Thursday, November 29, 2012

Express Reviews: Life Of Pi, Wreck-It Ralph, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower

This past week has been fabulous to me in terms of movie-watching. I got to see three fantastic films and no, none of them involved sparkling vampires against shirtless werewolves. It reminded me that although films come to my shores late during this period, the final quarter of the year always provides plenty of good movies. All three films are excellent and deserve their stand-alone reviews, but since I am lazy and busy, a combined post will have to suffice. As each credit rolled, I got that satisfying feeling of "this is why I love movies (especially at the cinema)". Definitely films that I'll be watching again plenty of times in the future (I might watch the first two below again in the VERY near future).

# Life Of Pi [2012]

Directed By: Ang Lee
Written By: David Magee, Yan Martel
Starring: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Adil Hussain, Tabu, Ayush Tandon, Rafe Spall
The Story: Pi Patel (played by Irrfan Khan) tells the story to a writer (played by Rafe Spall) about his younger-self (played by Suraj Sharma) that survived a horrific storm and cast out at sea with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.
The Verdict: Eat-your-heart-out Avatar [2009], this easily is the most visually mesmerizing film to date. The CGI animals look 100% authentic and everything just looks stunningly beautiful. Stories about people in isolation are always entertaining and Pi's adventure of being surrounded by nothing but sea along with Richard Parker is extremely captivating. Eat-your-heart-out (multiple by 5) Waterworld [1995]. 
p/s: It seems that Irrfan Khan has been made Hollywood's go-to-guy for Indian roles. It's almost like he's in everything!
Rating: 9 out of 10

# Wreck-It Ralph [2012]

Directed By: Rich Moore
Written By: Phil Johnston, Jennifer Lee, Rich Moore, Jim Reardon
Voiced By: John C. Riley, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk
The Story: Wreck-It Ralph (voiced by John C. Riley) is the bad-guy character in an arcade game which is named after the good guy character, Fix-It Felix Jr. (voiced by Jack McBrayer). Ralph is unhappy and stressed about his mundane life and being under-appreciated. He hijacks a different arcade game, Hero's Duty in an attempt to win a medal and change his life. A series of events leads him to a kart-racing game called Sugar Rush where he meets Venellope (voiced by Sarah Silverman).
The Verdict: Even in a year where animated films has been very entertaining, Wreck-It Ralph emerges high above the rest. I always have my ego to maintain when watching movies and never let my friends see my eyes get misty, but man, it was hard holding them back on this one. Dare I say it, other than The Iron Giant [1999], this is the only non-Pixar animation with a high Pixar feel to it. Heck its even far better than the actual Pixar film released the year, Brave [2012], and I fully enjoyed that too. The ending had a couple of twists that made the story even more dazzling and is one of the many differences to other animations such as The Rise Of The Guardians [2012].
p/s: (1) Hey, I actually played some of the games before, like Tapper via 5" floppy-disk (my younger brother was amazed to hear games were played using that.. he' s never even seen a FD that size). (2) The animated short shown before the film, Paperman [2012] is super-cute and definitely worth coming early to check out.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

# The Perks Of Being A Wallflower [2012]

Directed By: Stephen Chobosky
Written By: Stephen Chobosky
Starring: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Mae Whitman, Nina Dobrev
The Story: A coming-of-age film that focuses on Charlie (played by Logan Lerman) who is an introvert and is been taken under the wing of two seniors, Patrick (played by Ezra Miller) and Sam (played by Emma Watson).
The Verdict: My teenage years in high school was nothing like that of Charlie's, yet the film still managed to be emotionally resonating to me in very high dosages. In lots of ways it left me with the same emotional feeling I had when I first watched Almost Famous [2000]. And in my books, that is very high praise.
Rating: 8 out of 10

Friday, November 23, 2012

Review: Rise Of The Guardians [2012]

 Release Date: 22 November 2012 (Malaysia), 21 November 2012 (USA)
Directed By: Peter Ramsey
Written By: David Lindsay-Abaire, William Joyce
Voiced By: Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Jude Law, Isla Fisher, Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo
Duration: 97 minutes
 In A Nutshell:
For thousands and thousands of years, all the hopes, beliefs, and imagination of the kids from around the world were depended and protected by a group of guardians consisting of: Santa Claus/North (voiced by Alec Baldwin), The Tooth-Fairy (voiced by Isla Fisher), The Sandman, and The Easter Bunny (voiced by Hugh Jackman). When an old enemy in The Boogeyman/Pitch Black returns to bring nightmares and fear to the world, the fates of The Guardians are in jeopardy as children has stopped believing in their (Guardians) existence. The Guardians need to recruit a fifth member to stand a fighting chance. Enter Jack Frost (voiced by Chris Pine).

Thumbs Up:
+ Stunning visuals... I might as well stop listing this for animation, we pretty much expect this already now
+ Initial premise and ensemble of characters is interesting
+ Thrilling action sequence
Thumbs Down:
- The final showdown seems like a cop-out
- In the end, the story went all-to-predictable


The Verdict Is In:
Question time: Has there been an animated feature in the past few years where its visuals has been anything short of stunning? I keep going to see them and thinking "this looks beautiful" and now realizing it has become standard issue for animation. Heck even Tim Burton films, which I always feel looks like animation, is visually gorgeous every time out. Something still not quite so common nowadays is the good use of 3D (Toy Story 3's version didn't look too different from its 2D version). Despite seeing the normal format, I have a feeling this film would look absolutely outstanding in 3D as the action sequences are genuinely thrilling and would make good use of the technology.

Moving on, the initial concept and premise of the story alone was interesting enough to get me hooked. What can I say? Ensemble characters always gets me excited (The Avengers [2012] or The Expendables 2 [2012] anyone?) even though this one is based on children's stories. However the longer the film went, the more the sense of predictability sunk in. A few scenes near the end seem like cop-outs to me... the ease of how they overturned adversity (Spoiler Alert: Examples: Frost repairing his staff, showdown with Boogeyman, resurrection of character). It was still overall enjoyable though!

In fact, 2012 has seen a lot of entertaining animated films, and this one is no different. However I do not believe Rise Of The Guardians [2012] will be a memorable one. But then again this might just be The Boogeyman trying to influence me.... score one to the bad guy then!
7 out of 10

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Parody/Short: Gotham High & Old School Vs New School

Man, I don't remember the last time I've posted on a weekend. It must have been ages ago. But like it really matters because I'm not actually writing anything but just sharing two cool videos I've discovered. Here they are, enjoy!

#Parody: Gotham High

Now, this one is very clever indeed. A trailer made in the high-school comedy format for characters from the Batman films. It even has the smaller and less known roles like Gotham News reporter, Mike Engel (which was played Anthony Michael Hall) and Mayor, Anthony Garcia from The Dark Knight [2008]. The catch to this video is that it uses footage from the real actor's previous films, mainly 10 Things I Hate About You [1999], which is a movie I seriously need to see again. It is told from the perspective of Larisa Oleynik (what ever happened to her?) and try to guess what character she plays in this Batman universe. Some footage like Heath Ledger's Joker and Anne Hathaway's Selina Kyle fits perfectly. The editing and voice-over is top-notch and I almost wish this trailer was true. I guess, with Disney owning Marvel something similar could really happen in the future (I know Batman isn't Marvel...). Made by Movie Trailers.

#Short Film: Old School Vs New School

Made by freddiew, this short film tells the story of the world being invaded by old-school style video game characters. It is left to the new-school video game characters to protect us. Despite being surrounded by hardcore video-gamers in my life, I've never been one myself, so I don't recognize some of the video games in the clip. Still enjoyed it though. Makes me even more anticipated for Wreck-It Ralph [2012] that finally opens in my country in a couple weeks time.

Friday, November 16, 2012

List: 15 Favourite LOTR Characters

The year was 2001 and the Internet was still very much in its infancy. The fact that I don't live in a super-developed nation also meant that technology was a few years behind. Most internet users in Malaysia (where I call home) at that time used dial-up connection. Ah, those were the days. Unlike people these days who can view HD Youtube videos on their mobile phones, this was the time when even viewing a single crappy-resolution photo of an hot actress like Winona Ryder or Alyssa Milano took around 5 minutes to load.

Usually around the 4th minute, your mom or someone would pick-up the phone to call someone and your internet would be disconnected and you had to start all over again. Basically I meant to say that when I was curious about something, I didn't really rush to search about it on the internet like nowadays. In fact, I don't think Google was widely used yet (those who experienced search engines before Google would understand). Yup, it took me a very long paragraph to reach my point, and only half of it too, but bear with me still please ;P .

The FINAL part of my point is (finally!), that those were the days that I would frequently go into the cinema knowing nothing about the movie I was about to see. Add to the fact that I was culturally-ignorant enough not to be aware of the existence of any Tolkien novel, so The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Rings [2001] was a real unknown quantity to me. I though it would be some generic fantasy like... random pick here... The NeverEnding Story [1984] that me and a bunch of friends could enjoy. A month later and we've already seen it for a third time. Seriously! We weren't geeks for nothing. Same story for the other two installments, LOTR: The Two Towers [2002] and LOTR: The Return Of The King [2003] too.

So as the first of the prequel trilogy to the LOTR fanchise, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey [2012] comes out in a few weeks time, here are my 15(-ish) favourite LOTR characters.

******* MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD *******

#15 "Gandalf's Greatest Fear" ~ Balrog Of Morgoth

Played By: n/a
Movies: Fellowship Of The Ring [2001], The Two Towers [2002]

It takes a lot to put the fear of life into someone like Gandalf, and this demonic creature manages to achieve that. That scene at the Bridge Of Khazad-dum  (along with the haunting score) in The Fellowship Of The Ring [2001] is vividly distinguished in my memory.

Selected Quote: Gandalf (to Balrog): "YOU... SHALL NOT... PASS!!!"

#14 "Wiseman Of The Forest" ~ Treebeard

Voiced by: John Rhys-Davies
Movies: The Two Towers [2002], The Return Of The King [2003]

This guy led the battle at Isengard and won. He deserves to be on the list just for that alone.

Selected Quote: "There is no curse in Elvish, Entish, or the tongues of men for this treachery"

#13 "His Grammar Is Worse Than Yoda's" ~ Gollum/Smeagol

Played By: Andy Serkis
Movies: Complete Trilogy

I know this obsessive little creature can be annoying to watch, but no LOTR list would be complete without him. Also, this role paved the way for Andy Serkis to now become Hollywood's motion-capture go-to-guy.

Selected Quote: "My preciouusssss...."

#12 "The Ring-Bearer With Enormous Burden" ~ Frodo Baggins

Played by: Elijah Wood
Movies: Complete Trilogy

Like I mentioned in my overtly-long intro, I didn't know much about the movie beforehand, but I knew I was interested the moment I saw the scene where Frodo and his friends first met (and hid) from the Nazghul. I knew I was in love in the movie when I saw how much burden exuded from Frodo's face and the tense scene when he was carried by Arwen to be chased by all nine Nazghuls.

Selected Quote: "No, Sam. I can't recall the taste of food... nor the sound of water or touch of grass..."

#11 "The White Wizard Of Isengard" ~ Saruman

Played By: Christopher Lee
Movies: Complete Trilogy

Quite simply, I find any wizard in a movie with long hair and beard, to look cool. Especially if he is evil and played brilliantly by Christopher Lee.

Selected Quote: "Against the power of Mordor, there can be no victory"

#10 "Halfling Bromance" ~ Merry & Pippin

Played By: Dominic Monaghan & Billy Boyd
Movies: Complete Trilogy

I know technically they are two separate characters, but I just cannot view them other than a pairing. Pippin is much more of a troublemaker between the duo though.

Selected Quote: Pippin: "But we'll see each other soon. Won't we?" Merry: "I don't know. I don't know what is going to happen"

#9 "Mean, Ugly, And Deadly" ~ Uruk-Hai Leader

Played By: n/a
Movie: The Fellowship Of The Rings [2001]

This is the guy who kills Boromir and nearly takes Aragorn's life too. Suffers an awesome death! If I had watched the movie as a kid, there would be no doubt this guy would be in my Childhood Nightmares List. I also recognize the fact that in most of the fight scenes we can barely recognize this character... because the Uruk-Hai all look the same. Now, that isn't a racial statement because, (a) Uruk-Hai aren't a real race (b) you can barely recognize the Autobots from the Decepticons in fight scenes of the Transformers movies (or most of the Ewoks in Return Of The Jedi [1983] too) and no one says that's racist.....

Selected Quote: n/a

#8 "Soft Yet Lethal" ~ Eowyn

Played By: Miranda Otto
Movies: The Two Towers [2002], The Return Of The King [2003]

Like most female members of Royal Families in the movies, Eowyn is soft and feminine yet tough when needed. She is actually the one who kills the Nazghul Witch-King. How uber-cool is that? Her feelings towards Aragorn are one-way. Thankfully, Arwen (whom Aragorn does fancy) is heavenly beautiful, otherwise we would think Aragorn suffered one too many blows to the head to have rejected Eowyn.

Selected Quote: "The women of this country learned long ago, those without swords can still die upon them. I fear neither death nor pain"

#7 "The Enchanting Elvish Witch" ~ Galadriel

Played By: Cate Blanchett
Movies: Complete Trilogy

"I amar prestar aen. Han methon ne nen. Han methon ne chae.  A han noston ned 'wilith" <---- Yup, I'm hypnotised too!

Selected Quote: ****see Elvish quote above****

#6 "Laser-Sharp Precision" ~ Legolas

Played By: Orlando Bloom
Movies: Complete Trilogy

I would have said that Legolas has an eye of an eagle, but that would be a huge understatement. Orlando Bloom is one of the few that went into the franchise as a relative unknown, and has had a successful career after it.

Selected Quote: "It is not the eastern shore that worries me. A shadow and a threat has been growing in my mind. Something draws near, I can feel it"

#5 "Leader Of The Nazgul" ~ The Nazgul Witch-King

Edited form image taken here

Voiced By: Lawrence Makoare
Movies: Complete Trilogy

The entire Nazgul sends chills down my spine. Just like the Uruk-Hai at #9, you can't really tell them apart, but basically this is the one that fights Eowyn in The Return Of The King [2003].

Selected Quote: "Feast on his flesh!"

#4 "The Most Loyal Of Companions" ~ Samwise Gamgi

Played By: Sean Astin
Movies: Complete Trilogy

Watch the trilogy back and you'll see that Sam, not Frodo, is the true hero of the story. I basically identify Sean Astin only from this franchise and also from The Goonies [1985]. Both his characters are stubbornly-determined, loyal friends, and lead an adventure.

Selected Quote: "I don't think they'll be a return journey Mr. Frodo"

#3 "Dwarfs Are Middle Earth's Greatest Creatures" ~ Gimli

Played By: John Rhys-Davies
Movies: Complete Trilogy

If you listen to him talk, you'd be forgiven to think that dwarfs are Gods and he is their king. But his ego and boasting along with his banter with Legolas are completely hilarious!

Selected Quote: "Its true you don't see many dwarf women. And in fact, they are so alike in voice and appearance, that they are often mistaken for dwarf men"

#2 "All Hail The King!" ~Arragon

Played By: Viggo Mortensen
Movies: Complete Trilogy

You just knew Aragorn was made to be a leader of men. And Viggo Mortensen whom initially wasn't cast for the role, was just made to play the King of Gondor.

Selected Quote: "I do not fear death!"

#1 "Eat Your Heart Out Dumbledore!" ~ Gandalf The Grey/White

Played By: Ian McKellen
Movies: Complete Trilogy

Not only is Gandalf the best character, he has the best lines too. How can you not love a wise character who arrives precisely when he means to, gets upgraded from grey to white, sleeps with his eyes open, and says cool things like: "Run Shadowfax! Show us the meaning of haste!"

Selected Quote: "Look to my coming on the first light on the fifth day, at dawn look to the east" <--- we should have trusted him when he said that a wizard is never late or early.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Stan Lee: Documentary And Movie Cameos

Stanley Martin Lieber or better known to world simply as Stan Lee. The Man. The Legend. The Godfather of comic books and superheroes. No, this is not a birthday appreciation post. Although seeing that his 90th birthday (yes, NINE-ZERO!!) is late next month, I guess I can keep hold of this in draft. But no, I've been lazy and my last post was one full week ago while at the same time I'm feeling inspired after watching a documentary on him. This is the guy who along with George Lucas and Steven Speilberg help shaped my childhood. So to properly start things off, I'll use a phrase the great man might use himself: "EXCELSIOR!!"

# With Great Power - The Stan Lee Story [2010]

Lovely documentary showcasing his beginnings at Timely Comics during The Great Depression, his creation of iconic Marvel characters, his vision to bring comics to the mainstream (setting-up Marvel Animation and a few TV shows), right to his post-Marvel days right now. I'd say as a young man he was pretty good looking too.

The man himself is an entertaining character as he has a very animated (pun not intended) personality. He really is an inspiration as not only do we see how much he loves his work but also what a kind heart he has. He has been married to the same woman for 65 years and we get to see how much he is still deeply in love with his her. He also has nothing but the highest praise about everyone that worked with him especially for frequent callaborator, Jack Kirby, despite media reports of a previous fall-out.

Selected Quote: Reporter: "Stan you've been doing this for so long. You've been so successful, some people wonder, why don't you retire, and live permanently on exotic vacations? Why do you keep doing it?" Stan Lee: "The word 'retire' is a dirty word. You know most people when they retire, they say: 'at last I have a chance to do what I've always wanted to do', but I'm doing what I've always wanted to do. I'm working with artists, with writers, with directors, I'm working on creative things. I'm having fun. I mean... don't punish me by making me retire." <--- to me the best answer ever!!

# Movie Cameos

Try to guess what films these photos are from. One cameo isn't from a superhero movie. The answers are at the bottom. My favourite cameo of his so far is from the recent The Amazing Spider-Man [2012].

Friday, November 2, 2012

Review: Skyfall [2012]

Release Date: 1 November 2012 (Malaysia), 8 November 2012 (USA)
Directed By: Sam Mendes
Written By: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan
Starring: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Judi Dench, Naomi Harris, Ben Wishaw, Ralph Fiennes, Berenice Marlohe, Albert Finney
Duration: 143 minutes
In A Nutshell:
An incident sees agent 007, James Bond's (played by Daniel Craig) life almost taken. He comes back but is nowhere at the best of his abilities. Bond's loyalty to M (played by Judi Dench) is put to test when MI6's headquarters is blown by a rogue former agent from her past named Silva (played by Javier Bardem).

Thumbs Up:
+ A hyperdrive amount of creepiness by Javier Bardem... BEST-FREAKING-BOND VILLAIN-EVER!!
+ Awesome action scenes and an equally intriguing story
+ Homages to previous Bond movies
+ Awkward yet amusing interrogation scene between Silva and Bond
+ Stunning cinematography 
Thumbs Down:
- Not only is the name of the hot Bond-Girl humdrum compared to previous ones (come on, Severine seems out of place with the likes of Pussy Galore, Octopussy, Xenia Onatopp, or Holly Goodhead), but her scenes are also too few.

The Verdict Is In:
From Sean Connery to Daniel Craig, it has been 50 years of shaken not stirred martinis, womanizing, and cool gadgets. For so long James Bond aka Agent 007 was the poster boy for super-spies. But then Matt Damon came and redefined the genre with The Bourne Identity [2002] and the subsequent two films. The persona of James Bond had to be redefined with Daniel Craig stepping up to the role. Both franchises made a return in 2012 but while recently released The Bourne Legacy [2012] underwhelmed, Skyfall [2012] manages to be one of the best action movie of the last few years.

Yes, this is one pulsating and thrilling movie that doesn't compromises on the story. Just to make one final comparison, The Bourne Legacy ended with a motorcycle chase scene that was reminiscent of Terminator 2: Judgement Day [1991] minus the thrills. Skyfall has a great motorcycle chase right at the beginning of the film that had them riding on rooftops and ending up on a moving train! That sets the tone for the rest of the movie as they climax at a mansion in Scotland. Now then, a friend of mine apparently didn't share the same enthusiasm as me as he said that final scene was beginning to be like Home Alone [1990]. I actually think it is more like the classic TV shows Macgyver and The A-Team where they didn't have fancy gadgets and had to be creative.

Another factor that makes a film great is memorable characters, particularly the villains. The super-talented Javier Bardem had already delivered to us such a character before via Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men [2007]. He succeeds to make lightning strike twice, as not only is Raoul Silva creepy but once again has terrible hair. I'm going to stick my neck out and say this has all the elements to be considered the best Bond film of all time. Happy 50th Anniversary James Bond!
9.5 out of 10
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