2016年9月24日 星期六

Movie Review: The Secret Life of Pets (2016) | by volcanolam - "The 16 yr old Casual Blogger" [Movie Reviews, Opinions, Essays & More!!]

The Secret Life of Pets (2016)

Rating: 5.5/10

The Secret Life of Pets comes from Illumination Entertainment (whose reverence that comes with the success of Despicable Me franchise has been largely overshadowed and adulterated by the abominable Minions spinoff), and has been one of the biggest hits in the summer, surprising pocketing the #3 spot and triumphing fellow "animation about anthropomorphic animals" Zootopia in domestic gross. But is it really the wildly fun and sweet tale Zootopia is? Well it kinda wants to be. But quality control outside Disney is pretty hard to do nowadays. There are some problems in Secret Life of Pets, but which can be condoned if you just want a decent, average entertaining picture to spend your Friday night on.

I'll talk about the pros first. This film has a plot, and it sure can crack some decent jokes and engender some interesting characters. The protagonist is nothing special, but still he is kinda a likable person and works as a protagonist. The villain is pretty interesting and I think he is one of the aspects of the film that I still remember. The voice acting is spot on and I love it very much. The world building is very nicely done too, as the film is not reluctant to show its audience places from San Francisco to New York featuring a variety of pets under different customs and under different social statuses. Despite of that, I won't call it as genius because the concept of showing such, or the concept of the film itself, often feels overshadowed by other animated pictures I have seen in the past decade or so, especially...Toy Story?

On this note I will move on to the cons. I have published a post before about the masterful world building in Toy Story 3 that perfectly serves as the coda of one of the best trilogies ever. So, isn't it a logical for other animated films in the future to try avoid treading the same path that is taken by the first CGI animated picture ever? Secret Life of Pets doesn't seem to acknowledge that, and it appears to have taken page from the Toy Story franchise in a lot of plot elements. Yes it might be 6 years after Toy Story 3, but its no denying that this film has rendered itself a tad less original and cannot stand out among other animations of this decade. Another point to make is that the film's structure overall is not very well handled. I personally think the third act should be made much longer and more emphasis should be allocated onto the climax given the premise that is in the former acts.

It is overall an average fun film. Definitely not big enough to fight for the Oscar trophy, but nice job for killing it in the box office.

Movie Review: The Iron Giant (1999) | by volcanolam - "The 16 yr old Casual Blogger" [Movie Reviews, Opinions, Essays & More!!]

The Iron Giant (1999)

Rating: 8/10

The Iron Giant was not a hit back in its time of release. Yet, box office results are never a true testament to the film quality, and this film proved just that. Brad Bird is a total genius and is currently my favorite director working at Pixar. This debut animation of his is an exhibition of his storytelling prowess - nifty, swift scenes that are extremely terse while not skimming in characterization, humor and heart. There was barely a boring scene throughout, and thanks to the incredible animation (in hand drawn animation standards) and a plot that appeals to audience with all ages (with childish slapstick humor while also capable of being dark and dramatic), The Iron Giant is a film that is riveting with action, fun, and emotion that successfully entertains me.

2016年9月9日 星期五

2016 Summer Movie Season: Overview & Comments | by volcanolam - "The 16 yr old Casual Blogger" [Movie Reviews, Opinions, Essays & More!!]

Worst Summer of the 2010s?

Without really looking into what professionals and industry insiders say, I am largely "underwhelmed" by this year's summer posing as an ordinary moviegoer and film lover. Well, there's nothing with the schedule, which is sure as tightly-packed as people might have expected from the industry in recent years. I was thrilled by the sight of big films coming out every week in the future months back in May, and with Civil War coming out and preceding Disney flicks fresh in my mind I must say I was once enticed by what the cinema had to offer imminently.

The summer started off sluggishly. A bunch of sequels like TMNT2 and Looking Glass fell short of expectations, so as the long anticipated Resurgence. As the Civil War craze ebbed away and the latest X men addition - Apocalypse, performed in midddling fashion both critically and financially I was shaking my head saying, "this does not look good. This is disappointing". This was the portent of what would follow up in the rest of the summer - superhero films proving that they are no longer impervious, comedies failing to acheive box office heights despite being not bad in 2016, and action films reaching the trough in terms of quality as few to no entry was able to live up to the barrage of hits from 2015: MI5, Fury Road, Kingsman, and even Spectre (decent action film). For such a while I was eager, enthusiastic and excited for the happening of Dory, the entry that would sure deal ripples on the animation canon and the family film genre. I will say I was gratified as the 94% RT rating met my expectation and it went on to upset Civil War for the Summer Box Office Crown domestically, even though it failed to match Zootopia internationally. Yes, I was satisfied for just a brief week or two, then there came the barren wasteland that was all the summer was about.

Who can stand the utter disgrace Suicide Squad has displayed during its run in mid August? Unable to prove to critics the potential of DCEU and once again has to resort to the comfort zone of DC fanboys support; such causing so much division in the Internet. Such can be said the same to Ghostbusters, one of the most hated films prior to release and couldn't really do much else except mustering a fairly handsome rating and minimizing the financial losses. Sadly, these two films were already the biggest talks of August 2016.

The much anticipated Jason Bourne was as unlikely to be a flop as it was unlikely to break the 2016 summer movie jinx. As its reviews came it was close to certain that 2016 is having some dismal luck. Paul Greengrass plus Matt Damon duel was somehow not effective enough to live up to the towering standards of its predecessors. (I think Bourne's actually good, 7/10) Well, it is still considered by far the best action movie of the year so... Idk. The standards of 2016 cinema...

Sometimes the problem is not with the film quality, but with the audience's taste. Simply put films that were clearly receiving the praises saw poor returns in box office - the likes of "Star Trek Beyond", "The Nice Guys", "The BFG", while some others were largely popular while exhibiting subpar quality. One of such films I'd want to note is "The Secret Life of Pets" from Illumination (the diabolical maker of the infamous Minions) which, despite being a fun, average animated adventure, it surely doesn't deserve a #3 spot when it comes to summer domestic totals. The film structure is wobbly and plot elements are vastly ordinary (lazy remake of Toy Story, simply put), so if without the factor of marketing there is no way they should have made this far.

It's not that bleak though. A few genres managed to survive the catastrophic days and provide consistent contenders to the playing field. Aside from the great animation genre as mentioned (not counting the excellent Zootopia, we have Finding Dory, Kubo and the two Strings, Sausage Party), horror movies has been enjoying the best of times. Conjuring 2, Election year subverted the prominent phenomenon of underperforming sequels, and Lights Out, The Shallows, Don't Breathe had established themselves as the big motion pictures of the season. I mean, seeing a horror film wrapping up the summer as consecutive weekend #1 s is a sight to behold.

Last but not least, Disney under Buena Vista extended its complete domination with most of its big hitters doing just right. Releasing slightly less films than its miserable counterparts but still managed to amass twice the amount of returns earned by the #2 studio and pocketing the top four highest grossers worldwide, with three of them topping the domestic list, Disney may as well avenge successfully after straight years being the #2 in annual box office showdowns, on the pretext that it will go smooth for the rest of the year.

That's all Im gonna say about the summer movies of 2016. One of the worst summers in recent years, probably. I even think the months prior to June had given us more fruitful, memorable, high-standard films than the dreaded summer, which is not a common scenario and might prove to be an interesting trend to hold on to for future meditations. But for now, let's just cling onto those better films and cross fingers for an auspicious fall movie season so to end 2016 on an uplifting note.

2016年8月8日 星期一

Movie Review: How to Train Your Dragon (2010) | by volcanolam - "The 16 yr old Casual Blogger" [Movie Reviews, Opinions, Essays & More!!]

How To Train Your Dragon (2010)


Dreamworks has made it big time with How to Train Your Dragon. The studio managed to wrap a generic plot with underdeveloped characters with a stunning mix of a "shrieking" high quality script, score, and pacing, along with an original, fresh setting about Vikings and dragons. It is like a well-known story being retold in the best possible methods. The fun. The charm. The spirit. All of these pervaded through the picture. I would highly recommend this film not only to kids but also to some young adults which for reasons that I'll explain in later paragraphs.

It is story about a young Viking discovering the true nature of dragons which is contradictory to his tribe's traditional belief. With a darker force impending, he must have to settle down conflicts with his own people, while utilizing his knowledge about dragons to fight of the evil brute.

Like its titular dragon, the film has its soft side, vulnerabilities. But what makes up for that is the cuteness and warmth that oozes out of the screen every time we see the dragon romps around playfully, and that is just like the film itself. Even for the most cynical critics the tale is too endearing and sweet to be taken seriously. The plotholes and lack of character development don't seem relevant anymore when everyone is mesmerized by the movies' endless charisma. 

The score in particular has to be lauded. This has to be the best scores ever put into animation and it stands along some other Pixar efforts. It is riveting, epic, and spot on with the settings of this movie. As the flying theme kicks off, along with the flying scenes featuring the two protagonists, we audience are given a perfectly paced, perfectly shot, and perfectly fitting to 3D sequence - a unique, gripping, absorbing set piece that is unprecedented in film history. This very sequence is certainly the best of what DreamWorks had made and can probably rival the first 10 minutes of "Up" or any other creations by its Pixar counterpart. Yes, it is really that insane. How can you not love a movie with such kinda stuff in it.

After engendering a movie so warm to the heart, DreamWorks literally has another chance to develop a flagship trilogy, just like "Kung Fu Panda" and "Shrek". But unlike "Kung Fu Panda" the producers do not want this franchise to wallow in the same formula of its first installment, just like how Panda 2 and Panda 3 stick with the fast paced action comedy aimed blatantly for kids. HTTYD 2 is a whole different experience, a coming of age tale that tells are darker, more mature story. The sequel alone is the reason why young adults should see this because the themes are actually quite fitting for such age group, and with the final installment we audience can fully experience Hiccup's growing up and find the franchise an emotionally resonant movie-going experience. Do not expect this to be something stupid. With HTTYD 3 coming up in 2018, we might look back and refer HTTYD as Dreamworks' "Toy Story". So, guys, just wait and see. I have high hopes in this one.

2016年8月7日 星期日

Movie Review: The Jungle Book (2016) | by volcanolam - "The 16 yr old Casual Blogger" [Movie Reviews, Opinions, Essays & More!!]

The Jungle Book (2016)

Rating: 6/10

Jungle Book is a well made remake that succeeds in delivering a slightly different story, capitalizing on state-of-the-art CGI and laudable performances to suit the whole family.

Official artwork poster of the filmWhen I first watched the trailer, I had real goosebumps when I heard Bare Necessities playing in the background. The nostalgia and euphony of the tune urged me to see the film without a pounding heart. After nearly 5 months I can finally take a close look at this remake. I am a big fan of the 1967 version, which features one of the best sets of songs ever put to the big screen. This 2016 is somehow a much darker, serious film, with more scares and ponderous themes. Throughout most of the screen time, while marveling at the breathtaking scenery and astoundingly realistic CGI (breakthrough performance on the computer's part), I was occasionally bothered by how the plot and scripts deviated from what I expected, and the lack of warmth and humor I enjoyed when rewatching the 1967 musical. The third act is well done, nevertheless, and along with the incredible CGI so as Neel Sethi's extraordinary performance as Mowgli forming the backbone of this remake. Jungle Book is a well made remake that succeeds in delivering a slightly different story, capitalizing on state-of-the-art CGI to suit well for family audience. (Too scary and dark for a kids film, too generic for higher level audiences)

Man, the CGI alone is worth the ticket price (in my case download time). Scenes could have been awkward if the technology had not reach this level, and Mowgli's performance is very worth praising because he expressed and acted naturally even though the characters were not there. 

Yet, I am somehow less satisfied with the film than I thought I should be. Supposedly comedic scenes were somehow dramatized and were given darker turns, and sometimes they feel hollow and disappointing. Elephants scenes are an example. Not only did the elephants not talk, they didn't attain the sarcastic humor that prevails in the 1967 version. Shere Khan was more violent and evil, thus losing the witty sense of humor, and so did Kaa. Another thing is that the relationship between Mowgli and Baloo was not quite as intimate as the first film. Yes, both characters might not be animated this time, but still a weird decision to have Baloo befriending the man-cub just for honey. Baloo's apparent sacrifice at the end was also omitted. As a result, "Bare Necessities" scene was not as memorable as I thought of, and that's cuz their bond was not well developed yet!

I could go on and pick out more stuff that I disliked during viewing, such as how the film ruined "I Wanna Be Like You" by having a big ape throwing fruits everywhere while monkeys squeaked at the background. The scene should be like how the end-credits depicted (King Louie dancing around in his palace). However, I won't go into that much criticism because its a good film. The CGI's amazing. I love how they gave the wolves more screentime and significance, since they are barely developed in 1967 version. Vultures are cut off, good. The third act is also something I never thought would happen in Jungle Book, providing a deeper message and a more thrilling climax than the predecessor. At the end of the day I won't say I am fully satisfied, but yet I'll say I am decently entertained by the CGI and the overall tone of the story. Besides, is there anything better than listening to "Bare Necessities", "Trust in Me" once more with a little modern mix? Priceless.