One Popped Corn, REVIEWS

I Just Watched This Movie; “The Post”

Casting. A cast can make or break a film. While it’s important that the actors fit the roles that they play, it is even more important that they deliver on the acting ability that got them the role in the first place. Meryl Streep. Tom Hanks. These are the names of two of the most talented actors of all time, but they aren’t always the best, as the new film “The Post” proves. It seems that the casting directors, with a Spielberg blank cheque, decided to just grab the first actors that came to mind. They should have known these overworked actors were due to phone one in. Meryl seemed to have no idea what the blocking was, opting to simply follow other actors around during scenes. Additionally, she was especially clumsy, dropping books, knocking over chairs, and stumbling over lines as if her character would be that nervous taking on the responsibilities of running a newspaper at a time when women were significantly less respected. Tom Hanks on the other hand, just seemed to have not learned the script. Often, he would improvise or just repeat the same first amendment preaching. And when he just couldn’t remember his lines, he would stare (as if a reporter would ever take a moment to contemplate whether to publish a significant but controversial, and potentially costly, article). In regards of the rest of the cast, there were several mistakes made. One, Bruce Greenwood was cast as former Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara. Greenwood’s a great actor. The issue, though, is that he played McNamara’ s boss, John F Kennedy, in the film “JFK.” How can anyone separate his two performances to believe he’s either one of those people. Two, Bob Odenkirk and David Cross appear in the film together as fellow reporters. But they aren’t funny. Why cast the stars of the HBO sketch comedy “Mr. Show with Bob and David” if you don’t intend to let them perform sketches. And lastly, another reporter was played by Jessie Mueller (Broadway: “Beautiful: the Carole King Musical,” “Waitress”) but she was not given any musical numbers. So disappointing. This paragraph was too long- it’s the movies fault for having so much high profile talent.

Media. Thanks to the digital media age, we consume information in so many ways and at a rapid pace. This movie made me want to buy a newspaper though. You may be able to get a constant stream of news through Twitter, but can you feel a tweet? Can you hand a tweet to your friend? Can you cut out a Twitter clipping and post it on your wall (I mean a physical wall, not Facebook)? The answers are no. Online news just isn’t represented in it’s own physical form. Though, we do have personal printers so I guess we could print them to paper ourselves. Actually, newspapers seem to be useless nowadays. But this was still an interesting movie to see how journalists and publishers interact. Though, I guess that’s probably outdated too. I get all my news from random clever people, friends, and celebrities who post on social media. They all have different takes that are much more exciting than what journalists and publishers are willing to print. I mean, I learned this week that the U.S. President is, like, really smart. You aren’t gonna see any journalist writing that. Anyway, while I find the movie and it’s newspaper plotline to be outdated, maybe some people will find something relevant in the film.

Expectations. A great film matches the audiences expectations perfectly. It is jarring when a movie manipulates an audiences’ assumptions by presenting new and different information. When I see a trailer for a movie about the Pentagon Papers being published by the Washington Post, I want to see that happen in the movie. Thankfully, “The Post” is about just that. While they make some attempts to tease the audience that maybe the post won’t publish the top secret information, the movie never manipulates the audience to believe that the story will go any other way than the way it happened in real life. Thus, the stakes and suspense remain low, and the audience doesn’t have to worry or get invested too much. A nice and easy viewing experience.

While the acting and directing was as expected with the talented people involved, the straightforwardness and familiarity of the story prevented the film from going much deeper than a timely statement on the importance of the first amendment. I give the film one popped corn.

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I Just Watched This Movie; “The Founder”

Inspirational. Films often use real life success stories to inspire viewers. The new movie, “The Founder” follows the inspirational true story behind the expansion of McDonald’s into a staple of American culture. The movie follows McDonald’s founder Ray Crook Kroc as he sells the concept, and dream, of McDonald’s while cleanly disposing of the restaurant’s real founders and actual history. Unlike the business heroes portrayed in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “There Will Be Blood,” and “Wall Street,” this movie shows the right (legal) way to succeed. As a result, Michael Keaton as Kroc, ends happily wealthy with a wonderful wife he took from an associate and a franchise he took from a couple of nice guys. This movie will surely inspire a new generation to go out and grab what they want in life, staying within the law of course to ensure they get away with it. In the motivational words of Keaton’s character: “If my enemy was drowning, I would shove a hose down his throat.”

Commercialization. Art in it’s essence is an expression of emotions, thoughts, aesthetics, and many other lame touchy feely stuff. The true power of art is when it is used to mimic these motivations, but with a real financial goal behind it. “The Founder” is an expertly crafted commercial that the general public has been fooled into thinking is just a movie. I attended the screening of the film with a packed audience. They all had paid to see this movie with the anticipation of being entertained by Michael Keaton and as they put it “those guys are from tv shows right?” (it was an older audience). Anyway, when the credits rolled the entire crowd broke off into conversations about where they were going to eat lunch. Do you know what places they named? Literally everywhere but McDonald’s. You see, a conglomeration of restaurants; Wendy’s, Burger King, etc., made a movie about food and restaurants and convinced the audience that McDonald’s was born out of the pure evilness of it’s ‘founder.’ This was a perfect negative ad about McDonald’s that subconsciously convinced the audience to both eat out, and avoid McDonald’s.

Prop food. A movie isn’t shot all in just one take. For every camera set up, you can expect that the filmmakers have filmed several takes. In each take, the actors repeat their actions and lines more or less, with minor variations to performance. Due to this repetition, actors will often have fake looking food and mime eating. That way at the beginning of each take, they have just as much food as the last take (also you don’t want the actors to get fat because then that would be a mess for continuity, costume design, etc.). “The Founder” involved some of the best act-eating and prop food that I’ve ever seen. Even the extras eating McDonald’s cheeseburgers showed the same passion and delight as they would in real life. Michael Keaton is shown with food in multiple scenes and always fakes his chewing like a pro. Luckily the film fills most of it’s eating sequences with dialogue and actions as to suspend the audience’s disbelief. If there were awards for eating on screen, this film would take the cake, chew it, swallow it, and leave it untouched for the next person.

Though the protagonist is not the most likable (to say the least), the film’s editing and writing make the movie compelling and interesting to watch. I give this movie one popped corn.

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I Just Watched This Movie; “Fences”

Production Design. In order to immerse the audience in the reality of the story, a film must have production design that fleshes out the peripheral details. A set that denotes not just the setting but also the moods and ideas of the characters can create a deeper experience for an audience. The new film “Fences” takes the time to really explore the power of production design. The filmmakers chose to focus on one house, and even more specifically, that house’s backyard. As the characters play out their many scenes in that backyard, the filmmakers really explore the space and always introduce something new. We begin with a couple of chairs, then we find that there are a couple more on the other side of… what’s this? a little garden? and is that a pile of wood under that tarp? The attention to detail is astounding. And the way the characters interact with the set is always changing. Will they stand and talk over here? or over there? or will they sit? Is that baseball bat a symbol of his past weighing over him? or the power that he believes he wields over his family? The film even incorporates part of the set construction as the main character builds a fence over the course of the film.

Show don’t tell. It’s a common saying that actions speak louder than words, and film has always been a medium that exemplifies that. But what makes this film exciting is that it doesn’t follow that standard. I could tell you all the actions of characters on screen and you wouldn’t get a single spoiler. Troy sits and talks to Jim Bono. Rose comes out the door and talks to them. Troy gets up and continues talking. Rose goes inside. Bono gets up and talks to Troy. Troy and Bono walk to the other side of the yard. They talk some more. Lyons arrives. Bono leaves. Lyons talks to Troy, Rose talks to them. It’s all in the dialogue, and that’s what’s meant to keep the audience entertained. Could they have shown the plot points and events that they only talk about? Probably, but why would you waste such great actors as Denzel Washington and Viola Davis with scenes where they aren’t constantly talking?

Character complexity. A character in a movie, at it’s most basic level, must be someone that appears on screen. From there, a character is built into the person that exists in our experience of the film. A great character is one that the audience understands quickly and who shows their emotions in a very obvious way. The deeper the background and the more complex the thoughts and emotions of the character are, the harder it is for the audience to know how to feel towards them. “Fences” was filled with complex characters. At no point was I sure how sympathetic or angry to feel towards the characters. Most of the blame goes to the writing, but there is still plenty for the directing and multi-layered acting performances. I found that most of my experience of watching the film was spent thinking and being internally torn about what emotions I was experiencing. In a great film, I always know when to feel happy or sad, and who the characters are that I should be rooting for.

Though confined by the theater-like structure, the electric performances and strong dialogue were able to carry the film. If you can tolerate Denzel arguing for two hours, then there are definitely worthwhile moments. I give this movie one popped corn.

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I Just Watched This Movie: “Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2”

Evolution. Every strong story has characters that evolve over the course of the plot. The basics of story are that a character lacks something, need something, and takes action to fulfill that need. A gratifying ending is one where the character changes or acquires what they truly need. The writers of “The Hunger Games” tetralogy did not understand this concept at all, or at least it didn’t come across on screen. We all know that in the beginning, the characters are starved. Katniss and her “just a friend” had to kill wild animals just to survive. Peeta had to bake bread, which I assume was all he ate. So in order to end the series right, it would have been necessary to show them with a ton of food- really emphasize the character’s development from hungry to full. The film sadly did not include very much eating and the epilogue scene shows, by the lack of obese children, that things really haven’t changed.

Knowing Your Audience. Films are made for the people. A writer is constantly thinking about what an audience will think and feel when they experience a movie. The crew and cast must also do the same. When Keanu Reeves acts in a film, he knows that the audience isn’t looking for an emotional performance, they just want the guy on screen to say his lines. Critically acclaimed” actress Jennifer Lawrence obviously does not know this important acting rule. “The Hunger Games” is a young adult, dystopian future, love triangle franchise and as such, the level of acting should be mediocre. However, Lawrence brings her full effort to her performance and the result is a disconnect between audiences’ average expectations and the superior quality of the actual movie.

Cat. It is rare that an oscar winning actress can be upstaged, but Jennifer Lawrence never stood a chance against the cat playing the role of Buttercup. In a film that involves so much violence and emotional trauma, the passive resolve of that cat provided the movie with vital contrast.

Despite an outstanding performance being unnecessary, Jennifer Lawrence gave one anyway and the film was elevated to something more than just popular action movie. I give it zero popped corns only because the person sitting next to us really wanted one of the popped corns.

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I Just Watched This Movie; “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1”

Action. It is an easy way for a movie to capture the audience’s attention. By doing this, the audience doesn’t have to think about the deeper emotions of the characters. The filmmakers behind “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” obviously don’t understand this concept. Passing up on the opportunity to put Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) into another Hunger Games, Director Francis Lawrence instead follows the plot line of the books and keeps her underground for nearly the whole film. There are brief instances of action, though they are broken up by moving speeches by Katniss. In fact, the majority of the movie is just the internal struggles of Katniss after the trauma of the games and the destruction of her home. No one wants to see that. The reason we love and watch the Hunger Games is because it’s filled with fighting and killing. As soon as there’s something deeper than that, I lose interest.

Advertising. In most films released today, product placement deals are almost always used and can be extremely profitable. For example, the Transformers series encourages people to buy cars because… you never know… it could be a transformer. “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 _ Book 3” includes a very effective bit of product placement. As Katniss becomes the face of the rebellion, she is filmed for motivational TV commercials. The film crew that does this, uses a combination of GoPro cameras and Google Glasses. The results were HD steady shots with perfect audio quality. The amazing quality matches the rest of the film, which I’m going to assume was filmed with those same cameras. This product placement will surely cause more feature filmmakers to use GoPro’s and Google Glasses.

Part 1. In present day hollywood, it has become tradition to split books into two or even three movies (like “The Hobbits”). “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 _ Book 3 + Chapters 1-28” does this effectively. It is in fact not a complete story. This is a great way to sell movies. Hopefully, other films will take note of this strategy, and not just films based on books. Imagine how cool it would be if “Avengers” was two parts. The first part could have been about the assembling of the team. A lot of conversations in rooms as they try to understand each other and get along. Then it could end with, like, the hint of an action scene. Everyone would be so excited to see what would happen next that they would all come back and see the second part. Which would have been nothing but action.

Though it was very much focused on characters and relationships and lacked any action, the performances, especially that of Katniss, kept the film entertaining. I give it one popped corn.

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I Just Watched This Movie; “The Judge”

Drama. It’s an inherent element in all films, but it is emphasized most in the “drama” genre. “The Judge” claims to be in this genre. The film stars Tony Stark as a big city lawyer who goes back to his hometown for his mother’s funeral and is forced to stay to defend his father who is on trial for murder. Sure this sounds like it could be told dramatically, but the final film was far from it. A good drama nowadays needs a lot of action. “Transformers” is a brilliant example of a modern drama. The story and the emotion is obviously there, but what makes the film affect the audience is the expertly timed explosions and wonderfully choreographed robot fights. Unlike Stark’s previous “Iron Man” films, “The Judge” has absolutely no explosions or fighting robots. I found myself totally apathetic to the personal dramas and relationships knowing that the world wasn’t threatened by an alien invasion. “The Judge” did make a pitiful attempt by including many scenes in moving cars, moving planes, and moving bikes. However, I never felt the adrenaline rush that a good drama should give. Now if their cars had turned into robots, that would have been a movie!

Cinematography. It’s the art of the camera. A cinematographer is the person in charge of capturing the scene on camera. However, in some rare cases, like in “The Judge,” a cinematographer will go overboard. Often during the film, I felt I was watching a tourism video for Carlinville, Indiana. Every shot was so beautiful. They were perfectly lit and composed. It was simply to pretty too be believable. I would go to Indiana to validate the beauty of the locations, except the film was shot in Massachusetts.

ADR. Automated Dialog Replacement. This is a sound editing device that allows actors to record their lines in post production to replace inaudible lines from production. It is used in nearly every film, yet it often goes unnoticed. For example, this technique was famously used in the television cut of “Fight Club,” where you don’t even realize that all of the F-words are dubbed over. However, in “The Judge” it became apparent that ADR was in use when Stark would suddenly have several lines every time he turned his back to the camera. It is a lesson to all filmmakers. Get an actor that speaks very fast. Tony Stark is one of the fastest talkers in the business. I have no doubt that he was cast because he could give the filmmakes the opportunity to polish the script in post production.

Despite my criticisms, I found the film to be a collection of stellar performances that made a predictable plot into an emotional and entertaining experience. I give it one popped corn.Screen Shot 2014-10-04 at 3.49.01 PM

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