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Reviews and articles on movies, music, video games, and more

Archive for the month “April, 2013”

9 Years Later, “Riddick” is Back

If you are familiar with the Riddick series of films, you know how long it has been since the second film The Chronicles of Riddick was released (about 9 years). After such a long wait, fans will be finally receive the next film in the series, simply titled Riddick, this Fall. Based on the short teaser trailer, it seems that, in the new entry, previous series director David Twohy will bring the spirit of both prior films and mesh them into one – there is the grand sci-fi adventure side of The Chronicles of Riddick combined with the tense, almost survival horror of Pitch Black. This combo should please fans of both films when Riddick releases on September 6th, and be an excellent continuation to a great series. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait another 9 years for a potential next follow-up.

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“Life of Pi” (2012) Review

Life of Pi poster

With all of the awards it received, along with its widespread critical acclaim, I’m sure many have at least seen previews for/heard about Life of Pi. As a film lover, I felt it was a duty of mine to see a film which took home four Academy Awards, despite my hesitance toward it. After having seen the film for myself, I must disagree with the majority of praise the film received – it seems to me that every year there is one film that receives exaggerated praise. This is not to say Life of Pi is a bad film, per se, but it is just not that great of one.

Life of Pi tells the tale of Pi, from his childhood, to his unbelievable (and by that I mean extremely, extremely coincidental) adventure at sea after being stranded by a shipwreck, to his adulthood. The tale is structured as a narrative told by the adult Pi to a youthful writer who was told Pi’s tale would make him believe in God. This structure and tale are wrapped around some “deep” themes and storytelling, something I, quite frankly, could not find in the film. Sure, there’s some symbolism here and there, and the ending tries to make the whole story into something seemingly deeply philosophical – this ending did honestly manage to somewhat save the plot from being tolerable to just decent for me, but still faltered by falling into the trap of over-explanation. Worse yet, there were some scenes that became almost comical due to their poor design (scenes that were meant to be serious). Still, the story manages to hit capture some decent moments, but there are too many flaws in the plot that keep it from being highly engaging.

With the plot faltering, Life of Pi has to fall back on its visuals to capture the viewer’s attention. Here is an area that the film largely succeeds in – it is absolutely stunning at times. The cinematography put together by Ang Lee and crew is excellent, with some exemplary CGI modeling and animation work. Despite the unbelievable tale being told, the film’s visuals manage to bring to life every detail. Still, at times the crew seemed to be trying to accomplish too much as various pieces of the film seemed slightly rough around the edges (a minor gripe for such great animation). Along with this, there were multiple scenes that failed to add anything to the plot and seemed to be presented only for the sake of showing off the films visual effects, causing these scenes to feel hollow and forced.

While "Life of Pi" may be visually ..., the film never amounts to much in ...

While “Life of Pi” may be visually stunning, the film never amounts to much in terms of its story and characters.

With the visuals earning their praise, another area I found failing to live up to its accolades was the soundtrack (awarded Best Original Score at the Academy Awards). I really didn’t notice any pieces that really stood out to me, and overall, it felt like a pretty standard soundtrack for this adventurous type of film – in other words, it didn’t enhance the film, or even really make its presence known at many points. Despite this, I do have to again give credit to the sound crew for the effects and mixing for the film, as the animals, storms, and other complex pieces sounded great.

Life of Pi produced an oddly similar experience to Slumdog Millionaire for me (a film that received such great praise, but I found very lacking). For all its complex visual work, the film lacks where it matters most – its plot. It may be a magnificent visual feast, but this is one adventure I did not really enjoy. I am sure there are moviegoers that Life of Pi will appeal to, but there was too much style, and too little substance (actual substance, not superficial substance) for me.

Final Score: 4.8/10

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Life of Pi just didn’t do much for me as a film. I’m no movie snob, and I realize that, but I enjoy most movies from animated to sci-fi to action and everything in between, but this movie was almost laughable. However, the only really enjoyable parts of Life of Pi were the visuals and many CGI scenes. Some of these scenes were absolutely breathtaking and beautiful, but really were not necessary for this film, seeming to be just trying to distract the audience from the unbelievable plot and story line of the film. Still, it did catch me a few times with some emotions scenes, especially Richard Parker, but probably only because I’m a female animal lover who hated to even imagine the torture that animal faced (even if it was fictitious).

I was upset that this film had received so much praise and many awards this season, that I had to see it. After seeing it, I feel even worse about the hype it received. There were much better films out this past year that deserved those awards over this film. I’ll give the film praise for the visual effects, but story line, soundtrack, and acting were just not at the level I would expect for such a film so highly acclaimed. You can watch it for yourself and see what you think, but don’t forget to let us know in the comments!

Second Opinion Score: 4.0/10

“Anna Karenina” (2012) Review

Anna Karenina Poster

One thing becomes quickly apparent when viewing Anna Karenina – the visual presentation is absolutely stunning. Still, visuals alone cannot make a movie (see Avatar or Life of Pi) and Anna Karenina succeeds on multiple levels to really showcase how to put together a great film. Sure, the basis of the film may be a love triangle story, but I can assure you that this is not just a romance film – it is much more.

As I had mentioned, the story of Anna Karenina focuses on a love triangle between the title character, her husband, and a military officer. This is contrasted against the story of a young man who has fallen for a young woman. For a plot centered on romance, there is a fair amount of depth to the plot, largely due to the excellent writing and symbolism used. This raises the plot to a level well above a romance story and into a great character-driven film. As the characters begin to interact in more tense situations (aided by some excellent acting from the talented Keira Knightly, always excellent Jude Law, and a talented cast of young actors/actresses), the viewer is drawn further into the film’s web, connecting you closer with the story and keeping you firmly engaged. Lastly, while the film follows a fairly straightforward path, there are some nice twists and turns (including some nice surprises) that keep the film from feeling clichéd.

Plot aside, Anna Karenina deserves a ton of praise for its visuals. Every piece that goes into the visual presentation has been painstakingly detailed, resulting in an incredible show for the viewer. The set design is stunning, with the film taking place in a theater setting and sets shifting constantly as the characters walk from area of the stage/rafters to another. The moving set design was a great choice, and one the use of the stage for the presentation ties in perfectly with one of the film’s main themes. In addition, the costume work and cinematography are colorful and brighten the stage, while some intricately choreographed scenes and character movements lend another layer to the film’s already great visuals. I could go on further, but I will stop now and just say that this is a masterfully constructed presentation that perfectly fits the story and themes, and goes a long way to enhance the film as a whole.

The visuals in the film are absolutely stunning, and I cannot praise the set design enough.

The visuals in the film are absolutely stunning, and I cannot praise the set design enough.

The presentation is already being a highlight due to the visuals, but that should not overshadow the soundtrack for the film. The musical pieces for the film are very well composed and stand out as another key piece of the film’s high points. Each scene is even further enhanced by this wonderful, classically rooted score. This soundtrack when put together with the aforementioned visual design even further cements Anna Karenina as such a perfectly presented film.

When compared against some of the best films of last year, Anna Karenina can certainly hold its own. It may not quite reach the heights of those other top films due to some scenes moving too quick with complexly constructed dialogue, and the somewhat slowly developing plot, but the overall presentation is about as good as it gets. I am by no means a romance film fan, but I very much enjoyed Anna Karenina due to its execution. I can easily recommend it to most movie fans, especially those who are fans of theater presentations (who should enjoy the set design and presentation even more). Give Anna Karenina a chance, and it will prove itself as much more than what some might quickly brush off as just a fancy romance film.

Final Score: 8.6/10

“My Neighbor Totoro” (1988) Review

My Neighbor Totoro cover

Studio Ghibli is one of the most imaginative studios in the film business today. With Hayao Miyazaki at the director’s helm, they have created some of the best animated films out there (Spirited Away is still my favorite animated film). After recently starting Ni No Kuni: The Wrath of the White Witch for the Playstation 3 (for which Studio Ghibli helped with the visual work), I’ve been eager to get back into seeing some of the Ghibli films I had missed. My first adventure was with My Neighbor Totoro – a film that bears Ghibli’s mark proudly.

My Neighbor Totoro is a much more light-hearted film compared to some other Miyazaki works. The film focuses on two sisters and their father who move to the countryside and begin to notice some creatures that others can’t see. The plot may be fairly simple, but its execution is wonderful, with every character having a distinct and nicely developed personality. These characters are the heart and soul of My Neighbor Totoro, and the audience can instantly connect with the film’s cast. When a film can develop and cause the audience to be connected to characters that lack any true dialogue, there is a high level of praise that should be given to it.

Where My Neighbor Totoro also succeeds is in its creativity. The animation for the film shows some age (the film is 25 years old), but it is still so imaginatively constructed and has so many little touches that it is still a beautiful film. The animation brings to life the intricately constructed and highly creative worlds that Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli are known for. I once read that it takes about one month for the Studio to produce 5 minutes of theatrical quality animation, and these kinds of elaborately constructed worlds and characters show why that is the case (and how much care Studio Ghibli puts into every frame of animation). Though this film may not feature the grandiose visions of some other Ghibli films, it still brings its viewers back to a child-like sense of wonder and imagination (bonus points for the Cat Bus).

As with all Studio Ghibli films, "My Neighbor Totoro" features incredibly imaginative characters and animation.

As with all Studio Ghibli films, “My Neighbor Totoro” features incredibly imaginative characters and animation.

To enhance the animation and story, there is a wonderfully composed soundtrack throughout the film. From its thematic pieces (which feature some nice melodies) to its set pieces, My Neighbor Totoro is further enhanced by this music work – I remember my fiancé humming along to the main the at one point. In speaking of the soundtrack, it should also be noted that the voice work and sound effects for the film are nicely done as well, making each character sound natural.

In all, My Neighbor Totoro is a characteristically Studio Ghibli film. Its more lighthearted story makes it a perfect fit for both adults and children alike. Still, the sense of wonder at the artistic worlds that they create is replicated by so few animated films. Know that going into My Neighbor Totoro you will get a high-quality, and highly original animated film, and allow Miyazaki to take you on another entertaining adventure.

Final Score: 9.1/10

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Second Opinion:

I agree whole-heartedly with Will’s review. My Neighbor Totoro was a heartfelt film that made you truly immerse into the lives and surroundings of the characters. You connect with the family instantly and could feel the many emotions of the film almost first-handed. I also loved the imaginative forest creatures who truly brought the film to life and made you laugh, almost cry and wish you could ride a cat bus in real life!

The film had a very sweet and imaginative story that any aged audience could enjoy. You would never guess that the film itself is 25 years old. The imagery, soundtrack and story were just as relevant and enjoyable today. I’m so happy that Disney decided to localize Miyazaki’s work overseas and allow it to get to a wider audience, one that it truly deserves. This is one of just many of Miyazaki’s work, and one that I would definitely recommend for children and adults alike. Let us know if you’ve seen My Neighbor Totoro or any of Miyazaki’s other films and what you think of them.

Second Opinion Score: 7.8/10

Can “Elysium” Reach the Heights of “District 9”?

District 9 has earned a spot in my collection of great science fiction films. It was showered with critical praise upon release and was a refreshing entry into the sci-fi genre. Now, director Neill Blomkamp is following-up his incredible first work with Elysium, a film revolving around a decrepite Earth and a space station paradise. As in District 9, Blomkamp has made a tension here between two groups, the group of priveliged humans living on the space station and those stuck on Earth – a class struggle instead of an interracial one. With Matt Damon starring, I have high hopes for another epic sci-fi tale. Judging by the trailer, Elysium seems to be even grander in scope and its views than District 9, with a buffet of striking visuals. The views of the ravaged Earth in the trailer look incredible, and I cannot wait to take another adventure with this talented director when Elysium releases August 9th.

Zack Snyder’s Turn to Make a Superhero Blockbuster

With the recent trend toward superhero blockbusters, Zack Snyder is tossing his hat into the ring. I highly enjoyed Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, but I still have to say that outside of that, I haven’t really been swept away by any other recent superhero films. Sure, I enjoyed the “X-Men” trilogy and “The Avengers”, but I didn’t find either of them a must-see experience. Yet, I am quite interested in Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel”. Snyder is a polarizing director – sure, everyone enjoyed “300”, but his most recent effort, “Sucker Punch” drew some very mixed and poor reviews (I, personally, enjoyed it). With his past effort in “Watchmen”, I feel that Superman is in highly capable hands (as does Christopher Nolan, who is helping write and produce the film) and am highly anticipating this release. Are you excited for “Man of Steel”, or is “Iron Man 3” more your thing?

Listen And Be Amazed – Video Game Music A Capella by Smooth McGroove

Every now and then I come across a Youtube video that completely blows me away. This week it happened to be an a capella arrangement and performance of “Guile’s Theme” from Street Fighter 2 by Smooth McGroove. Hearing such a well-arranged and great performance of this track was surprising. Looking at his channel, there is a variety of tracks, with many from the Zelda and Final Fantasy series, all of which are equally awesome. As a video game fan and a music lover, I watched through some other tracks (including the above version of “JENOVA” from Final Fantasy VII) and instantly subscribed. Smooth McGroove is incredibly talented and deserves your attention (whether you are a video game fan, music lover, or both) – he even manages to make Fall Out Boy sound good (something I thought wasn’t possible) with his parody “My Cat Knows What You Do In The Dark”. Check out his channel here and let me know what you think.

“Zero Dark Thirty” (2012) Review

Zero Dark Thirty poster

When I first saw the trailer for Zero Dark Thirty, the film did not really capture my interest. The central plot of the film (the events leading up to and including the death of Osama Bin Laden) seemed to be the focus in order to capitalize on the magnitude of these recent events. Then, after the film received widespread critical praise and was nominated for multiple Academy Awards, my curiosity was piqued. I had to see the film and evaluate it for myself. The film does have some elements that deserve the praise they received, however, the film as a whole is not as … as its accolades would have you believe.

The basic premise of the film is self-explanatory – the hunt for Osama Bin Laden and the events leading up to, and including, the night of his death. Despite the widespread coverage of that night’s events, seeing the actual events leading up to that mission seems like it would be an interesting tale. Yet, the inane dialogue (if I heard the man being interrogated in the opening scenes get called “bro” one more time, I may have stopped watching) at many points in the film makes the events seem exaggerated and fabricated (with reports stating that many events were fabricated for the film) – a classic example of what call “Hollywood-ing” a true story.

Despite the plot’s shortcomings, the overall film remains somewhat tense and fairly interesting despite a padded runtime. Also, there is some great acting throughout the film. Jessica Chastain put in an Oscar-worthy performance, full of emotion despite her poorly written, “badass” style dialogue. The supporting cast, as well, fit their parts well and make all of the events seem more true to life.

Jessica Chastain gives an incredible performance in "Zero Dark Thirty" - one well deserving of her Best Actress Oscar nomination.

Jessica Chastain gives an incredible performance as Maya in Zero Dark Thirty – one well deserving of her Best Actress Oscar nomination.

Another piece of the film that to me was done nicely was the sound editing. From explosions and action pieces, to dialogue, to soundtrack, the mix is excellent. Each area of the sound department did a phenomenal job with their work, and it really shows in each an every scene of the film.

Zero Dark Thirty has received much critical acclaim since its release. Some of it is well-deserved (the acting and sound editing are excellent). Other parts of the film, however, are poorly done. With a plot that feels too embellished and dialogue that tries too hard to be “cool” and ends up making some characters sound like they came straight out of a cheesy action flick (one-liners and all), the film suffers but still manages to be an entertaining watch – just be prepared to overlook these flaws.

Final Score: 6.2/10

A New TV Series to Watch – “Hannibal”

Hannibal TV Series - Mads Mikkelsen

After watching the premiere episode in Hannibal‘s 13-episode first season, I knew I had found a great new television series to become immersed in. Hannibal is set as a prequel of sorts to the Hannibal Lector series of films/books. Though I am, admittedly, not a big fan of Silence of the Lambs (sure, it’s a good film, but not an amazing one), I was completely enthralled by this first episode. The show is visually striking and is very well designed. Bryan Fuller has written an incredible script that brings a Hitchcock-level of tension to the show, along with some extremely well-written dialogue. To further enhance the show, the casting department did a wonderful job in hand-picking its central characters. Hugh Dancy (who I was unfamiliar with before this show) really surprised me with his acting ability, giving an excellent performance as Special Agent Will Graham. In addition to Dancy, Mads Mikkelsen (most recognizable for me as One-Eye in the visually-stunning Valhalla Rising) is a superb fit as the title character, Dr. Hannibal Lector. Though I haven’t yet seen the second episode which aired last night, I am looking forward to watching my DVR recording and following the whole series. If you wish to watch Hannibal, the show airs Thursdays on NBC at 10/9c. To anyone who has seen the first or second episodes, what do you think of the series’ initial showing?

“Evil Dead” (2013) Review

Evil Dead 2013 poster

In order to make a great film, at least one of two things needs to be present. The film must either have a unique/interesting story or find another way to be highly entertaining. Recently, the majority of wide-release horror films have lacked both of these criteria. These films are often riddled with poor, recycled plots (how many exorcism films have there been over the last few years) or uninspired serial killers. It seems that horror films have spent more time trying to implement more jump scares or find the next fad (from zombies, to exorcisms, to paranormal activity) rather than taking a step back and remembering to make the experience entertaining. Evil Dead is here to bring horror back to its glory. With Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell’s blessing, Fede Alvarez has crafted an incredible experience that outdoes its source material, and what I can say is the best horror film I’ve seen in years.

For those unfamiliar with the original film, Evil Dead focuses on a group of young adults who take a trip to a cabin. There they find the “Naturom Demonto”, or Book of the Dead, which awakens evil demons in the surrounding woods that then begin possessing members of the group leading to a sequence of violent and gory deaths. The reboot happens to take the plot of the original film and add some extra layers and twists to better flesh out its tale and make its characters (slightly) more three-dimensional. Though the plot may not be overly complicated, its tale is still entertaining to watch unfold – especially for fans of the original, as the reboot takes some new twists and turns with its cast of characters. However, where the film stands out is in its tongue-in-cheek scenes and sequences that make this campy film so good.

Evil Dead is surely expected to be a gory, violent film – an area in which it does not disappoint. It must be noted that Alvarez chose to avoid CGI in creating the effects for the film and go with purely practical effects and camera tricks. This is a great tribute to the pre-CGI era of horror films – one that is by no means a hinderance to the film. Its effects are a sight to behold, with its over-the-top violence becoming laughably entertaining at points (I will say now that if you don’t find humor in Evil Dead, you are missing out on the point and a good amount of the fun to be had here).

The film pays homage to its source material at many points - as a fan, you will be glad to see the treatment the chainsaw gets.

The film pays homage to its source material at many points – as a fan, you will be glad to see the treatment the chainsaw gets.

In addition to the effects, the film’s other parts all work to enhance the experience. The cast is (for the most part) surprisingly adept at fulfilling their roles. Jane Levy, in particular, really does a wonderful job with the lead role – she is tasked with a constantly shifting role, and never falters in her performance that is much more than your typical female screamers in horror films. Also, the film’s soundtrack is nicely fitting and well implemented (something I rarely note in horror films).

One last piece that deserves some attention is the cinematography done by Alvarez. He chooses to saturate the film with certain colors – mostly dark colors, black, and red. This both makes the visuals quite striking, but really aids the special effects. The plentiful blood spilled looks much more stylish with Alvarez’s work in the visual department.

More often than not, a remake/reboot/re-imagining does not manage to do its source material justice. Even more rare, is the remake that enhances its source material, lifting it to another level. Fede Alvarez’s re-imagining of Sam Reimi’s cult classic, Evil Dead, does just that – it transcends the original. In doing so, to put it simply, Evil Dead is horror done right. It manages to be scary, tense, and campy all at the same time, making this one of the most fun and entertaining horror films I’ve seen in a long time. Fans of the original series will find much to enjoy (including many nods to the originals that will make fans smile), while unfamiliar horror fans should still be greatly entertained by this one. Let me know what you thought of the film, and what you hope for with the continuation of the series.

Final Score: 8.7/10

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