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Review of Galaxy Quest

Posted : 4 years, 3 months ago on 1 September 2014 01:45 (A review of Galaxy Quest (1999))

By rules of definition - "entertainment consisting of jokes and satirical sketches, intended to make an audience laugh" - the primary goal of a comedy is to make the viewer smile. To chuckle. To laugh. But the average movie-goer will not be satisfied with a single laugh in a 100 minute film. Therefore, a comedy must contain many laughs to justify whatever length it has and the ticket fees of the paying audience. That magical number is never the same for two different people. The interesting thing about Galaxy Quest is that it hits that magic number fairly early on, but its second half is fairly devoid of laughs - big or small. So where does that leave it? Is it recommendable or not?

The film revolves around a troupe of actors who formerly appeared on a popular sci-fi TV show entitled Galaxy Quest. The program was cancelled 18 years ago, and the actors are out of work. However, through a massive mis-communication, the troupe is transported to space into the middle of a war with a species of aliens called Thermians fighting against the sinister Sarris.

The first half of the film contains all the best material in terms of laughs and ideas. The first several scenes are about the crew of Galaxy Quest coping with the fan conventions and type-casting, all of which is original and funny. I would have been happy to see an entire film revolving around this subject. The cast has great chemistry with each other, making the first 20 minutes of the film supremely enjoyable.

After the crew get sent to space, they must all cope with their situation. This provides successful comedy as well, even if it feels a little less fresh. The comedy highlights come courtesy of the Thermian alien species which are hilarious in their movement, bizarre speech patterns, and facial expressions. These aliens provide the biggest laughs and most entertaining moments of the film.

Regrettably, the second half of the film fails to live up to the first. It's not as funny, not as entertaining, and it's absurdly messy. The novelty of the plot and thinly written characters has worn off considerably by now, but the script hasn't realized it yet. What results is a predictable and plodding second half. What's even more upsetting is how tonally off the charts it is.

The comedy in the second half of the film has to unevenly co-exist with surprisingly heavy plot points. I was reminded of 2013's The Lone Ranger, the film that combined wacky Depp antics with the massacre of hundreds of Indians, with unpleasant results. In this film, several torture scenes are "balanced" with wacky spoof humor - the sum of which is disastrous.

What's more, the ending is an absolute mess. Without spoiling anything, it's hard to be specific, but I'll just say that the fight against Sarris is dragged on in a completely unnecessary fashion. With all of that said, the second half is not completely devoid of entertainment. There are still some good gags (and even a couple decent laughs), but it pales in comparison to what came before.

The cast does a remarkable job of taking one-dimensional characters and fleshing them out enough to withstand the 100 minute run-time. Tim Allen (who even looks like a retired TV star) is a likable lead, and he has good chemistry with Sigourney Weaver. Tony Shalhoub is a bit underused, but he's funny when onscreen. Alan Rickman is a highlight among the primary cast, and Sam Rockwell and Daryl Mitchell are great too.

Of course, the actors portraying the Thermians steal the show, perfectly balancing camp and wackiness in a delightful ensemble performance. Enrico Colantoni portrays the leading Thermian.

David Newman's score perfectly parodies the Star Trek/Star Wars material with an appropriately adventurous score. It's a pure parody score, but I imagine it would still function well outside of the film.

The second half lags a bit, and the writing isn't always sharp, but the film is saved by a strong cast and a number of big laughs early on. This is a Star Trek parody that anyone can watch and enjoy (though I suspect Trekkies will enjoy it more). Yes, Galaxy Quest is a mess, but it's certainly an entertaining one.

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Review of The Giver

Posted : 4 years, 3 months ago on 21 August 2014 08:32 (A review of The Giver (2014))

Frustration, thy name is The Giver. Based off of Lois Lowry's book of the same name - which I should add that I have read several times - The Giver has plagued us with terrible marketing and bizarre casting long before its release. I sat in my chair, waiting for the movie to start with intense dread. With so much love for the source material, how could I possibly enjoy this movie that was supposed to be unfilmable? And then the movie starts. And it's surprisingly not awful. In fact, it's rather good. Unfortunately, at the start of the third act, the movie whips its head around, gives you a mischievous wink, and seems to do its best to tarnish any goodwill you directed at the film beforehand. This is not a bad film. This is two-thirds of a good film, and one-third of an awful one.

It would pain me to give you the plot synopsis, as it requires spoiling some brilliant plot twists from the book that are actually established fairly early on in the film (some within seconds). So, despite the fact that the trailers have already spoiled the best twist from the book, I will instead give you a brief summary of the premise. The Giver takes place in the year 2048. Everyone lives in highly regulated "communities," and everyone acts the same. No one has opinions, and no one is allowed to be different. You are not allowed to be rude, not allowed to pursue your own career, as everyone has a lifetime job assigned to them at the age of 18. Our leading protagonist, Jonas, is given a very special job. One that is unique and different from any other. One that will change his life, and everyone's around him.

It is difficult to avoid talking about the book when discussing the film, so I will only do so when necessary. Just bear in mind that if you haven't read the book, I sincerely believe you will like the movie significantly more than if you had read the book.

The first two-thirds are competently done. The story moves along at a nice pace that doesn't feel too fast, nor too slow. The premise is explained efficiently, and while changes are made from the book, they generally work in the film well enough. In fact, many expansions to the culture of the community greatly enhance the world of the film.

The most impressive aspect of the film are the visuals. A crucial element of the book and film is color. As such, color is handled remarkably well in this film. I won't spoil how it is used, but it is done highly effectively. Had The Giver garnered the attention it was likely hoping for, there might have been hope for Oscar nods in the Visual Effects and Art Direction categories.

Unfortunately, the last third is dreadful. The Elders of the Community, who are in charge of reinforcing the laws they create, were not intentionally bad nor good in the book. In the film, all ambiguity is traded in for bad-to-the-bone villains that are not complex, nor interesting. In addition, the brilliant ambiguous ending of the book is changed into a stereotypically Hollywood happy ending that reeks of commercialism, and destroys much of the integrity of the novel. The book contained an aura of uncertainty, though the film turns everything (pardon the expression) black and white.

The adult actors in this film are surprisingly good. Jeff Bridges - who has wanted to make this film for many years - portrays The Giver. His character is a bit more smug than the fatherly persona that the book suggests, but he retains many likable qualities, and ultimately makes the character every bit as delightful as his novel counterpart. Meryl Streep plays the Chief Elder and her performance is surprisingly nuanced, despite portraying a bland character. Unfortunately, one her long speeches at the beginning seems to have been severely edited, eliminating a lot of its potency. On a less satisfying note, Katie Holmes as Jonas' mother is gratingly bad, though this is almost entirely due to the script, as her dialogue is obnoxious.

And then there are the teen performances. In the book, Jonas and his friends are 12 years old. In the film, they've been aged up to 18 (and their real life actors are a few years older than that). Now, there are two reasons for a film to increase the age of their leads:

1). Because child actors are difficult to work with, and don't always produce satisfying performances.

2.) Older teens have more appeal to teenage girls (the primary audience of most YA novel adaptions).

It is clear that this age change was for reason two. My evidence for this is that Jonas (portrayed by Brenton Thwaites) and the love interest, Fiona (portrayed by Odeya Rush) are nauseating attractive. My other evidence is that neither one can act a smidgen. Neither of their performances feel genuine (a problem that likely could have been avoided with younger actors), and the kissing scenes that occur cheapen the film and de-evolve the production into your run-of-the-mill YA film. These are puppy-dog performances with no substance, no charm, and no talent.

The score, by Marco Beltrami, is actually, quite beautiful. There are several moments where otherwise ordinary scenes were transformed into something wonderful because of Beltrami's work. The score is graceful and melodic, two phrases that can rarely be applied to the music in YA adapted films. The use of a (somewhat repetitive) piano theme played by some of the characters also produces an occasionally haunting effect, though it's in desperate need of development.

The Giver is an uneasy mix of genuine art and corporate product. The film is a watered down version of the book that replaces its challenging questions with cheap answers. The Giver tries to duplicate the success of the source novel, but without taking risks, a challenge that proves ridiculous and fatal to the film. Had the film followed the book through the last third, and relied on the strength of the first two acts, The Giver could have been a successful adaption. As it is, however The Giver fails to give audiences a film that intrigues beyond the closing credits. With all the answers right in front of you, where's the discussion? Where's the relevance? Where is there room allotted for audiences to actually use their brains and think and develop their own opinions and theories? If The Giver truly wanted to be a smart film, it wouldn't spoon-feed the audience. And that's why I can deduce that The Giver was not made as film, but product.

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Review of Unbreakable

Posted : 4 years, 3 months ago on 20 August 2014 11:45 (A review of Unbreakable (2000))

After The Sixth Sense scored big with critics and garnered 6 Oscar nominations, director M. Night Shyamalan made a movie with various similarities to what most would consider, his crown jewel. Unbreakable has notable parallels with The Sixth Sense, the most obvious being Bruce Willis in the leading role, but the film also possesses a similar tone and delves a bit into the supernatural (though not as deeply as The Sixth Sense did). It also contains a twist ending - a signature of M. Night Shyamalan - though this element is ultimately the least satisfying part of the film. Thankfully, the preceding hour and a half, do more than enough to save this surprisingly strong follow-up.

David Dunn is returning from a job interview, traveling by train. Unfortunately, the train gets into a major wreck, killing everyone aboard - except for David, who hasn't even a broken bone. David is then consulted by a man named Elijah, who has a disease that causes his bones to break easily. Elijah - a comic book nerd - begins to wonder if David is invincible. And then, he wonders if David might be a superhero.

The most impressive thing that Shyamalan does with Unbreakable, is maintain a brilliantly dark and mildly creepy atmosphere from beginning to end. The film moves slowly, carefully crafting the appropriate tone for the film. The camera angles (most of which are highly unusual) are interesting as well, never quite focusing on the primary characters, making even the most simple scenes feel unsettling. This creates a level of tangible anxiety, which is fascinating as much of the film is occupied entirely by conversation. Essentially, Shyamalan has created suspense out of thin air, in what is an absolute triumph in directing.

The premise itself is interesting as well. It's a super hero film, but without action. It's thoughtful and smartly thought out. One could call it a "super hero film for snobs," but that's discrediting its ability to entertain. I admit that a lot of audiences are likely to be bored watching this film, but for the right niche, Unbreakable will be a delightfully twisted treat.

Moments of brief suspense are dispersed throughout the picture, though it's not paced as well as The Sixth Sense. Some scenes are shockingly dark in their implications. This is a super hero film that feels real. It feels like it could really happen. It's gritty at times, and doesn't shy away from consequence.

The characters themselves are fully dimensional. David maintains primary relations with three other characters, each is done superbly. The relationship between David and his son are especially convincing and impressive, but also very notable are his scenes with Elijah, and with his wife, Audrey.

Unbreakable does suffer from a handful of things, though. Mainly character oversights and the occasional bad dialogue. But the most significant issue is the ending. And in all honesty, the ending is fine. It's good. It wraps things up. But at the same time, it's deeply flawed.

Like The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable ends with a twist. The Sixth Sense had a twist that worked on every conceivable level. Unbreakable fails to work on many of those levels. For one, the film is somewhat dependent on the twist, as it wraps up several loose ends. The twist also suffers simply because its less shocking than that of The Sixth Sense, and honestly, not as interesting. The twist isn't bad, it just falls short of the greatness of The Sixth Sense.

Bruce Willis delivers a performance that's equal in strength to his work in The Sixth Sense, though he is somewhat outshined by Samuel L. Jackson who delivers a surprisingly thoughtful performance as Elijah Price. Spencer Treat Clark, delivers a great child performance as David's son, and David's wife, played by Robin Wright, is also notably impressive.

James Newton Howard's score is appropriately creepy, but is also very melodious and frequently interesting. Though it unfortunately gives way to modern-styled percussion on two occasions (each time it's jarring and irritating), it succeeds in enhancing the atmosphere, and being an entertaining score on its own terms.

Not perfect, but mesmerizing nonetheless, Unbreakable certainly doesn't top The Sixth Sense, but it comes surprisingly close. The directing is brilliant, the acting is great, and though the twist is lacking, it still provides appropriate resolution. Unbreakable is extremely experimental - perhaps too much so for most audiences - but it's an intriguing and thoughtful origin story with more guts than most other super hero films on the market.

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Review of Men in Black

Posted : 4 years, 4 months ago on 15 August 2014 09:00 (A review of Men in Black (1997))

In a world where every Summer blockbuster is 2 and a half hours, filled with explosions, contains no interesting characters, and tend to follow strict formulas, it's refreshing to see a film like Men in Black. Whether the '90's were a better time for movies is a debate for another day, but Men in Black seems to be in favor of supporting that theory. It's not a perfect film, but it does a heck of a lot right.

Men in Black creates a world in which aliens exist (around 1,500 of them can be on the Earth at any given time), though they tend to masquerade as humans. Most of them prefer to just live normal lives, but others want to reek havoc. The MIB organization is in charge of keeping these aliens in line, and making sure that other humans don't learn of the aliens' existence. The film is specifically about Agent K, who is training rookie Agent J, as both J and the audience learn about the aliens that exist all around us.

Men in Black is a comedy that provides consistent laughter. So it essentially accomplishes its mission. But Men in Black takes things a step forward by providing likable characters, an interesting premise, and solid performances.

There aren't many smiles or chuckles to be had in Men in Black, as the film seems to be striving almost exclusively for laughter. Not every gag works, but the vast majority of them are successful. The most notable source of humor comes from a device that the MIB use to erase specific memories from normal humans so that they don't remember any of the aliens they might have seen. This device is used nearly a dozen times over the course of the film as an amusing running gag that feels fresh and hilarious each time it's utilized. The secret is in its variation. The gag is never used the same way twice, which is just one example of the added effort the filmmakers have put into this film.

The effects and make-up used in this film hold up surprisingly well. Not every effect works perfectly (there is some definite use of green-screen), but they look good enough to avoid unintentional chuckles or distractions. And the alien designs themselves, are creative and unique.

Even more refreshing is that the film never tries to accomplish too much. It is satisfied to be a sci-fi comedy, and generally avoids pitching in random sub-plots. The exception is a tastefully handled back story for Agent K's character involving his wife, though it only takes up about 90 seconds of the film, and is actually very sweet. The ending itself, actually, also is subtly poignant and interesting. It works on levels you wouldn't initially expect.

Tommy Lee Jones as Agent K is the clear standout of the cast. While many are tired of seeing this sort of fast-talking grump that Jones has played dozens of times (to be fair, he really isn't that grumpy in this film), the character still works because of Jones' excellent performance. Will Smith is also engaging in a lead performance as Agent J. Love him or hate him, no one can deny the energy and enthusiasm he brings to the film, and his chemistry with Jones is superb. Other notable performances come courtesy of Linda Fiorentino, Vincent D'Onofrio, Rip Torn, Tony Shalhoub, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Mike Nassbaum and Richard Hamilton.

Danny Elfman makes an odd choice for this score, and ends up playing it relatively safe. It never seems to have any of the zaniness of energy one would expect, which causes it to seem very flat and uninteresting. It may be represented better outside of the film, but within the picture, it's a disappointment.

Men in Black is a joyous comedy. It loses a little steam by the time it reaches the third act, but the blissfully compact 98 minute run-time insures that the film doesn't overstay its welcome. In short, it's funny, well-acted, fresh, and memorable. What more could you ask of a sci-fi comedy?

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Review of The Magnificent Seven (1960)

Posted : 4 years, 4 months ago on 14 August 2014 10:33 (A review of The Magnificent Seven (1960))

1960's The Magnificent Seven is considered to be one of the great Westerns. Obviously it has inspired numerous sequels and remakes, and its influence in film and American culture is undeniably great. But taken on its own merits, is there anything truly magnificent about The Magnificent Seven? By all standards, it's competently made, but it surprisingly lacks in two key areas: character development and exciting action sequences.

The Magnificent Seven (itself a Western remake of the 1954 film, Seven Samurai) is about a team of seven Americans that are hired to defend a small Mexican town from bandits, who have repeatedly returned to pillage the town over the years. The seven Americans quickly realize they are outnumbered, so they must also train the town to fight.

As previously mentioned, there are two major problems with The Magnificent Seven. The first of which is character development. The film has seven primary characters, and while some are faithfully developed (primarily Chico, a hot-headed youngster), most of the other characters are given little defining traits or dimensions. I would argue that only two or three of the seven protagonists are given personalities with any kind of depth. The other four are given a single notable feature (one is on the run, one is good with a knife) to support their presence. If nothing else, the villain, Calvera, is entertaining to watch, even if he is drawn equally thin.

The other big problem is the ineffectiveness of the action sequences. They fail to raise one's pulse, and though the finale does seem to have genuine stakes (and actually follows through on its risks), it lacks any element of fun. Given the serious circumstances, one could forgive the lack of joy involved, but there is little tension or even thrill to compensate for this.

There are a small number of other issues as well. After the first 80 minutes of the film, The Magnificent Seven begins to drag, and it never really picks back up. As a result, the last 45 minutes seem incredibly long. Also, an unnecessary love story has been shoe-horned in, but isn't developed at all, and finds itself swaying closer to comedy than touching poignancy.

While not without memorable moments, there is little of outstanding notability in The Magnificent Seven, excepting its massive legacy. It takes surprising risks with an ending that's more somber and less triumphant than most modern Hollywood endings, and though the characters themselves are lacking in identification, the performances are great.

Many of the poorly written characters are saved by strong performances. Admittedly, some do fall prey to melodrama, but they still hold up reasonably well. The standout performance belongs to Horst Buchholz who makes the most of an annoying character, and incidentally, the one that's the most developed. Yul Brynner, who portrays Chris Adams (arguably the leader of the seven) is an intimidating screen presence, despite the fact that he plays a protagonist. The same could be said of James Coburn. The villain portrayed by Eli Wallach is enjoyable to watch, and is certainly the most entertaining cast member.

Elmer Bernstein's score is easily the most magnificent element of the film. The main theme is proudly performed in the opening titles (perhaps the best part of the film) and is given several reprises throughout the film. The Mexican influence seeps into the score, allowing for a bit of color in the form of guitar and castanets. The only real problem with the music is the absurd overuse of one particular guitar chord is played on its own at least a dozen times (or more) throughout the film. It's a tad distracting, but it is only a small blemish on an otherwise, highly entertaining score.

The Magnificent Seven is a perfectly watchable movie, but it's a long ways off from great, and even a recommendation would feel generous. Had its characters been stronger, and the action sequences more thrilling, The Magnificent Seven could have been something great. Alas, its flaws and slow third act keep this legendary Western from living up to its legacy. It's not bad by any stretch of imagination, but it's a disappointment nonetheless.

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Review of Battleship

Posted : 4 years, 4 months ago on 12 August 2014 05:09 (A review of Battleship)

There are films, and then there is Battleship. 131 minutes of explosions, tedious exposition, and lots and lots of yelling. The problem (or at least one of the problems) with Battleship, isn't that it's mindlessly stupid (though it is), or that it contains poor acting (though it does), but that it's profoundly boring. There are times when I nearly dozed off - despite seeing this in the early afternoon after a full night of sleep - and times when I resorted to checking my watch - despite doing so a minute prior. Battleship is one big, bloated, boring, bomb of a film. But if you aren't convinced yet, by all means, read on.

Supposedly inspired by the Hasbro board game of the same name (I'm sure I don't need to tell you that there are almost no similarities outside of their title), Battleship is about a troublesome weapons officer named Alex Hopper, who must lead a small group of navy soldiers against a fleet of aliens. And that is the entire plot.

Battleship really only has enough story and character development to create a 90 second film (plus credits), so how director Peter Berg got a two-plus hour film out of this is beyond me. The aliens don't show up until about the 30 minute mark, which actually isn't so bad when you consider that films like Jurassic Park or the recent Godzilla film wait 45 minutes to an hour before showcasing any real monster action. The problem here is that those 30 minutes feel like 30 hours because the characters are dull as dust, and there is nothing to hold our attention.

What's even more shocking is that the film actually gets worse when the aliens arrive. And this is why: at least before the aliens show up, there are things to occasionally laugh at (unintentional comedy only; none of the intended gags actually work). There is terrible acting, terrible dialogue, ridiculous character oversights, etc. And while most of these things remain in the preceding 100 minutes, they have worn out their welcome long before this point. And what's more, we realize that the monstrously bad opening only revealed a fraction of this film's many problems.

For one, none of the action is even a tiny bit engaging, which is a massive issue, because most of this film is taken up by said action. There are a number of reasons the action doesn't work.

1. We're not invested in the characters in the slightest, conceivable form. Obviously, with the exception of the feminist-pleasing Cora Raikes, none of the characters have any personality. We don't care for any of them. And in the case of the main character, we flat out don't like many of them.

2. Nothing looks real on account of some of the ugliest, cartooniest, and cheapest looking CGI I've ever seen. I was never convinced that anything on the screen was real. The special effects are laughably bad at times. People give the Star Wars prequels a lot of hate for the massive amount of CGI, but if you showed those same people Battleship (which I wouldn't even wish upon my worst enemies) they would find the Star Wars prequels to be increasingly appealing.

3. At some points, you can't even tell what's going on. A lot of the action just appears to be explosion montages.

4. There's nothing here we haven't seen before. The action scenes are just a bunch of shooting, and that's it. There is no variety. It's just ships shooting at alien ships. At two brief points, there is hand-to-hand combat with aliens, but one these is done in a purely comedic way, and the other is suffers from inconsistencies with alien's capabilities. And that's another reason the action doesn't work:

5. Battleship is never consistent. At certain points (especially the beginning) the aliens appear to be ultra-strong and perhaps invincible, with the humans leaving hardly a dent on their spaceships or armor. But as the film progresses, the aliens become increasingly weaker for no apparent reason.

This is just the tip of the iceberg.

There is a side story involving Alex Hopper's girlfriend, Samantha, and a double amputee soldier that accomplishes nothing outside of occupying an extra 30 or so minutes of the movie. Various questions about the aliens and their abilities are raised but never answered. This isn't done in a tastefully ambiguous way, so much as it was done to allow for cool shots to take place, without the inconvenience of explaining what they mean.

The design for the aliens - whom we don't actually see outside of their armor until about the halfway mark - is laughably bad. They just look like bald men with prickly beards. Their armor look like Halo/Storm Trooper rip-offs. And their spaceships are clunky looking, and totally forgettable.

The only vaguely entertaining aspect of Battlefield (outside of some unintentional comedy early on) is the amount of clips and camera shots the film re-uses over and over. There are times when you think to yourself "didn't I see this shot of that satellite earlier?" And of course, the answer is "yes," just 30 minutes ago. Many, many, many parts of this film are recycled into other scenes which makes the film seem all the more lazy. At one point, the same image of alien blasters charging appeared twice within two minutes (I know because I was checking my watch for most of the film).

The acting is awful at worst, and bland at best. Taylor Kitsch doing his best Batman vocal impression for most of the film, has mastered the appearance of looking confused and bewildered. He retains these expressions for most of the film, when he's not frowning or having the scene stolen by the nearest empty wall. Rihanna (yes, they allowed her to act) gets to do a bit of yelling, and Liam Neeson gets to do a bit less yelling. Brooklyn Decker and Gregory D. Gadson embarrasses themselves in laughably performances.

Steve Jablonsky's score is an atrocity. Messy electric guitars, melodies that have no more than single note, and themes that rip off Harry Gregson-William's theme from the Narnia films (perhaps a temp track issue?). It's loud, repetitive, and diverges into a number of action film cliches including dubstep, the horn of doom, and repetitive electronic melodies. The nicest thing I can say about Jablonsky's score is that it's better than the accompanying soundtrack (stuffed with bombastic rock-oriented songs), but so is getting one's toe extracted. And I haven't even mentioned the completely ill-advised use of the Pink Panther theme in one scene that surely has Henry Mancini rolling in his grave.

A lot of Battleship's defenders have insisted that this film is a good time if you just "turn off your brain." And despite the many problems I have with that particular line of thinking, I agree in that a brainless action film can sometimes be fun. However, Battleship is no fun at all, no matter how much of your brain is intact. It's long, slow, and totally uninvolving. The acting is bad, the dialogue is worse, and there isn't even a remote element of fun in this movie. On a more positive note, the ocean appears to be real and not a CGI effect at least some of the time. It does its job at looking watery and blue. The rest of the film is sewage.

Score: 0/10

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Review of Forrest Gump

Posted : 4 years, 4 months ago on 7 August 2014 09:49 (A review of Forrest Gump)

Forrest Gump is the kind of film that shouldn't work on any level. It's as manipulative as a film can ever be, pulling strings and begging the audience to cry, and the entire event is drowned in sticky-sweet syrup. And yet - incredibly - Forrest Gump truly works. It is not without flaw - in fact, it would be nearly impossible to count down all of its many problems - but this film succeeds in being an entertaining, whimsical, and - at times - quite beautiful portrayal of life, love, and 20th century America. And while one would be quick to point to director Robert Zemeckis in regards to the film's success, or perhaps Eric Roth's screenplay, or even Winston Groom's book upon which the film is based, I think the reason this film works, is because of Tom Hank's legendary performance as the title character.

Forrest Gump is a slow-witted Alabama native. But indeed, he has extraordinary talent, and an intriguing life story to tell to whoever will sit next to him at the bus-stop.

Despite being embraced by - seemingly - everyone, Forrest Gump actually fared less well than critics. It holds a 72% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is a good score, but not a great one. This is largely because Forrest Gump will not appeal to the cynical. And Lord knows that film critics get enough hate as it is, but there's simply no two ways about it: Film critics, generally speaking, are more cynical than the average movie-goer. Those willing to accept the occasionally preposterous nature of the film and the sometimes cloying sentimental tone will find a lot to enjoy. But if you've never quite cottoned to the sappier efforts of Steven Spielberg or renaissance Disney, you may find Forrest Gump to be an eternal 142 minutes.

One of the problems with Forrest Gump is that the film goes to exceedingly great lengths to make Forrest as endearing and likable as possible. And honestly, it wasn't necessary; he's already a likable character. Additionally, Forrest Gump just seems to be an expert at everything. When we learn he's an incredibly fast runner, we buy that. But after we learn he's incredible at putting guns together, playing ping-pong, etc., things get a little stale.

On top of that, Forrest Gump also has a running gag in which Forrest turns out to be the originator of several pop culture staples, from one of Elvis Presley's dance moves, to the creator of the "smiley" face, etc. Forrest Gump spends so much time winking at the audience, one begins to ponder the likelihood of contracting an eye-lid blister.

In spite of the film's many problems, however, Forrest Gump is a good film, largely thanks to Tom Hanks. His performance adds an element of genuineness and sincerity to the picture, thus balancing the syrupy sap. On paper, the Forrest Gump character comes off as cloying, but when you see Tom Hanks portray this character, it not only works, it comes to life. This is not a case of a great performance making a decent film worth seeing. This is a great performance that elevates everything surrounding it. It gives the movie a classy nature that makes the sentiment feel earned.

There are genuine moments of beauty and grace. In fact, some sequences are almost stunningly beautiful. When the film eases back a little on the sweetness, it has an old-fashioned appeal to it, and an unmistakable charm in the aesthetics of the picture.

The visual effects are superb. Forrest Gump seamlessly blends with the archival footage in an effect that still holds up today. Even more impressive - to my eyes, anyway - is the effect used for a character who has lost his legs in the war, and must function without them.

I've already praised Hanks' performance, but the rest of the cast is worth noting too. Robin Wright plays Forrest's love interest, Jenny, in a more serious role. She captures the depth of the character, and is never as annoying as she might have been in less capable hands. Gary Sinise as Dan Taylor delivers a performance that's absolutely marvelous, and even giving Hanks a bit of a run for his money. Sinise's performance is powerful and gripping. Sally Fields portrays the most charming of the cast, Forrest's mother, in a sweet but memorable supporting role. Michael Conner Humphreys and Hanna R. Hall portray young Forrest and young Jenny respectively in excellent child performances.

Alan Silvestri's score is very pretty, but it receives an absurdly little amount of screen time. It gets two major appearances (other than the credits), and that is the very beginning, and the very end. You hardly hear it at all the rest of the film, which is largely populated with obnoxious, time-period-accurate, pop and rock songs. While they are interesting from a stylistic point of view, they are simply atrocious from a musical one. They end up stealing a lot of screen time that would have been better served by Silvestri's much more palatable musical score.

Forrest Gump is heavily flawed, but it has some wonderful moments. Tom Hanks gives the performance of his life, and despite too much sweetness at times, the film is a real charmer. The acting is great, the screenplay is great, the score is great, and the characters are great. The over-sentimentality brings the film down a bit at times, but it's hard to imagine that too many people would leave Forrest Gump without feeling at least a little better about life.

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Review of Beetlejuice

Posted : 4 years, 4 months ago on 7 August 2014 06:45 (A review of Beetlejuice)

Bearing in mind that I have not yet seen all of director Tim Burton's films, I personally think Beetlejuice might be his very strangest effort. This is made even stranger, considering how absurdly normal the first 10ish minutes are. But that's as long as things remain familiar. After that, the film is turned on its head, and never looks back. It's a wacky, crazy ride, but it's absolutely worth taking.

A young couple - Barbara and Adam - are quietly enjoying their vacation in a house in the country, when they suddenly perish in an unfortunate car accident. And yet, they return home, possibly unharmed. That is, until they find a book they don't recall owning: Handbook for the Recently Deceased. It is at that moment when they discover that they are both dead. To make matters worse, an obnoxious family moves into the house, and Barbara and Adam want them gone. So in order to make them leave, they realize they must scare the family away. When their efforts prove fruitless, they turn to the nutty and unpredictable bio-exorcist known as Betelgeuse.

Beetlejuice is as inventive and unique as a film is likely to get. The concept is interesting, and while the execution leaves a bit to be desired, it does provide an effective balance of comedy and horror. The writing isn't always terribly strong - with plot points and dilemmas that seem to be made up on the spot in order for the film to keep moving - but the film gets by on the wacky atmosphere and creative visuals.

The title character, Betelgeuse, actually gets surprisingly little screen time. He is present for about 30 minutes of the 92 minute run-time, which is unexpected. However, the Betelgeuse character is wildly energetic, and some will find the character to be unbearable. The 30 minutes of time the character is allotted is just enough for him to have a significant presence in the film without becoming an nuisance. He remains an enjoyable aspect of the film, thanks to his limited screen time.

The cast of actors are all a delight to watch. Michael Keaton often gets singled out as the highlight, but I think Catherine O'Hara, Jeffery Jones, Glenn Shadix and Sylvia Sidney are just as enjoyable. Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis and Winona Ryder get the thankless job of portraying the normal characters (or at least what passes for normal in this film).

Danny Elfman's score is very much like the film: wild, zany, and very enjoyable. While it may be too high energy for some, few would deny its effectiveness and enthusiasm.

Beetlejuice is a wild romp that's highly imaginative and wickedly entertaining. While some will certainly hate this film, the right crowd will find the whole affair to be deliciously nutty. There's a slew of memorable scenes (the dinner scene in particular is properly laugh-out-loud funny), and trippy environment that the film creates is worth experiencing. Beetlejuice isn't for everyone, but whether you love it or hate it, one thing's for sure: You'll never see anything like it.

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Review of Guardians of the Galaxy

Posted : 4 years, 4 months ago on 4 August 2014 03:13 (A review of Guardians of the Galaxy)

Many are calling Guardians of the Galaxy "the most risky Marvel film yet," with the word "risky" frequently being replaced with words like "unique," "different," and the like. But is Guardians of the Galaxy all that risky? It contains its share of likable, well-known actors, has loads of pretty visuals, comes from an established and lucrative studio, and is debuting in a dry spot for cinema. Of course, even with all of these facts on the table, Guardians of the Galaxy still fits comfortably under the description "most risky Marvel film yet," but only because Marvel films tend to be anything but. The fact of the matter is, Guardians of the Galaxy is no more "risky" than it is "unique" or "different," which is to say that it is none of these things. The shame of this is that the first hour has glimmers and ideas promising all of those things, but ultimately fails to live up to them.

In this film's simplistic, yet meandering story line, a group of ruffians team up to deliver an orb with mysterious and vague powers to a collector for a large sum of money. And yet, when things go wrong, and the orb inevitably falls in the wrong hands, they must team up and use their strengths and weaknesses to get the orb back before it's too late. In many respects, this is as close to a Han Solo spin-off as we're likely to get.

Following the foot-steps of a recent 2014 box-office hit - Maleficent - Guardians of the Galaxy disappoints not because it's necessarily a bad movie, but that it only partially realizes its massive potential. With a more innovative director on board, Guardians of the Galaxy could have been marvelous. Instead, it remains marvel-less (please pardon the pun).

The first hour of the film proves that there were creative ideas at hand. The worlds that we visit are visually inventive and unique - especially Xandar, which is an interesting combination of Coruscant and Orlando, Florida - and the character designs are fun as well. Even the spaceships have received enough attention to insure that they are not among the generic brand of other sci-fi films. But these are merely skin-deep cosmetics that desperately try to obscure the cookie-cutter film that Marvel has already made many times before.

Guardians of the Galaxy attempts to be an action-comedy, which proves fairly problematic. This is not an issue of balance, but rather that the action is messy and tedious, and the comedy is flat and humorless. The action includes your run-of-the-mill chase sequence, some hand-to-hand combat, and a great, big, destruction-packed battle at the end. In addition to feeling totally static and bland, the action sequences are edited offensively poorly, with characters randomly jumping from place to place without explanation or flow (akin to some of the awkward editing in last year's The Lone Ranger).

The comedy is not much of an improvement. While some of the visual gags work (primarily those involving a tree-like character named Groot - more on him later), the dialogue is often embarrassingly bad. The film throws in random 70's and 80's references with absolutely zero context, and expects the audience to laugh anyway. Other gags seem to be recycled from other films, meaning that almost none of the humor feels fresh or especially funny. And others still are just obnoxiously immature in a way that only a child could truly appreciate. Sophistication was never the goal of Guardians of the Galaxy, but that doesn't mean that the humor should target the 12 and under crowd exclusively.

Guardians of the Galaxy is not a superhero film, and in my eyes, it would have done well to stay as far away as possible from the Marvel Cinematic Universe to make for a more accessible viewing. Alas, Thanos - a famed Marvel antagonist - is featured in several scenes, and unless you have previous Marvel knowledge, his random appearances will seem confusing and unnecessary (for the record, I don't think the latter descriptor would change even with prior research). He is shown in several scenes, and randomly forgotten with no resolution at all. This is inexcusable. If you must insist upon shoving Marvel characters into the film for the sake of satisfying fanboys, at least do us the courtesy of making his presence necessary to the plot if he's going to be given significant screen-time.

There are numerous other flaws that only deserve brief detailing. A surprisingly emotional opening scene proves completely insignificant to the overall film - though it does showcase an excellent child performance by Wyatt Oleff, and an unintentionally creepy performance by Laura Haddock. And Marvel does their famous "death cheat," in which they suggest the death of a primary character without really committing to it, thus getting the emotion without consequence. This remains the most blatant proof that Marvel is incapable of taking risks.

The characters themselves are not as interesting as the trailers might lead you to believe. Peter Quill - the film's primary protagonist - has a role in the film that's never quite clear. Is he a bumbling Jack Sparrow type that's more quirky than skilled? Or closer to Indiana Jones in his capability? Apparently the filmmakers were as unsure as I was, as the film never decides upon either personality, instead choosing to juggle each, resulting in a remarkably weak protagonist. Gamora - a green-skinned female assassin - is the tough-girl we've seen in dozens of films before, and is only here to satisfy the feminists.

Drax the Destroyer - a big, strong looking humanoid alien - has two distinctive traits (generous by Marvel standards). One is his passion to avenge his family's death, which ends up feeling like an unfortunate Inigo Montoya mutation. His other trait is that he is incapable of understanding expressions, and instead assumes everything is literal. This is played for humor in some of the film's most cringe-worthy moments, and is then conveniently forgotten at several intervals. This could go down as some of the laziest writing in the film if not for Groot.

Groot is a tall, tree-like character, who's most unique feature is that he can only say the words "I am Groot." And while this is indeed, a unique and interesting concept, the film cheats. Groot is allowed to grunt, yell, etc. And worse, his partner-in-crime, Rocket, can translate those three words as if they were simply another language. Thus eliminating any and all innovation with this character. Even so, Groot remains the most likable of the main cast, followed by Rocket, a talking raccoon, who is less drab than the other characters, though his best lines are already in the promotional material.

The antagonist is shamefully bland - as is usually the case for Marvel villains. It's just another bad guy bent on world domination, who will achieve whatever means blah blah blah, etc, etc, etc. On a somewhat related note, his makeup is atrocious.

The cast is basically fine, as they do their best with a terrible script. Chris Pratt is a likable presence, even when portraying the notably poorly written Peter Quill. Zoe Saldana (who apparently is the go-to actress for sci-fi films after starring in Avatar and JJ Abram's Star Trek films) and Dave Bautista are fine in their roles, and Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper do good voice work for Groot and Rocket respectively.

The most memorable characters and performances are from the supporting cast. John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, and Benicio del Toro are particularly enjoyable - the latter of which has an almost identical appearance to Ron Perlman's character from Pacific Rim.

Tyler Bate's score is laughably generic. It features one of the most bland main themes in recent memory, and features all the predictable action score elements. Low brass for the villains, bland fanfares for the heroes, etc. Slightly more interesting is the soundtrack, which features 80's song that make the film's musical direction stylistically different from other sci-fi films, but ultimately just causes Guardians of the Galaxy to feel like whatever the hipster equivalent of The Avengers is.

It's frustrating that Marvel elected to avoid taking any real risks with Guardians of the Galaxy, opting for the typical Marvel story, plot points, and weak characters, as the potential for this film was huge. Mere glimpses of what could have been remain intact, but Guardians of the Galaxy is largely a by-the-numbers sci-fi film that fails to innovate, interest, or entertain. Films like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes represent the kind of success a film can find when it takes risks, tries new things, and boasts intelligence far beyond its peers. Indeed, intelligent and entertainment CAN exist in the same film. But honestly, it would have been nice if Guardians of the Galaxy had at least implemented one these.

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Review of Groundhog Day

Posted : 4 years, 4 months ago on 30 July 2014 09:01 (A review of Groundhog Day)

Having now seen Groundhog Day myself, I wonder how teenagers - whose opinions of this film are probably not influenced by nostalgia - react to this film. Compared to comedies today, it is slower paced, strives for less belly-laughs, and is mostly just a quieter film. Do teens today have the patience to sit through 5 minutes of set-up with a significantly smaller gag ratio than today's comedies? Groundhog Day would never have been profitable, had it been made in the present. Which is a sad thing, as Groundhog Day reminds one of how charming the "quiet" comedy could be.

TV weatherman Phil Connors is as arrogant as they come. He's rude to those around them, and insists he's a star. Due to unexplained circumstances, however, Connors is set in a time loop, in which he must relive Groundhog Day, over and over again. And he has no idea how to get out of the loop.

Simply summarized, Groundhog Day is as pleasant as a film gets. While belly laughs are rare, there is a satisfactory amount of chuckles and smiles throughout the movie, but even then, one could argue that there are less such instances than in other comedies. For me, Groundhog Day is good entertainment, in spite of slightly less plentiful gags than modern audiences are used to. The story and protagonist are interesting enough that the film still works in spite of all that.

Groundhog Day has its sweet moments, mostly because of the romance between Connors and new producer, Rita Hanson, that works surprisingly well. Even when working with occasionally cheesy dialogue, the two leads have great chemistry, and thus, their relationship remains interesting and believable. It gives the film a much needed extra dimension.

My sole complaint (which is more a matter of preference than anything), is that Groundhog Day elects to avoid some of the darker elements of its premise. Groundhog Day is played mostly for comedy. Though it is implied that Phil Connors is frustrated with living the same day over and over, there is no dramatic scene or outlet to truly express this. Even during a montage in which he tries to commit suicide in various ways, it is done for purely comedic purposes. The ending is also a pinch unsatisfying, thanks to a cop-out that results in a somewhat hasty finale. The lighter tone of the film is largely to blame for this.

Groundhog Day boasts an enjoyable cast. Bill Murray is delightful in the lead, beautifully balancing humor and drama. Andie MacDowell generally gets it right, but falters at time with some of the less intelligent dialogue. Stephen Tobolowsky is a highlight among the talented cast, portraying an overly-friendly insurance agent named Ned Ryerson. The film wisely chooses to limit his presence to just a few scenes, thus eliminating any chance of him becoming overbearing or obnoxious as he well might have with more screen time.

George Fenton's score is playful and fun. Though it does contain some unfortunate '90's synths and at times, ill-suited electric guitar, it's a pleasing and enjoyable effort by Fenton.

One could argue that Groundhog Day is an overly sentimental and innocuous film - a good time-killer, but nothing more. I would argue that it's a bit more than that. It does some interesting things with its premise, and has more depth than one might expect (even if it could have supported significantly more). Even if the ending disappoints a bit, and there aren't many big laughs, Groundhog Day is entertaining enough and funny enough in an endearingly mild way to make for pleasant and likable entertaining. Labeling it as a masterpiece - as many have come to do so - is absolutely stretching things more than a little. But even if its cultural significance didn't make it a must-see by most standards, it's an enjoyable enough film that it deserves a recommendation anyway.

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