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The Rift (2012)
Visually great but lifeless acting and a shallow script
First things first. I usually like to start with the positive aspects of a film and the biggest thing this film has going for it are the visuals. It has a very consistent color palette throughout, giving it a clean, professional look that is very hard to achieve with such a small budget. With updates to computer software technology and hardware allowing for lower prices, it really isn't difficult to put this technology in the hands of Joe Q. Public but with that being said, it still requires some skill and an eye for detail to keep consistency throughout. The CGI is fairly well done, opting for the "less-is-more" approach which helps to lend an ominous air to the overall production. The music is also decently done, but a generic suspense film score.
Now for the not so good points. The pacing of this film is done in such a way that the skill of acting is severely lacking. The line delivery is very stunted and slowed down, as though there was an overall feeling that the dialogue wouldn't be heard unless they... speak... very... slowly (the news broadcast is one example that comes to mind). By doing this, there's just no energy or believability to anyone's performance. For a better idea of how this can be overcome, especially on such a low budget, I recommend watching Shane Carruth's "Primer". He opted for more naturalistic speech. This allowed the actors to come across as more authentic. The Rift also incorporates way too many lingering closeups of the actor's faces. M. Night Shyamalan also does this a LOT in his movies and it really detracts from his story-telling overall. In the Rift, it just highlights the inadequacy of the depth of the acting and serves to give an overall slowness to the film's story arc.
As for the script, there's just too much oddness that makes no sense. For example, the DARPA 'assassin' is this left-field character who doesn't really add anything overall and feels like it was shoe-horned in. Also, the fact that those who collected information about these 'anomalies' mysteriously disappeared also makes no sense. It implies there is a government conspiracy to end the world with monsters from another dimension. Why? What gain could there possibly be?
The overall concept of R.A.D.A.R. anomalies being a cause for alarm is also a hard idea to swallow. Another idea that feels like it was thrown in to attempt to create artificial tension. A deeper history of how and what these R.A.D.A.R. anomalies have done in the past would have helped a viewer understand why they would concern the main character as much as they did before all hell started to break loose.
Overall, this film is okay for a short. Visually, it's quite good, but that's really about it. Acting is sub-par and the story is thread-bare, containing an odd mesh of ideas that don't really coalesce into a cohesive and logical whole. It's quite possible that with a bit more experience/seasoning and a better grasp of plotting, we might be seeing Robert Kouba churn out some good sci-fi popcorn fare in the future. This film short is more of a meretricious effort.
Voltron Force (2011)
Better than I expected *MILD SPOILERS*
I've heard comments that both bash and praise this show and this prompted me to write my own review, with an eye towards comparison of the old and new show. First, I'll start of by saying that I am 38 years old and grew up with the original GoLion Force cartoons (as well as the less-popular vehicle force) and have very fond memories of the original show.
However, like many cartoons and television shows of my past, it's the nostalgia that tends to make them appear to be better than they actually are. As much as I love the originals, I don't feel that this current incarnation destroys or sullies the intent or memory that I still hold for them. It doesn't quite have that same anime quirkiness that made the GoLion Force so unique and is a bit over-Americanized, but it gets the job done.
Some people forget how cheesy the old Voltron was and try to compare it to the kid-oriented nature of this new version, as though the old one was more sophisticated. Quite honestly, the old version had a tried-and-true "Robeast Of The Week" formula that it hardly deviated from and 9-times-out-10 all situations were settled with the Blazing Sword. Made me wonder why they didn't just form Voltron as fast as possible and whip out the sword right away to get it over with. But let's talk about the new show.
I enjoy the fact that this show is employing an overall arc as opposed to just bringing out a Robeast every week for Voltron to slice and dice. While I am older and appreciate an evolving storyline of a more mature nature (which isn't necessarily evident in this show or the older incarnation), it's nice to see a children's cartoon actually asking you to pay a little attention to some details about plot-lines and character history.
Voltron's design is a bit sleeker, less boxy, and not quite so indicative of suggesting the 'man in a robot suit' that you find with such shows as Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. However, like the recent Michael Bay Transformers movies, the more complicated you make something look, the harder it is to sometimes follow it. The original Voltron was still a great looking design because of its simplicity. It made it instantly recognizable. But the current version doesn't deviate so much from the original as to make it look unrecognizable. The only thing I find distracting from time to time is some of the motions are a bit too smooth and fast to feel like Voltron is this mammothly tall robot. The sense of scale tends to variate a bit too much.
I do like that they try to recreate some of the iconic animations from the original series, such as the arm cross, blazing sword formation, and Voltron rising with a quick focus on each lion face. Tweaks my nostalgia a bit.
I love the concept of the personal weapons that mold to each user's abilities. A bit 'deus ex machina' at times, but they do serve a purpose.
Some things I absolutely hate or find annoying:
The theme song needs to go. Horrible drek.
Andrew Francis as Lance is like nails on a chalkboard to me. Almost as bad as Neil Ross voicing Jeff from the Vehicle Force (which is amusing to me considering he voiced Keith for GoLion Force which I don't find annoying at all).
The animation style isn't horrible, but it's not great either. While they try to make the fights interesting, they sometimes have this stop and start quality to them that takes away from the overall pace. A bit too simplistic at times and again, missing that quirkiness that makes anime so distinct.
I'm enjoying this series, as much as a 38 year old man can. It's slowly growing into it's own and it's really just whetting my appetite for the long-awaited live-action version. The show's not perfect, but it has held my interest.
On a side note, having nothing to do with this review, I've read about some confusion concerning Larmina's relationship to Allura. Just for the record, she is Allura's niece. If this flies in the face of what you know about the old series, I recommend not being so slavishly tied to what people love to crow about as "canon". It's a cartoon.
Speed Racer (2008)
I liked it, but wasn't wild about it.
Before someone tries to tear me a new one, I have to say that the Wachowski Brothers did a good job with this film. They really have a strong mindset to incorporate high production values. BUT they are starting to remind me a little too much of the current George Lucas mindset. Make it all digital and flashy and they'll come! While the plot was different from usual fare, it really didn't hold my attention, nor did it hold the attention of the supposed target demographic of the kids in the audience of the theater that I attended. I had to move several times because of the distraction of kids crying, whining about being bored, bouncing up in down in seats, and just generally running all over the theater because what was on the screen was not holding their attention.
After about 20 minutes into the film, I found a nice, quiet corner to try and focus my attention on the film and hopefully enjoy it. And I did, to a point. There were some definite nods to anime, most notably the fight sequences. I also did have the pleasure of watching a digitally projected version of the film and the colors really popped off the screen.
While I understand the style of CGI was meant to be more cartoonish, it was a little distracting for me. Reminded me too much of how it was used in the "Spy Kids" series (another 'made for kids' set of films I sort of liked).
The acting was okay. As okay as one can be when mouthing two-dimensional dialogue with very little character development. Not a whole lot of invention or wit put into the words. John Goodman really made the most of what little he was given and I could stare into Christina Ricci's eyes all day and be happy. :) Again, it wasn't a bad film. I'm sure the video game won't be much different from what was up on screen. It'll probably translate better to the next-gen consoles anyhow.
Horrible, horrible, horrible... did I mention it's horrible?
This is the kind of film that makes me want to vomit after seeing it. In fact, I think the actors starring in it felt the same way since at the beginning of the film, one of them did just that.
I know that the director was going for a visual 'style', so it can be pretty much said that UGLY is a style all its own. From the horrible CGI environments, the unimaginative fight scenes, the incredibly inane dialogue, and the monochromatic look on Jovovich's face, this film reeks of poor execution throughout.
There really isn't much to be seen in this film that already hasn't been covered in those economy throwaway video game titles you see in the Walmart bargain bin. There's a reason those bins resemble trash dumpsters, and this is exactly where this film belongs.
Save yourself a trip to the theater. And when it comes out on DVD, don't even bother renting it. That's 2 hours of my life I'll never get back.