Movie Review #329: Brave

Still definitely entertaining, but I feel like something’s missing

Brave has rich visuals but poor story, and that pretty much describes it. It still has that Pixar vibe, but afterwards you’ll realize something’s lacking. One of those is definitely your emotional attachment to the characters, and in this case Pixar’s first lead heroine, Merida. I wasn’t really moved by her story and the setting wasn’t that interesting, but the animation surely helped in covering the flaws. Maybe I just had very high expectations, but I was a little disappointed. On a side note, I don’t think they deserved the win at the Golden Globes. A couple of films clearly outdid Brave this year and I’ll just have to wait and see if the Academy agrees as well. But hey, I’d recommend watching it anyway.

GRADE: B-

Movie Review #328: Rise of the Guardians

Simply good quality entertainment

DreamWorks has already proven their ability to challenge Pixar with regard to producing high quality animated features. And while it might not be the best in terms of story, animation or even the characters, Rise of the Guardians still is a highly-enjoyable, feel-good movie that will give you good vibes all day long.

A tinge of childish fantasy allowed the film to suppress the seriousness and give way for a livelier and more cheerful tone. The effects were also fun to watch and I felt that the way each character (Jack Frost, Santa, Sandman, Toothfairy, Easter Bunny) showcased their abilities gave them a lot of distinction and made me appreciate them more. But aside from Frost, the rest are far from becoming my favorite animated characters. Somehow there just wasn’t enough emotional attachment between me and them as compared to Wreck-it-Ralph, Nemo, Blu, and even Wall-E. Still, it’s a no-brainer to watch and I’d recommend it to anyone, anytime.

GRADE: B

Movie Review #327: Rurouni Kenshin – Samurai X

A bloody slasher that didn’t go for the kill

Samurai X the movie is much like the character himself: strong and charming but has a weak spot for the ladies. And after he takes you on in a great match he leaves you in the battlefield – battered and exhausted – but not dead. In the end he upheld his honor, at the expense of the satisfaction of others.

The films’ strongest point is, of course, Kenshin himself played by Takeru Sato. You follow his story and get engrossed for about an hour. The action sequences and stunts were quite good too. But it got a little repetitive and more notably so when the final act arrives and it boils down to a melodramatic mess that leaves you disappointed. I also didn’t like the roles of female characters in the movie, not to blame their portrayers (Emi Takei and Yu Aoi). And it’s not as if the execution was bad, it’s just that it felt like they gave up and rushed in wrapping up the movie. So my consensus is this – first hour: B+, last 40 minutes: D+. Maybe I’d understand or appreciate the movie more had I followed the anime series back then, but as a standalone film, it was a slight disappointment.

GRADE: C+

Movie Review #326: Cloud Atlas

Pushing creativity and innovation to its limits

It must have been a headache to execute, but Cloud Atlas is a remarkable achievement in multi-director film-making. It’s a movie you won’t stop talking (or learning) about for quite a long time as it poses some very complicated yet interesting story arcs that keeps you glued to your seat from start to finish, despite the long screening time.

Whatever way you watch it, you have to pay attention all the time or else you’ll suffer headaches ’til the end. But certainly all the information you gathered will be worth it and you’ll end up leaving satisfied. And fortunately, the actors pulled off some very difficult roles as they switch genders, races, and faces. You won’t even feel the slightest bit of uneasiness when you see Halle Berry and Tom Hanks in different moments in time. Other noteworthy cast members include Ben Whishaw and Bae Doo Na. And I credit the ones responsible for the visual effects which streamlined the plot and made the time shifts more believable. But as customary of highly ambitious films, it has the tendency to drag or include too much unnecessary scenes. Some storylines weren’t interesting, but it didn’t hold the film back that much. Overall it’s just a well-directed, underrated sci-fi flick.

GRADE: B+

Movie Review #325: John Carter

An underrated blockbuster

I had my reservations going into the film, and I wasn’t really impressed by the first few minutes. But my oh my John Carter grew on me as time flew by as I realized it’s actually a well-done, well-thought of sci-fi epic.

If only Disney had earned at least most the money they had spent on this, because they deserved it. It would seem that the $200M budget was inexcusable (and it is), but watching the film you’d understand where all the money went to. The CGI was fantastic and the other aliens felt very humanlike that they were able to make it believable a la Avatar. The setting and the back-stories of the entities in Mars and beyond were well introduced especially the green-skinned Tharks. And the actors themselves were decent in their roles, particularly Taylor Kitcsh. But while the film takes three steps forward, they also move one step back. There is chemistry between the characters and they’re certainly likeable, but some of the dialogue seemed like it came from a teenage romance novel. There are definitely cheesy moments, but they’re forgivable. The film also benefits from its plot which involves a lot of twists and turns. And as much as there were things I didn’t like, the ones I did like definitely outweighed it. I had my doubts, but by the end it became pretty clear that John Carter is a notch above the rest.

GRADE: B

Movie Review #324: 2001 – A Space Oddyssey (1968)

Running in circles

Marvelous and groundbreaking, yet overly tedious

Stanley Kubrick’s direction of 2001 is innovative but somehow it’s was also the film’s biggest flaw. The super slow pace of the film no doubt gave a realistic representation of space travel, but in effect it prevents one from fully appreciating the ingenuity of it all.

I tried putting myself on someone’s shoes who was already alive during the film’s initial release, and I could say the effects and the cinematography seemed truly groundbreaking and way beyond its time (that centrifugal running around the spaceship is stunning). But I don’t think the young generation (myself included) today can appreciate it as much because the wow factor of groundbreaking special effects and innovation no longer translates well due to rapid technological advancement.

The story is a bit lacking and definitely unconventional. And the conclusion has got to be one of the worst open endings in history. Although one can argue that Kubrick’s intention was to elicit a response, the way the film left me hanging annoyed me a lot and it watered down my reception of the movie’s strong points. It was very nice to see an early sci-fi flick, but I don’t think I would want to watch it again. My only advice for the curious is to be very, very patient when watching it.

GRADE: C+

Movie Review #323: Saving Private Ryan (1998)

A 160-minute example of how a great director and a great cast can do wonders

From the get-go we’re given no room to breathe as the film drops us off straight to the battle of Normandy. And from there on it just gets better and better. The sound editing, cinematography and direction were astonishing and it’s no surprise that Saving Private Ryan won in the 1999 Oscars for those. And while the film may have some rough patches in between major events, it won’t stop you from enjoying the movie as a whole. It’s a great example of a film that’s worthy of its screening time as you enjoy seeing more of Speilberg’s direction and not a single moment less.

GRADE: B+