Ramblin’ Reviews by Shah: 50/50 – 2011

Ah media marketing… the ruiner of perceptions of films. I’ve harped on and on about how the way that certain trailers are edited together for mass appeal during the marketing of a film… KILL any chance that movie would have. This was the case with a certain film I watched recently… 50/50.

50/50 is about an uptight and somewhat awkward Adam, played by the always awesome Joseph Gordon Levitt. This guy coasts through life without anyone really paying much attention to him, including his own girlfriend. However, one fine day he’s faced with the news that he has cancer. The story is of how he comes to terms with this life altering situation, and the not so familiar stages that he goes through in the process.

The way 50/50 was marketed however, was by being touted as being from ‘the same guys who brought you SUPERBAD’. That right off the bat sets the completely contradictory tone, as 50/50 has in no way shape or form, ANY similarities with SUPERBAD. The Promos of the movie made it seem very slapstick and the routine Seth Rogen comedy. It was anything but.

In society, we’re taught to immediately feel pity and sympathy for someone who is terminally ill. 50/50 shows another side of the coin, where the patient themselves might have hope and be indifferent to their condition, however the negative and apologetic reaction of others make it more difficult to deal with. Adam’s frustration at constantly being told to ‘accept’ his condition further fuels his anger.

There are amazingly high moments of the subtlest form of humor in 50/50. But the entire film is a lighthearted look at some other ways of dealing with cancer. There are no dramatic, high strung teary moments; no philosophical lessons to be learned, no spiritual revelations, no bonds which get stronger due to the situation… it’s a hard look at the random-ness of life, and the frustration behind it.

The writing and performances of 50/50 are kind of stagnant and sporadic, despite all of them being great in their individual aspects. Seth Rogen does exactly what he does best, which is be the “f word” spouting friend who talks sense, in the most ridiculous way possible.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is, as always amazing. He’s able to do the ‘awkward guy’ role a lot easier than the other stuff. Adam’s cancer further exasperates his socially inept persona, but eventually he goes through other emotions that help him deal. Anna Kendrick as the professionally inept, rookie grief counselor whose counseling actually make Adam feel worse… is awesome. Kendrick brings her natural sweetness and caution-ness to the role, causing great chemistry between herself and Gordon-Levitt.

However, all put together, seem out of place. Rogen trying to be there for a cancer stricken awkward friend… seems out of place. Gordon-Levitt, complete with shaved head from chemo trying to pick up girls at a club using his cancer as a pick up line… is off putting. I’m all for inappropriate humour, but this just wasn’t… anything

50/50 is not a great movie. I say this because, of its inconsistent tone. The parts that you think will be hilarious, end up being awkward, but not in a funny way. The serious moments drag. There’s not enough of the light heartedness. This inconsistency also prevents one from enjoying the film in its entirety. And like I said earlier, the expectations going into this movie, heavily corrupt the experience.

However, 50/50 is still a decent film, especially enjoyable to see Joseph Gordon Levitt & Seth Rogen together, in probably one of the best light hearted and easy going films dealing with Cancer. And to top it all off… it’s a true story. I leave you with, what I think is THE BEST Trailer for any movie based on a true story!

Trailer Talk with Shah: EVERYBODY HAS A PLAN (TODOS TENEMOS UN PLAN) – 2012

I’m not into much foreign language films, other than Bollywood, but Vigo Mortensen’s Spanish language film, EVERYBODY HAS A PLAN, seems pretty damn awesome.

The Trailer shows us a good life of a guy who’s just frustrated and wants nothing to do with it anymore. Then his identical twin brother shows up, and proposes something devious. This brother obviously seems like a shady character, brandishing a gun and the likes. The two switch identities, and the good brother then goes into the shady one’s life, and gets caught up in what seems to be a whirlwind of criminal activities.

The Trailer for EVERYBODY HAS A PLAN is pretty damn effective in every aspect. There are ample doses of mystery and intrigue, enough to make one want to watch the movie itself. Mortensen as usual is in fine form, and seems to be the one carrying this film, as I know no one else in the movie.

EVERYBODY HAS A PLAN looks pretty damn good, and might be a rare instance where I watch a movie purely with Subtitles.

How do you feel about watching a movie in another language, with Subtitles alone? Let me know in the comments below.

Ramblin’ Reviews by Shah: SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN – 2012

I was so looking forward to this trend of new age spins on old school Fairytales. It’d be cool to see such fantastical stories being told with the technology of today. Or so I thought. SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNSTMAN was a very cool concept with some missteps which ended in a whole shit load of sucky.

The opening volley of this new concept, SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNSTMAN is obviously based on the classic story of “Snow White & The Seven Dwarves.” The story is tweaked here and there to provide more of an action adventure feel, and the introduction of a new character.

The story of SNOW WHITE… is about how a treacherous Queen has usurped a kingdom with magic. Thriving on the beauty of other girls, the Queen is an evil witch who reigns with terror and death. Hidden away in her prison tower, is the daughter of the original King, alive due to her insane beauty, which seems to be the source of all life in the Magical Kingdom. Due to a twist of Fate, the Princess escapes and is lost to the Queen’s forces.

In the search of the princess, the Queen, seeks an expert tracker to bring her back. Enter the titular ‘Huntsman’. Who seeks the princess, but ends up becoming her protector, as she makes her way to the rebel forces loyal to her, so she can incite a coup and take back her kingdom. Thus reinstating life and beauty and perfect meadows and all that good stuff. An innovative concept added to the Snow White story that I don’t believe was present in the original. Somehow during this original and fresh take, things gets convoluted and messed up along the way.

Kristen Stewart might be remembered as playing that pale ass, whiny bitch that had an excessive hair gel fetish from those TWILIGHT movies. She plays Snow White in this one. One word: miscast. Stewart cannot act for the life of her. Her range of emotions goes from blank, to looking like she’s breathing. So to put her in a role that requires us to feel sympathy for and be rooting for her character renders the entire point of the story, completely moot. The only apropos casting of Stewart as Snow White, is the fact that she really is that damn pale skinned.

Charlize Theron is a powerhouse actor in any role you put her in. She’s solidified herself in performances like MONSTER and put herself the A-list of actresses. She’s no different in this movie. Theron’s performance as the evil Queen is awesome. Bar none. Her chops are on full display as she contorts and twists her entire psyche into a role of utter psychological grotesque-ness. But there’s a fuck up with this too. It’s too fucked up.

Hear me out. Throughout the film, we see Theron’s Queen as being this eternally angry and desperate woman, ruling her kingdom with fear and mystical powers. But even in her private moments, the Queen seems like she’s in constant pain. Never once does she seem to actually like being Queen, despite trying so hard to stay being Queen. Every scene is filled with her yelling, or in anguish or pining for something. It makes no sense. I was almost more compelled to feel sorry for the Queen, rather than Snow white. This inexplicable layer to the Queen, made it seem like there was more to her than just being an ‘evil bitch’, but there wasn’t, so it made no sense.

The plot doesn’t serve the story that well either. There is another original take on the whole ‘true love’s kiss’ awakening her from her slumber, but it’s SO subtle that I fear most audiences would miss it. The last act plays out clumsily with the ‘siege’ on the Queen’s castle neither epic, nor awesome.

Chris Hemsworth is pretty good as the Huntsman, but his significance to the story disappears after the 1st act. The rest is just filler material. If I had to pick one draw back to SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNSTMAN, it would most definitely have to be Kristen Stewart. I neither felt, cared nor gave a shit about anything she was trying to do through out the film. Which makes the crucial scene of her dramatically rallying soldiers behind her cause… completely ineffective.

SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN was an innovative concept of modernizing a fairytale classic, but the modernization suffered from errors and missteps along the way, which rendered the entire experience completely unwatchable. It’s not even a fun or entertaining movie.

The Horror Remake Debate

I remember watching my first horror film.  A newly purchased Betamax video player, my brother, my dad, myself and Creepshow.  It terrified me.  My second horror film followed soon after.  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  It terrified me.  I think I should add that I was 7 years old.

In all it was a bit too much for me and I didn’t see another horror until I was the ripe old age of 10.  My brother convinced me to watch The Thing and to say I loved it would be a huge understatement to the raw, chilling excitement I got from it.  There began my true love for horror.  However there is now another connection between these three films, one which saddens me and makes a real statement about the current position of horror today within the Hollywood movie machine.

I am talking about the modern penchant for remaking horror films.

While Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Thing have already had suitably poor remakes, Creepshow’s remake is currently in development.  I’m not holding my breath for anything that will deliver the same sense of fun and fear that the original did.  So why is it happening?  Is it a new phenomenon?  And the big question; should we be saying no to remakes?

Lets start at the top.  Why is it currently happening?

Well during the 2000’s we saw a rise in the volume of remakes being released with perhaps the largest volume in 2008.  But in 2009 the big horror remake releases made over $370 million for the studios with the likes of Friday 13th, Sorority Row and Last House on the Left. Putting this alongside their notoriously lower than average budgets it kinda became a no brainer.  But with two years of concurrent high volume and high performance would the bubble break?

Lets look at 2010 and did it follow the trend or were the audiences already saturated with remakes and therefore protesting about their slew of releases by staying away from the cinemas?

Simply, yes it did follow the trend with over £450 million being taken through the likes of Piranha 3D and A Nightmare On Elm Street.  However 2011 saw the slow down in both releases and box office success with $100 million from Fright Night, Silent House, The Thing and Straw Dogs.  There was a continuing decline this year with only the one notable remake getting a release which was The Woman In Black (the original was in 1989) taking $128 (Maniac is still yet to see a general release – however it’s actually really quite good).

Yet this doesn’t seem to have stopped the studios giving the greenlight to continue this way of making a quick buck.  I guess they’ve looked at the 2000’s overall and seen the likes of The Omen, The Amityville Horror, The Hills Have Eyes, Black Christmas, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, The Fog, Halloween, Prom Night and When A Stranger Calls having performed well.  This is by no means an exhaustive list as the last 10 years has seen such a variety of remakes it’s a wonder to think anything original is being done (especially when you add in sequels!!).  The studios can find a cheap director wanting their big break with almost a guaranteed hit.

So we’ve looked at why.  Now lets look at whether is this something particular to our generation of movie goers.

It certainly isn’t a new thing to remake films but the way in which they are remade and the choices of films to remake is certainly something unique to modern movie making.  Previously directors would take films they loved or saw potential in but perhaps were long forgotten or never particularly performed well.  They wanted to get these films to a wider audience with their own stamp on them.  John Carpenter’s The Thing, David Cronenberg’s The Fly, Paul Schrader’s Cat People, Chuck Russell’s The Blob and Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of The Body Snatchers are some examples.  These in their own right have become well loved films.  The horror fans were not particularly happy about Carpenter’s remake getting a remake (well technically speaking the 1982 version of The Thing is a sequel to the 1951 film The Thing From Another World and the 2011 is the remake of the ’51 version).  Would anyone touch Cronenberg’s The Fly without getting lynched?  So these outcomes suggest remakes aren’t always hated and it obviously isn’t new.

What is a new phenomenon, however, is taking well loved, successful films and needlessly remaking them.  When did The Fog or The Omen become so bad to watch or forgotten that we needed a newer version of it?  The result of this need to spin remakes out is that we get gun for hire directors making films that Hollywood have asked for simply as they see them as a cash cow.  And in turn that makes for rushed, uncared for films which generally and simply put, suck.  In fairness this isn’t the case with all of them as some are actually better than the originals such as The Hills Have Eyes and Last House On The Left (sorry Wes, I know they’re both your originals).  But these two almost fit the mould of how remakes used to be done. And some are okay films like Dawn of the Dead, The Crazies and The Amityville Horror.  However did these need to be made?

But it’s when films like the aforementioned The Omen and The Fog as well as Day of the Dead, Friday 13th and A Nightmare On Elm Street which are just truly awful that you fear for the memories of the originals when there will be those people that only ever know these versions.

I can’t imagine the current crop of remakes giving kids the same amazing memories that I had from my early days of watching horror films.  So many are so average and who remembers an average film.

So this brings us onto my last question. Should we be saying no to remakes?

When you look at the list of upcoming and rumoured remakes; Carrie, Poltergeist, The Evil Dead, Susperia (even Argento doesn’t understand why this is being remade), Hellraiser, Near Dark, Return of the Living Dead, Childs Play, Creepshow and all the others, you would have to say we absolutely should be saying no to remakes and the way to do this is with our wallets.  Stop going to see them, stop handing over your cash to watch an inferior version of a film you love.  If you have kids that you think are old enough to go see it, show them the original.  Let them love the films you loved.

However when you think of the films that could be remade such as Evilspeak, The Black Cat, Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, The Burning, The Prowler, Slumber Party Massacre, Rawhead Rex, Pin, 976-Evil, Deadly Friend (sorry again Wes) there is an argument that the remake remains relevant.  I am hoping that your reactions to my suggestions were either “oh yeah” or “hmm not heard of that”.  That should be the litmus test to if a horror film should get a new treatment.  Bring back something that was inventive or cool or great but budget prevented it from going anywhere.  There are some which had brilliant ideas but lacked the execution.  Or it has been so long people have forgotten they ever existed.  The Black Cat was one of Universal’s most successful films the year it was released.  But it’s themes (which would sit very nicely in today’s horror environment) were a bit too much for it to be given the positive notoriety it deserved at the time.

Remakes (even the bad ones) also serve their purpose in us seeing those brilliant new and cool low budget horrors (which no doubt will be remade themselves in 20 years) due to the profits they bring in.  These will be redistributed by the studios, funding some of these smaller films that no-one ever knows have studio involvement.  For anyone that has been lucky enough to see American Mary, it could well be the case brought in from The Wolfman that enabled it to be made.

Personally I think there is room in the world for a remake.  Sometimes it is a necessary evil.  That said I do think we need to protest with our feet and stop them taking every great horror film and turning it into something grossly inferior.  If audiences get too fed up of this then it could be detrimental to the horror scene as a whole (sequel after sequel, remake after remake) with people simply not wanting to bother with it at all.

What I’d hate is in 20 years to hear people saying “oh do you remember The Fog?”, “yeah, God that was a rubbish film”.  Replace The Fog with any other poor remake and you get the picture.  The films we loved and watch over and over will be replaced in the memory of the next generation with their poor copies, lost to time and perhaps never heard from again.  In the words of the current Hate Piracy advert; Just Imagine.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) Review

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Release Date: September 28, 2012
Director: Stephen Chbosky
Stars: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller
Runtime: 103 min

Tagline: We are infinite.

Not any writer has quite analyzed teen angst as well as John Hughes, but Chbosky comes pretty close.

* Alternate opening hook: And some people said Project X was a good teen film, anyone can take a Super 8 camera and film garbage, but not everyone can create something quite as beautiful as this.

Meet Charlie (Logan Lerman), a young freshman outsider who has to deal with his own inner demons of the past, depression, and loneliness, and the death of his best friend. Charlie is extremely nervous for his first day of high school, and doesn’t want any old nice teacher to be the only friend he makes. He encounters two fellow outcasts, Sam (Emma Watson) and her hysterical step brother Patrick (Ezra Miller). They take him under their wings, show him lessons of love, pain, friendship, belonging, and overcome being a complete wallflower.

Stephen Chbosky directs, and adapts his own novel for the big screen. And he does it quite well. The cast really fits each character, and their performances are awesome for such a young cast.

There are some really cool visuals, like when one of the main characters is on drugs. The writing is brilliant through and through. One can sense that The Perks of Being a Wallflower is set in the 1990s (according to the film’s IMDb trivia page, it’s set during the 1991-92 school year) because of all the vinyl records, wardrobe, mix tapes and not CDs, the typewriter (some of you may not have even heard of this stuff..)and the  older music. This film is a perfect example of a film that offers a great atmosphere, and it’s  one that the viewer can really fall head over heels in love with.

For the majority of people – and high schoolers especially – it’s a film that is very easy to relate to – everyone feels out of place at some point in their lives, don’t they? A lot of the characters are easily relatable; and they are all substantially, and utterly effectively, developed. They all have great depth, and each have some sort of inner demons. When Charlie finally shakes off his inner cloak [feeling] of invisibility (I don’t think it’s a spoiler, it’s obvious he would – and I just had to do the Harry Potter pun), it’s enough to fill you with happiness. Just remember though, these loner kids have dreams too, just like you or me. There is a great sense of poignancy, and can easily cause the viewer to get choked up in several areas because of sensitive subjects. The poignancy is large, and the comedy is also hysterical. The funniest character is definitely Patrick. There’s a lot of romance mixed in, Logan Lerman’s character was kissing people left, right and centre. The mix of genres is beautiful, and the film can definitely make the viewer feel extremely emotional at one point, and fall-off-their-chair-laughing at the next minute. That is always an aspect of films that I truly admire.

The depiction of the high school world feels a little off, because I know I’ve never seen a high school quite so brutal. Granted, the majority of high school films depict it in that fashion, so I can’t hold it against this film for following that cliché.

The three primary actors were extremely impressive, Logan Lerman proved he’s an incredible actor; Emma Watson proved she’s destined for greatness (like you couldn’t already tell, she has great star power); and Ezra Miller proved that he’s a diverse actor that can take on a great list of roles, from the terrifying Kevin in We Need to Talk About Kevin, to a flamboyant character like Patrick.

Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Dylan McDermott, Kate Walsh, Johnny Simmons, Nina Dobrev, Mae Whitman, Erin Wilhelmi, Melanie Lynskey, Paul Rudd and Joan Cusack star in this film.

The profound, and unique, analysis of teenage angst is accurate, brilliantly touching, and heartbreakingly poignant. Thinking back, there isn’t a flaw visible in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. The performances are great, the story is awesome, and the atmosphere it offers is perfect. It has a cool use of visuals and flashbacks when they are there. It also has a nice use of voice-over narration from Charlie in some scenes. This is a film that I didn’t want to end, and I can’t wait to watch it again (and I didn’t even mind being choked up half the freaking time!). That’s one heck of a definition for an enjoyable experience. It’s one of my favourite experiences and atmospheres of 2012 – it’s a must-see. It’s a fine classic of 2012 that can define a generation as well as John Hughes could.

It deserves to be seen; so get off the couch, grab a few friends – but if you don’t have any, it’s okay to be a wallflower* – and go see this movie!

*For those of you who do not know, a wallflower is just slang for a loner. I certainly didn’t know what it meant before I saw this, so hopefully this may be helpful information.

100/100

Trailer Talk with Shah: ARGO – 2012

I don’t think much of Ben Affleck as an actor. As a Director however, he is one of my favorites despite being only 2 films old. His 3rd film is an amazing True Story (so they say) produced by George Clooney, ARGO. Downside: He’s acting in this as well.

The Trailer for ARGO is crafted very well as it makes a movie that might otherwise seem boring and stupid, very exciting and incredibly interesting.

The premise of the story is: the US Embassy in Iran back in the 1970’s (I assume ‘cuz of the long sideburns Bryan Cranston is sporting) was seized by Terrorists, causing 6 US citizens to flee in fear of death. Due to the political instability, the US couldn’t send in troops to rescue them.

Enter Ben Affleck’s character who comes up with a plan of going into rescue them, under the guise of being a Canadian Film crew who are in Iran to shoot a science fiction film called “Argo”.

The Trailer builds up perfectly, as they premise is clearly identified, there’s OCEAN’S ELEVEN type of yuppie cool music playing in the background as Affleck and crew go about Hollywood to find people willing to support them in their con to save lives.

The cast is funny and boasts of great veterans like John Goodman, Alan Arkin and Bryan Cranston supporting Affleck. The mix of charming wit and intensely electric dramatic scenes makes the Trailer for ARGO awesome, and a movie worth waiting for.

ARGO is on my ‘must watch’ movies list of this year, and I will be waiting for baited breath for its release on October 12th, 2012.

What do you think of Ben Affleck as a Director?? Let me know in comments below.

Ramblin’ Reviews by Shah: BLUE VALENTINE – 2010

So there are the typical love stories about flowers and gummy bears with warm feelings and charming witty-ness and yaayy! And then there are the stories that are reality; examples of temporary euphoria, emotional apprehension, flawed personalities, previous baggage and the harshness that is life. Should those stories be any less portrayed in films? BLUE VALENTINE says ‘no’.

Starring my favorite actors of Ryan Gosling & Michelle Williams, BLUE VALENTINE is a small, touching, and, at times, horrible love story about two people who fell victim to circumstance, rose out of it beautifully and got in their own way. A very small story about a chance encounter leading a young couple down a whirlwind relationship that doesn’t go exactly how they expect.

They’re initially young with dreams fueled by the exuberance of being in love. However the future is different, and they might be happy, but they’re constantly dealing with the fact that they settled for the life they have.

It’s no secret that Gosling is one of my favorite actors. I’m even told that I might have a man-crush on him. But even if that’s true, it’s justifiably so. Gosling can probably become one the best actors of his generation. Contrary to his typical pretty boy look, Gosling plays a pathetic husband and father with receding hairline with no goals or ambitions in life, just going through it a day at a time. And he destroys the role. It’s a brutally honest portrayal of a man muddling through life, and trying to be happy. His lack of self worth affects his relationship with his wife, which makes up the core of the story.

Michelle Williams doesn’t do a lot of films, but man when she does, she really blows minds. Playing a wife who is constantly reminded of her youthful errors, which is further exasperated by the fact that her husband doesn’t share her regrets, is painful to watch. It’s the role of a lifetime, and deservingly so, considered it garnered her an Oscar Nomination.

BLUE VALENTINE is not for the faint of heart. There are excruciatingly painful moments that will literally cause the audience to hold their breath in anticipation of the scene to play itself out. Surprisingly though, at the same time, there are moments of pure laugh out loud hilarity; not to meant to be so, but it’s quite subtle. I wonder how effective those moments are for people that haven’t been in relationships that have caused healthy fights.

Director Derek Cianfrance stems from a Documentary background, and it shows throughout BLUE VALENTINE. The underplayed drama, explosive chemistry between the characters… are all toned down, not an ounce of melodrama, further enhancing the extreme serious-ness of that scene.  It’s like watching your neighbors fighting in front of you… you’re not sure if or when you should intervene, or even make them aware that you’re there. BLUE VALENTINE is able to invoke those ‘stop everything you’re doing until this is over’ reactions that very few films are capable of.

Sure, an explosive action or Sci-Fi film with breathtaking visuals can be exciting as hell… but it’s hard to replicate that with a story about relationships. Cianfrance does so seamlessly.

Following a back and forth from present to past using flashbacks, we get to experience the highs and lows of this couple, who are at a crossroads. The best thing about BLUE VALENTINE has to be it’s ambiguous ending.

It’s a painfully horrible story to watch due to its intense realism about a couple that’s struggling to continue to be in love with one another, BLUE VALENTINE is a serious story, with intense performances and realism that is unparalleled in this genre so far.