15 January, 2012

What I Watched Last Month…

Or rather, what I watched…
June 2011

X-Men: First Class. (at the movies)
What an enormous let down! Best X-Men movie ever?!? Hardly!
I guess my biggest problem with the story is summed up by the word "motivation". Or lack thereof. Aside from Magneto, and Shaw, the main villain, I don't know of any mutant in the film who has the motivation to do what they do in this story. This is probably the reason why Eric (Magneto) is the most compelling and interesting character to be had here. I have great problems with the way his motivations have been retrofitted compared to X-Men and X-2 as well, where now it looks like he's really just taken on the teachings of the villain that's come before him, rather than being interesting enough to originate them himself. Disappointing.
Why does Charles, as he's taken directly from his graduation, never give a second thought to what ever he was planning to do with his life before that CIA agent appeared? I'm sure there could be thousands of reasons, but none are articulated in any way. The same goes for the crew of young mutants they round up — they're demonstratively in mortal danger, why haven't they run back home to safe anonymity? Never explained.
For that matter, why have Charles and Eric only managed to round up teenagers? They were obviously also looking at other mutants as well, as evidenced with the Logan cameo. Poorly written, plotted and executed. The audience, time after time, are simply asked to not question what is not shown or explained, and please accept it instead and move on. Lazy.
The movie looked fine, with high production values and good special effects, but nothing that broke any ground. The acting was all fine too.
In the end, I felt no connection to just about any of the characters except for Eric and maybe Mystique, as the rest were never presented as anything more than 2-dimensional scenery. Even Charles, whose personality we got to see more of than just about anyone else other than Eric, is underdeveloped and flat.
I'd love to know what everyone else was so impressed by, because for me it was very lacking.

Bridesmaids. (at the movies)
What a pleasant surprise this turned out to be! I was expecting low-grade, boring, chick-flick, rom-com, but it was so much better than that. I went with my wife, and she was expecting something like "Sandra Bullock starring in Hollywood-slick The Hangover Part 3 for chicks". Instead, what we got was something much more a near-indie, well acted, well cast, witty comedy with a good heart.
There are charming performances, with what seems to be some nicely under-rehearsed, more natural and/or ad-libbed scenes. Once again, not Hollywood-slick and so, for me anyway, more interesting, real and much more human.
It's not earth-shatteringly insightful, it's a little obvious and predictable in places, but definitely good fun. There's some good physical comedy, just enough cringe comedy, some good banter and even a touch of screwball comedy here and there. Amazingly all mixing well and all living happily side-by-side, scene-by-scene. Well worth watching.

Super 8. (at the movies)
It's hard to talk about Super 8 without giving too much away. It's a fabulous movie — great fun to watch, with brilliant performances from the cast of kids/teens, enormous heart and emotional content, great tension and suspense, wonderful frights and starts and a rollicking adventure. That being said, it's so unashamedly from the Spielberg mould of summer holiday, semi-coming of age, bunch of misfit kids, small American town, adventure films, as to be almost embarrassing. That is, if it weren't so incredibly well done, so slickly produced, and then turned up to 11. JJ Abrams certainly is mastering the same ability as Spielberg had in his 70s and 80s films to manipulate suspense and to deftly push emotional buttons, but as long as you leave all cynicism at the door to the cinema, this is one brilliant popcorn movie!

Kung Fu Panda. (on DVD)
This is the second time I've seen KFP, the first since the cinema release, and I did so in prepping for KFP2.
I loved it. Again. It's an extraordinarily well made animated movie, with nice, fun character design, likeable characters with interesting personalities, and absolutely fabulous production design and colour design.
The interesting thing about KFP is that it's really thin when it comes to the actual story. Sweet as it is, there's not a lot of depth or breadth to it, being quite straight forward in plot and execution. No matter though, it's presented so wonderfully and with such wit and fun that it's too good a ride to look for complexity or unnecessary cleverness.
One of the standout aspects of KFP for me are the exciting fight scenes and training scenes. They're very clearly presented, regardless of their amazing complexity and imagination. There's constant camera movement, numerous participants, and often many props and changing landscapes, and yet we're never lost as to where to look or what's going on. Very difficult to do but done brilliantly.
The other good thing about these action scenes is that there's plenty of them, and always done in such a way that they progress the story, never thrown in gratuitously.
Similarly, although it's a very funny movie, it's never at expense of the story, only ever in service of it. I laughed truthfully and often.
There's absolutely no boring sections, even in the quieter scenes. There's wit and charm and interest throughout.
I thought the acting was fabulous, especially from Hoffman and Black. This is Possibly Black's best, as he was actually a likable, sympathetic character!
A brilliant, fun movie! Loved it! I could only hope that KFP2 can be as good.

Kung Fu Panda 2. (at the movies)
This had a lot to live up to in my eyes, being the sequel to Kung Fu Panda, and unfortunately it doesn't make the cut.
It's weighed down with muddled story telling and theme (are we saving Kung-Fu? China? Finding out who Po is/where he comes from?). It had a rushed, awkward beginning to the story and was definitely less skilful in depicting the fight scenes, which this time are not so easy to follow. Nor were they as useful in progressing the story, this time feeling much more gratuitously placed because it was time for an action scene, rather than being a good and fun way to progress the story.
It was good to see some effort, in the right direction, to round out one of the Furious Five characters (Tigress). It would have been nice to have see even more.
Unfortunately KFP2 also had nowhere near as many laughs as KFP either, nor was it as memorable.
In the end, a disappointing sequel.

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