17 January, 2013

What I Watched Last Month…

What I watched in… 
July 2012

Men in Black 3 (at the movies)
I quite liked MiB3, which is nice because I was afraid of being really disappointed like I was with MiB2
I thought a few things were a little undercooked, and the editing was embarrassingly shoddy in a few places, and with its time travel story there were a few too many coincidences for me. They did manage to side step the problem of an overly confusing plot which usually happens with time travel movies though, keeping it nice and simple for the most part. The story was nicely anchored in both J's and K's personal lives without leaning on that old crutch where it's a romance for one of the principals. 
I'd like to see an MiB4 — I think there's still a huge amount of scope in the concept and, to be honest, it's probably only being held back by the continuing use of the original stars Smith and Jones. 

The Amazing Spider-Man (in 3D at the movies)
I am really comfortable with this film's incarnation of Spider-Man in the form of Andrew Garfield. He looks and acts the part so well for me. I love the wise-cracking and the physique. His Peter Parker may be a little too cool for my liking though — not quite nerdy enough. The acting was really good from him and Emma Stone as well, with Martin Sheen and Sally Fields unfortunately not having enough to chew on to really make a great impact. 
The action and fighting style was also really great and felt very much like the way Spider-Man would actually fight. 
The script took a few too many story shortcuts for my liking, simply relying on the audience to know and/or accept advancements in plot without actually presenting them. 
The plot with The Lizard really felt secondary and possibly unnecessary. Unfortunately there needs for be a mandatory bad guy, but this felt mostly tacked on and obligatory, instead of being central to the overall story. Then again, the crux of the origin — Uncle Ben's murder — carried little emotional weight either. The focus didn't seem to be sharply trained on either aspect of the story, perhaps due to the inclusion of the mystery around Peter's parents' disappearance. 
The 3D added nothing to the experience. It wasn't distracting, but neither did it do much for thrills or storytelling, and so why even bother? 
All in all this was an entertaining film, with enough good work to want me to see the (obviously coming) sequel, hoping they will have a story with some bite the second time around. This first outing was pretty forgettable though and didn't hold much weight emotionally. 

Hugo (on DVD)
After watching this I wondered what all the fuss had been about while this was still in cinemas. It certainly looked beautiful, and the colour palette used was really arresting and pretty, but it felt like the story was missing a solid backbone and focus, especially emotionally. 
Maybe it requires a certain frame of mind to be in which I couldn't get into because I wasn't watching it in a cinema. 

Batman Begins (on DVD)
I watched the earlier two Nolan Batmans as a lead up to the third in the trilogy, as any self-respecting comic book nerd would, beginning of course with Batman Begins
This still stands as an interesting, logical and cold dissection of how a man could actually arrive at being The Batman. There's emotion there, in Bruce, Alfred and others, but it still has a mostly cold centre. 
I've always liked the contrast of this with Tim Burton's Batman — Nolan's version strains so hard to root itself in reality, even if it's an exaggerated one, while Burton happily twisted reality into a form that made Batman's existence acceptable. 

The Dark Knight (on DVD)
With a lot of comic book movies, once the origin's been told, it's very hard to make the hero still interesting and engaging in subsequent outings. Nolan avoids this here not only by having a very compelling foe but also by firmly laying out in the plot that this is not so much an eternal battle for Batman, but a planned obsolescence by Bruce — a route to retirement. 
Unfortunately there's two movie's worth of content here (both story and information), but I tell you what, it does make the whole thing all the more engaging and challenging. If it wasn't for the plot threads of Harvey Dent transforming into such a monster, perhaps this would have been too trivial and shallow to be so good a film. 
I think this, probably the third viewing of TDK for me, finally had me appreciating the things in this film I'd always complained about: namely the introduction of Two-Face so late in the film, which lengthens the running time so much, making it feel like it should have been in denouement when it wasn't, as well as the whole mobile phone sonar schtick, which never felt like it had earned its place before. 
Watching this certainly got me hot for the third Nolan Batman. 

Brave (at the movies)
I was disappointed with Brave, mostly because I came out feeling quite ambivalent. The production values were as high as ever for Pixar, but these films begin to feel less and less like animated movies and more like live action films. Sometimes I wonder if the constraints that were imposed on animated films due to their being hand drawn were part of what made them separate, unique and special. Certainly, beautiful as it is, Brave is another example of the super-photo-realism of backgrounds and environments that make me lament for some more stylised and artistic treatments of same. 
My biggest problem though was that I thought the story was thematically weak, all the way from the title onwards. I found the character arcs for the two main principals very unrewarding. It seems to me that it was the mother that did all the learning and changing while the daughter, who the film is really supposed to be about, very much got her way in the end (for right or wrong) with her only real growth being that she learned how to maturely present herself while doing so. 
It was structurally haphazard, with awkwardly introduced elements and plot points left hanging. To be honest, any movie that opens with a voice over immediately earns my suspicion for lack of confidence and conviction in its own storytelling. It just wasn't as seamless and magical in its story telling as most Pixar films are. 
In subsequent reading about the themes and story, especially in relation to the whole Disney princess thing, there's a lot of discussion trying to convince me that it was all a very subversive method of twisting that (Disney princess) trope on its head. If that's the case (and I'm not convinced) then it was so subversive so as to be practically totally obfuscated. In the end that was the most disappointing aspect of Brave: Pixar's finally falling to the conventions of Disney's formulas. 

The Dark Knight Rises (at the movies) 
This was a worthy finale to Nolan's Battrilogy, but I don't think it pays to think too hard about the intricacies of the plot. 
To me it had a real feel more like a James Bond film for most of it. That may be due to Nolan's eschewing the more gaudy aspects of a super-hero adaption, though I was really surprised by how much Nolan had decided to up the ante in the move away from reality towards his exaggerated version of it. 
I felt a little cross that DKR seemed more like a direct sequel to BB rather than the end of a trilogy. I know there were very important story elements of TDK played out here, but there was so much more of a connection to BB than TDK
The supporting characters were all tops: Catwoman, Blake, Gordon, Alfred, the villains, all. Again, it may be interesting to have such numerous characters, but it really did pull the focus so much away from Batman and made him seem more like a co-star in his own story. Batman/Bruce Wayne felt like he was hardly in it! Batman especially! 
There's some real tension in a lot of this, some 'ticking time bomb' suspense that may have been spun out too long, and it's really quite relentlessly grim and trying, but that is the universe that has been set up for this Batman, and the telling of that universe, wrapping up here, is done very well. 


  1. The biggest problem with Hugo was the advertising. It makes it out to be this fun romp with kids and a mysterious mechanical man (the station guard has little to no role in the book) when it's really just about how awesome movies are with a nod to a real life pioneer. I'd read the book so I knew what I was getting, and I loved it.

    Also, for a movie that ends pretty much the same way as the Iron Giant, Dark Knight was relentlessly grim indeed. I guess that happens when you spend longer developing the villain than the hero. (Similar to the Dark Knight.) That one was violent and chaotic, like the Joker. DKR was oppressive and bleak, like Bain.

  2. Did you mean that The Dark Knight Rises ends the same way as The Iron Giant (rather than The Dark Knight)? I agree in that case, and it's so obvious now that you say that.
    I love your comparison of those two movies to their respective villains too. I guess Batman Begins is kind of cold and calculated, like Ra's al Ghul. Batman has almost always been more about the villains than the hero anyway.
    I'm not even inclined to give Hugo another viewing. Just not interested. It seemed to lose it's way a bit structurally.

  3. Yeah, the Dark Knight Rises. The hero flies out over the ocean (or in to space) to meet an oncoming nuke. Bam. Iron Giant did it better. ;)

    And for a story celebrating moving pictures, the book of Hugo is strangely better than the film. For comic fans it's quite a treat too, because when you read the book which is intercut with huge full page pencil illustrations, those illustrations advance the story. They're not just there to look good. You might get a dozen in a row, or more, and then when the prose picks up again, you realise you've just read those images, not just looked at them. It's kinda sneaky that way.

    I imagine it would make a great transitional read for voracious novel readers to get in to comics.

  4. Hard to beat The Iron Giant in any department really. I think I'm overdue for the annual viewing of it you so rightly advised I should do. ;)

    I didn't know that about the Hugo novel. That sounds really interesting and delightfully subversive.