Sunday, December 29, 2013

Wicked City


  I haven't seen very many direct adaptations of comic books or anime that remain painstakingly faithful to the source material. In that vein, Watchmen might still be the best, but The Wicked City tries it damndest to create a movie which feels, plays, and looks like the anime flick on which it's based.  It stumbles quite alot, in regards to casting, and plotting- and most certainly dialog. Yet it captures the morbid and erotic atmosphere of the anime in spades. It also does so sans sex, nudity, and gore. Everything is more innuendo than anything, and while there is plenty of action and violence, there's no bone-crushing gore like in the anime. Which... was kinda disheartening but not necessarily a detractor. Overall, The Wicked City is pretty good if you liked the anime. If not, sad to say, you might be insanely lost in the chaotic story on display.

  For some reason the creatures are now called "Reptoids"? Which in my opinion... sounds stupid. They make lots of little changes like that, and instead of being called "Blackguards" they're called Anti-Reptoid Special Police. Good god, way to make something ungainly and dorky. Now, I may be losing something in translation here, because the only copy I could get my hands on was a dubbed VHS copy. According to wikipedia, the creatures are actually called "Rapters" but they're never actually called that in the movie. Which is a shame, because that sounds cooler than fuckin' "Reptoids". Ugh. Sounds like an old Atari game or something.  Also, there's this really shitty voiceover which unloads SO much exposition on you at such an unrelenting rate, you'll be lucky if you remember any of the essential information you were supposed to pick up on in it. It's not just tacky, it's hard to focus on.

  In the anime, it was done in an almost neo-noir style. The guy had a deep voice, and he talked slow. The actor playing the lead in this movie doesn't look like he'd have a deep voice. He looks like an office nerd. No offence guy, but seriously. You're no Dirty Harry type. Big surprise then when the voice actor who dubbed his lines into English has a rather wimpy sounding voice as well.  And they say reptoid alot. It gets annoying.
"Ah! A reptoid!" "Stay away from the reptoid!" "Reptoids!" "Liquid reptoids!" "Evil reptoids!" "More reptoids!" "REPTOIDS!" Ugh. If I never hear that word again, it might be too soon. Between that and the characters loudly exclaiming everything they're actually doing, like... "I'm firing my gun at him!" "I'm going to jump now!" "Get out of here, we're going to get out of here!" It gets really annoying.

  Fortunately, the movie's atmosphere and special effects make this feel like a dream. From one dark seedy location to the next, the intense shadows and lighting give this film an almost nightmarish quality. Like a fever dream full of bizarre things. The story is almost impossible to follow, I don't know if it was complex or thread bare because it was so hard to follow. There's stuff about reptoids controlling our economy? Then something about a drug? And energy stuff? I really really don't know. I was only along for the ride, but boy, what a ride it was! Full of shootouts ripped from the annals of hong kong actioners, mixed with the craziest mutant effects that would make David Cronenberg green with envy, and crazy off the wall Matrix-ish special effects, The Wicked City may not be the most cohesive movie, but it knows how to entertain!

  When they stop stopping to dole out pointless exposition, things explode, creatures battle, things get crazy and it's hard not to love it a little bit. There's something funnily endearing about how damn serious all the actors are taking this. Each one looks like he's seriously pining for an Oscar nomination. As if. Yet, it's so much fun. It's fun on a stick. It's a sleek looking fast paced sci-fi actioner, that truth be told, probably sounds better in it's native language. As it is, it makes for an excellent companion piece to the anime movie. Because honestly, it gets more right than not. Some key characters, relationships, certain special effects, and action scenes- they all are crazy accurate. The spirit of the anime movie is definitely here. Things have been shuffled around, but the core is the same. So much the same, that this could be called a rather successful adaptation.

  If you want something unrelentingly weird and awesome, this is it. It's a little known gem that kept my attention throughout with plenty of interesting locations, zany action scenes, melodrama, and a healthy dose of good ol' fashioned shooting, in the way only an associate of John Woo can pull off. After all, producer Tsui Hark also produced The Killer. If that doesn't convince you to watch this movie, then not much can. It's lots of fun if you can get into it. I liked it, it was a blind-buy, albeit on VHS for only $2 (minus shipping and handling) but it was worth it and I'm glad I own it.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Zodiac


  I didn't pay much attention to Zodiac the first time I saw it back in 2007. It was long, uninteresting, and a bit pretentious in my opinion. Ignoring the fact that something about it stuck in my head and stayed with me... I later discovered another of the director's earlier works, Se7en. Which I absolutely fell in love with. Director David Fincher hooked me. I wanted more, and I found it. I revisited Alien 3, Panic Room, I saw The Game, and Fight Club- and then... Zodiac was always just on the tip of my brain, waiting to find it's way into an instant queue, or onto a wish list, into my hands, and ultimately into my Blu Ray player. Much thanks to my buddy David for honing in on my love for Fincher this past Christmas, it was truly a treat to revisit this movie.

  Unlike Se7en, and quite intentionally so, this is not a movie drenched in visual flair. It's not so much a movie steeped in artistic intent, as it is a movie presenting the quite real, and already scary enough facts about a real life killer. It's factual integrity is apparent in the way the movie progresses, it doesn't jump out at you with flashy action scenes or long intense foot chases. It's methodical and procedural. It seems like fact. The visuals and the pacing are the way they are to help accentuate that feeling. I got wrapped up in the mystery, the inane clue chasing, the double backing, the decade long hunt that passed from one tortured man to another and another, and back again.  It's not a movie about catching the killer, it's a movie about the process it takes to catch a killer... and that it doesn't always work. The movie Dirty Harry was based on the Zodiac case. Only, in Dirty Harry there's a nice and neat ending. The killer gets shot in the chest...

  Zodiac doesn't aim for such a Hollywood wrap up. It's not one of those movies "based on a true story" where "loosely" should be placed in front of "based". The movies where, despite being inhabited by real people in real settings, it still plays fast and loose with fact in order to please audiences. Zodiac forbids that sort of thing with every single frame of it's runtime. It relishes the mystery as it is, and presents it in it's raw, unflinching, hypnotic, enigmatic and ultimately... haunting nature.  The facts themselves are as interesting as the characters who get wrapped up in them, scouring files and reports for missed details. So obsessed they become, we see their personal lives deteriorate, and it struck me that the lives of the people so hopelessly invested in this case, to a point of no return... qualify as victims of the Zodiac killer as well, in a way. A very interesting and distinct way.

  The film employs visual effects in a subtle way that I thought was very well done. In one scene, a neighborhood is altered with computer graphics to make it more period-accurate, seeing as how it had undergone radical changes since the 60's. I never noticed it until I researched the movie a bit. Which, if you'll pardon a small tangent, that's how I feel CGI should be. Unnoticeable. So seamless and realistic, that one doesn't even notice it's there and is unable to point it out. Speaking of pointing it out, the movie does something very well, it leads our suspicious down the same path of the characters. The real people. The real life suspect. The guy the cops actually suspected, but could never prove his guilt. The movie doesn't present some peripheral fringe theory, and only strays from the main focus to illustrate the extent of certain characters' obsessions, and other's glaring lack of motivation. Interesting parallels, quite polarizing as it were.

  The movie doesn't go out of it's way to glorify the murders, or the killer. If anything it de-glamorizes him. The emphasis is on the procedure, and then as years go by in the film, procedure becomes obsession. Which is dangerous. The people hunting for clues and leads want a resolution to this as much as we, the audience does. It's mesmerizing and engrossing, yet without a breakneck pace or being overly morose. We never see the inside of a morgue, we never see the typical sights like that. The movie is too good for that. On the other hand, if you haven't let yourself get all caught up in the minute detail and the goings on of these people- the pacing may seem languid to you. Which is unfortunate because this movie is a devilishly clever piece of anti-Hollywood filmmaking, that not even a decade after it's release deserves to be rediscovered. Or maybe just discovered.

 In a day and age where people are borderline tired of the Superhero genre, and remakes are repulsive to them as well- this is the kind of movie we should devour with astute interest and enthusiasm. It's high quality filmmaking that isn't afraid to break a few rules and rebel against the norm to achieve it's goals. One might easily expect this film to play like Se7en, but you'd be wrong, and terribly so. It's it's own beast, and kudos to David Fincher for not piggybacking off prior work and getting me legitimately interested in this real thing that took place, as sad as it was. Oddly enough, my interest is piqued, I'm spinning my own theories in my head, and I'm doing some legitimate searching, and it mirrors the nature of the movie...

   Puzzles beg to be solved, especially the unsolved ones. That might sound stupid and inane, but think about mystery movies, or movies where the killer gets caught. There's such a saccharine sweet finality to it that you can shut your brain off when it's over and move on. The pieces fit together and the answer reveals itself and ta da. The police race across the city, running all the red lights to catch the villain and always just in time. The appeal of Zodiac is much more grounded and mentally stimulating. The pieces are all there, they've been cross referenced, indexed, double checked, quadruple checked, re-checked, re-indexed, scoured with nothing short of a Holmesian magnifying glass... and in the end you have nothing better than a hunch and an educated guess. Your brain is still working on it when the movie is over. It leaves you something to think about. As sad as it is that this is an actual case, and a murderer got away- something about the fact that to this year a definitely conclusion has not been drawn, makes this all the more intriguing to me...

  I best stop while I'm ahead, the lure of an unsolved puzzle all but destroyed every protagonist in the movie.
You wonder at what point do you hang up the cape? At what point is it okay to stop? I dunno. The movie makes several gestures towards an answer, but that's not it's job. Regardless, it's a fantastic movie. One I'd love to revisit again someday in the future.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Return of the Jedi


  As the original Star Wars trilogy comes to a close, it does so rather valiantly. It may be the weakest of the original trilogy, but considering how monumental the first two were- it doesn't mean this movie is bad at all.  It's a solid sci-fi film, and one that avoids the 'third movie curse', in much the same way that Revenge of the Sith did in it's own trilogy. Return of the Jedi is a much simpler movie than either of it's predecessors. It's a war movie essentially. The battle, the climactic showdown. The total resolution of all the loose ends from the prior films.  So narratively it's not as strong as the others, but all the adventure, characters, humor and wit you loved from Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, are all here. It's a return to the rich and wonderfully imaginative world that Lucas created from scratch. Nothing wrong with that at all.

  Of course everyone wants to know how Han gets freed from Jabba's grasp, and how Luke will cope learning that Darth Vader is his father? Will he still fight him? It all gets resolved in this one. There's a series of technically virtuoso scenes revolving around Jabba the Hutt's lair on Tatooine. These scenes show Luke's current status in his journey to being a Jedi, how Han gets rescued, and all that stuff. Jabba's palace is quite reminiscent of the atmospheric, and historic Mos Eisley Cantina from the first movie. Quite an interesting setting, chock full of interesting characters, not least of which is the sinister-cool Boba Fett, and the hulking blob: Jabba the Hutt. Speaking of Jabba, this is the first movie (depending on which version you watch) in which we see him. His reveal is pretty epic, and he manages to make quite the impression and wound up being a very iconic character with severely limited screentime. (which he shares with Slave Leia...)

  Luke definitely has matured by this movie. He has palpable on-screen gravitas, and a real intense presence in the film. His journey to becoming a full fledged Jedi Knight is nearly complete, as he returns to Dagobah to keep his promise and complete his training- Yoda informs him that only when he defeats Darth Vader will he truly be a Jedi. This poses an issue for Luke who doesn't want to have to kill his father. Of course, the climax resolves all this in a satisfactory way to me.  Leia and Han's feelings for each other definitely come to the surface in this movie, which is nice to see- sans stuff revolving carbonite. They make a great on screen couple. Han has definitely become a much more noble character, although if you called him that he's still liable to shoot you. He's very comfortable being a 'scoundrel'.   Princess Leia is still kicking ass in this movie, always taking charge and reminding us why she's such an iconic heroine. In fact, all the characters are back, doing what they're best at. Though we all know R2-D2 is the unsung hero of the entire franchise.

 Granted this movie is still weaker than the first two, yet it's still really not bad. It's weaker because it has less in it thematically. This doesn't mean it'd devoid of epic action scenes and set pieces. Quite a few iconic ones nonetheless, including a speeder chase on a forest moon and an emotionally charged lightsaber showdown between Luke and Vader. The swordplay is much improved in this movie, and is often downright creative. The climatic saber duel is faster, and far more intense the showdown in Empire. Still nowhere near as iconic, but it's technically proficiency is off  the charts. It's definitely fun to watch, and after all, it should be. This is the final chapter in one of the most groundbreaking trilogies of all time. It doesn't disappoint in my opinion. I know some people don't like this one as much, yet I feel it returns to it's simplistic storybook type plotting from the first movie. It seriously just boils down to good vs evil and having to blow up something to save the day. Yet we get both the space battle, and the lightsaber duel during the climax.

  It's an adventure movie to the core, it may be a pretty simple one but I can't say that's a huge detractor. It's a solid film overall, just one that's a little flawed. It's flaws are easy for me to overlook because of how damn fun it is in general. Few movies reach this level of swashbuckling action and adventure anymore. In fact, in the past decade, only John Carter comes to mind as a movie that evokes that ideal 'saturday matinee adventure' feel. There needs to be a concise term for that sort of movie, which includes the likes of Captain America: The First Avenger, The Rocketeer, and in a similar vein, the Indiana Jones movies.  Return of the Jedi in it's best moments embodies the best of adventure movies like that. Although Jedi also has a darker streak throughout. Luke is seen wearing all black, and force choking an enemy... something which only Darth Vader had been seen doing previously.

  It was seriously hinted at that Luke MAY turn to the dark side in this movie, it was increasingly plausible seeing as how the franchise has been alluding to the existence of 'another hope'. Namely Princess Leia, revealed as Luke's sister in this movie. She could've been the one to stop Luke and save the day. Which, while it would've worked, it would've felt like a betrayal. Thankfully the movie sticks with Luke and lets him save the day. I never caught on to a lot of those allusions as a kid, but as I became older they were pretty obvious. What most recently strikes me as interesting is the conversation which Luke has with Vader when he turns himself in towards the end. As a kid I always took it at face value that Vader was trying to convince Luke to turn evil. However with closer examination, it almost looks like Vader is a sympathetic being, warning his son that the path of evil is one of no return... regardless of what's in your heart.

  It's interesting to think that Vader might not be truly evil, and just a good man tortured by his past, locked in on the path of evil that he strayed to.  Of course that is what the prequel trilogy tried to accomplish and only got it half in the bag. It will never be more compelling than it is in the scenes between Luke and Vader in Return of the Jedi. That says alot too, considering how Jedi is a weaker film than the other two in the original trilogy. It speaks volumes about the quality of these movies overall and how good they really are, that even the weakest in it's trilogy, is still a damn good movie in it's own right. The sort of movie they don't make that often anymore. Return of the Jedi may not be one of my favorites, but it's hard for me to separate these movies as they truly feel like parts of one cohesive story in a way that the prequel trilogy still doesn't.

  It was truly a fun experience marathoning all the movies in chronological order over this holiday season, I recommend this entire franchise to pretty much everyone. I have years of fond memories surrounding these movies, and that's a gift I fully intend to pass on in any way possible. May the force be with you all.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Empire Strikes Back


  There is a noticeable leap in quality in the special effects from Star Wars to The Empire Strikes Back. There's a noticeable improvement in just about every other aspect of the movie too. What's amazing about this one is that it breaks free of it's storybook beginnings and becomes full blown space epic in it's own right. There's nothing archetypical about this one. It's not a happy-go-lucky movie either, it's a much darker, and more brooding film. It essentially becomes a tragic series of cliffhangers and sad endings as Luke continues his journey to becoming a Jedi and the Empire is ever closer to crushing the Rebels. Empire is as technically impressive as it is emotionally moving. The characters you grew to love in the last movie are back, and there's a whole lot going on.

  We're reintroduced to our rag tag group of heroes again, fighting against the Empire on a remote icy planet called Hoth. Luke is no more a naive farm boy, he's now a dashing hero and a distinguished soldier. Han is no longer a self-serving smuggler, but a comrade to the rebels and a great fighter to boot. Princess Leia is classy and kick-ass as ever, and we see her almost immediately in a scene that mirrors the climax of the previous movie. Debriefing troops for a dangerous mission in which more likely than not, many will die. She commands scenes like this with bravura, she's still a joy to watch. As are all the characters. Even the foreboding Darth Vader seems to have stepped up his game. Not only does his reputation precede him, so does his presence. The moment he enters the movie, an already cold environment seems to get even icier.
Talk about gravitas.

  As well as bringing everyone back, Empire introduces a couple new characters and settings, and gives the iconic Boba Fett some room to brood. Among those new to the franchise is Lando Calrissian, an old buddy of Han Solo's. With his introduction not only do we get a revealing glimpse into Han's character, but also the history of his ship, the historic Millennium Falcon.  Then we discover Luke's new Jedi mentor, Yoda. Arguably one of the foremost iconic faces of the entire Star Wars franchise, Yoda's introduction is timeless and unforgettable. Such emotion and on-screen presence, one almost forgets... he's simply a puppet. Which brings me to my next point, the special effects in The Empire Strikes Back are head and shoulders above Star Wars. Ships spin and navigate through asteroid fields with fluidity and flair, giant space worms look neither cheesy nor wooden, things have scale and a real on-screen weight to them, even the lightsaber effect feels refined.

  The movie is quite gripping, and is honestly my favorite in the entire franchise. With good reason too. I feel it embodies the best of Star Wars in general. The most iconic sights and scenes, dialog, characters- everything is the best it was and will ever be, in this movie. The romantic tension between Han and Leia, Luke's battle with Vader, his training on Dagobah, the battle on Hoth, the siege of the rebel base, Cloud City, all of it. In this movie, everything is 100%. It reaches the heights of classic swashbuckling adventure, and then explores the melancholy depths of tragedy and revelation. It's somewhat depressing overall, but at the same time- it's a movie full of hope. Hope for the future, for a happy ending, for peace.
This definitely feels like the middle chapter in a trilogy. It's when everything is happening and all the drama takes center stage. I feel more or less like this is the movie that defines Star Wars. Everything you loved about the first one, is here, and done even better.

  George Lucas' unique world that he created for this characters to inhabit expands exponentially here. The same richness that was present in even the minute details of the previous movie, is here as well. Alien races, peripheral characters, cities, planets, backstory- it's all very alive in ways that few movies ever are. Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, by themselves rival entire sci-fi franchises like Star Trek, and challenges them to innovate and keep up. If Star Wars sparked a cultural phenomenon, and changed the way sci-fi action movies were made, The Empire Strikes Back didn't just light a spark, but a bonfire. Spawning classic lines such as "No... I am your Father." This movie has it all honestly.

  What you loved from the last one is still here, including the amazing score by series mainstay, John Williams. With new cues, and some very emotional pieces, the music is arguably more iconic this time around. Yet that's a bit of a stretch, the music is so phenomenal through the franchise- even in the not so good ones, that it's hard to single out a specific movie where it was outright better. John Williams is probably the most iconic theme composer ever, so it's hard not to address that in this review. Aside from the score, the cinematography itself is gorgeous. Especially the scenes revolving around Cloud City. No doubt one of the highlights of the movie. From the colorful skyscape of Cloud City, to the carbonite freezing room in which Luke battles Vader, to the bleached white snow dunes of Hoth, and the murky swamps of Dagobah, there's no shortage of visually interesting settings to take in.

  It's interesting to me, the direction this movie takes. It's clear that it wasn't just a sequel, but an installment in a franchise. There's so much that's unresolved at the end. Han has been captured, the Empire is still at large, Luke discovers his true parentage, and Lando becomes acting captain of the Falcon. Can you imagine how audiences must have felt, way back in 1980? Regardless, Empire is a more mature movie than Star Wars and it veers away from the archetypical save-the-day plotting in a big way. The major scenes here are of character development, and revelation. Not of winning or losing a big space battle. That's pretty risky from a certain standpoint. Although it's not the storybook matinee that it's predecessor was, it's earned it's place as my favorite with it's dark, brooding atmosphere, and it's operatic story, giving way to some of the most intense confrontational drama the franchise will ever see.

  Like it's predecessor, Empire is a good movie. One that also transcends labels such as "old" or "dated". It remains probably the most relevant and persistently popular movie of the entire franchise. It's relatable, and feels more of a proving ground for it's characters, as opposed to the coming of age tale that Star Wars delivered. I've seen almost every version of this movie, and while some of the "improvements" were nice, especially in the Wampa scene on Hoth, none of them stood out to me as absolutely necessary. George Lucas' possessiveness of the movies is more than a little disheartening. Take a look at how the Blu Ray releases of Star Trek: The Original Series let you choose between the original episodes... or versions with updated special effects. George would never do that. In his mind, his "improved" versions are the only versions anyone should be watching. Alas... Regardless of age, format, or version, The Empire Strikes back is as thrilling, exciting, moving, and enjoyable now as it ever was. Timeless grade A entertainment. A classic, and deservedly so.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Star Wars


  Often times a movie, despite it's status as a classic, will date poorly and show it's age. It may still be a good movie, but one has to adjust their expectations or make allowances for poor special effects... (i.e. Planet of the Apes, Superman The Movie) yet Star Wars is simply transcendent. The performances, production design, special effects, and everything- it's all timeless. Now, I grew up on the 90's Special Edition versions. I saw them in theaters, and at 5 years old, I got the box set on VHS as my birthday gift. To this day it's something I haven't forgotten. So, I grew up with the added special effects and the extra CGI bits. As I grew older, I realized there was a massive fondness for the original, untouched versions. Which I had personally never seen. Through a bit of luck, and a keen eye, I happened across the original, original trilogy on VHS. Lo and behold, even without the added CGI and special effects- this movie still looked great. In my opinion, there is to be found a neat balance between the original theatrical versions, and the special editions- but my point is, there doesn't need to be an updated version. It's completely fine as is. It's classic, and it earns that title with flying colors.

  As the music flairs and the yellow lettered logo blazes across the screen, followed suit by the iconic opening crawl... I realize I'm feeling more than just warm and fuzzy nostalgia. George Lucas engineered this movie to evoke a certain feeling. It is the ideal Satuday matinee, built from the ground up to remind us of simpler times and swashbuckling heroes like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. Darth Vader is the penultimate matinee villain. He's enigmatic, powerful, brooding, iconic, and most of all, evil. Luke Skywalker is the typical storybook protagonist. He's young, imaginative, bright, comes from simple beginnings- hardworking, honest. He's a farm boy. Who gets coached by an old wizard to save the damsel in distress and topple the dark lord. It's text book stuff, classic stuff. It's done justice here in a very neat way. It takes that sort of storybook archetype and brings it into the realm of Sci-Fi with laser swords and spaceships.

  Even with that comparison, Star Wars owns it's characters and gives them fresh and unique personalities. Princess Leia is no simple damsel in distress, she's a kick-ass lady who ends up taking the reigns of a rescue mission that was underway to rescue her. She's a bit sarcastic, yet also caring and witty. She has guts yet she's also sympathetic. It's a delicate balance that's pulled off with gusto by actress Carrie Fisher. Great role, great actress. Mark Hamill plays Luke with an innocent naivety, which is not only timeless and iconic (as if any of these roles/actors, aren't?) but it makes him a pitch perfect hero for this tale. Harrison Ford takes the cake, or at least most of it, as the eponymous Han Solo. Scoundrel, smuggler, captain of the Millennium Falcon- everyone has heard a Han Solo quote at one time or another. It's inescapable. Nearly every line of swagger-drenched dialog out of that guy's mouth is instantly quotable. I would quote one right here, but there's so damn many to choose from. He's the original bad boy of sci-fi. Step aside Kirk, this guy actually breaks all the rules.

  With a fantastic cast like that, and an amazing round of supporting characters that nobody could forget in a hundred years- Star Wars not only captures the imagination, but the heart as well. Characters this well acted, rallying behind such a universal cause like freedom from tyranny... what's not to love? They blast and quip their way through the unforgettable corridors of the gargantuan Death Star and then escape to space in their own little fighter ships to blow it up for the finale. Such a fun time to be had overall. It's not a perfect movie though. The first half is a smidge languid in it's pacing, but that's probably the most tell-tale sign of the times. Not to say it's boring, but we don't get to our main character for almost 20 minutes. I'm fairly certain that could've been tightened up a bit. You'd almost think the movie was solely about the droid duo, R2-D2 and C-3PO with how much time we spend exclusively with them in the beginning. Alas, this is not even a complaint as their dynamic is fun and sets the tone for the adventures to come.

  Speaking of dynamics, once things get underway, Star Wars is kind of a buddy cop movie in space. Luke and Han shooting up the death star to rescue Princess Leia just has a certain "buddy cop" charm to it. Luke is young and a rookie to the whole space adventure business, new to saving the galaxy and all that, and Han is the seen-it-all, snarky, veteran. He'd just as soon pull down a paycheck instead of rescue someone, but since he has to, he'll grudgingly do it. It's a wonderful duo that we honestly don't get enough of. So much tension and hostility between them at first, and it organically evolves into quite the classic friendship. You really get the sense that these characters have warmed up to and grown fond of each other. Rather than just the plot navigating these characters down a pre-cut path. The prequel trilogy falls victim to that kind of robotic character progression that these movies never had an issue with. Again, it's an absolute delight to watch.

  The movie is chock full of striking imagery and designs that have become so popular, entire generations of filmmakers have been trying to replicate them, mock them, or outright duplicate them. Nothing trumps the original. The imperial Stormtroopers for example. Their armor, their helmets. The entire look is classic at this point. Instantly ingrained in the public's eye. The lightsaber... do I even need to explain? The hard and world-worn look of the ships and the planets, the real lived-in, everyday feel to things. A far cry from the sleek and polished decks and bulkheads of the idyllic Star Trek future. This is a universe in which you feel like there's a million stories to be told from every spaceport and seedy alien bar. Things feel rich in backstory. That kind of atmosphere is not easy to generate, yet Star Wars does it. The franchise has flourished because of it. Background species have been named, given languages, the character might have their own spin-off book. It's massive in scope this world that Lucas created. The world franchise itself truly found it's footing with Star Wars and it's sequels. It's beyond impressive.

  Of course you can see some signs of aging in the effects and things like that. Clearly. Especially when you just watched Episode III the night before, a veritable pinnacle of modern technology. However, it's not glaringly obvious. The things on the screen have a sense of weight and scale to them that CGI is rarely capable of replicating. The massive star destroyers and their low-flying, overhead entrances is still tremendously effective and shocking. The roar of the X-Wing fighters, and the explosions of ships as they impact on the surface of the death star- it all has a sense of reality to it because it was made with practical effects rather than computer effects. Also, these weren't just any practical effects. These were meticulously produced and cutting edge at the time. The amount of care and expertise that went into them greatly contributed to their continuing longevity. They still look good on screen. Maybe not the best, but it's certainly no point of contention with me. I still have a blast watching all the ships and their space battles. It's still thrilling, and honestly isn't that all that matters?

  Anyways, the camaraderie between the main characters is classic, and enjoyable, and only one part of what makes Star Wars great. This movie can't be discussed without talking about how innovative it was. From it's pioneering special effects, to it's treatment of it's subject matter. It took a high-flying, swashbuckling space adventure... and took it seriously.  That was more or less unheard of at the time. Not to mention the fast pacing. From "go" this movie has something exciting happening. It reshaped the landscape of what sci-fi movies could be. It brought it down from high concept, preachy cinema, and delivered a modern blockbuster to the masses. It sparked a cultural phenomenon the likes of which have yet to be seen again. Aside from the characters, themes, and pacing- the music in the movie itself is outstanding. It's easily 50% of the experience. It's the standard for broad sweeping epic orchestral scores. It practically defines the word "iconic" at this point.

  Even without it's cultural significance, Star Wars holds it's own against the movies of nowadays with long-lasting appeal and longevity that nobody could've predicted. It is more accessible and watchable than alot of other movies from it's era. Movies that have long since been outclassed, or outdone in major ways. Star Wars has done more than stand the test of time, it has remained relevant and ever-present in our current culture. It's not a movie that people think of as "old". It transcends such terms and manages to just be... Star Wars. For some people it's a generational rite of passage. They grew up with it, thus they can't wait to introduce it to their kids, and then the cycle repeats. It's such a good movie overall that it can take it. People find ways to rediscover it constantly, and I for one will never get tired of it. Of course I speak more of the trilogy on the whole than this specific movie itself, yet it's a triumphant and ceremonious beginning to one of the most exciting and groundbreaking movie franchises... of all time.

  In conclusion, on it's own merits, Star Wars is a good movie. It's aged better than anything else you'd find from that time period, and it still manages to be an engaging, exciting, and action packed movie unlike any other. I can see how a brand new audience would find it just okay, considering the level of modern filmmaking has essentially been built on the back of the Star Wars franchise. It might not seem like anything new to a fresh face, but that doesn't mean it's any less of a good movie. The acting is solid, the writing is solid, the dialog is often exceptional, and so is the pacing and action scenes. It's quotable to a fault, and one of the most iconic movies ever. Top shelf entertainment, any day of the week.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Revenge of the Sith


  I may not have been privy to much of the hype for episodes I and II, but the hype for Episode III was everywhere in such a massive way that not even I, only in 5th grade at the time, could escape it. This was to be the last time we would ever get to see the opening crawl on the big screen, hear the rousing theme music, or see iconic characters clash lightsabers ever again. It was the last movie of the prequel trilogy... the one that was supposed to bring balance to the force. Or well, not really. It was however supposed to tie both trilogies together and show us the rise of one of the greatest on screen villains cinema has ever known...
Darth Vader.

  When you put it like that, Episode III could never have had the grandeur nor scale needed to pull a momentous thing like that off successfully. Not with the groundwork it had laid for it in I and II. Yet Episode III is surprisingly the best movie of the prequel trilogy, and depending on your love for Return of the Jedi, the best Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back. I am not one who could place this movie above anything in the original trilogy, yet it's actually really good on it's own merits. Right off the bat, the special effects have finally grown into what was necessary to bring this world to life, fully and properly. Hayden Christensen's acting is better, not extremely so, but enough. Him and McGregor have a fully realized dynamic here, complete with natural humor, organic wit, and some classic exchanged not seen since Han and Luke dominated the big screen.

  It's a welcome sight for sure and one that wastes no time getting under way in the most thrilling opening sequence Star Wars has ever scene. The opening space battle is nothing short of virtuoso, and it doesn't stop there- it spills onto a ship, leading into plenty of lightsaber action, and then ultimately crashing onto a planet. It's a thrilling sequence and sets the tone for the rest of the movie. Thankfully, the politics take a backseat to the interpersonal conflict between Anakin, Obi Wan, and Padme. Which in this movie is alot tighter and more refined than in the last two. Unfortunately the dialog is still a major weakness for Mr.Lucas. Some of it, facepalm worthy. However, he's given us a good movie here. I'll cut him some slack and not harp on the dialog.

  Some issues persist however. There are some scenes that feel forced and unnatural between Padme and Anakin, and the dialog doesn't help matters either. Some scenes feel awkward or misplaced, and ultimately Anakin's motivations are undercut by the lack of emotion in scenes with him and Padme. Granted, again, it's better here than it's ever been. But it's not airtight, and it's far from bulletproof. The rise of Darth Vader is sad and truly emotional, but it's unceremonious. Padme stands around looking worried and doing nothing for 90% of the movie. Anakin is pigheaded and misguided, but often seems simply stupid. If he only listened to anybody who's not a creepy old politician who always sounds as sinister as Satan himself... than maybe he wouldn't turn on the Jedi order and kill a bunch of kids.

  I mean his turning to the dark side is predicated on a big choice he must make to save Padme's life... yet... the only indication he has that she'll die is a bad dream. This is where I've been put in my place. He dreamed his mom died, and she did. In his arms no less. Yet this is only mentioned in a couple lines of dialog, and in passing. It should've been a main focus. Instead we see Anakin losing his cool over a bad dream, so much so that he becomes a murderous traitor. Thankfully, Hayden's acting sells it in this crucial series of scenes. THIS is the tortured young man I expected. Conflicted to the core, and devastated over his actions. Truly moving. Yet, on the flip side... he doesn't pull off true evil as well as he should. It's not a major gripe, but he just doesn't sell it. It still feels like a tantrum. Granted, a tantrum with a body count- but still. He feels like a wayward kid who's rebelling against his family.

  It just so happens his rebellion brought an era of darkness to the galaxy. Gee, thanks man. Thus my biggest problem with this movie- Anakin doesn't feel like Darth Vader. Not even in full regalia. He just doesn't. Yet, I don't know if that's just me, or his acting, or something else that's largely intangible.  Otherwise, this movie is really good. The action scenes are the best of the franchise, the lightsaber duel at the end between Obi Wan and Anakin is both terribly emotional and insanely intense. The space battles are awesome, Kenobi vs. Grievous is cool, seeing Chewbacca was also cool. Yoda has a fight scene in this one too, and it's pretty epic as well. Overall, Episode III has the right combination of elements that make a fun Star Wars movie. It's a solid entry and a dark one. At times reminiscent of Empire Strikes Back itself. That's a major compliment, and Revenge of the Sith earns it. It's solid entertainment that hits the mark more often than not. It's not great, but it's not bad, and overall I can safely say it's good.

  The prequel trilogy isn't even a mixed bag. It's two disappointments and one good movie, yet I think it's worth it on the whole. It's certainly one big experience, for better or worse. Sadly, it's often -worse-, but Revenge of the Sith did enough right for me to enjoy it without having to make excuses or tear it apart. I like it, and it ties in nicely to the original trilogy which I will be revisiting tomorrow... on Christmas day. Until then! Cue theme music, roll end credits.

Attack of the Clones


  There is a sad and artificial quality to Attack of the Clones that is almost unshakeable. It mirrors not only the unevenly written Anakin, but also Hayden Christensen's acting skill, which leaves much to be desired in some key moments. There's no denying the boy can emote, but it's too little, too late and never hits the mark when absolutely necessary. The fantastic orchestral theme music by franchise mainstay John Williams fills in the gaps that his performance leaves making for a very half hearted experience most of the times. However, newcomer Christensen is not the only thing wrong with Episode II, he is only the tip of the iceberg.

  Fortunately, there is more of what makes Star Wars fun in this movie, and less political bumbling. Lots of speeder chases, galactic dogfights, wit, humor, and Jedi battles. However if the opening crawl doesn't let you know what kind of plotting you're about to be in for, I don't know what will. My heart sank as I realized all over again, this movie is just as plodding and political as the last. Each interlude between action scenes serves only to further the forced romance between Anakin and Padme, or to show us more political scheming. Thankfully, Ewan McGregor breathes new found life into the role of Obi Wan Kenobi that he laid the groundwork for in Episode I, but was never able to fully explore. He's a delight to watch, and his investigations into a certain mystery is without a doubt the biggest highlight of the movie.

  Most of the action scenes are pretty fantastic, the set pieces don't disappoint. From an intense opening gambit with a speeder chase through a vast Blade Runner-esque city, to a Jedi vs. Bounty hunter showdown on a rainy waterworld, and then to a climactic battle between hundreds of jedi, thousands of droids, and the coming of the clone army- there's no shortage of awe to be had in this Episode. However the whining and pouting of Mr.Christensen that we must endure so often - feel less like the brooding of a tortured young man, and more like the tantrums of a brat who can't follow orders very well. He's keen on throwing things and complaining about being told what to do. He's not a very pleasant character to watch.

  Natalie Portman is marginally better than him as she tries her damndest with the material she's given. It's not her fault she has such weak to nonexistent chemistry with Hayden, and it's also not her fault she's given such clunky and cliche dialog to deliver. It comes across as just that, clunky and cliche, yet you can tell it's often meant to be deeply romantic or foreboding. The way she emotes almost sells it, but so much is lost by that point, she can't possibly save every scene that goes awry. Of course that's not to say that every scene does, there are a few moments when the dynamic between Padme and Anakin are more than plausible, but almost emotional. These are far and few inbetween, but they serve as a glimpse into what this talent could've accomplished under a more seasoned director. No offense George.

  Oddly enough, the special effects were a big problem for me this time around. Like I said, so much of the movie itself feels artificial. A character could be in a very simple environment, like a room, or laying on a floor, and you can simply tell that green screen or computer generated imagery was involved. It's perfectly fine when CGI is used in big sweeping cityscapes, or in outer space, but it's used to a mundane level here and it's not always as convincing as it needs to be. It's distracting, unnecessary and frustrating. Things lose scale, surroundings feel fake, entire scenes feel... artificial. I have no doubt they are too. This abuse of CGI irritates me as the technology was not yet ready for such overuse.  Lucas put off the prequel trilogy to let technology mature and grow before he made them, but he should've waited a little more. Maybe we'd have a more polished trilogy. Back in 2002 or whenever this was released, the effects seemed fine. Yet, the effects in 1999's The Phantom Menace still look good, and the effects in Attack of the Clones seems far more dated than they have any right to. I have no doubts it's only because of the extreme extent that Lucas used them.

  That issue, coupled with a meandering plot, more political complication, and the lack of an iconic villain make Attack of the Clones an inert entry into the franchise. One that not even it's set pieces and action scenes can save. I've seen it many times, and this time, as usual I did enjoy myself... but only to an extent. Again, it's serviceable. Watchable. The Star Wars franchise deserves better. This is, for a complete flip flop of reasons- more or less on par with Episode I. Though I actually consider Episode I to be the better movie thanks to the inclusion of Darth Maul, and a much more memorable final Jedi showdown. That's not to say Episode II is awful either, it's okay. It's even pretty fun if you're in the mood for it. Yet it's still a disappointing entry, maybe not as disappointing as Episode I was... but nonetheless. Here's hoping that Revenge of the Sith will redeem this trilogy.

The Phantom Menace


 I grew up with Star Wars. I've seen every single movie in theaters. It was, and is a big deal in my family. So with the release of the movies on Blu Ray, and with a brand new trilogy on the way, I decided to do something I've never done before: review all of the star wars movie in sequential order. It's a daunting task, not only trying to provide my own personal perspective, but re-evaluating movies as classic as the original trilogy. Oh boy. Here we go.

  I would love to say I was old enough to experience the hype for Episode I, but honestly all I knew about it before it came out was what my dad told me. He was excited, but it's not like he was doing backflips or anything. I remember the promotional scheme pretty well. All the fast food toy tie-in's, the coloring books, posters, action figures. Was all pretty cool. Thus when the movie rolled around, I liked it too. I never really examined it enough to dislike it. It was just another Star Wars movie to me. Yet the older I got the more it became obvious to me, it was definitely inferior to the original trilogy. By the time I was old enough to start making accounts on internet forums and voicing my opinion, I found out people outright hated this one.

  Yeah, I had to go on the internet to find that out. My family was cool with it, my friends liked it. In person, I'd nary heard a single negative word about it. However, the amount of hate I found for it on the internet was immense. I figured I'd give it a re-watch, with a more critical eye. Sure enough, I began to dissect the movie and it's flaws were pretty ugly. The older I got, the more I experienced it in person. People just hating on it left and right. I still never thought it was -that- bad. To be honest, I still don't. It's largely inert and pretty disjointed, but I wasn't around to experience the massive hype this movie had- subsequently, I wasn't let down so badly in the way everyone was.

  So over the years, every time the family breaks out the Star Wars saga, I try to write reviews on them. It never comes to pass. I always felt like my opinion on Episode I was rather singular, in the fact that I don't hate it. I've just never felt able to articulate all my thoughts about it until now. It's one of those movies that everyone seems to have an opinion about unless you haven't seen Star Wars at all. I dread bringing it up with other fans. It always triggers a two hour rage-rant that does everything but burn George Lucas in effigy. That's overkill to me, and like I said I don't hate it with a burning passion like some people. I've seen it several times, so obviously it's not a torturous experience for me. So without further ado, I will start with what the movie does wrong, then I'll talk about what it does right, or at least does well enough. Then I'll pass final judgment.

  Firstly, the most glaring issue to me is the way the story is told. If you look at the original trilogy, specifically Episode IV: A New Hope, it's kinda beautiful in it's simplicity. Young farmer boy is trained by an enigmatic old wizard to save the princess and topple the evil dark lord. It's practically a fairy tale. People loved it, and that's possibly a massive understatement in itself. It was adored, is adored. It's classic modern cinema. It changed the way people looked at movies. That's no small feat. And it was a simple sci-fi riff on a time honored fairy tale archetype. So why then is Episode I: The Phantom Menace such a steaming political mess? The plot revolves around politicians, committees, viceroys, trade agreements, treaties, and ambassadors. It's more like a political thriller than anything. Worse yet, it's a political thriller with no distinct focus.

  It's not really about the two Jedi in the beginning, nor is it about this Queen Amidala lady, and it isn't really about young Anakin Skywalker either. It doesn't have a specific focus on any one specific direction. Characters kinda just stumble from one scene into the next, picking up new characters as they do. Which is perfectly summed up in a line from Ewan McGregor as Obi Wan Kenobi, where he says, "Why do I sense we've picked up another pathetic life form?" to which Liam Neeson's character replies... "It's the boy-"
Yes, yes it is. The first one was obviously Jar Jar Binks, which was a horribly conceived character. Some say he's a racial stereotype, I don't personally see it. I just see a character who would only appeal to kids still old enough to find stepping in animal droppings hilarious. I don't hate Jar Jar. He's just there to me. He doesn't annoy me, which is probably why I don't hate him. Granted he feels like a tacked on addition to the movie, which is why I don't -like- him, but I also don't hate him either.

  As for the other "pathetic life form", the boy, Anakin, played by Jake Lloyd. I don't find his acting to be awful, but he's not delivering a tour de force either. Like Jar Jar, he's kinda just there. Which is a big problem for the kid who's playing a young Anakin Skywalker, also known as DARTH VADER. He has no on-screen presence really, and it's baffling to think that out of millions of child actors this is the one they settled on. Yet still, one turd character and one miscast. Movies have done worse than that and nobody crucified them. Anyways, the movie is needlessly complicated and it meanders a lot too. Anakin, supposedly the whole POINT of the movie, doesn't show up til 45 minutes in. Lame. So this complicated, pointless, focus-less, political mess was nowhere near the caliber of the three movies that came before it.

  Which works for it and against it. On one hand I don't think it's fair to hold it up next to those three classics which are more than just good, they were a cultural phenomenon. There's never going to be another game-changing experience like that. Ever. So expectations for Episode I were outrageously high. On the other hand, it doesn't even meet the same standard, sans hype, as the original trilogy. Which is a problem. When the hype and disappointment dies down, Episode I is still not that good, as opposed to an underrated gem that simply didn't cut it. However this isn't to say the movie is entirely without merit. It did a lot of things right too. In fact more than a few. There are parts of this movie that are exceptionally good. So good in fact, Roger Ebert saddled the flick with three and a half stars out of four. David Cornelius of efilmcritic.com, said that the films stronger moments "-don't merely balance out the weaker ones - they topple them."

  Ewan McGregor proves, if not here, than in II and III, to be a fantastic Obi Wan Kenobi. Qui Gon Jinn was also a highlight of the movie as the stoic mentor to both Obi Wan and Anakin. The lightsaber fights are the most technically impressive so far. The opening gambit on the federation ship is still exciting to me, I never get tired of seeing Obi and Qui Gon slash their way through those droids. The podracing sequence is unlike anything else I've seen and manages to be a thrilling scene that is also an outstanding highlight of the movie. There's lots of set pieces like this that make Episode I watchable. The underwater sequence, the whole Gungan city looks spectacular on film, the outer space dog fights, all of the lightsaber fights, all the action scenes- all that stuff make Episode I acceptable as a popcorn movie... and then... it gave us Darth Maul. If you didn't smile at least a little, or hear the imperial march start playing in your head, either you've never seen Star Wars, or the force is simply not strong with you. Just saying.

  Darth Maul, with only a couple lines of dialog, and barely any screentime to establish himself as a true villain manages to steal the entire movie with insane amounts of on-screen presence and gravitas. This guy is so evil, he could have truly been the Darth Vader of the prequel trilogy. Unlike Darth Vader, he can emote. Part of Vader's scariness is the cold droid-like glare of his helmet. You can see your reflection in his eye-lenses as he chokes you to death with the force. That's perfectly awesome and all, but over here you have Darth Maul who is capable of literally sneering at his Jedi adversaries.  All the raw hatred that Maul emotes through his glares and sneers is so damn intense. Everyone loves Darth Maul. He had one movie to make a mark, and boy did he. Probably one of the MOST iconic Sith in the whole of Star Wars. Second only to Vader himself. Not even Christopher Lee as Count Dooku was this sinister.

 That could just be me, but also maybe not. Whenever fans bring up Episode I, in the midst of their rage-rants there's always a moment when one stops and says, "Yeah but it did give us Darth Maul..." and the other one nods his head and smiles in enthusiastic agreement.  The lightsaber showdown between him and our two Jedi heroes is probably the best lightsaber fight in all of Star Wars. Or at least in the top three of all time. Mind you, I didn't say most iconic. I feel that award would have to go to Luke vs. Vader in Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. However, seeing Maul, with his double bladed staff saber, kicking ass against two Jedi, really cemented how awesome he was. It's a shame he was killed in the end, and only resurrected in the cartoon. He could've been a central villain throughout the prequel trilogy and people would've loved it. Alas, his death was warranted, it only felt right in the moment.

  Wrapping up, in conclusion, Episode I is watchable nonsense. I disagree with David Cornelius to an extent, I think the good stuff and the bad stuff at war in Episode I pretty much balance each other out. I can watch it, and enjoy the good stuff. I'll probably see it again in a couple years. I don't hate the movie, it's not awful. I do have a lot of fun watching it. No lie. Yet, dammit. This is Star Wars. The precedent was set with IVV, and VI, and all we're left with for Episode I, arguably the most anticipated movie of an entire decade is something merely watchable. That's not okay. It's simply not. However, I'd much rather make a favorable case for Episode I, while objectively pointing out what it does wrong, and try to enjoy myself- instead of giving myself an ulcer writing stacks of hate mail to George Lucas. If I met Lucas, I'd smile, shake his hand and thank him for all the good memories. That guy has had enough hate heaped upon him, and so has Episode I. It may be the weakest entry (aside from the much worse Episode II) in a groundbreaking franchise, but that doesn't make it a god-awful movie that needs to be crucified and ridiculed for all of eternity. It's simply fun, and that's alright.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Star Trek: Generations


  After Kirk's day in the captain's chair came to an end with Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Paramount had a new captain commanding the Enterprise on TV. It was only fit to bring him to the silver screen as well. What better way to get butts in seats than to promise a Star Trek team-up of epic proportions? The two captains, in one movie. Jean Luc Picard and James Tiberius Kirk. Whilst it's not a bad movie, it certainly fails to live up to expectations. Feeling less than classic or epic, Generations sadly comes off like an extended episode of the TV show. It has only a few moments that flirt with the full grandeur of a big budget motion picture. However, it's real crime is far worse...

  The story is nothing spectacular and feels like a mediocre excuse to get Shatner and Stewart in the same flick, what's worse is... they barely have ten minutes of shared screentime. That's right folks. They got both captains in one movie, and hardly had them sharing the screen. It's pretty much a gyp. The plot is good, the pacing as well, even the special effects are good. However, the story is mundanely average Trek fare. Yet, its not all a waste. The villain, played with gusto by Malcolm Mcdowell, while un-extraordinary, is well acted, and has quite the onscreen presence.  There is an recurring theme of family, lineage, and offspring that is well used, and saves the movie from being inert. It's very interesting to see how both Picard and Kirk react to some of these things. It's quite emotional.

  Going solely on the premise of putting two captains in one movie, there had to have been an infinite amount of better stories to use. I don't believe in the even-numbered curse. I thought Star Trek III: The Search For Spock was one of the better ones. Yet, this movie isn't so hot. I mean, give me one hour and a laptop and I can come up with a better story for you. One that could give the devotees what they wanted. Kirk and Picard kicking ass together, and for more than just five minutes. The sheer promise of that still gets me excited. Yet... the movie doesn't deliver, sadly. However, that aside, as a Trek movie, it's still a notch above lazy sci-fi actioners we have nowadays. You can tell effort went into this. Occasionally misplaced effort, but still there was palpable passion behind it. Everyone is giving the best performance they can, and Patrick Stewart is on his A-game as always. He's a joy to watch, even if the proceedings aren't the spectacular silver screen premiere people expected.

  That being said, there's still enough lasers, explosions, spaceships and yelling to make this a fun popcorn movie. Being a weak entry in a good franchise doesn't necessarily default it a bad movie, just not as good as the others.  I enjoy Generations when I watch it, I also recognize the missed potential. Which is a tricky balance as a viewer. I don't think the missed potential topples it's better moments, and buries the movie. I think it's a fun movie. If you enjoy watch the crew of the Enterprise D do their thing, and save the day- no doubt there's a part of you that will enjoy this as well.

 The story is about a destructive energy ribbon in space that has been roaming around the galaxy with the punctuality of a comet. Long ago it tore through a group of ships, and the death toll was catastrophic. Now, the crew of the Enterprise finds themselves face to face with a brilliant, enigmatic, madman whose destructive agenda somehow involves that same space ribbon. It's a mystery they must solve in order to catch him, and prevent him from committing genocide.  The story sounds promising, and in the moment, while you're watching it- it's not bad from scene to scene. Due in no small part to the quality of acting and production design. The movie is easy to watch, and easy to enjoy. Only in closer examination do you feel really let down.

  Having said all that, I don't think it's fair to bash this movie as I've seen some fans do. I've seen it enough times to know I don't necessarily mind it. There are far worse Trek movies lined up, ripe for bashing. This doesn't have to be one of them. It's a disappointing entry, but not a bad movie. It's just another Trek flick that revolves around a murderous madman with an agenda. I'm sure that rings a bell. Or... ten. An unceremonious start to the second generation of Star Trek adventures on the big screen. Nowhere to boldly go but up. Right?

Wicked City


  As a film lover, I try not to discriminate animated films from live action films. They should not be segregated. No more so than black and white movies need their own section. If a movie is Drama, then it should be under Drama regardless whether or not it's animated, or black and white. See my point? So then I view anime films, as any other film. It's animation itself is critique-able like special effects in a live action movie. Same thing to me. So now that's out of the way- I came across Wicked City, which came out in 1987 (if I remember right) by way of this wonderful little invention called the world wide web. No longer is one relegated to bargain bin diving to search for sleazy little late-nite gems like this. It's all right at our finger tips.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Robot and Frank


  Robot and Frank is not a good movie. It's just not. It has all the right ingredients but mixes them wrong. The movie is about an old man named Frank. Frank (Langella) used to be a cat burglar. However, now he lives alone- forgetting that his favorite eatery is now a candle shop, and shoplifting trinkets just for the heck of it. His adult children try to stay involved and help him in vastly different ways. His daughter tries to be as supportive as humanly possible- from afar. She travels for a living and regrets she can't help her father in person. And then there's Frank's son who laments having to make the ten hour round trip drive to see his dad only to find the house a pig sty, and Frank intent on eating at "Harry's". (Which... is now the aforementioned candle shop) So his son's solution is to buy him a helper robot. Thus the movie kicks off...

  Any seasoned moviegoer can predict this movie like the back of their hand. Frank is going to detest the robot at first, then he'll find out that the robot can be his burglary buddy (has a cute ring to it doesn't it?), then he'll grow fond of the robot and not want to part ways with it. Which is more or less exactly what happens. Only they missed a beat. I guess this review is semi-spoileristic,  but bear with me. Frank is a jerk. He's manipulative, rude, abrasive and doesn't care. You expect Frank to befriend the robot... Unfortunately, despite an adorably charming personality that actor Peter Sarsgaard infused into this plain looking robot- Frank never actually befriends him. Which is a problem because the last act revolves around the fact Frank suddenly considers the robot his friend. Yet they never developed a friendship.

  A casual moviegoer might be confused and argue this fact with me. Yet consider this, Frank uses the robot to help him with his burglaries. He manipulates and tricks and coerces the robot into helping him pull off heists. That is all the robot is good for to him. Sure, Frank gets used to the Robot's superb cooking... but there is no development of a friendship here. It's hollow. I'm sure the filmmakers thought they had a decent character arc, but no sir they do not. Frank starts out as a jerk, and ends the movie as a thoroughly senile jerk. It's hard to care about Frank and is easier to care about the lifeless robot which Frank uses like a tool no less animate than a lock pick.  Frank lies to his children, lies to his love interest, and spends the movie lying to everyone who cares about him. You'd expect him to learn his lesson and when the robot quotes back to Frank something he told it earlier on- you're ready for Frank to have a revelation that he's been an asshole. He doesn't. Instead he gets away not only with a crime, but with being an asshole.

  Every tender moment that Frank shares with another human being in the movie, is often a ruse for him to get what he wants. Amazingly, Frank and the Robot have excellent chemistry. If the movie was made better there might have been a real friendship arc between them. All we currently have is the potential for one. The potential for a friendship, and the potential for a better movie. Despite how heartwarming this had the potential to be, it left me cold and upset. I emotionally invested myself in these characters only to be jerked around for a while and manipulated. Just like Frank does to anyone who cares about him. The movie tries to convince you that in the midst of using the Robot, like well... a robot, and manipulating it into doing his bidding- he actually formed a meaningful friendship with it. Yet, he didn't. He really didn't. They bicker and there's tension, and only when Frank gets his own selfish way does he claim to appreciate the Robot. This is horrible. It's just not good.

  The movie never redeems itself, just as Frank never does. The movie and Frank himself seem to parallel each other. They're both manipulative, conniving, and they never learn their lesson. I felt bad for this movie because it could have been fun and heartwarming. It had all the potential to be. Unfortunately, I felt it was a waste of my time. If you want your emotions manipulated and jerked around for an hour and a half, give this movie a shot. If not... steer clear. I can't recommend this at all. Which is a shame due to the level of talent and good acting involved. A total misfire.