No Oscars 2014 Commentary

First off, I just want to thank you, my loyal minions, for the site traffic for the past few weeks. That rant over Frozen seems to be my most read entry here, and it’s very good to know that I am not alone in my impressions over that film. So, thank you! ;)

Secondly, I want to apologize in advance. As you know, Oscars 2014 is roughly 18 hours away and some of you might be wondering whether I’ll be providing a live commentary of it. Sadly, I won’t be able to. Compared to last year when the Oscars fell during a free-day at work, this year’s Oscars fall on a working day; hey, I need to earn in order to conquer the world eventually. ;)

So, there; thank you for your support, and I’m sorry if you won’t be seeing a live Oscar commentary tomorrow.

See you at the movies!

Evil Dr. Bok :)

Why I Think “Frozen” Is An Overrated Film

*this entry will contain SPOILERS

I already mentioned in my previous post that I thought Frozen falls quite short in practically every aspect that Tangled did better, that is except for the songs. I maintain this idea as I’ve seen Frozen for a second time. Now, before I get lynched once more by those loudmouthed idiots over the internet who believe shouting louder makes them more correct, I’m not saying that Frozen is bad; I’m simply saying that is it an overrated film. It’s not bad by any account; it’s just not as well-made as compared to Tangled, nor does it even stand on its own next to Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, or even the non-musical Wreck-It Ralph.

An Organic Unity of Story, Song, and Spectacle

The really good Disney movies have an organic unity of story, song, and spectacle. The story is simple, but not condescending. By condescending, I mean it doesn’t treat its audience like children. Beauty and the Beast is one; it may be the most fairytale of the Disney Renaissance as well as the most girly, but its simple but intelligently written storyline is appealing for the kids and not distracting for the adults. Its script respects the intelligence of the audience, unlike Frozen. Remember Anna’s resurrection scene when Olaf mentioned something about “self-sacrifice being able to thaw a frozen heart?” Thank you for pointing out the obvious, Olaf! Thank you for ruining that scene which I thought was clichéd as hell, and which was bordering on being a deus ex machina. So there, we have one of Frozen’s problems; a distractingly written script which looks down on its audience. Another recent Disney film had that problem; it was The Princess and the Frog. If any children’s film is guilty of being too condescending, it would be that.

“But surely, Evil Dr. Bok,” you ask, “Surely the songs make up for the script’s shortcomings?” Uh, yes, in a pretty lazy way, and no that isn’t a good thing. Disney songs are good, but they contribute to the narrative drive of the film. Again, I would give the example of Beauty and the Beast as that film is the gold standard for Disney musicals in the 90s. Every song, and I mean every song, is absolutely necessary as it contributes some character development as well as help in the film’s narrative. The opening song number establishes Belle and her status in the village, how she feels that she doesn’t fit quite in, and it also establishes one of the key characters, Gaston. See the economy in that song number? See how it merges into the film’s narrative?  That’s the organic unity I’m talking about. What does the Olaf song have to do with the story? Fine, it’s cute, and the novelty of seeing a snowman in summer is fun, but what does it contribute to the entire narrative? Maybe I need a copy of the lyrics to fully appreciate it, but for now, it would seem that there’s no other purpose for the song other than, “Hey we have a talking snowman here. Let him sing.”

And for those particularly close listeners, see how every single song in Beauty and the Beast, while particularly catchy, feels organic? “What do you mean by that, Evil Dr. Bok?” you ask, and I reply, “There is a consistency in the musicality of the song numbers and the score.” We know it was Alan Menken who scored the film, and we also know that it was Alan Menken who composed the song’s music. That’s the consistency I’m talking about. The problem with Frozen was that there is a disjoint between the film’s score and its songs.

Speaking of musical consistency , there isn’t even a good consistency within the songs themselves. We’ve got the opening chant, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman”, “For the First Time in Forever”, that duet with the Gaston wannabe, the inevitable “Let It Go”, and the Troll and Olaf songs. If you have a copy of the OST, try to listen to them to see what I mean. Now try to listen to Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Hercules, and to an extent, Tangled (except for the opening song number). Each song has a musical consistency with each other. While some songs maybe too comedic at times, it works within the film’s world itself. Some songs in Frozen are too poppy; definitely at odds with the opening chant in the film. While the chant does give an interesting sound, the succeeding pop tunes tend to diminish it, which is why when we finally hear that chant again when Elsa finally thaws Arendelle, one can’t help but feel that the motif was underdeveloped.

As for the spectacle, well, I guess I can’t complain much about Frozen’s look; the ice motifs are definitely fun to look at (the “Let it Go” sequence, I’ll admit, had me forming goosebumps. And if there’s something that Disney has perfected, it’s coming up with the appropriate “MTV” for its musical numbers (I don’t mean that as a derogatory remark, by the way). Which leads me to one minor (more of nitpicking) complaint…

Where’s the villain?

Beauty and the Beast had Gaston; Tangled, despite having way too many antagonists, both real and pseudo, had Mother Gothel; Sleeping Beauty had Malificent; Wreck-It Ralph had King Candy; and The Lion King had Scar. What did Frozen have? A snivelly old man from Weasel Town, and a Gaston wannabe who’s character reversal is not well established because we were paying too much attention to the songs. Yes, this film meant to examine the sisterhood relationship of Anna and Elsa, and I appreciate that, but I have to admit I missed seeing an actual villain in this film. Tangled, surprisingly, had one very interesting villain. Gothel wasn’t as established as Scar or Gaston, but she makes up for it for her slyness and sheer manipulation. She managed to keep that flower hidden for god knows how many years. She was able to sneak into the castle to kidnap Rapunzel as an old lady, AS AN OLD LADY! She climbed up the terrace AS AN OLD LADY! My goodness I just realized how cool that is! That and she managed to manipulate Rapunzel into singing to for the next 18 years, she manipulated the Stabbington Brothers into working for her, and she stabbed Eugene Fitzherbert at the back! And she was supposed to be one of the “weaker” villains in Disney lore! What did Frozen have? Not much.

Final Words

The really good Disney films have stand out musical numbers, and to that aspect, I will again say that Frozen’s musical numbers really stand out. They are hummable, catchy, and indeed well composed. That, however, is its “downfall”. I thought that Frozen’s musical numbers are distracting in the sense that it distracts you from the problematic script, and the (I hate using the word) cliché storyline. In the end, one remembers the songs, not the story. Is this a good thing? Not exactly. Always remember that  film is still primarily a narrative driven medium, and regardless of how good the songs and eye candy is, the story, songs, and spectacle must be unified.  In this aspect, Tangled beats Frozen in practically every other department except for the songs.

Blue is the Warmest Color vs. Shame (an R-rated/NSFW post)

*disclaimer: For my students who follow this blog, I would advice that you guys skip reading this. Most of the stuff I’m talking about here doesn’t concern you guys, and I also wouldn’t want to be directly responsible for your deformation of character, so please STAY AWAY FROM THIS ENTRY!!!

I don’t usually disagree with James Berardinelli as much as I disagree (albeit in a charming way) to Armond White, but my goodness a part Berardinelli’s review of Blue is the Warmest Color goes like this:

“Watching Blue is the Warmest Color provides viewers with that rarest of motion picture opportunities: the ability to lose oneself in the life of another for three hours and to emerge having felt something.” (Berardinelli, 2013)

Yeah, I sure felt something after browsing through that tripe: DIRTYAnd I seriously couldn’t figure out what warrants the 3 hour running time of Blue is the Warmest Color. Heck, Shame was roughly less than 2 hours, had the same amount of sex and nudity, but while I did feel dirty watching  it, it sure is nowhere near as shameful (no pun intended) as Blue‘sIs it because Blue‘s lesbian sequences are ultimately the only reason for watching it, unlike Shame? Is it because despite its shallowness, Shame actually features decent storytelling unlike Blue‘s preachy nature, where we are explicitly told that love chooses no genders, sexes, etc.?

What do I mean? Remember that scene is Shame where Michael Fassbender‘s character invites his girlfriend over at a motel room for some shagging? Nothing happened; Fassbender and the girl didn’t bone. Rather, the implication goes that Fassbender couldn’t get an erection, or he couldn’t bring it to himself to have sex with a girl that he seems to genuinely love. The girl leaves the room. You know the scene which follows, right? Fassbender banging a prostitute, finishes, and again feels sorry for himself. Absolutely no words explicitly saying that Fassbender’s character couldn’t make a decent relationship with another person because of his sexual addiction. This is good storytelling, we see the effects on the person, we are not told. This is probably why I felt less dirty watching Shame over Blue.

Of course, I’m not wholeheartedly in agreement with Shame. If anything, the explicit sexual content of the film makes it almost as bad as Blue is the Warmest Color. it just so happened that Steve McQueen is a far more superior director than  Abdellatif Kechiche. That, however, doesn’t entirely justify the existence of these two films. Both are basically sexploitation in nature that you’re pretty much better off watching porn instead of these two arthouse films pretending to be profound because of their use of shock. In Shame, it’s showing off Michael Fassbender’s flaccid willy. In Blue is the Warmest Color, it’s the lesbian sex scene between the two girls.

Besides, while I do acknowledge that sex is a completely natural and necessary human act, there are other things art can talk about, you know? What exactly? Here’s the top three things that come to mind: a boy meeting his first crush, a boy who wants a cookie but couldn’t get one because he already way too much earlier on, and two best friends, a guy and a girl, who need to break their friendship because the guy’s romantic relationship is already suffering.

The Year Ender Post of 2013

Hey, it’s the end of the year and my gosh has it been a year; the year when I left the singlehood despite my geekish and grumpy tendencies, the year that I finally got to teach literature among high school students despite poetry being my “math”, the year that I finally got to record podcasts with friends, the year that… “Okay, Evil Dr. Bok! We appreciate the fact that all these things happened to you, but what about the movies?!”

Oh yeah, sorry about that. Yes, I acknowledge that I was not able to update this blog as much as I wanted to because of life stuff; don’t worry, nothing too serious happened, but there are just too many stuff happening at work and at post post-grad school that I wasn’t able to review that many films this year. Regardless, here’s my Tops, my Bottoms, and my Honorable Mentions. As usual, my Honorable Mentions aren’t necessarily the movies I loved or hated, but rather these are the films which I thought should be mentioned for the sake of exposure. As for my Tops and Bottoms, they aren’t arranged in any particular order.

Top 5 for 2013

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1. Pacific Rim: My mentor complained that this film is plagued by the Transformers syndrome, that is “too many humans, too little Transformers”. While I do acknowledge that problem with Pacific Rim, that the human story isn’t entirely too impressive, and that there were certain plot-holes that could have been ironed out some more, it doesn’t change the fact that this film is quite possibly one of the most stupidly fun and entertaining films of 2013. Sure there were more human drama than giant robots and monsters fighting, but at least in the latter category, this film delivers.

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2. Prisoners: Man was I unprepared for this movie. Sure it takes its sweet time for the story to unfold, and there were scenes which, arguably, went on for too long, but I stand by my argument that if this film were paced faster than it already is, it would have been one of the most tiring films to see for the year. The timed and tested premise of a father taking matters into his own hands to look for his missing daughter and the cop assigned to solve the case works in this thriller. The police procedural took a backseat for this one; instead it focused on the effects on the individuals affected by the tragedy. Once more, the examination of the human condition put in extraordinary circumstances makes for great stories, and Prisoners is definitely one of those great stories for 2013. And speaking of extraordinary circumstances…

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3. Gravity: This again is one of those films: an astronaut gets stranded in space and has to get back home safely even if Fate (or Providence) had been quite shitty to her. While some praise this film for being deeply profound (it’s not, I’m telling), I enjoyed this because of the direction. For a film to be able to hold your attention for 90 whole minutes with minimalist casting is an achievement.

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4. Olympus Has Fallen: This could have been Die Hard 5 as it follows the classic Die Hard formula: a group of lowlives hijack a place, and a lone meathead kills them one by one. Okay, maybe that’s an oversimplication, but it still delivers some solid action set pieces.

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5. The Last Stand: Are you serious? Do I really need to explain why this film is in this list? Isn’t the poster enough? Okay, fine: Arnold Schwarzenegger is a sheriff who has to prevent an escaped drug lord from heading back to Mexico because… Oh screw it, it’s the Governator killing bad guys and Peter Stormare, and that’s awesome!

Honorable Mentions

1. The Conjuring: I feel bad that James Wan is leaving the horror genre because The Conjuring is proof that despite having the most cliched horror script (minus the more obviously stupid characters which plagued horror films), atmosphere, build-up, and the ever important human element is what makes horror movies terrifying.

2. Ender’s Game: This is a film adaptation of one of the most influential science-fiction novels of all time. Despite Gavin Hood‘s rather lackluster direction, at least shadows of Orson Scott Card‘s brilliance found its way into the film.

3. Man of Steel: This is neither a Christopher Nolan film nor script; this is a film directed by Zack Snyder and written by David S. Goyer. As such, you can expect certain issues in plotting and even logic, but where a solid story fails, Snyder and company make up for it in the spectacle. Yes, this is a “sound and fury” kind of film, but at least we finally get to see the Last Son of Krypton slug it out with ridiculously overpowered bad guys.

4. G.I. Joe Retaliation: This could have been side by side with Pacific Rim, the only issue being that I didn’t have that much with this. Regardless, the film fixed certain issues with Rise of CobraRetaliation is a live-action cartoon, nothing more, nothing less.

5. Thor: The Dark World: While I wasn’t too impressed with Iron Man 3, at least this film managed to put on some pretty impressive worldbuilding. It’s still nothing compared to the first one by Kenneth Branagh, but it manages to expand on the world of Thor. That and Tom Hiddleston once more steals the show.

Bottom 5 for 2013

1. Evil Dead: I really wanted to enjoy this film, I really do. But the one thing you do not do in a film about blood, dismemberment, and gore is to take it seriously. Put stupid characters, but wink at the audience; let them know that this is a whole joke and we’re just having fun. You do not tell the story of a recovering addict and make the possession a metaphor for the distrust friends have towards a junkie, most especially if the title of the film is Evil Dead!!!

2. Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters: This would have been more forgivable, but again it committed the same mistake Evil Dead did; it took itself more seriously than it should have. Plus, I don’t see how Hansel and Gretel turned out to be the best witch hunters in the country, considering that they spent most of the time being thrown around by the witches. “But surely the action sequences are fun?” you asked, to which I reply, “No. They’re generic, they’re boring. Pirate this film some more.”

3. The World’s End: Now take note that this movie isn’t as badly made as the first two choices in this list. Rather, I’m placing this here because this is one of the BIGGEST LETDOWNS of 2013. The charm which made Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz fun is gone in this installment. Simon Pegg’s character is one of the most unsympathetic characters around, unlike Shaun and Nicholas Angel from the first two Cornetto films. And my goodness, that argument with Bill Nighy’s voice is one of the preachiest dialogues in recent film history.

4. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: Same complaints with no. 3, as this is a pretty big letdown. You’ll know something’s wrong when all I can remember from the film while watching it on 48fps is that the higher frame rate isn’t as distracting as it was in An Unexpected Journey.

5. Blue is the Warmest Color: Just watch porn. I’m sorry, but if this film happens to be the best movie of 2013 according to the Cannes Film Festival, then I wouldn’t be surprised if some  actress wins awards for her extremely believable facial expressions during coitus. “Wait, Dr. Bok; didn’t they award Halle Berry an Oscar for his performance in Monster’s Ball?” … … … Yup, Western Civilization’s going down.

Happy New Year, fellow minions! ;) Here’s to the film industry for 2014: may the bubble that is superhero movies not burst yet. :P

Thoughts on “The Desolation of Smaug”

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Yes, I understand that Peter Jackson will never capture the lightning from The Lord of the Rings films, but that shouldn’t give him an excuse for a bloated, extended, and poorly plotted film that is The Desolation of Smaug. And for the record, I think the liberties taken in this film are a bit too distracting that to call this The Hobbit would be somewhat a disgrace to the source material.

But first, is this film worth watching? Right now, I would say, “Yes but not entirely.” Fans of the LOTR films (that is, those who just saw the films and not read the books) shouldn’t find anything wrong with this movie. Peter Jackson manages to keep things engaging with his direction and, admittedly, creative staging of the action sequences. Visually, the picture looks really pretty, and the HFR (high frame rate) isn’t as intrusive like it was in An Unexpected Journey. The 3D isn’t much though so I guess this is still something you’d equally enjoy on non-3D cinemas.

My biggest issue, though, is the pacing in between the action sequences. There are long moments where nothing happens. We have character developments and info dumps which doesn’t contribute much in advancing the plot or in the storyline whatsoever. More time was spent on the new character, Tauriel, which could have been used more in depicting the Bilbo/Ring dynamic. There was one scene which showed the Ring’s corrupting effect on Bilbo, and it was brilliant. We could have needed more scenes like this because this is a story about Bilbo; The Hobbit. I’m guessing these problems are inherent in STRETCHING a single book into three different movies, but it could have been fixed by focusing on the novel’s themes, and choosing the APPROPRIATE events from the Tolkien legendarium in developing and creating the cinematic Middle-earth.

Like I said early on, I wouldn’t go so much to say that this is an atrocious film. It isn’t a bad film, nor is it a good one. At its worst, this is a mere fantasy flick; a decent presentation of sound and fury, but not something which sticks to you, unlike The Fellowship of the Ring.

Prisoners: Really Late Impressions

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Yes, I understand that Prisoners was released last September, but that’s why this is categorized under the “Really Late Impressions” tag. And my goodness, how I wish I saw this on theaters.

I will be brief for this one as I’m still reeling from what is quite possibly the best movie of 2013. Everything about this film, at least what I can remember, is well done. Some might argue that the film moves too slowly, and that some of the events seem a bit arbitrary, but I would have to say that the pace was deliberate as moving this film on a typical Hollywood pace would exhaust the audiences. I would compare the exhaustion to that of Inception, particularly the scene where the van falls from the bridge; yes, this film is indeed exhausting, nail-bitingly tense, and cathartic by its end.

Acting wise, Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal do what is expected of them, and it is fantastic. Plot wise, this is one well-plotted thriller. There may be some scenes which seem contrived, but if they are, it just shows how well the direction goes. Cinematography wise, it looks magnificent; unsurprising for a film photographed by Roger Deakins.

All in all, I would really have to say that Prisoners is a damn good film, and if you still haven’t seen it, grab it on DVD or Blu-ray; it’s that good.

Additionally, the comparison with Inception is no accident; this film contains an Inception-y ending.