Friday, February 25, 2011

Herr Wozzeck Muses: On Self-Containment

This musing will contain minor spoilers for I Am Number Four, as well as possible spoilers for the Saw franchise. You have been warned.

As I was watching I Am Number Four earlier this week, I tended to sit through most of the boring, generic high-school stuff that we all went around with.

But I also realized another small problem with the movie. With as much time as it spent on the high school stuff, it also spent a bit of time on exposition with the alien races and stuff. Actually, make that quite a bit of it. No. A lot of it. There's a lot of build-up to what each race can do, such as what happens when Number Four's "legacies" start to kick in and he gets super intense agility, super strength, and telekinetic powers. Basically, it's what he gets when he goes through puberty.

It's stuff like this that gave me the feeling the movie was trying too hard to set up future installments of a possible franchise. There was a lot of build-up towards concepts that didn't really go anywhere within this movie, but that felt like it would create interesting scenarios for future installments in a franchise. One of those concepts is a perfect example of this: it's explained some time after Number Four first realizes his feelings for Sarah that Lorians only fall in love with one person in their entire lives. It doesn't amount to much within I Am Number Four, but it's a concept that can very easily be explored in future installments of the franchise. And it's interesting to see where there are hanging plot threads that can be developed in future sequels.

But... it ultimately defeats the movie in two fairly glaring ways, both of which are interconnected.

The first way, is that it leaves a few plot holes lying around (aside from a few others induced by fridge logic). We're never really told exactly why the Mogadorians have to hunt down the Lorian teens on Earth in numerical order. Apparently, it has something to do with magic pendants they carry, but it's never explained fully as to what those pendants do that force the Mogadorians to hunt them in order. Thus, we get a plot hole.

The second way it defeats the movie is that it leaves too many threads open for the rest of the franchise to fill. This addresses a major problem with self-containment. If an installment in a franchise spends more time trying to explain holes left in a previous installment, then it can bog the movie down, and it means that the follow-up has an even more difficult time standing on its own. If a movie is going to start a franchise, it's best if it remains as self-contained as possible. Otherwise, future installments will be stuck with trying to explain the hanging threads from the previous movie, and it leaves people who are just entering the franchise feeling a little out of the loop, which never helps the franchise in question.

It's the same problem I encountered with Saw V (though really, the entire Saw franchise after III is guilty of this in some form or another, but V is the best example, so I'll work with that): the twist from Saw IV ended up leaving a ton of plot threads hanging, most egregiously of those being that they took someone who was a very minor character during the second and third installments, and suddenly he became one of the most important characters in the entire franchise. It was such a blind-siding twist that a majority of Saw V ended up being devoted to filling in the plot holes. Seeing as how trying to fill in the plot holes caused the entire rest of the movie to really drag in terms of pacing, though, it doesn't really help.

This is one very big thing that I found in I Am Number Four to be a major flaw, and perhaps the most dangerous thing of all is that trying to set up a franchise in such a manner in the first movie has the potential to kill it off before the franchise really ever gets off the ground. I found this to be the same thing that Cirque du Freak encountered back in 2009. There were a few plot threads left hanging in that movie too, and as of this posting, there have been no plans for a sequel. (And to that particular movie, I say good riddance.) It's better to make sure the movie can stand alone, and if it does well, great! If not, it tends to be forgotten very easily, and nobody really gets any interest in seeing any sequels to that movie.

It's a self-destructive process for a franchise, to set up a bunch of plot threads to be touched on in sequels. If I want to be perfectly honest, though, a part of me is wishing that I Am Number Four will do well enough in the box office to warrant a sequel. Some of the plot threads left hanging can go in very interesting directions from there, and I'd be up to seeing where the writers decide to take it. But until we get a sequel, I'm counting the hanging plot threads as a point against the movie, and if it never gets a sequel... well, let this particular movie stand as a case study for why you should keep it self contained until you know for sure that Part 2 is actually going to be profitable.

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

Sunday, February 20, 2011

"I Am Number Four"

You know what pisses me off? Twilight. I haven't read the books or seen all the movies, but the movie of New Moon was enough to convince me that it was a very uninteresting franchise that shouldn't have its popularity. The characters are all too perfect, the storyline gets propelled by idiotic actions on the part of said characters, and it gets particularly annoying when the attractiveness of all the main characters is overemphasized over and over and over again.

On the other side of the coin, though, you know what makes me interested? Stories that try to cash in on Twilight's success. If I want to be perfectly honest with myself, the hook of the Twilight franchise is honestly a pretty interesting hook: boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy is something supernatural/inhuman that creates complications, shenanigans ensue. The execution of this by the series is absolutely terrible, but it's still an interesting hook.

So when you see me reviewing today's movie, don't be particularly shocked.

I Am Number Four

Many years ago, the planet of Lorien was destroyed by the Mogadorians. However, the inhabitants were able to ferry off nine teenagers that end up becoming hunted down on Earth. Three of the children have been killed, thus leaving Number Four (Alex Pettyfer) as their next target. When he moves to Paradise, Ohio to hide from the Mogadorians, however, he meets Sarah (Dianna Agron) and falls in love with her.

And things get crazy from there.

... After the generic high-school drama thing, of course. Perhaps the biggest problem with this movie is that it spends far too much time on the generic high-school stuff that gets very boring after a while. We've seen this story before, and it's dully retold while going through basically every single one of the requisite steps. Football jock bullies? Check. Outcast nerd friend? Check. Love interest? Check. Main character feels left out? Check. It's all painfully generic, and it tends to drag.

It also doesn't help that some of the acting is a bit off. Alex Pettyfer especially doesn't help the believability--and unfortunately for him, almost none of the things wrong with his performance are his fault. Pettyfer is actually one of the most competent actors of the whole production, but he suffers from being almost insultingly miscast in the title role. Everyone else is rather middling in terms of acting, and the performances range from reasonably good to barely tolerable. And this especially doesn't help us get invested in the characters enough for us to really want to sit through the boring parts.

Fortunately, though, the movie manages to make up for a rather slow first two acts with a third act that is really action packed. The action scenes in this movie were actually very entertaining, and while it can be difficult to see what is going on at times, the action is still nothing short of exciting. And this gets even more crazy when the alien weaponry and one of the other Lorian teens (Number Six, played by Teresa Palmer) start to come into play. The exciting quality of the action scenes therefore helped me forget the last hour or so of boring high school drama, and ultimately rendered it from being completely boring.

So while it is dragged down by middling acting, a very unfortunately mis-cast Alex Pettyfer, and a very generic and uninteresting first two acts, I Am Number Four ultimately is rendered watchable, possibly even enjoyable, by some good action scenes. It's wierd that the action ultimately saves the whole movie, but there you have it.


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

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

Friday, February 18, 2011

Flashback Reviews: Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet

So yeah. We have a pointless updating of Romeo and Juliet coming up with... garden gnomes. I'm still trying to get over the fact that they thought retelling that particular story with garden gnomes was actually a good idea.

So what better way to go about trying to erase how bad an idea that was than with a viewing of an adaptation of the original Shakespeare play?

No... How about what I consider to be the definitive adaptation as brought to us by Franco Zeffirelli, and the first film adaptation of the movie I have ever seen?

That is what the flashback review is for, after all. Keep in mind it's been a long time since I last saw the movie in full, but I can still remember quite a few details, so let's get started with that.

Romeo and Juliet (1968)

Romeo (Leonard Whiting) is a Montague, and Juliet (Olivia Hussey) is a Capulet, both warring families in fair Verona. They fall in love, however, and things get convoluted from there.

Really, do I have to give the summary? Everyone has some knowledge of the story of Romeo and Juliet, right? As I said, it's been adapted countless times, so... I'll just get to the meat of this movie.

This movie is home to some very rich Renaissance detailing. I say it's an adaptation of the original tale, because it maintains the Renaissance setting from which Shakespeare's place came out of. Some of the details may be off, but nobody can deny that it does an excellent job of setting the period, and also the location. Zifferelli still gets quite a few details down in setting his story in the Renaissance, and it's also nice that he even casts the actors properly according to their ages. (It might be a bit disturbing, but hey, people really did marry extremely young back then.)

But of course, the meat isn't in how well Zeffirelli can create his locations, but in how the actors can handle Shakespeare's rather thick lines. And on this count, the actors are able to work well within Shakespeare's lines. Sometimes the lines are rather melodramatically spoken, but they understand the rhythm of Shakespeare's poetry and are able to speak it with quite a great deal of aplomb. They can also make the meaning of the lines apparent, as their inflections on the lines are all quite effective. Shakespeare is difficult to recite due to its poetic nature, and the actors here do a great job of annunciating it, barring some moments of melodrama that, let's face it, aren't entirely their fault.

After that, everything else sort of clicks into place on its own. There is definite chemistry between Whiting and Hussey that is visible throughout every love scene they are in, the story itself is rather well-paced, the omissions made from Shakespeare's original play are done in places that would have made the movie drag, and... well...

All of this combined makes Franco Zeffirelli's rendition of Romeo and Juliet the defining film adaptation of Shakespeare's play. There's not much else to say about this movie, other than that if you want the original Shakespeare play adapted to film in the best way possible, this is the movie to go to.

And if you want an updated adaptation? Stick with West Side Story.


Most definitely worth checking out.

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

Sunday, February 13, 2011

"Gnomeo and Juliet"

Okay, so... we've told the story of Romeo and Juliet multiple times, right? Come on, it's the ultimate story of star-crossed love! Two lovers, separated by a feud between families, and they eventually kill themselves in the end because of unfortunate circumstances. Who hasn't heard of that? And who hasn't updated it either? We've seen it get adapted into an anime, the modern day California, the West Side of New York...

...but with garden gnomes?

... Today's movie is gonna be stupid, isn't it?

Gnomeo and Juliet

The blue and red garden gnomes have been in a feud for as long as either party can remember from their opposite lawns. This changes when Gnomeo (Jason Statham) of the blue gnomes and Juliet (Emily Blunt) of the red gnomes meet and fall in love over the course of one starry night. Once the spark has been lit, they find themselves in unbelievable shenanigans as they try to conquer one misunderstanding after another.


Okay, I'll be straight with you. I could not be brought to care about anything that happens at all throughout the movie. The characters are all one-dimensional (which doesn't help when we already know how the character arcs for half these characters are going to end anyway), the plot moves forward at way too fast a pace, and there are way too many bloody montages of stuff going down. It also hosts one of the most annoying Hispanic stereotypes I've ever noticed, and I really, really felt they went over the top with the archetypes they forced on the characters.

So the only way this could be made worse is if they changed the ending without even acknowledging the original's ending.

Well... fortunately for us, they at least acknowledge this. why? The film-makers saw it fit to throw in a rather large heap of self-referential humor in the movie, as well as a few little references to other Shakespeare plays (keep your eyes out for a reasonably clever blink-and-you'll-miss-it reference to Hamlet). This self-referential humor is what works best in this movie. Perhaps my favorite part of the whole enterprise was one where Gnomeo, after one particularly crazy misunderstanding that sees him separated from literally everyone (a la Romeo's exile to Mantua), finds himself talking to a statue of William Shakespeare about the story of Romeo and Juliet, ending with Gnomeo commenting on how he doesn't like the ending Shakespeare wrote for his character. It may indulge in the self-reference too much, but it ultimately renders the whole thing from being totally bland and unwatchable.

Despite the rather clever self-referential humor, though, Gnomeo and Juliet is fairly lackluster for a family picture. It tries too hard to please the children and it doesn't try to bring any new characterizations to the table that are particularly enthralling. Ultimately, this renders the whole enterprise rather boring.

It was definitely not as bad as I first thought it would be. That said, though, that isn't saying much


It has its moments, but overall you might be left disappointed.

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

Friday, February 11, 2011

Herr Wozzeck Muses: The Curtain Rises

Warning: this musing will contain minor spoilers for Sanctum. You have been warned.

Sanctum, in my mind, presents a perfect case study on the first act of the movie, and how one really needs to be careful with characterizations in the first act, seeing as how they can lead to many problems later. It also presents a study of which characters you should not focus on if you're going to go with a survival tale with a very small amount of people.

My first gripe that Sanctum religiously follows: it spends too much time on characters that don't have any actual bearing on the story. In the first act of the movie, we're introduced to three characters that are in one area of the cave. They're there when the movie starts, kind of doing stuff. And what happens to them? One of them drowns to death before the first act is even given a chance to finish and two of them are never seen again after the shit really hits the fan for our five main characters. Granted, one of the characters was needed to show the dangers of the cave, but the other two? They're not mentioned at all. It's probably justifiable given the plot, but it still feels like they're cheating by attempting to develop two characters who don't ultimately have any bearing on the story in any way, shape, or form.

My second gripe? It inserts too many pointless sequences. Those helicopter shots with the majestic music playing? Uh... is it too late to mention that we're not even going to be seeing that majestic eye-candy landscape you just showed us for half the movie? If you're not going to see it for half the movie, then why focus on it? Helicopter scenes don't need to always have sweeping views, you know; you could develop your characters a little further.

On that note, there are also a lot of pointless shots. There are two or three shots of this native guy who simply looks up at the sky. I don't know what the hell those shots served, but they ultimately didn't do much for anything, really. And the scene with the young hero drowning in water at the end? In this case, it's also pointless, given the ending of the movie. And if it was meant to be in his head or whatever, you probably should have clarified that in the way the ending was edited, because it doesn't help when it looks like one of the characters is going to die, but *gasp* he doesn't because he's the last of the main characters who's still alive by that point.

Speaking of characters... the third gripe I have is that it doesn't know which character assets it should focus on. At one point, one of the characters talks about how he has daddy issues and how he doesn't like his father, who just so happens to be in the cave. Okay, movie, that's good and all, but don't give us the same exact conversation twice! Your viewers are not morons. Once is enough for us to get that he has daddy issues. And then there's one of the other characters, who apparently had an accident before the movie's events. Apparently, the movie didn't see it fit to explain this little ailment with the character until after the beginning of the second act. It would've been nice to explain what the hell happened to him before taking us on this great adventure, movie.

The fourth gripe I had with it was that it didn't do a good job of location-building in any sense. We get a CG graphic of the layout of the cave pretty soon after the movie starts. The only problem with this is that it becomes pretty pointless after a while since it only shows the mapped areas of the cave, and the action leaves the mapped areas literally five minutes after they get in major trouble. As well, it doesn't do a good job of setting up potential cave geography or signs to look for in finding a path outside of the water; therefore, some pieces of the pathway feel very contrived as a result.

This can be a little jarring when there are other things it does reasonably well. There's an incredible example of "show, don't tell" towards the beginning where one of the more eccentric characters skydives into the cave (no, he doesn't hit his head because of the mouth of the cave is huge) that helps hammer in his eccentric attitude for all of us. And then they manage to successfully set up a Chekov's gun with a shark tooth necklace that one of the characters wears that ends up helping to save his life. So when those two pieces of gold wind up in an otherwise uninteresting first act, the flaws only become more noticeable.

Overall, Sanctum has multiple problems in its first act, and it drags down the already mostly tepid second and mildly exciting third act down in quality as a result. It can also lead to some plot elements seeming to come from nowhere (it might've been good to know that bat shit is a good way to find a way up in a movie like this before the plot element actually came into play), it can lead to some maddeningly idiotic characterization moments (what the bloody hell was up with the father and son making up after a line that would've gotten any other parent smacked in the face), and it can leave us less invested in the adventure when we're stuck thinking what happened to the other characters. And the first act is one of the biggest reasons why Sanctum failed.

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

Saturday, February 5, 2011


You want to know something about me and caves? I don't particularly like them. I don't particularly like them because they're dark, and I usually don't like the dark. And they can get claustrophobic sometimes, and I don't like having to navigate through tight spaces. And I run the risk of being in one when it gets flooded. I've only been in a cave once, but never the kind that requires an expedition to map. Usually, it's the touristy cave I'll go in, because I know that I'll be all right since the professionals are letting us. I take that as a good sign, and I don't like it when confronted with survival in a place where there's no food, entirely too much water, and entirely too much shelter.

So let that stand as a point of reference when I tell you that none of these are the reasons why I hate today's movie.


An expedition into the Ela Asa cave in Papua, New Guinea goes terribly wrong when a storm rages through the area. While attempting to escape, five people are trapped inside the cave, with the water level rising and the oxygen running out. Thus, the only option they have is to go deeper into unexplored cave space to try to find a way out.

And it all goes crazy from there. And in that, I mean in the kind of crazy that is bad.

I really, really, really hated a lot of the characters in this movie. There were only two of the five main characters that I felt something towards that could vaguely be called an emotional attachment. The rest are an idiot, a stubborn git, and an asshole. And unfortunately, I had to stick with the five all either bland and uninteresting or out-right unlikeable characters throughout the entire running time. It wouldn't be so bad if we actually had good development, but we don't, so we end up disliking the characters. The acting is also a very middling affair, with absolutely none of the actors having any ability to put across any emotion apart from their default acting faces.

It doesn't help that quite a bit of the remainder of the movie is a bit messy. The first act of the film is way too long, which I wouldn't mind so much if it didn't do such a terrible job of establishing its main characters and presenting the dangers of the place they're in. There's also a mildly poor sense of continuity in the film, as the journey through the cave sometimes feels a little contrived in where the protagonists go and some events aren't adequately explained. And then there's the stuff that just shouldn't happen (why the hell does one guy end up with the bends when he's clearly shown being the last of the people to surface from one particular dive?). The fact that I don't sympathize with any of the characters (plus a maddeningly illogical moment of characterization that occurs halfway through the movie) definitely doesn't help the rather messy plotting, either.

What bugs me most, however, is how middling the 3D is. This is a movie that didn't need to be in 3D, what with most of it working in rather closed spaces. The only thing the 3D did for me was to make some of the shots of the larger areas of the cave look more artificial, and to make the rare CG effect they used stand out like a sore thumb. The 3D adds almost nothing to this movie, and even detracts from the experience.

Hence, it makes me baffled why James Cameron would ever want to assosciate himself with such a movie as this. If Cameron had a little more involvement in this movie, Sanctum could actually have had okay characters and a good sense of plot flow. I can't believe that Cameron produced this movie: Sanctum is probably the worst movie Cameron has ever gotten involved with.

And if you hated Avatar, I'll guarantee that Sanctum is far worse.


Skip it.

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

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Herr Wozzeck Muses: On the Oscar Nominees

Okay, I've held this off long enough. Fortunately, it's not as delayed as my article on my thoughts on 3D, so there you go.

Anyhow... as you know, the Oscar Nominees for 2010 were announced last week. So by now, we've got plenty of time to look at them. (It's one of the reasons I opted to see The King's Speech last week instead of something more recent: I think it's only fair to the Oscar people that I review the frontronner of this year.) And then there are lots of things to consider.

So what do I think? I'll go down the major categories, however I feel like it.

For reference, here is a list of the Oscar nominees:

And here are my thoughts:

Original and Adapted Screenplay

Okay, I don't really have too much to offer on this. Social Network is probably going to win for Adapted, and it could be a toss-up for Original. As for my thoughts on the lists themselves, I have no idea why Toy Story 3 is considered an "adapted" screenplay: as far as I can tell, sequels continued a story, not adapted from them. True Grit, I can see why seeing as how that was a remake of a John Wayne movie (for which, coincidentally, he got an Oscar as Rooster Cogburn) which itself was an adaptation of a novel. As for original screenplay, that's a little up in the air, but I'm really hoping Inception wins. That was one very complicated screenplay, and it took Nolan ten years to perfect it. And for that much effort, I think he deserves some recognition by the academy, yes?

Visual Effects

What, no Tron: Legacy, Academy? If Transformers was nominated for visual effects in years past, then there is absolutely no excuse to not nominate Tron: Legacy. Coincidentally, though, the original Tron was also snubbed of an Oscar when it came out way back in 1982 since it was considered "cheating" to use a computer back then. Do they have something against people being sucked into digital worlds or something? I'm also summarily disappointed that Alice in Wonderland and Hereafter are on the list. Alice in Wonderland wasn't really a good film and I didn't particularly think the effects were that mindblowing myself. And Hereafter's CGI was fairly conspicuous. You have to give them credit for reconstructing an entire tsunami, but I could really tell that it was CG.

So my hope is that the Oscar for this goes to Inception, as Chris Nolan did as many things with practical effects as he possibly could. And besides, you have to admit that the rotating hallway scene was nothing short of jaw-dropping.

Animated Feature

Hey, How to Train Your Dragon got nominated! Toy Story 3 is going to win this award, no doubt, seeing as how Pixar has always won the award. So if someone else wins, that'll be a huge upset.

Supporting Actress

I have a few complaints about this list. First of all: Academy, what the hell are you thinking, snubbing Mila Kunis like that for Black Swan? She managed to be a bitch to Mila's character without actually coming across as one to the audience. I think she deserves some form of credit for that, right? Second, why is Hailee Steinfeld in Supporting Actress despite the fact that True Grit is Mattie Ross' story and Hailee is the center of attention for basically the entire film? Although... I won't really fault you for this: Hailee might have a better chance in this race than in the Actress race.

As for who will win? Well... I don't really know. I haven't seen The Fighter, so I can't really tell you what will go down with this. I'm hoping that either Steinfeld or Helena Bonham-Carter win, though, so we'll see.

Supporting Actor

I don't really have a whole lot to say about this list. I'm surprised John Hawkes is there for Winter's Bone, though, as his character didn't really appear all that often. I think I counted five times that he appeared in the movie. I'm also a little saddened that Justin Timberlake wasn't nominated for The Social Network. I saw Timberlake almost indistinguishably as Sean Parker, and the role showed that Timberlake can actually act. So to get no recognition...

Still, though, the Oscar is probably going to go to Christian Bale, and I can't judge for that as I haven't seen him as Dickie Ecklund. If Bale doesn't win, I hope it goes to Geoffrey Rush: his Lionel Logue was one of the best parts of The King's Speech, and made the entire enterprise worth watching almost for that interaction between Firth and Rush.


Excellent, you've got Natalie Portman in there. Can we just give her the Oscar already for her incredible performance in Black Swan? She's the front-runner for Black Swan anyhow, as she's won both the Golden Globe and the Screen Actor's Guild award for that role already.

I'm also very pleased that Lawrence got nominated for Winter's Bone, as she really carried that film on her shoulders. She's probably not going to win, though, what with being in the same year as Portman. But hey, she got recognized, so that makes me happy.


Well, now there's a surprise. What is Biutiful? I may have to check it out if it ever becomes available around here...

Other than that, I don't really have much to say about this list. Colin Firth is probably going to win, though my preferred winner in this category is Jesse Eisenberg. We'll see.


Academy, let me ask you something: do you have something against Chris Nolan as a director? Inception could have fallen apart without Nolan's incredibly keen direction. And this is the second time you've snubbed him in recent memory. Why, Academy? Why? And with Tom Hooper? I didn't think The King's Speech was that great, and I definitely wouldn't have seen it as a director's movie, so color me baffled by that nomination.

Everything else, I can more or less bite into. If the Oscar goes to Aronofsky, the Coen brothers, or David Fincher, I won't mind any of those. Especially not Aronofsky. But please, Academy, don't give it to Hooper.

Best Picture

And now we get to this. The big category of the night, with ten nominees now.

Well, we avoided the Best Picture snub for Inception this time around, at least. So thank you for at least recognizing the film itself, Academy. It's also nice to see Winter's Bone on the list, as that was a genuinely great movie that so very few people saw it's almost a sin. I would refer you to the ordering on my top ten list of 2010 for my preferred picks (hint: it's Inception), but at the moment it's between The King's Speech and The Social Network. And between those two, my bet is on The Social Network. Sure, King's Speech had great acting, but Social Network did too. And it also managed to encapsulate an entire generation of people in one two-hour stretch instead of being kind of 'eh'. And Social Network felt just a little too short, which is usually a great sign when it comes to film-making. So if it doesn't go to Inception (which it probably won't), it better go to Social Network.


And those are my thoughts on the nominees. I don't have much to think about for the lesser awards, so I'll let speculation of those run rampant and whatever.

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