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Keep an open mind - and prepare for it to be blown away!
Wow, Glass actually got me writing a review after many years of absence. So I'll try and keep it short - this movie is most logical and beautiful continuation of the characters and stories we first met in Unbreakable and Split. James McAvoy is a true act of nature, as is Samuel Jackson, and I really loved the fact that Spencer Treat Clark reprised his role as Wilis's son Joseph, 19 years after first portraying him as a kid. It just adds that much authenticity to the story.
The twsts hit hard and fast during the third act, and knowing Shyamalan you'll try to work things out as the movie progresses - only to find out you got duped by the Twist Master. However, unlike some of his previous signature twists, these one actually serve the plot and the characters, so when the credits roll it all just makes perfect sense and leaves you smiling and feeling content.
Keeping Up with the Joneses (2016)
One of this year's best comedies!
Save for maybe Bad Moms, 2016 hasn't been very kind to comedy. And after just recently being submitted to such atrocities as The Boss and Masterminds, I was ready for another big disappointment at my local theater. A free ticket to see Keeping Up with the Joneses, as well as a chance of getting a "boys night out" with my neighbor, convinced me to give this latest offering a chance after all. Boy, was I in for a treat.
Keeping Up with the Joneses has this great nostalgic feeling, a kick back to those wonderful 80's comedies that fuse action and humor, while actually making you care for what the characters are going through. It's a bit of the oddball The 'Burbs with elements of classic spy flicks like True Lies or Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Zach Galifianakis is hardly recognizable, after shedding most of his weight, but he still keeps his iconic lovable every-man persona intact. He's also one of two things that keep Joneses moving in a smooth pace, with his perfect timing and hilarious delivery making way for tons of good laughs. Isla Fisher does a decent job at portraying Karen Gaffney (opposite Galifianakis's Jeff), a 40 something mom leading a rather dull life in suburban America, who finds her semi-average life challenged when a new couple moves next door.
Played by Mad Men's Jon Hamm and Wonder Woman's Gal Gadot, the new neighbors seem at first too good to be true: stunningly beautiful, glamorous and in love, they immediately raise Karen's suspicion, although average joe Jeff insists new neighbor Tim is his new BFF and ignores all the obvious writings on the wall. When they eventually expose the Joneses true identities, all hell breaks loose - and the film turns into a wild mixture of suspense and fun, while finding the perfect pace to juggle both. Which brings us to the other strong angle to this film, Gal Gadot, which to me was a true revelation! So far, Gadot has had brief appearances in the DC Comics and Fast and Furious franchises, and she has yet to carry such a big role on her soldier. Her accurate portrayal of Natalie Jones is a great sign of things to come. The 31 year-old Israeli actress delivers her jokes while keeping a deadpan expression, and manages to steal almost every scene she's in with her exotic accent and stunning stature. Actually, Gadot alone is a good enough reason to watch the movie - and throwing her into the heart of every-town America has a great payoff once push comes to shove.
All in all, I found myself laughing, I was emotionally attached to the story and could relate to the characters and at the end - Keeping Up with the Joneses is as good a take as any on Middle America, and the ever so quoted phrase: The grass is always greener on the other side. If you're over 25, married and have kids, you'll love it even more.
Kids will eat it up, Grownups have seen it one too many times
I took my 5 1/2 year old daughter to watch Trolls, and for her it was a sight for sore eyes. The main character, Poppy (voiced by Anna Kendrick) is a fluffy, instantly lovable princess troll, who has been raised in a careless, yet slightly obnoxious, world - where everyone hugs each other on an hourly basis, poops cupcakes and bursts into sappy pop tunes in the blink of the eye. Her male counterpart, on the other hand, is all doom and gloom. This troll party pooper, named Branch and colored gray to differentiate him from the endlessly colorful group of merry trolls, keeps warning his friends that their loud lifestyle will put their lives in jeopardy, once the evil Bergens, who are only happy when they eat the tiny little Trolls, will take notice of them. Sure enough, this does happen pretty soon into the movie, and when several Trolls are taken - Poppy and Branch (who refuses to sing throughout the film, even though he is ironically voiced by Justin Timberlake) need to join forces in order to save them.
All in all, Trolls is a very cute film. It stands out of the pack with its familiar setting (the Troll toys have been very popular ever since the early 90's), its rich palette of colors and imaginative drawings, and the catchy tunes which are cleverly adapted into the film. Also, its short run-time will make sure your kids are glues to the chair. On the flip side, I felt the plot didn't really offer anything new, the proceedings were predictable from miles away, and that it lacked a stronger emotional pull that could have left a longer impression. There was some stuff in the movie that seemed like it was trying a bit too hard to be tongue-in- cheek, without really taking itself seriously, and while it gave way to a few laughs, it left me wanting something more than just another cute animated feature.
The Visit (2015)
Better than it had any right to be!
Even though I've been severely burned by M. Night Shyamalan's commercial misfires (or rather miscarriages) like Lady in the Lake (ugh!), Airbender (what the hell was he thinking?) and After Earth, I decided to give him one more shot in the shape of The Visit. What worked in his favor was his superb work on the small screen in the form of the 2015 mini-series Wayward Pines - which made me believe that deep down inside Shyamlan's heart still resides a true artist, and not some lazy hack who tackles big-budget flops just to get paychecks from the studio. His recent talk in interviews about gaining back artistic control of his products was another positive step in Shyamalan's long path to cinematic forgiveness.
And so I entered The Visit, a somewhat short and intimate tale of two precocious teenagers, a brother (13) and sister (15), who travel cross country to meet and spend a week with their estranged grandparents, whom they have not seen or met since birth due to a big family feud their divorced mother (Kathryn Hahn, the most recognizable face in the cast) refuses to talk about. The sister, Becca (the promising Olivia DeJonge) also happens to be an aspiring filmmaker, out to make a documentary about the big reconciliation, which ever so conveniently sets the movie up in the popular found footage sub-horror genre - but also opens a wide crack for endless jokes and self-aware nods towards the unsuspecting audience.
Anyway, as you could probably tell by the previews, something isn't quite right with Poppa and Nanna, and even though at first they seem like reasonably nice elder folks, their strict rules (do not get out of the room after 21:30, do not go down to the basement) and strange manners (you'll see what I'm talking about) soon enough make it clear to both Becca and Tyler (the smaller brother portrayed by the superb Ed Oxenbould, who at 14 shows endless promise) that they better get the hell out of there - as fast as they could.
Besides the trademark Shyamalan twist, which actually works here and seems reasonable in hindsight (unlike, say, The Village), the extremely self-aware script and the very natural and authentic brother-sister relationship between both co-leads, lends further credence to Shyamlan's pet project. You can see that he cared for the characters, and you can also easily remember that this is a director who made a reputation for himself because he managed to facilitate such an emotional and iconic performance out of then-11-year-old Haley Joel Osment, so obviously he's good with kids. I don't know if young Ed Oxenbould is the next Osment, but he sure does deliver the goods through and through - and gives one of the best children/teen performances I've watched in a while.
They finally got it right!
While never an avid Harry Potter fan, I have watched all eight Harry Potter films on the big screen over the past decade. It's been a long, bumpy ride, with some films stronger than others - mainly the first few (in my own honest opinion). After a while, however, it all felt like the biggest cinematic tease ever. I mean, we've been told about Voldermort ever since the beginning, and we've known all along that the saga will end with this big, epic fight between good and evil... err, I mean Harry vs. Voldermort. However, that never came (except for a few teases here and there), and when the producers decided to postpone the inedible and split the last film into two, it became ever so frustrating.
Thanks god, then, that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 came along to right all the wrongs the previous films have made and to give us the proper closure we've all been waiting for. Finally, after all this time, we get to see the main protagonist for more than a glance. We get resolutions to plot lines that began in parts 6 & 7, Hogwarts makes an awesome comeback for one, final stand between forces between both sides, and there are even some twists and turns that echo all the way back to parts 1 & 2.
So yes, THIS is the Harry Potter we've all been waiting for all along: edgy, dark, more mature and complex than ever before, with solid performances from all involved (especially Ralph Fiennes, who gets some space to play with his character, and that guy that plays Neville Longbottom, who grew up to become quite a man from that mousy little kid he once was). But more so - and unlike any of the other films in the series – HP7b stands as an independent piece (alongside its 2010 counterpart), and doesn't leave the viewer unsatisfied. Here, we get a proper ending, we know this is the Harry Potter to end all 800 or so films that came before, and it seems that the producers knew this and gave it all they could. I only wish they've done this more often during the previous films, instead of saving the best for last.
All in all, this is THE best Harry Potter I've seen from all the eight, and a truly exciting roller coaster of a film, filled with top notch storytelling alongside impressive special effects (even the 3D felt appropriate and relevant). I gave it a very solid 9 out of 10.
This is easily one of the most touching and entertaining films I've ever watched. From the heartwarming deliverance scene at the beginning, when the stork brings the newborn babies to all the animals in the circus, through the hilarious and trippy Pink Elephants on Parade sequence (which still holds well to this very day), to the heartbreaking scene when Dumbo's mother is in chains and she rocks him with her trunk from beyond the bars.
True, I've seen it first at the tender age of 4 or 5, so maybe the nostalgia factor has it's weight on my affection for this film - but I still think it's one of the most sweet and sentimental films ever made (even at the "old" age of 30).
The Hangover Part II (2011)
Just as outrageously messed-up as the first Hangover. Let the good times roll!
I recently caught up with Hangover II during an early press screening held in Tel Aviv, Israel, and it was by far one of the best films I've seen all year - and most definitely the best comedy. After being horribly disappointed by The Dilemma, grinned occasionally at Hall Pass and Just Go With It (but not really carried away by either), it was about time we got a decent 2011 comedy - and here it is.
Plot wise, Hangover II is more of the same from what we've got in the first installment. A lot of main themes and characters from the first film return in different forms, and there are a lot of nods to the aforementioned 2009 mega-hit.
However, I will say this. It seems as if the writers knew that the concept isn't as fresh as it was in the first film. So instead, they went for sheer shock value. As a result, some of the things our guys run into during their mess-up in Bangkok are so controversial; I was surprised they were even allowed to show it on screen. Prepare yourself for a lot of in-your-face humor, awkward nudity and misplaced violence.
Also, the dynamics between the main protagonists were believable and hilarious. You get to learn more about the characters, and you actually feel like you really know these guys and care for them, after hanging out with them during the first film. The Bangkok location also opened up a whole new world of possibilities and mishaps for our characters to run into, and at one point things turn so crazy I just couldn't stop laughing.
Oh yes, there's a plot to explain briefly. OK. So this time, it's Stu's wedding and instead of going to Vegas the whole gang winds up in Thailand. You see, after ditching his bossy girlfriend from part one, Stu ended up with this incredibly hot Asian American, and they decide to hold her wedding in her homeland. So Phil, Alan, Doug and Stu all hop on a plane across seas. The night before the ceremony, the guys decide to go out for a drink, and take the brides' young teenage brother, Teddy.
The next morning, they wake up with another of their infamous hangovers. This time, they are somewhere in Bangkok, and it's not Doug that's gone – it's the adolescent Teddy. Instead of a baby, there's a monkey in the room, Stu had a Mike Tyson style tattoo, Alan's hair is shaved and somehow Mr. Chow from the first film is there.
There. I won't say no more. But I promise you this – go watch this film in the right state of mind, and you'll laugh yourself silly. While not as refreshing as the first one, the Hangover II does deliver a fun, memorable time at the movies, and that's all I really wanted.
The ultimate Pirates of the Caribbean adventure
If I'd had to choose a favorite installment from the Pirates of the Caribbean film, my choice would surprisingly go with 2007's At World's End. Back at the time it received some negative reviews. To me, however, it was the highest peak of the original trilogy (which started with Curse of the Black Pearl way back in20'03), bringing together plot threads and characters from the two previous ones and giving us Captain Jack in all his glory - as if to let the series go out with a bang. Obviously it didn't, since we got a fourth installment in four years later, but that's another story...
Anyway, to me, At World's End felt like a truly epic adventure, the culmination of the first three. Someone wrote elsewhere that as the series advanced, the films got bigger and bigger – and to me, this is a good thing.
The beginning with the memorable chant "A pirate's life for me" followed by the coin flipping and the title appearing on screen dictated the town of awesomeness that then followed. After that, the film was just filled with zany, wacky and hilarious adventures all jumping at you from all corners - the multiple Jacks stranded in no-mans land, the Keith Richards cameo as his father, the surprise twist with the Calypso character, the pirate brethren, the Chinese threat arising from the east, the countless twists and turns which followed our beloved characters from the previous films.
And finally, there was this bittersweet ending to the Will and Elizabeth story, that made you look back and remember this amazing trilogy and appreciate it for its entire extravaganza - especially this third chapter which, although at times convoluted, was the biggest, wackiest and most epic installment of them all.
I gave it 10 out of 10.
The Tree of Life (2011)
One big sloppy mess of a "film"
Pitt gave a good, minimalistic performance. But that's about the only thing that was good about this film.
The movie as a whole is not really a movie per se. Sure, there are moving pictures and some recognized actors (what did Sean Penn actually do there, anyway?). But what do they really present on screen? There's no narrative, at least not a cohesive one, and instead there's just a long stream of consciousness that jumps from one place to another. The dialogs are scarce and few, the characters all lacking of portrayal and thus alienating the audience from them. The jumpy editing that starts right at the beginning of the film makes it hard to follow what the hell is going on, and after a while you give up on trying to understand. And if you do manage to follow, you'll soon find out that it doesn't really matter. Its all just one big mess, and you have to deal with it (or fall asleep).
At the end, it just feels like you've accidentally wandered into someone else's dream, with bits and pieces of information that mean little to none to you all jumping around at the same time. What starts as a semi-interesting and unique cinematic experiment at first, swiftly becomes this dragging and painfully long film that should have been a hour and a half shorter, and better presented on the nature channel (for the dinosaur sequence) or the religious channel (for all the preachy texts in between).
Self indulged? Indeed.
A big spit in the face
Judging by the trailers and the build up throughout the past 9 year and 6 movies, I was expecting HP7a to be a grand finale with a big showdown between Harry and Voldermort. Instead I got Harry and Hermione zapping from one place to another with seemingly no purpose, little to nearly none plot or character development, etc. Also, there were yet more questions asked (instead of the kind of answers you'd like to find in a penultimate film of a very long franchise), and - to top it all - major characters died off-screen (who does that?), and again, I didn't really see what point this served.
Last but not least, I felt like the ending was a big spit in my face as a fan. Instead of dragging the damn thing and filling it with unnecessary gloomy stares courtesy of Harry, Hermione and Ron, they could have at least sneaked in one big action sequence that'll satisfy the audience. Why not give us some answers about these Horocrux's? Why not arrange a mini-meeting between the lead protagonist and the villain, like we've been promised in the trailer? Instead, the film just ended suddenly, abruptly, courtesy of the greedy suits in Hollywood. Thanks a lot. Not.
Extraordinary Measures (2010)
Good medical drama with an excellent performance by Harrison Ford - but could've have been much better...
I recently had the pleasure of renting a DVD copy of the based on true events drama Extraordinary Measures (2010), in which Harrison Ford turns out a very dramatic and moving role (didn't you guys wonder where he went after Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull?).
Unfortunately, the film as a whole is less than the sum of its parts (i'll soon get to the main reason why). What it does have is a moving script about a father (Brandon Frazer) who's willing to do everything to save his two ill kids, who suffer from Pompei Disease. To that end, he turns to Harrison Ford's character, who is sort of a loner and quite an eccentric medical researcher, who developed a theory that might prevent the disease from progressing. Ford practically saves the film with his quirky performance, one which I found that really suits his older and more mature persona (like seen in his recent indie turn, Crossing Over, which came out in early 2009).
Too bad Frazer couldn't carry the rest of the weight of the film properly, and gave a performance that seems like its more fitting to a Hallmark drama than a haunting family drama - because the characters, overall story and especially Ford could've easily added up to much, much more. I gave it a strong, but not great, 7 out of 10.
I really wanted to like Inception, BUT
As a longtime fan of the science-fiction genre, I was eagerly anticipating the arrival of Inception come July 2010. It had all the right players in place – with director Chris Nolan hot off the unbelievable success of The Dark Knight, and four of the lead actors cooperating for the first time, after turning in spectacular performances in their previous films: Leonardo DiCaprio (Shutter Island), Ellen Page (Juno), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (500 Day of Summer) and Marilon Cotilard (Nine). In addition, the trailers demonstrated some awesome money shots – mostly the one showing a city folding into itself – with the plot resembling a fantasy world operating within its own set of rules and logic, reminiscent of The Matrix films.
However, at the end of the day what I found was a film with an overlong prologue, characters which behaved more like plot devices than as fleshed out personalities, and a lack of true emotion. To top that off – DiCaprio's characters, Dom Cobb, went through a very similar journey to the one his previous character, Teddy Daniels, went through earlier this year, in Shutter Island, with the exception being that I found that film to be more emotionally satisfying.
But first let me start with the pros, before diving deeper into the cons. First and foremost, Inception is indeed a visually stunning film; with some strong scenes I could easily watch becoming classics (the floating hallway sequence, Cobb and Ariadne's first foray into the dream world). The editing was top-notch too – with the plot altering between four different dream sequences, each existing within a completely different time frame – without alienating the audience in the process. In addition, the basic premise had a lot of potential, even though I found references to previous cinematic material of its nature.
In short, the plot follows Cobb, a person who masters a technology that allows him to penetrate other people's dreams, where he can steal their secrets and use them against them in real-life. Saito, an Asian millionaire (Ken Watanbe), approaches Cobb with an interesting business proposal: he wants him to use these abilities of his, in order to plant a destructive idea inside the mind of Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), the son of a dying businessman that poses a threat to Saito's business. This procedure is called Inception, hence the title of the film. Since Cobb has some serious sub-conscious problems with his deceased wife, who appears again and again in all the dreams he penetrates, he needs to assemble a large team to help him carry on this mission. Complications ensue, and the team finds itself diving from one dream into another.
Now, since the plot is relatively complicated and isn't always easy to follow, a large portion of the first half of the film works as a long and elaborated prologue. In fact, Ellen Page's character is bought in to do just that: she's a newbie in this business, so Cobb has to show her the ropes, introducing it to the audience as well. Whenever this internal logic is explained via visual effects, all is good in Inception-land, but at times, it seemed as if there was too much talk and not enough character development. The lack of understandable action continues long after the prologue ends, however, given the fact that there is no apparent "bad guy" in the film. The team fights off foes that are merely reflections of their own sub-conscious, and while this may offer a visual treat at times, it lacks internal conflict and drama that usually drive films of this nature forward. In the end, after creating one of the strongest villains of all time (The Dark Knight's Joker), Chris Nolan created a film with no bad guys at all. In the absence, one would think he would give the audience a good explanation about the need to plant this idea inside Fischer's mind – which, after all, is the driving force behind the whole film – but no coherent explanation is offered. Was Fischer a bad guy who deserved the complicated turmoil Cobb and his gang put him through? Was Saito wrong in his path to remove his potential business rival? With no straight answers, it seems the team was operating in a permanent state of gray, which raised quite a few moral issues that weren't entirely treated.
Instead of addressing these issues, Inception mostly tries to go into Cobb's own dark and mysterious history, by introducing us his sub-conscious reflection of his dead wife, Mal (Cotilard). The problem is that at this point, it just reminded me of Shutter Island too much. In both films, DiCaprio portrays a young man, haunted by his guilty conscience, feeling responsible for his unstable wife's tragic and untimely death, up to the point he finds it hard to distinguish what is real and what is not. Thing is, I actually found Shutter Island better, because his character there emphasizes DiCaprio's wide range of emotion as an actor better. Personally, I thought his performance in Inception as a whole lacked an emotional pull similar to the one he demonstrated in the aforementioned film, which prevented me from connecting with him on that same raw level.
At the end, this feeling of plot-recycling (and I'm sure this wasn't Nolan's fault), lack of depth or emotion in certain characters, and indecisive motives for the actions of others – all made me feel like the true brilliance and vision of Nolan's Inception didn't live up to its potential. I gave it 7 stars out of 10.
Furry Vengeance (2010)
If you walk into the film expecting nothing but Brendan Fraser's crazy hijinks, you'll get what you paid for...
OK, so I had free tickets to watch Furry Vengeance and despite all the negative reviews, I decided to give it a chance. You see, I've enjoyed my share of cinematic disasters in the past (The Adventures of Pluto Nash, anyone?) and so I thought: how bad can it be? So yeah, the story of animals getting revenge on a real estate agent that's tearing down their forest won't exactly win any Oscars or be forever cherished as a modern classic. However, Furry Vengeance was - in its own dumb way - fluffy (and dare I say furry) fun. Sure, it was stupid and shallow - but I found myself smiling and even releasing an occasional laugh, so as a whole it wasn't as bad as some people made it up to be.
To sum things up - if you walk into the film expecting nothing but Brendan Fraser's crazy hijinks, you'll get exactly what you paid for.
I gave it 5 stars out of 10.
Was I supposed to enjoy watching an 11 year old kid getting all beat up?
Sure, many people loved this allegedly realistic (yeah right) comic book film, but I beg to differ. Sure, it had a nice idea in its core (how would comic book characters act in the real world, told through the eyes of a nerdy teenager?). Unforutnaely, it got tangled up in its own web during the second half - when secondary characters took over the screen and turned into a bloody mess which totally forgot the point it sets out to tell.
Being more specific, Kick Ass was a movie I found extremely offensive - mostly because of the Hit Girl character. She was cartoonish and unreal, an 11 year-old girl talking and acting like a pretentious adult, which then goes on to beat the crap out of numerous bad guys. Kids aren't supposed to kill people - good or bad. They're supposed to enjoy what little innocence they have left at this day and age. Instead, this character just acts as a parade of everything that's wrong and immoral about today's children (cursing, beating, acting too old for their own good).
To top it all - near the end of the film, Mark Strong's character gets back at Hit Girl and gives her a long, hard beating. Aren't there any rules about the way children are portrayed on the big screen? Was I supposed to enjoy watching an 11 year old kid getting all beat up by an adult? If there are rules that prevent underage minors from appearing nude or being sexualized, why isn't there any supervision on the portrayal of violence towards and from minors on screen?
Robin Hood (2010)
Better than Iron Man 2
I just came back from an early screening so I'll write this while the impression of the film is still fresh in my head.
It's been many years since I've last watched any of the previous incarnations of the Robin Hood story, but I do remember the story has never been told in such a rich and detailed manner. In Ridley Scott's new film, the tale of Robin Hood is put into its historic perspective. However, this doesn't come at the expense of the old Robin Hood stories we all know and grew up on, and the plot puts much importance to classic characters such as Lady Marion (the always wonderful Cate Blanchett), Robin Hood's right hand Little John (TV's Kevin Durand from Lost fame) and others I'm not inclined to write down - seeing as I won't want to spoil the fun for anyone. Of course, Robin himself shines as the archer who seeks to return justice to old Britain circa 1199 AD, and the potent Russell Crowe portrays a worthy and fearless Robin.
In many aspects, the story is more of an origins story for the character of Robin Hood - somewhat similar to what Batman Begins or Casino Royale did to the respective characters of Batman or James Bond. You only get to see how all the various stories in the film connect to the central Robin Hood arc - the one that follows the outlaw's war against King John's tyranny - towards the end of the film. However, how he got to be the protector of Nottingham's people, and how his relationships with the people surrounding him were formed and helped him become the noble victory fighter, is the where the heart of 2010's Robin Hood lies. Scott takes his time to establish this story, and leaves the door wide open for a sequel if he ever desires such.
For its epic portrayal of an often forgotten time in history, for its depth in story and characters while creating magnificent action sequences as well - I give Ridley Scott's version of Robin Hood a strong 9 out of 10. This is how Hollywood entertainment should be like - smart and amusing both at once. And yes, it's miles better than Iron Man 2.
Don't miss out on this one.
How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
The best 2010 release I've seen so far – and one of the best animated films to hit theaters in a very long time
I remember watching the adorable Disney flick Lilo & Stitch at the theater back in the summer of 2002, after a truly exhausting week. The film - which tells the story of a small girl that befriends a wacky alien she mistakes for a dog - managed to put an enormous smile on my face, and made me forget of all my other worries for a while.
While watching Dreamwork's new masterpiece, How to Train Your Dragon, I couldn't help but think about the similarities between both it and the aforementioned Lilo & Stitch. Toothless, the lead dragon character from the new film resembles the alien Stitch in shape as well as in behavior. Hiccup, the main human character which befriends Toothless despite warnings from his fellow Vikings, is a semi middle-age teenage version of the character Lilo. A trip visit to IMDb cleared things up for me - Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders, the same people who directed the 2002 wonder (L & S) are behind the new and awesome How to Train Your Dragon.
Fortunately enough, the similarities end here, and this is not a carbon copy of that film - even though the bottom line (tolerance toward people who are different, etc.) is the same. However, this new film takes place in the middle ages, in a small village which is repeatedly attacked by seemingly vicious dragons. Stoick (voiced by the almighty Gerard Butler) is the head of the village, a pumped up manly Viking who leads the counter-attacks against the fierce dragons. His teenage son, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), however, doesn't quite fit in. Unlike the older Vikings, who speak in an Irish accent, he sounds like your average American teenager. He's also skinny and small and not exactly the material Viking warriors are made of.
After a nightly battle between Vikings and dragons, Hiccup discovers Toothless, a supposedly lethal dragon, which has lost its ability to fly after being injured in the fight. Without anyone knowing, Hiccup slowly gains Toothless' confidence, and the two gradually learn to know each other. After the primal fears disappear, they realize they actually have a great deal to learn about one another – and that friendship is always better than hostility. Soon enough, Hiccup trains Toothless and learns how to approach dragons in general, something that doesn't quite fit in with his father, friends, and the society he lives in in general. But when a greater threat reveals itself, the Vikings and the dragons discover their only hope is to put aside their prejudice thoughts and fight together – with Hiccup and Toothless being their best hope for victory.
Bottom line – How to Train Your Dragon is a major victory for the guys at Dreamworks. The film is truly inspiring, with a story that feels self-contained and complete, one that doesn't need to rely on pop culture references to succeed (unlike many of their other products). After a long period of mediocre products (in my opinion) that pale next to their Pixar counterparts, Dreamworks Animation finally came out with the winning formula – which contains just the right amount of relatable characters and true emotions, stunning visuals (including Nordic landscapes and various species of beautiful dragons) and a 3-D element (that uses InTru technology) that really works for a change.
Despite the similarities to Lilo & Stitch, I came out feeling that Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders actually managed to improve on their winning hit, and create the best 2010 release I've seen so far – and one of the best animated films to hit theaters in a long long time.
Where the Wild Things Are (2009)
Depressing, overlong and uninspiring...
I was really looking forward to see this film, and from the trailers it seemed like such a fun, light hearted childhood adventure - just like I remembered from the book I read over and over again when I was a kid. I also have Being John Malckovich listed as one of my favorite films ever, and seeing how Where the Wild Things Are comes from the same director - you can imagine just how pumped I was.
However, the movie itself was rather depressing and uninspiring. This could have easily been a short film, and instead it felt like it just dragged on and on. The kid who played Max was cute, but he couldn't get any real emotions out of me. He just seemed so sad all the time, and that just doesn't seem right for a would-be entertaining fantasy film. Also, once he arrived at the island, it just seemed like the movie started to drag. Many Wild Things were underused and had little to none characterizations. The ones that were prominent on screen weren't as inspiring or uplifting as I wanted them to be. Instead of being Wild Things, they were just angry and gloomy.
So yeah, I know this was all meant as a metaphor to what was going on in Max's life in the real world. However, it didn't have the justification of being so long and cumbersome, and being outright depressing. Movies for kids are supposed to make you feel good about yourself at the end, not make you want to stick a bullet in your head...
The ultimate disaster film!
I've recently watched 2012 during a press screening in Ramt Gan, Israel - and it's everything you can expect from a movie like this. The special effects are top notch. So breathtaking, intense and gripping that at times I found myself sitting at the edge of my seat. The main premise is the usual mix, with a family, a scientist and the president of the United States all struggling to make it through the end of the Earth. The latter two stories are filled with clichés and very predictable. However, I did feel emotionally connected to the angle regarding John Cusack and his on screen family's struggle to survive - and since they were the main focus of the story anyway, it worked well in my book. Also, throughout the film there is an incredible sense of urgency, which contributed greatly to the build up.
The story is your basic end-of-the-world chaos thingy. This time around, the Earth's crusts are shifting - causing earthquakes and volcano eruptions on a global scale, followed by unfriendly tsunami waves. The governments of the world have some sort of a solution, in the shape of giant ships located in China (not spoiling anything here, this is said from the beginning of the film and is indicated in the trailer as well), and the movie follows the family's journey towards their destination, en route to China. As expected, they manage to flee and escape most of the horrific events happening around them and stay intact. Meanwhile, we get to see most of the world's biggest iconic monuments get destroyed in vivid ways - including The White House, the Jefferson Memorial, the Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil, the Vatican in Rome and many many more.
As indicated earlier, a main reason the film worked for me was the emotional connection I felt towards some of the characters. The cast here is top notch, including some recognizable actors like Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Danny Glover, Oliver Platt, Amanda Peet - and of course, John Cusack. The cast seemed as if they were having a great time shooting this film, including some necessary tongue-in-cheek implications. Never the less, many philosophical and emotional elements of redemption and survival of the fittest were also added into the mix - making 2012 a better film than it had the right to be. Sometimes, one might even forget that the chances these events will all happen at once are small at best. Now, if only the clichés were a bit less over-the-top and the premise less predictable, this could have been one hell of a masterpiece. But then again, even when 2012 doesn't necessarily bring anything new to the table, it's still one hell of a roller coaster ride – and an excellent winter blockbuster to close the year with.
The Time Traveler's Wife (2009)
Hollywood deserves a big kudos for not messing this one up!
The Time Traveler's Wife is based off of one of the best books I've read in recent years. Naturally, the movie couldn't come close to catching all the little details that made the book so captivating, since like any other film it had a limited time frame he had to work with. However, the Hollywood adaptation (with Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams as the lead rolls) did do one thing right: it captured the heart of the novel and transferred much of the book's atmosphere to the big screen. Now, as much as I've always hated those original-material purists who nitpick on every little detail in a given adaptation, I have to say the work done on The Time Traveler's Wife was extraordinary loyal in spirit to the film.
Hollywood and director Robert Schwentke deserve a big kudos for not messing this one up, and for creating a big screen experience that welcomes those who loved the novel as well as newcomers to this tragic-romantic story.
I gave it 9 out of 10.
Ice Age 3 delivers the goods, and appeals to grown-ups and kids alike
My wife and I attended an early press screening for the third Ice Age installment two weeks ago and had a wonderful time. The film easily tops the second outing of the series, and is right on par with the first - with just the right mixture of new characters and settings vs. the older ones we've all grown to love (especially Scrat. I can watch a whole movie with this guy).
This time around, Manny and Ellie are expecting a baby mammoth, something that leads to unexpected responds from Diego and Sid. When Sid decides to become a parent himself in return, he steals three giant eggs he accidentally bumps into, only to later realize they're dinosaur eggs that belong to a pretty angry mother. When mother-dinosaur kidnaps Sid, it's up to Manny and friends to return him home safely. Adventures ensue as they find out that underneath their icy world lives a land filled with enormous and sometimes menacing dinosaurs, one which our friends would need to cross in order to rescue Sid.
Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs is cute but not insulting, the visuals are stunning and if you forgive the obvious historical loophole (there were no dinosaurs during the Ice Age) you can actually have quite a good time. The dinosaurs add a lot to the plot, and there's actually a very cool, nice sense of adventure throughout the film, one that was somewhat missing (in my opinion) from the previous installment. All this adds to a fun and thrilling experience - alongside the visuals, jokes and general good atmosphere.
To sum things up - Ice Age 3 is an above average animated film, that'll appeal to grown-ups and kids alike. I gave it 9 out of 10.
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Underdeveloped Plot and Characters
There's an old saying in Hebrew that claims that if you try and catch as much as you can, you'll end up having nothing at all. After viewing Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, I can sadly say that the same can be said when regarding this lesser sequel to the 2006 smash hit.
Even though most film critics despised the original movie, the first Night at the Museum was actually one of my favorite films of that year. For me, the film worked on two levels. First, by waking the inner-child in all of us and making us feel the magic Ben Stiller's character Larry experiences once the exhibits in his museum come to life in all their glory in front of him. Second, by telling a very straight-out and heart warming coming of age story of a grown-up divorced man who has to take control of his life and get his act together (with the museum working more as a metaphor of sorts). I also related to the additional educational values the film had to offer, another theme I felt received a lesser emphasis in the sequel.
In the second installment of the Night of the Museum series, much of the initial magic is already lost from the get-go. We already know the artifacts come to life and how, and the general feeling of suspense is gone. To make things worse, the whole story feels convoluted and unreal. We're expected to believe that Larry has turned from a no-good night guard at the museum in the first film to this mega-successful businessman in the second installment during the course of only a few years (and after being a virtual nobody for the vast majority of his life). I mean come on, Hollywood - Where did the charming loser from the first film go so quickly? Stiller's Larry is hardly likable at the beginning, and once he learns that his lovable exhibits/friends are moving to the Smithsonian museum (after the Museum of Natural History closed for technological renovation) things start happening so fast, that his motives for leaving his comfortable job to help rescue his friends are left undeveloped and unconvincing.
The main course of this sequel is of course the special effects created by the two museum's re-animated exhibits, with the evil Egyptian Kamunrah (The Simpson's Hank Azaria) acting as the main villain who operates the evil Smithsonian exhibits who strive for world domination yadda yadda yadda. Some effects are cute (Al Capone's gangsters brought back to life in black and white, the heroes entering an old painting, the Lincoln memorial rising from his chair, amongst others) and some are once again undeveloped and underused. At times, it seems so much is happening on the screen, that you don't really know where to look or who to concentrate on. Many returning characters from the first film are outrageously underused (including Robin Williams' Teddy Roosevelt and Owen Wilson's Jedediah) and many comedians who are brought specifically for the film contribute blink-and-you-miss-it performances, including Ricky Gervais and Jonah Hill). The only true contribution for the film is the lovely Amy Adams (Enchanted), who portrays a fluffy re-animated Amelia Earhart who seems more lost than ever.
To sum things up, I'd say that Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian may have been cute at times, but it was mostly useless, as it really didn't add any significant notion to the elements presented in its predecessor. While that film felt like an instant classic to me, this one felt more like a quick money-grab with a lot of missed potential.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
A quintessential action movie - T2 is a sci-fi roller-coaster that defined an entire generation of moviegoers!
In my book, Terminator 2: Judegement Day was one of those rare flashes of genius Hollywood bumps into every once in a while. From the breathtaking visuals (that still hold well after 18 years) to the maverick storytelling (kudos to legendary director James Cameron for that) and genuine performances by the cast members (not just Schwarzenegger's Terminator, but also Linda Hamilton as one of the best female heroines ever, as well as Robert Patrick as the ruthless killer T-1000) - T2: Judgement Day was (and still is) a roller-coaster of movie making at its finest.
Plot-wise, it advanced the series' cannon story of the apocalyptic future where robots rule the world and human resistance is strong yet outnumbered. This time around, the robots send the shape-shifting T-1000 to destroy Sarah Connor's future-leader-of-the-resistance, John Connor, at the tender age of 10. But their attempts to destroy the human defiance is met with a precocious John Cononor, his mother Sarah (who has since the fist installment) has turned into a lean, mean, killing-machine) and the aforementioned Terminator (the one and only Schwarzenegger), this time being on the right side of the resistance.
When this movie was first released back in 1991, I was a mere 10 year old child (just like John). I remember watching it twice at the movie theater and being blown away over and over again each time. If there was anything I was ever close to idolizing as a kid, it was T2 (especially Arnold Schwarzenegger). I remember later dressing up as The Terminator for Purim and hanging a very big poster of the film over my bed. Those were good times, and i'm sure current-day viewers will have a positive experience watching this as well.
P.S. - I also liked T3, but it was less loyal to the first two, which marked it a lesser film in my book (although it did include one of my favorite endings ever).
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
Best X-Men film by far. Period.
Earlier this week, my wife and I caught an early press screening for the upcoming X-Men Origins: Wolverine and we both went absolutely bananas. The screening was held in Ramat Gan, Israel, on an enormous screen, and it was a real delight. The surround sound system and the huge screen gave it all an epic feel, and helped emphasize the magnitude of the movie. At the end of the day, I found it to be on par with Iron Man, Spider-Man 2, X2 and other successful comic book films from the wonderful universe of Marvel.
Truth be told, I went into the film without any big expectations, since I don't carry much knowledge about the character's background - and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised both by Hugh Jackman's engaging portrayal of the character and the light shed not only on Wolverine's origins - but on many of the other members of the X-Men as well... Back when the original trilogy was released (in 2000, 2003 & 2006) I managed to catch them all, and after reaching the new installment to the series, i'm happy to report that X-Men Origins: Wolverine corresponds successfully with the series, while still managing to rise and shine on it's own merit. Wolverine's story was a gripping tale of revenge and knowing one's boundaries, and served as a successful prequel to the whole X-Men series.
The way I see it, All people involved in this spectacular summer hit deserve a great big kudos. I really hope the fact that a work-print version was leaked to the internet a month before the theatrical release won't hurt this film's truly deserved chances at box office glory come early May. In my opinion, this is a movie meant to be seen on a big screen if i've ever seen one. If this thing flops because of the leak, more quality products of it's ilk won't get a cinematic release, and we'll all be sorry...
All in all, X-Men Origins: Wolverine was real cinematic fun, and an excellent set-up for (what seems like) a truly spectacular Summer of films. Keep up the good work, folks!
Indulges you to seize the day and live life to its fullest, because you never know when it's going to end
I've waited a long time to see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and I'm happy to say I was quite happy upon viewing the movie in theaters. Director David Fincher's film follows the story of a man named Benjamin (portrayed by Brad Pitt) that ages backwards: when everyone around him grows older and older, he just keeps growing younger. Cate Blanchett portrays Daisy, his tragic lifelong lover, with Tilda Swinton, Taraji P. Henson and many other talented actors portray various friends, co-workers, love interests and family members he meets along his extraordinary path in life.
The movie had lively characters you could relate to, its scenery was breathtaking, and it all came down to its original concept, a concept that made the film so special to me. Its time-twisting elements made you think about how life is fragile and how it keeps slipping away, and how we can never escape our mortality - no matter how far we go. Benjamin Button was growing younger in body but older in heart, and when he faced his aging friends and family, you couldn't escape thinking how lonely he must be (going through the opposite process and all) and how random life is.
But instead of taking you to a depressing conclusion, the film wrote itself out like a marvelous feast for life. Even the setback - the story being told to a dying Daisy amidst the upcoming Katrina Hurricane - gives one a new perspective on life, and indulges you to seize the day and live life to its fullest, because you never know when it's going to end.
From director Fincher (Fight Club, The Game, Panic Room), I found The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to be a great film with marvelous settings, excellent performances and a versatile cast. It's smart, unique, original, and has an extremely well executed high-concept. After a long wait, I'm happy to see the film get the respect it deserves - both at the box office and by the Academy.
I gave it 10 points out of 10.
Revolutionary Road (2008)
Sitting through torture would be less depressing than this film
So you think life's tough? Well, you ain't seen nothing yet! If you really want to suffer, try living in 1950's suburban hell. In that period, women's freedom and choice of career was virtually non-existent, and whoever tried to shake this equation, often found themselves on the wrong side of society's ability to tolerant social turbulence.
In American Beauty director Sam Mendes's adaptation of the bestseller Revolutionary Road, Frank and April Wheeler (portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet together on screen for the first time since Titanic!), a young, suburban couple going through the motions of life. April, who doesn't want to play the role of the lonely housewife, makes life miserable for husband Frank, who can't seem to make her happy. When April comes up with a daring idea to relocate to Paris, France, the consequences of the decision manage to make the couple's life even glummer.
Personally speaking, I found Revolutionary Road to be a depressing experience, lacking the optimism or cynicism director Sam Mendes demonstrated in films like American Beauty or Jarhead. Instead, everything that happened to the characters of the film was so tragic and sad, that I was counting the minutes for the thing to be over. The acting was good, but nothing we haven't seen before in the department of suburban melodramas - even those starring the same actors (Winslet was much better in Little Children, which was more or less similar to RR, except that it took place in modern day and was much more tongue-in-cheek fun). DiCaprio was OK, but good thing he earned his Oscar recognition for bigger, better roles like The Aviator and Blood Diamond and not this train-wreck of a film.
Now, I don't know about you guys, but these sort of blunt, straight-out realistic dramas don't help me feel better about myself or get a better perspective of life (like I believe most films should do). Instead, this film just left me shattered, annoyed and disturbed - and truly unsatisfied.
I gave it 5 point out of 10 (and only because of the decent acting).