Mini-Reviews: The Muppets and The Descendants

I’m back after the hiatus with a double-mini review on the latest Muppets movie to hit theaters and the latest of George Clooney in The Descendants.

First, let’s start with The Muppets.

OK, let me just say that Jason Segel is a little bit of a genius. The fun, quirky songs, the back story of how all the Muppets are now spread out, the villain (played by Chris Cooper) who’s constantly demanding a maniacal laugh from his evil cohorts–The Muppets contained enough charisma to charm nostalgic viewers (consisting mainly of adults who grew up watching them), as well as kids looking for new friends and heroes. Amy Adams played a great supporting role as Mary, Gary’s girlfriend of 10 years who’s helpful and supportive, but questioning of Gary’s humanity/muppiticity. Her performance in Enchanted would only confirm with the studio that she was the perfect fit for her role. Segel, already a bit of a dork himself, fit right in with the Muppets and his brother, Walter, who is the biggest Muppets fan ever.

Without a doubt, The Muppets is the family-friendly, feel-good film of the year. Receiving great critiques across the board (just check out Rotten Tomatoes’s high rating for it), and including some hilarious and well-placed cameos by various celebrities, the movie has you wanting to dance and sing along by the end.

The Descendants is on the other end of the spectrum. Painfully honest, with twists and turns that emotionally injure Matt King (George Clooney), the “back-up parent” and businessman first, who’s dealing with multiple issues vying for and demanding his attention. Clooney again knocks it out of the park with a great performance that’s likely to spark chatter at the Academy this year. If there had to be a stand-out performance for the movie, however, it would have to go to Shailene Woodley, who played Matt’s daughter, Alex. Alex, who has just been unexpectedly plucked from her rehab clinic by her father and younger sister, Scottie (Amara Miller), no sooner than later breaks the news to her dad that her mother, Elizabeth, has been cheating on him. But she doesn’t learn this revelation until her dad informs her while she is swimming in their leaf-filled pool that Elizabeth will not be waking up from her coma. Thus, Matt, his two daughters, and Alex’s odd-ball friend, Sid (Nick Krause), embark on a trip informing Elizabeth’s parents the news. As Matt and Alex learn more of Elizabeth’s affair, Matt starts to come to terms with what what to do with the land he has inherited, how he must deal with being a single parent, and having to break the news of Elizabeth’s impending death to Scottie, who’s too young to realize the seriousness of her mother’s condition.

The Descendants is kind of like a really pretty picture from first glance at a distance. And then when you walk closer to it and start looking at it more clearly, you notice the different smudges and the imperfections and perhaps the pain that the artist was inflicted with while creating the piece. It’s about a real family dealing with real issues, and what you see is not pretty, but it’s close to a realistic view of what it actually is. The writing and performances were top-notch, and it’ll be no surprise if it gets nominated for a few Oscars in February.

Shameless Advertisement: Movie Blogs I’m Reading

I have to give a lot of credit to other people out there, because many of them are my inspiration for writing about a mutual love: movies. I started blogging for the first time back in high school, right before I graduated. I didn’t really know what I was doing and I lacked a lot of direction. And although I haven’t discovered or learned all the ins and outs of writing, film, or writing about film, I can say that I have learned a lot in the past 6 years, especially thanks to reading other people’s blogs and getting inspired by their passion, comedy, and interests.

So without further ado, read on and feel free to check out some of these awesome movie sites.

Two Cranky Guys: As their tagline says it, these two guys “wade through the crap so you don’t have to.” These two guys have great back and forth dialogue reviewing the latest film each have seen. It’s entertaining and light-hearted. I always looks forward to reading these guys’ take. In recent news, it appears the duo may be breaking up over the latest movie they saw, Breaking Dawn Pt. 1. Check out the blog for more details!

Anomalous Material: This has become a site I check daily. There are tons of new updates, reviews, and discussions going on that make this site a great place for anyone casually to seriously interested in reading about or discussing movies. There are multiple people who write and run the site, so you get a varied perspective and multiple updates and reviews on current and past movies. I love reading new articles and commenting on them, and I’d recommend this site to just about anyone.

FlixChatter: I don’t remember if I found this blog through Freshly Pressed or just by perusing WordPress blogs, but I’m happy I did. The author, Ruth, posts daily on all types of film-like chatter, from upcoming movie news, to specific actors or films she’s reviewed, to interesting facts about certain movies. It was through her blog that I came into contact with Anomalous Material and the community of film bloggers there. So I am definitely indebted to her. She runs a great blog constantly updated with interesting material–be sure to check it out!

Honorable Mentions:

Splatter: on FILM

TheFilmLounge

The Movie Brothers

Urban Dictionary Defines “Movie Snobs”: How Do I Add Up?

What makes a person a “movie snob”? Urban Dictionary defines one as the following:

The way you can tell if someone is a movie snob is by asking them what they like to do in their spare time. If they say “movies” they are normal people. If they say “film” they are movie snobs. Movie snobs are the kind of people who go see a movie like Spiderman and then whine that it’s unrealistic because there’s no way a real person could get bit by a spider and be able to fly from building to building.

I love this definition–it cracks me up. UD has a way of blatantly giving an opinionated description of something/someone. OK, let’s break apart that definition and get down to the nitty gritty here.

Terms: “Film” vs. “Movie” (1/1)

So according to that definition, I’m a snob because I use the word “film” interchangeably with “movie,” although I learned in film class (come on, it was called Intro to Film!) that movies should actually be referred to as movies, a.k.a., moving pictures (or motion pictures) because film reels are no longer used, similarly to photography, where digital cameras are all that are used anymore instead of old school cameras with film that needs to be developed.

Spiderman: Unrealistic? (1/2)

According to this part of the definition, I am not a snob (“Phew!” *wipes brow*). According to my film (oops . . . did it again!) teacher, and something I have always believed but never have had quite the right words to express it, is that movies are all about context. Movies, or film (forget it, I’m going to use the term! Dang it!!) is an art. It’s an expression. While the thought or idea may be original, the means (or methods) with which those originals thoughts and ideas are brought about to be shown are not original. They are recycled, and often are just imitations. There’s certainly nothing wrong with this. My point? Stop expecting film to be 100% realistic–it’s not. And often, it purposefully leaves out realistic concepts for very specific purposes, such as comedy, appearance, or dramatic effect.

Although, I have met many people who are somewhere near both extremes of the realism argument. The “it just isn’t real enough for me” side often like movies based off true stories, or dramas. No problem there. The issue with their thinking, however, is that they think less of movies that are based off ideas of fantasy, fiction book-to-film adaptations, or movies derived from original concepts (such as Inception). Obviously, this is a stereotype, and many times this is just a person’s preference.

The other side is far over into the world of “I’ve seen every Star Wars/Batman/Anime movie/episode and you’re an idiot if you don’t know all the details and share my opinion.” Again, this is an extreme view, and more than likely, most people don’t quite fit that bill, but are closer to that side of the spectrum than the other. These people usually have seen every version of certain said movies/series/trilogies and look down on those of us silly enough to not have clocked in enough couch/screen time into the same series.

No matter how you look at it, everyone has their preferences–what they prefer to see, what they think is worth their time, and what they consider “good” while the rest is “bad.” Movies is a such a subjective topic, from the general idea itself right down to the specific details of a particular film.

The Other Part of the Definition That Isn’t Included Above

You can usually find movie snobs posting 1000 messages a minute on imdb.com trying to make themselves look smarter than other people and telling everyone else they are using bad grammar. Chances are they are in their mid-20s, don’t have jobs, and live in their mom’s basement. They might try to make independent movies but don’t realize that everyone else thinks their movies are terrible.

IMDB.com (1/3)

Perhaps this is sad in the eyes of film geeks, but I do not have an IMDB account. So perhaps I remain unscathed from UD’s “movie snob” definition at this point too. But I do think IMDB’s site is a great resource and I use it often (also, a shoutout to Rotten Tomatoes, which is one of my favorite movie sites). I do have friends who have IMDB accounts and don’t think anything less of them. I guess I just haven’t met anyone who does that . . . at least I haven’t met anyone like that yet!

Bad Grammar (2/4)

Uh-oh. Being an editor, I might as well say this qualifies me as a snob, even in terms of UD’s definition. What I will say is that unless something is genuinely funny due to a grammatical mistake, I do my best to never point it out. I will say that often my opinion of someone can be lessened when he/she writes a post FILLED with grammatical and spelling mistakes. I do realize, however, that no on is immune to making grammatical mistakes, especially those who post often on blogs or sites. No one’s perfect when it comes to writing, and I understand that. It does crack me up that UD includes correcting other people’s grammar in their definition of “movie snob.”

Living Predicament (2.5/5)

Yes, I am in my mid-20s. But no, I do have a job–2 actually. And a third one if you count self-hire (teach piano lessons/ tutor kids). And no, I do not live in my mom’s basement–I live in my own apartment that I pay rent for each month. So in this sense, I do not live the life of UD’s “movie snob.”

Independent Filmmaker Amateur? (3/6)

I also pass with flying colors on this mark, although I almost rather deal with the snob part in this one. I’ve never attempted to make my own independent film. I’ve had interest in it, as well as started writing some scripts for ones, but nothing has ever come through. I have upcoming big plans to start in the future, though! The irony of this point is that although oftentimes beginning indie filmmakers’ work isn’t that great, it’s typically not a secret to that person. When someone starts out, clearly their best work doesn’t usually happen at the very beginning. You have to make mistakes to learn how to be better at something. That’s my take on it!

My Total Score is 3/6 = 50% Movie Snob on the Urban Dictionary Scale

How do you add up on this scale? Are you what Urban Dictionary defines as a “movie snob”?

My Christmas Movie List

Well, it’s that time of year again . . . you know, the weeks before Thanksgiving where everyone goes directly into Christmas-thinking mode, completely leaving Thanksgiving out of the picture before it even happens? Yep, that’s where I am RIGHT NOW. And I couldn’t be more thrilled to watch replay after replay of the Back to the Future series on TCM and Home Alone 2 on ABC Family, despite the original being a far superior movie.

These are my Must-See Christmas Movies:

Jingle All the Way

If you like cheesy, laugh-out-loud movies with a hint of California governor, then this is the Christmas movie for you. I make it a point to ALWAYS see this movie every year around Christmas time because it makes me laugh unlike any other. My Facebook page, under the Quotations section, included a hilarious quote that Sinbad delivers in this movie:

They sit there and use subliminal messages to suck your children’s’ minds out! And I know what I’m talking about because I went to junior college for a semester and I studied psychology so I’m right in there, I know what’s going on. They make the kids feel like garbage and you, the father, who’s working 24/7 delivering mail so you can make an alimony payment to a woman that slept with everybody at the post office, but me! And then when you get the toy, it breaks and you can’t fix it because it’s little cheap plastic!

And that’s just a taste for this deliciously funny movie. There is no other movie out there that includes a guy breaking into his neighbor’s house to steal a child’s Christmas present to give to his own son, getting a reindeer drunk, or running from the police and getting suited up in a costume with flying capabilities.

Home Alone

The first movie, by far, is the best of them all. The scene with the pizza delivery man is without a doubt one of the best scenes in a Christmas movie. I have replayed this scene over and over again just for laughs. All across the world, children will now be inspired to booby trap their own homes in hopes of catching two thieves breaking in. Watch out for the Wet Bandits (can you spell that for the police?)!

White Christmas

It’s true–I’m a sucker for a Bing Crosby song and seeing Rosemary Clooney dolled up exactly as a 50s movie star should look. It’s a great story based off a musical that makes it it’s own movie, so much so, that you’ll find yourself thinking the musical was based off the movie when you’re done watching it. It’s one of those movies that reminds you that actors had to be all-around talented then: great actor, great singer, great dancer. It wasn’t all about looks and appearances, technology, and the ability to half-act your way through something like many movies (and actors) are (and do) today. It’s the perfect movie to be watching during the first snowfall of the year. Don’t even bother trying to rent this movie–if you have any kind of cable, you’ll have no problem catching it on TV at some point in the next 5 weeks.

A Charlie Brown Christmas

No Christmas season would be complete without a little Charlie Brown, Snoopy, bossy Lucy, Linus and his blanket, and the little Christmas tree that could. It’s a classic that can’t be passed up this time of year. It has the age old story of the “true meaning of Christmas” without boring us inattentive, technology-ensued viewers. Schroeder always nails it on that teeny piano, and don’t say you don’t get a lump in your throat when Charlie confesses that he ruins everything, even though it’s far from the truth.

I’ve killed it. Oh! Everything I touch gets ruined.
-Charlie Brown

Happy Birthday, Rachel McAdams!

Today, Rachel McAdams is 33. In celebration of her birthday, below is a list of my top 5 favorite movies of hers:

5) Morning Glory

Morning Glory is one of her more recent films to come out. This is just a cute little film where she receives top billing, although Harrison Ford steals most of the scenes in it. This is the typical character McAdams has been cast as. Since this film, she’s gotten herself into the latest Sherlock Holmes films, although her casting is most questioned by critics and fans alike.

4) The Time Traveler’s Wife

Although I will probably never watch this movie again, I really did enjoy the film. Based off a novel (of course!), McAdams owns this role by fighting between being a woman in love with a man (played by Eric Bana) that can stay only a short time and trying to live her life.

3) Red Eye

Red Eye is a great Wes Craven film that stars McAdams against Cillian Murphy, who is better known for Nolan’s gems such as Batman Begins and Inception. This is a great creepy film, and I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing a scared-to-death young woman sitting next to a psychopath threatening to end her father’s life.

2) Midnight in Paris

This movie bring McAdam’s back to her glory days in Mean Girls. Although Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris is not anywhere closely related to Mean Girls, McAdams does play a stuck-up, wealthy girl opposite a down-to-earth writer played by Owen Wilson. The two teamed up again (since Wedding Crashers) and played a couple that saw life from very different places. Midnight in Paris is probably my favorite movie with Rachel McAdams in it to date.

1) State of Play

Based off a much more successful British miniseries, State of Play stars a rich cast including Russell Crowe, Helen Mirren, Rachel McAdams, and Ben Affleck. I would consider State of Play the most complex film McAdams has been in yet, despite her role being supporting and one-dimensional. Perhaps next month’s Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows will supersede State of Play in complexity.

Snow White vs . . . Snow White?

For those who keep up with upcoming films, it’s been long time knowledge that two Snow White films will be released next year. Last week, the trailer for Snow White and the Huntsman debuted online. This more action version of the story has Kristen Stewart playing Snow White, making her first appearance since the Twilight movies, as well as Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Charlize Theron playing the evil queen. Yesterday, the trailer for Mirror, Mirror, which appears far more whimsical in nature, casts Julia Roberts as the evil queen and Armie Hammer (The Social Network, J. Edgar) as the prince.

Which looks better? Which one would you be more likely to see?

Snow White and the Huntsman

I don’t think that Kristen Stewart looks the part of Snow White at all. As a friend put it, she doesn’t look innocent or “genuinely beautiful” to fit the part. I am surprised, however, at how creepy and evil Charlize Theron came across as the evil queen. The trailer did focus more on her than any of the other characters, which I think may be an advantage for them. The mirror appears to take on an actual form, and the story really comes to life in the trailer. If you watch this trailer in HD, it’s very visually appealing. I think this film has more potential to gather a wider audience than the other.

Mirror, Mirror

In this trailer, Julia Roberts is really pulling for laughs. The writing for the queen makes her appear very cynical with a dry sense of humor. Tarsem Singh, director for the recent film Immortals, seems to be taking the more classic route by including the dwarves. I was able to catch just a small glimpse of the queen in disguise offering an apple to Snow White. I was hoping to see more of that in the other trailer. I was almost reminded of last year’s Alice in Wonderland with the costumes (Julia Robert’s giant red dress?). This one looks like it may bring in more of a family-friendly audience. It will be interesting to see which does better. My money is on Snow White and the Huntsman.

 

I Would Like to Thank the Trailer Makers

. . . for the awesome music that they put in trailers.

As of late, I’ve made some new introductions with bands, thanks to some great music selections put in trailers.

“Everything in Its Right Place” by Radiohead in the Anonymous trailer

Radiohead is clearly capable of making some great music, and the movie trailer business had benefited greatly from their talent. The first Radiohead song I was really blown away by in a movie trailer was “Creep,” performed by The Vega Choir in The Social Network trailer. To this day, I think it is one of the best trailers, thanks in part to that song.

“Infinite Legends” by Two Steps from Hell in the Breaking Dawn Pt. 1 trailer

Although I’m not a Twilight fan, I was really curious to find out who performed the song in the trailer. Two Steps from Hell has made quite a few creative songs in both their albums, Invisible and Archangel.

“Unstoppable” by E. S. Posthumus in the Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows trailer

E. S. Posthumus is considered an electronic music group. I really loved the use of this song, especially in the second trailer that came out for A Game of Shadows. Their interesting use of different instruments really brings the trailer to life.

The Hunger Games Official Trailer Released!

As of early this morning (on Good Morning America) and now on iTunes movie trailers, the first full trailer for The Hunger Games has finally been released. This is extremely exciting news for all the fans (like me!) left wanting after the extremely short and unrevealing teaser from the VMAs.

Enjoy!

The really cool news is that it looks like Gary Ross is striving to follow the book as much as possible. We get a glimpse of the Gale and Katniss hunting, the reaping, and then Katniss and Peeta’s journey to and training at the Capitol. I also think it has an interesting soundtrack that didn’t pick a Muse or Radiohead or popular song for the background. I’m beginning to think Jennifer Lawrence might even be able to be believable as a teenager with the makeup (lack of) on her character. From the trailer, it looks like Lenny Kravitz is going to make an awesome Cinna, and Elizabeth Banks looks like an eery, spot-on casting for Effie Trinket. I’m hoping they give the Haymitch character (played by Woody Harrelson) the screen time he deserves. He plays such an important part, and we got only a very small snippet of him on screen. It looks like President Snow and Seneca Crane are going to have their characters explored more on screen than they were in the book.

I hope the wait isn’t too bad. Because the wait for the second film in the series is going to be even longer–not coming out until November of 2013!?!

Long vs. Short Character Arcs

Before we had technicolor filmstrips, composers, and some serious technological advances, film and TV competed against one another for viewers’ attention. Although people today don’t choose to be a fan of either one or the other, there are still interesting comparison/contrasts between the two entertainment media. Many actors prefer one channel or the other to perform in, while some like taking part in both.

Earlier this year, I was reading this interview in Collider.com with John Krasinski and Ginnifer Goodwin for their then upcoming movie, Something Borrowed. Krasinski admits that without a doubt, playing a character in a long-time running TV show, The Office, is far more fun than playing a character in a movie who has to let it all out in one scene.

I understand that TV shows allow actors to flesh out their characters, continually building on what they know and adding and taking away from characters they play. It’s fun for the actors. But what do viewers prefer? I never really considered this question before I read the article and thought back about how television and film used to compete for viewers’ attention. Film was the beginning, and since then TV has become a huge medium in today’s society. And most people you ask may prefer one or the other, but are typically not opposed to either. And that’s really what it is–a preference, not a “must have,” or “should be.”

If you look at Krasinski’s character on The Office, Jim Halpert, you know that eventually he and Jenna Fischer’s “Pam” will get together. But we also know that it isn’t going to happen right away, because why would there be a need for a television show then? No, it must be drawn out. In that particular case, it takes three full seasons for the inevitable to happen. In Something Borrowed, his character, Ethan, has an arc–but a very short one. In fact, he drops a big bomb on the main character, Rachel, in one of the last scenes.

Whether it be television or a movie, the characters always start at a starting point. That way, there’s room to grow, learn, and develop relationships. While a movie typically has two hours on average to get it all figured out, TV shows often have multiple seasons with as many as 25 episodes a season. So which is better–the short or the long character arc? I believe it all comes down to context. And if the character arc fits the time allotted to the medium, then it suits it well. Although today, both media have clearly lost their predictability all around. Today, a TV show’s main character’s relationship will inevitably reach some resolution between seasons 3 and 5. Grey’s Anatomy, The Office, Glee, Psych, the list goes on. Everyone has to stick around for a later season to see the characters get together; therefore, there always must be a certain amount of relationship drama occurring in seasons 1-3.

In movies, typically something bad happens in the beginning of the film to the main character. Then, that character makes a life or environmental change to their situation. He or she is introduced to someone, and a new relationship begins, develops, deals with drama, splits, and inevitably comes together in the end. Many movies are exceptions to that rule, but this is a very common foundation screenwriters use for movies.

Jim and Pam

Obviously, this is all just my opinion on characters arcs in television and film. So here’s a pro/con list I came up with to conclude the topic:

Long Character Arcs (in television):

Pros: Well-developed character, more detailed, more room to be less predictable = possibility of more surprise, greater relatability

Cons: Ability to have over-written characters, drastic changes to characters can anger audience, space to be over-dramatized, repetitive

Ethan and Rachel

 

Short Character Arcs (in movies):

Pros: Challenge for actors to adapt, well-written characters, writer is forced to follow a direct path, typically less dramatic

Cons: Less originality, ability to have under-developed characters, less relatability, predictable story arcs, lacks in detail

The Hunger Games: Following the Marketing Footsteps of Twilight?

Posts with titles like these typically turn off the sensible and rational audience, and they won’t get past the title. I completely understand that, and in some sense, would probably be the same way. There’s so much unnecessary, childish controversy over such unimportant issues, like which team someone has chosen sides with (Edward or Jacob), or what’s really the better series . . . Harry Potter or Twilight?

It gets exhausting seeing these articles explode with controversial chatter regarding them. And there’s all the marketing, and the fans picking sides, and dressing up as characters and such. Not that there isn’t anything wrong with that. There certainly isn’t. But a lot of it is immature and downright annoying to many mid-twenty plus people who just want to watch a movie in peace without developing a strategy of convincing everyone they meet that Twilight really is the best book series.

Besides, it’s not. If you ask me.

I’m really looking to Lionsgate for the answer to the title question–Are they planning to use the same (or similar) marketing campaign for The Hunger Games as they did for Twilight? First, there was madness over Jennifer Lawrence giving a preview of the series at the VMAs because *wait for it* Twilight already pulled that.

The second offense (or *stolen* marketing strategy) of The Hunger Games is this photo spread in Vanity Fair, particularly the picture of the main cast:

The Hunger Games Cast

Look any similar to Twilight‘s cast picture from Vanity Fair?

Twilight Cast

The obvious thing to keep in mind is that Vanity Fair did both spreads, and that they’re dealing with a nice ensemble of late teen to young adult cast. The silly thing is that at first glance of The Hunger Games cast, they all look happy, and the three (well . . . truly, two) main cast members are all nicely slated on the side. If anyone’s read the series, he or she knows it’s not a happy set of books–which makes the picture a bit deceiving. The overall story isn’t a love story; in fact, *spoiler alert* everyone in that picture dies in the first book except for a few. Ironic?

Regardless, I’m trying to accept that The Hunger Games choice marketing will only continue to follow in its predecessor, Twilight‘s over-induced, tween-obsessive, marketed-to-death, painfully young, annoying, and naive footsteps. Although Twilight has grossed considerable income by said marketing, the sad part is that money has become the massive success of the series; not a respect for the story, the author, or even the fans. And while people can argue back and forth about its true success or greatness, at the end of the day, Twilight won’t be remembered for being an love-at-first-sight story, a love-triangle teen drama, or an action-packed story of werewolves versus vampires (am I right on all the facts, Twi-hards?). It’s going to be remembered as the silly series that grossed a lot of money, starring the pale and high-looking Kristen Stewart partnered with Robert Pattinson. And I think that would be a gracious memory for most viewers.

All of that to say, that I sincerely have higher hopes for Suzanne Collins’s series. She’s an excellent young adult fiction author who had a great story to tell. I suppose it really is up to people like Jennifer Lawrence to decide which direction the series will follow in terms of marketing. Yet looking at Vanity Fair‘s take on the series, I have a bad feeling . . .

Love Triangle? Not so much . . .