Monthly Archives: September 2015

Mean Girls Review

First order of business: low pass filter.  Maybe it was just the version of the film I happened to be watching – I watched it on Netflix – but there was a very high-pitch ringing sound that would appear in a few shots, seemingly from background noise that was not edited out by the sound editors.  It became an annoyance because it was one of the very few things keeping me from really enjoying the film, and I suspect it probably could have been solved with a basic low pass filter.  (The fact that my number one issue with the film is so minuscule and irrelevant is a good indicator that this is a good movie.)  I think the sound is actually the worst part of the film, if sound includes the soundtrack, which does have some ugly tracks and some pathetic soundtrack clichés.

In fact, clichés are the film’s second-biggest problem, and even they are generally rather tame.  It is clear that Mean Girls is trying to be smarter than the average high school girl movie, and with Tina Fey’s writing, it succeeds at doing so, but some of the same old scenes we’ve seen before in every other movie in the genre still find their way in throughout.  Since I know I just wrote this in my Divergent review, I hate to repeat it so soon, but it is very relevant: a great film is not one that is without imperfections, but one that overcomes them with strong characters and stories that give the audience a good time.  For me, between the cleverness of the story, the perfection of the cast, and the third point that I can’t think of but has to be included anyway because of the rule of threes, I had a good time.

76 Mean Girls

Casablanca Review

There’s not much I can say about this one – I can’t critique perfection, but I must confess that, initially, I was not a fan of the film.  I started watching Casablanca back when I was about eleven years old, and I didn’t get anything that was going on: I didn’t know the history or context, I didn’t care about the characters, I wasn’t into the music, I couldn’t appreciate the technical aspects, I didn’t get the jokes, and I wasn’t sucked into the drama.  I couldn’t even finish the movie.  I eventually decided that it would be best to watch the film again, and finally finish it after having completed a high school-level history course some time ago – not to mention a history of film class.

Even still, I found myself doing a little bit of research online within the first few minutes of the movie to make sure I understood the historical and political context correctly.  With that out of the way, I was able to fully appreciate the film, and I got wrapped up in every detail.  The first thing that stuck out to me was the visual presence, and while the visual style I tend to prefer is quite colorful, the lighting of this picture is so theatrical and dramatic that I all but drool at half the sights the film offers.  This was followed by an appreciation of the music, since I could not have asked for a much better soundtrack for this particular story.  I quickly came to love the marvelous cast of colorful, distinct, and memorable characters that are found at every turn, all of whom are performed to perfection, and casting the lovely and charming Ingrid Bergman as the leading lady was the best decision anyone has ever made since the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment (at least I remembered something from history class).  Lastly – and this is what made me fall in love with the picture – while I was expecting a totally serious drama, I was enthralled to find that the superb dialogue adorning the screenplay is filled with the Epsteins’ witty and hilarious lines, all of which are right up my alley. While I do not consider this picture to be my favorite, and I refuse to let its critical acclaim alone determine my rating, I simply must give this film the highest praise simply for making me want to be a much better writer.

75 Casablanca

Divergent Review

MINOR SPOILERS

                It is easy for me to see why critics hated this film: it seems to ride on the success of other films in its genre without supplying sufficient creativity to rise above its clichés.  To make matters worse, I could write a 20-page paper on the baffling inanity of the structure of this world – not just in terms of its government, but also the natural laws and human behaviors, such as the reluctance of the vast majority of the courageous Dauntless (even those raised in the faction) to jump into the hole before Tris.  If the government of this world had been designed by an elite, aristocratic administration of some sort, as seen in The Hunger Games, it would be obvious why such a pathetic social structure would be contrived.  In this film, however, there is no one who benefits from the system; everyone is trapped in one nation, under no one, divided, with liberty and justice for none.  While this flick may have pulled in significant box office money by simply being fascinating, it is fatally flawed in that, much like other films that present fascinating new worlds, this one struggles to have any reality to it as soon as the viewer gives any aspect of it one moment of thought.  I cannot help but yell at the people of the world in the screen for tolerating – nay – encouraging this kind of foolishness for so long.

The problem with having an unbelievable world (not necessarily in the sense that it contains elements of fantasy, but in the sense that its people do not respond to their circumstances in a way that real human beings would) is that the characters inevitably must behave in non-relatable ways in order to make the story function, as noted in the example of the hole above.  For another example, since bravery does not necessarily entail resourcefulness, several people in Dauntless should have been able to fight their hallucinogenic fears by challenging their reality in the way Tris did, all without being considered Divergent.  The issues go on and on, but at the heart of the picture are major flaws in the division of the factions:

  • The difference between the Factionless and the Divergents is unclear, as both exemplify those who do not fit into any particular group;
  • Dauntless is fundamentally idiotic because, when bravery is the only virtue, there is no place for ethics;
  • Both Abnegation and Amity are focused on caring and well-being, so separating them into two factions seems redundant – especially since those who grow the food are best fit to feed the Factionless;
  • Abnegation, Amity, and Candor are all focused on ethics, which is unnecessary because – while this may be a very counter-intuitive or controversial thing for me to propose – ethics lies in the domain of reason, and Erudite should naturally be the most ethical of all;
  • Within Erudite it is only logical that sub-factions would appear, as intellects are generally free-thinkers who will reach separate conclusions on the best way to live;
  • This whole franchise should clearly be about a battle between Erudite and Dauntless, but Erudite should be the heroes, not Dauntless, since Erudite could actually have virtues (other than bravery) to keep them ethical.

This list could be far more detailed, but I think I have made my point.  For these reasons, it seems to me that the author started with dramatic scenes in which the characters (whom she’d meant to fully develop before it slipped her mind) confronted their darkest fears, and then the rest of the book was filled in with redressed portions of The Hunger Games and The Giver.

Yet somehow, in spite of the nonsensical details, I still enjoyed the film.  I actually started watching Divergent many months ago, but had to stop because the disc was scratched, so it was skipping over important parts of the film.  Remarkably, even having seen most of the movie already, I had a good time re-watching all of it.  I truly believe that a movie can get away with making little or no sense at all so long as the audience is invested in the characters and the plot.  After all, the Harry Potter franchise is widely praised as brilliant, even by critics, but Cinema Sins has amply displayed its lunacy on a number of occasions (for example, anyone who had a small amount of liquid luck could drink it while searching for the “extremely rare” ingredients required to produce liquid luck, and then he/she could have an infinitely growing supply, resulting in a perpetual monopoly on the stuff).

In all fairness, the character of Tris is rather uninteresting in a way, and I suspect it’s because she is a little too relatable to the average teen and is devoid of distinct characteristics from other heroines in the genre.  However, she is always given dramatic decisions to make and always makes a surprising choice, which keeps the viewer watching her every move and captivated by her unique mind.  The important lesson to be learned here is one that dates back to The Wizard of Oz: a film is not judged by how close it comes to perfection, but by how its characters, ideas, and stories captivate the audience in spite of the imperfections.  When I think about Divergent this way, it is clear to me that I was constantly aware of the movie’s flaws – which admittedly was probably because I was watching much of it for a second time – but I was too genuinely amused by what the characters were experiencing to let that stop me from enjoying myself.

74 Divergent

Anchorman 2 Review

I oddly don’t know what to say about this film.  Parts of it were funny, and nearly all of it was strangely fun, although I’m generally not a fan of the brand of humor Ferrell and Carrell tend to do.  In the first Anchorman movie, there was just something about the film’s “devil may care” attitude with doing whatever felt fun, no matter how little sense it made, that gave it a bizarre charm; there is still some of that present in this one.  The simple problem is that the movie has a classic case of “sequelitis”: it can’t emulate its predecessor without rehashing old material, and it can’t do anything new without diverging from whatever worked well for the first film.  This “sequelitis” really makes this a much weaker movie – although the first wasn’t exactly the greatest comedy of all time – but I still basically enjoyed watching it.  I knew going in that I wasn’t about to see anything brilliant, so when something legitimately clever and entertaining happened, I experienced the benefits of living by Great Grandpa Hansel’s old mantra: “Expect nothing and you’ll never be disappointed.”  In some ways Anchorman 2 may be underwhelming, and sometimes it feels like the whole thing is forced, but the characters and story are generally fascinating enough to keep me invested, so I’m satisfied.

73 Anchorman 2

Hotel Transylvania Review

This is the first of a few films I’m going to review this month that are at the very least passable on the grounds that, in spite of their clichés and shortcomings, they unfailingly hold a grip on my enjoyment simply by being so strangely interesting.  Hotel Transylvania is, by all means, a stereotypical CG animated film, with shameless repetition of embarrassing tropes, as I can easily explain by summing up the film.  An overprotective widowed father (see Finding Nemo) whose “innocently villainous” demeanor makes him a bizarre parental figure (see Despicable Me) lives in a world populated with monsters (see Monsters Inc.) and runs a hotel to provide solitude the legendary figures (the film’s primary, if not only, defining feature) in order to protect his daughter from the dangers of the outside world (see Tangled).  The stupid teenage protagonist gets a crush on the girl who’s voiced by a pop star (see The Lorax) and finds that she wants her freedom (see Brave), and now the protagonist has to avoid being caught for deceiving everyone (see A Bug’s Life) while the couple hopes they can fulfill her dreams of going to paradise (see Up).  This isn’t even mentioning the fact that it ends in a random musical number set to a pop song, making it even more reminiscent of Despicable Me, or the running gag concerning an awkward old lady doing something inappropriate while uttering a catchphrase with an odd accent, which in this case is the monster who eats things and says, “I dint do that,” but it’s basically “bad kitty” from Madagascar.

While the whole film feels too familiar, these are merely the ugly little details that fill the gaps between the beautiful experiences of seeing such great, strong characters trying to figure out how to handle the protagonist’s incredibly difficult situation whilst navigating through this frighteningly inventive world.  The way that the characters – and other magical/mythical elements – are consistently used in ways I never would have considered.  The movie is silly, smart, and surprising, which makes it a good family movie to share with anyone.  I can almost forgive the horrendous cliché of the part when the loud party music comes to a halt just as someone is yelling something personal to someone else, creating a very “CG family film” scene that’s both awkward and sad.  That being said, the only reason why that scene alone hasn’t earned this film a terrible rating from me is this: I already miss the film’s delightful characters, and I’m eager to join them again when the sequel arrives.

72 Hotel Transylvania