Friday, May 31, 2013

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) Review:

By 1954, Disney already had a name for itself with producing quality entertainment. So it shouldn't shock many (now) that Walt Disney decided to take on this project and adapt Jules Verne's story to the big screen. But here's the game changer, the cast has big name actors, the special effects are fantastic, the props are spectacular and the screenplay was well revised.

The main characters
The story takes place in the late 1800's where a Professor Aronnax (Paul Lukas) and his assistant Conseil (Peter Lorre) are put their knowledge and well being to the test when they are given the opportunity of a life time. Recently, there have been sightings of a "sea monster" attacking vessels out on the open sea. The offer, is to sail with the US navy to track down the monster and destroy it. At first the professor and his assistant were curious, but soon audiences will watch them grow and understand that the answers they were hoping for, were not even close to what they thought they could be.

Aboard this ship is Ned Land (Kirk Douglas), a master harpooner who seems to have an attitude with authority but in the most lighthearted and high-spirited way. But another character that is one of the most intriguing and hard to figure out characters is Captain Nemo, brilliantly played by James Mason. The way Mason portrays his character makes it so hard to read. Mason acts with a controlled yet ferocious hatred, but it never seems like that. In fact, he may seem a little mad (crazy), but he will always use a sophisticated vocabulary.

An underwater scene
Also, for 1954 the special effects and props were so convincing. Wait until you see that giant squid! Absolutely phenomenal! And because the film is in wide screen, it looks even better. The sets either on the ships, in the water beside the choral reefs or on an island looks great. The music provided by Paul L. Smith was much welcomed too. Since Smith has worked with Disney before on various other projects like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), his score emits all the right feelings for each scene.

The reason why I titled this as the classic among classic adventure tales because that's what it is. This is the purest of the pure in what this genre is. Setting out on a journey with no idea of what the end result may be is exactly what an adventure is. I mean, what else could you ask for? Sailing out to sea to find a monster sounds exciting and scary at the same time, plus you have cannons, island natives, underwater treasure and so on. There's just so many things to explore!

Because of the top-notch acting, amazing set pieces, adventurous music and spectacular special effects, this is by far Disney's most famous live-action piece from the 1950s.

Points Earned --> 10:10

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Tron: The Next Day (2011) Review:

It's interesting how a short film can either excite viewers for an upcoming piece or draw interests into what might happen in the future or both. This is exactly what this short film does. The title of this 11-minute video speaks for itself. The setting takes place directly after Tron: Legacy (2010), literally the day after. This leads to some very interesting ideas for the upcoming plot of the next Tron sequel.

Sam Flynn supporting the movement
The story is narrated by an unknown figure called Zachattack who's been the head of a movement since Kevin Flynn's disappearance in 1989 (from what was explained from Tron: Legacy (2010)) called "Flynn Lives". And as this character continues to talk, the audience gets to see a couple interesting things. First, this narration will go through a series of time line dates that explains how the movement was born and how it effected people in and outside the ENCOM corporation.

Roy "Ram" Kleinberg (from Tron (1982))
This brings me to next interesting part - interviews. As the time line continues, there will be several interviews with characters like Alan Bradley, Roy "Ram" Kleinberg (who was in the Tron (1982)) and various civilians. But this is most intriguing and ironic part because the story shows us that know one else knows, not even employees of ENCOM know where Kevin Flynn is. The fact is, only we (the audience) and Sam Flynn know what became of Kevin Flynn. Doesn't it feel weird to know the answer yet you can't tell anyone in real life?

This is some deep stuff we are getting into here. It even gives us some clues to who might be in the next sequel and who is going to play a major part. I also enjoyed the music provided by composers Daft Punk, Musikvergnuegen & Walter Werzowa. All contributed to an effective score mashup. I won't give it a full score because it is not a feature film and it is only giving the audience clues. Let's hope things are kept in continuity for the upcoming sequel because it looks like it's going to get interesting.

This tiny window into what happens the day after Tron: Legacy (2010) is thought provoking and exciting. It looks like things could be big for the next Tron movie.

Points Earned --> 8:10

Tropic Thunder (2008) Review:

Ben Stiller isn't clueless when it comes to comedy. Stiller is a veteran in this genre and has the experience of directing going back to the late 1980's. So it is no surprise to me that this Platoon (1988) parody of sorts works out really well. The comedy is strong, the actors have an impressive script and the action is definitely there. Out of that, I found only a couple things I didn't like particularly but it shouldn't be that much of a problem to others.

Ben Stiller as his other counterpart (in a bad movie)
It seems a little confusing but the plot really isn't all that hard to follow. A small group of actors best known for playing their own various roles come together in another movie taking place during the Vietnam War to show the power of human drama. But, they never get to that point - why? Because all of them can't seem to work together. Frustrated because the director's wasting his time, effort and money and, is being harassed by a rude business mogul, he decides to take his uncooperative actors into Vietnam itself and continue filming from there. Little do any of them realize that they are headed to an area filled with real gorilla fighters. That's where things get crazy.

So what kinds of characters do the actors play in this movie? Jack Black plays a drug-addicted actor who can get really delusional if he doesn't get what he wants. Ben Stiller plays a troubled actor who can't seem to get his feet in the right movies. Instead he ends up playing the Hollywood game of sequel after sequel after sequel or in just really bad movies. Last but certainly not least is Robert Downey Jr. who plays multiple roles in one shot. I consider this role (in real life) his most impressive because of how concentrated a person would have to be to perform like this. And it's not like the roles are close to each other either - he's playing Australian, who's playing an African American! That’s a controversial step in acting.

Robert Downey Jr. as his other counterpart
The action was nice too in this parody. It may not have been as frequent as the comedy but that's proportional since this is a comedy more than it is an action film. The script written by Etan Cohen and Justin Theroux did a great job. There are so many references to other films like Platoon (1988) and Forrest Gump (1994) that'll make people recollect with nostalgia. And because it is executed in the most hilarious manner, it will also generate a lot of laughs too. Not to mention that the 4th wall is broken a couple times too and Theodore Shapiro's score wasn't too shabby either.

However I did find some parts of the movie a little unrealistic. For example, how can someone survive multiple stabs to the back and shoulders but still be able to move them so easily? The human body can only take so much punishment before it hurts too much to even try to move. And although Jack Black did have some rather funny moments, his character made me more annoyed with him than liked him. He just came off as always in the way. Other than that this movie is a rock solid comedy.

Because Ben Stiller knows how to director a comedy, his direction on this movie propels it far higher than what people might think. Also see it for Robert Downey Jr.'s impressive acting performance.

Points Earned --> 9:10

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Heavy Metal (1981) Review:

If there's any kind of filmmaking that is at a tie with live-action, it is hand drawn animation. It's a skill that requires a lot of patience and pain staking precision while animating every frame of the picture. It is no easy task. I like to categorize it in the same area as stop motion animation because that requires the same if not more amount of time and effort. What interests me even more in this kind of filmmaking is when an animated movie obtains a rating higher than a G or PG. I mean, how often does a viewer get to see a cartoon bleed or run its mouth without a censor. The world isn't always gumdrops and smiles.

The villainous glowing orb........boring
So when I came across this movie, I was thrown back for that exact reason.  It was totally new to me. I never had a chance to experience such an opportunity. Because of that, I went into watching this movie with optimistic hopes. They weren't high but I didn't expect garbage either. Instead, I came out feeling frustrated and rather annoyed. By no means is this movie bad. The visuals (which I will get to), are fantastic but the plot is just so irrelevant.

The story is about a girl who is harassed by a deadly godlike green orb that tells her random stories. The stories range from how others have seen it and used it. But honestly, who cares? If I were that girl listening to this orb's stories, I would begin to get tired of it continuing on and on and on and on and on! Enough! Just tell me what you want or if you're going to kill me, get it over with! It's like having a serial killer jump into your house and hold you hostage just so he can blab about his life story. That's torture enough.

That's really it because I didn't care for any of the stories at all except for the last one because it actually dealt with what I thought was going to be the main character. The rest was a mishmash of random stories. I also found it sexist too. Every woman in this movie ends up sleeping with some guy they don't know, either because they were saved by them or because they were wood into it. For any person who watches this, please remember that most women are not like this.

The majority of this film focuses on women.....
Back to what I did think worked though was the animation. For 1981, the animation is crisp and highly detailed. I was honestly expecting a budget in the range of He-Man cartoon animation. But it was very good. Everything from the backgrounds to the characters themselves had great colors and shadings. The voice cast behind it was also fun to listen too as well. I even enjoyed Elmer Bernstein's score. It had some really beautiful tunes within some scenes. As for the rock music, I can understand because of the era it was made and how popular it was at the time. And in some scenes, the rock music does work which surprised me. Overall it is a piece more for the nostalgia of the time and nothing else.

The animation is great for its time and its score actually has some beautiful tunes, even when it contains rock music. But don't count on it for a decent story. There is no plot and it doesn't have a main protagonist to root for.

Points Earned --> 3:10

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Thing (1982) Review:

Before this adaptation of John Campbell Jr.'s novel, "Who Goes There?", came The Thing from Another World (1951). Many people liked it at the time for its effects and thought provoking story line. But, I'm not sure if anyone suspected someone could overpass it. John Carpenter, the director of famed slasher movie Halloween (1978), takes on this project and executes it without a hint of weakness anywhere. At least none that I could see which seemed like a real flaw.

Kurt Russell as R.J. MacReady
The story is about a group of scientists in Antarctica than happen to come across a perplexing and dangerous threat. The threat is a creature of unknown species that has the power to perfectly copy the DNA of any organism it comes in contact with. Because of this, it allows the creature to devour its prey very easily. Over time, this creates high tension amongst the men because no one knows who is really themselves. However, the one individual who does his best to keep his cool (pardon the pun) is R.J. MacReady played by veteran actor Kurt Russell.

It does not surprise me that Russell is in this film. Russell began working with John Carpenter back in the TV movie Elvis (1979), and they continued to make movies together since then through the 1980s. Along with Russell is Wilford Brimley (better known for having a mustache but shaved for this role), Richard Masur, Keith David and so on. Through the whole film, each actor gives their best performance in displaying the sheer terror in not knowing who is human and who isn't. But like most fans, Kurt Russell is the star of the movie and he puts in the best out of all performances because he's able to keep calm.

What IS that? @___@
Besides Kurt Russell, another notable part of this film is the overall set design and special effects. There are only a few places where a viewer can tell that it's not real but it won't matter because it will complete the whole picture. As for creature effects, Stan Winston is the main reason why everything worked so well. The gore is absolutely horrendous. It's not like tons of blood are being thrown everywhere but it's not pleasant either. The sounds are just plain icky and imagery is gross. Oddly enough, what impresses me even more, is that by the end of the film, the viewer still won't be able to give a good description of what this creature's original form truly looks like. It really just is, "the thing". There's no other way to explain it.

The final touch to this film that really strikes fear into most viewers is Ennio Morricone's haunting film score. The instruments that play a big part in each track are the harps, flute, violin and bass notes that repetitively beat in the background. If that kind of music were to be played on a dark night in an alley or dim lit subway, I would feel very uncomfortable. But the reason why it is so much more effective in this setting is because besides the base that is man made, where else can one run? Antarctica is no beach walk. That's the scary part. This movie isn't in it for the jumps and shouts - its goal is to make you feel terrified. A true horror piece.

John Carpenter's version of the 1951 film increases the gore, the terror, the musical dynamics and brings in a great cast to boot. Not for the queasy.

Points Earned --> 10:10

Hellraiser II: Hellbound (1988) Review:

Clive Barker's directional debut with his novel adapted film, Hellraiser (1987), became an instant classic to many. The story had significant depth, its characters felt real, thanks to great acting, the effects for its time were astounding and its music was hauntingly beautiful. So it is no surprise that when a sequel would be made to this favored horror film, fans would expect a product containing the same or better in magnitude. I am one of those fans, but unfortunately, that promise wasn't upheld to the highest degree. It is not to say that the movie is awful, but it had so much going for it and yet it failed to be anywhere close to its predecessor.

The evil Dr. Channard
What really misses the mark and is also the key component to making a good movie, is a story. The story, which was written by Barker and adapted to the film by Peter Atkins lacks a strong sense of story telling. The screenplay will attempt to bring up various subplots but never accesses them fully. For example, this installment provides viewers with the possibility of understanding the older characters better, and, being introduced to new characters. However both are never explained in a clear way or even resolved. It's actually hard to say what the plot was about and who the main villain was either.

After seeing the murder of her whole family, Kirsty Cotton (Ashley Laurence) finds herself in a hospital with everyone against her. She tries to explain herself but nobody believes her. Little does she realize that she will prove herself right when the Doctor in charge of the hospital turns out to be as wicked as her evil stepmother Julia and Uncle Frank by unleashing the Cenobites from the lament configuration once again. To do this, the doctor will have a mute girl (Imogen Boorman) open the box because she has a knack for solving puzzles.

However, this doesn't tell me anything. It is never completely explained to why Doctor Channard (Kenneth Cranham) wants to open the portal to hell. In the movie, viewers will learn he's been studying the lament configuration for years but it's never said what he was searching for. It is also never fully explained to why this girl is mute and what happened to her family. The mother of the girl is shown a few times but never bothers to show the end result of her. What gives? At least Atkins wrote a more decent back-story to the Cenobite characters (thanks to Barker's input). But the rest is never finished. It's frustrating.

What pinhead used to be as a human =o
On the other hand, I do give credit to the casting department for bringing back majority of the cast. It's great to see Ashley Laurence again as well as Clare Higgins, Sean Chapman and of course Doug Bradley. I also enjoyed the set design to the labyrinth of hell. I for one would get lost very easily in such a place. The imagery was creepy and disturbing as always too. I still get goosebumps from a crying child; very unsettling.

Adding to that was Christopher Young's film score (who also did the previous film) which made it more effective. Although I found Young's score from the previous film more compelling, I was happy to see that he stuck with his original theme and even built on a few other tunes. Lastly, the make-up department and special effects crew also did a great job. From the Cenobite transformations, gore, creature effects to the skinless characters is still an amazing feat for 1988. I’m just baffled to how incoherent the screenplay puts all these great things together into an almost unenjoyable mess.

Peter Atkins' screenplay digs into some really interesting ideas and character arcs but never comes close to finishing a single one. It is even more frustrating because this sequel contains the majority of the previous cast, the same composer and the same gruesome imagery.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Dick Tracy (1990) Review:

Just like The Phantom (1996), The Shadow (1994) and The Rocketeer (1991), the 1990's was the decade Hollywood thought it would be a great idea to revive older comic book/strip characters from the 1930's due to the strong reception from Richard Donner's Superman (1978) and Tim Burton's Batman (1989). Unfortunately, none of these films did fantastic at the box office because of the lack of support. But that doesn't mean what was produced, was poor material. This film is probably the one that lit the fuse to construct the other three later to come.

Warren Beatty as Dick Tracy
There is a subtle difference between this particular film and the other three - the sense of realism. The setting is the same, which takes place in the 1930's but the world that detective Dick Tracy lives in, is a little bit unrealistic. But this is what makes it so avant-garde. For example, Each characters name depicts what they are like. If a mob member’s name is called "Flattop", they will literally have a flat top. Or another named "Little Face", truly has a small face. Each character is a characacher of their own name. This is actually rather clever and funny at the same time. I liked that a lot, even if no person would ever have such a misshapen body structure.

Starring is Warren Beatty, an acclaimed actor, best known for his role in Bonnie and Clyde (1967), directs his third film with this comic strip icon - Detective Dick Tracy. Along with him, co-stars Al Pacino, a very young Madonna, Paul Sorvino, Glenne Headly even Dick Van Dyke and several others. And even with a big cast, sometimes films don't do well, but here, it works out well because of how likable these characters are. Beatty plays Tracy like it's been his job for more than his acting career. Madonna is attractive and highly seductive like she was supposed to be, so that works. Even Al Pacino as the villain gives some comedic relief. It's funny because how his make-up was applied makes him look like a Muppet.

Al Pacino as Big Boy ....see how they all wear solid colors?
What also stood out was just how colorful the entire film was, in its most basic form that is. Movies now a days and even back then contained a multiple array of colors but in Beatty's film, it sticks to your regular Kindergarten colors - green, yellow, red, blue, black, orange... and so on. There are no shades to these primary and secondary colors. They are just your basic crayons and it really stands out. Dick Tracy wouldn't be as memorable to me if he didn't wear his banana colored fedora and trench coat. It just wouldn't be the same and it's because of these colors that help accentuate the exaggerations of the characters.

Lastly, comes the music score provided by none other than Danny Elfman. What's great about Elfman's score in this particular work is that he gives the comic strip hero and his love interest each their own memorable theme. Along with that are Elfman's other tracks that contain a lot of jazzy tunes consisting of trumpets and other instruments from that specific time. I did find it cliche though to how the famous detective gets himself into trouble for a lot of silly things because he's either not paying attention or because he lets his selfishness get to him. But that's about it.

The movie adaptation of the 1930's comic strip detective is colorful, clever, has great performances and memorable music. It's writing is shaky in some places but it still holds up to a very entertaining movie.

Points Earned --> 9:10

Friday, May 24, 2013

Peter Pan (1953) Review:

I really enjoy Disney's older films. From Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and up, the mouse house has produced many a film that have boasted in crisp animation, catchy musical numbers and likable characters. And for Peter Pan (1953), that technique does not move astray from its predecessors. It is funny though, while watching it I began to notice a trend about the character of Peter Pan himself.

Mr. Pan and his smug moves...
The plot is taken from J.M. Barrie's story, as like many other products. A group of children end up spending the night in the world of Neverland with their friend Peter Pan, spirit of youth and his group of misfit orphans (I guess). Because of that, they are bound to run into Pan's nemesis, Captain Hook and his band of pirates. And like any other Disney film, it'll be difficult to resist the charm of any of the characters in this movie. Oddly enough, the character I found the least likable was Peter Pan himself. Here's why.

The boy is arrogant. He doesn't like listening to others opinions, even when it might be to his benefit. He's also inconsiderate. Since he's the oldest male of the group, he also thinks what he says is law and deserves the best treatment. Lastly, Peter Pan is a "bad boy" character or player. Notice that when he's with another female, the female he was originally with becomes extremely jealous. He also doesn't acknowledge this either leading back to his arrogant personality. He's a playful but very thickheaded character. It actually got disgusting to a point that these girls were falling for him.

Fun times!
The only other thing I found weird was that the Island of Neverland was a star located in the sky? I don't get it. But besides this, I found everything else enjoyable. My favorite character was Captain Hook for his funny and over the top performance. This is mostly because of the clicking crocodile that he keeps running into which seems to get funnier every time they’re on screen together. The score provided by Disney veteran, Oliver Wallace continues to still make good scores for each film he has worked in. Overall it was a nice film, just couldn't believe how jerkish Peter Pan was.

The story of Peter Pan is lively, full of color and contains a lot of charm. Unfortunately, the only character that seems to be lacking in it the most charm is our main character, Peter Pan. But for the most part, it is forgivable....mostly.

Points Earned --> 8:10

Wild Wild West (1999) Review:

Director Barry Sonnenfeld has released a lot of films under his name that aren't exactly what you would call normal films. What I mean by normal is that it does not pertain to the real world. Examples like these are Men In Black (1997) and The Adam's Family (1991). They are not your regular comedy's dealing with normal people. That's a talent Sonnenfeld has - making strange but funny movies. However, Wild Wild West (1999) was a mismatch of ideas and comedy. I can also see why the original stars of the movie weren't pleased with it either because it wasn't anywhere close to the TV show.

The damsel in distress with our two heroes
This particular film sets up the origins to how the two main roles, Jim West and Artemus Gordon come together to save America. But even this isn't done well. The only origin explained is how they meet - there really isn't much of a back-story to any of these characters at all. Jim West even has a girlfriend that only has a very brief introduction and is never explored again. Playing these two main roles are Will Smith (West) and Kevin Kline (Gordon) and to be honest, their on screen chemistry isn't great, but it's also not horrendously terrible.

The comedy is really on and off here - a hit or miss. Sometimes Smith and Kline do exchange so remarks that'll spark up a few chuckles, but it is not as frequent as one would hope for. In fact, for the times that aren't funny, they're more awkward instead of just falling flat. Most of this is related to the sexual innuendoes. It just doesn't seem appropriate for the film. It made me uncomfortable to see cross-dressing that didn't look natural or attractive for that matter. I'm amazed that the supporting cast was written to be so dumb to fall for such obvious flaws.

The rest of the cast isn't too bad. Salma Hayek is the sex symbol as usual, even though her character is kind of meaningless. She's only there to make the characters of West and Gordon drool and fight for who could bring her to bed with them. M. Emmet Walsh is also a good supporting character even though he doesn't get as much screen time as he deserves. Kenneth Branagh was impressive enough that he could make long speeches that seem to be rich in high vocabulary, although I'll never understand his taste in pets. Another thing that’s not explained.

Kenneth Branagh in his strange attire
It's sad to see that the four writers to this movie all agreed on having the super weapon that the villain wants to use to obtain his goals is by using a giant mechanical spider. I mean, in the 1800s? How ludicrous is that? It's one thing to have a preference for spiders,...but not to model your super weapon after it. Really guys? It's because of this that this movie can not be taken seriously at all. This is where I think director Sonnenfeld could have opened his mouth and said something. But because he's so used to working with weird material, it flew right over his head. Ugh.

So along with the few laughs that viewers might get from West and Gordon's wisecracks are the gadgetry and music (sort of). I had a lot of fun with the eye candy in this film. Most of it was because of Gordon's ingeniousness and a little bit of the other things not created by him. To have a mini wrist note pad seems very useful! The score, composed by Elmer Bernstein, wasn't bad either. It had a reoccurring theme and stuck to it. I am curious though to why he didn't stick to the original theme from the TV show....he even hinted at it at one point in the film! Come on...that's proof that you could have stuck to the original theme.

The cast, special effects and music isn't bad but instead of sticking to the traditional western genre, director Barry Sonnenfeld decided to keep things weird like the rest of his films. As a result, the comedy can be awkward and villain's show of power is stranger than is menacing.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) Review:

Steven Spielberg is known by many audiences to be one of the best modern day directors. His ability to set himself up with great casts, resounding music, intellectual stories and top-notch special effects seems to come natural. So it actually is a surprise for me to say that his third theatrically released film did not entice me at all. I found a couple of good things to give credit for but everything else is tiresome and confusing because of how bad the writing is.

A young Richard Dreyfuss
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) is the story of a man who happens to get a glimpse of a UFO and then decides to make it his goal to be able to see them again in person. Cast, as this ordinary man is Richard Dreyfuss who has worked with Spielberg two years before in another blockbuster called Jaws (1975). Here, Dreyfuss starts his character out like any other normal person but soon becomes absolutely bizarre in a sense that I'm not sure if anyone will understand what's happening to his character. And Spielberg wrote the screenplay! What's going on here? And what's with the Fran├žois Truffaut's character? He can speak English but he also needs an interpreter? Ugh...

I also got confused as the film was getting close to its end because it seem liked there was a secret love interest but it never was explained. How did Spielberg miss all these loopholes? Another aspect of the film that frustrated me was the dialog. It's not that the dialog was too simplified or overly complex - its placing was off. By placing I mean when people are trying to talk, there's always something else that is competing with it. Someone is trying to explain something but it's too hard to hear because there's a storm louder than hell. Or when Dreyfuss' character is talking on the phone, but can't be heard exactly what he's saying because a TV is on in the same room and you don't know which thing to focus on. Come on guys.

The lighting from the UFOs
There were even parts of the movie that was never explained. When an individual first sees the UFOs they end up getting this red burn on their body. It was never explained what it meant, what the possible side effects are or how it was gotten rid of. What is going on with this story telling?! Even more shocking was how bad and absent composing legend, John Williams' music was throughout the film. In some places of the movie, it was closer to sounding like a horror film with sporadic volume increases and scraping violins.

The only credits I will give are the background scenery and special effects. I really like the scenic backgrounds, especially since it is in widescreen, the shots look great. And for 1977, yes, the special effects are great too. The lighting arrangements of the UFOs were mesmerizing. However, that's all I enjoyed. I am still truly shocked to how bored and confused I became with this Spielberg film.

The shots look great but that's it. John Williams' music is random as well as uninspired and the screenplay was written very poorly.

Points Earned --> 3:10

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Captain Ron (1992) Review:

Kurt Russell is a very competent actor. He has been in the Hollywood business since his childhood. Honestly, he should be able to see what movies would do well and what wouldn't. And like any other actor, he has made his fair share of mistakes; Soldier (1998) is one of those mistakes. However, I can not excuse him for (pardon the pun) missing the boat on this stinker. At least in Soldier (1998) Russell had a reason for not giving his character a lot of charm. Here, Russell is given a chance, but doesn't look like he put in a lot of effort. Perhaps he thought that what he was giving, was enough. I don't know.

The Harvey parents
The plot is about a family who learns they have inherited a valuable boat and decide to take it upon themselves to sail it back to the US so they can get their money’s worth. Low and behold, they end up being stuck with a native, Captain Ron (Russell), to lead them back to the US. The thing is, it's never specified if Captain Ron IS a captain. He's more like a klutzy half drunken sailor. This is the whole joke of the movie, and it falls flat right when Kurt Russell enters the frame. It just doesn't work. There's no charm or a spark of inventiveness. Nothing.

Unfortunately, the other characters aren't any better either. Co-starring with Russell is Martin Short, another veteran actor. Ask me why he chose this movie, I couldn't say. Short plays the father, Mr. Harvey, and originally he doesn't mind Captain Ron but gradually begins to see that he isn't really qualified for the job. This kind of friction isn't really a recipe for comedy. As I sat through this, I just became frustrated with how dysfunctional the Harvey family and Captain Ron was. Just utter chaos. I'm surprised any of them were able to make it back to the US in one piece.

Kurt Russell as Captain Ron
The comedy aspect of this movie is extremely weak as well. Nothing is funny here at all. The gags are actually more obvious in a literal sense; you can see actors preparing on screen for an upcoming gag! Even weirder was how bad of a role model Captain Ron was to the children of the Harvey family. Not to mention that the parents barely objected to anything he did. Great parenting. Which brings me to another point - the rating. I understand this movie was rated R for language and some nudity but really? I honestly think it would have been funnier without it. I mean, what purpose does a child actor have in a movie if the age restriction is only for adults 17 and up? There's no connection with the audience. This is why the screenwriter, John Dwyer, has only this movie to his credit. It is by no means well written at all.

As for the music...what music? The composer, Nicholas Pike, who has done a large number of scores, provided barely anything for this movie. No theme, no emotion, nothing. All the audience gets, is native music. Fine, but it is at the most random of times and doesn't lighten up the mood of the movie much, if at all. The only saving grace in this movie is Kurt Russell as bad as he is. The scenery is nice, as well as the native cultures displayed throughout, but that's it. This boat is a sinker to the bottom.

By far, this is Kurt Russell's worst movie. The music is barely there, the humor is sorely unfunny and the characters have no charm.

Points Earned --> 2:10

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Treasure Planet (2002) Review:

It's rare that Disney reboots or remakes any of its previous films. With the minds that they have working for them, there really is no need. But every now and then the mouse house will do it because either there is a fan-base demand or just because. Treasure Planet (2002) is a remake of the Disney's classic, Treasure Island (1950) and it is done with brilliance in so many areas.

Captain Amelia & Dr. Doppler
The plot is the same as Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novel; the difference is how it's portrayed. It is the whole reason why the title is called Treasure Planet in the first place. Instead of taking place in modern daytime, it takes place in a futuristic time. Pretty sweet. The entire way this particular universe was constructed was done so well it oozes imagination. Strange as it is though, that for a setting so upgraded, that the vehicle individuals travel in are ships. It seems so primitive but it still fits the story well.

The characters used in this story all have the same names but their illustrations are much more a good way of course. Jim Hawkins and his mother are the only two who look like humans. All the other characters are humanoid like species. For example, Doctor Doppler resembles a dog, while Captain Amelia resembles a cat. However the one character I can't put my finger on is John Silver. I don't know what animal he looks like, but he does resemble actor Louis Wolheim a little too much, not to mention his speaking pattern. BEN is also a funny character since he's absent-minded and all. Nevertheless, each voice actor puts in his or her best performance; it's partially what gives the movie its charm.

Jim and Silver (plus that robotic arm!)
The other component that gives this movie so much emotion is James Newton Howard's musical score. For each scene, he provides the best tone, more specifically when Jim and Silver were on screen. What helps makes those scenes important and memorable was that flute in the back repeating the theme to the movie itself. It gives me goosebumps every time I hear it. Which also brings up another point about Jim and Silver's character development. The relationship that these individuals create is really heartwarming and brings up a good point that every son needs a father figure in their life.

Last but not least, what makes the icing on the cake for this movie were the special effects. Disney invested a lot into this movie. Apparently they used 2D drawings, infused with live props and 3D computer generated images. That sounds tough but it was done professionally and it looks great. My favorite special effect was Mr. Silver's robotic arm. Absolutely one of the most iconic and amazing gizmos in that whole film.  His arm is practically an enlarged Swiss-army knife. What I wouldn’t give for that!

Disney's sci-fi remake of the 1950 classic has a great voice cast, astounding effects and emotional music. Another great masterpiece from the mouse house.

Points Earned --> 10:10

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Punisher (1989) Review:

In the 1980's Marvel comic book movies were just beginning to make their way into theaters. The only other film based on a Marvel comic to be released to the public was Howard the Duck (1986), produced by George Lucas and also did not impress audiences at all. In a second attempt, Marvel now tries to bring the violent anti-hero, The Punisher, to fans. And as many people would say now, this particular Punisher installment, compared to other two from 2004 & 2008, is the weakest of them all. However, it is watchable. I'm really not going to go into plot details here because the concept behind this character is fairly straightforward.

Dolph Lundgren with black hair...convincing?.....maybe alittle
Here is what most fans don't like about this particular adaptation - costume design, props, dialog and casting. The costume; I can sympathize with fans on this point. What really defines the character of Frank Castle was the skull T-shirt, and it is not displayed here. It is the whole symbol that sends criminals in fear because they see that skull. If I were them, I would have no idea who's busting my dealings. Also fans didn't like that Castle rode a motorcycle. I actually found that it made him look tougher,...but it is Ghost Rider that rides a motorcycle...not The Punisher.

Dialog also might be an issue for some because this movie was filmed in the 80's, and a lot of the wording for most films at that time were cheesy. But for me, I didn't feel that way when I was finished watching it. There weren't many puns that I heard of, if any at all. However, I do have to pick at the casting. I give props to Dolph Lundgren for putting in his best performance, but seeing him as The Punisher just didn't cut it. It's like casting Sylvester Stallone as Superman. On a realistic level, how many people could take Stallone as the man of steel seriously? I couldn't. It's films like these that require an actor with not much on his plate to make a role like this. Thomas Jane & Ray Stevenson worked well for the role of Frank Castle because they haven't been the main star in a lot of films. Sure Lundgren was just getting started in the 80's too, but, he had already established a name for himself as Ivan Drago from Rocky IV (1985) so case closed.

Louis Gossett Jr.
Those are the things I wanted to confront about what most people would find as a put-off to this movie. I'm also sure people were also not pleased that Microchip was not considered into the script, or that it was never explained to how Castle got his hands on so many weapons. As well the other characters being anywhere close to the comic but after all this, the adaptation isn't really bad. The movie does at least touch upon Castle's family being killed and showing his anguish.

Also Lundgren is tough enough to pull his own weight in the picture. The supporting cast isn't terrible either. Louis Gossett Jr. as Frank Castle's ex-cop partner shows enthusiasm in his scenes too. Even the main villain played by Kim Miyori was ruthless in her acts of violence. Speaking of which, the violence was good too. Perhaps tamer than Punisher: War Zone (2008) but more frequent than the 2004 version, just not as gruelingly slow. I even liked Dennis Dreith's score to the film to a point. He gave The Punisher a theme and it did sound like an orchestra but it did also lack the emotion that both scores from the other two films had. Guess Dreith missed that.

The casting department should have started with a no name actor. So because of this, Dolph Lundgren is not as believable as he should be in the main role. This makes this entry the weakest out of the three films that have been released. But it does its best to entertain with the resources that it was given.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Judge Minty (2013) Review:

The world of Judge Dredd is not a happy one. This has been proven three times now - Judge Dredd (1995), Dredd (2012) & Hardware (1990). All of which display the same kind of dystopian society with the worst crime rates around and the only law enforcement around are Judges from the hall of justice. But the question is, did anyone ever think of what would happen when a judge loses his sense of right and wrong? This is what happens to the character of Judge William Minty.

Judge Minty (Edmund Dehn)
Judge Minty is a veteran at the hall of judges and has served a long time on the crime-ridden streets of the old world. However, it is when he begins to wonder if he can change the people he fights by giving them second chances, that ends up making him unreliable. It is because of this, he is forced to leave and begin the long walk among the cursed earth. This is where things become interesting because so far in film (based on this particular comic), there hasn't been a story that focuses on judge that is forced to walk the cursed Earth.

For a short film, this plays out very strong. Everything from the production design to special effects is good for the budget that it had.  Steven Sterlacchini's direction (as well as co-written screenplay) was well executed. The dialog is very thought provoking as well as disheartening because how relateable Judge Minty is a character. The actor who plays Minty, Edmund Dehn, is the reason why the role of Minty feels more human than most characters. Dehn isn't a Hollywood blockbusting actor. He's a normal man playing an unknown role. What makes him contrast to Judge Dredd is just how Dredd doesn't think about his actions. Dredd follows the law and that's it, no questions asked.

Even Judge Dredd has a small cameo....(its not Karl Urban)
The music provided by Phil Oates was decent too. It did convey the right tones but perhaps not as much as I had expected. That's only because the material that Minty focused on is a touchy subject so I thought the music would have been the same too. But what makes this film stand out from others is that it focuses on the possibility of mending poisoned minds. Is it worth the time to help? Or is it easier just to do things the old fashioned way? Again, it's a short film so I’m not giving a full score but still, a very good film.

By shifting the focus to a more human level, Sterlacchini's extended play short film brings up some controversial questions and makes the viewer wonder if what is being done today is right or not, for the same issue.

Points Earned --> 8:10

Tron: Legacy (2010) Review:

In 1982, the mouse house released a film that I think not many at the time would have thought been possible. Tron (1982) was not only visually intriguing but also opened up the doors to new possibilities in film, involving computer generated images (CGI). Because of this, not only did it gain traction in becoming a cult classic but it also had a strong fan base that began to grow and demand that a sequel be made. I liked Tron, its visuals were great, it had a fair origins story and likable characters. However, I did not understand some of the characterizations, which led me to believe the writing was uneven. But I also did not mind if a sequel was to be made. So when fans found out the second Tron film would be hitting theaters in 2010, people were excited and why blame them.

The newly improved recognizer =O
This long awaited installment continues the story of the Flynn family but this time focuses on the son of Kevin Flynn. As I've stated in other reviews, stories the involve "passing the torch" to the next generation is risky. Everything must be picked out correctly so that no one from the original will be upset with various contents being left out or being changed. And for the most part, the continuity is fairly strong. I'm not saying it’s totally there though. I will get to this at the end.

But, throughout the movie, fans will get their fill of references that owe tribute to the first film. The director, Joseph Kosinski, even hints at another favorite Disney film of his own experience - The Black Hole (1979). Another thing that stood out was how Kosinski was able to revamp the whole world of Tron. Not only is everything slicker, but this universe in general now contains weather too. The entire direction is fascinating and that's just one part of the film. Wait till you see the vehicles. My favorite was the Recognizer. Originally in the first movie, they were big and bulky. Here they are just massive, almost terrifying.

As for characters go, it was great to see Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner back in their main roles. It's almost like they never left the set. Garrett Hedlund as the son of Kevin Flynn was not a bad choice either. Perhaps his acting could be improved a little; he did show emotion every now and then but for the most part he plays stone face. Making things more questionable was that the son of the villain (Edward Dillinger) from the first movie had a brief role as well. Will there be a use for him later? We will see.

Quorra (Wilde) & Sam (Hedlund)
Introducing Quorra (Olivia Wilde), was a nice touch because it gets very interesting as the movie ends. Not to mention, that she plays a strong female lead. Even the director of the first Tron (1982), Steven Lisberger, has a very, very, quick cameo which was fun to see. Another impressive aspect was the digital rendering of a younger Jeff Bridges as C.L.U. I'm pretty sure that wasn't the easiest thing to accomplish. Lastly, the character that I found the most mysterious was Rinzler. The character of Rinzler reminded me of Ray Park because of his acrobatic skills and flexibility. Funny thing is, it wasn't Park. The man behind the mask was Anis Cheurfa. Good job Cheurfa, you could have fooled me if they didn't credit you!

The last thing I found great about this sequel was Daft Punk's score to this film. It is certainly not like their usual electro-pop tunes but they did a great job at bringing out emotion when it was needed, tightening high tension scenes and making a reoccurring theme for the franchise. This also leads me to believe that any band, no matter what genre they place themselves in, can make a film score. Although maybe not as well received, Mastodon did the same for Jonah Hex (2010), which I enjoyed as well. This should become a trend because so far, it has worked well.

The couple of things I did want to point out that I don't think worked like they should, were the continuity and the story itself. The writers of this picture seem to leave various parts of the story left unresolved. For example, it was never explained to where Cindy Morgan's role went from the first movie, or for that matter, Barnard Hughes. Would it hurt for the writers to add a small explanation to why they weren't in the picture? Come on guys. And as for the story in general; yes it does work. But by the end, it feels like an entire set up for the third Tron film. Instead, there could have been some type of subplot that could give audiences something to look for and not just sit through 120 minutes for all the pieces to finally fall into order. That's just me though.

Tron: Legacy is well crafted with a good cast, mind boggling eye candy and an energetic score provided by Daft Punk. Now if only those screenwriters could match that kind of quality.

Points Earned --> 8:10

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Night of the Living Dead (1968) Review:

Although it is not needed to be said, for any zombie fan, it is anything but obligatory to view this movie because director George A. Romero is the guy who started the whole trend of making zombie films. For the year 1968, this movie had a lot going for it. As for those who may not find that older films have much appeal, this one does. Its story not only carries its own origin but also contains a well thought out written tone and a very addicting plot. Not to mention this film even has gore. Yes, gore.

The actors that never went seriously....
The premise is very basic, a group of random individuals happen to meet up at house to hide from flesh-eating entranced humans, otherwise known as zombies. Bruce Capristo, the head of the makeup department did a great job at making the zombies look like normal people. Yet, the audience and characters alike can tell the difference between themselves and the zombies. Weird as it is, this will be the only movie Capristo would take credit for. After this he did not move on into other movies. It's also surprising to me how after this movie became a hit, that none of the actors really moved forward with their careers either. Because of this, the actors in this movie remain “no-name” actors.

Which brings me to my next point: characters. In most cases, when a movie has such a basic premise, character development ends up taking a back seat. Why? Because most audiences are more interested in seeing the plot device in action more than they are in the main characters. But what Romero and his screenwriting partner, John A. Russo did was balance the screen time between the scenes of confronting zombies and the lead roles discussing how they're going to escape. This keeps the audience from becoming too bored with too much dialog or too much zombies. This holds true because too much of one thing isn't good in general. There needs to be a balance.

Friendly group of folks aren't they?
What remains the most potent about this picture is just how overwhelming this situation is and how quickly hope can be lost if this were to be a reality. Oddly enough, one would think that because zombies move so slowly, it would be easy to evade them. Better think twice about that claim. Even for these undead beings, they are relentless. To think if you had twenty to fifty of them around you,...sounds like its time to curl up in fetal position and go to that happy place every person has in their head. This is what Romero does with his audience, by creating a hopeless tone. It will seem like any direction taken towards escaping won't work and it's done very effectively.

But while this is effective, another great aspect to this tone is by instilling a small glimmer of hope every time an opportunity opens. This is what makes this story so gripping. I would feel right to let go and give up, but it wouldn’t because you know there has to be a way to win. Also, the musical composer, William Loose did a fair job at the score. It definitely sounds like music and it does contain a reoccurring theme for the film and for the zombies themselves, so it does work.

The last area that surprised me was just how gory this late 1960's black and white film was. I mean, how did audiences back then take this film? People must have flipped out so much that it caused mass hysteria. It's obvious in a lot of scenes that the people parts used in the zombie scenes were animal parts but wow. I'm surprised Romero was let back into the film business after that. I actually wasn't expecting much at all but I'm pretty sure Romero had a lot more to put on the screen. I liked how things went with Romero's first film piece. It was evenly paced and kept me wondering what would happen next. How many films are like that nowadays?

Film legend George A. Romero has brought a treasure to generations to come, even if many would call it at the time malignant. When in fact, zombies are exactly that in our culture today. Night of the Living Dead is well constructed and boasts gross imagery even for 1968.

Points Earned --> 10:10