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Review of Captain Phillips

Posted : 3 years, 8 months ago on 18 January 2014 08:16 (A review of Captain Phillips)

This is what a solid Hollywood production looks like. Very good acting, very good characters, very good execution. Captain Phillips is over 2 hours long, but there's not an ounce of fat on it. The film is intense, never boring, and it constantly keeps you guessing. And yet, while there's not much to complain about, it's not until the last 10 minutes that we are ever treated to something truly spectacular.

Based off of a true story, Tom Hanks portrays Captain Rich Phillips whose cargo ship is taken over by Somali pirates. Phillips is forced to employ his keen wit in hopes of outsmarting the pirates, but everything isn't as black and white as one might think.

As I have said, roughly 2 hours of this movie represents solid film-making. You can see the craft and the skill, and it's not difficult to tell that this movie was constructed carefully and thoughtfully. And yet, nothing about this movie screams "Oscar contender" until the last 10 minutes. That is when we get a marvelous display of heart-wrought emotion, tension, and acting. In the last 10 minutes, I had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes, with my rear on the very end of my seat. Frankly speaking, the final 10 minutes of Captain Phillips alone is worth the price of admission.

The characters are developed lovingly. Captain Phillips, while he may be perceived as a generic hero, has some surprising depth, and certainly some personal flaws that allow him to feel human. The pirates (namely Muse) are also portrayed in a surprisingly human light (despite their savage introductions). Such blurred lines in considering true evil is most refreshing and appreciated.

But of course, Captain Phillips is indeed a thriller. And it certainly thrills. It is a rare moment when you're not fearing for the life of not only Captain Phillips, but his crew as well. This is an intense experience, made even more impressive by the general lack of violence.

It's thanks to the layered and interesting characters, as well as the accelerated feeling of intensity that a film with so simple of a story can feel so engaging and full of depth.

The cinematography might bother some, because while it does create a claustrophobic feel, the in-your-face camera angles might be distracting for some. Oh yeah, and there's shaky cam, which actually made me slight nauseous during some scenes. Oh well, you get used to it.

Tom Hanks as Captain Phillips is great, but it's his last 10 minutes on screen that really sell the part. Yes, those last 10 minutes are truly spectacular. Barkhad Abdi as the ring-leader pirate, Abduwali Muse has been picking up a lot of praise, but frankly, the performance isn't as good as you've heard. It's solid, but I sincerely believe the only reason Abdi's performance has been so well received is because of his lack of training in this area. Considering that, it's an impressive performance. But it's merely "good" on it's own terms- which is not a bad thing at all, I should add.

The score is primarily composed by Henry Jackman, but it has passed through many hands (including those of Hans Zimmer), and has been re-edited many times. It still manages to feel cohesive, but that hardly matters, because the score is weak. I can't deny that the score does amplify the events onscreen (and there's some interesting percussion in the first act of the film). But there's not a single interesting melody or theme as far as I can tell, and the score is simply too synthetic for my tastes. The worst, however, is at the very end, where we hear one of the most blatant uses of plagiarism in the history of music: Zimmer's "Time" from Inception is playing at the final scene. Same chords, same instrumentation, same everything. It almost ruins the mesmerizing finale.

Captain Phillips could be described as a journey to get to the last 10 minutes. And while the last 10 minutes are unarguably the best, that's taking too much away from the preceding 2 hours. This is a good film, worth watching. It's an intense experience, and a remarkably thoughtful one, further assisted by strong performances and tight pacing.


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Review of The Sixth Sense

Posted : 3 years, 8 months ago on 5 January 2014 09:28 (A review of The Sixth Sense)

If you were to merely mention the name M. Night Shayamalan in a room full of movie watchers, you would either elicit hysterical laughter, or hysterical sobbing. M. Night Shayamalan is the infamous director of some of the worst movies of all time. So one could be forgiven for forgetting that at the beginning of his career, Shayamalan was one of the most promising new directors in Hollywood. The Sixth Sense is a testament to his initial genius.

Very little of The Sixth Sense can be revealed without potentially spoiling something (don't worry, I will avoid spoilers in this review). However, the basics of the story is as follows: Brilliant child psychologist, Dr. Malcolm Crowe, is attempting to help a young boy, Cole Sear, whom acts almost jarringly like a previous patient of Malcom's. This previous patient of Malcom's ultimately committed suicide, so in order to redeem himself (and lift the guilt of his failure), Malcom tries to help Cole, though he quickly discovers that this case may be much more serious than he first anticipated.

The Sixth Sense creates a chilling atmosphere. It is a bit frightening (occasionally terrifying), but incredibly skilled to be certain. The cinematography (while more than a touch odd- sometimes distractedly so) amplifies the creepiness and the tension. The Sixth Sense is a masterpiece of mood.

Of course, the element that The Sixth Sense is known best for, is the twist at the end. In my opinion, the end twist is perfect, and for a large number of reasons. For one, the movie is not about the twist. The Sixth Sense is not merely a build-up to get to the finish. In fact, this would have been a perfectly satisfying movie without the twist. But the last 3 or 4 minutes of the film is really what causes it to rise above so many others.

The twist also makes one think. It forces one to reconsider almost the entire events of the film. To replay them in one's mind. It causes one to have a different perspective on everything. It's so obvious. It makes so much sense. But you can't see it coming. There are many brilliant twists in the world of, not only film, but literature and even music. The Sixth Sense will likely remain as one of my all time favorite twists.

However, as I mentioned, The Sixth Sense is a fascinating, creepy, and completely gripping experience, even without the brilliant twist. The story is highly intriguing, and as events unfold, things get more and more interesting. Alas, The Sixth Sense is mislabeled as a horror film. And while there are moments of somewhat grisly violence (and moments of undeniable terror), simply calling The Sixth Sense a horror film is a disservice to the film's successful mystery elements. Because at the heart of The Sixth Sense, it is a mystery. A wickedly creepy mystery that seems all wrapped up by the penultimate scene (and easily could've ended there), but the last scene makes is what really concludes the mystery.

And then there's the acting, which is excellent. The highlight is undeniably Haley Joel Osment as Cole Sear, the disturbed child. His performance is one of my favorite child performances of all-time (closely rivaling my other favorite; Asa Butterfield in Hugo). He absolutely kills every scene he's in. Osment sells the tears, the stress, the anxiety, and the intelligence that's so important to convey in this character. This is not an easy role, but Osment not only succeeds, he triumphs.

Osment's performance is so extraordinary, one almost forgets that the rest of the cast also flourishes. Bruce Willis as Dr. Malcolm nails it, by balancing sympathy and wit into a likable and layered character. Toni Collette as Lynn Sear- Cole's mother- is also a sympathy producing role, and is handled with the right amount of strength, and motherly kindness.

James Newton Howard's score is mostly atmospheric. It enhances the film, and unlike most atmospheric scores, it has a distinctive personality that one can recognize even without the picture in front of them.

The Sixth Sense is both an intellectually satisfying film, and a thrilling one. It's gripping, riveting, and at times, a bit scary. But it's a sensational experience that must be seen to believed. It truly is a shame that M. Night has become one of the biggest jokes in cinematic history, because his earliest contribution to mainstream film is a very important one.


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Review of Coraline

Posted : 3 years, 8 months ago on 4 January 2014 05:32 (A review of Coraline)

I'm not sure quite what it was about Henry Selick's Coraline, but it feels like an indie animated short film. Perhaps it's the animation, or maybe the off-kilter story, but Coraline has a very home-spun, gutsy feel to it, that very much reminds me of an art-house animated short film. It possesses many of the same qualities, and (like similar short films) does things that "normal" animated films would never even consider attempting. So as a massive fan of animated short films, I found Coraline to be 100 minutes of sheer joy and wonder.

Coraline is adapted from Neil Gaiman's book of the same name. Coraline Jones is a neglected child (her parents are often much too busy with work), so now that they've moved to a new home, away from all of her friends, Coraline is truly lonely. What's more, she hates life, and she hates her situation. But when she discovers a door to an alternate world- a better world- Coraline is happy again. She has different parents and friends there (though they all have buttons sewn onto their faces in place of eyes, though everyone's so nice, Coraline hardly cares). Alas, the fantastical and dreamy world that Coraline has discovered isn't all it seems. And indeed, this place of beauty and amazement slowly transforms into a twisted place of horror and fright.

I guess I should quickly point out that I do not recommend this movie for younger children. Even though teens on up should find a lot to love here, this film is way too intense, disturbing and potentially traumatizing for young viewers. Coraline really pushes the PG rating, but in my opinion, it's all the better for it.

One of director Henry Selick's previous films was The Nightmare Before Christmas. Most people often mistake that film as a directorial effort by Tim Burton (due to the trademark Burton visuals). And while Coraline is indeed a dark fantasy stop-motion film with creepy visuals, it has its own unique visual style that's completely different from Burton's. I don't think too many people should mistake this for a Tim Burton movie, as Selick's directing makes Coraline feel like a completely different kind of beast, while retaining many of the things that make Burton's work so enjoyable.

And while I'm talking about them, I guess I should add that the visuals are gorgeous. In fact, they're downright stunning most of the time. The stop-motion animation is beautiful, and it gets better and better as the film continues. At times, the animation is so smooth and detailed, one could be forgiven for mistaking this for a CGI film. Coraline is one of the most visually astounding films I've had the pleasure of viewing.

Thankfully, there is more to Coraline than just visuals. The story is one of remarkable depth. While the idea of children transporting to an alternate dimension is not an uncommon one (this has been explored in countless books, novels and films, both recent and old), it's the world itself that sets it apart (and in many respects- above) other similar stories. This alternate reality isn't so different from Coraline's own that it has a Alice In Wonderland type contrast from the real-world to that of fantasy. It has a distinctly dream-like quality that causes it to seem ridiculous and outlandish, and yet, sometimes oddly believable. Other films have attempted this kind of surreal quality, but few have accomplished it. Count Coraline among the few successes.

Every bizarre and creepy thing that happens in this film simply delighted me. So rare it is to find an animated film that truly dispenses with the idea that animation is a medium for children. After all, animation is just that: an art medium; not a genre designed to baby-sit toddlers and pre-teens. It is truly a treasure to find an animated film that understands that this art medium is just as much for adults as it is for children. Not only that, but Coraline also seems to understand that at times, it can be an even more effective style of story-telling for adults than live-action. Indeed, such eye-popping visuals and clever character designs simply could not be utilized in live-action to the same effect.

The voice cast is solid. Dakota Fanning as Coraline Jones provides a believable voice for the title character. Robert Bailey Jr. as the geeky Wybie (a character created specifically for the film) is also perfect in the role. Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French are riotous in their roles as Coraline's elderly neighbors Miss Spink and Miss Forcible. Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman portray Coraline's parents (in both the real world, and the alternate one), and their performances are especially noteworthy for getting the tendencies of any parent correct, and Hatcher's chilling performance for Coraline's "other" mother.

The score, composed by Bruno Coulais is excellent. It's strange and inspired (like the film), and fits the picture like a glove. There's a great harp theme, and memorable uses of choir. The instrumentation is odd, and the score does feel very experimental, but I think it really suits the nature of the film.

Stop-motion films simply don't garner the attention of CGI animated films for some reason. While every once in a while, a Nightmare Before Christmas comes along and garners a lot of acclaim, mainstream audiences always seem to pass on these stop-motion endeavors. Frankly, I can't understand why. It's a terrible shame, of course, because stop-motion does so many things that CGI animated films dare not do. Perhaps that's why they're so often ignored by the mainstream. If this is so, then maybe it's better that they don't garner as much attention. After all, I'd rather have one stop-motion film every couple of years like Coraline, rather than getting the stop-motion equivalent of Madagascar every other month.


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Review of Saving Mr. Banks

Posted : 3 years, 9 months ago on 25 December 2013 01:22 (A review of Saving Mr. Banks)

Saving Mr. Banks is a feel-good movie. That's what it's marketed as, and that is what it is. Interestingly enough, it's during the less sentimental moments of the film when Saving Mr. Banks most consistently makes one feel good. The first half provides most of the comedy, and it's a really enjoyable time. The second half, however, contains more of the emotion, and while this is supposed to represent the more touching and personal moments of the film, it feels decidedly more artificial (and undoubtedly less entertaining) than the first half. But make no mistake, Saving Mr. Banks is a good film, 100%. Unfortunately, only the first 50% is truly exceptional.

P.L. Travers, author of the Mary Poppins novels, is very passionate about her books- specifically the characters. So when Walt Disney tries to acquire the film rights to Travers' novels, she is horrified at the changes that Disney has suggested. This results in an intense and extensive fight with Travers' and Disney both trying to change the other person's mind, though there can be no film made at all if Travers chooses not to sign away the rights to make the film.

Even though you could probably already guess, Saving Mr. Banks really sweetens up the story. In reality, P.L. Travers hated the film so much (even by the end of production) that she walked out of the premiere in tears. And I don't think it's spoiling anything to say that by the end of the film, P.L. Travers has certainly warmed up to the movie. This isn't so much a flaw, as a warning: If you're disgusted by Hollywood pumping too much sugar in stories you might rather have been served without sweetening, stay away from Saving Mr. Banks. With that being said, though, Saving Mr. Banks isn't without some hard edges.

For example, there are numerous flashbacks to P.L. Travers' childhood, where her father is a struggling alcoholic. These flashbacks are certainly more heavy-handed than the rest of the film. And while I'm on the subject of these flashbacks, I might as well comment that they're a lot less interesting than the parts with Travers as an adult. And unfortunately, these flashbacks probably take up a third of the film. Now, granted, they are beautifully shot, and they are somewhat engaging, but the parts of the film involving Travers as an adult are so well done, it's hard to find interest in these less-entertaining flashbacks.

Now, as I said, the parts that occur in Travers adult life, where she is fighting for creative control (or at least creative influence) in the film is extremely well done. The script is excellent; with witty dialogue, highly successful comedy, and plenty of opportunities for the actors onscreen to stretch their legs and show off. The outrageously finicky attitude of P.L. Travers is truly hilarious, and while her actions would be obnoxious in real life, she's very funny in film.

Nearly as funny as Travers reaction and disgust towards the changes Disney suggests, are the reactions towards P.L. Travers by the script and songwriters of Mary Poppins. There are many hilarious moments in this movie (primarily in the first half). I only wish that more of the film had been devoted to these comedic scenes, as the emotional element doesn't work nearly as well (though it's certainly not ineffective).

Emma Thompson lights up the screen as the nit-picky, uptight P.L. Travers. I found myself smiling widely almost every time she's on the screen. She delivers the comedic portion of her part perfectly, and the emotional part sympathetically. The other highlight is Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, who is intensely likable, and very charming. The supporting cast are also very good (though one does wonder how much the script is to thank for this), but I have two problems with the casting. The first is in regards to Colin Farrell, who portrays P.L. Travers' father in the flashbacks, as Farrell is hugely miscast. The second is directed at B. J. Novak, who is far too recognizable. One can't look at him without seeing B. J. Novak. Still, the acting overall, is solid.

The score, composed by Thomas Newman, is pleasant enough. It makes nice use of piano, and has some interesting instrumentation (not that I would expect anything else from Newman), but it does lack the charm of a Sherman Brother score. And I only make that comparison because this is, after all, a film about the making of Mary Poppins, and it would've been nice to hear some more tie-in with the themes from the film, as use of these themes are sparse.

Even though Saving Mr. Banks has many problems and issues, the sheer amount of laughs and amusement from the first half of the film cannot be discounted, even though the second half of the film isn't as entertaining. The acting is solid all around (with Emma Thompson in particular being a notable stand-out), and the screenplay is terrific. Still, by making this a feel-good movie, Saving Mr. Banks has some slow moments. Saving Mr. Banks is not perfect, but it's so intensely likable, it's hard to imagine someone not smiling throughout it.


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Review of War of the Worlds

Posted : 3 years, 9 months ago on 20 December 2013 01:02 (A review of War of the Worlds)

Contrary to Spielberg's customary treatment of aliens, the extra-terrestrial beings in War of the Worlds are not friendly. In fact, they're downright terrifying. Know what you're getting into before turning on War of the Worlds: This is not the fun, light-weight Summer blockbuster you may be expecting. This is in fact, very dark, very bleak, and very grim. But nonetheless, War of the Worlds- in spite of many problems- is a must-see.

Ray Ferrier and his two kids, Robbie and Rachel, don't get along very well. Ray is divorced, and he rarely sees his kids, so when he's placed in charge of them for a few days, things are difficult. But that all seems so slight when strange things begin happening. And then, the aliens come.

Who would have thought that an alien-invasion film could be so affecting? War of the Worlds is an intense, thrilling, and often very frightening experience, but it still has a brain.

The aliens are horrifying. Though for the most part, we only see their tripods (large, walking and flying machines from space), their presence is still immensely terrifying. To be completely honest, I wasn't frightened at all when we get the first, full look at the tripods. The build-up got me on the tense, but the reveal was surprisingly unspectacular. But once people start getting vaporized, War of the Worlds becomes a shocking, and suspenseful cinematic disaster film. It gets even more intense when we see what's actually happening to the individuals that get collected...

But who needs aliens? There are many points when desperate humans seems to have even less humanity than the aliens. It is exceedingly rare to see an act of goodwill performed by a human in this movie. Many of the people in War of the Worlds are savage and violent. Though ordinary people don't contribute to the (extremely high) death count nearly as much as the aliens, the murders authored by humans feel even more brutal.

Indeed, brutal is a key word here, because that was one of the main words flashing in my head throughout the entire film. War of the Worlds is a brutal film. It's far more gritty and intense than most popcorn movies would dare to go. I actually struggle with using the term "popcorn movie" to describe this film, just because it's hardly fits this description. War of the Worlds is remarkably thought-provoking, and uses its brain far more than most action films today.

The special effects are stunning. There are some visuals in this film that literally caused my jaw to drop. I can't elaborate much more than that without spoilers, but I can say that this is a gorgeous film.

There are some problems with this film, one of the biggest issues are the characters themselves. Robbie and Rachel are incredibly obnoxious and bratty. And while Robbie seems to become at least slightly more likable as the film goes on, Rachel is an annoyance from start to finish. Ray, the protagonist, is unlikable by traditional movie standards, but among the cast here, the audience tends to sympathize with him a bit.

I do believe that the two children (and Ray) are supposed to come off as slightly obnoxious at the beginning of the movie, but their attitudes are so unbearable at times, it sort of takes me out of the movie a bit. Thankfully, the action gets intense soon enough that this issue doesn't spoil the movie, though it does annoy me.

My other major problem is with the ending. It's not inherently bad, but it's a tad unsatisfying. There's a bit of deus ex machina and an overly triumphant finish that clashes with the incredibly dark and horrifying events that preceded the ending. The ending is really the only thing that reminded me that I was watching a Summer blockbuster.

The acting is a mixed bag. Tom Cruise as Ray Ferrier is solid (his Razzie nomination for this performance baffles me), and Justin Chatwin as Robbie is good enough. Dakota Fanning as Rachel is incredibly bratty (whether this is because of the acting or the character itself is up for debate). There are some interesting side characters as well that are given solid performances, and you can't go wrong with Morgan Freeman narrating (he speaks at the very beginning, and the very end).

John Williams' score is mostly atmospheric, with a couple solid bits of action music. There's an especially good piano piece at the end. For the most part, I doubt this score will be very interesting taken away from the film, but when put next to the picture, the movie is greatly enhanced.

While War of the Worlds does have some problems, it's a gripping, brutal, and thought-provoking rush. It's surprisingly hard-to-watch at times, but this film is all the better for it. War of the Worlds is not only a very good film, it's an important one. And an unforgettable one.


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Review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Posted : 3 years, 9 months ago on 15 December 2013 06:34 (A review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug)

Buying a ticket to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, is essentially the same as buying a ticket to Middle-Earth. You are transported to a stunning world of dwarves, dragons, and elves, where there are beautiful forests, enchanting treasure troves, and perilous mountains. For 160 minutes, you are in an entirely different place. There are many problems with this film, but I think the trade-off is worth it, as Middle-Earth has truly never looked better.

Continuing from where An Unexpected Journey left off, The Desolation of Smaug follows Bilbo and company on their journey to the dwelling of the great dragon, Smaug. On this extended journey, they encounter orcs, skin-changers, and giant spiders (among others), all of which pose their own kinds of threats and challenges. And yet, nothing compares to the great and mighty Smaug himself.

I've already said it, but I'll say it again: Middle-Earth is gorgeous. The visuals are rarely less than stunning, and at times, they're downright jaw-dropping. Everything from the cinematography, the visual effects, and the scenery make Middle-Earth a place you never want to leave (and a good thing too, considering the nearly 3 hour run-time).

But of course, the main visual attraction here is the Smaug, the dragon. And let me tell you, he is every bit as stunning as one might expect him to be. Considerably more so, actually. When he is finally revealed in full glory, one can only sit in their seat, jaw on the floor, in absolute awe. Smaug's grand revealing is the highlight of the film. Admittedly, there are one or two sketchy looking shots in the last act, but the visuals are still fantastic. I sincerely believe that if this weren't competing with Gravity, The Desolation of Smaug would have a very good chance of winning the Oscar for Best Visual Effects.

As far as the story itself goes, yes it's very padded. So padded, in fact, that the story tends to get lost in all the fluff. Still, thanks to likable characters and great acting, The Desolation of Smaug proves an entertaining experience, despite this. That's not to say, of course, that this is 160 solid minutes of entertainment. There are many slow moments, and at times, you can really feel the run-time, but the visuals are generally enough to keep one from getting bored.

There are a large number of action scenes in this film (relatively few of these are contained in the book, but when a 300 page book is being converted into 9 hours of film, nobody truly cares). One of the highlights that occur in the first act of the film is a really fun and inventive little chase where all the dwarves are floating down a perilous river in barrels, whilst being pursued by orcs and elves.

The characters themselves are as likable as ever, and some of the dwarves have been developed a bit more this time around (though there are definitely some dwarves that are still lacking personality). The new additions are a bit of a mixed bag. Yes, there's Smaug, one of the greatest characters in this series, but we also have the arguably unnecessary Legolas (who appeared in the original Lord of the Rings trilogy), and Tauriel. Legolas is remarkably cardboard in this film, and has lost all of his personality and charm from the original trilogy. It seems he's only here to sell more tickets, kill some orcs in inventive ways, and complete the love triangle with Tauriel and Kili.

Yup, you read that right, there is a love triangle here. And while it's not as poorly done as that in, say, Hunger Games, it's still weak, and is only there as filler. Unfortunately, this love triangle seems to represent the only character traits of those involved (Tauriel, Kili, and Legolas).

Despite some flaws in this aspect of the film, The Desolation of Smaug is still a solid fantasy film. There are plenty of wow moments, and at times, there's some reasonably successful humor. If nothing else, The Desolation of Smaug isn't going to be a miserable experience for anyone.

The acting is great. Martin Freeman shines, once again, as Bilbo Baggins, and Ian McKellen is still excellent as Gandalf (though his screen-time in this film is shorter than in its predecessor). Richard Armitage is growing into the role of Thorin Oakenshield very nicely, and Benedict Cumberbatch steals the show as Smaug (just as Andy Serkis did as Gollum in An Unexpected Journey).

Many reviews have stated that Howard Shore's score for this chapter in the Lord of the Rings series is a bit lacking. And while I agree that this is Shore's weakest score for the series to date, it's still a good score. It is missing some of the memorable qualities of previous scores in the series, but the (admittedly rare) uses of the Concerning Hobbits theme and the theme for the ring is satisfying enough.

While I don't think The Desolation of Smaug is a stronger film than An Unexpected Journey, there is still enough here to suggest that fans won't be disappointed with this fifth visit to Middle-Earth. Between the acting, the visuals, and Smaug, no one is going to leave without being somewhat impressed at some point or another. There are problems to be sure (namely the awkward love triangle, and the long length), but The Desolation of Smaug is still a solid entry in the Lord of the Rings series. And also, I must add that the ending is phenomenal. Without giving anything away, let me just say that the last few shots are gorgeous and build the perfect amount of anticipation towards the final chapter, There and Back Again. Indeed, you can count me among those looking forward to the final chapter, with bittersweet excitement.


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Review of Corpse Bride

Posted : 3 years, 9 months ago on 12 December 2013 12:32 (A review of Corpse Bride)

Tim Burton's Corpse Bride is not unlike Tim Burton's other films. They're dark, a bit creepy, with predictably Burton-esque visuals, and are peppered with bits of macabre humor. It would not be outlandish to merely dismiss Corpse Bride as "just another Burton film." Alas, even though Burton's Gothic film-making formula hasn't changed much, one should not forget that Burton's signature style is one of the things that make his films so appealing. Corpse Bride is no exception.

Set in the Victorian Era, Corpse Bride is about a young man named Victor that is forced by his parents to be wed to a young woman named Victoria, whom he has never even met. However, there's a change in plans when Victor gets into a bizarre mix-up, and accidentally proposes to a corpse named Emily.

This review could quite simply be summed up in a single sentence: If you enjoyed Tim Burton's other efforts, you will likely enjoy this one. The similarities between this film and others by Burton are numerous. And yet, Corpse Bride never feels stale or rehashed.

Corpse Bride focuses on two worlds: The World of the Living, and the World of the Dead. The World of the Living has a grey and white color scheme, to the point where scenes in this world appear to be in black and white. The character designs here are deliciously Burton, and consistently inventive. The satire humor used in these scenes are always successful.

The World of the Dead is supposed to be a more lively environment, but surprisingly, it's actually less interesting and creative than the World of the Living. While some scenes in this world utilize bright colors (giving off a distinctive Día de Muertos vibe), many of the scenes are just filmed with a darker color palette. It's similar to the palette used in the World of the Living, but much less exaggerated, and therefore, less interesting.

In addition, the residents of the World of the Dead are limited to skeletons and occasional corpses, which don't allow for especially interesting character designs.

Despite less than successful contrast, Corpse Bride is still supremely entertaining. There is not a single dull moment, thanks to the always fascinating clay-mation and intriguing story. The characters are likable and funny, and the ending is surprisingly touching.

The voice acting is superb. Johnny Depp's performance as Victor perfectly captures the shy, nervous nature of the character. Emma Watson as Victoria is also excellent- though on a side note, the character itself has an unexpected resemblance to Scarlett Johansson. Helena Bonham Carter is unrecognizable as Emily, and the supporting cast is fantastic. The best performances here come from Tracey Ullman, Paul Whitehouse, Joanna Lumley, Albert Finney, and Christopher Lee.

Danny Elfman's score doesn't explore much new territory compared to other Tim Burton scores, but the Elfman style has become as much a part of the Burton experience as anything else. For what it's worth, Elfman's score is a touch more elegant than his work for other Burton films, likely due to the time period. Elfman also contributed four songs to the picture, all of which are pleasant, but unmemorable.

Entertaining to the last minute, and featuring enchanting animation, Corpse Bride is unabashedly Burton, and I wouldn't want it any other way. It is a bit short at only 77 minutes, and as a result, it leaves one wanting more. But needless to say, this is a good problem to have.


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Review of Knight and Day

Posted : 3 years, 9 months ago on 10 December 2013 12:47 (A review of Knight and Day)

If you want to know what might happen if Tom Cruise starred in an animated movie- but without the animation- Knight and Day should be quite a treat. Knight and Day, like many animated films, dispenses with reality and provides silly circumstances and wacky characters. And yet, at the same time, Knight and Day is a surprisingly solid action movie. There are fun chase scenes, and legitimately cool fight sequences- all while retaining the film's zany, crazy tone. By all accounts, Knight and Day should not work. The blend gritty action scenes and cartoon-like humor is jarring, to the say the least. But the action is effective enough, and the comedy is funny enough, and it all lends itself to a very enjoyable popcorn flick- albeit, a nutty one.

June Havens' life turns upside down when she meets a guy by the name of Roy Millers that turns out to be a secret agent of sorts. He's eccentric- maybe crazy- but there are "bad men" everywhere, and if she wants to get out of this alive, June has no choice but to trust Roy- even when things a bit out of hand.

Knight and Day, in many respects, could be considered a terrible movie. It's silly, it's over-the-top, it's completely improbable, and at times, Knight and Day seems to adapt a sort of "anything goes" kind of attitude. But therein lies the film's charm. It revels in its silliness. It relishes its over-the-top antics. It basks in its improbability.

This is the kind of film that will drive people crazy. Knight and Day could cause a passionately negative response from the wrong audience. You think Pirates of the Caribbean is silly? That franchise will feel like To Kill A Mockingbird compared to this. Knight and Day is one of the most unexpectedly ridiculous films I've ever seen. But it's exactly that exaggerated absurdity that causes Knight and Day to move beyond other generic thrillers of the same cloth.

Knight and Day is a wacky little experiment, but it does have problems that are a bit more universal. For example, the main character, June Havens, is all over the board. She has no single personality- it seems to change from scene to scene. The least she could've done is let one of the other characters have one of spare personalities, as the majority of the character ensemble have little to no memorable character traits. There are exceptions of course (namely Roy Miller and Simon Feck), but as a whole, the characters are bland.

Also, at a nearly two hour run time, Knight and Day does feel a wee bit long. The film is mostly engaging from start to finish, but it does run of steam a bit at the 70 minute mark.

Tom Cruise nails it as Roy Miller, the suave secret agent with a screw loose. Cameron Diaz does her best with her personality-confused character, June. Though one does get the feeling that this role might have been better suited towards someone like Kristen Wiig. Still, Diaz' work here is solid. Also notable is Paul Dano as Simon Feck.

I'm not sure whether to praise John Powell's score for its inspired instrumentation, or state my confusion with it. Knight and Day makes heavy use of the accordion in this score, which is, frankly speaking, surprising. In its own weird way, the score does work, but the "anything goes" feel of the film is definitely evident in the music.

Knight and Day is as silly as action films get. It's almost cartoonish-ly over-the-top, and this will almost certainly turn off some audiences. But for those who will excuse this, Knight and Day is a remarkably entertaining popcorn movie. It's a little long, and the ending is definitely too cutesy, but for a reasonably low-profile action movie, Knight and Day is surprisingly fun.


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Review of Frozen

Posted : 3 years, 9 months ago on 30 November 2013 02:50 (A review of Frozen)

I'll admit that when the teaser for Frozen first came out, I was appalled. It appeared that after the recent commercial and critical successes of Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph, Disney was testing our tolerance for the pedestrian. And subsequent trailer releases did little to boost my confidence in the picture. I am pleased to say, however, that Frozen far exceeded my expectations, and proved itself worthy of the Disney name. It's not as funny as Winnie the Pooh or Wreck-It Ralph, and it doesn't capture the Disney Renaissance feel as well as The Princess and the Frog, but Frozen is one of the year's best animated films- especially notable in a year where good animated films have been rather scarce.

Loosely based off of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale, The Snow Queen, Frozen is about two sisters (both princesses) named Anna and Elsa. Elsa, the elder of the two, has magical powers that allow her to create and manipulate ice and snow. Elsa has to keep this secret to herself, though, in order to protect her sister and the kingdom. But on the day of Elsa's coronation, her cover is blown, and she flees to a far away mountain, and puts the entire kingdom in eternal winter. Anna is determined to speak with her sister and help her fix everything, so Anna begins a journey to her sister- but not without the help of an ice salesman named Kristoff, a reindeer named Sven, and a talking snowman named Olaf.

Frozen takes elements from Renaissance Disney (such as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King) but there is clearly more influence from modern Disney (such as Enchanted and Tangled). The Tangled influence is the most evident in this picture, but thankfully many of the flaws evident in that feature are nonexistent or minimized in this one.

The characters are definitely more modern Disney. In Renaissance Disney, the primary characters were somewhat bland, but very likable. Most of the humor came from the supporting characters. In more recent Disney films (specifically Tangled), the main characters can provide just as much humor as the supporting cast, and that much is true here.

It's worth noting, however, that many of the characters are irritatingly similar to those in Tangled. For example, Anna is alarmingly similar to Rapunzel. Sven seems like a combination of Maximus and Pascel (and essentially serves the same purpose as both of these characters), and while I won't say that Kristoff completely goes the Flynn Rider route, there at least seems to be a little influence from this character. Despite this, these characters are still entertaining, and serve their purpose.

The more notable characters, however, are Elsa and Olaf. The internal conflict in Elsa is done to perfection, and her character design is fantastic. Olaf- despite being pushed heavily in marketing- isn't in quite as much as the film as you would think, and (thankfully) he isn't nearly as obnoxious as one might think based on the trailers. On the contrary, he's very funny, and provides many of Frozen's biggest laughs. He's not as good as Genie from Aladdin, or even Mushu from Mulan, but he' gets the job done. The Duke of Weselton (delightfully voiced by Alan Tudyk who portrayed King Candy in last year's Wreck-It Ralph) is funny in the few scenes he's in, but his motivation as a (minor) villain is both underused and underdeveloped. There's also a very funny character named Oaken who runs a trading post who gets one very memorable scene.

The songs also seem to take more of a page from modern Disney. Rather than producing big, Broadway-type numbers like the Renaissance Disney films are known for, the songs in Frozen have a very noticeable pop vibe- while retaining the orchestral score. This was notable in certain songs in Tangled and Enchanted, but they were never implemented this heavily. Also, rather than Alan Menken/Glenn Slater collaboration that recent Disney musicals have had, the score is instead written by Christophe Beck with song lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (Book of Mormon, Winnie the Pooh).

There are 10 songs in this film, but two are reprises, and one is under a minute, and it's really more of an afterthought. The opening number, "Frozen Heart" has a similar feel to "Virginian Company" from Pocahontas. It's a good song (and destined to be forgotten among the other numbers), but the melody and music is especially nice in this song. I'd personally be interested in an instrumental version of this song with a fiddle performing the melody in place of the vocals.

"Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" is a heartbreaker. Don't let that innocent title fool you, this song was a tear-jerker. The lyrics aren't especially clever, nor do they flow especially well, but that's not the point of this particular song. Rather, it's to show the struggle Ana and Elsa have being separated, and this is accomplished perfectly through visuals and pitch-perfect singing performances. "For the First Time in Forever" is the most Tangled-esque song in the film with bouncy lyrics and predictably chipper attitude. But it won me over all the same (especially towards the end).

"Love is an Open Door" is a catchy and comedic number that's sort of a parody of the absurdly brief pre-marriage relationships between Disney characters. Later parody and satire humor related to this is also successful. In fact, I would argue that the few bits of parody/satire type humor in this film is better than all related humor in the entirety of Disney's Enchanted.

"In Summer" and "Fixer Upper" are good for throwaway comedy numbers, but the standout is "Let it Go." On one hand, the pop song vibe is a pinch distracting, but the orchestral score makes it work. The lyrics are excellent, the visuals here are gorgeous, and Idina Menzel nails the singing. A reprise of this song performed by Demi Lovato plays during the credits, but it's vastly inferior to the original.

Disney films are also known for their beautiful animation and Frozen is no exception. The environments are gorgeous, sometimes stunning, and some scenes involving snow falling are almost breath-taking. Admittedly, this films might have really benefited from traditional animation instead of CGI, but that doesn't make the visuals any less attractive.

The cast is reasonably good. Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel as Anna and Elsa respectively are without flaw, whilst Jonathan Groff as Kristoff is good enough. Josh Gad as Olaf is channeling a lot of Jonah Hill here, but the performance works, and it's never annoying.

Christophe Beck has composed dozens upon dozens of scores over the years, but none of this work has been especially memorable. Frozen is an important milestone for him, however, as it's a reasonably good score, though his work is certainly outshined by the music in the lyrical numbers- which are composed by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez.

The first half hour of Frozen provides some of the biggest laughs of the film, and more importantly, the most touching moments. And while there are emotional highs and lots of humor throughout the rest of the film, nothing else in this film compares to the first half hour. The first 15 minutes especially are pure cinematic gold. But the rest of the film does more than enough to make itself a memorable animated film that you would be doing yourself a favor to check out while it's in theaters. It's not the best that modern Disney has to offer, but it's a fantastic throwback to the Disney Musical.


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Review of The Croods

Posted : 3 years, 10 months ago on 25 November 2013 12:00 (A review of The Croods)

While companies like Pixar (and to a lesser extent, Disney) continue to innovate and take risks, Dreamworks is still using their same formula. The formula, of course, is use themes from better films, recycle all the same gags from previous efforts, splash some colorful visuals on it, and it if it does well, plan a sequel and a television series. Examples of this formula: Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda, How to Train Your Dragon and Shrek (though in it's defense, Shrek never got a TV series). Now, we can add The Croods to Dreamwork's extensive list of products.

The Croods is about a family of cavemen that are used to living in their protected cave. Eep, the oldest daughter of the family, wishes to explore the outside world, but her father, Grug, forbids it. But the entire family is pushed outside of their comfort zone when their cave is destroyed, and they are exposed to the wilderness. They find a tour guide of sorts named Guy (and his pet sloth, Belt) that promises to aid them on their journey. And so, the generic adventures begins.

So, let's count the cliches and rip-offs in The Croods. For one, we have the adventurous, free-spirited daughter (see Brave), and the overprotective father (see Finding Nemo). We have the father learning to adapt to his offspring's new way of life (How to Train Your Dragon). And we have the main character giving a spoken epilogue at the end of the film (nearly every CGI Dreamworks film) There are many other examples in the film, but this is all to say that there is nothing in The Croods that we haven't seen before in other animated films.

This is the same film that audiences have seen dozens of times. There is no reason to see this film, because odds are, you own an animated film that's almost exactly like this.

Occasionally, formula films can entertain, but The Croods is not an example of this. In fact, more often than not, The Croods is downright dull. The plot is uninteresting (and offensively generic), the characters are unlikable (as well as being either bland or a tired stereotype), and the entire film is absurdly predictable.

The humor in this film scarcely ever works. All of the gags seem aimed at the 10 and under crowd (and for that matter, the story seems that way too). With that being said, kids will probably love this movie, but there's nothing here for their parents or older siblings.

Even the animation is lacking. The visuals in the first 20ish minutes would've looked unimpressive 10 years ago. After the first 20 minutes, the animation picks up significantly with some beautiful environments, but the characters themselves still lack detail. However, I will say that some of the designs for the prehistoric creatures are very unique, and very creative, so if nothing else, there is at least a little originality in the creature design department.

The cast provides serviceable, but unimpressive (and forgettable) voices for the characters in the film. No stand-outs here.

The score, by Alan Silverstri, is fun at times. But one of the main themes sounds frustratingly similar to the Burning Bush theme from Prince of Egypt (a much better Dreamworks film, by the way).

It frustrates me to see a film so devoid of creativity, and so reliant upon the themes and ideas of other, better films. It frustrates me even more to see how much money these formula films make. Aren't audiences tired of seeing Dreamworks regurgitate characters, plots, and gags that they've seen in many other films, many other times? Aren't audiences getting bored with Dreamworks making the same film over and over? Well, if you disagree, then you're in luck: Like the franchises listed at the beginning of this review, The Croods is getting a sequel and a TV series. Frustrating is too weak a word for me to use. How about disgusted?


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