14 March 2012

Good and Bad of 2011: Movies - Vol. 1

Hello ladies and gentlemen! It's time to put 2011 in the rearview mirror, and that means, of course, that it's time to dissect, praise, and rip apart movies that deserve some damn recognition. The annual Ramblings of a Minnesota Geek Good and Bad of [insert year here] is about to begin! Get ready for SIX days - count 'em, SIX! - worth of movie talkin'. I even made a spiffy new banner thingy just for y'all. I swear, one of these days, I might actually learn how to make a competent looking banner, something Photoshopy, but that day 'tis not today!

Let. Us. BEGIN!



THAT VISUAL EYE
Confession: I wasn't all that taken with Hugo. What I was taken by, though, was the directing work of Martin Scorsese. The first, say, ten minutes, are filled with so many marvelous shots that I couldn't help but think, 'y'know, this is pretty cool.' Unfortunately the movie didn't live up to my expectations, but the sheer visual beauty of it - yeah, that amazed me. And near the third act, when the movie switches time periods even more, how Scorsese directs - it's clear his love for film is on every inch of the frame. Hell, it's infectious. Even I wanted to watch me some George Melies films. How Scorsese directed the movie, it was as if we were in the world of Hugo, not some passerby observer. We were in this children's book, and it was awesome. The train station, marvelously shot and brought to life. The train catastrophe - with the exception of some minor poor special effects - was fine enough I'd sign Marty up for Speed 3: Off the Rails. Martin Scorsese is the director of the year because of the simple fact that how he brought Hugo to life left an impression on me. It's not his fault the script was less than spectacular, his job was to present a whole new world, and he did that, with some reaaaallly spiffy camera shots that left me quite smitten. Consider me eagerly looking forward to his next work.

Of course take everything I say with a grain of salt. You're reading the blog of a young adult who thinks Michael Bay is a genuinely talented director and Transformers: Dark of the Moon was visually stunning...

“At the Beach/You Have to Do This”, Take Shelter
There are two standout scenes in Take Shelter, both which heavily rely on Jessica Chastain being the amazing actress that she is. The first scene that is just so completely powerful and memorable is when Shannon has brought his wife and daughter into the storm cellar to pass a night’s thunder and lightning, and by daybreak, Shannon is so struck with fear, so assured that the storm is still brewing in full force that he refuses to open the latch, Chastain, as calmly and tenderly as she can, tells her husband that only he can open the latch, that only making that gesture will force him to face what’s been ailing him for weeks. It’s about five minutes of the strongest, most captivating performances of the year. And secondly, the finale. I don’t want to spoil it too much, but it is spine-chilling, hair raising and bloody unforgettable.

“Tense Rides in Elevators”, Drive
Yes, I went there. At this point, the elevator scene from Drive has been hyped to death. Why? Because it works. It really does. Often I felt uncomfortable at the too long periods of time where the characters didn’t speak. I get it; it’s all about character nuances and the quietness and all that jazz, but sometimes it would go on for uncomfortable amounts of time. The silence, the looks, the gestures – everything about this scene is transfixing. My eyes will not leave the screen every time I watch this scene. Even the damn lights add to the effect – dimming as Driver leans towards Irene and gives what could very well be his last kiss (though I like to think of it as his ‘I need it for good luck, yeah? Thanks’ smooch), everything works, all the way to that last heartbreaking shot of Driver looking at a terrified Irene as she walks away…to work… Wonderfully done.

“Release”, X-Men: First Class
For all its glorious scenes of mutant abilities and cameos and fight scenes, the most remarkable, the most memorable and intense scene in the entire movie, is a moment of serenity. During the training montage, Xavier challenges Erik to move a satellite dish, wish Erik tries to do with the best of his abilities, but finds that he can’t. Xavier enters his mind, and conjures up an old memory, a memory that gives Erik release, that gives him happiness, that gives him power. With McAvoy and Fassbender filling in the roles of Xavier and Erik, respectively, this scene transcends the screen, making it one hell of a moment, forever etched in my mind as one of the greatest character beats in all of superhero films. It’s moments like this that makes First Class one of a kind.

“Inevitable”, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
There wasn’t a whole lot that was memorable with this Sherlock Holmes sequel (aside from the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises trailer…), but the climax, with Sherlock and Moriarty facing off intellectually – well, that was phenomenal. Director Guy Ritchie has shown us Sherlock’s mind, how he operates by thinking his moves through before he takes action. Well, turns out that Sherlock ain’t the only clever guy around, and Moriarty proves himself more than a match intellectually, but also physically, leaving the outcome of their game inevitable. But Sherlock has an unexpected trick up his sleeve, and it’s a cinematic doozy. One hell of a scene.

“What?”, Crazy, Stupid Love
At this point, also in the same vain as Drive, a scene talked about a lot, and has probably been hyped up too much to be effective at this point for any new viewers, but me, seeing it opening night – this was wildly hilarious. So many plotlines coming to a head in this single location, with so many twists and turns I didn’t see coming. This was truly a highlight, a real surprise – an honest rarity in movies, these days. Over hyped or not, I love this scene, and the movie is pretty spectacular, too.

“Fun Air Ride”, Bridesmaids
Funny movie. Rolling-on-the-floor-laughing scene. Everyone’s seen Bridesmaids by now, so not much point in retelling it here. Kristen Wiig owns with all her special ticks and mannerisms and slurred speech and big-ass glasses. In what I’m sure was a very ad-libbed scene, she steals the momentum from everything else that came before it and after (all of which I love, mind you, but personally, this was the epitome of funny). On those days when I’m in a most unpleasant mood, I firmly intend on throwing my Bridesmaids disc in and choosing this scene specifically, and I haven’t the slightest doubt my day will be just a wee bit brighter by the end of those five minutes. Terrific.

“Collapsing Building, Not So Fun”, Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Every year there’s a Transformers movie I say this, but go ahead and diss Michael Bay all you want – wrong as it may be, in my opinion – but that man knows perfectly well how to craft an intense, electrifying scene that the fanboy in me has always wanted. For the longest time, I wanted to see our main character trapped in a building that any second is gonna collapse and break into a bazillion pieces (although in my imagination, Godzilla was involved in some capacity, but I can deal with giant robots instead), and Bay delivered that with his signature style. A riveting ten minute scene, beautifully shot, digitally perfect – the whole damn thing, love it, and I won’t forget a second of it.


THE FANTASTIC SCORES OF 2011


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II – Alexandre Desplat

For a climax of an eight-film saga, with more action beats in its two hour running time than its predecessors, there is something weirdly subdued by Desplat’s score for this grand finale. As the movie nears its conclusion, we get the grand epic themes I was expecting, in respect to the war reaching new unimaginable heights of intensity and the final confrontation between Harry and Voldemort, but outside of those few tracks, this score is surprisingly quiet. Desplat boasts some marvelous work in this final entry, particularly the trip down memory lane for Snape and the Final Battle at Hogwarts cue before the Big Finale. Still, I can’t help but fantasize about how John Williams would have closed out the series.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon – Steve Jablonsky

There are two composers who are your basic go-to guys for action scores: Alan Silvestri and Steve Jablonsky, because you know they can deliver the goods. Jablonsky, under the assumption this would be the last Transformers outing, gives it his all. The score stays perfectly within the established tone of the previous installments, and reflects the apocalyptic, last-ditch-effort-to-save-the-world storybeat perfectly. “Battle” and “I’m Just An Messanger” are examples of Jablonsky working his groove. He also channels the resonating emotional cues just as well, such as when the Autobots are exiled and supposedly blown out of existence. It may not be a deeply nuanced score like people are looking for, but it’s great and Jablonsky’s work is always worth a nod.

Hanna – The Chemical Brothers

Their type of techno music isn’t always my cup of tea, but sometimes the situation just calls for it, as is the case for Hanna. Take a listen to the track I picked out. Takes place at a container platform, and Hanna unleashes the full might of her murderous fury. It's one hell of a scene made all the more powerful by the score by the Chemical Brothers. Techno hasn't worked this well with a film since the Wachowski's Matrix trilogy.

Drive – Cliff Martinez
Unfortunately there are no tracks for me to embed, but it would be sacrilege not to mention Cliff Martinez's phenomenal work. The performances are powerful things, yes, but every once in a while you come across a movie where the music matches so perfectly with the film, it demands attention, it demands to be heard and enjoyed and consumed. Martinez does exactly that with his Drive score. Find "Rubber Mask" somewhere online, and come back and write to me that you disagree.


X-Men: First Class – Henry Jackman

There's going to be lots of X-Men: First Class love for the next few days, so might as well get used to it. The X-Men movies don't have a history of boasting really outstanding scores. I think the only time I can really say I was impressed was with John Powell's X-Men: The Last Stand, specifically his Dark Phoenix themes that rocked my world. Well, now we have Henry Jackman provide some outstanding themes that reflects the period setting of the movie, but also just gives that vibe of X-Men springing into action. This is the beginning of something big, and Jackman gets that. When the action is ginormous and all over the place, the music is spectacular. When the scene is a more intimate conversation between Xavier and Magneto, the music is perfect, a hint of darkness behind two competing ideologies. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

Super 8 – Michael Giacchino

I don’t know if it’s possible for Giacchino to craft an imperfect score. He was faced with a rather huge task: creating a monster/alien theme, creating a theme for the kids, and invoking the vibe of old Amblin/1970's action/adventure titles. Giacchino does this. I don't know where his brilliance comes from, but however he came to be on the scene, I'm extremely thankful for it. When I see his name attached to a title (even Cars 2), I'm there listening. Super 8's score does so many things right, there was a period of time where it was on loop - for realzies. Hell, I'll make a crazy statement right now: if it wasn't for Giacchino's score, there would be no Super 8. Yes, the physical product would be there, but everything that resonates with me, everything that makes this movie powerful...can be traced directly back to Michael Giacchino.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS IN HOLLYWOOD
It's been a battle, ladies and gents, deciding between Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Transformers: Dark of the Moon, both wildly deserving the award for best visual effects, but in the end, well, you can see who won. But really, let's just say that both are victorious. Each and every outing Transformers pushes the boundaries of what I thought possible with visual effects, each time impressing me with something new and monumentally beautifully. With WETA and ILM, they present to use which is basically 2007's King Kong, but on a smaller scale. This award is given mostly because of Andy Serkis, and how the effects team was able to capture his every motion, and transform it into a living, breathing creature that wasn't digital pixels - when I looked at the screen I wasn't looking at a digital creation twisting my emotions, I was looking at Caesar, and he was pissed. And there ya go, that's why it wins. Because when I watch Transformers, I'm not seeing real life Autobots [yes, I can suspend my disbelief to fully commit myself to the idea there are walking, talking alien robots - it could happen!], I'm seeing digital creations. Caesar is real, man. Case closed.

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And there you go, Day 1 completed! Come back tomorrow for my handing out awardness to deserving flicks, and the day after that, the first 9 of my top 10 favorite movies of 2011! So, what did y'all think? Thoughts? Questions?

2 comments:

Castor said...

Awesome list Andy! Loved that scene in Take Shelter as well as the game of chess ending in Sherlock Holmes :) Also glad you mention Desplat's work with the HP soundtrack, it's truly amazing and worth owning.

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