The World According to Renee

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Review: La La Land

la la land

Hollywood loves films about itself, which explains why La La Land was nominated for a slew of awards. Arguably, its most famous moment was the non-winning of Best Picture at this year’s Oscars. Warren Beatty shoulda gone to SpecSavers…

Emma Stone plays Mia Dolan, an aspiring actress. Ryan Golsing plays Sebastian, a jazz pianist who pays the bills by sticking to the setlist at a club. They meet, fall in love, dance among the stars, break up… Usual film fodder.

On one hand, I loved the film. I love musicals and ‘old Hollywood’. La La Land appealed to me on those levels. On the other hand, I felt it was overrated. Emma Stone gave a good performance, but I don’t think it’s worthy of an Oscar. Ryan Gosling seemed distracted the whole way through, except for the last ten minutes when he really shone.

The technical aspects were fantastic. The difference between Mia’s bright, bold colours and Sebastian’s dulled hues along with visual clues harking back to Old Hollywood was brilliant. For a musical, it lost it completely in the middle of the film when their relationship wasn’t doing so well. Sure, I understand that singing and dancing only happens when joy is present, but this is billed as a musical yet lacks any of the painful emotions expressed in music. Let’s face it: break up songs are much more interesting than love songs.

The twist at the end was original and one of the most interesting narrative devices I have seen. It was probably the most interesting thing about the movie, to be honest.

I’m torn. The story itself was tired and cliched, buoyed by singing and dancing and a twist at the end. Because I love that kind of thing, plus production values, it scores 7.5 popcorns.

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April 24, 2017 Posted by | Reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Beauty and the Beast: Review

Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme…

You know how it goes.

This is a live action remake of 1991’s Beauty and the Beast, which holds the distinction of being the only feature length animated feature to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars; after that, a separate category was introduced for Best Animated Feature. Will this remake be a contender for next year’s awards?

Emma Watson’s Belle is something of a feminist. She’s the only woman in the village who can read, and is an inventor as well. She’s smart, which the villagers think is a little odd. Apparently, Ms Watson refused to wear a corset for the film, and had creative input into some of her character. Belle’s dress is hitched up tomboy-style frequently, so this Belle is not the ultra feminine princess we’ve come to know. I feel there could have been more, maybe Belle telling Gaston not only was she not thinking about children, but she wasn’t looking for a boyfriend either, let alone husband. But, this is a provincial French village where girls were probably married at puberty, so I may be asking too much.

In fact, Disney seem to be thinking themselves quite progressive: they’ve confirmed LeFou is gay (although there is nothing explicit in the film, it’s rather like Smithers and Mr Burns in The Simpsons) and there are interracial relationships. However, they also used cross dressing as a punchline, which I subtracted a full mark for.

All the songs one has grown up with appear in the new film along with a few new ones and extra lyrics written, but not used, in the 1991 version. Be Our Guest was the highlight of the film. Emma Watson can sing, handling the singing & acting seamlessly. Josh Gad as LeFou almost stole his scenes; he’s certainly been the face of the film’s promotion during the past few weeks. Visually, the film is gorgeous with sweeping cinematography. Technically, I found the direction a little clunky in places. I’m probably the only person who noticed, though.

It’s yet another Disney live action remake we didn’t need. I didn’t love Cinderella but I did enjoy The Jungle Book. Beauty and the Beast is not terrific, adds little to the beloved classic. I wish Hollywood would come up with some original ideas instead of milking classics for all they’re worth.

6 out of 10 popcorns, having lost a mark for using cross-dressing as a punchline.

March 23, 2017 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , | 1 Comment

Review: Jurassic World

Welcome back to Isla Nublar!

We’re twenty years on from Jurassic Park, the failed attempt at the world’s best new theme park. Jurassic World is the successor, and much more successful than the Park. In this world, dinosaurs are passé, so to bring in more tourists and more investors, the Lab are cooking up something special: a hybrid dino that no one has ever seen before!

What could go wrong?

It’s everything you love about Jurassic Park, but updated. There’s new characters, new rides, new attractions and new dinosaurs. And of course, there’s dinosaurs eating people. That’s what you came to see, right?

I felt the movie took itself a bit too seriously in some places, but overall it kept a very tongue-in-cheek look at itself and its predecessor (the Park; there’s no mention of The Lost World or Jurassic Park 3). Befitting for a movie (and theme park) of this size, there are plenty of sponsors. At one point I thought it was going to be called Samsung’s Jurassic World. The product placement was a little too obvious.

Bryce Dallas Howard was brilliant. Wait, she was supposed to be an android, right? No? Well, she could definitely play one. Chris Pratt was the typical all-American hero and not too hard on the eyes either. The kids, Zach and Gray, were thrown in for good measure because everyone loves a know-it-all genius 7 year old and his hormonal teenage brother.

It’s good, but not awesome. The CGI did exactly what it was supposed to do: create a world that looks and feels real (I’m led to believe that no dinosaurs were harmed in the making of the film). It’s definitely a Jurassic Park for the next generation.

7 out of 10 popcorns.

June 17, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Comparison: WWII Movies

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas vs Sophie’s Choice

Yesterday, I watched Sophie’s Choice. Released in 1982 and based on the novel of the same name, the film has become part of the lexicon, something quoted or referenced in multitudes of other media (including The Simpsons).

Synopsis: A young Southern writer, Stingo, moves in with Sophie and her schizophrenic lover, Nathan. The three form a tight friendship and when Sophie needs time out from Nathan, she confides in Stingo about her days in Auschwitz. At the end of the film, she confesses a terrible secret to Stingo.

(Before you watch the clip, have a box of tissues ready. You have been warned!)

Meryl Streep won an Oscar for her portrayal of Sophie. It was well deserved; by the middle of the film I’d forgotten I was watching Meryl Streep and was completely absorbed in Sophie as a Polish immigrant.

Sophie is a deeply flawed character. She’s lived through immense grief, guilt and terrible hardships to become the person she is today. She’s offset by Nathan, who is lying to her about his job and hiding his mental condition. Nathan tells people he is a research biologist on the brink of something huge in the pharmacy world. His brother, an actual medical doctor, informs Stingo that Nathan is, in fact, nothing more than a librarian at the lab, although he does occasionally help with researching something for the biologists.

If you watched the clip above, you’ll see why this film is deeply distressing and harrowing. It scores 9/10 on the depressing scale.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is also based on a novel. It tells the story of two young boys who become friends depite being on different sides of the war. Bruno is the son of a Commandant under Hitler’s rule. His family move to within a few miles of a concentration camp (never mentioned, but assumed to be Auschwitz). When exploring one day, he comes across Schmuel, a Jewish boy locked in the camp with his family. The two boys become friends, meeting a tragic end.

What makes this film so tragic is Bruno’s innocence. He’s nine years old, calls the Fuhrer ‘The Fury’ and wonders why his new friend Schmuel wears striped pyjamas. His father, entertaining dignitaries, views a movie showing everyday life at the camp. Children are laughing and playing, there’s a cafe where the Jews can eat as much as they want, when they want, and generally speaking, life is very good. With this vision in mind, Bruno is all too willing to help his friend look for his father. Shortly after their search begins, they’re caught up in the latest haul to the “showers”. The final moments, when everything falls silent, are harrowing. It rates 8/10 of the depressing scale.

Where Sophie’s emotion comes from Eva screaming as she’s taken away, Bruno and Schmuel’s silence has the same effect. Both films show the war as not just for the Jews. Sophie, a Polish Catholic, is caught in the same lose-lose situation as Bruno and Schmuel find themselves in. Sophie’s choice was one that she could never win. Bruno and Schmuel were innocent, they didn’t know til the last seconds what was happening to them. Bruno had seen the smoke and smelled the burning flesh of the cremations of disposal after the gas chambers. His choice was simply to help his friend, leaving his father living with guilt for the rest of his life. (I wonder what happened to that family after Bruno’s death?)

Sophie was a victim of the war despite emerging alive. She had basically sold her soul; not only giving up her child but being forced to flirt with the Commandant to see her remaining child freed. Schmuel is Jewish, with no hope of escape or rescue. Bruno is living a life of privilege, and without meeting Schmuel, would probably have survived the war without ever knowing what his father was really up to.

In any case, both films expand one’s view of the war. It’s not simply between Germany and the Jews. Nothing is ever that simple.

June 17, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Big Hero 6

Ladies and gentlemen, I have an announcement to make: I have a new favourite Disney movie (sorry Wreck-It Ralph). I’m not a fan of superheroes but this movie sucked me in and didn’t let go til the credits. Thank the gods that Disney have redeemed themselves after the atrocity that was Frozen

In Big Hero 6, we meet fourteen year old Hiro and his brother, who are super smart and into robotics. In fact, Tadashi has built a robot to assist in medical needs of humans: a big, squishy robot named Baymax. Cue adventures.

This movie has everything: sciencey words, robots, villains, explosions and a fantastic song by Fall Out Boy which I haven’t stopped singing since its release in November. Visually, the film is beyond expectations. Animation has really come a long way in the past fifteen years, especially when animating humans. The fictional world of San Fransokyo has both the iconic landscape of San Francisco and Tokyo; who’d have thought cherry blossoms would prettify a concrete jungle? As usual, there are hidden gems in the film, such as when Baymax breaks a statue of some dude from Frozen (personally, I like to think this is because Disney realise they offered a piece of shit for their last venture, albeit a very successful piece of shit).

I felt the story kinda escaped from them in a couple of places, but it was brought back quickly and coherently. I’m not sure whether the portals were deliberately styled as Stargates, but they certainly appeared that way. It’s neither good nor bad, just an observation.

Also an observation is the parental separation. It’s a common theme in Disney films, which apparently stems from Walt Disney’s guilt over his mother’s death. He bought her a house, which subsequently burned down and his mother died. Walt felt immensely guilty over this and some say this resulted in Disney films having a running theme of maternal death within the films. Hiro and Tadashi have been raised by their aunt with no mention of what happened to their parents (or maybe there is and I missed it). In the ~fifty years since Disney’s death, parental death is still a running theme, although I concede in this case it may actually have been part of the original source material.

Not being up on my Marvel comics, I can’t comment on whether this is true to the original source or not, but there’s plenty of other nerds on the internet to tell you that kind of thing. For me, who doesn’t normally like superhero stuff, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

9.5/10 popcorns.

January 25, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Gone Girl

Ever noticed how much Ben Affleck looks like Scott Peterson?

Gone Girl is based a novel of the same name, and for the first hour or so, seems a lot like a fictionalised version of Scott Peterson’s story: cheating husband disposes of pregnant wife, no trace of her body found (for a while, anyway). Then there’s a twist and the plot rapidly becomes Tales of the Psycho Bitch.

Ben Affleck is becoming one of those actors who is trying so hard to be taken seriously, but in this film he plays his dumb-arse, naive persona to perfection. His wife has gone missing and he seems not to care, often making mistakes in public which unfortunately are caught on camera. Everything he says or does leads to suspicion of murder even though there’s no body (yet).

Yes, there is a twist and yes, it made me think this was a brilliant story deserving to be on film. So many films rely on special effects and a plethora of big stars to pull in the dollars but they fail miserably on story. This film is different. There is so much to take in that you don’t notice the three hour run time… except for the last half an hour.

This film should have ended with Nick Dunne locking himself in the room with the cat, but unfortunately the film drags that extra bit longer with a dissatisfying ending (but I;m told that the novel is also a disappointing ending).

In short, make sure you use the bathroom before seeing this, and be prepared for a great story with a disappointing end.

4 our of 5 popcorns.

October 8, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Review- Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

Once upon a time, there were best friends who lived above a secretive woman who was found murdered by a fellow classmate. Armed with a video camera, the friends investigate her home and stumble into a world that defies physics. 

Paranormal Activity:The Marked Ones is the fifth installment in the popular franchise and is filmed in exactly the same way: in first person with a handheld camera. This always sparks the question: What the hell were these guys doing to be carrying a camera around with them all the time? 

The answer is simple: they were filming themselves doing stupid stunts and putting it on YouTube. Unfortunately, these stupid stunts take up far too much film time which eats into the scary bits. 

Like the previous films, there’s no real scary bits. The film relies on momentary noises with no real substance: just as your heart starts beating very fast because something’s just happened, there’s another twenty minutes of rubbish before something else happens. 

That’s not to say that there aren’t cool bits. There definitely are, but they last 5-10 seconds maximum which is a real shame. Those are the bits I want to see more of, not the stupid stunts like going down a flight of stairs in a washing basket. 

I won’t give away the ending (which was surprisingly satisfactory) however I thought there could be more in the last 15 minutes and less in the first forty minutes. Get on with the spooky stuff and explore more into where Jesse was taken at the end. What were they doing there? What was the Final Ritual? What happened to Jesse? 

The franchise didn’t need another addition, and this film would have been better had it cut the filler and concentrated more on the markings and scary stuff- that’s what the audience came to see. The cheap frights without any substance leaves me wondering what the point was. There were more laughs than shrieks from the audience I saw it with. 

2 out of 10 popcorns 

January 22, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Tiger Eyes

Let me preface this by saying Tiger Eyes is one of my favourite novels and I can probably recite most of it by heart. I have high expectations of a film version. 

Tiger Eyes tells the story of Davey Wexler and her family after the death of her father in a store robbery gone wrong. The family move to New Mexico to be with Davey’s aunt Bitsy and uncle Walter so they can grieve, heal, and find their feet again. In the process, Davey finds a couple of friends, Wolf and Jane. 

First, the bad bits. There are minor differences between the novel and film. Minka, the cat, is left in the care of Lenaya (Davey’s best friend) and not taken to New Mexico. Bitsy is Gwen’s sister, not Adam’s. Davey wins a part in the school’s talent show, not the lead in a musical. These are minor differences, so why were they changed? Take the cat to NM just to appease purists. I concede it makes more sense for Bitsy and Gwen to be sisters, however Bitsy loses that sense of her own loss as well as Davey’s musings that she and her father had the same parents like her and little brother Jason. As for the musical/talent show, I suppose it was a licensing issue to get the rights to Oklahoma! so I concede that point. There’s also an extra scene in which Wolf takes Tiger to a traditional ceremony. Personally, I like the addition as it adds a sense of belonging for Tiger, which is what she’s really searching for. 

Luckily, the good bits far outweigh the negatives. Lawrence Blume (yes, Judy Blume’s son) directed the film and he’s done a fantastic job. The script was co-written by Judy and Lawrence, preserving most of the dialogue word-for-word, especially in the first scenes. In the novel, much of Davey’s musings are internalised, and they’ve done a great job in externalising those thoughts by having Davey saying them aloud. The character of Miriam, the therapist, is omitted completely. I think this works on film for Davey but not necessarily for Gwen, Davey’s mother. She’s messed up and it’s clear she needs help. In fact, Walter says this to Bitsy but it’s not clear if the extra help is given. Some of Miriam’s lines are given to either Bitsy or Wolf. In the climactic scene of Davey reliving all of That Night, it works perfectly on film, much better than in the novel. Combine all of these elements with Lawrence Blume’s powerful direction and you’ve got one hell of a film. 

There are a couple of things I don’t understand and will have to analyse more on a second viewing. When I read the novel as a teen, I desperately wanted something to happen between Wolf and Tiger. In the film, they kiss but it just seems a bit icky and gross. Wolf is so much older than her, and she needs a friend, not romantic complications. Wolf also mentions he is going away… but he never seems to. He’s always there, showing up when you’re not expecting him to. It’s a tad stalkerish, actually. 

7.5 out of 10 popcorns

 

 

June 18, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Behind the Candelabra

This post contains spoilers

It’s the movie that is “too gay for Hollywood”; the story of Scott Thorson’s relationship with Liberace in the late 70s and early 80s.

The backstory to this film is legendary. All the major Hollywood studios turned it down for being “too gay” so eventually it was screened on HBO. During the premiere, the ratings were impressive but even more impressive during the encore screening. How does a film with three big names become relegated to a made-for-TV biopic?

In lesser hands, this biopic may indeed be too gay, but not with Steven Soderbergh at the helm. Admittedly, the film does start very kitsch and campy, but hey, it’s about Liberace, Mr Showmanship himself. Once you ignore 42 year old Matt Damon playing a 17 year old and how much fun the lead actors obviously had in the kissing scenes, the film becomes so much more than “too gay for Hollywood”.

Based on Thorson’s memoir of his time with Liberace, this film is everything you’d expect. It is chock full of opulence without arrogance. Michael Douglas portrays Liberace with care. In the beginning, it seems as though the performances are strained; they’re playing real people and it seems to get the better of them. As the film progresses, you completely forget that these are two straight men playing gay lovers. Even as a huge Matt Damon fan, I had to giggle at some of his costumes (hello, sequined G-string) but hey, that’s what I’d expect in a glimpse of Liberace’s life.

Perhaps the details are really what makes the movie. The scene where Liberace lay dying is shocking. I assume CGI was used to get that effect but boy, is it ever effective. It’s shocking, it’s blunt, it’s in-your-face. In comparison, Matt’s face post-surgery is obviously fake and it’s hard to ignore, but I suppose that’s the point. In places, Liberace gets creepy, but this is unsurprising to anyone who has read anything about him (after his death, that is. Prior to his death, Liberace would sue anyone who claimed his was gay).

Behind the Candelabra is a story about power, love, friendship, wealth and what happens when it goes awry. By the final shot, you’ll remember the story and not the flaws.

7.5 out of 10 popcorns. And go find some Liberace clips on YouTube.

June 6, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

Set in the alternate timeline established in Star Trek (2009), Kirk et al are hot on the trail of a Federation criminal named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch). Revealing the rest of the plot would involve some major spoilers, so I won’t go there.

Stylistically, this is a classic JJ Abrams film. There is plenty of action and obtuse sentimentality, but it looks pretty. Star Trek‘s regular cast is back with minor character changes (since when does Spock cry?) and the addition of a new villain and a blonde weapons expert named Carol (Alice Eve).

The plot itself is inspired by a previous Star Trek film. I’m not entirely familiar with anything pre-The Next Generation so I can’t comment on whether this latest installment fits, but it seems a decent addition to a well-worn storyline. The cast seem more familiarised with their characters which makes the film knit together more tightly than their first effort. My only complaints about this film are that it took too long to get to the point, and it was seeped with unnecessary sentimentality. Cut a half hour from the film, chop the mushy bits and you’d have yourself a pretty goof flick. However, at the end, I was left wondering, “Did anything happen in this movie besides extreme close ups of Chris Pine?” (Not that I’m complaining, he’s not the worst person to look at…)

6.5 popcorns out of 10. Add another mark for the unholy thoughts I’ve been having about Chris Pine since I saw the movie.

 

May 20, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment