9.30.2015

Walk in the Park

Experiencing Robert Zemeckis's newest film The Walk, is almost exactly like walking across a shaky tightrope line similar to the one that our protagonist often crosses. Zemeckis is juggling a lot of fine elements to keep the film steady, but might just be a little too focused on attempting to get through it that it's not quite as fun as it could be. It's breezy and extremely enjoyable to be sure, but something about it kept me at arms length. In certain respects that I'll address, I couldn't suspend disbelief enough; like a shaky tightrope walker I may have looked down one too many times. That's not to say it's a bad movie at all, it's actually a very good one. It's very well made and has all the elements to be great, there's just something missing that these street performers couldn't sell me on.


But let's discuss what the film does have going for it, before trying to figure out what's missing. The film is light, colorful and whimsical. Above all else, it's a great film to let the eyes take in. It has a Tim Burtonish feel, the kind when he's NOT playing with gothic palettes (ie Big Fish, Big Eyes, the dream sequences in Sweeney Todd, and the period piece feel of Dark Shadows) coupled with Amelie and Moulin Rouge (all movies I adore, for the record...minus Shadows) The visuals are spectacular, and during the film's climax the 3D really shines (though I'm not sure if it's really worth it for the entirety fo the film.) For example, I LOVED the perspective shots of Phillipe looking at his feet, because it really makes the audience see things from his perspective. This visual element is one of the film's biggest strengths and definitely makes for a pleasant viewing experience. Its other strength is how well crafted the tension is during "the coup." While the first half of the film is a cheerily brisk lesson in how Philippe Petit and his aspirations came to be, the second half ups the strain on the audience as difficulties arise to achieve his dream in tightrope walking between the Twin Towers. If you're not good with heights (and really, who is??) you'll have plenty of uncomfortable moments toward the end...and the 3D only intensifies that.


The Walk is a film I really admire, but don't love; there are three reasons for that and they all in one way or another revolve around our protagonist played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Firstly, the film deploys a framing device where Phillipe breaks the fourth wall and tells us all about the events of the film, after the fact. There's a uniqueness to the approach the way it's done to be sure, but after awhile it took me out of the film with how often they went back to it. Also, as I mentioned before...the film requires a suspension of disbelief and the biggest is whether or not you can buy all American Joseph Gordon-Levitt (we'll call him JGL for short from here on out,) as a true Frenchman. His scenes are more convincing when he's not breaking the fourth wall and has someone else to play off of, but every time he was alone addressing the audience I was reminded of some of the faux art films he appeared in, in his earlier film (500) Days of Summer, and it made things feel a little inauthentic here too.

I love JGL in almost anything, but he only sold me on his performance half of the time here which just doesn't work. The other problem, is that his character isn't particularly likable.. let alone lovable. He needed to be the heart of the film, and while he certainly carries it on his shoulders and does his best... his character never clicked for me. The tension at the end of the film certainly works, but could have been magnified if we truly came to love him as a character. The other thing the film is sorely lacking in is humor. There are brief moments of it and every time something works, you can't help but think "why isn't there more of this?" Instead, the film settles for being pleasant when it could have had real heart and humor. It's a solid effort, but it could have been just a little more magical.


However, once again on the plus side, I must say that they handled the ending with absolute care. There comes a moment where you wonder if the filmmakers are going to turn exploitative or maudlin in their remembrance of the Twin Towers, but the film ends on the perfect note in paying them tribute without drudging up the past for the sake of manipulating the audience. EMILY RATING: 8/10

9.25.2015

Help Wanted

It's Friday once again, but unfortunately, there's still not anything too exciting to come out this week to entice you to visit a movie theater. Thankfully, there's just one more week until we have some movies worth writing about (ie The Walk and The Martian), but until then....I guess I'll just have to talk about the latest piece of Nancy Meyer's fluff. Sometimes it's hard to review a movie like The Intern. This workplace comedy-drama starring Robert DeNiro and Anne Hathaway doesn't exactly have lofty aspirations, so what's the use in tearing it apart? It easily achieves the amiability it aims for... but unfortunately, doesn't make much of an impression beyond that.

The Intern follows the story of 70-year old Ben (played by Robert DeNiro), a widower who has way too much time on his hands. Hoping to make better use of that time, he applies to be a Senior Intern at a successful clothing website. There, he's assigned to work under the head of the company Jules Oster (Anne Hathaway), as she faces the decision of whether or not to hire a CEO to help relieve some of her stress and allow her to focus more on her family life. Jules isn't thrilled with the idea of an intern following her around, but Ben's old school ways quickly endear him to her and prove invaluable. It's all just as pleasant as it sounds.

So what's the problem? Nothing really... if you just want to watch a movie with your parents that they'll enjoy. But if you're hoping that this has a compelling story and interesting characters, you're going to come away a little disappointed. And for as breezy as a film this movie wants to be, it sure meanders a lot. The pacing here is dreadful; there are plenty of side-plotlines that bloat this film to a two hour run time when it should definitely be a 90-minute film. This might not be so glaring a problem if the plot was stronger and the filmmakers wanted to make weightier statements about ageism and sexism in the workplace, but such is not the case. Instead, it comes off more like the premise of a television series than a rousing film narrative (and almost feels as long as a watching an entire season's worth of episodes!) The drama is not that touching and the comedy is not that funny. The best thing here is no doubt the likable performances by both DeNiro and Hathaway, but even the rapport the two characters have by the end of the film doesn't really feel earned.


Still, this film is enough of a crowd-pleaser that if you want to ignore this cynical critic's findings, you can easily do so. There's enough enjoyment and amiability to be found, just not a lot of originality or depth either. If nothing else you can ogle Anne Hathaway's adorable wardrobe. EMILY RATING: 6/10 

9.18.2015

Scorching Hot Mess

Last September, The Maze Runner hit theaters in an attempt to jumpstart another mega-franchise from a YA series. The film was both mildly successful and mildly entertaining. You can read my review of that film HERE. Naturally, nowadays a film achieving such mild success begs for another installment to be made and thus we have opening today its sequel Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials. The first film had its small charms, which mostly relied on the fact that the premise was simple and easy to follow. Does the sequel match the tone of the original and live up to its slight amiability? It doesn't take too long to find out.

The Scorch Trials picks up immediately where the first film left off as our band of survivors from The Glade escape the maze and finally find their freedom... or so they think. Instead their leader Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) discovers with the help of a bland, but somewhat quirky newcomer from ANOTHER maze, that the people who rescued them may not be who they say they are. As you can imagine, an escape ensues and pretty much lasts for over two hours. The first film had legitimate moments of suspense, and a clear target to direct our fear at (the maze monsters,) but Scorch Trials just throws everything at the kitchen sink and hopes it works. Unfortunately most of it doesn't, and the result is a concoction of recycled ideas you've already seen. The Scorch Trials essentially becomes I Am Legend mixed with the Divergent series. Neither element is really a positive addition.


What it does take from the first film are its flaws. My biggest gripe with that film was how thinly drawn the characters were, and unfortunately the filmmakers here are once again too concerned with cramming all the events from the book to attempt to add much depth to the familiar faces from the last movie. That might not have been a problem had they been given proper setup, but pretty much everyone stays the caricature they were from the first film. Even worse, instead of fleshing anyone out, the story throws in a handful of new characters to join the journey... and the whole thing just becomes a muddled mess.

I can appreciate that this sequel isn't trying to simply remake the first movie (*cough Hunger Games: Catching Fire *cough) but just the fact that it's different from the first doesn't make it good. It's too jarring a shift from the first movie, and by having to sit through so many escape sequences by the end you'll just hope everyone is caught. The ending tries to echo Empire Strikes Back where one character gets a "Han Solo frozen in carbonite" type treatment, but unfortunately, it can't pull off the hat trick since all of the characters besides Thomas are essentially expendable. That said, SPOILER ALERT it gives a great title to the third film: Maze Runner: Finding Minho. EMILY RATING: 5/10

9.10.2015

Night Revisited

M. Night Shyamalan. The name in Hollywood that most everyone has a stance on. Fallen talent? Or a hack who has never been good? For about ten years now, he's had failure after failure and has pretty much become the punchline to many a joke. A name that used to bring collective awes to audiences when a trailer debuted, now usually brings groans and eye rolls. But the whisperings of late are that the dark times may have ended.  In May, he directed the pilot episode of the surprisingly well-liked television show Wayward Pines, and now he's out with a new movie he wrote and directed called The Visit. Early reviews suggested this was his best work in a decade, while other reviews that have come out seem more mixed...with a leaning on the negative side. I saw the film at a screening on Tuesday and I really wasn't sure what to think!


I loved The Sixth Sense and the three films Shyamalan wrote and directed after (yes, even Signs and The Village haters,) so even though he's made some truly terrible films since those hits, I'm always rooting for him to make a comeback. I went into The Visit desperately hoping that this might be it, but also trying to keep my expectations low. This didn't end up being too hard a feat when once the movie began, those expectations immediately plummeted. For the first 40 minutes or so, I was pretty sure this movie was terrible. It takes a loooong time for this movie to click into place, and unfortunately for some viewers, they might have already made up their mind about it by the time it does. There's no way around it...the beginning is kind of clunky, as you're not really sure whether or not you're gonna be able to stand the two protagonists for the course of the film or if you can buy the premise. I had my arms firmly crossed and was rolling my eyes left and right. It looked like we had another dud on our hands.

But then.... at some point in the movie (I can't even pinpoint when,) something changed. I relaxed, sat back and started to enjoy what was going on. I laughed at the absurdity and tensed up during the spooks. This movie is kind of asinine....but there's something highly enjoyable about that! It's not quite Drag Me to Hell levels of insane, but it has a couple of moments that come close! The outrageousness is why it ends up being an enjoyable horror-com after it's rocky beginning and why it works for me... but that same quality will definitely alienate those who don't wish to be in on the joke. Many will roll their eyes and proclaim the film "stupid" without trying to understand the fact that it's totally trying to be. They won't bother to ask why it's trying to be, they'll just brush it off...but they'll be missing out.


The shock factor (in both horror and comedy elements,) isn't the only thing I found to be enjoyable though. The further you go along, the more you do start to warm up to the characters and see the type of scenes that endeared you to Shyamalan in the first place. He earns some really nice character moments that in other films by other directors can often come out cheap. The Visit is no home run, and I certainly wouldn't declare it "Shyamalan's comeback," but rather, it serves as a reminder that this man was once a great talent and he might still have a few tricks up his sleeve just yet. EMILY RATING: 7/10.


Edit: And if that's not enough of my opinion on The Visit, check out my thoughts on the following two podcasts, my usual War Machine vs. War Horse and my long awaited guest stint on my buddy Kent's podcast Baconsale.

War Machine vs. War Horse



Baconsale