Thursday, December 12, 2013


Its pretty rare that I actually get the chance to see a movie in theaters these days, so now that I finally did, here's what I thought of Disney's latest.

Frozen (PG)

Starring: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana, Alan Tudyk

Whats it about: Princess Anna embarks on a journey to help her sister Elsa, the rightful heir to their kingdom's throne, who possesses the magical power to produce snow/ice.

Going into this movie, I had no idea what the plot was, which was honestly rather refreshing! Its really difficult to describe the plot without giving anything away, because its a lot of fun to just discover it for yourself. Disney definitely knows what they're doing!

That said, there is a LOT of great stuff in this movie, but there was some stuff that bugged me too. But hey, lets start with the good:

This. Movie. Is. BEAUTIFUL. The animation of the characters is great, the snow is very well done, but what absolutely blew me away was the frost powers that Elsa wields. Wow! I didn't see this movie in 3D, but this is one of the only movies I've ever actually wished I did.

At one point in the movie, Elsa creates something very cool out of ice, and visually it gave me chills. Pixar never disappoints when it comes to looks, that's for sure.

Its no secret that Tangled is my absolute favorite Disney movie, in a large way due to the characters, and how they are a great mix of the classic prince/princess formula, and modern society. That is definitely visible in this movie as well. It seems that Disney princesses are taking a turn to become "like totally" teen girls, which is just as fun in Frozen as it was in Tangled. I wasn't disappointed by a single character. In typical Disney fashion, there's two hilarious non-human characters, Sven the reindeer, and Olaf the snowman. Honestly, when I saw the trailers I thought Olaf was going to be a completely idiotic character, I thought all his little quips were just terrible. But in the full movie, he had some of the best lines! He's pretty obviously just there for the kids, as he constantly points out major plot points in somewhat of an "In case you missed it" style. Its annoying, but hey, he serves his purpose.

Again, not going to spoil anything, but I loved the ending too! Throughout the final climax, I was sighing internally because I figured I knew exactly what was going to happen. Well I was wrong, and pleasantly surprised! They really push the sisterhood thing way more than the "true love" which is a refreshing change!

Okay I've covered all my favorite parts, but there were some things that still bugged me, and prevented me from truly loving this movie. For starters, the songs. Now don't get me wrong, I know Disney movies are no stranger to music, and actually I thought the songs were fantastic in Tangled! What I did feel about this movie, however, is that there were too many songs, and some of them felt really unnecessary. Half of them were just dialogue conversations that had music, and it just felt like they didn't need to be sung. I really liked some of the songs, especially the opening number, but overall I feel like if they toned it down by maybe 3 or 4 songs, it would have been a little better.

I also wasn't a big fan of Elsa's singing voice, but that's just personal preference, so ignore that if you want to.

Verdict: 7.5 out of 10. Definitely go see it! I like that it wasn't over-hyped like most Disney movies, and was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the characters.

Remember to keep an eye out for some Disney cameos!

*P.S.: There is an extra scene after the credits*

BONUS ROUND: The short before the movie
I always love the short movies they play before each Disney/Pixar film. But sadly I gotta give this one a low grade. It's a fun homage to classic "steamboat willie"-era Disney cartoons, but compared to some of their other more recent shorts, like "Paperman" (shown before "Wreck-It Ralph"), or even "La Luna" (shown before "Brave") were much more enjoyable. They do have a small Marvel cameo that made me laugh pretty hard though, so keep an eye out!
6 out of 10 for the short. Good, not great.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Something Old, Something New: 5 must-see past, and future setting movies

Hark! A moving picture! 
'Tis truly rare that a lad such as I might become engrossed in such thrilling tales of olden days. Aye that this may be true, but whence I become enthralled, indeed yon films tend to linger in mine head! Travel with me now, to days of old, as we review my top 5 movies set in the distant past:

Red Cliff (2008)
When it was released, Red Cliff quickly became the highest grossing movie in China of all time. Produced by legendary action star John Woo, it tells the story of the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history (one of my favorite time periods to study, so again kinda biased but who cares). This is a long movie, and even had to be cut down for the American version by several hours, and expanded into two parts, so I'll try to give a brief description of the plot:

After the fall of the Han dynasty, one of China's most prosperous times, the land was divided and left without central leadership. This led into the Three Kingdoms period, in which China was brutally battled over between three warlords, and several other smaller armies vying for power. Red Cliff takes place during one of the pivotal battles of this era, the battle of Red Cliff. There are a lot of characters to follow, but thats the gist.

Okay okay, so I kinda geeked out there, but for Pete's sake, I love this time period so much I almost studied Chinese history in college just so I could learn more! There have been a lot of movies set during the Three Kingdoms era within the past few years, (Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon, Red Cliff pt. 1 and 2, The Lost Bladesman, The Assassins, Little Big Soldier) but Red Cliff is by far the best. Just...go watch it. It's on Netflix, okay? GO!

Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)
Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany take the lead in what I would easily consider my favorite historic movie. Set during the Napoleonic wars, the film follows Captain Jack Aubrey (Crowe), a British naval captain as he pursues a French ship containing sensitive information that could cost many lives if not stopped. Aside from the fantastic naval combat, every actor in the movie plays their part extraordinarily convincingly, leading to some wonderful, and some heart-breaking moments, surprisingly none of which involve any romance. Paul Bettany co-stars as Aubrey's long-time friend and the ships surgeon, Dr. Matruin. The back-and-forth between Crowe and Bettany progresses the story very well, even when cannonballs aren't flying.

The movie is fairly long, but I'd definitely call it a must-see, whether you're looking for drama, action, or story.

Gangs of New York (2002)
Set during the Civil War, the story revolves around the Five Points district of New York, during an ongoing dispute between U.S.-born Americans, and the rising swell of immigrants, being primarily Irish. Leonardo DiCaprio gives, what I feel is one of his strongest performances as Amsterdam Vallon, the son of the Irish immigrant's leader. After his father is killed by their rival gang's leader, Bill Cutting, a.k.a. The Butcher (played amazingly by Daniel Day Lewis) when he is a child, he seeks revenge by siding with The Butcher when he grows up. Cameron Diaz also stars, but honestly in my opinion she does a forgettable job.

Another fairly long, and dialogue heavy movie, but the constant stream of tense moments between Amsterdam and Bill lead up to a satisfying climax.

The Last Samurai (2003)
Tom Cruise movies are pretty iffy to me, but when he has a good movie, its fantastic! This is one of those times. The movie takes place during the initial Westernization of Japan, and follows U.S. military commander Nathan Algren as he is sent to instruct the Japanese armies on western military tactics. As the title hints, the time period also takes place during the end of the samurai era. Algren is captured during an initial battle with the samurai, and eventually comes to embrace their ways after meeting Katsumoto (played by Ken Watanabe, a phenomenal eastern actor), a high-ranking Samurai warrior.

The plot may be a little "Dances With Wolves/Pocahontas/Avatar/etc...", but its still a great ride. I'm kind of a sucker for Asian cinema, and this strikes a perfect balance between East/West, making it easy to follow whether or not you know anything about the time period.

Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
Musical, yes. Gory, yes. But great story and acting, most definitely! Rounding out my period-movies is Sweeny Todd. If you know Tim Burton, you know what this movie will look like, and who it'll star. Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, it follows the story of Sweeny Todd, a man recently released from wrongful imprisonment in Industrial-age London. He seeks revenge on the man who wrongfully convicted him, and kills lots of people on the way, but that's not why he does it. He's just jaded and misunderstood. Great acting, good music, way on the gory side, so if you're squeamish, beware. All-in-all though, worth at least one watch!

Pretty soon, they'll beam it into your brain...
Now that we've successfully re-lived the past through some fantastic cinematic experiences, let's take a look at what the future holds! Whether travelling to far-off galaxies and meeting three-boobed alien prostitutes, or even here on the nuclear wasteland that is earth, the future holds some interesting potential. Let's take a look!

Equilibrium (2002)
Starring Christian Bale (before he was just the Batman guy) and Sean Bean (before he was the Game of Thrones guy), Equilibrium takes place in a dystopian future where all traces of emotion have been eliminated from life, leading to perfection and order. But, as there always is, there is resistance in the form of an underground movement who decides not to take their emotion-regulating pills. What follows is a predictable action movie, but with some spectacular visuals, and some of the coolest gun-play scenes I've seen in any movie. The main characters practice a form of gun-fu, basically just total ass-kickery, while wielding two pistols. Solid acting all around, definitely a fun movie. Its on Netflix, so no excuses!

The Fifth Element (1997)
Directed by Luc Besson (director of Leon: The Professional, and the upcoming film Lucy), and starring Bruce Willis (Die Hard) and Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil), this is one of my all-time favorites. Every 5,000 years, an ancient evil awakens to destroy humanity. And in futuristic New York, its up to former soldier, and current cab driver Korben Dallas (Willis) to save the day.

This movie is a pop culture gem, and nowadays has a huge pop culture following. Check it out (again, on Netflix) of you like comedy, action, romance, y'know what...just watch it. You'll like it, I promise.

Idiocracy (2006)
This is not your typical futuristic movie, but by far I find its the most accurate portrayal that I can imagine of the future. When an oafish army-man (Luke Wilson) is used in an experiment to freeze soldiers to be un-thawed in the future, he is accidentally frozen for hundreds of years. While he's frozen, the planet takes its natural course, and becomes filled with inbred, uneducated, beer chugging, Jackass-watching morons. The formerly not-so-bright soldier wakes up as the smartest person on the planet, which isn't saying much!

This movie has no small chunk of political commentary in it's quirky, dumb humor, but either way its very fun to watch the potential future where all water is replaced by energy drinks, the president is a former professional wrestler, and the popular restaurant Fuddrucker's has changed its name to....well, I'll let you find out. Its not hard.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
This may not be the typical flying cars, aliens and space-travel movie, but this near-future dark comedy is definitely worth checking out. Society is largely the  same, except that everyone can get a procedure done that allows you to wipe your memory clean of certain events, or in this case, people. Jim Carrey (The Mask, Dumb & Dumber) stars, and goes through the process of having his ex-girlfriend wiped from his mind.

Visually, this is a movie you're going to want to pay attention for. There's a lot happening, but the way it all fits together is very interesting and unique. Very engrossing characters and a solid story equal a somewhat overlooked gem. Once again, its on Netflix.

Starship Troopers (1997)
Finally we have another cult classic space action movie. Known for the ironic and terrible acting, and based on a book that the movie plot has damn near nothing to do with, it follows Rico (Casper Van Dien) and his friends as they join the army to fight off a race of gigantic bug aliens. Its hard to describe this movie in a serious light, so I'm honestly going to just suggest you check it out (EHEM....ON NETFLIX, they should really be paying me for mentioning them so much).

NOTE: At least 7 of the 10 movies I discussed are on Netflix instant stream, so check them out. You don't even have to get up to buy/rent them!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Upside Down

Y'know, its been a while since I straight-up reviewed a movie, so here you go!

Upside Down (2012)
Starring: Jim Sturgess (Accross The Universe, 21), Kirsten Dunst (Spider-Man, Drop Dead Gorgeous), Timothy Spall (Harry Potter series)

What its all about: In one sentence, picture the special effects of "Inception" meets the basic forbidden love plot of "Romeo & Juliet" and you have "Upside Down". Adam and Eden live on two separate planets that share a gravitational pole, except that they're reversed. Eden's planet represents the "upper class" where life is just better, and Adam's planet is basically the slums. Its extremely frowned upon for people from the two planets to interact.

Seriously...dizzying but awesome.
The Good: Flat out, this movie is visually spectacular. The scenery is beautiful, and most of the gravity-based special effects are as believable as they can be without actually being in a bi-gravitational solar system (or whatever you'd call it). There are a few weak scenes that lose the amazing "I'm floating all over" charm, and just look like (horrible) wireworks, but over all its really impressive to watch.

The main two actors are pretty good, Jim Sturgess being far better of the two, but I thought Timothy Spall stole the show. Without spoiling anything, he plays a co-worker of Adam, but from the opposite world. Their interactions are actually really fun to watch and listen to, and the visual layout of their scenes is really cool since they're on opposite worlds.

Gravity. It's a bitch.
The Bad: For starters, Kirsten Dunst's acting. I'm sorry but the woman is not a great actress. Now don't get me wrong, she can play the sweet nice girl very well, but any serious scenes, she totally botches them. Jim Sturgess's character would show more powerful emotion when stubbing his toe than she does in this movie. I also already mentioned the very rare moments where the special effects look like they were done by the b-team of effects artists, but as I said, they're rare.

I do however have to call out a few very poorly done parts of the movie, starting with the narration in the beginning/end of the movie. I think Jim Sturgess is a very talented young actor who wasn't utilized enough after his initial breakthrough success in "Across The Universe", but that said, his narrating is weak, at best. It sounds like he's trying to seductively whisper into your ear and tell you the story of someone else he loves. *shudder* 

On top of that, the story itself follows way too much of a cookie-cutter pattern. I feel like they spent so much time on the visual effects that they forgot there had to be a story too! My final beef with the movie is that while the visuals are unlike almost any movie I've seen in recent memory, they suffer the same fate as equally visually striking movies (e.g. "Cloverfield" or "Inception"): you will almost assuredly get dizzy or a headache watching this movie. The gravity-play is absolutely great, but it is a bit headache-inducing.

PLEASE don't let that deter you, though! I highly suggest everyone give this movie a chance! If not just for the visuals.

No seriously, the visuals are fantastic.

Verdict: 7 out of 10

I really wish I could rate this movie higher, and say that its one of my new favorites, but the story was just too weak to merit any higher. A pretty even mix of good and terrible acting tend to balance out, and honestly for this movie being as short as it is (roughly 100 mins) I feel like it could have been longer, had a little more story to it, and it would have been a blockbuster. Instead it seems to be one that is somewhat lesser known. I don't even remember it coming to theaters...

I HIGHLY recommend you watch it, IT'S ON NETFLIX! But I can't say its one that I would go out and buy.