Greenberg: What I Thought

Ben Stiller is back, in sleeper hit ‘Greenberg’. To tell you the truth, I hadn’t heard of it since yesterday. It came up during a Skype conversation with one of my cousins from LA, and he wholeheartedly recommended it. You know, because they get everything about four months before we do in the UK. So, reluctantly, I put my money down then and there, and journeyed to my local cinema this afternoon, for a very enjoyable couple of hours.

Roger Greenberg is a carpenter, former would-be-rockstar, and general oddball, played by Ben Stiller. He comes to stay in LA and to watch over his brother’s house after many years of residing in New York, while his brother and family are on holiday. While there, he meets up with his old band members, says hello to ex-acquaintances, and meets Florence, his brother’s ‘assistant’, whose job seems to mainly consist of grocery shopping and caring for the family dog, Mahler. That’s essentially all you need to know about the film’s narrative.

It’s a very quaint film, with the majority of the duration spent exploring Roger’s past, through his return to LA, and his exposure to various elements (people and behaviours) which were once commonplace to him. That’s very much the draw of it. Greenberg is an intriguing character, who seems to be on some sort of medication, as well as possessing a penchant for applying lip balm. You could say that as a character, he’s fascinating, drawing you in further to try and unravel this erratic chap. To what extent is he ill, if at all? His mood swings throughout the film only exacerbate this interest. You very slowly uncover facts about his past, and the film does a great job of slowly revealing Roger’s character. By the end of it, you’ll have quite a good understanding of who Roger is, while not knowing much about him at all. I know that doesn’t make much sense, but it’s a wonderfully strange feeling.

I haven’t really paid much attention to Florence, yet, which is a shame, because she’s definitely on equal footing with Stiller, in terms of major parts. Florence, played by Greta Gerwig, is a bit of an enigma herself, and her seemingly irresponsible behaviour, and her resulting seemingly irresponsible interactions with Roger lead to some hard-hitting conclusions that really make you bond with the pair.

This film is filled with uncertainty, which again, sounds rather odd. It’s a very different Ben Stiller film, where he shows that he’s matured as an actor. After getting over the fact that he isn’t going to snap back into his Zoolander role, and shout “ooga booga booga” at the screen, you really get drawn in, and the film really takes off, while the uncertainty kicks in. Roger Greenberg is a very confused man, who is committed to ‘doing nothing’, which some might describe as him battling with a midlife crisis. All the while, you’re left uncertain, thanks in no small part to his erratic behaviour, what he’s going to do next, and where the film will take you.

What’s the rating on the Epic ‘Would You Watch It Again?’ scale? I’d definitely watch it again. In fact, I might even go so far as to say I’d buy it on DVD when it comes out. Stick with this film. It will mesmerise you, and take you to wonderful places.


The Blind Side: What I Thought

My dear mother, a great fan of the works of Sandra Bullock, suggested we see this film on a family outing. As such, my hopes for it weren’t that high. To be honest, I entered the cinema with the notion that this would be ‘just another chick flick’, but you know, I actually enjoyed it. I’m not saying it’s brilliant, or that it should be nominated for an Oscar, or any other politically-contrived award, but it’s bearable. It also made me smile, which I guess, is what I paid for.

‘The Blind Side’ tells the (true) story of Michael Oher, a down-and-out teen from the projects in Tennessee, who eventually becomes a star (American) football player. At the start of the film, he’s homeless, before he’s taken in by Leigh Anne Tuohy, played by Sandra Bullock, who plays a very wealthy wife of a former athlete turned fast-food tycoon. Michael, or ‘Big Mike’, is soon accepted by the whole family, eventually starts playing American football, and the rest is history, I suppose; other than the fact that it’s a true story, so it’s not.

It sounds just like any old feel-good film, doesn’t it? I suppose that it is, just as I mentioned at the start. However, what really drew me in was watching Michael change from someone who is clearly troubled, keeps to himself, and can “barely” spell his own name, into a bright young lad who has a promising future. You’re never told the whole story of why he was separated from his mother at a young age, but you can tell by Michael’s initial stilted demeanour that it was something big. I found myself fall under the spell of the film, and became fascinated by Michael’s character, and as such, in watching him grow. His successes became mine, as too with the perils he encountered. Call me soft.

On top of all of this, you’ve also got social themes running amok, what with a wealthy Republican family harbouring a teenager from a completely different world from theirs. Michael even writes, in one of his early scholastic creations, “All I see is white.” The Tuohy family have to deal with social stigma, racist uncles, racist sports fans, racist rednecks, racist fellow-Republicans; this goes on. I don’t want to mislead you into thinking this is a film about tackling racism. It isn’t. The film is about Michael. There are only a few scenes which discuss racism, but really, it’s only fun seeing justice and common sense prevail over stupidity and race-hate, which it quite often does.

So, yes. In response to the title, I thought this film was actually pretty good, considering what I thought it would be. It was certainly a nice way to spend my final evening in London, before I return to university. My mother seemed to enjoy it, too, which is the most important thing. If you’re going for a family outing, and aren’t sure what to see, I’d opt for this. It’s two hours of (mostly) happy viewing, which will leave you smiling.

As far as ratings go, then, I wouldn’t go and see ‘The Blind Side’ again in cinemas, but since my mother made clear in the car her intentions to buy it on DVD as soon as it’s released, I’d happily join her in watching it. That’s not to say I’d willingly fork out the money for it myself, however.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of ‘What I Thought’. Please, please leave a comment on what you think of ‘Aris’ Epic ‘Would You Watch It Again?’ Rating System (TM)’. I’m very eager to know what you all think.


How To Train Your Dragon (3D): What I Thought

I love animated films. They never fail in returning me to a state of childhood innocence and awe, and ‘How To Train Your Dragon’ pulled out all the stops to ensure that by the end of the film, I was grinning from ear to ear. I’ve never wanted to own a dragon more so than I do now.

‘How To Train Your Dragon’ is about Hiccup, miniature Viking in the making, and his efforts to gain the recognition of his clan, and rise from the role of weaponsmith apprentice to, well, something that’s not a weaponsmith’s apprentice. Hiccup isn’t the burliest candidate to potentially become a hammer-swinging, axe-brandishing, dragon-slaying Norse warrior, which is much to his detriment. He’s a quirky chap who is picked on and belittled by the others in his clan, until he one day manages to track down an almost mythical Night Fury breed of dragon, and injure it with a catapult. When he confronts it, he finds that he cannot kill it, as is expected of him by his Viking brethren, and so begins a fantastical, magnificent journey to nurse this dragon back to health, train it, and uncover a vicious plot that has the power to redefine human-dragon relations. It sounds somewhat complex, but it really isn’t. I just can’t bear to spoil a second of this brilliant film, and want you to enjoy every fact and detail first-hand.

The film is brilliantly paced, with just the right amount of action, coupled with the right amount of comic relief and humour. It does a brilliant job of interspersing one with the other, always leaving you wanting more, but never so that it becomes an annoyance. The balance is just perfect, granting the film with the power to deliver both laugh-out-loud moments, but to also emotionally move you, and return you to that wonderful state of childlike innocence.

The animation is also fantastic. Specifically, mention must be made of the dragons themselves. It’s clear that a lot of thought has gone into creating a whole host of these unique beasts. Each individual breed has its own differing abilities, strengths, weaknesses, and most importantly, lends the dragons their own unique personalities. Never will you have felt more attached to a collection of characters who remain effectively mute for the duration of the film, with the exception of grunts and body language. There is also an awful lot of expression in each of their eyes, which becomes a key component of how Hiccup and his dragon communicate.

I assure you it is no exaggeration when I say that it’s been a long time since I’ve been so thoroughly entertained in 90 minutes. This film made a kid of me again, genuinely. I laughed, I grinned, and I was brought close to tears. This is a truly fantastic film. See it.

‘How To Train Your Dragon’ is PG rated, and currently on general release. It can be seen in cinemas across the country in either 2D or 3D, but go and see it in 3D. Honestly, it’s worth the extra money.


Ice Age 3 in 3D: The Future of Cinema?

Every day, I’d like to think I try something or do something that I’ve never done before. Yesterday, I went even further than that, and did two, or maybe even three things, for the first time ever. I drove to Gatwick, to pick up my cousin (which is a LONG way from the mean streets of West London), and I also took her to see the Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre. The third, tenuous item on my list is driving on the M25, during rush hour, on a Friday, at the end of term. I didn’t have fun, and I certainly don’t advise anyone to try it.

My cousin is visiting England for the first time from Los Angeles, and despite this only being a passing visit of a few days, she insisted on seeing the ins and outs of London town. So, this morning, my cousin, myself, and my sister hopped on a bus to Marble Arch, where we procured a horrible open-top sightseeing bus. We amused ourselves with this for a while, and when we were bored of the taped commentary that was forced on us (the guide we were given when we bought our tickets insisted it was ‘digitally’ recorded, whatever that means in terms of credibility ), we hopped off, and then hopped on again, a dynamic that continued ad infinitum.

The hours went on, and evening sneaked up on us. My cousin said that she wanted to see a film, to end the night, so we journeyed to Leicester Square, where the five cinemas could only offer two films at that hour: Public Enemies, or Ice Age 3. My sister wasn’t too keen on the idea of Public Enemies, so we opted for Ice Age 3, in the end.

We were given special 3D glasses before we went into the theatre proper, and sat down wearing them, and watching the trailers, like the cool people we are. After a short while, we were instructed to put on our 3D glasses, before an interactive game (I know!) financed by the good people at O2 began. We were told we were on a spaceship in an asteroid field, and had to help the captain navigate the ship left and right, by putting our hands up, respectively, when instructed. We were seated in the middle of the theatre, but I was more right-ways, I thought, with my cousin and sister more to the left. The ‘game’ began, and the captain of our vessel soon started hollering directions at us. My side were rather rubbish. I don’t think we ‘turned’ the ship right at all, but we still made it through in the end. I’m sure they must have used some kind of nifty motion-sensing cameras to engineer this game, and while rather simple, it has an awful lot of potential. You must not forget that this experience was in 3D as well.

My only experience of 3D films, minus a few visits to the London IMAX, trigger memories of red and white 3D glasses, along with some nausea. Gone are the coloured lenses, replaced with a completely transluscent set of specs. The 3D seems to work in much the same way. There are actually two images projected on-screen, which are then spliced together through the magic of the 3D glasses, and you’re left with a fantastically colourful, full 3D image.

The actual film itself was delightful. Without spoiling it for any hardcore Disney fans out there, everything ties up nicely in the end, and I was left grinning like a loon. I’m sorry to say that I’m a sucker for Disney films, and Ice Age 3 didn’t disappoint. The 3D was also implemented wonderfully, whether there was a T-Rex lunging out of the screen, or snowflakes fluttering into the theatre, it really felt like the 3D added something special to the experience.

This brings me on to my main point. I feel the 3D was really something that you couldn’t replicate at home. The film had generic, ‘DO NOT FILM THIS FILM OR WE’LL BANG YOU UP, PROPER, LIKE’, but who would even want to? I mean, you could record it, but all you’d get is a dodgy multi-layered image. Even if the pirates were able to engineer it in such a way (which I’m sure they already have done), I just wouldn’t feel the same, sitting at home, crouched in front of a 20″ screen with 3D glasses on. Indeed, I’d feel quite the fool. Call me naive, but is this how to beat piracy? I’m not pledging allegiance to either side of this debate, but I’m sure that film buffs know all about the power of the ‘world’ of the cinema. I genuinely enjoy going to the cinema, sitting in a dark room, and forgetting about the world, and all my problems for a couple of hours. I’m sure the 3D format wouldn’t lend itself to all types of film, but it’s certainly something to ponder.

The next thing I want to consider, is the little 3D ‘game’ we all collectively took part in, as an audience, before the film began. Could this be the future of cinema? Could we turn animated films, such as this, into our own 3D ‘choose your own path’ adventure, using grouped audience reactions as stimuli? We’ve already got the technology, and from the looks of things, animation studios are really starting to embrace the format warmly. Perhaps the O2 ‘game’ was a sort of trial. A pilot, if you will, to see how many people actually participated. I may be getting far ahead of myself, but I think animated cinema might be just about to take a turn for the better. A fully 3D, interactive film? Oh, be still, my childish heart…