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.