Wednesday, June 30, 2010

My Tops of 2010 - June

Instead of just creating only one page for it, I have decided to just wrap up each month with my ongoing lists of what I feel is the best so far of the year.

Best Films

1. Toy Story 3

2. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

3. The Secret of Kells

4. Kick-Ass

I don't really expect KICK-ASS to remain in the list by the end of the year. THE SECRET OF KELLS will probably barely hold on. I both liked the film, but with an upcoming release of independent films might put a damper to it and further in the fall.

Worst Films

1. A Nightmare on Elm Street

Friday, June 18, 2010

Toy Story 3 - Review

When I walk into a movie theater, whether it is for the next big thing or simple entertainment, I expect the film to have an emotional impact through my eyes and ears and into my soul. It could be the shear thrill of extravagant violence or the beauty of one’s acting craft. One emotion that I never expect to come forth often or at all is utter sadness. Bittersweet moments or tremendous scenes of sorrow may shock and depress me but not to the extremes as to begin to forcibly cry at what I’m seeing.

During the course of TOY STORY 3, I was bawling up and overcome with tears constantly flowing out of me. It is rare for me to cry at any film but to have an excessive number of sobs and weeps is on the dodo level of rarity. TOY STORY 3 is just that great of a film for me, an excellent conclusion to the most acclaimed film trilogy ever made. It brings big laughter but it also brings enough sorrow to shake up anyone.

After an excellent prologue that exists for a brief period in a child’s imagination and the recordings of a video camera, we come crashing down to the present state of our beloved CG toys. The extensive family of Andy’s toys has dwindled down to a small group, with several of them departed in unknown but grim circumstances. Woody, Buzz, Jesse and the rest are now at a crossroads as their owner Andy is getting ready for college. They accept their fate of being placed in the attic for an unknown amount of time. Like all comedies, the toys unexpectedly and accidentally are whisked off elsewhere and get donated to a day care center. The film turns into a Southern prison story as they now have to escape both from the abuses of children and a corrupt clique of toys led by a strawberry-smelling purple bear.

The charm of the world and the characters has not been tarnished or misled in any way in this final entry. The script is well-written with hilarious gags and zingers for all ages without being gross and tripe like in the Shrek series. The cast is again on the mark with their performances and their purposes to the story. The new characters introduced are somewhat of a mixed bag though. Some, such as a porcupine voiced by Timothy Dalton, don’t receive nor have much effect to the proceedings. The others, including the already mentioned bear named Lots O Huggin, a visibly abused baby doll, and a clown figure, do stand out in key moments and bring the dark tones and the harsh reality of a toy’s existence. The biggest inclusion for this film, Mattel’s Ken and Barbie, are good though the attention focuses more on the eccentricity of Ken’s lifestyle. Barbie, voiced by Disney alum Jodi Benson, gets some good spotlights and jokes but I felt that the character never had any faults to her, not even an expected display of shallowness.

While the humor still has it, what caused me to cry a river and struck me the most is the underbelly tone that climaxes in the final scenes. It centers on, explores, and critiques the idea that anything that has existed as a pure form of life must suffer abuse at one point or another. The toy family is subjugated to pay their dues in order to become part of the bigger family at the day care center. If they resist, they are tortured in a mild manner but devastating nonetheless. Or, they face future damnation and become labeled as junk like the toys our own mothers may see them as.

I honestly didn’t expect this film to go any further in despair compared to the previous two. At the start, I thought very careful of the words of Woody that the remaining family would still be together in any form. Once the final scenes arrived, some of my worst fears were answered and delivered for me to accept. Not knowing what to expect next, I grew very fearful of losing these beloved characters. Even with some resolution, the ending to TOY STORY 3 is still bittersweet and a sad departure.

Do I believe the franchise ends with this film? No, nor do I want it to end. The Toy Story films are one of the few Hollywood creations to bring up existentialism in an easy and enjoyable manner. It reminds people of the acceptances and imagination we once had as children before our mothers and fathers altered it gradually. It mocks and celebrates American consumerism and materialism. But more importantly, it is simply a celebration of life and love.


The Secret of Kells - Review

The world of cinema, but more importantly the American view of it, has always had an immense love of the "surprise film"; the films that come out of foreign countries that shock and amaze viewing publics with their tantalizing visual imagery, that breaks new ground in what can be achieved. One such recent film to do so did even further damage to people's senses; When the Oscar nominations were announced for this year, one of the biggest wake-up calls was the inclusion of THE SECRET OF KELLS as a contender in the Best Animated Film race. This small, unknown Irish film knocked off Hayao Miyazaki and the other mediocre entries produced by Hollywood to be considered worthy of a mention.

THE SECRET OF KELLS is a visual spectacle and a great advancement of animation, but it also feels like a flamboyant parade of the optic nerves, a giant spot-fest of extroverted indulgences. There is nothing very wrong with including this in the genre of animation, a genre engulfed with many highly stylish entries, but THE SECRET OF KELLS could have used something breathing room, especially since the film machine-guns through its art and plot to a 73 minute running time.

The plot is very rich in Irish culture and arts, a wise decision both for its own Irish audience and the foreign market. This film is already a good eye-opener with its style, the substance should have it as well. In the heavily barricaded town of Kells, a young boy named Brendan is in the middle of a power struggle. He dotes under his uncle, the Abbot, in preparing the protection of the town from invading viking hordes. But Brendan is fascinated in the works of scripters, and the protection of the arts. When a master illustrator come into town, the man and his eccentric cat take a liking to the boy and sets him up to be the next writer and keeper of the Book of Iona, a sacred book that has the power to vanquish darkness. While doing errands for the man, he ventures outside the walls for the first time and becomes friends with a mysterious fairy girl, Aisling. The constant pushing of his two elders and the magical world outside brings Brendan to choose his destiny wisely before the arrival of the hordes.

Though it can be suffocating at first with the cavalcade of distinctive imagery, the film does start to ease and become more accepting once the destiny of the protagonist is settled on. The inventiveness of the animation comes out in great stride, as the fields of depth and perception are constantly shifted and played with. The staging becomes exhilarating, especially as it cooperates with its sound design to make a pleasurable experience. Once such instance is a sequence where the protagonist is in a battle with a malicious spirit in what can be described as a magical plane of water. But the true beauty comes when the animation of the illustrations created by Brendan come closer to our own eyes.

Still, this always new and exciting direction does lead to faults in the film. Because of all the grandeur, several scenes have limited movement or whole animation cycles are repeated again. This is jarring to behold, but not in a good way. Also, the tonal shift towards the end is an unwanted surprise. What was once a film with bold comedy and artwork now suddenly grows dark and depressing. I generally liked these vicious scenes more, but it might ruffle the feathers of others and some children. But what makes this gear-shift more striking and confusing is that the film ends right after this. We are treated to a brief coda and then the credits. I do not know if this was the conclusion wanted by the creators but I wanted something other than this off-putting finale. I wanted to see more of the power and beauty of the book and its use in the world rather than have the energy and budget go into the opening goose chase.

Though it has some problems, THE SECRET OF KELLS is still a very great addition both to the animation world and the film history of Ireland. The resourcefulness of its style and unconventional storytelling is to be commended. If it just worked the animation and the story in a more parallel manner, it could have totally justified its demand to be nothing more than a masterpiece. As it is right now, the film falls just short, but still a great escapade.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Mortal Kombat Rebirth

Oh hell yeah.

I loved the original Mortal Kombat film. It's still pretty much the best film adaptation of a video game ever made. It is also one of the few times a Hollywood studio made an entertaining and well made martial arts film.

What makes this test film for a reboot to the franchise so great, other than featuring the always underrated Michael Jai White and Jeri Ryan, isn't just the presence of gore. It is the fact that I can ACTUALLY SEE what is happening in a fight.

Please don't let this fall under the hands of the Wachowski Brothers.