Friday, October 28, 2011

The Adventures of Tintin (2011): A New Challenge for Spielberg

The Adventures of Tintin
Steven Spielberg's commitment to Tintin probably raised an eyebrow or two. Apparently, he was acquainted with the original comic books by Hergé and became a fan sometime in the early 1980s after some critic compared Raiders of the Lost Ark to Tintin. And he held the rights for a movie adaptation for almost thirty years. The Adventures of Tintin is Spielberg's first animated movie. Interestingly, it is not done be his former company Dreamworks, instead it is made by Weta Digital. The project is in a lot of ways collaboration with Peter Jackson who is also a fan of the original series. On this movie Jackson is credited as a producer, but he will direct the sequel. A third movie co-directed by both Spielberg and Jackson is a possibility.

After seeing the finished product the comparisons with the Indiana Jones movies are easy to justify. The Adventures of Tintin is an old school adventure and, when it works, it is spectacular and channels the spirit of Indy Jones. But Tintin does not quite have the soul of it all the time. One can probably blame the technicalities of CGI for that. The characters are simple, often stereotypical and one-dimensional (much like in an Indy film), and that's a good thing in this case. The movie keeps a fast pace, blending adventure and action but has a tendency to prolong the action parts a little too much. And somewhat absurdly, the end felt both too fast and overstretched at the same time.

All imagery is rendered with realistic materials but, unlike Robert Zemeckis's efforts in this field, uncanny valley is avoided through character stylization which more or less follows the original designs of Herge. Colors and lighting are beautiful. Longtime Spielberg's director of photography Janusz Kaminski served as a lighting consultant on the project, very much like Roger Deakins did on How to Train Your Dragon and Rango, and the film-like quality of the lighting is readily apparent. The actual movement animations leave place for improvement, though. And character stylization in The Adventures of Tintin is too much on the Dreamworks side here and there (which is not a good thing for those who wonder).

The camerawork is vigorous. Apparently Spielberg did a lot of it himself. It seems like he got a new toy - the virtual camera - got swept by its freedom and could not stop playing with it. Sometimes this leads to breathtaking shots but the result is not always positive. The camera is often unrestrained and distracting. This, coupled with the occasional show-off on the rendering side, almost breaks the immersion at times.

The above may sound rather critical, but The Adventures of Tintin is actually a pretty good movie. It is probably the best animated film this year so far, together with Rango. It is good entertainment and has that cozy oldschool Spielberg feeling to it (well, most of the time, at least). Kids will undoubtedly love it. And on top of that, it features some crisp, competent and unobtrusive stereo 3D, as expected from a rendered movie.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Coeus the Boxing Titan - The Boxing Titan Spawns (2011)

Coeus the Boxing Titan - The Boxing Titan Spawns cover
Coeus the Boxing Titan is a music project originating from Grand Rapids, Minnesota, USA. Its sole member Aron "Aro" Patterson is the project's universal performer as well as the songwriter of the tracks on their debut recording The Boxing Titan Spawns. The effort is advertised as a progressive rock project that will slowly kick your ass. Well, it's hard to merely label it "prog rock" but the latter part of the statement seems completely true cause The Boxing Titan Spawns slowly grows on you: when you listen to it for the first time, the overall impression is getting better towards the end of the album and additionally, your ass is in a real danger if you continue to examine the songs repeatedly.

Although Coeus the Boxing Titan is a project that spawns genuine interest and The Boxing Titan Spawns itself is definitely a promising and satisfying effort, I am not going to use entirely superlatives for the album as many reviewers do when they consider new artists. I think such approach is quite inappropriate since it diminishes the trustworthiness of the particular review and it's perfectly possible to evaluate a good record without plunging so deep into praises. So, to start on a moderate note, the vocals on the album are at times more distractive than captivating. They play an important role though cause the singing helps to tie the various tracks together. The compositions are well varied and if there was not such a binding element like the vocal work, the recording would have a more chaotic feel.

Another piece that most likely won't win a Grammy Award is the cover of The Boxing Titan Spawns. It's apparent that the creation of the artwork has not cost a fortune and it's hard to call it a masterpiece but who would expect a great cover work from a 21st century album intended primarily for digital download. Then again, the cover is efficient and illustrates the titles of the project and the album adequately. The lyrics are worthy and attempt to carry out messages among the emotional landscapes they draw. I sense some hip-hop influence in the texts' structure and content although it's sometimes hard to differentiate the words because of substantial voice effects.

Now to the really entertaining stuff. The melodies on the album are delightful and haunting. Because of their beauty I am inclined to devaluate the singing and to call it distracting at times. There are tracks where the vocals blend well and in fact add to the melody, e.g., "Like Vegas". There are other songs like the opening "Tension In Cloudland" that only partially benefits from the singing. Personally, I prefer the melodic singing to the more narrative approach that's probably where my different perception of certain pieces comes from. Anyway, the craftsmanship behind the tunes is impressive and having in mind the presumptive low cost of the production, the sonic realization of the project is admirable.

Besides the obvious alternative, progressive, psychedelic and post rock influences on this dominantly industrial music recording, I can notice some Kraftwerk's and Mike Oldfield's passages among the electronic elements and effects in the compositions and even some glam rock ornaments. My personal favorite songs are "Like Vegas" with its relaxed but eerie spirit, "This Time" offering a fascinating atmosphere and the final instrumental track curiously titled "February, This Is For You" which provides for an elevated ending of the record.

Having in mind the consistency of the album, we can safely expect future gems coming out from Coeus the Boxing Titan or Aron Patterson. And in regard to the present release, you can buy The Boxing Titan Spawns from Amazon or iTunes. You can also find more information about the project on its Facebook page here.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Le locataire (1976) / The Tenant: Paranoid Roman Polanski

The Adventures of Tintin
If you've read Roger Ebert's review of this film maybe you think The Tenant (Le locataire) is an awful movie. The other possibility is to consider Ebert's review terrible which is probably the better option. Unlike the cases of praising movies, Roger Ebert often tends to lack arguments when criticizing films. And this time, it's hard to find even a single serious reason in his review against Roman Polanski's movie itself. Instead, the most remarkable flaw mentioned by Ebert seems to be that The Tenant is an embarrassment cause Polanski has done a film about a character like himself... The only reasonable explanation of Ebert's writing could be he has expected a lot better movie to follow Polanski's classic Chinatown.

With all of the above I don't want to say The Tenant (Le locataire) is a masterpiece because it is not. But it's also not such a horrible creation. The film is centered on Polish immigrant Trelkovsky (Roman Polanski himself) and his paranoia. Trelkovsky rents an apartment previously inhabited by a young woman who has committed suicide. His neighbours in the building are strange people hating and spying on each other. The only thing they love seems to be silence. Gradually, Trelkovsky decides that everybody in the house is against him and there is a huge plot involving even outsiders aiming his transformation into the suicide woman and forcing him to follow her sin.

The Tenant definitely has issues but it sports also some good performances, a decent plot and occasionally an unexpected scene or two. Roman Polanski puts a good performance of Trelkovsky. It could be due to similarities shared between the actor and the character but Polanski is a very good match for the role and it's hard to think of what could be a better replacement. Isabelle Adjani has a small part in the movie as a friend of the woman who has attempted suicide and Adjani is very charming and adorable, especially in the scenes at her home. And then we have Shelley Winters who is a convincingly dissatisfied concierge of the haunted building.

The plot of The Tenant is decent without being very original. It doesn't offer huge surprises and it's clear where it is going too early in the movie. There are particular episodes here and there that you won't see coming although it's hard to explicitly define them as good, rather the opposite: Trelkovsky slaps a child for a non-apparent reason and there are some double suicide attempts as well as replicated hospital visits. The Tenant has problems mainly with its ending sequences which although not fully predictable in their details are too weird and forced to be easily absorbed.

Despite its flaws, The Tenant creates a good account of contemporary alienation and selfishness. It may not be the most believable story of paranoid men but it offers considerable amount of shocking reality. Roman Polanski is probably at his acting best here although he has more than a couple of better films as far as directing and writing are concerned. If you love paranoid movies or you are among Polanski's die-hard fans, you should see The Tenant. For the rest of the average cinema lovers, it's hard to give a definitive recommendation so it's up to you and your sixth sense.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Crazy, Stupid, Love. (2011): Enjoyable, if not the Most Believable

Crazy, Stupid, Love.
If you think Crazy, Stupid, Love. is not going to offer some serious portions of drama, you won't be surprised. But if you think it will be a great romantic comedy, probably you won't be completely satisfied. The truth is, this is a good movie offering plenty of comic situations with romantic flavor plus a decent cast and acting. It is not the most believable film in its entirety but otherwise pretty much every scene could happen in reality if considered separately.

Cal Weaver (Steve Carell) is a "happily" married man who is incredibly surprised to hear his wife Emily (Julianne Moore) wants a divorce because of her adultery with David Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon), a colleague of hers. Their children and especially the son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) are not fascinated by the idea of separated parents so they try to bring their mom and dad together again. Meanwhile, Cal demonstrates big problems in his communication with other women, so a young Casanova named Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling) decides to help Cal. In his attempts to become like Jacob, Cal sleeps with teacher Kate (Marisa Tomei) as well as with several other women while at the same time Jacob unexpectedly falls in love with lawyer Hannah (Emma Stone). Don't worry if this sounds just like a trivial mess, Crazy, Stupid, Love. will grow into a bigger tangle later.

The solid cast listed above provides for solid performances. Steve Carell is good in portraying both Cal's miserable life in the beginning as well as the "self-confident" Cal later. Ryan Gosling is calm and captivating as Jacob and it's easy to believe he is all girls' favorite. Julianne Moore ensures the uncomfortable appearance of Emily after she initiates the divorce and makes the character to look guilty and exhausted. In her short screen time, Marisa Tomei presents well an ex-alcoholic teacher in a desperate need of love while Kevin Bacon is stable as Emily's colleague and tempter. Emma Stone appears charming and innocent in Hannah's naivety. And Jonah Bobo is a cool teenager with decent chances for a bright future.

The dramatic moments in Crazy, Stupid, Love. will hardly make you cry and their main purpose is to put a bit of drama in the comedy but then there are some pathetic speeches that could force you to shed a tear or two. The movie offers a kind of unanticipated twist especially if you haven't been careful and farseeing until a certain point and after it everything becomes fully predictable again. Actually, a single twist is more than anyone would usually expect from a movie in the romcom genre so in this aspect the norm is overfulfiled. Yet the film's enchantment suffers to a degree from the twist coming way too early.

As mentioned initially, almost everything in the movie taken separately is feasible but gathered in one place seems hard to believe. Thus, if you are a firm follower of realism in the cinema, you could be annoyed eventually. On the other hand, it's a (Hollywood) movie so a share of excessiveness in the number of less probable events should be anticipated. All in all, Crazy, Stupid, Love. is not recommendable for special effects and action lovers but it's an easy choice for romantic comedy admirers cause the movie offers enough entertainment and funny moments in order to position itself among the better films of the romcom genre this year.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Midnight in Paris (2011): Not Woody Allen's Best but Beautiful to Watch

Midnight in Paris
The latest Woody Allen effort Midnight in Paris is in his favorite romantic comedy vein and not for the first time it is combined with elements of fantasy. Allen is a fairly productive writer / director and his movies are not drastically different from each other so if you don't expect something innovative from him, you won't be surprised for good or for bad. What makes this film easily recommendable for viewing is its beauty.

After a series of lovely Paris shots, Midnight in Paris continues with a pretty much standard Woody Allen's setting. An engaged couple is on a visit in Paris together with the girl's parents. Gil (Owen Wilson) is the future bridegroom who is in love with the city and its beauty as well as with Paris' endless inspirational potential. As a real romantic he wants to drop his successful writing job in Hollywood in order to become a novel writer. His partner Inez (Rachel McAdams) is far more practical. She doesn't approve Gil's book-writing ambitions, neither his romantic fall for Paris. Her parents are not exactly charmed by Gil either. As a result, Inez finds a distraction in her former classmate Paul (Michael Sheen) while Gil discovers a way to visit his fantasies.

Midnight in Paris sports an interesting cast. Owen Wilson is intended to replace the usual Woody Allen character and he suits well for the purpose. Wilson is not exactly Allen but nevertheless he displays many of Allen's characters features in his own way. Rachel McAdams is not very likeable (both physically and mentally) as Inez, completely in accordance with Allen's intention, I suppose. Michael Sheen is really annoying in his performance and is another good choice in the movie. There are a few short appearances of Carla Bruni as a museum guide, maybe as an actual reference to Paris in her current real life role of France's first lady. There are also notable performances of Kathy Bates and Marion Cotillard, both of which are doing a great job, but I won't discuss their parts in order to avoid spoilers.

To touch upon eventual weaknesses of the film, I have to mention again the certain degree of repetitiveness in Woody Allen's movies although having Owen Wilson instead of Allen himself gives the film a bit of different flavor. Another possible weak spot could be the predictability of Midnight in Paris in terms that you'll be hardly surprised by the ending. Finally, the naivety of Gil with regard to Inez is annoying and not very believable.

The strength of Midnight in Paris except for the heap of magnificent and captivating shots of day and night Paris lies in its fantasy parts. They are imaginative and rich in famous characters. There are many references to particular artists' lives and works. A reference that immediately distinguishes itself is to Luis Buñuel's film El ángel exterminador (The Exterminating Angel) and it will most probably make you smile even if you are not familiar with Luis Bunuel's work.

Midnight in Paris is certainly not the best of Woody Allen's movies but it's among his better efforts of the last couple of decades: it offers a spectacular view on Paris and an exciting adventure for (nostalgic) romantics.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Breakfast Club (1985): No Breakfast, Just Talking (Club)

The Breakfast Club
The Breakfast Club offers no action, no fantasy, no special visual effects or anything like that. The Breakfast Club offers just talking and that's all. Well, there's a bit of sleeping among all of the talking but nothing really outstanding in this sleep. It's one of those movies that gathers several persons in one room and let them talk.

Five high school students spend a Saturday detention together and in the process they turn into "The Breakfast Club". They do not have much in common or at least, that's what they think. But during the day the teenagers discover a lot to talk about and the detention becomes less and less boring. They are labelled the Athlete, the Princess, the Criminal, the Brain and the Basketcase and they fit quite well in this variety of descriptions. But even such variegated group of people share similar problems and all of the students experience fear, pressure, love, failure, disappointment, etc.

Fairly speaking, the cast of The Breakfast Club accomplishes a great job cause it's not easy to entertain your audience for an hour and a half with nothing more than talking. Judd Nelson in the role of "the Criminal" John Bender does a big part of the talking and he is very charming as he demonstrates there is a lot of brain and insight behind the mask of the bad guy. Emilio Estevez is quite convincing as Andrew Clark, "the Athlete". He certainly looks and acts like a sportsman who is not sure whether he is doing the right thing. Anthony Michael Hall plays "the Brain" Brian Johnson who seems to enjoy the fact he's in detention with the others. Molly Ringwald is "the Princess" Claire Standish, a common high school character. And Ally Sheedy has the tough part of Allison Reynolds, "the Basketcase". Sheedy makes a notable performance here. She is really weird and very credible in her acting. Finally, Paul Gleason as the vice-principal of the school Richard Vernon is the least convincing in the movie but this is hardly his fault. It's just his role being too cartoonish and unbelievable.

The Breakfast Club offers a lot of fun but simultaneously it touches serious topics: students relationship with their parents; how different stereotypes in school treat each other; various ways to deal with alienation and hostile reality. The movie sports some interesting thoughts and a bunch of memorable quotes. It has become a major influence on teen films since the 1980s and many later works reference it.

There is a couple of issues though that prevents the movie from being superb. The first already mentioned problem is that the character of the teacher is not very feasible and his behavior lacks motivation. The reason that sends Allison in detention is not very well motivated either although it's a curious one. The other more serious flaw is rooted in the final part of the movie for which the filmmakers have chosen too Hollywoodish approach. Instead of adding something positive to the whole picture, this practically ruins much of the good impression the film has made until that point.

Despite the issues, The Breakfast Club is one of the more solid efforts coming from director John Hughes. He has done well with the task to entertain under limited conditions. If you are not a die-hard action genre fan and you have some passion for teenager movies, you'll probably like this film even if you won't love it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

ACDSee Pro 5 and ACDSee Photo Manager 14 Release Announcement

This is a brief inspection of the latest release of the two ACDSee photo management solutions ACDSee Pro 5 and ACDSee Photo Manager 14. ACD Systems keep releasing new versions of their photo management software in several month long periods. This is simultaneously nice since it helps providing new features over a short space of time and a bit frustrating because the fans of ACDSee software are in a situation to update their products too often. For good or for bad, below are the new features included in both of the ACDSee photo editing software products.

ACDSee Pro 5 Photo Management Software
ACDSee Pro 5 photo management and photo editing software
  • Split-toning - with this feature you can tone differently parts of your picture, for example, add a tinted color to shadows and another one to highlights.
  • Smarter Sharpening - allows you to focus the sharpening effect on edges and textures of the photograph rather than editing non-textured areas.
  • Drawing Tools - with drawing tools you can add shapes/lines as circles, squares, arrows, etc. to attract attention to particular elements in the image. (You can also adjust the width, feathering and blending of the brush to create subtle or dramatic drawing effects.)
  • Dodge and Burn - this tool allows you to target highlights, midtones or shadows for lightening or darkening and gives you the possibility to add vibrance selectively and to saturate or desaturate areas.
  • Special Effects - the Special Effects palette allows you to apply and fine-tune the following new effects: Lomo effect for applying an edgy, retro feel to the images; Orton effect to make your pictures look pastel-like and ethereal; Collage effect to turn your photos into a collage of prints.
  • Remove Metadata tool - provides an opportunity to protect the details related to your camera settings, locations and equipment by editing EXIF and IPTC metadata information out of your files.
  • Batch Export tool - allows you to make presets for exporting groups of images to specified folders, formats, file names, color spaces and dimensions.
  • Color Labels - offer the possibility to group and organize your photos without separating them in different folders by assigning a particular color to a particular stage of your workflow process (available also in ACDSee 14).

ACDSee 14 Photo Management Software
ACDSee Photo Manager 14
  • Map view and Geotagging Support - this feature comes from the previous version of ACD Systems' professional photo management software ACDSee Pro 4 and allows you to organize or find your pictures by location. You can use the location of photos coming from GPS-enabled cameras or add location info yourself. You are able to use the map for zooming in and finding all of the photos taken at a certain location.
  • Special Effects - the new pre-set special effects here are the already mentioned ones above (in ACDSee Pro 5 section): Collage effect, Lomo effect and Orton effect.
  • Custom Metadata Panel - allows you to use custom views in order to see only the metadata that is meaningful to you.
  • Color labels - allow you to tag your images with colors in order to mark their stage in the workflow process (like in ACDSee Pro 5).
  • Drawing Tools - with these you can draw by hand or select from a predefined lines and shapes in order to draw attention to specific part of your images.
  • Online features - ACDSee online features now make it possible to post photo albums on Facebook, email albums and tweet links to albums. RAW format images can be shared too.

For a full product description or if you want to get a free trial copy or directly to buy ACDSee Photo Manager 14 check this link. For ACD Systems' professional photo management software in the face of ACDSee Pro 5 look here.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Drive (2011): An Action Movie for Film Buffs by Nicolas Winding Refn

Drive is an interesting effort. The trailer may lead you to believe that it is just another action thriller movie with car chases and whatnot. And this might very well have been the purpose of the filmmakers. After all, box office depends on viewers, and the mainstream audience are not exactly sophisticated in their cinema tastes. But Drive is actually nothing like that.

Drive is the latest film of director Nicolas Winding Refn of Bronson and Valhalla Rising fame. And it is easily his best. Nicolas Winding Refn may be Danish, but he has nothing in common with the famous Danish directors of Dogme 95. While Dogme 95 goes for immediacy and spontaneity, Nicolas Winding Refn is deliberate. While Dogme 95 shuns artistic lighting, Drive is exquisite in its play with tones. While Dogme 95 forbids non-diegetic music, Nicolas Winding Refn thrives on showy but precise music selection. His style really is the opposite of Dogme 95 in pretty much each and every possible way imaginable.

Drive won the award for Best Direction in Cannes earlier this year and the reasons for that are immediately apparent. It manages to be both versatile and consistent at the same time. Drive is generally a slow movie, but it feels tight. It mixes old-school (think 70's) suspense direction with flashy camera moves. Drive really follows a less-is-more motto in a lot of ways. Dialogue is limited, there are no unnecessary exposition and overexplanations. The film flows from silent and moody into short bursts of utterly over the top and self-aware graphic violence. Everything feels well crafted and meshes well. Characters, light, camera are all slightly stylized and carefully thought out. But the stylish visuals never go in the way and only take the spotlight in a few spectacular peak moments.

Despite being a slow movie, Drive doesn't waste time to dive into the good stuff. The opening sequence is perfectly executed and is one of the best in the film. It sets the tone perfectly. I can't remember when was the last time I've seen a meaningful and suspenseful car chase sequence in a modern movie. Car chase scenes tend to be all flashes, no brains these days. Not with Drive. Instead, it goes for realism in the vein of Bill Hickman's work in Bullitt, The French Connection and The Seven-Ups.

The story is probably Drive's weakest link but the movie doesn't really seem to care much about that. It is just a modern take on Shane but stays consistent with the overall versatile nature of the film and mixes in strokes of noir, heist and romance. Ryan Gosling does well in the main part. He is occasionally mesmerizing, especially during the more psychotic bursts of his character. These dark undertones add some interesting color to this new reimagining of the classical No-name Hero. Albert Brooks is the most impressive amongst the supporting cast in the role of a talkative mob boss with a thing for cold steel.

Drive is a welcome break in the stream of formulaic Hollywood action movies. It may appear to favor style over substance and to push existentialism ahead of emotional depth, which may or may not be your thing. But it is undeniably one of the best films this year so far, and that's something in a genre as stale as this.