Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

I'm really struggling lately to keep this blog active. Which gives longer and longer delays from time x when I see a movie to time y when I manage to write an entry. There's a good part in this, as I said also before, and that's the ability to select better movies. And "Guardians of the Galaxy" is the perfect example.

I don't like the super-hero genre, and I guess that's not something new for who's been reading this blog. The effect is that, with few exceptions = "Iron Man 3" or the first "Captain America", to not be very fond of what Marvel is producing. When I've seen the first trailer for "Guardians of the Galaxy" - featuring "Blue Swede - Hooked on a Feeling" - I knew this is something else. And not just because it seemed clear enough that "GotG" is not a super-hero movie. But because I had the same feeling as when I've seen the trailers for "John Carter", the last "Star Trek"s, or even "Prince of Persia" or "The Lone Ranger". Yup, I know ... More than half of this enumeration was a box-office flop = I doubt there are many who liked all these ( except myself of course :) ). But all these have something in common. A story that is set in a complex SciFi/Fantasy world (well, less on "Lone Ranger", although that movie can be considered a SciFi in its own way), story that features a decent number of secondary threads, told in a witty & lighthearted manner, enough to give that "epic feeling" that you could find some time ago in "Star Wars" & "Indiana Jones". So .. the story in "GotG" ...

Is about an orb capable to tear down worlds, and 5 individuals of different "nationalities" who somehow reach to the conclusion that it might have sense to try securing the device for the greater good of the galaxy. Seems quite simple & tame as subject, right ? Well, here comes that part about secondary threads mentioned above. Without many spoilers, let's take a prison escape sequence as example. When in that sequence we have an escape plan featuring some surprise elements, one character of the 5 being introduced along with his background, the main hero with some childhood "issues" that require a detour from the plan, we can already talk about a sort of mini-episode inside the main story. This style of building-up adds a lot to the narrative, and even if the main thread stays simple, what's built along it is more than enough to say that you've seen an actual movie and not something like a VFX demo (e.g., "Transformers").

That's enough. This movie is so good, that I really don't want to spoil more. You should just see it. I have a single regret. I don't like Zoe Saldana = I was quite disappointed by the casting choice for the main female character ... but well .. Besides that, we obviously have some eye-rolling causing moments, but not that many. I don't have anything else negative left to say :) If I get back a bit to the titles list in the beginning (which I think I've enumerated at least partially also for other occasions), I can observe another relatively common thing: the anti-hero trait, which at least for me is quite catchy. And I think it gives way more potential to exploit to a movie than the opposite - and you can see this a lot here where we have 5 of them ;)

Rating: 5 out of 5

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Lucy (2014)

I know .. It's been a while since I wrote an entry. I'll catch up (hopefully). Unfortunately, pretty much the same amount of time passed since I've seen "Lucy" = I lost the fresh impression it made (I hope this won't happen too for the next one). And besides that, this movie probably deserves a much more detailed entry than what follows. But, let's see ...

I didn't hear any very positive feedback on this before watching it, but I still kept my expectancies at the level of a decent action without any attempts for being more than that. After all we're talking about Luc Besson, who lately focused more on producing stuff like "Transporter" or "Taken". However, here Besson is the director, and what we see is quite different from the previous. The subject is quite catchy. Scarlett Johansson plays a foreign student in Taiwan, who in an unfortunate turn of events ends up carrying inside her a considerable quantity of an experimental drug. In another unfortunate turn of events the package starts disintegrating, and the effects are visible in the trailer = the brain usage capacity progressively increases.

1. It's a SciFi. 2. It's a Luc Besson movie. So, don't expect much scientific reasoning in what you're gonna see. On the other hand, "philosophically" speaking, the movie is surprisingly dense. From the ratio between the brain usage capacity and the level of manifested emotions, which stays quite constant to the ultimate superpower (spoiler: that's about time), we're presented with a set of ideas that are sufficiently ... "intriguing" let's say to pass the barrier of "just another action/sci-fi". Of course, everything is done a la Besson, meaning slightly chaotic, but the important part is that it doesn't get boring. It's not at the level of "Leon" and neither of "The 5th Element". The beginning is excellent (I got stuck in my head the reference to the mouse trap, you'll get it when you'll see it) but after two thirds starts to be quite rushed up to the end. In any case, it's probably the most original approach for a superhero movie that I've seen by now = I really liked it.

Rating: 4 out of 5

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