Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Lorax

Year: 2012
Directors: Chris Renaud & Kyle Balda
Voice cast: Danny Devito, Zac Efron, Ed Helms, Taylor Swift, Betty White, Rob Riggle

Plot: In the town of Thneedville, everything is made of plastic, metal or a synthetic substance, without a tree or plant in sight. A boy named Ted Wiggins is in love with a girl named Audrey, who wishes to see a real tree. So in order to impress her, he goes in search of a real tree and meets the Once-ler, who tells him the story of The Lorax, the guardian of nature and how Thneedville was born.

Review: I am totally unfamiliar with Dr Seuss' tale which promotes saving the environment, but thankfully The Lorax is a lot of fun to sit through. The makers did a great job with the colors in every scene. Thneedville looks like a modern city, always bright and sunny. The forest is full of trees where the tops look like cotton candy of various colors, while the barren land after it has been cleared of all plant life is dark and ominous. As far as pleasing the eye goes, The Lorax scores high points.

The Lorax character himself is an interesting one. Despite him being a guardian from the heavens, judging by how he arrives on the scene, he isn't an omnipotent entity, but more like a little dwarf that bugs you in a humorous way, and at the same time is respected by the forest animals. I believe this makes him very easy for the audience and the fans of the book to accept, as he turns out to be very likable. Kudos to Dr Seuss for that, and also to Danny Devito for voicing him well. Betty White deserves some credit too as Ted's charismatic grandma.

One of my gripes though, is having one song and dance number too many. I think they had at least four in the film, some were cute and fun to listen to, but when the Once-ler starts singing about how bad he can possibly be, it was a bit too much for me. But directors Chris Renaud & Kyle Balda make up for it by making the film funny and the characters fun. Even the forest animals who don't talk make for some very good comedy.

In the end, The Lorax manages to entertain without beating the pro-environmental message on the audience too much. You might want to help save a tree or two after seeing this. (3.5/5)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Woman In Black

Year: 2012
Director: James Watkins
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Ciaran Hinds, Janet McTeer, Liz White

Plot: Arthur Kipps, a young lawyer and single father to a four year old boy, travels to a remote village to examine the estate papers of a recently deceased couple. However, upon arrival at their abandoned home, he encounters paranormal occurrences and visions of a woman dressed in black, which is then followed by unexplained deaths of children in the village.

Review: The Woman In Black is officially Daniel Radcliffe's first movie after the end of the Harry Potter franchise. It's essentially a horror flick which is considerably darker than the Potter films.

The year the film is set is not given, but judging from the look of it, it's probably early 20th century. Radcliffe plays a lawyer who is behind on his finances and is warned by his boss on improving his work quality. He is sent to a remote village where the folks act strange and unfriendly to him, except for Sam Daily, the only man with a car in the village. His task is to visit the abandoned home of a deceased couple, on an island in the marsh, to examine any documents they may have left behind regarding their estate. Once there however, strange things start happening, the mysterious woman in black shows herself, and kids start dying. The question is why?

I'll give props to the production designer and cinematographer for their fine work on the film's look. The entire place has an eerie feel to it, and even when it's broad daylight, it feels cold and dead at the same time. The camerawork is also great, from the long range shots of the house from the air, to the dark corners of the house's interiors. It makes the audience feel scared enough to not want to be in Radcliffe's shoes.

However, director James Watkins doesn't quite bring anything new to the table. The strange encounters with the evil spirit brings to mind many other familiar horror films such as The Ring and Insidious. It's so similar, from the execution to the concept of the film. Watkins also uses plenty of cheap shocks to scare the audience, some which work well, but most of them are rather repetitive. Even the ending of the film is much too predictable.

Radcliffe though does a decent job in his first lead role away from the boy wizard. It's obvious here that he has grown up, but he still seems too young to be a father to a four year old boy. An actor five years older than him would have been more appropriate for the role. Ciaran Hinds lends some good support as Sam Daily, but the film is mostly Radcliffe's show.

To be fair, The Woman In Black is a decent horror flick, which you may like if you fancy jump scares. If you want something more, try the other films I mentioned earlier. (3/5)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

John Carter

Year: 2012
Director: Andrew Stanton
Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Mark Strong, Willem Dafoe, Samantha Morton, Dominic West, Ciaran Hinds, James Purefoy

Plot: John Carter, a former United States cavalryman is transported to Mars after an encounter with an alien in a cave. Once there, he gets caught up in a civil war between two sides, Zodanga and Helium. After encountering the Tharks, a savage, four armed, green race of Martians and Helium princess Dejah Thoris, Carter decides to join the fight against Zodanga as he tries to find a way home.

Review: John Carter is Disney's big budget movie for 2012, and it's obvious they spared no expense in bringing Edgar Rice Burroughs' novel to life. From what I hear, this project had been in development hell for years.

But thanks to director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo), John Carter is one entertaining piece of work. Any other studio or director could have given this film a modest approach and end up making a mess out of it, but Stanton and company did a great job.

Stanton spends a good amount of time establishing his protagonist, from his adventure in 1868 that leads up to his arrival on Mars (called Barsoom by its inhabitants), right up to the end. This requires Carter to be in nearly every scene, but thankfully it's not a problem as his character is strong and fascinating to follow. John Carter is a Civil War veteran who has given up fighting after his family's death and now lives to find gold wherever they may be. In the process, he encounters a Thern, beings who manipulate events to their own liking, and in the process ends up on Barsoom. He gains respect from Tars Tarkas, leader of the Tharks and meets Dejah Thoris, the princess of Helium, and as expected they fall for one another. Together they fight against Zodanga, led by Sab Than, who is assisted by a Thern named Matai Shang.

The best part of John Carter besides the good establishment of the lead character is the detail and scope of Barsoom and its people. The Tharks in particular look very real and interact well with the human actors. There are also flying ships and giant white apes, and the vast desert is well photographed. All of it looks amazing on screen, and it is worth the price of the ticket alone.

Taylor Kitsch gets his first big budget lead role here, and he does quite well as the rebellious John Carter. He may not have the charm of a young Harrison Ford just yet, but he has the good looks and acting skills to make his role believable enough. Lynn Collins has improved much from her role in X-Men Origins: Wolverine as Dejah Thoris here, as she gives the princess an equal balance of courage and vulnerability, and a match for Carter. Willem Dafoe and Samantha Morton can only be heard as they portray Tars Tarkas and his daughter Sola respectively, but they were physically there on stilts during filming to interact with the other actors. I liked their characters too. Mark Strong makes a good villain in Matai Shang, but Dominic West doesn't have much to do here as Sab Than.

Some people may say that John Carter borrows from other films like Star Wars, Avatar and maybe even The Adjustment Bureau, but in truth, Burroughs' book was written a century ago, so it's safe to say that it's actually the other way around. To be fair, Stanton has succeeded in making John Carter an entertaining film in its own right. The film is not without flaws though, as some of the lines are corny, and the romance between Carter and Dejah is not fully explored as they hardly exchange any romantic moments with each other.

However, for my money, John Carter is an awesome film. It may not have the epicness of the Star Wars films or the emotional resonance of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, but it's never boring and a splendid visual spectacle from beginning to end. (4/5)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

This Means War

Year: 2012
Director: McG
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, Chelsea Handler, Til Schweiger, Angela Bassett

Plot: Two CIA agents fall for the same woman. Because they're best friends, they set some ground rules and play fair in order to see which one of them wins her over. But how long will that last?

Review: I'm honestly not a fan of the Charlie's Angels films, so I walked in to this McG film hoping to be entertained. And for the most part, I was.

McG directs this action comedy that sees two good looking guys, played by Chris Pine and Tom Hardy vying for the affection of Lauren Scott, played by Reese Witherspoon. Pine and Hardy happen to be CIA agents and partners, and best friends too. But yeah, don't expect the "all is fair in love and war" thing to apply here.

The fun is in watching the two guys do everything they can to sway Lauren's attention in their favor. Being CIA agents allow the two to get creative, which is where some suspension of disbelief is required. I mean, how do you use the CIA's resources to spy on someone outside of work and not get caught by your superiors? Despite the ridiculousness of this fact, it paves way for some reasonably hilarious moments.

Pine is basically channeling his Captain Kirk character here, but it works. Between the two, his character FDR (who the heck calls themselves FDR and expects others to call them that too?) is the more extroverted one, who is willing to lie and pretend in order to get Lauren's approval. Hardy on the other hand is the subtle Tuck, who isn't without his own brand of charm. He's more grounded due to him being divorced with a son, but isn't afraid to go toe-to-toe with his best friend over a girl. Reese Witherspoon also deserves some credit as Lauren, who may seem like a tramp at first for dating two guys, but gradually grows on you because deep down she's simply indecisive. Chelsea Handler steals a few scenes as Lauren's best friend, who gives occasionally good and downright bad advice about dating. However the more she appears, the more it feels like she's there just to provide punchlines and not much else.

There's a subplot involving a criminal played by Til Schweiger who wants revenge on the two guys for a botched mission at the film's start, but it is just that, a subplot. If given more time, the film might gain a bit more weight and credibility, and Schweiger might not have been wasted here.

This Means War is funny and charming enough to be entertaining, but I do wish they added more action sequences. We all know McG can bring it, so he should have. A solid watch overall. (3.5/5)

Monday, March 05, 2012

The Descendants

Year: 2011
Director: Alexander Payne
Cast: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Nick Krause, Beau Bridges, Matthew Lillard, Judy Greer, Robert Forster

Plot: Matt King, a lawyer who has his hands full trying to close a deal on his family's land in Hawaii, is forced to take a more hands on approach in looking after his two daughters when his wife falls into a coma after a water skiing accident. This task is made more difficult when he learns that his wife has been having an affair.

Review: The Descendants is by far one of the most entertaining dramedies I've ever seen. Director Alexander Payne adapts the novel with two other writers and directs the man himself, George Clooney in the lead role, which is truly an inspired choice.

The film makes full use of its Hawaiian setting, so it's kinda like watching Hawaii Five O minus the car chases, but the end result looks really great. You can picture the film being like one long vacation on an island, but the reality is, it's just a backdrop to a situation that can take place anywhere in the world. The Hawaiian setting just makes the film more laidback, quiet and not to mention beautiful. The great cinematography of the beaches and mountains is gorgeous, really.

But the film isn't about Hawaii, it's about family. Clooney is in fine form here as Matt King, a father who now has to take responsibility for his two daughters, Alex and Scottie. What's great about Clooney is that he can play anyone. The last time I saw him in The American, he was a hitman, but here he's just a regular guy. Despite the fact that Clooney is a handsome Hollywood star, he effortlessly slips into the role of a regular guy who now has to be a responsible parent, and also deal with his wife's infidelity. The fact that he's so believable in the role makes it easy for the audience to root for him.

Shailene Woodley is also awesome as the rebellious Alex, and the best part about her character is that she isn't the typical irresponsible teen that only makes up with her dad at the film's end. Alex is actually a good girl who loves her father, but finds it hard to forgive her mother for the affair. Amara Miller is funny in the role of Scottie, who is learning things way too fast for her dad to control. Nick Krause plays Sid, Alex's male friend who is rather dim witted, but not completely useless as we discover soon enough. He's fun to watch as well.

The only thing I didn't like about this film is the excessive use of Hawaiian music. Now, I know we're in Hawaii and all, but that doesn't mean we need to go overboard on the Hawaiian soundtrack.

All in all, The Descendants is an excellent, well paced family film that hasn't got one dull moment in it. It'll make you laugh out loud, and maybe even cry by the time it's done. (4/5)


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