Category Archives: W E Wertenberger

Year End Movie Cram Review, Part 2

Picking up where I left off…
Her. I have seen the future through the eyes of Spike Jonze, and it is a bland and passionless place. Where humans have evolved into creatures so dull, even their own computers leave them. And I believe this is exactly what Jonze intends. Not that this isn’t a sweet and at times moving love story, there are elements of that. But Phoenix plays the lead in such a fragile and meek way, the inevitability of his heartbreak seems preordained in hindsight. Which leads me to believe this is more a cautionary tale regarding social media tech and what it means to give ourselves over so completely to its seduction. Fine film, not the best of the year but thought provoking and worth seeing.
Saving Mr. Banks. Tom Hanks plays Walt Disney, Emma Thompson plays P L Travers and Colin Farrell plays the most sympathetic character of his career. Set around the repeated attempts of Disney to lure Travers into Mickey’s fold, we are taken on a hopscotch journey from England, to 60’s Disney studios and frequently, in flashback, to Travers’s childhood in Australia. My expectations for this film were moderate. While I am certainly a fan of Disney and what he created, I had no real connection to the Marry Poppins character or film. It was not needed. This film is so heartfelt and sincere it is impossible to not fall in with Thompson as she works over her personal demons, and almost everyone she meets along the way. The directing is superb and John Lee Hancock should be praised for how he handled the time-shifts. Seamless. Performances across the board were tremendous, with this being the first time I remember actually forgetting Tom Hanks was onscreen, he so thoroughly became Walt. Truly excellent film, certainly in my top 5 for 2013 and a must see.

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Year End Movie Cram Review

Hollywood logic dictates that the best movies are always released in summer and in December. The term best being relative to the bottom line, but hey, they ain’t giving these things away. They put them out when they think they’ll sell. The problem being of course, December always gets piled up with some of the most anticipated, then we scramble to cram them all in. Or attempt to, as I will get to later. So in the spirit of the extended season; I give you the gift of my reviews.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. The second installment of three, in the film adaptation of the very short novel clocking in at around 300 pages or so. Why do we need three movies to cover such a tiny tale? Only Peter Jackson knows. This time around we get much the same as the first, journeying, fighting, lots of action sequences that tend to meander more than one would like. Much like this movie. Smaug is cool, the giant spiders are too, but I can’t help think I’d seen it all before. Could’ve waited for DVD on this one.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. Another second installment, hence the 2 in the title. Ron Burgundy is back and is getting the band back together. As good as the first movie is, it’s on my best comedy list, I went in with high expectations. Which may be why my disappointment is matching. The film never catches traction with any one story line, a big chunk of the jokes fall flat, and the inclusion of some insightful, if obvious, points about the 24 hour news cycle are not enough to carry us through. Big disappointment. Definitely could’ve waited for the DVD.

American Hustle. A movie based on the ABSCAM sting operation of the late 70’s, sort of. I have no idea what parts were based on that particular operation or what kind of caper was being pulled at any given time in the movie. And I don’t care. This movie so mesmerizes you with performance and motivation of character you almost don’t even want the story to get in the way. The cast is rather large, and Russell gets all the credit in the world for making each member count, even the supporting roles. I don’t know if I’ve seen anything like it since Robert Altman regularly performed this magic trick in the 90’s.
This film is funny, powerful, exciting and complex. Bale, Cooper, Adams, Lawrence and even Jeremy Renner, are all so good and so relatable we can’t help but feel for each and every one of them. This is a very special movie and will no doubt end up being one of my all time favorites.

Wolf of Wall Street. Another movie based on real events, or at least a real person. Person being charitable, as Jordan Belfort, the aforementioned Wolf, is only a person in strictly philosophical terms. Much has been made about this film as social commentary and a necessary exploration into the greed of our financial markets. In reality, this movie has as much to do with Wall Street as Goodfellas has to do with the pharmaceutical industry or internships. Wolf of Wall Street ends up being nothing more than another Scorsese crime drama. Which should be a good thing, but sadly, it is so poorly executed in concept, I don’t think it ever had a chance. DiCaprio is allowed off his leash and runs wild with mouth foaming intensity. Scorsese sits back and lets the camera to roll. I get it, his seemingly un-edited direction is meant as an accompaniment to the debauchery and indulgence we see onscreen. Maybe a fine experiment, but it is a failed one. Watch it on DVD and marvel at what might have been.

Saving Mr. Banks and Her, are as of yet unwatched. But I do plan on seeing them soon.

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Riddick the III

Some movies are good because they don’t futz around and just give us what we want.  Riddick is one of these films.

From the opening scene straight through to the end, it keeps a consistent, steady drumbeat of action interspersed with amusing, banter filled scenes that are a real joy.  This serves the movie well as a whole and translates into a nicely balanced viewing experience with very little lag in between.  Not being one for spoilers, I choose to break a movie down by what it does right and what it does wrong and leave the blow by blow accounts for others.

Riddick gets the casting right.  Vin Diesel seems tailor made for the lead role, both physically and on approach regarding acting choices.  Could have something to do with the close association creatively he shares with creator/director David Twohy.  Whatever the case, he manages to hit all the right notes with some tricky dialogue.  Another actor not geared the way Diesel is (I swear, no clever wordplay intended) might push it into the hammy or overblown.   Charlie Hunnam comes to mind readily as an underachiever at delivering tough guy lines.  Diesel, though, sells it completely.

Same goes for the supporting cast of mercenary bounty hunters.  Jordi Molla as Santana, is the viscous leader of a near piratical mercenary group.  Molla plays the amoral captain with a refreshingly one dimensional approach.  Santana is an anti-social, killer/rapist with a barely contained yellow streak.  No attempt is made at any nuance or understanding of his motivations, he is who he is and approaches his job as you would expect.  As a viewer, we are both entertained by him, but fully anticipating his grisly end.

Mathew Nable and Katee Sackhoff head up the second, more professional team.  Being late arrivals on the Riddick bounty claim, their team takes a strategic backseat and allows Molla and his crew to play the role of cannon fodder as they observe Riddick’s tactics.  Both Nable and Sackhoff play well off each other and their mutual respect as squad mates is another nice reminder of just how different both teams are in organization and approach.

Visually the movie was fine, nothing really stood out for me as a particularly amazing shot, but it was all well handled.  The special effects and creature creation was good.  Nothing on the level of Avatar but also nothing jarringly bad like I am Legend.

Writing and direction were equally well done.  I have to praise Twohy for learning his lesson on Chronicles of Riddick and avoiding getting off point and roaming to far afield into the expanded Riddickverse.  Getting back to basics and not trying to make the movie more that it had to be.  The action is superb, with a nice mix of both hand to hand and gunplay.  Also his portrayal of the mercs as workmanlike professionals, of varying degrees of course but equally driven by the job, is always appreciated.  This portrayal no doubt helps in the delivery of the aforementioned tricky delivery of the writing.  Because only guys like this, could talk like that and get away with it.

As you can tell, I was really taken with the style of this movie and it’s writing in particular.  I’ve read some reviews trashing that writing and am somewhat perplexed.  Sure it’s full of misogynistic references toward Sackhoff’s character.  Sure it’s violent and it’s boastful and it’s bombastic.  And yes, it infuses a brand of hardboiled grit that dirties up the dialogue.  But that’s kind of the point.  As I hinted at before, this is not a utopia with well mannered, sophisticated inhabitants.  It’s savage universe full of savage, lawless, dirty people whose language is a direct byproduct of their existence.  Bottom line, it sounded exactly the way I would expect.

What the movie got wrong is a pretty small list.  Could have been about 20 minutes shorter.  I was disappointed to see a shaky cam fight sequence towards the end, where the movie did a great job of avoiding until then.  Seriously, there should be a movement to shame directors into avoiding the use of the shaky cam.  Like the talk box in rock, the quicker it falls out of favor the better.  And the mirroring of Pitch Black the way it did certainly took us down a familiar road of been there done that.  But at least for me, it had been long enough that I didn’t care and it felt fresh.

So Riddick is in no way a groundbreaking achievement in sci-fi cinema, but it wasn’t intended to be.  Unlike Prometheus, it didn’t attempt to blow our minds with secrets of cosmic revelation and end up a confusing and silly mess.  Unlike Elysium, it had the good sense to stay grounded and try not to elevate beyond its ugly roots.  Riddick stayed true to itself, and in the end, that’s all I wanted out of this little gem of a movie.

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