotG's 3D and some of my answers from the survey when I muse about 3D sometime.)

As I was filling it out on the wall of the Regal multiplex, I saw a father with his little kid. The father was filling out the survey on a pillar not too far from where I was, and I remember the kid was being all bouncy. The kid asked the father which character he liked the most.

The father proceeded to say that he thought it was a horrible movie. And yes, he used the word 'horrible'. When the kid pestered him to stay on topic, he eventually said he didn't like any of the characters.

The first thing that I remember thinking when I heard this conversation was "wow, what an asshole". I probably would've put it in gentler terms about how I disliked the movie. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that it correlates to this whole issue of appeal in a family movie, and it got me thinking about why I think people should gear their family movies towards adults as well as children. (Plus, it's a little ironic, given that the other two movies Zach Snyder is really well known for are both ultra-violent R-rated affairs...)

In his review of Fantastic Mr. Fox (really good family movie, BTW; you guys should totally check it out), Roger Ebert left us with this quote:

"A good story for children should suggest a hidden dimension, and that dimension of course is the lifetime still ahead of them. Six is a little early for a movie to suggest to kids that the case is closed."

I can't think of a better quote to sum up why family movies should be geared a little towards adults as well as children.

And if they don't get something? They'll figure it out eventually.

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

Saturday, September 25, 2010

"Legend of the Guardians"

Hello, all, and welcome back.

So... Where to begin with movies... Well...

You remember Happy Feet? You know, that movie with the penguins dancing? Ah, thought you knew it. Remember how much fun it was, and how it was mostly due to the dancing and stuff.

Well... they attempted to replicate that with fighting owls. I kid you not. What's next, a recreation of it with fighting pidgeons? Because that would be something to see. Especially if it's set in downtown Miami where the art students go...

Confused yet? Good. I think it's time I move on to today's movie before I confuse you even more.

Legend of the Guardians

Soren (Jim Sturgess) is a young owl who is a real fan of stories of the guardians of Ga'hoole, who it is said do not exist. While practicing flying with his brother Kludd (Ryan Kwanten), they fall down a tree and are then captured by The Pure Ones, led by Metalbeak (Joel Edgerton) and his mate Nyra (Hellen Mirren). It is there that Soren finds out the true extent of evil, and how it can affect those. And so, he sets out with fellow prisoner Gylfie (Emily Barclay) and others to seek out the guardians, who are the only ones who can stop the machinations of Metalbeak.


I'm sure you see where this is going, yes? If you don't, you, frankly, need to watch more movies and play more JRPGs.

I'll start off by saying that the predictable plot is one of this movie's biggest weaknesses. Usually, we'll get introduced to a character, and right away we'll know where he's gonna end up and what his/her function to the plot is gonna be. And if we don't find out right away, we usually figure it out after one or two plot developments. The breakneck pace the movie travels at certainly doesn't help, as a few minutes after we get introduced to a character, we get an 'I told you so' moment and the tension vanishes afterwards.

It doesn't help that a lot of these characters often get brutally underdeveloped, and their motivations are hardly ever explored. To me, all the characters apart from Soren and maybe Gylfie were all tools of the plot, there only to move the pieces into place for a climax. It probably would've been a lot more interesting if we could get into the motivations of the minor characters, too, but I get a feeling that it's also a function of the fact that this movie is overloaded with characters, with some who just get dropped after a while. We have two comic relief bad guys that kidnap Soren and Kludd and are promptly forgotten about fifteen minutes later, we have a dissenter within the bad guy's ranks who dies about ten minutes after he's introduced, and we have a comic relief seer character that only appears for about five minutes in the total runtime. They serve their function to the plot, don't get me wrong, but it's a sign of bad screenwriting (and even worse characterization) when we're in the middle of the second act and we're still being introduced to major characters. The movie could've done with a lot more composite characters than it actually had, possibly even trimming a few of the more annoying comic relief characters. Thus, we don't really come to care all that much about what's going on.

So what saves the movie? Zach Snyder, that's who. The guy's got a major penchant for visual storytelling, and he has a major eye for style. Thus, the action scenes peppered throughout were genuinely entertaining and quite fun to watch, and there were some absolutely beautiful shots of scenery around. These were good enough that they manage to keep the movie from being completely terrible, and the third act? That had some incredibly intense action.

So while it suffers from a very predictable plot and too many freaking characters, Legend of the Guardians succeeds as a testament to Zach Snyder's incredible abilities as a visual director. Sure, it's not his best film (Watchmen FTW), but it's not bad if you sit back and enjoy the action.


If you want to go see it, 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.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Seven Days of Sawdom: Day One

Hello, all, and welcome to the first installment of The Seven Days of Sawdom, my retrospective on the Saw franchise. So where to start with this franchise?

Well... Most of you might not know this, but the first film was actually an expansion of an Australian short film that's only about, oh, five minutes long. If you want to see it... Well, it's kind of pointless to, as if you've been keeping up to the franchise then you'll have seen the short film; it's recreated almost shot for shot with additional lines thrown in during the first movie (it's the trap that Amanda describes when she's in the interrogation room with Danny Glover's character). But, if you're still interested, you can find it at this link:

With that out of the way... I'll just get started with the franchise's first movie.


Lawrence (Cary Elwes) and Adam (Leigh Whannell) wake up chained by their ankles to pipes in a lone bathroom with no way out. They find a dead body in the room with them, and in the body of the man there is a gun and a tape player. After finding and playing tapes that were in their pockets, Adam is instructed to escape, and Lawrence is instructed to kill Adam before 6:00 or else his wife and daughter both die. Horror ensues as they attempt to come to grips with their situation, trying to figure out who would put them there and why.

And that's all I can really say, although if you've been following the franchise you know how it all ends. For those that haven't seen the franchise, I won't spoil it for you, but otherwise... yeah.

So... I'll start with my expectations. For how I went into the movie... I was expecting more gore, to be honest. It's partly because of the rating, but it was mostly because of the franchise's incredible reputation for its so-called 'torture porn'. And yet, to be perfectly honest, there isn't all that much actual gore. The gore that is there is almost totally imagined, and somehow that is actually more unsettling than seeing the actual gore.

Actually, very little of it seemed to work on the gore. I remember almost all of the actual tension came from seeing basically everyone victimized by Jigsaw's little game suffer. It's not masochistic in the slightest; we see what Adam, Lawrence, and Lawrence's family have to go through, and some of it is absolutely terrifying to watch. Example: perhaps the most terrifying shot I saw in the entire movie was one of the captors of Lawrence's family doing something extremely masochistic to Lawrence's daughter; he held a gun to her mother's head while checking her heart rate with a stethoscope. I remember feeling horrified (and slightly disgusted) at this behavior, and I think it exemplifies what works so well about the way tension is built in this movie.

What also helps is a narrative that pieces together the entire Saw universe from fragments; basically all the background information is exposited between Lawrence and Adam figuring out what the hell is going on and why they are in their trap. And it only gets more and more horrifying the more we find out about the Jigsaw killer and why he might want them there. It gets complex fast, but it never feels rushed. That sense of not really knowing the complete story helps the tension a lot, and as the pieces come together, the tension only rises.

And a combination of this helps me see why Saw was a landmark horror movie. I don't think there's anything more frightening than being told to do something on threat of either yourself or your loved ones dying without knowing anything about where you are or who's targeting you or even why they would target you. It also helps that there's a huge twist at the end (I won't spoil it for those who haven't seen the franchise, but unfortunately I'll have a hell of a time keeping the spoilers to a minimum for future installments). It's easily a great horror film, thanks to its build-up of tension from what they suffer through (and trust me, it is not portrayed to be pretty at all), and has a high spot on the horror legacy.


Most definitely worth checking out.

Okay, so that's the first one. My thoughts?

Well... The franchise seems to be going downhill already. I can sense the same problem I sensed when I reviewed the Nightmare on Elm Street remake after the retrospective earlier this year; too much focus on the gore. I don't think it helps all that much that the future installments won't be able to rely on the pieced-together narrative as well as the first movie could, given that they already had a filled slate to work with, and that we all know about the Jigsaw killer (and even who he is) by the time the first film ends. So my hopes for the franchise are already going downhill.

Word of mouth hasn't particularly helped all that much. From what I've heard other people say about the franchise, this is what I'm expecting of the other films:

Saw 2: Your Mileage May Vary, edging towards Good.
Saw 3: Your Mileage May Vary, edging towards Bad.
Saw 4: Bad.
Saw 5: Really Bad.
Saw 6: An Improvement, but Your Mileage May Vary.
Saw 7: We'll See When It Comes Out.

But, we'll see.

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

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Announcement: The Seven Days of Sawdom

Hello, all. Herr Wozzeck here.

Well, as you all know, the purported last chapter of the Saw franchise is coming in the last weekend of October, as per its tradition to do so for the past few years. I think horror fans can all agree that it'll be sad to see one of the main flagship horror franchises of the past decade going away from us all.

But what can we take away from the franchise, and how did it revolutionize horror? Well...

That's what we're going to find out. During the next few weeks, I'm going to be watching the entire Saw franchise from installment 1 to installment 6 in preparation for the release of Saw 3D, the series' purported final chapter. And we'll be seeing which of the movies are good, and which are not.

I title this event...

The Seven Days of Sawdom

So I have the first installment on me, and I will post the first review when I see it. So on and so forth for the remaining installments of the franchise.

So look out for the start of this series while I go about my course with our regularly scheduled programming, and I'll see you guys next time.

Herr Wozzeck's Pit Fight: "The American" Vs. "The Town"

Hello, all, and welcome to our first pit fight!

So yeah, I just came up with this segment. So what is a pit fight? Well, I pit two movies against each other, see what happens. It might be a new release, or it might not be. Either way, it'll be an interesting perspective to see what we can come up with. And as you guessed, it's all in a vote to see which one is better, based on the points of story, characters, acting, material, and a random category based on what we're looking at.

So let's get started with our first pit fight!

The American Vs. The Town

Round 1: Story

Okay, so here's where the similarities between The American and The Town are had; both are about criminals in a part of the world that do things, while they're going about doing crime-filled activities. Whereas The American had very little plot to speak of, The Town had quite a tense narrative. It has a narrative with more going on, and with a greater focus on how the decisions of its characters affect the plot as a whole. One might say that in this realm, The Town would automatically win out.

This... is where you'd be wrong. For towards the end, The Town's story seems to eventually lead to an action climax, as mandated by Hollywood studios for some reason. As a result, it feels a little cheap, although it doesn't detract from what happened before. The American doesn't have this problem; the ending is less action-packed, but doesn't feel such that one gets the feeling the action climax was shoehorned in. So while not much happens in that movie, it's got a much stronger ending. And that's important as far as storytelling goes, as an ending needs to tie up all the loose ends without feeling cheap.

But still, on an overall story level, both movies keep the tension high through differing methods. The one derives it from how much is told, and the other derives it from how little is told. So really, who's the bigger winner here? I say nobody, really; the plots of both movies are good in their own ways. So I say this is a tie...

Winner: Both

Round 2: Characters

In this affair, I firmly believe The American wins out. Yes, we come to care about the characters in The Town as people, and we want to see them work their way out. And we especially care for them when things look to be falling apart for everyone. But, a two-dimensional FBI agent doesn't help in this regard, especially when the bodies start dropping. And there are too many characters, such that a couple others feel like cardboard cut-outs.

In The American, meanwhile, we get a better sense of character development, mostly because they concentrate only on George Clooney's character. It's surprising how much depth can be gathered about the other characters from only concentrating on one of them, but that's the way it is with this movie. We feel suspicious of other characters according to how Jack feels suspicious of them, and all the while it gives a look into Jack's own soul and how he looks at everyone around him. There are numerous other reasons why this movie is stronger in terms of characters, but those are for reasons that will be exposited below. And for this, The American overall has stronger characters.

Winner: The American

Round 3: Acting

On both counts, the acting is great. That much, I can tell you for sure. The American benefits from casting George Clooney (who's good in just about everything he does), but the choice to cast a bunch of Italian unknowns into the supporting roles is also a very good casting decision as it lends a certain believability to their performances. The Town, meanwhile, holds weight on its star casting (Ben Affleck being chief among them, along with Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner). Said stars do a great job with their material, though, so it's a non-issue really. (Plus, that's a major discredit to George Clooney, so yeah.) So both have their strong points, and it's quite tough to figure out which film is better in this regard.

On this count... I think I'll have to give it to The Town, though, on the principle that the actors have to do a lot more with what they've got. The American's minimalist approach does wonders for its character study of George Clooney's character, but there's not that much emotion, even if it is part of the point. The Town packs a lot more emotions into its running time, and the actors have to emote on a greater range than George Clooney had to throughout the running time of his movie. And since they do a great job on this, I'll give the point to The Town.

Winner: The Town

Round 4: Material

Speaking of more stuff to do, The Town also has a lot more things going on than The American. This is present in the script of both; there are very long stretches of silence in The American, along with some shots of mundanity that a lot of viewers might find off-putting. The Town, meanwhile, can be summarized as three bank heists with action scenes and a whole bucketload of crime drama. And since The Town has a lot more to do, you'd think that its character development would be stronger thanks to how much more material it has to work with.

On this, I call the 'less is more' card. Sure, The American doesn't have all that much going on, but it's all in the subtle stuff that's noticed. We never learn where from America Jack is, or why he doesn't just go back to America, for instance. Somehow, it adds to the mystique of the character, and reinforces something that I'll touch on in Round 5. As well, the conclusion of the film comes as an inevitability, and we can't see it ending any other way. The Town doesn't have that luxury, unfortunately. And given that there are a couple of cut-outs and a couple of standouts in The Town instead of the richly developed characters found in The American, the fact that The American works on having less gives it a major edge.

Winner: The American

Round 5: Use of Locations

Okay, so round 5 is on locations. Why? Both movies are affairs that couldn't conceivably take place anywhere else in the world without losing something; The American wouldn't quite be the same if it didn't take place somewhere in Italy, and there's no way in hell you could take The Town outside of the city of Boston.

So for The Town, we have the fact that the thing is set up in Charlestown. This is important, as stated in an opening narration block which states that bank robbers in Boston typically set up shop in Charlestown. As well, it's tough to envision the final heist taking place anywhere else but Fenway Park. The rest of it... is variable, if you want to be perfectly honest. It's not as big a deal that it takes place in Charlestown as Ben Affleck would have you believe. Sure, it helps on a plot level, but on other things? Not so much; the drama is purely with the characters and their decisions, and while they may be influenced by being set in Boston it's not as deep as you'd think.

As for The American? Well... that too is variable, as it could take place anywhere else in the world. But... the option of picking Italy for setting the place actually plays right into the character study that it is. It's arguable that the American being in Italy is symbolic of the fact that the assassin is an outsider from the rest of society. The rest of the movie backs it up nicely, given that he's always wary of other people (he even contemplates pulling a gun on a prostitute he's falling in love with because she keeps a gun in her own purse to defend herself from something that's mentioned in passing a few times), and the only people he forms any friendships with are those people that can speak English. The fact that it takes place in a mountain town with twisty roads also helps the rare action scene, as the locations help build suspense.

So for symbolism, The American wins out.

Winner: The American

General Winner: The American, though The Town put up a good fight.

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

Sunday, September 19, 2010

"Easy A"

Hello again, all.

Yes, I realize I forgot to make a musing last week. Blame it on the fact that things are starting to get hectic here. So I thought that today I'd give you guys a treat; I'll review a second movie this weekend. I think I'll do this if I miss a musing on some weeks, so that's one reason I saw this movie.

The other... well... I'll let the review about today's movie tell you more...

Easy A

Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) is in a bit of a dilemma. To avoid going on a camping trip with someone who's family is wierd, she made up a story about dating a college student and losing her virginity. And it gets especially out of hand after she starts hanging out with people who she doesn't have sex with but says she does. As a result, things get complicated: she gets hounded around by the head of the religion club in the school (Amanda Bynes), she's blamed for various other things, and she becomes one of the most talked-about girls in the school. And so, given that she's studying The Scarlet Letter in school, she embroiders a red A onto her wardrobe and goes about the school as shenanigans unfold all around her.

Okay, so we have a teen comedy. The genre has a lot of potential for being highly forgettable if it's not done well. Here, this movie is done with extremely smart humor. The pop culture references are all very funny, they're thankfully kept to a minimum, and much of it relies on increadibly fast-paced banter. It also understands that a subject like this does have some serious undertones, and it's not afraid to broach some fairly serious topics towards the end even despite the rapid-fire banter. But the banter is brilliant, and it leads to a very funny movie with a script that definitely doesn't pander to the LCD and produces genuine laughs as a result. As well, the characters all have their own endearing little quirks that are played up for laughs.

Of course, it could all go to hell with the wrong people. Much of the movie requires incredible timing, and some of it couldn't have been done with anybody else in their respective parts. And all the characters are quirky, but a large portion of them could have been incredibly unlikeable right from the get-go.

And this brings me to the biggest reason why I wanted to see this movie: Emma Stone. I was a little skeptical upon first hearing that there was an update of The Scarlet Letter set in high school. But when I found out Emma Stone was playing the Hester Prynn-type character? I was set. She was incredibly eclectric in Zombieland, and I was curious to see how she would handle holding an entire movie on her shoulders. I had a lot of faith in her, though, so all that was left was to see if it paid off.

I'm glad to say that my faith in her paid in spades. A lot of the movie hinges on Emma Stone being able to endear her character to the audience. And on this count, Emma Stone's performance succeeds with flying colors. Yes, her character may not be making the best decisions in the world as the whole movie gets more and more convoluted, but we're still rooting for her. As well, she proves herself capable of keeping up with the ridiculous comic timing that's required of all the actors, and her deadpan delivery of a lot of the lines really helps the humor quite a bit.

This is not to say that she overshadows everyone else; Amanda Bynes is somehow extremely endearing as the hyper-Christian woman who leads a lynch mob against her (and if you know me, religious nutjobs like her character are typically people that I want to kick in the face if I so much as hear the words "Christian" and "fundamentalism" in the same sentence, so to find one such character quirkily endearing is a major credit on the part of the film-makers), Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci make incredible parents for Olive who sometimes steal the scene whenever they're onscreen, and everyone else is incredibly endearing in their own subtle ways.

So what to say about this movie? Easy A succeeds in big part thanks to the actors, and in even bigger part because Emma Stone has more than enough charm and wit to carry the entire movie on her shoulders. Clichéd? Maybe. But that scarcely matters when it manages to be hilarious on its own merits. If you're wary of the high school genre of films, you should still give this movie a try.


Most definitely worth checking out.

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

Saturday, September 18, 2010

"The Town"

So, a movie set in the city of Boston, eh? I wonder if it's about crime... and the Red Sox... and people lounging around doing stuff...

Wait, bank robberies? And they're actually filming in the Fenway area? As in, on that street I walk along every weekend to go see a movie? Huh, this may not be so bad after all.

Well... probably not, except for one thing: for me to be able to talk about this movie, I feel I must give minor spoilers as to how things end. So for those of you who are picky:


Because you can't say I didn't warn you if I put this thing up here and your movie is spoiled.

Right. Well, I'll bring it to today's movie.

The Town

Doug (Ben Affleck) is a man who lives in Charlestown and robs banks for a living with his buddy Jem (Jeremy Renner) and two other guys. When one heist ends with Doug taking the beautiful young manager of a bank hostage, a relationship ends up blossoming between himself and said manager, Claire (Rebecca Hall). After this heist, however, things heat up when an FBI agent (Jon Hamm) is assigned to the case, and so Doug realizes he has to come to terms with what he's done and figure out a way to get out.

All fine and good. Why is it that crime films are always set in Boston? I'm not entirely sure if it should be that way, but hey, it makes for good drama. Plus, it's cool to see various places in the city that you recognize.

... Right, I'm getting carried away there.

[SPOILERS!]I guess I'll start with a minor problem I have with the movie; its ending. I felt a little bothered by something about the ending, in which people get shot to death and they call in SWAT teams and the military... for dealing with a group of bank robbers. They're highly trained bank robbers, granted, but it's seen at several points throughout that only one of them actively tries to hurt people, and even then they never, ever kill anyone. And the leader? When given the chance, he'll actively refuse to hurt people. Hell, the fact that he legitimately falls in love with Claire attests to that, I should think. That, and the FBI agent actually comes across as a dick at a couple of points just to get information. So yeah. Disproportionate retribution much?[ENDSPOILERS!]

Fortunately, this film has enough other good things about it to make it easy to gloss over that. Everybody in the cast gives exceptional performances here: Ben Affleck gives an incredible performance as someone who's clearly getting tired of robbing banks for a living and who becomes more and more afraid for himself as time goes on. The rest of the cast gives outstanding performances too, even Jon Hamm in his slightly 2-dimensional FBI agent. Perhaps the only problem I had with the casting was Jeremy Renner, but even then he still gave an incredible performance; my problem with Renner had more to do with the fact that I couldn't stop seeing Sergeant First Class James every time he came onscreen until the third act, so take that bit of casting ire with a grain of salt. Their performances are strange in that the criminals are given a window with which to act; we can sympathize with the heroes, which helps a lot with the action scenes in the second and third acts.

The action scenes were... okay, for the most part, as it was fairly easy to tell what was going on, and it was all ground in the real world. (Though, this only clashed more violently with the tone of the film, given what I espoused within the spoiler tags.) And it's appropriately tense as well, thanks mostly to the fact that we come to care about the characters.

So with this, The Town is a good film. Is it the best film of the year? Probably not. But it's held together by exceptional performances from its main cast, which helps keep the tension high throughout the movie.


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, September 12, 2010

"The American"


What? You're not getting Resident Evil: Afterlife. M'kay? I could honestly care less about the Resident Evil franchise; I've never played the games, I have no interest in playing the games, and I have even less interest in the films. So no 3D complaining for you.

Instead, I think I'll take a journey to last week to think of stuff. Because whereas last week's movie was silly, today's movie is much more serious...

The American

Jack (George Clooney) is an assassin living in Italy. He's hired to make a rifle, he falls in love with a prostitute, and he generally lives his life in constant suspicion of everyone around him. And so, he lives his life.

... Wow, that was a really short summary.

And for good reason. Not a whole lot happens in this movie; it's very slow-burning, and almost nothing really happens. He falls in love, he makes a rifle...

But somehow, that doesn't really matter all that much. It's more of a character study of Jack and his view of the world around him. And to this end, the camera rarely ever takes its eyes off of Clooney. We see him going about with some strange kind of disconnection from the rest of the world. We never learn about his past. We never learn why he's running from the Swedes, for instance. We also never learn where he's from, other than the fact that he's American and in Italy.

But somehow, it all seems to show a strange separation from the world. The minimalist approach to story-telling gives an impression of the character that is extremely difficult to forget. Clooney's restrained performance also helps when he finally does seem to find some connection to the world around him. And everything about the movie seems to move towards Clooney's character; the only sounds we get for long stretches of time are the silence between pieces of dialogue, and if there's any sound it's chiefly underplayed. And somehow, there's a strange kind of tension from the small little plot details that can be picked up.

The only problem is a lot of people will percieve it as being a very slow movie. What I say? I think the fact that it's very slow is part of the point. It helps build tension, and lets us see into the psyche of the characters thanks to this.

And on the merits of film-making used to depict a character, The American mostly succeeds. Sure, it's a little slow and it's not to everyone's tastes, but it's a model study on how one can use the medium of film to examine a single character. It's very difficult to describe exactly what made the movie work, as it was all very vague. But somehow, the subtext makes everything obvious.

In fact, here's a thought: I actually wrote this review a day after I saw the film. I actually needed to digest some of it, as I wasn't sure whether it was good or bad. And after reflecting on it for a while, I've decided that yes, it's good.


A must-see movie of the year.

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

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Flashback Review: "A Day Without A Mexican"

Hello again, everyone.

So, remember when I talked about Machete on Sunday? I think the thing that I remember most from the movie was the fact that there was enough anger against immigration laws to fill an entire cup with. It deals with incredible criticism, and somehow it's tough to ignore. It'll be the subject of a musing on the subject that'll come sometime tomorrow.

But we have more pressing matters. So today on HWR, I thought I'd go back to 2004 and take a look at another movie that criticizes the immigration debate, one far less well-known than Machete.

It's also quite a bit more obvious, which should be given away by the title...

A Day Without A Mexican

A pink fog has inexplicably settled all around California. This leaves the state in shambles, as not only does it cut off all communications, but it also makes every single Mexican in the state disappear. Thus, it takes a look at what happens when the Mexicans aren't there to do the labor that all the non-Hispanic people don't want to do, and at the various relationships put on strain by this.

So, right off the bat, we have a silly premise. It never dwells on the pink fog, preferring instead to focus on the impact of the Mexicans not being there. To that end, there are a lot of plot threads; there's a thread about one Mexican reporter that hasn't mysteriously disappeared. There's a thread about a senator. There's a thread about a white woman who's married to a Mexican. The list goes on.

As well, there are various statistics that are thrown in throughout the entire movie that rebuff common misconceptions about the Mexican population of America. The senator mistakenly believes that Mexicans and Puerto Ricans are more or less the same, for instance. (And as I pointed out in my Machete review, that is not the case at all; find me a taco in Cuba and I'll change my mind.) And it's merciless in this.

The problem with this setup, however, is that there are way too many plot threads crammed in there. Where did they all go is never explained, yet that part is dwelled on enough to be a problem. And there are so many plot threads in reference to how peoples' lives are affected by this it really crams it in there.

And that becomes a problem as far as storytelling goes. There are so many plot threads we're barely given time to care about the characters coming for them. On top of that, a good portion of the plot threads end up resorting to using various clichés to fight against the running time, and when we see a new cliché pop up it's a little distracting from the underlaying political message. It doesn't help that a lot of these clichés make the plot threads incredibly predictable after a while, and any tension the threads might have had vanishes when we can figure out how things end. (Two guesses as to how the plot thread with the Mexican reporter ends.) The combination means we don't really care enough about their reactions to really feel affected by them.

That's a problem on it's own. But when the clichés are omnipresent, it makes the anvillicious nature of the movie painfully obvious. Yes, it's an issue that deserves attention, but do you really have to beat it into our heads this much, movie? The film is so negative about the state of immigration laws in America and the subsequent unfair treatment of Mexicans afterwards that it starts to saw away at the viewer's mind instead of enlightening them. And by that virtue, watching it becomes a chore after a while instead of something that can enlighten us.

It doesn't help that most of the acting is incredibly spotty. Nobody really stands out as being particularly good, and oftentimes it distracts from the plot threads as well. The writing certainly doesn't help the better actors either, as when the film is called on to be emotionally grounded what often comes out is a generous helping of cheese that only serves to further call attention to the anvils being dropped.

And thanks to being bogged down by bad writing, acting, and plotting, A Day Without A Mexican ultimately falls short of every goal it sets out to achieve. It's an admirable effort, but it's not done well enough that I would consider it vital. I say; avoid the movie, as it's not that good.


This movie was highly disappointing, so it is highly recommended that you skip it.

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

Sunday, September 5, 2010


All right. It seems that at the end of this summer we've had a whole treasure-trove of action movies. Some have been trashy, and some have had quite a few things to say on the state of people through a Megaman style of storytelling. We've run the gamut of action, and as the summer season comes to an end, we're left wondering what else we can do with the action movie scene.

So what better way to go about business than to combine the best of both worlds?

This brings us to today's movie.


Machete (Danny Trejo) is a former cop from Mexico, washed up in Texas after his wife and child are murdered in front of his eyes by the head of a Mexican drug cartel (Steven Seagal). After three years of being in America, he's hired by Michael Booth (Jeff Fahey) to carry out a hit on Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro), who has a strong anti-immigration stance in terms of the Mexicans. However, when the hit turns out to be a set-up, Machete uncovers a huge conspiracy. He then joins forces with a priest (Cheech Marin), an immigrations officer (Jessica Alba), and the lady who heads a taco stand and heads an underground network (Michelle Rodriguez) to take the conspiracy down.

Convoluted? Very. The plot is very confused and very implausible. Fortunately, though, it all makes sense in context. Plus, there's no denying that there's a certain kind of 'so bad it's good' quality about it that the movie cheekily accepts as part of itself. To that end, there are some really great action set pieces, too. And when the action scenes come around, they are always in great fun. They're big, they're silly, and yet it seems to acknowledge this just the same, and pulls us along for the ride.

Beware, though; this movie is far from being for everyone, as there is almost no taste to a lot of the things in this movie. I guess it's exemplified best by the fact that when women are naked in this movie there's no fear in showing their breasts in front of the camera-- and yes, this includes nipples. And yet, it's crazy when that's the least audacious thing this movie does. The movie generally is pretty gross, and you have to be able to stomach a lot to be able to sit through it. You thought Kick-Ass was audacious with its 11-year-old superheroine? You haven't seen anything yet.

And yet, underneath all the frivolity and all the action, there's an underlying political statement. Director Robert Rodriguez very obviously has a lot of pent-up anger at the American immigration debate, and he channels it full force in this movie. I think I'll describe a peculiar moment I had towards the beginning: at two points in the movie, McLaughlin's campaign ads are shown to the audience. The first one is honestly one of the most racist things I've ever seen in my life; it shows images of worms and cockroaches, then comparing them to Mexicans crossing the border. His image comes up a few times, and he describes Mexicans as parasites that need to be purged. I will be quite honest with you: I have never felt so purely enraged at something in a movie in my entire life. Not even the twist ending of The Book of Eli angered me as much as that one-minute long segment of the movie. I honestly am not sure if it's because it's not such a far cry from the mud-slinging campaign tactics I've seen a lot of in recent years, because it's one of the most racially insensitive things against Hispanics I've ever seen put to film, or because I'm Hispanic myself (albeit Cuban Hispanic, which is very different from Mexican Hispanic). I actually briefly considered walking out of the theater after that segment, which I didn't even think about when I reviewed New Moon last year. (In fact, the only reason I stayed was because the ad comes in very early in the film's running time; I think it comes in somewhere around the 15-minute mark.) And no, the fact that it was made by a director of Mexican descent didn't mitigate my rage until we saw some ass get kicked later.

But the point is, it really has something to say about the state of immigration laws today, and absolutely none of it is nice. To have such a strong message embedded in an otherwise frivolous film deserves a few accolades, especially when you consider the fact that when the immigration issue comes up, there is no detail spared. A message like this shouldn't have any place in a frivolous action movie born out of a fake trailer. And yet, somehow, the message is even harder to ignore because of it.

So there's how we combine the best of both worlds; make the movie frivolous, yet deal with a serious situation. And Machete does both equally well. It doubles as a political statement as much as it does a seriously fun action movie, and somehow the two halves complement the whole greatly.


Most definitely worth checking out.

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

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Herr Wozzeck Muses: Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Cult

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is one of the summer's best movies. It has heart, it's entertaining, it's got likeable actors cast in all the right roles, it's Edgar Wright's Hollywood debut...

...and it flopped in the box office. Horribly. Suffice it to say that when you only get a little over 20 million dollars after three weeks of being out, you're in bad hands. This is bad for the studio, given that it actually lost quite a bit of money on this venture.

This is bad enough on its own when you consider everything else. Take what it had for competition on its opening weekend. It was fighting against Stallone and Julia Roberts. All fine and good, but I wouldn't exactly call Expendables the best movie of the summer and I've learned long ago to stay away from anything that's based on stuff written by pretentious women who want to "find" themselves by wasting as many dollars as they can on clothes and food and all that other jazz. On top of that, Scott Pilgrim was in fifth place that weekend on the box office. Again, not a problem, except for the fact that Inception was the movie in 4th place. That's right, Inception did better in its fifth week than Scott Pilgrim in its first weekend.

But then.... There came the week after that, when a freaking Friedberg and Seltzer movie did better than Scott Pilgrim, which was left at 10th place. This infuriated a lot of people, myself included. (In fact, the only reason this musing isn't about why Friedberg and Seltzer should go to hell to push money bags away from them is because Expendables was still no. 1 at the box office.) And then, this past weekend, Scott Pilgrim vanished from the top ten box of the box office.

So it was a major financial flop.

But is that an entirely bad thing? I don't think so.

Take the Evil Dead trilogy. It's considered by many incredibly devoted fans of both the trilogy itself and of horror movies in general to be a masterpiece of horror. It also propelled Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell into some kind of fame, and thanks to a combination of this and the Spiderman films, Raimi is something of a nerd favorite.

Yet if I told you that Army of Darkness was a financial disappointment, you'd scarcely believe it. And yet, there it is. According to the Internet Movie DataBase, Army of Darkness was made on a budget of about 11 million dollars. Opening weekend, it took in a little under 4 and a half million dollars ($4,424,000, if you want to get technical). Total domestic gross? A smidge over 500 thousand dollars more than its budget. Very disappointing.

And yet, on home video, it's picked up a massive cult following that is quite dedicated to it.

Something similar seems to be happening to Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. It didn't do so well in the box office, thanks to various circumstances. But by now, it's picked up enough of a following from its more dedicated fans that it's probably on track to becoming the next big cult film. Go to any fan forum, and the people there that have seen Scott Pilgrim will likely tell you it's one of the best movies of the year. Ask me if I like it a lot, and I'll tell you that so far, it's on track for making it into my top 10 movies of this year.

And honestly, I think it's probably for the best in Scott Pilgrim's case, as films with cult followings are remembered very fondly. And after they get remembered fondly, people are more likely to recommend the movie to anybody they meet. Whether they like it or not, the cult following ensures that the movie will live on, and thus it could stand the test of time better than the more successful stuff like Eat, Pray, Love and Vampires Suck.

And that is the best thing I can ask for with a really good movie like Scott Pilgrim.

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