Friday, October 31, 2014

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones


You can read my original review here.  On my fourth (or fifth?) viewing I have a few additional observations.

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones is a transition story between episodes I and III about how the Galactic Republic became the Evil Empire and how the sweet little boy Anakin Skywalker grew up to become the evil Darth Vader.  In this film we see all the forces set into motion that will make this happen.

12 years after the movie opened, it is still visually stunning.  This is a work of art.  I agree with the late Roger Ebert that the dialog is often painfully simplistic, but even so, by the end of the film the emotion has a powerful effect on the audience.  This is a great drama about people swept up by an intense political struggle that they don't understand.

Rating:  * * * *

Star Wars Episode 3 Deleted Jedi Execution and more

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Nut Job

With so many incredible animated films having been produced, it makes sense that there would be a few that aren't great films but still entertaining to watch.  The Nut Job is one of these films.  It is not a very deep movie, nor does it have the best animation, but it has a story that I enjoyed and one that would certainly appeal to kids.  I think that the 10% rating on Rotten Tomatoes is unfortunate because it is a better film than that.  I think that audiences and critics are so accustomed to great animated movies that they weren't willing to give it a fair chance.
   
A selfish squirrel named Surly, and his rat partner Buddy, plan on robbing a Nut Shop.  It turns out that the shop is a front for gangsters who plan on robbing the bank next door.  Mayhem is inevitable, but along the way Surly learns to be less selfish.

Rating:  * * *

Bolt

I have wanted to see this movie ever since it got favorable reviews back in 2008.  However, it is not quite as good of  movie as I hoped it would be, as it pales by comparison with every film Pixar ever made, but it is entertaining and sentimental enough to make me glad I saw it.

The movie starts with a ridiculous premise that the producers of doggy action TV show don't want their star to know that his adventures are fake.  Bolt, the dog, thinks that he is a super hero with super powers.  Bolt believes that he must protect his human, a young girl name Penny, from the forces of evil.  When he accidentally gets shipped to New York, he embarks on a cross country trip to save Penny.  

You would think that this would lead to some great comic moments, but really only mild ones.  Once I got over the silly premise, the movie worked for me as part sentimental drama, part adventure, part comedy, and part road trip.  The movie is a mixture of elements that by themselves would not be enough to carry the picture, but when combined make the movie work.  

The animation impressed me as we can see every hair on Bolt's body and the cross country trip includes enough eye candy to allow us to enjoy the ride.  The animation helped draw me into the story.

Rating:  * * *

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Cloud Atlas


Top 10 Trailers Better Than the Movie points out that some movies fall way short of their advertising trailers.  The interesting thing about a really great trailer is that it will generate so much excitement that the movie itself is likely to be a letdown.  Even so, a great trailer can influence the viewer into thinking that the movie is a great film even as the viewer is watching the movie.

One of the greatest trailers ever is for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.  Star Wars fans had to wait 16 years for a fourth movie, so any glimpse into a new Star Wars movie was bound to generate wonderful excitement.  Although I think that movie is very good, it doesn't appeal to everyone, and some people hate it.  For me, after getting so excited for the trailer, the opening sequence was a bit of a let down, but the film made up for this later.  Some people hate the movie for the character Jar Jar Binks, but I like the character and I think that he is a necessary comic relief in an otherwise serious movie.  With a 57% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I think that the movie is vastly underappreciated.

I think that the greatest trailer I have ever seen is the Cloud Atlas Extended Trailer.  My previous anticipation and enthusiasm for this film made me wonder if I had lavished too much praise on the movie in my review of the film.  I had this nagging feeling that I needed to see the movie again because maybe the film didn't quite live up to the trailer.  Although slightly true, a second viewing of the movie has reassured me that this is indeed a pretty amazing movie.

Cloud Atlas is a long movie.  It is almost 3 hours.  The first 38 minutes proceeds at a leisurely pace.  Emotionally the movie doesn't really connect with the audience until about 38 minutes into it.  From there the rest of the movie is a wild ride.

I have to give great praise to the editing that seamlessly switches between 6 different stories.  Had the movie been told in chronological order, it wouldn't have been as interesting and it wouldn't have conveyed the sense that all these different time periods are connected.  Individually the 6 stories aren't enough to carry the movie, but switching between the stories makes the film more interesting.

Cloud Atlas has its own philosophy that is some sort of new age mysticism.  Some people are likely to think that this is pretty hokey, but with any movie you have to have a certain amount of suspension of disbelief just long enough to appreciate the movie for what it is.  It doesn't mean that you have to buy into its ideals.  Also, the length and complexity of the movie might turn off some viewers.  With a 66% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, this is another film that I think is greatly underappreciated.

After a second and third viewing, I am astonished at the film.  This is perhaps the best movie I have seen in the last decade, but I am thinking that not everyone will like it as much as I did.  It is a long, complex and somewhat hard to follow movie with a weird philosophy, but it is probably the most unique and ambitious film in years.

When you watch the movie, be sure to watch for a minute into the end credits where there is a little bonus that shows all the different characters each actor played.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes



Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the worthy sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  Both are surprisingly great dramas, but the second film is also a really good action film.

After the fall of humanity due to a man-made virus designed to cure Alzheimer's Disease, the apes made intelligent by the virus have settled into the forest area north of San Francisco.  The apes believe that the humans have died out, but a few surviving humans have a small community in San Francisco.  When a couple of humans accidentally encounter the apes, they become frightened and shoot one of the apes, which leads to escalating tensions.  Hotheads on both sides push the two groups toward war.  A few individuals on both sides want to broker a peace, but the hotheads prevail.

The computer generated apes are amazing to look at.  My only complaint is that the apes facial expressions seem a little too human.

It seems obvious that the movie is an analogy for any human conflict.  The conflict started because the humans wanted to restart a hydroelectric dam, i.e. the war starts over energy, or more generally, over resources.  The movie shows how conflict develops from fear of  "the other" or "outsiders".  The fact that the two groups are so different is what helps drive them to war.  This gives the movie a certain noble message that stays with you for a long time.  It feels like an anti-war film that delivers its message better and more subtly than any human versus human conflict could.

This is filmmaking, science fiction and special effects at its best.  Rating:  * * * *

The Salt Lake City, the movie is playing at the dollar theater in Sugar House.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Richard Roeper gives the movie an "A".


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Emperor

During World War II, the Japanese committed many atrocities, for which many of its leaders were tried for war crimes and executed by the United States occupation after the war.  It is most likely that Emperor Hirohito bore some of the responsibility for these atrocities, although his exact role remains controversial.  The American occupying forces portrayed him as a powerless figurehead who had no real control over the military.  This is because General MacArthur felt that executing the Emperor would cause widespread rebellion in Japan, and that he needed the Emperor to help restore order.  General Bonner Fellers conducted the investigation into whether the Emperor should be prosecuted for war crimes, although it seems that part of his role was to coordinate testimony by witnesses to exonerate the Emperor.  If there was a cover-up, this film doesn't go there.

The movie posters are misleading because they focus on Tommy Lee Jones playing MacArthur and mostly ignore Matthew Fox of LOST fame playing General Fellers.  This is really a movie about General Fellers and his investigation of the Emperor.  The movie gets bogged down a little with a subplot about Feller's former relationship with his Japanese girlfriend, but this seems like a necessary part of the story.

The movie makes for a very interesting drama about an important moment in American-Japanese history and it provides insights into Japanese culture.  Oddly enough, it was filmed in New Zealand, although the landscape easily passes for Japan.

Rating: * * *

Emperor has a 31% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but I feel that it is underappreciated.  Richard Roper gives the movie a "B".  If I were using that rating system, I would give it a "B+".

Friday, October 3, 2014

Under The Skin

With so many movies seeming like copies of each other, when something really different comes along it is hard to know what to make of it.

Under The Skin deserves a new category, which is Erotic Science Fiction Horror.  I am sure that erotic science fiction has been done before, but it is rare to see it in a mainstream movie.  Scarlett Johansson plays an alien seductress who lures Scottish men to their doom.  She invites them to an abandoned building, and in a scene that is repeated a few times, she walks across a strange room with a black reflective floor.  As the disrobing men walk across the floor they sink into it, but somehow fail to notice.  The men get trapped in a watery world underneath the floor.  Half way through the movie we see the horrible fate that awaits these men. 

About an hour into the movie the alien seductress starts to show signs of becoming more human and begins to explore her humanity.  There is a payoff at the end where we get to see what the alien really looks like.

Although I enjoyed the film for what it is, I think that most people would find the movie too slow.  In scene after scene we see the alien driving, walking, climbing and exploring.  These scenes drag on way too long.  It is comparable to Locke, but with much less plot.  What keeps the movie somewhat entertaining is the tension of not knowing who the alien is or what its motives are.  The suspense is just barely enough to keep the movie going, but I can't imagine wanting to see the movie a second time.

There are surreal scenes in the film that are reminiscent of 2001 A Space Odyssey.  However, these also drag on way too long.

Whether you like this movie depends upon if you like movies of this type.  I do, but for most people I wouldn't recommend it.

Rating:  * * 1/2