Archive | May 2014

Godzilla (2014)

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Godzilla

★ ★ 1/2 out of 5

Directed by Gareth Edwards

Starring Aaron Taylor Johnston as Ford Brody

Ken Watanabe as Dr Ishiro Serizawa

Elizabeth Olsen as Elle Brody

Bryan Cranston as Joe Brody

Imdb Link

After a giant parasitic monster awakens after cocooning for 15 years, the armies of the world all rally to stop it, but there is something bigger out there that’s hunting for the parasite.

Well this was disappointing.  I mean, I’m not really a huge fan of the old Godzilla toho films.  I’ve actually only seen the first one, and I thought it was pretty decent.  I got my hopes up for this after seeing some directorial potential in Edwards, and from the trailers, it seemed to be a pretty solid blockbuster. However, this film suffered from the same problems that Gareth Edwards’ debut film suffered from. (See my review of Monsters here.) The thing about Edwards’ direction is that he thinks visually, which is definitely a big plus when it comes to a lot of things, like the visual effects and the camerawork, both of which were stunning.  But it means that he has trouble with getting people to give good performances.  Edwards is awful with actors.  That’s what it comes down to for the most part.  He is not good at getting good performances out of amazing actors.  For example, Bryan Cranston, an amazing actor, as proven by Breaking Bad, pretty much phoned it in here.  It was a role with limited screen time, but Cranston, under good direction, could have made it something amazing.  It ended up being pretty bad.  Aaron Taylor Johnston, our lead actor, who has proven himself to be a good actor in films like Kick Ass and Nowhere Boy was so flat and actually pretty bad in the role.  Ken Watanabe, one of my favorite Japanese actors working nowadays, could not make his role work.  The only actor who I’d say wasn’t bad or mediocre, was Elizabeth Olson, who did the best she could with what she was given.  Then we have the script, which was very mediocre in my opinion.  It tried to center on the human connections, rather weakly however, instead of what everyone paid to see, which was Godzilla kicking some ass.  I never cared about any of the characters, they were all really weak, and Godzilla had less screen time than Bryan Cranston.  Plus, when we did see monsters, they were not the monsters we paid to see.  For gods sake, I saw a movie called Godzilla, I want to see Godzilla.  However, I do have to come to the good stuff, like I said earlier, Gareth Edwards is a master with his visuals.  He is a visual effects artist, and it shows.  I could see him taking home an Oscar for his work on the visual effects of this film. That was one thing I came away wowing at.  He also did a lot of effects work that would go unnoticed.  Because, in a film about monsters, most of the visual effects had nothing to do with monsters.  He is an artist in that way.  And also, the camera man did an excellent job, the framing and use of light in the film was brilliant.  I also really like Alexandre Desplat’s music.  It was fun, and added to the atmosphere.  Really, overall, this was a bad script, with bad direction, but some brilliant visuals.  If you want more monster action, go watch last year’s Pacific Rim. It’s a million times better, and it doesn’t try to take itself as serious as this does.

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Wild Life (2011)

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Wild Life

★ 1/2 out of 5

Directed by Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby

Imdb Link

In 1909, an Englishman moves to Calgary, the Canadian wild west.  Where he finds that things are not as easy as they were back home in England.

A Canadian Oscar nominated short film from 2011, and it just goes to show how weird a project the Canadian Film Board will fund.  This animation is one of the strangest, most nonsensical films I’ve ever seen, but it’s not like it’s trying to be surreal or abstract in any way.  It just failed at being an original, ground breaking, short, like it tried to be.  The whole story is told through a mix of letters, and townspeople talking about the main character.  And even then, I didn’t get what was going on in the film until about half way through.  I didn’t see who the townspeople were talking about, because it was made too ambiguous, and no character was named.  They just started talking about someone.  We had to piece together ourselves who.  The film also compares the main character to a comet, a metaphor which, even under analyzation doesn’t make sense.  Really, it’s just a poorly written film.  It’s saving grace is it’s animation.  Which is very creative and beautiful.  I don’t think I could watch much more than 20 minutes of it though, it’s not really the smoothest animation style, and would not be easy to watch for very long.  So overall, I think this is a pretty poor film. But it did have some cool parts to it.

The Wicker Man (2006)

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The Wicker Man

★ out 0f 5

Directed by Neil LaBute

Starring Nicolas Cage as Edward Malas

Imdb Link

Police officer Edward Malas (Nicolas Cage) gets a letter from his ex-fiancée, saying that her child has been lost, and that she needs him to come find her.  So Malas travels to her home, on a strange island, where the residents are all part of a cult, and where no one knows that the girl he’s trying to find even existed.

I think I’m going to need to start watching more bad movies with friends.  Usually, I try to avoid movies like this, I usually seek out the best of the best rather than the crap.  But goddamn, The Wicker Man was such a fun watch.  Sitting down with a group of friends and making fun of a bad movie is a hilarious thing to do.  The Wicker Man is a genuinely, very bad movie, but it’s almost impossible to hate it because of how ridiculous it is.  Seeing Nicolas Cage in a bear suit punching old ladies is one of the funniest things in the world, and raises this from being a bad horror, to a really funny unintentional comedy.  Still, there were some things here that could have been improved greatly to make this a truly great bad movie.  One thing I love in a bad movie, that makes it go from a one to a ten on my scale, is how ridiculous is it.  If every moment in the film is just so ridiculously bad that it’s actually fun, I would love it.  A “So bad it’s good” type deal. Unfortunately, The Wicker Man only got to that level in the third act, where everything just went insanely bad and over the top.  I want to watch that whole act again, the rest of the movie though was just dumb.  It takes itself far too seriously, and is just bad bad, instead of good bad.  Nothing made sense, Nicolas Cage played it safe, it tried too hard to be spooky and mysterious.  They didn’t get the tone right to make it truly amazing till the last act.  When Nicolas Cage screamed every line, bear costumes were worn, bees were noped, dolls were yelled at, old ladies got straight up smacked.  Man, if only the first two acts were that ridiculous, this would be a masterpiece of awfulness.  I would recommend watching this to anyone looking for some fun, if only for the last act.  The last act raises this movie to a hilarious status for me, rather than just an awful one.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore (2011)

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The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore

★ ★ ★ 1/2 out of 5

Directed by William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg

Imdb Link

After Morris Lessmore’s home and books are destroyed by a hurricane, he is lead to a new home, where he becomes a guardian to hundreds of flying books.

This was a really charming short, not much more I can say than that, because that’s really mainly what it was.  Charming. With some really beautiful animation, this film is really a pleasant watch.  It looks beautiful, even when the story drags, it looks stunning.  That was definitely one of the biggest upsides to the film, the look of it.  The visuals take lots of influence from Buster Keaton, and The Wizard of Oz, making it really fun to look at, and catching the influences and references.  However, I’d say my one problem with this short was that it tried to have so much to say, but really said nothing.  It was obviously trying to be a tribute to the love of books, but it didn’t come across like that to me.  It just felt like a story about books flying around, with not much meaning behind it.  Whatever meaning they tried to put in never worked for me.  Then, I felt that the story really dragged at times.  Even at only 15 minutes, sometimes, it felt very long and slow.  But still, overall it was a very charming movie. Not sure it deserved it’s Oscar, although I haven’t seen any of the other nominees yet.

Heat (1995)

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Heat

★ ★ 1/2 out of 5

Directed by Michael Mann

Starring Al Pacino as Lt Vincent Hanna

Robert De Niro as Neil McAuley

Imdb Link

WARNING THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS

After a robbery, turned into a triple homicide, one of the perpetrators of the crime, Neil McAuley (Robert De Niro) feels that the police are closing in on him. Meanwhile, homicide detective Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) tries to crack the case, which proves to be a lot harder than most cases.

This was a major disappointment to me.  I know most people love this movie, and I’m definitely going to be in the minority in my opinion here, but I found Heat to be very lackluster.  Sure it had some great characters, and great performances, but the storyline was kind of generic, and the plot contradicted itself time and time again.  I’ll start by saying what I didn’t like about it, as getting the negatives out of the way first is usually a good way to go when assessing a well liked film.  The characters may have been very good, but they also did some things that completely went against what they’ve already been established to be. For example.  The bank robbery scene.  Through the whole first and second acts of the film, we’re led to believe that McAuley and his gang are the most careful, meticulous criminals in the world.  They know when cops will arrive at a location and make sure they’ve gotten out before then.  They take extra precautions on every single move they make.  So why does the third act kick off with them robbing a bank, full of people, and then letting them walk right into a firefight that ends in many deaths.  The film already established that they would never do something so stupid and risky.  De Niro’s character could have easily died, and there’s no way that in a real life chase like that that the robbers would get out alive, but that’s just suspension of disbelief, which I’m good with.  What I was not good with, was the fact that the robbers did not take into account the fact that police would show up.  It’s like they all of a sudden stopped being super smart criminals who by calculating every move could get away with anything, and all of a sudden, became amateurs.  Then, De Niro going into the hotel at the end, knowing that the heat would be on him if he did. Didn’t he mention that if he felt the heat coming he would drop anything in 30 seconds.  Why couldn’t he drop his need for revenge knowing that the cops would be on him “like a cheap suit”.  It just didn’t make sense to me.  I also hated the fact that they had to include Natalie Portman’s attempted suicide.  It didn’t fit in to the film at all.  It just gave Pacino’s character something else to do.  She barely factored into the story before then, and never factored in after.  It was just a needless emotional moment in the film.  So that’s what I have to complain about with Heat. Despite all that, I think it was a very good film.  The direction was incredible.  Camerawork was great.  Editing brilliant.  Performances by De Niro and Pacino were stunning.  I just thought it was a bad script.  But that’s just my opinion, and I know it’s one that most will strongly disagree with.

Dirty Wars (2013)

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Dirty Wars

★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Rick Rowley

Imdb Link

An investigative journalist, Jeremy Scahill, discovers American military corruption when he uncovers expanding covert operations in the war on terror.

One of last years Oscar documentaries, and in my opinion one of the better nominees that I’ve seen so far.  This movie takes us on a journey with a war reporter who uncovers political corruption and secret raids going on in middle eastern countries.  The American army seems to be sending troops in to civilian villages, and attacking for no real good reason.  Killing innocents.  This journalist puts himself in all kinds of dangerous situations trying to uncover this military corruption.  It’s an incredible story, and a film that makes you really think about our politicians, and if they’re doing what’s right. Add on to this the fact that it’s really well shot and edited.  It makes for a pretty damn good documentary.  The coloring of the film was dark and bleak, giving a sense of almost hopelessness. It was awesome looking, and really suited the overall tone of the film.  The narration was for the most part, really well written, with a few ridiculously cheesy and pretentious moments, but for the most part it was really good narration.  Like I said though, there were cheesy/pretentious moments, and the narration at the end made me laugh out loud.  And not for a good reason.  It was really cheesy narration.  But overall, this is a very good documentary, and a very informative one.   I definitely would recommend giving it a watch.

Black Orpheus (1959)

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Black Orpheus

★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Marcel Camus

Starring Breno Mello as Orpheus

Marpessa Dawn as Eurydice

Imdb Link

Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn) runs away from a man dressed as death, and hides with her cousin in Rio de Janeiro during Carnival.  There, she meets a womanizing, guitar playing, street car operator named Orpheus (Breno Mello), and as it is written in an ancient myth, the two of them fall in love.

A really fun, original, and often times very beautiful film.  This is a very colorful, kind of musical set in Rio de Janeiro during the most hectic time of year, and with the story of the myth of Orpheus.  It’s a very original idea.  Taking a tragic myth like that of Orpheus, and adapting it for modern times, as a musical comedy.  It has been done many times since, but I feel like Black Orpheus might have been the first to do that.  But even if it wasn’t, it felt fresh.  The reason why I say this was only kind of a musical though, is because, well it doesn’t really follow the genre.  I mean, it does have singing while playing guitar, but by that definition, you could call Scott Pilgrim vs the World a musical too.  It does have lots of dancing, but if that makes something a musical, then I guess Black Swan would be one.  For me, a musical has to have songs that push the story forward, and use the music as a method of story telling instead of just forcing whatever song in at whatever time, just because.  Black Orpheus has some very pretty music, in fact, I bought one of the songs right after watching the film, but I would not call it a musical, like many others do.  Mainly because the 3 or 4 songs in the film don’t do anything to push the story forward.  They were just there. I thought they worked with the film and all, but I would say it’s a film that centers around music and dance more than it is a musical.  I liked the way the story was told though, it was really nice seeing all the colors and chaos of this festival, it was just such energy on screen, and it made the film so fun to watch.  The use of the man in the death costume was brilliant as well, and the parallels and meta references to the original Orpheus myth were really neat.  Overall, this movie may not be perfect, it may not have even deserved the Cannes’ Palme D’Or or Oscar it won, but it’s an enjoyable experience, and it has some beautiful songs in it. Definitely worth checking out.

Spirited Away (2002) – Great Film Review

Spirited Away

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

Shorter Review

“What’s going on here?”

“Something you wouldn’t recognize. It’s called… love.”

-Spirited Away

About 12 years ago now, when I was just 5 or 6 years old. Some family friends of mine came over for a visit, and brought a gift for me and my brother.  That gift was a copy of My Neighbor Totoro on dvd. The first Hayao Miyazaki movie I ever saw, and the defining film of my childhood. 

I did not see Spirited Away until just two years ago, and so unfortunately, it was not as much a part of my childhood as Totoro was. However, on every watch of Spirited Away, it enchants me, and spirits me away to a time when I was first brought into the magical world of Miyazaki.

Spirited Away is a film that makes you feel like a child again.

You’re brought into this scary, big world of spirits, not knowing much about it, and seeing things through the innocent eyes of the lead character, Chihiro. The way Miyazaki builds the world of gods and spirits in the bathhouse, and the way he presents it to his audience makes us feel like we’re children once again. Or if we’re children, it makes us feel a magic that is rare in other children’s films.

Spirited Away starts off with a sullen, sad girl, Chihiro, who sits in the back seat of her parents’ car. She looks at a goodbye card in a bouquet of flowers. Her family is moving to a new city, she’s going to a new school. Chihiro feels her entire life is gone.  Her parents take a wrong turn, thinking that a road will be a shortcut to their new house, but it really leads them to a dead end, and a tunnel.

Chihiro’s parents step out, and start walking through the tunnel to see what’s on the other side, much to Chihiro’s protests. She decides to stay in the car, but gets scared, and runs after her parents.  Through the tunnel the family finds a run down, and abandoned amusement park. They decide to start exploring the place. Chihiro’s parents smell some food somewhere, and follow the smell till they find a buffet filled with wonderful looking foods. They start digging in, but Chihiro says she’s not hungry. She instead goes to explore the park.

She walks towards an old fashioned bathhouse, crossing a bridge towards it, when a young boy sees her. He gasps, and tells her she’s not allowed to be here, and she has to escape before night time. He pushes her away and she starts running back towards where her parents were, as lights start to turn on, and shadow-like spirits start appearing. When she returns to the buffet, in place of her parents are two pigs. Chihiro’s parents have pigged out so much that they have literally been transformed into pigs. At this point, Chihiro has no clue what’s going on but she knows she’s scared. She tries to run back to the tunnel, hoping this is some bad joke. But she finds a lake separating her from the tunnel.

The boy she saw on the bridge comes back to her telling her to eat some food from this world or else she’ll disappear, he then tells her his name is Haku.  Then leading her back towards the bathhouse, which at this point is filled with spirits and gods, lined up for miles to get in. Haku tells Chihiro that she needs to get a job in the bathhouse, or else Yubaba, the witch who runs the place, will turn her into a pig like her parents.  Haku says that she’ll only be able to get her parents back and leave if she works at the bath house for a while.

And so begins Chihiro’s spiriting away. She works in the bathhouse, washing gods, letting in a monster that feeds on greed, meeting all sorts of weird creatures, and eventually getting her parents back.  Chihiro is put under a spell, having her name taken away and replaced with “Sen”, and making her forget her past.

Chihiro is not a typical protagonist that you would see in a children’s film. She’s sad, quiet, mature. Most animated film protagonists are witty, energetic, and quirky. Chihiro does not fit in with typical Hollywood children’s film characters. But then again, Spirited Away is not a typical children’s film.

In place of the jokes and constant action that you see in most animated movies, we get room to breathe, we get silence, we get time to let the film make us feel. Miyazaki does not subscribe to the theory that in order to keep children entertained, he needs to fill every second with action, humor, sounds, or anything at all. Miyazaki lets the characters have silent moments. He lets them stare at nothing for a few seconds, lets his characters, and audience take a breather from the spirit world. Miyazaki dares to be boring. He does what other animated film directors can’t seem to do, which is let there be moments where absolutely nothing happens.

Is every moment in Spirited Away a necessary moment? Does every moment and every line help drive the story forward? No. No they don’t. In fact most of the film doesn’t need to be there to advance the story. But every moment, necessary or unnecessary feels like it needs to be there to give us the true feel for this story.

Miyazaki makes a children’s film like no other by letting the audience feel their own emotions, instead of being told to feel them.

Another thing that makes Spirited Away truly a great film is the care that went into it.  Every image in the film was hand drawn by Miyazaki and his crew. Meaning thousands of these images were hand made. I know that some of the animation was computer made, but most of it wasn’t, meaning that these people took the care to draw tens of thousands of images.

I know every hand drawn animated film does this, but what makes Miyazaki’s special is the care that goes into it.

Looking at an old Disney film, you’ll see the subject of each shot moving, and the rest is just filler movement, everything that isn’t the main subject is just… there.

In Spirited Away, none of these secondary parts of the scene are of any less importance to Miyazaki. If you look around the screen at any time, to parts where it really doesn’t need to have any animation, because really, who looks at the top left corner of the screen when the subject of the image is in the center? But wherever you look in shots, there something happening, constant movement, and where most people would just draw motion, Miyazaki populates the rest of the screen with recognizable characters, doing recognizable things. Miyazaki creates his films in a way that no matter where we’re looking on screen, even if it’s not at the main subject, we’ll still see something.  He truly cares about every part of every frame of his films.

Spirited Away is also one of the most beautiful movies ever made in terms of animation, character growth, music, metaphors. Everything about this film constitutes something great.

Even though Spirited Away may not have been as much a part of my childhood as some of Miyazaki’s work, this is a film that takes me back to my childhood. Spirited Away makes us look at a whole new world through a child’s eyes, dazzling and enchanting us.

Chihiro is very much a child, but when Yubaba takes her name away, and replaces it with Sen, she becomes less of a child. The literal translation of the original Japanese title, Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi is “The Spiriting Away of Sen and Chihiro”. The title represents both sides of Chihiro/Sen. Her innocence as a child, and her more adult, working side of Sen.

The title represents us as the audience too. Spirited Away takes us to another world too. Bringing our adult side into this magical world, and pulling the child inside us along too. Helping us rediscover what it’s like to view the world through innocent eyes.

The 400 Blows (1959)

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The 400 Blows

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by François Truffaut

Starring Jean-Pierre Léaud as Antoine Doinel

Imdb Link

Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud) is a young boy living in Paris, with his parents who don’t give him enough attention.  He eventually delves into a life of petty crime.

Wow.  That’s what I have to say about this film.  The 400 Blows is amazing.  This is what a film about childhood should be like.  It doesn’t cater to any audience in specific, it just shows things as they actually are.  It’s not as though we’re seeing things from the perspective of the child, like so many films like this have us do.  And it’s not like we’re an adult watching how meaningless everything the kid does is.  We’re just a spectator.  We are presented the events in a way that makes it as though we’re seeing it completely honestly.  We have no biases, we see things that Antoine may not recognize, we see when he does things that are right, and we see things as they really are when they’re oh so wrong.  We can constantly sympathize with Antoine, but we can still see what he’s doing is wrong a lot of the time.  It’s unbiased filmmaking.  As though Truffaut shot it with no point of view on the story.  It’s refreshing to see. Another thing I think Truffaut did brilliantly with his directing is working with child actors.  It is not easy to work with kids, and it’s even harder to make them give really believable performances.  Working with so many kids in this cast, and making every single one of them give a good performance is incredible.  That alone shows that Truffaut is a master director.  I also love his style with the cameras, it’s beautifully crisp black and white, full of interesting angles, and some awesome camera movements.  The music also is amazing.  That theme song should be more iconic than it is, I thought it was absolutely wonderful, and added a lot to the mood of the film.  Cheerful, but sometimes dark and sad.  Which is really the tone of the whole movie.  It’s often very fun, very cheerful, and then other times it’s very gritty, real, and sad.  Really though, this was a fantastic movie.  I’m glad I finally got around to watching it after putting it off for so long, and I definitely need to check out more of Truffaut’s work now.

Neighbors (2014)

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Neighbors

★ ★ ★ 1/2 out of 5

Directed by Nicholas Stoller

Starring Seth Rogen as Mac

Zac Efron as Teddy

Rose Byrne as Kelly

Dave Franco as Pete

Imdb Link

Mac and Kelly (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) are a couple who have recently had a baby.  They live in a perfect suburbia, and everything seems perfect to them.  Until their new neighbors show up.  A fraternity has bought the house next to them.  They party all night, blast loud music, and make it impossible for Mac and Kelly’s baby to sleep.  After calling in a noise complaint, it becomes a full on war between Mac and Kelly, and the college kids of the fraternity.

This was a fun movie to watch.  It is certainly no masterpiece of comedy, but it was definitely a really fun movie.  With some hilarious performances by Rogen, Efron, Byrne, and Franco, as well as many others.  The film documents a war between a loud frat house, and a couple with a baby.  It goes all out on every level, vulgar to the max, fuelled by drugs, sex, and alcohol, and makes you laugh every minute pretty much.  It is a truly hilarious movie, and one that I enjoyed immensely.  It’s not for someone who is easily offended, but otherwise, it is worth watching.  That said, the reason that it’s just a decent film for me, even though as a comedy, it was excellent, comes down to how uneven it felt at times, in terms of both direction, and writing.  I was actually kind of disappointed by the direction of the film, it felt really uneven at times.  Bouncing from crazy energetic, to way too laid back.  Stoller also chose a weird look to the film, getting the cameraman to use a handheld camera, which I felt didn’t really suit the mood of the film.  It made it feel kind of awkward at times.  I don’t know.  I’m not really a big fan of the use of handheld cameras without a real symbolic purpose behind it.  Then I also feel that the writing was uneven at times, mainly in terms of characters.  There were two characters that were really well written, Seth Rogen’s Mac and Zac Efron’s Teddy.  The two of them had very deep characters.  Mac is a man who is getting older and just wants to stay cool, he wants to kick back with the college kids, and be young forever.  Then Teddy is very similar, he’s a young guy, who seems to have it all, except brains and talent.  He is terrified of the future, because it means he can’t coast by on his looks and his parties.  He just wants to stay young forever, and stay in college.  These two characters are so well written.  However, everyone else is kind of one dimensional.  They all only are there for one purpose, or they all only want one thing.  Mac and Teddy are the only complex characters, everyone else feels very fictional, and written.  Those are my complaints about the film, but really, don’t get me wrong, this is probably the funniest movie of the year so far (tied with The Lego Movie).  I enjoyed watching it, and it is one of the most fun times I’ve had in a cinema so far this year.  So give it a watch.