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