Archive for the ‘Review’ Category


List #17: Top Five Movies I Saw In the Latter Half of 2012

21 January, 2013

Yes, I know this is a very specific type of list. But I only started keeping track of the movies I see in June, and since then I’ve only barely seen 10 movies in theaters so a top-ten list just wouldn’t really work — it would have everything. Instead, here’s the five best films I saw, based mostly on the  somewhat arbitrary rating I gave them at the time. My resolution for 2013? See more movies.

5. Taken 2* – This movie was exactly what it should have been. And, as such, was perfect. Liam Neeson continuing his general badassery, this time in Istanbul. What else do I need to say?

4. Pitch Perfect – A cappella movie! Anna Kendrick? How can you go wrong? Only with lots and lots of unnecessary vomiting. Other than that, this was great! The plot makes no sense at the end, but whatever! Singing! Woo!

3. Frankenweenie – Anything in stop motion is going to be high on my list, pretty much automatically. (Note: I didn’t see Paranorman, which I heard was better, otherwise it might be here instead). I liked this movie a lot, although it’s almost too Tim Burton-y (there’s no difference between the setting of this and the setting of Edward Scissorhands), but the way it looked was great, even when the plot goes a little off kilter at the end. I love the black and white, and the story is sweet.

2. Django Unchained – People had been telling me to see Pulp Fiction for years when I finally saw it. They said that it was my kind of movie, that I would love it, and of course when I saw it I was worried to see what people thought I enjoyed. Turns out they were exactly correct — I loved that movie and I love this one. I wasn’t a huge fan of Kill Bill (either), so not every Tarantino movie is a hit, but this one is. Christoph Waltz fully deserves the Golden Globe (and hopefully Oscar?) that he won for his character — both moving and funny and just plain weird. The rapport between him and Foxx was perfect, and although I understand that this movie doesn’t necessarily portray things the way they should be (it’s basically about revenge, not racism and slavery), I still loved it. It was a little long, but that’s my only complaint.

1. Skyfall I wouldn’t be far off to say that this was my favorite Bond movie. I’m not sure if it’s actually true or not, but it’s definitely up there. Javier Bardem is amazing, the plot is fun and exciting, and the set pieces as good as they should be — komodo dragons, anyone? My only qualm about this movie was the end — I can say without spoiling (I don’t think it’s really a spoiler) that, effectively, the ending means that the last X number of Bond movies basically never happened. Which I’m okay with, it’s just a little odd. No more grit? But that aside, I loved this, and it redeemed the franchise fully from the horrible Quantum of Solace.

* Technically, Brave and The Dark Knight Rises were tied for fifth place, but I thought it would be more entertaining to discuss Taken 2. So I did.

This is a weird list. But it’s weird because I didn’t see that many movies, as previously mentioned. I didn’t see Lincoln, or Life of Pi, or Zero Dark Thirty, or Cloud Atlas, or any of a number of other movies that would almost certainly be up here if I had actually gotten to a theater. But I haven’t yet. And so, my list is my list.

Honorable mentions go to The Nightmare Before Christmas 4D, National Treasure 2, and The Bourne Identity, all of which were rated highly but were not new in theaters.


Review: Pulp Fiction (RATING: 9/10)

8 June, 2009

As I have said, and you have hopefully noted, the vision for this blog has changed. But that doesn’t mean I’m not writing reviews. My latest one is on Pulp Fiction, and can be found here. This is a separate blog for reviews of things real and imagined, which will hopefully be updated fairly frequently. Check it out!


Review: THX 1138 (RATING 5/10)

16 March, 2009

Let me preface this by saying that only its reputation allowed me to give this film a higher rating than Next. [EDIT: After actually finishing this review, I have decided to take away that extra point.] I watched them one day after the other, both on Netflix Instant Viewing (which is, by the way, amazing), and had roughly the same opinion of each’s quality. Which I feel are not the opinions I should have.

I think George Lucas has some problems that he has to deal with, in terms of his filmmaking. The first, which is as relevant to THX 1138 as it is to the original Star Wars is, well, STOP CHANGING THINGS ONCE YOU’VE MADE THEM!!! NO ONE CARES WHETHER THE GRAPHICS ARE QUITE AS REALISTIC AS THEY COULD BE. NO CGI IN MOVIES MADE IN THE 70S! SERIOUSLY! I didn’t realise when I started watching this that it had been George Lucasized. That is to say, when it was rereleased, he changed it both (I assume) content-wise (which is acceptable, in terms of editing scenes, adding in new ones, etc—as long as you make the original still available) but also by taking out what I presume were fairly low-budget special effects, and replacing them with CGI. Which really stands out, and does NOT help the movie in any way, shape or form. It even distracts from it, because you look at the new effects, realise that they’re new, and start thinking about that rather than what is going on in the story.

What is going on in the story. Ah, yes. Well, there, George, you have your second problem. You managed to surpass it with Star Wars, but ultimately you failed with this (a growth curve, perhaps, since this was made in your earlier days). And yes, this is apparently now an open letter to George Lucas. You are really good at creating worlds. You think of lots of cool things, and you make them fit together really nicely, and they seem like they have backstory. But then, when it comes to writing, you know, plots, those little tiny insignificant parts of films, you break down. Let’s see… Well, everyone is surpressed by drugs in this society. So let’s have… ummm… a romance! Yes, that’s it! A romance! Where they don’t take drugs and realise their feelings for each other! And then, well, let’s have them get caught! Haha! That will show the Man! And then… uh… I guess they’ll escape? But no, let’s just forget about the woman and focus on the man. Where did she go? Well, I guess she must have… died. Somewhere. And let’s have him escape with a crazy guy! Who is annoying and then goes somewhere else, while the man escapes into the wild. Which will surely kill him. But we don’t have to think about that part, because the movie will end right when he gets out. And done.

Because really, nothing happens in this movie. I mean, things happen, but not within people. Movies are, for the most part, supposed to be about character development. But not once in this movie do we ever get a sense of why someone is doing what they’re doing. Maybe with the crazy guy. But he’s crazy, so he doesn’t count. Neither of the main characters (one of whom, as I mentioned, disappears about 1/3 of the way into the movie) ever gives reasoning, and we never get a sense of how they actually feel. For a movie that’s about people rebelling against the non-feeling mainstream (because they all take sedatives, other pills), they don’t really feel at all. Or, rather, they feel for no reason, which again is not really a good rebellion. They just suddenyl have emotions, that aren’t necessarily related to things around them, or anything at all.

I had been looking forward to seeing this movie for a long time now. I felt that it was part of my cinematic education. But, just like, say, a bad math class, it was a part of my education that I should have enjoyed, but didn’t. It is, though, supposedly one of the films you should see. So, don’t take my word for it, see it yourself! (Thank you, Levar Burton.)


Review: Next (RATING: 5/10)

11 March, 2009

“Here’s the thing about the future. Every time you look at it, it changes, because you looked at it, and that changes everything else.” —The divine sage that is Nicholas Cage

I’ve found out that this is true, from personal experience. Every time I looked at my own future, sitting down to write this review, I thought more about the movie. And that changed what I was going to write in my review. And that changed… Well, everything else stayed basically the same. But yes. Had I written this review the day I saw this, without thinking too much, I would have given it 7/10. And then, yesterday, after I thought about it some more, the rating was going to be 6/10. And now, after too much thought, it’s settled at a nice round 5/10.

This movie was stupid. And it’s rare that I say that. Well, not exactly. It’s rare that I say that as an insult. I tend to like schlocky action movies with some kind of gimmick (such as Underworld, one of the best movies I’ve ever seen… because it’s terrible), and in fact that’s the reason I saw this in the first place. But come on, the gimmick is that Nic Cage can see two minutes, no more, into his own future, no one else’s, and saves the world.

Kinda. You do have to give the director points for trying. He doesn’t actually save the world; there’s a huge nuclear explosion at the end and everybody dies. Again, kinda. Roughly a third of this movie doesn’t actually happen. It turns out that Cagey can see further into the future as long as it has something to do with Jessica Biel. I mean, Liz Cooper. Now, I would go out of my way to see Jessica Biel, too (in fact it’s pretty much the only reason I saw Blade III), but it doesn’t seem to give me any special powers.

So basically, he’s recruited against his will to help the FBI find a nuclear bomb before it explodes (because for some reason they think that two minutes would be enough to stop it? That’s never really explained). Biel gets kidnapped, and one thing leads to another, they save her, and stop the terrorists, but the bomb goes off still. And then we discover this was just him seeing the future from an earlier point in the movie (see, it was more than two minutes because Biel was involved! CRAZY!), and the movie really ends with him going peacefully with the FBI to presumably fail again at finding the bomb.

Plotwise, this is entertaining. But, as I said, the more I thought about it, the more I disliked it. For example, one of the key twists of the movie is that Cage sees Biel explode on the roof of a parking lot (because the terrorists rigged her with explosives) and rushes out to that lot. This of course hadn’t happened yet. Mulder—I mean Julianne Moore—races after him, and catches up with him. She tells him—you know they only were going to do that so that you would be lured out onto this roof so they could kill you. As long as you’re not paying attention, this is fine. But then I noticed. The terrorists did something in the future so that they could kill Nick Cage. But, they haven’t done it. And if they only did it to lure him out, then they had no real intention to do it. Which would mean that they didn’t. So, that’s a paradox in its own right. But, more importantly, no one except Cage himself knows that he can see more than two minutes into the future when the chick is involved. So… it just doesn’t work.

The other part I had a problem with was the (admittedly cool) concept and effects of him dodging bullets, punches, falling cop cars, etc, because he knew where they were going to be. But just seeing into the future wouldn’t be enough for this. He would still need lightning-fast reflexes. Granted, he is a stage magician, so maybe sleight-of-body is involved somehow. He dodges roughly 12 bullets fired in short succession at a distance of about 10 feet in a big confrontation, with an effect showing all the possible futures of him dying, and so he takes the one path that keeps him alive. Not possible. Even within the confines of the movie. There is also a scene of him splitting into many different versions of himself to check all the decks of a ship. Again, cool, but in theory before every split he would have to consciously decide to go a different way, and not just do it to check a place, but really choose. In order to change the future. I have doubts about this.

Although the movie was bad, I did think about the following: it would be an awesome way to pick up women—or really do anything. Kind of like a mini version of Groundhog Day. Keep doing things until you do it right.

Never see this movie. It’s rare that I close a review with that, but really, don’t. It was entertaining while I watched it, but every time I think about it, it gets worse in my memory. To me now, this was not worth the two hours it took out of my life. So let’s change that quote from the beginning of the review:

“Here is the thing about the past. Every time you look at it, it changes, because you looked at it, and that changes everything else.”


Part 1-Review: “Free Culture” – Lawrence Lessig

5 March, 2009

This is not going to be a typical review. First of all, I’m not assigning it a number rating. Books, especially non-fiction ones, can’t really be rated on that type of scale. (Neither, really, can movies, but it is slightly more easy to do it for them.) The topics, the styles, are just so different that it’s really impossible to compare things, at least books from genres so disparate as the two or three I have reviewed on this site. But this is not all that’s going to be different. This is going to be a review more of the subject matter than the book itself. It’s essentially a list of thoughts that I had while reading, vaguely molded into a coherent whole. Often, I am going to refer to page numbers when I do this. Well, that’s stupid, you might think, I’ll have to go check the book out of a library to see what he’s referring to. But no! Remember, this is Free Culture we’re talking about. The entire book is available in pdf format (as well as an audiobook, etc.) from the book’s site. Granted, I understand that this is still kind of obnoxious, so I’ll do my best to describe what’s going in the book around my comments.

Some of the most interesting thoughts in the book were his thoughts on the blogging culture. In 2004, blogging was a big thing, but not, it seems, as big as it is nowadays. Yet Lessig’s ideas on what blogging was for—what it should be for—were pretty well developed. He writes on page 42 that the timing of blogging really helped in making it such a good medium for discussion of possibly controversial topics. It was not instant, like a true discussion, and yet people could share their opinions, comment, jsut as if it were. It is this asynchronicity that gave people the courage to say what they truly felt about a subject—a political decision, for example, or something like climate change or abortion. Authors didn’t have to worry about being immediately shot down by someone from the other side, or being shut up. They could post what they wanted, when they wanted, and had sufficient time (if they decided to use it) to edit, proofread, make sure that they were saying what they want to say. This, for me, extends into more run of the mill areas than politics and other controversial topics. For me, that asynchronicity is what I love about blogging. you say what you want, and you can make sure everything is there, and people read it, and give you comments. But, if you’re sharing something of yourself, for instance, you don’t have to be shy, you can write it down all in good time, and not have to be face to face when people laugh at you or sympathise with you. I think this is why authors on platforms like Livejournal and so on tend towards self-reflective angst.

Lessig also sees bloggers (or at least, saw them) as heroes, as performing a noble deed. They dared to stand up to the government, criticize poor decisions, because they did not have to do it in public. And yet, their writings reach the public. Bloggers could get things done, start critical discussions, because they had this new media which could (well, usually) not be quelled. I agree with him, in theory. However, I don’t think this part really works in practice. Yes, there are biting political blogs, and yes, there are the amazing blogs written from the streets of Baghdad telling how things really are, and so on, but there are also blogs like Cake Wrecks, or, let’s be honest, this one. Not everyone writes a blog for a noble purpose. But then again, I don’t think Lessig would ever argue that that was the case. And, those that do write heroically, as it were, can and do help the world with it.

One of Lessig’s main points is that changing technology requires changing laws, values, etc. Regulations based on one type of system cannot simply be carried over to something completely new and be expected to work. On page 146, he cites the example of the company Video Pipeline. This was a company that supplied those annoying videos that constantly played in Videosmith and other VHS rental stores. They had clips from upcoming movies, to entice you to rent or buy them. This was perfectly legal. Video Pipeline bought their first copy of the clips, and from that point, Disney (the supplier), had no jurisdiction on what happened. However, with the beginning of internet video, Video Pipeline moved online, too. Now Disney had a problem. Although what the company was doing was in effect exactly the same as before—buying from Disney, distributing the video to others to make profit both for VP and for Disney itself—the technology had changed, and a problem with a rules came up. Now, this is something I’ve never thought of before, really. Whenever you watch something, read something, really do anything on the internet, you are making a copy of that material. Even if it gets deleted once you are finished, it was still copied on to your computer for at least the duration of the viewing. These copies created when people watched the online VP tapes were under the jurisdiction of Disney. And violated the copyright of Disney. So Disney shut down VP for breaking the law. Even though they were doing the same thing as before, and indeed, probably reaching more people, and truly raising sales for the big company. This is a clear case study of laws and customs needing to change with technology.

But this was not limited to movies. Books, too, had their issues. One of the first e-readers had a free copy of “Alice and Wonderland” available to download on their site. This was written about by Lessig because it had the awkwardly phrased regulation that “This book cannot be read aloud,” (meaning it can’t be read by the computer, but people got outraged). This is not actually why I remarked on it. Rather, two of the other regulations was that it was illegal to give or lend the book to anyone. This confuses me. Why is that illegal, if it is available for free on the website? Isn’t lending someone the file exactly the same as giving them the link to the site, so therefore legal? Or alternately, was it illegal to tell anyone about the free books available on the website?

As I have now surpassed 1000 words, and have a lot more to go, I have decided to serialize this review. Look for probably two more parts in the next few days. Also, for interest’s sake, I’m going to post my notes for this review on the new page of the site, Works in Progress. It might be interesting for you to see where I’m going with this, and where I’m coming from.


Review: Bolt 3D (RATING: 8/10)

26 February, 2009

I’ve realised that my ratings are basically arbitrary. But I guess its more the content of the review that matters rather than the numerical value. On to that content.

This movie was in 3D. Which, as it was computer-generated, must have been relatively easy to do, since all the “distances” are already in the computer, you would, I assume, just have to put it into some rendering program and *poof* 3D. The ease of this process is why, I imagine, this movie didn’t gain much by being 3D. There were a very few scenes that had a large depth of field and looked pretty cool, but for most of it, you almost didn’t notice. I think Disney used a theory of “why not?” rather than “why” when making that decision. Still, 3D in general makes everything cooler, so it certainly didn’t detract from the movie, it just didn’t add much.

On to less concrete parts of the film. Well, not quite. The art was very good. i really liked the way this movie looked, and things like the fur (a central part of a movie about a dog) were, dare I say, realistic, despite the movie being cartoony. I liked the cartoony aspects of the movie—they didn’t try with humans, which is always a good thing to do (the awkward ones in Toy Story, remember, and the uncanny valley of Final Fantasy). Some characters (the hamster) were more cartoony than others, but so were their personalities, so it worked out well.

Plotwise, this was rather typical. There was the one gimmick of the dog thinking he had super powers, but, essentially, it turned into Homeward Bound. A dog, a cat, and a hamster travel across the country to find their (well, Bolt’s) owner. Despite this, it was very entertaining. It was funny enough, and Rhino the hamster was basically hilarious any time he was on screen. It’s made better by the fact that he is voiced not by an actor like everyone else in the movie, but by an animator who did the test voice. They liked it so much, they put him in the movie. Regardless of the simple, cliché, plot, and perhaps because of it, this was very fun and pleasant to watch.

And, since it’s a Disney movie, we once again have the question of morals. Which are almost exactly the same as in Ratatouille. Which, of course, makes me like this movie immensely. Despite finding out that he doesn’t actually have super powers, Bolt manages to do (with the help of his friends, aw) exactly what he set out to do. So, as in Ratatouille, you can do anything you put your mind to, essentially. Always a feel-good message.

My final thought: you don’t see it, but Bolt bleeds in this movie (it’s talked about, but not shown). How often do Disney characters bleed? It stood out to me at the time, and it still does now…

Anyway, go see this movie. Not necessarily in 3D, though (it’s released in both formats). Unless you like the COOL glasses.


Review: Matthew Bourne’s Edward Scissorhands (RATING: N/A)

18 January, 2009

So, Friday night I went to see the dance show of Edward Scissorhands. This is, actually, a really big thing. It started three odd years ago in England, and has since then been on a world tour with sold-out runs all over the place. The run finally closed today (Sunday), so I only just barely managed to see it. Also, back three years ago when I was in Wales, it was also showing there, but I missed it by a day. So, essentially, I have been waiting three years to see this. When I said “a really big thing” I meant both for the world, and for me. I love Danny Elfman’s music, and to have what would be essentially a two-hour concert, with some added visuals, would be amazing.

That isn’t quite how this turned out. I state right now that this was not a bad thing; I thought that this show was really cool, and I enjoyed it immensely, it just wasn’t quite what I expected. I have never seen a dance show before, at least not one that I remember. Therefore, I could not give this a rating like the other movies and things I have reviewed, since I have no baseline. As I got into this show, I realised that my idealised notion of a Danny Elfman concert couldn’t really work out; most of his incidental music for Edward Scissorhands isn’t really all that danceable. So, of course, there was a lot of other music added in (I don’t know by whom, because you have to pay for programs in England…). More typical stuff like tangos and things. Which fit in surprisingly well. It didn’t quite have the power of, say, the ice dance music, but it was pretty good. And, more importantly, all of the music was live, which I didn’t really think about before I saw it. Rather than having recordings of all the music, it was played by a pit orchestra. Including Elfman’s stuff, so that was awesome to hear those creepy voice things from actual people, not just from speakers.

So, as for the actual dancing, as I said I have never seen a dance show so I can’t really make a value judgment. But I enjoyed it; it was fun to see. Sometimes I thought there was too much going on on stage, because the dancers would break off into groups doing their separate things, and you didn’t really know where to look. But other times, it was awesome. There was one scene in particular where Edward and… Winona Ryder’s character (I can’t remember her name) are dancing essentially in Edward’s mind, and all these people come in as topiary figures, also dancing. They wove in and out of them, and it all looked really impressive. As a first dance show, I was surprised that I actually enjoyed the dancing as much as I did; I was mainly coming for the music and the plot.

And of course, there was a plot. Which was impressive as well, since there was no talking. It helped that I had seen the movie before, but basically I knew exactly what was going on at any time, which, since it was only motion, would be hard to do otherwise. They did change some things around, which I was a little sad at. Some were obvious changes because something couldn’t happen on stage that could happen in the movie, but others I didn’t really understand. For example, there was a little prologue about how there was a real Edward that died, and so the inventor created a new one. Also no break-in, and my biggest problem was actually about the really sketchy lady who tries to seduce Edward; in this he was far too complicit. Finally, in a sort of existential twist, the show ended with Edward turning into a pair of scissors, which was actually pretty cool.

The costumes were cool, very time period (in that way that the movie also has where you don’t actually have any idea what time period it is), and the sets were awesome. I was seated very far back (the last row), so the bottom of the balcony blocked half of the stage, but I’m pretty sure that the sets were constructed so you didn’t actually miss anything in that top half, which was nice. They were very stylised, and intricate, and they were also mostly just rolling flats, but just like the movie had that realism with something not quite right, making the suburbia almost creepier than the big old scary house.

I enjoyed this a lot, and I’m glad I got to see it. Maybe not as good as the movie, but I don’t think I can really say that; I think it was different enough that they can’t really be compared. So, if you’re ever around it, go see it! Not sure if anyone will be.

(Cross-posted at my other blog)