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“Gravity” (2013) Review

gravity-poster

Looking back, the last time I had been anticipating a movie as much as “Gravity” was probably almost a year and a half ago with “The Dark Knight Rises”. Between being a big sci-fi fan, having read reviews about the great visual presentation, and knowing Alfonso Cuaron (director of one of my favorite films, “Children of Men”) was directing, I don’t know how much higher my expectations could have been going into the theater. Despite these massive expectations, I was not ready for what I got with “Gravity” – a film that is a ground-breaking cinema experience and one of the best films I have seen in a long time.

While it’s easy to start by talking about the visual feast in “Gravity”, it is better to start by saying that “Gravity” is about more than just good looks… It is a film about survival. Space is a lonely and dangerous environment, one where Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) and Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) find themselves trying to survive in after debris destroys their space shuttle. Outside of a few opening scenes, this is the main overarching plot of the film – two astronauts trying to find a way back to Earth. This may sound like a shallow plot, but Alfonso Cuaron has developed a lot of depth within such a seemingly narrow framework. Conversations between Kowalsky and Stone are well-written, and reveal a nice depth of character that connects the viewer to the film’s main characters. This, in turn, makes each twist the film takes more impactful, leaving you wondering what will happen next.

Story aside, the most awe-inspiring part of the film is easily the overall presentation. Sure, I heard the visuals were amazing and broke new ground for the cinema world. However, “Gravity” doesn’t seem to be content with raising the bar for visuals in a film – it wants to create a new idea of what you can expect from a film. From the zero gravity physics, to beautiful shots of space and Earth, to the incredible detail in the debris, “Gravity” is a sight to behold. I can easily say that it is the best looking film I have ever seen, hands down. Even with the major effects and visuals, what really pushes it to another level entirely is the little things. There is a striking attention to detail present in every single scene that makes every piece of the film feel as realistic as possible. In the words of George Clooney’s Matt Kowlasky, you really “can’t beat the view”.

Above all else, "Gravity" is the most visually stunning film I've ever scene. As George Clooney's character rightfully remarks, you really "can't beat the view".

Above all else, “Gravity” is the most visually stunning film I’ve ever scene. As George Clooney’s character rightfully remarks, you really “can’t beat the view”.

Speaking of visuals, it is necessary for me to touch on the 3D effects in the film. As you know, I have felt that 3D film-making was more a gimmick than anything, never adding anything to a film – at best you get a few interesting touches, at worst it takes away from the experience with poor use of background blurring and effects that make each quick camera movement jarring. In “Gravity”, however, the 3D is spot on, and enhances the visual experience enough that I would highly recommend seeing the film in 3D over 2D. Between these 3D effects and the overall visual presentation, “Gravity” is an incredible film that must be seen in theaters at least once.

Further adding to my praise for the film is its sound design. The soundtrack itself is perfectly ambient and unsettling at times, fitting right in with the challenges faced in and emptiness of space. Also, the clever use of volume and suppressed noises and music to mimic the vacuum of sound in space is a nice touch that draws the viewer into the setting. In particular, I have to give credit to the opening credits and scene, where the aforementioned items start the film nicely.

Lastly, it is necessary to give mention to both Clooney and Bullock for their roles in the film. Both play their parts wonderfully, with Bullock in particular turning in a tremendous performance as Dr. Ryan Stone. When you are tasked with being the only two characters on-screen for basically the entire film, you need to be able to turn in a special performance. This is exactly what Clooney and Bullock have done, and through Cuaron’s direction, the character interactions become entirely natural and the audience quickly connects with the two on-screen.

“Gravity” is not just good looks. It is a complete package. It has been a long time since I can remember leaving a film in awe, but “Gravity” did just that for me. It is a complete package – from visuals and sound, to plot and acting, “Gravity” is about as perfectly executed as they come. Don’t miss the chance to enjoy one of the most incredible experiences you can see in a theater, or even wait for it to come out on DVD/Blu-Ray. Do yourself a favor and experience “Gravity” in theaters, the way it is meant to be seen. You will not be sorry.

Final Score: 10/10

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“Silver Linings Playbook” (2012) Review and Second Opinion

Silver Linings Playbook poster

Silver Linings Playbook was off my radar for a while. Then, I heard some good things about the film, saw it got nominated for a list of Oscars and other awards, and saw my fiance had an interest in seeing it. This caused Silver Linings to quickly jump up to the top of my Netflix queue. I have to say that I was legitimately looking forward to seeing it. However, once I popped in the film and sat through its two-hour run time, I was sorely disappointed. I honestly can’t even say I liked Silver Linings Playbook – it just really wasn’t good. The only thing I was left thinking about the film about mental illness, romance, and the Philadelphia Eagles was where all the praise came from.

I might as well start with the main redeeming quality of the film – the acting. Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro both give great performances as expected – the surprise is Bradley Cooper who delivers an excellent performance. Cooper and Lawrence play well off each other and some of their back and forth banter is genuinely well acted. The supporting cast also does a great job of enhancing the central characters’ performances. Despite my negative opinion of the film as a whole, one thing I have to give Silver Linings credit for is its high quality acting. Still, while I say the acting is high quality, I want to clarify that I didn’t think it was award-winning – as such I don’t think Lawrence deserved her Academy Award for Best Actress (while I may be biased toward the incredible performance given by the young Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild, I still think other actresses were better than Lawrence last year).

So, sure, Silver Linings has a positive in its acting. Unfortunately, this positive is quickly wasted on poorly designed characters and asinine dialogue. Don’t get me wrong – I know Silver Linings is a film with a heavy theme of mental illness. But, throughout the whole film, it felt like every single character had some kind of mental issues, bouncing unbelievably back and forth between emotions, changing moods multiple times within a scene, and carrying out some very unnatural interactions. This causes the characters, as a collective group, to bring down the film despite the cast doing the best they can with what they are given.

Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence work quite well together and both give great performances in the film. It's a shame that that's about all the film has going for it.

Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence work quite well together and both give great performances in the film. It’s a shame that that’s about all the film has going for it.

To make matters worse, the dialogue is quite poor. Personally, I’d classify the dialogue into three categories – writing that is genuinely smart, writing that tries to act smart, and writing that almost seems schizophrenic (no pun intended) to the point where all the characters’ lines become a jumbled mess of words that are totally incompatible with each other. The majority of dialogue falls into the latter two categories, while the few scenes that fall into the first are pretty enjoyable.

Outside of the above, the rest of film is generally underwhelming. The central plot feels like nothing more than a clichéd romance drama with a heavy dose of insanity and some obsessive Eagles fanaticism thrown in. The cinematography is not bad, but not great. Even the soundtrack is virtually non-existent for most of the film, and when it does appear, is mainly just licensed songs layered in.

I really expected more out of Silver Linings Playbook. As a multiple award nominee and having received much critical acclaim, I was looking forward to seeing this drama/black comedy. Having seen it now, I can say that I don’t understand the reason for the praise. The film feels shaky and inconsistent in its execution with some poor dialogue and characterization. In the end, Silver Linings has so many flaws that the wonderful acting by the cast cannot save it.

Final Score: 4.6/10

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Second Opinion:

Silver Linings Playbook was a big hit last year among critics and fans alike, but after finally seeing the film for myself, I cannot jump on the bandwagon. The movie’s main plot, focused around mental illness, seems so forced that almost every single character ends up acting like they have some sort of illness. The love story between Cooper and Lawrence gets lost in a flat story line, forced acting, terrible dialogue and just a lack of many qualities that make you connect with a film.  

The film lost my attention multiple times, which is a rare thing when I am the one who was genuinely interested in seeing the film. I was truly disappointed in the result. As mentioned in the main review, the cast does their best in trying to make the film the best it can be, but the great acting jobs of the cast could not redeem the clichéd, forced plot line of this film. As a romance, it lacked the emotional connection that many films can easily create to intrigue at least the female audience and as a drama, the story line was so two-dimensional that you become easily uninterested. I just could not get myself to enjoy this film one bit, which I really thought I would, given the widespread praise and award nominations. Better luck on the next film I choose. 
Second Opinion Score: 4/10

“Upstream Color” (2013) Review

Upstream Color cover

 

I have never seen a film like Upstream Color. Simple as that. Shane Carruth’s recent release is a film that can be described in many different ways – “experimental”, “art film”, “abstract” – however, no classification could really do it justice. Even in broad terms such as sci-fi or drama, Upstream Color cannot find a home. Be assured, you have never seen anything like Upstream Color – and I mean that in a good way.

If you’re familiar with Carruth through his first film, Primer, you know he has talent. Upstream Color has a similar, yet completely different style than that first release. While both films are highly complex, revealing most secrets upon repeated viewings, they differ in their approach. Primer was a rational, sci-fi story with a heavy emphasis on dialogue to push the story forward and make sense of the film’s logic. Upstream Color relies mostly on its audiovisual presentation to portray its story – there is much less of a focus on dialogue (with the last half-hour being nearly free of any spoken words) and more attention on ambient sounds, thematic imagery, and striking visuals. This focus allowed Carruth to create on of the most original films I’ve seen in a long while.

As far as plot goes, the less you know going into Upstream Color, the better. While I will avoid any major spoilers, I still recommend not reading ahead if you are definitely going to see this film in order to get the most out of the experience…..

Still there? Okay. The easiest way to give an idea of the plot of Upstream Color is to say that the film is about the life cycle of an organism, the players who continue the cycle, and those who are affected by it. This basis becomes much more elaborate as the film weaves many themes into its story and presents the viewer with a multi-layered puzzle that at times can be both simple and incredibly complex at the same time. As it stands, the film places the viewer as an inanimate object observing these natural cycles and people and forces you to put all the pieces together actively and pass your own judgement at times. The story may seem to be abstract nonsense to some (and those that don’t enjoy experimental film-making will surely dislike the film), but I assure you there is a coherent narrative here that allows for some personal interpretation.

The Sampler is just one piece in the cycle playing out in "Upstream Color", but he is certainly the most interesting and complex.

The Sampler is just one piece in the cycle playing out in “Upstream Color”, but he is certainly the most interesting and complex.

With this narrative in place, both sound design and cinematography take over and breathe life into the story. While it is often easy to look at the visuals and sound areas of a film separately, here it is not possible – the two are intertwined and integral to the experience. That being said, the overall presentation is absolutely stunning. From Carruth’s ambient soundtrack, to his adept editing, to the striking cinematography, the film amazes its audience in each and every scene. The only real negative for this piece of the film is the dialogue volume. For some reason (possibly due to the focus on ambient sounds and nature throughout the film), the volume of the dialogue in the film is too low. In one sense, this serves to put more of an emphasis on the aforementioned ambience – in another, it is maddening as the viewer has to struggle at times to make out some of the dialogue. Still, this is a small price to pay in the scope of the overall presentation.

Lastly, it is worth mentioning that both Amy Seimetz and Carruth himself (yes, he wrote, directed, did the soundtrack for, produced, and starred in his film) both did a great job with their roles. With little dialogue in parts of the film, the cast must speak through expressions and actions – something that the entire cast does a wonderful job of doing. The nuances in each performance really help bring the viewer further into each character’s mindset and perspective.

In conclusion, as I said before, you have never seen a film like Upstream Color. Still, you will be glad you saw Upstream Color (unless, of course, you are not a fan of experimental film-making). The presentation and plot of the film are stunning and highly original, and Carruth is surely someone of talent to keep an eye on in the film industry. While there may be some issues with the dialogue audio levels, this hardly detracts from what will be the most original film you’ll see all year. Even if you don’t understand exactly what you saw, I think you will  have a hard time saying you didn’t enjoy it.

Final Score: 9.0/10

“Castle in the Sky” (1986) Review

Castle in the Sky poster

As I have mentioned previously (in my review of My Neighbor Totoro), Studio Ghibli is one of the most imaginative studios in the film business today with films spanning more than three decades. The other night I watched another of their films, Castle in the Sky. With Hayao Miyazaki at the helm as usual, the film is certainly an enjoyable experience filled with great animation, excellent characters, and an imaginative story enjoyable for those of all ages. While Castle in the Sky has all of these Ghibli standards, it also has some flaws that hold it back from reaching the same heights as some of their other works.

Castle in the Sky features a story about a young girl with a mysterious necklace, a young boy with dreams of proving a legend true, and the groups of pirates, military, and special interest personnel that quickly become interested in both of them. For the most part, this tale is just as imaginative and interesting as some of the studio’s other works. Yet, one of the biggest flaws in the film is the story’s pacing. About halfway through the film, the plot stalls and the film hits a stagnant period of chase scenes with no plot development. The foundation is there for a great plot, but this section breaks up the two better sections and takes away from the overall film. Had Castle in the Sky been cut to about 90-100 minutes (as opposed to the 125 minutes it stands at), the plot would be more powerful and the film better for it.

Though the plot has its struggles, the animation does not. Castle in the Sky is a visual masterpiece for its time. The film was made nearly 30 years ago and still looks phenomenal today. As always, there are a ton of little details that go a long way to making each scene even more impressive and complete. Even in its more action-packed scenes, the visuals remain exceptional. Though it may be flawed in other areas, Castle in the Sky‘s visuals are not.

For an animated film that is 27 years old, Studio Ghibli crafted some absolutely stunning visuals for the film.

For an animated film that is 27 years old, Studio Ghibli crafted some absolutely stunning visuals for the film.

Similarly to the plot, the sound department has some highs and lows. On one hand, the soundtrack is wonderful, capturing various landscapes and sequences nicely and enhancing each scene. On the other, the voice acting for the film is not up to par. It’s nowhere near the worst voice overs I’ve heard, but it’s still disappointing. James Van Der Beek and Anna Paquin’s performances really cause the characters to suffer due to poor vocal work.

This voice acting is a shame since the characters designed by Studio Ghibli are exceptional. Each character is given a unique personality that the viewer can easily connect with through each character’s visual design, dialogue, and interactions. With how well designed the characters are, combined with the overall animation, the imagination of Miyazaki and the artists at Studio Ghibli seems limitless. Truly each Ghibli/Miyazaki film is a work of art.

Overall, Castle in the Sky is a great film – not just a great animated film. Its visuals, story and characters are all wonderfully crafted – a standard for Ghibli and Miyazaki films. Still, some shortcomings in voice acting (on the English Disney dubs, not the original Japanese) along with pacing issues hold the film back from standing at the top of Ghibli’s resume. Despite its issues, Miyazaki fans will enjoy, and the film is great for viewers of most ages. If you’ve seen Castle in the Sky, let me know what you think about the film and where it stands against your other Ghibli favorites.

Final Score: 7.8/10

“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

“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

“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

“Skyfall” (2012) Movie Review

Skyfall poster

I’m going to get straight to the point with my review of “Skyfall”. To me, this latest Bond journey was as much a break from the typical Bond flick as it was a slightly above-average action film. The film manages to take some risks, but still manages feeling pretty conservative in much of its execution, with a plot and villain that just don’t quite feel that compelling.

Looking at the plot, “Skyfall” tries to create a more personal Bond tale. While the film starts out with a more personal feeling, by its midpoint, it had lost this touch for me. For me, there was potential for what could have been the most interesting conflict in any Bond film (between Bond and M). The opening sequence presents this as a possibility, but just shortly after the opening credits, this conflict becomes abandoned – patched up effortlessly to allow Bond to begin his mission to take on the newest Bond villain (played by the talented Javier Bardem). Speaking of the villain, one of the central pieces of a Bond film is its villain. While Javier Bardem does much to bring his character to life, the villain’s actual story wasn’t anything too special. Overall, the plot for me was merely average, full of many action film clichés and many contrived twists.

One area that the film really succeeds in is its visuals. In particular the opening credit sequence is stunning in its artistic execution. The main film sections themselves showcase a nice mix of color schemes, from the drab/sleak mix in the underground MI6 base, to its varying landscapes, to the dreary Skyfall sequences. Alongside the visuals, the cinematography is also quite nice, capturing all the action with some interesting angles.

Another successful area is the soundtrack. There is some great musical work behind the action, nicely capturing each changing situation. The main “Skyfall” theme is also quite good and seems to excellently fit the theme of the film. Still, I can’t help but feel Adele could have done better with the vocal work. Don’t get me wrong, I think she has a great voice, but it just seems like she isn’t letting it all out here, like she’s holding something back that could have really made the theme special.

When has putting a highly dangerous villain in a glass cell ever been a good idea?

When has putting a highly dangerous villain in a glass cell ever been a good idea?

Moving on, I want to quickly mention the acting. Javier Bardem does excellent work as mentioned previously. He really manages to take an underwhelming villain and make him much more intriguing than he would have been had a less skilled actor portrayed him. Daniel Craig offers another solid performance as the central agent, James Bond (I happen to think Craig is one of the best Bond actors). The supporting cast manages to keep up alongside the central characters and help flesh out the characters nicely.

Overall, “Skyfall” is a decent action film, and clearly a 007 adventure. It strays from the Bond mold – but while some of these changes are refreshing, the film misses out on much of its potential. For 007 fans and action-loving moviegoers, “Skyfall” should have a good amount to offer. Just don’t go in expecting a revolutionary Bond adventure or an exceptional action film.

Final Score: 6.5/10

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Second Opinion

I have to agree with Will on the majority of the positive points he makes about Skyfall, from the soundtrack and cinematography to the wonderful acting and visuals (however, unlike Will, I was somewhat disappointed in the opening scenes). They all really came together to make this film a wonderful action movie that was able to hold your attention with more than just explosions and fight scenes, but a wonderful, fresh storyline as well.

Movies of this length can rarely capture my attention the entire time, but there were very few instances in this case that I got distracted or bored. I loved the storyline with the relationship of M and Bond, the villain and Bond as well as the more minute relationships between other characters. This modern Bond film is a fresh take on an old story and was really enjoyable for me. I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good action movie with a storyline that is deeper than the surface. Let us know in the comments if you agree or disagree with either of us and what you though of the latest film in the Bond journey, “Skyfall.” (All I can hear in my head when I say that is the wonderful title theme that Adele co-wrote and sung for the movie – it truly captured the essence of the film!)

Final Score: 8.3/10

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