Tuesday, November 29, 2011

...And What about Twitter?

Twitter bird
After criticizing Facebook and Skype, first of which I use rather sporadically and the second one mostly due to some of my old contacts switching from other instant messengers to it, now I have to say a few words about Twitter. Like Facebook and Skype it has become a huge phenomenon and it's hard to ignore it. So, here we go.

To begin with, Twitter shares a lot of similarities with other social networking services. It has a fancy name although it is a dictionary word. Most of its content is useless and just a filler. Many of its ordinary consumers pile huge number of followers/friends just to sport a big list of them while at the same time, there are spammers, Internet marketers, businesses, etc. that intentionally build large contact bases in order to achieve some shady goals. Similarly to Facebook, Twitter has millions of users and probably an exaggeratedly big potential in the eyes of the investors. But... unlikely for a service of this type, I actually find a couple of beneficial usages when I think of Twitter.

The first useful side of Twitter is that popular persons (artists, celebrities, politicians), not so popular folks and all kinds of companies can share news, important information, promotions, various notifications and whatnot with their admirers, customers, friends or simply "followers". Of course, this does not prevent the continuous flow of superfluous data but it would be unfair to deny there is a certain amount of good stuff. What distinguishes Twitter in this respect is its format and the basic idea of microblogging. The short messages are ideal for efficient sharing of qualitative content which otherwise would be diluted in texts with bigger size.

The second beneficial usage of Twitter is the opportunity to contact companies directly with questions or requests. It's an additional channel to communicate with those companies which have Twitter accounts and as my experience indicates it is considerably more productive than for example, to deal with their standard support teams. Again, the short format of the tweets allows for meaty communication and the availability of direct messages provides for private conversations if needed. I have already had several successful attempts in this direction, the latter being to contact Seatwave.com representatives after their regular support team appeared to be absolutely useless. My assumption is that most of the companies assign for Twitter tasks personnel from their staff that is more dedicated to customer satisfaction than their support teams (which with some rare exceptions primarily send standard trashy replies of no use that in many cases even offend your intelligence). Having a concerned person on the other side in the case of contacting a company "directly" via Twitter could be often surprisingly satisfactory.

Well, although I do acknowledge that Twitter is of more use than other online social networking services, I am not a big fan of it either. I admit I mainly utilize it to send messages than to receive tweets and since I don't have a need to contact companies too often, this limits my overall usage of it. I also have not any intention to buy Twitter shares when (and if) their public offering happens cause I believe all services in this field are seriously overestimated. Nevertheless, I see Twitter's good aspects and if you are among its fans, I won't expel you from this blog. ;)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949): A Gem in Black and White

Kind Hearts and Coronets
You might have actually been aware that Sir Alec Guinness is a Jedi (Star Wars' Obi-Wan Kenobi) but I guess you do not know he has been also able to spawn himself into eight persons simultaneously if you haven't seen Kind Hearts and Coronets. This is a great movie in many aspects and Sir Alec Guinness' multiple roles are only one of them. The film sports other notable performances too and in addition offers a captivating plot, subtle storytelling, masterful direction and brilliant execution. You cannot be sure what will be the outcome of the movie up to its very end and even then you could still wonder how to treat its irony. This is one of those films that make you question yourself whether black and white movies could be ever outdone.

Kind Hearts and Coronets tells the story of Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price), a distant relative of the Duke of D'Ascoyne. Louis' mother has been banished from D'Ascoynes because of her marriage to an Italian opera singer so Louis has lived all of his life spurned from the noble family. When D'Ascoynes reject to bury his mother's body in the aristocratic family's tomb Louis plots to become the next Duke of D'Ascoyne. However, this task is not easy since there are eight other heirs who stand between him and the title of the Duke. When Louis' marriage proposal is declined by his love interest Sibella Holland (Joan Greenwood) due to his poverty, the young man decides to bring his murderous plan to life. And the fun begins.

As mentioned above, one of the highlights in Kind Hearts and Coronets is Sir Alec Guinness' rare performance of 8 different persons. You might have guessed that these eight comprise the D'Ascoyne family and to make Guinness' achievement even more notable, they are not only males. All of the D'Ascoynes share similar external features, which is normal for relatives but at the same time they are distinctive enough in order to be taken for separate people. Additionally, Sir Alec Guinness manages to put a different personality in each of the characters he plays. Another (often overlooked) gem in the movie is the leading performance of Dennis Price who makes of Louis Mazzini a calm, determined and convincing villain and at the same time succeeds to win our sympathy. The two women (of course, there is more than one) around Louis, Sibella Holland and the recent widow Edith D'Ascoyne are portrayed very well by Joan Greenwood and Valerie Hobson, the former making us to believe that Sibella is an artful tempter and the latter successfully presenting Edith as a delicate and stylish lady.

The plot does not offer numerous twists until the movie's ending approaches but the film's beauty prior to this point is in its details and storytelling. The narrative is very tranquil as if the story is not about murders, death and immoral behaviour. There is plenty of (dark) humour, either subtle or not and many of the funny lines flow effortlessly along the lead character's narration: "The advent of twin sons to the Duke was a terrible blow. Fortunately, an epidemic of diphtheria restored the status quo almost immediately and even brought me a bonus in the shape of the Duchess." or "The upshot was that I was dismissed on the spot. I decided to repay him in kind by dismissing him with equal suddenness from this world."

The story is genuinely absorbing, once because it has a good premise and twice cause it's not clear what is going to happen until the end of the movie. The ending itself is superb and one could see the film just because of it. The whole execution of Kind Hearts and Coronets is almost flawless and it's a rarity to find a movie so balanced and complete as this. If you haven't had a chance to see the film until now, do yourself a favour and watch this classic soon. The movie has a full potential to catch you unprepared for its charm and your first viewing probably won't be your last.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Change-Up (2011): Another Mediocre Comedy

The Change-Up
It's hard to say whether Horrible Bosses (review) or The Change-Up is a more mediocre movie. The latter has a more common plot while at the same time it wins in the field of more beautiful actresses. Both have Jason Bateman starring in a leading role. Horrible Bosses sports the more celebrated cast featuring Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell and Donald Sutherland compared to the cast of The Change-Up which "only" has to offer Ryan Reynolds, Leslie Mann, Olivia Wilde and Alan Arkin. We can continue with comparisons like these but independently of any juxtaposition, both of the movies are not among the good ones.

The Change-Up offers the worn story of Dave Lockwood (Jason Bateman) and Mitch Planko (Ryan Reynolds), two friends who accidentally switch their bodies while peeing in a fountain. The usual complications follow when Dave and Mitch try to change their bodies back. Mitch has to deal with Dave's wife Jamie (Leslie Mann), his children and their diapers while Dave has to experience Mitch's sexual life in the face of a pregnant woman, a suspicious role in a shady movie and probably a long-dreamed sex with his real-life legal associate Sabrina (Olivia Wilde). If this is not enough the irresponsible Mitch has to successfully execute the deal of Dave's business life.

Starting with the implausible change of bodies, The Change-Up continues in the same vein with a string of unmotivated actions coming either from the leads or their ladies. The behavior of Mitch in Dave's firm is also inadequate and subsequently it's strange that he's not fired long before the completion of the important deal. I would naturally expect that are movie like this could not be the most probable portrayal of the real life but the lack of motivation in pretty much every sequence of actions is too excessive. Still, there are scenes and jokes that are funny on their own and although they do not add to the entire story of the movie, every piece of banter is a plus for a film of this type.

The cast of The Change-Up is Ok for a light comedy. Jason Bateman has the harder task to tame Mitch in Dave's body and it doesn't work always like a charm. Ryan Reynolds has the easier part and he's doing fine. The ladies, Leslie Mann and Olivia Wilde, are very beautiful as usual and could be considered among the main reasons to see the movie: both are very charming, attractive and their acting is decent. Alan Arkin has a couple of short appearances as Mitch's father and while this is not the film which will bring him another Oscar, he is a nice addition to the cast.

Among the good sides of the movie is its similarity with Crazy, Stupid, Love. since The Change-Up also explores mid-life identity crises although it's even less profound than the former film. There are some unexpected or surprising scenes too like the "tattooing" or the "baseball tickets" ones. So if you don't approach the movie with high expectations of great humor or believable story, you can even actually like it if you see it without children at home.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Horrible Bosses (2011): Not Horrible but a Mediocre Movie

Horrible Bosses
While it may not be the case with Jennifer Aniston you'll usually expect to see Kevin Spacey and even Colin Farrell in a better movie than Horrible Bosses. It's a comedy with a bit of a criminal flavor but the funniest thing in the film is the stupidity of some of the characters. There are people that find this movie to be surprising and with lots of twist but I cannot second that statement. There are small twists here and there but the bigger picture is pretty clear from the beginning and any occasional twists and funny moments are only enough to keep Horrible Bosses not so horrible as the bosses in it.

The movie is about three friends that hate their bosses for different reasons. Nick Hendricks (Jason Bateman) hates Mr. Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey) because Harken heavily exploits Nick, denies him a long overdue promotion and eventually blackmails Nick in order to keep him in the firm. Kurt Buckman (Jason Sudeikis) hates the new boss Bobby Pellitt (Colin Farrell) who unlike his father before him does not appreciate Kurt's work, uses drugs and he's not mentally stable. But Kurt actually likes his job. Finally, Dale Arbus (Charlie Day) hates Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston) who constantly attempts sexual abuse on him and similarly to Dave Harken blackmails Dale with a former charge of child offending so he does not dare to quit. Thus, being unable to leave their jobs, the three friends decide to kill their horrible bosses.

The premise of the plot is not the most standard one but it is somehow limited. You wouldn't expect that our "good" heroes are going to become real murderers just to get rid of their superiors. Many of the situations are forced and the narrative while not fully predictable in details from the very beginning leads to the only logical outcome at the end. And apart of the unpredictability pointed by other reviewers, I cannot find also a lot of dark humor in Horrible Bosses (check Kind Hearts and Coronets for huge portions of it) but it's always a matter of perception.

The cast is interesting and it offers bigger names for the supporting roles while the leading parts are assigned to less famous actors. Kevin Spacey makes a good performance as Dave Harken but his character is annoying as pretty much most of the other individuals in Horrible Bosses. The exaggeration in the portrayal of both the bad and the good guys actually makes the story and the characters in particular hardly believable although the performances are not bad on their own. It also hard to believe that Mr. Harken could cry at all but you'll see him almost doing it in one of the scenes and this practically ruins the already depicted character.

Objectively speaking, Horrible Bosses has a few funny moments and some potential to be appreciated by a certain group of (teenager) moviegoers. It is definitely not a must-see film and it does not worth seeing this picture in a movie theater but you could take a look at it if you have nothing better to do at home some day.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

In Time (2011): Only the Poor Die Young

In Time
In Time is the latest brainchild of writer/director Andrew Niccol who you probably know from Gattaca. It is a high concept movie set in a dystopian futuristic society where people don't age past 25 and time is money. Literally. The more you have, the longer you live. Obviously this is an idea which doesn't bet on subtlety. And neither does its implementation.

In Time is direct and straightforward in a lot of ways. The world depicted has a clean retro-futuristic styling similar in this respect to Gattaca. The story is a take on Bonnie and Clyde with a robinhoodian cause. Its mythological grounds are well placed in this futuristic but almost timeless setting, which goes to some depth exploring the concept and its implications. Time related puns are probably too many, though. The movie shows some real obsession with them. They can be occasionally brilliant, but often a little too obvious. On the other hand, some of the more subtle elements derived from the literality of the "Time is money" reality are actually entertaining and thoughtful. The differences in the functional way the rich and poor dress, for example. Or how the rich are careful in their daily routines. You certainly don't want to die accidentally when there are millenia to lose.

The greatest strength of the movie lies in the stylish visual approach it takes in showing the world. Its decors have a role as important as the base idea and the story. Helping on the visual side is cinematographer Roger Deakins. This is his first digitally shot movie (images captured with the Arri Alexa) and he did a wonderful job. High profile cinematographers tend to stick to what they know best (film) and avoid risks. But In Time (together with Drive and The Social Network) shows that digital is now at least as good a medium for image capture as film. And probably even better on the technical side.

In regard to the acting Justin Timberlake is doing ok in the lead. He has certain physicality to his performance, which fits the role. Amanda Seyfried as his love interest and a partner in crime doesn't have much to do other than looking around with wide-open eyes. Cillian Murphy, as the Timekeeper, feels somewhat underdeveloped and not used to his full potential. On a second thought, this is true for almost all characters. Notable exceptions are Vincent Kartheiser as Sylvia's father and Alex Pettyfer as the leader of a gang of time thieves.

Simplicity is both the strength and the fall of In Time. It has an interesting concept and an interesting world, which happen to be tied to a not so interesting story. The movie is quite blunt at times, and the occasionally sloppy storytelling doesn't help. Pacing problems (excuse the pun) are notable and the ending is rather weak.

With all of its shortcomings, choppiness and overt straightforwardness, there is something unique and distinct about Andrew Niccol's movies, which makes In Time worth seeing too. And it also happens to have a timely release, what with the Occupy Wall Street movement.