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I'm going to look at their motives to see what makes them so bad; that should help give a more objective opinion. So here we go...
Artificial Intelligence: AI (2001)
A new favourite - astoundingly underrated
Having seen this for the first time nearly a decade after its release, I was happily surprised by this wonderful piece of work from Mr Spielberg. I have yet to see a film by this skillful director that I dislike, and A.I. is certainly not going to be the first.
Set in a futuristic world, with a perhaps familiar theme of robots integrated with people, the story focuses on one small android named David (Haley Joel Osment) who is taken into a family as an experiment to see if a robot can be made to love a human, and is then forced out of his new family to fend for himself in a frightening new world.
With exceptional performances from the whole cast, the real stand-outs are Frances O'Connor, playing the reluctant mother who eventually warms up to the loving robot, Jude Law, as the entertaining Gigolo Joe who aids David on his quest, and young Haley himself, who delivers a truly outstanding performance as the lovable David. Haley gets the balance between boy and robot just right; his stiff movements and unblinking eyes are the clues, the things which create that contrast between David and his 'real live' brother, Martin.
It is evident just how much care went into each shot; the cinematography is superb, with haunting shots such as that of David peering through the eyes of another android like himself, or the iconic opening of the large, blue eyes. The various 'halo' shots of David with rings of light above his head are clever and subtle, and the camera work in the closing scenes is extremely well done, creating the gentle, breathless atmosphere as David joyously reunites with his Mommy.
Flicking through the film channels, I only decided to watch this because I'd seen Haley in Pay it forward and, having greatly enjoyed that, decided to give A.I. a go. It was an expertly crafted piece of entertainment, artistic and thoughtful, and with a sentimental tone you would not expect to find in a movie about robots. All the emotions are delivered in a seamless blend of comedy, drama and adventure. The comedic moments (such as the hilarious outburst of laughter at the dinner table) were just as engaging as the creepier ones (the packaged 'David' android twitching as David looks on), and the ending! Very few films have had me so choked up; when David goes to sleep for the last time beside his mother, you don't care that he is just a robot - it's still an unforgettable scene well worth the two and a half hour wait.
A highly recommended and sadly underrated film, we can only hope that someday this flawed masterpiece gains the respect it deserves. In the meantime, why not go and rent a copy? Trust me - you will not be disappointed.
The Land Before Time (1988)
Beautiful. Just beautiful.
Ah, the nostalgia! Even now, many years after I was the right age to enjoy this beloved classic, I still DO love this beloved classic! It really is so incredible, I could go on for pages. Littlefoot, Cera, Ducky, Petrie and Spike have got to be the most lovable children's characters ever created - they beat Winnie the Pooh and all the others by miles for me. I think it truly is a masterpiece, told through use of excellent characters and wonderful animation, and it has so much to teach children. The beauty of life, the pain of loss, the bravery, the loyalty - and of course, the value of friendship. I will definitely be showing this to my kids one day, it's just timeless. If I were younger, I would probably call it my favourite film. The endless sequels didn't even spoil it, because you can forget about them and just enjoy the first five, the ones with the 'magic', the wonder that makes them an important part of many people's childhood.
Deserves a higher rating
I have to say, when it comes to romantic flicks, people seem to go to extremes (and I admit, I've done it too, giving Titanic a ten). It seems you either love it with a vengeance and woe betide anyone who doesn't agree, or you hate it so passionately you would happily murder the poor actors and actresses simply for appearing in it.
This is ridiculous. While I do enjoy the film, I have no problems with people who didn't, and if they dislike the romance then that's their opinion, which they're entitled to. Seriously, why turn it into something? Personally speaking, this is still one of my favourite films, and I saw it years after it came out (as always) so the success had ebbed away. But unlike so many, I didn't go with expectations. All those people who went for a documentary on the disaster, or endless shots of old Leo... I saw it without expecting anything. I didn't give a monkeys about DiCaprio, I knew next to nothing about the actual disaster, and I was simply hoping it deserved its record-breaking 11 Academy Awards. And I thought it did, frankly.
The acting was top-notch, the music was wonderful, the visuals were stunning. While the romance was indeed stereotypical and contrived (and I gave this a ten), it was still pulled off excellently, and I really did feel for the character, which is a mark of a good film. I don't think that the ending spoilt the film, which many people think it did. I am not saying that they are wrong, or that I am right, because that's not true. It's about opinions. I just thought it was a nice touch - a sort of backhanded happy ending to round off an otherwise rather depressing Now-they'll-never-see-each-other-again scenario. I thought the film had many, many memorable moments, and the disaster itself was not downplayed - it fitted smoothly around the romance, which incidentally helped to give a sense of perspective to the whole thing. Many couples really will have been torn apart that night, albeit probably not from different classes. The sheer drama unfolding on-screen cannot really be questioned. It can be disliked, of course. But it is good acting nevertheless.
Series one had spark, the rest just went downhill
I am basically reviewing the first series, when the characters were decent, the story lines more varied and the whole show was just less clichéd. Over time, the show has deteriorated, but the best example in the change of quality is to look at the characters. I ask you to just now, think of them as they were in series one, and then compare them to how they are in the latest spin off, The Suite Life on Deck. Let's take a look:
London - Series 1: A realistically snobby, naive, and carefully handled comic character, who is portrayed as selfish, but has a good heart underneath all the spoilt, pampered princess-ness. Basically, she is much more human and believable as a character, and though she is rich, she is not totally immune to financial crisis's (see Poor Little Rich Girl). Suite Life on Deck: London has now become a bird-brained, unrealistically rich and naive girl, who basically insults all and sundry and scurries around like a girlish mouse, clapping and singing and being stupid.
Maddie - series 1: Exactly what she was intended to be - a down to earth, hardworking average Jane, who looked and acted normally, and also bent the stereotype of dumb blonde's by being very intellectually gifted, yet still considered 'hot stuff' at the same time. Her friendship with the spoilt London and her attempts to make her more selfless are a nice touch. Suite Life on Deck/later suite life series: She gradually became a bleach-blonde babe who obsessed over boys and often lost them to the richer, supposedly more popular London. Wasted.
The twins - series 1: lovable, mischievous little tykes who run rings around the hotel manager. Not much can be said about them, but they were sweet back then. Sutie Life on Deck: Your typical Disney boys; girl-crazy, with surfer-dude hair and a new outfit every episode. Cody's intellect is shown to be extremely bad for him, while Zack's layabout attitude is criticised by the other characters but ultimately shown in a better light. They also look far less identical, though I appreciate they can't help changing.
Moseby and Ms. Martin alone are unchanged; Phil Lewis is still a hilarious comedic actor. The whole show went down the tubes, as is often the case with Disney shows. The first series is good, but they progress over about four or five more until they actors are 20-something, still trying to act like teenagers. The sad part is that unlike many other Disney shows, this one had some real talent in its cast, and it has been squashed by the horrible stereotypical nature of it all.
Look up overrated in the dictionary, and you're bound to find Avatar
With close to 3,000 reviews, we hardly need another one (and nobody will read the negative ones for Avatar anyway) so I'll keep this brief. The bottom line is, I don't think this film really deserved quite as much praise as it got. There, I said it. It's not that it wasn't good - it certainly was. I went to see it with my best friend (who I don't see often enough as it is, so I was really looking forward to it), and neither of us thought it lived up to expectations. My friend described it as 'depressing', and I can explain my feelings in one point: At least twice during the movie, my mind wandered. I actually found myself thinking of other things, then thinking, "I should be riveted to this Oscar-award winning masterpiece. But I'm not." Not to sound selfish here, but if a film can't hold my interest indefinitely, surely there were others in the cinema who agreed. And a movie as good as this one is said to be shouldn't fail to keep us all on the edges of our seats. The thing is, I think it was because I'd seen the same sort of plot devices in other movies. Much less glorified, of course, but the same thing. Other people have said they see similarities to Pocahontas, and I agree - but what it reminded me most of was Ferngully, an old animated movie about fairies protecting a rainforest. So no, I do not think this is as good as they say. That's just my opinion, but I really am curious to know why everybody else seems to worship it. If it's for the CGI, then I'm sorry - but that's pathetic. A good movie has developed characters, a substantial plot and a satisfying ending. This didn't completely fulfil any of those requirements.
Jurassic Park (1993)
Definitely one of my favourites, possibly my number one
I adore this movie. Considering it came out only a year after I was born, I never had the privilege of seeing it in the cinema, but even when your first viewing is several years late and on TV, it's still such an incredible film you can't fail to be impressed with it. Even now, about sixteen years after the film's release, the CGI and animatronics look good. Although dinosaurs are only on screen for a relatively small portion of the film, they make up for this with amazing presence and spectacular entrances (think the T.Rex breakout, raptor kitchen scene and the first brachiosaur). I think Spielberg followed his effective formula from 'Jaws'; he knows that build-up and off-screen drama can create a much more impressive persona for a creature than full-on violent attacks left, right and centre. Not seeing the dinosaurs much makes us appreciate them more when they're on screen. One thing I really love about this movie is the sense of mystery it creates; it is so strong, so well executed, that it really does leave that question of 'what if?' hanging there. It is easy for a child to enjoy fantasies of cloning dinosaurs after seeing this, and I must confess that I rather hoped it was possible myself at first. The science behind the dino's creation is complex enough to be believable, but presented in a cute little cartoon that children will be able to follow and enjoy. The characters are also excellently portrayed by some extremely talented actors; for some, like young Joseph Mazzello, Jurassic Park was the breakout role, and one for which they will be remembered for generations. John Hammond is easily my favourite; his lovable, quirky behaviour and almost child-like dreams brought to life by ambition, imagination (and money) make him an endearing and well-liked character that will have both kids and adults in stitches at times. Alan Grant's hard, brusque exterior hides a good heart, and the audience will be pleased with the way he gradually warms to the children over time. Speaking of the children, they deliver some really knock-out performances, most notably in the car and kitchen scenes - they let you experience the whole thing through a child's eyes. Their trust in their grandpa, and their terror when the dream becomes a nightmare - all of it is just so real, so intense. The action is never overdone, and delivered sparingly, with good doses of calmer, soft-paced moments to even things out. This movie truly is a classic; from the director of so many great movies, it's hardly surprising. If you haven't seen this, I highly recommend you do so, and invite anybody else you know who has yet to enjoy this masterpiece of a film. You will not be disappointed.
Thank you! Proof that good kids films are still possible
Amidst the Disney takeover, it's so refreshing to know that companies like Pixar are still ploughing valiantly on to make good children's films, which can also be enjoyed by the rest of the family. I am at least a few years above the target age range, yet I'd still class this movie in my top twenty, perhaps top ten. It really is a wonderful movie that children of all ages will adore. It shows that not everything has to be about sex, money and violence, and even the slightly stereotypical 'male character gets the female character' scenario is so much sweeter when applied to two beings which shouldn't have emotions at all. The concept of the film - about robots ultimately teaching humans how to be human again, is pulled off spectacularly, with surprisingly endearing robotic stars. The humans, fat and lazy after 700 years on a luxury space-liner, have their eyes opened to their pathetic existence by the innocent little Wall-e. The humans are not one-dimensional, helpless creatures - they evolve over the course of the film, particularly the captain, as they are slowly re-awoken to their old way of life back home. This is one thing a good film must do; develop its characters, in order to let the audience relate to them, and feel for them. Many live-action 'adult' movies no longer achieve this, so Wall-e truly is remarkable for doing it so well. The conclusion is good too - a happy ending, but one which has to be worked for, and there are tense moments when we wonder if everything really is going to work out. Again, this is an example of how a happy ending should be done - it should never be obvious from the start that everything will be fine, because it will be much sweeter if it feels like the characters have earned it. I had almost no problems with this film - the scenery is beautifully rendered; some scenes look so real that it's very easy to forget this is animation (until the humans appear at least). The use of live-action footage for the earlier humans was clever; I was less-impressed with the more cartoon-ish appearance of the new generation of blubbery humans, though I appreciate this was done deliberately to emphasise their soft, colourful lifestyle in contrast to Wall-e's harsh, derelict world back on Earth. Overall, an absolutely amazing film, which will certainly give the kids something to talk about, and will hopefully restore all you elder's faith in the children's film industry, as it did for mine. It can still be done, people. And Wall-e shows us that.
Hotel for Dogs (2009)
Hotel for Stereotypes
Kids movies these days vary incredibly, don't they? Currently, I think one of the best producers of good kids movies is Pixar - recent works such as Wall.E and Up (though I haven't seen the latter, it is greatly praised) are true masterpieces which can be enjoyed by children and adults alike. They embody what good kids films should be. While Hotel for Dogs does attempt to do this, it's clear the only real appeal is the dogs. The storyline is thin and very, very predictable. It's got all the typical clichés of dog movies - the pound are the enemy (the real-life pound are actually a valuable and caring service), the dogs are all adorable and in pet-show-winning condition, and the humans pretty much take a back seat when the canines are on the screen. Aside from the impossibility of the whole thing, what really got me was how perfect all these 'strays' were? I understand that they could hardly use untrained, ill or injured dogs, but they could have perhaps picked less pristine ones - even kids will have a hard time believing these purebred mastiffs, poodles and Chinese crested pooches are actually strays. Any half-decent dog breeder would kill to get their hands on some of these beauties! Still, the lead dog, Friday, really stole the show, and the main reason I watched this right through, as I cared about what happened to him in particular. The human roles are, by contrast, quite poor - two children with no moral values, another two who are necessary to the plot in order for the first two to be able to afford the pet food, and one other one who is there purely to ensure the other girl has a boyfriend at the end (everyone hooks up with each other, of course. Can boys and girls never be just friends in Hollywood?) And you'll know who the foster kids will end up with from the start. If you have children between about 4 and 10, this film should prove an enjoyable treat. But the adults - well, here's hoping you have a lot on your minds to think about while it's on. Otherwise, you'll be pretty bored.
Pay It Forward (2000)
Powerful, inspiring, beautiful - an underrated masterpiece
Although this film came out nine years ago, I wish I'd seen it sooner. I'm terrible for that; discovering wonderful classics years after their original success. It was truly the best film I've seen in ages, because of so many factors - the superb acting, the excellent storyline and the flawless directing by Mimi Leder (who also did Deep Impact, another favourite of mine). First of all, I thought the concept of the film was really interesting - and after a little research, I discovered that it's based on a real idea. Paying good deeds forward is a simple idea, but a brilliant one, and it seemed so much more inspiring when carried out by a little boy in the film. This is just about the only HJ Osment film I've ever seen, but I can see why he's praised so much, and sixth sense must be amazing with a star as talented as this actor. The audience really felt everything he did, and he could express this feeling without a word, just a sad, pained expression. His mother, Helen Hunt (who I know only from Twister, being inexperienced) was also fantastic, and I really felt for her when she lost her temper in one scene - the sorrow and regret in her eyes was just amazing. Kevin Spacey, who I'd only really heard of before this, did a great job too, and I was so glad when he finally got together with Hunt's character - they really deserved each other. I was crushed about them losing Trevor though, what a way to tear the family apart... though the ending with the mourners was sweet. A touching film, and one which really got me thinking about the problems in our world - and what one person could do to change things if only luck was on their side. The cast, both main and supporting, were believable and emotionally connected with the audience the whole time. I highly recommend this (if you've been able to read this past all my spoilers)!
Gleaming, perfect, and so, so typical
Well, I have got to say that this beat the second instalment of the series, in which the cast all attend an upper-crust country club. It delivered exactly what it promised, and plenty of it; lots of Zac, including a sweaty close-up at the beginning (which, incidentally, is as close to imperfection as he ever seems to get), lots of Vanessa's sugary sweetness and flowery (but rather skimpy) skirts, and lots of the Evans twins glamming it up and making everyone else feel inferior.
I think it certainly catered to it's appropriate audience, kids from around 13-ish and below, and isn't that what a good movie should do? After all, kids of that age aren't going to see high drama, complex plots, deep conflict and common issues portrayed in realistic settings. They're going to see their favourite idols on the big screen, enjoying their lives in the well-scrubbed halls of East High. While certain characters are under-used (Tisdale's talent is somewhat wasted in this, and Monqie Coleman's character could easily be replaced with a large rock for all the impact she made), the show-stopping 'Zanessa' duo provide a friendly, and never too intimate relationship, complete with a bit of rainy rooftop waltzing and carefully controlled smooching. And of course, a lot of credit must go to the choreographer and director, Kenny Ortega, whose dances are powerful, energetic and inventive, and make the scenes worth watching - I particularly enjoyed the glitzy 'I want it All' number.
There are some things that weren't so easy to overlook, however. My personal opinion is that introducing three totally new characters, simply for the possibility of a fourth film, is milking the cash cow way too much. I mean the income generated from the last two films probably paid for half of the stuff in this one - when Sharpay strutted into East High with her tasselled boots and bleached extensions swishing about, I just kept thinking "I bet some unsuspecting family with a ten year old Efron-loving daughter paid for those". It really has become far too much of a money-maker, which is emphasised by the obviously recycled plot lines and suppressed 'bad' emotions (Troy's 'anger' was more like mild frustration, and Gabriella's 'despair' seemed a bit false).
So yeah - all in all, the film worked well for it's appropriate audience, and certain musical numbers (though only a handful) were catchy with memorable dances. But despite being more enjoyable than it's predecessors, I grew bored with the shallow plot lines, and the plastic, doll-like stars, not a hair out of a place or a pimple to be seen (no doubt making regular children feel ugly as sin). Anyway, it only matters what the teen girls of the world think, really, because it's their money (well, their parents' money) which this incredibly popular musical continues to gobble down.