Archive for January, 2011

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Alice in Wonderland

January 28, 2011

Alice in Wonderland

 

Tim Burton is one of my favorite directors, but I held on on seeing this film simply because I heard it wasn’t all that great and deviated from the traditional Alice in Wonderland story like you see in the Disney cartoon version.  However, I knew I would eventually see it simply because it is a Tim Burton film and because it has Johnny Depp in it, and while it is a fairly different film than I was expecting, I enjoyed it a lot, and visually Burton does a good job of making it entertaining.

The story is that of Alice, all grown up, 19.  She is a girl who is very imaginative and lives often in her own little world in her head.  This tends to get her into troubles from time to time and puts her in many an awkward situation.  Her life drastically shifts when her father passes away and she is basically being set up to marry into a nice family that would be a step above her current standing.  She, however, doesn’t like that idea all that well, and is confused what to do.  That is when she happens to see the White Rabbit.  She leaves the man who has proposed to her waiting without an answer and follows the rabbit and falls down into the rabbit hole.  Upon landing she finds herself in Wonderland where the Red Queen is oppressing the people, and the White Queen is a pacifist and doesn’t do anything about it.  Alice is told that she is the chosen one who will defeat the Jabberwocky and the Red Queen.  She meets up with the normal cast of characters who are confused why she is handling everything so oddly since she’s been there before.  The story itself is the retelling of Wonderland, it is the second time and isn’t supposed to match up with the original story but it supposed to keep the original characters in it.  I enjoy a good retelling of a fantasy story (see the SyFy channel original mini-series Alice and Tin Man), and while I would have liked to have seen the actual story of Alice in Wonderland retold, I won’t complain about this version, which is interesting in its own right.

This film has a fairly typical Burton cast.  Johnny Depp takes on the role of the Mad Hatter and is entertaining in it.  He bugs me at a few points in time but that is primarily due to the absurdity of the role as compared to Depp’s actual performance.  Helena Bonham Carter takes on the Red Queen and is primarily CGI as she has been distorted to have a disproportionate head to her body.  She fits well into the role as she generally has a creepy vibe around her, see Harry Potter.  Alan Rickman does the voice for the Blue Caterpillar and it fits really well, when he speaks slowly his voice has a nice monotone drag to it and works well for a caterpillar that is completely baked.  And Stephen Fry does the voice of the Cheshire Cat and the cat in many ways steals the show in terms of the CGI acting and Fry does a good job voicing it.  Finally I would be remiss not to mention the wonderful voice work that Matt Lucas does for Tweedledee and Tweedledum, I don’t know that there would be a better person to voice them.  He perfectly does the voice for them that feels like there is something missing.  Anne Hathaway and Crispin Glover round out the cast.  Finally, there is Alice, Tim Burton and the casting crew did a very good job finding an unknown actress, Mia Wasikowska, to play her.  Mia plays the stubborn innocent version of Alice that Burton has created extremely well and is wonderfully lost and oblivious to what is going on around her.  She does a good job with the self discovery that her character has as well in this film.

Visually this is a Burton film to a tee, but not the darker side that we’ve seen recently with Sweeney Todd, Corpse Bride, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but this film has the lighter coloring of a film like Edward Scissorhands.  It does take some darker twists and turns, but much of the film is based around the absurdity of the other characters and the visuals are often kept much lighter.  The amount of CGI and the quality of the CGI work is impressive as well.  The scoring works well with the film, but it isn’t extremely memorable.

Overall this will be a film that some like and some don’t like because it isn’t a true retelling of Alice in Wonderland.  I personally felt that it was well put together and well made, and entertaining, which is the most important thing anyways.  When you watch it, you just have to temper your expectations that it is going to be exactly like the Disney cartoon version or exactly like the book.

Entertainment Grade: B

Critical Grade: B-

Overall Grade: B-

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Kick Ass

January 19, 2011

Kick Ass

 

What happens when a geeky kid decides that he wants to become a superhero and wants to do something more with his life and be noticed?  Not all that much good.  This film is very well crafted and creates great characters, and while parts of it end up being quite predictable towards the end, it is put together well enough that you don’t notice that.

As my opening sentence says, the story is that of a nerdy kid who decides that he is going to become a superhero.  He has no formal training and he has no idea what he is doing, but that is his goal, and when he puts on the costume, he becomes something more than the geeky kid who girls don’t notice that he is.  His forays into the seedy underbelly of his town don’t go all that well, he gets beaten up and battered on several occasions, things really don’t start going his way until Hit-Girl, another superhero shows up with Big Daddy.  They end up saving Kick Ass’s ass, for lack of a better way of putting it.  The story then switches focus as you get a bigger picture as to what is going on the city, and why Hit-Girl and Big Daddy are doing what they are doing.  Kick Ass takes a step back from his superhero life when a girl that he likes starts taking notice of him (granted she thinks he’s gay, but that is a minor detail for him).  Things are going well until Red Mist reaches out to him.  Red Mist and Kick Ass run into some troubles and they go to Big Daddy and Hit-Girl for help.  But things aren’t quite as they seem and Kick Ass has to become a real hero.

The acting in this film is very good.  Nicholas Cage, known mainly for his terrible work, does a very good job in this film as Big Daddy.  His generally slightly creepy and off vibe that he gives off, or the generally slightly off vibe might be a better way of putting it, works really well for this character.  Chloe Moretz plays Hit-Girl, and for a child actress she does a great job.  Her innocence on screen combined with the profuse amount of language that spews from her mouth works as a comedic element and she does a great job being someone who has had no childhood or life.  Christopher Mintz-Plasse (of Superbad fame), plays Red Mist, this role has some of the whiny nasily pansy characteristics that you expect from him in his roles, but it takes a slightly darker turn than the most lovable character from Superbad who most guys wish that they were to some extent.  Aaron Johnson plays Kick-Ass and like Moretz, he doesn’t have a ton of previous experience (some but nothing as major as this role), but he does a very good job.  He is sufficiently awkward and hopeful in his character, and his character makes the viewer want to be a better person.  Mark Strong, from Sherlock Holmes, plays another villain and does a good job of it again.  The rest of the supporting cast is solid, even though for some reason, Clark Duke, Hot Tub Time Machine, rubs me slightly the wrong way in most of his films.

Visually this film works well, it isn’t shot in the dark and gritty style that we see the Batman films shot in, but it has realism to how it is shot that you don’t always get in superhero films.  The costuming also needs to be mentioned, which is rare, but they do a good job with the superhero costumes and making them something that is unique and that sticks out from the realistic surroundings of the characters.  The script is impressive as well.  It blends comic book excitement with real emotions.  John Romita Jr and Mark Millar did a great job on the source material, and Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn did a great job adapting it for the screen.  And Vaughn needs to be applauded for his work directing this film and getting good performances from his cast.

This is a film that I highly recommend.  It won’t win any awards, but it is very strong in terms of every area and has a very good story to it that has more depth than many of the wishy washy superhero films and better character development than most as well.  It won’t sit quite right with people who expect some normal fun superhero film, but it is part of a new breed of hero films that are changing how superheros are to be looked at, and in many ways this trend of change is happening in comic books as well.

Entertainment Grade: A-

Critical Grade: B+

Overall Grade: A-

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The Expendables

January 19, 2011

The Expendables

 

This film is all about the action, it has a plot that barely holds together and acting that is suspect at basically all points, but The Expendables has some value simply as an over the top action film.  And when you have an all-star action hero cast like you do in this film, it has to be expected that it is going to be at least somewhat entertaining.  Where else could you find a film with Mickey Rourke, Jason Statham, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Jet Li in it?

The story, like I’ve said, is a bit lacking.  Not all that much more than most action films, but it is a bit lacking.  It really starts with Sylvester Stallone, head of the Expendables, meeting up with Church (Willis) to find out about a new job of his crew (Li, Statham, Couture and Crews).  The job seems simple enough, but when Barney (Stallone) and Christmas (Statham) scout out the island and the leader that they are supposed to assassinate, they find out that everything isn’t quite as it looks, and that the leader, David Zayas, is more of a puppet than an actual leader being controlled by what Barney suspects is a CIA agent gone rogue, Eric Roberts, and his sidekick, Steve Austin.  Barney and Christmas decide that the job isn’t worth taking, but Barney has developed a crush on the General’s daughter, Giselle Itie.  So he decides to go back there by himself, but after he and Yin Yang (Li) are almost taken out by one of their old co-workers, Dolph Lundgren, the rest of the crew joins them as they go out to complete the mission and rescue the girl.

With the list of names that I’ve mentioned so far, it should be clear that there isn’t all that much acting involved and primarily blowing things up.  All the actors don’t need much of a mention for their acting skills other than that their acting is entertaining in these action roles and often entertaining because it is so poor.  When Mickey Rourke (a solid actor), Bruce Willis, and Charisma Carpenter are the best that a film has to offer, and all three are in smaller side roles, you know the film isn’t going to have great acting.

Visually, it is as one would expect for an action film of this sort.  An explosion here, and explosion there, Jet Li showing off some high flying moves, Terry Crews blowing people away with a shotgun, Randy Couture and Steve Austin showing off wrestling moves, and not all that much more that makes this a critically good film.  Much like the acting, it is just good and bad enough that you don’t notice it either way.  Plus, the amount of action going on the screen at most points in time keeps you from being able to focus on any cinematic quality that it might have had.

Stallone made the film that he wanted to make, and I think he made it fairly well, this film would have been better accepted in the 70’s or 80’s when Stallone was in his prime and action films like this film were more common and good plots in action films (and horror films for that matter) were less common.  But it can still be a very enjoyable film now, there is some over the top gore, and there is a plethora of violence, but it all comes together is a mish-mashed package that has a lot of fun and explosive energy to it.

Entertainment Grade: B-

Critical Grade: D

Overall Grade: C

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The Green Hornet

January 18, 2011

The Green Hornet

 

This film is a superhero film unlike any other.  The superhero isn’t all that much of a hero and the whole plan of becoming a superhero is a plan to be a bad guy.  This film is humorously self aware and deserves recognition for blending the comedic aspects of the film while maintaining an absurd and over the top action vibe going with it.

The story is that of Britt Reid, who, like Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne, has grown up with some luxury, and like Bruce Wayne has had at least a parent die while he was a young kid.  It was a natural death and that isn’t what sets him off, when his father dies twenty years later, that doesn’t set him off, again it looks like a natural death.  There isn’t really anything that sets him off, other then that he hates his father and decides to do some petty vandalism.  While he, and his new friend Kato (who worked on his father’s cars) are cutting the head off of his fathers statue, Britt sees a couple getting mugged and decides to defend them.  Things go extremely poorly, but then Kato steps in and takes everyone out with ease.  Britt decides that they are going to become superheros (or just heros), but they aren’t going to make the classic mistake of being the good guys and then the bad guys can just start threatening innocent people to control them, instead, they are going to pose as bad guys and take down the bad guys.  This works fairly well until Britt’s ego gets in the way, and he and Kato split up.  When the big crime boss contacts the Green Hornet, to take out Britt Reid, Kato is forced with a decision and together they end up taking out the biggest crime boss in LA and a corrupt DA.

The acting in this film works surprisingly well.  Seth Rogen, who seems like a very odd fit for an action superhero sort of film, does a good job as he is a bit of an idiot, and Britt Reid is written as a bit of an idiot.  Jay Chou does a good job as Kato, he doesn’t have great range in his emotion, but the fight scenes are entertaining, and that is enough for this film.  Cameron Diaz, and actress who I really don’t like, is fine in her role.  Christopher Waltz, as the main villain is quite good and plays a needy ego-manic extremely well.  The cast comes together nicely, but none of the performances as all that special, they are simply good enough to make this film.

Michel Gondry, director of Be Kind Rewind and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, does a good job with this film, and you can see the similarities, I feel, between Be Kind Rewind.  The visual effects are fairly solid, but nothing spectacular, which works with Gondry’s style of filming that you really see in Be Kind Rewind, and there are some very absurd scenes as well.  It also channels a bit of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World in that it is aware that it is a comic book/superhero sort of film and Reid has a line that directly references that about being a good guy posing as a bad guy.

This film is worth checking out if you like the slightly less serious sort of action superhero sort of film.  It won’t blow you away with any part of it, but each part is just solid enough to put out a very entertaining movie, and while I’m not a big fan of Seth Rogen (some of his comedies are just too predictable), in this film, he does justice to the Green Hornet.

Entertainment Value: B

Critical Value: C

Overall Value: B-

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Harry Potter and the Dealthy Hallows Part 1

January 3, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

This is one of the rare occasions where I think the film actually did a better job than the book.  Now, the book obviously has two parts and the second part of the book is extremely good (minus the epilog which should have never been written Rowling), but the pacing of the first part of the book tends to be slow and tedious with more detail written into it than needed and it just slows down the book as a whole.  The film maintains much of that detail, but they can show it instead of having to put it down in words, and that speeds up the pacing to a respectable speed.

The story comes together as well as we approach Harry’s 17th birthday at which time the magical protection on his Aunt and Uncles house will be up.  So the Order plans out a way to move Harry to a safe location.  Things don’t go as planned as death eaters attack the party the minute they leave.  Harry and most of the wizards helping him are able to make it back safely, but Mad-Eye Moody gets taken out.  Harry is safe for a while until the death eaters figure out a way to get into the safe house and Harry, Ron, and Hermione are forced to flee and Harry decides that they need to start taking out the horcruxes that Voldemort has created in order to kill him.  Things don’t go as planned and there is a falling out with Ron leaving.  During this time Voldemort tries to take out Harry again, and they find out about the Deathly Hallows, three items used to control death and figure out that Voldemort wants to get an unbeatable wand.  Things don’t go all that well and Harry gets captured, but he is able to escape.

The acting performances are quite solid in this film.  It was a shame that Snape wasn’t in the film more because Alan Rickman is a very good actor and a very good Snape.  Helena Bonham Carter reprises her role as LeStrange and does a good job in that role.  When it comes to the main characters, I think that Daniel Radcliffe is probably the weak acting link out of the three.  Rupert Grint has showed notable improvement as Ron and Emma Watson has a good acting career ahead of her as long as she can shake the type casting from such a well known role. Bill Nighy is in only a very little of this film, but is a quite overbearing and sniveling politician and plays it quite well.

This film is likely visually ahead of any of the other films, but also visually simpler in many ways.  There are no grand Hogwarts scenes that require some magnificent test to be done or any Quidditch to be shown.  The story is in many ways darker, and slower moving.  There are still plenty of chances to show off impressive broom flying and flying motorcycles, but overall it is much better than previous films because it doesn’t ask for as much to be shown.  It will be interesting to see the final film because of how epically large the final fight scene is going to end up being.  David Yates does a better job with this Harry Potter film than his previous two, which were two of the better ones anyways.

For a fan of Harry Potter this film is a must see even if you’ve just read the books, you can jump in at this point of the movies and be just fine if not better off than those who have just watched the film.  If you haven’t seen any of them before,  you could jump in here if you wanted, but going through and watching all the films (or better yet reading all the books) is the better way to go.  But this is technically the best Harry Potter film and leaves you wanting the second half to come out now and to not have to wait for it.

Critical Grade: B-

Entertainment Grade: B+

Overall Grade: B