Sunday, November 25, 2012


It took me two viewings to really appreciate this movie. The first time around I thought it was certainly good, but nothing really worth writing home about. However, after the second viewing, I gotta say that Lincoln is definitely one of the best movies I've seen this year so far. A political biopic focusing on the final months of Lincoln's life, the movie is completely dialogue driven, and yet, at two and a half hours in length, it never loses steam or drags a bit. It's a completely engaging and interesting glimpse into the life of politics, with stellar performances all around from the entire ensemble.

Rather than jumping around and trying to squeeze in a little bit of everything from Abraham Lincoln's life, the movie instead chooses to focus on the end of his life, from the time of his re-election to the time of his assassination. And during this period of time is when he was trying to get the 13th amendment to abolish slavery passed, which is what the bulk of the movie is about. The debates and the different tactics used to procure votes is all very fascinating to watch, and it's all heightened so much by the phenomenal acting on display. In many ways, the film has a very theatrical feel to it, and watching the debates and such play out really is almost like watching a play acted out on stage.

But while the politics are playing out, we also see a "behind the scenes" look into Abe's personal life as he and his wife continue to struggle with their grief over the loss of their child. Sally Field is just awesome in the role of Mrs. Lincoln, believably falling to pieces anytime they're behind closed doors, yet putting on a happy, if bitter, face when in the public eye. The role just came so naturally to her, and, well, that can honestly be said about everyone in the cast.

It's hard to say who the stand-outs of this film are, since everyone really did hold their weight and contributed to the film. Tommy Lee Jones was great as Thaddeus Stevens, who spends the film struggling to play the political game and put his personal feelings aside for the better of the country. And I also got a real big kick out of James Spader, who plays one of the men hired on to try and sway the Democratic party members to their side of the vote. These sequences with Spader and the gang were really fun to watch, and added in a nice, natural layer of humor on top of all of the drama going on.

But the obvious star of the show is Daniel Day-Lewis, who absolutely kills it as good ol' Honest Abe. He just lives this role, and as you watch the movie, it almost feels like you're actually watching Abraham Lincoln himself on screen. He has so many moments where he'll just stop everything and tell a story (usually with a point), and I just couldn't help but think how this whole movie could have been just two hours of listening to Day-Lewis talking and telling stories and it'd still be great. He truly commands your attention in this way. He's almost certainly going to get a Best Actor nomination for this performance, and boy does he deserve it.

As wide and big as the cast is, the movie also does a good job of distinguishing everyone. Usually in movies like this, there'll be several characters who sorta have a similar look or don't really stand out from the pack. But here, every single character has a very distinct style and personality, so they don't just blend in and you never got lost with who is who, which I was very impressed by.

As I've mentioned though, the most fascinating aspect of the film was definitely the politics, particularly the Congressional debates. It's really interesting how the views of the Democratic and Republican parties at that time, at least as portrayed in this film, are almost completely opposite to how they would likely be portrayed today. And yet, it's also really interesting how much of the political atmosphere is almost exactly the same today as it's portrayed as being during this time period. Now, I'm not exactly a historical expert for this period of time, so I can't say how accurate or not these portrayals are, but I found the comparisons very intriguing nonetheless. And I also couldn't help but wonder if certain aspects in the film were meant to be somewhat of a parallel to the move for gay rights in today's society, though it's possible I might be looking a little too much into that.

If I had one negative thing to say about this film, it would be concerning the ending. I feel the movie ended about two scenes later than it should have. We already know Lincoln gets assassinated, and I didn't feel it was necessary to show that in this particular incarnation of the story. It felt out of place, and it came after a scene that felt like the logical conclusion as Abe walks out of the white house after successfully passing the 13th amendment. I was expecting and hoping for them to fade to black and roll credits right then and there, but, alas, the film lingers on just a bit too long. But it's not that big a deal, and when that's the only fault I can find with the movie, then it's definitely been doing something right up to that point.

So I initially went in worrying that this was going to be another War Horse, only without the horses, but Spielberg brought his A-game this time around. From start to finish, the movie is a fascinating watch, and as I said before, it just flies by, which is quite an accomplishment considering it all plays out almost entirely through dialogue. The pacing is just spot on, and it somehow flew by even quicker the second time around. I was able to catch so much more and appreciate the film as a whole that second time through, so I'm really glad I went ahead and caught it again. This was a great movie, one of the year's best, and one you should definitely make an effort to check out at some time.


Though, now that I think about it, I guess I was a little disappointed that they never did get around to addressing that whole vampire fiasco...

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Rise of the Guardians

So Rise of the Guardians wasn't quite as good as I was hoping. It was still a nice, decent little film, but I couldn't help but feel like Dreamworks just missed the mark on a number of aspects.

Basically, the story is that the children of the world are protected by the Guardians who watch over them, such as Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and the Sandman. The Boogeyman wishes for a return to the old times when people used to fear him, so he begins a plot to make the children lose their faith in the Guardians and spread fear into the hearts of the children of the world. So the Guardians gather and turn to the Man in the Moon, who guides them to Jack Frost to help thwart the evil Boogeyman. So yeah, that all sounds pretty awesome, right? But, awesome as it sounds, the movie doesn't quite live up to the premise.

The movie starts off strongly enough with the introduction of Jack Frost, as he first discovers his powers and comes to the realization that, unlike the Guardians, the people of the world don't actually believe in him. And his struggle to find his purpose in the world and be believed in is the driving force of the movie. But the introduction of the other Guardians is quite clunky in comparison. They're certainly interesting characters, and the liberties taken with them is definitely a selling point to the movie. Santa, for instance, is a sword wielding, tattooed bad ass. The Easter Bunny is a boomerang flinging Australian bad ass. And hell, even the Sandman, goofy as his character design looks, winds up stealing the show with his sand powers. And he, too, is bad ass.

The Tooth Fairy, on the other hand, comes off as kind of a creep, and provides for some of worst aspects to the movie. There's an entire sequence where the Guardians are trying to help the Tooth Fairy gather teeth from the children of the world that just feels so out of place. For one thing, the scene lasts for entirely too long, but on top of that, they take a comedic aspect to this sequence, which, given the urgency that's supposed to be at hand, just really feels like an odd decision to make. In fact, the humor as a whole is pretty much a miss in this movie (though I did get a pretty big kick from a running gag concerning a painting yeti).

But yeah, despite some flaws, the characters were all good and fun for the most part, and the voice acting was really spot on as well. And even the Boogeyman's goals were actually quite understandable and not just generically evil, which is refreshing in a film aimed at more of a younger crowd such as this.

The movie's strongest point is definitely in the visuals. The film is quite frankly beautiful. The level of detail put into just little things, such as the characters' clothing, is just mind-blowing. And the scenes with the Boogeyman's dark "night-mares" battling against the Sandman's glowing, dreamy sand are absolutely gorgeous. A lot of work was definitely put into the visual aspect of the movie, but it's just a shame that not nearly as much effort was put into everything else.

So yeah, this movie didn't quite live up to my expectations, though I would still say it was a generally good movie. And in an admittedly weak year for animated films, it's probably one of the better ones released this year. It's nothing worth going out of your way to see, but if you do get a chance, then you'll probably still have an enjoyable enough time with this film.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Man With The Iron Fists

So the Wu-Tang Clan's RZA took a stab at making a martial arts film. Yet, despite his expertise in the culture, it didn't quite come together all that well. It certainly has its moments of brilliance, but it has just as many, if not more, missed marks that drag the film down and keep it from being as fun and satisfying an experience as it could have been.

It's a fairly basic story of a clansman's betrayal leading to a road of proposed warfare, dragging in three very different men from three very different backgrounds. First, a fellow clansman, in search of vengeance over his leader's murder. Then, a rambunctious Englishman who just so happens to be in town on vacation, seeking pleasure through violence. And lastly, a local blacksmith, who regretfully forged the weapons used to cause all this mess. And their roads ultimately lead them to a brothel, which acts as the central location for most of the film's more important affairs.

The acting is pretty decent enough for a film of this sort. Most of the actors appear to be having fun at least. Russel Crowe was a blast, stealing the show in every single scene, and Batista even impressed me a little with the charisma he brought to the screen. And Byron Mann, who plays the main villain, appears to be channeling Dave Chappelle's Prince character, but I got a kick out of him. RZA himself did a decent enough job narrating the film, though whenever he was actually on the screen, it almost felt like he was taking things too seriously, which sort of stood out in an otherwise somewhat silly movie. But for the most part, the characters are all handled well, and the movie even caught me off guard with the direction some of them took. At least twice we saw people who I expected to be villains actually turn out to be major protagonists, so in that sense at least the film wasn't entirely predictable.

Coming from RZA, I was hoping for the soundtrack to really kick all kinds of ass. But, sadly, that's not entirely the case. The soundtrack is awesome during the opening credits and in one or two other action scenes, which are accompanied by Wu-Tang Clan style rap beats. And I was hoping for more of this sound throughout, but for most of the film, they instead resort to typical fair that you'd come to expect from this type of movie, which was really just disappointing. And speaking of sound, this may be a bit nit-picky, but I did notice a few instances where the sound effects felt almost muffled, taking away some of the 'oomph' from the hits.

But in the end, this is a martial arts movie, so the most important thing this movie needs to get right is the martial arts action itself, right? But while the martial arts is definitely this film's strongest point, it also happens to be its weakest as well. The film has moments of brilliance when the camera pans out and lets the martial arts take center stage. But then, just moments later, they muddy it all up with extreme close-ups and quick cuts, ruining otherwise mesmerizing sequences and making them hard to watch at times. I also didn't think the movie was nearly as crazy as I was hoping for. It's certainly over-the-top and has its fair share of imagination, but it never feels like it showcases any of this imagination to its full potential. And while a lot of the bigger action scenes with loads of people involved last for a good minute, once we get down to the big final fights that the movie's been building up to, they all end far too quickly, ending the film with a disappointing series of anti-climaxes.

When the movie's not busy making us dizzy with quick cuts, the visuals do tend to have a very appealing look to them, particularly during said panned out scenes. However, the movie isn't quite as beautiful as it would like to believe it is. It just has a very artificial feel to it, like it's trying a bit too hard, but a lot of the environments and sequences are shot in an awkward style that sort of distorts the film's beauty, which happened to stick out to me.

But while it may seem like I'm tearing this movie a new one, I honestly didn't hate it. I found it enjoyable enough, and there was plenty to like here. Russel Crowe is the standout of the whole movie, and the villains were a whole lotta fun. And when we can actually see the action, it's definitely a thrill to watch. This movie had so much potential to be something awesome, but a few too many odd editing choices hold it back from greatness. So it wasn't all bad, but it was definitely an underwhelming experience.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Wreck-It Ralph or: Candy Land: The Movie

So Wreck-It Ralph was an enjoyable movie overall. It wasn't quite the movie that it was advertised to be, having more in common with the board game Candy Land than any video game I've ever played, but still, it was a nice, fun little movie.

The story is basically that Wreck-It Ralph is the villain of the arcade game Fix-It Felix, Jr., but he doesn't want to be the bad guy anymore. The life of a video game villain is a lonely one, and even after the game ends, the heroes of the game continue to treat them like garbage. So Ralph wants to try his hand at being the hero, so he goes rogue, visiting other video game worlds in his attempt to prove that he can be the good guy for once.

The premise sounds interesting, and I was really looking forward to seeing a lot of classic video games get showcased here. But outside of the very beginning and the very end, the vast majority of this movie has very little at all to do with video games. Ralph eventually finds himself in a game known as Sugar Rush, which is a candy-based racing game. And once he arrives, and for the remainder of the movie, it essentially becomes a movie about candy.

The video game references go out the door in favor of candy puns at this point. But while it's certainly a bit disappointing that this is the rout this movie took, it's honestly not all that bad. The movie is still very good and fun, and the jokes are still genuinely funny and enjoyable. And near the end, it even gets surprisingly emotional on top of everything else. Sure, it's a bit cutesy, but it's not overbearingly so. And I especially thought that I was going to grow tired of Sarah Silverman's character, but even she actually really grows on you.

When it actually does focus on video games, that's when the movie really excels. Seeing classic villains from various games take part in a group therapy session was awesome, and they litter the world with lots and lots of little references here and there that are easy to miss. For instance, there's a brief moment where the words "Aerith Lives" are graffitied onto a wall, and they even threw in a Sonic PSA, which I got a huge kick out of. And I just know that this is the kind of movie where, the more you watch it, the more little things like this that you're going to catch.

However, good as everything was, it's probably telling that the best part of the whole movie was the ending credits. During this sequence, Ralph and the gang visit various classic gaming worlds in pixelated fashion, including Sonic's Green Hill Zone and the car bonus stage from Street Fighter II (which got the biggest applause of the whole movie from my audience). This whole thing is really just a blast, and it's pretty much what I was expecting this whole movie to be, so it's kind of a shame after the fact to find that this aspect played such a small role in the film.

So even though it wasn't what I was expecting, it was still a good movie overall. And its message of accepting who you are was particularly well implemented I felt. So yeah, that's really all I've got to say on the matter, so to send us off, I'll turn your attention to everyone's favorite Hedgehog with my very own "Sonic Says":

"Hey kids, if you're expecting to see your favorite video game characters like me and Zangief all the way through, then you might be disappointed, and that's no good. But if you go in with an open mind, then you might just find yourself having a good time anyways!"

Friday, November 2, 2012

Silent Hill: Exposition

With both Ned Stark and Jon Snow present in this movie, one would almost think that winter was coming to Silent Hill. And if the coming of winter is supposed to spell doom for the world, then it can't come soon enough. Silent Hill: Revelation just flat out sucked.

The original Silent Hill movie came out in 2006, so with six years between films, you'd think that that would be enough time to work up something at least halfway decent. You would apparently be wrong, as it would turn out. While the first movie wasn't great, it at least maintained a genuinely creepy vibe throughout, had some legitimately interesting visuals, and the story was even somewhat interesting. None of those descriptions can be applied to this piece of crap.

This movie is just an unimaginative farce. It tries so hard to be creepy, but it just goes too over-the-top with the "weird" factor. It feels forced, and instead of creepy, it just comes across as goofy and, quite frankly, boring. It often forgets that it's attempting to be a horror movie, and tries (and also fails) to steal a page out of Resident Evil's book by incorporating action elements to compensate. But, as with everything else in this movie, the action just feels forced, coming at you out of nowhere and sticking out like a sore thumb. Not to mention that the CGI effects are like something straight out of a bad Sci-Fi Original Movie. Actually, on second thought, scratch that, because that's far too complimentary of a comparison for this ugly monstrosity.

The real killer of the movie, however, is the writing. Holy crap this dialogue. Exposition, exposition, every sentence is exposition. Whatever happened to "show, don't tell"? The actors in this movie are constantly telling us exactly what they're doing as they're doing it. Constantly explaining every single thing, and then re-explaining it every five god damn minutes. The dialogue is just so awkward and forced, as if the script never even made it past a first draft.

And the acting, my god. This movie has good actors! So why are they so terrible in this film?! I can only blame director Michael J. Bassett (who, no shit, just so happened to also write this steaming turd) for this atrocity. The acting wasn't exactly praise-worthy in the original, but here it's almost borderline parody. And the stiff delivery along with the terrible, terrible writing makes for a constantly cringe-inducing watch.

The plot (and I use that word very loosely) was idiotic all the way through, so I suppose that, with that in mind, it may as well be fitting that a freaking hugging contest ultimately determined the final outcome. No, I'm not even joking, the big finale was a battle of who could hug the hardest. Hell, I'm gonna need a hug after sitting through this disaster of a movie.

And Sean Bean didn't even die! Sean Bean always dies! (Sure, he didn't die in the first one either, but still!) This movie got nothing right! It couldn't even get that right! Really, I have nothing positive to say about this movie. It wasn't even so bad it's good, it was just bad. Bad bad bad bad bad. But I don't need to tell you how bad this movie was, I'm sure one of the characters will be more than willing to fucking explain it to you over and over again!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Cloud Atlas

I went into Cloud Atlas knowing full well that this could have gone either way. Either it was going to be a convoluted train-wreck, or it was gonna be a work of art. I'm happy to report that it's very much the latter. Cloud Atlas is an extraordinary achievement, and a supremely powerful film, one that I truly felt a connection to. In fact, I can't remember the last time I was so thoroughly moved by a film. But the thing about it is, when it comes to talking about this movie, I really don't even know where to begin. It's just such a deep experience, and I'm certain that a lot of it flew right over my head. And while I'm not even sure that I can give this movie its proper justice, I'm gonna give it my best shot anyways.

It's a grand sci-fi epic spanning over the course of centuries, from the 1800s, to more modern times, and well into the distant world of the future, both pre- and post-apocalyptic. And all throughout, the movie constantly shifts back and forth through time, showing little bits and pieces at a time from these different periods. In most films I would likely find this format really jarring, yet that's never the case in this film. The editing is immaculate, every single shift makes sense and fits perfectly. And as we watch each story play out, we gradually see the movie's many themes begin to click into place.

Ultimately, this movie is about how everything is connected. How all of us are connected to one another and this world as a whole. It's about our past, our present, and our future as a people, and how the life that we live does not necessarily belong to only ourselves. And in this sense, it's also about cycles. The cycle of hatred, and how we continue to make the same terrible mistakes that alter the course of history for the worse. And the cycle of love, in all its many forms, be it destiny, unlikely companionships, and the ability to let go and sacrifice that love for the greater good. In both instances, the law of attraction is in full force, and, for better or worse, every single action leaves its mark on the world. And I just know that this movie is also about so much more that I could only catch a glimpse of, but all of these themes are explored so deeply and resonate on such a personal level. Hell, the movie opens by essentially showing you exactly how several of these storylines conclude, and yet despite this, I was still left with such a heavy, emotional gut-check of depression as well as tear-jerking levels of happiness once we caught back up in the end.

As for the time periods themselves, they all have a very distinct style. From the sea-faring expedition of the 1800s, to the more thriller-esque mystery attempting to be unveiled in the '70s. The dark and depressing musical narrative of the early 1900s, to the super stylized science fiction future, and the eventual fall of man back to barbaric times. In fact, the only storyline that feels even the slightest bit out of place would be the current day period, which sees a trouble-making publisher, played by Jim Broadbent, who finds himself locked in a nursing home which he must try to escape. The ongoing theme of changing one's fate is there, sure, but I can't help but feel like there's something more to this portion that I'm missing. And there was a particular line at the very beginning concerning the flashbacks and flashforwards in stories that definitely felt relevant. But even if it didn't quite seem to fit, these scenes were still very enjoyable, taking nothing away from the movie, and even managing to lighten the mood just a little, providing most of the humor in the movie.

Speaking of which, the movie is also very balanced as a whole with all of the different styles and genres it splices together. In addition to the aforementioned emotional factor, the action, humor, and drama is all implemented at all the perfect moments, with no one element ever overwhelming the movie. It's just a really well paced movie. At almost three hours in length, this movie is a breeze, which is refreshing in this day and age where I'm finding myself growing more and more tired of needlessly lengthy movies. It's a long movie, but not a single second is wasted, and at no point does it ever begin to drag.

The cast was all around really great. The movie uses an ensemble that is re-used in each of the different timelines, and I really appreciated that they didn't just essentially play the same character in each one. For instance, Tom Hanks has a tendency to be one of the main protagonist in most of his timelines. However, in at least a couple of them, he becomes the main villain (his character who we see briefly during the modern era is especially a treat to watch). And there are instances where actors might even play a character of different race or gender in different timelines, and a lot of these times you can't even recognize the actors at all. As the credits roll and they show all the characters who each actor played, there were several occasions where I honestly would have never guessed. The makeup and costuming in this movie is just absolutely astounding.

As the movie ended and the credits rolled, I just sort of sat there in stunned silence at what I had just witnessed. I was so moved that even just thinking about this movie after the fact has gotten me choked up at times. And as I mentioned before, I really haven't even scratched the surface with what this movie has to offer. Cloud Atlas is the kind of movie that almost makes me feel like an idiot when I try to sit down and analyze it, but everything was just so, so well done that, even though I'm sure I didn't quite get all of it, I was still able to walk away with a satisfying feeling of fulfillment. It certainly demands repeat viewings and thorough deconstruction to truly grasp this movie, and I definitely intend to revisit it.