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Spellbound-018

OFFERING A mix of horror and comedy, Spellbound (2011) is a lighthearted romantic comedy, who doesn’t offer much conflict but is surprisingly entertaining.

To be upfront, what sets this film from other films is that it effectively handles horror and comedy. As you may observe, that rarely happens in movies. In logic, as the film puts it, if a heroine, in a horror movie, falls in love, the scary factor loses its effect, because it would be overcome by romance. Without qualifying the situation, how can a person be scared if there’s a person beside her willing to protect her?

That’s why even if there is a couple in a horror film, say in the case of “Shutter”, “Scream” or “A Nightmare On Elm Street”, the romance is usually suspended to make way for the horror. It’s either you gain the element of one genre but you lose the other. In “Spellbound”, you get to keep both. At one point, we get to smile as drunk Yuri rips off Jo-gu’s tailor made shirt. Then the mood shifts, as we see a long-haired abnormally white-skinned tone woman coming out from a frame, matching with a cool breeze wind.    (more…)

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Hugo watching "Safety Last"

Hugo watching “Safety Last”

WHEN YOU are rooting for a character – you want them to succeed, you don’t want them to die, you’d give up everything just to see them happy – then the film has made an impression to you. Just as “Hugo” did for me.

Emptying the pockets

“Hugo” tells the story of Hugo unearthing the mystery of a worn out robot after the wake of his father. On the process, he befriends Isabelle, a girl who fancies book adventures and is hoping to get into one on this quest. Together they not only discover the hidden message but also renews a man drained from his past.

Before you get all jiggly, the “adventure” I’m talking about is not where they cross vast ocean, ride a flying beast, slay monsters, or travel into the new world, which seemed implied by the misleading posters and trailers. This is not Narnia-and-Alice-in-the-Wonderland like, but it does contain the charm and stunning CGI from the two. The adventure here is about a boy learning his purpose, an event that mostly happens in the train station, and I don’t say that as a caveat.

Hugo and Isabelle anticipate what the robot is going to write

An enchanted castle

By far, this is the first modern film I saw that cleverly enhanced the depth of the 2D medium by using dramatic lightning. In every scene there is always a touch of light and shadow, bringing you to the Romanticism period, it’s just “too good to be true”.  Not to mention, the playful use of smokes.  The film has “panache,” and you get the feel of it at the very start of the film where the camera tours around the train station.

I know this isn’t much but I had fun watching the scenes where it cut from an over-the-shoulder shot to a neutral shot. The other day I was reading a cinematography book. Seeing the shots in practice awakes my senses, its’ like the film saying “Look at this!” There are also some spectacular over the head shots and extreme below angle shots. Obviously, it’s more of an aesthetic intention than functional, but it gives the film a different look, telling you this isn’t your ordinary family film.

Surely enough, it isn’t.

Kind to old movies

When I was watching “Hugo”, it reminds me of “Super 8”. Both films are about films. “Hugo” teaches about film history, and “Super 8” celebrates the art of film making. Although unlike “Super 8”, “Hugo” doesn’t fall apart in the third act. You lose interest in “Super 8” after you find out what the hullabaloo is about. But, I’m happy to admit that these two films have a great job building up the climax. They spare you the thrill. Wanting you to want more.

Later in the film, Hugo and Isabelle go to a library, to further their research. They pull out a film book, and, as on that scene, a brief recap of the film history, where an actual footage of the old films are used. You’d also get the idea that the film pays homage to these classics. For instance, in the scene of the “Safety Last” (1923), where a man is about to fall, only hanging on the clock’s hand, is replicated on one of the climactic scene of “Hugo”, where Hugo is being chased by the train inspector.

Apparently, there’s still more. As I read on the internet, the ideas of some of the plot points of “Hugo” are “common” in early cinema. If you want to know more about “Hugo”, read a comprehensive analysis from davidbordwell’s site. It’s lengthy but rewarding.

Hugo mimicking “Safety Last”

Last thoughts

People also say that the story of the film does not deserve a 3D feature, because it’s too shallow. Yes, it’s too shallow. But for me, one of things that I consider that a film is magical is that it transforms people’s small little concerns like it’s the world’s. This is basically what the film does. Maybe you don’t care of a child fixing a robot, but for that child and the owner of a robot, it means a lot, it means their life. And at the end of the day, provided that their characters are played out well, that is only what matters.

P.S. I’m just wondering, since this is set in Paris, why doesn’t the characters talk in French?

His “best” smile

IMdB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0970179/

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hR-kP-olcpM (not recommended)

Rating: ★★★★★

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The fallen angel's smile

In the story, Japan experiences serious economic downturn, which is evident by “the 15% unemployment” and “800,000 students boycotted school and juvenile crime rates soared”. Japan’s government is forced to pass the Battle Royale Act, whereby a set of students are dropped in an island with one goal: to kill each other until only one is alive.

Character and emotional depth

One reason why watch Asian films, particularly in Japan, Korea and India, is that it digs an abyssal emotional depth that their western counterpart can’t match. Like most Asian films, “Battle Royale” still have purity and innocence, even though it ironically celebrates violence.

But if there is a slight modification for improvement it would be to build more relationships of the characters at the start of the film. Show the lovers. Show the best friends. That way when you see a friend killed, or a friend running after you, waving pistol in air, it would be more gripping and heart-breaking. Besides, it wouldn’t be hard to set up that drill since the chosen participants are a high school class and not some random street kids plucked from the pavement.

Will this film make you cry? No, but it’s really sad. A boy arrives in an abandon warehouse, where a girl hides. The boy calls out her name but the girl panics and she shoots him. The boy is dying only to find out that he comes to confess his long silent love. It’s sweet. But sad. There’s even a group of girls getting killed for a misguided argument. You can really see how insanity corrupts even the most kind and cute person.

“Battle Royale” is based on a 1999 Japanese novel penned by Koushun Takami. Apart from film, it also has a manga version. On the film release of “Battle Royale”, it has been controversial on its idea of killing and has been banned on several countries. Nonetheless, it’s still considered as one of the  best film made in the decade. More information about their wiki page.

Nanahara retrieving a photo after seeing his best friend killed

Did it achieve its goal?

The Battle Royale Act was approved to warn and discipline the youngsters of their misdeeds. Unfortunately, this is the part where the film fails to show. At the start of the film, we see the winner of the recent batch of Battle Royale. The winner looks horrid and twisted. But if cut to the outside world, we don’t really see much violence in what the film is trying to show, only a teacher getting stabbed for fun and a father on a suicide but all of you will agree that isn’t enough. “A Clockword Orange” scenes would have been good sample for a teenage outrage.

You would think that this ridiculous violent act of forcing teenagers to kill other teenagers to at least make some impact to the outside world, but you never really see so. The film lacks visual elements to support its narrative ones. This makes me think that the whole Battle Royale is just put up to provide a cunning entertainment with no grounds. Although that is not what the film is trying to achieve, but it has certainly implied so.

Kitano, the proctor of the program, perceived as the ultimate villain

Battle Royale and its influence

After seeing films like “Inglorious Basterds” and “Kick Ass”, both films who are indebted to “Battle Royale”, it’s sad to admit that the former is more visually superior than the later, and has better narrative. After watching Battle Royale, although it’s already gory, I thought it was still conservative in showing flesh and blood, comparing it to the other films. Just as “Hunger Games” will be more popular than “Battle Royale”. To reiterate the old adage: “It’s sad but true”.

Addendum: Battle Royale and The Hunger Games

The hit movie blockbuster “The Hunger Games” (blog review) has been gravely compared to Battle Royale. Most Battle Royale fans say that “the Hunger Games” is no good, not new and just a ripped off of the former because of the following recurrent subjects: evil and corrupt government, and teenage killing. I won’t deny the similarities but I won’t also say that Hunger Games ripped off Battle Royale.

Suzanne Collins, author of the Hunger Games Trilogy, haven’t heard of “Battle Royale” until finishing her first book, and suffice to say she has a different sources of her inspiration. Besides, the idea of kids/teenagers killing each other for survival is not an eye opener.   We first heard it from a 1954 novel written by William Golding, “Lord of the Flies”, (blog review) at least as far as history can record. But that also can’t guarantee that it is the first story to tackle about cute little kids running around with spears. Who knows what stories have been told by our ancestors?  Not to mention “Battle Royale” has been rumored to pluck inspiration from “Lord of the Flies”. So originality is out of the context.

Original or copied, as long as the film looks fresh and/or entertaining, we couldn’t care less. Don’t you think?

IMdB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0266308/

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N0p1t-dC7Ko&feature=related

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Jim McAllister sees one of his student after several years

Jim Macalister is a dedicated and renowned high school teacher, and couldn’t “imagine doing anything else”. Teaching is his life.  He is voted Teacher of the Year 3 times, as he humbly boasts as a “school record.” Due to several travesty leading to another and another, he will not be getting his fourth. On the bright side, the reason is also a school record.

Qualities
What’s different about this film is it compliments several main characters in the film. We get a first point of view narration from each of them, and these add up to the humor: “Dear God, thank you for all your blessings. You’ve given me so many things, like good health, nice parents, nice truck and what I’m told is a large penis.”  There’s also some ironical comedy, for instance, on one scene, a student says, “. . . do you think Tracy would be okay”? The teacher replies, “Don’t worry about Tracy. She’ll be fine.” Then we cut into Tracy crying in her room.

The film does produce good comedies, and even includes some obscenity, but it doesn’t undermine the message it’s trying give. And I must say, I liked how they revealed it. It’s not spoon-fed like the typical comedic drama flicks.

Tracy Flick

Paul Metzler

Tammy Metzler

The Election

Of course, the one that ruins Mr. Macalister is the school election. As days moved to the election, his life is getting out of hand, both his school and personal life. It all starts when Mr. Macalister encouraged Paul to run for Presidency against Tracy, the supposed to be “default” President since she is running unopposed beforehand. Then there is a conflict of interest when suddenly Paul’s sister, Tammy, runs for Presidency, with a platform of dismantling the student government, an idea that students praised so they wouldn’t be able to sit on “stupid assemblies” again.

Instead of one, there are three candidates: Tracy, the overachiever and the ambitious, Paul, the popular sports guy, and Tammy, the “real” high school student, a student that doesn’t really cares. Contrary to what you would expect, the candidates are not the one to ruin Mr. Macalister. It’s himself.

Ferris and Marlena (Spam paragraph)

Matthew Broderick plays Mr. Macalister and Reese Witherspoon plays Tracy. Looking back now, Broderick has grown older, though I can’t think of him as man without thinking of that carefree teenager on “Ferris Bueler’s Day Off”, a film that continuously breaks the fourth wall. Witherspoon then in this film looks so young, and it’s hard to believe that I watched her play Marlena on “Water for Elephants.”  Without a doubt, they have played their greatest performances in this film.

I just had to mention to their names. That’s what happens when you are emotionally attached.

Tracy driving really fast after doing something mischievous

Message

The message of the film are – I’m about to spoil it – multiple. What do you expect? We have multiple characters. The characters in the film are flawed, and at the end of the film, they remain flawed. These should make the moral easier to spot, but this is a different case. The multiple points of views have contrasting closure, giving you a hard time getting a universal moral. In the end, I ended up more having more than I expected.

Basically the film tells us that peace comes from forgiveness, success is not a measure of happiness, and high school love is too early for eternity, among others. But wait until you see how the film presents it.

 

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Skinny Chris Evans

“Captain America: The First Avenger” tells a story about a small, weak and feeble young man named Steve Rogers, who has a deep conviction to join the American army and help win the Nazi war, but because of his present condition he has been denied for a few times.  On  his recent attempt, luck finds him when he is spotted by the head military scientist and immediately admitted to the army, and is later transformed into a buff, strong and invincible young man. The journey starts there.

One thing that struck me at the start of the film was how did they shrunk Roger’s (Chris Evan) body. We saw resizing small into big, like that of “The Hulk”, but never the other way around. It turns out that the production team did a lot of effort CGI-ing Roger’s body, and it took them a while to shoot the scenes. Well, the first choice was to take a real skinny person for a double, take off its head and replace it with Evan’s. But the double’s performance didn’t lived up to Evan’s performance and so the production team opted for green screens. This also made Evan relieved, since he doesn’t want to share a performance. Rest assured, the film looks realistic and impressive.

Perhaps, this is the best hero I have ever seen, at least that I knew of. And like all other hero films, he has the girl that supports him and later he had her. I was surprised when they didn’t spared the film from visual effects. There was a big explosion encounter, and I thought it is the end of the film – since usually this is the way hero films end, with tons and tons of explosion – but I guess I was only halfway. That was exciting. I was looking forward for the next scenes.

What set this apart from the movie is perhaps the ending, which is hinted by the beginning of the film. It is a thrilling prologue on the upcoming Marvel film, “The Avengers”, which you might recognize as the team of Ironman, Spiderman, Fantastic Four, etc. Isn’t that great? A one big superhero film. Sounds like “The Incredibles”. Not actually. Why? Because this time the film already built a strong characterization and I’d like to see them explode!

 

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“A Few Good Men” is a heavy drama revolving around the trial of two U.S. Marines, who are accused of killing another Marine, and the effort of three assigned officers to win their case.

On the first twenty minutes, we already know who is the perpetrator, and we can already form our personal judgment whether the two U.S. Marines, Dawson and Downey, be put to jail or not. Unfortunately, our characters is still about to find out and the only suspense we get is how they are going to find out, which is not enthralling  since we know who will be the last person to testify.

The better half of the film is spent mostly in the courtroom, debating about the case of Dawson and Downey, and I have to say, it is a great plot device to use the witnesses to reveal  information bit by bit rather than a cut to a series of investigation, this way the film spares us from the actual trial going on.

My only argument is that the whole story is quite shallow for a dramatic film. There is nothing at stake. If Dawson and Downey losses, they spent their life in jail. Normally, you should get mad on this fact but D and D (allow me to call them like that) just look straight ahead upon hearing this. We don’t even see them participating on unearthing facts, at least not freely. They just flash this grave look that says, do whatever you want, we don’t really care. So why should I even care about the case?

ImageThe first conflict I can come up with is how should the three assigned officers prove to the court that D and D are innocent, which is a bit ironic since these officers don’t really have a solid evidence to prove their statement, but as fate would have it they will later rightfully receive it. You might think that the system or the government is the conflict. At first, yes it’s the government. On second thought, not really. The government is not even trying hard, at least in the way I see it. The government is neutral.

The second conflict is from Tom Cruise’s playful lawyer character, Daniel Kaffee, who is afraid of falling short on achieving something, as this would stain his late father’s reputation. In fact, he hasn’t entered the courtroom not until D and D’s case.  Unfortunately, this conflict ends when the earlier mentioned conflict starts.

Demi Moore’s character, JoAnne Galloway, is the whole reason why the D and D case is raised. She takes it seriously, accompanying Daniel in all the investigation and makes sure that everything goes smoothly. But there’s no reason to justify her behavior. When asked why she is doing all this trouble, she answers, “Cause they stand on a wall and they say, ‘Nothing’s gonna hurt you tonight, not on my watch’”.   This isn’t convincing at all, unless she has a painful memory on the matter. There are people who render service to protect people (i.e. police, security guard) and they might have a heavier case than this (i.e. death penalty) but why wouldn’t JoAnne prioritize them?

If you’re fond of watching courtroom scene, hearing intellectual rebuttals, this is the film for you. It’s intense. There is no room for a little bit of romance, even though by the look of the characters they demand it. The two U.S. Marines are charged for three penalties – murder, conspiracy, unbecoming a U.S. Marine – and by the end, I liked what the court’s verdict, and you will too.

PS: Have you ever heard of the famous line “You can’t handle the TRUTH!”? Who would have thought it came from the “A Few Good Men”

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The drama in “It’s Kind Of A Funny Story” deals with Craig, a teenager, who suffers from deppression, insecurity and pressure, like most teenagers. He dreams of suicide, through jumping on a bridge, but somehow finds the courage to call help and checks himself in a hospital for further medication.

So what’s funny in the story?

To tell you upfront this is not a funny film comparable to “Hangover” or “Wild Child”. But it is funny enough to make your heart smile and your eyes sparkle. My theory of why they call it a “funny story” is the concept of you first think of yourself as worthless, then later you think yourself as genuine, like you have a function on this greater and bigger system we live. The idea is dull but to some degree, it’s actually funny. The moment you realize it’s all there in you, sleeping, you just have to wake up at the right time and the right place. By that, I’m talking about our main character, Craig, who feels he is talentless but later finds out he has a talent in drawing, who feels he is inspireless but later inspires everyone else.

Is suicide the main theme?

Although his suicidal thoughts is the reason in the first place that moves the story, this idea, as the film progresses, is negligible. (But maybe I have to rethink about that because all of the patients in the hospital are, one way or the other, brought by suicide attempts.) The story deviates from its premise in the first encounter where Craig meets Bobby, a frustrated father, by then the story talks about friendship. There’s also a time when Craig meets Noelle, a lovely lady who is about the same age as Craig, by then the story talks about infatuation. You might think there’s a danger of the film playing many concept at one but surprisingly the film delivers it well.

It’s tiring seeing films with extreme conflicts, the one that talks about life and death or love and hatred or travel throughout world. Perhaps, you might opt to see real mundane things happening to a person, without the aid of superficial conflicts. I might contradict my point since it isn’t normal to be in a hospital ward because of suicide attempt but then again this isn’t about suicide. The film also plays metaphors. Upon staying in the hospital, Craig shares a room with Muqtada, an egyptian who secludes himself from the world and spends all his time in bed, but he is not bedridden. I could easily see him as a friend who can’t find any place in this world and thus makes his own world. He is pitiable and is need of help, by then the story talks about service.

So how was Emma Roberts?

Emma Roberts, as Noelle, has a mild role. It’s logical to the part she plays. Noelle is just another plot device to realize how genuine Craig is. Zach Galifianakis, the founder of Hangover’s wolf pack and one of the main reason why Hangover received a sequel, is still amusing as he plays Bobby. When Bobby asks what Craig thinks of why he is in the hospital, Craig says “I heard you tried to rape a penguin at the zoo.” Bobby is alarmed and retorts, “Who told you that?” That line made me squeaked. That was priceless.

It’s really amazing how actors can adapt different character stories and still manages to convince us that it is their personal life.You may think that Emma Roberts always plays a warm character. But if you happen to see “Lymelife”, you can see Emma in a seductive role, though not in anyway fetish. There was scene where Emma flaunts her chest and teases her partner. I can never forget that. That made me think that actors do illuminate magic.

The verdict

In essence, the film is dramatic but the narrative is funny. The film is no puzzling code. You can take it at face value and still get that same mild experience. But sometimes if we dig deep, we feel deep. (But if we dig deeper, we drown. Kay?)

IMdB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0804497/

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_pq7HKc9z8

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