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Tuesday: Melancholia

The performances are utter perfection and the visuals are breathe-taking.

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How many end of the world movies have been made in the past five years or so? Well, there have been a lot. While some are taking the exact same approach that we've seen millions of times, others are providing audiences with a new perspective on the matter. Melancholia definitely takes a new point of view on the end of the world, one that's very artistic. Writer/director Lars von Trier is known for having a very different core to his films. While they're controversial and most of them only appeal to a specific audience, Trier clearly knows what angle he's looking for and has an extremely intellectual core to every film I've seen of his. Melancholia faces different topics than just the apocalypse by another planet destroying Earth, but also, as the title implies, the deep and long-lasting depression that comes along with being aware of the fate of everything we know. Lars von Trier tries to approach this piece of cinema by reflecting on depression and the fear of being alone.

Melancholia displays the disintegrating relationship between newly married twenty something Justine and her sister, Claire, just as Earth is about to be destroyed in a collision with a newly discovered planet. The film has been split into two parts. The first part focuses on Justine as she's at her wedding reception. It certainly feels like this wedding reception takes place in Hell and not in this world as everything goes wrong. Lars von Trier has appropriately kept the audience in the dark for a lot of the picture. We're given many clues and pieces of the puzzle and we're left to put it together ourselves. Yes, we actually have to use our brains during this feature! I truly appreciate and respect filmmakers who create intellectual pieces of cinema. Anyways, during the wedding reception, while it's primarily about Justine, we're introduced to her family and friends as everybody appears to be having his or her own dramatic issues occurring and coming to the surface during this reception. There's a tiny bit of comic relief during this portion of the movie, especially by some portions of the movie where the viewers know what's going to happen but simply cannot believe that Trier is actually going to take it there. Well, he clearly isn't afraid to break through barriers. As the feature goes into the second part, the movie shifts focus to Justine's sister, Claire. Justine is having a mental breakdown and Claire is being forced to pick up the pieces of everybody falling apart around her. The remainder of the movie is dark, depressing, and serious. The ending of the feature is shown within the first few moments of the running time, so don't expect any surprising twists and turns here. There's a lot of interesting material here that Trier explores in great detail, although it's very slow paced. While it didn't bother me much, I can understand how some audiences have been a little bit less patient. Melancholia runs almost 2 hours and 20 minutes long with some long, drawn out shots that clearly are used to show visuals or allow us to digest what's going on. Again, while it didn't pose much of an issue for me, I can understand why it has and will continue to be a problem for some viewers. However, I find Melancholia to be one of the purest visions of depression and loneliness displayed on film. By the time the movie is over, I didn't have a sense of depression that I thought I would, as a large portion of the movie is definitely sad. Instead, I had an odd sense of thinking of things a little bit differently. In fact, this film had me thinking about it for even days after viewing it.

Lars von Trier was blessed with a very capable cast to execute his script and bring his vision to life. Kirsten Dunst is Justine. This is most certainly the strongest performance of her career. I'm absolutely shocked that she didn't receive an Oscar nomination, at the very least. This is an absolutely heart-breaking representation that's both convincing and breathtaking. Even if you aren't a fan of her work previously, this role will certainly change your mind. Dunst's performance as Justine is definitely an underrated piece of art. Charlotte Gainsbourg plays Claire. She also does a great job. She's believable in the character. Both Gainsbourg and Dunst have sparkling chemistry as sisters on screen that feels incredibly genuine. Alexander Skarsgård performs as Justine's newlywed, Michael. He delivers a personal performance that displays a softer side of him, which is the first time audiences get to see such a vulnerable performance from him. The stars of this cast shine unbelievably bright in Melancholia. Kirsten Dunst clearly steals the show as Justine. This is an absolutely brilliant performance that deserves much more recognition than it has received thus far.

As expected, Lars von Trier has put a lot of work into the visuals of Melancholia. He's an absolute genius behind the camera. Those who have seen The Tree of Life should know the style of visuals that I'm speaking of. The cinematography is utterly beautiful. Every frame of this movie could be considered a wonderful piece of art. Some of the visuals here might some random to some viewers as to why Trier decided to focus so deeply on certain elements, but nothing is random here. Everything has a purpose to the feature and is there for a reason. This is another category that I'm absolutely shocked didn't make it to the Academy Awards. This is most certainly some of the best visual work of the year. Even the CGI shots of the rogue planet look stunning and practically perfect. Lars von Trier has completely immersed the audience in not only the beautiful picture, but the jaw-dropping audio work. The dialogue is balanced and never difficult to hear. There's quite a bit of music in the movie, which comes across absolutely beautifully. Those who are fans of orchestral arrangements will want to crank the sound during this one. The surround channels are fairly reserved, but the audio will truly pull you in especially during the end of the movie.

There's so much to dissect in Melancholia that people could have heated debates about it for days on end. There's a lot of substance here, although the less patient crowds won't find it to be as captivating as I did. Despite the fact that there are some slow parts, I found it to pay off greatly. As for why this movie didn't get any attention from the Academy, I still have no idea. This is yet another snubbed picture. Melancholia deserved Oscar nominations in multiple categories. The script has some minor issues, but is ultimately well-written. The performances are utter perfection and the visuals are breathe-taking. I'm not sure what else the Academy could possibly be looking for in a movie. This picture kept me thinking even after it ended, in fact for days after I saw it. That's a clear indication that this is something that's rare to come across in cinema and deserves to be seen by many audiences. Melancholia comes with a high recommendation!

My Rating = Four and One Half Stars

Next movie: MacGruber

Thursday: MacGruber

MacGruber lacks in both comedy and action, which is guaranteed to leave you wondering why you wasted your time watching it.

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Right from the beginning, being aware that MacGruber is based on a set of skits from Saturday Night Live, this film had the chance of being surprisingly funny or an absolute dud. Well, the filmmakers decided to make this more than a comedy. They decided to add a bunch of action elements as well. MacGruber aims as a parody of itself and other action comedies by taking many of the stereotypes we've seen in action comedies as well as putting a lot of slapstick humor into the mix. However, for something that's supposed to be a comedy, there aren't many laughs here and the action isn't developed very well. Given the fact that this is an R-rated motion picture, I'd expect adult humor, whether it be crude and immature or not, although there are times where some of the slapstick humor comes across as treating its audience as if they're children. Despite the fact that MacGruber looked horrible from the trailer, I thought that it wouldn't hurt to give it a watch anyways. It couldn't be that bad after all, right? Wrong.

MacGruber is an incompetent former special ops agent. When he's called back into action to deactivate archenemy Dieter Von Cunth, MacGruber is not he case. Now, he must thwart Von Cunth's plans to destroy Washington, D.C., with a nuclear warhead. As the plot is set up, audiences are already provided with a parody of MacGruber making his own version of the A-Team. However, this is one of the few funny moments of the movie. This montage is put together well, despite the homophobic gag. After this montage, the film suffers from trying way too hard to be funny. It fails at almost all of its attempts. Since this is trying to be an action comedy, it ultimately tries to be great at both, but does a poor job at both. There's a lot of "humor" that makes you wonder what made the filmmakers even think that it would be funny. I cannot imagine the majority of these jokes even coming across as funny on paper. There are a few humorous lines sprinkled throughout the movie, although there aren't many. It's astounding that the most irritating character of the entire film is the title character. The two characters that often saved me from simply turning off the movie while it was still playing were Vicki St. Elmo and Lt. Dixon Piper, who are MacGruber's two fellow agents fighting to save Washington. One of the only times I found myself actually laughing out loud is during the coffee shop scene with Vicki St. Elmo. There are times where stupid humor absolutely cracks me up, but MacGruber features a lot of material that's a large heap of garbage. The plot is paper thin and isn't enough to support an entire movie and have it work. I suppose its alright as a short sketch, but not an hour and a half-long feature. By the time the movie ended, I was shocked that I actually made it through the entire feature. I'm surprised that a movie studio funded this script from the beginning.

In all honesty, one of the biggest appeals that MacGruber has is its cast. Will Forte is MacGruber and is just fine as the incredibly annoying agent. However, I can't see even the best of actors doing much better with such a poorly written character. The presence of Kristen Wiig as Vicki St. Elmo and Ryan Phillippe as Lt. Dixon Piper is what truly carried this movie along. They display the small amount of humor to be found in MacGruber. Anybody who knows about Saturday Night Live or has watched hits such as Bridesmaids will know who she is. She brings a certain charm to the screen, which even shows through all of the chaos created by the screenplay. Phillippe delivers some comic relief that actually works since he's one of the few normal and sane acting characters in the movie. I wouldn't have minded just having a film starring Kristen Wiig and Ryan Phillippe as agents. That might actually be something worth watching.

As mentioned before, the action in MacGruber is underdeveloped. Yes, there are explosions, but nothing else that an action fan would crave. There's no tension during any of the fight sequences and there are times it tries to randomly be violent for no reason. The filmmakers appear to think that putting explosions and a man ripping throats out of people is considered strong action. I was hoping for more car chases and hand-to-hand combat. There isn't much of either. Fortunately, the audio is perfection. If you're trying to watch a movie that won't wake the neighbors, this isn't going to be something you'll want to play. This track is incredibly forceful and aggressive. The explosions and gun battles provide the movie with a large amount of oomph. The subwoofer is given an intense workout at times, as well. The surrounds are constantly being used. Expect perfection from the audio transfer for MacGruber.

Even those who are big fans of Saturday Night Live aren't going to be finding this to be worth watching. If you really want to see worthwhile material from these stars, watch their other movies and television shows. I guarantee you'll find the talent that has successfully gotten them famous. I seriously doubt that many moviegoers will have as much patience wit this as I did. I tried to hold on for Kristen Wiig and Ryan Phillippe, hoping that they would take on bigger roles in the movie. Don't get me wrong, there are a few laugh-out-loud moments of this film, but they're far too few. The action elements of the movie are disappointing and can't even succeed as a mindless popcorn flick. MacGruber lacks in both comedy and action, which is guaranteed to leave you wondering why you wasted your time watching it.

My Rating = One and One Half Stars

Next movie: Snow White and the Huntsman

Saturday: Snow White and the Huntsman

Snow White and the Huntsman isn't all that I was hoping for it to be.

Snow White and the Huntsman
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Dating all the way back to the original stories, the classic fables have always been very popular. This especially is true after Disney decided to make cartoons about them, but make them family films. Not everybody fully realizes just how dark and graphic the original stories are. It's disappointing to see that the original, dark stories haven't made it to the big screen. As soon as I heard about the approach to Snow White and the Huntsman, I became excited to see a film actually do the stories justice by displaying the actual material. With horrid adaptations such as Mirror Mirror, I was hoping that Universal's retelling of the story would satisfy my hunger for the original story. I highly enjoyed reading the original tales as a kid, but would love to see it on the big screen. While Snow White and the Huntsman delivers with a few elements, it disappoints in quite a few others.

The fair-skinned maiden, Snow White, battles the Evil Queen with skills learned from the huntsman sent to kill her. Meanwhile, the love-struck prince bides his time from afar. The first thing to note is that, as far as the actual story itself goes, this is probably the most accurate telling of the original tale. However, it still is trying to appeal to young tweens, so the majority of the graphic material has been taken out. For example, instead of the Evil Queen ripping out people's hearts to maintain her power, she simply pushes her fingertips up against his or her chest as the victim dies. It certainly takes a lot of the effect away. Putting that aside, I thought that we're supposed to be rooting for Snow White to prevail and defeat the Evil Queen. I found myself wanting the Queen to win since I found the actual character of Snow White here to be very dull. Her scenes are drawn out to the point where they become boring. While the forest scenes are entertaining, due to the evil lurking behind every tree, when she arrives at the forest of the fairies, the pacing slows down a lot. My mind wandered quite a bit at this part of the movie since it drags its feet for a while. There are multiple major plot tweaks that simply don't make sense. There are even times where the story transforms into being on the border of being similar to the dreadful Twilight Saga. I would go into that in more detail, although I don't want to spoil them for those that are going to be seeing this. To put it simply, all of the scenes with the Evil Queen are exciting and fun to watch. Whenever it's only Snow White and the Huntsman on screen, it's no longer captivating. This screenplay has its ups and down, one of the major ups being the well-written dialogue for the Evil Queen, although there are more cons than there are pros.

The three main characters in Snow White and the Huntsman are big actors in Hollywood. However, one of the primary reasons why I was excited to see the film is for who plays Ravenna, the Evil Queen. Kristen Stewart is Snow White, which I found to be an awkward casting choice to begin with. Whenever she needs to appear valiant and brave, she appears to be the most frightened looking one on screen. She clearly wasn't comfortable during the action sequences of this motion picture. Stewart is unconvincing in the role, which is unfortunate. Perhaps Snow White could have been a little bit more of an interesting character if she was to be cast with a more capable actress. Chris Hemsworth is the Huntsman. He's already proven to audiences that he's a good actor in multiple features, although he also doesn't appear to fit in this role very well. One of the biggest reasons why I was so excited to see this adaptation is due to the fact that Charlize Theron is performing as Ravenna. She has been one of my favorite actresses of modern times for quite some time. However, she absolutely dominated this role. She brought the character of the Evil Queen to life. Whenever she was on screen, I was utterly captivated in the events unfolding in the story. Theron is such a marvelous villain here to the point where whenever she wasn't on the screen, I was wondering when she would be back. I believe that Theron is one of the only smart casting choices made here.

Without a doubt, the presence of the inspiration from films such as Alice in Wonderland is present. This is especially seen towards the final battle of the movie. The Evil Queen's army of darkness most certainly takes on this appearance. The CG work is excellent from start to finish. Everything from the costumes to the cinematography are fantastic. Whether or not you enjoy the film itself, I don't believe that any audiences will be complaining about the visuals. There are some truly beautiful shots captured throughout. While I do believe that this tone to the tale worked, I would still like to see Snow White and the Huntsman with a more dark atmosphere.

Unfortunately, the major problems here root from the screenplay. It infects the rest of the movie like a virus and sucks out a lot of what could have been an incredibly well-told retelling of a fantastic story. I highly enjoyed every scene featuring Charlize Theron as the Evil Queen, but the rest of the casting isn't quite as great. In fact, Theron's performance is one of the best things about this motion picture. Chris Hemsworth is alright and Kristen Stewart is miscast. The visuals are beautiful, as all audiences will enjoy them. I genuinely hope that there will be a dark and graphic adaptation of the original stories, as they were originally written. Snow White and the Huntsman isn't all that I was hoping for it to be. However, if you're itching to see Charlize Theron's captivating performance and the outstanding visuals, then this is worth seeing on the big screen. Otherwise, wait for it to be available as a rental.

My Rating = Two Stars

Next movie: W.E.

Sunday: W.E.

W.E. has some interesting ideas buried under all of the rubble, but the mess is far too great to be able to appreciate the good.

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Madonna is a pop-star who's known worldwide for her role in the music industry. She has now released a new album and has even decided to create her first motion picture. As soon as W.E. was announced, I quickly became skeptical. While there are exceptions to the rule, most singers who attempt to act, direct, or write end up creating an absolute mess. They decide that they want to temporarily have something to do with the film industry, although many of them don't have the skills in this business. Well, Madonna decided to crete a love story that constantly flashes back and forth between the past and present, similar to that of The Iron Lady. Of course, they're very different when it comes to the story and whatnot, but the formula of telling the plot is quite similar. Despite the fact that W.E. has a bunch of problems, I surprisingly believe that she has created a better first film than many other horrible attempts made by other singers. However, there are still many corrections I wish were made here.

This glossy ensemble drama juxtaposes the lives of a famous divorcée Wallis Simpson and Wally Winthrop, a young 1990s housewife. Wally years to have a romance as dramatic as Willis's, but soon discovers that history can be misleading. Sounds a lot like a tacky drama that you'd expect to see on the Lifetime channel, but there are actually some interesting ideas here. Unfortunately, they aren't quite explored to my satisfaction. The constant comparison between the lives of Wallis Simpson and Wally Winthrop is interesting enough, but I didn't find myself caring very much for Wally Winthrop. Not to mention the fact that the times chosen to switch between the two characters aren't very good and ultimately feel clunky and unorganized. Simpson's story is much more interesting and I would have liked this film to have paid more attention to that period of time from her perspective. Wally's story feels too much like an absolute cliché that you'd see on a cheesy chick flick. It's difficult to feel sympathetic for a character's situation when they take so incredibly long to take any action. However, Wallis's plot is much more interesting and I was curious to learn more about her character and her relationship with King Edward VIII. While there are times, such as when the film goes back in time, where this is an intriguing story, However, for the majority of the feature, it's far too messy of a screenplay to the point where it's very difficult to brush off and ignore. While Madonna isn't too bad behind the camera, she should keep herself away from writing scripts.

Attempting to bring the story to life are Abbie Cornish, Andrea Riseborough, James D'Arcy, and Oscar Isaac. The performances are all over the place. Corish is Wally Winthrop. Her dialogue delivery is fine, but this character is extremely one-dimensional, which doesn't give Cornish much to work with. Riseborough is Wallis Simpson. She's decent in the role and fits the character. This is one of the better performances in this feature. james D'Arcy is acceptable, but isn't able to act as well as Riseborough The chemistry between the two isn't as convincing as one would imagine one would have an affair for. Oscar Isaac plays a supporting role as Evgeni, a security guard at the exhibition of Wallis Simpson, which Wally Winthrop is attending. He clearly parallels the role of King Edward VIII. However, Isaac displays the most genuine performance out of the entire cast. Despite the fact that audiences aren't able to see very much of his character or learn that much, I felt that I connected with his character the most. The acting ranges from mediocre to decent, although most of the blame should be placed upon the screenplay and the rest on Madonna for not being able to utilize this cast to its full potential.

When saying that Madonna is surprisingly not too horrid behind the camera, I mean this primarily in the visual department. She has captured some interesting camera angles here. For a first time filmmaker, she actually has done quite well with the visuals. Those with HDTVs will be delighted to know that this film has a picture that's nicely defined and accurate, in terms of skin tones. Despite the fact that this movie has more dialogue than anything else, it's a well-organized and natural track. Whenever there's music, it fills the soundstage with a rich and authentic sound. There's some nice ambience that reaches the surround speakers, which provides viewers with an environment. Visually, W.E. actually holds its own quite well.

I'm not a fan of Madonna, which is why I tried to erase the fact that she had anything to do with it while watching it in order to give it a fair chance. There's no use in seeing a movie such as this if I'm biased before it even begins. This isn't even my type of movie, but I found myself interested during the flashbacks about Wallis Simpson's life. However, whenever it flashed back to Wally Winthrop's life in the present, it would lose my interest incredibly quickly. The structure of flashing back and forth gets stale quickly and by the end of the feature, it feels way too formulaic, rather similar to that of The Iron Lady. The acting ranges from mediocre to decent, although it could have been much better with this cast if the screenplay was written better and if Madonna knew how to use these actors. However, Madonna has created some decent visuals behind the camera. I just wish that she had less involvement when it came to the writing of the screenplay. W.E. has some interesting ideas buried under all of the rubble, but the mess is far too great to be able to appreciate the good.

My Rating = Two Stars

Next movie: Prometheus