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Review of Gremlins

Posted : 2 years, 11 months ago on 24 July 2014 09:00 (A review of Gremlins)

A film like Gremlins doesn't call for a review, so much as it demands a detailed discussion. This isn't because the film is particularly complicated, nor does it imply that there are loose ends to theorize about. It is simply because Gremlins can be interpreted in a number of different ways. Is it a dark family film? Or a cheesy horror flick? Is the film a cliched product of the 80's? Or perhaps a smart satire that was years ahead of its time? For me, it is all of these things. It's a joyous romp that's hilariously silly - so much so that the absence of truly serious moments can be completely forgiven.

The plot is simple; a young man receives a strange present from his dad: a mysterious creature called a Gremlin! There are 3 rules that must be obeyed to insure that nothing goes wrong. One, the Gremlin must stay away from sunlight, or it will die. Two, the Gremlin must not get wet. And most importantly, the Gremlin must not be fed after midnight.

Care to guess how many of these rules get broken before the film ends?

Gremlins is a rare kind of a film, in that it has actually improved with age. The characters are laughably stupid, there's an abundance of product placement, and the Gremlins - even in their "cute" stage - are (perhaps) unintentionally creepy. These are legitimate problems, and yet, they actually manage to enhance the film. I think the over-the-top silliness of the film is to thank for this, as this allows for an environment in which unintentional laughter is not detrimental to the movie experience. This bizarre blend of self-aware comedy and unintentional humor has resulted in a film that will only continue to get better as the years pass.

Admittedly, one could argue that Gremlins is a bit of an awkward film to watch, in that the the intentional and unintentional comedy is often indistinguishable from the other. One scene that effectively hones in on this issue is the famous monologue, in which one character recalls a tragic memory from her childhood. Supposedly, this scene caused a stir among studio executives, whom requested that the scene be removed as it was uncertain whether this was supposed to be sad or funny (if you care for my two cents, I laughed myself nearly to tears at this part).

This could definitely be an issue for some. Is a film that contains so much unintentional humor and laughable flaws worthy of a recommendation? My answer is an unequivocal "yes." The film thrives on cliches of the past. Now that what was modern in the 80's is also a tired cliche in the 21st century, Gremlins has become an intentional parody of itself. It's the tone that the film was always aiming for, and has managed to re-achieve that goal decades later.

Another fascinating aspect of this film is the violence. Gremlins received a PG rating from the MPAA, and the criticism thrust at both this film, and the MPAA due to the violent images resulted in the birth of the PG-13 rating. Yes, as expected, Gremlins die (albeit, in highly creative and massively unexpected ways), but several humans perish as well. If one considers this film to be a horror movie, than this isn't unusual at all. But if one thinks of this as a family picture, than this is very unusual indeed. Once again, I reiterate: this kind of movie simply demands discussion!

The acting is terribly hammy, but in spite of - or rather, because of - this, the performances are delightful. Zach Gilligan is the lead actor, and Phoebe Cates portrays the love interest. Both characters are dull as dirt in terms of personality, but their moronic inclinations make them highly entertaining to watch all the same. The other actors tend to fall in the same territory.

Jerry Goldsmith composed an appropriately maniacal score for this picture. It contains his signature synthesizers (adding to the film's dated feel even further), and ties in Christmas tunes to reflect the holiday setting. In terms of music, there are no questions here: the tongue is absolutely in the cheek.

There is roughly 45 minutes of build-up, followed by nearly an hour of Gremlins mayhem. Thanks to the camp nature of the film, the 45 minute build-up is no less entertaining than the Gremlin destruction later on. The last hour is almost non-stop craziness, and needless to say, it becomes exhausting. But it's the best kind of exhausting; the kind that comes with knowing that you're having an absolute blast. Indeed, the amount of fun here is almost overwhelming at times. It's tempting to spend the entire run-time of the movie trying to analyze its intentions, but the best route is to save this kind of thinking for afterwards. It honestly doesn't matter much in the long run whether you think Gremlins is a dumb movie for smart people, or a smart movie for dumb people. Just let it be known that Gremlins is good, dark fun for everyone!


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Review of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Posted : 2 years, 11 months ago on 11 July 2014 06:58 (A review of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes)

Apes on Horses (also known in some territories as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) might just be the most intelligent Summer blockbuster to be released in years. Less about the explosions, and more about the characters themselves, Apes on Horses suggests its morals without getting preachy, and conveys a surprising amount of respect for the viewing audience. It's a surprisingly fascinating character study, and perhaps more importantly, it is simply excellent entertainment.

Picking up 10 years after the 2011 reboot/prequel, Apes Without Horses (also known in some territories as Rise of the Planet of the Apes), Caesar and his fellow ape friends have assembled a home in the forest, and a new generation of apes have been born and trained. Life is good, until a human wanders into the forest, and shoots a young ape on impulse. Caesar - having thought the humans extinct on account of a world-wide epidemic established at the end of the last film - gathers a group of apes to travel to the nearby human territory, where he forbids the humans from entering the forest. This conflicts with the interest of humans, and both sides begin to plot war against each other. Caesar does not want war. And thankfully, there are a couple of humans interested in keeping peace as well.

Apes on Horses puts films like How to Train Your Dragon 2 to utter shame. This is a film that truly expands on ideas from the last installment, takes risks, and challenges audiences. It takes what works in its predecessor, and enhances it here. It eliminates the flaws of the 2011 reboot, and even brings in its own ideas too. Apes on Horses makes How to Train Your Dragon 2 look like the half-baked product it always has been.

One interesting thing about Apes on Horses is the faith it has in its audience. It allows time for characters to develop and the story to play out. While the experience is fairly heart-pounding (and completely absorbing) almost the whole way through, the big action set pieces are saved until 100 minutes in. And even when they arrive, they don't strive exclusively for fun and spectacle (in fact, they hardly strive for "fun" at all). The action scenes are still written and filmed as character pieces, containing significant dramatic heft and refusing to bury its heart under all the eye candy.

Humans die in this film. Apes die in this film. And while the camera generally shies away from most deaths in the film, the body count is high. Apes on Horses utilizes little blood or gore, and yet, every death feels brutal and important. Action films today kill off hundreds without giving hardly any of them a second thought. It becomes weightless at times. Apes on Horses gives death impact. And that in itself is quite an innovation.

Apes on Horses plays itself very serious. One would be not be wrong to think that this could easily back-fire on the film. But the subject matter is depicted with such weight, and the characters treated with such depth and intelligence, that it completely works. Even imagery like the apes riding on horses - majestic, yes, but undeniably ridiculous - is given a pass in this film, largely because of the script's surprising smarts.

This sort of strategy might call for a comparison with another recent blockbuster, Godzilla. Godzilla took its ridiculous premise, and created a self-aware, b-movie atmosphere so that audiences might swallow the unbelievable story. And while some viewers (like myself), were satisfied with this approach, many labeled the film as "stupid" and "hammy." It will be interesting to see how audiences react to Apes on Horses, which is far more ridiculous, but plays it completely straight.

The (generally) uninteresting human characters from the first film are replaced with far more interesting human characters this time around. Jason Clarke portrays the primary human protagonist, striking the right balance between brave and fearful. The character juggles a number of relationships throughout the film, all of which Clarke handles professionally. Gary Oldman in a supporting role as the leader of the few surviving humans does his shouty business, and gets a brief, but poignant scene somewhat late in the film. Kirk Acevedo gets the thankless role of the "jerk," and labels himself as such in the only pseudo-self-aware moment in the film - albeit, using a slightly stronger synonym.

The apes are supplied with motion capture technology, as was the case in the 2011 predecessor. Andy Serkis portrays Caesar, in a performance that actually exceeds his groundbreaking one in the last film. Just Serkis' vocal performances alone are astounding, to say nothing of the physical portion of the acting. It remains an exciting event when Caesar gets to talk. If this doesn't land him an Oscar nomination, then there's not much more Serkis can do. The supporting apes are wonderful as well. The standouts (other than Serkis) being Karin Konoval and Toby Kebbell.

The only slip in the acting department is Kody Smit-McPhee, portraying Malcolm's son. A lot of the problem here is that the character doesn't feel like it really belongs in the film. Perhaps if the character was significantly younger (Smit-McPhee is 18) than he would be more endearing. Instead, he comes across as awkward in terms of personality, and dazed in terms of his performance.

On a visual level, the special effects are amazing. The apes are as convincing as conceivably possible, and the cinematography allows for a few slightly unusual angles, which keeps things interesting. This and Godzilla remains the most visually delightful live action films of the Summer so far.

Michael Giacchino composes the score, and it is a tad disappointing. There's no memorable themes, and despite some Giacchino-isms that are fun to spot (though his signature two-chord "emotional" theme is getting stale), the score doesn't seem like it would be especially interesting outside of the film. Granted, it does work well in the picture (the music he wrote for the opening montage is brilliant - this sequence alone is worth the price of admission), but it's a long ways off from his work on Abram's Star Trek films (and an even longer way off from his work at Pixar).

Flaws are few, but present. A character arc between Caesar and his son, Blue Eyes, is never realized as well as one would hope (it's almost as if some early scenes with them were removed in post-production), and there's a tie-in with the 2011 reboot that feels forced and unnecessary. And speaking of the final act, the bar is set so high by a stunning action sequence at (roughly) the 100 minute mark, that the climatic set piece at the end feels almost underwhelming by comparison. And finally, the ending itself, is not so much a resolution, but a break point to be picked up by the next sequel (presumably the last installment for a modern trilogy). Some may be dissatisfied with this, though if one walks in with this knowledge, they may find it less disappointing.

Apes on Horses is the best Summer blockbuster I've seen this year (and among the best films I've seen this year). It does everything a sequel is supposed to do, and more. It does surprising things, and doesn't dumb things down for brain-dead audiences. Even if big action sequences are scarce, the film is intense and entertaining from start to finish. The characters (human and apes alike) are compelling and interesting, and the visuals are often stunning. I sincerely hope this film does well at box office; it's been a while since I've seen a blockbuster as smart as this one, and I'm clinging to the hope that audiences still like 'em this way.


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Review of Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

Posted : 2 years, 11 months ago on 8 July 2014 11:58 (A review of Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol)

Let's address the elephant in the room, shall we? Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is Brad Bird's weakest film to date by a very wide margin. However, considering Bird's impressive body of work (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille), this is more inevitable than disappointing. And considering this is Bird's first foray into live action, Mission Impossible 4 is all the more impressive. It's leagues ahead of the first two installments, and it barely edges out J.J. Abram's Mission Impossible 3, thus making Ghost Protocol (arguably) the strongest of the four currently existing Mission Impossible films.

After breaking Ethan Hunt out of jail, the makeshift spy team consisting of just four individuals, must stop a mad man from receiving the launch codes to nuclear Russian missiles that threaten the lives of millions. And that is my one sentence synopsis.

While Brad Bird loses a bit of his distinct visual style in the move from animation to live-action, one can still see Bird's fingerprints all over the film. Mission Impossible 4 might just be the most stylish of the four Mission Impossible films. Bird even gets a chance to embrace his animation roots in a snazzy titles sequence, and surprisingly, two "A113" references (I only spotted one during my viewing).

As is generally the case in the Mission Impossible universe, the highlights of the film belong exclusively to the action sequences. And in the case of Ghost Protocol, they have never been better. The opening sequence is absolutely marvelous, and while one could argue that the film never does reach the grand heights of the first 5 minutes, it comes tantalizingly close. The suspense is played up in a charmingly old-fashioned way. Everything that CAN go wrong during the team's missions, WILL go wrong. This results in several "edge-of-your-seat" moments that makes you feel like a little child (I mean that in the best way possible).

Conversely, there does seem to be a bit of action-overload, and the film gets a bit exhausting by the end. The 132 minute run time is extreme, and honestly, at least 15 or 20 minutes could have been shaved off to make for a tighter picture. Certainly some of the "talky" scenes could have been snipped away. Several of these are reasonably funny thanks to likable characters, but just as many of them consist of needless exposition. The last five minutes in particular, suffer from this (as well as a completely unnecessary, and uninteresting twist).

The cast is in fine form. Tom Cruise still sells the role of Ethan Hunt, even though he is given far less to chew on than any of his previous performances as this character. He has no emotional arc this time around, but the character itself is likable enough to make amends for such. Simon Pegg is the primary stand-out, getting the funniest lines and most comedic opportunities. Franchise newcomer Jeremy Renner is solid in a supporting role, and while Paula Patton is fine as Jane Carter, the character itself doesn't have any kind of personality. This is something of a disappointment considering Bird's impressive line-up for strong female characters (Helen Parr from The Incredibles, Collette from Ratatouille, etc.).

But perhaps the most disappointing part of this movie, is the lack of a central villain. While we're teased with a promising antagonist early on, we are instead given an identity-less Russian man, who seems horribly tacked on, and is given no memorable scenes, dialogue, or traits. Ghost Protocol's predecessor, Mission Impossible 3 was significantly better in the villain department, and even the first two films had villains that were nasty enough to suffice.

Michael Giacchino's score is noticeably weaker than his work in Mission Impossible 3, but he still does a notable job of expanding and playing with Lalo Schifrin's iconic theme. The opening titles are great, and Giacchino gets to use some very prominent choir early on - a rarity from the composer.

Despite it's problems, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is a lot of fun, and remains the best film in the series so far. The suspenseful action scenes, witty dialogue, and stylish direction add up to a picture that's both smart and entertaining. It's a long ways off from The Incredibles, but Brad Bird has still managed to produce a satisfying action film that doesn't dumb things down - and that alone is worth celebrating.


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Review of The Terminal

Posted : 2 years, 11 months ago on 5 July 2014 11:48 (A review of The Terminal)

Sometimes, there are films that make me wonder why I even bother to watch cinema. I show respect to the picture by sitting quietly in front of it, allowing it to plead its case to me, and all who choose to watch. We hear its argument, and can then deduce whether the film is worth seeing again, or worth recommending to others. In the case of a film like Nacho Libre (for example), I am disgusted by the entire affair, and I wonder if watching movies and taking the time to critique them is even worth it. But ultimately, it is absolutely worth it. Because, for every Nacho Libre or The Amazing Spider-Man 2, I get to talk about a film like The Terminal, in hopes that I might persuade another person to sit down, and listen to its case.

Viktor Navorski is visiting New York, but unfortunately, due to political and bureaucratic mumbo jumbo, he is forced to remain in the airport for an indefinite amount of time. Over the course of his stay, the curiosities of both the airport and America unfold before him.

The Terminal is the embodiment of great cinema. Everything that I love about film, music, and art (none of which, are mutually exclusive, mind you) is contained in this film. It is moving. It is funny. It is sweet. It is warm. It is sad. It is happy. It ISN'T perfect. But it's so wonderful, that perfection hardly matters at all. The Terminal defies genre labels. It has a slice of everything.

A large part of The Terminal's success is found in the main character, Viktor Navorski. He is almost unnaturally innocent, and at the beginning of the film, understands nothing about America. He can barely speak any English, and he is confused by everything he sees. But his kind-hearted nature makes him immediately likable. One might argue that the script is somewhat disrespectful to Russians, as it seems Viktor is a tad primitive (he runs into a glass wall at one point). And yet, the character itself is so likable, that it is hard to actively find fault with one of Viktor's endearing personality traits.

One could accuse the film of being somewhat aimless. Indeed, the plot is a bit thin. But the concept is so charming, and the movie so entertaining, that this flaw doesn't even register until the film is over. The Terminal fills the audience with an almost aching sense of happiness, and I honestly could have stayed in this film, in that airport, for significantly longer than the 2 hour run time allots.

The cast is terrific. Tom Hanks provides a stunningly marvelous performance in the lead. It exceeds mere excellence. He becomes Viktor. His performance walks a fine line between being overly cutesy or frantically cloying. The character and performance are one, resulting in a genuine and touching lead.

The supporting cast is charming. Various highlights include Catherine Zeta-Jones, Chi McBride, Diego Luna, Barry Shabaka Henley, Kumar Pallana, and Stanley Tucci (though his character is essentially reduced to a cartoon over the course of the film).

John William's score bears some resemblance to his work in Catch Me If You Can (perhaps appropriate considering this films many parallels to that one), but I personally think that this is the stronger work. With a deliciously fun (and slightly mischievous) accordion theme, as well as a multitude of other beautiful themes, John William's work here is equal to the picture itself.

I laughed, I cried, and I left wanting more. The Terminal isn't a perfect film, but it's a masterpiece in its own right. It makes the airport into a whimsical, foreign place, and creates characters that will stay with you long after the end credits. What more can I ask from a film that delivers in every single aspect? The Terminal is one of the most satisfying and entertaining films I've had the pleasure of seeing. It's a feel good movie that truly does make you feel good.


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Review of Nacho Libre

Posted : 2 years, 11 months ago on 2 July 2014 09:41 (A review of Nacho Libre)

One of the most common misconceptions about film critics - whether professional or amateur - is that they cannot enjoy "stupid" movies. And while I can only speak for myself, entertainment can cover a multitude of sins. As long as I find the film entertaining and enjoyable, I'm satisfied. And if a "stupid" movie meets that criteria, so be it. The problem with Nacho Libre (or one of many) is that it's not merely stupid. It's downright insulting. And the film simply isn't entertaining enough (and certainly not enjoyable enough) to forgive its glaring offenses.

There's not so much a story here, as there is a premise. Ignacio is the cook in a Mexican orphanage run by nuns and friars. Ignacio, who cares deeply for the orphans, wishes to provide better food for them. So he fulfills his lifelong dream of becoming a professional wrestler, in order to win money to support the orphanage. The catch is that the orphanage finds wrestling to be disdainful, therefore, Igancio must keep his wrestling persona (entitled, "Nacho Libre") a secret.

Let's start with the positives of my viewing experience. I got to sit in a very comfortable office chair. It had an adjustable back that allowed me to recline with ease and it had two arms on the sides so I didn't have to deal with the awkward dilemma of deciding whether I should have my hands joint on my lap, or position one on each leg. Regrettably, there was no spot for me to rest my head, so by the end of the movie I had a rather uncomfortable crick in my neck, though it did produce a satisfying crack when I swiveled my head after the movie had graciously elected to present the end credits.

In analysis of the film itself, the positives are a bit less intriguing (which just goes to show how dismal this movie is). There are roughly three smiles to be had over the course of this film - excluding the smile of relief that comes with the entrance of the end credits, and excluding the smile that occurs before the film starts in vain hope that this might duplicate some of the better aspects of director Jared Hess' previous film, Napoleon Dynamite.

Other than that, we get to see a bit of the quirky style of cinematography employed in Napoleon Dynamite. As far as I can tell, Nacho Libre was filmed on location in Oaxaca, Mexico, and the scenery is lovely. I'm sure the cast and crew had a wonderful time there. Maybe they sampled the local cuisine, visited some famous landmark or other. Perhaps they purchased themselves a souvenir or two to celebrate the occasion. I'm sure they made memories to last a life time.

Also, the film is 92 minutes, and though it feels like it's 92 hours, at least it's not 93 minutes.

Now that the overwhelming positives are out of the way, let us move on to the meat of things. Frankly speaking, Nacho Libre is utter trash. Worse, even. It is overwhelmingly terrible. Letting this rubbish get away with that very label is an illustration of my boundless generosity and unfathomable thoughtfulness. Though one expects that the film is targeting an audience akin to that of Napoleon Dynamite (that is, 12-18 year olds), the screenplay appears to be written with five year olds in mind. Though in my humble opinion, any parent that allows their child to be exposed to this waste is liable for abuse.

Example 1: Nacho Libre has one rule, and that is as follows - As long as you say it in a funny voice, whatever you say is funny. Thus, we have one of the laziest scripts in recent history. The dialogue doesn't have an ounce of humor on it. The film leaves it up to the cast (chiefly our esteemed leading actor, Jack Black) to say it in such a way that it might be perceived as comedy. We get lines such as "I don't want to get paid to lose, I want to win!," that would never be mistaken in any other comedy as "humorous." But if Jack Black says it in that Mexican accent, it simply MUST be worth laughing at.

By the way, the voices aren't funny either.

Example 2: All the obnoxious children's film cliches are here! Poop jokes, fart jokes, butt jokes, butt crack jokes, wedgie jokes, more poop jokes, fat people jokes, more butt jokes, jokes about Mexicans (this one is a smidgen less common in children's films), jokes about accents, jokes about serious rituals, jokes about gross food, more wedgie jokes, more fat people jokes, skinny people jokes, people-singing-awful-sounding-songs jokes, and of course, slapstick.

Now, seeing as this is a wrestling comedy, there is an abundance of slapstick. And while one could be lead to believe that at least the slapstick comedy could be done well in such a film as this, they would be crushingly wrong. There are a number of rules involved with slapstick.

Rule 1: All good things in moderation. Slapstick, most of all.

Now, one could argue that in a film like Nacho Libre, it is impossible to rein back on the slapstick. And while I really do think that if the script was better, at least half of the slapstick could have been cut out, the script is so bad, it's understandable that the director might choose to saturate the production with its numerous wrestling sequences. And yet, it matters little how much slapstick a film contains, if none of it is funny. Observe.

Rule 2: Good slapstick has weight. It should look genuine. If someone is supposed to get punched, it sure as heck better look like that someone actually got punched.

Jared Hess cannot get the slapstick right. It never looks real. It doesn't look like anyone is actually getting hurt. Yes, as suggested by name, slapstick is supposed to be "harmless violence," in that no one is supposed to really get hurt. But in a film that's all about wrestling, and beating people up in the ring, etc., we should wince at least a bit. Instead, it almost looks like I could walk into the ring myself, and then exit unharmed. If slapstick is to be funny, it should look like it hurts. Instead, some characters are literally punching air. I'm sorry Hess, but you can't veil badly choreographed slapstick with loud sound effects.

One of several frustrating things about this film is the clear lack of effort put into this film. Anyone can write in a script, "[character name] smears poop all over [other character's name]'s face." Anyone can write in a script, "[character name] leaps around in spandex." Anyone can write in the script "[character name] talks about puppies, but her accent causes her to sound like she's saying 'poopies'." The closest thing to clever that the script does is have Jack Black's character sing a Lion King rip off that includes a gag that might have been funny, had it not been lifted directly from Shrek.

Surely Nacho Libre doesn't expect anyone in the double-digit age range to find diarrhea jokes funny. No one thinks it's funny to have Jack Black's character hit on a nun. And I'd be hard-pressed to find someone that would laugh at Jack Black loudly using a public restroom.

How can a film like Nacho Libre be accepted as entertainment, when there are so many comedy films around that produce consistent laughs and feature gags that could actually be deemed "intelligent?" Take a film like The Incredibles, where every line is dripping with satire and sophistication. And yet, the dialogue is hilarious and accessible. Kids will laugh at the gags, adults will laugh at the gags, and neither feels like the film is pandering to the lowest-common denominator. Even Napoleon Dynamite felt like it was trying, and it managed a reasonable number of chuckles. In Nacho Libre, it just feels like the director told Jack Black to do whatever he wanted in a "funny" accent and a "funny" costume.

The cast is required to do very little of significant effort. Jack Black speaks in a purposefully silly Mexican accent and runs around in a cape and spandex for 90 minutes. He occasionally makes silly faces, and he stands in positions that accentuate his rear. Big deal; a million people on YouTube have filmed themselves doing the same thing. The rest of the cast speaks in exaggerated Mexican accents and some get to make silly faces. To put it bluntly, no one is pushing for an Oscar nomination.

Even with all my frustrations involving the ambitiously juvenile humor, this film is made even worse just because it's extensively dull. At least when I was offended by the low-aiming humor, I could get mad or frustrated. But otherwise, the film is just a bore. Nacho Libre runs out of plot half an hour in, and it runs out of working gags before the Nickelodeon logo even debuts. But still, the excessive amount of obvious and potty-related gags are the most disturbing factor. Why do people find this funny? I think the phrase "losing faith in humanity" is vastly overused. And yet, as far as descriptors for this film goes, I can think of no better alternative. The profitable box office numbers for this film lends itself very nicely to that phrase as well.


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Review of Edward Scissorhands

Posted : 3 years ago on 22 June 2014 12:36 (A review of Edward Scissorhands)

Many people would agree that Tim Burton has ascended to the highest highs and and descended to the lowest lows; each on multiple occasions. One can never be quite sure what sort of film they're walking into if Burton's name is on the poster. But in spite of his various enemies and cynics, most agree that Edward Scissorhands is a marvelous work of art. And in my humble opinion, the majority is absolutely correct.

In this imaginative, dark fairy-tale, an artificial man named Edward is taken in by a charitable family after living alone in a castle for many years. He has scissors in place of hands because his inventor had not yet completed him before his untimely death. And while Edward's family fears he may be an outcast, he wins the gossipy, suburban neighborhood over. Still, the fickleness of the neighborhood plays a part in what could be considered a tragic love story.

Edward Scissorhands succeeds due to a variety of reasons. The most obvious is simply that it's entertaining. The drama is engaging, and the comedy is delightful. But these are bare bone requirements for most films. And Edward Scissorhands is not "most films."

The characters themselves are lovely. The star of the show is, of course, Edward Scissorhands. He may just be one of the most likable characters in cinema. Brilliantly portrayed by Johnny Depp, his childlike innocence is conveyed through thoughtful facial expressions (as Edward speaks very little) in a performance that can only be described as "magical." It's incredible how likable he is, however, because of some clearly awful things he does during the film (mainly at the end). The supporting cast is also great. The gossipy women of the neighborhood are a riot, and Edward's adoptive family are sweet and amusing.

The story is hugely unique, and while there are obvious lapses in logic and various questions left unanswered (mainly concerning how Edward took care of himself all those years in the castle), much of this can be forgiven because of its fairy tale vibe. Because this is, by and large, a story book-esque fantasy, these "flaws" almost come off as charming. A potentially accidental benefit, but a benefit nonetheless.

While the visuals aren't as lavish as most of Burton's more recent efforts (this film has a 20 million dollar budget: compare with Alice in Wonderland's 200 million dollar budget), they boast a unique look. Some bits come off as dated (some intentionally so), it still manages to grapple a memorable feel. And Burton's style clearly shines through.

The script is smart. It knows what it can get away with, and never really pushes the line. It also avoids some obvious story routes that could have been obnoxious. Unfortunately, one such story route remains, and that is Edward's romantic interest in a girl named Kim. But even this is handled pretty well in the latter half of the film (though it suffers in the first half).

And then there's Danny Elfman's score. Now, if you've never enjoyed Elfman's work in the past, this will not change your mind. But if you are an Elfman fan (and I am), you're in for a treat. This might be Elfman's best work. The emotional moments are beautiful. They jerk tears from your eyes. And the comedic bits (which some might find overbearing) are brilliantly done. It's equal parts fun and tragic, combined expertly to deliver a satisfying package that elevates the film (as any film score should) in large ways.

Edward Scissorhands isn't perfect, but it is enormously satisfying. It's both funny and moving. It's a film that's smart, original, and even challenging. Audiences will savor moments of happiness, and be horrified in moments of tragedy. Edward Scissorhands is a film where everything comes together darn-near perfectly. Movies like Edward Scissorhands don't come often enough. Some will insist that Burton is a soulless director who has been ruined by money, but I argue that no such director could have created such a magical film as this.


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Review of How to Train Your Dragon 2

Posted : 3 years ago on 14 June 2014 02:39 (A review of How to Train Your Dragon 2)

Note: If you've seen the trailers, then this review can be considered "spoiler-free." Otherwise, beware!

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a crime against film. Not that it's criminally bad, but that it goes against everything film is. Film is art, but How to Train Your Dragon 2 is mere product. It regurgitates themes and ideas from the first film without supplying any original concepts of its own. It does what will generate excitement among fans of the first, and waits for the box office returns. I simply can't understand who would support such a naked cash grab.

Berk is a much happier place to live than it was at the start of the first How to Train Your Dragon. The residents of Berk now own their own dragons, and they participate and spectate various Dragon-oriented games and races. But Hiccup and Co. uncover a mysterious group of dragon-catchers, and most surprisingly (unless you've seen the trailers): Hiccup's long-lost mother.

Among many other frustrating things about How to Train Your Dragon 2 is Hiccup's new character design. Not only is it obvious bait for teenage girls (a large portion of the demographic for this movie), but it doesn't make sense. Hiccup remains nerdy and goofy, but his new look betrays that. Also, none of the other characters have changed much at all in terms of appearance. Sure, some of the kids have a little peach fuzz, and Stoick has some white in his beard, but that's it! No one's appearance changes as dramatically as Hiccup's.

This is further evidence at the lack of effort put into this film. The entire movie is running on visuals (which are, admittedly, gorgeous) and lame gags that rarely generate laughter or even smiles. Many of said gags are among the "cute" variety, which should enchant small children and grandparents, but leave most teens cold.

The plot is often forgotten, which leads to weird pacing issues. A standard film should have a beginning, middle, and end. How to Train Your Dragon 2 has a very long beginning, and a very long ending. The beginning of the film establishes the plot, subsequently forgets it, and then introduces Hiccup's mother (a character that is only there to create a cheap twist at the beginning). The end is just a very long and dull series of battle sequences, filled with contradictions, cheap solutions, and vague explanations.

For a fantasy film to really work, I believe it needs strong characters more than anything else. Unfortunately, this cast does not fit the bill (this problems also plagued the first film). While Hiccup is likable, his makeover diminishes his appeal. The supporting cast is either annoying or boring. The exception being Gobber and (surprisingly) Ruffnut, who provides some of the film's only successful comedy, thanks to her new love interest.

The voice cast itself is fine, if unspectacular. Jay Baruchel makes no attempts to change his voice to match the new character design for Hiccup, but the performance itself is fine. Newcomers, Cate Blanchett, Kitt Harrington, and Djimon Hounsou provide serviceable performances.

Other than the animation, the only truly great thing about How to Train Your Dragon 2 is John Powell's score. He follows up his enormously enjoyable work in the original with a score that nearly equals it. It brings back the old themes, introduces some new ones, and puts into one fiercely enjoyable package. The only real downside is that one of the songs in the film ("For the Dancing and Dreaming") has a melody that's almost identical to "Noble Maiden Fair" from 2012's Brave. This remains the only blemish in the music department (excepting the Jonsi song).

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a soulless and empty motion picture. It fails to take risks or introduce creative ideas that differ from anything seen in the first. Its frantic attempts to expand upon the universe result in continuity issues with the first film. How to Train Your Dragon 2 exists only to steal money from the fans of the first film, and perhaps create a stronger presence in the terrifying realm of fan fiction). If you are a part of either above party, then you'll probably enjoy this film, despite my argument. Alas, I implore you, be aware of the beast you're feeding.


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Review of Edge of Tomorrow

Posted : 3 years ago on 8 June 2014 03:28 (A review of Edge of Tomorrow)

Edge of Tomorrow is the kind of film you watch, then shrug when it's over. There's little worth raving about, and little worth getting furious about. It's moderately pleasing Summer blockbuster barf. It will make a ripple in the box-office, perhaps serve as a nice rental in the future, but it's not the kind of film that remains in memory for too long.

A la Groundhog Day, Major William Cage continues to live the same day over and over again. It is the day of a terrible battle, in which him and his fellow soldiers are ambushed each time by an alien species called, the Mimics. Every single time, the battle fails, but Cage might just have the key to victory.

So, there's stuff that works and stuff that doesn't. The action sequences are totally forgettable, others loud to the point of head ache induction. The comedy is fairly solid, with a few decent laughs throughout. The performances are fine, but not outstanding, though the script doesn't really lend itself to impressive performances.

The characters are generally quite bland. Character personalities are suggested, but never fully developed. They just sort of fade out as soon as they leave the screen. Tom Cruise is fine in the role of William Cage, Emily Blunt is fine in the role of Sergeant Rita Vrataski (a name more complex than the character itself). The only notable performances come courtesy of Bill Paxton and Brendan Gleeson who make for amusing comedic supporting characters.

The story is cleverly constructed. Despite the fact that Cage's character is reliving the same day over and over, the film is hardly ever tedious. The secret is that it only devotes a few seconds to reveal that Cage is living the day over again, instead of going through the entire day all over again. This is where similar films (like Source Code) have failed. It is most notable thing about this film.

Christophe Beck's score is generally forgettable. The electronic effects are a bit annoying, and there is little memorable material here. Supposedly, director Doug Liman (in regards to the music) "preferred a non-traditional approach, driven by percussion and distorted orchestra." I don't know about you, but that description is almost enough to make me run for the hills.

Basically, Edge of Tomorrow is fine. It takes a bit of time to find it's leggings, and the last 20 minutes seem to drag, but it's entertaining enough to make for a pleasing time at the cinemas if all other options have been exhausted. It's just under two hours long, making it slim by traditional Summer movie standards, but it still lags at times. In short, Edge of Tomorrow is sporadically fun, and there are some good bits here and there. But I'd be hard-pressed to recall much of this film if quizzed about it in a month or so.


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Review of The Matrix

Posted : 3 years ago on 7 June 2014 06:57 (A review of The Matrix)

Films like The Matrix do not come often. It boasts a complex storyline and fascinating concept. It creates an alternate reality so tangible, one could truly believe in its existence. The Matrix is a film as ambitious as they come. And while it's is not without flaw (and indeed, there are many), The Matrix is so refreshingly original and delightfully entertaining, that many problems can be overlooked. What cannot be overlooked, however, is the final 5 minutes, which is among the worst endings in memory.

Spoiling as little as possible (though it's rare to find someone these days that haven't yet see this film), The Matrix creates the idea that the world we live in, is not real. It is, in fact, something called, The Matrix. The audience explores the true world with the protagonist, Thomas A. Anderson, as he struggles to comprehend the extent of this revolutionary discovery.

The concept is terribly fascinating. It's hard to explain anything at all without spoiling things, but it is ingenious. Many have argued that it's not entirely original, and I agree, there are definitely elements lifted from other Sci-Fi films, but they're arranged in such a way (and given enough subtle changes) to make a satisfying and intriguing concept.

The story is complex, and confusion is almost necessary. The film possesses an almost dream-like quality, in which little makes sense (likely intentionally). Scenes cut to and fro with little transition or fanfare, adding to the dream-like aesthetic of the film.

One would be forgiven for criticizing the film for suggesting far too many questions (and supporting them with far too few answers). And while it is a tad irksome, many of these questions are probably better left to the imagination. Other notable flaws include some expository lines (that do a poor job of concealing themselves), and some weak writing at times.

But the biggest problem with this film (and the only really significant detriment) is the ending; specifically the last 5 minutes. To explain everything that's problematic with the ending would take a far greater deal of time than anyone has to write nor read about. Never mind the fact that this is a spoiler-free review!

To put it as simply and spoiler-free as possible, the ending is inconclusive. Not in the way that inspires sequels (though this film has spawned two add-ons to date), but rather, it doesn't resolve anything. The dilemma created at the beginning of the film is not dealt with, and the film doesn't acknowledge this. Even had it been left as a cliffhanger for a sequel, I might have forgiven it. But instead, it looks at the sky and whistles innocently, completely ignoring the fact that it's fascinating concept has been left alone. In fact, after the concept is established, The Matrix reverts to a high-level heist film - that is still engrossing, and smashingly put together, but it's lacking the brilliance that it initially promises.

On top of that, the ending gives way to a lot of conveniences and cop-outs, and is both very un-cinematic, and highly anti-climatic.

There are a good number of action sequences, and they are exceptionally crafted, though there are certainly too many of them. The Kung-Fu is cool, and even some of the shoot 'em ups are neat, but they become exhausting after a while. And one can only watch nameless henchmen miss the protagonists so much before becoming skeptical. Also, the gratuitous amount of slo-mo just comes across as dated, and the excessive amount of destruction in the last hour just makes the film seem like it's trying too hard; especially when there's a very interesting concept that feels like it's been ignored in favor of said action and destruction. Still, there's an excellent chase sequence at the very end that's among the best in recent memory.

Keanu Reeves is engaging in the lead, and Laurence Fishburne is solid alongside Reeves (though he talks in an odd, robotic way - perhaps intentionally). Hugo Weaving also has an odd speech pattern in the role of the antagonist, though he pulls it off much better. He's as menacing as Sci-Fi villains get. The supporting cast is good, but not great (Matt Doran as Mouse fares the best).

Don Davis' score does what a good score does; and that is improve the film. Many scenes are significantly improved through Davis' music, as it provides tension and texture. Though it occasionally gives way to too much drums and not enough melody, it's an admirable effort that gets the job done.

The Matrix is the kind of film one can talk about for days. It has a lot of depth and substance, and the plot is hugely complex and open for interpretation. And yet, the pros and cons also merit discussion. The Matrix scores a lot of points by simply being entertaining, smart, and original. But the ending is so hugely unsatisfying that the 2 hours preceding the final five minutes is nearly undone as a result of its incompetence. The Matrix is a weird, wild ride. It's just a shame that the payoff (if it can be called that) is so abysmally weak.


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Review of Maleficent

Posted : 3 years ago on 31 May 2014 02:58 (A review of Maleficent)

Maleficent: the newest addition to the "gritty/revisioned fairy tale" trend. Starting with Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland, and continuing through Mirror Mirror, Oz the Great and Powerful, and Jack the Giant Slayer (among others). And while Maleficent doesn't improve much over these other efforts, one at least gets the feeling that it was created with good intentions, as opposed to merely being another product cashing in on a hot trend. Indeed, there are some great concepts in this film. But alas, that is all they are: concepts. Never are they fully fleshed out, nor developed enough to leave the impression they might have with a little more care.

This is a revisioning of 1959's Sleeping Beauty, told through the perspective of the villainess, Maleficent. In this story, Maleficent was not always wicked. She was once a guardian of the fairies, though she became cold and wicked when she was betrayed. Betrayed by whom? Her boyfriend.

Yup, we're going the Oz the Great and Powerful route here. Another popular villain whose motive roots from a break-up.

Now to be a fair, I think it's a good - if not great - idea to make a movie about the Maleficent character to flesh out her motives and personality. Because frankly, she had neither in the 1959 film. Unfortunately, her motive is beyond weak. Some Disney fans will be outraged.

But trust me; there are good ideas here. The entire film basically revolves around Maleficent's relationship with Princess Aurora. The three fairies in charge of caring for Aurora are terribly incompetent, so in order for Aurora to survive long enough for a devastating curse to work, Maleficent needs to keep Aurora alive, though she hates her. But over time, Maleficent starts to care for the girl. And to my surprise, this idea really works. It's not perfect execution, but it works.

Unfortunately, only about half of this film is devoted to this relationship. The other is about King Stephen (who betrayed Maleficent to begin with), and the paranoia and confusion he is dealing with, due to his daughter being cursed. This part of the story isn't interesting, nor believable. It's been done before, and done better, and it's just plain dull.

There are (very, very, very brief) flashes of dark humor, that one wishes were developed further, in order to add to the Maleficent character. Some of Maleficent's powers are interesting as well, but because they're never fully explained, the extent of her powers are unknown. She has the ability to morph animals into other beings, the ability to heal, to curse, etc. It leads to some weak bits when one wonders why she can't simply blast her foes out of the way.

It all leads back to the script, which feels very much like a first draft. There are great ideas here, but they're never developed enough to work as well as they might have. The tone is all over the place, switching from gritty to childish. Indeed, the first 10 minutes of the film are almost nauseatingly child-like, while other scenes are remarkably intense for a children's film. Of course, it's never very clear what audience exactly Maleficent is targeting.

On top of all that, the ending is very weak, and very disappointing. Granted, there is one sort of twist near the end that's actually kind of sweet. But ultimately, its impact is diminished due to the nearly-identical twist used in last year's Frozen.

Other than Maleficent herself, the main selling point here is the visuals. And yes, they look pretty good. I was rarely blown away, but they are still pretty to look at. Be warned, however. We witness some very odd looking CGI characters, and some flight sequences near the beginning that rival the early Potter films in their unbelievability.

As one would expect, Angelina Jolie is great as the title villainess. She is given a character with a lot of dimensions and depth, and she handles it marvelously. She straddles the line of scenery-chewing early on, but she improves as the film continues.

The rest of the cast is fine, but not remarkable. Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, and Lesley Manville portray the three fairies in charge of caring for Aurora, and they are amusing, though they are completely forgotten in the middle portion of the film. Perhaps it's for the better, as it allows more time to focus on Maleficent and Aurora, but at the same time, it's very odd that they're just dropped from the film until later.

But eyes will roll upon Breton Thwait's entrance as Prince Phillip (a thankfully small role). He looks like he came right out of a boy-band, and not in an intentionally comedic way. Tweenage girls may swoon, but anyone else will be groaning or suppressing laughter.

James Newton Howard's score (while sorely missing references to "Once Upon A Dream") is both majestic and powerful. There are some beautiful piano bits, and some marvelous orchestral pieces. Ignoring some unfortunate electronic elements near the end, James gets it right, and it's grand.

Maleficent is the framework for a good movie. There are parts in place, and mere suggestions of bright ideas and concepts. But it never fully comes together, and the weak writing is partly to blame. Had this been given some more re-writes, and a little more time for development, Maleficent could have been something great. As it stands, it's less offensive than many other revisionist fairy tales, but it remains disappointing. Other than the surprisingly well developed relationship between Aurora and Maleficent, the only really notable bits are when the spirit of the 1959 original shines through (the christening scene where Maleficent curses Aurora is one of the best in the film). It's a shame that a little more emphasis had not been placed on recognizing the 1959 film, but that's just another item on a long check-list of undeveloped ideas that prevent Maleficent from living up to its animated source.


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