Saturday, April 28, 2012

Young Adult (2011): Weak Comedy and Boring Drama

Young Adult
Young Adult is described as comedy as well as drama. Well, there is almost nothing funny in it. One would expect a solid film when Charlize Theron is in the cast. Unfortunately, the movie is not even close to solid. Young Adult is quite boring, predictable and it makes me wonder why it has been made at all.

Young Adult is about Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), once a popular teenager, now a divorced writer whose "Young Adult" fiction series are about to be cancelled. She decides to go back to her small home town in Minnesota and win back her ex-boyfriend Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) who is now happily married with a recently born daughter. There is another former classmate of theirs, unpopular Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), disabled due to a brutal beating back in their school days with whom Mavis shares her progress with Buddy and a few bottles of alcohol.

While this premise could actually be turned into a decent comedy (My Best Friend's Wedding is coming to mind), this is not the case with Young Adult. The story is predictable. The events happening while Mavis is pursuing Buddy are boring. The small details are disappointing. The characters do not capture your attention. There is occasionally a funny line here and there but those are less than enough to entertain you.

The plot's premise allows for a good dramatic work too but Young Adult is nothing like a strong drama either. The main heroine does not provoke empathy. Any eventual suffering is more a product of her stupidity and selfishness rather than being a consequence of some tragic or burdensome development. The whole plot is in a way pointless and just happening without involving the audience. And in fact, there is nothing so dramatic in the movie.

The best in Young Adult is Charlize Theron's acting. She makes a good performance (as usual) but it is hardly enough to save the movie. Patrick Wilson does not have so much screen time but he is also Ok although we've seen him in considerably better productions. Patton Oswalt's character is probably the most interesting and Oswalt plays the role of Matt quite convincing. The screenplay is weaker than expected from a writer like Diablo Cody, especially having in mind her Academy Award for Juno. It's not that such stories do not happen in real life, it's just not narrated in an engaging way.

If you want to see this movie, you can always find a good reason to do it, either being Charlize Theron's acting or something else. The point is you can see better movies with Theron, better films with the other actors, better works by screenwriter Diablo Cody and better efforts of director Jason Reitman. There are more profound dramatic works and funnier comedies. Then why would you look for a decent reason to see exactly this movie?

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Swedish vs. American Films

Män som hatar kvinnor (2009)
Almost three years after the release of the Swedish adaptation of the first installment in Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy David Fincher released his reading of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in the late 2011. Both versions share a lot of similarities as based on a same novel and the story is pretty much the same: Lisbeth Salander is a computer hacker with a dark and obscure past, Mikael Blomkvist is a journalist in the investigative magazine Millennium, Mikael is hired to investigate the disappearance of a young woman forty years ago and Lisbeth is involved to help him. The overall quality of the two releases is also at a similar level and each of them deserves a high rating. However, there are a few differences and I am going to list some of them below in case somebody prefers seeing just one of the two movies.

The American release stars more famous actors (Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer and Robin Wright to name a few), which is to be expected considering their Hollywood background. This does not necessarily mean the acting in Fincher's version is better though. Both casts do quite a good job. In fact, the Swedish cast has a small natural advantage in terms of making the performances more authentic. It is hard to surpass Noomi Rapace's and Michael Nyqvist's rendering of Lisbeth Salanader and Mikael Blomkvist cause once seen their appearance identifies the actors with the characters.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
The US rendition saves some of the violence and unpleasantness of the Scandinavian release. This is not surprising for it often happens in American films. In this case, David Fincher represents Lisbeth and her mentor Nils Bjurman softer and more "humane". Speaking of character differences, Rooney Mara's Lisbeth Salander is not just less cruel but also more sensitive, not so antisocial as Noomi Rapace's impersonation, more fragile and she even talks. All of these could be attributed to the look of the actresses as well as to the particular vision of each director.

The ending of the American release is a bit extended in regard to the events related to Hans-Erik Wennerström, which in my opinion is actually more confusing. Other minor elements are also rendered slightly differently in both of the movies with variable success. Examples are Lisbeth meetings with her former and present mentors, the way Mikael learns about Lisbeth's existence and the pinch of romance expectedly added in the Hollywood version.

Despite their distinctions both of the films are good enough to be seen even with the disadvantage of already knowing the main storyline after seeing one of the movies first. Since the Swedish adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo possesses a more authentic feel and atmosphere I would recommend starting with it but it is really up to you. In both cases the plot will be kind of spoiled at the time of the second viewing but this is inevitable.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Pinterest: A Virtual Pinboard Making the (Socially) Rich Richer
Pinterest is a social image bookmarking service that became very popular in the last several months. It's a pinboard style website that allows users to share and manage images or videos (called pins) organized in boards. Often these images link to other websites (usually, to the location where the image has been taken from). Users can re-pin images from other pinboards, like pins or comment on them. Also users can follow some or all of other users boards. To make everything even more social, there is a possibility to share pins on Facebook and Twitter. All of this colorful service sounds quite attractive and it has proven to be as millions of users have joined the new service for the last year. has proven to be especially popular among women with enormous amount of fashion or food related pins. Of course, business opportunities have not been overlooked by both Pinterest's owners and various other brands so, there are lots of pins linking to commercial websites. There is nothing wrong with that though.

The problem I see with Pinterest is its inclination to make the rich richer. What I mean is the following. When you pin an image or video on Pinterest there is not a section with the latest pins where everybody can see what you have just pinned. Practically your pins are visible only to the people who follow you and if you are a new user, most likely you won't have many followers. On the other hand, older users normally would have more followers so their pins are exposed to a broader audience. The chances to get new followers are practically coming from the exposure of your pins so people that already have more followers than newer users will continue to gain more and more just because the system is in favor of them and there is not an equal chance for everyone.

There are thematic sections where everyone's new pins could get into but there is some limitation based on time or amount of pins (I am not exactly sure) so only a fraction of your pins could actually get there. So it's possible the least attractive of your pins falls into these sections thus not drawing any interest to your boards. Again, this does not make everyone equal. The last option for exposure of your image or video on Pinterest is that it becomes popular. And of course, this is again much harder for new users cause pins of users with more followers get more re-pins and likes thus having considerably greater chance of getting into the "Popular" section.

Now some of these characteristics are pretty much the same on many other social bookmarking web sites. The difference though is that most of the other websites offer "New", "Latest" or similar section so every pin, story, link or whatever has a chance to be seen by everyone. This is not the case with Pinterest.

Frankly speaking, I am not sure how this could affect Pinterest's performance and growth in the future. My opinion is that some people could be put off cause even if the original idea of Pinterest has been to offer organization of images in the form of virtual pinboard, actually most of the people join online social services for getting exposure, connections, following or anything that could be labelled as a social activity. Offering a very limited chance for exposure to their new users, Pinterest owners limit the social element in their experience significantly. Whether this will be crucial for the future development of the site is something we are going to see but to me it looks like a case of an overlooked piece of functionality.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997)

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
An intriguing title, an Academy Award winning director and a good cast are not always enough for a great movie and this is the case with Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The title possesses enough mystical feeling. Director Clint Eastwood is a legendary figure in the world of cinema. Kevin Spacey, John Cusack and Jude Law are enough for labelling every film's cast as at least decent. Yet, this is not among the best directorial efforts of Eastwood, neither it is amongst the best movies in Spacey's, Cusack's or Law's careers. All of them have been involved in better projects but it won't be fair if we completely dismiss this film cause it has its own merits despite not being a classic motion picture.

The movie is based on the best-selling book by the same name by John Berendt, which is based on real-life events that have taken place in the 1980s. John Kelso (John Cusack) is a reporter from New York City who has a small assignment in Savannah, Georgia. John's task is to write a short article about the famous Christmas parties held by Jim Williams (Kevin Spacey). Williams is a famous Savannah's millionaire, antiques dealer and art collector who has a homosexual relationship with young and sexy punk Billy Hanson (Jude Law). Soon, Billy is shot by Jim and Kelso decides to stay and write a book about his new friend in the face of Jim Williams.

Along the inevitable murder trial we meet a bunch of interesting characters. The Lady Chablis is a transsexual local drag queen, which brings a scent of humor in the movie. Witch Minerva is the primary responsible for the mystic filling of the film. We see Geoffrey Lewis in the role of a man who caries flies attached to himself everywhere and threatens to poison Savannah's water. And in the park, we come across a man who seems to walk around just a dog's leash (without the dog).

The main issue of the movie is that it leaves a lot of the events not well explained. We do not understand why John Kelso has been chosen to write about Jim's party. The exact motives of Billy's murder are spared. And the ending is also hugely open to interpretations. It could be considered all of this vagueness adds to the mysticism of the film but at the same time it prevents us from full enjoyment of the narrative. Williams' trial is also not very convincing as both of the sides have not backed up their pleadings well. Finally, there are a few subplots that are brought to a quick resolution at the end and their precipitated denouement does not fit in the movie quite naturally.

Now for the good parts... The major virtue of the film is the panoramic depiction of Savannah's lovely architecture along with its eccentricity and obscurity. There are beautiful buildings and references to the city's history and famous people. There are a lot of odd and colorful characters. The cinematography is pleasant for watching. And one can almost sense the atmosphere of the town.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is not near the quality of Unforgiven or some of Clint Eastwood's 21st century films. We usually expect more when his name is involved in a movie but this film although not among Eastwood's best is definitely worth seeing even if only because of the beautiful presentation of Savannah. The story is decent. And if you do not set your expectations too high it's possible to like the movie in its entirety.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) - Controversial but Beautiful

2001: A Space Odyssey
I would assume most of the people either love or hate Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. To be honest, I probably gravitate more towards the latter group although I actually do not hate any movie. For me, 2011 is vague, sometimes boring, unfocused and almost plotless. Yet, I can appreciate its beauty. The film is visually stunning and its visual effects have been quite ahead of its time. I can also guess (probably right) some of the ideas Kubrick has wanted to present and I do not have a problem with them but it is simply not my type of storytelling. Nevertheless, it's a movie everyone who loves cinema should see despite the risk of not liking it.

The story of 2001: A Space Odyssey revolves around mysterious, extraterrestrial artifacts having to do something with mankind's evolution. The movie starts in prehistoric times hinting at artifact's merits for the evolution of apes. It later lands us on the moon where another artifact is discovered and finally, sends us on a journey through space beyond everything humanity has ever known. A "defective" computer is also on that journey and ironically, its existence is arguably the most human-like presence in the movie.

As mentioned above, 2001: A Space Odyssey is sometimes boring. This could be attributed to an effort of prolonging the beautiful sequences but if you expect more than just a beauty from these scenes, chances are high you will get weary of them. The movie lacks a strong focus and the alien artifacts are the only objects that bind the narrative together. The ending is overly open to interpretations and while there are people referring to this fact as something good, actually, it hugely depends on everyone's particular preference and perception.

In spite of its flaws and my shortage of love for the movie, here are the reasons why everyone who adores cinema should see it. To start with, it's a Stanley Kubrick film. This alone is always a good reason to see one of his movies. Kubrick is one of the greatest directors of the last century and you will never be able to see too many of his films cause he simply has not created lots of them. As usual Kubrick's directing is superb. Despite being made in the 60s A Space Odyssey could easily leave almost any other cinematic effort of the 20th century behind. It is an enchanting visual experience every movie fan should go through. Finally, HAL 9000 computer's attitude and doings are something you will rarely see in a (sci-fi) film. Believe me, you don't want to miss an acquaintance with HAL.

2001: A Space Odyssey is a controversial movie and it is easy to see where both its lovers and haters draw their arguments from. The movie is beautiful and thought provoking. It's not easily accessible and requires a certain mood for watching. It's long and not rich of events. It's a feast for the eyes but alienated. There is no guarantee which group of people you will fall into after experiencing the film but it's worth seeing in either case. If nothing more, at least you'll have something to compare Star Wars' visual effects with.