Monday, July 16, 2012

Ted; Spider-man; Brave; Savages; To Rome with Love; and an announcement of sorts

Don't see why Seth McFarlane should bother bringing his unfunny Family Guy series to the big screen when he's already done the live-action version. 

I mean--Mark Whalberg as the Peter Griffin character; Mila Kunis as the hot love interest; McFarlane himself, stuffed in fur stained the exact shade of bilirubin, as a combination Stewie Griffin/Brian. So tell me what's the difference?

Oh yeah--about a hundred million dollars. I suppose for that much money you can find someone willing to defecate in public too.

It's not that I object to tasteless comedy; it's that I object to tasteless comedy that's so lazy. McFarlane has basically recycled an episode of Family Guy--where Peter keeps screwing around and having to scramble to make up for it with Lois (and oh, doesn't that basic plotline sound a tad familiar?)--puffed it up to feature-film length, added name actors and a digitally animated stuffed animal for the "wow!" factor. 

Can he direct? Like Paris Hilton can sing. He likes to swing his camera around in an establishing shot as if to say "Look guys! I've got a style!" but when the characters (usually in a two-shot) start talking, all pretensions to being a film are forgotten and the screen snaps shut like a discarded pop-up book. You're left staring at nothing but crude sketches.

As for tasteless--don't talk to me about tasteless. When McFarlane goes for a gross-out joke the best he can muster is a turd on the carpet (we don't even get to see how it got there); when the Farrellys go for one the shower wall is spectacularly spray-painted the exact shade of Ted's fur. Give me the Farrellys anytime.

It's more than just boobs-and-poop jokes. The Farrellys are outrageous comedians but (like Ben Stiller, another comic talent I appreciate) they're satirists; they shock and disturb because they're trying to make a point. I don't know what kind of point McFarlane is trying to make--that the '80s was a great decade? I grew up in the '80s; I would rather undergo a colonoscopy. And if someone asks "Then how do you account for--?" and quotes Ted's boxoffice receipts to me, I'll simply respond with P.T. Barnum's one-time remark about suckers. Serves him right, too.

Marc Webb's The Amazing Spider-man is a little less than. Andrew Garfield plays the angrier, edgier Peter Parker--and that's part of the problem. There's no real surprise here of a loser nerd type (like Tobey Maguire) suddenly standing up and spurting sticky substances from his wrists, only a James Dean troubled teen already spoiling for a fight.  Garfield is a good actor being typecast where Maguire was a funny running gag good for three movies (almost).

Webb (cute last name, but he's better off doing rom-com) puts the focus on Parker's melodrama, and shoots most of his action at night, the better to hide the digital fudging. Smart move; Raimi was ballsy enough to stage his digital webslinging in daylight (I love the largely orange-tinted view of New York) but then Raimi didn't give a damn (as can be seen in the Evil Dead films and Drag Me to Hell, he wore his cheesy effects proudly on his sleeve). After a while you realize that Webb prefers melodrama; his fight sequences are an incoherent mess of the non-shaky-cam type (What were those cars doing there hanging from the bridge? If Spidey saved them why didn't we see him saving them?). Arguably Webb is heir to the Rob Reiner and Mel Brooks School of Directing, comic filmmakers who can tell a story (and sometimes even coax a good performance from an actor) but haven't a clue how to construct a proper action sequence. When I said it's time to get someone else to direct the fourth Spidey picture I meant a filmmaker.

Talk about needing to get a filmmaker: Brave is reportedly Pixar's first animated feature with a strong female lead. Redheaded princess who kicks serious butt--now where have we seen that before?

Unfortunately Pixar may talk the talk but hasn't learned lesson one about what makes Studio Ghibli films so great. The subtlety of detail; the gorgeous handpainted background art; the use of silence and understatement to add depth and poignancy. The adult level of the storytelling--not adult as in rated R violence (though Ghibli has been there before) but adult as in indirect and unhurried and sophisticated, designed for audiences unafflicted by ADHD (a joke a minute, a chase every other). 

The triplet brothers are wonderful--they deserve an animated short all their own.

Might as well add that amongst Pixar's recent efforts, Brave isn't half as fun as half of Cars 2, the Michael Caine half (maybe not even half); that it tries for too much heart, which, as I mention in the above piece, isn't Pixar's strong suite in my view; that this latest movie is far more ambitious, but there's something to be said about doing something unpretentious; that a middling entertainment like the aforementioned sequel, with nothing more in mind than to amuse and make more money, is more Pixar's speed.

Oliver Stone's Savages is possibly his best work in years--not exactly high praise, but it's really not bad. Violent, funny, sexy, with a careful balancing act that keeps it just this side of being racist (a trio of Californian weed dealers struggling to stay ahead of a Baja drug cartel--what keeps it from stepping over is that everyone is sympathetic and everyone dirty; if they're not, they soon will be).


It has the density and nuance one only gets from a novel--Stone needs that to anchor his coked-up storytelling drive. What with the fashionable style nowadays being to shoot shaky-cam and cut the footage ADHD fast, Stone slows down his editing to just nervously jagged and hurls the camera along with the confidence and grace of a real veteran. And he's not too flashy; he's not trying to overload our circuitry the way he did in Natural Born Killers. He gives the plot its due, enhancing instead of engulfing the narrative. He gives the finale an odd twist, a variation of the novel, but strangely enough his addition sounds like the more reasonable, more true-to-life one. Man has grown.

Call me perverse, but I enjoyed Woody Allen's To Rome with Love far more than I did his previous endeavor set in Paris. Seems to me with Midnight in Paris he felt that all he had to do was namedrop Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Picasso, Bunuel and the like, and he has the interest of his audience; here he's using all-fictional characters and he actually has to work a little to entertain us. 


The effort works; perhaps his best idea is Roberto Benigni (Benigni, of all people!) suddenly becoming famous for the sake of being famous. The conceit speaks volumes about our celebrity-obsessed culture (Kim Kardashian and Snooki anyone?), and puts Benigni's sad-sack face to full and even sympathetic use. Allen himself appears onscreen after a long hiatus as an avant-garde opera director, and acquits himself well (the stammer is still funny); Jesse Eisenberg makes for an amusing young Woody surrogate (his stammer impersonation is funny).


And finally, a kind of announcement. Am going to stop writing for Businessworld and stop writing here in this blog at least for a while, to focus on finishing that damn book I promised to finish for the past seven years. 

Doesn't mean I won't put up something once in a while--but it won't be as in-depth, and it won't be regular. Priority is the book right now, and if what I hear from some people is correct, it's about time.

Hopefully I do get to finish it--owe him that much. 


So long for now. 


7/16/12

11 comments:

Dennis Yu said...

"Marc Webb's The Amazing Spider-man is a little less than. Andrew Garfield plays the angrier, edgier Peter Parker--and that's part of the problem."

I thought the angrier, edgier version places the comic book setting on firmer ground. It gives the story a somewhat broader appeal.

"There's no real surprise here of a loser nerd type (like Tobey Maguire) suddenly standing up and spurting sticky substances from his wrists, only a James Dean troubled teen already spoiling for a fight. Garfield is a good actor being typecast where Maguire was a funny running gag good for three movies (almost)."

Dean in Rebel Without A Cause was more uninhibited (and at times, over the top).

"Webb (cute last name, but he's better off doing rom-com) puts the focus on Parker's melodrama, and shoots most of his action at night, the better to hide the digital fudging. Smart move; Raimi was ballsy enough to stage his digital webslinging in daylight (I love the largely orange-tinted view of New York) but then Raimi didn't give a damn (as can be seen in the Evil Dead films and Drag Me to Hell, he wore his cheesy effects proudly on his sleeve). After a while you realize that Webb prefers melodrama; his fight sequences are an incoherent mess of the non-shaky-cam type (What were those cars doing there hanging from the bridge? If Spidey saved them why didn't we see him saving them?). Arguably Webb is heir to the Rob Reiner and Mel Brooks School of Directing, comic filmmakers who can tell a story (and sometimes even coax a good performance from an actor) but haven't a clue how to construct a proper action sequence. When I said it's time to get someone else to direct the fourth Spidey picture I meant a filmmaker."

The action sequences were borderline (almost, but not quite) Gary Ross-que, Hunger Games-que incoherent. The night scenes reflect, perhaps, the main character's emotional turmoil.

I thought Webb could be melodramatic AND authentic at the same time.

By the way, there was one scene that reminded me of Hellboy 1: the funeral scene near the end of the movie (black umbrellas, rain, girl looking up, etc).

Etchie said...

Good luck on the book, Noel :)

Noel Vera said...

I just felt Garfield was doing what he's always been doing, angry young man. There's no surprise to his performance. While Maguire--you don't see him as superhero, and that's the wonder of his performance, that you don't see it, and suddenly Raimi makes you see it. He's vulnerable and timid.

I don't know about broader appeal. This movie hasn't made as much as Raimi's first two movies taken separately.

But I know where you're coming from. I'd rather see an eccentric, nuanced, eclectic approach than one with broader appeal.

No, Webb isn't as bad as Ross. But he's careless. And he fails to emphasize important story points--the entrance of The Lizard (he just pops up, after a few long shots). And there's no tingle or drama to Spidey's rescue of all those cars on the bridge. In a big Hollywood production, that's not so forgivable.

And you can reflect inner turmoil and still be visually coherent. James Gray did it wonderfully in the car chase in We Own the Night.

Marta Clavero said...

good jobs

Noel Vera said...

Yeah...

Quentin Tarantado said...

Glad to hear you're finishing THE book. I'm sorry to hear you'll be de-emphasizing work on this column. It's been a regular drug for me and it looks like I'm going to go on rehab.

Noel Vera said...

I hope it's A book, and I can do some more. But who knows? Que sera, sera.

Marianne said...

I kept wishing it wasn't true -- you're not really going to stop blogging, are you?

Thank you for posting about "The Dark Knight Rises" . . .

M

Noel Vera said...

Thanks for the kind words!

It's tru-ish. Might post here once in a while, but the focus is on the book.

Even Dark Knight wasn't a priority. The troll rampaging in the comment section is pure amusement value.

Dennis Yu said...

Didn't plan to. Saw "Savages" yesterday. The first 30 to 60 minutes, I thought, were crucial: I was deciding whether to leave or not. Then, the story (movie) became compulsive.

One of Salma Hayek's lines (describing her daughter) in the film sums up a lot of things: "She hates me. And I'm proud of her because of it."

Noel Vera said...

I'm surprised I like something of his again.

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