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.