Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Movie Review: Rise of the Guardians

Nothing signifies the holiday season than an animated holiday movie.  To get in early on the family gatherings, Dreamworks released a movie about the various ‘fictional’ entities kids believe in, such as Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy and Sandman.  The group is beset by the Boogie Man, who is also trying to vie for the attention of children.  To tip the scales, the group are tasked with bringing Jack Frost into their midst, but he, like the Boogie Man, is not believed in by the kids.

The story is cute and short, the concept of Jack Frost wanting to belong is one most kids can relate to.  The all-star cast makes the characters come to life, but I spent most of the movie wondering how was playing Santa Claus.  The thing that stole the show for me was the stunning visuals.  Dreamworks has outdone themselves once again, mixing state-of-the-art digital technology with great sound and story. There is little significant about this story that makes it memorable, but with enough laughs and heart to make the hour and a half fly by.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Movie Review: Breaking Dawn Part 2

I got caught up in the craze and hype of Twilight some five years ago.  All my friends were raving about the books, raving about Edward, raving about Bella.  I’ll admit it, curiously got the better of me.  I picked up the first book, blew through it, and devoured the subsequent books.  Lucky for me, by the time I got to the series, the final book was about to come out.  Once the series was over, I can’t say I was gobsmacked by the ending, or the writing or characterisations.  But what Stephanie Meyer had in spades was the ability to make Bella relatable to practically every woman out there.  On the surface, Edward and Jacob are both great guys, in theory, but when you look closer, Edward has stalker, controlling tendencies and Jacob isn’t quite house-broken.  I’ve been forced to move Team Jacob after reading a very thoughtful essay from Twilight and Philosophy.  Read on at your own risk, possible SPOILERS ahoy.

If you’re not familiar with the story (for some strange reason), the cliff-notes version is, girl feels awkward in life, drawn to a guy who’s mysterious and gorgeous, wackiness ensues.  In the first book, Bella, our title character discovers the truth about Edward and his family, falling in love with a vampire.  On the shoulders of such pop culture phenomena as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, author Stephanie Meyer adds to the lore, allowing the vampires to be seen in daylight among other curious changes.  The first story is more of an introduction to the relationship between Bella and Edward and the impact it will have on the rest of the characters.  Edward knows he should avoid Bella, but can’t because she is ‘perfect’ for him, though she never truly understands this.  The first book ends happily ever after in the sense that they are going to work on being together.  In the second book, New Moon, Bella, frequently accident-prone, has a mishap at the Cullen house and Edward leaves town, sending Bella into a depressive state. She is only woken from this by her childhood friend Jacob.  The two hit it off, but Bella never cares for Jacob the way he cares for her.  In an effort to spice things up in her life, she goes cliff-diving, causing a domino effect that almost sees Edward commit suicide.  Bella races to Italy with Alice to save him.  At the end of the second book, Edward proposes to Bella, despite her being underage.  In the third book, the antagonist from the first book returns, wreaking havoc and bringing to light, once again, that Bella is weak in her state as a human.  The majority of the third book revolves around the romantic triangle between Jacob, Bella and Edward.  Stalwart fans know Bella would never chose anyone over Edward, but Jacob continues to pine for her.  The third book ends with Jacob running off and Edward and Bella preparing their wedding, after their high school graduation.  I could make some comments on this, but I’ll just press right through.

The final book was anticlimactic to say the least, but the story is based solely on being in love, not to be confused with Harry Potter, where Harry is faced with issues of right and wrong and making difficult decisions. In the films, the directors have done fantastic jobs turning the weak source material into something watchable.  Breaking Dawn, the final book, had the movie broken into two parts.  I’ve posted a review for the first movie, you can read it if you like.  The second movie picks up right where the first leaves off.  Bella has transformed to a vampire and her transformation is astounding.  The change in Kristen Stewart, while subtle, is exactly as I had imagined it while I’d read it.  Bella’s new worldview is amazing to see.  The focus of the books has always been from Bella’s perspective, and having her transform and allow the audience to experience the new wonders of being immortal gave a sense of closure I didn’t expect I needed.  The cast of characters expands drastically in the final movie, bringing the global concept of vampires to an entirely new level.  Carlisle, the leader of the Cullen clan, goes to great lengths find as many allies as he can once they know the Volturi (read governing body for vampires) believe Bella has created an immortal child, a kid vampire.  The crisis becomes all too real once Alice vanishes with Jasper, leaving the rest of the Cullen’s to wonder what she is playing at.  As a vampire, Bella too possesses a super power, one that explains Edward’s inability to read her, though does not explain her visions in New Moon.  Bella is able to extend this skill with some help.  The final battle in the movie culminates in a slight ‘gotcha’ for both author and director.  I will refrain from giving it away, the ending providing a type of ‘almost’ situation that probably should have happened, Meyer too fearful to kill off any of her beloved characters.

The movie was the best twilight movie without a doubt.  But as I’ve heard all week, that isn’t saying much. The Twilight series is not a life-changing series, the struggles Bella faces are based mostly on her romantic interests and little else.  This vapid, somewhat shallow goal makes the entire series pale in comparison to other more heart-wrenching series.  To make the Twilight series have a greater meaning was a tall task, but was done in a somewhat agreeable fashion.  The movies increased the tension in predictable ways, not taking anything away from the books, adding value with a surprisingly good cast.  The cast is the one thing that surprised me the most.  There will always be detractors for Kristen Stewart, and as someone who’s normally not a fan of hers, I was thoroughly impressed by her transformation from the first movie to this final movie.  She never wavered, ignoring the critics and delivering, what I would argue, is an absolutely stunning performance as the title character in a world-wide beloved series.  Stewart raised her quality as vampire Bella and did so in a way that made me respect everything she’s been through with this franchise.  In comparison, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner were mediocre, the rest of the cast paling in comparison to Stewart’s provoking performance.  I really can’t say enough about how I was just shocked by her delivery of the role.  She could have hammed it up, dialled it in as Tobey Maguire and co famously did in the final Spiderman movies.   The final touch that really convinced me of this was the credits, not even Potter took the time to do this, though Rings did.  The credits rolled with images of every actor in almost any role for the entire series, including those that weren’t seen in the final instalment.  There is a lot you can say that is wrong with the Twilight series, but they are a class act.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Movie Review: The Man With the Iron Fists

Normally I don’t go in for movies that have questionable plots from the trailers alone, but my friend is a Tarantino fan, so we decided to give it $6 and an hour and a half, neither of which will I ever get back.  I’ll do my best to summarise, but basically, the story follows the local blacksmith who outfits local gangs with weapons, hoping to free his whore girlfriend so they can be together.  Stars Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu make curious appearances in this weak, nonsensical story.  The blacksmith creates many different weapons, doing his best to avoid the brewing conflict.  The governor of the district sends a shipment of gold through their village and everything unravels.

What progresses after this is drivel, at best.  Rza as the leading actor is weak, his intonation and cadence unbearable and unbelievable throughout.  Despite having A-list stars in the cast, the story can’t be helped by their presence and the absurdity of this compounds with over-the-top action sequences that even the Kung Fu movies it is mimicking might shudder to see.  There is no saving grace for this movie and no reason to torture yourself unless you have a few hours to kill.  As I walked out of the theatre, there was a man sitting in the front section of the theatre who had fallen asleep.  That says it all.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Movie Review: Wreck It Ralph

Video gaming has been a part of our culture for decades.  The idea of what happens when the games are turned off is very similar to the premise of Toy Story; when the owner is away, the toys will play.  In a somewhat unoriginal vein, Wreck It Ralph follows the main antagonist of Felix Fix It game as he realises that everyone in his game hates him and he doesn’t like being disliked.  When the game hits its thirtieth anniversary, the situation becomes increasingly frustrating for Ralph and he leaves his game to obtain a medal to prove he isn’t a bad guy.

On his way to his medal, won in a first-person shooter style game, like Halo, Ralph obtains his medal, but accidentally shoots out of the hero game to a candy racing game.  In the candy racing game, he encounters Vanellope von Schweetz.  She spots his medal and takes it as her own, planning on using it to enter the race in her game.  Running off with the medal, Ralph is forced to chase her down and ends up embroiled in the situation in her racing game.  While Ralph has run out of his game, this forces Felix to find him and he meets Sergeant Calhoun, who is also after Ralph and an alien he may have assisted in leaving the hero game.

What transpires after this is hilarious and creates some very amusing sequences.  The most notable for me were the cameo’s from other games, like Cubert and Street Fighter.  Ralph was a likable villain, his desire to be accepted perfectly reasonable.  The story with Vanellope was also sweet, befriending each other, both outcasts and finding a common ground.  As kids movies go, this one was as good as Despicable Me, but not better.  I haven’t loved the Pixar movies of late, so I’d argue this is better.  The fact that I am a gamer does sway my opinion.

The cast was, unsurprisingly, amazing.  Everyone was believable and the voices matched the characters well.  I didn’t recognise everyone as I watched, but in some ways, that means I wasn’t distracted by it.  Without spoiling the ending completely, this was a very well told story and well worth watching.