Wednesday, January 23, 2013

"ALRIGHT! CLOSURE!"

LAST TIME, IN THE THIRD ROW

(...OK, do I really have to recap this?  Really?  It wasn't even 24 hours ago!)

AND NOW, THE CONCLUSION

As some of you may have likely guessed by now, yesterday's entry was...to put it bluntly, a ruse, a cunning attempt to trick you.
"Oh come on, some of you laughed."

The Third Row does not, nor has it had to this point, any sort of sponsorship.  Nor would I pursue sponsorship from the CoS due to my own personal ideological issues with them best reserved for another forum.  (editor's note: They kill people. For real)

For those who are then wondering just what inspired this particular shenanigan, there IS a particular background event that inspired it.  This entire idea started after learning about last week's Scientology sponsorship debacle from The Atlantic.  You can learn more about that here if you'd not heard of this before:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/120420141/The-Atlantic-14-January-2013-David-Miscavige-Leads-Scientology-to-Milestone-Year

and

http://twitchy.com/2013/01/14/the-atlantic-runs-fawning-sponsor-content-glorifying-scientology-disqus-employee-overrides-comment-moderation-writers-balk/

Further, I do not feel this movie has been wrongly aligned.  In fact, while rewatching it for material for this shine job, I actually found it even WORSE than I had remembered.  I had remembered a script riddled with holes and John Travolta hamming it up so badly that I started to wonder if this movie was kosher or not.  On this rewatch, along with this, I found myself exposed to Barry Pepper clinching his Worst Supporting Actor win, even MORE plot holes I'd forgotten the first time around, and some of the worst camera work I have seen in just about anything too date.  The one consolation I took from this was when my utter astonishment at the appearance of then-future Oscar winner Forest Whitaker, who at least managed to make the most of his time by becoming the personification of the internet meme "LOOK AT ALL THE FUCKS I GIVE!"  It didn't really save the movie, but it at least made his involvement less painful when paired with the knowledge his career got pretty awesome after this.

and you, John...you were...
...well...
...I'm gonna have to get back to you when I can find a diplomatic way to sum this one up.

Whew...I now need to decompress.  This article actually started to hurt after a while.  Seriously, trying to make this film smarter than it really is was making me scream on the inside.

All in all, this was worth it for an experiment to see if I could do it...but DAMN, I don't think I have it in me to do this kind of bluff again any time soon.

...so yeah, in conclusion, this was all a warped nod to the CoS's PR flub, I haven't actually gone completely mad or been dabbling with any number of recreational drugs, and Battlefield Earth is STILL a terrible movie.

God is in his heaven, something something, everyone turns to Tang.

...to make up for this, I promise the next review we have is for a bad film that will get both barrels here.  That said, I'm going to warn you now.  For the abuse I had to stay on this write-up, that one may be a bit blue.  Especially based on what I'm seeing of this movie so far.

So yeah...this next entry may not be suitable for young audiences.

On a final note - this look took 12 years, but Peter Jackson finally redeemed it with the Great Goblin in The Hobbit...
...OK, maybe redeem isn't the right word, but at least it's in a better class of movie.



EDIT:
For the record, I officially tip my hat to The Onion, whose own response to this mess handily one-ups mine.

http://www.theonion.com/articles/sponsored-the-taliban-is-a-vibrant-and-thriving-po,30910/

Well played, clerks.  Well played.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Some big news and big changes!

Well, now that the 2012 stuff is out of the way, we're starting this year off with some big news.

I mean really big.

As of this post, The Third Row is now a sponsored site!  With that, I'm sure all 5 of you are now groaning and rolling your eyes, rightly concerned at what a sponsor influence will do this blog.

Rest assured, however, that just because I'm now taking money from the Church of Scientology, I won't allow that to effect the content of this site.  Opinions will remain as they always have been.

Now, to celebrate this deal, I would like to discuss a movie that, on a recent watch, I have found to be a much better film than we previously gave it credit for.

In fact, I will be so bold as to assert that this movie, so reviled, mocked, and scorned when it came out, is actually a product ahead of its time.  It had a bold vision that we weren't ready to handle.


Twelve years later, and I think we can now look back and truly appreciate the message Battlefield Earth had for us all.  That's right, you heard me.  This saga of the year 3000 actually contained strong messages for us still living in the 2000s.  Like Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers before it, this was an unfairly maligned movies whose themes underly darker elements of our own life and times, and now we need to wake up and see them.

Again, like Starship Troopers, Battlefield has proven to forecast problems that would become more relevant after the movie's release, although in the case Battlefield, the ideas were addressed not as a dark satire, but rather a coded call to stop the problem before it became too late.  Where Starship Troopers's message of a military state has since been compared to our military struggles in the Middle East and the nationalism that comes about as a result, Battlefield Earth instead provides a parallel for our current financial problems, and prophesied the Occupy movement by a solid decade.  This is even before going into the fact this movie itself is adapted from a novel written 12 years prior, so frankly Hubbard foresaw this situation a good 20 years before it became a major issue.

Sounds crazy?  I thought so too, but the more I thought about it, the more it fell into place.

The movie takes place in the United States in, as the subtitle declares, the year 3000.  The world is now under the command of an alien race known as the Psychlos.  Now, many have tried to claim these Psychlos are representative of psychology and thus that this movie is Scientology propaganda.  I feel director Roger Christian had a stronger idea.  Rather than depicting the Psychlos as a clear government, the only sign of any sort of governmental authority being a passing reference to a senator, the movie instead makes wider references to the alien Psychlos as a corporation.

Even their homeworld appears to be a Hellish city factory, echoing back to the ruined and corporate-controlled future of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner

That's right.  This movie gives us a setting where the United States (the whole world really, but for this movie, the focus is on the good old U.S.) is the slave race of a group of ruthless corporate profiteers.  They establish in the opening crawl that the Psychlos only care for the Earth for one reason - its mineral resources.  More specifically, gold.  Christian's message is clear - the corporatocracy sees our country as simply a stone to be bled, and its people are little more than chattel to be used, abused, or exterminated at the convenience of those above.

This is, of course, embodied best in the character of Terl, played with a villainous zeal by John Travolta.  While at first glance a simple and coldblooded thug, when denied the prospect of promotion, what does he do?  In true corporate fashion, he commences under the table trading.  Hiding information from his colleagues, stealing ideas from his subordinate Ker (Forest Whitaker) but still leaving evidence to frame him if things go wrong, blackmailing anyone who could block his efforts, even murder.   What is Terl's game?  He's been told about a shipment of gold hidden away that many of his colleagues don't know of, and he sees this as his chance to cash in.  Further, in his quest for these greater profits, and recognizing the gold is in an area containing radiation deadly to Psychlos, he sets to work enlisting 'man-animals' to mine it for him.  In an age where outsourcing and relying on sweatshop labor are more and more publicized, Terl is the face of the modern corporate raider.  Years ago, we scoffed, but now, he gains a horrific relevance.

It's with this established that we introduce our movie's hero, Johnny Goodboy Tyler, played with an idealistic streak by Barry Pepper.  Criticized by those in his tribe for daring for something greater than the primitive lives he and his people have been reduced to at the hands of the Psychlo, he sets out seeking something greater.  Through his adventures, Johnny and his friends become prisoners of the Psychlo, and subsequently, part of Terl's slave labor force.  Johnny stands out to Terl due to his determination and his cleverness.  In fact, Terl has never seen a clever human before, and even gladly sacrifices his own subordinates to test this cleverness.  This also further shows Terl's own callous nature towards those around him in pursuit of his own interest.  After all, the only reason he even indulges Johnny's curious nature is because he sees the potential to make a slightly more useful animal out of him.  In furthering this, Terl makes the mistake of educating Johnny.  Allowing him to learn the ways of his enemies and their weapons.

It's in this education that's worth noting the movie makes a point of having Terl show Johnny samples of humanity's past.  Most damning here is the fact he brings him into a library where Johnny discovers replicas of the documents of the founding fathers.  The implication is, again, quite clear.  Terl, this movie's poster child for a callous, unseen, plundering corporation is flaunting the fact he and his people are above government reproach.  The rights people have believed protected them have done nothing to stop these people from turning them into little more than slave labor for their own benefit.

The fact Christian chooses to show us what looks to be humans looting here DOES invite some degree of comparison.

Here's where Christian's film becomes not just an eerie coincidence but a call to arms.  Though Johnny has feigned agreement with Terl in teaching his companions how to mine, he has begun to rally them in forming a rebellion.  When the others suggest giving them what they want, or simply hiding in the radioactive areas, knowing the Psychlo can't go there, Johnny argues that neither is any way for the people to live.  As Terl's cold-blooded actions bring the threat closer to his circle of friends, Johnny's associates become galvanized and share his will to fight back.  What follows is a rebellion fueled by knowledge and pure will over weapons.  Despite the fact that Terl previously explained how humanity's armies were formerly crushed in a matter of minutes, the humans still largely fight with their own weapons, with only a few claiming Psychlo weapons or vehicles in combat.  In this particular sequence, it's worth noting how much of the ground combat has clear visual parallels - the humans all bear crude melee weapons and in arming themselves, run through the Psychlo base sacking and looting, while Psychlo guards appear armed with what looks like riot gear (not the first time in the movie some of it has been used, by the way.)  Despite these guns, humans still fight them on largely equal footing.  Besides this, the real goals of Johnny's rebellion here come two goals, the first of these, to destroy the glass dome around the Psychlo colony, taking them out of their own encased world, into a world where they won't be able to survive*.  The other, to use humanity's own innovations, dangerous to the Psychlo, to destroy their entire world from within, in this case taking the form of a nuclear device.  While a bit of a crude way to go, the idea of destroying the corporation from within still rings clear.

*It's worth noting they establish how the gas the Psychlos breath is toxic to humans - given the concerns of gas weapons, this could be taken as reference to the reckless environmental damages dealt by corporations in their careless pursuit of profits.  In fact, from what little we know of the Psychlos from the movie, this is essentially their entire raison d'etre.  Granted, this also lends itself to a colonial theme, but given how frequently they refer to corporations rather than government, it's hard not to see which way Christian wants this to be read.
This is, of course, only a quick overview, but it's actually quite fascinating.  For a film that has been castigated by the Razzie awards not once but twice, it is rather unfairly maligned.  Roger Christian's bold attempt to adapt L. Ron Hubbard's epic work of science fiction (which, in itself, marked one of the first uses of splitting a single book into multiple movies) has become a cautionary tale of the increasing power of corporations, and a call to resist them.

Had it not fallen on such deaf ears a decade ago, would we be in the spot we're in now?

Check back here tomorrow, I'll be going further into this then.
 ...it's not like this is the first time I've left you guys hanging.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Last Time Grumbling About Awards This Year

(...Maybe.)

So, before I begin this entry, I do need to admit to something.

Ironically, I'd missed an entry in this last week's 'Deleted Scenes.' That's right guys, the Deleted Scenes have a deleted scene.

Ordinarily, I'd sweep this one under the rug, but this one really bugged me when it happened, and even though the event is now over, I just need to get it off my chest, so I'll get this over with and then we can enjoy the awards season shenanigans (...this is partially doing us both a favor here, really. I'm still working through a backlog of the nominated titles.)

Anyway, one last thing I have to say for 2012. To the people behind Rifftrax, I want to start this off by saying I do love your work. Both from the years on MST3k and the riffs you guys provide now, it's been generally enjoyable fare. Which is why I was surprised when you guys put together your 'vote for the worst movie of all time' list. I mean, you guys spent years in the business of finding some of the worst, WORST movies imaginable. So you can imagine my disappointment when I saw your actual ballot of candidates. Oh, sure, you guys put in a few of the classic failures, like Manos: The Hands of Fate and Birdemic...but then most of the rest of the list were pretty entry level picks. In particular I just want to say, you're gonna argue Highlander or Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, while leaving movies like Star Trek: Insurrection or the Star Wars Holiday Special out (just to scratch the surface of the truly awful) is bad on its own. Particularly damning - only one Uwe Boll film?  Really?  Then entrusting the vote to the internet, who arguably are even less apt to pick the worst actual movie and just go with what pisses them off the most...I mean, the Twilight movies are drek (though the first DOES make me laugh) but to call them the worst ever is a very sheltered view.

Alright, rant over. Point is, for people who are supposed to be bad movie experts, you guys dropped the ball there.

Now then, back to what are generally considered the good end of movies.

It's that time of year again, folks. Advertising, speculating, and general grievances over who did or didn't get picked abound. It's Awards time.

With the Oscar ballot announced and the Golden Globes having been this past weekend (or, as Futurama calls it "the Emmy of movie awards!") it seemed as good a time as any to air my own grievances/speculation on the stuff now and spare you guys the grumbling later. So let's run down the docket, shall we?

DISCLAIMER - As of this point, I still have not gotten to seeing all of the films nominated, so some of my opinion is being filled in by research at this point. You'll have to bear with me, I'm getting through them.
BEST PICTURE:
-Amour
-Life of Pi
-Argo
-Lincoln
-Beasts of the Southern Wild
-Silver Linings Playbook
-Django Unchained
-Zero Dark Thirty
-Les Miserables

Now, had you asked me this a week or two back, I'd have sided with the people speculating Lincoln would take this hands down. With Argo pulling an upset at the Golden Globes, however, and the potential for Zero Dark Thirty, this game has gotten a bit more interesting again. That said, a part of me WOULD be interested in seeing Beasts take it for a dark horse upset, though I know the odds aren't great.

BEST ACTOR:
-Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)
-Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)
-Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)
-Denzel Washington (Flight)
-Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables)

OK, in this category...yeah, Lincoln is probably gonna be the safe bet. That said, given my druthers, this is another where, if I had to see an upset, I'd pull for Phoenix. Not only has this been a Hell of a comeback for him, it's also a considerably less than award (or audience) friendly role. Made even better by the fact that he genuinely doesn't really care what accolades he gets for the role. Despite his sentiment, I would like to see him get acknowledgement for this one. In the same vein, while he doesn't have good odds to take it, from what I hear from his work in it, I have to say kudos to Jackman. For as much as it seems Les Mis had technical issues, the acting seems to have been pretty solid on it.

BEST ACTRESS:
-Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)
-Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
-Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)
-Naomi Watts (The Impossible)
-Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)

I'm just gonna say this outright. I'm pulling for Wallis in a big way on this one. Kid goes into this project without any prior experience or formal training and she knocked it out of the park. That said, I imagine the Academy's gonna be more likely to go with Chastain or maybe Riva. Not to say these are bad choices, but personally, my vote goes to Wallis here.

...OK, so I wasn't quite up for finding screencaps for every category.  I'll meet you guys halfway with these animated GIFs.


BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:-Alan Arkin (Argo)
-Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook)
-Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master)
-Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)
-Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained)

Overall, I'm pretty happy with this spread, though I do still feel like there's a few people that should have been in on this that were omitted. Most damning I'd say is the fact Dwight Henry got passed over for his role as dying father Wink in Beasts of the Southern Wild. Now, at least Wallis got nominated, but really, the fact is both of them gave some great performances which really helped take the movie above and beyond. Also, while I definitely don't begrduge Waltz his second nomination, cause it was good work, I was a little surprised he was the Academy's pick from the movie. After all, Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson both turned in some of the best work of their careers on this one, so much so that many thought DiCaprio would be a sure hit for this. His absence was a bit surprising. Of what we do have on the list though, I suspect Jones is going to take it, though I certainly wouldn't say no to Hoffman walking away with the award.

It also helps that this one sums up my thoughts on the snub pretty well.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
-Amy Adams (The Master)
-Sally Field (Lincoln)
-Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)
-Helen Hunt (The Sessions)
-Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook)

There's only so much can say for this one. Let's face it, it's almost a foregone conclusion that Hathaway has this one in the bag. From the sounds of things though, I can't bear her any ill will for it either. For as limited as Fantine's role is, she has put in her dues and I'll be OK with her taking this win. By the same token, I'd also be good with seeing Adams take it (cause she really seemed to slip under the radar due to her relatively understated role) or potentially Hunt, from the sounds of the info on this as her big return to film.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE:
-Brave
-Frankenweenie
-ParaNorman
-The Pirates! Band of Misfits
-Wreck It Ralph

In a category where I'm largely pretty happy with most of the candidates, it's kind of a shame the one that has the best odds to win is probably the one I'd be the least happy to see take it home. Not that I disliked Brave, mind you. But compared to some of the other entries on this list, it's a rather uneven film. Pretty good for Pixar, but not their peak by any means. Ideally, I'd opt to give this one to ParaNorman, both for the fact it tried something pretty damned unique storywise and even managed to skew what was expected of it for the better in many cases, and also for the fact that stop motion really doesn't get the credit it deserves. That latter point is also why I'd be OK with seeing Frankenweenie take the spot, though admittedly both of those two are somewhat dark horse entries here.

CINEMATOGRAPHY:-Anna Karenina
-Django Unchained
-Life of Pi
-Lincoln
-Skyfalll

Off the bat, I'd be inclined to hedge on either Anna Karenina or Django Unchained for this one. That said though, I still need to see Life of Pi, but from the sounds of it, that also has pretty strong odds here. Lincoln and Skyfall, both not bad, but I'm not sure either's gonna really bring the proverbial kibosh down on this one. Also, the absence of The Master is frankly a rather glaring spot on this list.  Seriously, did Anderson make some enemies after last time?

COSTUME DESIGN:-Anna Karenina
-Les Miserables
-Lincoln
-Mirror Mirror
-Snow White and the Huntsman

LOOK AT ALL DEM PERIOD PIECES! Jokes aside though, the three period piece films have good odds here. This is a category where it's tough to really put a bet down one way or another, especially since the Academy is tough to predict when it comes to what they like in their technicals.

BEST DIRECTOR:-Amour (Michael Haneke)
-Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin)
-Life of Pi (Ang Lee)
-Lincoln (Steven Spielberg)
-Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell)

Ouch. No love for either Anderson director this year? Of what we do have on deck, however, I'm thinking probably will go to Haneke or Spielberg. Between the two, I think Haneke would be the more interesting choice, admittedly, but I won't begrudge Spielberg if he gets it on this one.

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:-5 Broken Cameras
-The Gatekeepers
-How to Survive a Plague
-The Invisible War
-Searching for Sugar Man

Here's where I'm embarassed to say at this point I've seen none of the contenders in this category. I really should fix that. In particular, the latter three have all sounded promising from what info have found on them.

DOCUMENTARY SHORT:-Inocente
-Kings Point
-Mondays at Racine
-Open Heart
-Redemption

See same problem as above. Gonna be doing some hunting, it seems.

BEST EDITING:-Argo (William Goldenberg)
-Life of Pi (Tim Squyres)
-Lincoln (Michael Khan)
-Silver Linings Playbook (Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers)
-Zero Dark Thirty (Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg)

From these candidates, I'd say the likely winner is probably going to either Argo or Zero Dark Thirty. Though again, with the Academy and technical awards, it's always a bit trickier to predict, as they seem to not care as much about these awards. In either case, I could be OK with this win.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FEATURE:-Amour (Austria)
-Kon-Tiki (Norway)
-No (Chile)
-A Royal Affair (Denmark)
-War Witch (Canada)

Given it holds spots on both Best Picture and Best Foreign Language, it's a pretty safe bet Amour is probably gonna take this one. Which is usually the Academy's way of then defusing its odds for Best Picture in general, but that's a vaguely paranoid rant I'll spare you. In either case, after getting nominated and not winning in 2010 for The White Ribbon, it'd be nice to see Haneke take it this time around.

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING:-Hitchcock
-The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
-Les Miserables

WOW. That's...that's three pretty different styles right there to pick from. Makes it really hard to say which way it's gonna fall. That said, pressed on it, I'd guess probably with either The Hobbit or Les Mis. Damned if I could tell you which from there, though.

MUSIC (Original Score)
-Anna Karenina (Dario Marianelli)
-Argo (Alexandre Desplat)
-Life of Pi (Mychael Danna)
-Lincoln (John Williams)
-Skyfall (Thomas Newman)

OK, this is actually a decently tight race. Admittedly, I imagine this one may go to either of the two big power players here - Lincoln or Argo.

MUSIC (Original Song)
-"Before My Time" from Chasing Ice
-"Everybody Needs a Best Friend" from Ted
-"Pi's Lullaby" from Life of Pi
-"Skyfall" from Skyfall
-"Suddenly" from Les Miserables

If the Golden Globes are any indication, "Skyfall" is the pretty strong contender to beat here. While I'm DEFINITELY good with that, I'd be lying if a part of me wouldn't be morbidly curious to see "Everybody Needs a Best Friend" take it under the circumstances. If only to karmically bounce back from "Blame Canada" getting nominated but not winning in 2000. It's okay to have a twisted sense of humor sometimes, Academy.

PRODUCTION DESIGN:
-Anna Karenina
-The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
-Les Miserables
-Life of Pi
-Lincoln
...THIS is another tough one. For my own instinct, I'd be inclined to give this to either Anna Karenina or Les Mis. The Hobbit certainly looks great, don't get me wrong, and Jackson has done a nice job with giving us a different view of the world from the last three films, but the fact he's building on a world he already gave us before stands to kneecap his odds here. Though I have to say, I'd be pretty good with seeing him win it for some of the new elements he did give us this time (even just the prologue seeing Dale and Erebor was some very nice work for his team.)

SHORT FILM (Animated)
-Adam and Dog
-Fresh Guacamole
-Head Over Heels
-Maggie Simpson in "The Longest Daycare"
-Paperman

For the buzz it's gained to this point, I imagine Paperman is gonna walk away with this one. That said, I'm not gonna raise too much Hell over that happening if it does. A nice burst of simplicity with a good bit of sweetness to it that didn't overpower. I'd be OK with seeing it take this.

SHORT FILM (Live Action)-Asad
-Buzkashi Boys
-Curfew
-Death of a Shadow (Dood van een Schaduw)
-Henry

...aaaaand once again I bring the knife to a gunfight. This will require more research of me.

SOUND EDITING:-Argo
-Django Unchained
-Life of Pi
-Skyfall
-Zero Dark Thirty

...speaking of gunfights, a lot of strong entries involving firearms this year. At this point my money would be on either Argo or Zero Dark Thirty, though I could see Django making an interesting case for itself in this category.

SOUND MIXING:-Argo
-Les Miserables
-Life of Pi
-Lincoln
-Skyfall

While I hate to sound like that broken record, once again this one may fall on either of the two powerhouse contenders of Argo or Lincoln. I have to admit, Les Mis seems a bit of an odd choice here, given there have been issues people have had with the singing-to-music balance at points.

VISUAL EFFECTS-The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
-Life of Pi
-Marvel's The Avengers
-Prometheus
-Snow White and the Huntsman

...you know, this list as the Academy's laid it out actually kind of perfectly lines up with my thoughts on how this one could go, from most probable winner to least probable. Not to take any slams, but just as overall possibilities go.

WRITING (Adapted Screenplay)-Argo
-Beasts of the Southern Wild
-Life of Pi
-Lincoln
-Silver Linings Playbook

Once again, it's probably gonna be one of the big two here. Though that's still not gonna stop me from once again pulling for Beasts. Let me dream, OK?

WRITING (Original Screenplay)-Amour
-Django Unchained
-Flight
-Moonrise Kingdom
-Zero Dark Thirty

Likely answer - Amour or Zero Dark Thirty. For my pick - I'm actually kind of surprised this was the only nomination Moonrise Kingdom got. That said, I'd be okay with them taking this win. I'd also be alright with Django taking it, though I admit it wouldn't be my first choice (overall a pretty good script, but the last act's pacing was pretty erratic. Surprising from Tarantino, especially after how well Inglourious Basterds pulled off its end.)

There we have it.

Will I tune in to watch and see who won? Maybe. Will depend what's going on that night. Admittedly I'm just as prone to looking at the results the next day. I have a very love-hate relationship with awards by their nature here. In either case, I'm still gonna pull for the wild cards on this one.Come on, Academy. I know you guys have it in you to surprise me.

...just like I'm hopefully going to be able to surprise you all with this next entry!

(...wow, even for me that was a cheap lead-off. Sorry folks.)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

2012 - The Deleted Scenes

"...and why didn't we include these deleted scenes?  BECAUSE THEY SUCKED!"

--Weird Al Yankovic, UHF Deleted Scenes Introduction.


Well, as promised, this is a bit of a new idea here at the Third Row.
Given 2012 has been officially declared dead, here's where we finally lay the last thoughts from the year to rest (...well, this and the inevitable Oscar grumbling later, but that's this-year relevant.)  These are 2012's deleted scenes - those loose ideas and partial notes that, for some reason or other, never got turned into full entries here.

In light of the nature of this entry, I'm going to warn you now- This is going to be a bit more freeform and, dare I say, rambling than some of my previous entries have been.  I'll try to keep the assorted thoughts organized and down to one paragraph tops, but some of these came with more thoughts than others. Also, these aren't exactly running in chronological order, so bear with me.

aaaaand roll 'em.

"I don't care what he said in the article, I'm sure this is your fault!"

-Regarding the 'Top 5 Favorite Bad Movies' entry.  As I have explained to a couple of people, Ralph Bakshi's LotR was something of a last minute addition onto that list.  I had initially pegged another film for the slot, but had then given it a bit more thought as to whether I could honestly call the film truly bad, or just badly dubbed (because really, most of my fond cheeze memories of it are the laughably horrible  English dub.)  This isn't to say it's necessarily a great movie, but on giving it a look in its original language, the film was a bit better than I was giving it credit for.  I may still re-evaluate and give #5 to a more deservedly out and out bad title, though I do still maintain when Bakshi fails, it is quite funny to watch for all the wrong reasons.
...and, because I am trying to be a good sport, his movie will have its day in court later this year.  But that's a matter for another time.

-For the record, the original pick for #5 was Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky.  After getting a chance to watch the film in the original Cantonese, it's gone from 'favorite bad film' to 'It's cheezy as Hell, and I love it as grindhouse martial arts.'  I mean, someone gets punched so hard their entire arm up to their elbow explodes.  How can I hate that?

"So we're in the hands of the guy who wrote Lost, that's OK.  What's the worst that can happen?"

-Speaking of films not being as bad as they're made out to be, I'm still rather surprised at some of the backlash a couple of titles got this year.  In particular, back during their peak, some of the backlash directed towards Prometheus and The Dark Knight Rises was almost comical in their anger.  Now, I'll grant you, looking back, I DO see a lot in Prometheus that could have been better, almost all of which I lay at the feet of the writers (I would be interested in seeing the earlier, more Alien-related drafts of the screenplay that had been penned up before Lindelof got called in for cleanup.)  The other elements of the film were strong enough that I'd still mark the film as more 'flawed' rather than outright bad (Editor's note: you're too kind. This was "Wasted Potential: The Motion Picture").  To some people though...man, you'd think Ridley Scott set their houses on fire for some of the comments this film got.  TDKR was in a similar boat, albeit I personally feel more inclined to be a bit kinder to that one.  I mean, I wouldn't say the film was flawless, but for what it was built up to, and the elements in play, it was still as good a finale as I could have asked for from the series.  Which is why I still find it weird some people were making it out to be the worst comic book movie this side of Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.  I dunno, maybe it's hype backfire, I was just rather surprised to see the backlash on these was all.  I wouldn't call them the greatest of the year, but I just didn't see the hate for them.

"...and there's the reviews for Battleship coming in, and...
...This is just not your year, kid."

-While I'm already here playing the Devil's Advocate, I have to say that, for a film that has gone on many 'worst' lists and became a punchline for many over the summer, I didn't actually hate John Carter.  Again, I wouldn't call it a great movie or a lost classic by any means.  All in all, it was more a fairly watchable popcorn movie.  Not the best hit of the summer, but not really one of the worst things to come out of this year.  This film's biggest enemies came down to two things to me:
1) For as much as the industry keeps giving him second chances, Taylor Kitsch just...isn't that good as a lead.  Now, in the JC case, the rest of the cast actually had some pretty decent talent going into it, which I think is part of why I managed to still find it watchable, if not spectacular.  But at the center of it, Kitsch's Carter is just an incredibly forgettable person...and given he's the character the whole story is supposed to revolve around, that's a BIG problem.  Even a CGI-ed up Willem Dafoe managed to make for a more interesting and, yes, I'll say it, likable character by comparison.
2) The marketing on this movie.  When you have a movie with a budget like this one, a poor marketing campaign is one of the deadliest forms of poison you could ask for...and oh BOY, was the marketing on this movie terrible.  Between trailers that let people know almost nothing of what the movie was actually about, an ultimately vague title (any reference to Mars being dropped from the titles due to Disney's horrible luck with Mars-related films to this point...not that this did them any favors,) and a campaign that made the dire mistake of assuming everyone would be familiar enough with the Edgar Rice Burroughs stories it was based on that the concept alone could sell the film without effort, this movie wasn't just bringing a knife to a gunfight - it was packing a popsicle stick whittled into a shiv and yelling insults at its opponent's mothers.
To wrap this one up cause it was a longer blurb than I expected, this is one of those movies I won't be surprised to see level off in a few years once the hype dies down.  On its own, weak lead aside, it's still a decent enough adventure, if nothing really stellar, and it seems it did manage to reach some of the crowds that got to seeing it.  Once it distances from the stigma that came from how badly the film was sold, it may at least reach a happy medium beyond its current bomb status.

-While I'm busting marketing's chops, I do want to follow up on something that did make an entry this year - but man, this year had a LOT of movies misrepresented by marketing.  I won't recap this too much, as the article is still up that recapped some of this year's particularly wronged entries, mainly Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. I do still have to give Cabin in the Woods props for managing to undo the damage of its own problematic marketing campaign through strong word of mouth.  Sadly, a lot of others weren't so lucky.  I'd like to believe the right lesson will be learned from this and more of an effort will be made to get across what some of these films actually are about (without spoilage.  It IS doable.)  Of course, I could just be setting myself up for another let-down and they may instead take this as a lesson to not make those types of films.

-For the record, as far as this year's worst, I have to admit, I lucked out this year.  I dodged a LOT of bullets as far as bad movies...but not all of them. And honestly, for the sheer bewilderment it left in me, at least as of this point, I'm giving A Christmas Story 2 my pick for worst movie of 2012.  In time, I will likely find something that blows this out of the water.

-OK, this one isn't an article so much as a stray observation from moviegoing this year - what parent in their right mind brings a kid to see The Dictator?  I'm not kidding.  I actually saw this happen.  Further, they stayed for the whole movie.  I mean, personally, I had fun with the film, but there's no way in Hell I'd bring a kid to that one. Editor's/Moviegoing buddy's note: Didn't someone also bring a pocket dog to that screening?

-I'm not sure which amuses me more - the fact this year saw a rise in, for lack of a better term, political mouthpiece movies making it to the box office, or the fact they all largely critically and commercially flopped and slunk right back out.
Well...almost all, anyway.  Dinesh D'Souza had a brief moment in the box office top ten with his documentary 2016.  Though that was very short lived.  Not entirely unexpectedly either.  I mean, it's kind of hard to take his saying he understands Obama's secret Bond-villain grade plan when he's never actually met the guy.  I mean, sure, you can have an idea of a person's political opinions and views without meeting them...but to claim to know what's in his heart without having met the guy...yeah, didn't really sell.

"...so...did we do better this time?"

-Also, while I'm not counting it in that category - Atlas Shrugged Part II.  The fact this movie exists amuses the Hell out of me.  I mean, I almost commend the determination of the filmmakers-but guys, the free market has spoken.  Doesn't continuing to spend your time, money, and effort on films that aren't really profitable or artistically viable fly in the face of most of the ethos espoused by Rand and her followers?  Further, given the second part also crashed and burned, do they intend to ride this train all the way into the ditch, or will they finally just cut their losses and move on?
Cruel as this is going to sound, I almost hope it's the former.

"You see, Luke, this lensflare is just a test run.  In the finished version, we'll swing our lightsabers in slow motion, and your droid will be adorned in sponsorship stickers and speak with the voice of a sassy black woman.
...It's actually not as bad as it sounds, once you get used to it."

-Now we come to the Star Wars square.  Or, as we're going to title this chunk:
Darth StrangeLucas: Or, How I Learned to Stop Raging and Pity the Man in Flannel (...I may use this name for another longer SW piece in the future, just as a heads up.)
Oh, Star Wars. You set a couple of interest possible articles in motion this year that sadly didn't see the final cut.
These starting back with the first of the many years hyped up 3-D rerelease of the films.  Now, I will admit, I didn't actually get to seeing the 3-D release of The Phantom Menace in theaters.  At the time, however, I did give it a rewatch to see if maybe, now that time has passed, it wouldn't be that bad.  This is the point where I mention that I spent the better part of 7 years giving the prequels a shield of plausible deniability, convincing myself that maybe the next installment would make up for the disappointments leading up to that point.
And then, the series ended and so did the shield.  Now, I could do an entire writeup on things that let me down there, but really, what could I say here that the web hasn't already said several thousands of times over?
Even with that in mind, I still considered giving Episode I a rewatch/review anyway.  While I won't give the full rundown here, I just have to say...even with the anger stripped away, it's still a pretty bad movie.  This did, however, mark the first time I took note of just how many redundant lines there were in that script.  I mean, this feels like Lucas just ran with the first draft (which, to anyone who's read the older SW scripts, can see the problem with.)
One thing I will give the film I had never actually conceded before - for as much as its chops have been busted for the wooden acting, there is one cast member who actually made a good effort on the film.
...and it's with that in mind that I can't actually hate Ahmed Best as an actor.  Yes, Jar Jar is still a painful annoyance to watch, but that's a fault of the director and script more than the actor.  He was written to be a somewhat racist putz by design.  Best I at least will give points for still making the most of what he was given, which is more than I can say for a LOT of people involved in the film.

"So...if I want to get a blade on my lightsaber, I need to sign away a portion of my residuals?  More if I want it to glow?  Prowse told me this would happen..."

We now come to the other major turn for the franchise this year - amid much controversy, the franchise was bought up by Disney a few months back.  A day I will mark in history as 'The Day the Web Caught Fire'.Then again, that happens on an almost weekly basis, so it's not that impressive a title.
As for my own thoughts on it - as of this point, I'm not really going to stress it too much.  I still have the core trilogy and the memories associated with it if nothing else from here on out.  And hey, maybe with enough of their money and legal clout, Disney may try to force the theatrical cuts through after all - they like profit enough to know it would be a MAJOR payout for them.  Really, for how much the brand name has been loaned out at this point, this doesn't phase me as much as it should.  Especially since, actually, some of the other people who've had their turns with the brand have done alright by it.  Not everyone, naturally, but Lego Star Wars has been pretty damned entertaining, some of the EU material (again, not all) is interesting stuff, and for as problematic as the prequels themselves were, the Clone Wars series is actually fairly watchable.  I'm not gonna get my hopes up, but at this point, new blood can't really hurt it too much.
Also, I honestly feel like this will be a good decision for Lucas.  Because around the time I let go of most of my anger, hatred, etc for the bearded one, I found it replaced instead with the strangest sense of pity.  I look at the old images of Lucas as an idealistic, fresh-faced young filmmaker, the man we knew who was receptive to pooling ideas with other people and who went to bat for the preserving of classic films, and I look at the man we have now...and I feel like it's become a sort of warped self-fulfilling prophecy.  Now I just feel bad for this man who has become so caught up in his technology that his films have become souless, and who has gone back and revised his previous hits with a retroactive sense of revision that makes the cast of Rashomon all look like incredibly reliable narrators.  For all of his talk about moving on to other projects, he instead appears as a man who can't or won't let his glory period go and try something new.  There's something actually rather sad about it to me.
So even if Disney completely cashes in on this, I at least hope this finally allows Lucas to let go and try something new with his life, even if it's just retirement.

...and that's just the short version.  I dunno, I may revisit some of my thoughts on SW if there's enough people interested...but I warn you guys, that one could go on a long while.

OK, so not as many as one would figure for a full year.  What can I say?  Been getting better at getting more articles out there on a fairly regular basis.

Got several plans lined up for this year, so here's to this hopefully being the year things really take off.

Till next time!

Oh, by the way, I did receive the official word back from legal regarding the nudity claim when this article was first mentioned.

This image sums up their response

So, there you have it.
Sorry folks.  Maybe next time.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Third Row's 'It's Not Late Cause It's Orthodox' Christmas Special

Before we start with the promised reviews for this entry, it's time for a bit of trivia.

On January 6th, in Ireland, this day is known as Little Christmas, or, as it's known in other parts of the world Epiphany.  This day, particularly big with the Orthodox Greeks, marks the baptism of a young, and at that point on a fugitive, Jesus.
This is also where the so named 12 Days of Christmas come from

Why am I telling you this?

So I can pre-emptively shut up any claims that these holiday reviews are late.  We're still within the time window now, so I'll have to ask that you guys bear with me on the 'Deleted Scenes' entry.  It's coming, but I've been looking forward to these.

Now then, after the sheer 'why do you exist?' experience that summed up A Christmas Story 2, I felt like it would be nice to actually find some good holiday films.  Additionally, trying to find something beyond the traditional titles for this.

In seeking some variety, it made sense to try and look at how the holiday is handled in other countries.  The results I went with provide us with a nice range of heartwarming to a bit of the pants-crappingly insane.

...and what better way to start us off than with the insanity?

One of my goals I may never get to see happen - should I become a parent in the near future, I will hire Peeter Jakobi to be Santa for my kids.  They'll probably never forgive me for it, but it'll be SO worth it

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

Santa Claus...one of the most talked about and depicted characters in the holiday's tradition, and one who's been featured a great many ways.  With this regard it was only a matter of time before someone brought back the image of Old St. Nick as being less of a jolly gift-giver, and more an old world kneebreaker of the naughty (granted, in many cases that role is reserved for the Krampus.)  This older view of him is part of what makes up the first of the two entries on this list - a 2010 film from Finland that explores Europe's rather more colorful history of the bearded old man.  Based on a pair of short films, both of which are pretty damned entertaining in their own right, this movie is the expansion of director Jalmari Helander's idea of Santa as a force not to be taken lightly, and the film makes that clear fairly early on by outlining some of the older mythology about the character.  The version of the character most commonly known is referred to in the film by young lead Pietari (Onni Tommila) as "a hoax by the Coca Cola company."  He is understandably more freaked out by the older version and the film makes a good go of helping us see exactly why.

The story itself actually has two separate plotlines going that intersect as the movie goes on - the first of these is the one in which Tommila's Pietari is a major character, along with his father Rauno (played by his real life father Jorma) as a family of reindeer farmers.  The other storyline, which provides the events that disrupts their lives involving a team excavating in the mountains.  With their digging, reindeer start turning up dead, children vanish, and thefts arise.  All of these draw to one thing - the uncovering of the real Santa Claus.  The one other film I actually feel like I can compare this to in a way is Joe Dante's Gremlins.  It's a rather curious mix of comedy and horror all themed around the Christmas, while actually managing to do both well.  Actually, I'd argue this one does the horror better by comparison.  Creepy as the gremlins are (in that family friendly way,) Santa's 'elves' in this case (the beings we actually get the white-bearded old man from) are arguably much more disturbing to watch.  Peeter Jakobi, as one of these, is astonishingly nightmarish in the role in the best sense of the word.  Alongside these horror elements, the first subplot involving Pietari and his father still manages to work in the kinder side of the holidays as well.  As the misfortunes arise and Pietari suspects something is up, he is at first unsuccessful in convincing Rauno.  This leads to several moments of strain between the two, but moments where the decision to use a real life father and son pay off.  For all the friction, the movie still manages to convey a good sense of a family, and it's that nice extra bit of heart that helps make this horror-comedy have some extra stay power.

While it differs considerably from the shorts that inspired it in its approach (the originals being a sort of documentary/safety video,) this still keeps to the spirit that the concept started with.  As a warped black comedy for the holidays, this is one I hope becomes more prominent in the next few years to come.

...and with that as our first encounter with Santa, it's probably for the best he doesn't turn up in this movie as well, since this is a tough act for any other St. Nick to top.

This time around we cross over the Eurasian landmass for our next look at the holiday.  Come to think of it, we're also in for some considerable tone shift here as well, though that's certainly not a bad thing.

Maybe this is just my 'horrible person' side of me talking, but out of context, this scene looks like it'd be a great cover image for a brochure on teenage pregnancy.

Tokyo Godfathers

On paper, there's still something that feels odd about realizing the late Satoshi Kon put together a surprisingly heartwarming holiday film.  Not because I think he's a bad director, far from that, but more just because it's a bit odd considering the darker, more psychological nature of many of his other films.  So it was rather surprising to see this project from him, itself loosely based on the John Ford movie 3 Godfathers.  While keeping the core idea, three homeless people finding a child and then trying to get the child back to their parent, Kon still transports it to a different setting and cast making for a shared concept but an ultimately different story all around.  For his version, Kon transports the narrative to modern day Japan around Christmas time.  Of course, Kon also keeps that changed setting in mind with how his cast are handled - while there are a number of light bits of comedy, there are also a few rather frank scenes that show he pulls no punches about how the homeless can be treated in Japan.

While playing in elements beyond what he's traditionally known for, this movie definitely has a lot of the hallmarks of Kon's writing and direction all the same.  In particular with how he handles his three leads - in this case, an alcoholic ex-cyclist, a drag queen, and a teenage runaway.  Granted, this isn't just through Kon's script that these three are so developed - the strong voice work by the three leads (Toru Emori, Yoshiyaki Umegaki, and Aya Okamoto respectively) all give a lot of strong personality to their characters that really adds to how fleshed out they feel.  In particular, their interactions with one another - one of those areas where the Japanese practice of having the cast all record their lines together paying off - all flow very well together.  Whether it's moments like Gin and Miyuki (the alcoholic and the runaway) getting into any number of their arguments, or the two of them trying to reign in Hana's (the drag queen) getting carried away by emotion, the three have a very good chemistry together.  This is further added to by the very fluid animation that's become such a staple of Kon's work - here, barring some of the wonderfully mind-bending sequences of some of his other films, he makes up for it with the various little ways these characters all move and interact.  It's one of those movies that reminds one why Kon was so well revered among directors of Japanese animation.

The story itself, alongside the three leads it rests on, is also still a fascinating tale for Kon.  In this case, the big lynchpin that much of the story turns on is the idea of the small ways things can effect one another.  The three leads' search to find the parents of baby Kiyoko leads them on a series of unusual events through Christmas-time Japan ranging anywhere from a mob wedding, to the home of a Latin-American hitman, and one rather heartbreaking encounter involving an aged and dying homeless man.  The impressive part being these coincidences, while a bit wild at times, all still manage to feel probable within the narrative.  The end result of all these adventures is a warm, quite lively retake on a classic storyline, delivered with a mix of heartwarming and sometimes rather sad moments.

Wait a second...ending one of these on a warm, fuzzy note?  How did that happen? Ah well...first time for everything, really.

Don't worry, we'll fix that with the next entry...which, by the way, legal informs me the nudity claim I made may not be doable.  Sorry folks.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New Year's Hangover Pt 2

AKA - Shut Up and Pass the Aspirin

Where we last left this entry...
...wait, why am I recapping?  Just read yesterday!

All done?  Good.  Let's go!

"You think this ratty little apartment is a miserable existence?  I'm the one who's gonna be dealing with sparkle jokes for the rest of his life!"

-Cosmopolis

"Do you ever get the feeling that sometimes you don't know what's going on?"

Hearing this quote said in the film, I couldn't help but feel this is really the perfect way to sum up the impression I got from Cosmopolis.  Going in, I knew two things. One, it was directed by David Cronenberg, and two, it was a VERY divisive film.

Naturally, this meant I had to take a go at it.  The finished film was actually a bit of a strange ride, but one I felt glad that I took.  It's definitely an unusual sort of narrative for one thing.  Most of the film just follows enterprising Wall Street billionaire Eric Packer (in a pretty surprising turn by Robert Pattinson) through one day where he decides he has to go get a haircut.  It sounds bland as a summary, but the proverbial devil is in the details here.  Thanks to external elements, including a visit by the president, an anti-capialism protest, and the 'credible threat' of a possible attack, this is going to be an all day venture.  Like The Master, this movie's strength lies in how it tells the story rather than the story it tells.

This largely comes down to two individuals - Cronenberg and Pattinson.  It feels odd for me to actually be speaking well of Pattinson as an actor after the multi-year sideshow that Twilight has turned his career into, but this really feels like the movie that shows he can still potentially break out of that.  As Packer, Pattinson's performance is cold and remote, but this time it's actually by design.  As part of the much-discussed wealthy 1%, Packer is a person who ultimately seems detached from the rest of the world.  This is a point that's made even clearer within the film where many of the sequences take place within his limousine as things go on outside.  Much of his connection to the world has to clear his bodyguard, Torval (Kevin Durand) and his personal interactions feel very impersonal.  He even has his doctor perform a physical examination within his limousine on his way to the haircut that becomes the focus for much of this movie.  There's something genuinely unsettling to how cut off and sealed Pattinson plays the role, especially in the later half where his desire to become more directly involved in the world starts to break through in various, and dangerous, ways.  For some reason, the two actors I keep wanting to compare this performance with are Jeremy Irons in some of his younger roles and Christian Bale in American Psycho.  It's that sense of someone who has basically become so focused on numbers and wealth that they feel strangely detached and inhuman as a result.  With this as our focal character, the decision to have Cronenberg direct is a perfect choice.  His own rather stark look at the world in some of his films further aids in the sense of Packer's detachment.  When he invites people into his limousine to talk with them, camera shots are arranged so they're almost never in the same scenes together.  Even sex with him feels strangely mechanical and lacking in emotion.  Even when Packer finally tries to break out of his controlled world, Cronenberg and Pattinson both make his slowly returning to a more human state a very gradual process.  By the time of the final act, in which Eric confronts his would-be attacker (an actually fairly chilling role by Paul Giamatti,) he still seems to approach his life with a sort of curiosity that leads him to act on certain things a person would ordinarily never do, simply to see what it would be like.  It's an altogether pretty unusual movie, and definitely one that you'll either love or hate (just look at the internet if you don't believe me.)  For my own vote, I was very mixed on the film in the first half before I finally started to get into the sense of it in the later half...and felt fairly unsettled by the finale.  I'm not sure I'm gonna say this one's a gamechanger for Cronenberg, but I commend him for trying something different with this story, and personally I believe the results paid off.

and based on my calculations, I can now take back approximately 53% of my digs at Pattinson's acting ability thanks to this.  You're getting there, man.  You're getting there.

"It's like I told you, just cause the movie hinted at it doesn't mean you're Batman!"

-Looper

One thing I really have to hand to 2012, it was a very good year for sci-fi.  Now, I'll grant it wasn't perfect, but we still had some great entries that started giving the genre some legs again.  Rian Johnson's Looper was one of the films that really broke through as far as good sci-fi story that had good mainstream accessibility.  One can certainly see why as well.  The story dabbles in some interesting science fiction ideas, but doing so without drowning in the technical aspects.  The movie establishes its rules for how its setting works, particularly with regards to the time travel aspect, fairly early and in a straightforward manner.  Further, it adheres to its own rules well while crafting a good story within them.  Also, it does the one thing science fiction by its design really needs to do more often - it explores some interesting questions beyond just the tech.
In this case, alongside the technicals (which include time travel and telekinesis becoming a sort of genetic oddity) the film plays a lot with the idea of change.  Now, normally I tend to have issue with this in time travel movies, but in this case, I actually found it worked well.  This was in part because it became less about the idea of traveling back in time to alter the past, but rather about the notion of realizing things to change the present while there's still time to do so.  It's a theme the film works with on several levels, both personal and, while not as explicitly stated, looking at the setting suggests national to degrees.  It's also one that resonates even after the film is over.
Beyond the thematic ideas, the movie in general is also quite well made.  A good mix of prosthetics (provided by Kazuhiro Tsuji) and acting on the part of lead Joseph Gordon-Levitt allow for an eery believability in playing a younger version Bruce Willis.  Additionally, his scenes with Willis, alongside the similarities are also worth watching for how the two play different aspects of the same person - Levitt's Joe is content to continue free-wheeling with drug use and killing for money, while Willis's Joe had managed to actually make a good life and is now disgusted with his younger self's casual indifference.  Alongside the 'two sides of the same coin' of the two leads, the film also features some strong supporting performances, in particular by Emily Blunt and Jeff Daniels.
Given the strong reviews and response this got, I do hope this does feed the incentive to make more sci-fi films like it in the future.  Cause it's films like this that really restore faith in the genre's future.

Even just looking at Dane DeHaan, I can't help but feel like, had Lucas only waited 10 more years, he would have been a MUCH better Anakin Skywalker.  That decade could have also been devoted to a better script as well, but that's a debate for another time.

-Chronicle

I've said it before here, but under the circumstances, it bears repeating.  I've had a very tenuous relationship with the 'found footage' genre of film.  It can be used well in some cases, but a lot of times, it really does fall flat as gimmickry.  So the fact this one made it up here should say something for where this falls on the spectrum. 
In this case, it helps that the story it's attached to is one that could be told just as well without the addition of the camera.  In this case, however, it does also serve as a means for developing one of the major players in the story, Andrew (Dane DeHaan, in one of the best performances I've seen in a found footage movie.)  That said, the other standout with regards to this story is how it takes a rather old conceit - a group of young leads suddenly developing special powers - and finds a way to breath fresh life into it.  First and foremost, there is the fact that this story doesn't really go into classic traditional 'save the world' mold - rather, the three leads (the other two being Andrew's cousin Matt, played by Alex Russell, and popular Steve, played by Michael B. Jordan.)  On being granted powers, the three behave...exactly as three teenage boys would be expected to - it's a tool for goofing around.  Even the idea of acting for the greater good, represented in social activist student Monica (Anna Wood) is largely blown off by Matt when he's questioned about it.
Of course, as you may have guessed from the marketing, the film's shenanigans don't last long - particularly for Andrew - whose outcast status, paired with a troubling home life, eventually leads him to lash out.  It's Andrew's character that really gives the film a good justification for its found footage style.  As I mentioned above, this really does a LOT for developing him as a character cut off from others, something that's even observed by Matt and Steve at one point.  Through this we see things like his casual interactions with them, as well as, over time, Steve's attempts to help him actually open up more with people.  As a side note, these are actually some good moments for Jordan acting-wise.  He plays Steve with such an easy-going style and charisma that one can see why his character is not just popular, but well liked.  It's also thanks to the camera style that we see the darker sides of Andrew's life in a rather frank manner - most notably early on when the camera passively watches as he's beaten by his father.  It presents us with a straightforward look at this kid's life, and we can't help but see why he wants to be separate from it, and later why he starts striking back at it.  The later half of the film, where all Hell breaks loose, still manages to show some major shifts in the characters without really feeling forced, and the finale of the movie, where they manage to sidestep their format through use of security footage to cover the story, allows the film to come around to the idea it started from - a sort of altered take on the superhero origin story.
For a treatment by a first time writer and director (the writer in question, Max Landis, being the son of director John Landis,) this is a strong first offering.  Taking the style and story that had both been fairly well-worn and taking them in new directions made this one a pretty pleasant surprise.
As a nice bonus, I notice this film also laid to rest a lot of the talk about trying to make a live-action adaptation of Otomo's Akira.  Likely because after this movie, what could a straight lift do that this hadn't already covered?

In some professions, 'a case of the Mondays' is more than just a grouchy co-worker.

-The Cabin in the Woods

Yes, I'm writing on this one again after already have spoken for it in October.  I'll humor you guys and try and keep this one from just being a complete retread.  Though I do stand by one of my main points about this from the October entry - as someone who is generally rather iffy on the idea of the meta horror movie, this was a hard sell for me...and I have to hand it to Whedon and Goddard that they actually managed to win me over in spite of that skepticism on my part.  This is also among the many films this year that ultimately wound up on the receiving end of some rather misleading marketing, although in this case, word of mouth managed to largely undo the damage marketing had done.  Just on the ads, this looked like a bit of an odd, but played straight, horror film.  What I got out of it instead was actually a wonderfully insane black comedy that happened to frame itself around the idea of the inner workings of horror.  Going even beyond Scream's cheeky observations of worn cliches in the slasher genre, this was a film where those tropes HAD to happen.  They weren't simply just odd rules the killer adhered to, but rather a complex system that had to go just-so.  This conceit being such a big part of the movie was what really sunk it for me - given how much of the film concerned itself not just with the classic archetype victims, but with the people who were tasked with keeping the wheels turning behind the scenes, most notably two techs played with some grade-A cynicism by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford.
There's something strange about this movie the more I look back at it.  I mean, as a pure concept, this could have really fallen any way depending on how they approached and focused it.  Thanks to the tongue-in-cheek look at the inner workings of the genre, beyond the old 'how to survive' rules we all know (best summed up in one scene where Whitford comments on the complex proceedings asking "Remember when all you had to do was toss a girl into a volcano?",) the film gives itself a lot more stay power and the humor lasts beyond the first laugh.  While I still don't know if this will change the face of the horror genre as some have speculated it will, as a fan, I'm honestly quite happy this film finally got released after three years in holding.  For as much as it lampoons the nature of the horror genre, it also works as a horror story in its own right and pokes much of its fun out of an odd sense of love.
Plus, it has the nice advantage of not losing its quality amid of a sea of progressively weaker sequels, but that's just icing on an already very delicious cake.

...and now, the other side of the previous picture.

-Paranorman

Another I already wrote on this year, so here's hoping I can go two-for-two and not just reheat some leftovers.  That said, to reiterate one point from that review, I'm still kind of sad Laika don't get to making many films.  Granted, that's in part because the stop-motion style they work in is a very labor-intensive process, and I wouldn't ask them to streamline that for all the world, but looking at their films it's hard not to be impressed by the amount of work they put into them.  In an age where animation is more and more becoming the realm of CGI, the fact these guys still take on a very resource-heavy process as stop-motion is VERY commendable to me - especially when used as it is in this movie.  Following up on their success with Coraline in 2009, the company really stepped up their game in terms of attention to detail on this movie - creating an entire New England town that they put an impressive amount of detail in both building and animating.  When you watch it in action and realize it was all put together by hand, it makes you want to buy the entire crew a round for their hard work.
Of course, this movie's got more going for it than just the technicals.  The story conceived of by Arianne Sutner and Stephen Stone (with a script by Chris Butler) is actually a pretty unique tale as animated films go.  Part of what really helps said story stand out is how many elements it takes that we've come to view in one light and turns them on their ear.  Based on just how the film is first presented, one expects a straight up curse and zombie-fighting movie as the main plotline.  As it plays out however, we find that, like the film's protagonist Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee in a great voiceover role,) things are definitely not as they first seem.  While there are a lot of good laughs along the way, especially thanks to the supporting cast (in particular Norman's friend Neil and resident bully Alvin, played by Tucker Albrizzi and Christopher Mintz-Plasse respectively,) the film also has a surprisingly mature streak in its story arise in the second half.  I want to clarify what I mean on this point - while not giving too much away, when I say mature, I don't mean in the sense of just shocking subject matter, though there IS a pretty dark reveal, but rather in the fact the film gets into some rather serious looks at just what fear can drive people to.  This is done in such a way that, while handled seriously, is still fairly OK to show young audiences (though it is a bit heavy when it first sinks in.)  It's the kind of angle you don't see animated films really take on here that often, and it made seeing it done here a pretty big plus. It's also one of the more accurate depictions of bullying in recent memory, and taking that into account, the message of the film resonates without being preachy.
I'm still a bit disappointed this film didn't get more love at the box office when it came out this fall, between a great cast, a fairly fresh and at times funny story, and some phenomenal developments in stop motion all resulted in a film that deserved far more than it got.  Hopefully time will come around on this one.

....aaaaaand that makes 10.  Whew.
What can I say?  It was a pretty good year here, without even factoring in the runners up.
...which, to string you guys along further, will be part of the next entry to come.  Alongside them, several of my other miscellaneous thoughts that didn't make it into full size articles, either from lack of full play, or just not getting an opportunity to full form will rear their head in:
2012 Hangover Edition - The Deleted Scenes (Now With More Nudity!*)

*NOTE - Nudity Not Guaranteed -- Legal Dept.

Till then!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year's Hangover Edition Pt 1

Greetings and Happy New Year to everyone from the Third Row!

2012 was a pretty good year here, all things considered (actually got work going at a consistent pace again, the world didn't end, etc.)
...and now it's dead.  So let's commence the good natured dancing on its grave by this, the end of the year roundup.

Also, before someone asks, yes, the other holiday-related titles will be coming.  I'm going to be that unscrupulous weasel and defer to the concept of the Orthodox 'Little Christmas' on January 6th. 
Yes, it's a real thing.  If I was gonna bluff, you guys would know.
So keep an eye out on the 6th for a double-header.

In the meantime, here is the first part of the end of 2012 retrospective.

As anyone who's been here that far back (...all 5 of you) knows, I tend to mark the end of each year with a custom that many film fans tend to go with.  It's overdone, it's cliched, but it works.

That's right, it's time for the obligatory "Best of" for 2012.

Now, normally I usually just limit it to 5.  This year, however, I had a tougher time picking than usual.  So, in the interests of some variety and giving a bit more due, we're gonna go with the equally cliched top 10.  To be fair, these things stick for a reason.

Otherwise, the usual rules apply.

The cut-off period was yesterday, to make sure I still got it within the 2012 window.  Further, this list is based on what I was able to get to seeing.  Naturally, this will be an incomplete list and there are still several titles I've been meaning to see, so if something you guys might have been hoping for isn't on here, that may be why.  That's burned me before, so I've tried to remedy it as much as I can, but there are still limits to my access and time. Also, as in previous years, these aren't in any set order.  Just cause one is listed ahead of another doesn't mean I inherently find it better.  It's simply how they fell on the list.

With the various legal preambles now out of the way, let's send this sucker off!

"...did you SERIOUSLY just try to start the Forrest Gump conversation with me, lady?"

-The Master

Oddly, my initial thoughts on this movie are roughly about the same as my thoughts with Anderson's last feature.  Like There Will Be Blood, the story on this is potentially interesting on paper, but not an immediate sure-fire.  In fact, the aspect that appealed to me about the original story when I first heard about it was the controversy that arose when people drew parallel's between one of the film's characters and Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.  The parallels were stated as non-intentional (though it's hard to deny the reading can be made,) but it was enough to get me interested.  Like TWBB, this is a film where the execution is what really sold it for me on several levels.  First and foremost was the main cast.  After having been in his seclusion/retirement/whatever you want to call it, Joaquin Phoenix's return for this role was the best of comebacks he could have hoped for.  Which is a bit odd to say, given the nature of his character.  As we see fairly early into the film, Freddie Quell is essentially a human train wreck - he gets into fights, he is perpetually ripped on his own homemade booze (a recipe from the 'Under the Sink' school of bartending), and loosing jobs left and right.  Phoenix plays this role with the proverbial gloves off - this isn't a Hollywood-friendly human mess, he is someone you would actively avoid being around.  This then makes his attempts to clean himself up in the later parts of the film equal parts fascinating and somewhat painful to watch - because we see his old ways don't completely leave him.  Equally worthy of praise is Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Lancaster Dodd, the curious founder of the Scientology-esque 'The Cause' that gives Quell a new lease on life.  Hoffman's take on the role is one where one can see why his followers come to him - he plays it with an odd sort of paternal air.  He feels like the warm father figure, even as you look at what he's teaching and think "...this is nuts."  Further, his dynamic with Phoenix alone is worth the price of admission.  Further building on this paternal element, he and Phoenix have a strange sort of father-son relationship, with the troubled Quell acting as a prodigal son - wanting to do well in Dodd's eyes, but still prone to his, for lack of a better term, fuck-ups.  Alongside these two, the other standout role goes to Amy Adams as Dodd's wife - acting the true believer to Quell's prodigal convert, she has a bit more of an understated role, but certainly doesn't simply sit on the sidelines and let the other two handle everything.  Her conflicting loyalties as Dodd becomes enamored with Quell give her some great moments to try and balance driven and concerned.
Besides the acting, Anderson's directing remains top-notch on this film.  While the story is a bit of an odd one to wrap around at first, like TWBB before it, the main focus of the story is less on the external events and more on the changes in the characters, in this case Quell and how The Cause effects his life.  Anderson's approach is one where, even if the narrative isn't clear, his characters are still compelling enough to keep you watching regardless, and the film itself will stay with you much longer than standard Hollywood fare.  A trip further benefitted from thanks to the cinematography by Mihai Malaimare Jr, creating some amazing shots at points, such as the deserts featured in the later part of the movie.  I actually kind of regret the fact I never had an opportunity to see this one in the 70mm print that was getting a limited release - a director like Anderson has an eye that really can benefit from that style.
Admittedly, this is a film which I can't guarantee is going to please everyone - like I said, the story can be a bit of a hurdle for people given how much of it's actually internalized, and well-played as he is, Freddie Quell is a tricky protagonist for some viewers to sympathize with, but I'd still at least say it's worth giving a look to see if it clicks for you or not.

Additionally, I just want to say it's a shame that Phoenix has probably deep-sixed his odds with the Academy after saying he doesn't really like the awards campaigning much.  For a role like this, I'd have been very happy to see him take it.

"See? It even says we're lost, right here on the map."

-Moonrise Kingdom

Here's where I make an embarassing confession as a film fan - prior to this, I'd only ever seen one of Wes Anderson's movies (it was Rushmore, for the record.  Been a few years, but I did enjoy it.)  So I was going into this somewhat blind.  What I got was a film that, to my pleasant surprise, was actually rather refreshing on a number of levels.  Like Rushmore, there was a certain odd quirkiness to the cast, but at the same time, it still felt believably so, rather than coming across as manufactured.  I'm going to credit a large part of this with the film's two young leads.  In their debut roles, Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward both leave strong impressions with two very distinct types.  This is arguably even more impressive when one considers the nature of their storyline calls for the two running off together and falling in love (well...as much as kids their age can.)  The dynamic between them and how they get together is part of what really surprised me on the film.  It's done with a minimal touch and it's still endearing watching these two interact.  For lack of a better word, their interaction is cute without feeling gimmicky.  Anderson doesn't really play up any of the moments with excess of emotion and trusts the actors to really help get the emotion across.  Fortunately, these kids are up for the task.
Further, the rest of the cast are also used quite well - employing several well-known names, among them - Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, and Bill Murray, Anderson gives them each strong roles while also playing, to degrees, outside of their usual roles.  In particular the two standouts here being Willis and Murray.  Willis's Captain Sharp is one of those roles that reminds that with the right role, he really is a good actor.  Here balanced as a police officer who, while he has his job to do, also wants to try and do the right thing for these two kids.  It's a role that's a curious mix of warm and awkward, and Willis plays it well.  On the other side of the spectrum, Bill Murray as Suzy's father is very much outside of the image of him we've come to expect.  As a man who's become aware his marriage has drifted and his wife is having an affair, it's a bit odd seeing Murray play a depressive side.  Which, in some ways, actually helped the role.  There were points where I genuinely felt bad for the guy based on the very deadened way Murray played him.  His acting style actually lends itself to depression bizarrely well that way.  Additionally, I just want to say, Edward Norton as a well-meaning, but somewhat oblivious scoutmaster actually worked far better than I expected it to.
The two other things I really have to commend this film for are both in the realm of the visual - first in Robert D. Yeoman's cinematography - the island this movie takes place on is a very nice location in general, and through him we really get a sense of that.  Some of the parts of the island genuinely look like they'd be great to explore just from what we see on screen.  Part of this is also thanks to the editing by Andrew Weisblum.  Alongside helping capture the appeal of the wild areas of the film, his editing on this actually helps capture the mood in some of the other areas as well - feeling different with certain parts, such as the film's opening where we follow Norton through the boy scout camp's set up, seeing it all just running in a straightforward fashion, right on schedule.  These two are also a major part of what helps Anderson's style feel like more than the gimmick that detractors dismiss it as.
The more I write on this, the more I realize I now have a backlog to go through.  But that's a matter for another time.

You know, it dawns on me now, and if someone remembers this better than I do, please correct me...
I don't rightly recall if they ever actually ordered anything here or not.  Then again, maybe Dave already covered that before we got there in the narrative.

-John Dies At the End

You know, for the first part of the year, if you'd asked me what the biggest surprise of 2012 would be, my answer would be the fact that Joss Whedon's The Avengers succeeded despite the fact that there was a good chance that the film could have been a complete trainwreck.  This would be before fall came around and Don Coscarelli dethroned him for pulling off the bigger pleasant surprise to me.  When I finally got to reading David Wong's novel on which this movie is based, I walked away from it with one question: How in the Hell were they going to get something this large and this outlandish into a film?  Even the initial teasers left me feeling very uncertain on the film, despite my feeling slightly assured by the presence of Don Coscarelli (Because if there's one thing Phantasm and Bubba Ho-Tep have proven, if you want a man who can handle a horror story with its own bizarre universe and set of rules, Don is more than up for the task.)  It wasn't until the red band trailer was released last month that I finally started to become optimistic.  So much so that, when the advanced rental hit OnDemand/iTunes, I caved to my curiosity and rented it within a day of its release.  From there, I was pleasantly surprised to find my suspicions weren't just laid to rest, they were savagely bludgeoned to death.
That said, I do want to confirm one thing now to anyone who's read the book - no, it isn't a complete 1:1 lift.  That's to be expected, really.  A completely faithful adaptation would require more time and money than even the A-list directors traditionally get.  Much as I love Coscarelli, he's not a director who's afforded such luxuries of time and budget.  For what he had to work with, however, he did the next best thing - while he boiled the story down, he also accomplished the much trickier act of actually keeping the book's wonderfully insane spirit intact for its transition to film.  This makes itself clear right from the very beginning - starting the film off with the book's 'riddle that will reveal the terrible secret of the universe,' Coscarelli's direction and editing start this movie on all cylinders in this sequence, moving through Wong's chain of thought with the quick smooth edits that feel like something out of an Edgar Wright movie.  It's a nice burst of energy to start the film off, and really gets things going on the right foot.
As with the first two entries, the choices in casting really help as well.  In this case, relative unknowns Chase Williamson and Rob Mayes as the film's heroes, Dave and John, both prove surprisingly well cast.  Williamson handling the trickier parts of Dave's somewhat withdrawn personality pretty smoothly, and especially when played off of Mayes's turn as the gleeful slacker John.  The two have the task of carrying the film and do so quite well, .  In the supporting cast, there are two big coups that further help.  The first goes to Paul Giamatti (who also produced) as the film's 'average joe' reporter Arnie that the movie's events are being recounted to.  Giamatti goes from casually humoring Dave to becoming increasingly more unwound and frustrated with each new reveal, and Giamatti gives the role the right level of frantic energy as Arnie discovers the world is more unhinged than he could have even previously begun to believe it.  The other being Clancy Brown as spiritualist Dr. Albert Marconi.  This in particular surprised me, given the role Marconi has in this film is an altogether different breed of animal from the way Marconi was initially written...and to be honest, that's not a bad thing here.  Under the circumstances, Brown gets the chance to play the role as an ultimately different character - a mix of somewhat loopy self-help guru with a love of theatrics and a man who, despite that goofiness, still knows more about the workings of the world than any of us will.  For all intents and purposes, I'm actually still rather impressed with how well this film held up.  As an adaptation it's admittedly a bit wanting (largely due to realizing certain elements are trimmed back, in particular the character of Amy feels a bit awkward given much of her role is excised, but just on the strength of the film it doesn't feel too problematic.)  Further, the effects are somewhat hampered by the budget, but not in any way that really detracts too much from the film.  While there is a minor sense of 'it could have been more', the fact is, it still carries on its own.  The end result is still an insanely fun movie with a wonderfully skewed sense of its story.  When this makes it into theaters later this month, I'd say it's worth tracking down.  Hell, I'm actually looking at trying to see it on a big screen just because it'd be fun to see it again in a proper theater.

As a great man once said:
"...well, THAT escalated quickly."

-Django Unchained

Oh, Tarantino.  All these years and I STILL love the Hell out of your affinity for older cinema.  Following from his previous take on World War II and revenge films, Tarantino explores a blend of vengeance, blaxploitation, and spaghetti westerns this time around.  You know, between this, Inglorious Basterds, and Death Proof, I've rather liked this direction in Tarantino's career.  While I still love the modern crime stories that made up the first part of his career, it's a lot of his more recent works that have really allowed his voice to shine through clearest.  Django is no exception to this rule, and even taking an entirely new setting, the story in terms of direction and writing is VERY much one of his own in the best sense of the word.
To anyone who's only looked at the adverts, let me just say, the marketing is a bit misleading.  Not bad at all, but definitely a bit misleading.  You still get some awesome bounty hunting adventures with Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz, and yes, they ARE awesome.  But the storyline involving DiCaprio's plantation is more its own separate story arc...and actually one that plays out in such an ultimately unexpected way I actually like that it's a separate plotline from the bounty hunting.  They're both great halves, but at the same time, I do feel like the latter is better for the fact Tarantino lets it stand as its own narrative that branches off from the bounty hunting storyline.
Alongside the overall two-fold plot, this continues to play with Tarantino's love of dialogue.  While the setting doesn't allow him to work in as much for pop cultural ruminations, he still works in some great conversations, including a downright priceless scene involving debating the logistics of Klan hoods.  It's one of those moments that can't really be summed up more than that.  It really just has to be seen/heard to be properly believed.  Alongside the dialogue, Tarantino continues to craft some memorable characters, and in his ability to cast them.  In Django himself, Jamie Foxx reminds us that he's got the skills to carry a lead role.  Through him, we get both the likable elements of Django as well as the badass element, which is especially necessary in the film's blood-soaked final act.  Alongside him, Christoph Waltz (who took the best supporting Oscar the last time he worked with Tarantino) makes a great partner as bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz.  Actually, that was a big part of what makes the first part of the movie so enjoyable - Foxx and Waltz work very well with each other, and it makes what could have just been a good set of performances into a great team.  It's also that good dynamic the two have which helps with some of the more intense parts of the movie's second half - as each has to hold the other in check when confronted with things that are, understandably, repellent.  With the second half, we also get the other standout performances of the movie.  First of these being Leonardo DiCaprio as plantation owner Calvin Candie.  This is one of those types of villain roles, you know the ones.  The kind where you can tell the actor is having a blast playing such an evil scumbag.  The benefit of these being, usually if the actor is having this much fun with the role, they're also doing a good job.  DiCaprio gives Candie a wonderfully psychotic air that makes him equal parts dangerous and entertaining to watch.  In particular there's one moment where he drops the jovial side and starts letting a darker element in that makes him genuinely feel threatening to watch.  It's no wonder people are saying he may be due for a best supporting nomination for this one.  The other major standout performer in this, playing an ultimately different role from his usual, is Samuel L. Jackson as Candie's right-hand slave, Stephen.  For an actor traditionally associated with playing take-charge types, it's surprising to see Jackson taking on the role of a bitter old man, but one still quite sharp and devoted to keeping the status quo running on the plantation.
The film admittedly does have a few minor shortcomings - as the female lead, Kerry Washington feels ultimately rather underutilized.  Admittedly, I can somewhat understand that given the setting and the story, but it's still a bit surprising to see from a Tarantino script.  Other than that, the only other major setback lies in parts of the film's pacing, in particular in the last act (which, while a blast to watch, is also rather chaotic in its starts and stops.)  Part of this may be the fact this was the first time a Tarantino film wasn't edited by the late Sally Menke, with Fred Raskin taking the reins after assisting with editing on several of Tarantino's earlier movies.  Despite these shortcomings, the film is ultimately a mix of many of the things that have marked Tarantino's career and made him standout so far - sharp dialogue, great acting, a healthy dose of love for niche cinema, memorable editing that reflects that love, and, once again, a wildly varied soundtrack that, in this case, works well despite its anachronisms.  A further reminder why I'm glad whenever he has a new film out.

"Some day, this will all be yours...
...it will look a lot better once the flood waters drain, naturally."

-Beasts of the Southern Wild

...and then we end part 1 of our list on a much calmer, but still VERY good note.  This was another film where I knew very little about what to expect going in, and in some ways, I think that really was a good way to watch this.  Building from a short film and a stage play before it, director Benh Zeitlin has put together a film that manages to be surprisingly powerful while dealing with a relatively grounded subject.
Taking place in the fictional southern community known as the Bath Tub, Zeitlin and writer Lucy Alibar use storms and melting ice caps as frame work for an ultimately internalized, and astonishingly well-acted storyline.   In this community, they choose to focus on young Hushpuppy (played by a remarkable Quvenzhan√© Wallis,) a young girl living with her father, Wink (Dwight Henry, equally strong.)  We learn fairly early on that their lives aren't quite as secure as she initially believes, Wink is unwell, and as we find later, is dying.  As this new sinks in, messages about the world becoming unwound resound to her with images of the melting ice-caps, their community flooding, and the return of prehistoric aurochs.  At the core of all of this is a single simple, but resounding message - this is a film focused on Hushpuppy and her trying to come to grips with the change that is now bearing down on her life.  It's particularly telling that the disasters and flooding don't resonate anywhere near as much with her as the idea of losing her father does.
This is where the film's biggest strength comes in - as a very young newcomer, Wallis has a big job to tackle with this role.  Luckily, she takes it on full-force.  The tough love relationship she has with her father is played well on both sides of the dynamic, and even with the two yelling at each other, we can still see the love this family has for one another.  This is part of what really helps with Wallis's performance as the movie goes on.  She doesn't simply switch gears as necessary, but rather we follow along with her as it slowly sets in that her father is dying.  This leads to one particularly wrenching moment in the later half of the film as Wink tries to get Hushpuppy to leave him - she thinks he's trying to get rid of her, but meanwhile he simply doesn't want her to have to see her father die.  The confrontation between the two is a potent scene and, yes, I'll admit it, it got to me as I saw it unfold.  It feels odd to simply write about this film to try and sell it after how much of a surprise it was for me.  It really is one that has to be seen, given how much of the movie rests on its lead and the performances.  The script itself is also good, don't get me wrong, but much of this can't entirely be done justice in text.  Further alongside the acting, I just have to say, I loved the cinematography by Ben Richardson.  The way a lot of this film is shot works well with the setting - while we have wide sweeping shots with the scenes of the overall changing world (particularly the aurochs,) much of the main story is filmed in a way that actually almost feels like a child's perspective - lower shots and the camera not staying fixed within certain shots.  It further amplifies the idea that we're seeing this story from the perspective of a child, and that's really part of what makes the story so impressive in the first place.
I really hope the speculation about Wallis getting a nomination for this movie comes to pass.  One part because she's earned it, and one part because it feels like more people need to give this movie a shot.  It's a very unique film overall, and done with enough love on several levels that it's hard not to be impressed with the final product.  Admittedly it may throw some people as its style is somewhat different, but it's still well worth at least giving it a chance.

...and wait, we're only half-done?
I forgot how long these writeups can go.  What does this mean?

That's right, I'm going to string you all along with a cliff-hanger!
Part 2 to follow tomorrow.  I promise (hey, I'm cruel enough to hit you guys with a cliffhanger, but I'm not THAT cruel!)