Monday, April 22, 2013

The Usual Suspects (Movie Review)

     With all the fast past and explosive action movies that bring in tones of money all the time these days, it’s so refreshing to get a smart, tightly scripted, thinkers movie that’s heavy on dialog and stands as an interesting character study but feels just as exciting and engaging as any big action flick. The 1995 motion picture titled “The Usual Suspects” is one such film that takes the ingredients of a good heist movie and presents it in a way that’s so creative and interesting that it stands as a benchmark in the mystery and thriller genera.   

     The plot goes like this, five criminals are pulled in by the cops for a line up. Their names are McManus (played by Stephen Baldwin), Keaton (played by Gabriel Byrne), Fenster (played by Benicio Del Toro), Hockney (played by Kevin Pollak) and the most memorable of all is Verbal (played by Kevin Spacey). Shortly after being released, it becomes apparent that they were all drawn together for a reason. The five are soon approached by a man representing a mysterious criminal mastermind named Keyser Soze, a widely-feared and sinister man. Apparently this mysterious gangster wants our five criminals to raid a ship containing a drug shipment, kill everyone on-board and collect a large sum of cash. 

     The brilliance of this movie is that it’s told primarily through flashbacks and voice over’s. Verbal, the fifth member of these suspected criminals is being interrogated by the police and the chain of events gradually unfolds before us. The mystery deepens, the tension builds higher and higher, leading to a thrilling climax and resolving in one of the best twist endings ever. A revelation that’s so unexpected yet so obvious all at the same time, you’ll be kicking yourself in the head for not expecting it. Even if you do see this twist coming, it’s still very effective, especially when we see how all the dots actually connect and the final line spoken in this movie is so tense and fitting that it leaves me with chills every time.  
     Everything about this movie is just done so well. Directer Bryan Singer (who's best known for directing the first two "X-Men" movies) and screen writer Christopher McQuarrie were the two perfect artists to bring this movie to life. The performances are all top notch, portraying their varied characters with lots of personality and even a little sympathy. Of cores the star who completely steels the show is Kevin Spacey in the role of Verbal and even won an academy award for best supporting actor thanks to this performance. The faceless villain, Keyser Soze is also very memorable, his back story is just so cryptic and the philosophy behind him is even more intriguing, but it shows truth that sometimes you don’t know your enemy until he disappears before your eyes.  
      I know this isn’t as much of a movie review as it is a recommendation but there’s really no proper way to do this film justice. It’s just a very unique and well constructed mystery thriller that just gets more and more admirable with age. Also, for anyone who’s desensitized by big, spectacle driven action flicks, I highly recommend taking a break and giving this film a chance because it proves how exciting versatile characters and solid writing can really be. I give “The Usual Suspects” 4 stars.         

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Dream Works Animated Movies: How I'd Rate Them

I’ve talked a lot about how much I love Disney and Pixar but I also really like the DreamWorks animated collection, so why not give tribute where it’s do and rate all the theatrical animated DreamWorks movies, with my own personal  opinion.  

Antz (1998)

  My personal score is 7.5/10 

DreamWorks very first animated movie is still just as fun as when I was a kid, thanks to a stellar voice cast, good humor and technically dazzling animation, especially for the time.

The Prince of Egypt (1998)

 My personal Score is 10/10

Now here’s a movie that’s just epic, everything this film does is huge, the scope is big, there’s some incredible visuals, the emotion is deep, the conflicts between the hero and the villain are stirring, the musical numbers are outstanding, the morals are wholesome, and it brings a timeless story to life with so much dignity to the source material.
Oscar Nomination - Best Original Music 
Oscar Win - Best Original Song ("When You Believe") 

The Road to El Dorado (2000)

  My personal score is 8.5/10.

With the joyfully banter between voice actors Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh, some beautifully colored animation, a nostalgic soundtrack provided by Elton John, plenty of comedy, lots of character charms and exciting scenes allow “The Road to El Dorado” to stand as a very pleasant, (albeit undemanding)  diversion, and I still love it.  

Chicken Run (2000)

  My personal score is 6.5/10

It’s certainly a competent entry in the DreamWorks cannon, and even worth a look, but personally it just doesn’t have the same re-watchable enjoyment or laughs of other DreamWorks films, and mostly just comes off as "perfectly good, but I don't love it either" to me. 

Shrek (2001) 

  My personal score is 7/10

I’m one of the few kids that didn’t love the first "Shrek" movie when it first premiered, and while I still have some small problems with it, the film has certainly grown on me over the years, the characters are memorable, I like all the fairy tale charms, the hummer is still very good, and I've come to regard it as a small classic in its own right.
Oscar Win - Best Animated Picture (First Best Animated Picture Winner Ever!)

Spirit - Stallion of the Cimarron (2002) 

  My personal score is 7.5/10

It replaces the laughs and charms of other animated films with a far more mature story and tone, making this one of the most admiral DreamWorks movies, but not one of the most re-watchable. 
Oscar Nomination - Best Animated Picture 

Sinbad - Legend of the Seven Seas (2003)

  My personal score is 6/10

Boring lead characters and insufferable puns drag this movie down but the adventure elements are at least exciting enough, and this film dose at least feature one of the coolest villains I've ever seen in an animated movie. 

Shrek 2 (2004)

  My personal score is 9.5/10

Hands down, the best in the long running “Shrek” series, the returning characters are back and better than ever, and this time we get some outstanding new supporting characters to join the fun, most notably Puss in Boots who completely steals the show. The animation is great, the comedy is some of the funniest to be featured in an animated movie and the story is quiet sweet, even romantic in its own simplistic way.  
Oscar Nomination - Best Animated Picture

Shark Tale (2004)

  My personal score is 6/10

The critic within me says this film is stupid and flawed, but the child within me says it’s fun to hear Will Smith in an animated film, the musical selection is quiet enjoyable, the animation is pleasant, I really like this silly underwater world and it at least has something of a message for young viewers. 
Oscar Nomination - Best Animated Picture

Madagascar (2005)

  My personal score is 5/10

It’s cute, the characters are memorable, the penguins certainly make it worthwhile, but it’s still very standard and looms in the shadows of its two superior sequels. 

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)

  My personal score is 7/10

Even though I didn’t fully appreciate Wallace and Gromit as a kid, I’ve come to regard them as really special characters for children’s entertainment, and the movie is a true delight, with no shortage of crafty set pieces, fun in-side jokes, a brisk pace and lots of genuine charms that are lacking in today’s entertainment for the young. 
Oscar Win - Best Animated Picture

Over the Hedge (2006)

  My personal score is 4/10

I never read the comics that this film was based off of, and after watching this silly film, I'm not all that interested. There are some funny jokes, but's it's just not that recommendable either, there are simply much better family films out there than this. 

Flushed Away (2006)

  My personal score is 8/10

With a talented voice cast, lots of energy, clean jokes (and some brilliant in-jokes), an imaginative world and some really detailed animation, “Flushed Away” surpasses its small expectations and turns out to be a really fun little animated adventure.  

Shrek the Third (2007)

  My personal score is 2/10

I’ve seen worse films, but this is still a disappointing follow up to a great sequel, sacrificing all the heart, charms and genuine joy from the first two “Shrek” films to make way for overly frantic jokes and a tired plot that reduces the characters to dull and predictable stereotypes of themselves. Personally, I think it's the worst of the DreamWorks collection.

Bee Movie (2007)

  My personal score is 3/10

Despite some small creativity and even some impressive  animation, Bee Movie” just lacks any real charm and cant compensate for it's incredibly strange premise, dull characters, confused message and boring tone.  

Kung Fu Panda (2008)

  My personal score is 8/10

Everything about this film just works, thanks to a top-notch voice cast that brings these charming characters to life, the morals are great for kids, and it boasts a pleasing mix of humor with swift martial arts action.
Oscar Nomination - Best Animated Picture

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008)

  My personal score is 7/10 

The story is far more competent, the characters are given more depth, the jokes are still good and it provides far more simple charms than it’s predecessor.

Monsters vs. Aliens (2009)

  My personal score is 6/10

Even though Monsters vs. Aliens” is brought down by its mostly forgettable characters, average storytelling and one too many stupid jokes, the premise is still a lot of fun and offers plenty of worthwhile scenes. 

How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
  My personal score is 10/10

With all the frantic jokes and non-stop pop-culture references that are so frequent in other Dream works films (heck, other kids films), this movie spends it’s time telling a great story with honest dramatic depth, wholesome morals and excellent characters. Throw in some dazzling animation, breath taking flight sequences, exciting action, and it makes this movie a sheer spectacle that hardly any other animated movie can match up to. Personally, I think it's the greatest movie to come from the Dreamworks animation collection, and one of my top 5 ... heck, top 3 favorite animated movies I've ever seen.  
Oscar Nomination - Best Animated Picture
Oscar Nomination - Best Original Music 

Shrek Forever After (2010)

  My personal score is 6/10

So it’s not as good as the other “Shrek” films and it isn’t even that funny, but everything that made the series great is at least celebrated in this relatively entertaining, alternate reality film. It’s just a nice little cheery to be placed on top of the series and brings everything to a satisfying conclusion.

Megamind (2010)

  My personal score is 9/10

An ingeniously original premise that both spoofs and celebrates classic superhero cliches, and is strung together with top notch animation, a brisk pase, funny jokes that never go overbord, a rockin sound track and great characters that are as entertaining as they are sympathetic, most especiaclly Will Ferrell who delivers a very energetic and livly performence as Megamind.

Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)

  My personal score is 8/10

Featuring a menacing new villain, non-stop action and top notch animation, “Kung Fu Panda 2“ still keeps it’s cahacters in the loop, develuping them furthur and provides a fun time for the familly.
Oscar Nomination - Best Animated Picture

Puss in Boots (2011)

  My personal score is 6/10

My favorite character in the “Shrek” series gets a nice little adaption and while it doesn't live up to it's full potential, it at least has some genuine charms, most notably the fun banter between Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek in their respected roles.
Oscar Nomination - Best Animated Picture

Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted (2012)

  My personal score is 9/10

The Madagascar movie’s have a certain talent for taking everything that was great with its previous installment and making it even better with each new film, and this third entry in the series stands as solid family entertainment, with an ensemble of fun new characters, lots of energy, fast jokes and some dazzlingly colorful animation. 

Rise of the Guardians (2012)

  My personal score is 7/10

Bringing all the classic holiday characters together for a fast passed and fun adventure was an interesting idea, and was pulled off wonderfully. The characters are a lot of fun, and their new designs are very creative. It’s just a fun holiday adventure for kids and adults alike.

The Croods (2013)

  My personal score is 6/10

The characters, story and message are all too familiar, however, it’s still enjoyable, fast paced and provides an imaginative world with fascinating creatures and some beautiful animation, making this decent, derivative entertainment.
Oscar Nomination - Best Animated Picture 

Turbo (2013)

  My personal score is 5/10

While "Turbo" isn't exactly a highly recommendable movie, or that masterfully created either, it's still genuinely likable thanks to it's off the wall crazy premise, up-beat tone and colorful animation ... just don't expect anything all that special.  

Mr. Peabody & Sherman (2014) 

 My personal score is 7.5/10

While I really didn't know a thing about the original source material before I saw this movie, I will say that on it's own, "Mr. Peabody and Sherman" is a very pleasant little diversion, with likable characters, a brisk pace and is a really fun time travel adventure.   

How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

  My personal score is 10/10

Improving on the original in every way a good sequel should, with stronger characters, more human drama, a lot more dragons, plenty of comedy, better flight scenes and some top notch animation. "How to Train your Dragon 2" is every bit as stunning, beautiful and uplifting as it's predecessor and in many respects is superior. 
Oscar Nomination - Best Animated Picture

Penguins of Madagascar (2014)

My personal score is 5.5/10

The trend of every Madagascar movie getting better with each film stops here. While this Penguins spin-off isn't without it's share of zany fun and a hand full of chuckles, it's still very passive, suffering from repetitive antics, and an overly frantic tone that will likely turn of anyone that's either not a kid or really young at heart. 

Home (2015)

My personal score is 6/10

Dream Works "Home" is an admittedly cute and colorful film with lots of silly, bubbly fun for kinds, but by the end of the day it doesn't hold a candle to other superior family films out there, and wont leave much of a lasting impression, but it's still a passive diversion.  

Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016)

My personal score is 8/10

While I've never called myself a fan of this trilogy, I've still liked every film that came from the Kung Fu Panda series, and this final instalment is no exception. 
Mixing beautiful animation and fast comedy with classic philosophy and honest moral substance, "Kung Fu Panda 3" is another great DreamWorks sequel and gives meaningful closure to the series.

Trolls (2016)

       My personal Score is 7/10

Fluffy, sparkly, bouncy, colorful fun for little kids, or the very young at heart, and while not a demanding family film, it's admittedly better then an adaption of the popular troll doll toys had any right to be.

Oscar Nomination - Best Original Song ("Can't Stop the Feeling") 

Boss Baby (2017)

My personal Score is 4.5/10

Judging from this film’s awful promotional material and silly premise, I expected it to stink worse than yesterday’s dippers, then to my surprise the film actually wasn’t without some imaginative visual flare, and appeal, but it’s still not a “good” movie by any means.  

Oscar Nomination - Best Animated Picture


Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (2017)

      My personal Score is 3.5/10

Dream-works must be running on fumes to keep making adaptions of dated material. Personally, I never read any of the popular books, and as someone with no prior nostalgia for Captain Underpants, I had to judge it as a film on it's own, and while I'm sure long time fans or even new fans will be more then satisfied ... I for one have no desire to ever look back on this again.   

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019) 

My personal score is 10/10 

From 2010 all the way through 2019, the “How to Train Your Dragon” series has been one of my most cherished long running franchises, which has expanded through sequels, shorts and TV shows, and now it all comes to a close with a deeply fulfilling final chapter. While I’d put “The Hidden World” just underneath it’s two predecessors, it was still unmistakably a powerful, beautifully animated, and largely entertaining swan song for the series. It was one of those special movie going experiences that felt like an event, as if I completed a journey that began nearly ten years ago, and now we have a truly great trilogy for a modern age … along with “Star Wars” and “Lord of the Rings”, I think “How to Train Your Dragon” can now be categorized as one of the great movie trilogies.