10 Movies Everyone Seems to Hate, but I Absolutely Love, Part 2

10/15/11

Remember how I said this would be up two days after the first part, at the most? Yeah, never mind.

We're on the top five now. I should probably give these entries more descriptive titles. Not like anyone's reading them, anyway. You're going to want to keep in mind, here, that these are not necessarily movies I think are good; they are merely movies I enjoy. I also enjoy, say, a McDouble with cheese, but that doesn't mean it's a good burger. It's a pretty crappy burger. But I like burgers in general, and there are far worse burgers out there than the McDouble. Metaphorically speaking, I mean. I'm talking about movies, here. You... you got that, right?

5. Van Helsing
The story's a mess, the acting's passable at best, and there are so many monsters featured, not one of them gets ample screen time. But this movie is awesome. For one thing, there is a disheartening dearth of action films taking place in the nineteenth century, which is really quite a shame, because that was kind of an awesome century. This is just a personal preference, but any film that takes place in Victorian England pretty much automatically gets a passing grade from me. That that atmosphere is suitably dark and gloomy while still being colorful  - as opposed to the browns and blacks of today's dark movies - is a plus, as well.

Further, this movie gets one thing right in a way very few others do nowadays - it presents classic movie monsters as classic movie monsters. Dracula is threatening and monstrous, not sexy. Frankenstein is angsty and morose, rather than the mindless brute our culture makes him out to be. It's really quite refreshing.

Plus, as was the case with Sucker Punch in my last post, this movie tries to look good, and succeeds enormously. The sets look cool. The costumes look cool. The effects look cool. This is a cool movie. I know you shouldn't place style above substance, but I'm kind of an aestheticist - sometimes style has a substance of its own. The important thing is, the movie made me want to be a part of the world it presented, and thus drew me, the viewer, into it.

4. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
The first strike this movie had against it was that it was based on an Alan Moore book, which naturally meant that fans of the book were going to detest it. The issue is that, at least with V for Vendetta and Watchmen, the public in general liked the films. Not so here. League was a critical and commercial failure, and even SyFy won't show it. Most people remember it as "The movie that made Sean Connery quit doing movies."

So why do I love it? Well, firstly, everything I said about Van Helsing applies here - the time period, the atmosphere, the fact that everything looks awesome. Not to mention, I actually enjoyed the characters here - Sawyer aside, of course. If they made a movie specifically about this interpretation of Dorian Gray - as a badass immortal secret agent - I would watch the hell out of that movie. The story's fairly mundane "save the world" stuff, but the character interactions are legitimately interesting, and the acting was actually really good, given that the story was about a group of mutant secret agents who need to save the world from a group of mutant evil secret agents. Not much else to say, really.

3. Prince of Persia
For some reason, a complaint frequently leveled against this movie is that the Irish Jake Gyllenhaal was playing a Persian. I never really got why that was a problem. I mean, Charlton Heston once played a Mexican. Now, Gyllenhaal's no Charlton Heston, but he still gets the job done here. As for the unfortunate implications surrounding the fact that the only white actor is playing the protagonist, well, those are legitimate, but they don't have much of a bearing on the film's actual quality.

Once again, the story is nothing to write home about - although the ending, in my opinion, was very, very clever - and the dialog here is pretty shoddy, as well. So why do I like it? The characters. You've seen all of them millions of times before - you could call them clich├ęd - but they're used very well here, and they're all likable, and so they make the movie likable. They're all iconic figures, from the rebellious prince to his evil usurping uncle to the creepy snake antagonist, and that makes the movie feel iconic, as well. I'm not saying it's a classic - though if the dialog were better, it easily could have been - but I am saying that watching it felt a lot like watching the first Pirates of the Caribbean. Just, you know, without the clever dialog. Or Johnny Depp.

2. Final Fantsy: The Spirits Within
Basically, there is one reason that people hate this movie: it has "Final Fantasy" in the title. So, naturally, fans of the video games hate it because it didn't fit in with the series' canon (though, considering that they allowed in the monstrosity that is Final Fantasy XIII, their standards clearly aren't very high) and non-fans hated it because they assumed it would only be entertaining to fans of the games.

The film's notable for the fact that it was a full-length animated feature to use photo-realistic CGI, and I thought it did a very nice job, especially with eyes. Some people had complaints about the hair, but I only really notice that it looks off if I specifically concentrate on the hair, which is kind of a weird thing to do while watching a movie. At any rate, it was better-looking than The Polar Express.

Unlike most of the other movies on this list, this one's got a very, very interesting story, but very, very bland characters. It involves alien ghosts inhabiting a meteor that's slowly coming to earth and causing all sorts of ecological issues. It's very new-agey stuff, and I'd like to imagine that it partially influenced the story of District 9. The characters, on the other hand, are all either scientists or space marines, or, in a few cases, both. But their bland shells react to the impending doom appropriately enough, and it all works together pretty well - the world, not the characters, are the focus, anyway.

So, what's number one? I mean, it doesn't really matter, since - for the most part - I pretty much just put these down in random order, but I did specifically set this one aside for the number one slot for some reason or another:

1. The Brothers Grimm
With most of these movies, I know exactly why people hate them - I can see what's wrong with them, I acknowledge their flaws, I'm just too busy enjoying myself to mind. But with this, I have absolutely no idea why it gets so much flak. I mean, there's no real vitriol directed at it, it's more of just this pervading societal acceptance, for whatever reason, that this is a bad movie. I mean, it's got a 5.9 on imdb. I don't really take imdb ratings seriously, but that's still pretty low for a movie without any gaping flaws, to my mind.

The characters are great. I love these guys. Their schtick is, they'll trick some villagers into believing a monster is haunting their town, and then they'll "kill" the monster for a pretty hefty sum of gold. They're con men of the most entertaining sort. So, one day, they stumble across a real monster attack, and naturally they have to help - I admit, I suppose that premise might sound a bit hackneyed, but stay with me here.

 The movie plays out like a super-adult fairy tale - think Pan's Labyrinth. As Damon and Ledger - did I mention Heath Ledger's in this? Because Heath Ledger's in this - investigate further into the disappearing kids, they discover progressively more grotesque renditions of classic fairy tales. The gingerbread man will haunt your dreams. There is a scene with a cat. Spoilers: good things do not happen to this cat.

It has an interesting story, great characters, and great acting. Go out and watch it. Right now.

10 Movies Everyone Seems to Hate, but I Absolutely Love, Part 1

10/7/11

Yes, I've devolved into top-ten lists. So sue me.

I was originally going to entitle this "10 Severely Underrated Movies," but to do so would be somewhat inaccurate. These aren't necessarily good movies. The qualms people have with them are, for the most part, accurate - these movies are not, objectively speaking, good. But I am not speaking objectively, and I am not writing about movies that are good. I am writing about movies that I like.

Quick note: You'll notice that these movies are, for the most part, modern movies. I watch plenty of older films. But older films are generally regarded as being much better (personally, I think this is because, nowadays, we can only remember the good ones). Further, The older films I've seen are films that are well-known, and they are usually well-known because they're either very good, or horrendously bad. I'm writing about films that are largely disliked (not merely unknown), but I enjoy (meaning they aren't necessarily good). These aren't guilty pleasures, because I don't feel guilty for liking them - rather, they are movies with large, visible flaws, but which I simply enjoy too much to mind said flaws.

10. The Matrix Prequels. 
No, Reloaded and Revolutions are not as good as the original. Yes, the Wachowski Brothers got too philosophical. But these movies aren't exactly bad - just not as good. And, let's face it, the original was not perfect. The effects are clearly dated. The choreography was just as lacking. Only four of the characters actually had personalities. And, come one, the concept "What if Our World Was Actually a Computer Simulation" is hardly groundbreaking philosophical material. I'm not saying it was old at the time - it had been done before, though not as well - merely that it's, well, silly. There is a Simulation Hypothesis which actually makes a pretty good argument for this theory. I don't believe it, but I can respect it. The Matrix does not make this argument. That is not to say the film is bad - just that it's not infinitely better than the sequels, as many claim. The primary reason people prefer the original is that the best, most memorable part of the series is the atmosphere, and the original introduced that atmosphere, whereas the sequels merely used it.

Quick note: many people make jokes about what would happen if Neo took both pills. It's really quite simple. One pill took him out of the Matrix and allowed him to wake up in the real world. The other erased his memory of the night and allowed him to live his false life without any knowledge of the meeting. Presumably, then, if he took both, his would lose his memory of the night  and  be enabled to leave the matrix - but he never would, because he would have no knowledge of it.

9. Sucker Punch
Once the credits rolled, I knew people were going to hate Sucker Punch. How? The audience cheered. And not in a heart-warming way, as with Miracle on 34th Street, or because the film's ending deserved a cheer, as with The Dark Knight. No, this was the sort of drunken, stupid cheering you hear from frat boys when a girl flashes them. I was ashamed to be among them (not cheering, but enjoying the film). I liked to think of myself as above these people. They probably cheered at Transformers, for chrissakes. Now, there's a movie that deserves every ounce of hate it gets.

But I enjoyed it. Because it was not the same type of big-budget box-office schlock you saw that summer. It was not a Michael Bay movie. Yes, Sucker Punch consisted primarily of CGI-driven action scenes, but there's a difference - these were damn good CGI-driven action scenes. What I liked about them is that they were almost strategic - in most fight scenes nowadays, fighters A and B will hit/shoot at one another until eventually one of them wins because the script says so. In Sucker Punch, you can tell exactly what happens in each fight and what effect it's going to have - the lead character is using a katana and a pistol against a large statue with a gatling gun, so she is going to hide behind this pillar and hide behind it until he is shooting at that location, at which point she can leap out at a certain angle to land atop him.

Further, the film feels tactile. When you see a gun go off, you can feel the recoil, and when someone strikes a lighter, you are made hyper-aware of the flint striking the steel, and of the impending fire. I like that. There's a shit-ton of CGI that goes into making the movie feel this way, but it severs a purpose - all of Snyder's films exist in some sort of alternate universe where every action and every detail is magnified by a power of ten. The whole thing is blown to obscene levels of camp. But it works. Snyder is way behind Guillermo del Toro, but he's clearly going after the same sort of feel.

Snyder is frequently criticised for relying on a technique whereby action will slow down and then suddenly speed up. He does this a lot. I'm not denying that. But it serves a purpose. We need to know who is doing what in these fights. In most movies (Transformers) things are happening really, really quickly and the audience is left with no clue of what's happening. This issue is generally exacerbated by the fact that some directors (Bay) have trouble keeping the camera running for longer than two seconds. Snyder does not do this. Snyder knows better.

There are a lot of things this film does that I wish others would do - the CGI here is used to make things look nicer, as opposed to making them look ruined. Yes, the girls are all unrealistically portrayed - but if you're going for an action film, you want to make a film that is fun to look at. You want it to be aesthetically pleasing. I'd rather watch attractive, perfect people in bright, happy, stylized environments than people covered in grim and rolling around in the same stretch of gray ruins for two hours. I really enjoyed the ending, because SPOILERS: the main character is forced to stay behind and provide a distraction while a secondary character runs off freely. I loved that. Because The main character was legitimately insane - most of the movie is her hallucination! She should be in a mental institution. The one who runs free is sane, and does not deserve to be there. She only came to the asylum to watch over her mentally-unstable sister.

People say that there was not enough of a connection between the real world and either of the two levels of hallucinations - I agree. That's pretty much my only complaint about the film. But, to be fair, there are eighteen minutes that were removed from the film to give it a PG-13 rating. I think it's safe to assume, given the undertones of rape, that the eighteen minutes in question show a lot more of the real world. I haven't seen the full version yet, but I have the feeling it's a much better movie.

8. Lady in the Water
Firstly: Yes, the film is self-indulgent. I know. Lady in the Water is blatant masturbation. But when I first saw the film, I had no idea who M. Night Shyamalan was, or why he would paint himself as a brilliant visionary speaking to an uneducated public. I do now. But my opinion of the film was formed before I learned of the real-world parallels, and the movie hasn't changed - only my knowledge. When I first saw the movie, I liked it, and I haven't noticed any flaws or holes in the movie itself - only the context surrounding it.

And when I first saw it, it was really good; I liked the fact that some secondary character, rather than the main one, served as The Guardian, and I liked that the fantasy was very subtle - it was clearly about a small number of fantastic creatures in a large world that was very much real. Yes, Shyamalan's newer stuff is balls. Yes, The Last Airbender was a massive shit on my second-favorite TV show. But Lady in the Water? Not bad.

7. Music and Lyrics
What can I say? I like Hugh Grant, I like the music, and I like the cheese. As far as romantic comedies go, I thought it was pretty good. This is not a serious movie. It doesn't have to be. It's something better than a serious movie: a good movie. I mean, it's no Love Actually, to be sure, but it's a hell of a lot better than, say, A Walk to Remember. It's not supposed to be a deep story, it's not supposed to make any insightful comments about the nature of true love, it's not supposed to be iconic or revolutionary - it's supposed to entertain you for a while. I'm not saying that you should lower your cinematic standards with such movies, by any means, but a movie doesn't have to be serious to be good.



6. The Star Wars Prequels
Once again: no, they are not as good (though, frankly, I would say that Return of the Jedi - between the Ewoks and the nonsensical "choice" with which the Emperor "tempts" Luke - comes pretty close to being on their level). But they are not as good for a different reason. The Star Wars prequels have been absolutely vivisected by Red Letter Media. I agree with most of what he has to say. But the issue is, the flaws he describes are not the makings of a bad movie - they are the makings of an average movie. Unlike with the Matrix, I'm not going to posit that the prequels are as good as A New Hope or Empire. Or even Jedi. That's just silly.

But the sequels are not bad. They are merely generic. If someone were to make the most generic movie possible, it would likely be the Star Wars prequels. The acting isn't wooden - that's something of an unfair accusation - the acting is merely there. The acting simply exists. It doesn't draw you out of the film, but it doesn't bring you into it, either. The editing is, as Plinkett said, practically automated. Everything is shot the same way, all the time. That's generally referred to as continuity editing - it doesn't do anything artistic, but it gets the job done. It shows you what is happening. Bad editing is when you can't follow a film because you can't adequately see what's going on, and the effect serves only to make you more aware that you are watching a movie, as opposed to experiencing a story. The editing is bad in The RoomThe editing is good in 127 HoursThe editing is average in the Star Wars prequels.

Ultimately, the only big problem with these movies is that they didn't capture the magic of Star Wars. They didn't make you feel happy, or sad, or anything, really. And that's a problem. It's a big problem. But they are, at the very least, engaging, and I enjoyed watching them. They weren't great. They weren't even good, really. But they weren't bad. They were just disappointing. They were average. Compared to good movies, they are bad, and compared to bad movies, they are good. They had their good parts - Naboo and Coruscant look awesome; the lightsaber duels were great;  John Williams is truly God's gift to music; the march on the Jedi Temple was legitimately chilling - and they had their bad parts - Jar-Jar Binks; Hayden Christensen; putting in a goddamn eleven-year-old.

Quick Note: Han shot first. In fact, Greedo didn't shoot at all. Because he was too busy being dead. On account of Han shooting him.

Other Note: Don't even get me started on adolescents in movies. From Short-Round, to John Connor, to Anakin Skywalker, the kids from War of the Worlds, and fucking Shia LaBeouf in every single fucking role he's ever been in, even as a goddamn 25-year-old! Shortly put, they suck and I hate them.

I'll post Part 2 tomorrow, or maybe the next day, depending on how little sleep I get between now and my first class in 2 and a half hours.