Friday, November 27, 2015

The Imitation Game (2014) Review:

When it comes to war, frequent successes have been documented in and out of the battlefield. Sure, the act of participating in war results in a much different human being when it's all over Vs doing everything else behind the lines but either or, they all played a part in the meat grinder that is the lethal conflict between countries. During the first number of years in World War II, Germany had several nations on the run or at least just barely holding their own against Adolf Hitler and his Nazi followers. One of the reasons why Germany was so on top of the game was due to their communication system known as Enigma. Enigma was a crafty setup of transmissions that had a certain code attached to it but had a time stamp of only a day. Once the time expired, the Nazis would then reset their code and start with a fresh slate. For the allied powers (at the time excluding the US), this was a real pain because deciphering the code was difficult enough, but then having to figure out a new set every day turned out being more than many could handle.

Keira Knightley
Enter Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), the man who would discover how to crack the complex Nazi communication code. The story mainly follows the points in time of how Turing works towards figuring out a solution to understanding how Hitler and his crew were so untouchable. Along with that are a number of flash forwards and backwards to help develop Turing as the main lead. Headed by Norwegian director Morten Tyldum and written by Graham Moore in their first British film with a west coast release, this movie has a number of points throughout its run time that demonstrate the point of this film is not about the triumph of good over evil in World War II, but of something deeper. World War II and cracking Enigma is more of a backdrop than anything else to this highly character driven story. Throughout the film, viewers are introduced to various other individuals that influence Turing in several ways. Keira Knightley plays Joan Clarke, a tough female who also cares a lot for Turing.

Matthew Goode plays a collaborative associate with Turing and although they both start off on the wrong foot, they end up mending their points of view for the better of others. Charles Dance plays the commander in charge of Turing and regrets ever giving him a chance after Winston Churchill put Turing in charge of the program. Mark Strong also has a role as 2nd in command and has further information given about him later. Last of importance is Rory Kinnear who plays a detective after the events of World War II who's looking to interview Turing. What's great about Kinnear's part is that he basically serves as the audience - asking certain questions in which the answers given can be interpreted by they themselves along with Kinnear's scripted reactions. The supporting cast is what truly helps give the story such a strong foundation. Without the right actors and a properly written script, the character development would not have been as strong. There are several moments that may even through the audience off guard.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing gives a believable performance and as awkward as the main lead is portrayed, he still carries an enormous amount of charm. Much of this comes from the fact that Turing speaks his mind very bluntly. This is not because he's immature or does so just because. He does it because he knows he's right and the delivery at which it is given is deadpan. This in itself evokes the whole point and main theme behind the screenplay. The moral is to be yourself no matter what people say or think about you. Many viewers will be able understand and connect to Turing as time goes on. Turing was no Albert Einstein who is usually helmed as one of the greatest scientists of an older generation. Turing was a tragic hero, a person who faced failure and aggression everywhere he went all because of him trying to crack a Nazi code with radical ideas. Adding to that development is how Turing deals with discovering the solution and then running into more obstacles after that personally and professionally. It's not like once the solution was found everything was hunky dory, no sir.

"Are we going to stare all day or,...."
It is interesting to see the facts given in the epilogue to the story. Knowing and understanding the history behind it is an informative move. However once this happens, in some ways the film feels like it was trying to prove a conspiracy theory because of how top secret this operation was. This is stated because it will make the viewer wonder how things could've turned out if Alan Turing did not step up to the task of cracking the Enigma code. Outside of the written areas of the film, the other technical parts were adequate. Oscar Faura as the cinematographer produced well lit and clear shots for the film. No panning landscape shots were filmed but it was nice to see various clips of historical archive footage. The music composed by Alexandre Desplat was kind of a disappointment though. There are some effective tracks but not a whole lot of it stood out as memorable. Most of the score came across as largely generic with no reoccurring motif. Oh well, guess you can't have everything.

It's music feels somewhat underdeveloped and it sometimes feels like it's trying to unveil a conspiracy theory but it isn't a huge issue. The cast all act very well, the script develops its characters effectively and the its overall message about accomplishing one's goals is an inspiring tale told through Alan Turing's life experiences.

Points Earned --> 8:10

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Smiley (2012) Review:

If there is one thing to say about Hollywood that many filmgoers will agree on is that it’s no longer being original with their material. For most cases this occurs because many film makers, whether being the director, writer or actor are either lazy trying to get their yearly pay or because they really don't have an understanding of the project they were cast for. On the other hand, it could also be because the process of being original is not the smoothest task to begin with believe it or not. That's why the category of A-list actors is much smaller by comparison to anything below them. So when looking at horror genre films, it might be easier to understand why there haven't been many new horror icons of recent memory other than a few. A large portion of popular killers came from the 1970s and 1980s. After that, the challenge became much steeper for anyone who came after. Like much film students nowadays, much were inspired and influenced by such films. The director to this movie, Michael J. Gallagher, probably has been subjected to the same experience.

Because killing for fun is funny......smh
Having a script also written by the director already brings into question whether this could be made competently. As for the final product, it shows that Mr. Gallagher may have not been ready. Viewers are introduced to college freshmen Ashley (Caitlin Gerard), the daughter of a widower who lost her mom to suicide. After moving in with her friend Proxy (Melanie Papalia), they learn that a strange craze is taking over the campus. The craze is using a random Internet chat roulette program. When somebody wants the other person to die (of course, because any does), they type into the chat forum "I did it for the lulz" three times. As a result, the person gets stabbed by a character only known as Smiley for his face looking like an over fanatic fan of Zack Snyder's Watchmen (2009) pin. After Ashley and Proxy try it out for themselves to see if it was real, they get nervous and begin to feel like they might be next on Smiley's hit list.

Directly taking ideas from the "Bloody Mary" urban legend, the script is a giant mess of confusing logic with a number of other flaws. If anything, the killer has a grotesque design but even then it's also nonsensical. There's very little to talk positively about here. The cinematography handled by Nicola Marsh (Twenty Feet from Stardom (2013) and Pearl Jam Twenty (2011)) kept the camera steady for the most part. Marsh also gave as many clear shots as he could even for the lighting in this movie. The only other plus is there are roles filled in by some Internet / veteran celebrities most notably Shane Dawson. There are a couple others but the script makes them sound unintelligent and boring. Writing overall isn't convincing either. There are moments where the Ashley character is focused on due to mental disorder but it's only used to further the illogical story telling. Then there's Roger Bart (the singing voice of Young Hercules in Disney's Hercules (1997)) who plays what seems to be Ashley's only college professor of an unknown class.

Bart plays his character so strangely, he feels creepier than the villain. Not only does he openly address classmates strangely in public; he also likes to constantly stare at his students and casually drink whiskey (like its coffee, without even flinching) on his down time. What's up with this guy? Really the only purpose for Bart's role is to give obvious script fodder to the viewer so the main character continues to try and figure out their situation. Finally topping off the disappointment of actors to be seen here is veteran Keith David playing the head of the local police who does nothing but ignores Ashley's claims. He's probably the best part but also the worst because of how he's not used to the film’s advantage. It's Keith David! As for the villain himself, he too is sorely lacking any kind of development. With a backstory rushed in at the first five minutes at the beginning of the film it only shows how much thought was put into this character.

"Smile for your portrait"
Apparently this character stitched his eyes and mouth shut. First, how did he do it on his own? Plus, how can he still say understandable words and clearly see? And where did his nose go? Was it surgically removed? Making things even more confusing is how this villain operates. How does he know when you type "I did it for the lulz" three times? What if you do this to two different people at the same time from two different locations? There's no motive for any actions this individual takes. It makes no sense. The kills in this film are nothing to praise either. There's nothing that looks overly painful or gross. It's very standard with typical stabbings and shootouts. The scares are pointless too because all that Mr. writer/director knows how to do is jump scares. Lastly, the musical score to this production made by Dave Porter was of no importance as well. Almost entirely atmospheric, the film score is largely dull in several areas of the running time. There's no main theme or recognizable motifs for anything. It's really close to not worth it.

Aside from okay cinematography, internet and veteran actors having roles in the film, there's not much to enjoy other than how ludicrously inept the characters are made from a script with enormous plot holes. The horror aspect is MIA and the violence has no invention behind it.

Points Earned --> 3:10

Friday, November 20, 2015

Inspector Gadget 2 (2003) Review:

Disney today has gone through multiple changes throughout its history. There's the classical period, the slump period, the renaissance period and the rise to super studio power in the late 2000s. However even during the 1990s when Disney was breaking records in its animated films, they also were breaking records in flops in another type of film. Those films were in live-action, many of which were derived from cartoons from decades before. For those cases, Disney had made some pretty bad films. Mr. Magoo (1997), George of the Jungle (1997) and Inspector Gadget (1999) being relatively the last bunch of theatrical releases to be made, for the most part signaled the end of such cartoon live-action adaptations. But even for Disney, nothing would stop the studio giant from making a little extra cash even after that. Some years later, Disney would release sequels to some of these movies and for the poorly adapted Inspector Gadget (1999), he too got his own. The question is, is it worth a watch?

G2 (Elaine Hendrix)
Ehhh, some respects yes because there seems to be improvement. Then again, there really was no need to begin with because a sequel will not make up for the mistakes of the first. With a script written by the director Alex Zamm (Chairman of the Board (1998), Tooth Fairy 2 (2012) and Jingle All the Way 2 (2014)) and two other writers, the adaptation part of the film is more faithful to that of the original cartoon. And for some viewers, that may be all they need because the entirety of the movie does feel more cartoonish than that of the first movie. When Dr. Claw (Tony Martin) escapes from prison, it's up to Inspector Gadget (French Stewart), his niece Penny (Caitlin Wachs) and newly activated member G2 (Elaine Hendrix) to bring the evil mastermind to justice. The idea is as routine as ever but it again sticks to the formula that made the cartoon what it was. Also what makes this film more faithful than the one before is that most of Dr. Claw's face is kept concealed from the audience. It was a big gripe people had with the 1999 film.

As stated in the plot prior, much of the cast from the first film have been replaced or rewritten out. The only actor who didn't get replaced was D.L. Hughley as the Gadget Mobile; because people loved him the most? Also there's no mention of whatever happened to Joely Fisher's role as Brenda who played Gadget's love interest in the first movie.  French Stuart as Gadget looks more like his cartoon counterpart than Matthew Broderick. Caitlin Wachs taking over Michelle Trachtenberg's role performed okay but nothing special. As for Claw, Tony Martin's portrayal Vs Rupert Everett is not hilariously funny but it’s alright. Elaine Hendrix as G2 was okay even though her role was very contrived. It's pretty obvious what she serves as to Gadget. If there's one thing that stays true through this film is that almost every actor chews up the scenery around them. Almost every scene is super hammy. It's not bad occasionally or maybe for one character but even the less important characters are biting at the corners of every frame.

With that being said, the comedy isn't that funny either. Thankfully, Disney toned down the inappropriate humor from the first film but didn't bother fix anything else. The one liners are formulaic and predictable but they do at least sound more believable being delivered from Stewart than Broderick. Dr. Claw also has a bunch of stock henchman that do act like the cartoon but here just feel silly. Of all things, why would Dr. Claw hire a single ninja? Also sometimes the dialog doesn't make a lot of sense due to certain characters having knowledge that goes unexplained. How would one specific character know how a mechanical device works if the villain didn't even give the obligatory exposition to them? The stretch of the imagination only goes so far. Seeing Dr. Claw make a weapon out of 3 or 4 non-connective items is one thing, but knowing how it works without even being told? Yeah,...not buying it.

"Look how unimpressive my  CGI is...."
Even with this mediocre writing, there is still some visual integrity. The special effects to this entry are adequate for its budget even though they are not as polished as the first film. However considering it was 12 million Vs 75 million (estimated), that's not entirely bad. There are places where it’s noticeably fake though. The cinematography shot by Geoffrey Wharton who is usually just a camera operator does okay here. There's no strange angles or up close facial zoom-ins so that's praiseworthy. Anything else though is just standard shooting. The musical score composed by Chris Hajian is okay too. Even though the sound is not as bombastic as John Debney's version of the first one, Hajian retains the Inspector Gadget theme and does what he can to make it sound acceptable for a DVD sequel. The overall product is still messy but some may like it more than the original film.

Having its cast mainly replaced, the actors are a lot hammier, the comedy is still predictable and the effects do look somewhat cheaper. However some of the writing does follow the cartoon more this time than the first movie and although not everything makes sense it feels more like an extended cartoon episode. So that kind works in its favor.

Points Earned --> 5:10

Friday, November 13, 2015

Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter (1984) Review:

Horror icons are just hard to kill plain and simple. Hollywood studios has shown its viewers many a time that if an audience so desires to see one type of formula repeated and repeated and repeated, the amount of people it will appeal to will split. At some point viewers who will recognize the formula will get tired and want to experience something relatively new. Meanwhile, the viewers who enjoy ingesting the same material day-in and day-out will continue to watch what they find entertaining. A great contemporary example of that is Michael Bay's Transformers (2007) franchise. By the fourth entry, many of the fans from the first were not attending the screenings because the formula became so repetitive. The same can be said for the Friday the 13th (1980) franchise. What started out with a premise that caught many peoples attention, soon grew into a series of copies of itself almost on an annual basis with declining quality. Now although this entry isn't worse than Friday the 13th Part III (1982), it's showing no improvement.

Rob (Erich Anderson)
After proving himself worthy of heading a horror movie with his own The Prowler (1981), director Joseph Zito was hired. According to sources however he was also expected to write, but instead hired Barney Cohen to do it for him. Before this film, Cohen had only written for a couple films in the late 1970s and some TV episodes; all of which were not in the horror genre. Is also probably safe to assume he did not view any of the other films before this entry because there is absolutely no originality in this screenplay whatsoever. With a beginning to this movie looking like how writer Alan B. McElroy got his idea on how to open Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers (1988), familiar viewers who are hoping for something new to happen in the plot will be disappointed. There is no story being told really. A bunch of sexually active teenagers (of which resemble the same set of personalities from the last three films prior) stay out in a rental home next to another family near Camp Crystal Lake. Once that's set up, Jason is all that is needed to complete the film.

Aside from one character named Rob (Erich Anderson) having a motive to why he's roaming around the same area, no other character is interesting. Anderson's character is related to a victim from one of the previous films, but the continuity is even less elaborated on than the continuity from Friday the 13th Part III (1982) had to Friday the 13th Part II (1981). No other character receives any kind of development other than who's going to sleep with one another in bed. Sure, everyone has a libido but it seems as if that's all this film has. A viewer who wants to be invested in a character can not react properly if they don't learn any kind of lesson. With that said, much of the characters on screen are just boring and make the pacing slow down. If anything, if viewers want to see what some actors looked like before they were well known this series seems to be good at doing that. There's appearances by Judie Aronson, Kimberly Beck, Crispin Glover and Corey Feldman.

Playing Jason Vorhees for this entry is actor Ted White. Mostly for doing a lot of unknown parts to other films like Tron (1982) and Starman (1984), he is able to fit the look of what people know Jason to look like. As for the actual part that Jason plays in, it feels almost wasted. For anyone who has kept up with the series thus far, why must the movie project its main villain as a mysterious character? Anytime the camera scans various characters as if they are being watched, an experienced viewer knows its Jason. So why even conceal it? There's nothing about it that could get someone thinking to themselves "Could that be him?". Sadly even the kill scenes are mediocre even with the beloved help of Tom Savini's practical gore effects. Although Friday the 13th Part III (1982) was more gimmicky than anything else trying to sell the 3D aspect, the kills were at least unique in the sense of trying to be three dimensional. Here, only small bits of the violence seemed inventive.

"Hmm,...guess I'm going to need new fingers"
Finally is camerawork and music. João Fernandes took on the role as cinematographer. For Fernandes, the camera remains steady, which is good. Anything resembling that of Jason's point of view shots remain acceptable. Is it anything to be impressed with? No but it's not bad either, it's just standard. The same would/could be said for Harry Manfredini returning to compose his signature score once more. The only problem is that sometimes even for this entry the music felt unnecessary in some scenes. With the main theme of various string progressions that gives the scene a sense of uncertainty, it occasionally feels too over dramatic. This is especially obvious when some viewers know Jason is not around. Plus, there's even jump scares for scenes that aren't even the list bit scary. It's difficult to say whether Manfredini was just on autopilot or was still trying to make the film scary. Either way, it wasn't the most effective as it could've been.

For a series with such a devoted fan base, it is amazing to how dull this series is getting. Jason Vorhees will always be a menacing character but so far, he's been surrounded by uninteresting characters and has had barely a plot about himself. The music is kept the same but is beginning to miss too. Not even his kill scenes were as memorable. The only things that may be worth someone's time is seeing various actors when they were younger, steady camerawork and some of the traditional practical effects.

Points Earned --> 4:10

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Peanuts Movie (2015) Review:

The daily newspaper comic strip of Charlie Brown and friends (AKA The Peanuts) has been around for decades. Created by Charles M. Shulz in the 1950s about a bald headed kid doing his best to get by in life like any other average Joe, seemed to stick with its audience. Schulz passed away in 2000, far too long to see his largely popular foundation publicized in this fashion – full on Hollywood style. It’s surprising that this even happened though. When most beloved childhood properties or cartoons become produced by a big budget Hollywood studio, people are less than pleased. The whole idea of taking something from the past is to either bring it to current time or at the very minimum reintroduce it to a new generation as it was when it was originally made from its inception. Schulz did have the classic animated specials for the holidays and even a short-lived TV show, but having it brought to the big screen never felt like it was ever a part of his intentions.  Perhaps it never was, but it’s safe to say this will not make him roll in his grave.

"Smile Charlie Brown!"
Taking a look at the credits, it is clear as to why this film is as good as it is. First, Steve Martino, the same director of Dr. Seuss’ adaptation Horton Hears a Who! (2008), directs it. Secondly, the descendants of the creator himself, Bryan and Craig Schulz were the writers. From that alone there seems to be a decent amount of people who care about this project. The plot is the classic story for new generations that are not familiar with The Peanuts crew. Charlie Brown and his friends discover a new classmate has come to their town. That new person is no other than Charlie Brown’s crush, the little red-haired girl. Meanwhile, Snoopy’s having trouble of his own with the red baron constantly fouling up his plans. Anyone who enjoys Snoopy and friends will continue to enjoy how this film takes the things people love about them and runs with it. There are numerous references to other iconic Peanuts moments; the list is long. There’s also a lot of new material as well. An example of this is when Charlie Brown ends up becoming the most popular kid in the school and how his life dramatically changes. These different scenarios are important because they put Charlie Brown in new situations probably not even the veterans of the comic have scene.

Also, Snoopy’s story arc is delightfully written as the allegory to Charlie Brown’s life struggle where the Red Baron is Chuck’s annoying bad luck that doesn’t cease to leave him alone. The voice actors to this production are well cast and perfectly blend with their animated counter parts. Noah Schnapp as Charlie Brown was perfect, Alexander Garfin as Linus was great, Hadley Belle Miller as Lucy had the best attitude to match, Bill Melendez (if were still alive would've been 99 this year!) voices Snoopy and it’s as cute as ever. The list is too long to fully mention but all cast members perform their roles spot on. For writing of various characters they all get a decent amount of screen time too and their own gags. There are times when they do act in ways that seem rather silly but these are children based characters, which makes them gullible so that is acceptable. If there's anything that doesn't make sense to this film is the fact that a cinematographer was needed (Renato Falcão). There have been animated films that have credited cinematography but it's not common. So as to what was filmed physically isn't answered but that doesn't diminish the quality.

The Flying Ace
The animation is another solid component to this feature. Headed by senior animator Joseph Antonuccio (Rio (2011) and Epic (2013)), almost every scene flows extremely well. There are areas where the animation looks choppy but this was apparently done on purpose to resemble that of the older films. As long as there's a reason. One thing though that stands out is the 3D texturing on this 2D film and that doesn't mean watching it in 3D either. The fact that Charlie Brown's shoes look like real tangible leather and Snoopy's fur is made up of individual follicles is astounding. Then there's the film score by Christophe Beck and soundtrack by various artists. Meghan Trainor's "Better When I'm Dancin'" and Flo Rida's "That's What I Like" both help bring forth the moral of the story about believing in oneself and not giving up. They are both catchy and optimistic songs. Christophe Beck's score is another added bonus. To hear The Peanuts main theme in full updated orchestra sound is truly something. Plus Beck adds in a lot of his signature instrument sounds with organ, drums and even bells. By far though, his most effective motifs are when he brings out the solo piano that reminisce of his Paperman (2012) score and it does tug on the heartstrings. Very effective and heart warming.

Seeing Snoopy, Charlie Brown and his crew for the first time in a long time with updated animation and music are great. The story is a classic and although it has been used before, it is still an original nonetheless. It’s new for people unknown to it and a favorite for the fans. Topping that off is the spectacular cast of child actors who helped bring the characters to life and a script with fortified character development.

Points Earned --> 10:10