Friday, July 25, 2014
One of the often forgotten parts of storytelling is the story world, and it is one of the more important aspects. The world in which the story takes place can help shape a character into an infinite number of possibilities, much like our world can shape us. Other times, it can take on a life of its own and have a range of emotions and settings.
This is one aspect that can make film analysis so much fun. There are endless possibilities for a story world and what it can bring to the story. Will it be harsh and unforgiving, like in "Seven" or "Ikiru"? Will it be adventurous and exciting, like in the "Indiana Jones" films? Or will it be mysterious and unexpected, like with "The Maltese Falcon" or "North By Northwest"?
But this brings up a point that I've learned about story world over the years. Something that has helped me to appreciate certain films more than I normally would: That every single film takes place in its own little world.
That the film has its own custom-made world, with its own set of rules and boundaries. This is obvious for certain films that don't take place on our earth, like "The Lord Of The Rings" or "Star Wars," but even the ordinary films too, like "The Lady From Shanghai" or "The Birdman Of Alcatraz."
No matter how close the film may seem to our reality, it is still different enough that it warrants its own unique world, separate from any other world.
So why do I do this? For starters, I use it to explain away certain gaps in logic and reality. Let's use the Godzilla films as an example, or any other giant monster movie. If Godzilla were to attack Japan in our reality, nothing would come from it. A creature of Godzilla's mass, size and strength could not even be able to stand up, let alone terrorize Tokyo.
But, if you substitute our world with a custom-made world, where the laws of gravity and physics don't apply in the same way they do here, then you can have a 100-meter fire-breathing dinosaur destroy major cities.
Those problems fade away when you remove yourself from our reality and try to think about the film in terms of its own logic and laws. Thus, you are less distracted by nit-picky plot points and can focus on more important matters.
However, some films thrive on being related to certain events in history, like "The Manchurian Candidate," "The Best Years Of Our Lives" and "Amadeus." Part of the reason these films work as well as they do is because they speak to the world and tell them something that they need to hear or remember.
Suddenly, if you think about that film in its own little reality, it might lose some of its meaning.
But that's the beauty of storytelling. There will always be their inherent trait within us to relate what we see with our own reality. Even though we may see "Godzilla" taking place in its own world, we still remember how it is reflected upon our universe and that its message of atomic testing and the advancement of weapons have an impact on us.
There is always going to be that shared point between the true reality and the film reality. That point where we can see how this world came to be and how it operates, but also how it was shaped by our world. It is why we can relate to characters like George Bailey, Atticus Finch and Marge Gunderson. They live in a world not so different from our own and have the same desires as us: To live our their lives freely, prosperously and happy.
If you remove that shared point, which so many bad films do, like "Battlefield Earth" or "Sharknado," then you remove the humanity in your film, thus giving your audience no reason to care about your characters.
It is about finding that balance between the two worlds where the audience can understand both. Because film is a gateway into another reality, or at least another perspective. We see how certain beliefs, actions or events in history can have an impact on this new undiscovered world. It is up to you as the audience to explore this new territory and find what is worth bringing back home.
That is why it is fun to think every film takes place in its own little world. Not so different from ours, but at the same time, worth looking into.
Thursday, July 24, 2014
I have not read "Fifty Shades Of Grey." I do not want to read "Fifty Shades Of Grey." And I think a movie adaptation of "Fifty Shades Of Grey" that isn't X-Rated is ridiculous.
While I may not have read the best-selling novel, I know enough about it. I know that the first draft of "Fifty Shades Of Grey" was just "Twilight" fan fiction. I know that "Fifty Shades Of Grey" is essentially soft core porn with a flimsy excuse for a story to only serve as a vehicle to get to the sexy stuff.
And it baffles me that this would get to become a best-selling novel and become a cultural phenomenon. Especially with the abundance of porn on the internet, you'd think that novels about sex would have taken a dip in sales.
But, maybe it is because some people prefer that kind of stuff in written form, thus leaving much of it to the imagination. If that's the case, then what's the point of turning it into a movie, where nothing is left to the imagination?
If it were a porno, then I'd understand. But by making it an R-rated film and giving it a Hollywood-sized budget, you are setting yourself up for failure.
Well, maybe not financial failure, but certainly a storytelling and filmmaking failure.
Starring Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan, and directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, this is "Fifty Shades Of Grey."
Let me make this clear: There is nothing wrong with liking "Fifty Shades Of Grey" or even soft core porn. But there is a time and place for that, and works like "Fifty Shades Of Grey" should show that time and place. If the most lasting reputation of your novel is the pornography, then the same should be reflected in your movie adaptation.
However, something like that cannot be done effectively without it becoming a porno. When you try to mix a young adult Hollywood relationship, like those seen in "The Faults In Our Stars," "The Notebook" and even the "Twilight" films, with sexy time, I honestly don't know what you get.
I can say that I do not know what to expect from this film. Is it going to be more about the relationship between the characters, or about the sex? Will it fall into many of the other romance clichés and tropes or will it give the audience exactly what they got in the book?
In any case, I have no interest in seeing this film. If I want a sappy romance, there are several landfills full of those types of movies. If I want soft core BDSM porn, though I can't imagine why I would, that's what the internet is for. Google can solve many life problems now.
I don't see "Fifty Shades of Grey" offering anything new or interesting. Just an excuse to cash in on the popularity of the novels.
Excitement Level: Not interested
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
I mentioned this back in my "Duel Of The Sun" review, but I find the concept of the "epic" genre fascinating. They don't make movies like an epic anymore. There might be some films that have a grand scale, like "The Lord Of The Rings" films, but because it's all a fantasy and not based on historical events, something just doesn't quite feel right.
What makes an epic movie is not just the scale or the enormous cast of characters or cast of thousands, but that the film is also a depiction of our past. A point in history where the lives of millions of people are affected and the course of humanity is forever changed. It is why films like "Lawrence Of Arabia," "The Ten Commandments" and "Ben-Hur" are the first movies often mentioned when thinking of an epic.
But what about epic films of a different genre? Can epics only be limited to action pieces or drama?
While it is rare to see an epic step outside of these boundaries, there are a few that exist beyond that realm. One such film is Blake Edwards' epic comedy, "The Great Race," that chronicles the 1908 Great American Car Race from New York to Paris. While the film takes great liberties with historical events, it is all in the name of comedy, according to Edwards. Though the film does have some unbelievably funny moments, due to some wonderful comedic acting, there is part of me that feels a bit weirded out by the films perspective and way of conveying comedy.
The world is taken aback by the famous stuntman, the daring, dashing, smooth and proper, the Great Leslie (Tony Curtis), as he performs acts these amazing feats of bravery, always coming out clean and handsome. But it seems all the attention Leslie has garnered has attracted another person who wants the spotlight, the cold, calculating, uncaring, wise and incompetent, Professor Fate (Jack Lemmon). Their constant need to out-do one another has created a rivalry that promises to end in disaster, especially for Fate.
When Leslie offers to show the true power and strength of an American automobile by conducting a race around the world, Professor Fate vows to enter the competition with his own car and finally defeat Leslie once and for all. Things become even more complicated when a female driver enters the race, Maggie DuBois (Natalie Wood), to prove that a woman can do anything a man can do, and fights for the affection of the Great Leslie.
So, based on the plot description, could you tell what I might find strange about this film? If not, then let me describe Leslie and Professor Fate in more detail. Leslie is perfect in every conceivable way. He always wins, gets the last word, he is smooth with the ladies, always finds the easiest way to outsmart the villain and succeeds with flying colors. Fate is always scheming, trying to find a way to get rid of Leslie, wants the world to see how great he is, but is always outdone by his own stupidity.
Do you get it now? This is the same relationship between Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are, for all intents-and-purposes, playing live action versions of their Looney Tune counterparts.
I have no idea if this was intentional or not. I know that Blake Edwards was trying to pay homage to silent cinema, with all the slapstick, outrageous and over the top characters, parodies of other genres and the tribute to Laurel and Hardy. But I feel this film owes more to the Looney Tunes than it does silent cinema.
Professor Fate and his sidekick Max (Peter Falk) are able to survive a lot of outlandish crashes, explosions and mishaps with nothing more than a few scratches or bruises. They have their garage blow up on them twice and are ready for the race the next day. They are launched over a mile into the air by a rocket and come down in on a farm and just walk it off. If that isn't cartoon logic, I don't know what is.
During the famous pie fight sequence, Leslie is a spectator throughout the entire festive brawl, yet is able to avoid getting hit by a pie with just a simple turning of the body. Just like Bug Bunny, he never gets hurt and laughs off competition with little more than a smile.
If "The Great Race" were paying homage to the Looney Tunes, then I would see nothing wrong with this. But because Leslie and Fate's personalities are so much like Bugs and Daffy, it is hard to imagine these characters as nothing more than their cartoon counterparts. Thus, they feel more like caricatures instead of characters.
The only time the film strays from this is when they take a break from the race and have the caricatures do something else, such as prevent a rebellion in a smile European nation ruled by a monarch who happens to look like Professor Fate (also played by Jack Lemmon).
These segments do not do the movie any favors. While they do add a variety of comedy and help build up the world of this film, these scenes are so far removed from the racing sequences that its hard to care about any of these new characters introduced two-thirds of the way through the film.
"The Great Race" is at its strongest when they focus on the racing and the continued rivalry between Leslie and Fate. When it tries to do anything else, like trying to replace the monarch with Professor Fate, the film loses my interests fast.
However, the film does contain many solid slapstick sequences, especially in the beginning when Professor Fate attempts to sabotage Leslie's stunts. As much as his plans resemble that of Daffy Duck or Wile E. Coyote, they are still fun to watch as they backfire stupendous. To see his missile, designed to attack the loudest engine, go for Leslie's speedboat, only to turn around when Fate starts up the engine of his broken down automobile, does get a good chuckle out of me.
Which is why I have such mixed feelings about "The Great Race." While I am uncertain about the parallels between the films' main characters and the Looney Tunes, there are plenty of well-timed jokes and some great comedic acting from Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon.
I will think of "The Great Race" as a two and a half-hour long episode of the Looney Tunes, only on a grander scale. From locations all across the world, to understanding the tension for women's rights in the 1900s, to the constant struggle to find out which nation builds the best automobile, the sense of time and scope is massive.
Though the film may drag at points, "The Great Race" was an enjoyable ride that offers a different kind of epic that can be appreciated and respected for the size and absurdity of the comedy. Unlike its other epic counterparts, this film is about cramming as many laughs and pies as possible into the audiences' face.
Final Grade: B-
Monday, July 21, 2014
What separates good writers from the generation-defining writers is how they are able to add their passion and personality through the simple use of words. That through the phrases and metaphors, there lies a person who has feelings and beliefs that touch the reader and set up a relationship between the two.
Roger Ebert was one such writer.
While I did not know Roger, I felt an instantaneous connection with him just by reading his reviews. Not just a shared love of cinema, but a passion to live life to the fullest and enjoy what really matters. His writing made me appreciate what this world had to offer and to narrow in on my own passions in life.
Whether or not you agreed with Roger Ebert's reviews and opinions on movies, you could always admire and respect what he had to offer. His insights were intelligent, insightful, often funny and thought-provoking. He hit at the core of what film criticism should do: Be the beginning of a discussion on cinema, art and life itself.
Perhaps this is why Roger Ebert was my biggest idol while working on film criticism. Even while the man was being treated for thyroid cancer, losing the ability to speak, eat and drink, Roger never gave up on what he loved. He never lost his sense of humor, and continued to help fellow upcoming filmmakers see their full potential. Though he was mostly hospitalized, he still found ways to sneak out and go see a movie. You could never take that away from Roger.
It is also why I am having a difficult time writing this review on the documentary about Roger Ebert's life, "Life Itself." For one, documentaries about a person's life are difficult to comment on, as they chronicle the ups, downs, side-splitting and tear-jerking moments of existing. There is not much to say without repeating exactly what the movie said, except that what I say probably wouldn't be as insightful.
I am practically reviewing another human's time on this planet.
Second, Roger Ebert shaped the film community and by making film criticism exciting to listen to. People would tune in on a weekly basis to see what Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert thought of the newest films out at the time, which is baffling considering that these two would talk about movies like "An American Tale," "Crash" and "Porky's."
Third is what Roger meant to me. When I started getting into film criticism, I had opinions and ideas of what I thought was good cinema. But then I started to read some of Roger's "Great Movies" reviews on films like "Rear Window" and "Ikiru." And while I don't necessarily think he taught me about what was good cinema, reading his reviews did teach me what I appreciated about cinema and to be passionate about my opinions and feelings. Roger understood that cinema, and art in general, is a subjective experience and will varying from person to person. So by embracing those differences and understanding why you like something, you have just gained a deeper appreciation of film and yourself.
One scene in particular that stood out to me in "Life Itself" was when, in the middle of a film conference, a young student stopped Roger to ask him a question about why he should be the big film critic. Why should he get to give us his opinions on movies and what makes him so high and mighty that he deserves this?
Roger said that, one, he is told by the editor-in-chief of the Chicago-Sun Times that he has the job title of "film critic" and his pay checks come from his film reviews, thus giving him the right to tell us about his opinions. The other was a simple question.
Would you want to listen to your own reviews? Is that something you'd like to read?
I couldn't help but ask myself that same question the moment I heard it. Are my own reviews something I'd enjoying reading? But, more importantly, is that what separates a mediocre film critic from a good one? I'm not sure if I know the answer to that.
What I do know is that, even after Roger Ebert's reviews have ceased, he still finds new ways to keep my mind intrigued and passion for cinema alive.
"Life Itself" is not just about what Roger Ebert brought to this world, but also how to appreciate life through a different lens. Roger once said that he was born in the film about his own life. He didn't know how he got there, but he was always entertained by it.
Cinema offers a moral center that is often overlooked and goes unappreciated. But when you look at all the different types of movies out there, you realize its parallels to life are uncanny. Both can be beautiful, funny, heart-breaking, breath-taking, exciting, nerve-wracking, ugly, erotic, suspenseful, tragic, and most importantly, passionate.
Roger Ebert understood that more than most other people, and that's why we loved him so much.
Monday, July 14, 2014
2011's "Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes" was the pleasant summer blockbuster surprise of that year. I did not expect much from that movie, as the premise of a group of apes taking on the modern-day military in the heart of San Francisco seemed laughable at best. Yet, at its heart, the film was able to tell a wonderful story about overcoming inferiority and the downfall of man, with some touching performances by Andy Serkis and James Franco.
Part of the appeal of the "Planet Of The Apes" franchise, at least to me, is how much more clear our own flaws become when the tables are flipped. The original 1968 film was wonderful at doing just that, by having the apes be driven by keeping the image of their world in tact, even if that means destroying evidence that would jeopardize that image.
It also really helped that the 1968 film was co-written by Rod Serling, the creator and script writer for "The Twilight Zone." When you put it in that perspective, suddenly the movie feels like an hour and half long episode of the show and with a bigger budget. Even down to the twist ending.
That ending makes "Planet Of The Apes" an anomaly in its own franchise, as every next film is built upon the twist that the planet "where apes evolved from men" was Earth all along. Sorry to spoil the movie for those who haven't seen it, but you probably knew that twist before you could talk.
The newest film in the franchise, "Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes," finds itself in a middle ground where humans are no longer in control of the planet, but apes have not fully risen to conquer it. While building off of the premise of the earlier ape film, this new one also adds depth and complexity of its characters, showing that the ape civilization is not that perfect.
Set ten years after the events of "Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes," the majority of the human population has been wiped out due to an airborne virus that also gave the apes their increased intelligence. Now a massive population of apes have amassed near San Francisco and have begun to live peacefully, with Caesar (Andy Serkis) as their leader, and believing that all humans are long gone.
Things change though when a hunting party stumbles across a small group of humans with guns, threatening to shoot every last ape. The humans flee when they realize how many apes there are, and Caesar finds out that a large group of humans have gathered in downtown San Francisco for refuge and are running out of power. A nearby dam, in ape territory, can give these humans a chance to survive, but Caesar and his followers are unwilling to let those damn dirty humans near it.
If there was one complaint I had with "Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes," it was that it tried far too hard to glorify the apes and make humans look terrible. It was to show that we weren't as capable as we thought we were and that apes were caring creatures too, but the film really over sold that. It works better in more subtle ways and that film was about as subtle as a train wreck.
"Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes" finds a nice middle ground where it shows the good and bad of both cultures. Both can be caring, nurturing, selfless and courageous, like fighting off a bear to protect your son or saving a dying ape with antibiotics. But each group can also jump to conclusions, be selfish, greedy and power-hungry, like Caesar's second in command, Koba, constantly trying to overthrow him just to take his anger out on humans.
It makes both humans and apes easier when they're shown to be sympathetic to others, but also be flawed and hasty when making tough decisions. It leaves Caesar at an cross-road where he can see the good in humans, but also the bad in his own kind, and thus the evil in himself. That his pride and arrogance blinded him to Koba's need for revenge.
Like the previous film, the special effects work in this film is awe-inspiring. Rather than copy-and-pasting the same models of apes into the background, it has been said that each ape had its own human model pose for body movements and textures, which then had to be made to look like apes, gorillas and orangutans. That is quite impressive when you consider there are well over a thousand apes in this movie.
This also goes together with Andy Serkis' performance. Most people will remember Serkis as Gollem from "The Lord Of The Rings" movies. Serkis has essentially created his own form of acting, where he will give the live action performance in a high-tech suit, complete with exaggerated movements and gestures, and then have a team of computer artists and designers create a non-human character around Serkis' performance.
Think of it like a Ray Harryhausen stop-motion creation, only with an actor inside of the clay.
Caesar has a gentle kindness to him that makes others want to be around him and trust him, but also an intensity and fierceness that is unmatched, that makes him a born leader. It is because of Serkis' performance and the rivalry between Caesar and Koba that makes this film exciting to watch.
The film does tend to drag at times though, especially near the end. It seems to retread the same ground of couple times when Koba has to ask for Caesar's forgiveness or we get a speech from Gary Oldman's character about how the apes are only animals.
Overall, "Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes" was a well crafted and respectable sequel to its predecessor. The characterizations of humans and apes in a time of doubt and violence was handled perfectly, the special effects were put to good use, and the journey of Caesar's character makes the film worth watching again. It has pacing problems which hold it back from being as good as "Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes" but this was still a fun ride.
Final Grade: B
Wednesday, July 9, 2014
Welcome to a new segment of my blog, entitled "Trailer Talk." This segment will be relatively shorter than most of my other segments, but the jist of this will be that I will look at the newest trailer of an upcoming movie and give my thoughts and impression on what I see. I'll try to understand what the trailer is saying about the film. At the end, I will say whether I want to see the movie when it comes to theaters.
Up first is the last trailer to Marvel's latest superhero adventure, as they expand their universe beyond just Earth, but throughout the galaxy. Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper, this is "Guardians Of The Galaxy."
What catches my interest even further in this trailer is the abundance of comedy and the tone that is so different from other Marvel films, like "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," "The Incredible Hulk" and "Thor." While Marvel movies have been great at finding that balance between comedy and action in previous installments, like the "Iron Man" films and "The Avengers," this one leans much more on it than ever before.
I think this is due, in large part, to the fact that these are superheroes that most people have not heard of. This is Marvel's first attempt at making a movie about heroes that are not huge in pop culture, like Spider-Man or Wolverine.
This is a film about a talking raccoon who likes to use lots of guns and profanity, and whose best friend is a giant talking tree.
Marvel is taking a huge chance with this film, and for that reason alone, I really want to see this. I have little to no knowledge of the Guardians of the Galaxy, but from this trailer alone, it makes me want to see more of them.
Whether it is Chris Pratt's attempt to get the other Guardians on his side by talking about what they've lost or the banter between Pratt and Rocket Raccoon, this trailer still manages to hit all the right notes of a good Marvel movie. There is humanity in there and a reason to fight evil, but also a light-hearted side that will take a break to joke about percentages.
My only complaint is that it seems like the comedy is only within two characters, Chris Pratt's character and Rocket. Zoe Saldana and Dave Bautista's characters look like they might just be there to spout action one-liners and kick large amounts of buttocks, and not get involved in the hilarity.
And Groot is, well, just Groot. I think he makes that perfectly clear.
In any case, I'm excited to see where "Guardians Of The Galaxy" goes. It is new ground for Marvel, and considering the amount of comedy in some of their earlier entires, this one should have more than a fair share of it.
Excitement Level: Seeing this on opening weekend
Monday, July 7, 2014
Welcome to the new and improved Seeing Is Believing. If you take a look around the blog, you will find many changes and updates that make this more accessible and user-friendly. Not to mention a different design and layout.
So, to help users out, let's go through what has changed about Seeing Is Believing and what can be expected in the future.
This is entirely the work of Seeing Is Believing's new contributor, Jaime Williams. With experience in web design and being an online editor for a college newspaper, Jaime has worked hard to make this site more than just a place for me to give out my opinions.
At this point in time, Jaime is still working on the design of the blog, so things might change over the course of the next few weeks. Please be patient with us as we work things out.
As you can see, the site now has its own logo and banner, designed by Jaime. It is a combination of the many stills I've used over the course of my reviews and I feel it captures what I like about cinema in just a few images.
Now on Wordpress
Blogger is not the only way to see my reviews now. I have now adopted another domain over on Wordpress, by the same name, and have set up base there as well. Everything I've done on this site is also up there, so if you prefer to use Wordpress over Blogger, feel free to head on over there and check the blog out.
The link can be found here:
Also, I don't believe I've mentioned this before, but I also post the majority of my articles and editorials on another website called "World Of Entertainment," a fun little site where we talk about anything movie or television related, or anything nerdy. It is helmed by fellow Eastern Washington University graduates, so give it a look:
Facebook and Twitter are go!
I have now set up a Facebook page dedicated solely to my website. All new articles, reviews and editorials will be posted there, as well as any more news about the blog, daily insights into my thought process, film knowledge and community questions. So head on over there and give that a like and let me know what you think.
I also have (reluctantly) set up a Twitter page for myself. Links to my articles will be posted there as well, and any news to keep you up to date on the blog. So if you'd like to discuss anything film related or just say hello, you can follow me on Twitter.
Both of these will be linked on both the Wordpress and Blogger sites. Trust me, liking the Facebook page or following me on Twitter really does help me out. It lets me know what I'm doing right and lets me get in better contact with my readers. So if you have even the slightest interest in my articles, I'd be eternally grateful for a Facebook like.
I plan to get Google+ and Tumblr set up some time in the future, so stay tuned for that.
Google Ads have been activated
The last big change to the website is that I have turned on Google Ads. Meaning that every once in a while, an advertisement for Wal-Mart or Home Depot might pop up. It will never be anything that will give your computer a virus, I promise.
The reason I turned the ads on is because, with them on, I get paid a certain amount of money from Google, based on how many page views I get. The more people look at my articles, the more money I get.
I apologize if this seems greedy or like I'm selling out. Look at this way, if I get paid to write now, I'll be even more inclined to do it. That means you'll get even more content. It's a win-win situation. Also know that I am not doing this solely for the money. I do this so that I can share my love and passion for cinema with you guys and hopefully give you a bit more clarity on the matter.
To me, the money is just a nice after thought. It's not my main focus, and it never will be, but I won't complain about getting it.
However, if my readers complain about the ads getting in the way or something to that extent, I'll be more than happy to turn them off.
I am waiting for approval from Google to allow ads on the site, so you might not see ads around the site for a few more weeks.
That is about it for the new changes. Thanks for sticking with me through all of this and I hope that I can continue to keep you guys entertained. If you guys have something you'd like to tell me, suggest or criticize, please leave a comment below or like that Facebook page and send me a message there.
In the mean time, enjoy the many new reviews and articles that I just put out on the site. We have a few new reviews, including ones for "How To Train Your Dragon 2," "Edge Of Tomorrow," "Jason And The Argonauts" and "22 Jump Street," a new mission statement about what I want to do with the blog and my top five films of 2014 thus far.
Catch you later guys, and remember to stay awesome.
With the relaunch of this website, and the expansion of my reviews, I feel it is necessary to point out exactly what this blog is supposed to do. What I want to do and how I plan to do it.
The mission of "Seeing Is Believing" has always remained the same: Providing the reader with some insight or film knowledge that they may had not considered. To give a unique and fresh perspective on the world of cinema.
My goal is not to give the end all-be all of reviews or the definitive way to view any movie, because there is no such thing. There is no one right way to watch a film, therefore it is impossible to have a correct opinion or wrong opinion. The only thing I can do is offer up my opinion in the best way I know how and hope that it improves your way of thinking about cinema.
Because watching a film is one thing, but reading a review on the same film and hearing a different perspective is something else entirely. To see what is bad about a film you loved or hearing about the silver lining in a terrible film can change so much about your outlook that gets you thinking.
And that's what I want my articles to do: Make you think. I've had plenty of people tell me that, even though they often disagree with me liking or disliking a certain film, they at least appreciated what I had to say and respect my opinion. That's all I can ask for.
I do not expect people to agree with everything I say. If you like "22 Jump Street" or hate "Stand By Me," that's fine. The last thing I want to do is force my readers to only like what I like. In fact, I encourage everyone to embrace their feelings on cinema and not care what others have to say about it.
You should be able to like what you want to like.
But at the same time, respect and kindness is the key. To treat other people as equals, as well as their opinions and feelings. Just because someone thinks differently than you does not mean they should be treated badly. Try to understand where they are coming from, so that you will not only get a new perspective but it might also reshape your own opinions.
Film reviews are nothing more than elaborate and well-explained opinions on any given film. Opinions, by their very nature, are subjective and will vary from person to person. That is what makes talking about film so much fun. To hear all the different opinions and know that yours is just as valid as any other opinion out there.
So embrace that, and you will have as much fun with film criticism as I do.
It is weird to think that we are already half way through 2014. It only feels like yesterday I was talking about the best of 2013 and the Oscars, yet now the Summer Blockbusters are halfway done and most of my most anticipated films of the year have already been released.
So far, I have mixed feelings about the films released in 2014. It is kind of like a multiplying effect; when the films were good, they were really good, but when they sucked, they were almost painful to watch, like "22 Jump Street."
However, seeing how most of the best films released this year have been summer blockbusters, it really is not fair to judge it too much. So instead, lets look at the five best films released in 2014 thus far.
These are the five films that have stuck with me long after I left the theater and reminded me how much fun going to the movies can be. Whether they made me think, laugh, cry, terrified or somewhere between, these movies made an impact on me.
Five: "The Grand Budapest Hotel"
This is a typical Wes Andersen film, with standard of dry humor, characters talking directly to the camera, while moving and behaving more like dolls than human beings.
But really, is that a bad thing?
I'd say the only thing "The Grand Budapest Hotel" does differently is by expanding its cast even further than usual, while also having a more grand sense of scope and size. While Wes Andersen films typically have a large cast, this one in particular felt much larger, with each new character being played by a well-known and respected actor. This film also takes place over a vast landscape, as well as a war.
This gives the dry humor of a Wes Andersen film even more heft and irony. So while this feels like every other Wes Andersen film, it also does a few things to diversify itself from that same group of cinema.
Four: "The Raid 2"
I did not think it was possible, but a movie actually managed to be more brutal and graphic than "The Raid: Redemption."
It is interesting to compare the first Raid film to its sequel, as they both have many similarities of themes and atmosphere, but also drastically different stories and wider range of characters. But one thing that remained consistent between both films were the fight sequences still being fresh and exciting to watch.
Let's face it, to have a good martial arts sequence these days is incredibly difficult. We've seen it all before and nothing really surprises us. But the creators of the Raid films still find a way to make each fight memorable and intense. By introducing fighters who each have a unique look and fighting style, each one feels different from the last while still remaining fast-paced and brutal.
That is what makes "The Raid 2" so much fun to watch. It is different enough from "The Raid: Redemption" but still keeping its core of solid fight sequences and a basic human drive that makes us care about the brawls.
I couldn't help myself. This one had to be on the list.
The more I thought about this film, the more I really started to enjoy it. At times, it is reminiscent of films like "Jaws" and "Alien," in how it builds up to the eventual reveal of Godzilla, but knowing when to hold back and not give us too much Godzilla, or else the audience would grow tired of him.
Not since "Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All Out Attack" have I felt a giant monster walk around with so much weight, power and strength. Without even showing us his face, you get the impression of how imposing and earth-shattering Godzilla is. And he looms over every scene in the film, waiting to strike like a shark on the prowl.
While I still believe the acting is the weakest part of the film, it is never so bad that it becomes grating or annoying. It's just so average that it does nothing for me. If we had one more actor who was on the same level of intensity as Bryan Cranston or unflinching and intelligent as Ken Watanabe, then this would have been a wonderful film.
But, for what it was, I thoroughly enjoyed "Godzilla." It had just the right amount of monster sequences, while still having a balanced human story and some great moments of tragedy and heartbreak. It honored the character of Godzilla and knew exactly what he stands for.
Two: "Captain America: The Winter Soldier"
This is a much more sophisticated movie than I thought it would be. I expected some degree of intelligence, like I do with most Marvel movies these days, but what we got was an argument about the blurred lines between good and evil and whether we can truly fight for one side when both are so messed up.
Captain America is one of the most basic superheroes imaginable: He fights for what he believes is right and just. Which makes the argument of "right vs. wrong" so powerful in this film. Even more so when put in a world that is constantly evolving, with new global threats appearing every day and trust is thrown right out the door.
This was a nice divergent from the typical superhero film of the villain being one-dimensional and predictable, and instead being a corrupt version of ourselves. In a world where demigods can smite us at any moment or another alien invasion could take out a major city, protection and justice are needed even more for the people. But when we focus so much on protection, we end up putting fear and terror in everyone.
So really, is that the right thing to do? I'm not sure, and I don't think Cap is sure either.
One: "The Lego Movie"
This gets number one on my list because I have never seen any film quite like "The Lego Movie." Not just stop-motion animation with legos throughout the entire film, but the world of legos. How the different lands of legos interact, how the master builders can take apart the landscape and rerrange it at will, how each piece of brick can used as a tool and how it all comes together with its twist in the end.
"The Lego Movie" is what I love about cinema. It is fun, imaginative, exciting, thought-provoking, intelligent, witty and is something that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. No matter what your film preferences are, there is something to be enjoyed in this movie.
The goal of this film is to make you feel like a child again. Coming up with your own grand adventure with your toys and legos, even using household items as some sort of foreign and ancient treasure. Yet, in the end, the film is also about growing up and moving on from your toys to have an even bigger adventure, while still remembering the good times you had.
"The Lego Movie" nails that aspect every step of the way, while still keeping up its pleasant and friendly environment where everything is awesome.
"Edge Of Tomorrow" (2014)
Sometimes a film works out better when you go in with zero expectations. When I saw the trailer for "Edge Of Tomorrow," I had no interest in seeing it. To me, it looked like a sci-fi/action version of Harold Ramis' "Groundhog Day" while replacing the hilarious deadpan of Bill Murray with the aging and out-of-place Tom Cruise.
But, much to my surprise, I began to hear people saying it was a fun and enjoyable film and worth a viewing. So, since I hadn't been to the movies in a while, I decided to go see a couple of films, and "Edge Of Tomorrow" was the first on my list.
I went in expecting to be put to sleep or be insulted by how it portrayed our militaries, but came out having a good time. Part of this was because, like myself, the film did not take itself seriously at all. It recognized the ridiculous situation of Tom Cruise reliving the same battle again and again and decides to have as much fun with it.
For the last few years, Europe has been slowly overtaken by a race of aliens, known as the Mimics, with military forces trying their best to combat them, with no success. Now these aliens threaten to overtake the rest of the world, which leads the armies of Earth to launch an all-out strike against the Mimics before they can fight back. The United States even brings in a new military weapon that makes even the most untrained rookies become expert soldiers.
Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) gets sucked into this attack, even though he faints at the sight of blood. After being branded a deserter and reduced to the rank of Private, Cage is enlisted and set into combat, only to be killed like every other soldier sent in. So it surprises Cage when he finds himself at back at the base, living the day again.
The enjoyment of the film comes out of logical path Cage takes as he relives the battle countless times. We are never given an exact number of how many times he has done this, but it is enough to try to save everyone in his company from being squashed, burned alive or shot, as well as learning where each of his platoon members comes from, how they got their nicknames and why they enlisted.
The snarky comments that Cruise develops over repeated outcomes is what brings a smile to my face and show that he is having fun with this. That Cruise is not treating this like another action role, but as a distinct character who has lived this moment far too many times.
Rather than focusing on the philosophical implications of this, "Edge Of Tomorrow" instead decides to joke around with the scenario. Cage never complains about wanting out of this, but embraces this opportunity as a way to help the human race.
This is what I mean by the film not taking itself seriously. This could have been a dark and gritty tale about a cursed man who is being tortured to live this nightmare for all eternity. Yet, this is about a man's struggle to save the world with his unique gift. For that reason, this film is fun to watch.
Final Grade: B-
"22 Jump Street" (2014)
Oh boy. I can tell this is going to be another bad year for comedies.
My biggest complaint with 2013 was the lack of good comedies, with the two films that made me laugh the most being "The Wolf Of Wall Street" and "Iron Man 3." If "22 Jump Street" and the trailers before it are any indication, I get the feeling 2014 is going to go the same way.
Here's the thing about comedy in films: While these types of movies are created to make us laugh, they are still like any other work of cinema. If they fail at storytelling and filmmaking, then no amount of comedy is going to save it.
For whatever reason, most comedies over the last few years have simply become excuses to have a few gags or stand-up comedians try their routine on a grander scale. This is why movies like "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues" and "This Is The End" fail as movies. They might make you laugh, but that doesn't make them good films, just good joke-fodder.
"22 Jump Street" falls into the same class as many other comedies of the last few years, by having some jokes that work, some that don't, and all wrapped up in a plot that is nonsensical, convoluted and does not amount too much.
After the success of their last undercover operation, Schimdt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) try to do some bigger police work, only for it to fail spectacularly. This leads them to be reassigned to do the same operation they had done, by being sent in as college students to investigate a new type of drug that has led to the death of a student.
As I mentioned, there are jokes that do get a good laugh, and those are mostly when the film is being as meta as possible. For example, Jenko wants to do something more with his career, like becoming a member of the secret service and protect the president, an oh-so subtle nod to Channing Tatum doing just that in Roland Emmerichs' "White House Down." Or that the boss of Jump Street (played by Ice Cube) gets a brand new office...that looks like a giant ice-cube.
But the funniest moments come during the closing credits, when the filmmakers clearly state that they are not going to make anymore "Jump Street" movies, and instead decide to throw out every ridiculous idea for possible sequels, with names like "25 Jump Street" or "2121 Jump Street." This includes the role of Schimdt, at one point, being replaced by Seth Rogan and back to Jonah Hill.
Yet, there lies the problem. The funniest part of the film comes during the end credits. I don't know about you, but I think that's sad and says a lot about how unfunny the rest of the movie is. Even more so since these credits have nothing to do with the rest of the film.
The plot is a jumbled-up mess. It wanders around aimlessly, trying to find a point and reason for all the comedy to exist, but spends no time developing these characters that it becomes pointless. When "22 Jump Street" tries any sort of drama, it fails miserably because there is no resolution to any of it.
It all becomes an excuse just to lead to more unfunny comedy, like Jenko trying to join a Frat house or both trying to discuss their feelings as "partners" with the school psychiatrist.
So while there are certainly funny moments in "22 Jump Street," it is not worth sitting through the rest of the movie to get there. Just wait for those scenes to come out as clips on YouTube and you won't miss a thing.
Final Grade: D+
It should be known that I've only before watched one other Ray Harryhausen film, "The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms." It did not go well.
While I do believe that Harryhausen's effects were the best part of that particular movie, it certainly was not enough to save it from being a bad movie. The story was forgettable, the characters were laughable and the pacing was all over the place. So while I do not blame Harryhausen for what made the film unbearable, it was still a painful monster movie to watch at times.
Yet, I could still understand the genius behind what Ray Harryhausen did in the film. While stop-motion animation existed long before he did, Harryhausen took it to an entirely different level by creating detailed and intricate creatures which moved with their own breath and heart beat.
This is why I believe "Jason And The Argonauts" is often called Harryhausen's best work. In earlier films, you get one or two creatures with this beautiful animation, but in "Jason" you get no fewer than four distinctly diverse monsters, each with their own movement and sequence.
During the time of the Greek Gods, the greedy Pelias attacks the city of Thessaly, kills King Aristo, and takes it for himself. This angers Zeus and his wife, Hera, because Pelias goes against the orders of the gods and kills an innocent woman in Hera's temple. Out of this, a prophecy is born, where the child of Aristo would be the one to rise up and kill Pelias.
Twenty years later, the only remaining child of Aristo, Jason (Todd Armstrong), has now reached manhood and intends to get his kingdom back from Pelias by obtaining the Golden Fleece from the far off land of Colchis, at the end of the world. After an meet with Zeus and Hera, Jason promises to get the Fleece his own way, but praises the gods for their generosity.
And so, Jason assembles the strongest and bravest men in Greece to join him on his journey to the end of the world, where they face many threats, including some from within his own crew.
Like with "The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms" the special effects work in this film is the real highlight. There are so many sequences that stick out in my mind, and each one has a difference in size and scope.
Some are compact and tight-fisted, like the battle with the Harpies or the sword-wielding skeletons. While others are massive and must quick thinking over brawn, like the copper statue of Talos or crossing the chasm of the Clashing Rocks, only to be saved by the sea-god, Triton.
The struggle against Talos sticks out to me more than most others, because of how Talos moves and his appearance. I say Talos is made of copper, because he appears brown and shiny on some surfaces, but is rusted and green on others, much like the Statue of Liberty. Talos is not some creature with an armor coating, but a statue given life and acts so. He is massive, impenetrable, dense and uncaring.
Each of these sequences gives the movie character and adds to this world of gods and monsters. The diversity is what makes the film worth watching over and over.
However, if "Jason And The Argonauts" falters on anything, it would be the lack of development for characters and story. We get some story in the beginning of the film, but only enough to set up the basics: Jason is pissed off at Pelias and wants to get his kingdom back, so he'll get the Fleece to do just that.
Everything else is an excuse to lead into the next action sequence, as Jason and his crew travel across the world and meet many dangerous obstacles along the way. After awhile, it becomes predictable and makes the non-action sequences forgettable and not worthy mentioning.
This gets even worse when few of the Argonauts have any sort of character. We hardly learn the names of any of these brave and fearless warriors, let alone what the offer to the group. The only ones we do learn about are quickly abandoned in the story, like Hercules and the young intelligent man that he befriends. While their bonding is nice to see, we only get a scene or two of that before the film focuses on other aspects.
Which is rather disappointing, since the scene where Jason holds a contest to see who gets to sail with him was an enjoyable sequence, with a wide ranger of characters showing of their unique talents and how cocky they were because of their skills. It shows there was a chance for good characterization in this film, but it was forgotten in favor of other aspects.
In the end though, I got a similar feeling from "Jason And The Argonauts" as I did from a good Godzilla film: A film that takes itself rather seriously, but still has a good sense of adventure and fun. It is not afraid to pull any punches, but it knows that people are here to see some exciting action sequences and delivers on that.
For what "Jason And The Argonauts" does with its monster and sword sequences, the film excels, with wonderful work by Ray Harryhausen and a fitting score by Bernard Herrmann (composer of "Vertigo" and "Psycho") that amplifies the tension and direness to many fights. The problem comes with just about everything else being lackluster or forgotten. The film is fun to watch for its towering Talos statue or skeleton sword fight, but don't expect that level of excitement throughout the entire movie.
Final Grade: B