Monday, July 30, 2012

Millions (2005)

Danny Boyle has established himself as one of the most unique voices in Hollywood working today, with credits such as Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, The Beach, Sunshine, and Slumdog Millionaire. Of the four films I have seen from him (28 Days Later, The Beach, 75% of Slumdog Millionaire, and the movie I will soon be discussing), he can manage to take any genre and, not only put his original stamp on it, but he can find a way to incorporate another element in it.

For example, when he made 28 Days Later, it started as a zombie film and turned into a political allegory and a showcase of evil military men. From what I heard, Sunshine is a film that started as a science-fiction piece and turned into a horror film. Between the two films I just mentioned, he decided to tackle another genre: the children’s film. Thus, we have the 2005 film, Millions.

The film centers around two boys, Anthony, played by Lewis McGibbon, and Damian, played by Alex Etel, who move to the suburbs in Windes with their recently widowed father. One day, after playing around in what Damian calls his hermitage, it is destroyed by, seemingly out of nowhere, a bag of money Damian believes is a gift from God. He shows it to his brother and they both have different views on what to do with it. Anthony wants to spend the money, while Damien wants to give it to the poor.

However, two obstacles come in their way. First of all, it is around the time where euros are being converted to pounds and the currency of the money in the bag is pounds. Second of all, it turns out that the money is from a heist and the robber is out looking for it. Duh duh duh!

As you may have guessed, this story has been done before in movies, such as Blank Check, but it’s never been done this creatively and this authentically. I love how there are two kids who get the money and the fact that they have differing personalities. They offset each other perfectly. Screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce provides probably the most accurate representation of this situation. He, also, adds some wit and some surprising complexities. For example, one of the focal points of the movie is that the mother is dead. They find a way to make it humorous and serious and, at times, you don’t know which way it’s gonna go. Plus, you think that humor around someone’s dead mother would be tasteless, but they find a way to make it light-hearted.

The movie takes place around Christmastime, but it’s not a Christmas movie. Here in America, we, almost, feel obligated to turn everything into a Christmas movie if Christmas is merely in the movie. Here it’s just when the movie takes place. Not only is Christmas in the movie, but it’s a movie that discusses the possibility of miracles, which is a favorite of Christmas films. However, in this film, they don’t go for any of the cliched Christmas-type tug-at-your-heart-strings moments. Any emotional moment in the movie is natural and well-deserved.

I, also, appreciate the issues they try to tackle. Not only of the loss of a parent, but, also, of the parent moving on and finding love and, even, the greed that would imprison us all from a high amount of money. These issues have been tackled in previous films, but, at the same time, they do capture the sadness, confusion, happiness, anger, and frustration that kids would probably go through from these issues. Danny Boyle ties together these issues in an effective and tender moment near the end that I won’t dare ruin for you, but believe me when I say, it’s perfect.

The ending is very satisfying. I will not spoil the ending, but all I will say is that the film ends in a place other than England and that moment is one of the most heartwarming and perfect endings of a movie of this ilk that you can imagine. Also, the heist portion of the film works. It doesn’t feel gratuitous. It’s executed very naturally and, at times, the heist part of the movie is tense.

The performances are very good. Alex Etel and Lewis McGibbon are earnest as the two precocious, joyful, and intelligent children. I don’t know if they are this intelligent in reality, but props to them. James Nesbitt is very natural and, also, convincing as the father. Also, this movie is one of the most stylistic films I have ever seen. There are so many magnificent visual strokes here. It is a treat to look at, editing wise and cinematography wise. Not only are the visual transitions great, but also the camera work is so clean and beautiful.

However, as much as I talk positively about the film, I don’t love it. I have a few quibbles with it. First of all, I had trouble with the scenes of the saints. I guess they are there to show Damian’s imagination and to provide some religious undertones, but that’s the problem. Why put in religious undertones? Aside of the fact that I am not a deeply religious man, there’s really no point to them. You could’ve easily put in some quiet, imaginative moments or atmospheric scenes where the camera could be put to greater use, in place of those religious scenes.

Second of all, sometimes Damian was handled poorly. I wish Danny Boyle allowed Damian to have a little more emotion. Aside from that, at times, the character was grating. At times, he’s too much of a goody two-shoes, to the point where it feels phony. At times, it just feels like he’s the only person who’s supposed to have “values,” but unrealistically so.

Finally, one of my major issues was the British dialect. I have nothing against it and I could understand it, mostly, but the problem is that the accents are so thick and, at times, they speak a little too fast that I could comprehend what the characters were saying. However, flaws and all, this really is a special and unique children’s film. Will kids embrace it? I dunno. However, they should be given the option to watch levelheaded entertainment over mindless hollow rubbish. By the way, I’m curious to see what Danny Boyle will think of next? A film noir that turns out to be a documentary? An animated film that turns out to be a murder film? The sky’s the limit, Mr. Boyle!

RATING: Three stars out of four

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Future Kill (1985)

There have been many Hollywood examples of incongruous elements being combined to form a cohesive whole. For example, action comedies (i.e. the Rush Hour films), dramatic comedies (i.e. Juno), and even, horror comedies (i.e. Return of the Living Dead). Actually, let me re-phrase that first sentence. There have been many Hollywood examples of the comedy genre and an incongruous element being combined to make a cohesive whole. Sometimes, more than two of these elements become combined, but they are usually pretty natural and not shoved in your face. What I am driving at is that combining these kind of incompatible elements, especially more than one, is definitely tricky. However, it can either work to the film’s advantage or can be so clumsily put together that it doesn’t work. The 1985 sci-fi/horror/comedy film, Future Kill, can be categorized under the latter.

The story takes place in…uh…insert some place here. The movie doesn’t really have a specific location. It’s just, maybe kinda sorta the future. Maybe kinda sorta, I dunno. There’s nothing about it that screams the future and I am pretty sure it is not the future, but I digress.

Essentially, it takes place in a time where the Mutants, a group of pretentious anti-nuclear protesters, have taken over the inner city streets of large cities. They dress weird to show the effects of toxic poisoning. Of course, a simple slideshow would suffice. Eddie Pain leads the group. Meanwhile, a group of fraternity brothers have angered the whole fraternity by tarring and feathering some fraternity member. Instead of being kicked out of their frat house, they are sent out to kidnap Eddie Pain. Although, they’ve made it clear that he will be let go, so the menace of that plan is lost.

The frat boys go out to proceed with this plan, but they are confronted by the evil Splatter, who is the top-guard of Eddie Pain, who has been affected by radiation poisoning. He not only kills one of the frat boys, but kills Eddie Pain, as well. However, Splatter frames the frat boys for murder and the Mutants are now on their tail.

As much as I heard bad things about this movie from a friend of mine, I had kinda high hopes for it, because of the pretty epic poster, designed by acclaimed artist, H.R. Giger, and of how the movie is described on the back of the tape. I think looking at the front and back of the video box would be much more entertaining.

The first problem with this movie is what I described in the first paragraph. Director, associate producer, and writer, Ronald W. Moore, has combined three different genres of film. The problem is that the film doesn’t know what it wants to be. The film is really separated into thirds. The first third is the comedy aspect. The second third is the science-fiction aspect. The last third is the horror-type aspect. All these thirds feel like completely different movies with the same cast.

I’m not going to talk poorly about the characters, especially being that they are not particularly one-dimensional, even though I could care less about them. Also, I am not going to blame the script, even though there are some bad lines of dialogue. The reason being is because even if you have the most fleshed out characters in the world, accompanied by a Steven Spielberg-caliber script, the acting, which is laughably bad, would just bog it down.

Most of the actors are very flat or stiff. Even Edwin Neal (Splatter) and Marilyn Burns (Dorothy Grim, a sidekick of Eddie Pain), both of whom being from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, seem to be just in it for the paycheck. These actors are so bad that some of them can’t authentically pull off simple acts, like dying or being turned on by a woman.

The only actor who tries in the film is this one guy, whose name I can’t think of. However, that is actually a mark against it, because he tries way too hard, to the point of utter annoyance. How would I describe him? Take Jim Carrey and make him a tad bid more frenetic, but take away his comedic abilities. I can feel the fearful aura coming from my readers (all two of you).

The only character I will talk badly about, however, is Splatter, simply because he’s not a threatening villian. Not only because of the monotone acting, but also because of how laughable his costume is. While his Wolverine-like blades look cool, the aesthetic quality of the costume, overall, looks like RoboCop’s aborted love child. However, all of the costumes are lame. I don’t care that the Mutants are supposed to look weird. They still remind me of a Black Swan costume made by a 4-year-old with Down’s syndrome.

Speaking of the Mutants, why in God’s name are they CALLED THE MUTANTS! I mean I understand if that how society labeled you, but no. They called themselves that. Is it because they look so bizarre? Even then, it’s still weird. It’s like the Environmental Protection Agency calling themselves the Wussies, or the CIA calling themselves the Stalkers.

Another major flaw with the movie is the poor cinematography and editing. Apparently, Ronald W. Moore is secretly an owl, because 90% of the movie is murkily shot in the dark. I understand shooting in the dark adds a little more menace, but when there is moments when it is almost pitch black while characters are just walking, you fail. The editing isn’t incomprehensible, but at times, it feels awkward, especially near the end where something happens to Splatter. The camera shows Splatter and then it cuts to Splatter again right afterwards, just with his mouth open. Also, the fight scenes aren’t really impressive. They range from, at worst, lethargic to, at best, mediocre, and it doesn’t help that some of them feature amateurish and pointlessly protracted, drawn-out moments of slow motion. Even Zack Synder would tell Ronald W. Moore to tone it down.

The movie is, thankfully, rated R. I say thankfully, because there are some titillating nude scenes. However, it is somewhat a disadvantage to the movie, as well. While they are hot, it makes the movie a tad bit misogynist. Not Ugly Truth misogynist, but a tiny bit misogynist, seeing how, with the exception of the two main women, all the other women in the movie are just there to be hot and flash you, much to the joy of us men, however.

Also, on the plus side, there are a few funny moments and I thought I was going to enjoy the film as a guilty pleasure because of those flaws, but it lacks two crucial elements to be a so-bad-it’s-good movie: energy and magnetism. This film makes 83 minutes feel 30 minutes longer. The film is so sluggish and unimpressive that, as such, it is utterly slack. A killer combination, and I don’t mean the good kind of killer.

RATING: Two stars out of four

Additions to my rating system (also, guess what my least favorite film is)

Well, if you guys read my review of The Cat Returns (let's be honest, no one has, but let's pretend that you did), you noticed my bizarre choice of rating the film. Well, I have decided to make some additions to my rating system. I have noticed that I can sometimes emphasize or water down the meaning of a rating with 0.5 in it. Example: A low half a star or a high three and a half stars. So, here are the additions and their meanings:

One quarter of a star (A low half a star)
Three quarters of a star (A high half a star)
One and one quarter stars (A low one and a half stars)
One and three quarters stars (A high one and a half stars)
Two and one quarter stars (A low two and a half stars)
Two and three quarters stars (A high two and a half stars)
Three and one quarter stars (A low three and a half stars)
Three and three quarters stars (A high three and a half stars)

While we're on the subject, I have also decided to add two ratings lower than zero stars. Zero stars is the perfect rating for a horrendous movie. However, my least favorite movie of all time doesn't deserve to have a rating of zero stars, so because of that, here are two additional ratings, which will probably be rarely used, if used at all:

-1 stars (pure torture with not one redeeming moment or resemblance of effort)
-0.5 stars (not as bad as -1 stars, but doesn't deserve to be called zero stars)

Once again, I highly doubt these ratings will be used. However, in case I come across a film that fits these ratings, they'll be here.

Also, I have a challenge for you guys, if you choose to accept it. I said, earlier in this post, that my least favorite film can be labeled as -1 stars. Well, who knows when I will review it, though I assure you that I will. However, I'm curious to know what you guys think my least favorite film is. So, why don't you guys take some guesses until I actually review it. Go on! Fire away! See ya!

The Cat Returns (2002)

I love cats. My sister has had a cat for almost a year named Wednesday (or Stinky, as my sister insists on calling it) and I can tell you firsthand that they are great. They’re wild, they’re adorable, they’re tranquil. They’re just awesome. Also, I love anime. Who doesn’t (except for my sister, but she doesn’t count)? It’s realistic, beautiful, original. It’s absolutely wonderful. Now, whenever two beloved things are combined, the result can be either an excessive amount of fecal matter or a wonderful experience. I would categorize the 2002 anime film, The Cat Returns, under the latter. Mostly.

The plot revolves around a schoolgirl named Haru, who is having the type of day that the band, Limp Bizkit, describes in the song, Break Stuff. OK, maybe not that extreme, but she lives a pretty bland life. However, her life changes after she saves a cat from getting hit by traffic on the road. The cat she saves turns out to be Prince Lune of the Cat Kingdom, and the fellow felines of the Cat Kingdom decide to repay her. It starts out with them, constantly, giving her gifts and, eventually, she is offered Lune’s hand in marriage.

Unfortunately, Haru doesn’t want to marry a cat (how dare she!) and gets a message from a voice, telling her to find the Cat Bureau and, eventually, she is taken to the Cat Kingdom. Over the course of the movie, she meets many characters, including the formal Baron cat, Muta, a fat, agitated cat, and Toto, a wisecracking, smart aleck raven.

The phenomenal thing about this movie is the way the movie seamlessly blends an original concept with an almost Lewis Carroll-like story. This movie is, also, the wittiest movie Studio Ghibli has ever made. The script is jam-packed with sharp visual and written jokes. I, also, love some of the twists in the movie, especially ones involving Yuki, a white female cat, and Lune that I won’t dare spoil here.

Of course, the animation is spectacular as usual, although, not as awe-inspiring as previous anime films. The movie doesn’t really allow the viewer to soak in the realism as much and some of the animation is a little too pedestrian than usual. However, there were many moments, like walking up a tower or a tower diving down after being detonated, where I had an out-of-body experience where I felt like I was there. There are, also, some quiet, simple, atmospheric moments that are just as thrilling, such as Haru chasing Muta for the first time and the maze scene.

 The voice acting is great, as well. I watched the English dub and all the voice actors are funny and dead-on in their parts. The voice talent includes Anne Hathaway as Haru, Judy Greer as Yuki, Peter Boyle as Muta, Elliott Gould as Toto, and my personal favorite is Cary Elwes as the Baron, who has the perfect formal, sophisticated voice for the role.

However, as much as I praise the movie, the movie does not come without its flaws. I would blame it on the fact that this film was directed by Hiroyuki Morita and not by Hayao Miyzaki, but Miyazaki directed Porco Rosso, which wasn’t a great film either. First of all, there is one running joke that the Cat King says “babe” at the end of every other sentence. It stars out funny, but, eventually, becomes trite and annoying. I never thought I would say that about a Miyazaki film, but there it is.

Also, I thought that since the film is only 75 minutes, it would move at a nice brisk pace. For the most part it does, but it kind of drags in the middle. Another thing that I, also, have to praise and yet criticize at the same time is the fact that this film is a little more sophisticated than past Studio Ghibli films. However, because of that, it doesn’t have the drive that past Studio Ghibli films had.

Finally, there are two major flaws that I have to point out. The first flaw involves the villain, the Cat King, and his advisor, Natori. The Cat King becomes a villain when he tries to prevent Haru from leaving the Cat Kingdom and forces her into the marriage with the Prince. The Cat King does not make a very compelling villain. He is bland, uninteresting, and non-menacing. As far as Natori, I am not going to discuss him because he’s barely a character.

The second flaw revolves around the main character. Folks, we are screwed if one of the major flaws of the movie revolves around the main character. She just doesn’t have the magnetism of Kiki from Kiki’s Delivery Service or Chihiro from Spirited Away. She is pretty bland and doesn’t even change that much until the last four minutes of the freaking movie. Also, her character design is grotesque. The other characters are creatures are animated just fine, but Haru looks like an anime schoolgirl hooker. She should’ve been animated less crudely. I understand anime characters have large eyes, but her character design is more suitable for a manga that an anime film.

It sucks that I have to discuss all these flaws, because I want to love this movie. The concept is great and there are so many great elements, but it doesn’t come together as tightly as Totoro or Spirited Away, but it is definitely a very well made anime film and nowhere near mediocre or awful. It's just not, how do you say...purr-fect! (Yeah, I'm ashamed of myself)

RATING: A high three-and-a-half stars out of four