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15 Visual Effects Finalists

December 12, 2010 Leave a comment

Much like the award for Best Documentary, the AMPAS Best Visual Effects committee always whittles down the selection of possible nominees to a box-sized fifteen. The Academy just released the list to the public. It is as follows:

“Alice in Wonderland”
“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”
“Clash of the Titans”
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1″
“Hereafter”
“Inception”
“Iron Man 2″
“The Last Airbender”
“Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief”
“Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time”
“Scott Pilgrim vs the World”
“Shutter Island”
“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”
“TRON Legacy”
“Unstoppable”

This doesn’t really change my predictions much at all. From the looks of it, I’m not sure anything will be able to take down “TRON Legacy.” Much like last year’s winner, “Avatar,” it appears to be an absolute visual feast, and added to that, the effects actually look quite stellar and authentic. Perhaps the only thing that might have a fighting chance is “Alice in Wonderland” or “Inception.” However, “Alice”‘s effects are a bit too cartoonish and over-the-top and “Inception,”‘s while incredible and realistic, are short-lived and really kind of secondary to the story (and yet that did not hurt “Gladiator” on winning this particular award).

My predictions for this category remain:

“Alice in Wonderland”
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows: Part I”
“Inception”
“Iron Man 2”
“TRON: Legacy”

Perhaps the only thing that bugs me in this category is the quiet snub of…wait for it…”The Social Network.” I know that it’s an award that this film really doesn’t need to sweep and “Social”‘s effects are easy to overlook. And yet, that’s just the point. The impeccable work on creating the Winklevi out of one actor is at least worth some recognition for it’s good enough for some viewers to really believe that the part is played by twin actors, rather than Armie Hammer. However, I’m humble enough to let this one past…..as long as the film still takes all the rest.

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“Monsters” Review

December 2, 2010 Leave a comment

A few months ago, I had commented that the visual effects artists who designed “Skyline” weren’t qualified to make a great movie. However, I have displayed no end of admiration and anticipation for Gareth Edwards’ low-budget creature-feature “Monsters.” For the longest time, I never realized the hypocrisy I used in making that distinction or the double standard that I set. Now, I realize, that there is no double standard.

“Monsters” is set in the near future, in which a probe coming back from the edges of the solar system crashed and infected much of Central America with alien organisms. These enormous octopi-like creatures now thrive in what’s known as the “infected zone,” a place where people and it seems a lot of military equipment have trouble surviving. Two Americans, a photographer and his boss’s daughter, must travel through that zone in order to get back to America.

This movie is a mess, straight up. It has an interesting concept and I respect the fact that it was attempted on such a small budget, but simply put, it doesn’t pull it off. The film DRAGS. My God, does it drag like nothing I’ve ever seen. I’m really not sure if there was a point in film in which I was genuinely frightened, or even thrilled. The scenes in which people actually are put in mortal danger are stifled by a dialogue or action soon beforehand explaining how the monsters “really aren’t that bad.”

All the main ingredients of the film, such as acting, directing and writing, are all subpar, at best. Edwards really doesn’t have much of a hand at working with his performers. They wander around, meandering through their boring and mostly meaningless dialogue, trying to create some sort of emotional (or any kind at all, really) link to the audience. Had their been said link, the viewer might not be simply hanging on for some decent monster action and therefore be let down. Instead, we are just as bored by these people as we are by their quest through the incredibly dangerous “INFECTED ZONE,” which should have been more accurately titled, “THE ZONE IN WHICH THE CHANCES OF RUNNING INTO SOME TROUBLE INCREASE BY ABOUT 5 TO 10 PERCENT.”

Another quick note to Edwards in regards to his writing: if you want to try and work a message into your film, try to be a little more tact about it. The film has an obvious metaphorical subplot the relates to the current immigration issue in North America. I won’t go into too many details, but in its application, this facet of the film could have been touched on with a bit more subtlety. I’ve always believed that the softer a director goes about planting his bomb, the bigger a crater it will leave. Edwards couldn’t have worked more loudly if he tried.

Finally, we get to the portion of the film which should have been stellar, no doubt, and that is the special effects. Yes, they are decent, and it is quite a feat that Edwards created the visuals all from his own resources and skills. And yet, when you remove that notion from the equation, the quality really does start to decline. When you look at one of the animated tanks strolling down a road, you think to yourself, “Wow, he did a really good job with that animation.” However, a few moments later, you move on and think, “Even though he did a really good job with that animation, it’s pretty goddamn obvious that it’s not a real tank,” and suddenly, the overall credibility of the film starts to decline.

I cannot say that this was not an admirable attempt at a film, working such a great concept into an incredibly low-budget. Yet, I just cannot bring myself to applaud this movie on any aspect of it. Aside from the above-mentioned fare, the production quality was pretty sad as well. So many shots, day or night, were horribly underlit, mostly because they’re not lit at all. This approach causes nearly all of the night photography to be grainy and indiscernible. In a documentary-style approach, this might work, but it is not, it’s simply low-budget. And as a film student, I hear it said too many times than I can count that “If I had millions of dollars, I could make that film so much better.” Well, I think that even working with this film’s minuscule budget, a number of my friends still could have made a better film.

In the end, what we’re left with is less a film than it is Gareth Edwards’ VFX demo reel. It really does work better as a trailer, for then he can work in all of the pretty works of animating and compositing in short clips of 1 to 2 seconds, and then not have to worry about production, acting, direction, writing, cinematography or any of the other aspects of this film that are going to have to stand the test of time and ultimately….will not.

GRADES:           C-           * 1/2 / * * * * *           3.4 / 10.0