Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Film Review: "Big Hero 6" (2014).

"We didn't set out to be superheroes. But sometimes life doesn't go the way you planned. The good thing is, my brother wanted to help a lot of people and that's what we're going to do. Who are we?" They're none other than Big Hero 6 of course. This computer-animated superhero film produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios and released by Walt Disney Pictures. It is the 54th film in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series, and is inspired by the Marvel Comics superhero team of the same name. The film tells the story of a special bond that develops between a young robotics prodigy named Hiro Hamada and his plus-sized inflatable robot Baymax, who team up with a group of friends to form a band of high-tech superheroes to combat a masked villain.

The film features the voices of Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Daniel Henney, T. J. Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans, Jr., Génesis Rodríguez, and Maya Rudolph. The cast gave amazing performances and were the animated equivalent to The Avengers cast. Each having distinctive personalities and yet having a great team atmosphere. But the one character that stood out was Hiro’s inflatable robot buddy, Baymax. In regards to the design of Baymax, director Don Hall mentioned in an interview, "I wanted a robot that we had never seen before and something to be wholly original. That's a tough thing to do, we've got a lot of robots in pop culture, everything from The Terminator to WALL-E to C-3PO on down the line and not to mention Japanese robots, I won't go into that. So I wanted to do something original." Even if they did not yet know how the robot should look like, artist Lisa Keene came up with the idea that it should be a huggable robot. Early on in the development process, Hall and the design team took a research trip to Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute, where they met a team of researchers who were pioneering the new field of 'soft robotics' using inflatable vinyl, which ultimately inspired Baymax's inflatable, vinyl, truly huggable design. Hall stated that "I met a researcher who was working on soft robots. ... It was an inflatable vinyl arm and the practical app would be in the health care industry as a nurse or doctor's assistant. He had me at vinyl. This particular researcher went into this long pitch but the minute he showed me that inflatable arm, I knew we had our huggable robot." Hall stated that the technology "will have potential probably in the medical industry in the future, making robots that are very pliable and gentle and not going to hurt people when they pick them up." Hall mentioned that achieving a unique look for the mechanical armor took some time and "just trying to get something that felt like the personality of the character." Co-director Chris Williams stated, "A big part of the design challenge is when he puts on the armor you want to feel that he's a very powerful intimidating presence...at the same time, design-wise he has to relate to the really adorable simple vinyl robot underneath." Baymax's face design was inspired by a copper suzu bell that Hall noticed while at a Shinto shrine.

A sort of Avengers for the elementary school set, Big Hero 6 is wonderfully animated, briskly paced, yet derivative in the storytelling department.

Simon says Big Hero 6 receives:

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Film Review: "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" (2014)

"One day I'll remember. Remember everything that happened: the good, the bad, those who survived... and those that did not." This sums up the final and defining chapter of the Middle Earth saga in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. This epic fantasy adventure film, directed by Peter Jackson and written by Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro. It is the third and final installment in the three-part film adaptation based on the novel The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien, following An Unexpected Journey (2012) and The Desolation of Smaug (2013). The film centers on Bilbo and Company when they are forced to engage in a war against an array of combatants and keep the terrifying Smaug from acquiring a kingdom of treasure and obliterating all of Middle-Earth.

The third film was originally titled There and Back Again in August 2012. In April 2014, Jackson changed the title of the film to The Battle of the Five Armies as he thought the new title better suited the situation of the film. He stated on his Facebook page, "There and Back Again felt like the right name for the second of a two film telling of the quest to reclaim Erebor, when Bilbo’s arrival there, and departure, were both contained within the second film. But with three movies, it suddenly felt misplaced—after all, Bilbo has already arrived “there” in the Desolation of Smaug." Shaun Gunner, the chairman of The Tolkien Society, supported the decision: "‘The Battle of the Five Armies’ much better captures the focus of the film but also more accurately channels the essence of the story."

The film stars Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving and Orlando Bloom. The performances in this film were major improvements from the last film, finally seeing the true side and depth to the characters. Freeman gave an incredible performance. We see his journey from a hermit to an adventurous hobbit who learnt to step outside his shell. Thus coming back home to the Shire a changed hobbit. Armitage gave his best performance in the series. If viewed closely, one could view his character and performance reminiscent to Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith. Where he becomes consumed with greed. But unlike Anakin, he is able to realize early of how blind he had become and was not fully corrupted. Lilly also gave her best performance of the trilogy. Where we got to see her character truly, other than a ruthless killing machine, through her relationship with Killi. Evans gave his most physical performance yet. However, I felt we didn’t get to see the human side much as we did in The Desolation of Smaug. Cumberbatch gave another brilliant performance as the titular dragon, however his role was ‘stuck down’ rather quickly than expected. Which kind of made this installment a bit of a ‘bummer’.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is the best of the trilogy Mr. Jackson has directed. It is the richest and most challenging movie in the cycle. As well as being a relatively thoughtful story. Even if Jackson got bogged down in solemnity and theory in The Desolation of Smaug, the film is quicker-paced and action filled this time, and it proves just barely that it is a great piece of entertainment.

Simon says The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies receives:

Also, see my review for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Film Review: "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" (2014).

The tagline of the film reads “Get ready for the best worst day of your life.” Which is what you’ll experience in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. This Disney comedy film directed by Miguel Arteta, from a screenplay written by Rob Lieber, based on Judith Viorst's 1972 children's book of the same name. Alexander's day begins with gum stuck in his hair, followed by more calamities. Though he finds little sympathy from his family and begins to wonder if bad things only happen to him, his mom, dad, brother, and sister all find themselves living through their own terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

The novel, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, was published in 1972, is an ALA Notable Children's Book written by Judith Viorst and illustrated by Ray Cruz. It has also won a George G. Stone Center Recognition of Merit, a Georgia Children's Book Award, and is a Reading Rainbow book. Viorst followed this book up with two sequels, Alexander, Who Used to be Rich Last Sunday and Alexander, Who's Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going to Move.

In 2011, it was reported that 20th Century Fox had plans to make a live action film adaptation of the book. Written by Lisa Cholodenko and Rob Lieber, it was set to be directed by Cholodenko, and produced by Shawn Levy with Dan Levine for Levy's 21 Laps, and Lisa Henson with Jason Lust for The Jim Henson Company. Steve Carell has joined in April 2012. In October 2012, Walt Disney Pictures picked up the project, reportedly due to Fox being "uncomfortable with the budget." In February 2013, Deadline reported that Cholodenko has left the project, and a month later, that Miguel Arteta was in talks with Disney to replace Cholodenko. In April 2013, Jennifer Garner was in talks to star in the film. In June 2013, The Walt Disney Studios set the release date for October 10, 2014, and confirmed that Carell and Garner will appear in the film. The same month, Disney cast Ed Oxenbould and Bella Thorne. Megan Mullally and Jennifer Coolidge joined the cast a month later.

The film stars Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner, Dylan Minnette, Kerris Dorsey, Bella Thorne and Ed Oxenbould, The cast in this film gave great performances despite the ultimately predictable and flawed script. Especially to Carell, Garner and Oxenbould. Oxenbould did a great job of carrying this film forward.

Neither unique nor funny, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is just as cursed as Alexander and his family. However, the film does present one elemental theme that is universal; we have to have our bad days in order to appreciate the good days even more. Affably pleasant without ever trying to be anything more, the film is a fine—albeit forgettable—family diversion.

Simon says Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day receives:

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Film Review: "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1" (2014).

"I have a message for President Snow: If we burn, you burn with us!" This sums up part 1 of this season's anticipated installment in the The Hunger Games Series, Mockingjay - Part 1. Once again directed by Francis Lawrence (I am Legend and Catching Fire) with a screenplay, adapted from Suzanne Collins' novel Mockingjay, by Peter Craig and Danny Strong. It is the first of two films based on the novel. The story continues to follow Katniss Everdeen; After having twice survived the Hunger Games and when she destroys the games, she finds herself in District 13 after District 12 is destroyed. She meets President Coin and under her leadership, Katniss is convinced to reluctantly become the symbol of a mass rebellion against the Capitol, while trying to save Peeta from the Capitol.

The film stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland and Natalie Dormer. The film contained superb but not the best performances in the series. As the film “talked the talk” but did not “walked the walk”. Lawrence’s performance in this film was solid but felt rather weak than the previous installments even though she is the central character that we’re supposed to follow all the way. Which made it very hard for me to follow. This was the same with some of her fellow cast members Hemsworth, Harrelson, Banks, Wright and Tucci. Like Lawrence, solid but weak performances. However there were some cast members who did shine and brought more to their roles than the previous chapters, Hutcherson, Hoffman and Sutherland. Hutcherson brought more edge to his performance as Peeta, which made his journey unshakable. Hoffman gave a brilliant performance in one of his last performances (whom the film is dedicated in loving memory) and Sutherland never felt more threatening than he did in this film. Especially when he delivered the line “Miss Everdeen, it is the things we love most that destroy us.” And kudos to new cast members Moore as President Coin and Natalie Dormer as Cressida (who has now become my favorite character in the series).

It can't help but feel like the prelude it is, but The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part I is an amazingly filmed, emotionally satisfying penultimate installment for the series. For the most part the action weakens along the way, spurred by somewhat chatty sequences. It's just slightly disappointing that, with the momentum having been established so effectively, we now have to wait until next year to enjoy the rest of the ride. It is alternatively funny and touching at some moments. The film sets up the franchise finale with a penultimate chapter loaded with solid performances and smart political subtext, though it comes up short on the action front. Even though it is beautifully shot, it is a soulless cash machine, and that it delivers no dramatic payoff, no resolution and not much fun. It may not be the most cinematically rewarding chapter yet. However, it will prepare you for it.

Simon says The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part I receives:

Also, see my review for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Film Review: "Interstellar" (2014).

"We've always defined ourselves by the ability to overcome the impossible. And we count these moments. These moments when we dare to aim higher, to break barriers, to reach for the stars, to make the unknown known. We count these moments as our proudest achievements. But we lost all that. Or perhaps we've just forgotten that we are still pioneers. And we've barely begun. And that our greatest accomplishments cannot be behind us, because our destiny lies above us." This sums up the whole premise of this summer's gargantuan Science-Fiction Epic Interstellar (2014). The film is directed by the great Christopher Nolan. Based on a screenplay co-written by Nolan and his brother Jonathan Nolan. The film follows a group of explorers who make use of a newly discovered wormhole to surpass the limitations on human space travel and conquer the vast distances involved in an interstellar voyage in order to save mankind.

Though the film was one of the most original Science-Fiction films, as well as one of the most original films of the year. For its ode to the genre, the influences on Interstellar, said by Nolan, included the "key touchstones" of science fiction cinema; Metropolis (1927), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and Blade Runner (1982). He also cited the space drama The Right Stuff (1983) as an example to follow, and screened it for the crew before production. For the visual and design aspect of the film, he said Star Wars (1977) and Alien (1979) also influenced Interstellar immensely. With the emotional human drama, Nolan also compared Interstellar to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), as a film about human nature. In addition, he also sought to emulate films like Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).

The film stars Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Mackenzie Foy, John Lithgow, Matt Damon, Casey Affleck, Topher Grace, Wes Bentley, David Gyasi and Ellen Burstyn. The cast gave their finest performances yet. But I felt the best performances in the film came from McConaughey, Chastain and Foy. McConaughey gave the pinnacle of his acting career in this film. McConaughey gives the film much well-needed heft. He is the center of gravity. Chastain and Foy both gave remarkable performances as both adult and young Murph. It was these performances and their relationship between father and child that was the emotional core of this film.

Interstellar is a great film and an unforgettable endeavor. It is an awesome realization of interstellar space-travel. The film is a dazzling 170-minute tour on the Nolan film ship through the universe out there beyond our earth. The film is perhaps the first multi-million-dollar super colossal movie since Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 Science Fiction epic 2001: A Space Odyssey, which can be regarded as the work of one man. It joins a short list of recent American movies that might be called experimental epics: movies that have an ambitious reach through time and subject matter, that spend freely for locations or special effects, but that consider each scene as intently as an art film. The film is as exciting as the discovery of the mysterious and beautiful black hole itself. The film succeeds magnificently on a cosmic scale. The film is an epic film about mankind, brilliantly directed by Nolan. The special effects and the IMAX cinematography are mind-blowing.

Simon says Interstellar receives:

Also, see my review for The Dark Knight Rises.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Film Review: "Fury" (2014).

"Ideals are peaceful. History is violent." This line sums up this season's dark and gritty World War II Epic Fury. The film is written and directed by David Ayer (Street Kings (2008) and Sabotage (2014)). The story begins on April 1945. As the Allies make their final push in the European Theatre, a battle-hardened army sergeant named ‘Wardaddy’ commands a Sherman tank and his five-man crew on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. Out-numbered, out-gunned, and with a rookie soldier thrust into their platoon, ‘Wardaddy’ and his men face overwhelming odds in their heroic attempts to strike at the heart of Nazi Germany.

The film stars Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Jon Bernthal, Michael Peña and Jason Isaacs. Pitt gave a brilliant in his second time in a WWII film (after Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards) as US Army S/Sgt. Don "Wardaddy" Collier. Even though at age 50, Pitt is much older than the average noncommissioned officer in WWII, who would likely be in his early to mid 20s. Considering his age, choice of sidearm, and long service record mentioned in the film, it's entirely possible that his character is also a WWI veteran. Labeouf gave a fine performance as T/5 Boyd "Bible" Swan. LaBeouf reportedly went to the extent on this film by pulling out his own tooth and did not shower during filming. Lerman also gave a fine performance as Pvt. Norman "Machine" Ellison. Bernthal gave a great performance as Pfc. Grady "Coon-Ass" Travis. Like Pitt, this is not the first time Jon Bernthal has played a character in a WWII setting. He portrayed Marine Sergeant Manny Rodriguez in the award-winning HBO miniseries The Pacific (2010). Peña gave a terrific performance as Cpl. Trini "Gordo" Garcia. Finally Isaacs gave a great performance, even though his role was rather minor in this film. The cast themselves, like their on-screen counterparts, were like a band or family. Writer and director David Ayer had the actors fight each other on set before shooting scenes to tighten their bond. As well as having the cast undergo a rigorous month long course of boot camp, in which the final test was manning a real tank during a combat exercise. Despite being considerably older than his cast mates, Brad Pitt made sure that he participated in all of the physical training alongside the other actors. 

Anchored by another masterful performance from Pitt, Ayer's unflinchingly realistic war film Fury (2014), while it may not reinvent the wheel, but it further solidifies the genre's existence in cinema today. As well as having fine performances from almost every actor. It is one of the best-looking war movies ever made. In conclusion, the film is a well-acted, suitably raw depiction of the horrors of war. But it doesn't quite live up to its ambitions and was not enough to compete with the awesome reality of Empire of the Sun (1987), Saving Private Ryan (1998), The Thin Red Line (1998), Letters from Iwo Jima (2006), and even Inglorious Bastards (2009).

Simon says Fury Receives: