Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Armchair Film School Review - 2/26/12

Hey, my 2 lonely followers, I know it’s been a loooong time. I’ve been away getting an “edumacation”. I don’t know what it is, but I like collecting things, and I guess degrees are as good a hobby as any. But more on that later (another blog). I’ve been to the movies and Netflixing, and have a few films, documentaries and TV shows I want to review. So here it goes…..

Red Tails
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Action/Adventure/Drama
Dir: Anthony Hemingway
Length: 125 min
Year: 2012
Summary: The story of the Tuskegee Airmen who flew during World War II.

My 2¢: The critics tore this apart. I was concerned going in, but my fears were quickly put at ease once I settled in to watch this campy, feel-good, little film.
This is not Oscar material, folks; it’s escapist entertainment for the whole family, and the bonus (at least for me) was that it’s an all-black cast. I took my teenaged son, who really enjoyed it, and looking around the diverse audience (one of the most diverse audiences I’ve seen in a long time), the other young kids (mostly males) were enjoying it, too. I think a lot of critics expected this deep, heavy movie, but, I can’t say for sure, maybe Lucas felt like we should be able to watch this film just like we watched Pearl Harbor, Inglorious Basterds and The Great Escape. Should he really have to teach the world about something we should already know, considering how many movies on War War II have been made and produced since the 1930’s? Just saying; that’s all.

Plot: The Third Act felt a bit forced, and, in addition, I didn’t feel the full weight of the climax. I definitely felt it could have stayed in the oven just a bit more - another draft or two. I felt that there was too much time spent on developing the backstory between the characters Lightning and Sophia - it took away from fully developing the main character Easy’s storyline. Those who saw HBO’s Tuskegee Airmen will find very little new material here, so the film is forced to rely heavily on character development and acting.

Character Development: The strongest aspect of this film is the diversity of the characters. With most mainstream films that are not considered “Black Films,” you have one or, for those really diverse films, two black characters, and, for the most part, they’re pretty flat. Here, Red Tails gives us such a range of characters with their own struggles/obstacles. They don’t blend into one character or take up empty space. Other than Ne-Yo’s weird and irksome accent, I enjoyed watching and getting to know all the characters. That being said, this same strength is also a weakness. There were way-too-many fully developed characters for the time frame allotted. If this were a mini-series, it would be amazing, but because it’s a 125-min film, too much time spent on so many characters takes away from the main characters. The writers, in this case, should have trusted the audience to understand Lightning’s and Sophia’s relationship and growing love without giving us all the stages. Maybe we could have come in at the middle of it, this way allowing more time for Easy’s struggle with alcohol. I also felt that the Bullard character (Terrence Howard) had way-too-many “feel good” speeches that could have been simplified into one big, “Hurrah-Hurrah” moment. Sometimes, less can be more, and, in this case, less screen time with a more powerful punch. For me, Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding were miscast - not in terms of their acting - but I didn’t feel that their interactions were developed enough. Bullard was always being referred to as “The Old Man”. Really? Yes, he was older than the rest (other than Gooding, who is actually older), and it goes to show just how young the Airmen were, but I think that maybe Bullard’s being on screen so much took away from this mystical character that calling him “The Old Man” tried to project.

Acting: I’ve already mentioned Ne-Yo’s strange accent - don’t know why or what he was going for, but it came pretty darn close to bordering on buffoonery. I don’t think that was intended, but sometimes pushing the acting envelope can have unwanted results. David Oyelowo did an amazing job as an arrogant flyboy. Nate Parker needed a little more to hang his acting chops on. I so much wanted to see more of his struggle unfold on screen and I do believe he has the acting skills needed to take us on that much-needed emotional roller coaster that might have just swayed the movie critics. Howard and Gooding could have been pushed a bit more with meatier scenes and dialogue.

Cinematography: This is a George Lucas production. The air combat scenes were amazing.

Why watch: For a fun, feel-good movie that will remind you of those propaganda films of yesteryears.

Why skip: If you are expecting an Oscar-worthy film with a deep and heavy message.

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey
Rating: PG
Genre: Documentary
Dir: Constance Marks
Length: 76 min
Year: 2011
Summary: The story of Kevin Clash, the man behind Elmo.

My 2¢: Talk about inspiration. Mr. Clash shows us what hard work, determination and dreams can get us.

Plot: Doesn’t really apply here, but the structure was well put-together, as we not only get a look into Kevin Clash’s life, but a quick glimpse at Jim Henson and his masterpiece.

Character Development: I enjoyed the first person narrative and the accompanying commentary/interviews by those who know or admire Kevin Clash.

Acting: Watching Kevin Clash transform into Elmo is amazing. While many describe Kevin Clash as soft-spoken, I find him to be a strong, confident man who doesn’t feel the need to stomp around, taking over the center space that rightfully belongs to him.

Why watch: Inspiration, inspiration, inspiration.

Why skip: If for some strange reason you hate furry, little muppets.

Downton Abbey
Rating: NR
Genre: TV Series
Dir: Julian Fellowes
Length: approx. 48 min
Year: 2010 - Present
Summary: A close-up snapshot of the class system through the life and times of the Crawleys and their servants.

My 2¢: This is crack. I’m hooked and can’t wait for the next season to begin. Yes, it’s a soap opera, and maybe because it’s British and comes on PBS, I feel less guilty. Or maybe, just maybe, there’s Sociology, History, class and gender studies stealthily wrapped up in a juicy, little soap opera. Either way, there’s no turning back for me.

Plot: Some reviews state that this is just a remaking/retooling of the old PBS show, Upstairs/Downstairs, which, I must admit, I’ve never seen.The issues of class, as well as, gender are explored pretty deeply in this little TV series. However, one need not be interested in such weighty issues in order to fully enjoy all the backstabbing and twists and turns offered up each week. The show does not just give us a look at the upper, middle and lower class, but shows how their interactions affect society at large. It is also interesting to see History placed in a personal context. Interestingly enough, it makes it more personal, even though it’s fictionalized.

Character Development: The characters are wonderful, and many of them we love and hate simultaneously. If you go to the show’s website, you’ll find a character meter which allows viewers to rate each character weekly. I’m not sure if they use this in character development, but it would be an interesting concept if they did. Fellowes has done a great job at creating characters who come to life - they are real, and act and behave according to who they are, not driven so much by plot and the weekly twists and turns that make the series more soap opera than serious, intellectual fodder. Even the story’s true villain, the wicked, yet ambitious, Thomas, stays true to his nature, which elevates him from more than just this evil-plotting bad guy.

Acting: Maggie Smith steals every scene she’s in; of course, she has help from a great script, but she makes those lines her very own. While watching the show, you can tell that every character is having the time of their lives - there are no phoning-in moments. The sparring/conflict in every scene is superb.

Cinematography: It’s very understated, but I suspect it’s reflecting both the time and place. Where one might suspect opulence, instead, you find a bit of conservatism. It is almost dull in it’s lighting, which, therefore, allows the characters to be the star of every scene. The scenes are not overly saturated and, because of this, the audience is not held at a distance. I must admit to watching it on a computer screen, which might dull the visuals a bit more, so I might be missing out on some cinematic beauty.

Why watch: If you love soap operas, but hate to admit it.

Why skip: Because you say “No” to addiction.

The Big Bang Theory
Rating: TV 14
Genre: Sitcom
Creators: Chuck Lorre, Bill Prady
Length: 1/2 hour
Year: 2007 - Present
Summary: A funny look at geeks as they step in and out of their comfort zone.

My 2¢: This TV series is another one of my guilty pleasures. I watched the first three seasons and, while I enjoyed it, I felt something was missing. It wasn’t until they added more female characters, and, in particular, introduced Mayim Bialik’s character, Amy Farrah Fowler, did I really feel this was a great show. Penny alone was a stereotype and, while the male characters were also stereotypes, there was more than one to make it balance. I’m glad the creators decided to open it up.

Plot: With any TV series, coming back week after week with solid hits is difficult. However, this series manages, for the most part, to keep the hits coming. This is more of a character-driven series, and plot takes a back seat to Sheldon and the gang. The show originally centered on Leonard and Penny, but Sheldon quickly stole the show. I can see where, if they are not careful, the Sheldon character could soon run out of air. The key to preventing this is by fully developing all of the characters, this way allowing for stories to form organically.

Character Development: Sheldon Cooper is the star here, and the creators have done a great job with his backstory; his mother (Laurie Metcalf) is a great addition in developing Sheldon’s character. Amy Farrah Fowler has proven to also be a scene stealer, and I would love to see further development of this character’s backstory. I do worry a bit about the Penny character, as she was originally written as the “shoe-loving, man-hopping, simple girl-next-door type” that came off a bit flat after a while. I like that they have since given her more of a backstory by introducing her father and her need to disprove him wrong. More development needed there or else they are going to have to fall back on the Leonard & Penny love story line - but how many times can you play that card? Maybe they should introduce a new love interest that can actually compete with Leonard, thereby allowing Penny to grow/develop along with this new relationship. The supporting characters are amazing, each with their own little idiosyncrasies.

Acting: Jim Parson and Mayim Bialik are amazing.

Why watch: For the laughs.

Why skip: If you’re not into a lot of geek humor and/or references.

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