Saturday, June 30, 2012

My Tops of 2012 - June

SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN was a really good dark updating of the popular Grimm fairy tale, with an ecstatic supporting turn by Charlize Theron. I thoroughly liked its direction but my enjoyment factor was really low. Maybe its later life on DVD will change my mind.

PROMETHEUS was certainly the most talked about film but not in a good way. Despite having great visuals and a couple of good performances, the film was a sheer disappointment, filled with plot holes and stupid behavior of its characters. As a big-budgeted yet routine sci-fi adventure flick, you can take it for what it is but certainly not as the epic it wanted to be.

MADAGASCAR 3: EUROPE'S MOST WANTED was a surprise treat. I loathe "Afro Circus" with a passion, along with the other annoying clownish behavior, but the film's story with the circus animals lead to some truly magical moments.

MEN IN BLACK 3 is better than the second but still pointless. Except for Josh Brolin, nothing really works or matters at all.

THE GREY was a very interesting film about religion and the human spirit, slightly disguised underneath a grim tale of men trying to survive from a plane crash and packs of wolves. It has some of the best jump scares in recent times and a commanding performance by Liam Neeson.

THE ASSAULT is an interesting based on a true event film, retelling a hijacking of a Air France plane in 1994. Unfortunately, it suffers from dime-store plot elements, including a constantly sniveling wife to one of the commandos, and confusing direction and blocking of scenes. The cinematography also wasn't helpful, with its indecision of whether it wants to be a black and white film or a muted color film.

THE DEVIL INSIDE certainly has one of the worst endings ever to grace a film. Though a worse of 2012 contender, it was more often hokey and really stupid than an absolute catastrophe.

HAYWIRE was an enjoyable little spy flick from Steven Soderbergh. A nice breakthrough performance for MMA fighter Gina Carano and a fun music score.

BRAVE couldn't achieve the excellence of the other Pixar films but it was still a good entry. The bipolar direction didn't help matters, especially since the mother-daughter relationship was more interesting than the constant male buffoonery.

Best Films of 2012

1. The Avengers

2. Chronicle

3. The Secret World of Arrietty

4. The Hunger Games

5. The Cabin in the Woods

6. 21 Jump Street

7. The Grey

Worst Films of 2012

1. Project X

2. Dark Shadows

3. The Devil Inside

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Superman and Batman Finally Together in a Movie!

...Except, only in Lego form. For now.

According to Variety, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, noted directors of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and the recent great 21 Jump Street, are currently making Lego: The Piece of Resistance, an animated film centered on the beloved Danish toy that will feature plenty of crossovers, including the Legos crafted from the world of DC Comics. This news story is perfectly timed, coming shortly after the release of the anticipated sequel to Lego Batman, which also features the first team-up of the two in Lego form in a video game.

It gets better with the attached/projected cast for it. While the always entertaining Chris Pratt is set to voice the main character of the film, the two superheroes of DC's Big Three will be voiced by special guest stars. Will Arnett will play Batman, which looks to be a good choice due to Arnett's deep voice. Superman, on the other hand, is currently expected to go to a certain someone.

Man, you can't go one day without this guy popping up in the news.

As I said before, I'm frankly okay with Channing Tatum and if he is hired and the material is fitted to his acting style, he might be a real treat for the movie.

My only concern is the Lego film itself. As a man who adores animation in any manner, I have watched plenty of the previous Lego-produced films, and they all are generally pretty ho-hum at best. Instead of having an all-ages feel to them, similar to the style of the Lego video games, they are strictly kids-only, as in 7-years-old and below. Lego Clutch Powers was tedious, Bionicle was dire, and even Lego Star Wars was a boring affair. Maybe the talent attached to this will make change my attitude.

When 25 Minutes of Spider-Man is Beyond Enough

When I was eagerly anticipating the release of The Avengers, I like other comic book fans was dreaming of what was to come and what would be hidden away. For myself, both as a movie-goer and a film industry critic, I had the notion that there would be a secret Avenger, who would come in at the big climax in New York City. The two likely candidates were Spider-Man and Wolverine, with the former being the one I would place my bet on. As a viewer, this would have been the ultimate display of fan service. As an industry watcher, this would have been the key factor that would guarantee to make The Avengers the number one highest grossing film of all time.

Of course, all was for naught. I knew it would be the impossible dream, since both of those characters were tied up with other studios, with Spider-Man still in Sony's corner unless they give up the rights back to Marvel/Disney (fat chance!) or keep the franchise going. Instead, we got a killer stinger, which was awesome though.

Unfortunately for us, we have been bombarded with advertisements, p.r., exclusive footage, and tons of trailers for The Amazing Spider-Man for way too long. I generally liked Andrew Garfield's "small knives!" joke the first time I heard. 100 T.V. spots later, it really, really tasks me. Thanks to the internet, someone decided to collect every single video released by Sony, negating any repeats, into one video with a running time of 25 minutes! That's practically a quarter of the entire film! Trailers are often notorious for spoilers and even featuring the ending of their movie, but this is a ridiculous amount of pre-hype.

What is even worst for Sony is how all of these first looks are starting to erode their potential audiences. Sure, it is a given that the film will be #1 at the box office and enjoy some Fourth of July love from game-happy families. But if any of those people watched any or all of the pre-release videos before finally seeing the film, the experience would consist mainly of thumb-spinning and waiting before something new and unseen comes out. Combine this with people still questioning the need for a reboot and the rumors that Sony is not happy with Marc Webb's direction, you have yourself a serious potential backfire and a waste of time.

All of this heavy propaganda for this film, along with the increasing flat trailers, is the reason why I didn't pick the movie for My Top Picks of the Summer. I wanted to watch aliens vs. battleships and stupid gothic humor than see this film, despite my enjoyment of all the actors in the cast. Will I still see it? Yes, but definitely not on opening day, nor in the later hours of any day. Why should I pay for high ticket prices for something I have practically already seen when I can get it for a matinee discount or attached to a drive-in double bill?

Post-Edit: Sony has continued releasing expanded scenes, with an additional 3 minutes of new footage. Are they that scared of audiences' expectations that they need to spoil the film even further or is it a sign of pre-damage control before a possible derision of the product?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Nora Ephron - RIP

Nora Ephron, noted writer turned screenwriter and director, has died. She was 71 years old.

Ephron is best known for writing some of the most beloved, and even some of the worst, romantic comedies of the past three decades, the ones that were perfect for television or girls' night. From Sleepless in Seattle to her recent Julie & Julia, she always wanted to implement broad comedy with an extra dose of crying and melancholy. Of course, Ephron will be remembered for crafting When Harry Met Sally...

She will surely be missed.

Trailer Review - Atlas Shrugged: Part II

Atlas Shrugged: Part II
Teaser Trailer
Watch It Here

Person of Interest: Just a collection of talking heads, including Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Dennis Miller, Phil Donahue, and Ayn Rand herself.

Scene Pop: Um...yeah...there's nothing.

Briggs Breakdown: 7 talking heads, 2 Atlas Shrugged mentions, 4 Ayn Rand mentions.

Effective?: No.

Check it Out?: Hardly any people turn out for the first one. What makes you think anyone will come for this? I probably will, just because of my allure of "so bad" movies, kinda like how some go to the Twilight screenings for the audience and atmosphere. But this trailer is so ludicrously low budget, telling you nothing of the movie except the year of its supposed release. Even if Fox News was my televised religion, I would still laugh at how bad this trailer is.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Brave - Review

The hits keep coming for Pixar. Not the good kind of hits, I'm of course talking about setbacks and errors in judgment. After one of their golden boys' live-action debut turned into a spectacle failure, and a growing derision after CARS 2, comes forth this sadly misfortunate piece. BRAVE is ultimately a good film, something that will pass the time and keep you entertained to an extent. However, whether it is a feeling of disappointment or just having a critical opinion, this movie is not always a magical experience. It has fleeting moments of greatness, muddled among the brouhaha of crazy antics and sequences that would fit better inside a half-hour sitcom instead of a 93 minute movie.

Merida is Pixar's first fully formed main female protagonist, though she is certainly cut from the Disney Princess cloth. She is a fiery redhead with vastly unkempt hair who loves archery and adventure. This is contrasted with her mother's dreams, who wants her to be a proper Scottish lady and follow in her footsteps as a queen to be. This is further helped when the kingdom's fellow clans bring forth their first born to be betrothed, to win her hand through a game challenge. Exasperated with her mother's behavior and lack of appreciation for her own life, Merida runs off with her beloved horse, only to follow some Will O' the Wisps to a witch's cottage. Her interactions there brings forth a change in fate for someone and the film's second half. Revealing what happens will lead to spoiler territory, since it has never been pronounced in the trailers, unless you have studied them and noticed some hidden elements. Without spoiling too much, let's just say that the plot twist is ripped wholesale off a semi-recent Disney flick with superior Celtic music replacing some crummy Phil Collins songs.

Though the script is a little too "seen it, done it", there are some moments where Brenda Chapman's vision shines through. Once having a near auteurship over the project before being fired and having Mark Andrews come on to co-write and direct, it is clear that Chapman wanted to make a fairly objective portrayal of a mother-daughter relationship. Though a bit stern in her royal beliefs, the Queen Elinor character does go through many emotions other than the usual mean and disappointed stare, further helped by Emma Thompson's sweet and concerned voice-over. As for Merida, she is fitted the teenage tomboy role, though she also gets shading through her lack of patience and respect when not succumbing to fits of unbridled anger. The dynamic between these two, especially in the second half, leads to some of the film's most interesting and creative moments, ranging from absolute cute to pretty scary.

It is too bad that these perfect scenes can only be achieved thanks to the lame main conflict of the story, which is really not that big of problem if you think hard about. Arranged marriage may not be a good thing in our current society but in this realm, it doesn't really feel that bad considering the women are the ones truly in power. Queen Elinor is the one who always takes charge among the comically boisterous and violent kings, who would rather argue and fight with each other. In fact, all of the male characters are comic reliefs, from the sleepy-eyed soldiers to the suitors to Merida's devilish little brothers. There are a few foils for the females but they are vastly outranked by the shear dumbness in the males. Unfortunately, all of this broad male comedy gets vexing and takes more precedence over the more satisfying mother-daughter story. This bipolar nature of the film is the clearest example to the viewer where Chapman had her say and where the rest of the Pixar crew stepped in for their own specific view of the product.

I can't really say much about the animation, since it is Pixar and of course the animation would be heavenly. The concept artists clearly had a lot of fun, right next to those who animated Merida and her beautifully constructed hair. It does feel at times, however, that the lush attention to the backgrounds is more intriguing than what's going on in the story. The voice-acting is very good, with Kelly Macdonald handling Merida as the teenager she truly is. The male characters may have grew tiresome for myself but I will say that I did thoroughly enjoy Billy Connolly as the realistic thinking yet goofy King Fergus.

BRAVE is satisfactory but a slight disappointing effort for the Pixar franchise. From the problems backstage to the final cut, it's a film without a strong main voice, fumbling around with too many ideas. For instance, I never even brought up the villain, who only appears briefly in three scenes and only present in the proceedings to hammer in the moral to those still dumbfounded. Thankfully, it does achieve some wonderfulness at times, escaping the fate of being a true "Camel" for Pixar. Plus, it is one of the most family friendly films to feature a cavalcade of male asses.


Friday, June 22, 2012

Trailer Review - Dredd

1st Trailer
Watch It Here

Person of Interest: Ultra-serious badass Karl Urban, rookie Oliva Thirlby, and Lena Headey, enjoying a little break from television work, as evil Ma-Ma.

Scene Pop: "I am the law".

Briggs Breakdown: 2 human free-falls, 5 "Slow-Mo" drug trips, rampant gun battles, a slow-motion room clearing, and a big ole chain-gun.

Effective?: Barely. Not many distinctive aspects to appease potential viewers.

Check it Out?: Probably wait till DVD or a cheap matinee on a slow day. I was a fan of the Stallone version growing up, despite the heavy dose of Rob Schneider, so I will look forward to this, despite some gripes. The Children of Men visual style meets The Raid: Redemption plot does look promising, but the heavy use of slow motion looks boring. Also to its detriment, this trailer sounds wait too much like Total Recall's trailer, complete with the sudden drops, blast of gunfire, then clangs of metal drums.

Monday, June 18, 2012

America's Skip Weekend a Success! Plus, an Adam Sandler Spiel

Back during my overview of the summer movie season, I pegged June 15th as the first weekend when audiences will stay away in droves. "Shockingly", I was right on the money. Both Rock of Ages and That's My Boy suffered very weak returns, each getting barely close to or less than $15 million, according to Box Office Mojo.

Of course, this has caused some concern over the bankability of both Tom Cruise and Adam Sandler. Spin, of course, is the name of the game in Hollywood, as multiple reasons for the failures have been piling out. Cruise is an action star, first and foremost (True, but people have been watching him regardless of genre). Cruise wasn't featured enough to sell the picture (Absolute lie). Sandler is a family movie star (A fib, considering his films have mostly been PG-13). It was the R rating (Did that hurt The Hangover films?). Etc, etc.

The only one who is going to walk away from this mess with better standings is Cruise. Though I haven't seen the film, the reviews for Rock of Ages have singled him as the only saving grace to the picture. Though Cruise has ruined some of his image thanks to his personal beliefs in Scientology, he has been keeping up his acting skills to many raves, though I did find him annoying and visibly too old in Knight and Day. Also, he'll get more press later on with a new franchise to jump-start this winter with Jack Reacher, a flick based on the popular Lee Child book series.

As for Sandler, where to start?

2011 was not a good year for Adam Sandler. He had two films, Just Go With It and Jack and Jill, that were much loathed with the critics, though it did get the suckers into the theaters. He also produced two other films, Zookeeper and Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star, that were just as worst or some how far below the previous two's standards. This year, he won multiple Razzie awards for practically all of them. His Happy Madison Productions has become a laughing stock and constant punchline, especially since they will be crafting films from the Tonka Truck toys and the board game Candyland (guess they didn't notice what happened to Battleship?). There has been a steady decline in his fans, with this film as proof. Maybe going all out with a comedy that touches upon statutory rape of all things wasn't the smartest thing to do, especially since his next endeavor is an animated kids' film.

Honestly, I do still like the guy, thanks mainly to his earlier films and experimenting in a few dramas. But I have severely fallen out of favor with his work, starting with the utter abhorrence of Big Daddy. I still haven't seen the film Funny People, where he essentially plays himself, mocking the crass he has been doing for far too long now, which are featured in too close for comfort parodies. It is too bad that he couldn't see his reflection in that and do something about it, hence why we have all been suffering since then.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Is Prometheus Overrated?

(Since this is an obvious discussion about the recently released PROMETHEUS, a minor spoiler warning is in effect.)

We as free-thinking film-goers love to watch something and talk about it afterwards. You don't just go see a movie, whether you actually wanted to or as a forced upon companion, and not have an opinion about something with it. As the output of major films continue to churn out, and as the power of the internet grows more and more significant, so does film discussion. Of course, since we just love to follow the path of derision and schadenfreude on the web, negative thoughts about a film are the ones most cherished and brought up. Midichlorians, anyone?

Since its highly-anticipated worldwide release on June 8th, after a pre-release a week early in the U.K., PROMETHEUS has been the film everyone has been talking about and having different but very charged opinions. Some critics, such as Roger Ebert, have given it perfect marks while others have lambasted it severely. With the popularity of web-series, the film has been featured all over the place with some digging with it despite a few errors while others nit-pick it apart in every detail or list off all of the questions plaguing them after the experience. Then, of course, you have the ALIEN fan base, who also want a piece of the action in the decrying.

Despite all of the pans and whines, even if they are all very, very true, I will not change my current rating or review of the film. I still stand by it, declaring the film an unfortunate missed opportunity but a fine film to ultimately watch. It is not the epic it wished it was and wanted to be. Instead, it settles for being regular sci-fi fare.

That last statement is best summed up when I was talking about the film with one of my best friends on Saturday. He did not see it yet, looking over his options and what type of theater display to see it in. He asked me if PROMETHEUS was very much in-line with THE MUMMY, the 1999 action-adventure film whose franchise was once a big thing to attack online. His question hit me to my core and cleared my mind, because it was a definite yes. The action set-pieces, the archaeology, the stupid idiots touching things, etc. These things matched up perfectly with PROMETHEUS, instead of the other artfully done sci-fi films like 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY or SOLARIS. Instead of being the next big masterpiece, it was better as a B-movie with some big statements and themes, kind like the movies that were the inspiration/ripped-off for the original ALIEN film. With that mindset, you could theoretically handle the bad old man make-up effects, the really stupid scientists, the many science discrepancies, and the extended chase at the finale.

I'm not trying to say you need to turn off your brain in order to enjoy PROMETHEUS. You should never do that ever, unless you really wanted to easily lose an argument with someone. You as the viewer should always be thinking and feeling with a movie, choosing what works and doesn't works for you. In the case of PROMETHEUS, it didn't wow me too much in its bloated epicness but it was still holding on by touching upon major themes I do like to see in a major motion picture. Discussing religion versus scientific fact in a sci-fi film and having the CGI power to back it all up? Extended body horror motifs, including that which the ALIEN franchise has touched upon? Yes, please I want some more.

Thanks to the many discussions, I have been thinking about this film everyday since watching it Friday afternoon, which is a plus in its favor no matter the quality of the product itself. I still hold out for a director's cut of it on DVD unless the film was the true and only vision of Ridley Scott's. Maybe that will limit the naysayers down significantly or not. Regardless, I am just happy that a current film has caused this much commotion about what's on the inside, instead of was happening on the outside. I'm looking at you, THE LONE RANGER and WORLD WAR Z.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Men in Black 3 - Review

MEN IN BLACK 3 can be safely said to be a better film compared to the abysmal second film but it is still unable to keep the MIB franchise afloat. You may have Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, and Barry Sonnenfeld reunited again. The others, however, have chosen to leave the sinking ship instead and subtract the charm of the film even further. Removing Rip Torn's character may be okay yet still distracting but the absence of Frank the Dog is down right cruel. Why should anyone care to watch your next sci-fi installment with former golden child Will Smith when you killed off your beloved dog character?

Despite being with the agency for 15 years now and achieving both senior status and gray hair, Agent J is still left in the dark about some things by his superiors, including his long-time, bored out of his skull partner Agent K. A criminal named Boris the Animal has just escaped the maximum-security prison on the Moon and looking for revenge. Boris had a past run with Agent K but the really old-timer won't tell J, or the audience, what happened back then, causing J to get all butt-hurt and become really sad while playing Mass Effect 3. Boris ends up changing the timeline, by traveling to the past and killing Agent K back in 1969. J is the only one in the changed world who remembers everything, while having a deep craving for chocolate milk, and the only one who can travel back to prevent his partner's death when not trying to make too many time paradoxes.

Time travel stories are always a very heavy mixed bag for myself. They often never have anything interesting to say, instead relying on cuteness factor and pop culture jokes. Guess what this film chooses to do? The film's plot also doesn't really fit and feel right, trying to be a goofy sci-fi comedy while at the same having an old African-American man travel to a time when racism was still fully ingrained. There are a few scenes where intolerance does pops up, including a particularly squeamish traffic stop. However, this gets down right stupid when we later learn that the head of the MIB during the 1960's was heavily xenophobic, caring only for human losses instead of the lives of aliens. Who would hire this guy up to such a high position? With this guy in charge, you are just only one intergalactic incident away from commencing the utter annihilation of humankind because of this dumb schmuck's beliefs.

Other than the bad time travel business, the true reason that the script of MEN IN BLACK 3 isn't worth a damn is that none of its proceedings have any importance in advancing the characters or its universe. The makers think that throwing in time travel and easy to spot plot twists will change everything forever, only to achieve a below-average television episode, making it a better fit for the Men in Black: The Animated Series that aired long ago instead of being another movie sequel. Remember how the first film in this series ended? It had a man too old for this crap anymore so he passed the MIB legacy on to two deserving candidates, that being an African-American man and a woman. That was a true sense of progress, especially in cementing the equal rights allegory this franchise about alien contact has been trying to achieve. From that ending to this third installment, however, it has been nothing but hackneyed plot conveniences and desperately aging actors.

Will Smith is old. I have been attacking him for his age throughout this review but it needs to be repeated often. It is depressing to see a gifted older gentleman reducing his talents to recapture the lost youth and years of a character. From the dark black hair dye to his street-smart swearing, it just paints a sad, desperate picture. Tommy Lee Jones is worse, hardly doing anything remotely emotive, while Emma Thompson as the new MIB chief is wasted opportunity. The only actor who shines the brightest, refusing to give up on the bad material handed to him, is Josh Brolin as the younger Agent K. From replicating Jones' speech patterns to his rugged charisma, he makes the screen feel alive for a change, especially helping Will Smith out during their exchanges. The only other actor worth mentioning is Michael Stuhlbarg, as a walking alien Macguffin who constantly sees alternate timelines being played out, which never gets old and is charming.

Unless you are hardcore for Josh Brolin, do not see this until video and television. This is a cotton candy flick, designed to distract your taste buds before you realize it was nothing substantial for you to consume. I do hope this end of the MIB franchise but seeing how this got made, despite a ten year time difference, it is a sad possibility that another will be churned out. Talk to you again about the limitations of this franchise in 15 years.


Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted - Review

Dreamworks seems to be finally entering into Phase 2 in their animation operations. After first achieving the goal of being a worthy competitor to Disney/Pixar's hold on the market, they have been crafting some beautifully soulful works such as KUNG FU PANDA and HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON. However, in order to advance further, they still have to cut the tethers to their more mediocre and mercenary offerings, first starting with the once great SHREK franchise. Now it is MADAGASCAR's turn, ending the blah series of animal buffoonery with a third installment for a perfect DVD trilogy gift for the holidays. Instead of eating a crow or one of my shoes, I will just have to swallow my pride because MADAGASCAR 3: EUROPE'S MOST WANTED is shockingly well-managed and entertaining. It is gleefully absurdist and heartfelt but also cloyingly annoying at times, thanks to its previous films' form of comedy for children audiences.

I still have not seen the second film, ESCAPE 2 AFRICA, since the first film was pure malaise and excessively unmemorable. Thankfully, this film treats the first sequel as an after-thought for new viewers and dragged along parents, since all you need to know is to gleam its title. Alex the lion, Marty the zebra, Melman the giraffe, and Gloria the hippo are still in Africa, waiting for the return of their penguin companions, who flew off to Monte Carlo in order to fund their trip back to the Central Park Zoo. Sick of waiting and making sand-castle versions of the NYC, they travel to the city, create a cartoonish calamity, and are on the run from animal control. Avoiding the heightened senses and psychotic personality of Capt. Chantel DuBois (voiced by Frances McDormand), they lie their way on to a circus trope's train and embark on their adventures in showbiz.

From the surreal prologue to the group stepping on the train, the film is a complete sugar rush for the ADD generation; rapid-firing away scenes and gags with hardly any to no chance to breathe or marvel at the fun the animators are having. Once on the train do the viewers get some semblance of drama and earnest emotions, as if there was a sudden re-write during production, or in this case the talents of co-writer and noted indie director Noah Baumbach. We are introduced to a group of circus animal performers who want to achieve the impossible but have become jaded in their dreams. Their skills have dwindled severely, most especially for their former superstar Vitaly, a Russian tiger who could jump and slide through any size of a ring. They still think they can earn an American tour contract at their London performance but are unable to retain cohesion or match up to those dastardly and successful French-Canadians who work out of Las Vegas. Of course, the fact they are anthropomorphized creatures and can talk is never addressed or acknowledged by their loser human crowds.

This circus story may follow a predictable path but the animation and performances make up for it significantly. The true highlight of the picture is the premiere of the newly re-vamped circus in London. Though it is set to Katy Perry's "Firework", which will cause some concern for the viewer for how on the nose it is, the artistry of their acts and the craftsmanship of the 3D rendering is stupendous. This sequence does seem to justify seeing the film in a 3D supported theater, but it is just as magical in regular 2D. Since we experience all of the fears and ambitions of the circus animals before this, it makes the moment that much better for them. Bryan Cranston has fun in the movie as the tempermental Vitaly, using his gravel voice to great effect even when stomaching and reading through some real groaners. Jessica Chastain, who was last year's biggest breakthrough actress, also revels with Gia, the upbeat Italian jaguar who wants to be an acrobat of the "Circus Americano" style like the lying lion Alex. She also serves as his love interest, the only one available for the four main leads, which yet again underlines the primary error with this franchise.

As it was a problem in the first two, these MADAGASCAR films are very misleading in believing they have four protagonists. The star of the show has always been Ben Stiller's Alex, as he goes through a journey from a caged spectacle to a free-thinking animal. The other three have nothing to offer to the story here; Chris Rock is again irksome as the so-called comic relief Marty while David Schwimmer and Jada Pinkett Smith do nil beyond jokes about Melman's height and Gloria's weight respectively. Further to the detriment of this film is the franchise's trademarked way too kid-friendly humor that gets extremely grating. Sacha Baron Cohen reprises his lemur character, again bringing up forgotten dance songs of the past to no laughs. Martin Short is cast as a rambunctious Italian seal lion who you will certainly wish will succumb to not being in water all the time. However, those are absolutely bearable compared to "Afro Circus", that brain-bleeding song devised by Chris Rock that has plagued all the trailers and T.V. spots. Trust me, it gets worst when it is later remixed for the finale and then mash-upped with the series' theme song "I Like to Move It" during the end-credits.

MADAGASCAR 3: EUROPE'S MOST WANTED will not completely change my overall opinion of the Dreamworks Animation franchise. Instead, it shall stand as its own entity. Everything does not positively work in the film, especially the oddball moments involving the songs "Time to Say Goodbye" and "Non, je ne regrette rien" of all things, but it should be commendable for trying to succeed from the dregs of the past movies. For that, I am glad that all of the work done by the many talented art departments got to end with a high note.


Friday, June 8, 2012

Prometheus - Review

PROMETHEUS is a stunning achievement, both in visuals and also in unfortunate dullness. It is an overall good film ruined both by being truncated and not being as interesting as it is smart. Ridley Scott needs to start insisting on making his final cut of a film to be the one screened all over the world. This movie is sure to be destined to join the ranks of BLADE RUNNER and KINGDOM OF HEAVEN as Ridley Scott films to achieve masterpiece status with a true director's cut on home video. However, if the movie in front of me for two very long hours was actually his true vision instead of the studio's, then that would increase the disappointment factor of it all even more.

Two archaeologists named Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) find their latest evidence of a peculiar star map that has been appearing in the art work of different civilizations. With the funding of the mega-giant Weyland Corporation, they board the titled spaceship along with an ample crew to journey to the exact coordinates to a very distant moon, in order to make contact with the possibly real Gods of human life, co-named "The Engineers". The excavation of a mysterious building on the planet only leads to a lot more trouble for the scientific expedition. Since there is no cats present at all in the film, human beings must be the ones to be killed for their curiosity.

The plot is often pretty fascinating, with many debates between the crew members about religion, the power of belief, evolution, and even the life of a family. It gets better once the cast heads into the site, which brings the major theme of contamination into the overall picture. Whether it is the sudden decaying of art murals or the many odd fluids and secretions laying all over the place, you will know that major infections are sure to be spread. These factors are further enhanced by Scott's expansive visual design. His mise en scene is frankly astonishing, most easily seen in the scenes aboard the ship. Long shots are often used, making the humans look even further smaller compared to their supposed creators. Couple that with the great art direction and impressive CGI effects, this hard sci-fi flick is surely to be an absolute epic.

However, the movie is both too short and too long. Rapace's Shaw gets the majority of the attention, with the android David, played by Michael Fassbender, a close second. These two actors give very good performances, especially when it comes to being soulful or soulless. The rest of the cast shockingly get nearly nil to work with, including the talented Idris Elba and Charlize Theron who both have important supporting roles. People often come and go with giant yellow name tag on their heads but with no presence or purpose. Once the bodies started to fly and pile up, I just didn't care for anyone except for Shaw and David. Not only does it seem that many scenes were cut out before release, but there is definite proof: A brief discussion between the two ship pilots over a running gag involving a bet literally stops right when one is about to say something. Even with the lame and shortened characterization of everyone, the film constantly creaks and stalls out in between its acts, allowing the formulaic plot structure and use of horror conventions to stand out in clear view. I can forgive those later problems but not when there is nothing else to peek my interest with, especially beyond the harsh overall color scheme of teal and orange.

Of course, this movie has been constantly tagged as possibly being a prequel to the popular ALIEN franchise, particularly Scott's own ALIEN. Without spoiling too much, I can say this fact is indeed correct. The presence of the Weyland Corporation is the true dead giveaway to the hardcore crowd but casual and current observers might not notice. Scott made sure to leave plenty of clues for everyone, whether it is an alien creature's unique blood type or a humongous but dormant room.

During the viewing of PROMETHEUS and even after it, I was plagued with the bad visions and memories of last year's THE THING. That film also was a prequel to a science fiction classic but far, far worse compared to this one. However, both crafted a story with a short-haired female lead, undistinguished supporting players, infection as a key component to the proceedings, many callbacks to its original source, and a crashing spaceship. I do hope PROMETHEUS will live on in a better form on home video, instead of the so-so theatrical release I've unfortunately partaken in.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

Trailer Review - Django Unchained

Django Unchained
1st Trailer
Watch It Here

Person of Interest: A disheveled and dangerous Jamie Foxx, smiling bounty hunter Christoph Waltz, a cameoing James Remar, and sniveling master pimp Leonardo DiCaprio.

Scene Pop: Cotton field stained by spilled blood.

Briggs Breakdown: 14 confirmed kills, 9 shots fired, 3 racist posses, numerous shots of horse-riding, a giant cart explosion, a whipping, and one glorious coconut goblet.

Effective?: Yes, it easily explains the film's story and tone. To be fair to the Great Gatsby trailer, it could have lost points for using modern songs, including a James Brown song just used in the Savages trailer, but they matches up with the racial overtones and the film looks to be another Inglourious Basterds/Tarantino revisionist tale.

Check it Out?: Indubitably. Whether you love or hate him, a new Tarantino film is a big movie event. As stated, the film looks to be another Inglourious Basterds, a film that I wasn't completely wowed at the theaters with but is now slowly moving higher in my favor. I am wary of the Christmas time release though. That business maneuver sadly didn't do The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo any favors and with this big pipe-bomb of a movie, it might blow right in the Weinsteins' faces.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Trailer Review - Wreck-It Ralph

Wreck-It Ralph
1st Trailer
Watch It Here

Person of Interest: John C. Reilly as the misunderstood Donkey Kong meets Rampage "villain" Wreck-It Ralph, Jack McBrayer as Mario clone Fix-It Felix, Sarah Silverman as a freakishly annoying princess, Jane Lynch as Samus crossed with Master Chief, Q-Bert, Zangief, Bowser, M. Bison, Clyde the Pac-Man Ghost, and Dr. Robotnik.

Scene Pop: That Bad Guy Anonymous meeting. Seriously, video game dreams do come true.

Briggs Breakdown: Six video game character cameos, three video game composite worlds, four Donkey Kong free-falls, several bug-killing combos, and a time-displaced arcade.

Effective?: Yes, particularly in selling the cutey-cute moments for families and non-gaming audiences.

Check it Out?: Day One for myself. This is destined to be the Who Framed Roger Rabbit? for a new generation. I'm a little worried though that it might end up being another Meet the Robinsons and the old man mentality that video games are too complicated now-a-days is a bit dumb and misguided. Additionally, that great meeting scene is ill-timed after that Toy Story 3 short which also had a group therapy session, involving lost and forgotten fast food toys, and had Jane Lynch in it as well. Still, this looks to be great fun.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman - Review

SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN is a well-crafted, visually dazzling spectacle to behold with one's eyes. It takes great care in its CGI work, cinematography, and art direction to craft a tantalizing fable to watch. It also has one of best performances so far this year. And yet, I somehow had some personal qualms and concerns with it, especially since my enjoyment level was so severely low throughout the entire picture. Maybe the overall grimness and ultra-seriousness got to me somehow, despite those two factors being key to what makes the film work.

The movie revolves around three ominous blood droplets and the bitter relationship between two women. The king of a mighty kingdom, locked up perfectly next to a cliff and an ocean, decides to re-marry quickly after coming across the beautiful female prisoner of a defeated yet oddly magical army. The newly crowned Queen, and also step-mother to the King's much adored princess Snow White, then embarks on her wicked ways; she lies, cheats, kills, and steals her way to completely conquer the castle and banishes the beloved little girl to solidarity confinement in a tower. Years later, when White has come of proper age, the Queen is beginning to lose her luster of beauty, despite constantly zapping the youth from the many pretty girls in the kingdom. Right when she learns from her magic mirror that she needs to eat the heart of Snow White to gain immortal elegance, the princess finally escapes the castle thanks to a bird ex machina. The Queen sends a Huntsman after her, seven dwarfs later join the picture, then a different version of Prince Charming, and all the other expected elements of the beloved fable come forth to the surprise to no one.

As a strong counterpoint to the more popular Disney version, the film tries to touch upon the original mood and tone of the fairy tale devised by the Brothers Grimm, while also including recent social corrections and sensibilities, such as making the titled character something more than a wet blanket. It ultimately pays off, way too effectively in fact; some little kids might be scared by the dark, ghastly imagery and brief but bloody bits of gore. Though the overall film might seem to feel just like a cheap cluster of homages, ranging from LORD OF THE RINGS to the works of Hayao Miyazaki, director Rupert Sanders and his crew do create a nice creepy, unworldly atmosphere. There is also some surprisingly moments of tenderness and objectivity: Though always destined to be the villain of the story, the Queen is given back-story as a person who has been longed abused by powerful men. Considering how the King cared more of her fairness than of her mind when he decided to marry her, she seems to have a perfect reason for killing the barbarian.

Right next to visual design in terms of the film's brilliance is the acting. Kristen Stewart does hold up well as Snow White, bringing an earthly aura and warmth to the proceedings. Her constant mouth agape might distract you though, or bring some unintentional hilarity. Chris Hemsworth is better suited as the Huntsman, especially when he is given an affectionate monologue later on. As for the robust and talented supporting players as the dwarves, they were just simply okay and did what was expected of them. However, none in the cast comes anywhere close to Charlize Theron as the Queen. Though expertly given a short screen time, she dominates with ease, creating a truly scary antagonist. Her thunderous verbal lashes, piercing eyes, and unstable head jerks will jump you out of your seat.

As stated earlier, outside of the odd low personal pleasure of everything, I didn't have many problems with SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. It's not absolute perfection but still a stunner to partake in theaters. Maybe once it becomes a DVD viewing stable for many later this year will it finally warm me over. Or, maybe it will just stay the same as a pretty yet a bit empty flick. It only seems fit to give the right rating for it, despite my lack of immense inner cheers. Outside of Charlize Theron, of course.


Friday, June 1, 2012

G.I. Joe 2 and the Channing Tatum Situation

The delaying of G.I. Joe: Retaliation from its original scheduled release on June 29th to March 2013 certainly raised alarms in the film industry. Why the massive and potentially disastrous business decision? For a 3D conversion, of course. But now with recent news and word, it has become more juicer and dangerous.

Though I enjoyed G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, soldiering into it even with absolute low expectations, it still rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Nerd and geek websites would constantly bring it up in a harsh and negative light, as if it just killed someone's dog on their birthday. Despite having some errors of judgment and misgivings, the film was not and could not be as bad as the second Transformers film, a film that proved how low a toy-based film product could achieve.

Despite the massive debating of the merits of the first film, G.I. Joe: Retaliation was put into production to answer the complaints and give out plenty of cake to the whiners. As seen through the trailers, the makers incorporated plenty of changes, such as redesigning Cobra Commander and Snake-Eyes and modeling the film as a gritty war-action flick instead of a paint by numbers action-adventure. One of the biggest new elements, as it is clearly hinted at, is that some Joes were to be killed off in the opening, including Channing Tatum's Duke. Killing two birds with one stone, the makers wanted to please the angry fans by eliminating the first film's hunky main character while at the same time going the Bad Boys II route of shit getting real.

Well, it turns out that Tatum is to be pulling a Robert Evans and staying in the picture. Since this year is proving to be big business for him, with The Vow and 21 Jump Street doing very well and Magic Mike expected to be a sleeper hit, his stock, stardom, and presence all have risen significantly. Paramount wants him to appear more in the new film, possibly even surviving his supposed demise, all because of their own fears and bad test screenings.

And, I am fine with this.

First off, at least the real explanation came out. Living in our current spin-happy world, I grow tired of all of the glad-handing and fake smiles. Hollywood is a dream destination for a lot of us but it is still just another business in life. If Paramount just came out with this news at the top, I would still be pissed by the move but understand it. Also, I would gladly take a re-written character and re-shots any day for a film over yet another 3D conversion job.

Secondly, unlike the many cynics and low self-esteemers, I'm fine with Channing Tatum. He's not a favorite of mine, a bit too wooden at times, but the man at least gives it his all. I haven't seen all of his early 2012 work, The Vow being a rental for me during desperate times while Haywire is higher up the watch list, but I very much liked him in 21 Jump Street. I'm also strangely a bit interested in seeing Magic Mike, despite not being a fan of stripper films or Steven Soderbergh's exploration of modern sexuality (see: The Girlfriend Experience). As for his Duke, he served his purpose as a audience surrogate and he was frankly okay with the role.

If Paramount wants him in the next feature to drive up the female portion of the audience, let them have it. I just hope that the expected prominence of Snake-Eyes will still remain.