Friday, August 30, 2013

The Wolverine Movie Review

So, we've got a 6th X-Men movie out now. The Wolverine (2013) follows the events of the 3rd X-Men installment, X-Men: The Last Stand. X-Men Origins: Wolverine and X-Men: First Class were both prequels. In my review of Origins I said I was worried there wasn't much left that could be done with Wolverine. That said, I was worried that The Wolverine was going to be as weak and shoddily done as Origins. There are times I enjoy being wrong.
Logan, a.k.a. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), has sworn off violence after he was forced to kill his beloved Gene Grey (Famke Janssen) and is still haunted by her memory. Logan is summoned to Japan by a sword-wielding mutant named Yukio (Rila Fukushima) on behalf of one of Logan's old friends. This friend, Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), was a Japanese soldier whose life Wolverine saved in during the bombing of Nagasaki in World War II. Yashida is now the head of a powerful technology corporation, and upon his deathbed asks Logan to protect his granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamato), whom he has personally chosen to take over the family business - much to the chagrin of her plotting father Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada). The Yakuza, a transnational crime syndicate in Japan, stages a high-profile kidnapping of Mariko during Yashida's funeral and Wolverine comes to her rescue. But Logan finds his mutant healing powers slowly disappearing and the two barely escape with their lives. With the Yakuza, a group of ninjas, and a ruthless mutant named Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) hot on their trail, Wolverine may not be able to protect Mariko for long.
Of all the X-Men movies out there, this one is the least X-Men-like. There are only three mutants in the movie, and Yukio has precognitive abilities and can foresee people's deaths. So Wolverine and Viper are the only ones with very "flashy" powers. That said, most of The Wolverine could have simply been a Japanese crime movie. I think that's really interesting; while there are plenty of action scenes, it doesn't have a huge scale and with lots of buildings being destroyed or entire cities and populations at risk. Things don't get comic book-standard over the top until near the end. That's not very common in superhero movies and it brought the story and characters more down to earth.
It's good to see Hugh Jackman return as to this role in a movie that understands the character's inner conflict. Contrary to what was the case in Origins, Wolverine is well developed. With his healing powers that have kept him alive for over a hundred years, disappearing Logan is forced to face his own mortality, what he has done with his life, what his purpose is, and what he might do in the possibly short time that remains. The character becomes rather existential at moments which helps define the character in new and interesting ways. On the other hand, the comic book version of Wolverine was a kind of rage monster. Wolverine was a bit of a softy in the previous films. In The Wolverine we get to see him do a lot more hack 'n slash fight scenes that herald back to the classic Wolverine.
The movie does become a little ridiculous at times; there are lots of crime organization thugs that pop up at every turn, a clan of ninjas whose loyalties and intents are vague, and some fight scenes push credibility at times. There is a fight scene on one of Japan's bullet trains which was highly enjoyable and possibly more creative and fun than the train fight with Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man 2.  Not every scene is particularly good, but the poorer scenes aren't bad and the good scenes are very good.
The Wolverine features some excellent Japanese scenery, suspenseful and fun action scenes, a better than average production, and some interesting characters, some of whom register more powerfully than others. I feel like overall it could have been a little bit better, but it's a far cry better than Origins was. It's worth renting, possibly worth buying if you're collecting the X-Men movies like I am. Make sure you stick around for the mid-credits scene, if you're an X-Men fan, you'll be even more psyched for next year's X-Men: Days of Future Past.

If you've seen The Wolverine or The Last Stand you can probably guess what's coming up in Days of Future Past. What would you like to see happen in the upcoming X-Men movie(s)? Comment below and tell me all about it!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Teddy Bear Movie Review

I heard about a foreign film through the grapevine last year which caught my attention. It's about a bodybuilder trying to find love. That alone sounded intriguing since we don't imagine those beefcakes are ever at a loss for female companionship. Teddy Bear (2012) foreign film from Denmark, it's written and directed by Mads Matthiesen, it's his first full length movie, and is based on Matthiesen's 2007 short film.
38-year-old bodybuilder Dennis (Kim Kold) would really like to find true love. He has never had a girlfriend and lives with his mother (Elsebeth Steentoft) in a suburb of Copenhagen. When Dennis's uncle Bent marries a girl from Thailand, Dennis decides to try his luck on a trip to Pattaya. Dennis knows his mother would never accept another woman in his life, so he lies and tells her that he is going to Germany for a competition. Dennis has never been out traveling before and hectic Pattaya is a huge culture shock for him. The intrusive Thai girls bruise Dennis' naive picture of what love should be like, and he is about to lose hope when he unexpectedly meets a very kind Thai woman named Toi (Lamaiporn Hougaard). They hit it off well, but Dennis dreads what may happen if his mother finds out the truth.
There are so many interesting aspects of this story. Generally, stories that revolve around someone seeking love usually feature a woman making an almighty struggle to find the right man to fill the void in her life, occasionally while being urged on by an impatient mother who wants grandbabies. Here the story revolves around the man simply seeking meaningful companionship, not necessarily sex. Men do want relationships, too, but social norms and gender roles tend to dictate that it's much more important to women. This story is honest enough to challenge traditional story tropes and do something unique.
Often to make a romance story more palatable to a broader range of viewers , they add "comedy" to the genre tag. This makes the story even less interesting since many "romantic-comedies" are so similar they are almost indistinguishable. I keep saying romance, but this movie is more of a drama. Yes, there are humorous bits and a few romantic scenes, but overall it's about Dennis taking a leap of faith to try to find fulfillment and keeping his overbearing mother at bay.
Dennis is such a good character. He is an enormous man who is 308 pounds of muscle. While at the Gym or at competitions he is in his element. Socially, especially when on a date, he is a very shy and awkward man. The movie doesn't have the comical elements revolve exclusively around Dennis' inability to talk to women as most romantic-comedies do; everything about the character is meaningfully done. Kold really is a professional bodybuilder, and even with his lack of acting skills he manages to bring a genuine sweetness to a fairly unique, gentle giant of a character. He's such an unconventional character that it's hard not do like him.
Dennis is a gentle giant seeking love.
Dennis discovers that "easy to find love in Thailand" actually means it's very easy to get a prostitute in Thailand. Dennis isn't after sex at all, and is very much put off by the prostitutes who try to get under his clothes. The movie had a lot of great potential to explore the differences between love and sex, but seemed satisfied to simply establish the fact that there is a difference. It's a bit of a wasted potential, but it doesn't make the movie less enjoyable. Teddy Bear does lean a bit towards being about sex tourism, but doesn't actually do it. There is no nudity or sex scenes. The movie is about finding love, not about getting laid.
Teddy Bear is really a pretty good movie. It has some issues with unnecessary shaky camera work and being a bit slow paced at times, but that's the worst I can say about it. It's got a unique spin on stories about seeking love and a unique character that you can't help but get drawn into. The languages in Teddy Bear include Danish, English, and Thai. There are sub-captions for the non-English speakers; that shouldn't put viewers off too much since roughly one third of the movie is in English. As an independent foreign film it is not rated, but if I were in charge of the world it would safely lie in the PG-13 area. If you're interested in movies that challenge social constructs of love or are a fan of foreign films, this is definitely one to catch. It won't appeal to everyone, but I think it's worth renting.

What movies have you seen that challenged social norms and gender roles? Are there particularly good ones worth seeing? Comment below and let us know!

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Adventures of Tintin Movie Review

Tintin is one of the most popular European comics of the 20th Century with publication dates ranging from 1929 to 1976. Since they were originally written in French, the comics were recommended to me to help me learn the language. I really didn't get into them as a kid so I wasn't excited when The Adventures of Tintin (2011) was announced. Now that I've seen it, I'm mad that I missed it in theaters!
After buying a model ship off a market stall, young journalist Tintin (Jamie Bell) is initially puzzled that the sinister Mr. Sakharine (Daniel Craig) should be so eager to buy it from him, even to the point of murder and kidnapping Tintin to join his gang as they sail to Morocco in on an old cargo ship. Sakharine has bribed the crew to revolt against the ship's captain, the drunken Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis). Tintin, his pet dog Snowy, Haddock, and a couple of bumbling twin Interpol detectives (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) travel from Europe to the Sahara and Morocco in pursuit of a pickpocket, a model-ship collectors, and a long lost treasure.
Starting out, I didn't realize how many big names were in this movie. It's directed by Steven Spielberg, who is famous for countless cinema icons. It's produced by Peter Jackson, who is famous for The Lord of the Rings trilogy and others. The screenplay was written by Steven Moffat who is known for writing and directed smash hit BBC series Doctor Who and Sherlock. It stars Andy Serkis, who is best known for playing Gollum in Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit; Daniel Craig, the current James Bond; And Simon Pegg and Nick Frost who appear in many British comedy movies together. There's even a musical score by John Williams who did the music for Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Jaws, and Harry Potter. Could this cast and crew get any better!?
Speaking of Indiana Jones, The Adventures of Tintin resembles a kid-friendly Indiana Jones movie. There is a lot of action and a complex mystery to solve that begins with a couple of innocuous and seemingly unrelated events that all snowball into a large globetrotting adventure. What's really excellent is they give you enough hints to be able to solve the mystery along with Tintin. That means there are competent writers behind this script; everything is suitably well developed and the plot unfolds at a very agreeable pace.
The film is animated, and uses motion capture for the characters. The actors put on suits with sensors to capture the motion of the actors so the animated characters will move the same way. There have been a couple other movies which have done this, and some of them don't look so good; if the actors aren't physically expressive enough, the animated characters end up looking ridged and out of place in the animated world. That wasn't the case here. The movement of the characters was well captured and utilized, while also having some silly cartoony stunts that helped keep the animated movie looking like it was actually animated.
There is so much fine detail in The Adventures of Tintin! The detail in the characters is particularly astounding. Close-ups of the characters show some highly detailed skin; freckles, tiny blemishes, even finger prints. If not for slightly exaggerated features (like unusually large noses) to make the characters resemble the source illustrations, you'd swear they were real people.
One of the best scenes was a chase scene near the end. Our heroes and the villains are all after the same thing which stays more or less in the center of the screen as it is moved through and around buildings and cars. Everyone moves and jumps on and off screen trying to catch their target as the camera changes directions and angles in one long sweeping shot. It just boggles the mind how much work that one scene would have taken to pull off effectively. And it was beautifully done! That scene, and others, could easily have been motion sick-inducing but the pace is smooth and the action is well choreographed. 
The Adventures of Tintin was really quite good. It was much more intelligent and ambitious than any other 3-D family film I've seen so far. It was filmed in 3-D, so I imagine the 3-D is exceptional. I ended up seeing it in 2-D on Netflix Instant Play. There's an outstanding cast and crew, some solid characters, some good laughs, excellent action, and some incredible animation. The only thing I could see as being a red flag to parents is Captain Haddock's constant drinking; it's depicted as being a funny thing that is only somewhat discouraged. I don't think it's a good enough reason not to watch it as a family, but drinking should probably be discussed afterwards. I recommend seeing The Adventures of Tintin. It's a solid enough movie that I think it's worth the price to own a copy of, probably a 3-D version if you own or have access to a 3-D television. There's a good reason this is Nickelodeon's highest grossing movie.

Check out the trailer to see the amazing animation:

Do you have a favorite 3-D family movie? Which one is it and why did you like it so much? Comment below and tell me why!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole Movie Review

I've said in previous reviews that Zach Snyder's movies are often hit or miss, but his visual style is absolutely gorgeous to behold. That said, Snyder's animation debut was pretty exciting news. I finally got around to seeing Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (2010), and I think it somehow managed to be both hit and miss.
Soren (Jim Sturgess) is a young barn owl who is enthralled by the epic stories his father (Hugo Weaving) tells him of the Guardians of Ga'Hoole, a mythic band of winged warriors who fought a great battle to save owlkind from the evil Pure Ones. While Soren dreams of joining his heroes one day, his brother Kludd (Ryan Kwanten) scoffs at the notion. Kludd yearns to hunt, learn to fly, and earn his father's favor from his younger sibling. Kludd's eagerness causes both of the young owlets to fall from their treetop home and into the talons of The Pure Ones. The two discover the evil plot to abduct fledgling owls and raise them to become an army with which to conquer all of owlkind. Soren manages to escape with a few allies; Gylfie (Emily Barclay), Digger (David Wenham), and Twilight (Anthony LaPaglia). Together they set off to find the legendary heroes, the Warriors of Ga'Hoole to warn them of The Pure One's evil plot.
Zack Snyder's visually intense directing made Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole absolutely gorgeous to look at. Unlike most CGI animated movies which aim for a cartoony sort of look, The Owls of Ga'Hoole strived for a photorealistic art style. It was stunning! You could actually see the individual feathers on the owls fluttering in the wind, getting ruffled up during action scenes, and take on a different texture when they got wet. It is very difficult to animate hair and fur; a whole new program was created just to get Merida's hair to  look right in Pixar's Brave. There are so many feathered characters in The Owls of Ga'Hoole that it each scene must have taken ages to animate and look as good as they do in the movie. The photorealism extends to the sets and scenery, too. You could pause the movie at any time and the resulting still shot would look picturesque enough to frame and hang on the wall.
It came as no surprise to me that Zach Snyder's signature use of spontaneous moments of slow motion during action. He did this a lot in 300, Watchmen, and Sucker Punch. It's still a neat visual effect, and thankfully we don't get swamped with it. There were moments where I didn't understand why the slow motion effect was used, the scene didn't seem to justify using it. But there were other scenes such as when Soren was trying to fly through a rainstorm and tries to focus; everything slows down for a moment including the thousands of raindrops all around him. That looked really cool.
I only mentioned a few of the voice actors who appear in The Owls of Ga'Hoole above. Others include big name actors such as Joel Edgerton, Sam Neill, Helen Mirren, Abbie Cornish,  and Geoffrey Rush. There's nearly an all-star cast and they do great! The voice acting is spectacular. Hugo Weaving actually voices two characters, but it's done so well you'd hardly know they were the same actor.
The downside to The Owls of Ga'Hoole is the weak plot. The movie is based on Kathryn Lasky's book series and the movie received a lot of negative comments about the modified story. I haven't even heard of the books so I can't comment there, but it made fans of the books upset enough to mention it here. The story ended up being very predictable and vague on details.  The Pure Ones have some sort of magic metal "flecks" that they get from owl pellets (a mass of undigested parts of a birds food that some bird species occasionally regurgittaes). How that is magic and why that paralyzes enemies was totally lost to me. The characters were simple and predictable. So much of this movie has been done in dozens of other children's adventure movies that literally nothing surprises you in the least.
For being Zach Snyder's first animated feature, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole was not a bad attempt at an animated movie. The photorealistic animation was stellar to say the least, and the camera work was fantastic! The story and characters were so predictable that it's safe to say you've already seen this movies several times before, unless you're an 8-year-old. The movie seemed to try to go for a hard core edge while still being kid-friendly. This wouldn't be a bad family movie; the animation will likely captivate adult audiences while the simple characters and story are easy enough for younger kids to keep up with. Overall, I think I would have been just fine if I hadn't seen the movie at all. I don't think it's worth the money to purchase unless you truly value the impressive animation or have young kids who would enjoy an animated action movie.

Is there a director who has only done live action movies whom you'd love to see make an animated feature? I think a Quentin Tarantino movie would be crazy! Comment below and tell me who you'd like to see direct an animated feature!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Pacific Rim Review

When the trailers for Pacific Rim (2013) were released, it looked like it could have some potential. Once the movie hit theaters I kept hearing people say it was like Power Rangers for grownups. While Power Rangers is a bit hard to take seriously, the idea of Power Rangers for grownups sounded flipping awesome! Now that I've seen Pacific Rim, I think I can agree with the Power Rangers analogy.
When legions of monstrous creatures known as Kaiju, start rising from the sea, a war began that would take millions of lives and consume humanity's resources for years on end. To combat the giant Kaiju, a special type of weapon was devised: massive robots, called Jaegers, which are controlled simultaneously by two pilots whose minds are linked in a neural bridge. But even the Jaegers are proving nearly defenseless in the face of the relentless Kaiju. On the verge of defeat, the forces defending mankind have no choice but to turn to two unlikely heroes - a washed up former pilot Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and an untested trainee Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) - who are teamed to drive a legendary but seemingly obsolete Jaeger from the past. Together, they stand as mandkind's last hope against the mounting apocalypse.
Guillermo del Toro co-wrote and directed Pacific Rim. Near as I can figure del Toro saw some Power Rangers episodes or an old Godzilla movie and went, "Bah! I can do better than that!" The movie starts out giving us a Lord of the Rings style prologue, a very quick summary of everything that has happened leading up to the beginning of the main story. We hear there's a portal at the bottom of the ocean, it took three days for tanks and fighter jets to take down the first monster, then after the second monster a new weapon had to be devised, and then describes why two pilots are needed to operate the giant robots. Really it's not too hard to take this prologue as it is; there really isn't anything so ridiculous (bearing in mind this is high end sci-fi) that we roll our eyes in exasperation. We accept it and then look forward to seeing these two monsters duke it out.
And duke it out they do! Really, the draw to see Pacific Rim is to see huge monsters fight. Was there any other reason to watch this movie? I can't think of one! While I don't normally like to use this cliché adverb, the monster fights are epic! The fights are drawn out, not short and quick; they have a massive scale, not just a brawl in a small arena; and they are intense. The movement for both the Kaiju and the Jeagers are stunning. They don't move quickly and effortlessly. The way they are animated gives them a strong sense of mass and weight. They move slowly as if heavily labored under their own weight. You really feel the scale of these things. That comes from a good director who can frame the action well. Yeah, we know they are big, but the camera work is so beautifully done that you are simply stunned by the enormity of the Kaiju and Jeagers. They aren't just big, they are colossal! I don't think we ever get to see them fit into a single shot. This shows some excellent camera work and directing.
So, there are some human characters in Pacific Rim believe it or not. Most were pretty standard characters. Becket is basically everything you'd expect from a washed up former pilot; tough and world weary. That's about all that character has going for him. He serves his purpose well and that's all he did. Mori was more interesting; she has a past, a desire to prove herself, and personal obstacles to overcome. then there is Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), the commanding officer of the Jaeger program. He's a hardcore mentor character that whips our two heroes into shape; you can't have any doubts about this guy since he's such a competent and strong leader. My favorite characters were Dr. Newton Geizler (Charlie Day) and Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman). They provide some much needed levity and comic relief; they have polar opposite personalities and disagree on all their research. They still play an important role in the story. There really aren't any characters that are awkwardly placed in the story or who don't serve a purpose, which leaves me thinking they are reasonably well rounded characters.
Guillermo del Toro has made another visually striking movie that is absolutely fun to watch. It is some high end sci-fi, but it's not so outlandish that we find it hard to take seriously. The monsters and robots are beautifully animated to make them seem as realistic as possible. The characters are pretty decent, the script flows well and reminds me of Independence Day a little bit, and those fight scenes are nothing short of epic. I highly recommend catching Pacific Rim in theaters if you can, this movie was made to be seen on the big screen. I didn't think I was going to enjoy as much as I did, but I think this is worth owning a copy of once it's available on Blu-Ray.

Do you have a favorite monster movie? What is it and why did you like that one in particular so much? Comment below and tell me all about it!