Friday, December 30, 2011

Kung Fu Panda Movie Review

Dreamworks has done several animated movies that  were mediocre attempts to capitalize on the success of Pixar’s masterpieces. Dreamworks tried to undermine Pixar’s A Bug’s Life (1998) with Antz (1998). They did it again when they released Shark Tale (2004) after the success of Finding Nemo (2003). When Dreamworks does their own movies, instead of copying Pixar, they really let themselves shine. I’m leery of anything with Jack Black in it, so I watched Kung Fu Panda (2008) with some hesitation.
Po (Jack Black) is an overweight, lazy, irreverent panda who is a dedicated fan of Kung Fu, but his skills are limited to making noodle soup at his father’s restaurant. Po adores the Furious Five - Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Crane (David Cross) – a team of Kung Fu masters trained by the red panda named Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) to protect their peaceful valley. One day, Shifu's mentor, the old tortoise Oogway (Randall Duk Kim), has a vision that Shifu's former student and adoptive son, the evil snow leopard Tai Lung (Ian McShane), will escape from prison and return to take revenge for being denied the Dragon Scroll, which is said to hold the secret to limitless power. Oogway holds a tournament to discover who is worthy of the Dragon Scroll and become the Dragon Warrior who can defeat Tai Lung. Through a blundering mishap, Po is selected. Shifu, lacking faith in Po, attempts to scare off Po with grueling training. But Po’s unwavering enthusiasm for Kung Fu keeps him going. True to Oogway’s vision, Tai Lung escapes and begins journeying to the temple. Po can’t seem to grasp even the most basic concepts of Kung Fu, but Shifu discovers that Po is capable of impressive physical feats when motivated by food. Using this discovery, Shifu begins training Po and incorporating these feats into a makeshift, yet effective Kung Fu style. But will it be enough to stop Tai Lung from getting the Dragon Scroll, and unlimited power?
I don’t like Jack Black on general principle; he gets cast in irritating roles in movies that do pretty badly. Year One (2009) and Gulliver's Travels (2010) are great examples of this. It’s hard to overlook these eyesores and look at his good movies, such as King Kong (2005) and Kung Fu Panda. Jack Black actually was funny in this movie. His screwball delivery really worked well with Po’s hilarious expressions. He is still playing his usual dim witted impertinent character, but Po is more interesting and complex than most of the other characters I’ve seen Jack Black play. You really do see Po develop and learn as the movie progresses. It was also good to see a hero that was a clumsy, fat character; generally the best that this archetype can hope for is a bumbling sidekick who is the brunt of most of the jokes. I’ve never seen so much belly bouncing combined with martial arts as was done with this character.
I kept becoming awestruck at the artistic scenery of the colorful ancient China. Little details here and there really helped make the art stand out; the trees, mountains, and buildings were beautifully designed. The China-inspired relics and art were comparable to actual art work of ancient China. There was a whole lot of detail in the art design, which helped make the movie endearing.
The animation was quite impressive, too. Most of the characters looked like cute, fluffy stuffed animals. This, coupled with the believable martial arts movements, created a humorous sense of irony throughout the film. Even the movements for Viper, who is a snake, were interesting; she has no arms or legs, yet her fighting movements still resembled martial arts.
I love it when I expect a movie to be substandard and I end up being wrong. Kung Fu Panda is an example of this. There’s a whole lot of slapstick in this film, but it doesn’t detract from the interesting characters and fun story that is reminiscent of old Kung Fu flicks. I’d recommend this movie to anyone, young or old. It is engaging, funny, and worth the watch.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Ghostbusters Movie Review

We’ve all seen monster movies. We’ve all seen comedies. Monster movies rely on suspense to move the story forward, leaving little room for comic relief. Comedies have the flow disrupted if there is much tension. It’s rare to see a movie that combines these two elements; I can’t think of another example of a fusion of monster mayhem and humor as accomplished as the iconic movie Ghostbusters (1984).
Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Dr. Raymond Stantz (Dan Aykroyd), and Dr. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) are parapsychologists at Columbia University who research paranormal activities and ghost appearances. After gathering their first useful hard data from a specter at a library, they return to Columbia University to find their funding and tenure cut off. Now jobless with useful scientific data on ghosts, they create their own paranormal exterminator service called “The Ghostbusters” using ghost catching technology invented by Egon. They catch their first ghost at the Sedgewick Hotel, and become hugely successful. Business booms and they have to hire Winston Zeddmore (Ernie Hudson) to help meet the demand. The Ghostbusters are summoned by Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) to investigate a demonic spirit that she finds in her refrigerator. Peter takes interest in Dana and begins competing with her neighbor Louis Tully (Rick Moranis) for her affection. Ray discovers that the Dana and Louis’s apartment was built by a cult leader and that the design of the building acts as a conductor to summon Gozer, a demon god of destruction, from another dimension. The Ghostbusters are summoned by the city to handle the massive ghost outbreak, and save them from impending annihilation.
Where to start on this classic?
One of the more endearing features of Ghostbusters is the combination of genres. It’s sort of a suspense/action/comedy movie. Usually high production special effects and comedy don’t blend well. Comedy requires spontaneity while special effects require meaningful planning ahead of time. High end special effects detract from spontaneity, and thus from good comedy. Ghostbusters somehow managed to pull it off, though. Most of the scenes featuring improvisation comedy sketch masters Murray, Aykroyd, and Ramis were in fact, improvised. This is amazing because every line of dialogue, even the improvised ones, develops the plot and characters. Yet the spontaneity doesn’t detract from the special effects; there was a natural progression of the plot and characters to cause Gozor to take the form of the cute food mascot, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. The ordinarily contrasting film elements merged beautifully to make a great movie.
The art design in the movie was fantastic as well. Remember that this movie was made long before computer special effects were available. The models and puppets for the ghost creatures were made transparent and well designed. They looked monstrous and creepy, yet weightless and ghostlike.
The wardrobe was fantastic, too.  The characters all looked really believable within their context.  The Ghostbusters team looked perfect in their field gear.  The jumpsuits and proton packs (used for catching the ghosts) were so well designed that they are now iconic symbols of the Ghostbusters film.  The Ghostbuster’s car, Ecto-1, is a 1959 Cadillac ambulance/hearse combination which is, itself, so iconic that it is almost its own character. It was beautifully designed with lots of detail.  A good indication of great movie design is seeing ordinary people try to replicate it.  You’ll see Ecto-1 and Ghostbusters uniforms replicas at sci-fi conventions and even some car shows decades after the movie was released.  Everything about this movie exudes personality and classic cinematic artwork. 
With great special effects, some suspenseful scenes, hysterical humor, and one of the catchiest movie theme songs in cinema history, Ghostbusters has withstood the tests of time. It is required viewing even if you have only the vaguest of recollection of the film.  If you have seen this movie before, go see it again! If you’re a bit too young to have seen it back in the day you must watch it at your earliest convenience so that you will know who you’re gonna call.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Troll Hunter Movie Review

I think it is unfortunate that so many Americans do not watch foreign films. Pan’s Labyrinth (El Laberinto Del Fauno, 2006) is a Spanish favorite of mine. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) was cinematographically a good film, but I didn’t care much for it. I suspect most Americans are scared off by having to put forth the effort to read subtitles. That could explain why there are English-speaking American remakes of successful foreign films such as Let Me In (2010), The Invisible (2007), and Quarantine (2008). Unfortunately, the foreign independent film Troll Hunter (Trolljegeren, 2010) has a similarly scheduled fate due to be released in 2014.
A group of Norwegian film students, Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud), Johanna (Johanna Mørck), and their camera-man Kalle (Tomas Alf Larsen) set out to make a documentary about a suspected bear poacher named Hans (Otto Jespersen) who spends his nights prowling the Norwegian countryside in a Land Rover which has disquieting scratches all over it. Hans eventually concedes to allow them to tag along, but what the students discover is that the Norwegian government employs troll hunters (such as Hans) to destroy the beastlike trolls that venture too far from their allotted territory and threaten the environment and power pylons. The four of them decide that people have the right to know that trolls exist and change the focus of the documentary project to that of revealing a complex government cover up; they don’t want the public to know about trolls.
I thought Troll Hunter was a very creative film. I absolutely love the idea of fantasy creatures existing in a modern world setting. The trolls in this movie have a heavy basis in classic Norwegian fairy tale. They are big and hairy, can smell the blood of Christians, some have multiple heads, and they all have huge noses that would put Richard Nixon to shame. There is even an encounter with a troll under a bridge, probably one of my favorite scenes. They are beastly monsters that are fun to see on the screen; they herald back to the fantasy creatures you may be familiar with, but are depicted in a kind of a scary, “grownup” way.
Troll Hunter is a “found footage” mockumentary, and thus filmed in queasy-cam. What you see on screen is what Kalle is capturing with his camera. Since Kalle is running away from ferocious trolls, there is a lot of camera shaking. This is essentially the same camera technique that was popularized by The Blair Witch Project (1999). I was really worried that I would get motion sick watching this movie, since I can’t even stomach first-person shooter video games. But I was just fine. If I, and my periodic motion sickness, can stomach Troll Hunter, surely it wouldn’t give you much trouble.
The found footage mockumentary “genre” is often used by low budget horror films. It is a clever ruse to keep the audience from seeing anything in much detail, which gives the film crew an excuse to not spend the money to create much detail in their visuals. It was fairly obvious that Troll Hunter was a low budget film, but the special effects for the trolls was uncanny! They looked so lifelike and believable. Unlike most films in this genre, you get to see lots of the monsters. This movie doesn’t shy away from showing you the trolls, which is good. Why else would you watch this movie? Aside from the fantastic troll effects, the Norwegian forest and mountain scenery in the movie is just gorgeous. I’m ready to go visit.
I recommend seeing Troll Hunter. It’s not a classic for the ages, but it was certainly enjoyable. It has a bit of a slow start, but everything in the movie is significant to the plot. With a rating of PG-13, it’s probably not a fantasy movie to watch with a younger audience, but pretty good for a teenage and adult audience who can keep up with the subtitles. Make sure you watch this before you see the 2014 remake; English-speaking American remakes are rarely as good as the original foreign films on which they are based.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Yes Man Review

In Liar Liar (1997) Jim Carrey plays a lawyer who can’t lie and in Yes Man (2008), Jim Carrey plays a loan executive who can’t say no. The similarity between the jokes in each movie is unsurprising. Critics have said the two films are too much alike for the later to be taken very seriously. I can’t think of a good argument against that.
Carl Allan (Jim Carrey) is a depressed recluse. He’s been in this funk for three years since the love of his life left him. He habitually says “no” to everything to avoid complications and unsolicited interaction with people. Despite protests, Carl is dragged to a personal development seminar that promotes a simple idea: “say yes to everything.” Carl is pressured by the motivational speaker, Terrence Bundley (Terence Stamp), to take the challenge to say “Yes” to every request for a year and see how his life changes. Immediately Carl finds himself in the strangest situations; flying lessons, Korean language classes, inviting Mormon missionaries into his home, and guitar lessons. Some of these situations lead him to encounter a pretty young lady named Allison (Zooey Deschanel). She has a unique take on life and engages in a variety of uncommon interests. Between the girl who hosts a jogging photography group and the man who can’t refuse anything, the two of them form an interesting relationship. But Carl soon realizes that not all opportunities should be taken.
Yes Man has an interesting concept; if you are given the option to do something, do it. This will earn you a wild variety of experiences and could lead to a fuller, more interesting life. It can also bring about some aversive side effects. I’m glad Yes Man showed both sides of this. Normally in a story the dramatic tension stems from the choices that the protagonist makes, but in this story, you know exactly how the protagonist will respond to everything that happens to him. No matter what he is faced with, his response is always “yes.” The story quickly becomes dull without a significant conflict and it is reduced to a string of weird situations in which Carl finds himself. This could be pleasant or exciting if it was you experiencing it, but in a movie we expect uncertainty and drama.Yes Man doesn’t really provide much of that until the end when a lot of the consequences of Carl’s actions (he isn’t really making decisions) take effect. Yes Man has an interesting premise, but a weak execution.
I liked more of Jim Carrey’s early work. He was zany, wacky, and funny. Then he started getting typecast as the eccentric weirdo character. Carrey moved into some dramatic roles, the ones of which I have seen were impressive. Seriously, you need to go see Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and The Truman Show (1998). Yes Man was sort of a return to the zany comedy that made Jim Carrey so famous to begin with, and it worked well for him. Carrey’s wacky humor kept this film alive when the dramatic tension was essentially gone. The movie has plenty of opportunities to get painfully slow and lose the audience’s attention, but Carrey’s screwball humor manages to keep the audience engaged long enough for the movie to reach its conclusion.
Yes Man is structured like a comedy, and if not for Jim Carrey’s performance it wouldn’t have passed for a very comical film. The movie is a bit more palatable if you think of it as a romantic comedy; the relationship between Carl and Allison is the main driving point in the story.
One of the most awkward scenes in the movie occurs after Carl accepts the “yes” challenge; he suddenly is susceptible to sexual advances of his elderly lady neighbor. It’s not visually explicit; no nudity at all, but I really wish that scene had not made it into the movie. You have been warned.
If you missed Yes Man, don’t get worked up about it. It’s hardly Carrey’s greatest moment. If you get a chance to see it, it may be worth it, but I wouldn’t spend the money renting it unless you are a Jim Carrey fan.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Green Lantern Movie Review

Do you remember when Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999) was being released and everyone was eagerly anticipating a new Star Wars film, only to have a pretty lame movie released? That’s what happened with Green Lantern (2011); the hype was better than the movie.
Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), a cocky test pilot is “chosen” by a power ring which is given to him by a dying alien. This ring is powered by willpower and is the weapon and symbol of The Green Lantern Corps. Hal is transported to the planet Oa for training in this intergalactic peace-keeping force. Hal reluctantly accepts this calling, feeling that he is in over his head. Meanwhile, the now dead alien who gave Hal the power ring is being dissected by Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) under government direction. The alien was killed by an immense super-powerful being called Parallax. Some of Parallax’s genetic residue resides in the dead alien and infects Hammond, granting him telekinesis and telepathy. Hal returns to earth and combats Hammond who is beginning to go insane. Through this confrontation, Hal learns that Parallax is headed to earth to gain enough power by feeding off of the fears of humans to attack Oa and destroy The Green Lantern Corps. Hal must learn to control his fears and feelings of inadequacy so he can conquer Parallax’s invasion and save the universe.
I get the impression that the Green Lantern setting is very expansive and complex, and somewhat unique. There are hundreds of alien races, significant characters, worlds, and powers to keep track of and there just wasn’t enough time in the two hour movie to develop everything sufficiently; not even the important plot devices. Because of this the movie really felt rushed; “Here’s Hal Jordan, here’s The Green Lantern Corps, here’s some token characters you’d expect to see in a movie, here’s some powers we aren’t going to bother explaining, here’s a villain with no obvious motives. Stop asking questions, just watch the movie.” With other superhero movies, you don’t have to explain a whole lot. With Superman, all you have to establish is that he is from another world and has powers that a human wouldn’t have. Then it’s just a matter of developing his character to show that he is inherently good and illustrating that, even Superman can’t be everywhere. But since only a little bit of the Green Lantern universe actually takes place on earth (a setting we’re familiar with) more setting development has to occur, and there just wasn’t enough time to get it all done.
Ryan Reynolds is good-looking and funny, yet still seems to get typecast; in action movies or comedies he still plays an arrogant, cocky, and sarcastic douche bag. Of course, Hal Jordan having that sort of a personality and then having responsibilities placed on him that have universal significance it kind of interesting. But even Hal isn’t developed enough; when he’s on the brink death, I still don’t care if he lives or not. Reynolds did okay; he just had weak material to work with.
Blake Lively plays Carol Ferris, Hal’s flame. Carol acts so differently from scene to scene that I was a good way through the movie before realizing there were not two women of similar appearance and dissimilar personalities having a relationship with Hal. And it did not help matters that her appearance conforms so much to standards of beauty that there isn’t much about Blake that makes her character stand out.
The visuals were really pretty good, but the translucent objects conjured by the Green Lantern rings looked awkward and strange. It just flat out looks unrealistic and hard to take seriously. Power ring effects aside, most everything looked alright.
Green Lantern was pretty disappointing. It was not what the hype made it out to be. It’s an over budgeted, under written, and unfocused movie with lots of CGI and very little soul. Even hardcore Green Lantern fans were disappointed. I wouldn’t recommend taking the time to see Green Lantern. I doubt even the extra nine minutes of footage in the Extended Cut could save this movie.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Enchanted Movie Review

Even outside of fairy tale stories, we still have an idea of what it means to live “happily ever after.” Even in action movies, we expect the hero to get the girl and ride off into the sunset. This archetype isn’t accurate to real life, and what better authority to comment on real world vs. fairy tale romance than Disney? This is the backbone of Enchanted (2007).
Giselle (Amy Adams) lives in the animated fairy tale world of Andalasia. She lives in a cottage in the woods with her animal friends and dreams of meeting a handsome prince. One day her Prince does come. She meets Prince Edward (James Marsden) and he proposes they be married tomorrow morning. The wicked Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon) is threatened by Giselle; not wanting to surrender her rule of Andalasia to the prince and princess. Narissa banishes Giselle to a far off place where “there are no happily ever afters,” real-world (and live-action) New York City. Here Giselle meets Robert (Patrick Dempsey), a hardened but friendly single divorce lawyer. Robert reluctantly takes Giselle in at the insistence of his young daughter, and with great suspicion by Robert’s girlfriend. Prince Edward follows Giselle to New York along with his manservant Nathanial (Timothy Spall) and her chipmunk friend. Edward roams New York searching for his princess while Nathanial, under Narissa’s command, attempts to kill Giselle with poison apples. Fairy tale antics collide with real world complications, causing those involved to reevaluate what it means to live happily ever after.
Enchanted makes unabashed references to classic Disney fairy tales. It starts off with an opening narration (provided by Julie Andrews) read from an old book resting on velvet as was done inSnow White (1937), Cinderella (1950)and Sleeping Beauty (1991). There are many shots through out the movie that herald back to scenes from Disney classics such as the ballroom scene in Beauty and the Beast (1991), Giselle’s cottage being modeled after The Seven Dwarves’ cottage,  and Narissa being modeled after the evil queen in in Snow White. In one hysterical scene, Giselle sings a tune to summon animal friends to help clean up Robert’s apartment. The New York wildlife which responds are rats, pigeons, flies, and roaches; nevertheless they help do dishes, dust, and clean the bathtub. This pays homage to Snow White and Cinderella scenes. One of several musical numbers includes some of the old Mickey Mouse Club member (now seniors) as dancers. These references are fun and hilarious, but are seamlessly incorporated so they fit into the story without drawing attention to themselves.
I have yet to see a movie featuring Amy Adams where she is not a lovable character. Amy Adams’ inherent cuteness really helps sell her Disney-like Princess role; she acts sweet, naïve, optimistic, and makes exuberant displays of emotion. No one else could have played Giselle like Amy Adams does. Prince Edward is a headstrong hero who is very accustomed to everything working out perfectly as they always do for the prince charming, but New York doesn’t operate by fairy tale rules; Edward is yelled at in one scene after trying to slay a bus he mistakes for a dragon. James Marsden plays up the awkwardness of the colliding world settings very well, providing a lot of ironic and embarrassing humor. Patrick Dempsey plays the straight laced, down-to-earth lawyer; it’s great to see how Giselle helps show him that fairy tale love really can exist in the real world, and also how Robert helps show her that there is more to love than simply being with someone. The way Dempsey and Adams bounce off each other helps makes this movie both humorous and thought provoking.
Enchanted is a highly charming movie that the whole family would enjoy. If you haven’t seen it, you should. If you have seen it already, you should watch it again. Kids will love the quirky humor and the fairy tale situations, adults will enjoy the romance and nostalgic allusions of Disney classics they grew up with. This movie is comfortably sitting on my movie shelf with many of my other favorites; this is one worth owning, especially if you have small kids.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thor Movie Review

Marvel Studios has been making a lot of Super Hero movies over the past couple of years. Hardcore Marvel fans are getting revved up for the Avengers movie; hints of this major crossover movie have been dropped since Iron Man (2008)But possibly the most difficult Avenger to make a movie for would be Thor; he’s not human, he’s a god, most of his story and adventures don’t take place on Earth. Thor is so far removed from these other heroes that doing his story justice would be pretty tricky. Fortunately, 2011’s Thor movie (directed by Kenneth Branagh) pulled it off well.
Many centuries ago, a race of Frost Giants tried to take over Earth. A powerful race called the Asgardians lead by their king, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), thwarted the Frost Giants. These events became Earth’s Norse Mythology. Years later Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the son of Odin is to be made king of Asgard. The Ceremony is interrupted by some Frost Giants in the castle. Thor gathers some friends to retaliate against the Frost Giants’ home world, demanding answers. In doing so, Thor violates a treaty between the Asguardians and the Frost Giants. King Odin puts a stop to Thor’s juvenile, violent tirade and as punishment for Thor’s arrogance and stupidity, banishes Thor to Earth in modern day New Mexico as a mortal, stripped of his powers and strength. Thor, assisted by an astrophysicist college student Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), must try to recover his powers, atone for his mistakes, regain his father’s respect, stop the Frost Giant’s impending attack, and reclaim his place as heir to the throne of Asguard before his manipulative brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) claims it for himself.
A big obstacle for the writers and film makers of this movie was that a majority of the characters are gods. Things could easily have gone overboard; making the characters so foreign to the audience that they wouldn’t be able to relate to the characters. But even the mortal audience can understand the sibling rivalry between Thor and Loki, being severely humbled, discovering what your limits are, and loosing the respect of someone you admire. Also, you get a sense of what each character is capable of doing or not doing. It was never remotely established that these characters can do anything at all; they do have the powers of gods, but they still remained believable within the context of their world setting.
The special effects and CGI graphics were stunning. Occasionally you get movies that are simply a display of visual effects with a weak storyline stringing them together like in Tron: Legacy(2010). The visual effects in Thor complimented the storyline so well that they simply blended together. Asgard was nearly completely done in CGI; it was pretty and sold the idea that here magic and science truly are the same, as Thor describes it. Traveling between worlds via the Bifröst was a colorful spectacle that was awesome to see, but still held to the movie’s color scheme and helped establish the power of the Asgardians.
The pacing of the movie was done well. The prologue, narrated by Odin, seemed a little bit rushed; similar to the opening prologue to The Lord of the Rings (2001). There was a lot of back-story to establish but it was important to the main events, and had they revealed the back story slowly over the span of the movie it wouldn’t have set up the main plot as well. It was important for the audience to be on the same page that Thor was from the beginning. During part of Thor’s duration on Earth the pacing slows down. But this, coupled with the far reaching expanses of desert, establishes the feeling of despair and of being lost. Aside from these two points in the movie, the pacing is fairly consistent and keeps the audience interested without allowing them to fall behind.
Thor was a well done film that was enjoyable to watch. Marvel fans will enjoy seeing it. Even those new to these Marvel characters will enjoy this film. Between Thor’s endearing dialogue, the stunning visual effects, and fun characters, Thor is certainly worth watching or adding to your home movie collection.

Who is your favorite superhero from The Avengers lineup? Comment below and tell me why!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

X-Men Origins: Wolverine Movie Review

In general, sequels usually are not as good as the original movie, but they aren’t always bad. Prequels, however, are consistently horrendous; often tarnishing the original movie and characters. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) is no different.
In 1845 Canada, young James Howlett (Hugh Jackman) sees his father killed by groundskeeper Thomas Logan. The trauma activates the boy's mutation: bone claws protrude from James' hands, and he kills Thomas, who reveals with his dying breath to be James' real father. James flees into the forest along with Thomas's son Victor Creed (Liev Schrieber), who is thus James' brother. They spend the next century as soldiers in the American Civil War, both World Wars, and the Vietnam War. Major William Stryker (Danny Huston) offers the two of them a position in Team X, a group of mutant special operatives. But James leaves because of the questionable actions and disregard for life. Years later, James now goes by Logan and lives in Canada as with his girlfriend, Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins). Colonel Stryker appears to warn Logan that someone is killing members of Team X. Shortly after, Victor murders Kayla and attacks Logan. Stryker offers Logan a way to beat Victor; an experimental procedure that would reinforce his skeleton with adamantium, a virtually indestructible metal. Logan asks for new dog tags that read “Wolverine” after a story Kayla had told him. After the procedure, Logan overhears Stryker ordering Logan’s memory to be erased. Logan violently fights his way out, and learns about Stryker’s elaborate plot to combine the powers of several mutants into one: Weapon XI, the Mutant Killer.
The story in X-Men Origins: Wolverine really seems haphazardly thrown together in an attempt to maintain interest in X-Men film series. The story was rushed; they threw in lots of well known comic book characters but didn’t give them enough screen time to allow any of them to develop into the interesting characters that they are. I was most upset about Remy “Gambit” LaBeau (Taylor Kitsch). Gambit was always a favorite of mine; like most of the other characters, he shows up for a little bit delivers a few lines and shows off some mutant powers and that’s it. One of Gambit’s more endearing traits is his thick Cajun accent, which is scarcely detectable in this movie. It just so happens that Gambit owns and knows how to fly an airplane to transport Wolverine to Stryker’s hide out; that never occurred in the comic books. It’s almost like after the story was written, they then stuck iconic Marvel characters in wherever it was convenient, regardless of how illogical it would be for the previously established characters. It’s just poor writing.
It was neat to learn about where Wolverine came from, but it removes the intriguing mystery behind the character. Wolverine is one of the more popular X-Men characters, and there really is no one that could play him like Hugh Jackman, who is perfect for the role! Wolverine’s ability to heal from anything makes him the perfect action hero, and the action in this movie is over the top and fun. Having an invulnerable character as the main protagonist brings to mind tank-like action heroes of the early 1980’s; fun but uninteresting. I’d hate to think this movie has essentially thrown Wolverine away, but there’s not much left that can be done with him. It would have been much better to have Wolverine go on a quest to find out all the details of his past (since in the original movies he has amnesia), and see how these revelations change him as a character and how he grows from it. Starting over from the very beginning and encountering token cameos from other popular characters doesn’t do the franchise or characters any favors.
If you’re an X-Men fan, I do not recommend watching X-Men Origins: Wolverine. It’s a weak attempt to keep the franchise alive and will leave you upset with what they did to your favorite characters. The only reason to watch it is to see Hugh Jackman be Wolverine some more. If you aren’t a fan, it will just leave you confused and annoyed. Just stick with the first two X-Men movies.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Movie Review: In Time

Good science fiction makes commentary on contemporary issues in a unique, metaphorical way. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), comments about anti-communism McCarthy-era paranoia. George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) critiques 1960s domestic racism. In Time (2011) is a creative science fiction movie that makes some interesting social commentary about issues of today.
In the future, scientists have discovered how to make people stop aging after 25 years. At this point, they have one year left; the minutes are visibly ticking down on a digital readout on their left forearm. Everyone is allowed to earn more time through work, gambling, or investment. As a result, time has become the main currency. Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) lives in a time ghetto with his mother (Olivia Wilde), barely making ends meet with scarcely a whole day on their hands. Will rescues a wealthy, depressed man named Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer). They fall asleep after a long talk about life. Will wakes to find a century on his clock and Hamilton about to jump off a bridge. Will tries to stop him, but is too late. This is caught on a security camera; making Will a prime suspect in Hamilton’s supposed murder. Will uses his newfound time to get to a wealthier time zone. There he meets Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried), daughter of the richest man alive, Philippe Weis (Vincent Kartheiser), who is himself heavily involved in controlling the time markets. A Timekeeper police officer, Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy), attempts to arrest Will who takes Sylvia hostage. After seeing what the time ghetto is like, Sylvia decides to help Will overthrow the system that perpetuates the socioeconomic divide, all while eluding the Timekeepers.
In Time was written and directed by Andrew Niccol, who also wrote and directed Gattaca (1997). The two movies have some qualitative similarities; Niccol seems to make up an amazing and creative science fiction setting, and put an underdeveloped storyline into it. The premise in In Time is just fascinating! You see subtle background details about how time as currency has changed things; I like the 99 Seconds Store and the Timeshare Savings and Loan. This is some good science fiction that makes you think about the real world; the value of a dollar, how you spend your time, and the current economic status of the world. It does this very well. Unfortunately that is about all that In Time does. It seems to continually beat you over the head with the premise to make sure you know there is a socioeconomic divide, and that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Niccol could have developed story further and expanded the premise more; he just didn’t venture deeper into the movie’s potential.
Whenever I see Justin Timberlake, I can’t help but think of the boy band fad of the 1990’s. Timberlake was pretty good in In Time, given the script and material he had to work with. He pulls off the action hero look well: lean figure, facial stubble, and buzz-cut hair. I can overlook his *NSYNC years after seeing In Time. Cillian Murphy delivers a good, but different villain as Raymond Leon than he did as Scarecrow in Batman Begins (2005). He was suave and well mannered in his cruelty. His motivation for wanting to stop Will was selfish, but understandable. He is the kind of villain you like because you can relate to him on some level. Amanda Seyfried did a good job of playing a pretty sheltered brat. That’s about the extent of the character, but like Timberlake, she did a good job with what she had to work with.
In Time was a really interesting science fiction combination of Logan’s Run (1976), Bonnie & Clyde (1967), any Robin Hood movie, and the real world Occupy Wall Street movement. In fact, if you are involved with Occupy Wall Street in any way you’ll love In Time. I’d highly recommend seeing it. If you are not, I still recommend seeing it just because the setting and themes are so interesting. But since the story isn’t all that dynamic, I’d recommend a matinee viewing or just wait for it on home video.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Movie Review: The Three Musketeers

The Three Musketeers is a novel by French author Alexandre Dumas. There have been many film and cartoon adaptations made dating back to 1903; at least once a decade, sometimes more. You would probably be hard pressed to find someone who is unfamiliar with the synopsis, whether they know it or not. What, then, could Paul W.S. Anderson’s new adaptation offer that hasn’t been done dozens times before over the last century? One word: Steampunk.
In Venice, The Three Musketeers Athos (Matthew Macfadyen), Porthos (Ray Stevenson) and Aramis (Luke Evans), with the help of Athos' lover, Milady de Winter (Milla Jovovich), steal airship blueprints made by Leonardo da Vinci. However, they are betrayed by Milady, who gives the blueprints to the Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom). Upon returning to France, the Musketeers are forced to disband by Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz) for their failure. A year later, young D'Artagnan (Logan Lerman) leaves for Paris to become a Musketeer. He manages to offend each of the disbanded Musketeers, and challenges them to a duel. The four are brought to the young King Louis XIII (Freddie Fox) and his wife, Queen Anne (Juno Temple) for dueling in public, but are given a full pardon. Richelieu, with the help of Milady, plants false evidence to suggest that Queen Anne and the Duke of Buckingham are having an affair, in hopes that war would erupt between the two countries, kill King Louis, and put himself (Richelieu) to rule France. To prove the Queen’s innocence and stop a potential war, the Musketeers must retrieve the planted evidence and her stolen jewels, from Buckingham, the most securely guarded location in England.
This adaptation of The Three Musketeers (2011) is very fast paced and focuses primarily on the action, and little on the characters. There are some token moments of character development that are vaguely interesting. Since those moments are all we get, the characters remain underdeveloped and simple. Arthos is interesting because he’s lost faith in the world, in people, and in love as a result of Milady’s betrayal. It is restored by the end of the film, but it is not revealed why. D'Artagnan is a quintessential arrogant young man out to prove himself to the world. His inexperience is taken advantage of a few times by other characters, but this doesn’t seem to make him any more humble. Milady is interesting with her political machinations, resourcefulness, and constant double-crossing. However, the fact that she is dishonest seems to be what defines the character. There really is nothing more to her than that. The script was awful and the characters were oversimplified, in spite of some good opportunities to make them more interesting.
Steampunk is basically sci-fi technology that is generally set in the Victorian era where everything is still steam powered. Air ships, mechanical computers, and steam- powered robots are all common in Steampunk. It can be interesting, but generally just adds unnecessary aesthetics. That is basically what it does for The Three Musketeers. Arthos uses an aquatic combat suit to take out enemies from underwater. Da Vinci’s vault has ridiculous booby-traps reminiscent of an Indiana Jones movie. Milady has enough mechanical spy gear to make James Bond look like mall security. The climactic fight is between two air ships trying to knock each other out of the sky. None of these devices, or anything like them, should exist in that time period. It’s kind of like if someone were to make a movie of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and add a bunch of Steampunk technology. Nothing meaningful would have been added, it might detract from the movie's overall quality; it might be fun, but ultimately pointless.
Anderson’s The Three Musketeers was a fun action movie. It had flat characters, a dumb script, great special effects, and a creative setting. This really isn’t worth watching in the theaters unless you really value the 3D experience. If you’re already a fan of Steampunk, you’ll love it. If you are not, it is still kind of fun, but it’s definitely a renter if anything.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Movie Review: Source Code

Judging by the preview, Source Code (2011, PG-13) seemed like a generic action flick with stereotypical characters and plot. It looked like it could be worth seeing but not a ground- breaking cinematic achievement. As it turned out, it wasn’t a terribly ground-breaking achievement, but it was much better than expected.
Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an American Army helicopter pilot, his last memory is on the battle field in Afghanistan. He wakes up on a commuter train in Chicago and realizes he has the identity of one of the train’s passengers. Thoroughly confused, he tries to figure out what is happening. Eight minutes after waking up, a bomb goes off in the train and Stevens wakes up again in some kind of pod. A military woman named Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) speaks to him through a monitor and explains that he needs to go back and find the bomber. Stevens wakes up again, and relives the same eight minutes. But the bomb goes off again, sending Stevens back to the pod with no new information. Stevens demands to know what is happening. Goodwin and Dr. Rutledge (the scientist in charge) explain that he is part of a project that can put someone in another person's consciousness during the last eight minutes of their life. He is not time traveling, just living the last eight minutes of someone’s life. Simply deactivating the bomb would not change anything, but figuring out who the bomber is would help the government find the bomber in real life. Stevens lives the same eight minutes over and over trying to find the bomber, but he finds himself falling in love with Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan),  the woman traveling with the man in whose consciousness he is living.
The story line in this movie is pretty interesting; it’s almost as if Groundhog Day (1993) and Die Hard (1988) were blended together to form Source Code. You relive the same events over and over until you’ve memorized everything about the people around you, all while trying to stop a very clever terrorist.  There was some good potential for the movie to get boring since you are viewing the same eight minutes repeatedly. However, like Groundhog Day, it keeps showing a little bit more information each time Stevens returns to the train. This gives the audience ample opportunity to see new things and try to figure out who the terrorist is along with Stevens. There is just enough information revealed about the story as it progresses so that the audience is not left bewildered, nor is there so much revealed that the audience figures everything out too quickly.  The movie develops in such a way that it keeps the audience guessing and yet the twists and surprises are not completely unexpected.
Source Code is an action movie, but it has a great theme to it; life is precious and should be lived to its fullest. Stevens is by every means a military soldier, but he is intent on trying to save the lives on the train despite being told that they are already dead in the real world. I thought this was refreshing since even protagonist military officers are often portrayed as combat-driven war machines. When in the pod communicating with Goodwin, Stevens is generally a by-the-book officer. On the train, he’s still a good person with no real intention of hurting anyone, but he is willing to use force to find the terrorist. Military officers do have souls and feelings for people, contrary to how the media and cinema often depict them. Stevens asks Christina several times just before the bomb goes off, “What would you do if you knew you only had one minute to live?” This is a bit cliché, but is applicable to the theme and the concerns Stevens is dealing with each time he asks.
This really was an exciting movie and was lots of fun. It’s worth watching at least once. It may even be worth a second viewing so you’ll know what to look for since you would know the end from the beginning.  Definitely see Source Code, its more intelligent than your average action movie.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Movie Review: The Butterfly Circus

Independent films and short films often are made on a shoe string budget and are rarely seen by the majority of movie goers. Such films are usually praised in film festivals and then never heard from again. Thanks to the internet and websites like more short films are able to be distributed and seen by a larger audience. This is how I stumbled upon The Butterfly Circus (2009).
Set during the pinnacle of the great depression, Mr. Mendez (Eduardo Verástegui) the ringleader of a notorious performing troupe leads his humble circus as they travel around the devastated American countryside. The attractions in The Butterfly Circus are meant to inspire and instill hope in its audience, a much needed thing during the depression. While visiting another traveling carnival, Mr. Mendez and his troupe discover a man named Will (Nick Vujicic) with no limbs as a freak show exhibit. Will ends up running away from the carnival to join Mr. Mendez in his circus. Will is inspired by the performers in The Butterfly Circus, and starts a personal journey to find hope in his life in spite of his considerable physical limitations.
The story in The Butterfly Circus really is a formulaic “feel good” tale of hope, inspiration, and self respect. Given the synopsis above, you can probably make a remarkably accurate guess as to how the story ends. It’s fairly predictable, but it’s still not bad. It is pleasant, touching, and somewhat inspiring. Some of the circus performers were depicted as having struggles that society condemned them for; one had been a prostitute that became pregnant and then was unwanted, one was an alcoholic with a temper, and one was an old man that no one wanted around. Each overcome their trials and began inspiring others. There’s some symbolism with butterflies related to this that is a bit overt, but since the symbolism isn’t the driving force in the movie; I can forgive it.
 The casting director did a great job. Eduardo Verástegui did a magnificent job of being a charismatic and dapper ringleader that sees the good in all people. The character wasn’t flashy, but his mustache and the top hat he dons makes him look so natural and charming. One of the other circus performers, Otto the contortionist, is played by Doug Jones. Jones is in a lot of major motion pictures, but is rarely seen; he plays Fauno and The Pale Man in Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), The Silver Surfer in Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007), and Abe Sapien in Hellboy (2004) and Hellboy 2: The Golden Army (2008) and many other uncredited costumed characters. We actually get to see him in this movie. He doesn’t get many lines, but he pays the part well. This short film also introduces Nick Vujicic. Vujicic is a motivational speaker who really does have no arms or legs. This film almost seems tailor made for him; it mirrors the self respect and gratitude themes that he often speaks about. Vujicic’s acting skills need to be polished a bit more; a couple of his lines seemed a bit insincere or forced, but he overall did very good job for his first role.
The sets were impressive; they really conveyed the depression era quite well, especially with the vintage cars. The color scheme had lots of dull colors; browns, tans, oranges, and dirty yellows give it an old-timey sepia quality to the movie. This helps visually express the despair and depressed feeling that the country had during the depression.  The period costumes were also very convincing. Even the bedraggled people living in tiny plywood huts were wearing tattered versions of 1930’s style clothing. All these elements combined really brought to life the depression era, even though the sets were still simplistic and small.
The Butterfly Circus is a fairly charming short film that is clean and tastefully done. It has won awards at independent and short film festivals. It is touching, and I admit it brought a tear to my eye at the end. It’s only about twenty minutes long and can be watched for free at the address below, and according to the website it is in process to becoming a feature length film in the foreseeable future. Keep an eye out for it.

Have you ever seen a really good short film? What was it and what impressed you so much about it?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Movie Review: Sucker Punch

Zack Snyder is responsible for an iconic cult classic movie, 300 (2007). He later produced a movie version of a classic graphic novel, Watchmen (2009). His subsequent movies have declared that it is from the director of one of these two movies. We’ve come to expect over the top visual effects from Snyder’s high budget movies releases. Frankly, that is exactly what we get in Sucker Punch (2011).
In the 1960’s, a twenty year old girl nicknamed “Babydoll” (Emily Browning) is institutionalized by her abusive stepfather (Gerard Plunkett) who frames her for the death of her younger sister. Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac), one of the asylum’s orderlies, accepts a bribe to forge signature of the asylum’s psychiatrist to have Babydoll lobotomized which should keep her from telling the authorities about real conditions of her sister’s death. Upon being institutionalized, Babydoll retreats into a fantasy world to cope with her new circumstances; she envisions herself as newly arrived at a brothel owned by Blue. She befriends four other dancers: Amber (Jamie Chung), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), Rocket (Jena Malone), and Rocket's sister, Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish). The brothel’s dance instructor has Babydoll dance during which Babydoll pretends she’s in feudal Japan. Here she encounters the Wise Man (Scott Glenn) who tells her of the five items she will need in order to escape from the brothel. To get each item Babydoll dances, the five girls share an imagined scenario, and cooperate to get the item. Led by Babydoll, the girls engage imaginary warfare against everything from giant samurai, to Nazi zombies, to dragons, and robots. If they succeed, their journey will set them free.
Zack Snyder is a very detailed, visual director. At any point in the film there is a great deal to visually take in. Snyder doesn’t put in so much motion and nonessential details that it becomes visually distracting or even annoying to watch. Snyder is known for spontaneous moments of slow motion during action scenes. It is a neat visual effect, but is almost becoming a cliché for Snyder movies. It adds a dramatic edge, but is used with such frequency that I think the edge is becoming dull.
The synopsis above makes Sucker Punch sound a whole lot more dynamic and fascinating than watching the movie was. After you become accustomed to the visual sensory overload, your brain kicks in and you realize there isn't really anything happening and there's no real point for any of the over-the-top action. You realize that Babydoll is dancing to distract the imaginary Brothel and this is symbolized by something completely unrelated. I think Jeremy Jahns (link in the side margin) worded it best:

It’s all about proper paralleling. For something to parallel something it has to represent something else. Example: like the zombie World War II war scene would have made sense, if it was a dude in war who was afraid to kill things so he imagines his enemies were a bunch of zombie Nazis so he can get through it and kill them. And the Mechs could have represented something else. You know, that’s a parallel. Going into a boring office and stealing a map only to have the parallel of that be this crazy World War II scene with zombies? I don’t see it.

Was the World War II Nazi Zombie scene good? Sure, it was pretty neat. Did it make sense after the fact? Not at all. Each of the subsequent imaginary scenarios didn’t really make sense in the scope of the story. There are basically four imagined scenarios that take place within an imagined scenario. The movie had potential to have some interesting psychological aspects incorporated, or some creative parallels and symbolism--so much, in fact, that I was actively searching for it throughout the whole movie. It just wasn't there.
The characters were very flat and uninteresting; they had uninspiring, predictable lines; and acted feminine and delicate in the “real world,” but acted tough and powerful in the fantasy worlds. The movie had some potential for social commentary about women’s empowerment, but it seemed like it was portraying the idea that the objectification of women is what makes them stronger. That’s just wrong.
I know people who watch movies for no reason other than visual stimulus; they don't care what they are watching. Sucker Punch was tailor made for this kind of an audience. It’s like visual bubblegum; it just gives your eyes something to look at but has no real value. It's got neat visuals that are fun to watch; but overall was little more than fantasy fodder for 13-year-old video-gamer boys. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone unless they greatly value special effect over characters, cinematography, and plot.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Movie List: 30 Day Movie Challenge

This is a list of movies that I enjoy (or in some cases do not enjoy). A new title will be added each week for thirty consecutive days in the month of October. Keep checking back and comment about your opinions on the movies I list.

  • Day 01 – The best movie you saw during the last year: Inception (2010)
  • Day 02 – The most underrated movie: Van Helsing (2004)
  • Day 03 – A movie that makes you really happy: Hairspray (2007)
  • Day 04 – A movie that makes you sad: Bridge to Terabithia (2007)
  • Day 05 – Favorite love story in a movie: WALL·E (2008)
  • Day 06 – Favorite made for TV movie: Merlin (1998) staring Sam Neill
  • Day 07 – The most surprising plot twist or ending: Sixth Sense (1999), Bruce Willis was already dead!   
  • Day 08 – A movie that you’ve seen countless times: Jurassic Park (1993)
  • Day 09 – A movie with the best soundtrack: Watchmen (2009)
  • Day 10 – Favorite classic movie: Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960)
  • Day 11 – A movie that changed your opinion about something: Osmosis Jones (2001)
  • Day 12 – A movie that you hate: Twilight (2008) and subsequent titles.
  • Day 13 – A movie that is a guilty pleasure: Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
  • Day 14 – A movie that no one would expect you to love: Chocolat (2008)
  • Day 15 – A character who you can relate to the most: Julie Powell in Julie & Julia (2009)
  • Day 16 – A movie that you used to love but now hate: Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes (2001)
  • Day 17 – A movie that disappointed you the most: The Brothers Grimm (2005)
  • Day 18 – A movie that you wish more people would’ve seen: Fido (2006)
  • Day 19 – Favorite movie based on a book/comic/etc: The Dark Knight (2008)
  • Day 20 – Favorite movie from your favorite actor/actress: Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
  • Day 21 – Favorite action movie: Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
  • Day 22 – Favorite documentary: Super Size Me (2004)
  • Day 23 – Favorite animation: The Incredibles (2004)
  • Day 24 – That one awesome movie idea that still hasn’t been done yet: Lois Lowry's The Giver
  • Day 25 – The most hilarious movie you’ve ever seen: The Emperor's New Groove (2000)
  • Day 26 – A movie that you love but everyone else hates: Lord of the Flies (1963)
  • Day 27 – A movie that you wish you had seen in theaters: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
  • Day 28 – Favorite movie from your favorite director: The Lord of the Rings (2001-03) by Peter Jackson
  • Day 29 – A movie from your childhood: The Neverending Story (1984)
  • Day 30 – Your favorite movie of all time: Ghostbusters (1984)

Friday, September 30, 2011

Movie Review: Rango

Nickelodeon Studios primarily makes television shows targeted towards kids. These include RugratsSpongeBob SquarePants, The Fairly Odd Parents, and Avatar: the Last Airbender. Later they started producing movies that were based off of their best selling television programming. This is how we got Good Burger (1997) and The Rugrats Movie (1998) among others. They did a few films that were not blatant advertisements for their television show such as Harriet the Spy (1996), Snow Day (2000), and Charlotte's Web (2008). Most of their movies have been less than stellar. Then along came Rango (2011), directed by Gore Verbinski. Given Nickelodeon Movies’ running streak of mediocrity, Rango didn’t even make it on my list of movies to see. Fortunately, I ended up seeing the movie anyway.
Rango (Johnny Depp) is a sheltered chameleon living as an ordinary family pet. He keeps himself entertained by being a method actor, acting out his own plays with inanimate objects as other characters. While traveling, the family car hits a bump sending, Rango and his cage flying off the vehicle and out into the desert. After wandering in the desert for some time, he comes across the gritty, gun-slinging town called Dirt. Dirt is populated by a host of wacky, lawless desert creatures, which makes the timid Rango stick out like a sore thumb. Rango uses his acting skills and conjures up an old west style character to help him try to blend in; this is where he comes up with the name “Rango.” This new persona is welcomed as a last hope for Dirt, which is slowly dying of thirst. Rango is made Sheriff to help figure out why the water is gone. Sheriff Rango’s efforts stir up some nasty villains and political intrigue.
I think the most blaringly obvious positive quality of this movie is the animation. This is some of the best CGI I’ve seen, comparable to the quality of animation that has made Pixar so successful. There’s so much detail in the characters: you can see the scales on the lizards, distinguish the feathers on the birds, and most impressive is the animation for the water. Water played a significant driving force in this story so it needed to look good. Water is very difficult to animate well; it needs really detailed control over the particle effects and lighting. Rango pulled this visual effect off brilliantly. The characters are designed to be zany and exaggerated, but still have lots of detail and care behind them. They just bring to mind some of the hand drawn characters from classic animated features. Another great thing about the animation is the color. Rango used such vibrant colors that it was almost difficult to take your eyes from the screen at any point. It is obvious that Rango was created with loving attention and detail by the artists involved in its production. Computer generated imagery can be a quick shortcut in animation, but shouldn’t be an excuse for creating low quality animated films.
The character Rango, himself, is quite interesting. He’s good natured, and hilariously naïve, but makes his way through his problems apparently by drawing inspiration from western movies he must have seen. He lacks confidence, but does his best not to let the townsfolk of Dirt see it. As a chameleon, Rango is meant to blend in, which he tries to do. But great responsibility is placed on Rango; how do you aim high when your purpose in life is to blend in? Rango (not Johnny Depp) really does improvise as he makes his way through the story, sort of inventing his character as he goes. I don’t particularly believe that the “fake it ‘till you make it” philosophy is a very good one to approach a problem, but Rango does just that, and he does make it; ultimately becoming the character he made up for himself at the beginning.
The story in Rango is absurdly creative! It kind of pays homage to a lot of old western movies, but includes a lot of comedy. The more westerns you’ve seen the funnier this movie will be. If Blazing Saddles (1974) was CGI animated with silly desert animals as the characters, you’d basically have Rango. It is delightfully non-formulaic. I kept thinking to myself, “yeah, here’s the part where they realize he’s not the gun-slinger he says he is.” But the movie didn’t do it. I kept expecting cliché story elements to pop up, but most of them didn’t; and the ones that did were done in a creative, unpredictable way. This gave the movie an invigorating, fresh quality to it.
I’m glad I ended up seeing Rango. It was fun, creative, humorous, and well designed and executed. It's a satire of a lot of old westerns. I'm sure if you're a fan of westerns you'll get a big kick out of it. And if you're a fan of silly comical animated movies, you'll also get a big kick out of it. It’s a good, clean family film that is intelligently written to keep viewers of all ages entertained. I am not the center of the target audience for Rango, but for those who are in the target audience, I recommend adding this movie to your DVD/Blu-Ray collection.

What movie have you seen in the last year that significantly exceeded your expectations? Why did it surprise you so much?