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2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Not as good as the first, but still a worthy sequel, 10 July 2014

My Rating: ***1/2 (out of ****)

I missed the theatrical release of the first How to Train Your Dragon film in 2010, but I eventually saw it on DVD, and I loved it. It has since become one of my favorite animated films, and one of my all-time favorite films in general, and, in my opinion, it is a completely flawless film. So, naturally, I was a bit apprehensive when I found out that they were going to make a sequel. Not so surprisingly, I didn't think How to Train Your Dragon 2 was as good as its predecessor, but it is still a good movie.

The film is set five years after the events of the first film. Instead of killing dragons, the Vikings of Berk now welcome dragons into their village. The chief, Stoick the Vast, plans to retire soon and have his son, Hiccup (now twenty years old), take his place as chief, and even Hiccup's girlfriend, Astrid, thinks he has great potential for the job­. Hiccup, however, prefers flying around with his dragon Toothless and mapping new lands, and is rather averse to his father's wishes. One day while out exploring, Hiccup comes across a group of dragon catchers, who work for an evil warlord, Drago, who wants to assemble a dragon army. Hiccup, against his fathers orders, sets off to try and peacefully reason with Drago, but is waylaid by the mysterious Dragon Rider, Valka (voiced by Cate Blanchett), who turns out to be Hiccup's thought-to-be-long-dead mother.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is, for the most part, an example of a sequel done right. It further develops and expands upon its universe and underlying themes, and it actually takes the story in a new direction rather than essentially repeating that of the first film. Also, while it's still fun, endearing, and family-friendly like the first film, it's also darker and more mature, and a bit more complex. It doesn't shy away from some dark themes, such as war and death, and it doesn't have that feeling that everything is inevitably going turn out alright in the end. There are even few good twists in the film's third act (which I found to be the most emotionally powerful part of the film).

The first HTTYD film was a simple and straightforward but extremely touching story about friendship, loyalty, acceptance, and family. Its emotional core consisted of the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless. This relationship is still crucial to the story in HTTYD 2, but it takes a back seat until the film's third act. The primary core of this film consists of a couple different elements. One of them is the reuniting of Hiccup's family. The other, more important element is the coming of age element. Yes, more than anything else, HTTYD 2 is a coming of age film for Hiccup.

The animation in this film, as expected, is spectacular. The characters, dragons, and scenery are excellently designed and visually pleasing, and the flying and aerial battle scenes are very good as well. John Powell, who composed the fantastic soundtrack for the first film, has returned and composed it for this film as well, and he still did a very good job. The soundtrack even contains two very good songs that are worth mentioning: 'Where No One Goes' and 'Into a Fantasy'. Also, the voice acting is very well done, especially Jay Baruchel as Hiccup.

Unfortunately, while I thought the first film was flawless, I cannot say the same about this film. This film has some pacing and plotting issues, a few contrived moments, a one-dimensional villain, and some underdeveloped supporting characters (the main characters are well developed, though, especially Hiccup). Additionally, the film is a bit weaker than the first film in terms of comedy, and a few of the comedic moments fall flat. Nonetheless, the film does have several humorous moments that do work.

Despite its slightly messy pacing and plotting, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is, in my opinion, a good sequel, and a good film for anybody of any age, and I'm glad I got to see it in the theater (twice – and I actually liked it a little better the second time). It is emotional, heartfelt, and humorous in areas, with some strong messages about family, friendship, forgiveness, loyalty, coming of age, and living to one's potential. Kids will enjoy it as long as they can handle some of the darker and more mature content. There is also plenty of content in the film for adults to enjoy. HTTYD 2 is one of my favorite films of the year so far, and it may very well end up being my favorite animated film of 2014 – if nothing else, I hope it receives a nomination for Best Animated Feature.

Frozen (2013/I)
5 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Overrated, but good nonetheless, 20 May 2014

My Rating: ***1/2 (out of ****)

Frozen opens up with rhythmic chanting through the Disney and WDAS logos and the opening title. This is immediately followed by a scene involving a group of ice harvesters slicing ice from a frozen lake and singing about ice, fear, and frozen hearts. This opening sets the right tone and foreshadows some of the film's underlying themes. It also has something of an ambitious feel to it, as if this film were daring to aim for the level of Beauty and the Beast and some of Disney's other best films. In my opinion, Frozen is not as good as these films, and it is not a masterpiece by any means; and frankly I think it's overrated. But I still found it to be a good movie.

Frozen is the story of sisters Anna and Elsa, the princesses of Arendelle. Elsa has magical powers to create ice and snow. These sisters were very close when they were little, until an incident where Elsa almost kills her younger sister with her powers. Their parents take Anna to some trolls who save her and erase her memories of Elsa's powers. After this, the sisters are separated and grow apart over the years. Years later, their parents die at sea, and three years after this, Elsa reaches the age at which she can become Queen. On coronation day, Anna meets Hans, a prince of another kingdom. She falls in love with him and wants to get engaged – that same day. In the ensuing argument with Elsa, Elsa inadvertently releases her powers. She then flees, unintentionally leaving the kingdom in a magically induced winter. Anna goes after her, along the way acquiring the help of an ice harvester, Kristoff, and his reindeer, Sven.

Despite the immense hype surrounding this film, some negative reviewers have claimed that the film is shallow, simplistic, messy, and empty. In my opinion, however, not only is it not, but it's also heavy with subtleties, symbolism, and subtext; and I found it to be relatable and thought provoking to a considerable degree. I will admit that the storyline itself is fairly simple and predictable. But overall, I found the story to be decent and effective, with some valuable morals including, but not limited to, the true meaning of love, overcoming one's fears, and accepting people for who they are.

The primary factor that makes the story work is the characters. The relationship between Anna and Elsa is what constitutes the film's emotional core. I was able to relate to both both of these characters, and Kristoff, to some degree. The animators really took the time to craft these three characters, giving them well-rounded, well-nuanced personalities, genuine emotional depth, and excellent physical appearances; not to mention the superlative voice performances by the cast. The animators even paid excellent attention to all of their mannerisms, tics, facial expression, and other details (even very small ones). These three characters felt to me like real people, and not two dimensional stereotypes.

Another strength of the film is the music. Christophe Beck did a good job composing the score; and Robert and Kristen Anderson-Lopez did a good job writing the songs, my favorites of which are "For the First Time in Forever," "Let It Go," "Do You Want to Build a Snowman," and "Frozen Heart." The songs are not excellent, but they are pretty good, and they help develop the characters and move the story along pretty well.

Some modern filmmakers, especially Michael Bay, could really learn a thing or two from movies like Frozen. I cannot deny that the animation in Frozen is very good, and the film would not have worked without it. Fortunately, however, directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee actually care about other things as well: character development, relationships, heart, storytelling, and so forth. The film actually has a warm, genuine heart of its own under all of that digital snow and ice. Also, instead of just serving as a flashy distraction, the animation is actually used to service the script (not the other way around).

Now, again, I honestly think the film is good, but there is still a lot of room for improvement. In addition to myriad missed opportunities, this film has its flaws. I found the film's second act to be a bit insipid and a little too heavy in comedy. Sure, it was funny, but it occasionally upset the comedy/drama balance, thereby preventing the second act from having the same emotional punch that the first and third acts have. Also, I felt that the story was slightly rushed and compressed. In fact, the film contains enough material for a TV miniseries. The film is solid and coherent as it is, but I still think a slightly longer running length would have done it a lot of good. Oh, and the villain is pretty weak - contrived and paper-thin (yes, there is a villain, but he is secondary to the primary conflict).

Personally I think Frozen is the best of the five Disney Revival films so far, beating out Tangled by a whisker. Disney has successfully moved into the 21st century. For the most part, they have succeeded in combining their older elements with modern ones.

Frozen is now the highest grossing animated film to date. At the same time, it's also receiving the harsh backlash that films this successful often receive. I personally think Frozen is overrated, but it's still good – charming, heartfelt, humorous, emotional, and overall entertaining - and it's one of my favorite films of 2013. Disney may not have the charisma they used to have, but at least they still know how to make a good movie.

For more reviews, and my full review of Frozen (what you have just read is a truncated version of it): visit my blog:

2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Powerful and harrowing, 26 November 2013

Alright, imagine if you are living an ordinary day; and then the next suddenly you find your life torn away from you, and you are thrown into a different life, full of misery, despair, oppression, and brutality, possibly for many years. Well, this is exactly what happened to Solomon Northup, a free black man who, in 1841, was kidnapped, beaten, and sold into slavery. And he remained in slavery for twelve years, until he has rescued in 1853 from a plantation he was working on in Louisiana. In fact, Northup only one of the numerous people to whom this actually happened, but he was one of the only ones who regained their freedom.

Shortly after regaining his freedom, he published his story in a book titled 12 Years a Slave, which I read prior to seeing the film, and which director Steve McQueen has now adapted into said film, with the same title. Many reviewers have already summarized essentially how I personally feel about this film, so I apologize if this review feels redundant to you readers. Rather than just trying to grab money and capitalize on the market, McQueen brings to the screen an honest, accurate portrayal of the harsh conditions and life of slavery. And it old through the eyes of a man who was not born and raised as a slave, but a free end educated man who ended up having experience in both the slave and free worlds. As for the cruelty and brutality, the film doesn't tone any of it down. In fact, some scenes were difficult to watch, they were so disturbing. This film actually allowed me, to a considerable extent, to experience a bit of antebellum Southern United States slavery as it actually was. IT could also be argued that the film offers a strong view of how cruel and evil humans can be, and have been at times in the past.

The performances in this film are excellent. The script doesn't give Northup much "development," but Chiwetel Ejiofor gives his character depth and humanity through his powerful, superlative performance. He reached out grabbed by emotions strongly, pulling me into his experiences, from a free man, to his abduction, and through his experience as a slave, during which he kept the fact of his freedom mostly silent but nevertheless remained determined to someday get it back. I especially liked the way he conveyed so much emotion though facial expressions, and especially through his eyes. I predict an Oscar nomination for Ejiofor.

All of the other performances were highly commendable as well. Not all of the white people portrayed in the film, however, are cruel. A counter example is William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch). Cumberbatch's character in the film is a 180 turn around from his performance as the evil and menacing Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness. His character, Ford, while blinded by the social and cultural mores of the antebellum South, treats Northup with unexpected kindness (and I look forward to future performances by Cumberbatch). Another such counterexample to the common white cruelty of the time is Bass (Brad Pitt), who eventually helps Northup to escape. As for the not-so-kind people, there are two who reflect the general beliefs and unpleasantness of many southern whites. They are Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), a plantation owner and one of Northup's owners, and John Tibeats (Paul Dano), a worker for Ford. And yes, Fassbender and Dano's performed well.

While scenery is certainly not the primary draw of the film, I want to give a thumbs up for the film's cinematography and visual aspects, and Hans Zimmer's music score, which helped enhance the experience. As for the screenplay, John Ridley did a good job adapting the book into a screenplay. He did make a few minor tweaks and condensed the story a bit - in fact, there are one or two particular scenes that I think should have been included in the film, and I think that they would have made the film even better - but other than that the film is true to the book and the events.

If I were to criticize anything about the film, it would be that I really think that the feeling of twelve years passing, while effective, should have been stronger. In fact, while I liked the film and the way everything was handled in it, I felt that everything could still have been stronger - more intense, more vivid, more horrifying, more suspenseful, more gut-wrenching, more emotionally powerful, etc. But again, all of these aspects, and more, were still pretty strong in the film.

So, overall, 12 Years a Slave wasn't great like I wanted it to be, but it was good, and one of the best films of 2013; and it is an experience that I will not be forgetting anytime soon. Solomon Northup himself would have been proud of this film.

My Rating: ***1/2 (out of ****)

8 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Solid summer entertainment, 11 August 2013

My Rating: *** (out of ****)

Of all the movies that I planned on seeing this summer, I was looking forward most to Guillermo Del Toro's Pacific Rim. Unfortunately, it wasn't nearly as great as I was hoping for, but I did find it reasonably entertaining as a summer movie, with some old- school action and camp, combined with a few elements of modern-day big-budget blockbusters. Overall, I found it to be decent entertainment in essentially the same category as movies like Independence Day and Twister.

The story is simple. Monstrous aliens, called kaiju, come from a portal in a rift deep in the Pacific Ocean. The film opens up with a prologue that explains this, and how giant robots, called jaegers, were developed to fight the kaiju. The film's protagonist, Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam), is an ex-jaeger pilot whose brother was killed in combat. But now Marshal Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) comes along and pulls Raleigh back into duty. Eventually, Raliegh ends up being teamed up with Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) to operate a particular jaeger.

There is nothing original about Pacific Rim. The story is simple and pure formula. Even the incredible action scenes are the sorts of things we've seen before in countless sci-fi blockbusters. But the familiar elements are delivered with sufficient expertise to make an enjoyable movie experience.

This film has several similarities to Independence Day (which I love, by the way), such as hostile extra-terrestrials, apocalyptic disaster, a far-fetched plot, large-scale action, a top-secret base, a motivational speech by one of the characters, and even a glimpse into the aliens' "realm" towards the end of the film. It even felt as if the film were trying to be another Independence Day (or ID4, if you may) in terms of things like plot, dialogue, wit, and comic relief. Unfortunately, it didn't quite hit the mark (for example, some of the dialogue and comic relief just ended up being dumb and lackluster), and it lacks the charm, heart, sense of wonder, and overall thrill, among other things, that make Independence Day so great for me. But I'm not saying that Pacific Rim is completely devoid of these; they're just of a lesser magnitude than in ID4.

Not to mention that this film has a few pacing issues, which ID4 did not have, and some of the camera work is a bit too up-close for my taste. But again, these things did not ruin the film for me. Also, ID4 had an excellent and charismatic music score composed by David Arnold. Pacific Rim's score is nowhere near as good as that of ID4, and it's certainly not charismatic, but I found it enjoyable, especially one leitmotif in particular.

The highlights of the movie are, as you may have guessed, the action scenes and special effects. Pacific Rim makes excellent use of the big screen and quality sound systems. Like I said, these are the sorts of things we've seen before in these types of movies, but does that spoil the film? Absolutely not! The action scenes and effects are presented very well. And there are some quite incredible, even memorable, screenshots. The kaiju and jaegers are excellently designed, and with great detail. And just seeing them get out there and pound on each other is quite exciting, to say the least.

Thankfully, however, it doesn't succumb to the mediocrity and imbecility of some modern-day movies of this kind, such as Battleship and the Transformers sequels. It actually has some heart to spare. While Guillermo del Toro spent a lot of effort and focus on the action and effects and not so much on a good story, he actually kept the story, character, and relationship elements, and the acting, within acceptable boundaries. The characters are a bit underdeveloped; they never quite rise up to being full three-dimensional characters, and the development that they do receive is pretty much by-the-numbers. Nonetheless, the film does have a decent, solid human element that makes it all work. In fact, I was able to have a decent emotional attachment to Raleigh throughout the film; and Charlie Hunnam's performance, while not stellar by any means, is solid.

Almost as if to emphasize the human element, there are actually people up in those robots; it's not just a plain robot vs. monster scenario. In addition, a neural connection shared by the jaeger drivers actually adds an interesting dimension to the film's relationship aspect. The drivers actually have access to each other's memories. In fact, this actually expands upon the theme of human connection and healing trauma within the relationship between Raleigh and Mako. This neural connection concept, like several other things in this film, is underdeveloped, but still interesting for what it's worth. And speaking of Raliegh and Mako, I also liked the relationship between them; they have decent chemistry, and are believable as friends, and possibly future lovers. So yes, the film does have some enjoyable character moments. And while this film may be one to see primarily for the action, it does have its share of moments emotional moments, such as a flashback scene involving Pentecost stepping out of a Jaeger and removing his helmet.

Pacific Rim was slightly disappointing for me, and it didn't live up to its potential, but I still found it to be decent and enjoyable. Again, it consists of some old-school action and camp and a little Independence Day spirit, combined with a few elements of modern-day big- budget blockbusters. And I'm glad I saw it on the big screen. It will never be Independence Day, but it's still a decent summer blockbuster. And it's not pretending to be anything more. It knows what it wants to be, and while it doesn't entirely succeed at it, it does a respectable job.

2 out of 14 people found the following review useful:
After Earth, 2 June 2013

I have to say, as much as I like M. Night Shyamalan, I was unsure as to whether or not he would get any directing jobs after his failure of that terrible Last Airbender movie. But, despite the negative reviews that After Earth has been receiving, I decided to give Shyamalan another chance and go see it. It does suffer from several flaws, not the least of which are weak acting and some uneven pacing among other things, but there were some things I liked and will remember about it. And if you ask me, it's definitely a step back in the right direction for Shyamalan.

It takes place a millennium after humanity was forced to leave Earth and settle on a distant planet. Katai (Jaden Smith) wants to become a soldier like his father, General Cypher Raige (Will Smith), but he fails his test for cadet promotion. He and his father have an estranged relationship; they are obviously emotionally distant from each other, and they even maintain something of a military-like relationship and behavior even at home. Eventually, he and his father are on a ship, which is damaged in an asteroid storm and crash lands on Earth, the only survivors being Cypher and Katai. Since the humans have left, the living organisms of Earth have evolved into dangerous, lethal forms. Cypher's legs having been broken in the crash, Katai must travel 100 kilometers across this dangerous terrain to where the tail of the ship is in order to retrieve a beacon.

So yes, After Earth is a futuristic science-fiction film, but it has a morality tale at its core. It explores themes of fear, courage, coming of age, and the father-son relationship, and it even contains an ecological message. It also has good visual effects, and a decent music score. This is definitely a different type of film for Shyamalan; it didn't feel much like a Shyamalan film. However, this film does have some unique and interesting aspects about it. And it even has a family relationship story (again, the father-son relationship).

The film's main issues, however, have nothing to do with any reliance, if any, upon the effects. In fact, if you ask me, it tries to truly focus on the characters, their relationship, and their struggles. But it stumbles. It suffers from some uneven pacing and storytelling and some weak dialogue, a few lines of which are unintentionally funny, and its level of intensity and emotion wavers throughout. There were parts of the movie in which I felt some relatively strong emotion, intensity, and even suspense. But other parts of the film came up short on it and weren't as emotional, suspenseful, intense, or scary as they should have been, and instead ended up feeling a bit too dry and empty.

Another thing I thought the movie suffered from was its handling of its back-stories and character development. These should have been fleshed out and explored more, and several things about it could have been interesting and could even have contributed more to the story, emotionally. Unfortunately, the film didn't go into this as much as it should have, and instead it went a little over the top with scenes of Katai out in the wild (a few of these particular scenes did feel a bit like unnecessary "filler").

Another major issue is the acting. If you ask me, I think it's a bit obvious that Jaden Smith only got the role because he is Will Smith's son. I found him tolerable and mostly effective, but his acting is wooden. Will Smith's acting is decent and effective, but even his acting is a bit stiff.

However, the film does make an effort, and while it does come up short on several aspects, I would say that it tries, and it doesn't completely fail. Overall, I didn't much like the film, but I did find it a bit entertaining, and I felt that the effort, themes, and ideas behind it definitely showed through. Now, again, I didn't think the film was great; I just thought it was adequate, or so-so; but I'm still a bit glad that I saw it. And again, it's step back in the right direction for Shyamalan, in my opinion; maybe there's still hope for him after all. My time and money weren't completely worth the experience, but they weren't wasted either.

My Rating: **1/2 (out of ****)

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Epic (2013)
33 out of 44 people found the following review useful:
Hardly epic, but good, 29 May 2013

My Rating: ***1/2 (out of ****)

The way things a currently looking, this might very well not be a Pixar year. A much as I might enjoy Monsters University and possibly Planes, they may very well not be my favorite animated films of the year, and they probably won't be. The Croods is already my favorite animated film of the year, and this movie, Epic, in my opinion, is also pretty good.

The main protagonist of the film is Mary Katherine, or M. K., a likable (and cute) teenage girl who, after her mother's death, goes to live with her eccentric and reclusive father. Her father believes that there is a miniature world of magical little people and creatures that live in the forest, and of course other people, including M. K., don't believe him. However, she soon magically shrunken and discovers this little world, which she must save.

And so on. I admit, the movie is not very epic; it is a bit generic and has just about every cliché possible: good vs. evil, balance of nature, dysfunctional parent/child relationship, etc etc. The film resembles a number of other films, such as FernGully, Avatar, and Honey I Shrunk the Kids, among others. One of the main characters, the Nod, even resembles Flynn Rider from Tangled pretty strongly (but this wasn't a problem for me). However, I disagree with everyone who is calling it charmless, forgettable, too reliant on visuals, and weak in terms of character, plot, heart, etc. That's right, I actually enjoyed it.

I actually thought the movie was handled fairly well and has a decent, solid, enjoyable, well- paced plot. The film started out a bit slow, but I started to get more interested as trouble started brewing in the miniature forest world and then M. K. gets shrunken; from then on the movie was much better, and I got interested and emotionally involved in the story. The film also has likable characters and relationships, and good voice performances by Amanda Seyfried, Josh Hutcherson, Colin Farrell, Beyonce Knowles, and the rest of the cast. It even had some good humorous parts, including a pair of mollusks and a three-legged dog.

The best part of the film is the animation; dazzling, lively, meticulously detailed, and it helps bring everything to life. Like Avatar, this movie has what I found to be an interesting, immersing, well-designed setting. Also, like Avatar, it has a good, strong ecological message, which I appreciate. It also has heart, charm, and genuine emotion, and additional good moral messages such as friendship, love, bravery, and selflessness.

Bottom line: If you ask me, Epic is hardly epic, but it's good. And it was especially enjoyable for me on the big screen. Kids will certainly love it; and if you are an adult, like me, just let out your inner child and enjoy the film.

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3 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
Actions have consequences..., 25 April 2013

The Place Beyond the Pines opens with a very long tracking shot that follows a motorcycle stunt driver, Luke (Ryan Gosling), across a carnival and into a tent containing the spherical metal stunt cage. This long tracking is an indicator that this is going to be an ambitious, self-aware piece of filmmaking. And that's what it is. Piercing through jumble of other films of the early spring like a high-intensity electromagnetic wave comes The Place Beyond the Pines, a well-written, well-acted, well-directed, emotional, intelligent, suspenseful, multi-layered, thought-provoking film, and, in my opinion, one of the best films of the year so far. It is three-part drama that unfolds over a completely justified running length of nearly two and a half hours.

The first part of the film is about the aforementioned tattooed motorcycle stunt daredevil, Luke, a good-hearted but reckless and troubled man. Ryan Gosling puts on an excellent performance, bringing this character to life. A great portion of his performance is dialogue-free and big on actions and facial expressions. When he does speak, he speaks quietly and deliberately.

Eva Mendes plays Romina, whom Luke had slept with in the past, and is now the mother of his infant son as a result of that fling. She is now with another man, but Luke, determined to provide for her and his son, quits his job as a motorcycle stunt driver and resorts to robbing banks to provide for them. This is a bad decision, obviously, and it leads to even worse decisions.

This eventually leads Luke to cross paths with police officer named Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper). Pretty soon, the first act ends. The second act focuses on Avery, whom Bradley Cooper portrays with an outstanding performance. Avery is an ambitious rookie cop who looks to quickly move up the ranks in the corruption-riddled police department in which he works. The third act of the film takes place fifteen years after the end of the second act, and it focuses on the sons of Luke and Avery, who are now in high school and are haunted by the past sins of their fathers.

I don't like this film as much as, say, The Godfather, but it is pretty far up there; it is bold and innovative, with a strong emphasis on character and plot development; it is a good example of expert storytelling. Also, this film has a very strong personal touch to it; I truly cared about the characters and felt all of the emotions that they felt throughout the course of their experiences – love, guilt, emotional torment, embarrassment, stress, etc. As the story progresses, it takes some surprising and sometimes shocking turns, and there is a riveting sense of tension all the way through the film.

This film is great character study, and it really gives us some things to think about. It explores themes including, but not limited to, guilt, justice, revenge, love, and even a father's love for his son. However, there is one theme that stands out above the others explored in the film: consequences. Actions have consequences, the effects of which affect other people and the world, and can even ripple through time and generations. The film emphasizes and illustrates this theme very strongly, and it gives us some good food for thought on the subject.

The movie is excellently filmed, and while the camera work and cinematography is by no means the primary draw of the film, it really enhanced the experience and helped pull me into the film. The music score is also very good. Overall, I can think of very little to criticize about this film. Although, I do have to admit, the third act of the film was slightly less powerful than the previous two, and a little too slow. But I still found it very compelling.

Again, overall, this film is en excellent example of what can result from a great script, great performances, great directing, and lots of heart and emotional punch. This film has one of the strongest and most genuine heartbeats that I have felt in a film in quite a while. I highly recommend this film.

Remember, actions have consequences. Never forget that. Negative actions result in negative consequences. Good actions result in good consequences. For example, Derek Cianfrance put in a great deal of focus and effort into making this film, and the consequence is that he made an emotionally riveting, multi-layered, thought-provoking masterpiece, which has earned high praise from me, and will hopefully at least receive an Oscar nomination.

My rating: **** (out of ****)

2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
The Dark Knight Rises, 25 April 2013

Of the three Dark Knight movies directed by Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight rises is the only one I have seen in the theater, an experience I quite enjoyed. Now, to be honest, if I were to just look at this film all on its own and disregard the previous two films, I would only have found it to be decent, or just good at best. It does have some flaws, and it's my least favorite of the three installments. But when I take into account the previous two films, this film becomes immensely entertaining for me.

At the end of The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne, guised as Batman, took the rap for Harvey Dent's crimes. This film picks up eight years later, where Bruce has since hung up the cape and now stays mainly shut up in his mansion. Meanwhile, Gotham has improved (at least on the surface…). However, a new villain, Bane, comes to town, forcing Bruce back into action despite his tarnished Batman reputation.

I felt that the weakest part of the film was the first forty-five minutes; I found this part of the film to be a bit slow and uneven. But after this, the film got significantly better, and continued to get better and better as the story progressed (with a few twists) until the ending, which I loved. Admittedly the storyline is a bit of a retread of Batman Begins, and there are some frankly big gaps in logic. This film is more dreamlike and less cerebral than the previous two films, and it's a bit too long. Not to mention we don't see much Batman. However, I did feel that this film was a slight step up emotionally from the previous two. And the running length didn't bother me all that much; in fact, I would say that a director's cut would be completely justified.

The actors all put on good performances. There is Christian Bale, of course, who has brought charisma to Bruce Wayne/Batman since the beginning of Nolan's series. The other actors do a good job too. Michael Caine returns as Alfred, who has less screen time in this film than he had before, but is no less powerful. Gary Oldman returns as Commissioner Gordon, and even Morgan Freeman returns as Lucius Fox, who provides Bruce with a new, aerial form of transportation (and yes, it does come in black).

We also have some new characters, all (or at least most) of who make worthy additions to the franchise. There is the badass and utterly terrifying villain, Bane. Tom Hardy pulls off a worthy performance of this masked menace, masterful and merciless. Anne Hathaway and Marion Cottilard play Selina Kyle and Miranda Tate, respectively, the latter of whom with whom Bruce even sleeps; but this doesn't develop into anything more than just a brief, shallow affair; Bruce's romantic interests pretty much ended with Rachel's death in the previous film. I even want to give a thumbs-up to Joseph Gordon Levitt; and we learn something special about his character at the end of the film.

Again, I think the film is just decent, or good at best, on its own, but I love it as a chapter in the overall series (although, again, it is my least favorite film of the trilogy). While I can enjoy Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises as stand-alones as well as parts of a series, I feel that my appreciation for this one is extremely dependent on the basis established by the previous two installments. That brings me to my next point: the highlight of the film for me is the continuation of the overall story of the series. If you ask me, this film brings Bruce Wayne's story to an excellent conclusion. As for the lack of Batman, I would have liked to see more of him, but his absence did not bother me much as this is really more of a Bruce Wayne movie rather than a Batman movie.

This film has some connections and references to the first film. For me, the most powerful of these is the reference to the theme of learning to pick ourselves back up after we fall. This theme is introduced in the first film as Bruce falls into the well and his father helps him out. The reference to this theme in TDKR (which also reflects the film's title) is a highly symbolic one that involves an underground prison that Bruce has to climb out of, while the prisoners watching him chant a very catchy and memorable chant. His father helped him out of that well as a kid, and now he has to climb out of this prison himself. He now has to learn to pick himself back up, both literally and symbolically. This scene also excellently symbolizes Bruce's overall, underlying journey to rise back up and re-discover the will to live.

Overall, this is one of my favorite film trilogies. In addition to having great action sequences and effects, it also has a great, relatable underlying story. It has great moral messages, such consequences for one's actions, and much more. This trilogy contains a lot of life's lessons. And it doesn't exactly hurt that it works as pure blockbuster entertainment as well.

Before I close, I want to mention the music score. Hans Zimmer returns to work his musical magic on this film just like he did on BB and TDK. Especially noteworthy is that recurring two-note motif that has appeared repeatedly throughout the entire series. Whenever this motif is heard, it never completely resolves, always posing some questions. Just like the motif, even at the points where the story resolves, it never quite resolves completely, always posing some questions and uncertainties as to what is to come in the future, among other things. In fact, it is this two-note motif with which the film, and the series, ends.

The Croods (2013)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
A pleasant surprise, 13 April 2013

I found The Croods to be a pleasant surprise. It exceeded any expectations I had prior to seeing it. Twentieth Century Fox has teamed up with the studio behind How to Train Your Dragon and Shrek, put How to Train Your Dragon director Chris Sanders on the helm along with Kirk De Micco, and come out with this lively, rousing, and highly entertaining work. It doesn't quite rise up the level of Shrek or How to Train Your Dragon (the latter of which is my favorite DreamWorks animated film), but it's definitely one of DreamWorks's better films. It certainly contains the studio's style, and some elements from (and a few references to) a few of its previous films, including the aforementioned Shrek and HTTYD.

The Croods tells the story of a caveman family, (yes, you've guessed it) the Croods, the last surviving family in the region in which they live. They live by hiding in their cave most of the time, only going out to hunt. They always play it safe and live in fear, especially of anything new; as the father, Gurg (Nicolas Cage) says, "Never not be afraid."

The exception to this is Grug's teenage daughter Eep (Emma Stone), who, instead of wanting to play it safe all the time, is willing to take risks and learn new things. Because of this, she is a bit distant from her family. One night she ventures out of the cave and meets a young man named Guy (Ryan Reynolds), who warns her that the world is about to end. Sure enough, an earthquake occurs soon afterward, destroying the Croods' cave (but this is just the beginning). This sends the family on a journey with Guy across an incredible land that they have never experienced, full of fantastic creatures and more, while heading to a mountain where they will supposedly be safe.

I honestly cannot think of much to criticize about the film, except maybe a little bit of the plotting, but that's about it. Again, it doesn't live up to How to Train Your Dragon, but it's still good (and it is admittedly a bit better in terms of character development). It is full of clever humor, wit, and energy. The humor is neither too childish nor too adult. The film also contains true emotion and good, valuable morals. And it is absolutely full of heart. The animation is excellent; colorful, lively, and dazzling. And I want to give a major thumbs-up to Alan Silvestri for the score, which is lively and rousing, just like everything else about the film.

Another especially noteworthy aspect of the film is Eep. Strong female protagonists seem to be fairly popular these days, and Eep is no exception. All of the characters shine, not completely dominating any of the others, but she does shine a bit more than the others. Her appearance brought to mind Fiona from Shrek (which is not surprising, as the same studio is behind them both). She is strong, bold, daring, and rebellious, and her personality recalls that of the aforementioned Fiona, Astrid from HTTYD, and even a bit of Merida from Brave. And yes, there is definitely a bit of Astrid in her; just look at the way she treats Guy when she first meets him. However, they do eventually develop some feelings for each other (which Grug is not too happy about). Eep and all of the other character of the film are lovable, as are the interactions and family values, dynamics, and bonding. The voice performances are good too.

From beginning to end, there was not a single moment anywhere in the entire film where I was bored. Again, it's not great, but it is good. It is a clever, witty, humorous, energetic, rousing, heartwarming delight, and I hope it gets nominated for the Best Animated Film Oscar. I will not be surprised if it becomes a childhood classic for future generations. I even stayed for the credits. And its primary moral message is one that anybody can relate to: don't let your life get stale – go out and learn and experience new things, live up to your potential, and really live your life and dreams.

2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Surprisingly enjoyable, 3 March 2013

As James Berardinelli points out in his review of this film, Hollywood currently seems to be going through a trend of fairytale/folklore re-imaginations. Unlike what Disney does in their re-imaginations of such stories, these are tending to be darker and more mature, with more adult elements. A couple of these are Alice In Wonderland and Snow White and the Huntsman. I haven't seen the former, but I have seen the latter, and to be honest I wasn't overwhelmed. Now, Hollywood decides it's time for such an adaptation of Jack and the Beanstalk, and along comes director Bryan Singer, who helms Jack the Giant Slayer, which I found to be somewhat enjoyable, and a worthy addition to the current trend.

Nicholas Hoult plays the title character, Jack, a farmboy who has grown up hearing about a legendary tale about giants living in a place between the earth and heaven. Jack soon comes into possession of some magic beans, and soon inadvertently grows a beanstalk that sprouts out from under his house up into the sky, all the way up to the giants' world (carrying the house up with it). Princess Isabelle happens to be in Jack's house when this occurs, and she is caught up in the gigantic sprouting vines and carried up to the giant world (talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time).

Jack climbs up the beanstalk along with the princess's protectors and her fiancé, Roderick, to search for her. However, Roderick has with him a legendary magical crown with the power to exercise control over the giants, and secretly plans to use it to assemble the giants and take over the human world below. Jack, meanwhile, searches for, and eventually falls in love with, the princess.

I was expecting this film to be dorky, and yes, it is a bit so. However, it was actually not as stupid as I thought it would be. In fact, it does have some fairly smart elements. The story follows a fairly simple, straightforward, and predictable trajectory, and it had the potential to expand and be a lot more, and some of the plotting could have been better, but it is entertaining. It even has some good comical moments here and there. The CGI and effects are pretty good. Everything is very well designed and feels alive. The setting is portrayed excellently, especially the giant world. The giants are truly menacing, and, well, if any of these giants existed in real life, I certainly wouldn't want to get near them. The action sequences are good too, although some scenes may be a bit too intense and violent for little children. But what I liked most of all, in terms of the CGI and effects, was the beanstalk.

As with a number of films these days, some of the action and CGI sequences tend to be a little too long and over the top. This is not much of a problem, although they could have cut some of it. The characterization is relatively simple, and character development is a bit lacking, but even so, I liked and cared about the characters. Jack is a good protagonist, and Nicholas Hoult portrays him pretty well. Isabelle is an enjoyable love interest and damsel in distress. And all the other characters, while again, a bit underdeveloped, are all enjoyable in their roles. I even found Ewan McGregor's character likable. And overall, the film does offer a good sense of adventure.

A little while back, I watched Snow White and the Huntsman, and overall I found the film to be so-so. However, in Jack the Giant Slayer, I did find the beginning (up until the beanstalk sprouted and the story really began) to be a bit slow, but after that, I got somewhat interested in the story, world, and characters, and stayed that way for the rest of the movie. Although, as some reviewers have pointed out, only male giants are seen in the film. Where are the females (if any)? If not, how do the giants reproduce? They are not immortal, as some of them die in the film. But still, this does not spoil the film in any way. Again, it is not a great movie; it's most certainly not Oscar material or anything like that. And it's not even trying to be. It's a competent, unpretentious film, neither pretending nor trying to be more than what it is; a fun, decent, fast-paced action/adventure fantasy flick, and a worthy retelling of the old Jack and the Beanstalk fairytale. Don't go see it expecting an incredibly complex and thought provoking film; just sit back and enjoy the show.

One of the main reasons I went to see this film (among others) was because Bryan Singer directed it. I enjoyed the first two X-Men movies and Superman Returns (yes, I liked it), and so I was curious about this film. As it turns out, Bryan Singer proves that he is still a competent film director.

My Rating: *** (out of ****)

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