Monday, December 24, 2012

2012 Catch Up: Frankenweenie (A-)

Without the presence of blockbuster filmmaker Tim Burton guiding its way through the Hollywood system, it's impossible to imagine any possible scenario in which Frankenweenie, or anything remotely similar to it, could get produced by a mainstream production company. A b/w, stop-motion animated horror movie for kids, with the majority of jokes consisting of homages to old school creature features, and containing the death of multiple beloved pets, this film defies all conventions for traditional kiddie cinema. The first third mostly consists of a child realistically mourning the death of his furry best friend, and the final is a chaotic monster melee, hectic enough to terrify those below 10. In between, Burton shows a mostly unlikable (from a child's perspective) supporting cast ruining the protagonist's chances of reanimating his dog without repercussions. Without Burton's name attached to the poster, a kid's movie like this would be lucky to find distribution at all, let alone play 3,000+ theaters and receive the 3D treatment. However, without Tim Burton, this movie couldn't exist at all.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

2012 Catch-Up: Cloud Atlas (A)

One of the most unique blockbusters in recent memory, Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski Sibling's 172-minute magnum opus was released on October 26 to shockingly little fanfare from both casual moviegoers and critics. With a worldwide gross of $65 million contrasted against its overwhelming $135 million budget, and a respectable, yet disappointing Rotten Tomatoes score of 63%, calling Cloud Atlas a financial and critical flop would seem justified. However, in retrospect, this failure is slightly baffling. Tykwer and the Wachowski's had one of the most unanimously beloved actors of our time (Tom Hanks) as part of their ensemble cast, used an ambitious premise unlike anything previously shown on screen, and utilized the crowd-drawing presence of impressive special effects. Also working in their favor was a major studio buying the domestic distribution rights for their German outsourced feature, and choosing to release it in premium priced IMAX theaters. On top of this, there was no competition at the box office. All major movies were petering out before the release of Wreck-It Ralph and Flight on the next weekend, and there wasn't any reason for Cloud Atlas not to take first place in its first weekend. While there wasn't any possibility for it to recoup its massive budget, winning the box office crown as a modest dud was a realistic conclusion.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

2012 Catch Up: Argo (B)

(I'm trying to catch up on as many Oscar-baiting movies and favorite films of the year as I can by the end of the end of the month, so some reviews might be somewhat abbreviated)

Everything I could've ever wanted from Ben Affleck's third directorial effort can be found in the opening scene: A perfectly directed and acted recreation of the Iranian militants and students storming the U.S embassy in Tehran at the beginning of the Iran Hostage Crisis of the late 1970s. Grounded firmly in reality while still technically a dramatization of the historical events, it's an impeccably crafted introductory sequence. Affleck directs with a visceral intensity; unwilling to sugarcoat and make light of the looming tragedy. Not once does he cut away from the embassy, and presents the situation almost in real time. The only way to further intensify the proceedings would be if it had all been done in a single take, which admittedly would be downright impossible with all of the supporting characters in play. There are workers hastily trying to shred all documents within the embassy, ordinary Americans swept up in the terrifying ordeal, armed guards who have to protect the building and all those inside, while realizing that firing a single shot could provoke war between the U.S and Iran. Meanwhile, a mob of angry Iranians are slowly swarming the embassy, and a peaceful conclusion is no longer possible. Something horrible is going to happen; this mob is doom for the inhabitants of the embassy, but no one really knows what the inevitable horrors will entail.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Holy Motors (B-)

When people settle arguments or make decisions using a coin flip, they always call heads or tails, but never the thin centerpiece which lies between the two. To place a bet on the middle portion would be absolutely ridiculous for any reasonable person, as the odds of success are practically nonexistent. For this reason entirely, it figures no prominence in the coin flip, and seemingly only exists to give the coin the bare minimum thickness for it not to be brittle enough to easily break. Experimental and fringe cinema generally works the same way. On one side of the cinematic coin, there're the minimalist and/or surreal mind puzzles which ultimately reward the viewer for paying constant attention, and provide a type of unique memorability which the majority of conventional films lack. The most recent example of this would be Rick Alverson's The Comedy, which provided an insightful character study outside the boundaries of traditional filmmaking. On the other side, there're the impenetrable indies which completely alienate their audience, and fail to serve any clear purpose other than to dispense pretension. Movies which quickly come to mind are Alain Cavalier's Pater, one of the frontrunners for the worst of the year, and David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis to a lesser extent. Alverson is on one side of the coin, and Cavalier and Cronenberg are on the other. However, director Leos Carax has broken the nonexistent odds to find the sweet spot right down the middle.