Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Purge: Anarchy (2014) Review:

The year 2013 had a curiously captivating idea introduced into its horror genre. The launch of The Purge (2013) attracted many people to the theaters due to their eager nature to see the kind of macabre acts that could happen if such an event were real. The premise was unique and intriguing but the end result was not what people expected or received. Instead of seeing this concept being fully exploited, the production crew gave its viewers a very average film with stock characters with inhumane personalities, generic violence and standard execution. But like many other films that did well at the box office (even with bad reviews), managed to obtain a sequel. However unlike most sequels, this installment actually improves upon the original. It's not vastly refreshing but it does have better qualities than its predecessor.

Frank Grillo & his tag-alongs
If a viewer has seen the first film, a good guess can be inferred on what this one will be about. Instead of continuing the story on its beginning characters, writer/director James DeMonaco focuses on a new set of characters (quite honestly that’s fine, not many liked the original characters). All of which start as different character threads of which different people become apart of the annual purge, whether they expected to or not. What works with having separate story lines is that they come together as one, rather quickly. This keeps the story moving not only in maintaining audiences’ attentions but also by physical location. In place of having the setting focused on one household, DeMonaco now directs the viewers’ attention to the world outside where this annual "holiday" happens nationwide. Accompanying that is Jacques Jouffret's cinematography, which enlarges his viewfinder to get better panning shots of the disarray happening around the main characters.

The characters that we look at are of different areas and situations. Frank Grillo plays a man out for vengeance after his son was killed. Notably, Grillo kind of looks and acts (a little) like The Punisher. I could only imagine what a field day The Punisher would have on this day! But I digress. Carmen Ejogo and Zoë Soul play a mother and daughter duo who end up being saved by Grillo's character. Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez play a couple who becomes stranded at the beginning of the purge. When all these characters finally meet up together, it is their determination that makes them likable. In fact, they even help each other develop which is important in this kind of movie, where morals are highly advised when it comes to the legalization of murder. Even Edwin Hodge (the victim from the last movie) has a brief cameo along with Michael Kenneth Williams who both play rebels against the purge. They are both very welcome to fight back.

Unsuccessfully, the film still does not overcome much else. The writing incorporates multiple subplots. Some of which pertain to the main characters, where either it is concluded and has no effect on the plot or isn't concluded and felt irrelevant to begin with. There's also a subplot about government conspiracies where it is partially addressed and then left alone with giant plot holes that make no sense. When people complained about the violence being too generic from the first, apparently nobody heard them because nothing is exactly fixed there either. People are still beating the crap out of each other with the simplest and common of weapons. If this is the night of legal violence, then get creative! Use something different! The only true scary element to this movie is how sadistic various people are depicted and the beliefs they hold to this event.

Giving your buddy a thumbs up or a fist bump because they get the chance to blow someone's head off or dismember them is god awfully sick. It should make the viewer excessively happy when these perverse people are put in their place. It is so gratifying. It's also strange because as the confrontations continue from beginning to end, they seem to become less and less personal, which is kind of what I thought the purge was all about. But to watch these weirdos say their wicked holy prayer before butchering somebody is just plain fiendish. However going back to the last flaw, Nathan Whiehead's musical score again fails to compel. The composition is loaded with electronic pulses and ticking percussion to emphasize tension but in the end it's not the best listening experience for music collectors. It is an improvement in different areas but still not spectacular entertainment.

Writer/director James DeMonaco did make some noticeable revisions to this installment compared to the first entry. This time it has likable characters with the right development, better casting and moments that do make the purge look even more sick than before. Yet, it still suffers from the cliched surrounding violence, unimportant subplots and a tiresome musical score.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Monday, December 29, 2014

Ride Along (2014) Review:

The genre of buddy cop films has not seemed to wear down. There's just something about two bickering officers of the law that get people laughing. This is not to say it works all the time because their have been various flunks that people stay away from. However, this doesn't stop people from going if what's put on screen either puts a different spin on the original concept or changes it up entirely. As for this rendition, the overall story suffers from the usual cop cliches but also manages to surpass them by adding in new things. Also, the biggest difference is that audiences got to see tough rapper Ice Cube pair up with comedy hit Kevin Hart living off the success of his latest comedic roles from two years prior.

Ice Cube & Kevin Hart
Written by Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi (Clash of the Titans (2010) & R.I.P.D. (2013)), Jason Mantzoukas and Greg Coolidge, the story follows Ben (Kevin Hart), a man who wants to step up his game and propose to his girlfriend Angela (Tika Sumpter). In order to do that though, Ben wants to get his thumbs up from Angela's brother James (Ice Cube), a no games cop. So to get James' approval, Ben joins the police academy. Nonetheless, this doesn't win over James very easily but accepts him under one rule - shadow him for one day and he measures up, James will give Ben a go. As far as plots go, it's a mix of ideas. Audiences all know the protective brother character and they are also familiar with the rookie going around with the seasoned cop. Have they ever been put together into one script? Maybe,...but as of recent memory it does not ring any bells. Yet outside of this, no other parts of the writing are that far out of the box. The script is filled with a number of cop genre cliches that viewers would be able to at least guess what might happen. Most of it is fairly predictable in that particular vein of story telling.

Viewers should get fun out of watching Ice Cube and Kevin Hart exchange lines. The contrasts are not only physically noticeable but also through the attitudes each one has. Ice Cube is gruff and self contained, while Kevin Hart is light and attention grabbing. It's even funnier when Hart attempts to be tough but can't manage even getting past the simplest of tasks. I feel him, when you try and nothing seems to work, all because of how tall he is. The supporting cast also helps too. With appearances from John Leguizamo, Bryan Callen, Bruce McGill, Gary Owen and even Laurence Fishburne, the story doesn't feel empty with a bunch of no name actors with any credibility. Laurence Fishburne looks like he enjoyed himself too considering how much older he is now and the limitations that come with it.

The action and special effects looked good. There are shootouts but it's not boring either. One of the reoccurring topics argued about between Hart and Cube's characters was about playing video games and whether they help in real life. Although I can't say for sure if what is presented could actually be legitimate or not, it still is funny to see. To watch Kevin Hart run around thinking the situation he's in is like a Call of Duty multi-player, is comical. Meanwhile, Ice Cube's reaction face is priceless. The special effects that go with these sequences nicely play off the timing for comedy and action. Whether it is Kevin Hart being blown away or Ice Cube packing some firepower, it is displayed professionally for viewing.

Tika Sumpter
Regrettably, there are more issues to come. One the areas that brings up certain questions are continuity errors. There are moments that get pretty tense and it entails people in trouble. Then out of nowhere, the certain individual is abruptly out of harms way without any explanation. How did that happen? On top of that is fairly uninteresting cinematography provided by Larry Blanford. Blanford was also the DP for Think Like a Man (2012), another Kevin Hart film but looked better. Instead, Blanford acquires a lot indoor shots. If this is cop film, why are there not as many outdoor arrests or scenes? The phrase "cleaning the streets" means being on the outside. As for music like many other Tim Story directed films, Christopher Lennertz composed the score. Unfortunately, Lennertz score is only effective in the comedy because that's his forte. Lennertz does not compose for action films and that's apparent because the action cues are not recognizable. However, even with these issues, the film is still a fun time to watch play out.

It's a concept that combines two familiar ideas and makes a somewhat new idea but it also contains a lot of elements that makes this cop film almost average. Thankfully, Ice Cube and Kevin Hart have enough chemistry through their comedy and the action scenes along with the supporting cast to make this a fun little comedy.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Tokarev (2014) Review:

Working for the wrong side of business has never been easy to escape. This has been depicted through an abundance of films. Once you're in deep, getting out of the hole takes much more work than digging the hole itself. It's common sense and it is also a known fact that fighting with fire usually does not end the way anyone wants it too. But for this particular man, he seems to think otherwise. Paul Maguire (Nicolas Cage), once a criminal with strong connections who now tries to live as a reformed individual, discovers his daughter has been kidnapped and decides to round up his cohorts to take revenge. And like many other kidnapping movies, there are no rules that the main lead gives himself. The goal is to claim what is his by any means.

When that hair's out of place,....you know
that Nicolas Cage face!
Upon further analysis, there are only a few things that show this film had potential. Everything else wasn't used the correct way. First and foremost, writing isn't the sharpest here but it’s not the worst either. The story is very similar to other "people taking justice into their own hands" scenarios. Sean Keller and Jim Agnew, the writers to this production add very little to the genre. There is however one real highlight to this screenplay that was specifically written and that's what to remember when you decide to go down this dark path. The lesson is that you will never be safe and you should never get close to anyone. Plain and simple. If these rules are followed by the book, the only person you have to worry about is yourself.

Acting wise, Nicolas Cage isn't convincing as the lead. As a father, Cage comes off as one of the most unpleasant fathers to know. The way he addresses younger gentlemen about his daughter depicts him as deranged. As a reformed criminal, Cage doesn't act like a father who has a daughter in trouble. Cage acts more like a man with anger issues. Perhaps this was what he's was trying portray but audiences may not consider shouting matches rage; that's more like immaturity. There were scenes where he depicts more emotions than just grimaces and anger but those too do not seem genuine. They just don't look like tears of pain. Considering that Cage just got back on his feet with praiseworthy performances from films like The Frozen Ground (2013) and Joe (2014), it's disappointing to see these kinds of showings.

However, the supporting cast members are credible and more likable than Cage or the character that he plays. Even actors Aubrey Peeples (from Sharknado (2013)) and Max Fowler give more believable performances than Cage. Danny Glover plays a detective who shares apart of Mr. Maguire's past and tries to steer him in the right path. Rachel Nichols (Scarlett from G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009)) plays Mrs. Maguire. Although she's not in the movie frequently throughout, her performance is decent. Playing Paul's old crew is Max Ryan, Michael McGrady and Peter Stormare. All of which have their own quirks and bugs about them that make them different. Pasha D. Lychnikoff as a Russian mob leader is also plausible considering is ethnic background.

Pasha D. Lychnikoff
As for the supporting fundamentals to this production, there's only one good-looking feature. That is the special effects. For the budget that it had, there are a number a shootouts that are shot in slow motion and most of it looks moderately presentable. For all that, this doesn't mean the action in which these scenes were put in slow-motion are executed with any originality. There's only one scene that may be new to some viewers, which involves a cinderblock. Everything else that happens are plain shootouts, shaky car chases and witless fight scenes that barely have an emotional impact on its viewers or plot. Andrzej Sekula's cinematography (the man behind Reservoir Dogs (1992), Pulp Fiction (1994) and American Psycho (2000)) is colorless and unappealing. Laurent Eyquem musical composition improves nothing either with only one or two tracks that jog any kind of intrigue. Eyquem's filmography is mostly in dramas and it shows because his action cues are very forgettable here. The crew tries but it's not pushing any new boundaries.

It's writing is for the most part very predictable except for one or two concepts,...which is what should've been used. Instead, viewers will see bland action, stark music, and Nicolas Cage looking uncomfortable as usual. The special effects seem decent and the supporting cast helps but not by a whole lot.

Points Earned --> 4:10

Video Games: The Movie (2014) Review:

A video game's basis goes back to technology. Technology is what got us to this point today. The internet and several other mediums are the very things that allow billions of people around the world to communicate the way we currently do. Just imagine how much slower the world would move without it. Not only this, but there would also be various other things missing as well. In this documentary, first time feature writer/director Jeremy Snead, gives us this intriguing movie about the history of video games, how they came to be, evolved and continue to endure today.

Looks retro to me!
Best known for playing Samwise 'Sam' Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings franchise, Sean Astin narrates the documentary through assorted lenses. Initially to brief their audience, Astin and Snead chuck out a bunch of statistical information about video games. Topics like what percentages of age groups play them, how many play between each gender and how many roughly per home. It's an efficient ice breaker to help their viewers understand just how significant video games are right now (of course those numbers will change over time). After this, the real captivating information begins to unfold starting from the beginning. Who invented the video game? It's interesting to know because for those who are in engineering, probably would not have much of a clue because video games are a marriage between science and art. Most of the time, engineering schools stick to the science and do not include the art.

The other subjects discussed are the types of roadblocks the gaming industry came across. One of the biggest issues mentioned was the video game crash after the release of Atari's E.T. in 1983, which also was covered by The Angry Video Game Nerd for anyone who follows cinemassacre.com. Other problems such as the affects of simulated violence on children and the whole universal perspective of gamers as a community are also talked about; along with the possibility of future gaming in general. Plus, gaming as a culture has had a massive effect on how people live today as well. It may seem like there's not many, but there's more to it. The fact that there's an underground society that only casual gamers might not have even considered. Gaming has a big following - no doubt about that. These are just a few of several subtopics examined throughout the film's running time.

As an actual documentary, it's largely solid. The crew was able to get multiple interview snippets of various people who either worked on video games, actors or even the creators themselves. To name a few; Zach Braff, Cliff Bleszinski, Chloe Dykstra, Donald Faison, Chris Hardwick, Wil Wheaton, Max Landis (story writer to the cult film Chronicle (2012)) and Nolan Bushnell (creator of Atari). When it came to visuals, the majority of the film cuts to a time line with numerous icons that showcase the particular year, thus segueing into the next topic of discussion. That's not all though. The crew also likes to insert a diverse amount of video game clips from different eras and even home videos of people playing games or news anchors of different broadcasting stations. It gives it a very nostalgic feel.

The name of this guy is already mentioned...
The cinematography, also provided by writer/director Jeremy Snead, has the ability to show the culture of video games today. Examples like this are the conventions people attend, the massive competitions that take place in super stadiums and the atmosphere of which the culture has grown from. It's actually somewhat overwhelming because of how passionate these people really are. The only minor flaw to this documentary is Craig Richey's score. Viewers should be able to hear from time to time with its soft piano and occasional nostalgic 8-bit songs, but it gets overshadowed frequently. This is either due to the inclusion of contemporary music or just because it wasn't emphasized at the right time. This also isn't Richey's first composition so I wonder if he didn't think all that much effort was needed. Oh well, it's still very cool to watch.

This documentary pretty much covers all bases here on video games. Even though it's musical score isn't as effective as it could; the writer/director is able to give its viewers and fans the best information available about why gaming is so popular and how it became that popular.

Points Earned --> 9:10

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Drive Hard (2014) Review:

Hostage comedies are rare movies. There are a handful that have a name for themselves, but very few are memorable in the vein of the action genre. It's questionable to why these particular match-ups don't work. Possibly incorrect casting? Maybe a very loose script? I don't know. However, it is certain that this production just didn't have what it took to be anything out of the ordinary. Other than some minor elements that make this viewing less than barely passable, the rest of it just doesn't feel like it's worth the time. This movie actually is somewhat parallel to that of Stand Off (2011) starring Brendan Fraser.

John Cusack looking bad,....until he opens his yap
Not only are main leads Thomas Jane and John Cusack stuck in a foreign country and surrounded by foreign actors (just like Fraser) but so is the situation. Both are hostage situations, except Fraser's was in a single building, this film involves motion. After having a successful career in sports racing, currently ex-racer Peter Roberts (Thomas Jane) settles down with his wife and kid in Australia. There he makes a mediocre living of reliving his past by working as a driving instructor. There, Roberts bumps into Simon Keller (John Cusack), a thief who's supposedly so good at his job, no one has been able to catch him. However, Roberts doesn't realize this until Keller robs one of the biggest banks in the country and is offered a chance to take some of the robbed money. It's not the worst of plot setups but the all around execution is meager by comparison.

One of the biggest issues and downright obvious flaws is John Cusack and Thomas Jane's chemistry. In a way, it feels as if both actors are not acknowledging their co-stars personality, therefore not registering what types of responses they should answer with to make the conversation funny. Instead a lot of the interplay doesn't connect with its audience. Occasionally, the leads may have one or two humorous exchanges but it's very infrequent. Thomas Jane plays his character as if he's clueless; most likely due to Jane having very few comedic roles under his belt. Jane is funnier when he plays his character deadpan,...which is exactly how John Cusack plays it up. Cusack also looks like he enjoyed playing his character as some lazy antihero. Again though, nothing that was really special.

The only other redeeming element to this production is the fact that the rest of the cast is Australian,..which provides the audience with a different listening experience. Mostly this credit belongs to actors Zoe Ventoura, Christopher Morris and Damien Garvey. Other than that, every other character is forgettable, yet there are still other additional characters added in the film for no reason. An example of this is Peter Roberts’ daughter. The story could've just been written for Roberts and his wife - excluding his annoying daughter. As for anything else, nothing is very promising. Along with its hit and miss tone provided by the main actors’ antics, the subplots here are too many to care about. Writers Chad and Evan Law pack the screenplay with different characters and motivations that not only make it feel bloated but also cliche. What a surprise that someone's crooked as an undercover thief. Been there done that.

It's no wonder that the film’s direction wasn't any better, considering the man directing it was Brian Trenchard-Smith. This is the same guy behind Leprechaun 3 (1995) and Leprechaun 4: In Space (1996),...that should say enough. And with below average directing comes below average music, action and camerawork (also with weird job placement). Tony O'Loughlan who normally works on visual effects was designated cinematographer and it is flat as can be. There are some wide shots of what is supposed Australian landscape but it's kind of hard to tell. The special effects are almost non-existent and when they are, they look mediocre. Not cheap,…just mediocre.

"I'm leaving",....is what Jane should have
said before being cast into this mess
Bryce Jacobs' score wasn't impressive either. Much of the instruments used were guitars involving rock tunes. If Jacobs was looking for rock, he should've went to composer David Sardy for inspiration. With scores like Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012) and Zombieland (2009), Sardy could've helped Jacobs at least make one hard knuckled composition. Occasionally Jacobs will resort to a reoccurring electronic theme for the chase scenes, which are kind of toe tapping but is also easily forgettable. Making matters worse is that the action scenes are painfully boring. Quick edits and constant shootouts do not constitute as acceptable action sequences for a plot that involves driving. For the whole running time, only one car flips,...one. There was certainly more that could've been done to improve the quality here; but no one saw a need I guess.

With an awkwardly written tone, half inspired music, flat camerawork and dull action, Thomas Jane and John Cusack barely salvage what's left of this jumbled mess of a movie. The supporting Australian actors are interesting to watch along with the two leads but it's hardly adequate to entertain many viewers.

Points Earned --> 3:10

Alive Inside (2014) Review:

How many times does one visit the nursing home? Feed the hungry? Or volunteer in any other way? It's an act of caring and giving that takes a lot to stomach. Many people these days, including myself try not to pay attention to these things because of how uncomfortable it is visually and physically see right in front of us. It's a quiet pity that we all hold and tend to push to the back of our minds. Hoping that all of our other daily tasks can distract us from such awkwardness. In some ways it's almost like today's generation is too embarrassed to acknowledge the issues and don't expect it to happen in our lifetime. When in fact, this is the exact opposite.

Dan Cohen,.....what a generous man
Now that's not to say when we get older, we will all develop alzheimer's and be put in nursing homes, but it's important to understand that it's also not the most uncommon of diseases like vitiligo or polio. Alzheimer's affects numerous elderly individuals and once it's diagnosed, there really isn't anything anyone can do from stopping it. However, one man has found a remedy to help slow it down, along with exposing various aspects of today's healthcare system. Dan Cohen (a public social worker) and filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett team up in this stunning documentary about how bringing music to alzheimer's patients can help bring back some, if not most of the life and soul of what used to be the youth of the early to mid 1900s.

There really isn't much to dispute about here. Both the writer/director and social worker duo demonstrate the power of music simply by putting headphones on the older folk. To watch them go from slumped over and quiet or mumbling to bouncing around and crying or laughing is astonishing. The results are phenomenal and it's quite honestly baffling because how come no one had ever thought of doing this before? You didn't even need iPods to figure this out; someone back in the late 1990s could have tried this with Walkmans or portable CD players. It all seems so obvious now and it's weird that no one considered this as a type of therapy. I mean, there are therapy dogs and other types of animals that are used to help jog patients' memories, so why not music? It's better than just feeding them pills and vitamins constantly everyday. Where's the enjoyment in that?

Perhaps the strangest thing of all is that even with all the positive results, the film crew displays continuous rejections from top authority figures in the healthcare system. It's tragic because who would deny such optimistic opportunities? Viewers should not only get a kick out of the end result to these amazing transformations but also how this particular story unfolds. The way this documentary is told, is by looking through the eyes of Dan Cohen when he first started trying this particular study. As time plays out, the viewer will see the struggles he had to face, the turndowns and even the surprises. An example of this would be how this particular film came to light. All it needed was to be released onto the internet and it got people motivated. I didn't even know about this until a friend of mine who plays in a group shared the link.

Another thing to think about are the possible futures that lie ahead for the currently old and the one's who will become old. Michael Rossato-Bennett brings into play how the number of elderly people have increased over time and if it continues at the same rate, there will be less supplies available to take care of them. It's a grim outlook if things aren't looked at carefully. As for the actual quality of filmmaking, it looks very good. Itaal Shur's musical composition perfectly blends in raw emotion and tenderness for each scene. Shachar Langlev's cinematography shows many POV shots giving viewers an idea of how bland and lifeless a nursing home looks like no matter how friendly the people who work there are.

When that music hits though!
This is perhaps the only drawback to this involving movie. It is a tad one-sided (although rightfully so for everything explained prior). But there are some things that aren't explored. For one, has there ever been a patient that was not willing to listen to music? Or has there ever been a patient willing to listen but it did not have the positive effect it had on so many others? These special scenarios would've been interesting to see as well. What would Dan Cohen's next step be to counter such a roadblock? These kinds of questions are important. Perhaps with a little more running time, the crew could have added that to this production. It is a very intellectual film that any viewer should watch because at some point, everyone gets old and just like Dennis Haysbert would ask from Allstate - "Are you in good hands"?

Aside from being a bit one-sided, this documentary explores the alternate avenue of fighting alzheimer's with the power of music. The provided information, music, patients and emotion are all authentic and it is exactly what makes this so uplifting to see.

Points Earned --> 9:10

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

About Last Night (2014) Review:

Romance comedies are all over the place now a days. Good or bad, they are one the most popular types of comedy films always being produced. So how does one production define itself from another? First, the source material from which it's taken has to be somewhat relevant to today and uncover various issues that go on in everyone's social lives during their youth. Then there has to be a cast of actors that can blend in with this age demographic. And from what it looks like, these specific parts to the film were taken care of nicely. It's still not perfect but it measures up in the end.

Bernie and Danny (Hart & Ealy)
Before the massive following of Kevin Hart turned this movie into one of his vehicles, this title had earlier beginnings going back to 1986 of the same name starring Demi Moore, Rob Lowe, James Belushi and Elizabeth Perkins. Of course that was a different time then too. The characters' names remain the same, but the actors are different. The story revolves around two homeboys and their girlfriends and how they try to live with each other’s decisions and how they act with their significant other. All of this occurs when one day Bernie (Kevin Hart) introduces his girlfriend Joan (Regina Hall) and Debbie (Joy Bryant) to his introverted buddy Danny (Michael Ealy). The fireworks just never end between these two couples. Surprisingly, the screenplay doesn't rely on the usual romance-comedy cliches that everyone is familiar with.

Writing for this production is Leslye Headland, who only had one other theatrical release credit prior to this, being Bachelorette (2012), which wasn't considered movie magic. Perhaps it’s the source material of which she had to work with. I don't know but it's definitely is more polished here. The leads to this story do wonders too. Kevin Hart, although still loud and rambles his mouth off at least doesn't make the movie feel like it was all about him. This time he shared the camera with his co-star counterparts, especially with Regina Hall. Both exchange some funny lines together, of which provide most of the energy. And if Regina Hall and Kevin Hart are the energy, then Michael Ealy and Joy Bryant are the foil to them, displaying the romantic side of being with a significant other.

Its good to have this contrast because it shows the fun you can have when it comes to being outside or inside the house. Along with this come the struggles of the outer forces that always seem to interfere with our desires and goals. Work, Ex-girlfriends, pets and babies. These particular topics are all addressed in a way that feels more relevant today than it ever has before. Even more remarkable is that certain topics like Ex's, is handled in a way that would seem cliche but ends up concluding in a different direction which is good. Also because this is an R rated comedy, the loves scenes will be more explicit than your regular tween PG-13 movie.

Debbie and Joan (Bryant & Hall)
In fact, some of the scenes are just downright goofy. This is fine though because for two reasons. First, this is a comedy, so if goofy is what it takes to be funny, so be it. Second is that sex can be funny. No one ever said it ever had to be serious or always passionate either. Aside from this though, the heavier emotional scenes are also handled with care. At some point, each character will see the error of their ways, which leads them to rethink their decision. All proper and required development to have likable and memorable characters. If there's anything pick on for this production its the audio and visual style to the movie. The music composed by Marcus Miller does fit the scenes they are played in, but do not stick out. Also the cinematography is rather repetitive. The sets do not seem to deviant from more than three places so the settings become too familiar too quickly. However, that's not much to be concerned with. Overall it's a good time.

A romance-comedy that doesn't stick to the usual formula, viewers should get a kick out of this contemporary take on the struggles of people who catch strong feelings for each other. Plus, the story is supported by a humorous cast and likable characters.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Divergent (2014) Review:

Being in a futuristic eutopic society is not all it's cracked up to be. Throughout film, there have been plenty of movies that take place in the future where Earth has become a robotic like eutopic society. People must follow certain guidelines to maintain stable tranquility. Of course, because the main inhabitance are human, one individual is bound to think differently from the rest, thus making them different and a possible "threat" to everyone else. It's one of those self-discovery stories where the main protagonist must figure out for himself or herself where they belong among everyone else. This is what happens to a young girl named Beatrice.

Shailene Woodley (far right)
To know one's place in the world she lives in, citizens take a mental aptitude test which then they have the choice themselves to follow through on their test result or choose their own. Among these groups to choose, there's Factionless (poor), Abnegation (the givers), Candor (truthful), Amity (friendly), Dauntless (fearless), Erudite (the brains). Tris, as Beatrice will call herself later, chooses Dauntless not only because it fit her better than Abnegation of which she originated, but also because she discovered she was Divergent through the mental test. According to the world she lives in, Divergent individuals are being hunted due to how unpredictable they are. It is at this point Tris must learn how to keep herself under the radar.

This story is very character based. Audiences are introduced to a slew new people along the way and surprisingly it’s easy to follow. Plus, the actors play their roles with the right amount of charm to feel a connection to each of them, including the not so nice ones. Shailene Woodley as Tris is likable and is able to show genuine emotion when the time came. Tris also meets one of the leaders named Four (Theo James) who looks like a cross between Billy Zane and James Franco. He also gives his character the correct amount of enthusiasm to be interested in understanding more. The rest of the Dauntless crew that Tris gets to know is played by Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Christian Madsen and Zoë Kravitz, all of which give enjoyable human performances. Possibly one of the most likable jerks in this story however was Jai Courtney as Eric. His duo deadpan and mean spirited attitude make him one to be reckoned with and probably Courtney's best role thus far.

We also cannot forget the supporting characters played by the underrated Ray Stevenson, Tony Goldwyn, Mekhi Phifer and Kate Winslet. All of which have very minor roles but important ones nonetheless. What is really apparent about this character driven story was Neil Burger's direction of which the kinds of choices he had this character's make and the writing provided by Evan Daugherty (Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) & Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)) and Vanessa Taylor (Hope Springs (2012)). The development was one of its strongest points. The cinematography by Alwin H. Küchler (DP of R.I.P.D. (2013)) looked decent as well. He was able to show the contrast between what people normally see on the surface and the underground operations people don't know about. Even with a minimal amount of special effects they too were integrated well into the movie. No complaints there.

Jai Courtney as his punk self
Though even with all these good points, the film still suffers from other issues. For one, there are loopholes in its story. If this particular society is so rigid and perfectly made so there are no problems, why is it that there are still problems? How is it that if one character can change factions, the upper authorities won't know? This movie's running time was very close to two and a half hours, I'm sure they could have fit a quick explanation in somewhere. Then there was the music composed by Junkie XL. It certainly was a tolerable score with its hybrid mix of electronic and orchestra but there wasn't much to remember it by nor were there any themes for the franchise or characters themselves. It was effective in its scenes but still disappointing. Lastly, the action was a bit bland. It's obvious that it wasn't a full out action movie but audiences might expect more than a few fight sequences, a "captured the flag" like scene and a some other shootings. Perhaps it'll escalate? We will see. It certainly isn't a waste of a movie but it did need improvement on all other aspects besides its characters.

This movie is like the reversal of other fantasy films. It has a big cast with competent actors and writing that develops its characters effectively. With this, its supporting elements don't seem as exciting with average music and somewhat uninspired action scenes.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Woman in Black (2012) Review:

Ever since his introduction as Harry Potter from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001), Daniel Radcliffe will forever be remembered as the child actor who grew up to play Potter all the way to adulthood. Since the finale to the franchise, Radcliffe has been working at his very best to lose that image. With that, he officially displayed this to the public with the release of this ghost story. Although it is not a far departure from the genre Radcliffe originally started with, it shows that he started gradually. The Harry Potter series was not horror related but it did have spiritual entities from time to time. This story is along those lines too but with a much darker intent.

Ciarán Hinds as Sam Daily
Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps, a widower of one son looking to keep his job at a tough law firm. When given one more chance to maintain his position at the firm, his task is to finalize the latest condemned house in a marsh. Turns out this particular house has a secret only the townsfolk seem to know about and do not like talking about it. For Mr. Kipps, it'll be an eye-opening experience he did not see coming his way. The only person kind enough to help Kipps is Sam Daily (Ciarán Hinds), one of the wealthy men of the area who provides what feels to be a foil to Kipps'. Kipps believes that spirits possibly exist, while Sam doesn't. Yet, even with their opposite views, they are both likeable characters. This is where the writing succeeds in developing its protagonists thanks to Jane Goldman, who also wrote Kick-Ass (2010) and X-Men: First Class (2011).

Plus, James Watkins' direction lets the characters explore other avenues of solving certain issues differently than normal. Also there's the chilling background about the house in the marsh. Its story is tragic and unsettling. And how about that set design and camera work? Both go hand in hand. Tim Maurice-Jones' cinematography looks authentic with its backdrops and every picture has a very gray look, which not only matches the time period of this story but also sets the tone. Every color looks drained and almost to the point of ill. Kave Quinn's set design for the house is just too good. The entire house is that of what would look like if you returned to a house after two or more decades. Dusty, full of cobwebs, rickety floorboards and strange sounds. I get goosebumps just writing about it.

Marco Beltrami's score to the movie was also well thought through. Arthur Kipps had his own reoccurring theme and there was barely a track in the album that contained stings - which is nice for once. Frequently this is all the horror composers make in their scores and it gets not only repetitive but also tiresome. Beltrami comes up with some very creepy tunes. The only issues that arise in this movie are a few things. For one, pacing is a bit slow. This doesn't affect the overall flow but there are certain scenes that just feel like they drag sporadically. There's also continuity errors with which belongs to events that happened at a certain time. Specifically talking about how fast a body decays; the process of decay is slow but under certain conditions I'm sure the rate changes,...in this movie, it didn't seem to acknowledge that. Not too big of a deal, but it could make viewers curious,...briefly.

That house ......0_0
When it came to the horror elements to the film, there wasn't much at all specifically because of its PG-13 rating. But even for it's rating, it did have some very dark moments that were intense. The Woman in Black is not any better than Mary Shaw from James Wan's Dead Silence (2007). Nooo. However, along with that came the most cliche of horror movie tropes - jump scares. There are several moments where these particular jumps happen. Some work, while others don't. As mentioned before though, composer Marco Beltrami didn't include the stings in his album and that's appreciated. For horror movies, directors have to come up with some type of way to be either more creative with their jump scares or not use them at all. They are really becoming overused. As an overall experience though, it is a well made horror film that should be scene for any fan of the genre.

As one of the first movies Daniel Radcliffe doesn't play Harry Potter, he nails his part in this chilling ghost story. It has well-rounded writing, good music and even decent horror elements for a PG-13 movie.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Friday, December 5, 2014

Sniper: Legacy (2014) Review:

It really is amazing to how some franchises continue to thrive on after so long. Sniper (1993), Sniper 2 (2002) & Sniper 3 (2004) were all films that belonged to actor Tom Berenger. As Master Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Beckett, Berenger solidified his presence as the man behind this franchise. There's no other way to explain it, the Sniper film series must have a loyal following. And although the quality did slip initially, the stories have slowly progressed into a decent franchise. Fans were even more surprised when producers released Sniper: Reloaded (2011) with no Berenger but instead brought in young actor Chad Michael Collins and veteran actor from the original, Billy Zane. Not only did it surpass its two previous entries but also it brought up questions to how it would continue after that. Well here we are and wow. Another solid entry even though it did not exceed Sniper: Reloaded (2011).

Chad Michael Collins & Mercedes Mason
(forgot to mention but Mason is pretty cute)
Characters are hard to revive, especially when they go AWOL. Yet, this movie somehow achieves this in Tron: Legacy (2010) fashion (coincidentally along with the title). Out of nowhere, Beckett (Berenger) returns to greatness teaming up with his son and others to take out a deadly assassin who has gone rogue. If there's one character fans will be most happy to see, it's Tom Berenger. To be honest, with the previous movie I thought Berenger was done with the franchise. Apparently not and the interesting thing is, it's like Berenger never stopped being Beckett. He hasn't lost the attitude nor the mannerisms. As for others, Chad Michael Collins continues to be competent in his acting ability and its nice to see him finally meet up with his long lost father. Sadly, the topic of characters is where John Fasano's writing falters.

Even though audiences will finally see Brandon and Tom Beckett reunited, there are several missed opportunities for proper character development of these individuals. For example, where has Beckett been? Why did he leave Brandon? These are crucial questions to help the Beckett family reconcile past problems. Instead, it is initiated but scooted aside abruptly. Most audiences want an emotional attachment to their characters. By brushing it aside, your brushing aside what makes the character the character. There's also issues of unexplained plot holes. Questions like does he still have that finger stigmatism that began giving him problems from Sniper 3 (2004)? What happened to Lieutenant Ellen Abramowitz (Brandon's secret lover) and Richard Miller (Billy Zane) from Sniper: Reloaded (2011)? All these questions needed were quick logical answers, but are ignored through and through. The late Fasano was a decent writer, I guess going over these particular matters were not accepted by the producers or director Don Michael Paul. I don't know who, but they should've gone in this direction for a little bit.

Any of the new characters played by actors like Doug Allen, Dennis Haysbert, Dominic Mafham and Mercedes Mason perform respectively. It would've been nice though if the story stuck with one girl because Mason's character comes off like a love interest to Brandon but doesn't express it. If she was in Sniper: Reloaded (2011) then it would not have mattered because the audience would be able to remember from the prior film her relationship with Brandon. The same goes for the actress who played Lieutenant Ellen Abramowitz in the last sequel. Dominic Mafham had an interesting character portrayal. He resembled that of a good knock-off of Clive Owen. Dennis Haysbert doesn't get heavily involved but he does play a significant role and that's appreciated.

There he is!!
The action was nicely paced throughout. It was not as bloody as Sniper: Reloaded (2011) but it still entertained. This time, the action also included several firefights. Not just between Snipers but AK-47s and other handheld machine guns. As for camerawork, Martin Chichov achieved some beautiful scenery such as shorelines, urban terrain and grasslands. It's also nice how each Sniper film has changed locations around the entire world. Sniper (1993) was in Central America, Sniper 2 (2002) was in Europe, Sniper 3 (2004) was in Asia, Sniper: Reloaded (2011) was in Africa and this film takes place in the Middle East. The music by Frederik Wiedmann was appropriate. When there was action there was plenty of strings and percussion. But because there were barely any emotional scenes, it was hard to hear anything soft enough. However, because of the location Wiedmann did include several tracks that sounded appropriate for the setting and it felt authentic. It's not the best sequel but it is a good one.

It's writing misses several moments to develop its characters the way they should be, along with unexplained details from the last entry. Yet, the return of Tom Berenger feels too gratifying to be upset over for too long. The actors perform decently, the action, music and camerawork are all well staged.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Thursday, December 4, 2014

A Muppet Christmas: Letters to Santa (2008) Review:

The Muppets are no strangers to the Holidays. They have had many a film produced incorporating Christmas related themes. The best and most popular of them all was The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992). But that hasn't stopped the Henson Company. Before Kermit and his friends came back with their return film The Muppets (2011), they were still doing productions for the small screen. Prior to this, another holiday made for TV production was released - It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie (2002). Other than that, this is the Muppet's latest outing at the holiday season. Is really good? Mmmmm,..not unanimously but it is decent enough to be seen.

Deliver that mail!
This time, viewers follow their favorite characters at the post office waiting to send their holiday mail. When Gonzo forgets to put his in the mail, it’s up to Kermit and friends to find a way to get them to Santa on time. Here's what does work. First and foremost, The Muppets (and voice-actors) themselves. They are always key and the fact that they were of main focus all the time was great. The humor also works because of the certain situations Kermit and his friends get into. The gags range from bad jokes, silly puns and goofy reactions the Muppets make. Thankfully, these eye-inducing moments aren't as bad they could be because it’s the Muppets. Another element that will have viewers happy to see is the tone of this movie. Unlike It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie(2002) which had a very mean spirited tone, this feature has a much more upbeat feel and that's especially good.

Another good component was the cameos of various actors. This ranges from Whoopi Goldberg, Uma Thurman, Nathan Lane and even Michael Bloomberg. Camerawork by Luke Geissbuhler (the DP of Borat (2006)) was appropriate as was Chris Caswell's musical score. However, this is where things don't work. For one, the running time is too short. Yes it is a TV movie, but so was It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie (2002) and was well over an hour. The problem with this is that it cuts everything down to an unnecessary length. This goes for cast cameos and even the Muppet characters. That can be a bit frustrating if this is a Muppet Movie and you only see a few of the Muppets instead of the whole bunch for more than five minutes.

"What? You didn't tell me the running time is only an hour!?"
Along with that is issue of writing. The story for this movie is cute but again, with a shortened running time, everything must fall in place quickly or it won't work. With this comes cliche and convenient contrivances that either defy logic or are impossible to begin with. It's not to say it isn't funny or doesn't work but the story almost had a finale that would've seemed more mature and realistic than what was chosen. There can always be a happy ending but that doesn't mean it has to be exactly the way the audience expects it to be. Adding to the bit of blandness are the songs that the Muppets sing composed by Paul Williams. It's not that they bore but they're not as memorable as other Paul Williams pieces. It certainly won't be an hour wasted but it could've been better.

It has all of the basic components to make a really good Muppet Christmas movie but it instead comes off as fairly generic. The main problem is its running time, which trims down several parts that make up a good Muppet film.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Reach Me (2014) Review:

When it comes to ensemble cast films, it has been proven time and again, that even with star power, not every film is great. A successful example of a movie like this is Think Like a Man (2012). An exact opposite of this would be Movie 43 (2013), a film with an ensemble cast so large, it surprised everyone when it turned out to be one of the worst and most despised movies of the year according to many for several reasons. What’s interesting is that according to some, this is one of those movies that could ruin someone’s career. Is that really so? I do understand that this particular production is having a limited public release and was released digitally the same day of its public release (which isn’t a good sign). This film though isn’t by any means spectacular entertainment, but it does maintain a level of decent quality that should be acknowledged. Even with its flaws it is not the worst movie of the year, by far.

Kevin Connolly & Tom Berenger
The story is when a popular book called “Reach Me” of an anonymous writer under the guise as Teddy Raymond (Tom Berenger) takes the public by storm for its inspirational and self-motivating words. The audience will then be introduced to numerous other story threads revolving around other characters that are connected to the book in some way. Unfortunately, the writing, which is the most essential element, is the weakest. A probable reason why the writing wasn’t great was due to the running time. With only about an hour and half of time and more than three character threads, a lot of things have to be condensed. The problem being is that the separate story lines themselves have a few flaws. One flaw being that they are quick. Some scenes pertaining to a certain character thread last all of a minute and then transition over to another story line. It’s a bit disorienting when trying to focus on a character. For films like these, it’s understood that the focus cannot stay too long on a particular scenario but for only a minute feels slightly too quick to have it even register what just happened. Perhaps director John Herzfeld (who isn’t new to the job), should’ve consulted with editor Steven Cohen so that there was more time for these stories to breathe.

Another issue that arises is that not every subplot in each segment is properly concluded. This feels a like a waste in some cases. There’s no point in adding it to the story if it will not be concluded. On top of that, several character motivations are left unclear and for those who want an explanation, will feel frustrated, I know I did. With that, some of the actions characters make can feel and look cliché, which doesn’t help of course. However, matching these flaws is a number of good points. For one, the ensemble cast is quite diverse. There are several actors from different genres combined into one, under this title. To name some is Kevin Connolly, Sylvester Stallone, Thomas Jane, Lauren Cohan, Kyra Sedgwick, Danny Aiello, David O’Hara, Nelly, Terry Crews and Omari Hardwick. Surprisingly, they all work well off each other. Many of the characters portrayed have charm and acceptable chemistry with their co-stars. This does lead to some believable dramatic and comedic moments through the film. It’s not always effective but at times it is.

Thomas Jane being smooth with his badge
Coinciding with these “dramedy” elements is the score provided by Tree Adams. The score, which is sadly, unreleased, sounds very similar to that of Christopher Lennertz style of composition. This is good because the music appropriately matches the scenes, whether its organ, piano, sax and occasionally strings. There is no main theme and that’s also because it isn’t really a franchise to begin with. The cinematography provided by Vern Nobles is good too. There’s no particular style that Nobles heads for but he does get some very wide panning shots of various scenery and that gives a better idea to the audience of their location. However, the best aspect to this movie, is the message it wants to convey to its audience. That message is gathering the courage to move on no matter what your fear is. It’s this kind of life lesson that many people strive to hear from motivation speakers and it is important to understand. This is what the individual story lines work into the development of each character- reaching out to others. Unfortunately, with its negative responses and limited release its not going to be truly recognized. Again, it’s not fantastic but it is worth the time to see at least once.

Its writing gets cliché at times with unclear character motivations, a few unfinished subplots and choppy editing but its not awful. The actors give charming performances with occasional laughs and heartfelt moments along with good-looking camera work, and appropriate music. Its best element is the “dream big philosophy” that it is based on to help inspire others.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Friday, October 17, 2014

Annabelle (2014) Review:

As recently as the last half a century, dolls have been mostly used in cinema and in pop-culture for their looks. It is very questionable to who ever constructed such toys would think they excited kids, rather than creep them out. When referenced, the most notable creation people remember is Don Mancini's Child's Play (1988) series starring Brad Dourif as the infamous Chucky. Another one that comes to mind would be James Wan's Jigsaw from the Saw (2004) series. Even Billy from Dead Silence (2007), who was also headed by James Wan had their share of memorabilia. Then when Wan's The Conjuring (2013) hit theaters, viewers were briefly introduced to Annabelle,...another doll with some serious attitude issues. So what is the story behind this new addition and is it uniquely different from that of our other doll counterparts? Mmm...tough to say. It has its moments but more often than not, it comes off as a standard affair.

It is creepy,...but that's it
The Annabelle doll, like many others, was once just a collector’s item. Unfortunately, the period of time at which it was made is the problem. During the late 1960s, a normal family is attacked by a group of cult members for unknown reasons and along with that the doll becomes possessed. Gary Dauberman's first theatrical screenplay isn't bad, but it also isn't anything special. The fact that after seeing this movie, the background to why Annabelle needs to be kept in a glass case at the Warren's is so important is clear. But other than this, the writing lacks clarity - specifically on cult rules. How does one possess a doll with such ease? Who actually possesses the doll? A newly created demon? Or the individual who possessed it in the first place? All of which these questions get relatively skimmed over with explanations like - "Crazy people do crazy things" or "Cults summon demons". These are very generic answers, considering the pace at which it runs.

Cast wise, the family played by Annabelle Wallis and Ward Horton put in believable performances but do not stand out. Even veteran actor Tony Amendola (better known from Antonio Banderas' The Mask of Zorro (1998)) plays his typecast role - a priest. It's nice to see him, but again, nothing new. The most likeable character of the whole group was Evelyn (Alfre Woodard), a local bookstore owner. Evelyn had charm and character arc that was far greater than the rest. It's characters like these that viewers need more of. When it came to visual style, the majority of it was average to slightly above. James Kniest's cinematography is frequently flat. John R. Leonetti's direction is standard on most cases too. This is unfortunate due to how many horror films he's worked with in the past as the director of photography. This includes, The Conjuring (2013), Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013), Piranha 3D (2010), Dead Silence (2007) and Child's Play 3 (1991),....even Jim Carrey's The Mask (1994). In fact, there was a scene that could've been used as a twist ending but was then ignored. That would've been more horrific if it had ended like that.

Lost your carriage?
The violence is there but it is also very dry. I'm not sure if Leonetti was going for the "less is more" approach but it didn't work. Considering the scares aren't effective either because the Annabelle doll does barely anything. The movement of the doll is even more restricted and rigid than Chucky, Billy or Jigsaw. The only thing creepy about it was its face and never ending stare. Even eye movement or creaky head turning would’ve helped the doll feel more intimidating. The only elements that go above and beyond their mark are some tense scenes, special effects and music. The best scene to the movie is located in the attic. Whenever a baby cries,...its a bit unsettling. The special / practical effects look decent although what is given isn't frequent. Composer Joseph Bishara's music is alright. He does include emotional and creepy tunes, which involve heavy cello and piano. It’s bit more effective than The Conjuring score he made a year before, even though it does borrow from it because the stories are connected. Is it a decently made movie? Assembly wise yes,...as an experience? Not if you seen movies like this before.

Its connections to The Conjuring (2013) does give some insight but its own origins are bit cloudy. It's made professionally all the way down from its acting, special effects and music but it is rarely effective at being scary. Its execution is derivative at almost every level.

Points Earned --> 5:10

Friday, September 12, 2014

Hellboy Animated: Sword of Storms (2006) Review:

Cartoon TV movies are not uncommon in the world of popular characters. Several icons have had theatrical runs and then later on are moved to TV movies. Some stuck with live-action, while others turned to different methods.  For Guillermo Del Toro's Hellboy (2004), animation was the next route. For a few reasons, it’s understandable to why this was the definitive choice. First and foremost, animation is cheaper than live-action. The second reason would be the demographic. If it's a cartoon, there's a good chance more children would end up seeing it. A third possible reason was to see if it would turn into a series. A perfect example of this would be the TV movie / Direct-to-DVD release of Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins (2000). After its success, the cartoon became a running TV series on the Disney Channel. It’s interesting because this could have been like that but there are some things holding it back too.

It's difficult to say what time this installment of Hellboy takes place.  Since Dr. Broom (Hellboy's father) is not shown, it is assumed that it takes place after the first theatrical film. When a magical katana sword possesses the body of a Japanese Sword Historian, Hellboy, Liz and Abe Sapien are brought in. However, this doesn't exactly make it that much more exciting story wise. The story is about Hellboy taking on another spirit creature but it feels very detached from its predecessor. Just because it's not live-action doesn't mean the story can't continue from the events of the last movie. The back-story to the mystical katana sword is a bit cliche but not too dull to be bored with. The section of writing that suffers the most is the plot. Hellboy ends up being caught up in a mystical world where he has to find his way out and it takes up the majority of the movie. This is where it feels slow - even for a little over 70 minutes.

Another problem in this feature is the animation itself. The flow of how the characters move isn't that smooth. The mouth work to the voice acting looks rather rigid as well. And what's with Hellboy's design? A huge upper torso and scrawny goat legs? I think that could be evened out a little more. An element that doesn't need any fixing however is the level that this cartoon sets itself at. Meaning, it's edgy. Not edgy enough to have curvaceous women in it, but it does have some disturbing images, close to heavy violence and several swears. This is good and all but it does bring into question if this film was made for children. If it was made for children, all the things mentioned prior should've been toned down. And if it was for adults, it should've been made like the HBO Spawn series. The action and creature designs are note worthy though. Dark and creepy cartoons are not as common among animation movies so that's a plus.

Nice dental jobs
For voice acting is definitely smart of the casting department to grab ahold of Ron Perlman and Selma Blair. Their voices can't be replaced. The same also should've gone for David Hyde Pierce who voiced Abe Sapien from the live-action run. Nothing on Doug Jones who was the physical representation of Abe, but Pierce has always been the voice of scientific sounding characters. Jones’ voice as his own character doesn't accomplish that same feat. Phil LaMarr also has a few voice roles too. Listen for him. The score composed by Christopher Drake is well done. His tracks represent the scenes properly and he also maintains the establish recognizable theme Marco Beltrami had created from the first movie. That is commendable considering most composers either ignore or forget these key pieces. Its fun but not engaging enough like the original.

It provides some of the same quality like the original with its returning cast of voices, edgy action, grotesque creatures and music, but its writing isn't as polished. The story elements aren't as captivating as they were from before.

Points Earned -->6:10

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Sixth Sense (1999) Review:

After Die Hard (1988) had permanently made actor Bruce Willis a go to action star, he could couldn't get himself out of it. He did manage to snag a few roles that were out of the action genre but none of them really stuck. At least, not until he decided to take part in this little project.  There's also something to say about this films director, M. Night Shyamalan. It may not be his first directorial or writing job, but he certainly shows the kind of potential he had from the beginning. Of course, for many viewers now a days he's missing his mark to the point of no return. However, that is a discussion for another time. Ghost stories are not a new thing; they've been told several different ways. However, something about this particular story does make it quite different from the rest.

Just an ordinary boy,...maybe
Psychologist Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis), is given a case where a child, Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) is considered an outcast among his single mother and classmates for being strange for his own reasons. Along with this is Crowe's own subplot dealing with him trying to reconnect with his distant wife. Among the rest of the cast are other good actors which all pitch solid performances. Not one actor here gives a performance that isn't believable. In fact, for a horror film, it had several significant emotional moments along the way that helped define the its characters and gave them depth. Of these actors, Bruce Willis gave his most realistic showing that is not seen all too often. Frequently, Willis is playing sharp, hot-headed, wise-cracking characters. Here, he's the exact opposite - cautious, soft spoken and well-mannered. It's a nice change in character.

And of course with this inventive writing comes the respective errors. One big error is the continuity. The laws of how ghosts work are not kept clear to what their limitations are. An example of this would be how ghosts can touch certain physical objects and not others. Certain rules like these are difficult to follow, especially when it comes to certain plot points. When it came to the horror elements of this movie, it was effective in some areas, while others not so much. What did look well done were the practical effects. This helped create some disturbing images. Unfortunately, what didn't assist in making these images even creepier was the lighting and camera work. Tak Fujimoto, the cinematographer for Silence of the Lambs (1991) also worked for this project and his selection of lighting doesn't assist any of the jump scare moments in any fashion. If the whole scare shot is in total bright light from beginning to end, how is that going to be scary?

The face makes all the difference 
Musically related, James Newton Howard's score did its job accordingly. For the horror elements there were screeching strings and sudden percussion for the scares. This is typical but also doable. For the scenes with the more creep out factor, Howard used piano frequently that only relied on a number of keys to give that uneasy tone. Piano was also used for the more emotional scenes and they were probably the most effective due to the execution and writing behind the composition. It certainly did not have a memorable theme but its overall listening experience can be done solo without watching the movie. It is a decent movie with some apparent problems, but it still entertains.

Continuity flaws and authentic scares are not its strong points, but its creepy imagery, music and realistic practical effects help recover that loss. Along with that is Bruce Willis' most likable human performance to date with an interesting story and other believable showings from other actors.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

I, Frankenstein (2014) Review:

Frankenstein's monster, also referred to as Frankenstein, is not a common name. He's been represented in media in a number of different ways. His most famous incarnation was the self titled Frankenstein (1931). Now imagine taking the classic tale and putting it on its head. Is it something that anyone asked for? No not really. It's like the difference between Lincoln (2012) and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012). This is only one of a few reasons why this movie just didn't work for a lot of viewers. Another reason is based on marketing. Its release was in January, which’s already a gamble. The starring actor was Aaron Eckhart, someone better known for playing supporting roles as of late. And lastly was the title - were they trying to get peoples' attention by making it read like Alex Proyas' I, Robot (2004) from a decade before? So just from this, it already seems clear to why this filmed failed to impress without even being viewed. But looking closer at it, it does provide some entertainment. Though it by no means is spectacular either.

The book of Dr. Victor Frankestein
Based off Underworld (2003) creator Kevin Grevioux's Darkstorm graphic novel of the same name, Aaron Eckhart plays Dr. Victor Frankenstein's creation, or Adam as he's later addressed. After taking it upon himself to live his own life, he learns there's a holy war being waged between Heaven and Hell for centuries over the human world. The factions are the Gargoyles, lead by Queen Leonore (Miranda Otto) and the Demons lead by Prince Naberius (Bill Nighy). What Adam doesn't understand is that although he doesn't care which side wins, his creation is more significant than he thinks when determining the winner. Much of this is attained through self-discovery but also exposition. Along the way he also befriends a scientist named Terra (Yvonne Strahovski). Writing as a whole is solid in structure for its main characters, but not ground breaking anywhere else. Although he's not normally cast as a lead, Aaron Eckhart does give an enjoyable performance as Frankenstein's monster. More often than not, he's always frowning, but there is a reason for it so that's acceptable. Besides, he does develop in some respects anyway.

Watching Bill Nighy as Prince Naberius was satisfying. Although his presence is not as menacing as his portrayal of Davy Jones from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, he at least tries to be just as eccentric. Yvonne Strahovski as the scientist may not be very special, but she's not made into a cliched love interest either. Other than that, every other actor is forgettable. It's not to say their performance was bad, it's just that their character wasn't very crucial to the story line. For plot, the concept of an eternal war fighting for the control of the human world isn't unique at all. There are several films like this that rely on such a familiar rendition. With that are also a number of noticeable plot holes (some involving Adam) that don't entirely quite add up. For example, how is that this holy war has been going on and no human knows about it? Plus, the viewer isn't given a sense of setting to where this takes place. If a viewer is paying close attention it won't make much sense. Strikingly enough, the plot points that lead up to these plot holes are alluring in its mythology.

That grimace
When it came to action and special effects, it did entertain. It certainly felt like this film had a modest budget considering how flashy its effects were. Sadly, as much as the action entertained, it didn't feel as frequent as viewers might hope. Aaron Eckhart can sure fight - his best action scene was between him and one of Naberius' henchmen. That was intense. The infrequent action was more than likely due to director Stuart Beattie handling the project. Beattie is also a contributor behind the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Cinematography by Ross Emery was okay in some places, but majority of the picture remains in the same lighting. I'm not even sure there was one daylight scene longer than a minute. The music by duo composer group Reinhold Heil & Johnny Klimek sounded like they're improving. It’s confusing to why they didn't create a main theme for such a timeless character. They did however lighten up on screeching strings. This time, the string instruments used, tread on their notes to create tension, which is effective. Inside these action cues were vocals, strong brass and a bit of piano. Together, gave the story a tragic sound. This is respectable considering the story of Adam is tragic in its own way. It isn't the greatest adventure film, but it does have a fun factor.

Just by its title and look, it does seem like a waste. When in fact, that's not entirely true. Its writing isn't perfect or even close to being decent, but it does maintain a level of liveliness that should make it watchable. The action, music, special effects and Aaron Eckhart as the lead show the required effort that this picture deserves to be a slightly above average viewing.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Monday, September 1, 2014

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007) Review:

When a sequel performs just as well at the box office as its predecessor, viewers know that a third entry is already underway in hopes of making a trilogy. This was no shock at all to viewers when Pirates of Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006) blew away the competition when released. In fact, the entire cast began preparing for the third, simultaneously while completing the first sequel. These particular preemptive steps are not uncommon, but risky if plans did not go accordingly. Thankfully for them, their hunch was right. As for this particular entry, it continues to maintain the fun factor in multiple aspects of the film. Yet, there are a few things that don't work this time.

Off to find Ol' Jacky boyyy
For one thing, the continuity remains faithful to the last two films. After Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) died and went to Davy Jones' Locker, Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Capt. Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) join together to find a way to get Sparrow back. The catch, is that it requires more help than they think. Also returning is Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) and Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) who make a temporary alliance to help get what they want as well. And as for every other character from the last two films, they appear too, plus a little extra. For example, Naomie Harris as the witch, Tia Dalma, returns for a larger role, Chow Yun-Fat plays a Pirate lord from Singapore and even Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones has a minor but entertaining role. The best part of these casting decisions is that the new and old characters have the right charisma for each role and are likable on screen.

Unfortunately with this comes a price. The drawback being that there are too many individual character story lines. It's overwhelming and confusing at the same time. Will Turner, Jack Sparrow, Davy Jones, Capt. Barbossa, Cutler Beckett, and Elizabeth Swann all have their own agendas of which none agree with anybody else's goals. With this, the end results in quite a cluttered story with several subplots – it’s not easy to follow. And the fact that its not easy to follow is the most surprising part. With a running time clocking in at almost 3 hours, one would think that there would be enough time to fully understand each character’s plan, but only a few are actually understandable. Plus, not every viewer can sit through a movie close to 3 hours. The story telling has to be really focused and unfortunately Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot just put in too much all at once. I guess they forgot bigger isn't always better.

The only other problem this film has is that again, with it having the longest running time thus far, it feels like it also contains less action sequences that the last two. Or at least the action feels more sporadic. It's disappointing because a 20-minute finale sometimes doesn't make up for lost time in-between. Thankfully, the special effects do mesh well with the live-action and when there is action, it does entertain. Sword fighting and cannon fire is exciting to watch at sea. So that's not to say that these two writers from the last two films didn't do anything else right. There are also several moments of comedy throughout and they all don't belong to Johnny Depp either. Mainly Geoffrey Rush has several comical lines but so do various shipmates as well.

Chow Yun-Fat
Cinematography as always looked great. Dariusz Wolski maintains his steady hand getting great shots of the sea and various islands. It should make viewers feel like that's where they should go for their next vacation. Lastly, the musical score was produced by ever-popular Hans Zimmer. For the most part, Zimmer continues to sustain his catchy pirate themes for Jack Sparrow and the franchise. But for this entry, Zimmer includes some new tunes of which some come across as more bizarre than engaging. An example would be when Sparrow is in Davy Jones' Locker. Zimmer just plays "boing-boing" sounds. It does represent the scene accurately because Jones' Locker is weird, but it feels like there could've been a better way to express it. It's not as strong as the last two but it still has a level of quality and entertainment.

Its cast and crew preserve the traits of the last two movies with its set of likable characters, catchy music, energetic action and special effects. The biggest problem with this entry is that with too many smaller story lines cluttering the main plot, it can get tiring to follow with a clear understanding. Plus, with a running time close to 3 hours, it may lose its viewer's interest by then.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The 6th Day (2000) Review:

As time continues to move forward, the technological advances that are made, will too move forward. It's a movement that will never cease and sometimes has the ability to open doors that shouldn't be opened. Today, cloning is a possibility - it's no longer a question of how. The question is when, and would it be a good time to make it available for the public to use. At this time, it's not an easy question to answer. There are numerous pros and cons that need to be looked at before making anything official. The biggest issue however is, who's going to be in control of it and can society trust them to take care of it properly. These specific bottom line questions are the basis to this sci-fi thriller. Unfortunately, with that come other problems.

Hey now,....didn't see that coming
In this future, cloning another human is an illegal act. When Adam Gibson (Arnold Schwarzenegger) discovers that he's been cloned, he finds out that out that one of them needs to be taken out. In some respects the story feels like a carbon copy of Total Recall (1990), a much better Schwarzenegger film involving an identity crisis. With that said, there are aspects to the writing that is different because cloning is the footing to the plot. One of the problems is making this an Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle. It's not to say putting Schwarzenegger in the film was the wrong choice, but making him specifically apart of the plot and not the topic was the wrong decision. If this movie were supposed to raise awareness of cloning, I'm pretty sure people would be more concerned about the topic than an extra Arnold walking around. This is where Roger Spottiswoode misses the mark in his directional skills with this thought-provoking concept.

Nonetheless, cast wise there is only a few actors worth mentioning because every other character is uninteresting. Schwarzenegger still delivers his lines with comedy so at least there are some lighthearted moments. Tony Goldwyn (the voice of Tarzan from Tarzan (1999)) plays Michael Drucker, a billionaire in the realm of cloning technology. This guy is just like a politician even though he's not anywhere close to one. Then there's Robert Duvall playing Dr. Weir, a supporter of cloning. These three characters are the only individuals that have development. The best of these three however is Dr. Weir. There is one specific scene that opens his eyes to reality and its gratifying to see. Oh, there is one other actor worth mentioning here – this is Terry Crews’ film debut. The year 2000 is quite some time ago.

Michael Drucker (Goldwyn)
Other than this, the final elements that complete this movie are not that entertaining. You would think because it stars Arnold Schwarzenegger in a Sci-fi film, it would have decent action. Not here. This movie just contains a lot of laser shootouts. It's really not that exciting. The special effects that coincide with these aren't that spectacular either. Trevor Rabin's synthetic score to the film was average. At times he did emulate the electronic tunes that went well with the genre, but there were also other times where it was just plain and bland. There was no main theme that was memorable. The most obnoxious part of this movie was the editing, and the crew had three editors! It was like they were all fighting for different editing styles. There are numerous cut scenes that zip through the dialog and it’s unclear to what's going on. That was annoying.

The few main cast members give okay performances along with its message of the dangers with cloning. Though other than this, much of it is boring. The action, music and the rest of the cast and crew are dull in a number of ways.

Points Earned --> 5:10