Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Missteps, and the Potential for Rebounds

History has certainly shown that even the most successful studios and filmmakers can make missteps from time to time. Take George Lucas' Star Wars prequel trilogy, for instance--at least, the way most people see it. Or even some of the Batman movies from the 90s (Batman and Robin, anybody?). And, lest we forget, Michael Bay's appauling and disappointing Transformers sequel, Revenge of the Fallen, from 2009.

The latest example from this past weekend, according to a 33% consensus on Rotten Tomatoes and many other negative reviews from critics, is Pixar's Cars 2. Indeed, when compared with the animation studio's amazing previous track record of critically- and commerically-winning hits, their latest effort proved weak by said standards. That didn't stop it, however, from making $68 million at the box office this past weekend (not to mention the greater profits it's made through merchandising).

Even so, I guess the negative critical response and other things proves that even a studio like Pixar is only human. (Who is perfect, anyway?) But look at it this way: Looking back at their string of successful films, it can be argued that no other studio--and not just those in animation--has achieved the kind of notoriety, acclaim, and resonance when it comes to telling a story, presenting unforgettable, timeless characters, and creating an impact all the world over. Despite any recent mistakes they may have made recently (Cars 2 was fun, regardless), the success they have achieved by far is, well, "incredible." I have faith that they'll learn from whatever mistakes they made and rebound with more surprising and anticipated features in the near future. Their next theatrical release, Brave (due out next summer), looks promising and original. Check out the trailer below.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Notes on Film Criticism

One of the most common things that people take note of when film critics review a certain movie is whether said critics liked the film or not, or whether they thought it was good or bad. But here's the thing: Have you really paid attention to what a critic is saying, in terms of why he or she states that a certain film was good or bad?

One thing I've learned about film criticism is that it's not a simple yes-or-no or good-or-bad response. There has to be an good explanation for why you believe that a certain film is worth seeing or if it's not. For instance, say a critic gives a film four stars. Does said critic give said film four stars based on how well the film was made, how well it was casted, or on the contextual elements it presents? These are just some examples for the ways that film reviewers consider not just one but many aspects of a film.

With that in mind, here are a few notes to consider when reviewing or giving your opinions on a film:
- Be honest in what you say and write. Don't say so-and-so about a movie just because other people said so-and-so. This is not about being liked. It's about being truthful in what you see, what you feel, and what you think. Also, be willing to defend where you stand. This is not always an easy thing to do, in terms of how you really feel about a movie, and can take time. Sometimes, you may need to watch a film twice in order to clarify what you really think of it. (I do, sometimes.)
- Research. Obviously, you may and probably will not be able to see every movie there is (and I know I won't--and can't--for sure). But if you're really passionate about film, and want to gain experience, simply watch movies.
- And don't just watch them. Listen to them. This is where the difference between escapism and intellectualism comes in. Escapism refers to the notion of going along with a film, and, in a sense, getting lost in the experience of it. As much as this is a fascinating and poetic notion (and is not necessarly a bad thing for some films), it can also be troubling. There are (many) times where you need to be careful about what you might lose yourself in and what might influence you the wrong way. Intellectuallism refers to the notion of digesting both the contextual and content-related ideas of a film, being willing to talk about them, and discussing their influence, for better or worse.

See you at the movies,

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Movies That Inspired Me

Two nights ago, I watched a three-part series of videos on You Tube from an "Ebert Presents: At the Movies" special, featuring film critics Christy Lemire and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky. They discussed films that inspired them to be the critics they are today. Likewise, I've decided to spend this time presenting a list of a few specific movies that have had an impact on my life, for various reasons. There are so many I could mention, but I'll start with these. They also remind me why I love movies, especially stories and characters that really mean something. So, here goes:

Forrest Gump (1994)
An inspiring film for me, because of how its main character goes on to do so many extraordinary things in his life, despite others' initial perspectives and doubts, and despite his condition.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
A great story--well-written and superbly-acted--that generates spiritual discussion (whether intentional or not) and carries an ultimately redemptive message.

Fantasia (1940)
A classic example of the power and use of music and images to tell a great story or idea. Other great examples: Rear Window (1954), Chelovek's kino-apparatom (Man with a Movie Camera) (1929).

Ratatouille (2007)
The first animated film I wholly appreciated as an adult, and furthermore, indicated that the medium wasn't something just for kids. It also parallels the Disney legacy, using food as a fantastic illustration. ("If you are what you eat, then I only want to eat the good stuff.")

The Breakfast Club (1985)
Arguably John Hughes's best film. Assembles various clique representatives in a seemless experience full of comedy, raw emotion, angst, and teenage perception. Also one of the best ensemble casts and well-written scripts in film history.

Up (2009)
An extension of my thoughts on Ratatouille. Pixar hit a peak with this instant classic, proving that they can not only do just about anything, but that they can make something meaningful out of the even the most odd collection of characters, situations, and things. Whoever thought that an old man, a cub scout, a bird, and a dog could make such a movie work? And, Michael Giacchino's score is perfect. My favorite animated movie, for the record.

Chariots of Fire (1981)
A film that is powerful and resonant without being preachy (even though it has a couple scenes where a main character evangelizes). A brilliant and poignant character study of motivations, dilemmas, and victory. My favorite film of all-time.

Movies I'm Looking Forward To (Want To See) This Summer or, My Belated List

Although it's a little late into the beginning of the summer movie season (with the already-released titles, Thor, Bridesmaids, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, and X-Men: First Class in theaters, to name a few), here is a list of some of the key movies I'm looking forward to seeing.

Jodie Foster and Mel Gibson in The Beaver

The Beaver (now playing in select theaters)
Mel Gibson’s highly-praised “comeback” performance as a depressed man who reinvents his life via a stuffed beaver hand puppet is reportedly darker and mature than audiences are probably expecting. Many will undoubtedly be talking about Gibson’s return to the screen (given the issues he’s been facing throughout the past year), yet the film’s story of a man who tries to reshape his life strangely (and uniquely) seems to parallel where the actor is at. (This spring, he pleaded no contest to said charges.) Hopefully, he’s on the right track in a better direction. As for the film, I’m anxious to give my take.

The Tree of Life (now playing in select theaters)
Another talked-about film so far this year—director Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line)’s mosaic of science, religion, faith, and 50s family life—became the winner of the Palme O’Dor at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Reviews have been mixed so far. The current consensus on Rotten Tomatoes states, “Terrence Malick's singularly deliberate style may prove unrewarding for some, but for patient viewers, Tree of Life is an emotional as well as visual treat.”

Joel Courtney in Super 8

Super 8 (June 10)
With director J.J. Abrams (Star Trek) and producer Steven Spielberg at the helm, this anticipated sci-fi thriller looks to be a throwback to classics like Close Encounters, with a promising unknown youth cast and amazing special effects a la War of the Worlds. Hopefully, the story of kids who witness a train crash while filming a Super 8mm monster movie (not to mention the mysterious Cloverfield-esque being that emerges from the crate), as well as a father-son relationship, stands out the most.

Ryan Reynolds in The Green Lantern

The Green Lantern (June 17)
Another great summer for superhero/comic-book movies (Thor and X-Men: First Class are already in theaters) continues with the long-awaited DC-Comics favorite in his own big-screen adventure. Hal Jordon (Ryan Reynolds) is selected by a dying alien being to take part in an intergalactic police corps as the bearer of the Green lantern ring. It’s a basic premise, but the execution looks effective. It may turn out to be the most unique cast of characters in a sci-fi-adventure movie since Avatar. Visual effects and cast (including Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, and Tim Robbins) look great as well.

Winnie the Pooh (July 15)
Pixar’s Cars 2 (June 24) will no doubt be a success with critics and audiences this summer, but it’s the traditional animated Disney feature starring everyone’s favorite “bear of very little brain” that I’m excited about. Never mind that I’m 24, the film promises to be a delight for younger children and for nostalgic parents. I give Disney tremendous credit for harkening back to the earlier days of animation, just like they did with The Princess and the Frog two years ago.

Chris Evans as Captain America

Captain America (July 22)
The other superhero film I can’t wait for also happens to be a tie-in (like Thor) to the anticipated Avengers coming out next year. Set during World War II, Steve Rogers is selected into a Super Soldier Program and is transformed from a scrawny individual into a muscular man of steel to fight off enemies. The look and setting of the film is promising, along with a cast that includes Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, and Stanley Tucci.

Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig in Cowboys and Aliens

Cowboys and Aliens (July 29)
Director Jon Favreau (Iron Man)’s mesh of science-fiction and western genres stars Daniel Craig (the latest James Bond) as a lone stranger and Harrison Ford as a town colonel in a fight against an alien invasion. Looks like old-school fun a la Transformers. Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, and Brian Grazer serve as producers.

Scene from The Help

The Help (August)
Set in 1960s Jackson, Mississippi, the issues of African-American women in the South are brought to limelight with the help of a recent college graduate (Easy A’s Emma Stone), who forms an unlikely friendship with two housemaids (Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer). The film’s trailer struck a chord with me, as it carries an old-fashioned and essential quality that recalls an important time in our nation’s history. Based on the 2009 book of the same name, by Kathryn Stockett.