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An OK second entry but is cluttered, 9 October 2015

Ben Stiller and director/producer Shawn Levy have worked together for quite some time now. It may not seem like much but Levy has been attached to a number of Mr. Stiller's films. For a partnership to occur, there are always pros and cons. A positive side to this would be that the two are comfortable with each other. They know their quirks, habits, preferences, attitude and whatever else. This means the possibility of having conflicting ideas is slim to none. However, the downside to this kind of double act is that if not looked after, the method of which going about making certain projects becomes repetitive and no longer unique. In other words, the people working on the project begin to get lazy with what they are doing and do not put much extra thought into it. Unfortunately it seems as though the sequel to the hit family film Night at the Museum (2006) went more of a marketing direction.

Audiences who saw the first movie reconnect with now ex-night guard Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) as the owner and inventor of Daley Devices. Turns out a few months after Daley found his dream job, which was working at the Museum of Natural History, his own business took off and left the museum to pursue his own goals. As a result, the owner Dr. McPhee (Ricky Gervais) agreed with the board of directors that it is time to retire the physical models and put in new technology for people to enjoy because "everybody loves new technology". With that, all of Daley's friends from the first movie get shipped off to the Smithsonian in DC where they get stored with all the other kinds of ancient artifacts. But when it turns out the mystical tablet that brings everyone to life was also shipped to the Smithsonian and Ahkmenrah's (Rami Malek) brother Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria) wants the tablet to release his army from the underworld, Daley decides he needs to get it back before the whole Smithsonian becomes a mess.

The script penned by the writers from before (Robert Ben Garant & Thomas Lennon) demonstrated that they favored more special appearances than anything else. The plot exists but it takes a backseat to a lot of special effects and a forced subplot. Seriously though there are a lot of appearances by other characters/actors. There's scenes with Eugene Levy, Jonah Hill, Clint Howard, George Foreman, Caroll Spinney, Christopher Guest, Jay Baruchel, Alain Chabat, Jon Bernthal and even a dark lord of the sith (and that doesn't even go with a museum). That's also just the tip of the iceberg. Then you have the main new additions consisting of Amy Adams as Amelia Earhart and Bill Hader as General Custer. Now add that to the original cast of the first movie and you see there's a lot to look after. It's nice and all to see these various individuals show up but some of it feels rushed while others feel out of place. One of those parts that feels really out of place is the romance between Larry and Amelia Earhart. The idea of having Teddy Roosevelt and Sacajawea having a romance is acceptable because they both know where they stand. However, a human and a wax figure? Who thought of including that in the script? Wasn't Daley's life turned around at the end of the last movie anyway?

The humor to this movie does feel like it was improved a little but unfortunately it still misses several times. Ben Stiller finally doesn't react so jitterishly but his character is still forced to do things he doesn't want to do. Either that or incessant bickering between him and Kahmunrah. The actor who probably had the best comedic moments was Hank Azaria as Kahmunrah, there are some moments that feel more spontaneous than scripted. The special effects although overabundant are creative in a number of ways and it is interesting to see how all the other pieces of artwork come to life due to the tablet. It does bring up a question as to what's the signal strength of this tablet? At first it seemed as if it only reached from with inside the Museum of Natural History. Now it seems as if it go beyond state borders. How does that work? That's also not the only noticeable thing left unchecked. There are lots of damages that occur and yet later on none of it is spoken of? And how does one sneak into the Smithsonian with nobody else seeing what's going on? Don't they have night guards?

The cinematography shot by John Schwartzman who has worked on all ranges of projects either wide scale (Armageddon (1998)) or small (Airheads (1994)) looks adequate for this film. Some of it is CGI driven but most of the scenes nicely capture the grand scope of how vastly enormous the Smithsonian is and how many things are kept locked away. Schwartzman also went on to film for The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) and Jurassic World (2015). Creating the film score is returning composer Alan Silvestri from the first film. Silvestri maintains the wondrous main theme from the first entry and expands on that by including new tracks. One specific track is more synthetic because it involves Larry infiltrating the Smithsonian. Another track sounds more like his work from that of The Mummy Returns (2001) because of Kahmunrah's army from the underworld. Is it worth collecting? Not exactly, but it still is an easygoing listening experience.

This sequel really tries by giving its fans some improved humor and loads of historical characters and other actor cameos but that's really where it gets hung up. The music, cinematography, acting and special effects are all commendable, but it attempts to tackle more than it can handle leading to a forced romance and a lot of continuity errors.

It's nothing deep but interesting to watch once, 2 October 2015

The mid-1900s was a time when film was still working its way into being less conservative for certain thematic material. Unlike today, when somebody hears the term "fast" or "furious" in the same sentence, many people think of the Universal Studios' billion dollar franchise that has soared to endless heights with its insane car stunts and character driven writing. Jumping back into the middle of the 20th century there's this film that Universal had acquired the title rights from and it's important to understand times were much different then. Not only is it super tame in its action and stunts but several other elements are slimmed down as well. Kiss those 130-blockbuster minutes goodbye, this feature rolls in at a tiny 72 minutes; barely enough to pass as a theatrical film these days. Believe it or not, these points don't sound promising but the film does stand on its own. It's just not anything beyond a one-time watch.

The story is about a wrongly convicted truck driver named Frank Webster (John Ireland) who is trying to escape to Mexico before the authorities can get a hold of him. Upon leaving a diner, he takes a lady named Connie Adair (Dorothy Malone) and her brand new Jaguar cruiser hostage in order to escape quickly enough from being arrested. The film was directed partially by main actor John Ireland and Edward Sampson; both of which were relatively new to directing. This was Sampson's first credit, Ireland's second and their last for both. For directing quality, it's focused but more or less uninspired. The script that was originally conceived by Roger Corman and then adapted by Jerome Odlum and Jean Howell is slightly better because the viewer will get an understanding of how and why Frank Webster is who he is. Also, those who fondly enjoy The Fast and the Furious (2001) will be able to see what pieces of the script of this film were lifted from. Other than the title and fast cars; sabotaging trucks, street races and wrongly convicted individuals go hand-in-hand with that of the 2001 film.

The screenplay still has its problems though with character motivations and dialog. Most likely due to the short run time, the speed at which characters change their opinion on certain matters feels unnatural or is just illogical. The problems with the dialog are simple to notice too. Much of the dramatic heft and delivery of lines range between cheesy 50s acting to stiff as a board. The cheesiness comes from when police officers are trying to get information from a suspect and it feels overly silly. The actor that is the most rigid in their role is surprisingly John Ireland. Considering Ireland had practically a decade to hone his acting chops, his deliver is emotionless here. Plus, what may be annoying to some viewers is that Ireland's character was written to always have the last word in a conversation. Yes, we understand Frank Webster is not a man to be messed with, but making him get in the last word to every conversation makes him sound immature.

For racing action, a lot is seen that it is all stock footage. For 1955, people most likely believed or found this to be adequate special effects. For today's standards of course not, but it should be appreciated for what is depicted and the effort that went into making it look as realistic as possible. There are some moments where producer/writer Roger Corman did act as a stunt driver and its not the easiest to tell actually. The time when Corman is a stunt driver is about as equally concealed as to today's films that try to hide certain stunts into a film. Either way there is some swift moving, sleek looking cars shot in this movie. If there's one thing this film highlights, it's how races used to be conducted back in the 1950s. Something of which many people don't see anymore and is a much different experience. There are also some crash and burn moments too but again, it is much less than what today's audiences have seen.

The cinematography handled by Floyd Crosby was decent too. Crosby, best known for working on House of Usher (1960) along side Corman demonstrate his ability to keep the camera focused on what's important on screen. Unfortunately it does suffer from shaking occasionally but not from today's "shaky-cam" issues. The problem arises more from the fact that some shots are filmed of which looked like the camera was physically on the back of a car. At that point in time back then, it is most likely that the right technology hadn't been created yet, or the budget did not allow for such fancy gadgets. But for as problematic as it may sound, those shots are actually the best because they feel the most real in the film without using green screen or other cheap effects. The music composed by Alexander Gerens was okay. It wasn't anything special with a main theme but it did give the film that classic 1950s sound that only a certain era of film making could provide. Can't knock that.

It's by no means even a very involving film, but it does have decent effects, camera-work and music. It also showcases retro cars along with other things that are different from that time. It's screenplay even gives somewhat of an understanding to where the parts in The Fast and the Furious (2001) came from. However, the rest of writing has shifty character motives and some unimpressive acting. At least it's only an hour or so long; it'll go by quick.

7 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
Still a fun entry but is slightly tainted, 25 September 2015

For cartoons, Genndy Tartakovsky has had his hands in and on a lot of peoples' favorite shows. There's something about Tartakovsky's vision of cartoons that breathes life into every movement that is made by them. Tartakovsky made his directorial debut with Hotel Transylvania (2012) and although it was not universally renowned, made people found it to be a fun family movie with a well-developed story, energetic animation and colorful characters. Plus even though it dealt with Halloween related characters, the idea wasn't to scare but make light of the characters and the lore of which they originated from. Here we are with its sequel and although it does keep several elements from the original the same, some things have changed and other parts should have changed. Thankfully, this sequel isn't brought down a whole lot, but it is enough to notice the differences in what should've been focused on more.

The story to this installment revolves around Dracula (Adam Sandler) trying to bring out the inner vampire of his hybrid grandson Dennis (Asher Blinkoff) brought upon by newly wedded couple/parents Mavis (Selena Gomez) and Jonathan (Andy Samberg). The reason for this is fearing that if their son has no vampire blood flowing in him anywhere, Mavis would end up leaving the hotel for good. Although the premise isn't as obvious, unfortunately the execution ends up feeling very similar to that of the first (plot wise). Dracula claims he is more open minded now but still clings to his past and tries to hide his true ambitions. In some respects, this particular play out moots the point of the first film altogether. Once Drac accepted Jonathan into his world, he should've been prepared for what came after. It just makes it feel like he didn't learn from before. The writing group for this entry shrunk in size. For the first film, five writers were involved. Here only two were, of which only one of them were from the original five.

The one from the original five was Robert Smigel, a writer for multiple Saturday Night Live episodes. The other writer credited for this film was Adam Sandler and unfortunately it shows too. How? Two words, potty humor. Yes, and it sticks out like a soar thumb. Hotel Transylvania (2012) did have some silly moments but none of the comedy required potty humor. That's not to say all of the scenes don't work, but there are scenes where experienced viewers will be able to point out the scenes that Adam Sandler had wrote in. It's just not necessary. Of all problems with this and a familiar plot, that's it. For the moments that don't included immature humor, the rest of the comedy bits are new and contemporary, which is having the characters play off of their own flaws and personalities or trying to have them figure out social media. Drac can't seem to understand that to use a touch screen, you can't have long fingernails. He'll get it I'm sure.

There's also new character additions to the cast, which is great although sometimes it can sink a film if it becomes over saturated. All the original characters voiced by Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Andy Samberg, Kevin James, David Spade and Steve Buscemi all sound exactly as they should and still play off one another well. Even Keegan-Michael Key who replaces CeeLo Green as Murray from the first film practically sounds the same too. Some of the new voice actors to jump on board or receive more attention are Sadie Sandler as Winnie (one of Wayne's children), Jon Lovitz as a "phantom of the opera" type character and the comedy guru himself, Mel Brooks playing Vlad, Dracula's father. It really is nice to see a bunch of new and old voice actors work together though. Plus, a star talent like Brooks isn't wasted either. His appearance isn't as long as everyone else's roles but he comes in at the best time.

Again since this production was headed by Tartakovsky, the animation and character designs are nothing but great. The character designs are all unique and have intricate texture detailing. Alan Hawkins who worked as an animator for the first film serves a senior animation supervisor for this entry. Considering his past work being on projects like Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (2009) and Arthur Christmas (2011), Hawkins feels like a great collaborator for Tartakovsky's vision. The film score produced by Devo member Mark Mothersbaugh continues his usual work but again fails to provide his listeners with an actual soundtrack for download. The score itself matches the scenes well and portrays the right emotion but it's weird that Mothersbaugh can provide a score for Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (2009) or The Lego Movie (2014) but can't for these films. Why so selective in distribution?

It's not a huge step down from the original but it is noticeable. The sequel does maintain all the character relations and chemistry while adding in new ones like Drac's father voiced by Mel Brooks. It also keeps the same great animation and music. Unfortunately although the premise feels new, the execution is very much parallel to the first film in some ways. Plus with Adam Sandler now active in writing the script, some his childish annoying potty humor got in the recipe as well and it's obvious as all get out.

Black Mass (2015/I)
4 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
A Depp film as iconic as his role as Jack Sparrow, 24 September 2015

Johnny Depp is a well known and praised actor for his work by portraying colorful various characters. However in recent years, many began to think Depp was running out of ideas on how to make his roles unique. A role many loved from his early 2000s was the lead role in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl as Captain Jack Sparrow. Audiences and fans a like began to notice that as time went on, Depp began taking liberties with his acting choices and translating many of Sparrow's mannerisms into his other roles. Although hardcore Depp fans do not mind this, objective critics were not impressed with all the doppelgangers. Then there's this film which completely flips the Depp perception of his usual odd and quirky roles into something that will truly showcase that Depp has more to add. There really isn't much to pull out on the spot for this project. Several of the elements in this production blend so well that it's very difficult to go back and think about what needed work or stood out as bad.

Johnny Depp plays the Irish fist-throwing/trash-talking Jimmy "Whitey" Bulger, a real life small town gangster during the mid 1970s who ended up soaring to the F.B.I.'s most wanted list after the early 1990s. Competently directed by Scott Cooper (Out of the Furnace (2013)) and written by Mark Mallouk (his first credit) and Jez Butterworth (Edge of Tomorrow (2014)), this group of people and the cast tacked on make this story quite the watcher. The writing covers the material as if it were a documentary but does it in such a way that demonstrates to the audience what actually happened other than the people being interviewed giving it all away. It's not incredibly ingenious but it is smart because it gives the viewers a better idea of the people involved and how they dealt with the situation that was erupting during that current time period other than hearing from them decades later. The only thing that is worth mentioning that should've been brought up is how Bulger got his mentality that he was so infamously known for? There is no backstory for Bulger's motivations. Why was he the way he was?

Other than this, everything else works great. Casting wise, Johnny Depp as Jimmy Bulger is jarringly different from recent acting choices and it is a delight to see him as the fouled-mouthed Irishman. Depp's voice is grainy sounding, his receding blonde hairline and cloudy blue eyes really make this something to remember. Even though the background to Bulger's eventual trademark characteristics are not expanded upon, Depp's performance is dumbfoundingly captivating. For such an antagonistic character, the writing and Depp combined are able to give even Bulger small tidbits of humanity that don't even seem possible. The reason why this is almost shocking is because most audiences are not supposed to feel sympathy for such a character. What's weird is that there are times where it seemed as if Bulger did have his soft moments. For example, when Bulger makes a promise about a certain topic, he honestly sounds like he's giving a scout's honor. Then again, it was hard to tell because of how deceitful his personality was. That alone is demonstrated quite early on. This is how devious the writing and the character is.

Along side Depp is Joel Edgerton as John Connolly, an old friend of Bulger who feels he owes him a favor. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Bulger's brother Billy who also knows Connolly and frequently associates with him. Actors Jesse Plemons and Rory Cochrane play Bulger's henchmen who show they are just as loyal to Bulger as is Connolly and Billy. There's also scenes with Peter Sarsgaard, Kevin Bacon, David Harbour and Adam Scott who work along side Connolly in the F.B.I. agency. The majority of these characters get a good dose of character development and each actor performs exceptionally well. The violence although not gruesome, is certainly brutal no doubt. The killings are mostly direct and to the point about what the job is and there are some that will make the viewer hope they don't ever have a run in with a character like Bulger. Not even a can of spinach would save somebody against Bulger; contempt is what he lives on.

The cinematography shot by Masanobu Takayanagi has a skilled visual flare to it as well. Since this film has two methods of story telling, there are also two methods of camera-work. For the documentary style part of the narrative, Takayanagi films those scenes completely still and close up like an interview would. As for the rest of the execution, Takayanagi films the rest of the scenes like other films. Thankfully there are no shaky cam shots, or disorienting continuous rotating 360 shots. Every scene is well lit and is steady no matter where the camera goes. The film score composed by Tom Holkenborg, better known as Junkie XL also brings in some nice cues to the table. It was a little questionable at first because of how Holkenborg likes to mimic several of Hans Zimmer contemporary synthetic type cues but here Holkenborg actually provided a enjoyable listening experience that includes strings and piano that emotionally capture the trouble that goes on throughout this crime thriller. It's tragic and sounds great.

The only thing that sticks out as of needs for improvement was explaining how Jimmy Bulger got his motivations to become what he's known for. That's not much to say though with a talented supporting cast, gritty violence, effective camera-work, tragic sounding music and a defining performance from Johnny Depp that is quite opposite from the majority of his previous roles.

A decent time capsule, 11 September 2015

As infrequently as some oldies tunes happen to pop up on the radio, there was a time when that's all it was believe it or not. During the 1970s, the wave of disco joints multiplied by the day. Besides the 1960s and 1970s promoting peace and love, it also became a time where dancing was the "in" thing to do. Everybody was doing it. It was a craze that took a nation by storm where all people wanted to do was party and dance. For movies, the 1970s were also a time of many successes that have created quite an impact on today's culture and society. One of the most widely popular films to be remembered from that era was Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977). However for movies that capitalized on the dance wave at the time, the best known and respected film to represent such a time was this film. It does have some components that could've been left out or fixed but mostly it is an entertaining film of its time.

Written by Norman Wexler (Serpico (1973)) and directed by John Badham (in his first feature film), the story is about a late teen named Tony Manero (John Travolta) who lives in a world where the only thing that matters to him is the weekend. He's a nice kid at heart and works hard but just wants live his life in the present. During the day he works at a paint shop, later he hangs with his immature goof ball friends, gets badgered by an old flame named Annette (Donna Pescow) and then has the same dinner every night with his family of high expectations. What Manero looks forward to on the weekend are the disco dances. While attending a party one night he comes across a dancer who catches his eye named Stefanie (Karen Lynn Gorney). It's at that moment Manero wants her to be his dance partner for a competition. For all the prior subplots going on around Manero, they do serve the purpose of character development but they also fall to the wayside over time.

The reoccurring moral of the script is the power of choice. Everyone has a choice to be or do what he or she wants in life. Manero's family wants him to become a priest like his brother Frank (Martin Shakar). Annette gets told numerous times by Tony that she has to decide on whether she's going to act like a woman or a prostitute. Tony is also challenged on his beliefs by Stefanie and when his boss tells him to stop spending his money frivolously on the weekend. Stefanie even gets some of her own medicine thrown back at her. Tony friends are a gradual eye opener as well. Every single supporting/main character has a specific role to play when it comes to character development and it is handled properly. The problem is once the change in character occurs, the supporting threads and their respective characters disappear and aren't concluded in the most direct of ways. The only other component to the writing is some of the slang dialog used. Yes, the 1970s were a much different time. However, this still does not excuse the fact of using various racial slurs.

Other than this every other aspect to the film is enjoyable. The acting is competently performed. It is a bit jarring to see the difference in years when it comes to how much John Travolta changed. Also voice-actor Paul Pape has a role as one of Tony's goof ball friends. The acting and writing also effectively capture the mood and attitude of the era. As stated before, disco was a craze at the time and many people hopped on the bandwagon just because everybody was doing it. Plus with all the issues surrounding Tony, going to the disco was also a good representation of how disco was an escapist activity for a lot of people. For the people who took part, it was a moment in time where people would forget about their troubles and just enjoy the night. The cinematography shot by Ralf D. Bode fit well with the scenes too. Bode was able to acquire a number of odd angles and establishing shots that in some ways felt like the camera was prepping the audience just as much as the scene was.

The choreography handled by Lester Wilson was crafted nicely as well. A year before, Wilson worked on Sparkle (1976) which proved to be a success and it didn't change here. Wilson's ability to get the entire cast to work in synchronized motion is impressive. That and all the dance moves that Travolta and Gorney perform are well staged. It's unimaginable how much practice went into making sure those dance numbers were done the right way in one shot. That takes patience. The music for this film is practically scoreless with only a few tunes composed by David Shire. The rest was handled by English pop group The Bee Gees (Barry, Maurice & Robin Gibb). The movie itself would probably not be as memorable or popular if it weren't for the numerous songs heard throughout the background. Songs like "Stayin' Alive", "Night Fever", "How Deep Is Your Love" and "More Than a Woman" are just some of the songs that'll stick in the viewers mind. It's also interesting to watch the dancing with these songs because of the viewers' knowledge of music, how sensual the emotions are in the performances.

Unfortunately for its time it suffers from racial slurs that are still not excusable and its subplots are well written until they aren't needed anymore leading to indirect conclusions. These flaws are thankfully made up for with the abundance of character development, appropriate acting, memorable music tunes and well-staged dance choreography. It is a time capsule that defined the 1970s.

Dark Water (2005)
Better than the mediocre slasher but still has plot holes, 4 September 2015

Ghost stories are a very common occurrence throughout history. Whether the actual phenomenon was portrayed in a good light or not, most people who believe they saw one get weirded out. Seeing something that looks like the image of a long gone person or animal is kind of strange. In literature, a ghost exists because of not being laid to rest appropriately, a curse or something along those lines. For director Hideo Nakata who has made several Japanese horror films, many producers seem to like remaking his films. In 1998, Nakata released Ringu (1998), which would later become The Ring (2002). During that year, Nakata released another original film of his called Honogurai mizu no soko kara (2002); this would eventually become this film. For what is presented here, it is moderately entertaining but it is nowhere near as being a great ghost feature. However even with that said, it does provide a brief enjoyable deviation from the usual horror tropes.

The story is about Dahlia (Jennifer Connelly), a mother going through a divorce with her husband Kyle (Dougray Scott) who are both trying to figure out who will have custody over their daughter Ceci (Ariel Gade). After a counseling session goes wrong between the parents, Dahlia moves with Ceci to a city further away from Kyle. There they settle in old apartment building owned by Mr. Murray (John C. Reilly) and managed handyman Mr. Veeck (Pete Postlethwaite). Upon picking their suite, Dahlia notices the ceiling to her bedroom is leaking water. Within a couple of days the leak becomes worse and Dahlia takes it upon herself to figure out what the problem is on the floor above. Unexpectedly, Dahlia comes into contact with a ghost that not only will make her situation more tense but also jeopardize her daughter's life. The overall narrative penned by Rafael Yglesias (which was most likely just lifted from Nakata's work) feels solid. However, looking deeper into the cracks reveals various continuity errors.

The acting and characters work effectively in their designated roles. Both Jennifer Connelly and Dougray Scott are convincing as a troubled couple but also show their love for their daughter as well. Seriously though, poor Dahlia - she goes through so much throughout the running time. On top of that after Dahlia moves to the new city, she's hit with a lawsuit by Kyle so she hires Jeff Platzer (Tim Roth) as her lawyer. Platzer probably shows her the most respect (other than Ceci). The duo of John C. Reilly and Pete Postlethwaite as the apartment managers demonstrates what happens when people don't take care of the property. The best actor of the bunch goes to Ariel Gade. She's the highlight of the feature just because how strong her character is at such an early age. How does one even deal with the events put onto them so well without cracking? It is also because of her innocent nature that she feels like the only one who doesn't have such a dim outlook on life. The ghost is played by Perla Haney-Jardine and although she's doesn't shine as much as Gade, she is creepy.

The continuity errors to the script belong to Haney-Jardine's ghost role. Whenever the ghost is around, water begins to get pitch black and gross. However at first, it seems it's only the water in the apartment. Yet when Ceci's at school, the ghost can make the water dark there too – how? This brings in the other question. Most ghosts are bound by which the place they thrived as a human being. So why is it that she can move to the school but yet is bound only by the apartment? Not making sense here. Another good question that isn't answered (non-continuity related) is where are all the tenants at Mr. Murray's complex? Practically nobody shows his or her face. Does anyone live there and if they do where are they? The creep factor is definitely alive in this film though. Besides the fact that the rating is PG-13, there are a number of good scenes that just involve establishing shots of various places in Dahlia's apartment suite. Plus with the fact that the whole apartment owned by Mr. Murray doesn't look the best, it just adds to the uneasiness of what is being portrayed. Thankfully, there are not a lot of jump scares to this feature.

The cinematography shot by Affonso Beato compliments a lot of the scenes dealing with the apartment and rain itself. Throughout the movie, it rains almost the whole time. It is rare that weather sets a tone for a movie but that's what occurs here. The rain immediately does that with its consistency and gloomy grey atmosphere. Another thing to take note of is the lighting used per scene. Much of the colors in each scene have a drained yellowish look to them as if they lack actual life. It's a nice touch. The film score composed by Angelo Badalamenti does its job too. Unlike his first effort in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), which consisted of a pure cheap sounding synth performance, this effort is far superior. Badalamenti has a much more organic sound and it uses minimal synth in the back for atmosphere. Actual piano, strings, harps and horns play the rest of the sound. There's also a main theme for the film and it is beautifully tragic highlighted by solo piano keys. A much better listening experience.

Its writing has some big plot holes that don't make sense but it doesn't drag the film down entirely. The characters are believable, the creepiness is there (without a ton a of jump scares), the camera-work matches the mood of the story and the music is hauntingly memorable.

An interesting way to start a new trilogy, 31 August 2015

Although he was late in the decade, the foul-mouthed serial killer Charles Lee Ray who transferred his soul into a "Good Guy Doll" still made a name for himself as a famous horror icon. After transferring his soul into the doll, Chucky (as he would later be addressed) gained quite a following for his disruptive antics and morbid enthusiasm. Upon his first appearance, Chucky had an imposing presence that made several viewers uncomfortable because of how creepy dolls are in general. However similar to other franchises, the scare factor and level of seriousness viewers began to accept was beginning to stretch too thin. By the time Child's Play 3 (1991) came out, fans and viewers a like became fed up with Chucky's goal of trying to transfer his soul into the body of Andy Barclay. For writer and creator Don Mancini, a small hiatus was in order after being pushed around to make sequel after sequel for his brainchild. A decade after the release of the original Child's Play (1988), Mancini returned and wrote for this feature that began Chucky's new trilogy.

To some this was an improvement over Child's Play 3 (1991), while others were shocked the see the abrupt change. What Mancini had changed was the tone of the script. For the last three films Mancini wrote them as if they were literal; happening in the real world. The new intonation was that the story would be self aware in its execution but still continue from where the last film ended (roughly). An old lover of Charles named Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly) acquires the shredded remains of Chucky (Brad Dourif) and resurrects him. After being brought back, Chucky decides in order to finally get out of his body, he needs the amulet he had from the time of Child's Play (1988) located in his casket where he was buried. Paralleling these events is troubled couple Jade (Katherine Heigl) and Jesse (Nick Stabile) who are constantly harassed by Jade's uncle Chief Warren Kincaid (John Ritter) for Jesse supposedly being a bad influence.

As much as some viewers find the self-aware script jarringly different, having the series turn a comedic cheek to that of serious was a good move. Considering it became sillier as time went on, parodying it seems like an okay solution even with its flaws. For example the fact that it pays homage to its own films by clearly making a comment about it is funny for the fans to see. Even better, it references other horror icons directly and indirectly. It does bring up some clerical issues though. For example, other than Chucky how would another character know how Chucky killed people in the prior films? Also, is this now a universe where all the horror icons have been locked up or killed that their item that made them popular is now in storage? It doesn't make sense even if it is funny to see on screen. As for physical comedy, there are some ironic moments in the film involving Chucky's plastic body. Yet again, some bits are silly because of how physically impossible it works out.

One other component to the writing that may make the plot feel predictable is because of how familiar viewers are with Chucky's nature. If you know how Chucky works, well then things may be more transparent than expected. The acting is adequate for what is asked though. Brad Dourif again succeeds at voicing his plastic counterpart with just the right amount of comedic and quotable lines. Jennifer Tilly as Tiffany matches Dourif's chemistry nicely by being just as foul-mouthed and violent. Nick Stabile and Katherine Heigl as the troubled couple feel authentic and end up demonstrating the power of teamwork later on. John Ritter as the annoying uncle plays his part like it should be too. There's even an appearance of Lawrence Dane from Darkman II: The Return of Durant (1995) playing a detective. Since this is a comedy now, there is no scare factor unless the viewer doesn't like stitched up Chucky. The violence though is just as bloody as were compared to its other sequels. The kill scenes just keep getting more and more inventive by the jigsaw doll.

The cinematography shot by Peter Pau was decent too. Pau as director of photography has had more experience in the action genre and his skills are highlighted when the few action scenes in this feature show up. For every other frame, the scenes are well lit and conceal the illusion of the living dolls. Also an important side note; as time has gone on, Kevin Yagher's production of puppet effects designers / puppeteer coordinators has really gotten the knack for lifelike movement. The original Chucky was pretty convincing but now it looks great and perfected. The film score by returning composer Graeme Revell was unique. For this entry, Revell creates a new theme for Chucky and keeps some old ones from his score of Child's Play 2 (1990). He also has a theme for Chucky and Tiffany, which consists of solo guitar and chanting girl choir. The rest of his score has a mix of the classic horror cues and action related arpeggios. The soundtrack containing songs sung by Rob Zombie and others is an okay addition but not necessary per say. It does make it feel quite 90s.

It still has its problems of unexplained loopholes, ridiculous concepts involving physical comedy and continuity errors but it's a nice self- twist. The self-aware referencing script, the violence, the musical score and acting help make it watchable fluff.

Watchmen (2009)
It's a unique film but it is equally confusing, 30 August 2015

With the creation of superheroes and comic books, the imagination of various artists and writers has endless boundaries. Once Hollywood proved to people and fans that adapting such works to film was doable, more and more studios began to hop on the gravy train looking for the most profitable opportunities to franchise. Whether it was mainstream or indie related, more and more comic book properties are being adapted to film due to the sheer craze that is consuming the movie business. For the majority of these cases however, very few productions involved adapt a graphic novel by the page. When it comes to this group of loyal fans, Watchmen (2009) is probably one of the few fans will say played it by the book (literally). Fresh off the critical and financial success of the Dawn of the Dead (2004) remake and 300 (2006), director Zack Snyder took on his second comic book adaptation (the first being 300 (2006)) and it performed just as well as Snyder's other projects.

Lots of fans and critics were pleased with Snyder's visual direction and the writing handled by Alex Tse (his first theatrical credit) and David Hayter (X-Men (2000), The Scorpion King (2002) & X-Men 2 (2003)). There are a number of good parts but for the average viewer, this film is just as confusing as it is watchable. The setting is in an alternate universe in 1985 where Richard Nixon was voted president for a third term. All superheroes must remain hidden and the cold war between the US and the USSR has escalated to where a count down takes place for when everyone fires nukes at each other. It's definitely new because honestly where would the world be if Richard Nixon continued his presidency? The plot is a crime mystery about a superhero named The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is killed by unknown assailant. Upon discovering this, the angry ink-faced detective Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) makes his mission to find out what happened while talking with his partners Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman), Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), Adrian Veidt (Matthew Goode) and Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson).

Now, if this were just a crime thriller or a superhero Vs government debacle or a cold war fight, then the story structure to this would be a lot easier to follow. Unfortunately Hayter and Tse's writing tries to infuse all these giant plots together and it becomes quite difficult to follow for a number of reasons. A big problem is a constant shift in focus. There is nothing wrong with having multiple main characters as long as they are properly developed, and they are in this film. The issue is, the way each character is developed is so detracting from one another, and it begins to get confusing on what the main point of the scene was all about. Another flaw is the unequal tone in its storytelling. Frequently the way at which scenes and characters are shown dramatically swap between serious and comedy in almost surrealist like viewing as if the audience is supposed to laugh. Was this supposed to be a partially black comedy? Some of the sick humor is clear while other times not. The continuity related to time feels all over the place as well.

There are certain main characters that have a picture taken in 1940 and at that point they look like they're in their 30s. Jump to the current period and some of them look no different while others aged. How is it that some aged and others not? This can throw off viewers because they can't tell if they're watching the current or past time. It's not even that frustrating that the film is 3 hours long. It's just that with all this run time, perhaps something would feel in order? There are some areas that pick up for these errors. A big plus is the acting by all actors. The actor who looked like he had the most fun and who many people enjoyed was Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach. The trench coat, fedora, the Rorschach ink blot mask and the gruff angry voice is makes the character so memorable. All the costume designs are unique in their own way as well. The special effects to Rorschach's mask and Dr. Manhattan look great too.

The action is another important key note. For most mainstream comic book movies that belong to logos like DC or Marvel, most are kept PG-13 for the sake of wider audience distribution and better ticket sales. By 2009 Marvel had a number of R rated films in their library like the Punisher, Blade and Man-Thing features. As for DC, this would be their first R rated superhero film and it is gloriously graphic. Maybe not bucket loads of blood are dropped but some scenes can make the viewer wince at just the thought of what is displayed. The cinematography by Larry Fong is decently crafted. Being that he worked with Snyder on 300 (2006) only seems familial and his work is well integrated in with the CGI. Sadly the film score composed by Tyler Bates and the soundtrack was disappointing. For one, Bates does not have a main theme for the protagonists so that's a bit dumbfounding to start off with. Any other tracks in between aren't really developed and mostly overshadowed by all the soundtrack songs that include various 1980s artists. Again, the music adds to that strange offbeat tone that shows its face time and again. Is it supposed to be hilarious?

It has well designed special effects, gory action set pieces, effective acting and good-looking camera-work. However, its good doesn't make up for the bad. The film score is minimally empty, the soundtrack library of songs and part of its writing don't mix well and create an uneven tone in overall seriousness. There are timeline continuity errors and the focus alternates too much with an overabundance of main plot lines.

A thriller that becomes more relevant by the day, 30 August 2015

For certain aspects in life, there are specific things the average person has no control of. How other individuals interact with each other, how well a piece of operating equipment works or how technology advances itself forward are just a couple of examples. In the current world of today where computers are basically apart of everyone's lives, it's not that difficult for someone to find information on another person. All anyone has to do is go to any search engine whether it be Google, Yahoo, Bing, Ask etc. and they'll at least get 2 to 3 webpages about or are connected to them in some way. It's the scary truth, being on the internet is not always the safest place to be. Looking back on Enemy of the State (1998) it seems that director Tony Scott and writer David Marconi have produced a piece of cinema that is an underrated gem that feels more significant now than it ever was the year it was released.

The story is about an attorney/family man Robert Dean (Will Smith) being unknowingly jammed into a big government conspiracy about a rouge senator Thomas Reynolds (Jon Voight) wanting to pass a bill that'll begin invading the privacy of the US residents. What Dean has that he doesn't know about is a videotape that a suspect hid in his bag that had visual evidence that Reynolds is behind the killing of congressman Hammersley (Jason Robards) who supported individual privacy. The idea of homeland security has always been a controversial topic since the concept was ever brought to fruition and using that as an undercurrent for the script's plot was a thought provoking move on Marconi's part. As stated before with technology being a much bigger proprietor for internet access, the ability to be researched is a lot easier than it was displayed in this movie. Dean ends up being hacked from all directions - his house & mobile phone, home and satellite. Now there's that, the internet, social media and a slew of other devices that make it easy to track someone.

Another part about the writing that is effective is how many times Marconi will keep the audience guessing. Every time there's a point where progress occurs, Marconi writes in an event that creates a new roadblock and a new solution plan has to be made. It's clever because most scripts are cut and dry with either one or (maybe) two remedies to a problem. This at least has three or four and its uncommon, which is good because it keeps the viewers guessing. The only component to the writing that doesn't make sense is how a supporting character was able to figure out where the FBI was located. Isn't the FBI supposed to be covert in their operations? It's a little weird that their main office doesn't seem to feel so secret. Other than that, almost every step of execution to this story is woven in such a way that'll have the viewer on the edge of their seat.

The acting is well done too. Will Smith as Robert Dean plays his character differently compared to other past roles. Throughout the majority of the running time Smith plays his character like an average family man; humble, respectful, caring and not cocky. Occasionally a small bit of the old-school Will Smith humor arises from the cracks but for the situation he's put into, sarcasm sometimes feels like it was needed. Tagging along side later on is Gene Hackman as Edward Lyle, an ex-NSA agent who knows the inner workings of the system and provides some frightening insight to how things run inside the government. With Hackman being a lot older, he plays it up as a grumpy man when he's hungry and although he's not the nicest sounding, he does care at certain instances. Behind these two are a ton of other cast members consisting of Jason Lee, Scott Caan, Jake Busey, Stuart Wilson, Regina King, Lisa Bonet, Gabriel Byrne, Jack Black, Jamie Kennedy, Larry King, Tom Sizemore and even Seth Green.

The cinematography provided by Daniel Mindel had a interesting look to it as well. Since this film involves surveillance of various individuals, the camera will have numerous angles to sit at. That means being hidden cameras in various objects, or among the buildings and street property. Then there's also the satellite tracking cameras that usually fly straight down to the location that's being focused on and then watching what's going on from a bird's eye view. Now obviously, the flying down from space to earth is CGI but after that it looks very real. Mindel later worked on other big budget films like Mission: Impossible III (2006), Star Trek (2009), its sequel and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014). The music composed by Trevor Rabin and Harry Gregson-Williams appropriately has the right mix of synthetic and organic sounding orchestra. There are also two main themes, one for the film and another for Hackman's character. They are not that memorable but they do show up more than once and that's good. The action cues aren't as well developed but they do elevate the experience.

Besides one plot hole being a bit too noticeable, the rest of the film is fine. The large cast of actors are effective in their roles, the cinematography carries lots of bird's eye view shots, the music is appropriate and the writing has smart context in its narrative.

Minions (2015)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A fun prequel that creates more questions than answers, 29 August 2015

Stories can be told in any direction and when it comes to movies, studios love to make franchises involving sequels and prequels. Despicable Me (2010) was a surprise hit that had intelligent writing, amiable main characters, plenty of comedy and heartwarming character development. When Despicable Me 2 (2013) came out, it not only continued its success financially but also critically by preserving the elements that worked in the initial installment. Of both films the character that became the official mascot of the series was the minion; the yellow, googly eyed, muddle mouthed, squishy, denim overall wearing pills that followed Gru until the ends of the Earth for him to accomplish his mission to be the greatest villain mastermind. It is because they became so popular that a film revolving entirely around them was made. Thus this prequel serves as the back story to how the minions got to the point of Despicable Me (2010). The question is, does it serve its purpose - kind of but not entirely.

The plot to this prequel is actually a bit convoluted. Since the beginning of time minions have roamed the earth looking for a bigger and badder antagonist to follow. After trying through multiple time periods and failing miserably, the minions finally go into isolation. Over time their life becomes stagnant and three minions named Kevin, Bob and Stuart (Pierre Coffin) decide to go out into the world and find their groupies an evil leader to follow. On their travels they see an add for VillianCon - an underground society where evil geniuses around the world come together to celebrate being bad. There the trio find Scarlett Overkill (Sandra Bullock), an outlandish hyper-stylized fem-fatale who has the rights of being the first female villain. For this feature, Brian Lynch (Puss in Boots (2011)& Hop (2011)) served as the screenwriter and seems appropriate since Puss in Boots (2011) was also a prequel film to that of Shrek (2001). However even with this credit given, there's a lot that isn't answered.

The voice acting performed by Pierre Coffin and Sandra Bullock are the highlights in the acting. There are other voice appearances throughout like Jon Hamm playing Scarlett's boyfriend, Michael Keaton as a rogue father of a crime family and Geoffrey Rush as the narrator of the story. Yet none of the other characters are that important because they do not appear in Despicable Me (2010) or Despicable Me 2 (2013); it's rather disappointing. Animation and direction is also a plus. Kyle Balda (Co- Director of The Lorax (2012)) took full reigns of the project and it is competent. The lead character animator credit belongs to Christophe Delisle who has also worked on The Lorax (2012) and Despicable Me 2 (2013). Delisle's animation is smooth, colorful and is comical when it needs to be. Another interesting thing to take note of is the gradual alterations that have been given to Kevin, Stuart and Bob. There's a difference in their designs seeing them from Despicable Me (2010) to now. Possibly the most notable change is that Bob isn't so wide, he's been thinned down some.

For writing other than the main plot, there are several parts that don't make a whole lot of sense. For one, are minions immortal? Besides surviving some of the most hostile environments, did anyone else notice that they haven't aged since they came onto the screen? They lived from the dinosaur age, medieval times to mid 20th century. There's not even a real explanation to where they came from. Another big question are historical records. If minions have existed for this long in time, just how exactly do people in later times not know who they are? Surely someone must have documented such indestructible and loyal creatures. Then there's the whole separate issue of the humans in this particular universe. Unfortunately for England, London was the choice for setting and some of what is displayed is overly exaggerated. The UK police have car chases while pouring hot cups of tea - alright. The whole country of England hands over their entire kingdom to anyone who wears the crown - ummm yeah. I don't think the humans from Despicable Me (2010) or Despicable Me 2 (2013) were this silly.

The human character reactions to what the minions say on screen is also half and half. Sometimes they look like they understand and other times not. This too goes for the audiences' reactions. This feature unfortunately suffers from taking a supporting character and making it a main character. Sometimes it's not a good idea, especially if you can't grasp their language. Remember The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)? Yeah it's not as bad as that but same concept. Lucky for us the minion- ese language consists of various common words so it's not as tough as understanding wookies. The music was adequate for the film. Series composer Heitor Pereira returns and maintains the same feeling of the music although there is no main theme. Adding to that are a bunch of old school soundtrack songs from popular English rock bands during the late 1960s such as The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Monkeys and others. It's appropriate for the setting.

The voice-acting is fine, the animation looks better than ever and the music works. Honestly for a prequel it is not as well crafted as Despicable Me (2010) or its sequel. Even though it nicely ties in the events that took place before the minions met Gru, it leaves a lot of big questions in its place. Those minions are lucky they're so likable because otherwise it would not have been as enjoyable even at the most minimal level.

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