Monday, December 15, 2008

Punisher: War Zone

This movie is probably the most unrelentingly violent 103 minutes of imagery that I have ever seen.

For those who don't know the story or the character, let me break it down for you: Frank Castle is a man whose wife and child are brutally murdered by the mob. Having Special Forces experience, Castle becomes a vigilante, "The Punisher," hunting down and brutally killing not only those responsible for his family's murder, but mob bosses and criminals as a whole. The police have a love/hate relationship with The Punisher, as he technically commits murder, yet also takes down high-class mob bosses that the police can't get in jail.

This film is in no way connected to the 2004 film The Punisher, starring Thomas Jane. While that film was an attempt at a more melancholic, sorrow-driven story, it ultimately drowned in its own boredom and lack of depth or fun. Punisher: War Zone is a reboot of the film franchise, and forgoes the ill-fitting poetry of the first film in lieu of straightforward, brutal action.

Punisher: War Zone has a relatively simple plot. It begins when The Punisher, on one of his crime-boss-killing-sprees, murders Nicky Donatelli—not initially realizing that Donatelli is actually working undercover for the FBI. Donatelli is posthumously revealed to have been an FBI agent, thus leaving his wife and daughter alone and defenseless against the vengeful mob. At the same time, Castle severely disfigures and humiliates a mob leader, thus creating a new psychopath who is hell-bent on revenge against both the Punisher and the Donatelli family. From a filmmaking perspective, this is essentially just a reason for the Punisher to deal out bullet-laden justice to the skulls of the corrupt.

In this film, I saw heads being punched, shot, stabbed, cut up, sliced off, broken off, blown up, blown apart (yes, there is a difference), blown off, and punched in. It's basically the ultimate guy movie. I can't recommend it to any females, however. It's essentially a crazy, action-laden crime war film. The plot isn't anything special, but this is one rare film where the sheer insanity of what's happening on-screen outdoes what's written in the script. If you're a male above the age of 17, GO SEE THIS MOVIE.


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Classic Disney

I've decided to write a relative deluge of reviews on classic Disney animated films. However, before I dive into those, I thought that I should explain my background with these movies.

On July 26th, 1989, I was born in Honolulu, Hawaii.
On November 17th, 1989, The Little Mermaid was released in theaters, being the first in a what would later be referred to as "the Disney Renaissance," a period of several years where high-quality animated Disney films were both critical and commercial successes.
Many of my earliest memories completely revolve around the Disney films that I watched as a two-year-old at my grandparents' home. My favorite by far was The Little Mermaid, probably because of the fact that I lived on a tropical island at the time.
By the time I was six, I had seen many more of the now-classics that had been released in the following years, notably Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas (though I hesitate to call that one a "classic"), and many older films such as 101 Dalmatians and The Jungle Book.
My entire world at that age revolved around creating my own imaginary universe, where all the heroes, villains, and adventures of those incredible stories were all intertwined. There's no word that could express my obsession with those stories, even though I couldn't see their true value at the time.

By the time I was ten, I'd seen them all. However, I had now progressed to the point in life where I was allowed to watch more "mature" films, and moved on from the animated tales of my past, seeking the more cynical stories of the modern era. The old Disney magic lay forgotten.

This semester in college, I signed up for a World Literature class that has a focus on "Fairy Tales and Folkore." As it turns out, some of our assignments focus completely on reinterpretations of classic stories, including the Disney films. I have now begun to revisit my childhood, and view these tales through new and (I hope) more mature eyes.

The Renaissance has now passed, and Disney films have fallen into shadow.
Memory is now all that remains of their former glory, and, through these writings, I plan to honor that memory.

Just as soon as my Netflix DVDs arrive.

Finished Reviews:
The Little Mermaid
Beauty and the Beast

Classic Reviews

Many of my upcoming reviews are on films that have become "classics;" those films that deserve a better designation than the purely stylistic title "Retro."
These reviews will be titled "Classic Reviews," and will likely have more in-depth analysis of not only the films themselves, but their place in film history, and what makes them so remarkable.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Star Wars: The Clone Wars is not a "movie." Originally, it was intended to be the first several episodes of the upcoming TV series of the same name. However, due to various reasons, these episodes were edited together into a "movie," and released in theaters.
God help us all.

One thing that is immediately obvious is the fact that The Clone Wars is very kid-oriented. Instead of the dramatic Star Wars logo and the opening crawl sequence, the film begins with the Clone Wars logo, and has no crawl. Instead, what would have been the text of the crawl is actually the spoken dialogue of a narrator. It sounds somewhat like the narrator of the old WWII propaganda movies, and works on some level. However, I honestly hate the fact that Lucasfilm feels the need to talk down to me. I could have read the opening crawls just fine when I was four years old, and I don't need it to be read to me now. Just let me read it for myself and let my imagination do the work.

This "movie" does not have spectacular animation by film standards. In fact, visually, it's rather sub-par compared to virtually any other CG animated movie in theaters. However, for a TV series, it will be easily one of the most visually stunning shows on TV, if not
the most. To quote, the characters are rendered with a style reminiscent of "hand-painted maquettes". It's a very interesting style, though in motion much of it seems strange. George Lucas apparently told the animators to make the motions of the characters stiffer and more exaggerated, rather than smooth and lifelike. This is an interesting move, though it doesn't always pay off. Many of the character movements just look awkward or illogical, rather than stylistically interesting. The battle scenes are spectacular to be sure, but they lack a certain style. They don't have the sharp style and pacing of the previous animated Clone Wars series, and aren't realistic enough to be anywhere near as good as what was seen in the live-action films. What's left is something in-between that isn't as good as either, and falls short of nearly every mark.

The two main flaws of the film are the dialogue and the pacing. Throughout the film, there is no pause. The entire movie is one quick sequence after another, filled with poorly-written and acted dialogue. This may not be the fault of the voice actors, however, as the animation for the film was done at least a year ago, and the voice actors may have had to lip-sync to the animation, causing the lines to sound odd or ill-timed. Additionally, the "squeezing" of the already-made episodes into a film under two hours may have left the editors with nothing left to do but make every shot in the film as short as possible.
I honestly cannot describe how fast the film moves. It's like watching a schizophrenic on caffeine (my apologies to any schizophrenics whom I just mentally compared to this film. You're much better than that).
There is no room for drama or a quiet moment. The film just keeps on running, never taking a break. This makes the action scenes seem no more exciting than the [very few] non-action scenes, and the dialogue less and less important. Rather than allowing for the dialogue to have any timing or depth, the film abruptly jams lines together, making it seem as though the movie's editors were having Mountain Dew pumped into their veins.

Please understand; I love Star Wars. I own at least three dozen Star Wars novels, not counting my many guidebooks, my favorite of which is titled
Jedi vs Sith: The Essential Guide to The Force. I own at least fifteen Star Wars video games, and there are very few who dare to challenge me at Star Wars Trivial Pursuit. Heck, I even own a Master Replicas Force FX Luke Skywalker Episode IV Electronic Lightsaber.
She's my baby. ^-^

I literally do not understand how anyone could not like Star Wars; it's a completely alien concept to my mind. I love everything that makes up the universe of The Clone Wars. Despite this, I can't simply accept Clone Wars as a film. The upcoming TV series will probably succeed where the movie failed, but that's not good enough. Clone Wars is one of the most poorly-executed films that I have seen in recent memory. It's worse than Tomb Raider 2, The Mummy 3, and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie. I feel as if George Lucas himself has tortured me for two painful hours of my life.

They didn't even ask me any questions...

Do yourself a MASSIVE favor and DO NOT SEE THIS FILM. It's not worth your time or your childrens'. Instead of paying for a movie ticket, go buy an action figure from the movie; you'll have more fun with that.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Justice League: The New Frontier

Yet another "DC Universe Original Animated Movie," Justice League: The New Frontier is an adaptation of the graphic novel DC: The New Frontier.

This film is made for the fans. It makes very little effort to explain the DC Universe, and assumes that the viewer already knows the basics of all the characters. If you didn't know that Wonder Woman had an invisible jet, you're in trouble.
The film, while faithful to the original comic, shows different parts of the story, while still telling the same tale. However, like the original story, it shows many seemingly unrelated stories that ultimately meet in one final battle.

Set in the 1950s era of comics, there are two main conflicts in New Frontier. First of all is the battle against "The Center," an unknown malevolent being of immense power. The second conflict revolves around politics, and the ramifications of superheroes being present in the Cold War.

If there is a main character in New Frontier, it is Hal Jordan, who is destined to become the Green Lantern. His origin story is very compelling, and serves as an excellent overall character arc, giving a sense of completeness to this otherwise jumbled story.

The artistic style of this film is amazing. The way in which 1950s comic book art has been merged with modern animation is astounding. Even the voice acting fits the setting perfectly. Superman's New Frontier voice would sound odd in today's era, but for the Cold War era it fits perfectly.

There are some elements of New Frontier that don't work as well, such as the shallow look at the political elements of the story. Additionally, the sheer number of storylines keeps many of them down to a reduced screen time that does not allow for them to be fully developed. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, and Martian Manhunter all have storylines in addition to Hal Jordan's. While it could be said that the story would be better off without the "baggage" of the extra storylines, I believe that they add a great deal, showing how the events of the world are affecting everyone from small-time vigilantes to the greatest heroes of all time.

In the end, Justice League: The New Frontier is jumbled, yet still enjoyable, and great fun for comics fans. The artistic style alone is enough to make it worth watching, and I have to say that I'm very glad to have it in my DVD collection.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Superman: Doomsday

Superman: Doomsday was the first in a new line of direct-to-DVD animated films by DC Comics. It takes place in its own fictional universe, having no relation to the previous animated DC stories.
These new DC animated films have been purposely made for a PG-13 audience, containing blood, mild adult themes, and some language. Of course, there's nothing sensationalistic about the new, more mature content. It's all only there to tell a deeper story.

Superman: Doomsday is an animated "adaptation" of the Death and Return of Superman story from the early 90s. As the best-selling comic book story of all time, expectations were very high for this film, especially considering the fact that it was being directed by Bruce Timm, the director of Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, and Justice League. Superman: Doomsday is essentially the hybrid child of Superman: The Animated Series and The Death and Return of Superman, but it sadly fails to live up to either tale.

The Death and Return of Superman (hereafter referred to as DRS) was set in the mainstream DC Comics Universe, where every other DC superhero lived alongside Superman in the same fictional world. Throughout the dramatic story, it was clearly shown that no other hero was equipped to stop the rampage of Doomsday, the seemingly indestructible monster that only favored death and destruction. After leaving a path of destruction and beating the Justice League to a bloody pulp, Doomsday continued on towards Metropolis, engaging with Superman in a battle that ended in both their deaths. Superman's memorial was perhaps the most emotionally powerful element of DRS, as it showed virtually every superhero in existence honoring the death of their greatest friend and ally. That scene was a universal acknowledgement that Superman was and is the greatest hero that ever lived.
Of course, Superman, being the Christ-like figure that he is, was resurrected. It has been strongly hinted that he will never truly die, and will always fight for the cause of good.

The most interesting point of this story is that it highlights the fact that Superman is the ultimate hero. Throughout DRS, it is shown that although not everyone is fond of Superman, ultimately they need him. Superman represents the goodness and hope of the world, and, for the sake of mankind, he must persist.

Superman: Doomsday does a poor job of illustrating this point. No mention is made of Superman's iconic significance, and only those close to him are shown mourning. Furtermore, the entire film seems rushed, making the scenes that should seem dramatic become less than satisfactory, and often boring.

Unlike Superman: The Animated Series, Superman: Doomsday does not have the kind of pacing that serves an animated dramatic tale. Its short running time keeps the immensity of the subject matter crammed into a quick, unsatisfying story.

The choice of voice actors is not particularly pleasing. While Lex Luthor sounds pleasantly slimy and serpentlike, Superman himself sounds very raspy and rough, far from his calm-and-welcoming-yet-commanding voice from Superman: The Animated Series. If the voice cast from the previous Superman iterations had been kept, it might have made the film a bit better.

Another odd choice was the decision to alter so much of the story. While the basic facts are the same (Superman fights Doomsday, dies, and returns), the other major details are left out. The mourning of the Justice League is omitted (as is their very presence in the film's universe), and other major storyline developments are oversimplified. While some of these choices make sense, others are rather odd.

The action in the film is not amazing or terribly clever, but it is generally good, and enjoyable.

Honestly, this film has enough good qualities that, with the right overall plot development, it could have been an overall positive viewing experience. However, with the complete lack of emotional impact that Superman: Doomsday delivers, I can't recommend it.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Dark Knight

The comic book is an odd work of literature. In truth, its name is graphic novel, but history has taught many to write it off as a one-dimensional story based in childish indulgence. This is often still the truth. Life is more easily viewed through the optimistic eyes of a child, where darkness is vanquished in the name of justice, and the world goes on without sacrifice.
However, the graphic novel is not always so simple-minded.

The superhero is an ideal: the concept of justice incarnate. Through the pages of so-called "comic books," stories are told that break the bonds of normality, allowing for the concepts of truth, justice, chaos, and evil to manifest as physical entities; as heroes and villains.
Nearly all comic book-based films follow the same basic plot: a hero is born, a villain rises, and the hero ends the rampage of the villain--often times with the villain dying by his own hand. Unfortunately, this formula is simple, and superhero films rarely make the attempt to create a wholly believable world in support of their tale. Perhaps to their detriment, this formula has become the staple of superhero stories. In many cases, however, graphic novels transcend this simple plot. As a result, modern myths emerge, and philosophical debates rage within the confines of ink and paper.
The Dark Knight is one such story.

While the costumes were not traditional superhero fare, Batman Begins still followed the basic superhero film plot. What made it different, however, was the way that the film was presented. Rather than relying purely on suspension of disbelief, the film made every possible attempt to convince the audience that what was happening on the screen was real--that what was being shown was something that could actually happen. In a sense, the film fulfilled Superman: The Movie's promise to make viewers "believe a man can fly."
The Dark Knight takes every element of Begins to its fullest extent, going deeper and darker than any comic book film has ever dared to go.

This is not a film for the fainthearted. It is not made for children. Although its PG-13 rating is technically accurate to the level of on-screen content, the sheer level of realistic fear-inspiring imagery--although not gratuitous--is more befitting of an R rating. Although every child is different, and there are exceptions to every rule, my general statement is this: children should not see this film.

Much has been said about Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker. All the rumors are true; his performance is both flawless and terrifying. Any further discussion here would spoil the plot.

The film is expertly made. All possible plot holes are filled, though this does perhaps get in the way of the film's storytelling, as it requires immense amounts of dialogue that can be difficult to follow. The only other possibly negative aspect about the film's quality is the fact that the action scenes do not always allow the viewer a clear picture of what is happening. This is a deliberate move on the part of the director in order to keep the focus on the story rather than the action. It's an odd move for an action-heavy film, but it is ultimately serviceable.

The true power of the film, however, is not the cinematography, the acting, or the visual effects. Those elements are important and truly incredible in their own right, but are ultimately not the true value of the film. The film's true value is in its ability to make the viewer think; to harness the outlandish elements of fantasy, forge them into a frightening real-world image, and use them to delve into philosophical and sociological issues in ways that no other genre can.

The basic idea behind The Dark Knight is that "things get worse before they get better." The events of Batman Begins have caused a reaction within the city of Gotham. Batman's war on crime has upset the balance of power, and now criminals such as the Joker are appearing as a counterbalance to his influence. In truth, the crime in Gotham city is so powerful that it exists almost as a metaphysical entity. Batman represents hope for Gotham, but is a virus to its underworld. In this sense, the Joker exists as an antibody; the natural reaction of the underworld to the invading presence of Batman. The character of the Joker is simple: he is an agent of chaos. If Batman's goal is to bring justice and peace to Gotham, then the Joker is the personification of the destruction that Batman struggles to prevent. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the dichotomy of these two characters is the fact that they both refuse to kill each other, simply because of their own personal philosophies. In truth, they represent opposite sides of the spectrum, and as long as one exists, so must the other. Ultimately, however, their battle is not for each other, but for the city.

The city of Gotham is treated almost as a character itself. If anything, The Dark Knight's story is a dissertation on human sociology. Both Batman and the Joker have deep personal beliefs about society, and their battle against one another is perhaps more philosophical than physical. While Batman's goal is to act as a symbol, inspiring hope in the people of Gotham, the Joker simply wants to prove a point: that deep down, every human being is flawed and twisted. According to the Joker, all it takes is one bad day--one dark tragedy--to drive someone over the edge; to make them fall from the light.
This belief is what drives the Joker, and is therefore what drives the conflict of the film. The good people of Gotham--Batman, Jim Gordon, and new D.A. Harvey Dent--work together to stop the Joker, each man with a slightly different approach as to exactly how it should be done.
  • Batman acts as a symbolic vigilante, inspiring fear in the underworld.
  • Jim Gordon acts as a courageous soldier in Gotham's war on crime, despite the fact that many of the men under his command are corrupt themselves.
  • Harvey Dent acts as a political leader, inspiring hope rather than fear. Dent is Gotham's Shining White Knight, acting as a leader rather than a vigilante, working with the law rather than outside it.
The varying beliefs of the characters are tested through the many bloody conflicts that wage across Gotham, and it is only through these horrible battles that truth can emerge. This conflict is portrayed in so lifelike a manner that it cannot be simply dismissed as mere fantasy; it is a frighteningly realistic nightmare: a shadow of what could be.

Interestingly, the disturbing tone of the story mirrors the Batman character himself. In this way, the story of the film explores its main character in an epic sense, applying the events of the story to the architecture of Bruce Wayne's psyche. Batman is not the friendly neighborhood hero that Adam West so iconically portrayed decades ago. Though he does not kill, he strikes with cruelty and vengeance. He breaks the legs of injustice, crippling its foothold on the lives of the weak. He is a dark avenger, fighting not with the intent to heal, but to bring that which is corrupted to justice. If evil is alive, then Batman is the disease that will end that life. He is a silent protector, striking not from the light, but the shadows. He is The Dark Knight.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Get Smart


What, you want an actual review?

This film has a great premise, and over a hundred classic episodes of comedy material to draw from. Unfortunately, the direction of the film ironically lacks the timing that was shown in the trailer for the film.

Honestly, the style an tone shown in that trailer is exactly what should have been done for the movie itself. Instead, the movie takes a far more fast-paced action-oriented approach, which unfortunately does not work well with Steve Carell's comedic style.

Probably the most odd part of the film is that it spends a great deal of screen time explaining the idea that Agent 99 is not actually as young as Anne Hathaway appears, but is in fact Max's age and simply had plastic surgery to appear young.
This does not help the fact that Anne Hathaway is TOO YOUNG FOR STEVE CARELL. -_-

If the film had been edited more tightly, I would have been more than happy with it. However, the film resorted to cheap laughs and a style that did not support Steve Carell's style.

Watch it on TV or DVD later this year, but don't spend money on it in the theaters. It's not worth it.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Honestly, the film is so badly done that I don't even want to honor it with a review.

Go see Speed Racer instead.


I will one day return and give this film a review. Just not now.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Prince Caspian

In December of 2005, The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was released in theaters. While not necessarily very deep, it was very charming. Every bit of every scene was filled with magic and wonder, and was constantly interesting despite a lack of action. Prince Caspian, on the other hand, is quite the opposite.

The first
Narnia film ended with a sense of wonder and curiosity; the second begins with a close-up of a screaming, pain-ridden pregnant woman. This scene is in no way comical. In fact, it is somewhat disturbing considering Narnia's reputation for child-like innocence. However, this scene quickly sets up the conflict which is the central focus of the entire film. From the start, it is clear that every shot in the film was carefully done, and each scene is nearly poetic in its symmetry and beauty.

However, for a long while, the cinematography is the only interesting part of the film. While it's always great to see the characters we know from the first film, they don't even know what they're doing for the first half of the story. They spend the first hour of the film traversing a Narnia that has been ridden of magic, with storytelling that is similarly ridden of its magical charm.

The story itself doesn't entirely make sense, and, due to the fact that it generally follows the book's plot (though with many additions and a few character modifications), unfortunately lacks a strong conclusion.

Fortunately, the battle scenes nearly make up for everything. While I always imagined that
Narnia had the potential for great action sequences, LWW (the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) was a far more peaceful film, and didn't take Narnia's battle potential to the fullest degree.

My favorite character in Narnia has always been Peter. When I saw his fighting style in the Battle of Beruna (the end of LWW), I knew that I'd found a pretty accurate visual representation of how I'd fight if someone gave me my choice of weapons and armor. I seriously would love a suit of armor like Peter's. I'd wear it all the time. ^-^

Unfortunately, in
LWW he was young and inexperienced, and couldn't really hold his own against the White Witch (though he gave her a really great fight for someone at his age and skill level).
In Prince Caspian, however, he has lived for years in Narnia, and has had time to nearly perfect his swordfighting skills. He was incredible.

There was one scene where I thought "it'd be awesome if he took down that guy by parrying to the right, spinning to the left, then slashing horizontally across his back" (because that's exactly what I would have done; it's one of my signature moves). Half a second later, THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT PETER DOES. I got totally excited, not just because I saw a reflection of my own fighting style, but because of the level of skill that it shows. It's basically a move that simultaneously shrugs off an enemy's attack and casually kills him (or at least slashes his spine. ^-^). That move shows that you're on a level far above your opponent, and stand among the elite.
I have yet to successfully pull that move off. But that's beside the point...

Towards the last half hour of the film, I thought to myself "all I really wanted was for a nice, long, one-on-one duel between Peter and some high-ranking badguy, but it's probably too late now." Five minutes later, IT HAPPENED. O_O
I was ecstatic.
Peter's beheading of the Telmarine was my favorite part of the film. I clapped and cheered (which, if you know me, is quite a rare thing).

I've decided that I've had it with purists. Yes, Peter's attitude isn't perfect like it was in the book. Yes, there is a minor subplot with Susan and Caspian. Yes, they added an action scene. I DON'T CARE. Honestly, the original books don't go into enough detail or realism anyway. The characters are rather two-dimensional, serving only to follow along with the plot points rather than actually develop as realistic characters. The fact that Peter was accustomed to being High King and had trouble being a humble boy again is only natural, and makes sense. Furthermore, it makes for great development as he re-learns to be humble and effectively submit to Aslan's will.

In the end,
Prince Caspian was mixed. I think that LWW was better overall, but Caspian's action scenes were far superior, and the entire film had greater depth.

EDIT: Check out my updated (and much more thorough) thoughts on the film here:
Eight Months Later

Friday, May 9, 2008

Speed Racer

Before I delve into my review of this movie, let me preface it with my personal story of how I came to see this unique film.

I saw the trailer for Speed Racer in the theater before Iron Man. I had a very low opinion of it. I knew of the Wachowski Brothers' obsession with anime homages, and I figured that this was another film that would only appeal to those who were already in love with the original TV series (which I was not). I quickly dismissed the film as "trash" that no one in their right mind would actually want to see.
When the film released in theaters last month, I went through my usual routine of listening to's podcasts. On the IGN Movies podcast (which is hosted by several editors whose opinions I greatly respect) it was said that Speed Racer is in fact an "incredible" film, but is also somewhat of a concept film, and would likely not make sense to most professional film reviewers. I fancy myself a fan of concept films, so at this point I began to consider Speed Racer a possible film-to-see.
When the opportunity came to see the movie last weekend, I took it.
I am infinitely glad that I did.

From the start of the film, I decided to accept it for what it was. I wasn't going to judge it for lacking depth, but rather enjoy it for its amazingly well-crafted visual design. The first several seconds of the film are a kaleidescope of contrasting colors, not unlike the original Willy Wonka (not that Johnny Depp trash). Oh, hey, just for fun, here's the first seven minutes of the film, kindly posted online by Warner Bros and Yahoo:

As you can see, it's a color-filled candyland of speed. Honestly, though, those first few minutes aren't quite enough to hook you on the film. After another 15-30 minutes, the main conflict kicks in, and the simple-yet-still-enjoyable plot will have you cheering (perhaps only inwardly) for Speed Racer in his quest to change the world.

The character of Speed Racer is remarkable, even among the countless young-and-somewhat-naive-hero characters that--for better or for worse--permeate the modern cinema.
While characters like Peter Parker are prone to failing by making bad personal decisions, Speed Racer does better. He is indeed young and slightly immature, but he has a sense of right and wrong that surpasses his immaturity. He isn't stupid (though he is indeed annoying as a young child during the first few minutes of the film), and his wisdom makes up for his lack of experience.
It's refreshing to have a character that does not make mistakes merely because the "Bible of filmmaking" dictates that he must.
It makes for a character that the viewer can genuinely support, and makes the audience feel as if they are part of the Racer family, desperately hoping for his success.
I didn't anticipate liking Speed as a character, but I was pleasantly surprised. The rest of the characters are great as well.
(For the guys in the audience, Christina Ricci plays Speed's girlfriend. Which is pretty freakin' awesome.)

I must say that, as someone who had never watched more than a few minutes of the Speed Racer anime, I was initially skeptical of the idea that a race car driver could somehow be a world-saving hero. However, the film's story shows (in perhaps too complicated a fashion) the importance of the races due to company investments. Furthermore, the film establishes the importance of racing to the Racer family (okay, that sentence came out oddly), and makes the races feel important. The audience cares about the races because they have a deep significance to the characters, much in the same way that dancing movies illustrate the importance of dancing to the main characters.
(No, I have not seen many dancing movies. My mother has. I just happened to walk by several times. Honestly.)

The real draw of this film, however, is the visual style. Many films, from the Spy Kids series to Ang Lee's Hulk have attempted to merge the style of cartoons with live-action. It has not worked very well. If anything, it normally looks badly made (Hulk) or perhaps badly made on purpose, as a joke (Spy Kids).
Speed Racer is the first film to make it work, and work beautifully.
While there are a few scenes in which the green screen work is obvious, the vast majority of the film looks outstanding. Furthermore, the physics of everything from the cars to the characters looks correct. I still cannot figure out how they did it, but somehow, although it's obvious that the laws of physics are being ignored, it somehow doesn't look "wrong." It just looks fun, and that's exactly what it is.

Don't make the mistake of thinking that Speed Racer is a stupid film as I initially did. Do yourself a favor and see the film in theaters before it's gone, even if you have to see it in the dollar theater. This film was made for the big screen. Don't watch it on home video unless you can see it on a big screen (preferably on Blu-Ray disc, as detail and color is everything in this movie).

Surprising though it may seem, I thoroughly enjoyed Speed Racer far more than I did Iron Man. Though I understand that many will disagree with me, I believe that this film deserves to be rated according to what it truly is: a film that delves into all manner of visual fun, creating a world in which the most outlandish things are plausible, and where adrenaline-fueled fun goes on forever.

9 out of 10.

Go Speed Racer, Go.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Iron Man

Iron Man is one of my favorite superheroes for two reasons: the suit and the man behind it. Those two aspects ultimately define whether or not any Iron Man story is good. Fortunately, the movie gets these two aspects down very well.
The character of Tony Stark is very different than most other superheroes. He is not the embodiment of good that personifies Superman, nor is he a young boy like Spider-Man, Luke Skywalker, and many others. In fact, by his own admission, Tony Stark is "not the hero type." He is brilliant beyond measure, yet obsessed with indulging in the many privileges that his immense riches provide. Although he is shown to have created incredibly brilliant technologies, he is generally shown to be self-indulgent, constantly seeking after thrills. These include fast cars, women, and (although not shown much in this first film) alcohol.

However, in this film (minor spoiler alert; skip the rest of the paragraph if you have not seen the movie), he is shown to change slightly. After being taken captive by terrorists, he is no longer shown chasing after women or indulging in other selfish activities. He seems to appreciate his relationship with his assistant, Pepper Potts, more than he did before, as he realizes that she is his only real family. This seems slightly odd for the character, as he never completely stops indulging himself in the comics. It's doubtless that he'll be shown to still have some of his trademark selfishness in the films to come.

One notable aspect of this film is the fact that it does not rely on the usual "superhero" style of dialogue. In most comic book film adaptations, the dialogue is written in a very symbolic manner. This often gives the stories a very poetic feel, with the characters revealing their motivations and moral beliefs plainly. Iron Man takes a slightly more realistic approach, with less emphasis on good-vs-evil symbolism, though the moral implications are still clear. I personally believe that this approach is more appropriate for Marvel comics films, which generally have more human characters, as opposed to DC's main heroes, who are somewhat closer to symbols rather than dynamic characters. It's always odd to me when Spider-Man speaks in moral absolutes when he is not absolutely moral.
Iron Man's dialogue is very natural, and takes advantage of the fact that Robert Downey Jr is a hilarious man. He can make any scene funny just by his mere presence. This is fortunate for the movie, as the somewhat limited budget for the film keeps the action scenes few and far-between, forcing the "Tony Stark" scenes to shine despite the fact that they lack dazzling special effects.
This works for the most part, though the lack of action in the Iron Man suit is disappointing.
However, what we do see of the suit is amazing. The CG is nearly flawless, and very entertaining. A mix of bad*** action and humor keeps the scenes constantly exciting, though the final battle seems somewhat flat compared to the action scene preceding it.

The comic book references in this film were astounding. They were great for comics fans, yet didn't reduce the enjoyment for others. If anything, the references added curiosity for uninformed fans, which can only be good for the sequel (already scheduled for release in 2010).

All in all, Iron Man was very good. It wasn't amazing in my opinion, but it definitely has potential for the sequels. My only outstanding complaint is that there wasn't enough action, though that's not something to fault the production team for.