Friday, March 25, 2011

Flashback Reviews: Shaun of the Dead

Okay, so last weekend we saw Paul, right? You know, fun sci-fi stuff with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost?

Well, I've got a small admission to make: part of what got me to see it is that I haven't seen anything with that particular duo. So I figured, why not use it as a segue to one of their earlier collaborations?

So here we are, today, with a flashback review for good measure.

Let's get going with today's movie, then, shall we?

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Shaun (Simon Pegg) is a man who has almost no actual life to speak of: he's working in a middling job in retail, he's a shut-in with his friend Ed (Nick Frost), he's on rocky ground with his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield), and he always spends his nights at the Winchester. So of course, when a zombie outbreak occurs all around him, it shakes up his life. And so, he finds himself having to answer to the call of duty as he tries to defend his friend, his girlfriend, his girlfriend's friends (Lucy Davis and Dylan Moran), and his mom (Penelope Wilton) by going to the Winchester, a safe and familiar place.

One thing I can say is that this movie does share a similar sense of humor with Paul. It shouldn't be surprising, either, given that Simon Pegg wrote both movies. But ultimately what it comes down to is that Pegg also makes a funny screenplay here that tries to blend it with elements of horror. So... I forget where I was going with that.

But what it comes down to is that I think Pegg managed to get that balance between the humor and the more serious stuff down quite a bit more with Shaun than he did with his more recent effort. Yes, the more usual genre elements are there, but they don't feel out of place. It might be attributed to the fact that it's a zombie movie and naturally, people have to die somewhere, right? But when they do find themselves dying it feels like it's supposed to happen, and not just because of the genre. And the way it plays around with zombie movie conventions helps to bring out a lot of laughs.

As well, there's something to be said about Edgar Wright's directing style. I can definitely see why he was the best choice for Scott Pilgrim, as pieces of the heavily-stylized and hyper-kinetic direction style for that particular movie can be seen here. In many regards, the directing style adds a certain element of flair to the whole enterprise that spices everything up in turn. And in some cases, it helps the comic timing immensely.

So when the two elements combine? Well, we get Shaun of the Dead in its bloody, gory, and entirely hilarious entirety. The blend of genre elements as played straight and for laughs is staunchly secure, and Edgar Wright's directing style gives a sense of flair to everything that occurs within the movie's running time.

So yeah. I'm shocked I didn't see this movie sooner.


Most definitely worth checking out.

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

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Okay... So as you probably know, I'm a pretty big fan of sci-fi. I also like British humor, and still love Monty Python greatly.

So when the two combine...?

Well, let's get to today's movie, shall we?


Graeme (Simon Pegg) and Clive (Nick Frost) are two British nerds who have come to America to take part in the San Diego ComiCon, and afterwards they end up driving to famous UFO hotspots. On the way, however, they pick up an alien hitchiker who goes by the name of Paul (Seth Rogen), who asks to go north. The result is a wild adventure, in which they pick up Bible nut and creationist Ruth (Kristen Wiig) and get chased by a trio of hapless government agents (Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, and Joe Lo Truglio).

And there's an awesome, awesome cameo at the very end that I won't spoil for you.

And why is it awesome? Well... I'll let the fact that there are all sorts of subtle shout-outs to a ton of sci-fi properties in this movie. And it's not just the fact that the entire plot is basically E.T. with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, either: we get references from Star Wars all the way to Battlestar Gallactica. And perhaps best of all, each reference is treated with a certain amount of respect.

But most importantly, the references are also funny and clever, and most of them work pretty well even if you're not a fan of science fiction. And it also helps that it throws a couple of little towels on various things that humans think-- including intelligent design. (That last could piss a lot of people off, actually: it's literally said that intelligent design is 'horse shit' by Paul.) The biggest problem with the humor, then, is that I don't felt that the movie really capitalized on the humor as much as it could've. Some things towards the end were played unnervingly straight, and it did create a minor tone clash with most of the rest of the movie.

But I couldn't be brought to care, because these were crazy things happening to fun characters. Pegg and Frost are both very likeable with an impeccable sense of timing, and Kristen Wiig is endearing as a newly-converted non-Jesus freak. While Paul is a little on the rude side, though, he's also very endearing. And because we like the characters, we want to follow what happens with them, tone clashes and all.

It never quite gets to be as funny as it wants to be, but Paul is still a very good time at the movies for all involved. With loving references to various sci-fi movies and characters that are likeable, it's worth a watch.


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

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

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Herr Wozzeck Muses: On Creative Bankruptcy

Warning: this musing may contain spoilers for Battle: Los Angeles. You have been warned.

Okay, we're going back to Battle: Los Angeles. Why? It offers a good example of today's musing on when unoriginality can be a bad thing.

So before I go off, I don't think that people retreading the same ground is an inherently bad thing. For example, there was last year's Megamind. While most of the enterprise wasn't all that original, it benefitted from parodizing everything about itself that we felt we had seen before. So by virtue of the fact that it plays around with what makes it unoriginal, it feels fresh.

By the same token, I'm one of many people who enjoyed Avatar. Storywise, it left a bit to be desired, but I felt that in terms of visual storytelling Cameron succeeded in making me care about most of the characters, even if it is a retread of Pocahontas with giant blue cats. I remember when I reviewed it that I attribute it to the wonders of Pandora as we experience them from Jake Sully's side of things, and it gave a fresh look as we too were watching the same wonders he was watching unfold for the first time. So for that, it made the rest of the enterprise worth something. For me, anyway: the less I say about the hatedom it's amassed on the internet, the better.

But there's a particularly bad sign of creative bankruptcy that can take you out of a movie. If the whole enterprise feels like we've seen it before, I believe there is a way that the filmmakers can get away with unoriginality if they make us invested in what's going on.

This was not the case with Battle: Los Angeles. In this case, I was able to pinpoint specific things where something in the movie reminded me of something else. The sound design of the aliens reminded me a little too much of the sound design for the Collectors from Mass Effect 2. A lot of the antics of the soldiers' infighting and insecurity on the chain of command when they weren't trying to kill aliens rang a little too close to certain scenes from Saving Private Ryan. The design of the alien command center reminded me a little too much of the design of things like the mothership from District 9. And the aliens themselves (as well as some of their aircraft) looked like they were ripped straight out of Independence Day. (Any comparisons to Skyline in terms of what is similar is unfair to Battle, given that there was a whole lawsuit from Sony Pictures about how the Brothers Strause may or may not have stolen intellectual property with that. So I won't go there.)

This breaks involvement with the story. I say this mainly because I feel that the plot and universe of a film have to draw us in if we're to enjoy it. If we can pinpoint individual places where we can say 'okay, that was taken from this property', it draws us away from everything that is happening, and as was in my case we think about other, better things. And this means that we can't be as involved in the story as we want to be.

And that is where I draw the line. I'm fine with people who will retread old ground, so long as they do it well or try to bring a new twist to everything. But when I'm pulled out of the story because something is so obviously inspired-very similar to something else, that is when I stop being invested in the story.

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

Saturday, March 12, 2011

"Battle: Los Angeles"

Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please?

I have suddenly stumbled across a really, really bad movie. In fact, it may be the most boring movie ever reviewed by this website. In fact, it's an early contender for worst movie of the year.

So, ladies and gentlemen, what is today's movie? Well, let's get to it...

Battle: Los Angeles

It's an alien invasion, and U.S. marines are dispatched to do something about the invasion when asked to get civilians out of there.

And... that's about as much as I care to expose about the summary. And in a way, I really don't know what the hell was going on throughout the rest of it, as the plot is driven by hyper-strategic mumbo-jumbo that we could care less about being carried out by heroes we could care less about fighting aliens we could care less about while engaging in various war movie cliches that we could care less about and watching people's phoned-in acting jobs that we could care less about and CGI effects that we could care less about.

So in other words, we're watching things unfold that we could care less about. And thus, the entire enterprise is rendered pointless. (If the run-on sentence didn't tip you off... Well...)

The best way I can describe this movie is as follows: it is a two-hour long action scene. Action scenes are fun, but in this movie the action is entirely lacking in context. It also doesn't help that half the time we can't even figure out what the hell is going on. This movie has an overreliance on shakycam and loud, boomy noises. Yes, it's exciting, but it's also prone to produce headaches and make our eyes hurt from all the fury going on onscreen.

And what else doesn't help? The characters, who are so underdeveloped we could care less about them. Yes, it's an alien invasion, but the characters aren't sympathetic enough for us to get invested in what they are fighting for. We don't hate them, but we don't like them either. And I think it comes from focusing on too many characters at the start and rushing through everything that goes into their lives before the invasion, as we don't get time to get a good sense of the characters apart from 'Character A has a fiancee, Character B has a dead brother, Character C has stuff to fight for', etc. And it's also to the film's detriment that some of the major characters don't come in until after the main action has started. There's almost no concentration on the human element with these characters, and what could have been a very deep movie is instead cliched and entirely uninteresting.

It doesn't help that these are some of cinema's least-interesting aliens. And yes, I get that it's from the point of view of the soldiers and they don't have time to develop the aliens, but everything about them screams 'generic alien invasion species'. Nothing about this movie felt intriguing in any way, especially not the action scenes which consist of guys hiding behind cover and shooting at things. That's not exciting enough for me to be invested in what's going on.

It's just... the whole movie is full of eh.

You know what the saddest part is? The trailers for Battle: Los Angeles were actually pretty interesting. I want to say this movie is every bit the movie Skyline wanted to be. But no... it's one of the most painfully generic movies I've ever seen thanks to how utterly uninteresting everything is.

Skip it.

Also, "Original Films", I want my money back. All fifteen dollars of it. Preferrably now.


Do NOT see this movie at any cost.

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

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Herr Wozzeck's Pit Fight: The Adjustment Bureau vs. Inception

And welcome to another edition of Herr Wozzeck's pit fight.

So... as you can imagine, The Adjustment Bureau was a mildly mindbending film. It had a mildly convoluted plot, it had stuff that would be ludicrous in the real world, and it banks on a very strange concept. So naturally... it would garner a comparison to Inception, right?

... Wait, what?

Yes, there have been more than one review that has compared this movie with Inception, both in good ways and in bad ways. What is it about The Adjustment Bureau that garners that comparison?

Well... when we hear about comparisons like that here at HWR, we like to look further into them. So today, we're going to pit the two in a fight.

Let's get this party started.

The Adjustment Bureau Vs. Inception

Round 1: Story

Well... there's really not a whole lot to say about the story of either film. Both have fairly complex plots, both need some explanation (but that won't play into this round...), and they both have fairly large twists. And both move at a nice clip when you know what's going on. In other words, they're about equal in terms of story. And of course, their stories are both pretty engaging.

So who gets the point in this case?

Well... I'll have to give it to Inception, ultimately because of a couple of things. The first thing is that the ending doesn't feel like a let-down the way The Adjustment Bureau's ending does. It feels like it completes the movie while adding a level of ambiguity to everything that just happened in the movie. While I felt that Adjustment Bureau had an ending that tied up loose ends, something about it felt like it was a minor cop out.

And the second thing is that Inception's story lends a lot more to multiple viewings: this is one of those movies that gets fresh again every time you watch it. I say this because it's carefully structured, and you see things about the characters and their actions in a new light that you couldn't have on a first showing. Adjustment Bureau is unfortunately pretty straightforward and lends itself less to that. So... the point goes to Nolan in this case.

Winner: Inception

Round 2: Characters

Again, this one is a bit of a mixed bag. Inception has a load of great characters in there, from the troubled Dom through the uptight, overly-formal Arthur and the carefree gallivanter Eames to the embodiment of Dom's guilt in Mal's subconscious projection. And Adjustment Bureau also has interesting characters, even if the villains are a little on the over the top side and there are also a lot less of them than before. Again, in terms of characters, they're about equal.

So who gets the point in this case?

Well... I think I'll give the point to both movies, honestly. They both handle their characters extremely well, and their characterizations are all more or less memorable. It's a tough call to make because both movies make their characterizations work under very different circumstances. While Adjustment Bureau has the opportunity to do some micro-managing and work on characterizing its two leads, Inception manages to excellently characterize its large cast.

So the point goes to both of them.

Winner: Both

Round 3: Acting

Ah, a clearer category, finally.

Now... Inception was a movie that was excellently acted. Mal Cobb is one of the most ambiguous characters of last years films, and Marion Cotillard embodied her character's duality perfectly. And everyone else did a great job with the acting as well, even if a lot of the cast didn't quite have as extensive a backstory as Cobb did.

So why is this easier?

Well... as I mentioned in the review, The Adjustment Bureau only needs to have one thing work and a large piece of the rest of it clicks into place: the love between Matt Damon and Emily Blunt's characters has to be believable, otherwise a large part of the rest of the movie doesn't exactly work. And fortunately for us, the chemistry between Damon and Blunt manages to make everything click into place.

And that's the deal with Inception: it's a little less about the acting and a little more about the story and the ideas going into the movie. With Adjustment Bureau, the actors have just a little more on their plate since they need to make the love story that is central to that movie's plot believable for us to want to see what will happen to the characters.

So the point goes to the Adjustment Bureau.

Winner: The Adjustment Bureau

Round 4: Material

Okay... so... this category is also seminally difficult.

On the one hand, Chris Nolan spent ten years perfecting the script for Inception. It shows, as the script is very tightly put together on absolutely every front. Also, it manages to do so without being overly hokey. Adjustment Bureau does have a few moments of hokeyness, but it still has good enough material to work with even within some of those moments. Still, you'd think Inception would get the point automatically.

Well, not really. Because this is Nolfi's first film-making attempt. And as far as first film-making attempts go, this is actually a really good start for him. He manages to make what hokeyness there is work (with no small amount of thanks to Damon and Blunt, of course), and that I think manages to excuse some of it. So really, when we take that into account, they both sort of win.

So I'll give the point to both movies.

Winner: Both

Round 5: Execution of Ideas

Hey, another clear topic! Yes, both of these movie's plots ride high on ideas that can mess with your mind if you're not careful. Both deal with how we perceive the world as well, and they're both very high concept ideas.

So who gets the point this time?

Well... those of you who watched Inception might have complained that it's overexplained a lot. I always argue that you need all that exposition or you won't know what the hell is going on throughout the rest of the movie (as my dad so snorily proved the first time I watched Inception with my family), but some don't think that the overexplanation was needed.

But now, I can point you to Adjustment Bureau as an example as to why that complaint doesn't hold any water.

Adjustment Bureau has two key problems with how its ideas are executed. The first, is that the ideas in question are underexplained. It's mentioned at the time that the abilities of the maybe or maybe-not supernatural bureaucrats in the bureau are hampered somewhat if they're near or in water. But this is never explained in further detail, as are a lot of the ideas in the movie. This could create some ambiguity, but at the same time it means that it gives the filmmakers room to cheat with the climax, and the fact that it's not explained well enough could be one of the reasons why the ending doesn't work as well as it should.

And the second key problem is that the ideas just aren't explored as much as they could be. Inception with all its high-wire acts brought on by dreams within a dream on top of another dream actually does deal with what could happen if someone lost themselves within the dream world by exploring what happened to Cobb's wife. We don't quite get any such exploration with Adjustment Bureau, which is a shame because it lends itself to that.

So for those, Inception gets the point.

Winner: Inception

General Winner: Inception, though The Adjustment Bureau put up a good fight.

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

Sunday, March 6, 2011

"The Adjustment Bureau"

Well, what do you know? I kept up with my attempt to review two movies this weekend. I had to do it at an extremely late show... but at least things went according to plan.

If only everything could go according to plan... Or is that always a good thing?

Well... in the context of today's movie, it may not be a good thing.

The Adjustment Bureau

David Norris (Matt Damon) is a politician who, on the night that he loses his Senate bid, meets the astonishingly beautiful Elise (Emily Blunt). After inspiring to change his speech after he loses the election, they just so happen to meet by chance on the bus the next day, and love blossoms between them. But then the Adjustment Bureau, an agency that may or may not be beyond comprehension that basically runs the world, steps into his life through chance. As they relentlessly attempt to keep David and Elise apart in order to stick to 'the plan', David finds that he must fight for what feels natural between him and Elise.

And it gets into all sorts of crazy from there.

I guess I'll start with a major problem I had with the movie: its tone. Throughout the first half of the movie, it really fights with itself over what tone it wants to have. Certain parts that should be intimidating or even frightening are played a little too much in a tongue-in-cheek fashion, and oftentimes it'll never fully realize just how nihilistic its premise actually is. Tonally, it finally gets its act together in time for the really tough stuff to go through, but until the second half of the movie its tone is fairly uneven. It doesn't help that the ending is something of a minor let-down; I can't really see it ending any other way given what happens before, but it doesn't really feel very gratifying nevertheless.

But there's really a key element here that absolutely must work, or it would drag the whole movie down with it: the romance between David and Elise absolutely must be believable. And fortunately for us, the movie gets this much right. It's a little tough to see how David and Elise can fall in love after only one meeting unless you believe in love at first sight, but Matt Damon and Emily Blunt share incredible chemistry whenever they appear together on-screen. Yes, their love is a little preposterous, but with Damon and Blunt we really do get the all-important sense that they belong together even despite what the titular bureau might think will work best according to the plan.

As a result, a huge part of the rest of the movie clicks into place. Damon and Blunt share chemistry, so we actually want them to end up together by the time the movie runs its course. And it gives the whole enterprise its sense of excitement. It helps that it uses a very interesting visual style: the cinematographer will usually take angles that will increase our sense of paranoia, and while the tonal shifts usually threaten that, the style works.

The only thing that really needs to work about The Adjustment Bureau is that the two leads must share chemistry, and thanks to the fact that Damon and Blunt do share chemistry a large part of the rest of the movie works as well. Tonally, it needed a little more consistency to match the more nihilistic undertones of the story, but as a whole the movie still works. And it is quite a ride.


Most definitely worth checking out.

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

Friday, March 4, 2011


Yes, I know, I didn't review a movie last week. No, don't worry, I didn't do much. But I did not have much in the way of new releases to look out for, so that's why you didn't get a review last week.

This weekend, though... As a form of penance, I will try to review two movies. Key word being 'try': I'm incredibly busy this weekend, and then throughout most of the next week. (Let's just say it's something reasonably big that's going on IRL and we'll leave it at that for now.) But rest assured, I will try to also review The Adjustment Bureau during the course of the weekend we have left.

But for now... we have other things.

So with that bit of news, let's get to today's movie...


A nameless chameleon (Johnny Depp) finds himself thrust into a crazy Western-style adventure after an unfortunate accident in which he gets ejected from the car his owners were in. When he does so, however, he finds the town of Dirt, in which he finds there is a major shortage of water that is worrying the residents. Taking the name of Rango, said chameleon sets out to help the townspeople while trying to find his place in the world at large.

And said journey consists of a bunch of really ridiculously beautiful frames. Seriously. This movie presents an incredibly fine tapestry of computer-generated artistry. There's something to be admired about almost every single frame in this movie. And the best part? It's not in 3D, so it doesn't have to rely on being gimmicky to look absolutely stunning. There's something visually entertaining for everyone...

...And then there's something entertaining about the whole thing for everyone too. So much so that it might not be entirely a children's movie at all. This movie pushes how much it can get away with under the PG rating for everyone involved. Seeing as how there are references and a few scenes of mildly... eh... unpleasant activities, it may not be a movie for everyone. But this works to its advantage in some ways, as it also hosts some incredibly irreverent humor. The pop-culture references are almost always unexpected (somehow, these people managed to find a way to make a pop-culture joke out of a mammogram, of all things), and there are as many jokes for the older audience as there are for the young ones. And then there are a few very obscure pop-culture references for the nerds: there was a rather prominent a Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas reference, and I was literally the only person in the theater who got the joke.

The only problem... when it's not getting some of its incredibly effective irreverent humor out, the whole thing feels a little stale. I attribute it to the plot: the plot is not the most interesting part of this movie, and in some spots it doesn't really feel like it a mounts to a whole lot, even within the movie itself. It tends to feel pretty trite when it does try to get going on a story level, and nothing about it feels like it's ultimately amounting to much.

Still, even though there is that, the irreverent humor and incredible visuals still make Rango worth at least one viewing. The humor is a very odd thing for a promoted family film, I think, in that it also tries to appease the adults too. In that sense, it comes across as a true family movie. But it's still a very fun movie, and even if you don't have children you should still check it out.


Most definitely worth checking out.

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