Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (2012-2013)

Although I just got a more fresh subject, I already had in pipeline this entry. And I don't want to jump over it :) so let's quickly get through "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns". We're talking about an animated mini-series, in two parts released at something like one year interval. So, what's the story ? ...

It starts somewhere after the retirement of Batman, or more exactly of Bruce Wayne ( u didn't know that, right ? ), who instead of spending his fortune in luxury cruises, decides to return on Gotham's dark alleys. Place controlled now by a new gang (the Mutants), which is lead by some huge guy who looks a bit like Bane. Skipping the details, that's the plot for the first part. In the second one we have also the return of the Joker as main villain. But probably the primary attraction is the Batman vs Superman conflict, which I'll keep again spoiler free ;)

What we have here is an animation that practically comes as a sequel to a series (and is also straight-to-video), meaning that it doesn't really excel on the production level. With one exception. The score by Cristopher Drake is way beyond Hans Zimmer, and risking a blasphemy also (a bit) above Danny Elfman. I know it might sound hard to believe, but I've never felt a better fit before. As always, Gotham City has something from the '80s, and the synth parts (that remind me a bit by Brad Fiedel on "Terminator") fit perfectly. Just have a look ( or better said drop an ear :) ) on the end-titles construction up to introducing the main theme (around 1:40), and it's not the only example.

The movie has enough of the super-hero stories cliches, and I don't want to restart going through these now. It doesn't make the story very complex. However, the "swan song" approach it has, showing a over-tired Batman surrounded from all sides, from old enemies, to the police or Superman, is arguably more original than what offered the live action movies. At least until the next one that from what I've understood will have a close subject ;) .

Rating: 3 out of 5 (with a big + for soundtrack)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

I'm sorry that I didn't write about "DotPotA" ( that's a strange acronym :) ) two weeks ago when I've seen it. But I really didn't have the time. I still don't, but if I wait longer it'll fly away completely from my head. So, better a short entry, than nothing ;) ...

From the first movie I remember the VFX, which were outstanding at the time. As story was ok, but nothing unexpected or very impressive. The second movie resumes the action at some years after the first ended, when humanity was decimated by an ape flu. Caesar (the "alpha" chimp in the first part) established his own kingdom, ruling with a semi-democracy, having as one base rule "apes don't kill apes". The problems start when the extinct humanity is apparently not that extinct ... More precisely, a small group of survivors enters the ape territory with the intention to fix a hydraulic plant. Without this the future seems dark & gloomy (non-figuratively), despite the flu immunity that the larger community who sent the small group seems to possess. What's next, you'll see ...

I said I'm gonna be short. I will give only one "spoiler". For quite some time in the movie you have the impression that ... ok, what I see is a decent story, but I know how's gonna develop and what will be the end. At some point I've even got to making connections with "Lion King" = you see it coming from far for the main evil character. However, what the trailer below doesn't give (and I'm not gonna say) is how the conflict actually starts, how it evolves, and how the rest of characters split between good and evil ... If you can define good/evil, because at some point, the movie has the merit to leave aside the commercial aspect of taking sides, and to notice something valid for any conflict - there's not much place left for good ...

Rating: 4 out of 5 ( because overall was nice, better than the first, and I'm in a good mood ;) )

Friday, August 1, 2014

How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

After two days needed to recover from the awful disappointment after watching "How to Torture Your Viewers 1" (aka "HTTYD2"), I finally found enough strength to write the provisional obituary of DreamWorks Animation ... But first, let's not forget the dragon (big spoilers ahead) ...

The first part is #1 in the top of ever seen animations for me, at the same level with "Emperor's New Groove". Consequently I had high expectations from the sequel, but at the same time I was convinced that it's hard to like it as much as the first. When I recently wrote about "INumber Number", I was saying that there are movies for which the first 5 minutes are enough to say they're gonna be good. Well, it applies also for the bad ones. "HTTYD2" starts with a game of quidditch, the difference from Harry Potter being that the brooms are dragons, and instead of balls we have sheeps. And also, unlike in Harry Potter, where "the quidditch games" still had something to do with the story (e.g., "The Goblet of Fire"), here it's not the case. We don't have any reference to the "athletic competition" afterwards. Just a 5 mins show to catch the kids. Sufficiently to sound the alarm that what's coming's not gonna be good ... (I can't believe I'm comparing Harry Potter positively with something .. this is bad)

From this we jump directly to a cruise on the Scandinavian sea routes, where we discover (years after the first movie) that there are some dragon hunters who are gathering a gigantic army of fire spitting flying creatures, under the rule of Drago (a sort of even more evil Captain Hook, but without the hook, and pissed on dragons instead of crocodiles). What's following is a soap opera where Hiccup finds his mother, celebrates the family reunion in a melodic Disney style, loses his father in Pixar style (that's the twist), and finally kicks the ass of the evil guy with a missing hand. Correction ... Toothless (the dragon) kicks the ass of the evil guy with a missing hand. Re-correction ... Toothless kicks the ass of the big bad dragon controlled by the evil guy with a missing hand. Which big bad dragon is named "alpha specimen" in this movie, having instantaneous hypnotic powers over the smaller flying creatures. I personally prefer the version of the first movie, where the hypnotic power if I remember well was something like: "bring me food or you die". Well, seems that meanwhile the alpha species has evolved ... To be fair though, the final battle between the two dragons is the only piece in this movie that vaguely reminds of the first part, following the idea of "the (apparently) weak one can actually turn the tide and win" if there's enough determination.

I'm too tired to bash the script (I'm just wondering how sinuous and complicated must be those Scandinavian sea routes, covered repeatedly in sightseeing flights since the first movie, to suddenly discover in the area two dragon armies and two alpha giants that everybody missed on the radar by now). Looking at the rest, if John Powell managed to pull an Oscar nomination in the first movie with probably the best score he wrote since "Face/Off", here the soundtrack is abysmal (and badly mixed = my unreliable ear managed to catch at least a sudden tracks alternation without a minimal fade out/in). As visual consultant we have Roger Deakins listed. I'm asking myself how much did they pay him to put his name on the credits, or if the guy reached the conclusion that after 11 Oscar nominations maybe it's the case to try an animation (news: that's not eligible for a cinematography award).

I'll return now to DreamWorks obituary (presumptive = I still hope ...) . If I look after the last "Shrek" (maybe with a small exception in "Kung Fu Panda 2"), DreamWorks started slowly to pixarize itself - "Megamind", "Puss in Boots", "Madagascar 3", "Rise of the Guardians", even "The Croods" .. all took a path on a melodramatic direction that wasn't there before. DreamWorks was funny, DreamWorks was witty, DreamWorks was serving you a meaning between the lines, not hitting you directly - with animated rhetoric through enlightening speeches or tearjerking scenes. What's even worse is that, as with Pixar, it seems that this superficial free serving of morals/values gets to the public's heart. Not for me ...

Rating: 2 out of 5

Monday, July 21, 2014

Dead Snow (2009) & Red vs Dead (2014)

I've had before Norwegian movies on my blog. And I think I said that they're not really on "my frequency". Well, I've finally found the exception .. a double one = "Dead Snow" & "Dead Snow 2" ...

The first movie follows a "classic" plot. A group of medicine students decide to spend a winter vacation on a cabin in the middle of nowhere. Of course, that's a bad idea ... The original part comes with the bad things that happen. More precisely at the end of WW2, in that area, a nazi platoon didn't just quietly packed and left, but decided to stay a bit longer ... years longer ... as zombies ;) Obviously, I won't get into details, but to follow with the 2nd movie I have to give a spoiler = in the first, there's a lone survivor...

... And the lone survivor has a personal vendetta to carry on in the sequel. If the first film seems to you to be just another zombie movie, with more original zombies .. the sequel is so innovative that at some point mocks itself declaring during an exchange of lines that what's going there can give birth to a new movie genre :). The trailer gives some info, and more than that I just can say that "red" in the title links again to ww2 ( guess how ;) ).

Both movies are very bloody (e.g., we have a tribute to "Evil Dead" on cutting an arm with a chainsaw). Both movies have "outrageusly awful" scenes ( I prefer to not give examples :) ), but usually caught in a sufficiently funny context, that you can forgive them. Both movies have something different to other zombie movies, the comic side which actually works here. I think just "Shaun of the Dead" managed to pull this off, "Warm Bodies" being the counterexample I prefer to give (we don't count "Fase 7" or "Cabin in the Woods" - those are not pure zombie movies). And the second movie manages this that well, that's mandatory to also see the first to catch every bit of what the sequel offers ;)

Dead Snow - 3 out of 5
Red vs Dead - 4 out of 5

Sunday, July 13, 2014

iNumber Number (2013)

There are movies on which I can say "this will be good" after three minutes. Well ... in some cases it happens that I'm wrong. Not with "iNumber Number".

Simple story. In the corrupt world of South Africa's law enforcement, two cops try to make a difference. Until the day one of them gets tired risking his life for rewards stolen by superiors, and decides to push a bit further his undercover work = to move forward with a robbery planned by a gang, get them caught only after the hit, and "lose" some cash evidence in the process. Hardly, he manages to convince his partner to back him up eventually. But, of course, things go wrong ...

What we have here is a South African indie budget movie, that I had the opportunity to catch at a local film festival. I really hope this gets a wider release, since it's way better than many action movies made in Hollywood. Top notch directing and casting (despite the fact I don't know any actor). But what makes this movie really shine is the camera work and the editing ... I think is the only movie I've seen by now where I really liked the use of kinetic camera for the action sequences. It happened before in some rare cases to be neutral/ok, bun generally I hate this ... Because usually is exaggerated, chaotic, and gives headaches. What I've watched here can get in a cinematography course on how to dose "the shakiness" both as time and as movement direction. Besides this, the cinematography it's overall simply superb. There's much to say .. I'll resume only on how the English subtitle track is integrated, which I think comes along the original movie reel (= was the same on yt trailers & in cinema). The text is not placed in the classic bottom/center, but occupies the most appropriate space on the running scene. At some point it gave me the (positive) impression, I have a rolling comic book in front of my eyes.

Although as I said the story is simple, the movie is action packed + even if you probably expect the classic happy-end, there are many some small details that complicate the situation and keep you focused. I've already gave a (predictable) light spoiler on the movie ending, and that's probably the weakest point in the whole film. Too idealistic :) ...

Rating: 4 out of 5