Friday, July 29, 2011

"Cowboys and Aliens"

Jeez, genre mash-ups are starting to get some prevalence around here. Those of you who remember my review slate last year will probably remember the fairly underwhelming The Warrior's Way, which mashed up ninjas and cowboys.

I don't know if there's any more mash-ups on the way, but we do have a mash-up on the menu as today's movie, so let's get to that, shall we?

Cowboys and Aliens

Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the middle of a field, not knowing who he is, where he came from, or what he's doing out in the middle of nowhere. Before long, however, he gets caught up in huge events when the town he goes to first winds up being attacked by the aliens of the title. Thus, he sets out to fight these things with the beautiful Ella (Olivia Wilde) and the gruff Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), all while they unite differing opinions in the Wild West against them.

The proceedings are... eh.

I'll just say this now, that yes, this movie is okay. But it could be so much better for a few reasons.

Let's get started. The actors do their best with the material they've got, but given how standard that material is, it never really comes across as interesting at any point in the movie. We can tell with a good amount of certainty where most of these characters are going to end up, and it becomes fairly predictable. Things become more predictable, we lose interest, and that's what tends to happen as the movie goes on. The plot also ends up getting very predictable, and as a result it plays less like a mash-up and more like a Western which just so happens to also have aliens in it.

Which isn't to say it isn't fun: it is. The action here is quite a bit of fun, and gets very creative with how cowboys, indians, and the whole lot manage to fight back against the aliens in question. There was some genuinely exciting action to be had here, and when there is it's pretty fun.

But at the end of the day, Cowboys and Aliens never fully gets as fun as a movie with such a premise probably should get. It's difficult to tell where the missteps occurred, though I think it ultimately comes down to how predictable the movie is.


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.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Flashback Reviews: "The Fountainhead"

Hey, guys. You all remember when I gave that glaringly negative review of Atlas Shrugged Part 1 back in April? Well... you all probably weren't there for it unless you're one of my That Guy with the Glasses readers, but let's just say that someone really took issue with my negative review.

So to put it simply, there's this man named Isaac M. Baranoff. He blasted many people (including Roger Ebert and myself) for saying that Atlas Shrugged was nothing more than a ballot-stuffing movie and saying that it was a bad movie. It wouldn't be so bad, except that he quoted the film's IMDB rating (of all things) as proof that it was a better movie than I and many other critics were making it out to be. And it was implied that he thought I (and by extension pretty much every other poster on the TGWTG forums) hated it because I disagree with Ayn Rand.

Well, I decided right then and there that I would watch the other Ayn Rand movie to test this theory out.

So let's get to today's movie, eh?

The Fountainhead (1949)

Howard Roark (Gary Cooper) is an architect with a great vision. He does not compromise his vision under any circumstances, however, and he continuously comes up against trials that test his individuality against a collective world that is against the freshness of his ideas.

That's... basically it. Though in all honesty, that's the only form of summary this movie needs.

So I'll get the basic Ayn Rand political message stuff out of the way, because I went into this movie promising myself I would judge it as a movie, not as a poltical statement. Yes, this movie gets very preachy at times, and yes, the villains are incredibly over the top in this movie. Comes with the territory, especially given that Ayn Rand wrote the screenplay. So yes, it's preachy, to the point of annoyance at a couple of places.

Okay, we've packed that horse up, so now we're moving right along. So now that we have that taken care of, how do I judge this as a movie on its own?

Well? Frankly, I liked it. Why? Because it's competently made. Actually, better than competently made. It's very well made?

The acting in this movie is phenomenal, which says something for a cast which has a main character who is basically a cardboard cut-out for stuff to happen to. Gary Cooper adds a certain conviction as Howard Roark. I would've found his character to be annoyingly preachy with any other actor, but Cooper lends a certain quiet conviction to his role that is pretty much perfect for Roark's character. The supporting cast is excellent as well (I was especially taken with Raymond Massey's portrayal of Gail Waynard), and it creates a wide range of characters that lend a truly epic feel to the story.

Thus, I get actual attachment to these characters. I was actually interested in what was going to happen to these characters. And that's a major thing that works in this movie's favor. It was preachy, but the only times when I ever felt annoyed was when it got too preachy. It says a lot when I'm able to overlook the preachiness and see everything else about the movie because it's just that good.

So to Isaac M. Baranoff, I reiterate: Atlas Shrugged Part 1 is a bad movie, and it's not a bad movie because I don't agree with Ayn Rand. Why? Because The Fountainhead doesn't suck. It's competently directed, competently written, and excellently acted. And I actually cared about the characters, even through their most blatantly preachy lines. As a result, it's actually enjoyable, even to non-Rand fans.


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

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

Monday, July 25, 2011

"Captain America: The First Avenger"

Okay, so... the Marvel universe movies have been doing the rounds. We've had the two Iron Man movies, Thor, and Incredible Hulk hit the screens under the direction of the Marvel Studios for a bit now, and now comic book fans everywhere have The Avengers to look forward to next year.

So that leaves one movie, right?

Let's get to today's movie then!

Captain America: The First Avenger

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a small boy from Brooklyn who has attempted five times to enlist into the U.S. Army in World War 2. Every single time, he's been turned down due to extremely poor health. However, things greatly change when he is adopted into a top secret experiment in which an experimental serum is injected into his body that basically powers him into one of the most powerful men. And just in time too: it becomes apparent that there is more than just the Nazis that he will have to fight when Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) defects from the Nazis and heads the organization HYDRA. So Steve goes into battle.

And... that's basically it.

What to say about it? It's really, really good.

No, really. Everything about this movie is great. But it's tough to talk about, so where do I start?

I think there's one thing here that indicates that this is a good movie: it takes the wholesome American guy with pure uncorruptible goodnes out to do great things for his country archetype, and manages to take this concept seriously without it coming across as silly and extremely annoying to the audience. I think it comes down to a few very key decisions on the part of the filmmakers, but perhaps most of all was the casting of Chris Evans as Steve Rogers. Chris Evans is perfect for the role of Steve Rogers: some of his lines probably would have been annoying coming from a different actor, but Evans manages to inject something in his lines that gives the audience the idea that he means everything he says. In the end, it's a huge part of what makes his character work so well. And we're with him to the end.

And everything else? It feels... honestly, it feels like the perfect blend of superhero movie and World War 2 war epic. I of course didn't bring up at least half the cast, as there are a lot of characters, ranging from a female agent with the army (Hayley Atwell) via the eccentric Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) (whom Iron Man fans might recognize as Tony Stark's father) to an army general who is generally unsure of Steve's abilities (Tommy Lee Jones). And everything that happens in this movie feels like it has actual dramatic weight to it as well.

Oh, and there's a lot of great action here too. The action in this movie is really intensely directed, and it is incredibly intense action, especially when he gets his shield and starts beating people up with it. And it lent itself to some huge set-pieces later on, particularly in the later part of the movie during the inevitable showdown between Steve and Johann.

So in short? Go see Captain America. I assure you, it's well worth the ticket price for more reasons than I care to go into right now. Evans is a perfect Steve Rogers, it feels epic and sprawling, and the action is entertaining. What more could you ask for?


A must-see picture of the year.

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

P.S.: I'd like to leave a small note for the filmmakers behind Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which had a new trailer attached to Captain America: Thank you for basically telling everyone the entire plot of your movie in your new trailer, guys. You do realize that anyone that has the internet probably knows how Planet of the Apes ended, right? Right? Either way, if it turns out that it sucks later on, then you've just saved me nine dollars I could've spent to go see it. *sigh* Seriously, guys, epic fail on your part. Epic fail.

Monday, July 18, 2011

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2"

Okay, so Harry Potter ended last weekend. The film series has been resolved, the books are now over, and now a whole generation has seen its main pop culture statement do stuff.

So how does the last film hold up?

Well... let's get to that, shall we?

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Do I really have to give a summary for this? It's the final battle between Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) against the forces of Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) with the help of his friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermoine (Emma Watson), who are still hunting for Horcruxes and end up returning to Hogwarts to finish Voldemort once and for all.

And on that count, we really have a lot going on. Whereas Part 1 was understated, Part 2 is appropriately overblown. Somehow, David Yeats managed to make a film-long battle incredibly interesting. There is a lot that happens in this movie, and near on every major character that's been in the franchise up to this point gets to have a moment in the spotlight. And the final battle between Harry and Voldemort is nothing short of jawdropping.

But it's the quiet parts that really work well. This film isn't completely about the action at all. No, there are some pieces of the film's story that are absolutely required to have some extraordinary emotional weight. And it's here that I think that the casting proves to have been effective. There is one particular sequence that had me tearing up because the acting was so effective from everyone involved. The quiet parts therefore had incredible emotional gravitas, and it lent an incredible sense that the characters were fighting for something to the movie that it might not have had otherwise.

I... don't really have enough to talk about with this movie that I can't really spoil.

So I'll just say that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is the best conclusion an eight-film-long franchise could have asked for. It's exciting, emotionally involving, and intriguing all in one. Be warned as you may have to have some expertise with the franchise to get some of the ending (Part 1 is a must-watch if you hope to understand a large chunk of this movie's plot), but it's a strong conclusion to the series.


Most definitely worth checking out.

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

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Herr Wozzeck Muses: Shaky Cam

Here's a fun fact: I went to see Transformers: Dark of the Moon with friends. It was also extremely late at night (we caught a show at 10:55 PM), and that's the best time for friends to go out when you're in college, right? Yeah, that's what we thought. No, we didn't have alcohol beforehand. We were all sober to the best of my knowledge. It was fun, and full of craziness.

But that's not why I'm bringing that bit of information up. I'm bringing it up because of a discussion I had with said friends on the way home.

We started asking ourselves about movies we've seen earlier in the year, and then one of them asked me what my opinion of Battle: Los Angeles was. I told them I hated it (which, looking back, was probably too strong a term for me to have used: I don't like it, but I don't hate it either, now that I think about it), and things more or less happened from there. They thought it was big and dumb and enjoyable, and I said that I found it to be a cliched movie that had action scenes that were an incomprehensible mess thanks to the ridiculous amount of shaky cam involved.

And then, the discussion turned to shaky cam, which is where I was going with this. As all of you on my blog know, I tend to frown upon shaky cam as it shows up in an action movies, especially when it makes it needlessly difficult to tell what the hell is going on when it zooms in on the action. I think shaky cam is nothing more than a mere gimmick: I'd much prefer that my action scenes actually give some idea of what's going on.

So in this discussion with my friends, I blasted shaky cam for needlessly muddying up action scenes in most movies (key word being most). In turn, my friends replied that it was a way to create more immersion. Their reasoning is that by making the camera as shaky as possible, it simulates you being in the action.

Here are some reasons why I found this argument to be bullshit:

1) That argument only works if you're trying to do something with the aesthetic of your cinematography. Shaky-cam works with movies like Cloverfield and The Blair Witch Project because the amateurish quality of the cinematography (I.E., how much the camera shakes) is part of the point of those movies: the cameraman is part of the action. But throw that quality of shaky camera into a movie like Battle: Los Angeles or 28 Days Later in which the the camera isn't part of the action but is rather a passive observer of the action and the gimmick becomes absolutely pointless.

2) If your movie is good enough, you don't need to rely on cheap gimmicks to immerse your audience. They'll be absorbed by the characters and the story well enough: the action then proceeds to pit the characters through things, and you hope they rise up above it. It's the secret of any good narrative. And when you don't rely on the narrative, you have to rely on the action: muddying it needlessly doesn't help your movie at all, especially when it's heavily cliched.

Having a clearly visible action scene is honestly so much better than it is if it's muddied by how the camera is moving. Think to the rotating hallway scene of Inception: would that scene have been as incredible as it was if the camera had been shaking? I don't think so. It was a brilliant move on the part of Nolan's cinematographer to stick to the tracking shot that stays rooted firmly in the ground and is very steady. It made the action clear.

This is a clarity that shaky-cam lacks as used in a lot of movies. I think there's a way to do shaky-cam well, but most movies that employ it haven't found this way yet. And in these cases, shaky-cam remains a problem with the movie.

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

Monday, July 11, 2011

"Transformers: Dark of the Moon"

Ah, Transformers, Transformers. There's more than meets the eye to you. I think, anyhow; it's only a tag-line, but it's a great one, you know?

Uh... I'm not sure where I was going with this.


I'll just get to the review, then.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

The Apollo missions had a different goal from what humanity thinks it did: the main objective was to investigate an impact, which turned out to be what remained of an Autobot ship carrying a previous leader of the autobots, Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy). This is found out by Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) after a brief stint in Chernobyl, and soon it begins to unravel things that are larger than the earth as Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) and his new girlfriend Carly (Rose Huntintgon-Whiteley) get involved.


Bah, the hell with it. The plot isn't really the reason any of you would go see a Michael Bay movie, is it? Really, the plot is very stupid, and at times one can sense a plot hole or two has been left here and there. There are also way too many characters, especially as far as the robots are concerned.

No, you see this particular movie for explosions. And action scenes. And on this count, this movie delivers explosions and action scenes in copious amounts. Yeah, the plot is stupid and there are a couple too many characters, but the action scenes themselves are so much fun to watch you really don't care. Some of the action gets really creative (you really do wanna know what happens when people are sliding around in a piece of a building that is slowly falling off), and you can clearly see all of the action. So the main aspect works well.

Granted, there are some elements of the movie that don't entirely work. The movie runs at two and a half hours, and honestly I think this is too long for a movie like this. It took a really long time for the plot to get going, and at some points it took itself a little too seriously. It doesn't help that it had one of the most extremely abrupt endings I have ever seen in a movie thus far.

Still, even despite these problems, I enjoyed Transformers: Dark of the Moon. It's an incredibly silly movie, yes, but it's still quite a bit of fun regardless. And that's really all we can say about a movie like this.


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

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

P.S. I actually should probably supply my thoughts on Rose Huntington-Whiteley since I had very strong expectations about her acting ability, what with her being a Victoria's Secret model and all. As an actress she's actually not that bad: she's a little better than Megan Fox, and she's certainly a lot better than pretty much every single actor who worked on Atlas Shrugged (even if that doesn't say all that much at all). That said, though, she cannot sell being distressed/frightened out of her mind. At all.

P.P.S.: One last thing I thought I'd mention: is it me, or is film composer Hanz Zimmer starting to sound exactly the same with every other live action movie he scores? I swear, I had flashbacks to Inception during some parts of this movie, and I think I even heard a part of the score that had the exact same tune as the trailer for Inception.