Friday, April 29, 2011

Herr Wozzeck Muses: How to Write for Christoph Waltz

Warning: This musing will contain minor spoilers for Water for Elephants, as well as having possible spoilers for Inglorious Basterds. You have been warned.

So... I take it you guys remember the movie of Green Hornet that came earlier this year with Seth Rogen and all those people. You know, where he becomes a superhero that pretends he's a villain?

I'll be frank about that: there was always something that bothered me about Christoph Waltz's role in that particular movie. The trouble is, I wasn't really sure what that issue was, though: Christoph Waltz got thrown into an over-the-top villain role, and he was incredibly funny at his over-the-top villain role as he was going around making random declarations about adapting to the times and how annoyed he is at the Green Hornet and all that jazz.

Thanks to Water for Elephants, I may have finally pinpointed exactly what annoyed me about Waltz's role from Green Hornet: it doesn't take any advantage of Waltz's innate charm.

Yes, Waltz is best used as an over-the-top villain, but I think he also needs to have some easy charm about him. Think back to Inglorious Basterds for a second, and more specifically his role as Colonel Hans Landa. What do you remember most about Landa? For me, I tend to remember that scene at the very beginning of the movie where he's chatting with the French farmer; in typical Tarantinian fashion, the dialogue spends a fairly long time speaking about food (in this case, milk). What really strikes me about the scene, though, is how Waltz treats the whole thing. The thing about Landa is that for a Jew Hunter, he's just so damn nice to the French farmer, and he has nothing short of praises for the guy's milk. Of course, this turns on its head when he starts speaking in English, but he puts what essentially amounts to getting in major trouble with the Nazis in such nice terms that you can't blame the farmer when he turns on the Jewish family he's hiding.

This, I think, is where Waltz's strengths lie: he is able to exude a lot of natural charm, and he's the guy you get if you want line readings of sinister stuff that doesn't actually come out as sinister.

Water for Elephants doesn't exactly get this right all the time, but there was a scene a little after the start of that movie's third act that really nailed this for me. August goes over to where Marlena and Jacob are preparing something that Marlena wanted to surprise August with. He shows up early, and then says he wants to make a new act, asking Jacob and Marlena to act it out for him. What follows is nothing short of 'oh, crap' inducing drammatics, but Waltz electrifies the scene by just speaking as if he's reading a children's story to a group of children. That is the part that gets most unsettling about that scene, I think, and aside from being the best scene of the whole movie it perfectly illustrates where Waltz is most at home.

This is something that Green Hornet lacked in his role, I think: I get that being an extremely morally depraved crime boss doesn't leave much room for that kind of nuance to the character, but I never got the same sense of charm that I got from Waltz's other two roles. I think this is because that Green Hornet focused way too hard on the running gag that Waltz's character was constantly behind the times in terms of crime, and the hammering of that punchline left little room for Waltz to really shine in what he does best.

And for his sake, I hope that more casting agents keep this in mind when casting Waltz into villain roles.

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

Sunday, April 24, 2011

"Water for Elephants"

So... Titanic. The ultimate love story, of two lovers who are starcrossed and have to find ways to work around the jealous fiancee of the girl.

It's a tale that ends up getting retold countless times.

So when we do it with circus animals?

Well... you get today's movie.

Water for Elephants

Jacob Jankowski (Robert Pattinson) is a drop-out from an ivy league vet school who drops out after the deaths of both of his parents. While walking to Albany, he ends up hitching on the train of the Benzini Brothers, run by August Rosenbluth (Christoph Waltz), where he ends up getting a job as the local vet. While there, he falls in love with August's wife Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), and things get crazy when August starts to suspect something is going on between Jacob and Marlena as the two of them make his circus more famous with the addition of a pachiderm acquired by August.

And it gets... middling from there.

There's one thing that many romance movies have to get right, and it is the chemistry between the two leads. And I suppose the biggest fault with this movie is that Pattinson and Witherspoon just don't have any form of chemistry. Their love story, therefore, doesn't really seem believable in any sense of the word. So it left me sitting there with mixed feelings about everything that was happening since a large portion of the third act hinges so much on us believing that they are actually in love.

The screenplay too is also probably at fault. Yes, it's romantic, but it feels too melodramatic for us to get any real sense of emotion from what is happening around the characters. Of course, Pattinson's stone-face delivery of near-on every line doesn't help, but with a script as tired as this it gets a little tough to care about the characters. (And no, I was not seeing Edward Cullen every time the camera focused on Pattinson: that at least says something.)

Fortunately for us, Christoph Waltz saves the movie. The screenplay doesn't give him that much to do, but he manages to pull off a charming villain act when the movie actually feels like making him charming. He electrifies the screen whenever he is present, and his line deliveries keep the entire enterprise from becoming too boring. It also helps that the romance isn't really touched on all that much throughout the first two acts of the movie, and focuses more on Jacob and August's reaction. Yeah, it's a little over the top, but we can understand why Jacob would be afraid of and for his friend and why August would feel absolutely betrayed. We get that feeling, and so some of the events that follow really do have some emotional impact.

So... it's middling. Water for Elephants has the misfortune of giving us two romantic leads who don't have that much chemistry, but a few wise decisions on how to handle Waltz's character is what ultimately renders the whole movie watchable and actually capable of some emotional impact. Would I recommend it? Eh... depends on what your cup of tea is, really. But if you're into this kind of melodrama? Sure, I'd tell you to go see it.


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.

Monday, April 18, 2011


Okay, so as you know... I did not enjoy Atlas Shrugged. And the less I say about the review's reception in some parts of the world wide web, the better. Let's just say for now that some people can be insanely delusional and we'll leave it at that, yes?

So naturally, we find ourselves wanting to take a trip that takes us far away from that. But... that gets a little difficult with life. So... we leave that to the movies, right?

Right. And that's what I did with today's movie.


Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) is the last of the blue macaws, who got captured at a young age and found by Linda (Leslie Mann), who he's lived with ever since. When a nerdy ornithologist comes to Minnesota, however, Blu finds himself taken to Rio di Janero in an attempt to repopulate the species with Jewel (Anne Hathaway). However, hijinks ensue as Blu and Jewel then find themselves caught up in a bird smuggling ring. Together,  and with the help of Rafael (George Lopez), they must evade capture and get back to their respective places.

Shenanigans ensue.

So yeah. We have fairly standard plotting all around, fairly standard laughs all around. So... it would lend itself to being mildly stale, you know? There isn't a whole lot that they do different with the kind of storyline they've got here (though the areas that the film makers do approach slightly differently than you'd expect are some of the film's strongest areas), so it has the potential to be a little flat.

But it's not.

Of course, this is another one of those movies in which the palette is one of its main saving graces. This movie, much like its namesake at the right time of year, is vibrant and incredibly full of color. Extreme shades of color make the whole enterprise look incredibly nice to look at, and in many spots when the movie gets going the colors of the visuals just as a whole new flavor to what happens. It also helps that the color scheme also seems to mold the situation the characters find themselves in; the more hopeful the scene, the more vibrant it gets. And this vibrancy gives life to the proceedings in ways you could never imagine.

Though, it also helps that the actors all have a very good sense of comedic timing and make the whole thing float effortlessly. (I won't use fly for all the bad puns that would no doubt ensue). The voice overs help keep everything light on the air, just as it should be for a movie like this. And some of the deliveries are absolutely priceless.

Is it deep entertainment? By no means. But is Rio enjoyable? Certainly. The movie is kept extremely light on the air by a combination of the actor's performances and by an engaging color scheme that adds a vibrancy to the movie. In the end, it's perfectly harmless entertainment.

And let's put it this way: I wasn't so ready to walk out of this particular movie, you know?


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

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

Saturday, April 16, 2011

"Atlas Shrugged: Part 1"

Let me make something perfectly clear: I am no fan of Ayn Rand's objectivism philosophy. If I've ever liked an Ayn Rand novel (and I will admit that I actually really do like Anthem for one thing), it's not because of her philosophy, but because I can get an engaging story out of it. Frankly, looking at objectivism, I don't see what everyone is getting so riled up about. It's basically Ayn Rand reinventing a wheel that Adam Smith had already implied was created with his stuff detailing pure capitalism.

So when I tell you that today's movie is the first movie I have ever walked out of in my life, know that the reason why I walked out has absolutely nothing to do with objectivist philosophy, or the fact that it's a darling of the always-insane, bovinistic, and seminally idiotic Tea Party movement...

Atlas Shrugged: Part 1

America is on the verge of economic collapse, with the government imposing more and more regulations left and right. While this is going down, Dagna Taggart is trying to resurrect her family's railroad line, and she is willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that the company will stay afloat.


Yes, that is the summary. Why so short, you ask?

Because I frankly couldn't be brought to care at all about anything here. At all.

I... don't know where to start. Actually, no I do. If you're going to have a socio-political message in your movie (and given that this is an Ayn Rand adaptation, it's almost unavoidable that it's going to have some form of socio-political message), you have to bring people on your side, right? So how do you do that? You make characters that are engaging and likeable, and you make them overcome obstacles that are put in place by everyone else.

I can't be brought about to care about any of these characters, and I am almost completely certain it is the fault of the film-makers who couldn't make what essentially amounts to Donald Trump's work day interesting in any way. Near on everyone is an unlikeable scoundrel in the movie, and while I can get why you would do that with the bad guys, you do it to the people we're supposed to be rooting for too. So basically, it's an hour and a half of unlikeable people having annoying conversations about stuff. It wouldn't be so bad, either, if we had good actors speaking about this. But the actors they have for this movie are unspeakably bad. Not one of these people makes anything beyond the same one or two facial expressions, and their boring line delivery means we can't be bothered to care about how what they're saying is important to the plot.

It doesn't help that almost nothing the characters say goes beyond 'I'm doing this for money, [insert more business jargon here], and you will not stop me/I will stop you/I cannot help you'. I'm sure there's a way to make that kind of dialogue interesting, but this movie could not find that way at all. And don't get me wrong, things did happen in this movie. But the problem was that things wouldn't stop happening, and plot developments kept on whizzing by with about the same amount of importance placed on each development. This cheapened the more significant plot developments greatly, and it ultimately rendered every event that occurs in this movie pointless.

I have heard it said that Atlas Shrugged is considered an unfilmable book. Perhaps this movie shows exactly why it is unfilmable: if I were Ayn Rand, I would be rolling in my grave at the lack of effort put into this movie. This whole movie came off to me as the worst kind of bad: the worst kind of bad that says that this movie was rushed to be released with absolutely no effort put into it by the actors, and no effort put to do the book justice. I personally haven't read the novel, but in this I will place the blame squarely on the film makers.


Fuck this movie.

And with this, you have the first movie I've ever walked out of.

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

Friday, April 15, 2011

Herr Wozzeck Muses: Shooooow Me Now

Warning: This musing will contain minor spoilers for Hanna. You have been warned.

You want to know one of my biggest storytelling pet peeves? When people defer to using exposition instead of trying to show us stuff. It slows the pacing down, it's needless, and it doesn't make us sympathize with the characters. So I really hate when someone goes on a tangent that's expository since ultimately it doesn't work for us.

And this doesn't just go for movies, either: this is a general problem with any form of media. But we'll leave that at that particular juncture since hey, this is film we're talking about here.

The virtues of show, don't tell go a long way for all of us.

I guess one of the things I liked most about Hanna was how little actually needed to be said throughout the entire movie. Yes, there's dialogue about mundane things and stuff, but it rarely ever feels incredibly boring.

And I think a large part of this is because of the fact that if they want to show us stuff about Hanna, they'll defer to showing it instead of providing it in a clunky bout of exposition.

For example... Hanna speaks five languages fluently. English of course is a no-brainer, given that it's the language the movie is in, but the others? German, Spanish, Italian, and Arabic. And we're not told this: we're shown this in two seperate incidents.

I won't go into the Arabic incident since it's not all that plot critical. But I will go into the German, Italian, and Spanish incident. It starts off with Eric telling Hanna to recite a certain sentence in German, Italian, and Spanish about how she always needs to be prepared. She recites it in German first, and then in Italian. When she's asked to recite it in Spanish, though... there's another thing shown. Instead of reciting that sentence about needing to always be prepared, she asks him if he really wanted Hanna to snap his neck--in Spanish! This one sentence in Spanish serves a dual function: it shows that her fluency in foreign languages isn't just restricted to certain phrases as might be implied by the fact that she said the sentence her father wanted her to say in German and Italian. The second thing it shows is her concern for her father, without outright saying 'I'm worried about you'. She carries on most of the rest of that conversation in Spanish, but the conversation takes off from there about things.

There is honestly a heck of a lot shown in this movie. Hanna and Eric don't actually say "I love you" at all during the course of the movie, but it's all to apparent in what they do and how they act that such a thing can go unspoken. Wisely, the dialogue backs off. At a hotel in Morocco, Hanna flips a light switch for the first time, spouting data about electricity while she's at it. The fact that it's the first time she's ever actively been in control of electricity goes without saying. And the sequence of her trying to turn everything off after trying to turn too many things on perfectly depicts the chaos that she runs into when becoming a master of electricity for the first time-- and it's all told through the editing and the acting without the need for a single word to be said.

In other words, Hanna provides some of the most incredible examples of that classic yet incredibly effective little screenplay principle called 'show, don't tell' that I've seen as of late. And that ultimately leads me to one reason I liked the movie so much. So much could've been said, but the fact that they chose to show as much as possible attests to why the stuff that is told in the movie is only told because it absolutely must be told. And in the end, it's a much stronger movie for not bogging us down with expository piece after expository piece.

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

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Okay, so what's one thing we all have learned by this point?

Well... it's that little girls kicking ass and killing grown men has that wierd tendency to skirt the line between absolutely outrageous (in more ways than one) and pretty awesome.

But subdued? How do we get that?

Well... let's let today's movie answer that, shall we?


Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) has been growing up in a forest in Eastern Europe all her life with her father, Eric Heller (Eric Bana). When he feels she is ready to go out into the world, then, the U.S. government comes in and takes Hanna hostage. After escaping, Hanna ends up going throughout the world while being chased by CIA agent Marissa (Cate Blanchett) while experiencing everything she never saw in the forest during her youth.

And that's about it. It's a wierd fusion of a fairy tale and a Jason Bourne movie. Complete with shaky-cam, of course, but in this case we actually do have some idea of what's happening in the movie's action scenes. And they're exciting, by the way. All of the action scenes do their job.

But the stylistic use of the camera is honestly one of the movie's strongest points. The use of camera and sound are both extremely effective: both facets are used to emphasize the many facets of the world that we would take for granted, but that Hanna would not be used to at all. It's a fascinating style of cinematography, and fortunately it almost always works to the movie's advantage.

It helps reinforce the atmosphere and really builds Hanna better than any words could have. And that's another thing: the character of Hanna is incredible. A very strong performance from Saiorse Ronan of course helps create Hanna in a way that very few actresses would have been able to, but everything in the film helps build her as well. It's a case of some of the most effective character-building I've seen this year.

If there's one thing I have to say about this movie that I didn't like... I felt it ended a little too early, and towards the end it lost a little bit of steam from many of the things that made the first two acts so interesting. I think part of it may be that it stopped relying on all the things that made it so interesting in the first place, as the style stopped highlighting all the differences so much. It also doesn't help that the plot of the movie is rushed to a conclusion towards the end, in such a way that the plot becomes a little too overpowering to everything that is happening.

But other than that small hicup, Hanna as a whole is a fascinating thing. There's very little that needs to be said about a movie that can make everything work with the central character, especially the camera style. With this, and some very well-done action scenes that we can see, this is a movie you'd be doing yourself a disservice to miss.


Most definitely worth checking out.

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

Saturday, April 2, 2011

"Source Code"

Hello, all. I'll introduce a movie concept, and why I wouldn't see it... and then the one really smart move that got me interested.

So, a guy gets trapped in this device that takes him back to the same eight minutes over and over again. He has a mission, he doesn't know what's going on, and... well, the trailer makes it look pretty standard. So yeah, we would expect standard time travel thingies.

But... there was one really smart move they made: hiring Duncan Jones, the director of the criminally underrated Moon. That particular movie was one of the best sci-fi films of 2009, and yet it flew completely under the radar. So when I found out he was directing the above premise, I figured I'd give this movie a shot. Benefit of the doubt you know?

Man, am I glad I did.

Let's get to today's movie then, shall we?

Source Code

Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a soldier who wakes up with no memory of what's passed and no idea where he is on a commuter train sitting across from Christina (Michelle Monaghan). When it blows up eight minutes later, however, he finds himself waking up in a capsule as part of the source code, a secret government initiative that is attempting to thwart an upcoming terrorist attack on the whole of Chicago by sending Colter into the body of Sean Fentress during the last eight minutes of his life to find out who bombed the train. And thus, with the help of Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), Colter sets out to do just that, hopefully while creating a new timeline as well in which he can save Christina.

So. Heavy-concept sci-fi, right? Well, one of my biggest fears with this was that it would fall victim to the trap that could easily be fallen into: it could fall right into using a whole bunch of cliches to help us get its ideas across. It would be all visceral and tense, but we could tell many things coming from a mile away.

Well... I'm pleased to report that wasn't the case. Some of the plot threads seemed to be going somewhere thoughout most of the movie, but then they took off in a completely different direction that I couldn't exactly anticipate. It helped keep everything fresh, and it helps keep the elements that we can see from a mile away from getting stale as well. And as for resorting to cliches to develop the characters? That didn't happen either.

I guess another thing that I can attribute this to is just how interesting the science is. Yeah, it can be seen as preposterous, but that gets lost on me when the science is executed so well it's easy to forget that. The science is part of what helps everything take such an interesting direction, after all, and the fact that we're invested in what this science can help us accomplish or enables us to do keeps us interested in what's going to happen next.

And yes, it is all really visceral, and it's visceral in every way that counts. It features some incredible performances from its cast, from Jake Gyllenhaal's emotional roller coaster ride that we see unfold as he works his way through everything to Michelle Monaghan's incredibly endearing Christina, who helps give some major emotional grounding for the whole movie. And all props have to go to Duncan Jones, who took what was already an incredibly intricate screenplay and turned it into an incredibly visceral movie that grips you and doesn't let go.

I... I really don't have much else to say about Source Code. It's as engaging as you can get in a movie, and so much more. I honestly don't have much else to say. Go see Source Code. It's the first movie that I've seen this year that I can call a really great movie, and honestly? There's not much to say beyond that.


A must-see picture of the year.

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