Monday, December 17, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Review

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Review

Director: Peter Jackson

Cast Headliners: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen

Release Date: December 14th, 2012

The Lord of The Rings has reached its conclusion, but that is not the end of this fantasy franchise. Before Frodo set foot upon his quest, there was a novel called The Hobbit. It is a prequel set in the same world but with mostly new characters and a lighter tone. Peter Jackson has an ambitious project on his hands. His goal is to both adapt the book and unite this world with the one he has already shown to cinema. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is for the most part very successful at this.
            The novel on which the film is based is shorter than any of the LOTR ones, and yet it is getting 3 films towards it. Each film covers a part, as the film reaches an indefinite but satisfying conclusion which leaves the viewer yearning for more. It is lucky that, like the first string of Tolkein films, the next ones are not far off. In this movie, the classic core tale has been accompanied by added action sequences and dialogues connecting this story to the larger world of Middle-Earth. The addition of a certain chase involving wolves in grassland is welcome as it adds more action, as does the side plot involving Radagast (a character rarely before seen in Tolkein works.)  Radagast is kookily played by Sylvester Mcoy, who through the power of cinema was able to make the character into a sort of medieval hippie. The plot involving a “Necromancer” is under-explained, but does allow some old friends like Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and Saruman (Christopher Lee) to appear. 
            As for the main quest, it is brilliant. Bilbo, played by Martin Freeman, is a great character. Bilbo is much more likeable and charming than Frodo ever was, from his early stubbornness to a later bravery and wit. He reluctantly goes along with Gandalf (Ian McKellen), who is just as wise and awesome as the character has previously shown to be. The gang of  dwarves are great as well, there are slight worries at first that they may just be “this movie’s Aragorn and Merry/Pippin and etc”, but soon they each provide distinguishing characteristics. It was a difficult job showing traits of all these characters and make the audience care, but Jackson pulled it off.
 The main difference from Lord of the Rings is that most of the characters are “likeable”, and this goes along with the film (and original book’s) tone. LOTR is a dark medieval epic, whereas The Hobbit is a fun and colorful adventure originally written for children. Because of that there is much humor, but after the original 3 film’s darkness it is a nice change of pace. Luckily, the humor is well written. That’s not to say that there is no action, of which there is plenty. Some have complained about the overuse of CGI, but it looks incredible here. This reviewer personally saw it in IMAX3D at 48 FPS, and it looked stunning. The framerate does indeed look different, but one quickly gets used to it and realizes it makes the film look crisper and modern.  CGI effects, also, are needed for the scale of what takes place in this film. Of particular note is a wrestling match between two mountains (this makes sense when seen) and the penultimate Goblin battle.  Nearly every moment is packed with awe-inspiring thrills. This movie also has the perfect incarnation of Gollum (Andy Serkis), whose role is as impressive, humorous, and frightening as always.
            The Hobbit “Part 1” is not a perfect film. The pace can get slow at times, and the tone is all over the place and a bit wonky because it may seem as if it’s not sure of a target audience. The added details and characters are a semi-drastic change from the original text. It is interesting to see a flashback battle between dwarves and orcs for example, but a character from that who re-appears as a villain is a bit mundane.  Overall however, this movie is exceptional as modern entertainment. Its sense of adventure, great characters, and action set piece make it a must see. Bilbo’s first cinema adventure earns  a 9.35 out of 10.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Red Dawn Review

Red Dawn Review

Director: Dan Bradley

Cast Headliners: Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck, Josh Hutcherson

Release Date: November 21, 2012

Red Dawn is an example of a movie which doesn’t know what it wants. This is a reboot of the 1984 Patrick Swayze starring original. Like that film, the theme of this is that the foreign communist power of the day is invading. For the eighties, it was the Soviets. Now it will supposedly be the North Koreans as this movie proclaims.  
As in the original, the two protagonists are brothers Jed (Chris Hemsworth) and Matt (Josh Peck).  Jed is an ex-military, tactical and cold guy. Matt is the high school quarterback willing to take risks. They are the main characters of Red Dawn, and they are also the only actors with merit. Every person who joins their guerilla unit the Wolverines is un-remarkable. Little chance is given to see their characters and enjoy them. Josh Hutcherson’s character Robert is supposed to be “funny”, but the only slight chuckle is from him awkward and dweebish when fighting enemies. The brothers are decent as young men facing their homeland being invaded, but the movie lacks soul.
The movie lacks soul because it is not very entertaining. Unlike the old film, the North Koreans are not a scary presence. The main villain is rarely seen, and when he is all that happens is him shouting orders. Little is shown of North Korean killing people. The Soviets in the original were terrifying as the shot down anyone in their way, for example in the opening paratrooper scene. The same scene happens here, but the CGI effects do not impress and are a bit laughable. Most everything about this film feels half baked, and both action sequences and dialogue drag on. As a side note, why isn’t the US army seen fighting the attackers? An explanation is given later, but it is still hard to suspend one’s disbelief.
The only slight redeeming factors of this movie are some of the shootout sequences, they are quite cool. Some fancy explosions are used which luckily make up for the poor CGI everywhere else.  Hemsworth, usually a good actor, is not enough to save this film.  There are worse movies out there, but Red Dawn is a supreme example of mediocrity. More excitement can be gained from playing a video game like Call of Duty which this movie attempts to, but fails to cash in on.      I give it 6 out of 10

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Skyfall Review

Director: Sam Mendes

Cast Headliners: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench,  Javier Bardem

Release Date: November 9th, 2012    

      James Bond is back on the big screen. Agent 007 brings with him an aura of awesome that doesn't let up for the two and a half hours that Skyfall lasts. Quantum of Solace may have been a letdown when compared to the excellent Casino Royale reboot.   It can be said that Skyfall has put effort on every front to create an exciting and perfect spy movie experience.

     The action sequences in this film are incredible. They are intricately woven into the plot so that the pacing is perfect.  The opening car and train chase is impressive enough, but that is just the start of what happens in the adventure.  Explosions seem genuine, and Bond is a fighting all star as always.  There are tons of surprises in this film.

   The plot is one of the finest Bond plots around. The culprit behind the crimes is not revealed for a long time, and once he is the movie gets even better. Javier Bardem is wonderful as Silva. He is wonderful in the way that you enjoy it when he is on screen. He is one of those villians that the audience will hate and love to hate.  Director Sam Mendes was apparently inspired by The Dark Knight when making this film, and Silva shares that same Joker-ish quality. Perhaps even more than Joker, Silva can compete on the field easily with Bond.  The best kind of Bond villains are the physical ones who usually happen to be ex-MI6 agents. Silva is one of those; he is a evil mastermind who's antics create the great moments of the film that Bond has to deal with.

   The carefully crafted pacing and editing lends to the epic plot. It is also helped by some beautiful set designs and exotic locales. The movie also feels fresh because of the new characters introduced and elements of humor. The snappy dialogue is entertaining to hear, and there are some genuine laughs to be had. Classic Bond characters are re-introduced for the modern era. The film's ending implies these great supporting characters will be back in the confirmed sequels.   Also of note is the cool soundtrack which creates  tension in every scene.

     The two regulars, Daniel Craig and Judi Dench, give great performances.  The movie really gives a chance for them to get to know each other. The last segment on the film really lets audiences know the inner thoughts of these characters and what they think of each other, which is fitting given the events of the climax. The climax is one of the best action shootouts of the year.

      Overall, Skyfall is a movie with very little flaws.  It knows what it is going for, and attains it.  It aims to be dark and succeeds. The only real complaint is it feels a bit more withdrawn compared to past Bonds. It may be too grim at times. This aids it though and the result is a very different Bond experience. Skyfall is the most epic James Bond film yet, and well worth watching.

It receives a 8.73 out of 10

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Wreck It Ralph Review

Wreck it Ralph

Director:  Rich Moore/ Disney Animation

Cast Headliner: John C Reilly, Sarah Silverman

Release Date: November 2nd 2012

   A movie that originally started as Fix It Felix , a movie that has been jokingly nicknamed by variations of its title such as Destroy it Dan and Smash it Steve. What this film really is, is a loving tribute to the video game culture.  Disney has returned to making a great animated movie, and has also made the most "video game ish" movie ever.  It is today's Toy Story , Roger Rabbit, and Super Mario the Movie (just with different characters) that I and the world have always wanted.

       The film takes place in one of those last great arcades that have a mix of video game machines old and new.  Reilly voices Ralph, the Wario/Pete/Donkey Kongish villain of his arcade machine. He tires of his job, and thus his adventure starts.  This segment of the film is the funniest and best in my opinion. It is great to see Bowser and a Pac Man ghost and Zangief and Doctor Eggman sitting side by side on a tv screen for the first time. There are tons of references in most of these scenes, and any present or former gamer will appreciate the work they did in putting in as many as they can. Some great written humor comes from Ralph running into things from other video games.  

   Now if the movie had just been this, I would have been extremely happy.  It soon drastically changes however. He stops off for a flashy and action packed fight sequence in a combination Halo/Call of Duty/Mass Effect/Metroid parody called Hero's Duty , but the film quickly leaves this potential to drop Ralph into the colorful Sugar Rush.  I expected a retro video game movie, but what it became for about 3/4's was an adventure in a world of candy.

    That is not a total problem. While it is regretful that more worlds and references were not included, the fact that everything is made of candy allows for more humor and interesting situations.  Ralph befriends Vanellope, played by Sarah Silverman who shows a good range from cute to angry in her voice. Every character in this film is great, Jane Lynch as the gritty Samus/Ripleyish Sgt Calhoun and Jack Mcbrayer as essentially his 30 rock character in Fix it Felix from Ralph's game also deserve mention.
            The plot is well written and full of twists, with some moments very sad and happy.  The movie gets even more exciting as time goes on.   The visuals are also fantastic, it is very cool to see the different graphical styles in different game worlds.

      Just as Toy Story showed the world what toys may do when owners aren't around, Wreck it Ralph looks inside the world of games.  Even if this movie had not had famous characters guest starring it is still worth seeing.  It is a story about games in the best way. Disney has made a film that can be enjoyed by everyone because it is just that good.  I highly reccomend it.     8.75 out of 10

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Dark Shadows Review

Dark Shadows

Director:  Tim Burton

Cast Headliner: Johnny Depp

Original Release Date: May 11th 2012  (seen October 2012)

      I must say starting out that I have never seen the original Dark Shadows. If it is anything like what Burton has made with this live action film then i would be very interested to see it. Dark Shadows is arguably about a brilliantly acted Barnabas Collins, who is played by Johnny Depp. An introductory scene is set in a good recreation of 1700's. The first segment could fit right into Sleepy Hollow. Things get interesting, and funny, when the film jumps into the 1970's for the majority of the plot
                         Depp's acting charisma is at a high here. In every movie that he's in he transforms into something larger than life. With Barnabas being a vampire, it takes a certain skill to be undead. Depp pulls it off as always. Much of the well written humor comes from him interacting with the 70's era, in that way typical Burton humor. The cause of his condition and villianess Angelique played by Eva Green was a great character as well.   The rest of the cast is decent but nothing to right home about, going with the atmosphere of the movie everyone has a reserved approach to their role.

        Barnabas's world is a dark one. The visuals and feel of Dark Shadows are oozing with atmosphere as always in Burton's work.  This film has some moments of humor, but they are overall mixed into a tale of darkness and tension.  The plot is great too, escalating to a epic finale.

        If only the rest of the cast were as entertaining to be around as Depp and Eva, and the best moments come when they interact.   The plot got a bit slow in places; the pacing of the film could have done with some trimming and re-arranging.      Despite this though, it was a great vampire comedy drama (that's what i call this type of film and i would hope to see more of the same).    If one is a fan of Burton or Depp or quality dark stories, this film is defiantely worth checking out.    8.5 out of 10


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Upcoming movies i plan to see

- The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey December 14th review shortly after

- Django Unchained, i think i may wait till DVD on this but may review

Note on what to expect

I will be doing in depth movie reviews on this page from what i see in theaters.   If i see a great movie on DVD or some other way, starting from same-year releases and as time allows classics,  i will review those too.    Enjoy!

Cloud Atlas Review

Cloud Atlas

Director(s):  Andy/Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer

Cast Headliners: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry

Release Date: October 26th, 2012

             To some, movies are simply a linear path that unfolds before the audience. There may be flashbacks or prologue/epilogue sequences, but usually the narrative structure of popular films  When films break those bonds , they are thought of as hopefully "revolutionary."  This can also be one's downfall. Cloud Atlas has been received by other critics as  supposedly convoluted . It's weighty plot and structure is counterbalanced in many ways by the strength of the performances , pacing/editing, and visuals.

               If each of the 6 separate time periods were taken apart, they could be released as their own movies. The editing of Cloud Atlas is great as there is a seamless blend of stories set across time and space. This may sound confusing, but it makes sense. Each moment of the stories unfolds in a logical sense (a few exceptions where things happen too fast).  Mostly though, the varied adventures of these souls are intertwined.  The tension keeps on ramping up as the story goes on, leading to a stellar and action packed finale.   Of the stories, my favorite would have to be "sloosha's crossin" set in a strange far future. It reminded me of the Dark Tower, especially with Hugo Weaving's demon like Old Georgie character.  This segment was done by the Wachowskis, as also the equally excellent and semi-Matrixish story of Sonmi in a futuristic South Korea.  It must be noted that some complain of actors being made to look Asian, but in my opinion 100 years from now its very possible that races have blended together more than now.
            Going along with its clever structure and pacing , it is fun to see the actors in different roles across the stories.  Tom Hanks is a good guy as always, with a couple of exceptions such as the doctor in the 1846 segment.    He shows his great acting range across his roles , and the different characters allow him to showcase a range of acting talent.  Kudos also to Halle Berry who was passable.  I also must mention Jim Broadbent during his time in 2012 in a surprisingly hilarious senior comedy.   Few other movies involve the day being saved by angry soccer hooligans.

               There are so many little parts to this film.    The Wachowskis, and their comrade. have adapted this   complex novel into  a thrilling and visually great movie. Perhaps we are all just the same people born again and again for eternity. They included Buddhist themes in the Matrix so it would make sense they chose this project.    The deeper preaching of this film are a minor thing that can be glanced over in favor of the smart enjoyable dialogue and great action set pieces.  If by this point you seem interested, go see it.  Fans of the Wachowski's other work would enjoy this film. Don't be afraid of how different Cloud Atlas is from other movies. It is a breathe of fresh air in this year of same ol- same ol.    It has its flaws in its sometimes hokey makeup and some sequences being weaker than others, but they do not render this great film invalid.        A great movie.          From me, it gets a 8.8 out of 10