Friday, June 26, 2009

Movie Journal: Outlander

Outlander's basic premise could well be described as such: Aliens meets E.T. meets Conan the Barbarian. Or something like that. Essentially, a humanoid alien(James Caveizel) crashlands on our Earth, accidentally bringing with him the last surviving member of a race of destruction-bent beasts called the Moorwen. The real twist is that these events take place during our Iron Age, and it's up to only the main character and a group of brutal vikings to put an end to the creature.

Now that I've given you a picture of what the story is like, let me just cut to the chase. The plot structure of this film SUCKS. Big time. The pacing is pretty much horrible, and the subplot construction is even worse. If I may, I shall now illustrate my point with a tiny spoiler. In the film's introduction of the character Freya, she's shown arguing with her father because she doesn't want to marry Wulfric, who is heir to the throne. Not only is this kind of predicament totally cliched, but in the case of this story, it's also almost entirely irrelevent. The subject is not brought up at all except for in this one scene, and never again is Freya pressured to marry Wulfric. In other words, the movie introduces what should rightly be an element of conflict and antagonism, and then completely discards it.

As you may have easily surmised by this point, anyone who tells you that this movie is a deep and exciting thrill ride is lying. In this case, no amount of flashy action scenes can make up for such a horrible plot. And even the action scenes themselves are pretty bad. And I mean it. This story offers no true thrill, exhileration, or insight. I only give it such a high rating because some of the visual effects were quite impressive considering the project's relatively low budget. Still, a couple minutes of good special effects is little compensation for two whole wasted hours of one's life.

5 out of 10

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Movie Journal: Battle Royale

If they really end up remaking this Asian film in the United States(and there are those who plan to), Jack Johnson is going to physically explode. And by that, I mean that it would most likely be the most controversially violent movie in recent American history.

Imagine this: in the near future, an act is passed that allows the military move teenagers to remote islands for the performance of what is called a "Battle Royale". In this mandatory game, an explosive collar is attached to every player's neck. If anyone attempts to leave the island, his/her collar will activate and blow. In addition, in three days time, unless there is only one player left standing, every single collar will go off.

That is the premise to this absolutely nuts film. And I meant what I said about the violence. Each player is equipped with a random weapon in his bag. Sometimes it's an Uzi, sometimes it's a hand-grenade, sometimes it's a short sickle, and sometimes it's even a pot lid. In the case of one of the players, it turned out to be a Japanese fan. Another time, it was a container of poison. You get the idea.

Are you getting the mental picture of forty teenagers all tracking each other down and killing each other in bizarre and twisted ways? I'm telling you, man, Jack Johnson would totally lose it.

Of course, not everyone goes the route of death and destruction. Some commit suicide with their lovers, deciding that their not going to play this evil game. In contrast, one of the teens is a complete psycho, who wanted in the game in the first place. Some would normally not do these twisted things, but have grudges against other kids and feel justified under the circumstances. It's interesting to see how all the different characters respond to these bizarre events as they unfold.

All in all, Battle Royale was much more deep and insightful than I expected it to be. It's not like I'd watch it over and over several times, like I would Nightmare Before Christmas. That would almost be psychotic. But it's still a very cool and unique film and I'm glad I had the opportunity to experience it.

8 out of 10

Monday, June 22, 2009

Movie Journal: Bolt

Plot synopsis: "The canine star of a fictional sci-fi/action show that believes his powers are real embarks on a cross country trek to save his co-star from a threat he believes is just as real."

But don't be fooled. Bolt isn't nearly as deep and interesting as the premise has led so many to believe. True, the first act is a lot of fun, and actually quite intriguing as well, but it all goes downhill at around the mid-act climax. Though it may proclaim itself to be different and unique, it's really just like every single other lost dog story you've ever seen, only with a few neat touches that soon lose their luster. Trust me when I say that you know exactly how this story is going to turn out.

True, it's much more consistently entertaining than Meet The Robinsons. If anything, Disney's new model of shallow, goofy fun has been proficiently refined.

7 out of 10

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Movie Journal: Kiss Of The Dragon

What can I say? I mean, don't get me wrong. It's a good movie. It's got awesome action and some impressive actors. But let me say that it's really no wonder that Jet Li wants to quit with martial arts films. Shallow plot + badly cast leading lady + complete lack of a controlling idea = a movie I don't really want to see again any time soon. Not only that, but it's certainly not going to stick in my mind for very long. I just watched it an hour ago and I can already feel it fading, if you know what I mean.

And yeah, I know that Luc Besson directed it. But if you're looking for some real Luc Besson awesomeness, just see District B13; it's about five times better. Or at least four times. Anyway, it's cool.

6 out of 10

Friday, June 19, 2009

Movie Journal: The Nightmare Before Christmas

Over the years, The Nightmare Before Christmas has developed something of a reputation among those who have not seen it. Many will say that it is "weird" and "freaky," and that may be true. But it's also a timeless classic, and a landmark in both musical and animated film.

What an awesome premise, too. Think about it: what if there is a dimension in which there exists a land for each holiday, the inhabitants of which have to work constantly to bring that holiday about? What if the kings of each land have been running and supervising their designated holidays since the beginning of time? In this story, that's exactly the way it is for Jack, the Pumpkin King of the dark and graveyard-infested Halloweentown. Every year he makes Halloween happen. And he's getting tired of of it.

While off on a thoughtful walk through Halloweentown's deep and dark forest, he happens upon a clearing containing a portal to each holiday's land. Drawn to Christmastown's door, Jack enters and is totally amazed by the bright and colorful world of Christmas. Still, as he returns and tries to describe the place to the inhabitants of Halloweentown, he finds that, well, he can't. His explanations are completely lost on his citizens, leaving him questioning whether what he experienced(the emotions, the sights, the sounds, the warmth inside) was truly real. And so, Jack begins to tirelessly conduct tests and experiments, none of which lead to a rational way of defining or explaining Christmas. This prompts him...

Ah, what the heck is wrong with me? Off I go about the exceptionally intriguing plot and premise, yet at the same time I just about abuse one of the greatest things about the film: the music! Not only did Danny Elfman(who needs no introduction) both write and compose the score, but he also performs the powerfully emotional singing voice for the main character, Jack himself.

Elfman's musical score grabs your attention instantly at the very beginning of the story, and doesn't let go until the end. Very few moments pass that are not carried by the emotion of Elfman's music, perfectly transitioning the storyline as it carries us from one scene to the next. There's not a dull moment in the entire plot.

As for the animation, the majority of it is stop-motion, and is shot at 24 frames per second. This may seem a dated approach for an animated film, and it is. But if anything, this film's graphics only lend a more eerie feel to the story, with age. Hence my describing it as timeless.

The Nightmare Before Christmas isn't just a "Christmas movie". It's a deep and fascinating tale that delves into the fact that there are some things in the universe you simply cannot reduce to explanations of scientific logic and reasoning. It's also a somewhat bittersweet story, because while we know that Jack finally gets the message of Christmas, he'll never truly be able to be a part of it, and express it purely; though he can try. Kind of like how us humans try, and yet even in some small way always fail. In a way, we're very much like Jack; dark and tainted, knowing only the world of Halloweentown and barely able to comprehend Christmasland. At the same time, we're given hope in the fact that we may yet someday experience it firsthand, kind of how Jack did.

The result is a controlling idea that reflects meaning, and when it comes to film, that is true depth.

10 out 10

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Movie Journal: Nausicaa Of The Valley Of Wind

Kaze no tani no Naushika (or Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind) is an epic animated adventure, written and directed by none other than Hayao Miyazaki. Originally released in the year 1984, it's one of Miyazaki's oldest films, in addition to being one of his best.

The story of Nausicaa gives us a glimpse of a future in which the world is slowly being overrun by a steadily spreading toxic forest. Some simply try to avoid it, while others are actively seeking ways to destroy. Unfortunately, every time an effort is made to burn a segment of the jungle to the ground, the giant insects within fly into a rage, killing everything within miles until they eventually starve and die, producing new spores that cause the forest to spread further. Eventually a nation of industrialism and war comes forward with a plan to dig up an ancient giant of fire that could potentially destroy the jungle altogether. Supposedly.

This great story based on Hayao Miyazaki's own hit manga is not only epic in scope, but features rich characters and an exciting, action-oriented plot. Over all, it's certainly the best quality kid-centered action film there is. Next to Castle In The Sky, that is. In fact, in many ways, I probably prefer Nausicaa.

This is just the kind of intelligent storytelling that young kids deserve. The environmentalist undertones are undeniable, but underneath that is a deep and gripping message about love and self-sacrifice, in cool and epic ways that most stories for kids cannot boast.

9 out of 10