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Whatever Reviews: Year 5

We're close enough to the deadline that I think we can start reviewing films. I'll try and do a top 25 this year, but for now: start requesting films for me to read.

As it is, every film will get a light at the end of the review. This is what it means:

Red Light: Don't go to see this movie, it's terrible and there's nothing redeemable about it.

Yellow Light: Go see this movie if you have to go to the movie and there's nothing better. It's a movie that has some good things and some bad things.

Green Light: A movie definably worth your money, where the good easily excuses the bad.

As a warning to new players, I can be harsh. I'm going to tell you the honest truth about what I think about the film you have submitted.

Good luck.

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As a note to players, if you confuse me as I read your plot summary due to weak writing, I'll state your film had some poor editing.

Empty Hearth

-As a note, there were a couple of typos in the film. For instance, in one paragraph the year stated is 1949 when it's supposed to be 1849.

-You kept switching between Samuel and Daniel. The synopsis should always use the character's name not the actor's name, although I could see why you made the mistake considering how Samuel was based on the character Daniel from There Will Be Blood

NARRATIVE:

Empty Hearth is a movie set during the gold rush. It's basically There will Be Blood but with gold and with some other differences. There's many scenes that are similar to that movie, including one that is basically ripped off from that movie. There's nothing wrong with being inspired by another movie but there's many times when Empty Hearth feels exactly like There Will Be Blood. That's probably because of the casting.

The actual plot of the movie isn't very interesting. The movie manages to capture the act of digging gold very well but it never manages to make it entertaining. The movie slightly comes alive at the point when the main character gets the idea for his fraud but then the movie really veers into There Will Be Blood territory before finding itself again. Once it does, it never manages to really be interesting until the twist that she's working against him (which I predicted) is revealed. It's not because the twist was any good but because seeing the movie explain why she was investigating him was fun.

Empty Hearth has some weak editing that made some scenes a bit confusing. The film also has some historical inaccuracies. The main character gets to California by train a full decade before the first train actually goes to the state. Those are to be expected.

CHARACTERS:

Daniel Day-Lewis plays Steven. Steven is a character who is very similar to his character from There Will Be Blood. It's actually because of that movie where this film is aided. Steven is a character who falls in love but then suddenly gets crazy and kills a major character. The only reason the turn worked was because of the movie that this one was clearly inspired by. The film simply didn't lay out the idea that Steven is crazy as well as the other film and the death comes across as a sudden departure from where the movie had been heading.

The other two characters are rather undeveloped. Inspector Russell is introduced in the beginning of the film but then promptly disppears until the end. This means that the movie has to basically tell us, through flashbacks, why he wants to bring down Steven and it still leaves him very two-dimensional. Eva is slightly more interesting and knowing her full story helps to give her layers but she never really made me fall in love with her.

CASTING:

The movie had some good casting with James Badge Dale (who disappeared before Steven is introduced), Tommy Lee Jones, and Marion Cotillard. Daniel Day-Lewis was obviously perfect for the role but having him play Steven simply called back his previous There Will Be Blood character too much.

CONCLUSION: It's not a bad movie, but it suffers too much from being too much like There Will Be Blood to really stand out on it's own merits. I'm aware that it has a very different plot due to Eva but the similar scenes and character journey along with Daniel Day-Lewis simply makes this movie seem like more of a rip-off than it actually is.

LIGHT: YELLOW LIGHT

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Psychonauts

A couple notes:

-“Raz must go there and get back everyone’s brains, and this is actually the last night Raz has before his dad picks him up, so it’s really important!” The sentence sets the stakes and the clause isn't really important. If you feel the need to tell us it's important, then you aren't doing your job right.

-“there was a family curse in which his entire family cannot swim at all. He looks around for another way to help Lili, and he finds a Canoe.” Introducing this plot element seemed sudden. It's way better if you have hints in the beginning of the movie that there's a curse and it's somehow related to water.

-“Suddenly, the female stalker of Raz tells him to stay away from Dr. Loboto, or bad things will happen. “ What female stalker? This is the first time I remember reading about it.

-Don't feel beholden to follow the video game's plot completely. Video games and films are two different mediums and they can both express information differently.

NARRATIVE:

Psychonauts is an animated movie that follows the adventures of young psychics in training. It's a silly movie that doesn't take itself too seriously and that has a surprisingly layered villain. The plot itself is a bit confusing going in. This is because the movie starts to throw information at the viewer with very little pacing. This might work in a video game but it makes for confusing viewing as the audience has to struggle to keep up with everything we're told. It would have made for a much better film if the movie had an actual way to draw the viewer. The way it's done, it was simply too difficult to really get into the movie at first.

Once the audience gets they're bearing, it becomes a perfectly enjoyable movie. There are some stakes and it's clear that the filmmakers were having fun with it. The movie really picks up when the protagonist has a dream that sets off his quest to save the camp and the world. At the same time, this part of the movie as sudden plot developments are thrown into the mix in an attempt to make things more exciting. This would have worked better if the film had taken time earlier in the movie to set up future plot developments and hint at some important parts of the conflict. The final part of the movie was also a bit rushed. Overall, the narrative structure of the film could have used some work.

There is some weak editing that confuses the viewer a bit but for the most part the film is well edited. The only reason there's major confusion is the way in which the plot was written, not the way it was executed.

CHARACTERS:

There is Raz, the protagonist who wants to be a psychonaut. The film hints that there's some father issues because they don't want him to train to be a psychic but the only time the issues come into play is the time they are solved. Using those father issues to drive Raz throughout the film would have made for a much stronger character and film.

Coach Oleander is a surprisingly layered villain who also has father issues. The Coach is a great character but I'm not entirely sure what his ultimate plan was. We get what drove the evil plan but not what it's actual goal was.

The other characters were for the most part one-dimensional.

CASTING:

The film got a good collection of voices. The general lack of big names in the film (with the one exception of Hugh Laurie) helped the film give each character a voice that isn't easily identifiable as someone.

CONCLUSION:

Psychonauts is an animated film that's based on a video game. The premise of the plot is charming and even original but it lacks any real structure. Only the antagonist of the movie has any layers. There were hints at a multi-layered protagonist but the film easily ensured that wasn't the case. This movie was one where the humor and the plot, not the characters, dominated and it didn't execute the humor nor the plot well enough to be anything other than a fun visual adventure.

LIGHT: YELLOW LIGHT

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Lucid

A couple notes:

-This is the first film where I wasn't confused by the writing, so yay. Sadly...

NARRATIVE:

Lucid is a movie that takes place almost entirely in a dream sequence. The stakes of the movie are set: if the protagonist doesn't steal an airplane, he'll be stuck in a coma. The entire movie therefore becomes about trying to get to the airport and taking the plane. The entire movie is largely an excuse to have weird stuff happening without having to worry about any sense of logic or reality. To the credit of the movie, it uses the weird stuff to back up the action sequences and the tension. It's just that by the end of it all, plot events happen for the sake of it. The end of the movie has the main character waking up and revealing it was all a dream. The movie doesn't need to justify it's existence or anything that happened. It tries to have an ambigious end with the cell phone call but the movie simply wasn't good enough for me to care.

Why? That's because while all the weird stuff backed the action, none of it was really used to flesh out any of the characters. We barely learn anything about David and there is no emotional arc. If this weird dream sequence was somehow related to an emotional journey then Lucid would be good. The thing about dreams is that while they're an excuse for weird stuff to happen, they should be used to compliment not the plot but the characters. The idea of the plot is simple: a character has to try and escape within his dream in order to wake up but it never does anything with the actual character. These kind of movies only work when the character is in the forefront.

CHARACTERS:

I think you can already tell what I'm going to say but all of the characters are undeveloped. The CIA and FBI agent are flat villains who largely just chase our heroes. Mark is supposed to be an ass (that's why he's a donkey) but he never really becomes anything more than an exposistion device. It's Mark who explains the rules of the dream and how the rules change. He's there to tell the audience what exactly is happening and what our characters can do about it. Since there's only four characters in the movie, having three be so undeveloped is a disappointment. How great would it have been if the CIA and FBI agent were somehow manifestations of Daniel's fears? Or if Mark was secretly working against him because he's an ass? There are so many routes that could have been taken to make these characters more than just flat villains and exposistion devices.

Daniel himself isn't developed very well. Why is he dreaming all of this? There is no reason given for anything. If the dreams are actually an experiment, as Mark hints, that he doesn't escape then that's the reason he's in a dream world but the world itseld should be reflecting his own personality. All Daniel tries to do is escape the dream to try and enter lucidity but there isn't a single time when we're made to care about him. He's just as flat as the other characters: he's a blank vehicle for the plot to charge through this action-packed dream.

CASTING:

Andrew Garfield is not the world's worst actor but he's not given anything to work with. There are some actors who will be able to make any line work and Garfield simply isn't one of them. His performance is very weak. Clark Gregg and Dennis Leary are sligthtly better but then again, they don't really have to do much. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a great actor but he's not an exposistion machine like Morgan Freeman or Michael Emerson. The casting of the movie isn't bad but it isn't good enough to turn any of the characters into human beings.

CONCLUSION:

Livid is an action-packed dream sequence that ultimately accounts to nothing. There is no character development nor are there any characters to really develop in the first place. The plot is fine and all but by the end of the movie, you'll be wondering what the point of the movie is. Rian Johnson delivers a science fiction thriller that's supposed to blow your mind but fails to do any of that because it never puts it's focus on the characters.

LIGHT: RED LIGHT

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