Monday, 31 December 2012

Film Review: "Wreck-It Ralph" (2012).

"My name's Ralph, and I'm a bad guy… I'm a wrecker… For thirty years I have been doing this… I gotta say, it becomes kinda hard to love your job... when no one else seems to like you for doing it." This is the premise of Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph. This 3D computer-animated family-action comedy film produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Pictures. It is the 52nd animated feature in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series. The film tells the story of the titular arcade game villain who rebels against his role and dreams of becoming a hero. He travels between games in the arcade, and ultimately must eliminate a dire threat that could affect the entire arcade, and one that Ralph may have inadvertently started.

Wreck-It Ralph contains a number of other video-game references, including characters and visual gags. At the meeting of video-game villains, the above characters include, in addition to any mentioned above: Bowser from the Mario series, Doctor Eggman from Sonic the Hedgehog, and Neff from Altered Beast. Characters from Q*bert, including Q*bert, Coily, Slick, Sam and Ugg, are shown as "homeless" characters and later taken in by Ralph and Felix into their game. Scenes in Game Central Station and Tapper's bar include Chun-Li, Cammy and Blanka from Street Fighter, Pac-Man, Blinky, Pinky, and Inky from Pac-Man, the Paperboy from Paperboy, the two paddles and the ball from Pong, Dig Dug, a Pooka, and a Fygar from Dig Dug, The Qix from Qix, and Frogger from Frogger. The residents of Niceland are animated using a jerky motion that spoofs the limited animation cycles of the sprites of many eight- and sixteen-bit arcade games. Throughout Game Central Station is graffiti stating that "Aerith lives", referencing the character of Aerith Gainsborough from Final Fantasy VII. There is also a reference to the Metal Gear series when Ralph is searching for something in a box and finds the "Exclamation point" (with corresponding sound effect from the game). Mr. Litwik wears a black and white striped referee's shirt, a nod to the iconic outfit of Walter Day, founder of Twin Galaxies, a video arcade game scorekeeping organization. One of songs in the credits is an original work from Buckner and Garcia, previously famous for writing video game-themed songs in the 1980's.

The film features the voices of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, and Jane Lynch. John C. Reilly as Wreck-It Ralph, the villain of Fix-It Felix, Jr, was hilarious at times and was also a unintentional caricature as the film's reluctant villain. Sarah Silverman as Vanellope von Schweetz, a little-girl racer and glitch in Sugar Rush was enjoyable enough. Jane Lynch as Sergeant Tamora Jean Calhoun, the lead character of Hero's Duty, was probably the best performance. Finally Alan Tudyk as King Candy was an incredible performance, but was nonetheless a knockoff to the old Mad Hatter character from Alice in Wonderland (1951) played by Ed Wynn.

Wreck-It Ralph is a somewhat dazzling movie from Walt Disney in which games have a world of their own. But here's a rip-off arcade show that is not at all sensational, stylish, or fun.

Simon says Wreck-It Ralph receives:

Friday, 14 December 2012

Film Review: "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" (2012)

"Far over the misty mountains cold / To dungeons deep and caverns old / The pines were roaring on the height / The winds were moaning in the night / The fire was red, it flame spread / The trees like torches blazed with light..." This famous passage conveys exactly what is going down in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. This epic fantasy film directed by Sir Peter Jackson. It is the first of a three-part film adaptation of the 1937 novel The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien. Set sixty years before The Lord of the Rings, the story is about the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, who is swept into a quest and hired by the wizard Gandalf to accompany thirteen dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield on a quest across Middle-earth to reclaim the Lonely Mountain from Smaug the dragon.

On 16 December 2007, New Line and MGM announced that Jackson would be executive producer of The Hobbit and its sequel. In April 2008, Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth (2006)) was hired to direct the film. Pre-production began around August 2008. Filming was expected to take place throughout 2010 in New Zealand. Jackson revealed in late November 2009 that he anticipated that the script for The Hobbit would not be finished until the beginning of 2010. The announcement created doubts about whether the film would make its previously-announced release dates of December 2011 and December 2012. Jackson reiterated that no casting decisions had been made. On 22 January 2010, Alan Horn said the first film would likely not be released until the fourth quarter of 2012. In 2010, del Toro left the project because of ongoing delays. On 25 June 2010, Jackson was reported to be in negotiations to direct the two-part film. On 15 October 2010, New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. confirmed that The Hobbit was to proceed filming with Jackson as director, with the film reported to be greenlit, and principal photography to begin in February 2011.

The performances in this film felt rather weak and underdeveloped unlike the previous performances were in The Lord of the Rings. Freeman’s performance got off to a rather bad start. But it was the same for Elijah Wood. The performances of the company of dwarves, that included; Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield, Graham McTavish as Dwalin, Ken Stott as Balin, Aidan Turner as Kíli, Dean O'Gorman as Fíli, Mark Hadlow as Dori, Jed Brophy as Nori, Adam Brown as Ori, John Callen as Óin, Peter Hambleton as Glóin, William Kircher as Bifur, James Nesbitt as Bofur, Stephen Hunter as Bombur, were all rather cartoonish than real characters. However, there some strong performances from Sir Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Sir Christopher Lee, Ian Holm and Elijah Wood reprising their roles from the previous films. And lastly Andy Serkis, whose riddling return as Gollum stole the entire film.

Jackson needs to improve on the plot and character development, because The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey feels kind of flat. However there's plenty of eye candy to behold.

Simon says The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey receives:

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Film Review: "Skyfall" (2012)

"'Be careful what you wish for, Mr?' 'Bond. James Bond'". The titular character is about to tackle his greatest mission yet in Skyfall. This twenty-third film in the James Bond series, produced by Eon Productions and distributed by MGM and Sony Pictures Entertainment. The film was directed by Sam Mendes. In the film, Bond's loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost.

For 50 years, James Bond is one of the most enduring action characters in movie history. Since the first 007 film in 1962, his weakness for women, his brutal and violent capacity and his British sensibility had created one of the most successful if not the most critically praised film series in Hollywood history. The books have sold over one million copies and the films have been seen by over half of the earth's population. Bond's author (Ian Fleming) and his films' creators (Albert R. 'Cubby' Broccoli and Harry Saltzman) had created the ultimate male fantasy. James Bond was first created in the novel Casino Royale on February 17th 1952 in Fleming's house, Golden Eye, in Jamaica. With the intention to write 'the greatest Spy story to end all Spy stories.' But as sat and typed 2000 words every hour away on his golden typewriter, even he could not imagine the phenomenon that he was about to create. But how has Bond lasted for 5 decades? The spy himself has through several incarnations, starting with Sean Connery in the 1960s starring in 5 films. In 1969 after Connery's exit, for one film only, the Australian model George Lanzenby took on the role. After Lazenby's downfall, Roger Moore occupied the role in 7 films during the 70s. The mid 80s saw the continuation of the bond character with its fourth entry, Timothy Dalton. And after two films, in the 90s, the role was then occupied by Pierce Brosnan. Now in the 2000s, the role now belongs to Daniel Craig. Six actors in search of one character. The constant element in the films is the character himself from the novels and first fleshed out by Connery and his director Terrence Young in the first film Dr. No (1962). Then all the way into now Skyfall with Craig and director Mendes. In total the films had gone to gross over $6 million and still counting. For now Bond has been successful as he has ever been. The formula has lasted for 50 years and Bond's legacy is now, and will always be, intact.

Mendes was approached to direct the film after the release of Quantum of Solace in 2008. Development was suspended when MGM encountered financial troubles and did not resume until December 2010; during this time, Mendes remained attached to the project as a consultant. The original screenwriter, Peter Morgan, left the project during the suspension. When production resumed, Logan, Purvis, and Wade continued writing what became the final version of the script. Filming began in November 2011 and primarily took place in the United Kingdom, with smaller portions shot in China and Turkey.

The performances in the film were all brilliant and well casted. The film features Daniel Craig's third performance as James Bond, at the centre, Craig manages to get out of the shadow of the previous Bonds and finally brought his full potential to become the next great Bond. Craig had relaxed into Bond without losing any steeliness. I also should praise Daniel Craig for refusing to let Javier Bardem steal the show by matching Bardem's performance. Craig's brilliance is that, just by looking at him, we see the deep scars of hurt beneath his icy blue eyes, even before a slightly weird finale takes Bond into uncharted childhood 'back-story' territory and it all goes a bit Nolan-era Batman. Daniel Craig would usurp Sean Connery in defining the role of James Bond. Javier Bardem played Raoul Silva, the film's antagonist. I also have to praise Bardem's performance as the most authentically Bondian villain in decades. Dame Judi Dench, who played M took on the role as always with a brilliant, sardonic and tough nature. Ralph Fiennes as Gareth Mallory, whom I found to be an "interesting" character, delivered a unique punch to the story. Bérénice Lim Marlohe took on the role of the beautiful and enigmatic character, Sévérine. She played the role perfectly and had great chemistry with Craig, however I felt that her role was too small, much smaller than I imagined. Finney's performance as Kincade, the gameskeeper, was warm and rich in gravitas.

Dark, complex and unforgettable, Skyfall succeeds not just as an entertaining spy thriller film, but as a richly thrilling cinematic saga. It is a haunting film that leaps beyond its origins and becomes an engrossing blockbuster. Like what The Dark Knight (2008) did for the comic-book genre, it redefines the possibilities of the spy thriller genre and the James Bond series. The film goes much deeper than its predecessor, with a deft script that refuses to scrutinize its hero with popular psychology, instead pulling the viewer in with an examination of Bond's psyche. The filmmakers move the film away from the spy thriller cinema and closer to being a genuine work of art, with Mendes' sophisticated direction and the gritty reality of Roger Deakins’ cinematography helping to create a world that has something raw and elemental within this franchise. Pitched at the divide between art and industry, poetry and entertainment, it goes darker and deeper than any Hollywood movie of its genre kind. Mendes has delivered the most accomplished, mature and the most technically impressive work to his career. The film is nothing short of brilliant. In the annals of sequels, the film is what The Dark Knight was to Batman Begins (2005) - it's that much better. To conclude, the film is a haunting and visionary piece of cinema. The film displays evident patience and intelligence to the filmmaking all over. It is not just a good genre movie or a good summer movie. It's a great movie, full stop.

Simon says Skyfall receives:

Friday, 2 November 2012

Film Review: "Argo" (2012)

"Okay, you got 6 people hiding out in a town of what, 4 million people, all of whom chant "death to America" all the livelong day. You want to set up a movie in a week. You want to lie to Hollywood, a town where everybody lies for a living. Then you're gonna sneak 007 over here into a country that wants CIA blood on their breakfast cereal, and you're gonna walk the Brady Bunch out of the most watched city in the world." This is the premise of this declassified story of Argo. This thriller film starring and directed by Ben Affleck. The movie is based loosely on former Central Intelligence Agency operative Tony Mendez's historical account of the rescue of six U.S. diplomats from Tehran, Iran during the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis. The film is about the dramatization of the 1980 joint CIA-Canadian secret operation to extract six fugitive American diplomatic personnel out of revolutionary Iran.

Due to the revolutionary overthrow of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran due to his absolute monarch rule over the country. This brought the country economic, cultural and political issues which then united opposition against the Shah and led to his overthrow. Now diagnosed with cancer, the Shah then took political asylum in the United States. Outraged the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam's Line demanded that the Shah return to Iran for trial and execution. The U.S. maintained that the Shah, who died less than a year later in July 1980, had come to America only for medical attention. The group's other demands included that the U.S. government apologize for its interference in the internal affairs of Iran, for the overthrow of Prime Minister Mossadeq (in 1953), and that Iran's frozen assets in the U.S. be released. The initial takeover plan was to hold the embassy for only a short time, but this changed after it became apparent how popular the takeover was and that Khomeini had given it his full support. Some attribute the Iranian decision not to release the hostages quickly to U.S. President Jimmy Carter's "blinking" or failure to immediately deliver an ultimatum to Iran. His immediate response was to appeal for the release of the hostages on humanitarian grounds and to share his hopes of a strategic anti-communist alliance with the Islamic Republic. As some of the student leaders had hoped, Iran's moderate Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan and his cabinet resigned under pressure just days after the event. On the day the hostages were seized, six American diplomats, Robert Anders, Cora Amburn-Lijek, Mark Lijek, Joseph Stafford, Kathleen Stafford and Lee Schatz, evaded capture and remained in hiding at the Swedish and Italian embassies. In 1979, the Canadian Parliament held a secret session for the first time since World War II in order to pass special legislation allowing Canadian passports to be issued to some American citizens so that they could escape. In cooperation with the Central Intelligence Agency who used the cover story of a film project, the six American diplomats boarded a flight to Zürich, Switzerland, on January 28, 1980. Their escape and rescue from Iran by Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor has come to be known as the "Canadian Caper". The CIA enlisted its disguise and exfiltration expert, Tony Mendez, to provide a cover story, documents, appropriate clothing, and materials to change their appearance. Mendez worked closely with Canadian government staff in Ottawa, who forwarded the passports and other supporting material to the Canadian embassy through a Canadian diplomatic courier. Mendez then flew to Tehran with an associate to assist with the rescue. There were alternate passports and identities for a variety of scenarios, but the cover story selected had the six being a Hollywood crew scouting movie locations. The elaborate back-story involved a film named Argo, for a Middle-Eastern feel, and a functioning office in Hollywood set up with the help of John Chambers, a veteran Hollywood make-up artist. The script used had been based on the science fiction novel Lord of Light. The six were told that telephone calls to the "Studio Six" office in Los Angeles would be answered. Display ads for the "Studio Six" production were placed in Hollywood publications and Cora Lijek carried one paper as part of her cover materials. (The movie scenario was considered one way to get an armed team into Tehran to retake the embassy.)

The film stars Affleck as CIA specialist Tony Mendez with Bryan Cranston as CIA supervisor Jack O'Donnell, Alan Arkin as film producer Lester Siegel, and John Goodman as legendary make-up artist John Chambers. The cast gave strong performances. Affleck was interesting as the film's central protagonist Tony Mendez but I thought it was unusual or inaccurate to think that the actual figure was Latin American where as Affleck is an American with English, Irish, Scottish, and German ancestry. But the performance overall was brilliant. Alan Arkin as Lester Siegel was comical as always, going back to earlier films such as Little Miss Sunshine (2006) and Get Smart (2008). Finally John Goodman as legendary make-up artist John Chambers was fascinating and enjoyable as his performance brought a side to the figure that I myself never knew about. The rest of the cast were all superb and intense and deserve merits in their own ways.

Tense, smartly written, and wonderfully cast, Argo proves that Ben Affleck is a director to be reckoned with. Ben Affleck proves his directing credentials in this gripping dramatic thriller, drawing strong performances from the excellent cast and bringing this untold story to the screen. The film’s intense action scenes convey an ideal balance between kineticism and clarity aided by Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography and William Goldenberg’s editing.

Simon says Argo receives:

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Film Review: "Safety Not Guaranteed" (2012).

"Wanted: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You'll get paid when we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before." 
Which is what Safety Not Guaranteed is all about. This comedy film directed by Colin Trevorrow; written by Derek Connolly; inspired by a 1997 Backwoods Home Magazine classified ad - itself written as a joke filler by Backwoods employee John Silver - by a person asking for someone to accompany him in time travel. The film follows three magazine employees as they head out on an assignment to interview a guy who placed a classified advertisement seeking a companion for time travel.

The original classified ad upon which the film is based first appeared in Backwoods Home Magazine in 1997. It was written as last-minute filler by John Silveira, an employee of the magazine, who is credited in the film as "Time Travel Consultant" and also has a cameo. The ad was later featured on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (1992) in the "Headlines" segment, and eventually turned into an Internet meme before being developed into a screenplay. On a remarkable budget of $750,000, the film was shot in Seattle and Ocean Shores, Washington, and other locations within 30 miles of Seattle. It is also partially set in Seattle. The film was shot with a Sony F3 camera using old Panavision lenses, which gave the film a desired "Hal Ashby look" for director Colin Trevorrow.

The film stars Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson and Karan Soni. The cast gave fantastically witty and emotionally dramatic performances. With each cast member displaying their own unique witty and emotional flair and depth. As you genuinely feel emotionally invested in each character as they go through their own personal journeys.

Safety Not Guaranteed is a heady blend of time travel, romantic comedy, and human emotion. Like a time portal, the film creates a whole new world of stories and possibilities for film, and stands as one of the most exceptional movies of 2012. The skill, the guile and the humanness to turn a ridiculous, outlandish gimmick into a dense and emotional piece makes it the freshest thing the cinematic world has seen since Reservoir Dogs (1992). The film has an impressive feel for the odd, quiet rhythms of small-scale story-telling and little time-travel. The movie never looks cheap, because every shot looks as it must look. But the homemade feel is part of the point. Expertly shot and acted, the film gives the audience a simple plot and then piles on layers of drama, twists, and emotion before pulling out the rug from underneath. Interesting, funny, emotional and exciting, it could take you to a deeply emotional place lying dormant in your soul.

Simon says Safety Not Guaranteed receives:

Friday, 26 October 2012

Film Review: "Frankenweenie" (2012)

"Science is not good or bad... But it can be used both ways. That is why you must always be careful." This is at the heart of Frankenweenie. This 3D stop motion comedy-horror family film directed by Tim Burton. Based on Burton's 1984 short film of the same name and is a parody of and an homage to the 1931 film Frankenstein. In the film, a boy named Victor loses his dog, named Sparky and uses the power of science to resurrect him.

It is a remake of Burton's 1984 short film, Frankenweenie. It starred Shelley Duvall as Susan Frankenstein, Daniel Stern as Ben Frankenstein, Barret Oliver as Victor Frankenstein and a young Sofia Coppola as Anne Chambers. After the film's completion, Burton was fired by Disney; the studio claimed that he had wasted company resources and felt the film was too scary for young audiences. It had been scheduled to debut theatrically in the U.S. before a re-release of Pinocchio (1941) on Dec. 21, 1984, but was shelved. It did play U.K. theaters in 1985 in front of Touchstone Pictures' Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend (1985). After the mainstream success of Burton's features Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985), Beetlejuice (1988) and Batman (1989), the film was given a home video release in 1994. It is currently available as an extra, along with Burton’s other short film Vincent (1982), on The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) DVD, Blu-ray and UMD for PSP.

The performances in the film were all superb as all of the cast members individually held the film together based the role(s) they played. But in a stop motion film, the animators themselves deserve as much credit as the actors as they painstakingly animate and breath life into every single characters in the film. Also I loved the creature designs and set designs as they themselves harbor back to the classic horror films that Burton has paid homage to in this film. As Sparky reminds us of the original Frankenstein Creature in the original 1931 film. The Wererat reminds us of the Original Wolfman from the classic 1941 film. The mummified hamster Colossus reminds us of the Mummy from the 1932 film. Sea-Monkeys looks asthetically reminiscent to the Creature of the Black Lagoon from the 1959 film. Last but not least, my favorite, the turtle Shelley is a massive tribute to Godzilla and Gamera from the classic Japanese Monster films. The set themselves also harbors back to the original Frankenstein film and German Expressionist Cinema which haunted Burton as a child growing in Burbank, California in the 1960s.

Frankenweenie is a visually delightful work of stop-motion animation. It is filled with Burton’s trademark imagination that carries us into a unique world. This dazzling mix of fun and fright also explodes the notion that animation is kid stuff. It's 87 minutes of classic horror movie homages with a touch of Burton’s gothic and whimsical nature. The film has something to offer just about everyone. For kids, it's a touching story between a boy and his dog. For adults, it's an opportunity to experience some rather dark entertainment in a children’s movie.

Simon says Frankenweenie receives:

Also, see my review for Dark Shadows.