Friday, July 29, 2016

Westworld (1973) Review:

Throughout his career, science fiction novelist Michael Crichton has had a profound influence on the history of film and stories. Although the variety of Crichton's work doesn't differ greatly, much of his ideas bring up intriguing questions about our existence as the human race. Of Crichton's work, the most popular of his films was Jurassic Park (1993) dealing with re-animated dinosaurs running a muck. Yet 20 years earlier, Crichton had wrote and directed another science-fiction film involving other creatures running a muck. The creatures this time are robots. With technology ever increasing in its complexity, people take it for granted more often than before. The question is, do we realize how realistic this technology has become? Everyday that passes, this applied science gets closer and closer to our personal lives to the point where we can interact with it as well. This is no longer a fantasy nowadays and that can be a scary thing. What happens with these machines become self-aware? Will we know how they'll react?

Richard Benjamin & James Brolin
Taking place some time in the future, the world has created Delos, the "perfect vacation resort". Consisting of three different time capsules; Romanworld, Medievalworld and Westworld, where each visitor can experience life as it was during that time for $1000 a day (oh yeah, pocket change). Helping make these three settings as realistic as possible, the Delos system uses robots that look like real people. The only way to tell the difference between a real human and these fake ones is by looking at their hands. Audiences will learn this after being introduced to Peter Martin (Richard Benjamin) and John Blane (James Brolin), two visitors to the resort; Blane of which is a returning guest. Martin on the other hand has never been to Delos and is excited to experience the authenticity of it. Behind the curtain of Delos, a sophisticated network of technicians and other workers help keep things moving. If a robot breaks down, it's hauled back for repair. However, things are acting up more than usual lately.

According to the Chief Supervisor (Alan Oppenheimer), the robots have been encountering frequent issues for strange reasons. There needs to be answers but no one knows why. How is that? The only answer given is that it's some kind of "disease", which is immediately impeded by another board member saying how could a machine have a disease? But that's as far as it goes. For Jurassic Park (1993), saying that the dinosaurs became smart is somewhat acceptable and if that were the answer that would also work. Nevertheless leaving the inquiry as possibly a disease doesn't solve much. The other noticeable problem with this film is its pacing. As Michael Crichton's first theatrical film he directed, this could be the reason why his direction wasn't on point. There are moments where scenes move slower than usual and some events that take place feel longer than necessary. Plus remembering that he also wrote for this film probably added to the amount of work Crichton had to deal with so it's plausible he was under a lot of pressure.

James Brolin and Richard Benjamin as the main two leads help give viewers a better understanding of what there is to expect from Delos. Benjamin plays the role viewers can relate to since any newcomer would have the same initial opinion. Brolin's role is to assist in cementing the new belief. Co-starring with Brolin and Benjamin are also Norman Bartold playing another guest and Yul Brynner only known as the gunslinger. Bartold's role isn't greatly defined but he does play an important part for the viewer to see. Yul Brynner as the gunslinger may not have a lot to say but his appearance as a robot with reflective eyes is dastardly credible. The inflections in Brynner’s lines have just the right amount of flare to make him sound fake but dangerous all the same. The action / sci-fi & horror elements that show up throughout work too. Though it was given a PG rating at the time, it is far from it. There are blood squibs and some brutal violence throughout. For 1973, the makeup effects did wonders when it came to robotic creatures.

Yul Brynner
Behind the camera was Gene Polito as the cinematographer. Polito's camerawork is solid in every shot that occurs. That means capturing not only each setting's background but also remaining completely still for action shots. There are also a number of slow motion shots that amplify how much Polito was able to capture in each frame. Looking at his entire career, it's likely that this was the movie that he's most widely regarded for. The same could be said for Fred Karlin, the musical composer. Understanding that the majority of the events featured will be in Westworld would incline that some of the score would include country music themes. This does occur and perhaps too exaggerated at points because sometimes it sounds like hillbilly music. However, what Karlin made efficiently dark and scary was the horror of his music. Relying on prepared piano (which is rare in most scores) and scratchy strings truly makes the horror cues much more intense because the sounds or so uniquely constructed compared to other compositions.

Writing in particular is well thought out even though there are unresolved questions. The pacing in some areas may also be a bit slow but it's made up with relatable characters, a twisted film score and well-shot cinematography.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) Review:

Since the origins of each character, Batman and Superman have been one of the most iconic characters in comic books. After their print inception, readers and fans alike were impressed to see successful adaptations of each character during the last half of the 20th century. At that point, even during Christopher Nolan's trilogy, nobody knew how soon it would be before Superman and Batman would be seen on the same screen together. After the financial success with Man of Steel (2013), Warner Bros. pushed forward to get the DC cinematic universe expanded. And with that, the next step was to include the Arkham Knight. No surprise that in the time where social media dominates news, the internet exploded. Of course there were people who loved the idea while others felt it wasn't ready. Some criticized this stride as Warner Bros. trying to catch up to Marvel's success in building an expanded universe. Others felt that this plan should be given a chance. Once released, the response was about just as divided if not more.

How several fans came out of the theatre
Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer have written the script to this sequel. Following the destruction of
Metropolis from Man of Steel (2013), audiences are introduced to Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) finding a way on how to combat Superman (Henry Cavill) and make sure he will not become an enemy. At the same time, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) is also looking for a way to rid of Superman, which requires him getting access to the Kryptonian technology left behind from Man of Steel (2013). Running underneath these two plots is a subplot dealing with Bruce Wayne making connections with Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) and figuring out her origins. This alone is enough but Terrio and Goyer's script is too over packed for its own good. Really Batman Vs Superman is a small section of this film because there are several other things going on simultaneously. This also lessens the amount of development the main leads receive. It is those reasons that give way to some really contrived situations where it happens just because it was called for right then and there.

The acting itself is for the most part fine. Most of the initial cast return from Man of Steel (2013) only for short appearances. Amy Adams still manages to put herself in peril even though she's supposed to be able to take care of herself on her own. For new cast members, Ben Affleck as Batman fits the role. He sounds much more calculative and rough in his delivery. Jeremy Irons as Alfred does a great job too, inserting a few smart-alec remarks as well. Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman although not always around is quite the looker and self sufficient as an Amazonian princess. Last but not least, Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor is average. People will see why many do not favor his performance but not all of it is irritating. He does come off more Joker-ish and the jolly rancher scene is unnecessary yes, but it wasn't repeated more than once. Certainly a much more menacing actor could have been cast as Luthor, but Eisenberg is not ear bleeding bad. The real problem were the short cuts made to make all the pieces fit in for this cut of the movie.

The action sequences themselves have credibility to them but they were also uninteresting at points as well. For the majority of the time, all the Batman scenes that involved fighting were well executed. With director Zack Snyder heading this, it's hard to see Snyder not knowing how to properly make a good-looking action scene. Batman just doesn't care here; if you are bad, you're going to get hurt terribly. However, things begin to get rather tiresome when Superman enters the picture. Unfortunately because Superman flies and does super feats, CGI is needed in order to make this look realistic. This is the drawback though; looking at you Zack Snyder. Even though Snyder knows what he wants in his sequence, there are moments where the CGI is brought up to overkill levels. It's not say that it's unfinished CGI, but it does get to the point where it feels like the audiences may actually be watching cut scenes to a video game because everything is all computer generated. It's just ho-hum.

"Is it over yet?"
As for cinematography, Larry Fong managed the cameras. Fong's experience with big cinematic action films isn't a lot but does cover most of it. Seeing that he has worked with director Zack Snyder on his earlier films like 300 (2006), Watchmen (2009) and Sucker Punch (2011), it's no shock then that Fong was brought on board for this movie. For all the scenes, the camera is fairly stable. The problem with Fong's visuals are the lack of color throughout. The environment surrounding these characters is so drab and ugly, it's no longer appealing to look at. When it came to music, composers Hans Zimmer and Tom Holkenborg (Junkie XL) worked together and it’s rather disappointing. Aside from Superman's theme carrying over from Man of Steel (2013), only Batman's theme is somewhat likable. Luthor's finesse cue is too outlandish and Wonder Woman's track raises too many red flags in tone. It sounds more like it belongs to Luthor with an erratic electric cello in the background with beating war drums. It doesn't add any thematic depth to the listening experience.

For almost all positives this sequel has, a negative can be found to counter it. The basic elements to this movie are here - casting, music, camerawork and action but that's it. The writing isn't focused on the premise the title states, the visuals look drained, the action has too much CGI at times and the music is frustrating to latch onto. Yet, the cast do work well and action is fair.

Points Earned --> 5:10

RED (2010) Review:

Like any human being, we all get old at some point. As our body age, we don't always have the same capability to perform the usual tasks we take on during the day. However when it comes to action related films, that concept doesn't exist as much. Characters have much more freedom to be highly skilled in their older age and still manage to be quite agile. The tone that is used in these films are more serious than comedic. Rarely is the subject of age conveyed in a more comic relief tone. Considering that in the year 2010, DC and Warner Brothers had only found success in making dark, serious comic book movies, it didn't seem likely that a movie of a lighter inflection would be made. Mind you this was also before the failed introduction of Hal Jordan in Green Lantern (2011), changing the formula seemed risky. Yet, as obscure as the comic book was, RED (2010) was a surprise hit after viewers saw it. Other than the campy Batman films directed by Joel Schumacher, there were few other DC comic book films of similar tone until this one.

"Hey Sarah,....think I'm pretty?"
The title to this action comedy is actually an acronym that describes the protagonists; RED is short for "Retired, Extremely Dangerous". Viewers are introduced to Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) a retired veteran agent of the field looking to do something with himself but can't figure out what. After being attacked one night in his home, Moses brings along Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker), a friendly phone operator in order to keep her safe. While on the road, they also reconnect with the rest of the team; cool man Joe Matheson (Morgan Freeman), crazy paranoid man Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) and Eagle-eye Victoria (Helen Mirren). Together they look to find why they're being hunted, while the hunter himself named Cooper (Karl Urban) works endlessly to stop them. Jon and Erich Hoeber, two writers that do not have much consistency in their projects penned the screenplay adapted from the comic book. For this particular entry though, this has been their most widely acclaimed work.

Having older agents come back into the field and still be lethal is a nice idea and the actors cast for those roles fit them well. The whole conspiracy subplot that involves the main characters can get wordy at times but it is understandable to some degree. The real problems are unsolved questions that appear throughout the movie. Things happen where it wasn't revealed at all and no answer was given by the conclusion. What's the point of that? Nonetheless, the actors themselves work well with the parts they were cast for. Willis, Mirren, Malkovich and Freeman all have acceptable chemistry with each other. This is perhaps one of the few times where Willis doesn't have to act so tough all the time in order to crack a smile. Even Mary-Louise Parker has a good number of quips for how strange Willis' character acts at first. Although the fact that the role of Sarah is somewhat a love interest to Frank is a tad cliche in itself, the real question is, who thought Parker and Willis looked good together? They aren't ages apart but Willis looks too old.

John Malkovich's part is not an uncommon role, and being that his character is a little nutty, it fits right in. Marvin Briggs is the most comedic of the bunch being that he gets anxious to kill. On the other hand, Morgan Freeman slips away with his character practically just being himself but slicker. As for Helen Mirren, her part comes across delicate on the outside and a brutal sniper on the inside. Heck, Mirren doesn't even blink when she fires her weapons. Karl Urban as Cooper is another dangerous agent and although he's mostly cruel, he does have a human side to him. There's also other appearances from other actors like  Richard Dreyfuss, Ernest Borgnine, Brian Cox and James Remar. For action, there are a number of sequences that are quite energetic. With the premise involving secret agents trained to kill, one would expect to have plenty of gunplay and explosive activity, of which it does. Throughout the running time, guns range from revolvers to powerhouse machine guns. Not to mention all the hand-to-hand combat too.

Malkovich & Freeman
Florian Ballhaus handled the cinematography for this film. The shots themselves were well executed but the look itself isn't that impressive. There wasn't much of a visual style to this film. There's not even a whole lot of director Robert Schwentke's "snap-zoom" movements, which is a pretty awesome trademark feature. The picture is wide and does get a number of urban landscapes but it's just not much to look at or to be fascinated with. One would think since Ballhaus has worked on movies like The Devil Wears Prada (2006) and Marley & Me (2008), there would be some kind of appeal. The musical score composed by Christophe Beck is another enjoyable listening experience. Much of Beck's composition mixes his usual sounds of bongos and drums with several different cues. These cues switch between guitar and clicky electronic synths that help elevate the action sequences when necessary. Also with Beck having experience in making music for comedy films, mingling action and comedic cues would make perfect sense coming from his perspective.

The title is obscure just like its comic book origins, but it is one of the few comedic adaptations in the DC canon. The cinematography isn't unique nor is every question answered, but the actors are well cast, the action is fun, the music is great addition and the comedy is well timed.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Brave Little Toaster to the Rescue (1997) Review:

During much of the 1980s, Disney was not performing well financially or critically. Release after release, almost all of their films weren't making the cut. Whether it was based on content or something else, viewers and critics alike at the time were unimpressed. That's not the case now however for many of the once unnoticed movies have found a home for those who appreciate the quality they gave. But of those, there were some movies that got recognized for being well done. A couple years before Disney hit it big with The Little Mermaid (1989), another animated film came out that has made a lasting memory for many children, that being The Brave Little Toaster (1987). As odd as the premise was audiences and critics were surprised to see how mature some of the basic themes and concepts were for the plot. Not surprisingly, Disney went on to release a Direct-to-Video sequel of the original 10 years later. Even though it was a few years in where Disney started cranking out sequels, it could've been bad but it holds up somewhat here.

"What a day to remember...."
Picking up some time after the first events, audiences rejoin the living household items once more but this time, they're in the master's (Rob) veterinary clinic. The master is also ready to graduate and in order to do so, he must submit his 600-page thesis. One night while doing the finishing touches, a power surge occurs causing Rob to lose all his work. Fearing he won't graduate, it's up to the little toaster and friends along with some animals to save the day. Directed by Robert C. Ramirez who's better known for directing The Prince of Egypt (1998) prequel Joseph: King of Dreams (2000) and written by Willard Carroll who served as executive producer to The Brave Little Toaster (1987), manage to put together an acceptable sequel considering the circumstances. It's not at the same level as the original but it's an allowable follow-up. What doesn't work in this sequel are a few components. The most typical of reasons being continuity errors; ones that go beyond the physical realm that the first had established. Things don’t just materialize.

The other two problems deal with characters. The new animal additions to the original group is okay but they do feel a bit tacked on. It just feels very obligatory and one of the main animal's motive changes without reason. Then there's the role of Rob's underling named Mack who works as an assistant to him. Right when the character is introduced, his personality immediately gives away what kind of character he will be. No questions. Aside from these problems, there isn't much else to point out. Even with these problems dealing with development in certain characters, the script still contains some material that is dark when looked at under certain lenses. With that said, credit is due for at least not making the overall execution feel completely pointless. Some sequels get completely diluted and end up having no risk involved. When it comes to characters, unless the viewer wanted to know who voiced them, most would unknowingly discover that the majority of the original cast from the original did not return.

Since the release of this was a decade later, seeing why some actors who voiced childlike characters is understandable. Yet as to why Jon Lovitz, Timothy E. Day, Wayne Kaatz and Colette Savage did not return is beyond understanding. They did after all voice important characters. Thankfully the actors who do replace the old cast maintain the same quality performances. Jessica Tuck who voices Chris, Chris Young as Rob, Eric Lloyd as Blanky and Roger Kabler as Radio all sound very similar to that of the original actors and that's great. Returning from the original is Deanna Oliver as Toaster, Thurl Ravenscroft as Kirby and Timothy Stack as Lampy, which is great to hear as well. For new members of the cast, Jay Mohr plays the voice of Mack, Andy Milder voices the scruffy Ratso, Alfre Woodard voices Maisie the mama cat, Danny Nucci plays a Hispanic Chiwawa, Andrew Daly plays Murgetroid the snake and veteran actor Eddie Bracken voices Sebastian the monkey. There's even a voice appearance from Brian Doyle-Murray playing a computer.

The animation is actually another decent quality to this sequel. This is mostly because The Brave Little Toaster (1987) itself did not set such a high bar. If anything, the animation here is on par with its predecessor and that's okay. Taking into account that it was also animated on a smaller budget is important to recognize if the quality remains fairly the same. The film score was unfortunately not composed again by David Newman. In replace of him, Alexander Janko composed the music. This was Janko's first film composition and seeing that he frequently orchestrates more than composes, it's interesting that Janko made out rather sufficiently. The score itself consists of organic orchestra and uses those elements to its advantage. By this, the cues that involve the darker themes work properly. The songs that the actual characters sing aren't that bad either. Tunes like "Remember That Day", "Tap to the Super Highway" and especially "Chomp and Munch" are fairly catchy and can get the viewer to emote.

The sequel itself isn't memorable as to its predecessor but it isn't all fluff either. There are some mature themes involved, the music is composed nicely and the voice cast perform well. It's just all the extra characters and an unexplained motivation that make it feel forgettable to some degree.

Points Earned --> 6:10