Friday, January 11, 2013

Movie Review: 2012 Review Summaries - Part 5

Five reviews in total: Into the Abyss, Jeff Who Lives at Home, Jodaeiye Nader az Simin (A Separation), & Kari-gurashi no Arietti (The Secret World of Arrietty).

Into the Abyss (2011). Starring Werner Herzog (host). Directed by Werner Herzog. Rated PG-13

Story: 4 / 5
Direction: 4 / 5
Acting: N/A
Visual: 3 / 5
Overall Rating: 4.3 / 5

Into the Abyss is an examination of capital punishment, and while Herzog himself comes out in his opening interview against it, the film simply attempts to show you what it is and how it affects the lives of those involved. Rather than berating the audience with manipulated statistics to fit the director’s opinion, the entire movie is a series of interviews, both with the criminals and with the families of those involved. The whole thing is masterfully done, allowing the audience to sway back and forth in their sympathies for the victims and even occasionally for the convicted, though such sympathies are in a broader sense of feeling terrible that these kids had such a poor upbringing. I wish I had done a proper review of this at the time, I have much more to say, but the goal is to keep these summary reviews light.

Would I recommend this film? Yes. Whether you’re for capital punishment or not, it’s a good view.

Jeff Who Lives at Home (2011). Starring Jason Segel & Ed Helms. Directed by Jay Duplass & Mark Duplass. Rated R (for excessive snap zooms)

Story: 2 / 5
Direction: 2 / 5
Acting: 3 / 5
Visual: 2 / 5
Overall Rating: 2.25 / 5

Jeff Who Lives at Home is formulaic schmaltz wrapped in a clever indie package.  It’s quirky, it’s indie, it’s shot like a space battle from Battlestar Galactica.  It must be art.  It’s not art.  It’s predictable, melodramatic schmaltz.

Would I recommend this film? Nope.

Jodaeiye Nader az Simin [ASeparation] (2011). Starring Payman Maadi & Leila Hatami. Directed by Asghar Farhadi. Rated PG-13

Story: 4 / 5
Direction: 4 / 5
Acting: 3 / 5
Visual: 3 / 5
Overall Rating: 3.5 / 5

A Separation on the surface is a tale of an Iranian couple who are separating over the wife’s decision to move to another country. The husband has a father with Alzheimer’s that he can’t take with them and so he refuses to leave. The husband hires someone to help with his father while he is at work now that his wife has moved out, pending her leaving after the divorce. This is just the setup, from here it branches out into a griping morality tale, and like any good examination of the human condition leaves us with no clear answers.  Here’s another film I really wish I had done a proper review of closer to when it came out. It’s not that I’ve forgotten the details, but as I’m committed to keeping these short I don’t want to go into much more here. 

Would I recommend this film? Yes. It’s in Farsi, so you’ll have to read while watching, quit moaning.

John Carter (2012). Starring Taylor Kitsch & Lynn Collins. Directed by Andrew Stanton. Rated PG-13

Story: 3 / 5
Direction: 3 / 5
Acting: 3 / 5
Visual: 3 / 5
Overall Rating: 3 / 5

Aww, I feel bad for John Carter, the flop of the year. It wasn’t a bad movie. If I was 9 and saw this movie for the first time I would think it was the most awesome thing on the planet. There are so few proper movies made for that 8 to 12 male demographic (no seriously there aren’t, feel free to argue with me about this and I’ll happily explain why you’re wrong), and this should have been one of those movies (it neither needed or deserved a PG-13 rating). It’s a standard fish out of water adventure flick and tons of fun at that. If there were more movies targeting that demographic, but aiming for that PG rating, this movie would have been a huge success. But in reality there is no room for this film. Movies come in three flavors now: children’s films with “bawdy jokes mom and dad will like”, cash cow PG-13 summer blockbusters that push what should be allowed with that rating, and full on adult films (but not adult films, I mean for grown up sensibilities). Where are the adventure films of my youth? The Goonies, The Last Starfighter, The Explorers, Back to the Future, and Monster Squad. None of these are actually exceptional films (I mean compared to Casablanca, Citizen Kane, & The Seven Samurai), but they’re perfect for children because they don’t talk down to them. I’ve gone on too long in this summary review already. I liked John Carter.

Would I recommend this film? Yes, especially if you have a young boy in your household… nope, I’m not going to make a joke there.

Kari-gurashi no Arietti [The SecretWorld of Arrietty] (2012). Starring Bridgit Mendler (voice) & Moises Arias (voice). Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi. Rated G

Story: 3 / 5
Direction: 4 / 5
Acting: 3 / 5
Visual: 5 / 5
Overall Rating: 3.75 / 5

Miyazaki films (though he did not direct this one) are an automatic first run for me, and The Secret World of Arrietty was no different. The story is simple and sweet. A sick boy moves to a house outside of the hustle and bustle of the city to relax and prepare for a life changing operation. While there he discovers a family of tiny little people that live under the house and between the walls. You may have heard of this concept, it’s inspired by the book The Borrowers. The animation quality and style is top notch.  It’s classic Miyazaki; every frame is vibrant and full of life. Yes, this is Japanese animation, but not at all on par with the factory produced stuff that gets put on TV. Miyazaki is to your typical anime as Da Vinci is to the neighbor kid you gave $20 to paint your fence. They need to make more films like this. This is a quality production that everyone can enjoy because ultimately it’s a good story. Child friendly films don’t need sex euphemism jokes for adults in order for “the whole family” to enjoy it, just make the story interesting. Aside to all of this is something that annoyed me. For the most part the US voice cast is pretty good. But I learned after that they dubbed the movie into English twice, once for UK audiences and once for US audiences. I have no details on why this was done. Was it because Americans are too dumb to understand British accents? Or was it because Brits are too snobby to enjoy a film with American accents? Either one is just as implausible, but I’m too lazy to find out.

Would I recommend this film? Yes, yes. My memory is a little hazy so many months after seeing it, but I don’t recall there being any of the scarier elements from Spirited Away that are just “too much” for today’s sheltered children, so this one may be a better alternative for getting kids to watch Miyazaki’s work.

Explanation of Ratings

All ratings are on a 5 point scale where 1 is the lowest possible score. A score of 3 indicates the film was simply effective in this regard. A score of 5 indicates perfection in a given category. The overall rating is a simple average of the four scores.

  • Story -- How well the film was written?  Did the story make sense?  Were there plot holes?  Was the dialogue natural for the style/genre?
  • Direction -- How well was the film put together?  Did all of the elements come together properly?  How was the pacing?  Was the tone consistent and effective?  A subcategory of this would be editing, but for the purpose of these reviews it is combined into one category.
  • Acting -- How good were the performances?  In a drama did the lead actor/actress draw the audience in?  In a comedy where the performers funny?  This is an amalgam score of all the performances in the piece. A single great performance can elevate the entire score, but a bunch of bad performances can just as easily bring it down.
  • Visual -- How did the film look?  If there were visual effects were they used appropriately and did they look good?  Did the overall look enhance the telling of the story?


  1. I'll need to check out Into the Abyss. For starters, I'm more interested in the capital punishment debate than I used to be following a remarkably frustrating experience with how screwed up the justice system can get regarding speeding tickets. Prior to that experience, I supported capital punishment. Now I oppose it. Hearing the stories isn't something I've really experienced, though, so I'd like to see that. I also appreciate documentaries that show more than tell (see "Hearts & Minds").

    I'm a little surprised that you went to see "Jeff, Who Lives at Home."

    As for John Carter - I think it could have benefited from some tighter writing and editing, but I agree that it's great for pre-teen boys, and that there are very few films catering to that demographic. Boys today go from the latest Disney release to intentionally-offensive sex, drug, and profanity-laden college party comedies and bloody action films. Adding to your list of Goonies etc..., how about Cloak and Dagger, The Neverending Story, Stand By Me, Young Sherlock Holmes...

    The Secret World of Arriety - only thing I have to add is praise specifically for the realization of Arriety's tiny world, from how fire and water behave on their scale to the innovative uses of human and natural objects. The attention to detail makes the film particularly immersive.

    1. I've seen Hearts and Minds, I believe you lent it to me. :-) A lot of what we see at the After Hours Film Society are documentaries. I have another review coming up for one called "Searching for Sugarman", also good, but unlike "Into the Abyss", I was able to get details on that one later and was disappointed in the manipulative story telling. "Into the Abyss" uses no such trickery. It uses the standard documentary tricks of revealing only little pieces gradually so the audience can get big revelations as they go, but to my knowledge the film hid nothing about the truth in order to make a more compelling story.

      I saw Jeff Who Lives at Home before Half in the Bag ripped it to shreds. There wasn't much out that weekend that we hadn't already seen, so we decided on that. On the surface all of the elements seem like they would work. Jason Segel, Ed Helms, & Judy Greer in the cast sounded like a dynamite combination for a quirky comedy. Of course it was not that at all.