Today, I went to a special screening of Oz, The Great and Powerful, had some noodles (Singapore-style yo min) with friends, talked to some schoolgirls from Chiba prefecture, photographed some plum blossom and went to the gym. It was almost like being back in Japan, except the noodle portions were way too big. It's getting better, slowly.
Here are a list of films I've seen recently. All spoiler-free apart from the details you could get from the trailers anyway. I'll write a longer, more vaguely spoilerish review for Oz though, just because it was a preview and I like to be first. :-)
For what it's worth, scores out of ten reflect expectations, both missed and exceeded.
This is the witch-based paranormal romantic comedy aimed at fans of Twilight, according to the trailer.
First half was atmospheric Southern gothic-style snark, and a much better film for it. The main male character lays out precisely why his small town is claustrophobic and it's darkly amusing. The classmates are hilarious and I didn't expect these genuinely funny moments. The shots of dilapidated American houses surrounded by trees draped with Spanish moss really set the scene too.
The second was closer to the film depicted in the trailer, although it wasn't different on the level seen in Looper. It was a subtle shift.
I went for the free cinema ticket which nevertheless got me a nice balcony seat where I sat drinking an excellent wet mocha latte. That wasn't free though.
This one stars Russell Crowe as a mayor and Mark Wahlberg as a disgraced cop. The cop discovers that everyone in politics is corrupt and he's living in a... Broken City.
To be fair, this is exactly the film you expect. There were some reasonable tilts and the city was shown in atmospheric detail. I think the director has some promise.
Loved this. Love love loved it.
I can't even begin to tell you what it's about without going into all the Themes about passing down your life story. There's sci-fi, gentle British comedy, seventies conspiracy thriller, tragic gay love... It fits. It does. Everything is connected.
In some ways, it's almost as difficult to follow as advertised. Almost. I'm happy to say that --like Inception -- I got it all in the first viewing. Unlike Inception, I have no doubt that another viewing would make things even clearer.
A few minutes into the end credits, you'll get a visual cast list. You'll definitely want it.
As an aside, I was talking about this film to a customer, and we got onto the subject of books. He said it was his favourite. Half an hour later, he came back with a copy for me! Couldn't believe it. What a perfect way to get the book, in a passing down of stories from one person to another.
Yes, I'm seeing it again.
I came out of this fully-charged for a simple reason. It's a story about a man who wants revenge and, after a few obstacles, he gets his revenge.
Quentin Tarantino always makes strong choices when directing, whether it's the music or the onscreen captions, so it's easy to pick out exactly what I didn't like and what I loved. I didn't like the sudden rap music, but it was always exciting and with excellent cinematography. I suspect that Inglourious Basterds was a better-made film, but I preferred this one.
A Good Day To Die Hard
Differing expectations made me like this more than Wreck-It Ralph. While critics have generally panned it, the consensus from people coming out of the cinema (and not necessarily then sharing their views online) was that it "wasn't the best Die Hard and it wasn't the worst" although "the bit with the radiation was a bit silly".
The final set of explosions were quite spectacular. I could even overlook the setting (Chernobyl).
I don't think this film paints Hitchcock in as brilliant a light as critics have claimed. Sure, if you view his paranoia and spying on his stars as acceptable, even with the clear insinuation that it has got more manageable and it's been much worse, then you might come out of it thinking that the film condones this behaviour. Apparently we need creepy music and mood music to show that it's not okay. Not to mention that the film isn't about Hitchcock so much as a dramatisation of the making of Psycho.
The script is snappy and the opening scene was excellent. The bits with Gein were unnecessary though, and I would be curious if that aspect was based on any research. I would also like to know what happened between Psycho and The Birds. He clearly got worse again.
Beautiful sets and beautiful costumes, yet the director sees fit to focus on lopsided close-ups of his stars throughout? So irritating. I can remember this one shot of Hugh Jackman. His chin extended below the screen and there was a big gap for a grey area above his hair. It's like no one could be bothered to compose any of the shots. Like they just shrugged and said, "Eh, it's Hugh Jackman singing. Good enough." Or maybe they were trying to recreate a slightly obscured view at the theatre?
Despite this, what we do see and hear when not subjected to poorly framed close-ups is mostly excellent. My favourites were the innkeepers.
Such a contrast to Les Mis. Spielberg really knows his lighting and frame composition. Everything feels like a painting with all the lights and darks carefully picked out.
It wasn't just beautiful, but gently charming and witty. It kind of fell apart after the assassination (spoiler?) as it kept going on, but that was one of its few flaws. The bit where the votes are counted is inexplicably tense.
Oz, The Great and Powerful
Oz was fun, but the ideas the film focused on were not the most interesting bits. For me, that was Oz's life as a circus magician before the tornado hit.
One of my favourite characters was the Wicked Witch, who made a strong decision about halfway through to corrupt herself. Why? We'll get to that later.
You have three women, all powerful witches, and yet the whole thing depends on Oz. You wouldn't have thought that there would be a stalemate between these three. I can see how it could be argued that Oz's arrival and the apparent fulfillment of the prophecies might have kick-started something. Even so, I think they could've worked something out on their own.
So the Wicked Witch chooses to destroy her own heart because Oz doesn't love her. So far, so stereotypical. But from there it goes into a trope that I love -- the self-damned monster. Can't get enough of that, and not a trope seen in female characters. I intend to pretend that it was more about Oz's obvious falseness rather than a flimsy suggestion of love after knowing him for a few minutes.
On a more technical note, the film copies the over-bright, Technicolor-style of the first Wizard of Oz film, probably to avoid the usual 'too dark' 3D problem. And yeah, the 3D version is the essential one. One of the things that the film is in love with is the Oz scenery. Sometimes it's with good reason.
Edit: Okay, completely changed my mind on this. It's not a good film at all, which I realised at the same time I realised I wasn't prepared to sit through it again. The black and white stuff is engaging, but Oz itself just... isn't.
Warm Bodies, depending on who you ask, is either an antidote to Twilight or aimed squarely at its audience. A girl falls in love with a zombie after he takes her back to his airplane hangout. He loves her because he ate her ex-boyfriend's brains.
If you couldn't tell, it's definitely not "Twilight with zombies" as some suggest. It's a funny, low-budget comedy-horror that has its feet firmly in the eighties.
All these characters are stereotypes. That's the point. The humour isn't character-driven or anything, it's based on seeing Pacman in the background.
You know what? Everyone knows Pacman these days. It's hardly esoteric.
So we have the main plotline for the kids, with adults' content being the older video game characters in the background. Fine. The kids seem to like it. I thought that Rise of the Guardians was much better for both audiences though.
For what it's worth, everyone I know rabidly disagrees with me on this. And AKB48 was a nice surprise(!). Ah, Japan. It's been a while...
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