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Toy Story 3 (2010)
Pixar Goes Past The Heart, And Straight For The Soul.
It's been a long time since a recent movie has made me think.
How can they, really? Mainstream movies have become all about marketing ploys with characters designed to adorn a Taco Bell cup, and rehashing of ideas and franchises we've already seen from the last few decades. We're stuck with movies that cost no less than $12 on a good day, and are using 3D as a means to keep us in the theaters and away from our home theaters. Is it little wonder why people have grown cynical? Doesn't a "Part 3" mean that we're just getting more of the same, even with a pedigree as strong as Pixar's? No. It doesn't. And that's where something very different sets in.
The most jarring realization is that Toy Story 3 is set in real-time. It's not the animated character that remains ageless. Andy has grown up with us, and like us, has become an adult as well. He's even voiced by his (also grown) original voice actor, and it puts it even more into perspective.
But toys don't age. Sure, Woody, Buzz and the gang have a few paint scuffs here and there, but they remain true to themselves. But times have changed. Andy's toy room is paired down to the surviving "favorites" who made the cut past the garage sales or getting lost or broken. Some old friends are gone and briefly twinge sadly upon the character's memories when the names are said, but there's something more. All they want is to be played with and simply feel their human friend's touch after years of neglect.
If Toy Story 3 sounds like a depressing film, it isn't. There are some wonderful characters. The old toys are still as vibrant and funny as ever, the new toys (such as a fabulously metrosexual Ken doll and a creepy cymbal monkey) are hilarious new additions to the cast, and as bitter as a stuffed bear can be for an enemy, there's a real level of sympathy for what made him the way he is.
And that's the thing about Toy Story 3. It's a love story. And a coming of age story. And a story about the fears of losing someone, or being rejected or abandoned, and the need to be useful and loved by someone. And it's a story about friends sticking together, because in this world, that's all they have.
The beginning aspect of the story is standard for Toy Story 3 is a familiar "The toys get separated from Andy and must find their way home" story, but it's the journey there that's different, and of all the characters, Woody has matured the most.
Gone is the spoiled, jealous "favorite" who retains a conscience, and later loses sight of his priorities and duties to be there for Andy. He's older, and wiser. He understands that he not only has to be there for his human friend, but his toy friends as well.
Buzz is no different. From delusional hero to realizing what he is, becoming comfortable with that, and providing his unwavering support, Buzz shows a new side as well. He's certainly funny, and hits his prime in this film, but he's content in what he is, and finally loosens up.
From potatoes to piggy banks to dinosaurs and restaurant squeak toys, the gang has seen a lot together, and in the final act, in easily their worst predicament yet, it struck me how "real" they had become. Like Andy, these toys were friends that I grew up with over the last 15 years. It's a powerful testament to Pixar that these little toys had dreams and deep emotions, and unwavering loyalty. Of course, you know nothing bad is going to happen to them, but the sincerity of one shared moment in the garbage dump was an amazing testament to a very pure moment of love and loyalty, and proving that how you live your life is just as important as how you prepare for your end. A day later, I still find myself pondering the implications of what I've taken from this film.
Again, this film is not a "downer" movie by any means. The ending is earned and well-deserved. Like the rest of the film, it's bittersweet and very "real", and I found myself simultaneously smiling and choking up with its resolution, and a yearning for my own stuffed and plastic friends long gone.
Pixar has again broken the mold with a brand of storytelling that can reach out to children and the child still in adults. Other films could learn a lot about Pixar's philosophy, animated or otherwise, and tell a story that comes from the heart, and not designed to promote a website or soda.
It doesn't get much better than this. Especially these days.
This Is It (2009)
An Appropriate, Heartfelt Good-Bye To Not The Man We Didn't Know, But The Man We Forgot.
When "This Is It" was released the Fall after Michael Jackson's death, it promoted to be the film to "Discover The Man You Never Knew". After watching the film, and seeing what would have been, it turns out to be more the man that people forgot existed.
This is a very different look at Jackson than we've seen in a while. Gone are the media tabloid stories, the court cases, the allegations, the rumors, the scandals.... The film focuses on something that had long been forgotten under all of the press about Jackson's unusual and turbulent life: This is about the artist.
Michael Jackson was in top form here. Singing, dancing, creative control.... Forget the "frail" allegations regarding his health, the man was truly in his prime, and moreso than any of us could hope to be when we reach 50 years old. The Jackson we see is funny, good-natured, patient, understanding, and above all, a consummate artist. A total professional and perfectionist in his work who knows what he wants, and works to get that performance out of every aspect of his crew, his performers and this show. He never loses his temper. He just reminds that this is why they have rehearsals.
For "rehearsal" sessions, MJ sings and dances through his performances with a vigor that we haven't seen documented in years. While these are clips put together to make a coherent performance for the film, the only thing that really changes is the outfits Jackson wears through his performances. The editing is solid in this film, showing that no matter the number of practice sessions, he was "on" the whole time. For a man holding back, his stage presence remains mesmerizing, and perhaps even more invigorated than seen in the last decade.
Throughout this film are clips of various short films that Jackson was known for instead of the standard music video. There are new updates on "Thriller", "Smooth Criminal", and "Earth Song" that show not only his love of film, but that he really was going out for this final show. Even the concept renderings of what would have been are amazing, and are edited in to flow well with the film's narrative.
The film provides a glimpse at what could have been. The concert that will never be. And in seeing what Michael Jackson had in store for his final tour, it would have been very special indeed. It was a spectacle of music and visual wonders that will only ever be seen in this film, and would have been nothing short of a near-magical experience had it come to reality.
I left the movie feeling sad for so many reasons. His untimely passing, of course, but also for all of the performers, musicians, and crew who clearly poured their hearts into this production. And for the mere fact that it took for the man to pass away for people to be reminded how talented and creative he truly was. There were a number of reasons that I left this film sad, in some ways unexplainable, but the show that could have been was most definitely an entertaining film with some truly classic music.
A remarkable, energizing documentary, and a fond, fitting tribute to one of the greatest pop legends of our time. It's never sappy or heavy-handed, or even gives an inkling of the events in weeks to follow, but it's no less of a very real experience.
The Princess and the Frog (2009)
It Takes A Princess....
Every Disney "revolution" starts with a princess.
"Snow White" began the Disney animated film series. "Sleeping Beauty" brought the series to the 70mm format. "Little Mermaid" revitalized the modern day format as things were growing stagnant past Disney's death, and "Beauty and the Beast" and "Aladdin" perfected the "animated Broadway" style of the films.
For five years now, we've done without traditional 2D animation. Disney went CG to try to self-compete with Pixar, which in an honest opinion, Disney should have left things to the masters, and just remained true to their own gifts. "The Princess and the Frog" returns Disney back to its former self.
The film isn't a direct retelling of "The Frog Prince". It just takes the theme and runs with it, opting to tell its own interpretation. Set in 1920's New Orleans, this is a genuine and grand celebration of a beautiful, mysterious and magical city set in its prime before politics and natural disasters hurt its image and people. This is a reminder of how wonderful the city has been, and what still remains. The color, the architecture, and especially the music, ring true.
Tiana is a "working girl" (waitress) long before she ever becomes a princess. She has a dream, and nothing is going to get in her way of achieving her goals. Her childhood friend is spoiled and boy-crazy, but is a genuine nice surprise by proving that she's not a total superficial and shallow character, and actually has a heart. Of course there are distinctions and acknowledgements in class (it IS the 1920's, after all), but they are merely presented as being what was without being focused on, and in a story like this, it shouldn't be. This isn't a political piece. It's a fairy tale.
Tiana herself is charming, funny, independent, and of course, has a wonderful singing voice. And when the mysterious "shadow man" sets his voodoo in action for all of the main characters, the "adventure" aspect begins.
Of course, Prince Naveen and Tiana, while being two completely different people, find ways to work with each other, accompanied by a jazz-playing alligator (which this character reminded me more of Walt's era and style than most have of late), and a Cajun firefly who actually had some depth and soul to him, not merely being the annoying comedic sidekick.
And of course, being a Disney film, there are big musical numbers. With "Tarzan" in 1999, they took a break from the standard musical format, and bring it back here with lavish spectacle not unlike "The Lion King", "Aladdin", or "Beauty and the Beast".
The film works on a lot of levels, the biggest being a genuine "return to form", when Disney released critically acclaimed film after film in the 1990's. Disney seemed to have genuine intent to return to the "glory days", and in that respect, I think they have succeeded (in no small part due to Pixar's John Lasseter taking over Disney's animation - thank you, John).
But it also hearkens back to Walt's fun time with the bright colors and characters, and the scary moments and yes, even the sad, "real" moments.
One of the main characters dies, and it's handled in a serious, but touching manner*
I've read some comments on review sites that the first "black princess" is downplayed by having her be a different form for a large part of the film. If you know anything about Disney films, this is not a new concept. Films like "The Little Mermaid", "Mulan", and "The Emperor's New Groove" all had their protagonists change into something else until they could look deeper inside themselves and figure themselves out. Tiana, while a good character, isn't "perfect", and misses some important aspects of being a full person. And it's in this time of being out of her element that she figures out what it is, as does Naveen.
Of course, being a fairy tale, one should expect the "Happily Ever After" ending. And it's a fun, uplifting ride, and going into something like this, I think people want that.
"The Princess and the Frog" is a long-overdue return from Disney, and something that they shouldn't deviate from again (i.e. - forsaking traditional, hand-drawn 2D animation). The characters are lively and fun with good development and depth, the music is accurate for the setting, it has a real, thought-out story, and the visuals are colorful, detailed and spectacular. The best way to describe seeing the film is like revisiting a friend that you haven't seen around in a long time.
The film is worth the wait, and definitely a highlight in a sea of bland "family" films. I think in some ways, this is also a fairy tale for Disney studios itself, as they seem to have taken a look inside as well, and were reminded by what makes them special and unique.
Walks A Fine Line Between Nostalgia and Digital Nonsense.
I've come to realize that after two viewings, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull does not make me angry inside as the Star Wars prequels did, and is by far better than anything that was released during the dismal Summer 2007 season.
That's not to say that it's a perfect film. There's still enough in the movie to retain the love for the character of Indiana Jones, and there's still a handful of classic action moments fitting for the series, but this one has a feeling of being sterile, less gritty than the other installments, and it's these brief, but all too frequent moments that keep the film from being what it could have been.
The CG is the real culprit of the film, and the film could have used about 4-5 minutes of various cuts from the film.
Little things, such as an unexplainable adoration of digital prairie dogs giving multiple "reaction shots" that did NOTHING to advance or add to the plot, delving into Lucas' realm of trademark unnecessary "cutesy" moments that his later films have fallen victim to. Same for his need to have a 1950's drag race at the beginning of film because he has a love affair with old cars a la "American Graffiti". These moments don't last long, but succeed in jarring one out of the movie to wonder why said effect or plot element was there at all.
There are also some moments during stunts that push the limits of even Indiana Jones fantasy, largely attributed to the poor CG work done in the film, making some effects and backgrounds look like a Playstation game. It's frustrating to realize that Lucasfilm was the originator of the brilliant special effects movement in modern film, and now, the majority of their recent works look woefully and unmistakably outdated. As with the Star Wars prequels, the overused CG wonderment gives an "out of place" feeling that doesn't mesh as well with the previous installments.
In contrast, the classic stunts and special effects, fit well into the Indiana Jones universe, and seemed more appropriate. This film should have stuck to classic special effects and props, and any technical flaw would have been more acceptable, being more appropriate and "realistic" for this type of genre "period" serial-style film. No matter how fantastical the plot and action of an Indiana Jones film got, there is still some grounding of reality to it. This CG doesn't feel "real".
The hardest part of the film was Harrison Ford's intro and opening conversation as he just seemed out of character. This wasn't due to the fact that he was an older man in this installment, but he didn't seem like himself, ranging from the tone and sound of his voice, his posture, mannerisms, even facially, there was something just very "off".
Then without warning, something in Ford's performance suddenly "clicked", reverting the Indiana Jones character back into his full, unmistakable persona. It's not the age or the actor that was the problem, there was just a perceived lack of uncertainty of who the character used to be, and was not a strong start to the film.
There were also a handful of story elements and plot devices that were introduced and referenced, then unexplainably dropped and never mentioned again. It was like all these new and potential ideas had come to mind, and they simply remained unrealized ideas. For example, the main villain hints at having a supernatural ability at the beginning of the film that is never explored, explained, or mentioned in the film again.
All this said, there were quite a handful of moments that were unmistakably Indiana Jones. Harrison Ford still has it, and while it took a few minutes to fall into place (which should have been fixed with a reshoot), the character of Indiana Jones is back like he never missed a day, which made for a lot of fun moments, though some unreturning characters were sorely missed. John Williams' music is also excellent, bringing back several classic themes from the previous films, but I honestly don't remember the new musical themes introduced into this film. There are also a few references to previous adventures which brings on a fond smile.
Without divulging (incredibly obvious) spoiler elements, the film walks a fine line in maintaining its classic feel and being too modern. If they plan to do a new film, they had better start shooting RIGHT NOW. However, the idea of the franchise's suggested idea of a future protagonist delves into "bad idea" territory, with potential to derail the series, and minimize the central character. If so, the Indy hat needs to be hung up for the film series, and continue in video games and novels from this point. Nostalgia for Indy is what keeps the viewer, and it has a clean ending for the fabled archaeologist. If not Indy, let it be.
Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is an alright movie that suffers from occasional uneven acting, unresolved numerous plot points, an ending that makes no attempt to surprise the viewer, and bad CG backgrounds and effects. Lucas should just stick to video games, and Spielberg should have made some edits, as the present film could have been so much better if they had just simply taken the time to just clean up a few rough or unnecessary areas.
Crystal Skull is a respectable "swan song" for the franchise, but the potential future that the film hints it wants to take the series should be left alone. There's still enough good in the film, and seeing Indy again is like revisiting an old friend who hasn't worn out his welcome. But the series should consider stopping now while it can, because Crystal Skull managed to get away with itself without damaging the series, and that should be good enough of a note to end on.
Are You Being Served? (1977)
Like The Show, Yet Not Enough In Other Ways.
I have to admit that I am a little surprised by the reviews and rating for this movie. I actually found it quite funny at times, but I grew up with the show. I think what ultimately pulls this film past an average outing is the facts that some of the one-liners genuinely are funny, and my own personal affinity of the characters.
That's not to say that there aren't a few issues with the film. While the cast doesn't have to be regulated to the store to be funny (Grace and Favour proved that years later), they didn't have to transport the same jokes. There were at least 2-3 scenarios taken directly from the more popular episodes. On one hand, it's not the most original, however funny it was the first time, on the other hand, one has to take into account that some people may have never seen the show, and this movie is their first exposure to it (And shame on you, if so).
The biggest problem is that the plot relies too heavily on the likability of the characters, and the one-liners they shoot out. There are several inconsistencies, the ending is startlingly abrupt (yet ends on the same note as any of the episodes on the show), and plot-wise, they don't do that much. The Grace Brothers staff never gets out to explore their surroundings to add to some new situations and jokes. Again, the innuendos are funny, but the middle of the film drags in terms of things actually happening.
I don't think this film is worthy of its current "3" rating it has. It has it's moments, and the main cast shines in their personalities and silly hi-jinks (the supporting actors don't give the main cast much to work with, however). I think the biggest problem is that it's set up like an extended version of the show, minus the laugh track. You can see the television show format in it, and I think that ultimately hurts the pacing.
Perhaps this would be better for fans-only of the show, or people who haven't seen the show at all. It's not one of the best "episodes" of the series, but it's better than it's been given credit for, outside of some obvious flaws.
The King of Kong (2007)
A Fairly Accurate Look At Gaming Sub Culture.
After having worked with video games in a professional capacity for several years, the people shown in the film were pretty accurate representations of the various levels of gaming personality: The contenders, the arrogant zealots, the wannabes, and the know it alls who claim to be the undisputed masters of things gaming.
The film was funny in a sad, yet sympathetic way. Steve Weibe is this "average" guy who gets his 15 minutes of fame, only to have it continually disputed by a mullet-haired Billy Mitchell (who bore more than a passing resemblance to Superman's General Zod), who seemed to not defend his titles out of fair competition, but out of insecurity that he might not be known as "the best".
The main prize of the whole competition seemed to be not the point of having the highest score in Donkey Kong, but it was more a battle of Steve's point to be credited for a score which he kept earning time and time again, versus Billy's fragile ego. Steve video tapes his high score, Billy contends that it's not credible unless played live. Steve goes to play live in a public place, Billy sneaks out this "top secret" hi-score tape, where the editing and quality are questionable. And yet, that's somehow okay by the judges board.
The Twin Galaxies organization also seems very much like a "Boy's Club" looking out for their "bro", and are willing to subvert their own set guidelines to keep their buddy's prestigious spot within the organization.
As a gamer, it was very frustrating to watch Steve get his title taken away time and time again, due to frequently changing "technicalities" insisted on by Billy Mitchell, especially when Steve proved it repeatedly, and Billy never bothered to show up to any of these competitions at all (save for one where he skulked in the background like a 12-year old comic book villain), much less even play a game during the run of the whole film. The only game he had at all was just running his mouth, and I'm surprised he didn't start twirling his mustache like Snidely Whiplash.
Even if it was the editing that could have put Mitchell more in a negative light, all the editing in the world couldn't remove his preening, skulking, and making arrogant and ridiculous comments throughout the film. He seemed so incredulous that he would be incapable of losing anything he attempted, but it was obvious that he wasn't willing to risk the chance of even the slightest chance of losing. It was very clear that the guy was willing to do whatever it took to not only protect his high score, but his ego and status within his circle of hangers on.
Without divulging anything regarding the ending. my theater clapped at the end of the film due so several surprises that take place in the last 20 minutes or so. In a sense, this is the "Rocky" of video game films (complete with "Eye of the Tiger" playing in the background at one point). As a video gamer, I've seen the world portrayed in the film, and there really are Steve Weibes and Billy Mitchells out there, along with the rest of the supporting cast. And for a documentary, it's a lot funnier than what one would expect, though in unexpected ways.
For those who enjoy video games, or even the excitement of seeing an unusual competition, it's a worthwhile film, and definitely recommended if you can find it in theaters.
When Summer Blockbusters Go Really REALLY Wrong.
When the announcement came for a new Transformers movie for Summer, I was pretty excited. I wasn't a major Transformers fan, but I had fond memories of the cartoon and toys. However, I hated the re-designed Transformers, thinking that these new designs were an overly busy cross between Lego's Bionicle toys and expressionist modern art sculptures. I also heard the script was poor, so I decided to skip this one.
However, I started hearing movie reviews about what an amazing film this was. "The greatest film of all time!" people proclaimed. So I came to terms with and accepted that these weren't the robots I grew up with, this was a "new" version, and I'd at least find interest in robots transforming into cars and beating each other up. I'd even go see this even though I don't like Michael Bay films.
How was it? Transformers is a disgustingly bloated and self-indulgent piece of crap. I understand that I'll get rated down for my review, but I'm prepared to accept that. Sadly, my theater must not have gotten the euphoria inducing gas that apparently other theaters got, causing me to gush over this film like other people.
Even the 1986 Transformers film wasn't perfect. It was basically one fight scene after another, and was a means to replace the old toys for a new line, but the action was good, showed the consequences of war, and featured the death of a beloved character. It kept true to the mythos, even though it was different. This movie makes reference to so many other films that it feels like a mishmash of 30 films you've seen before.
Bumblebee sends up an "Autobat Symbol" to summon the other Autobots like Batman. There's a scene in an underground bunker which felt totally pulled from Terminator 3 (and a few scenes later, uses the exact drumbeat from the "Terminator Theme"). The fight scenes with their out of focus cameras and "shaky cam" style seems like they are trying to treat the battles as if they were "Saving Private Ryan" caliber. When Bumblebee gets captured during a scene, the music swells up so mournfully and overdramatically, that it makes the tragedies found in "Schindler's List" seem modest.
The biggest problem in character design lies in the fact that they all really do look alike. The worst offender was the Decepticon Frenzy, which looked like a 3D rendered pencil scribble, and acted like the Zuni Fetish Doll from "Trilogy of Terror". During the final battle, I was having problems telling who was who, and when the robots collided, it was hard to see where one began and the other ended. The car forms were presented as blatant product showcases, ripped straight from a commercial. Then again, there was so much product placement in the film. eBay must have made a fortune.
The slow set-up to the action or even any real glimpses of the title characters felt like "The Hulk". I pay for a movie about transforming robots, that's what I want to see.
Why would they keep a deadly robot under Hoover Dam, a major water source and tourist attraction? Why would they bring this "All-Spark" out of the desert and into a heavily-populated city where property damage and civilian casualties could run their full course. The dialogue was painful, sounded like it was written for teenagers, by teenagers in a really bad fanfic like what they thought people would say. What really irked me is how the Autobots couldn't seem to kill a Decepticon, but a lone soldier skidding on his back could dispatch one with a single shot. Why were the Autobots even there if the humans could do it better? How is it that they can save Bumblebee, but they can't repair Jazz? What was the difference? The government/military/robot/anyone dialogue was totally unrealistic, with officials willing to "bet their ridiculously high government paychecks" on hunches. Every line smacked on bad puns, clichés, or just sounded stupid. There was an extended conversation about masturbation between Sam and his parents that felt really awkward and extended far too long.
The personalities were also way underdeveloped. Transformers has over two decades of history that wasn't touched upon. The Starscream and Megatron rivalry, where Starscream tried to usurp Megatron for leadership was not mentioned or covered at all. Jazz was cool and fun-loving with a sense of style, while in the film he sounds like a ghetto thug. His first line is profanity, and I felt insulted. Not because of the language, but the fact that this was apparently the best the writers could do. Decepticons were introduced and blown away within minutes. The Autobots weren't much better. Did the people who wrote the story know anything about the subject material besides the fact that robots changed to vehicles? And then Optimus Prime. Obviously, Bay's madness knew better than to totally ruin this character, as he was the only robot who looked even remotely familiar to any previous version. And the personality was fairly accurate... up to the backyard scene, where Prime's personality suddenly shifts, breaks character, and he becomes a clumsy comedian. The next scene, he shifts back into a "leader" personality.
The saving grace outside of Prime was Sam Witwicky (played by Shia LaBeouf), who brought a credible "gee whiz" performance to the film, and yet I felt sorry for him using such ham-fisted dialogue.
Summer 2007 has been really mediocre for "blockbuster" films, as we're apparently supposed to lower our standards, "sit back, not think and enjoy" with these types of films, but how is one supposed to do that with with film devoid of heart, personality or no focus on the main characters? As a stand-alone film, this is a really bad movie. As a Transformers-licensed film, it's a God awful embarrassment. I'm avoiding the sequels unless they drastically overhaul the franchise and get a script not limited to high-school level online fanfic.
A Funny Adaption Of A Funny Show.
Having a movie based off a television show is nothing new. Taking a television show and putting it up on the big screen in an almost unaltered format, that's a little more unique, but somehow it works for this cult classic.
I grew up watching MST3K, as it inspired most of my humor and love of cheesy movies. The show takes the whole premise of Mike, Tom Servo and Crow and puts them up on the big screen to simply do their thing. They aren't given a contrived plot, an epic story, or even an origin... they just make fun of a film. The actual audience actually pays to watch an older sci-fi movie that is heckled by an on screen audience. It's ludicrous and brilliant all at once.
The chosen film "This Island Earth", isn't a bad film. It's dated, and some of the concepts are silly by today's standards, but not really a clunker of a film like "Manos: The Hands of Fate", "Mitchell", or "Overdrawn at the Memory Bank". But Mike and the bots riff away as they always did before, adding some classic lines, and pausing every few minutes in an attempt to escape the Satellite of Love, or annoy Dr. Forrester.
The budget for the movie is a little better, but not by much. But expecting elaborate sets from a show like this is like expecting gas prices to drop anytime soon. And for the fanbase, it's what one would expect from the characters. Putting them in a contrived situation for a movie plot's sake might have had the guys riffing their own film somewhere down the line. The strength of the film remains in the show's writing and biting sarcasm of anything happening on screen.
The downsides of the film are the fact that the cut down the overall run time of "This Island Earth" as they would in the show, which didn't make sense as movies in the theater don't have commercial breaks (well, not yet, anyway). And I would have enjoyed seeing a short before the actual film, as those were some of the best gems of the entire series.
The film didn't have a huge release, and finding a copy of the out of print DVD is a hard task in itself, but the movie caters to the fans, and in that respect does not disappoint. Anyone else may or may not get it, but the endless barrage of one-liners still remain funny.
Spider-Man 3 (2007)
A Good Movie, But Slight Fraying Is Showing Around The Webbing.
Spider-Man is a childhood hero of mine. I've enjoyed the comics over the years, and the second Spider-Man film is one of the greatest comic book to film movies ever made. From that standpoint, I review this as a fan, but as a film enthusiast as well.
I was very excited about seeing the black costume and Venom, my personal favorite moments from the comics. Spider-Man 3 was enjoyable entertainment, and broke the "curse" of "Part 3" destroying a good comic movie series (Batman, Superman, X-Men). But this didn't overthrow Spider-Man 2 as the best. It could have, but some liberties taken with the film ultimately cost it.
The story arcs for villains Sandman, Harry Osborn (I loathe the name "New Goblin") and Venom were VERY accurate to their comic counterparts. If some of it seemed a little coincidental or contrived, in honesty, that's how the stories progressed over the years, especially for Harry and Venom. They took a few liberties with Sandman, but the saving grace is that they keep to the trend of not making the "bad guys" one-dimensional villains.
This film dealt with a LOT of plot threads. Venom should have been saved for a fourth film, as once he is "created", he becomes underused, which is a shame for a major villain in the Spider-Man mythos. Truthfully, the film could have worked with or without Venom, who felt like an afterthought or "fan service". However, with 18,000 story lines running rampant in the movie, they somehow manage to keep it all together and pull it through to the end, while tying up the entire plot. That feat alone is impressive, so kudos to the Raimi's writing talents.
Still, it seemed that the only character that went anywhere by the end and actually moved forward was Harry Osborn. Peter and Mary Jane just didn't seem to end up anywhere new or different by the film's end, leaving them somewhat ambiguous. The same goes for Gwen Stacy. Another iconic character in the comics, but her status remains unknown.
J.K. Simmons' role as J. Jonah Jameson and Bruce Campbell in his "Where's Waldo: Spider-Man Movie Edition" appearances in the film are once again comedy gold.
The real problem of the film lies in the black costume. The comic's concept holds true in the movies, but the added aspect the story gives it also introduces elements in the film that I thought was the worst moment of not only this film, but out of all three films as a whole.
Peter's need to comb over his hair "emo" style whenever he suited up in the black costume: The "emo" thing as a whole is irksome, but the movie makes it clear this is some conscious and deliberate decision on Peter's part. It's irritating that they would do this, however indirect the reference may have been. And all I could see was "Emo Spider-Man". Leave the fad sub-cultures out of films, please. Not just this film, but any film. It's silly to allow a comb over show that this is "angry" Peter, like the audience couldn't figure it out.
The second aspect of the film again related to the black costume. The costume isn't supposed to magnify emotions of the wearer. And when they gave that description in the dialogue, another comic-based film popped into my mind. And sure enough, Peter becomes a disco dancing, crotch thrusting show-off that that seemed to be a direct reference to Jim Carrey's "The Mask". If Peter has suddenly cried out "Smokin'", I wouldn't have been surprised. In fact, I was just waiting for him to say it and get it over with. The scene certainly went on long enough, and outwore its welcome. This is the first and only moment of all three films that made me shake my head with disbelief and disappointment.
The final contention point was like the second film, Spider-Man remained unmasked at any given opportunity. I'm sure this was due to making sure Tobey Maguire got some "face" time, but Spider-Man (until recently) had a secret identity. It felt like he'd whip the mask off for no necessary reason at any given time. One starts to question why he even used a mask at all after a while.
Another criticism is the "New Goblin". I never liked the original Green Goblin costume as it was far too "Power Rangers" for its own good, and the biggest deviant of all the character's looks. New Goblin gives Harry an "Extreme Snowboarder with an anger management problem" look that honestly, he could have called himself anything, and the audience would have never made the "Goblin" connection.
Despite some issues, Spider-Man 3 was a very good film. Not a great film, but it was a good closure to the unresolved plot threads of the first two films. And overall, the characters and their motivations remained intact. As a trilogy, the films hold up very well. Thankfully, the story didn't veer off in some alternate direction that seemed inconsistent with the first two films and left one scratching their head in confusion.
That said, as much of a Spider-Man enthusiast as I am, I hope they don't push any farther with the series (though I'm sure they will). There are a lot of stories and villains they can cover, so the lack of source material is in no danger of being used up, but for the first time, I began to see the rough edges start to wear around the series. After the mess made with "X-Men 3" (putting a real chink in the armor of that series), it's best to bow out now, and keep the dignity intact of this series. As I said, the movie held up, but it became apparent that it's not going to always be so lucky in the future.
Lost in Translation (2003)
A Remarkable Film That Says A Lot.
I enjoy Bill Murray's acting. Loved him in Ghostbusters, and thought his turn in Groundhog Day was a real growth of his acting skills. I never got around to seeing "Lost in Translation" until recently, and after viewing it, I shouldn't have missed it the first time around.
Not everyone is going to get this film. Starring Bill Murray, one might expect it to be a comedy or for him to pull some of his wacky, sarcastic hi-jinks. In the film, he's portrayed as bitter, weary and just very alone. It's not that his character (Bob) comes off as a jerk, it's more that his life has become mundane and uninspiring, and he's simply going through a routine with his marriage, his career, his life... knowing exactly what to expect. This is one of the deepest and most low-key performance yet from Murray.
The same applies to the younger Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), a wife who is also basically alone, even though her husband is more or less around, much like herself and her role in the marriage. Despite the age differences, Bob and Charlotte strike up a friendship, and give each other a chance to sample some living.
It's not exactly a romantic film. There's an unspoken feeling of love or attraction, but it focuses more on the friendship aspect. The connection of having someone around who actually "gets" the other, or at least makes an attempt to listen past previously deaf words. The film focuses a lot on the isolation and loneliness of the two characters at different stages in their lives, but each character seems to want more out of their daily routines, and can't seem to find it anywhere else than with each other. You feel for the two characters trying to maintain their roles versus trying to make themselves aware of their own lives again.
Outside of the story, the movie has great cinematography and dialogue, both realistic and humorous. It's not a depressing twist on the "mid-life crisis" fable. It just makes one think, especially for those who have felt like they've been in a rut themselves. It reminds that wanting to change a routine either takes a lot of work, or to simply try something different. And for those who need a tight sense of "conclusion" at the end of a film, it's not going to be found here.
*SPOILER* There are a lot of things that could be interpreted from the ending, but my own thoughts tell me the end is perhaps the most realistic scenario, albeit each having been changed for the better from the experience. *END SPOILER*
I read a few of the negative reviews on here, and I don't understand how this film could be viewed as a waste of time. Maybe the story was too slow paced, or Bill Murray wasn't zany enough for them. Or it's possible that I found this film at a point in my life where I wanted to hear what it had to say, but this film is well worth the attention and awards it received, and in many respects, I can't even properly describe why this film stood out as much as it did. To watch it is to better understand.
Clever and Inventive.
I was just introduced to "The Cube", a low budget sci-fi film that had so much more to say than the standard sci-fi films that are put out recently. It's actually a relief to find a story with something to say other than total reliance on pretty CG eye candy.
"The Cube" tells the story of a group of what essentially are prisoners trapped in an hi-tech deathtrap for no apparent reason, by no explainable jailer. And in that same explanation, the purpose behind the cube becomes apparent: It does serve a purpose, whether it is merely to entertain the psychopathic whims of a person/corporation with too much time and money or their hands, or an experiment designed to foster the breakdown of basic decency in humankind, and bring out the worst in people. Despite all the numerous and gruesome traps in each smaller cube, they prove to be the least of the threats within.
The story can be taken with a lot of meanings. Some literal, some double, and some are never explained at all. Some story aspects, like the Cube itself, just ARE. And instead of feeling like the story was underdeveloped, or shortchanged by the need of more explanation, you're left with a sense of curiosity as to what really happened to bring all of these characters and factors together. Just when the viewer thinks it understands something, the story, like the cube itself, changes and becomes deeper.
All in all, "The Cube" was a fascinating film. I understand that it's followed by two sequels, and I'll be approaching them wondering if they'll add on or take away from the simplistic intrigue of this movie. But as a stand alone film, "The Cube" will definitely have you talking. And thinking.
And it's good to see a film like that again.
Snakes on a Plane (2006)
Snakes On A Plane Is Exactly What It Is.
If you're a film or internet geek, you have already ridden the hype wave for this film for over a year now. At the San Diego Comic Con, the giant snake-mouth display and Sam Jackson's presence built this film to a fever pitch. Sure, there were great films like "Superman" and "Pirates", but "Snakes on a Plane"? It was so cheesy, so off the wall, so "it's so bad it's good", you couldn't help but love it.
The plot's minimal. The first 15-20 minutes in just exposition to get to the big show. I could have cared less about the mob guys, or the initial set up (I applaud the overly cheery intro music and the simple text logo appearing on the screen). It was like going up that first hill on a roller-coaster. You're so ready for that drop that you start laughing and getting fidgety for the action.
Sam Jackson first bursts into the scene, the crowd went nuts. The plane takes off, the same. The big "snake" moment, it was like Christmas morning. And it never really stopped.
It's cheese at its finest. It doesn't play itself up to be anything more. It's so unabashedly giddy in the catchphrases, clichés, gore, and everything else, that the audience spend the whole time laughing (and screaming - there are a few great jump moments), and waiting to see what absoludicrous situation would arise. It provided the adrenaline feeling that the original "Speed" once did, but with less wooden acting.
And then Sam Jackson's infamous, fan-created line beginning with: "That's enough...." That was enough for the audience. The screaming, and quoting along with the line was pretty much unlike anything I've seen in a fan-given film before.
It's the new "Rocky Horror Picture Show". I was almost surprised NOT to see people in costumes and throwing rubber snakes into the crowd. But I think it would eventually happen. This film knows exactly what it is, and makes no claim otherwise.
If there's anything truly negative about this film, is that it will likely unleash a series of unoriginal and genuinely horrible (read: not funny) wannabe clones from other film studios trying to cash in this film's success. Honesty, I don't think you can. This film is a rarity in what it built up with the hype and fanbase. On the plus side, perhaps studios will start listening more to what the audiences want to make it a more satisfying and fun movie (this in itself comes with its own downside if they listen to the wrong demographic), but again, "Snakes" is just one of those things that happens and you get lucky with.
For a maddeningly fun, no-brainer film, "SoaP" delivers by the crateload of snakes. Sam Jackson was a brilliant choice: The ultimate cinematic bad-ass in the most hopeless and over-the-top situation. I recommend it for a fun popcorn flick, and it's best seen while the hype is fresh and the theater crowds are huge.
Along the way, I kept thinking this film would make for a great survival-horror video game....
I've never seen Breakin' 2 until last night.
Sure, I've been one of the masses that adds the sub-title to every potential sequel in the making, but I never actually sat down and watched it until they had a midnight screening of it last night.
I'm now one of the converted.
Before I go into this, I've never seen Breakin' 1, but I don't think this really matters, nor did I get lost in a plot of complex twists and turns. When a movie starts in a city-wide dance party that even city officials get into, you know this is going to be no ordinary movie.
The plot's non-important. After leaving the theater, I realized there are easily a dozen clichéd plot lines, from saving a community center, upper-class girl hanging out with street kids, the disapproving father, the evil land developer, the endearing precocious children, the dramatic plot turn that requires the gang to visit the hospital, rival gangs.... it's all here. The Book of Clichés is referenced to the fullest.
But I really don't care.
The dancing 20+ years later is still incredibly impressive, the music is catchy, and the attitude of the film is so optimistically cheery, that it makes it all somehow work. People in the theater were clapping, laughing, cheering, moving to the music, and the audience enthusiasm made it that much more fun. Throw an Ice-T cameo into the mix, and it's the finest grade retro-cheese you can get. I don't think it's possible to watch this movie, and not be in a good mood by the time it's over.
And without a doubt, Turbo's "rotating room" dance scene is as good and as memorable as it gets.
Not everyone's going to get the chance to see it on the big-screen like I had the chance to last night. But it's worth a watch with a group of friends. It's not going to change the face of American cinema, it's always going to be rooted within '80's pop-culture, and it's deliriously campy.
But there's that little part of me that was just endeared by the silliness. And I watch it again for precisely that reason.
Recommended for any fan of the '80's or for those who appreciate old-school dance moves.
AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004)
This Could Have Been So Much More.
I have always been a fan of the "Alien" movies. Even the weaker installments, I've found some traces of good in them. And admittedly, I found some parts in here that I liked....
But you can already sense the "but" I'm about to interject, can't you?
There were some gaping issues with this film, starting with the characters: You knew almost nothing about them, and what's worse, cared even less. Take "Aliens" for example. Every Space Marine, no matter how early in the film they died, you knew something about them. You knew about their motivations or relationships with the others, or even how they handled crisis situations. With the introduction of the "best of the best" hand-picked "Jurassic Park"-esquire team of scientists, you don't even get that luxury, even with the drawn-out meeting and trip to the dig site. A few nice "Bishop" references, but that's about all the viewer gets for things to come in the series. There was one female character who talks about "always being prepared" as she brings her gun along, but with that hint of foreshadowing, you think she'd play a pivotal role in the film. Think again.
And then the frustration with actual meeting of the Aliens. What did they do to the incubation period? I've seen bags of Jiffy Pop that don't complete as fast as the chestbursters in this film. What was an hours/day long process in the previous films was instigated and completed even before the researchers had time to leave the first room. After the long character set-up that established absolutely nothing, I can understand wanting to get the plot rolling, but you can't cheat the established "rules" of the characters to get there. But Anderson did anyway.
I had issues with the Predators, save for one hardier survivor. So much for the "great warriors" that they've always been known as. The fight scenes (which should have been the whole meat of this film), were reduced to little more than spastic jump cuts that obscured the majority of the action.
People have been waiting YEARS to see this, from all the video game and comic book stories, and it's reduced to a PG-13 slugfest that doesn't show the intensity and no-holds barred attitude that should have been there. Both "Alien" and "Predator" are R-rated franchises. They should have stayed that way for a reason. The main heroine was certainly no Ripley, which makes one wonder how she was able to survive through the continued challenges in the film. And lets not forget another "Jurassic Park" fight moment between the survivors and the Alien Queen. Anderson must love the JP films, because so many references were lifted from the first film.
It's not that I hated this movie, it's just that after waiting for so many years, it wasn't what it should have been. They cheated established character rules. They gave characters you couldn't care less about. It took too long to get to the title grudge match, and even when it did, poor editing destroyed any intensity it could have had. And the "surprise ending" is what should have been done a few minutes before the ending, so that there would have been more to play with in the film. I wanted to see THAT as the ending conflict. Not a Jurassic Park tribute with the Alien Queen. They had so much to work with, and they didn't.
The only positive aspect of the film were a few "Bishop" references, and a few cool moves during some of the conflicts.
I wanted more. I got a little. Hopefully they'll do it better next time, or release a "Director's Cut" on DVD to actually make the fights worthwhile.
Club Dread (2004)
Funny Moments, But Not Sure What This Is Trying To Be.
I like the Broken Lizard crew. The comedy troop itself is made up of funny, likable guys. "Super Troopers" had some classic moments, but when this film ended, I walked away feeling mixed, not sure if I had just seen a comedy film with horror elements, or a horror film with comedy elements.
I think critics are analyzing this film a little too deeply. One of the biggest negatives seem to be based towards the acting. In seeing these guys in action before, the ridiculous accents and voices are more than likely done for intended overemphasis. It's intentionally bad in a lot of ways, as most horror film actors are never going to win awards for their slasher film performances. So I got the joke with that. It's a teen sex comedy. It's a slasher film. But again, it's hard to take a film when you're laughing one minute, and squirming in revulsion the next over a brutal killing. Something needed to be toned down or ramped up. Which was the greater necessity is hard to say.
Bill Paxton made for an amusing parody of a Jimmy Buffet-esque character (which they deliberately patterned after), and some of the one liners and situations were comical, my favorite being the "Pac-Man" island game with the booze-filled "power pills" and bikini-clad "ghosts". The biggest killer in this film was one moment from Kevin Heffernan's character. When he uttered the line "The fun is DONE", I kind of made a sound resembling a laugh after a few seconds, but it was more of a "I can't believe they said something that is that much of a weak groaner" kind. Interesting change of pace for Heffernan, though, playing the hero instead of his surly, radio dispatcher Farva personality. At least he has some comedic range.
Again, I like these guys. They're funny as a team. I just think a few rewrites could have only boosted this film, and go in a better direction for what kind of film they want to make. Serious kills and goofy humor made for an overall awkward experience.
Could have been stronger, but there's always hope for next time.
Treasure Planet (2002)
A Lot Of The Heart Is Overlooked In This One.
It's an interesting mix: Take Robert Louis Stevenson's tale set in the golden age of pirates, but transplant it into a science fiction retro-future. A lot of the attention seems to be focused on the sci-fi elements, and the utter revisionist concept taken from the classic novel. But this has always been a tale about the characters of Jim and Silver. The setting could be anywhere.
I remember the book and the original Disney live-action film. This is a pretty accurate re-telling, along with some subtle (and some not so) references to the tale for the parts they changed the most. Being done from the same director who put together "Beauty and the Beast" and "Aladdin", I noticed the same styles and attitudes presented in this one, with focus on a lot of humorous and genuine emotional moments. This is a tale about finding the greatest treasure ever to be discovered, but ultimately, the film is a tale of Silver and Jim finding redemption in themselves through each other.
This is another one of Disney's "Sci-fi" series, (alongside "Lilo & Stitch" and "Atlantis"). Being the biggest mix of 2D and 3D animation ever done for a Disney film, it was handled quite well, and not distractingly so. There were some scenes that it was obvious that nothing but CG was used, and that made for some visually off-setting moments. Perhaps this was the testing ground to see if they were ready to make the move from 2D to 3D films (though I wished they hadn't closed down the traditional animation studios - the movie-going crowd will be losing classic animation soon, whether they know it or not).
But Silver is an interesting character. Visually, he's very charismatic, with a personality that leaves one to wonder whether they should cheer or boo the scoundrel. Watching Jim's growth from a sullen, angst-ridden teen to a confidant young man is a nice character progression as well. The music is good, the artwork is vibrant and wonderful, and it's a well done film.
It's too bad this film didn't do better in the box office. It's a much-stronger film than it was given credit for, and it now stands as one of the last three 2D animated films to be released by Disney. For those who question how they breathed in space,: If you can buy a ship that can sail through space and the concept of artificial gravity. Is is too hard to grasp the concept of an artificial atmosphere as well? It's all about imagination, and this is going to be one of the last of its kind. At least from Disney Studios, anyway.
Peter Pan (2003)
Beyond Any Expectation I Could Have Had.
When I went to finally see "Peter Pan", I expected it to be "cute", and nothing more. Perhaps the music in the trailer set the mood for me, or it didn't show off the lush vastness of what the film has to offer. However, I was curious in seeing it, and so with a friend, I sat down to watch.
I don't know how I managed to go this long before giving it a chance.
Forget the trailers or any associations to the Disney classic. This is by NO means like Disney's film. There is a short build up of the children in their boring, ordinary world (which is fine, has its funny moments and doesn't drag down the pace at all), and immediately, the children (and the viewer) are whisked off to Neverland.
At this point, the film becomes magic.
One can see why Peter Pan refuses to leave Neverland. It's a world filled with pirates and mermaids and Indians and adventure and danger and everything else that excites the mind's eye and imagination of a child. This film is absolutely gorgeous in its visuals. It's like watching a two hour painting.
This is a darker telling of "Peter Pan", with a little more of a danger element added from the Disney film (I compare this as this is what most people likely know), but it has a very playful sense of humor with several tongue in cheek comments made throughout. It never delves into "potty humor", and its wit is quite clever. Finally, a "children's film" that doesn't patronize the viewer.
Actually, I hesitate to call it a "children's film". It's more of a "child at heart" film. It's hard to pinpoint what makes it so enjoyably fun: The acting quality (another example of proving that child actors can act when the correct children are chosen), a score that complimented the moods and the actions on-screen, Smee's performance (I loved the breaking the fourth wall antics to make a commentary on the action).... It all blended so well to make a fantastic movie.
My only real criticisms are the criticisms that the film itself has received. There has been debate registered on how the "romantic" overtones of this film are a little too powerful. To that, I can only say that it is not as bad as it is made out to be. Both the characters of Peter and Wendy are attracted to each other, but it never goes any further or deeper than most of the "first love" feelings of awkwardness and curiosity. They are pre-teens in this tale, and it's nothing that is shocking, offensive, or anything to be overly concerned about.
"Peter Pan" is a beautiful film. A film that has been overlooked for the most part, which is a shame, because this is really an amazing experience. This is one to wait for when it hits DVD, but the movie-going public will be denying themself the full experience if they miss these visuals and story in the theater.
Truly a remarkable and engaging film.
Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
The Moment Fans Have Been Waiting For Really Makes The Fans Wait.
This is the ultimate geek-fest movie: Two '80's horror icons finally going glove to machete with each other. And the the most part, the results are satisfying, but it takes 2/3 of the film to get there.
This is one of those movies that literally make you go "yadda yadda, plot plot, blah, blah, who cares, let's see the main event!" The acting's awful in this. I wasn't expecting great acting, but other than some screaming or freaked-out faces, no one seemed too into what they were saying when the blood wasn't flying. I didn't really like any of the kids. I didn't care which ones lived or died. As far as plot goes, they were expendable. And what was up with the Jason Mewes clone? I saw that, and shook my head and wished that they could have come up with something a little more clever than ripping off a Kevin Smith character. Even the kid's back up stories were bland. They helped tie in some things, but it was a long ride in getting there.
The Freddy/Jason idea, however, was interesting. A nice little backstory intro for each with plenty of references to each series, and while not exactly subtle, the two get together quickly in the film, and gradually, the bodies start to pile up.
But with a name like this, you want more than a slugfest that comes so late in the movie. Watching two unkillable monsters go at it is strangely satisfying in a macabre sort of way.
Not a bad film. It gives the fans what they want, but I hope that the eventual sequel will sequel will hopefully give the two terror titans more screen and fighting time, a better story for the human characters, or even some actors that can act just a LITTLE bit so that I might actually want to cheer on the human elements of the story. As it stood, I just wanted Freddy and Jason to get rid of all of them, not entirely to get them to finally battle, but to spare me from the bad acting that was portrayed on screen. Let's see how they manage to outdo this one in the sequel. More horror icons added to the mix, perhaps?
Fun for popcorn outings with friends.
Big Fish (2003)
A Love Story Of Multiple Depths.
I have always been a fan of Tim Burton's films. From "Batman" to "Nightmare Before Christmas" to "Edward Scissorhands" to "Sleepy Hollow", his films have been some of the most whimsical and stylish I've seen created. And "Big Fish" retains those elements. But this film has so much more of a "grown up" feel to it, yet it retains those child-like moments of wonder Burton is known for.
At it's heart, "Big Fish" is a love story. It's the story of a man trying to reconcile with and get to know his father. But it's also a story of a man's single love and devotion to his wife. But it's also a love of life. A love of stories. And the belief that nothing is impossible to attain if it's really wanted strongly enough.
Edward Bloom (played by Ewan McGregor and Albert Finney - both excellent) tells the tale of his life's story, a tale that walks the fine line between truth and fiction. Every obstacle and challenge is met with McGregor's grin and the belief that any obstacle can be overcome, often with humorous or surprising results. This is a very light-hearted film, taking even its most serious moments with a grain of charm, sentiment or playfulness. It gets emotional, but never delves into sap. And you can't help but cheer for this likable character who ends up touching so many lives. The world he grew up in may or may not be real, but the devotion and love for his wife and son are truth.
While different in overall tone from his other films, Burton still adds his own trademark touches. Cast usuals like Danny Devito and Helena Bonham Carter add to the diverse cast in this film, and Danny Elfman provides another excellent score. The acting from all the cast members were really well-done, whether they were cameos, or full roles. Burton has always chosen an eclectic cast for his films, and this film is no different. Everyone, even at the most basic level, shines.
There are so many words to describe this film: Funny, touching, eccentric, uplifting, sad, artistic, inspiring.... but this is the type of film that can be walked away from with a sense of satisfaction. Burton attempted something very different for him, and yet managed to retain all of the elements that make his films so appealing. I think this film will force critics to view his films in a new light, as he has once again proven to be a more than capable director. It's a remarkable work of art, utterly charming, and very highly recommended.
One of the best pictures of 2003.
Peter Jackson has done it. He has created an all-encompassing epic saga of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books, and after coming away from the final chapter, how does this rate not only as a film on its own, but as a part of the whole?
I've never seen a series like this. A trilogy of movies created with such love and care and utter perfection of craft that you can't help but walk away and wonder how did Peter Jackson make this possible? I have always loved the original "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" series for their epic storytelling, and just for just fitting in as a great moment in cinema. This should be, will be, remembered with as much revered fondness for generations to come. They do not make films like these anymore.
As a stand alone film, it picks up immediately where "Two Towers" ends, so brush up before seeing it. I've read the books, and the anticipation of seeing some of the more profound moments in this film made me kind of view it with a rushed sense of perspective. I wanted to make sure everything in this film was done "right". And when it happened, it was. I will need to see this again to enjoy everything on a more casual level.
The cast comes through once more. The musical score retains its beauty, elegance and power. The special effects, notably Gollum again, are nothing less than breathtaking, and simply move the story along. The battles are monumentally huge and exciting. There are some liberties taken with the story, especially during the end with the homecoming, and yet, everything that needed to be covered regarding the main characters was handled. After the greatest moment of the series resolves itself, the story provided a breather. And gives a good-bye to friends seen on screen for the last three years. It was truly a bittersweet feeling in realizing that there will be no "Rings" movie in 2004. I will miss this talented group of actors.
As with the first two, the film is very long, but goes by without you ever truly realizing it. This film is so much more than a simple "fantasy" epic. It's a story about strength of character, friendship, loyalty and love. And while every member of the Fellowship has their part to play, I finally understood why some critics have said this series is a story about Sam. It's his unwavering resolve that led the quest to its victory. Sean Astin is a true credit for adding the inspirational heart to this epic. As as far as the ending goes, they ended it the way that it had to be ended. Jackson ended this film the way it should have been.
I will miss looking forward to a new "Rings" movie, but these movies provide hope that high-quality films can still be made without special effects taking over a story, bathroom humor, or a "Top 40" soundtrack. George Lucas could learn a lot from these films about how not to alienate the fanbase.
Each film has earned a "10" from me for the last two years, which for me to give is a rarity. This one, however, is as equally deserving as its two predecessors. The Academy had better not look over this film for "Best Picture" of 2003. To do so would be greatly disrespectful of the craft and care that anyone involved with these films put into them.
Love Actually (2003)
Well Done, Actually.
To to a brief summary, this has been one of the more uplifting, witty and "feel good" films that I've seen this year, if not the most. A combination of solid writing and an incredible cast makes this worth the watch for those who are not completely cynical on the concept of love.
The overall plot follows the life of several couples or wannabe couples, and an aging rock star who could care less about "Christmas spirit" or a quality record. It's all about making a quick buck and a quicker comeback. That particular subplot is hilarious due to "Billy Mack's" blatant and unrestrained candor that his newest "hit single" is utter garbage.
The other plots each have their own charming moments, though my personal favorites had to do with Hugh Grant's, Liam Neeson's, and Colin Firth's subplots. In my opinion, those were the more charming and fun of the stories. But each story each had their own little moments, never really focusing too heavily on anything negative, and everything (generally with the exception of one or two) came to their own little happy ending. This was carefully designed as a "feel good" movie, and it does its job very well. And fortunately, the movie never drags or lingers in pacing, making the overall experience a satisfying one. And very, very funny.
The acting is remarkable. It's amazing that this film would be able to have an ensemble cast of this size and caliber, and be able to utilize them as properly as they were. The writing is clever and witty, with realistic sounding dialogue, and a nice "bookcase" feeling for the beginning and end. The subplot of Colin Frissell is by far the most far-fetched and unrealistic of the stories, but it's genuinely funny because it is so unbelievable. The soundtrack is light and pop music filled, and even helps the story along at points, instead of blaring for you to buy the soundtrack for a "5 minute career Top 40" artist.
As mentioned earlier, this film is designed purely to cheer the audience up, and to cheer on the concept that love can happen for anyone in some form. It plays heavily on the "happy" factor without delving into sickly-sweet sap that you just can't take. All this, and an eccentric cameo by Rowan Atkinson.
It's nice to see a film like this that relies more on well-written humor and solid acting than what a lot of films have been missing lately. I really couldn't get enough of this film, and I look forward to its eventual DVD release.
Recommended if you just want to spend 2 1/2 hours having a movie cheer you up.
The Haunted Mansion (2003)
A Better Film Than The Trailers Portrayed.
But it's not a life-changing film. But you wouldn't expect it to be. After all, the entire premise of this film is based on a theme park ride. So in that respect, it does its job.
I have to admit that I had been looking forward to this film, as the Disney theme park ride is my first and most favorite attraction to visit every time I go. But this film had also gotten a lukewarm reception from early critics, and I think mostly because of the inclusion of Eddie Murphy. Gone is the hard-edged, sharp-witted Murphy of yesteryear. His greatest film roles in the last couple of years have been in animated films like "Shrek" and "Mulan. And while his performance wasn't one of the best, it wasn't enough to diminish the fun I had found in this movie.
The highest praise I can give this film is in the mansion itself. It is a gorgeous work of art, and fans of the ride will see more than a few references to the ride throughout. Most of it is subtle, but some things are instantly recognizable, like the portrait gallery. Everything has a beautiful, stylish look once the mansion is entered, and doesn't end until the Evers family leaves. I can not praise enough how beautiful and ornate the house looked.
The film itself keeps true to the idea of the ride: light-hearted and playful with a dash of creepiness thrown about to make you wonder what sight you'll see next. And while meant mostly as "fun", there are a few ghosts and zombies that do add some higher-level frights. But if you've seen something like "Ghostbusters", it doesn't get any scarier than that. It's kid-friendly, but doesn't patronize fans of the ride if you get the idea behind it.
What surprised me the most was that the story was actually very competent. A tale of lovers not meant to be that actually touched upon (but never directly said, making it either focus on the fact that it was all about love, or just incredibly politically correct) the dangers of interracial love during that time in history, and how it was frowned upon by society. I'm very surprised that Disney would touch upon a theme like that, especially in a film like this, but it was handled very well, and it became of core of the plot. Even more thankfully, the plot resolved itself in a believable manner. I can't really see a sequel for this one, the way things ended.
The music score was of note as well. I realized how much I would have missed "Grim Grinning Ghosts" had they not included it in this film, but it made for the majority of the score, and except for one light moment was very somber, foreboding, and for a film like this, it suited it very well. It would have been sorely missed without.
As for the "not so goods": You knew this was coming... Eddie Murphy. With the plot of the film, it was understandable why he was there, but with a film like this, I thought he'd be able to have more fun with this role. A lot of his jokes just fell flat on the ground and stayed there, and there were times in this film that his emotional range needed to extend farther than it did. There were times that his character needed to be sad or angry, and I wasn't getting that from him. It felt at times that everyone else was acting, and Eddie Murphy had just suddenly stumbled into the "Haunted Mansion" and was just hanging around on set. Not all of it was his fault, though. Some of the dialouge was just flat, and with a few revisions could have sounded a little less cliche. Dina Spybey as Emma could have used some help, too. She seemed a little too hyperactive for some of the moments in the film. Nathaniel Parker and Terrance Stamp, however, did fine jobs, and added to the house.
I liked this film but some acting and dialouge issues brought this film down a few notches. It's not as good as "Pirates of the Caribbean", but it is definitely a better film than the previews portrayed. Take it for what it is: A film based off a theme park ride that is meant to be light and fun.
Now, bring on "Fastpass: The Movie", and "The Monorail: One Train and its Rail".
One Of My Most Enduring Favorites.
I felt it fitting to review this on its 10th year anniversary, especially around Halloween. This film has remained one of my all-time favorite films, with its characters, music, and story. It's a whimsical tale that retains its charm with every viewing.
The tale is a simple one: Jack Skellington, the king of Halloween, tires of his title, and wants something more in his life. Something new to inspire him. After an all-night walk through the woods, he stumbles upon a forest clearing with oddly shaped doors in the trees. Upon opening the Christmas door, Jack is whisked away to a new world. And there, the magic begins.
Actually, the magic begins within the first few seconds of the film's opening, but it is Jack's discovery of the unknown that makes the film have a fun (if macabre) feel, as the well-intentioned skeleton makes a mess of something he works so hard to offer as a gift.
Visually, this film is unlike anything seen in a long time, and certainly not in the last 10 years. The character design of Jack is still one of my personal favorites (elegant and graceful), and the other characters all have their own personality, even if regulated to a background scene. There's only one real "bad guy" in this film (Oogie Boogie), and even his method of being menacing is simply being a master showman with a penchant for odds and gambling. Stop-motion is an almost all but lost art form, especially in this modern age of CG special effects, and when you really watch how much effort was put into making this film, you can't help but appreciate it all the more.
Musically, this is one of Danny Elfman's finest. Spooky and somber, but light and at times invokes a sweetness to its nature, including the long but silent romantic intentions between Jack and Sally. The music invokes a fun feeling to the film, and the lyrics are clever and playful.
The story is very simple, but it was also inspired by one of Burton's short stories, which explains its basic premise. The story was stretched out to make a feature length film, but any minor quibbles are easy to look over as the film is just such a wonder to watch and listen to.
Overall, this has always been one of my favorite animated films, and I've been so glad that Disney has been starting to give it the attention it deserves, instead of still regulating it to the popular, but obscure cult following that a film like "TRON" has.
A beautifully stylish film that fails to diminish no matter how many times it's viewed.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
How NOT To Redo A Classic Horror Film.
Before I say anything else, the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre scared the living daylights out of me, and I was in my early/mid 20's when I first saw it. The original film was relentless, with this whole feel of trying to push you over the top psychologically while just simply freaking you out. I think that's why when the heroine finally escapes the house after being in there all night, the results were so jarring. The original movie never lets up for a second once the terror began.
This film? I wanted the lights to let up so I could leave.
I don't know what the deal is with all of these remakes these days. Perhaps Hollywood is just secretly begging for new ideas, and revamping past successes until they figure something new out.
This film tries to be like the original, and tell this tale as if this is the "real deal" of the story. Once they blew the first kill, the one that had actually shocked me from the original due to its instant and unexpected brutality, I knew this wasn't going to be the same.
This version lacked all of the grittiness of the original, and came off as more of a "big-budget" movie. The kids all fell to the typical horror-film stereotypes: You do drugs or make out, you're dead. I could tell in the first five minutes of the film which was going to be the survivor. The kids were stupid and fell for the most obvious of situations. Why is it no one ever listens to the guy who says "I think we should leave right now."
They tried to give Leatherface a backstory? Leatherface was EVIL. That's all you really needed to know about him, and I was annoyed that this film contrived situations where you're supposed to feel some shred of empathy for him. The guy was nuts and hacked people up with power tools. I'm not going to invite him over to my place for dinner.
Speaking of which, where was the dinner scene? I had felt so uncomfortable during the original, not because it was gruesome, but because you had to sit and watch the heroine get pushed to the brink of insanity over what she was seeing. A classic, vital scene to that movie that showed how messed up the "Leatherface family" truly was, and it's not here. Same as the creepy, deranged hitchhiker.
And shame on you, new film, for that contrived and stereotyped big-budget ending. Just HAD to go back for that last-minute rescue, didn't you? Had to deliver that one final typical amount "big budget" justice? If you've seen at least one horror film cliche, you're going to get to revisit several of them here (amusing Harry Knowles "cameo" by the way).
Maybe I just expected too much. I wanted more than gore. I wanted my skin to utterly crawl. It's like waiting in line for a rollercoaster only to find out that you've been standing in line for a carousel.
Stick to the original if you want to be scared. Go see this one if you want a mindless popcorn film. But you'll have seen the majority of this movie in countless other slasher films. And that's what this classic horror film has been reduced to: A slasher film without at least the self-parodying personality of a Freddy or Jason movie.
Lilo & Stitch (2002)
An Entertaining Combo Of Humor and Emotion.
When I saw the print ads for "Lilo & Stitch", the concept seemed amusing. When I saw the parody trailers, my interest was definitely piqued. Seeing the actual movie, it has become one of my favorite Disney films from the last few years.
Above all else, the animation and lush backgrounds are stunning. This truly is a beautiful film, with its rounded art style and realistic emotional gestures and nuances of the characters. Among the most impressive of the lot is Stitch himself. Even in the background, he was always doing something worth noting. His transition from being a mischievous, trouble-making creature, to a lost and alone orphan, to a loving and caring pet. Stitch was a character full of personality. He was a riot when he was bad (great gags throughout), and disarmingly touching when good. Stitch is a great character design. Probably one of the best Disney Studios has done recently.
The other characters were filled with clever one-liners, a full range of facial expressions, and a respectable amount of depth. The film managed to balance between being hilariously funny and pulling on the heart-strings as Disney films are known to do. Nothing seemed really heavy handed or forced in the emotion department, and the character voices really kept the film going and gave the other characters personality.
As for the music, it relied on three sources: Alan Silvestri's score, the Hawaiian music and of course, Elvis. The Elvis elements that were worked in made Stitch an even funnier character, and didn't take over the film as the only musical element. The other musical elements provided traditional Hawaiian flair and again, a score that helped set the mood of the film (MINOR SPOILER: the best example of this is when Stitch enters the woods to be found by his family).
"Lilo & Stitch" is a very funny and sweet film, filled with slapstick elements like an old Warner Bros. cartoon and a little bit of sci-fi action at the beginning and towards the end of the film. I don't think it's as violent as some reviewers have made it out to be, but it is a very different Disney film with no princes, singing mermaids or enchanted objects.
But sometimes, different is good. Hopefully, this will take "Best Animated Picture" for 2002. The artwork alone should place it into the winner's circle.