Unbirth of a Nation

thehateful8-teaser-poster-0

…or, “Bloodlust in the Dust.”

I didn’t stay past the Intermission for the 70mm Edition of The Hateful Eight, and with good reason, too. I went primarily out of curiosity, to see what all the hubbub was regarding a 70mm presentation and if the film was a definite awards contender.

To cut to the chase, Quentin Tarantino has proven himself to be far less than a film director — he’s this generation’s far more racist D.W. Griffith. The script is soused with the N-bomb, and just because Samuel L. Jackson’s character allows it doesn’t make it any better, nor does its use make Tarantino a grittier, “realistic” auteur. At one point, Jackson’s character takes great delight in telling a Confederate general of the vulgar way he killed his son (and forced him to perform fellatio), all while the Christmas carol “Silent Night” plays on an out-of-tune piano in the background. It may seem satisfying to some, seeing a post-civil war black man enacting vengeance, but the fact is that racism is racism any way it is performed; I don’t care who got hurt first, and also, you must surely admit that playing “Silent Night” while the audience bears witness to murder and oral sex is tasteless as can be.

Tarantino doesn’t even make use of the 70mm format. By his own admission, he was inspired to shoot the film in 70mm when he saw the chariot race in Ben-Hur, but there is no sequence tantamount in majesty to that; there isn’t a single added benefit to seeing it in its roadshow release beyond the fact that you get to use the bathroom after two hours.

From a director who decries cops as murderers, I think Tarantino should take a good look in the mirror, because with a film like this under his belt, he is bad as the men and women he vilifies. Skip it.

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Sinemascope: Why Certain Aspect Ratios Need To Die

Looks familiar, don’t it? Well, TIME TO DIE!!!

In layman’s terms, a film’s “aspect ratio” refers to how wide and/or tall the film appears. The aspect ratio that measures 2.35:1 or 2.40:1 is colloquially known as the Cinemascope aspect ratio — a way of framing the film so that the screen appears wider (remember, appears). This technique was pioneered in 1953 by Twentieth Century-Fox with biblical epic The Robe and medieval fantasy Prince Valiant, as a method of getting moviegoers away from their TV sets to experience something that could only be seen on the silver screen. The problem with this luscious backstory is twofold:

1. 35mm film, on which Cinemascope originated (later 70mm), has a native aspect ratio of 1.33:1 (i.e.: old TVs), and even though the Cinemascope ratio has grown slightly since The Robe, by cropping the film to such a degree that it does, you lose not only valuable space, but also resolution. This principle still applies in the digital age, where cameras shoot a native ratio of 1.78:1 — the same size as a widescreen TV, which brings us to…

2. The Cinemascope Aspect Ratio (hereon referred to as CAR) looks awful on a widescreen TV — two black bars on the top and bottom of the image says to the viewer that you don’t care about the home viewing experience, and that if they wanted to see your movie, they should have done so in the theater. Speaking of…

3. The CAR looks even worse on an IMAX screen. Digital IMAX theaters show at an AR of 1.90:1, close to 1.78:1, and if you cram a CAR film on that screen, it doesn’t make use of the format one bit, particularly if the film is in 2D only — rather, it looks like a mere blowup of the standard version.

On top of this, all but one of the theaters in my area widen their screen to fit the CAR; the rest of them shrink it, proving the CAR’s obsolescence. What I should like to see happen in the land of smoke and mirrors is, to drive my point home, more blockbuster and mainstream studio films shot in anything other than the CAR. Sure, there have been a few — Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Marvel’s The Avengers and upcoming films Jurassic World and Ant-Man, but this is simply not enough. Other aspect ratios should not be reserved for comedies (romantic or otherwise), dramas and Oscar bait. Cinemascope was designed to pull audiences away from their televisions, and I fear that keeping it around is only going to push them back.

I Am Satisfied With This Film

And the best part is that he's not cloying or annoying in any way!

And the best part is that he’s not cloying or annoying in any way!

This review is Spoiler-Free, proud-to-be!

Up until Big Hero 6, I hated all animated films made post-2010 (i.e.: Tangled, Toy Story 3). Given how Pixar has turned to milking toy money from their “art” (see also: Cars 2Brave, Monsters University, and so on), Walt Disney Animation Studios hadn’t fared much better in my eyes — Wreck-It Ralph was nothing more than a commercial for both GameStop and Nestle, and Frozen pushed the agendas of both radical feminism and toy moneymaking over a story for everyone.

My hopes for Big Hero 6 were beneath contempt when I went to see it today, and for the first act, my hopes were met. It’s not unlike Oz, The Great and Powerful, where the first act is stagnant with exposition, full of needless wordplay and references to preexisting material, and there is little care given by the creative team to like the characters you see — at least for an adult; as children, it’s a given that you love everything you see in a theater. That being said, like Oz, the film kicks into high gear in the second act, when the motives of the characters change under the presence of a threat and a chance to stop it, and it only gets better from there — if you wanted a Disney movie with the panache and wit of Wreck-It Ralph, but also the heart and soul of Meet the Robinsons, this is the one.

I must also give kudos to the film’s directors for not casting celebrities as these delightful characters — too many animated films today are riddled with big names (i.e.: Epic, The Book of Life) just to get cash from adults who would otherwise not see the film. The real star of this cast is T.J. Miller, whom I found insufferable as a token comic relief character in Transformers: Age of Extinction (and, in said film, was glad to see him get bumped off in the first half hour!), but is hilarious without chewing the scenery and unpredictably warm in this film! The weak link in the cast is not so much about performance as it is about sound — relative newcomer Ryan Potter voices Hiro, the lead in our story, and while I believe his character’s convictions and motive, I don’t believe that he sounds like a fourteen-year old kid. His voice is just too deep, and I wish that someone with a more youthful voice could have been chosen instead… or, at the very least, some computer alterations would have helped.

Big Hero 6 is not the best animated film of the year; that award belongs to The LEGO Movie. That being said, this is not a film to be missed, particularly in 3D, and it represents a return to form for Walt Disney Animation Studios. After all, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it!

There’s A Great, Big, Beautiful Tomorrow

Beat THIS, Epic Mickey!

Beat THIS, Epic Mickey!

As Walt Disney Pictures keeps milking the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise for all its worth and sitting on Guillermo Del Toro’s remake of The Haunted Mansion, they ought to take a cue from their own Marvel Comics and their “Disney Kingdoms” line. Based on characters and mythologies from beloved Disney Parks attractions, the newest of the pack is of Walt Disney World’s own Dreamfinder and Figment, which has just finished its five-episode story arc.

Figment, as it is known, begins at the Academy Scientifica-Lucidus, in London at the turn of the century, where inventor Blarion “Blair” Mercurial is under great duress to find a new source of energy, as per the instructions of the Academy’s Chairman. Looking far beyond, Blair seeks to conjure the energy of the brain and its thoughts, which, when tested, leads to the creation of a dragon called Figment, and that is just the start of the journey into imagination!

Written by Jim Zub (Wayward, Skullkickers) and illustrated by Filipe Andrade & Jean-Francois Beaulieu, Figment is a feast both visual and verbal, with gorgeous landscapes and action abound, suggesting the work of the Disney Animators of years past, and dialogue as rich with happiness and pathos as the finest wine — this is a story that embodies the spirit of Walt Disney and his vision. My only gripe with the story is that the resolution in issues 4 and 5 comes about all too fast. It’s not to say that the issues needed to be bulkier, but this could very easily have been stretched out over the course of ten issues, perhaps more. There is, as always, the chance for a sequel series, or even a film adaptation, to expound upon the nuances made by the characters and, by association, the good Mr. Zub, but this reviewer is content with the story as it is, and it gets my highest marks for a current age comic.

Rating: 5/5

A Quick Comment on Prolonged Exposure to the Cold

The Creative Brain Freeze behind “Frozen”

Fact: A Disney animated movie is NOT a classic until it has completed the three following tasks:

A) Made a ton of cash,

B) Won at least one Academy Award, and

C) Stood the test of ten years (i.e.: The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, etc.)

With that in mind, I have no idea why Disney is already releasing a TV special on Frozen, which proclaims it as a classic already. Heck, it should have been broadcast in promotion of its theatrical run late last year.

A New Hope

Sidenote: IMAX really is the best way to see it!

It’s been a long time since Hollywood trusted audiences to go beyond the stars for a fantasy film, and Guardians of the Galaxy delivers on almost every level possible.

If you don’t know the story already, watch this teaser trailer for a rough idea, which is really all you need (and all you should see before going).

Chris Pratt (Zero Dark Thirty, The LEGO Movie) gives a great performance as Peter Quill, alias Star-Lord, a Terran (Earthling) who is brash, smug and utterly charming, but he also embodies the necessary quality of pain and longing, what with Quill having been abducted as a child by a rogue group of bounty hunters led by the blue-skinned Yondu (Michael Rooker, The Walking Dead).

The last time I saw an athlete give a great performance in film, it was Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in 2010’s The A-Team. Four long years have passed, and Dave Bautista, a UFC fighter turned actor, is absolutely wondrous as Drax, a grey-skinned, red-tatooed warrior who speaks like a dictionary and can’t grasp the concept of metaphors. Sounds a lot like me. I like him a lot.

Equally wondrous is the vocal force of nature, Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook) as Rocket, the noted raccoon of the story, whose anger at life belies his friendship with his comrades. In this reviewer’s eyes, Cooper portrays Rocket as equal parts Calvin (as in, and Hobbes) and Gene Wilder in The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother – quick to berate others for their shortcomings and mistakes, but ashamed of his own way of life.

Zoe Saldana (Star Trek Into Darkness) is as bold and smooth as dark roast coffee with extra half-and-half as Gamora, a master-class assassin who betrays her father and her employer in her search for freedom. Last and certainly the least* is Vin Diesel (Riddick) as the gentle green giant, Groot. With three-plus lines, Diesel makes the most of what he can with his work, and because of it, I’ve never wanted to hug a tree more than now.

Not all the performances are great, mind. Certainly they all shine, but they don’t gleam in unison. While he is commanding in his role of Ronan, Lee Pace brings a bit too much of Thranduil, his character from The Hobbit trilogy, into the blue-skinned xenocidal maniac — he’s basically a dark Thranduil, albeit with different origins. Speaking of blue people, Michael Rooker is basically doing an R. Lee Ermey impersonation as Yondu — usually yelling his lines, though at the appropriate moments. The problem is that he is given so much angry material, it’s hard to appreciate his performance. He does, however, have one hell of a gag involving whistling.

Easily the weakest links in the film are Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond) as Ronan’s military advisor, Korath, and Karen Gillan (Doctor Who) as Gamora’s sister, Nebula. As far as I could tell, Hounsou plays a lackey to Ronan with a gun and a mechanical eye. Gillan, yet another blue addition to the main cast, plays the one-note villain method; she is pissed throughout most of the film, and never exhibits humility at moments that could need it.

Of course, the real star of the show is director and co-writer James Gunn (Slither), who establishes both a cosmic level to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and his own identity in mainstream film. Let’s face it, it has been a long time since Hollywood studios have allowed a new space fantasy film (i.e.: not Trek or the Wars) out into the wild, and Gunn hauls out all that he can muster to the film — classic space battles, characters (mostly) with humility and depth, pitch-perfect use of the IMAX aspect ratio and the requisite nostalgia in bringing a film of this caliber back to life. Despite a set of villains that falter in quality compared to the heroes, Guardians is a gorgeous force to be reckoned with. If you’re one of the twenty people in the world who has not yet seen this movie, please log off and do that right now!

*just kidding, Vin

Rating: 4.5/5

Trailers Are Seldom All They Seem

It seems like the U.K. and Europe always get the better posters. #FWP

To call Maleficent a remake of Sleeping Beauty is something of a misnomer. The film is obviously indebted to the existence of Walt Disney’s 1959 animated classic, but Maleficent does not play slave to its source material, nor does it defecate on its ancestor. Rather, it tells a new story that, for better or worse, will require audiences to almost entirely forget (for a well-paced hour and thirty-eight minutes) about the studio’s past efforts. That being said, the ride is a glorious one to take, with brilliant environments all around that range from austere to awe-inspiring, well-played performances and a script that, while imperfect, leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy inside.

The film tells the story of (wait for it) Maleficent, queen over a land of fairies known as The Moors and brought to villainy by her first love, the urchin Stefan, whose lust for power betrayed her. Years later, Stefan, now King, has a child, the Princess Aurora, whom Maleficent curses at her christening to fall into eternal sleep at age sixteen, awoken only by true love’s kiss — something that Maleficent believes to be a lie. Years pass, and Aurora grows curious, and even fond, of the fallen fairy that has been watching her intently for sixteen years. Could love have finally broken the barrier in Maleficent’s heart?

The film’s scribe, Linda Woolverton, famed for writing Beauty and the Beast and co-authoring The Lion King, was also the writer of one of my least favorite films of all time — the 2010 remake of Alice in Wonderland, which made little of an attempt to make sense and infuriated me as a viewer. With Maleficent, Woolverton makes a glorious story of betrayal and redemption that hearkens back to the days of the Disney Animation Renaissance. That being said, some parts come to mind as being underdeveloped or unexplained. Why, for instance, does King Stefan turn on Maleficent for the sake of power? We understand that he is orphaned and poor as a child, but one would think that would only bring him closer to the companionship of Maleficent, also an orphan, but among the riches of friends, which Stefan certainly desired (However, had he stayed, it certainly would have been a very short film!). Also, why are objects made of iron harmful to fairies? There’s no explanation given. Still this is a return to grace for Woolverton, one that is only helped by the presence of Disney legend Don Hahn as executive producer, whose eye for quality kept the studio’s animation division sharp from Beauty and the Beast through Atlantis: The Lost Empire.

Leading the cast is Angelina Jolie, who thankfully doesn’t play up the grandiose aspect of the title character, nor does she stoop to caricature of Eleanor Audley, the voice of Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty (though, at times, her voice is a dead ringer.). Jolie makes Maleficent her own, as she should be in context with the script — misled, abused and mocked by the friend she loved so, and just as focused on vengeance as she is on her mortification. Elle Fanning as the grown Princess Aurora shows a kind and naïve wonder that exudes the necessary beauty that the character is famed for, and truly appears saddened when the truth meets her eyes. Sam Reilly (On the Road) portrays Diaval, Maleficent’s raven servant who is given the ability to shapeshift on his mistress’ command. Reilly is given a decent character with some less than great dialogue and does his best with it, and truly, the story would be boring without him.

Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville and Juno Temple play the Three Good Fairies, known respectively in this film as Knotgrass, Flittle and Thistlewit. They ham up the camp factor a little too much, coming off as cloying and somewhat annoying, with not much of a purpose other than caring for Aurora in her youth. A similar gripe I have with the characters, albeit on a technical level, is how their human-sized selves are live-action while their small, fairy-sized selves are computer animated in motion capture. I can’t see what would have been wrong with face-mapping a filmed performance, and the contrast between sized performances is quite distracting, though livable. Sharlto Copley, of District 9 fame, plays King Stefan as a monarch that grows progressively less merciful as the film goes on, which works fairly well, but I still feel his turn to evil is too sharp to be entirely believable. Perhaps some of the fault goes on him as well as the script, but by the time of the film’s climax, the audience should hate Stefan to the core, and that’s exactly what I did.

The film is directed by freshman helmer Robert Stromberg, a two-time Academy Award winner for Best Art Direction, who brings the visual palette he used on similar films such as Alice in Wonderland (2010) and Oz the Great and Powerful to bring the gorgeous environments of Maleficent to life — make no mistake, this film is a visual feast, which is also thanks to renowned makeup artist Rick Baker (How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Wolfman) and award-winning cinematographer Dean Semler (Dances with Wolves), who craft not just a beautiful picture, but a most enjoyable one.

With a little bit of luck, Maleficent will hold well in the minds of those who see it, and its presentation of evil’s redemption will bring warmth into their hearts.

Rating: 3.5/5

(SIDENOTE: Depending on your theater’s trend of 3D presentations, you might want to avoid seeing the 3D version. The conversion is spectacular, but the dimness of the image with glasses can travesty the film, which has a lot of night shots. Basically, pay extra at your own risk.)

Monster Dearest

The red smoke from those flares bear semblance to my wrists post-film.

I have never been insulted by a film’s stupidity until now. This decade’s edition of Godzilla is soulless and lost, wasting cast and crew over the course of two hours and three minutes.

In this reviewer’s eyes, the fault lies on the shoulders of writer Max Borenstein (emphasis on “Bore”), whose asinine talents would be better put to use writing the imminent My Little Pony movie. I honestly couldn’t tell you what the film is about, due to the fact that Borenstein’s script bears a constantly moving plot that never stops to think of what is being said and/or done. Moreover, it’s riddled with tired, cringe-worthy clichés and glazes over plot holes of various sizes. The kingpin offense is how the film is secretly a sequel (you read that correctly) to the 1954 original — a most unworthy one that rides the tail of its predecessor by bearing its same name. It’s as if Borenstein watched Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland for inspiration.

Further, I seem to remember that Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption) wrote an (obviously) unused draft of the film which portrayed the film’s titular monster as he was shown in the 1954 original — a living, terrifying metaphor for the dangers of the nuclear age. Specifically, Darabont sought not to render him as a protector of humanity, which is the way he was in the film’s sequels — in his words, “he became Clifford the Big Red Dog.” Guess what Godzilla is in the finished film.

Unlike Borenstein’s writing, Edwards means well in his direction — Make no mistake, the film is an eye-and-ear candy binge, particularly on an IMAX 3D screen. From visuals alone, Edwards’ future as a director looks bright, but he deserves a better script for his freshman outing. Speaking of, the cast present in this film is incredible, but again, they suffer from an utterly destitute script that renders their talents either flat or hysterical.

There’s little to appreciate, let alone love, in this mess of a monster movie, save for the visuals and sounds brought to the film by Gareth Edwards. Here’s hoping Borenstein doesn’t get welcomed back for Edwards’ upcoming Star Wars spinoff.

Rating: 0.5/5

Motorized Mediocrity

Did the name "Imogen Poots" sound too immature for poster billing?

Did the name “Imogen Poots” sound too immature for poster billing?

Not fast enough, but quite furious, Need for Speed offers a decent drive in your jaunty car through the continental United States, but little else.

Let me preface this review with these sentences: I don’t play the games on which the film is based, I never watched “Breaking Bad,” and I am very selective about 3D conversions.

As the film begins, we are not eased into the film’s story or characters, but rather assaulted by Michael Keaton as a DJ with a darn-near replication of his Beetlejuice voice (he must be desperate to don the striped tux again… and who can blame him?). Come to think of it, the film doesn’t really begin; rather, it happens. Via Keaton’s DJ character, Mo Monarch (who we later find out runs a racing event), you only get the basest idea of the situation our lead character, Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul, “Breaking Bad”), is in — that his father is recently dead, that he runs a car shop with his childhood chums and he partakes in street racing. After such a race in the film’s beginning, Marshall’s old rival, the bizarrely named Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper, Tamara Drewe), gives him and his mechanic pals the chance to repair an apparently vintage Mustang…

You know, when you go see racing films, you rarely go for the story, and there’s no reason to do so here. Need for Speed has limited appeal as a story, but the action is enough to whet the appetite of most moviegoers, in this reviewer’s opinion. The acting from Misters Paul and Cooper is not their finest, but in a film like this, it doesn’t need to be. The same can be said of the more-or-less token women in the film, Imogen Poots (28 Weeks Later) and Dakota Johnson (The Social Network), whose characters are templates, but are mercifully not made to appeal to misogynists and no one else. Basically, if you want dumb fun at the movies (albeit long, at two hours and ten minutes), then Need for Speed is for you.

As for the film’s 3D conversion, do not be bothered that it was only promoted as a 3D film recently — the filmmakers began converting the film last September, and the end result is excellent. Normally, I’d get sick of the 3D effect if I’m not enjoying the film at hand, but for some reason, this was enjoyable. See it in 3D, if you must.

Rating: 2.5/5

Second Best is Still Among the Best

Y'know, I like the English poster a whole lot more.

Y’know, I like the English poster a whole lot more… though they forgot a comma between “Frears” and “Director.”

Philomena is a beautiful film, and ranks as my personal second best film of 2013, above The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and just below Saving Mr. Banks. As before, spoilers will be detailed, so go see the film if you haven’t already (as of this writing, it’s still in my area theaters).

Are we ready? Okay, here we go. The performances by Mr. Coogan and Miss Dench are well-thought and refreshingly believable; these leads never stoop to caricature or needless emphasis on a singular facet of the very real people they play — they are human beings, and little else, which is as it should be. Coogan’s portrayal of Martin Sixsmith (the straight man, if you will) is appropriately dry and wry, but he gives him a heart, with many moments of bonding throughout and notably exemplified in the film’s climax (which I will not spoil for you all; it has to be seen and/or heard).

As for Miss Dench, I don’t think I’ve ever seen her so cuddly and innocent in a film before. She has acted in such a way before (i.e.: Ladies in Lavender, Tea with Mussolini), but in playing Philomena Lee, she isn’t happy-go-lucky from the get-go. In her first scenes in the film, she is a woman with a lot on her mind, her faith at a crossroad, and a heart that is empty, gradually improving as the film goes on, and in spite of the fact that she finds that her son is dead midway through the film, she then decides to learn about him from those who knew and loved him.

There’s a lot of faith to be found in Philomena, not just with Philomena’s faith that she’ll find her son, but learning to find footing in your faith — in this film’s case, Catholicism. As a Catholic myself, I am struggling to regain my faith due to a few past hardships, and while this movie doesn’t “cure” me or anyone (it doesn’t seek to, anyway, nor is it supposed to), it is somewhat inspirational, for reasons that should become evident if you have seen the film, and if you haven’t, definitely do so and as soon as you can!

Rating: 5/5