Friday, November 30, 2012

Movie Review: "Life of Pi"

Within the first ten minutes, the titular protagonist of Life of Pi, Pi Patel, tells a writer that this story will make one believe in God.  The story that Pi tells, is that of a shipwreck, which claims a teenaged Pi's family.  Amidst the chaos, he found himself the sole human survivor, now floating across the Pacific Ocean in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.  Part survival story, part rumination about one person's faith and their attempts at understanding why God designed nature to do the things in which it does, Life of Pi is an emotion-filled journey that places the viewer within these events and has them pondering the same questions that the film's lead, newcomer Suraj Sharma, does.

In a great many ways, Life of Pi requires an open mind from its viewers.  It is not a film about one particular religion, as Pi is a combination Hindu, Catholic, and Muslim.  He has always been fascinated by God, whether it be Christ, the many Hindu Gods, or Allah, Pi believes they're all the same.  The film does not ask the viewer to believe this same idea as Pi, his beliefs simply serve as the impetus to understanding the gentle, soul-filled character that is Pi Patel, and understand how a 16-year-old boy could survive not just the elements and starvation, but also a man-eating tiger.

The set up of the film is filled with life and energy, detailing the source of Pi's name, his fascination with religion, and his loss of innocence, before the ship wrecks and the real story begins -- Pi's journey to understand God.  To his immense credit, young actor, Suraj Sharma, manages to hold the film together thanks to his revelatory performance.  Sharma is the heart-and-soul of Life of Pi.  He has a wide range of emotions that make him believable as a teen pondering such large questions, keeping the viewer engaged rather than allowing their attention span to wane.  Which is good, seeing as how Life of Pi gets narratively murky around the midpoint, with some of the confrontations between Pi and nature running together by that point.  Thankfully, the thematic ideas are what I feel that Ang Lee and company want the audience to take away from the film, and the emotions and ideas are so strong, it is very easy to overlook its narrative shortcomings.

Visually, Life of Pi is a marvel.  The animals in the life boat are entirely computer generated, and there are many moments where it is hard to find the glossy edges that CGI leaves behind.  As well, director Ang Lee uses visual effects and the camera's depth of field to create a more immersive, dream-like feel. Almost every shot seems to have been digitally altered to make it seem more unreal, to make the water more reflective, to make the sky more beautiful, or to make dream and reality often collide.  In particular, the way that the camera was always focused on Pi, with most of the other actors out of focus, it really draws one into Pi's state.  However, I cannot figure out why Lee changed the aspect ratio in a few scenes.  There is no evidence in the film itself to suggest why, leaving me confused.  It's only for two scenes, and both are scenes meant to be emotional beats, and yet the film goes from widescreen to fullscreen to letterbox format.  It jars the viewer and takes one out of the filmgoing experience.

All in all, Life of Pi is not perfect, but it was a film I do not regret seeing.  Thanks to a strong performance from Sharma, marvelous effects work, luscious visuals, and a thematic consistency that never falters in affecting the viewer, Life of Pi is a flawed, yet must see film that will be nominated come Oscar night.

I give Life of Pi a B

Thursday, November 29, 2012

For Your Consideration: Jack Black

For years I've been trying to think of something new and different to do each Oscar season to try and do an alternative form of Academy Awards' coverage on the Review.  I consider myself an amateur Oscar predictor, and very often I try to simply make logical predictions that typically pan out, so I've decided to take a look at the films and performances that have less of a chance for Oscar recognition and highlight them.  I don't think anyone in the film industry reads this, but what I hope with the "For Your Consideration" posts is that I can both vent about Academy pretentiousness at ignoring blockbusters and also highlight lesser known films and performances, hoping to give them some added exposure to filmgoers looking for something great to enjoy.  I kind of already did a post similar to this a few weeks ago about why I felt The Avengers should be nominated for Best Picture, but this post is not about The Avengers, but rather about actor Jack Black.

What inspired this inaugural post is I recently saw the film Bernie on netflix.  Bernie is an independent film made by director Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, School of Rock, Before Sunset) that came out this past Summer in limited release.  The film only played for a few weeks in my neck of the woods, and I never really got around to seeing it, because I was so busy with my film internship at the time it came out.  It's always hard to see these indies when they come out in the midst of Summer blockbuster season anyways, because few theaters carry them at that time of year.

Bernie tells the unbelievable true story of an effeminate Texas mortician named Bernie Tiede, portrayed by Jack Black.  What's so brilliant about the film is that it's shot like a documentary, yet it's entirely scripted, lending the film both a realistic authenticity, but stylistic flourishes not found in typical docs.  Bernie was the nicest guy on Earth, everyone loved him.  He produced the local community theater, led worship at the church, and was friend to all, including the meanest old lady in town, Marjorie, played by Shirley MacLaine.  However, soon Bernie learned all about Marjorie and she began to wear on his nerves, and in a momentary lapse he shoots her in the back.  I should say, this film is a comedy, albeit a black comedy in the vein of the Coen Brothers' films, but a comedy all the same.  Even in the scene when Bernie shoots Marjorie, I found myself laughing out loud thanks to the performance of Jack Black and his reaction upon realizing what he's done.  For this reason, and many others, I truly feel that Jack Black's performance is worthy of Best Actor Oscar consideration.

The closest Jack Black has ever come to getting nominated for Oscar was the one time he came onstage with Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, singing a song about how hard it is to be a comedian at the Oscars and never get nominated.  It's as if the Academy knows they have a bias to comedies and comedians in general.  The thing is, Jack Black is not a bad actor when he's reined in and doesn't go too terribly over-the-top, like he did in King Kong, School of Rock, or The Holiday, or as he does here in Bernie.

As Bernie Tiede, Jack Black is very dialed down.  Sure, he has a funny effeminate accent, but when you hear the real Bernie speak in interviews from real-life, you realize how spot on Jack Black was.  The thing is, Jack Black uses all of his considerable talents in this one film.  He proves that he is a good singer, and not just adept at doing his heavy metal thing with Tenacious D.  Jack Black surprisingly sings hymns and Broadway showtunes real well, showing vocal range, but he also shows range in his acting chops.  He plays everything seriously and just lets the absurdity of the situations be what makes it all funny rather than him hamming it up, like he normally does.  This is a very contained performance that shows genuine maturation in Black as an actor, not as a comedian, and makes me intrigued to see what else he can do.

For this being such a controlled performance from a popular performer who tends to go off the rails, I feel it deserves at least to be nominated for Best Actor.  Sure, I feel Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln is more worthy of winning, but Jack Black as Bernie Tiede should be considered alongside Day-Lewis' portrayal.  Both are brilliantly controlled and genuine.  As well, I think that Richard Linklater should be considered for Best Director for being able to coax such a good performance from not just Black, but all of the actors in the film, but alas that is even less likely and isn't as deserved as Jack Black getting the nom.  Of course, will Jack Black happen?  More than likely, no.  While the distributors will likely push Black, he'll be overshadowed by the likes of Academy friendly names as Day-Lewis and Denzel Washington.  So I guess this will be the closest we ever will get to seeing Jack Black at the podium:

Monday, November 19, 2012

Movie Review: "Lincoln"

Upon seeing director Steven Spielberg's latest, Lincoln, I would not at all be surprised to see both Spielberg and Abraham Lincoln-portayer Daniel Day-Lewis win their third Oscars, and deservedly so.   Lincoln is a master class in acting, writing, and directing, as the cast and crew tell the story of the last few months of Abraham Lincoln's life and his battle to get slavery abolished by passing the 13th amendment.

All of the actors, from Sally Field as the tortured Mary Todd Lincoln to Tommy Lee Jones as the abolitionist Thadeus Stevens,  relish in three-dimensional roles scripted with historical authenticity by screenwriter Tony Kushner, but it's Day-Lewis that steals the show.  He disappears in the role, due in a large part to the brilliant make-up work which requires a genuine second glance to distinguish him from the real Abraham Lincoln in certain shots, in particular profiles.  Where Day-Lewis excels though, is how he controls the performance.  He rarely chews scenery, his high, reedy voice just seems perfectly natural to the Lincoln that he is presenting, with the real depth not always coming in his words, but in his soulful eyes.  As a matter of fact, I would say that control is the best way to describe everyone's work in this film.

No performance outshines the other in a scene, there is never too much attention drawn to the cinematography, as everything all gels together nicely to feel organic to the story.  What's most surprising, Spielberg and composer John Williams show genuine restraint in the sparseness of the music, such as letting it be entirely ambient noise when the 13th amendment is passed.  However, this isn't the entire film, with Spielberg and company knowing when to give a little visual or aural flourish to make their point.  While Spielberg often sits back in dialogue scenes to let the actors do their work, he always knows the right moment to push the camera in or pull it out to immerse you in their words, and the scene where the House is voting on the amendment, is as finely crafted a visual sequence he has ever done in his career.   

Lincoln is a cinematic marvel, it shows the humanity of a man that we often put up on a pedestal, and even when we see him in all of his flaws, we are still drawn to him because he was just such a great man.  It's such a loving portrait, that when you see Lincoln surrounded by his cabinet and his family, pronounced dead, you are overwhelmed by emotion to see a man that you have grown to love, never to open his soulful eyes again.  However, as Spielberg illustrates in the final scene, with the slow dissolve from a burning candle to Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln will continue to burn on to inspire countless generations to come.  If you want to try and make comparisons to the modern day political climate with this film, you're entirely in your right, but to me, this film is an inspiration, a firm reminder about the good of humanity and the leadership of a great man that should never be forgotten.

I give Lincoln an A+!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Movie Review: "Flight"

Flight is a change of pace for director, Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, Cast Away).  After a decade of doing mo-cap animated films, Zemeckis returns to live action with a film that is decidedly darker than any other film he's ever made.

Flight tells the story of Whip Whitaker, portrayed by Denzel Washington.  Whip is a drug addict, an alcoholic, and a commercial airline pilot.  On the morning that his airplane experiences technical difficulties and starts falling out of the sky, Whip was drunk and high.  While he made an emergency landing in a Georgia field, his condition leads to a criminal investigation as to why the aircraft really fell.

The crash sequence is as harrowing as any I've ever seen, and is a marvel of Zemeckis's directing and ability to get immaculate effects work out of the effects crew, however the rest of the film is about Whip and his addictions.  Whip cannot stop drinking, lying, or being a man so unfitting of the word hero.  He refuses to go to AA meetings, he cannot resist a drink when it's sitting there right in front of him, and the film goes to many places that are surprising and uncomfortable for the viewer.  We witness Whip, fall down drunk, high as a kite, and lying with a silver tongue, ignoring his son and ex-wife for most of the film, and losing the few good relationships he still has left. Washington delivers a performance of intense depth, he plays the role with charm, but the kind of charm one has when they're trying to get everything to go their way.  Though where his performance really stands out, is in the way that Washington's Whip refuses to admit that he has a problem, and he gives a good case for award's attention at the end when he finally lays down his alcohol addiction for the whole world to see.

Smartly, Flight never tries to answer the spiritual questions it raises, some might find a spiritual movie underneath all of this, about why things happen, and that's one of the best things that Zemeckis and writer John Gatins did, they don't try to push anything on the viewer, but let them make up their own mind.  To me, the movie is about discovering one's faith, while it's also a movie about a man on a downward spiral, crashing both figuratively and literally in this film.  The whole piece works thematically, and the acting performances are strong, in particular Don Cheadle, as the most believable lawyer I've seen on film in a while.  While Flight loses some of its credibility when Whip's lawyer pays for him to get high on cocaine when he's spending his whole time the rest of the film trying to get Whip's toxicology report to go away, as a whole, Flight is a hard-hitting drama that is unlike anything else that Zemeckis has ever done.  For a filmmaker who one thinks they've already seen all the tricks he has left in his bag, this is a refreshing experience to see him growing and delivering adult fare unlike anything else he's ever done before, but be warned, this is neither a feel good movie, nor a film for the faint hearted, as there is nudity, drugs, alcohol, and many different ways to use the f-word.

I give Flight an A-!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Who Should Direct "Star Wars: Episode VII"

Easily the most anticipated film in the industry right now is Star Wars:  Episode VII.  Following the bombshell two weeks ago that Lucasfilm was selling to Disney, many fans have been speculating about the new film that Disney announced the same day as the acquisition.  Episode VII will be produced by Lucasfilm, with the money and final say-so coming from Disney, and George Lucas merely onboard as a creative consultant.  Just this past weekend, they announced that screenwriter Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3) had been hired to write the script for Episode VII, following a treatment that Arndt had written for what is now being called the Sequel Trilogy.

What's most intriguing about Arndt's involvement, is the fact that he has been working on this with Lucas and Lucasfilm for months and word had not slipped, which is a feat in-and-of itself in this ravenous internet age that a secret this big hadn't been splashed across countless webpages three months ago.  However the greatest thing about Arndt's involvement, is that it shows that Disney and Lucasfilm are taking these film's seriously.  They've hired a great screenwriter who knows how to infuse comedy, humanity, and excitement in every story he writes.  He knows when to get serious, but also understands that seriousness isn't needed all the time, the right guy to script a Star Wars adventure -- perhaps in a similar vein to the original three, and not the uber-serious prequels.  While Arndt isn't necessarily Lawrence Kasdan, he's a great screenwriter, young, with maybe a few fresh ideas to bring to the table to keep this new trilogy from feeling outdated by modern science fiction films.  Now, all we need is a director.

I personally feel we wont hear any casting news until a director is attached and a draft is done, till then, countless reports stating Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford, are returning, should be taken with a grain of salt.  I could be wrong, but the next big step for Disney and Lucasfilm is to sign whoever will take George Lucas's place at the helm of the franchise.  My personal wish, Steven Spielberg, has already gone on record as saying he wouldn't do it, as have a few other directors.  Quite frankly, I don't blame any director for not wanting to jump into a franchise that is already six films in, and will be met with fan scrutiny, no matter how good it is.  Therefore, most big names, like Spielberg or James Cameron, are just wishful thinking, as well, given the recent video interview between Lucasfilm CEO, Kathleen Kennedy, and Lucas himself, they said that what they were looking for in a director was someone who is a fan of the films and already has a love for the material.  Given the people already involved, and the little I've gathered so far, I've decided to just name off a few Hollywood directors that I think would be good fits for the Star Wars universe.

The big thing I've taken into account here is that Kathleen Kennedy is now the head of Lucasfilm, and not George, and with Kennedy having worked with multiple directors throughout her decades of being a producer in Hollywood, she will more than likely have some names she's already thinking about.  To be honest, she could go with some new blood, but I almost think she might go with someone she can already trust.  Given all this, I don't think it will be Joss Whedon or J.J. Abrams or Guillermo Del Toro, or any other filmmaker that fanboys are obsessed with.  Whedon is too loyal to abandon Marvel, Abrams already has Star Trek, and Del Toro, he'd probably just sign on and abandon it halfway through pre-production like he has done with countless projects, including The Hobbit.  So who will direct?  Honestly, I don't know.  I don't have some inside track or nothing, all I can do is make some educated guesses based upon what I want to see.  However, I'm not going to go with the wishlist idea, I know there's no chance anymore of Spielberg, Whedon, or Abrams, so what's the point of even pondering the notion?  Personally, I feel they'll go with seasoned hands, people who already have some experience with event films, but they're also people who don't have too much of an artist's complex to think that they have to come in and change everything, while still having enough imagination to work with what's already come before in fresh ways.  Here are the guys I'd be most jazzed about to see kick-off the new Star Wars trilogy, in no particular order:

Gary Ross
The Hunger Games' director  is the top name for me.  Gary Ross has only three films under his belt, but each film he's made is fantastic and vastly different from the last.  With The Hunger Games, Ross showed a unique talent to stay true to the source material while innovating where he felt it was needed.  He has an artist's eye, which is evident from the fabulous art direction of all his films, from Pleasantville to The Hunger Games, but most importantly, he has a history with Kathleen Kennedy, who produced his film, Seabiscuit.  Ross is an exquisite Hollywood craftsman who understands both the art and science of filmmaking, unparalleled in creating lush visuals while telling emotional, character centric stories.  The biggest drawback to Ross is that he is notorious for taking long periods of time to make his films, often rewriting scripts once he's brought onboard to feel closer to the material.  As well, Ross opted out of doing The Hunger Games' sequel, Catching Fire, because he felt he wasn't up to the task of mounting such a large scale film so soon after completing one.  Even still, Ross might see that this is as a once in a lifetime chance, and will jump on it, that's only if he doesn't continue on with Peter Pan prequel, Peter and the Starcatchers, instead.

Shawn Levy
A director I've admired ever since I saw his remake of The Pink Panther with Steve Martin, by no means a groundbreaking film, but it was funny and faithful to the Peter Sellers' originals.  Since, Levy has gone on to more genre-oriented fare, while still staying within the family genre that he started in with his work in television and on the remake of Cheaper by the Dozen.  After two Night at the Museum films and Real Steel (which I was a huge fan of, by the way), I feel that Levy has appropriately positioned himself as a director with a good sense of humor, a craftsman's eye at handling special effects, large stars, and big budgets, while retaining a naive-like heart to all of his films.  While I don't think Shawn Levy will re-invent the wheel by any means, I think he'd be highly respectful of the material and would deliver a solidly made film on time and on budget that would look good, but most importantly, would make you feel something.  His biggest drawback is that he's a studio man, not necessarily an artist, as well, he doesn't really have a prior history with either Lucas or Kennedy, though Real Steel was produced by Dreamworks and was released via Disney's Touchstone Pictures, so maybe.

Chris Columbus
Here is why Chris Columbus would be perfect for Star Wars:  the first two Harry Potter films.  Not only did Columbus prove his talent with special effects on those films, but he also proved his ability to build worlds.  He was the guy who came in and took what JK Rowling had written on the page and translated it to film, setting the template for the eight film series that was enormously successful.  While the last two films Columbus has made are lackluster to say the least, he was at one time one of the more bankable directors in Hollywood.  From the first two Home Alone movies, to Mrs. Doubtfire, to the aforementioned Harry Potter films, Columbus is just enough of an artist that his films feel like him, yet they're all accessible and viable in a commercial marketplace, the perfect guy to steer the ship of the Star Wars franchise.  Not to mention, Columbus is one of the finer screenwriters of the past few decades, having written the scripts for The Goonies, Gremlins, and Young Sherlock Holmes back in the '80s, before he was a director.  He's an ace storyteller that understands story structure and character in ways that only a screenwriter can.  My only fear is that Columbus has lost his touch, having not made a truly good or successful film since Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, but perhaps Star Wars:  Episode VII could be his return to form.

Joe Johnston
This may be one of the more logical choices proposed.  Johnston has a long standing history with the Star Wars franchise, having been one of the founding members of Industrial Light & Magic, working on the special effects and art direction on the first three Star Wars films.  As well, Johnston has a close relationship to George Lucas, with Lucas actually paying Johnston's tuition to go to film school in the '80s to become a director.  Since, Johnston has become one of the more solid craftsmen you could have helming your effects laden film.  From films like Honey I Shrunk the Kids to Jumanji, all the way to October Sky and Captain America:  The First Avenger, Johnston is a filmmaker who not only knows how to make fun, escapist entertainment (just look at his pulp adventure, The Rocketeer), but make it with heart and spectacle, something that Star Wars needs.  Not to mention, he's already overtly familiar with the Star Wars universe, having designed many of the design elements of the first three films, in particular, the look of Bobba Fett.  Like Shawn Levy above, Johnston isn't known for reinventing the wheel, but that isn't what I really want someone to do with this new Star Wars film.  He's a guy that already knows the style, is a great director who can also create new design elements that will fit perfectly into the already established Star Wars universe, and he has shown in the past that he is not shy about taking on a franchise that was already established by an A-list director with Jurassic Park III.  There is really no reason in my mind why Kathleen Kennedy and Disney should not be looking at Johnston as a serious contender.

Ron Howard
Another George Lucas protege, Ron Howard is the most successful filmmaker I've mentioned on this list, and that would probably be what will put the kibosh on the whole deal.  Ron Howard's a modern day mogul now, like Spielberg or Lucas, he can pick whatever he wants, and do it however he so desires, but dare we not forget that Ron Howard started out as a young filmmaker under the wings of people like Roger Corman and George Lucas.  Ron Howard developed a mentor-student like relationship with Lucas on the set of American Graffiti, which led into Lucas's involvement with Howard, on Ron Howard's '80s fantasy flick, Willow.  Ron Howard, to this day, considers Lucas a mentor, and his resume shows that he is not opposed to doing genre flicks, the biggest thing is whether or not Howard feels he has grown out of fantasy and sci-fi films.  Sure, he got his start with films like Splash!, Willow, and Cocoon, but since, the closest things he's done to those have been The DaVinci Code movies.  Howard seems to be more interested in doing human dramas nowadays than he is in dealing with magic or blasting off to other galaxies, but given Howard's relationship with Lucas, and his own prior filmography, I would not count Howard out.  Howard is an exceptional director of fantasy and science fiction whenever he so desires, and I feel he could deliver a Star Wars film that would be impressive.  He's a seasoned veteran, he knows how to tell stories in visual ways, as well as deal with actors to get good performances, but most importantly, he has clout.  Ron Howard is one of the largest figures in modern moviemaking, and I feel Howard's involvement would not only allay some fanboys' fears, into letting them know that Disney is really looking to make a quality Star Wars film, but Howard also wouldn't be afraid to tell folks like Harrison Ford if he thinks they're overacting or not, something that Ford has drastically needed in nearly all of his roles over the past decade.  Plus, imagine Clint Howard in a Star Wars film.  Maybe he could be an alien in heavy makeup or a bounty hunter.  Oh, the possibilities.

So, there you have it, there is no telling who they're courting to direct the film, but these are just who I'd most like to see give it a try.  Website, IGN, recently spoke with producer, and husband of Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, about the new Star Wars film, and he said that the list had been narrowed down to a couple directors, so hopefully we'll know soon, but for now, speculation is fun.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Movie Review: "Skyfall"

It's James Bond's 50th anniversary, and the 23rd Bond film, Skyfall, proves that there's still some bullets left in his Walter PPK.

The plot of Skyfall is simplistic, a hard drive containing the identities of every secret agent embedded in terrorist organizations around the world is stolen, but it's how director Sam Mendes turns the film more so into a chess match than a whodunit, that marks this entry.  The flamboyant villain, Silva, is an agressive mastermind, manipulating the actions of MI6 through cyberterrorism, forcing M, MI6, and Bond to play defense the entire film, trying to keep out of checkmate, and in the end Bond and M retreat to Bond's boyhood home, Skyfall, to try to get Silva to drop his defenses.

The thing about Skyfall, is that it is different than any other Bond film before it.  It's a somber experience, almost melancholy.  It's not cranked up to 11, it's not a simple bad guy wanting to take over the world story, in so many ways it's a character piece.  The biggest action sequence is the Istanbul opening where 007 chases a bad guy across cars, motorcycles, and trains, and the rest of the film gets gradually smaller and smaller in scale, until all that is left are Bond, M, and Silva.  It's the way their pasts come back to haunt them that is the spine of Skyfall.

Bond still clings to the death of his parents, M is questioning her past decisions to sacrifice agents when the ends justified the means, and Silva is bitter over M having sacrificed him on a mission long ago, like she does with Bond in the opening.  Unlike any other Bond film, it's about the relationships that these characters have with one another that shapes the narrative and the action.  Bond's trust in M is tested, leading him down a certain path of action, but then it's reinforced, and then he stops at nothing to protect her from Silva.  That is the true brilliance of Skyfall, it doesn't shy away from showing the humanity of these characters, or how their actions have repercussions, but rather it shows how they use those repercussions to carry on and finish the mission.

Daniel Craig proves he is once more a more than capable 007, utilizing a dry sense of humor to deliver lines that Roger Moore would have hammed up.  Like he did in Casino Royale, Craig finds a way to make Bond relatable and human to the audience.  In the film, James Bond is portrayed as slightly older, having lost his edge, and not necessarily hip with the times where espionage is mostly done by computers and not field work.  As a matter of fact, Bond is injured throughout most of the film, not at his physical peak, due to gunshot wounds sustained in the opening.  Therefore, he's not really a superhero, but rather a human being who is constantly outmatched throughout the entire film, but as he proves by the end, it's not age or old school methods that define the job, but his commitment to see it through.

As well, Judi Dench delivers her best turn since Goldeneye, Bond girl Naomie Harris really adds some much needed levity at times to keep things from getting too dark, and Ben Whishaw fills Desmond Llewelyn's shoes as Q.  The true standout performance though is Javier Bardem as Silva.  He's not just creepy or flamboyant, though he is a man whose sexuality is in question, but it's the way that he fully commits to the role that makes every line and action that he performs creepy and flamboyant. His performance has been likened to Heath Ledger's Joker, but I really think Silva is his own messed up breed that Bardem plays so brilliantly, perhaps besting his performance as Anton Chigurgh in No Country For Old Men.  Not to mention, the fact that the script really builds up his character, where everyone talks about him in fear, with him manipulating in the shadows for the first half of the film, so that when we finally meet him, we're terrified of him.

All in all, Skyfall is a marvel.  Featuring superb action scenes, a traditional Bond theme song supplied by Adele, one of the better scripts ever written for a Bond film, where every character has an arc and a purpose in the story, and some of the most stunning cinematography ever shot for an action flick, Skyfall is a home run.  Not only that though, it's a great, personal film that is smart, tense, exciting, and surprisingly emotional.  It uses the 50 year history of these characters to stir the emotions in the viewer, and in so many ways, if this isn't your first Bond film, you will be even more rewarded for it.  But quite simply, the Bond family has outdone themselves here.  Skyfall is a true blue James Bond adventure that surpasses nearly every other film in the storied franchise.

I give Skyfall an A+!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Movie Review: "Wreck-It Ralph"

Disney's latest animated film, Wreck-It Ralph, is a charming film that is laugh-out loud hilarious, and yet tender-hearted at the same time.  Ralph is a video game bad guy for a video game called Fix It Felix, Jr., a game similar to the original Donkey Kong with Mario and DK.  All Ralph wants to do is be seen as a good guy and be liked, so he sets off on a journey traveling through other arcade games to win a gold medal, proving he's a hero.  Ralph finds an unlikely sidekick in a glitchy little girl named Vanellope in a Mario Kart-like kart racer who just wants to be a race car driver, and the two team together to try and achieve their individual goals. 

It's been said about this film already, but it feels like a Pixar movie rather than a movie from Disney's in-house studios.  Not only is the film just wildly original and different than most other animated films in the market, but folks at Disney also created all of these arcade games that seem as if they should be real.  Adding to the Pixar comparisons, the filmmakers also crafted some extremely lovable characters, from Ralph to Vanellope to the big bad guy, named King Candy, while infusing the film with deeper themes than most prior Disney animated films deal with.  Wreck-It Ralph is all about learning to be comfortable with who you are and not letting a label define you, which is an important lesson for kids, and it's told in such a hilarious way with so many inside jokes about video games that anyone who even has a passing knowledge of video games will find funny, with cameo appearances from the likes of Pac Man and Sonic the Hedgehog. 

In all honesty, so much of this film's success must be attributed to Pixar co-founder, John Lasseter, as the new head of Disney Animation, but give credit also to Futurama creator, Rich Moore, who directed Wreck-It Ralph.  With Moore's vast imagination, and folks like Lasseter willing to try something different and let talents like Rich Moore simply do what they love, it produces films like these, which is the best film to come from Disney's in-house animation studio in over a decade.  The animation is beautiful, the story is both funny and touching, and the voice-over work is superb, with immense kudos to Sarah Silverman for playing the spunkiest little girl on Earth as Vanellope, I mean, who knew she could sound like an 8-year-old kid?

On a final note, the animated short that plays before the film, Paperman, is so good it is almost worth the price of admission itself for its sweet love story and for the amazing combination of hand-drawn animation and computer technology that brought it to life.  I truly feel that this short shows the true future of animation, combing old school techniques with modern innovations to make a better, higher quality product that still has that personal touch that only hand-drawn animation can give, while creating a depth of the image that you can really only get through using computers.

I give Wreck-It Ralph an A+