Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Alice in Wonderland (2010)


When you think about it, there are certain book-to-movie adaptions that Tim Burton was *born* to do. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was one of them. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children could be another one (though I never read the book, so I don't know for sure). Alice in Wonderland is definitely another one of those. Lewis Carroll was an insanely imaginative and creative person, who also sometimes defied all logic for the sake of random weirdness. Tim Burton is really the same way, which is both his greatest trait and greatest flaw; while he is probably the most imaginative filmmaker in the business, sometimes he just puts random weird things into movies and forgets to give us a story point or characters to care about. How nice, then, when the story has already been done for him. Well, sort of.

You see, this isn't entirely a direct adaption of the book or the original Disney animation from the 50's. It's a combination remake-sequel of sorts, if that makes any sense; because it takes place when Alice is 18, years after she first went to Wonderland. It's acknowledged that she went to Wonderland before, but what *isn't* acknowledged exactly is if it's the same events from the 50's movies or different ones, thus setting up some coherence issues.

Truth be told, the story is actually probably one of the lesser things about the movie. It's not necessarily bad, but as mentioned earlier, there's some confusion regarding events before this movie's events, and it's a pretty cookie-cutter "hero must slay the evil beast as foretold by prophecy" tale. It was fortunate, then, that plenty of other things about the movie were pretty great.

The visuals and cinematography are flat out gorgeous; Burton brings Wonderland to life brilliantly, while also making it more grim as appropriate. The characters are lots of fun; ones like the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire cat, and the twins Tweedledee and Tweedledum are hilarious. The Red Queen is great in her own right as well; a villain, but an oddly amusing and well depicted one nonetheless. And there's an all-star cast including Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Stephen Fry, Crispin Glover, and Michael Sheen, among others. (Christopher Lee voices the Jabberwocky, but only gets two lines.) And there is a bit more character development than you'd expect on the part of characters like the Hatter.

Of course, there are some things that are frustrating; namely the thing that comes to mind is a question the Hatter asks multiple times as if he knows the answer already: "Why is a raven like a writing desk?" When Alice asks him what the answer is at the end, he replies, "I haven't the slightest idea." It's things like that frustrate me when they are given such prominence only to mean literally nothing at the end of the day.

But overall, the positives outweigh the negatives. The story, cookie-cutter though it is, is suitable enough to not annoy me, and the film is pretty fun all around; and it's difficult to deny the visual art the film presents. Although Alice in Wonderland does have some flaws, it's good enough to warrant a viewing if you're a fan of the source material (even though it's not that faithful to it) or of Burton's work in general.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Finding Dory


People had apparently been waiting for a Finding Nemo sequel for a while. I didn't entirely understand why, since there wasn't really anything left to tell. As it turns out, the idea for this film literally comes off one line from the first movie from Dory: "[Short-term memory loss] runs in my family. Well, at least I think it does. Uhh... where are they?"

I had no idea that there were so many people who were genuinely interested in Dory's backstory and family. Going into this film, I had little interest in such a concept. Dory was a good character from the first movie, but she never struck me as one that needed her own story. If anything, her memory issues only solidified that. But here we are anyway.

So yes, this is actually the synopsis of this film. Dory actually remembers something from her past, and is able to remember that she has parents and sets out to find them, with Marlin and Nemo reluctantly going along for the ride (much like this viewer, initially) and end up getting themselves into more than they bargained for. This film takes place at the fictional Marine Life Institute on the coast of California, which brings up a massive problem with this movie early on; the fact that our characters are simply able to ride a current over to Cali in a relatively short time; it certainly doesn't seem like it took much longer than the trip to Sydney. And such a notion is ludicrous.

I was actually very impressed with this movie, ultimately. I wasn't expecting much from it besides some laughs, which I got plenty of. But they actually brought a decent story to the table--not a great one, but decent enough. The thing they truly have going the most for them is that they're able to actually get you to care about Dory and her search--which was truly the last thing I ever expected of this movie. And it would never have worked if we weren't already on good terms with the three main fish characters.

The main issue about the story is that it is a bit cookie-cutter and somewhat predictable; we all know that Dory's going to find her parents before it's all over. But it's what she does find out when she finds them that is truly memorable; in fact, we are given the best example of parental dedication that I've seen in cinema in quite some time.

I found myself unexpectedly liking the new characters as well. The sea lions are a brilliant new source of comic relief, and I liked the new whale characters Destiny and Bailey as well. As mentioned before, Dory's parents are great. Hank the Octopus was decent too; his pessimism made for some funny moments, as did his camouflaging abilities.

Obviously, there are issues though. I was very disappointed with the lack of the Tank Gang (only showing up in a post-credits scene), and I found the climax to be rather ludicrous, and really, not much was solved with it; most everything that we cared about in this movie had already happened by that point. Also, I would've liked a little more backstory on Hank; he's missing a tentacle and he is oddly terrified of the ocean, but we never find out why. And obviously the whole thing about how easily and quickly the characters are able to get to California in the first place is rather dumb, but we're forced to accept it so the movie can happen.

With those things said, Finding Dory--a film I had low to middling expectations for--turned out to be the best thing Pixar's done in several years, and their second straight good-though-not-quite-great movie (yes, I didn't really care for Inside Out). This could actually be the best non-Toy Story sequel they've done thus far. Monsters University was a mess, and Cars 2 was fun but just that. It's good to see Pixar succeeding on a particular sequel front that I never really expected them to, and they thus have given me hope for their future again. Finding Dory definitely falls short of its predecessor, but if you loved Finding Nemo like almost everyone else, there is little reason to miss the sequel.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets


It's a good thing the guys at Warner Bros were ready to go to put out another Harry Potter film immediately the year after the first one, since they had seven of these things to do in total (or eight, actually). And those kid actors aren't gonna be young forever, right? Hopefully they'll improve though, since some were better than others. 

Luckily, a year and a bit of experience and some of the kid actors actually do improve in the second Harry Potter movie. Daniel Radcliffe does a lot better in the Harry Potter role and continues to do well from here on out. Rupert Grint (Ron), however? He somehow actually got a little worse in the second movie. Tom Felton (Draco) didn't really change much, but he's still got time. 

The second movie had the same director as the first (Chris Columbus), so it was very similar stylistically. The production felt more or less the same. And once again, it was quite a reverent adaption of the book; although it actually did better this time, I think. It seems a bit odd; these two first movies in the series are quite similar, but the second one is loads better. Does it have anything to do that it works with a lot more enthralling story than the first one? Partially. 

Some of the lesser things haven't changed much. Some of the kid actors still don't do well. Quidditch is still depicted poorly (though slightly more exciting and engaging this time). Richard Harris, even if he gets the facial expressions right, still seems just too frail for the Dumbledore role (unfortunately, in real life he died just before this movie was released). 

But besides some of the improvements like Radcliffe's performance, things that were already good are generally better; or good things that have more added onto them; such as the cast. Amongst the great adult actors, new ones include Kenneth Branagh, who is surprisingly perfect as Gilderoy Lockhart. Jason Isaacs is quite a welcome addition as well as Lucius Malfoy. Also, Christian Coulson's performance as Tom Riddle is very overlooked, in my opinion. 

Although the film drags a little bit at times during the first half, and there's still the additions of Dobby and Moaning Myrtle to deal with (characters I'm not a fan of even in the books), things really pick up during the second half, where it feels like the book is done the most justice, namely in the brilliant diary-memory scene and the fantastic finale in the Chamber itself (which they really depict well). Despite being 161 minutes, most of all those minutes are well earned or needed. 

Though Sorcerer's Stone did a pretty decent job of introducing the Wizarding world, Chamber of Secrets is much more effective as there's not a whole lot that's inherently wrong with it. There's a few minor annoyances here and there, but all in all, it's much more of the type of adaption that a Harry Potter book deserves. And luckily, most of the rest of the movies did more or less the same the rest of the way as well. In the meantime, Chamber of Secrets ultimately stands out as one of the better installments in the Harry Potter film series. 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone


How big of a hit was the Harry Potter series? So big that it only took four years after the book's release in the UK (three in the US) for them to put a movie out. That's pretty popular. Thankfully, they didn't make a low-budget adaption either like some adaptions get these days. They really wanted to actually do the book justice. And... well, they tried. Difficult to deny that.

One of the biggest complaints about any book-to-movie adaption you will see now is how different the movie is from the book. Sometimes adaptions are judged unfairly for this, while some admittedly do go some crazy routes with the source material. But this adaption is about as faithful as you'd expect, more or less. Some things are tweaked, of course, but they stick pretty close to the book. Often quoting word-for-word. 

All in all, the cinematic introduction to the Wizarding world from 2001 is pretty impressive at times, and yet also underwhelming at times. There are some things that are done very well and cleverly--such as the decision to not make the viewer find out about Harry's past until he did, which helps bring a sense of mystery for non-book readers--and the final confrontation as well is done justice. But some other things just aren't handled well; for example, the circumstances that lead to the detention in the Forbidden Forest make less sense. And Quidditch is depicted quite inaccurately and a tad ridiculously (one of my biggest complaints about the entire film series, for that matter). 

Probably my biggest complaint about the film, though, is many of the child actors. Despite the efforts from great actors who help elevate the film (Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Warwick Davis, John Hurt, John Cleese), most of the child actors just didn't do that well in their first outing, even if they grew to be good or great in later films. Daniel Radcliffe (Harry) and Tom Felton (Draco), for example, aren't nearly as good in this film as they are in later ones. Emma Watson does well, but she's arguably the only one amongst the child actors who does. 

And that's not to mention other things that help elevate the film, such as the action sequences or visuals or John Williams's score, as well as other things that bring it down, such as Richard Harris's more frail performance as Dumbledore and the often awkward transitions/cuts (in some cases, probably due to where a scene was cut). 

As you can see, there's a fair amount to like about this film, namely many of the adult actors and the special effects. But there's also a fair amount that really brings the film down--namely the child actors. The Harry Potter film series got much better later on, so it could be said they were just working out the kinks. You'll still have to deal with this first installment, though--the good and the bad. 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Iron Man


Opening your movie with AC/DC's "Back In Black" is about as good a start as you can get. And then our main character being caught in an explosive ambush is pretty good too. In other words, the movie does a great job of getting you absolutely hooked early on. 

By now, we're all pretty familiar with this particular guy. He's appeared in a total of six Marvel movies now. And it's also probably rather difficult to forget about the movie that started this whole "Marvel Cinematic Universe" thing. I personally doubt that the guys at Marvel knew they'd be where they are now when they made this movie. Either that, or they were incredibly ambitious/optimistic. And it actually worked out for them. 

So in this particular movie, we get told the origin story of Tony Stark/Iron Man; which happens when he, the CEO of Stark Industries--a company known for creating weapons--is captured by Afghan terrorists and wakes up with shrapnel embedded in his chest from an injury. Forced to fight to survive, he creates an iron suit to escape and then decides to use his brilliant new "iron suit" idea to fight against evil. 

Despite how far we've come in this series, this movie mostly holds up pretty well. Although there a couple points during the flashbacks that go by slowly, there's not a whole lot of dull moments. Once the Iron Man suit is on, the action sequences become a lot better; a highlight being a scene where he saves a bunch of Afghan refugees and attacks the "Ten Rings" terrorist group. The climactic fight with Iron Monger is quite awesome as well. 

On the casting, Robert Downey Jr is quite great as Tony, even if he's still working out the kinks a little bit. Jeff Bridges does a fantastic job in his role. I can't say the same for Gwyneth Paltrow, whose performance and scenes are more annoying than anything and do admittedly take down the movie a slight notch. I like Terrence Howard as Rhodes, although it's still weird seeing him in the role since he got replaced immediately afterwards. Also, it'd been years since I've seen this movie, so I'd forgotten how much Clark Gregg was involved as Agent Coulson, who is great, of course.

All in all, it's pretty difficult to deny that Iron Man is a good movie. I don't find it to be quite the revered classic that some do now (especially when compared to some other better Marvel movies) but it was still a pretty darn good starting point for the most ambitious film franchise of all time. It's pretty fun and exciting for the majority of the way through. If you somehow haven't gotten yourself wrapped into this Marvel series yet, the first Iron Man film is the place to start.