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Looking Back at 2010s Films: Flipped (2010)

8 Nov

By Tanner Smith

Rob Reiner’s “Flipped” is yet another underrated treasure that I think more people should check out. It had a limited release in Fall 2010 before heading straight to DVD. No one saw it, and I probably wouldn’t have either if I hadn’t read two highly positive reviews by Roger Ebert and James Berardinelli. And that’s a shame, because this would have been the film that would have earned Rob Reiner some respect again, after a long dry spell.

And he’s still struggling, with subsequent films such as “The Magic of Belle Isle,” “Being Charlie,” “And So It Goes,” and “Shock and Awe.” (Though, I thought “LBJ” was decent.)

“Flipped” is a film that shows a love story between two pre-teens that has an ingenious storytelling gimmick of showing scenarios from the perspectives of both the girl and the boy. The girl has liked him since 2nd grade, the boy has been trying to avoid her all this time, and as time goes by, their feelings for each other start to change–he starts to like her while she develops a disinterest in him. And the best thing is, you’re able to understand from both angles.

Family film, schmamily film. That doesn’t make it a “kid film”–Watch this movie, and tell me you don’t recognize certain feelings you felt when you were a kid.

There is one major thing that nearly kills the movie for me. Bryce’s father (played by Anthony Edwards) is such an ass. I can’t stand him. He always says the wrong things without thinking about them, and I just want to smack him each time he shows up on screen. Later, when the film tries to make us see him as “a coward,” I groaned because I still couldn’t see a character there.

The only reason I originally rated this film three-and-a-half stars instead of three (which would still be a recommendation) is because while there are many family-oriented films that feature supporting characters as one-note jerks (“The Education of Little Tree,” “Secondhand Lions,” “The Odd Life of Timothy Green,” among others), this one only has ONE. So I guess that’s a relief.

“Flipped” is still Rob Reiner’s best film in years–probably not up there with “This is Spinal Tap,” “Stand by Me,” “The Princess Bride,” “When Harry Met Sally,” “Misery,” “The Sure Thing,” “A Few Good Men”…man, he’s made some great stuff before “North,” hasn’t he? (Bring ’em back, Rob!) But anyway, then again, so few films are up to those standards. “Flipped” is still a pleasant, touching, satisfying romantic comedy that more people should give a watch.

Looking Back at 2010s Films: Let Me In (2010)

26 Oct

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By Tanner Smith

“Let the Right One In”…”Let Me In”…which one of these films do I prefer?

I don’t know.

Which one is better? A part of me wants to say “Let the Right One In” for how effective it is in its simplicity, but…I don’t know!

It’s that rare instance in which I like one film and its remake equally.

Actually, it’s more than that–I LOVE both of these movies!

The story is the same in each movie. A bullied lonely boy makes friends with a strange new girl living next door in his apartment building, and he doesn’t know until late in the friendship that she’s a vampire. So now, the boy has to decide whether or not he’ll let her into his life. (And vampires can’t come into your home without being invited…METAPHOR!)

The story is the same, but the movies aren’t the same. They’re both done differently, with different styles of filmmaking and even different ideas for the similar characters. And they’re both done beautifully!

“Let the Right One In” is a Swedish import that served as an “arthouse” vampire film. The beauty in the film comes from the simplicity–for example, nearly every scene is done in one take; in these scenes, we feel the emotional weight in the dramatic scenes and the intense rising fear of the horrific scenes. The friendship between the two 12-year-old main characters (well, one of them is actually 12; the other has been 12 for a very long time) feels just as genuinely sweet as it feels dangerous. You feel the plights of both of these people, and you realize that together, they can either be bad for each other or the best thing each other could ask for.

“Let the Right One In” is as beautiful as it is chilling, because it’s really *about something.* It has more on its mind than, say, brooding and admiring each other from afar. (Did I mention this released around the same time as “Twilight?” Did I need to?) It’s about two lost souls who find each other and face an uncertain future together.

Wait, “Let the Right One In” came out in 2008, and this is part of the Looking Back at 2010s Films, so I should talk about “Let Me In” (released in 2010).

I was open to the idea of an American remake, though I was a bit uncertain, because “Let the Right One In” was so terrific. When I noticed “Let Me In” was getting positive reviews, that’s when I started getting excited…

And I loved “Let Me In” for the same reasons I loved “Let the Right One In” and yet for different reasons too. It was more mainstream-friendly than “Let the Right One In,” to be sure. But there was still a great deal of atmosphere aided by gorgeous cinematography–I felt like I could reach out and touch the movie, it was that effective; I felt like I was there!

I felt more sorry for the boy in this one, named Owen, and he’s played by a great young actor (Kodi Smit-McPhee, who would go on to act in movies such as “Slow West” and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”). The boy in the original film (Oskar) was quite pitiful and you sympathized with him, but you could sense more of a darkness in Owen’s eyes when he was angry and more misery when he gets picked on. When he has to make a choice as to whether or not he can trust the girl (Abby, played by Chloe Grace Moretz), the tears in his eyes made me feel even more for the poor kid!

And whereas “Let the Right One In” put nearly as much focus on the local townspeople who either fall victim to the vampire or become a vampire themselves, “Let Me In” keeps the focus on the protagonists for the most part (with only a prologue involving a police detective played by Elias Koteas serving as a chilling pushover). To me, I felt that was the right choice.

Oh, and the frightening-as-hell swimming-pool scene from the original is represented in the remake as well…let me just say that I lost my appetite because I was so freaked out. (The original is still scarier, again because of its simplicity, but this one got me pretty well too.)

I can’t choose! I love both “Let the Right One In” and “Let Me In” exactly the same. (And I’ve had nine years to think about this!) They’re just…both…my favorite vampire movie. And I can’t see myself bending anytime soon.

Looking Back at 2010s Films: Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010)

24 Oct

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By Tanner Smith

Oh boy…better call this one a “revised review.” Let’s get this over with.

I don’t know if it was YouTube film critic Chris Stuckmann who originally coined the phrase “Phantom Menacing,” but it stuck with me. It generally means when you’ve hyped yourself up for a film so much that you’re going to enjoy it no matter what, much like how the hype for a certain “Star Wars” movie (I think it was…”Attack of the Clones”) was built up so big that for years, fans were in total denial that it was a bad movie* until they couldn’t lie to themselves any longer.

*sigh*

I Phantom Menace’d myself…with “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.”

This was the 2010 film adaptation of the first novel in a young-adult book series called “Percy Jackson & the Olympians,” by Rick Riordan, about a kid (named Percy Jackson) who discovers he’s a demigod (in his case, the son of Poseidon) and goes on many different adventures as Greek mythology meets the modern world.

I LOVED the books! I read the first four all throughout my junior year of high school in my spare time, and the fifth (and final) one in the series was released just when school was ending. (What timing!) They were imaginative, witty, very funny, wildly creative, had great detail in its action, had great memorable characters–I could see a movie play in my head as I read all of these books!

So, when I heard that director Chris Columbus (who directed the first two “Harry Potter” movies) was directing an adaptation of “The Lightning Thief,” I was hyped…HYPED!!!

No way was I going to dislike this movie…not even when I realized the comedic dialogue in the novel were a hell of a lot more funnier than in the movie. (“That was great, GREAT demigod driving!” Who wrote this?)

I waited months to see it, and I was so excited. I finally saw it, and…I had to try and convince my friends that it was good, because I was in straight-up denial because even though I could see a lot of parts in the same spirit as the novel (even if it wasn’t entirely faithful)…and they knew that it was another bland, rushed, watered-down fantasy-adventure alongside “Eragon” and others (and more to come). They knew, and I didn’t see it that way…I didn’t want to, either.

It was still a fast-paced, fun adventure that happened to have the same names as the characters in the stories I loved. I had a feeling that once the sequels were released, people would think differently.

And three years later, in 2013, there was a sequel! An adaptation to the second novel, “The Sea of Monsters.” I went to see it and…it…just…wasn’t…anything special. Everything moved too fast. There wasn’t much room for emotion or background. There were some good, fun parts in it, but overall, it was kind of underwhelming.

And then I thought back to the first movie…

THAT was when I couldn’t lie to myself anymore–the “Percy Jackson” movies just didn’t have the same magic.

And it could have! That’s what frustrates me about it today, looking back.

But the main problem is Percy himself, who’s deeper and more complex (and also funnier) in the novel but is portrayed in the movie as a bland, half-witted teen who hardly does anything on his quest to appease the gods. Even when he decides to rescue his mother from the pits of Hades, his friends have to point out the obvious: that he has no idea what he’s doing. However, Logan Lerman, who can be a pretty good actor, does what he can.

There are some good things in the movie though–back then, they were enough for me to say, “Yeah, this is good.” Uma Thurman’s clearly having fun as Medusa, all the modern parallels to Greek legend are as interesting as in the novel (the Lotus Eater lair disguised as a casino is a great scene–see, that’s what I mean by saying much of the movie is in the same spirit of the books), Steve Coogan’s Hades is both zany and intimidating enough, and this may be a controversial opinion, but…I like this Grover (the satyr friend, played by Brandon T. Jackson) better than the Grover from the books.

But the big problem with the movie that I’m not glad it took me so long to notice–that the Hollywood studio, rather than rely on its source material to make something not only fun and engaging but also deep and compelling and REALLY imaginative…instead opted for a “Harry Potter” knockoff just to try and cash in on what’s popular. (Right down to having the director of the first two “Potter” movies!)

I Phantom Menace’d myself in February 2010, when the decade had just barely started.

I haven’t read the books in a long, long time. I wonder if the library has them…

*That’s really not fair–movies are subjective, and if you like “The Phantom Menace,” more power to you.

Looking Back at 2010s Films: The Last Airbender (2010)

24 Oct

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By Tanner Smith

I’ve been spending too much time these past few months talking about films that I really like from this decade. Obviously, there are a few films that came out in the past 9 years and 9 months that I’ve disliked or flat-out hated.

“The Gallows.” “Movie 43.” “Fant4stic.” “Just Go With It.” “Jack and Jill.” “The Cobbler.” “Fifty Shades of Grey.” “Bachelorette.” “A Good Day to Die Hard.” “Left Behind.” “VHS: Viral.” “Contracted: Phase II.”

But there’s one……….one film that just aggravates me to my core with the very notion that it even exists…..

It’s “Movie 43.”

But “The Last Airbender” is a VERY close second!

Seriously, I hate this movie. I hate it SO much.

And the funny thing is, when I saw “The Last Airbender” on TV (I missed it in theaters–Roger Ebert’s scathing review kept me away from it…so instead, I saw “Twilight: Eclipse” that summer), I just saw it as a standard bad wannabe fantasy epic and reviewed it as such (1 star out of 4). I wasn’t as “offended” by it as many of my friends were….and then, I saw the TV show it was based on–“Avatar: The Last Airbender.”

“Avatar: The Last Airbender” is an incredible show. Imaginative, fun, amusing, creative, awesome, thought-provoking, great storytelling, epic conclusion, all-around fantastic show! I LOVE it!

And then when I saw the film again, which is a live-action adaptation of the first season, that’s when I felt dirty. Like, I felt sick. And to make matters worse, it felt like it was subliminally giving me the finger while I was watching it.

Those who know me know my least favorite movie is “Freddy Got Fingered,” but I can at least give it some credit that it’s so surreal that I can understand its audience. But “The Last Airbender”…I just can’t….I can’t, and I don’t want to.

Where do I begin? Maybe with the obvious problem–it’s a 90-minute recap of the first season of the series. 90 minutes!! How much room does that leave for emotion and character development when you’re trying to unload 20 22-minute episodes into one movie? Very little. The only semblance of heart in this movie comes from the relationship between our antagonist Zuko (Dev Patel) and his uncle General Iroh (Shaun Toub). It’s brief but it is there.

You remember Zuko, right? One of the most complex characters in all of children’s entertainment? Started out as a simple villain but continued as something far more interesting and compelling? The guy you felt the utmost sympathy for by the middle of season 2? The guy who had his whole world shattered when he realized the truth about what he was fighting for and why?

Well, here, we just have some lazy exposition…lots and lots of lazy exposition that’s supposed to make us care for his cinematic counterpart.

That’s really what this movie consists of: explaining the universe and the characters’ journeys without making us get a genuine feel for it all. There is NOTHING in this film that makes me care in the slightest about what ANYBODY is doing in this movie.

The acting isn’t very strong either. I could tell Noah Ringer possessed SOME qualities of our quirky, charismatic, naive protagonist Aang–if only the first takes weren’t always used (I’m just guessing). Nicola Peltz is not Katara nor is Jackson Rathbone Sokka…I don’t care for who they are instead, either.

Actually, looking up the casting for the film, I found out that Peltz was actually cast first and that her billionaire father was a potential investor in the film’s budget (and her audition was “subpar,” according to a crew member), and so they had to base the casting of Sokka on which actor could play her brother. And apparently, Rathbone did well capturing Sokka’s fun, cocky persona in his audition and that’s why he got the part….CAN’T HAVE THAT, NOW, CAN WE??? Yes, it turns out producers felt the humor took away from the story and thus, Sokka was turned into a stiff, humorless jerk. What a crock.

So, great–I don’t care about the story or the characters, and I don’t think the writers, producers, or actors cared about it either. This is terrible. Especially for a fantasy film. Can you imagine if “Star Wars” didn’t balance out its mythos with its humor or its quiet moments or its chilling scene of Luke discovering his aunt and uncle’s charred bodies and realizing what he has to do? You wouldn’t care because there wouldn’t be any heart put into all the hocus-pocus! And that’s “The Last Airbender.”

…But the soundtrack is nice. It’s James Newton Howard–his scores are usually first-rate when the films they accompany aren’t so good. I’ll give the film its soundtrack.

I can’t place all the blame on M. Night Shyamalan…though I am glad we can move on from this horrid experience and recognize him as a good filmmaker again, thanks to movies like The Visit and Split which would come out much later. But at the time, this was the death sentence for Shyamalan–the time when no one wanted to stick up for him for this mess.

You’re still cool, Shyamalan…but never, EVER do this again.

Looking Back at 2010s Films: The Kids Are All Right (2010)

10 Oct

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By Tanner Smith

Continuing my series of Looking Back at 2010s Films, as much as I liked “The Kids Are All Right” upon first viewing, I was irritated by the characters’ codependency the second time around, so much so that I wouldn’t see the film for another 8 years.

Good thing I did, because now that I’m older and understand things more clearly than I did when I was 18 (the age I first saw it in a theater and only saw it because critics were praising it), I recognize the reality of said-codependency and therefore see the film as honest and effective.

“The Kids Are All Right” is an indie dramedy about Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore), a same-sex couple who have been together for about 20 years, raising two children who were conceived thanks to an anonymous sperm donor. The two kids are 18-year-old Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and 15-year-old Laser (Josh Hutcherson). Joni is about to leave the nest for college, and Laser pleads for her to do him a little favor before she leaves: try and contact their biological father. She reluctantly does, and the kids meet the guy, who’s a laid-back bohemian named Paul (Mark Ruffalo). They get along well, he’s happy to know them, and they agree to see each other again, but Nic and Jules want to meet him first. Paul’s relationship with the family grows, but as the family dynamic changes, things don’t go as smoothly as they’d like it to…

What makes the film as highly regarded as it is has to do with the script. For one thing, and probably the most important thing, the characterization is terrific. We already get a sense of Nic and Jules’ relationship before we’re even halfway through the film. They’re committed to each other, but it’s clear they’re not who they used to be and that causes a strain in their relationship. They each have careers, which add to the more difficult aspects of daily life–do they still want what they want when they have it? And they also notice little things about each other that they just don’t find attractive, such as Nic’s abrasiveness and condescending attitude, Jules’ micromanaging, that Nic is always busy (which makes sense, as she’s a doctor), and so on. The most telling scene is midway through in which Jules prepares for a romantic evening with Nic, and Nic suddenly becomes busy on the phone with a patient and Jules is left alone in the bathtub. This is what their marriage has become.

(SPOILER ALERT!!!) That’s why it makes sense that she would start an affair with Paul, because she’s finding the passion with him that she used to have with her wife. And of course, that’s not going to end well.

(END OF SPOILER ALERT!!!)

Will their relationship continue after the film is over? Maybe. A lot of couples go through some real rough patches, and they’re still together. Maybe Nic and Jules are too.

Btw, THIS is what I was referring to when I said I grew annoyed by the characters in the second-viewing–little did I know this is just how people in long-lasting relationships tend to behave. (Don’t review movies until you’ve had a little life experience.)

Paul is also a well-rounded character. Despite his business in running his own restaurant and growing his own food, he always ducked certain responsibilities. Now that his two biological children have welcomed him into their lives, he suddenly feels the need to play father-figure. But he does screw up the family dynamic real badly, and I was surprised to find that his resolution isn’t as pleasant as the type of situation would be in other movies–maybe he’ll have learned from this whole ordeal and bettered himself in the future…or he won’t have learned a thing and it just brings him back to where he started. I dunno, I’m sticking with the first thing–I’m an optimist.

Plus, Mark Ruffalo is unbelievably fantastic in this role. From his mannerisms to his quirks to his body language, he inhabits this flawed character…flawlessly.

And the kids are also more than “all right.” Joni’s coming-of-age is one of the more interesting parts of the film, as she says goodbye to everything she’s known, including her family, because she’s ready to move on and go to college away from it all. And Laser (man I’m jealous of that name–why’d I get stuck with “Tanner”*?) is a sensitive jock type who just wants to know what it’s like to have a man (a father) in his life after witnessing the dynamic between his punk friend Clay and his own father. He too comes of age, outgrowing his friendship with Clay and appreciating the parents that he already has.

As honest and realistic as the dialogue between these characters are (and is very well-written by director Lisa Cholodenko and her co-writer Stuart Blumberg), I think what made the script more special was the characters. If you have great characters, they can write most of the story for you.

They’re also very well-acted. Ruffalo and Bening were nominated for their respective performances–why wasn’t Moore? I think of the two lead actresses, Moore as Jules had the more interesting role. (Would that be “Moore interesting role”? Rim-shot!)

“The Kids Are All Right” was heralded as an arthouse treasure and went on to gain Oscar nominations–not just Best Actress (Bening) and Best Supporting Actor (Ruffalo) but also Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture. If I didn’t understand why then, I certainly understand why now. It’s an honest character-based drama with something to say about relationships.

*Just kidding, Mom–I love my name.

Looking Back at 2010s Films: True Grit (2010)

7 Oct

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By Tanner Smith

Continuing my series of Looking Back at 2010s Films…is it possible for a film to be nominated for 10 Oscars and not win a single one? I didn’t think so, until I checked the awards for the Coen Brothers’ 2010 adaptation of “True Grit!”

DAMN, and to think the 1969 John Wayne version won 1 out of 2.

The John Wayne version is as classic a Western as they come–a joyous, enthralling, and “gritty” frontier adventure. The Coen Brothers’ version plays the story differently…it’s not as joyous as the other. That makes it more interesting.

All the fun you can find in a young girl’s bloodthirsty quest to find her father’s killer and bring him to justice is GONE. This journey is as gritty as they come. And the ending hammers in effectively just what this crusade has done to this child.

And I’m going to talk about the ending, so…SPOILER ALERT!!!

Mattie Ross loses her arm from the snake bite, she and Rooster Cogburn never see each other again, and she grows up bitter and cold, an old maid with clearly no love in her heart. This might be the Coens’ way of saying someone this young being so dedicated to vengeance leads to a life of misery. That’s how the film ends! John Wayne doesn’t ride merrily into the sunset, there’s no happy ending (though not really a “sad” ending either), it just…ends. You can barely even argue that it even “ends” so much as “stops.” I actually found that pretty intriguing. It stayed with me more than the ending of the John Wayne movie.

END OF SPOILERS!!!

Hailee Steinfeld is brilliant as Mattie Ross, and there’s no way you can convince me that she deserved a Best SUPPORTING Actress nomination–the film is ABOUT HER CHARACTER! (They should’ve switched her out with Annette Bening in “The Kids Are All Right” for the Best Actress nod.)

Jeff Bridges is also perfect as Rooster Cogburn. He vanishes in the role of a dirty, nasty, mean-as-hell fighter of justice, which admittedly is more than I could say for John Wayne who played it almost too “safe.”

Also great is Matt Damon as the Texas bounty hunter. He plays the role as a hero from a different movie who isn’t too keen on playing second-fiddle to Mattie and Rooster’s story.

And the supporting cast is solid too, from Josh Brolin as the killer to Barry Pepper as the gang leader Ned Pepper (wait, what?) to…hey wait, is that Domhnall Gleeson as Moon?? Holy crap, I just noticed when watching this film again today! He’s definitely come a long way since having his fingers cut off…especially that horrible line reading. (You know the one–“Oh Lord…I’m dying!”)

And of course being a film lensed by Roger Deakins, it looks great. Under the shadow of the Coens and these fine performances, we’re also taken through a dark, grey, compelling world where anything can happen and anyone can die. Let me see, was this film nominated for Best Cinematography….?

Yes it was. (Whew–it would’ve surprised me if that WASN’T one of the 10 Oscars it was nominated for.)

There is some much appreciated levity sprinkled throughout, so the film isn’t so gritty that it’s depressing. But pit one “True Grit” against the other, and it just depends on the kind of movie you prefer–one that’s overall lighthearted or one that’s overall compelling.

For me, though, I prefer the latter.

Looking Back at 2010s Films: Tangled (2010)

7 Oct

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By Tanner Smith

Continuing my series of Looking Back at 2010s Films, I’d personally like to thank my fiancee Kelly for begging me to watch “Tangled” again with her…and even bought me the DVD for $30 at Barnes and Noble. (I could’ve just rented it from the local library or bought it cheaper at Vintage Stock, but whatever–that’s how far she’ll go to watch a movie with me.)

Can I blame her? It’s a good flick. And it should’ve been nominated for Best Animated Feature.

Have you heard of “Toy Story 3?” Of course. Have you heard of “How To Train Your Dragon”? Yes. Have you heard of “The Illusionist”? No? Some of you, maybe? Well I hope so, because that was nominated instead of “Tangled” that year. You thought “Lego Movie” was snubbed?

“Tangled” is an update on the classic fairy tale Rapunzel. My favorite addition? A sense of humor. There’s a lot of comedy in just how unprepared Rapunzel (voiced by Mandy Moore) is for the world outside the tower in which she’s been trapped most of her life. (“Frying pans–who knew?”) But there’s also pathos to be found in that issue as well, especially when she learns who she truly is and what’s been waiting for her that her “mother” (who’s actually kept Rapunzel there for her magic hair that gives eternal life, hence why the hair so long) has been keeping her away from.

And then there’s Flynn Rider (voiced by Zachary Levi), the dashing heroic narrator. He could’ve easily just been your typical rogue misunderstood hero with a heart of gold…well, he is, but he’s also very funny, which makes all the difference! (What do I like about both “Tangled” and “Frozen”? Both their main characters are as funny as they are likable!) His wit, his one-liners, his quick thinking–it’s hard for me not to like this guy.

It’s like if Joss Whedon wrote a fairy tale.

But my favorite character (and Kelly’s favorite too) has no lines of dialogue in the slightest. No, it’s not the chameleon. It’s Maximus, the horse that hunts Flynn down. The expressions he gives, the body language he uses, his overall intent–this is like if a silent-movie comic just happened to be a horse!

While “Frozen” is arguably better at tackling Disney-movie tropes (and ironically added new ones because it became so popular), I do like the little digs “Tangled” was able to sneak in, such as when Flynn asks why everyone suddenly bursts into song.

Speaking of which, the songs are pretty good and memorable. “I See the Light” is nice, “When Will My Life Begin” is right up there with “Part of That World” (from “The Little Mermaid”) when it comes to Disney heroine songs about wanting more, and “I’ve Got a Dream” and “Mother Knows Best” are both lighthearted and funny for different reasons.

“Tangled” is a fun Disney movie. Next time Kelly wants to see it, I’ll sit down and watch it with her.