Friday, January 04, 2013

Seen in December

Bond awaits Q in London's National Gallery. Image via Sotheby's

December usually delivers some of the best films of the year and I don't think this was so different except I didn't get to see most of them. Here's what I did see:

The Bourne Legacy
Jason Bourne isn't back but his legacy lives on. Jeremy Renner is another "Super Soldier" trying to be killed by his handlers. Plenty of action and intrigue but the added plot twist of Renner's character having two altered chromosomes to be an even more super soldier seems to remove this series from its shadowy reality. At one point he is tracked by unmanned aerial drones which is the reason you wouldn't need to create a genetically altered person. Just make technology do your dirty work. But if you don't think about it too much then it's enjoyable enough.

The Watch
Should be called "Don't Watch" — that was easy.

To Rome With Love
Another Woody Allen film set in a European city. As a collection of unconnected love stories it doesn't really say much but it has its moments and the city of Rome looks great. For hardcore Allen fans only.

Another great Pixar film with stunning visuals, animation and a compelling story. It's the tale of Merida, a Scottish princess and her rebellion against her betrothal and her mother's ideals. In setting the story as a daughter's fight against a mother, a classic idea and backdrop quickly seem modern. There's a wonderful witch and sidekick crow that remind me of a Hayao Miyazaki film; the movie's magic and humour and emotional heft add to the Miyazaki feel. This movie also has some of the best animated horses and bears you'll see.

Colourful animated story of a city pet bird who has never flown but after being sent to Rio to mate with the only other bird of his kind he's forced to face his true nature. Along the way he makes new friends, learns to fly, falls in love, and teaches wild birds a few tricks too. If that sounds cheesy, of course it, is but think of it as a bird version of Finding Nemo. You know, for the kids.

Jeff, who lives at home
Funny, moving and simple story of two wayward brothers for whom nothing has really turned out the way they had hoped. One is waiting to find his destiny while the other tries too hard to force it. In the end, their destiny is to save each other.

True Blood Seasons 4 & 5
Witches and faeries and werewolves, oh my! It's a regular zoo of supernaturals - it may be a Man's world but it means nothing without a woman or a girl or a vampire. The cliff hanger at the end of season five just 'bout burned my grits — at some point a fella just gets tired of being left to hang out to dry like a vamp at dawn.

Another entertaining edition of the Daniel Craig series. This Bond escapes death one more time but not unscathed. This latest Bond flick goes where no 007 film has before. Cmdr Bond has doubts and fears and isn't exactly up to scratch but his mother issues with his employer carry him back into the fray. This movie keeps the theme that Bond is more wits than gadgets but has more than one nod to classic Bond films (the DB5 Aston Martin, and in the final scene, the familiar office of M). Another MI6 agent, played to perfection by Javier Bardem is the adversary who wreaks havoc in the heart of London and sets up a battle between resurrection and revenge. Who will win? Take a guess.

The Grey
I had seen this on someone's Best-of-the-Year list - but that was a mistake. Let's ignore the whole nonsense "the wolf is the only animal that kills for revenge." and consider this one of those takes on the Greek epic Anabasis about a battalion of soldiers lost behind enemy lines. Survivors of a plane crash in Alaska are beset by a wolf pack and follow ersatz leader Liam Neeson. The group can't stay and wait for help because of the wolves so they head "south". Are they getting closer to safety or heading closer into danger? The movie is too long and absurd but I suppose if you stuck it out for two hours, then you've endured as much as any survivor but you get to go home.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi
…and so will you after watching this simple but engaging documentary of a sushi master chef who runs a tiny Michelin 3-star restaurant in Tokyo. Jiro has dedicated his life to creating sushi and despite being an absent father, his two sons have followed in his perfectionist footsteps. There is a fascinating sequence that shows a Tokyo fish market that alone makes the film worth watching.

Elijah Wood plays Ryan, a man in crisis and the only friend who will listen to him is Wilfred. The only problem is Wilfred is Ryan's sexy neighbour's Australian sheepdog. Ryan sees Wilfred as a six-foot Australian in a dog costume, who compels him to live his life and forget his responsibilities. It's that setup that gives this series a world of possibilities.

The Queen of Versailles
How do the 1-percenters live? Well, they are just like you and nothing like you. This is the documentary of Time-Share developer and billionaire, David Siegel and his shop-aholic wife Jackie, building their 90,000 sq ft dream home loosely modeled on the Palace of Versailles. Then the financial collapse of 2008 happens. Suddenly the billionaire who dreamt of a palace is worried about too many lights being left on. Just when we think Siegel will learn humility he becomes taciturn and his wife's version of cutting back is filling two SUVs with crap from Walmart. In fact, the amount of crap these people own is unimaginable. They have so so so so so much crap. My first year in Industrial Design, a prof described Kitsch and a German term "Edel-kitsch" — we might also call it Haute Kitsch; very high quality and expensive junk. That's what the Siegel's Versailles is — America's largest home, a monument to American Conspicuous Consumption. Jackie Siegel has so much crap, she set up a thrift store, many items from either her own closet or foreclosed time share units. The thrift store's biggest customers? Laid off employees from David Siegel's company.

The Hobbit - An Unexpected Journey
Got off to a slow start and ended in an unexpected place but delivers on the big "epic-ness" that Jackson has made the Tolkien series known for. There were some scenes that made little sense to me but I guess that's because they come from The Silmarillion and not the Hobbit. I don't really have more to add other than I don't think the additional material makes sense or really added anything to the story arc. Removing it would certainly have shortened the film but in general Jackson transports us to Middle-Earth where we can momentarily forget about recessions and civil war and instead focus on the surprising heroism of a "halfingly" named Bilbo Baggins.

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