May 31, 2015

Review: Alexia (2013)

Everyone takes social media for granted these days. Most people are aware of the inherent dangers that it can pose though which is definitely a good thing. Bad things can happen if you post information that's a bit too personal and it's best to avoid more controversial statements unless you want to risk not getting hired by potential employers. How about when things take a more supernatural route though? How about unfriending people who have recently died? That's what Argentinian short horror film Alexia aims to answer.

Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

Alfonso Cuarón's Prisoner of Azkaban was the first Harry Potter film of the series to stand on its own two feet. It captured the spirit of the books and it felt a lot more character-based than Philosopher's Stone or Chamber of Secrets. That's not to say that the first two movies aren't enjoyable, because they are. PoA is simply a maturation for the series and it was clear that Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire had to find a way to continue what made Prisoner so good. With Cuarón stepping down though, it wasn't going to be easy.

Enter Mike Newell who kind of surprisingly became the first British director of the series. Mostly known for Four Weddings and a Funeral, he was far from a poor choice and had experience working with young actors. Screenwriter Steve Kloves probably had one of the mot difficult jobs out of everyone though since he had to find a way to adapt J.K. Rowling's 636 page monster into something coherent. Splitting The Goblet of Fire into two movies had understandably been considered even. Where that split would occur couldn't be figured out though and we'd have to wait until The Deathly Hallows before the idea of splitting a book was revisited.

May 30, 2015

Review: Batman: The Movie (1966)

Up until the release of Batman: The Movie, there had only been three instances of DC's Batman being adapted for the big/small screen. There were two serials produced during the 1940's and one season of a TV series simply called Batman with Adam West and and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin respectively which began its three season run in 1966. Originally supposed to be the pilot episode for that same TV series, Batman: The Movie was released between season one and season two of the show instead. It honestly didn't do that well at the box office, but along with the TV series it's become camp legend.

Although I've never seen it, the TV series was extremely popular during its time. In fact, it was one of the only TV series to be broadcasted twice a week. Stars of the show which included West, Ward as well as Burgess Meredith, Cesar Romero and Frank Gorshin all came on board for the movie. The only exception here was Julie Newmar who played Catwoman. Lee Meriwether took her place for the movie, although Newmar came back for season two. Unfortunately, the popularity of the show wasn't sustainable as ratings dropped considerably by season three. Batman lives on in reruns even to this day though.

May 28, 2015

Review: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

Although I didn't know it at the time when I was fourteen and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was first released, the hiring of Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón to take over from Chris Columbus was a big deal. Rowling and the suits at Warner Bros. were ready for Harry Potter to evolve. Stylistically, Cuarón was the man to make that happen. The deciding factor that made Cuarón a candidate was most likely his work on A Little Princess which I have to admit I've never seen. Although it wasn't as well received, I believe Great Expectations also played into it. 

I don't dislike the Columbus-directed Potter movies, but I suppose I've grown out of them to a certain extent. There's a fair amount of Columbus-styled cheesiness that gets to me, but they're enjoyable family-friendly fantasy movies all the same. Fans of the books and movies were growing up though and to stay in the same gear for the entire film series would've been too dangerous from a financial point of view. The last thing Warner Brothers wanted was for audiences to lose interest. So with that in mind, Prisoner of Azkaban is a more grown up take on the magical world of Harry Potter and that's exactly what was needed.

Review: The Milky Way (1940)

For the first time since the creation of the award itself, Disney did not take home an Academy Award for Best Short Film in 1940. Metro-Goldwyn Mayer did however with their short The Milky Way. Looking back on it today, it's probably seen as maybe a bit of a contentious choice. After all, 1940 was the year of the first official Bugs Bunny cartoon called A Wild Hare as well as another MGM short that lay the groundwork for Tom and Jerry. Small fish those ain't. At least The Milky Way is cute?

May 27, 2015

Review: The Ugly Duckling (1931)

What a year 1931 was for Disney. Two years after the inception of Silly Symphony which aimed to find the perfect mix between animation and music, there were no less than ten short films released under that banner. That ties it with 1930 and 1935 in terms of quantity. What a year it was for Wilfred Jackson as well who directed six of those ten films. 

Anyhow, The Ugly Duckling was one of two Disney adaptations of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale, the other one being released in 1939 as a remake of this one. While the 1939 version isn't the most faithful adaptation out there, the 1931 version pretty much throws the original story out the window and does its own thing.

May 25, 2015

Review: X-Men: First Class (2011)

The X-Men series was in a rut ever since the release of Brett Ratner's X-Men: The Last Stand in 2006. Although the money was still coming in, the last thing Fox wanted was to see their Marvel baby die a slow death. The idea of a "young X-Men" movie had actually been kicked around during the production of The Last Stand as a spin-off/prequel movie and it made sense to move forward with the idea as Fox eventually did. They just took their sweet time getting there.

Bryan Singer, director of X-Men and X2 had been contacted about directing which would've made for a nice reunion. He had to drop out due to his commitment to Jack the Giant Slayer, although he did stay on as producer. Lucky for us, Matthew Vaughn was brought in after the surprise success of Kick-Ass. Interestingly enough, he had originally been hired as the director of X-Men: The Last Stand. He didn't stay long because of "personal and professional issues" according to Wikipedia which is probably a good thing for us. After all, maybe he would've never signed on to First Class if had ended up working on a movie that he would've most likely slogged through.

May 24, 2015

Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)

Three days after the release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, filming of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets began. That's what happens I guess when you have a young cast that will quickly going to grow out of their roles if you wait too long. Even so, the trio of Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson have visibly matured since the first movie which makes the series an interesting growing-up project as you watch these three over the years. On the opposite end of the age spectrum, this is unfortunately Richard Harris' final HP movie as he passed away during post-production of Chamber.

Chris Columbus was back in the directing chair for this one and Steve Kloves also returned as screenwriter. Like Philosopher's Stone, they took a very direct and faithful route for adapting Chamber of Secrets from its source material which can be a good and a bad thing. Either way, the last thing Warner Brothers and Chris Columbus wanted to do was alienate established fans so it's an understandable decision. Funnily enough, Chamber is the shortest book of them all but was turned into the longest movie of the entire series.

May 23, 2015

Review: Oblivion (2013)

I've somehow never seen Joseph Kosinski's directorial debut Tron: Legacy. I have heard however that it has its fair share of issues. Supposedly, it's also visually striking and it features a cool electronic score from Daft Punk. I'll admit that I'm a pretty big sucker for cool visuals in a movie and I have no doubt that Oblivion is the same way. Low critic scores have me a bit worried however that it falls into the same pattern as Tron: Legacy though.

I feel like it's been a while since I've seen a Tom Cruise movie. I think the last one I saw was Jack Reacher which is funny since he plays another character named Jack in Oblivion. It's nice to see him starring in what is an original sci-fi film in a world where sci-fi films always seem to spawn a series. A sequel could still get made sure, but I wouldn't really say that Oblivion did exceedingly well at the worldwide box office. You never know though.

May 22, 2015

Review: Ugly Duckling (1939)

The story of The Ugly Duckling needs no introduction. Everyone is familiar with the fairy tale I should think which was originally written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen and published in 1843. It was with good reason that it joined the continually expanding fairytale adaptation lineup at Disney. Funnily enough, it's actually not the first time that Disney did an adaptation of The Ugly Duckling.

Disney had already done an adaptation in 1931, but in black and white of course. As the final Silly Symphony release, Ugly Duckling is pretty much an opportunity to modernize the original film with some colour. Back when there were no movie geeks calling for Disney's head for being as lazy as remaking a movie from eight years ago, I personally think Ugly Duckling was a great way to end Silly Symphony as a way of showing how far the animation medium had come in such a short time.

May 21, 2015

Review: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001)

I saw Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone three times in theatres when it was released. I was eleven years old (the same age as Harry), I had read all the books that had been published up to that point and I was absolutely mesmerized. Even my parents were. In fact, they were the ones who insisted on seeing the movie again and again. When it was released on DVD, you bet we bought it. No question that we're pretty far away from me getting my dad to take my sister and I to go see Pokémon: The First Movie.

Anyway, adapting a series of books that already has a large following is a big deal. Obviously it was a following that would get even bigger, but it's always difficult to please everyone. One thing that I'm sure set Harry Potter up for success though was the fact that J.K. Rowling became very involved in the production of the film, such as insisting that all the cast be either English or Irish. She was not about to let Warner Brothers or Chris Columbus control everything. An animated Spielberg-directed film with Harry voiced by Haley Joel Osment anyone? Didn't think so.

May 20, 2015

Review: Listen to Britain (1942)

With Listen to Britain, I'm going out pretty far from my usual fare when it comes to the short films I've been watching lately. Why would I want to watch a mid-World War II British propaganda film? Well besides my personal quest to watch whatever comes my way, Listen to Britain is listed in some pretty prestigious film lists like They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? as well as Sight and Sound's top films from a poll in 2012. LtB appears to be one of the greatest films ever made in the UK, so that's reason enough no?

Review: X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

Even though X-Men: The Last Stand was supposed to be the final X-Men movie, was anyone surprised that Fox absolutely wanted to keep the franchise going? You always to keep a good thing going. Even with the mixed critical reception that The Last Stand got, clearly there was money to be made in X-Men. So why not a prequel going into Wolverine's past? Logan had always been a fan favourite and there were many other mutant characters with no shortage of actors to play them that could be thrown in for good measure.

Hugh Jackman himself was very much on board as well. He was involved as a producer through his film production company Seed Productions that in the end netted him $25 million. Not a bad chunk of change at all. Filming was a very messy affair unfortunately and despite a pretty decent worldwide box office take (less than The Last Stand), critical reaction was far from positive. I actually remember liking the film the first time I watched it, but opinions can sour as we all know.

May 15, 2015

Review: Elle s'appelait Sarah [Sarah's Key] (2010)

Sarah's Key is based on the novel of the same name by Tatiana de Rosnay. It's a two plot book focusing on a young Jewish girl named Sarah in France during the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup in 1942 as a modern-day journalist tries to find out what happened to her and her family. Yes, Sarah's Key is a Holocaust movie, but from the French side of things after becoming occupied by Germany which is definitely something different.

Kristin Scott Thomas stars as Julia Jarmond and she's always struck me as a talented and fascinating actress. Born in the UK, she eventually moved to Paris where she still lives to this day. Completely fluent in French, she's carved out a little niche for herself in French cinema which is pretty cool. Being able to switch back and forth from English to French is a great skill to have in real life, but it opens up some pretty interesting possibilities for movie roles as well.

May 14, 2015

Review: Jurassic Park III (2001)

A lot of things went wrong with The Lost World: Jurassic Park. At the same time though, it did have a few worthwhile moments from time to time. Admittedly, those moments were pretty rare compared to the blockbuster glory that was Jurassic Park which is an unsurprising result in the reality of diminishing returns when it comes to sequels. Was there ever any hope that Jurassic Park III was going to right the boat?

Steven Spielberg having left the director's chair was obviously a huge concern. He was still on as executive producer, but you'll find his fair share of not so great titles if you take a look at his filmography while acting as a producer. Joe Johnston took his place and there's no question that he had some pretty big shoes to fill. Strangely enough, Alexander Payne and frequent Jim Taylor were brought on as writers. Election was a great movie, but could the duo tackle the story of an almost $100 million blockbuster? That was the million dollar question.

May 13, 2015

Review: Batman and Robin (1949)

Batman (1943) may have been the first screen adaptation ever for Batman, but as we all know it's far from the only one. As the second serial for the famed character, Batman and Robin throws in some new actors for all the roles and cuts down pretty heavily on the humour. Well, it tries to anyway. That inadvertent-type comedy is still alive and well which is good news.

I slowly digested Batman and Robin over two days. I mean can you blame me? Tackling 260 minutes of old school Batman isn't necessarily the easiest of things to do if you ask me, even as a fan. It's split over fifteen parts just like Batman was and all of these "episodes" except the first one fall into the 16-18 minute range. They're almost over before you know it though which is why it was crucial for me to keep notes on each episode so I wouldn't lose track of what was going on. It's not like the titles can help you out much either since they hardly even correspond with what happens in the story.

May 11, 2015

Review: Ferdinand the Bull (1938)

Unbeknownst to me until after I had finished my post-movie reading, Ferdinand the Bull is actually based off of an illustrated children's book called The Story of Ferdinand by American author Munro Leaf. It was published right before the Spanish Civil War and caused an uproar all across Europe as it was deemed to be carrying a pacifist message. With a story centered around a bull who would rather smell flowers than fight, it was banned in quite a few countries as a result.

May 10, 2015

Review: The Old Mill (1937)

The Old Mill was Disney's 68th Silly Symphony short film out of a total of 75. Even though there were signs that Disney was focusing less and less on Silly Symphony as they planned on making the jump to feature-length animated films, experimentation was still very much part of the whole experience as it had always been.

Case in point, The Old Mill featured a multiplane camera which was invented by William Garity. To keep things simple, the camera was able to give a three-dimensional effect by using seven different layers of artwork all moving at the same time. It became a crucial tool at Disney, later used in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as well as many other films. For introducing such an innovative advancement, is it any surprise that The Old Mill won Best Animated Short at the Academy Awards?

May 9, 2015

Review: The Country Cousin (1936)

In 1936, Disney's The Country Cousin was up against MGM's The Old Mill Pond and Paramount Pictures' Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor for Best Animated Short at the Academy Awards. At this point, Disney had already taken home the award four years in a row with its Silly Symphony films since animated short films were actually included as a category. Any guesses as to who won that year?

Review: The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

Kind of like what Ian Fleming went through for James Bond, Michael Crichton was put under a lot of pressure to write a follow-up to the massive success that was Jurassic Park. It was more than a success, more like an instant icon if you will. The thing is, Crichton had never done a sequel for any of his novels before. But then again, you had Steven Spielberg himself asking for a sequel, not to mention Universal Studios having 914 ($) reasons to want another sequel out of Crichton. Talk about pressure right?

The Lost World was finally published in September of 1995, but production of the movie had already begun in the spring. That's how big this was. Ultimately, The Lost World: Jurassic Park didn't gross as much as Jurassic Park did, nor was it received as positively. Spielberg has even commented on not being that satisfied with the finished product either and it's quite possibly his worst film. Matching Jurassic Park was a near impossibility anyway, especially with all the hype The Lost World: Jurassic Park was getting before production had even begun. Matching that kind of hype is difficult to say the least.

May 7, 2015

Review: Larry-Boy and the Rumor Weed (1999)

Larry-Boy and the Rumor Weed is the second Larry-Boy entry in VeggieTales, following in the footsteps of Larry-Boy! And the Fib from Outer Space! which came out two years earlier. Trust me when I say that Fib from Outer Space! was one of the better VT videos I've seen so far, even if it only managed to get a 4 out of me. At this point, I've come to the conclusion that anything in the area of 4 is pretty solid for anything VeggieTales. I guess you could say that I had high expectations for Rumor Weed.

Around the time when Larry-Boy and the Rumor Weed was being produced, Big Idea Productions was mulling the idea of doing a feature length film. That idea eventually came to be in 2002 when Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie was released. Going from several 30 minute, poorly animated direct-to-video films a year to an animated feature length cinematic release is no small task though. Work needed to be done to get ready. There's actually an example of Big Idea trying to experiment with better animation in Rumor Weed and that's definitely a good sign.

May 6, 2015

Review: Jurassic Park (1993)

There are few films as beloved as Jurassic Park is and I'm going to hazard a guess and say that it will only become more beloved once Jurassic World is released. Nostalgia is a powerful thing and it's something that I sadly lack for Jurassic Park. I wasn't even three years old yet when JP was released, so obviously you can understand why I never saw it then. But in the time that it was later released for home video, my parents never bought or rented Jurassic Park and as a result I never got to see it until my latter years of high school.

I guess it's because my parents were never all that big into "event" movies, so I don't really blame them for not getting Jurassic Park for me. They'd rather have me and my sisters watch stuff like Canadian film Atanarjuat which effectively put an end to me being able to enjoy watching movies with my parents since I always scared there would be a nude scene coming up. Jurassic Park would've been so much better as a family film no? I even went through a dinosaur phase! Ah well, doesn't matter. Love you anyway mom and dad.

May 5, 2015

Review: The Oxford Murders (2008)

Spanish director Álex de la Iglesia is mostly known for his dark comedies. La comunidad is the only movie of his that I've seen in the past and I actually remember liking it. The Oxford Murders is a bit of a change of pace for him though since it's a straight mystery/crime film without a hint of black comedy anywhere. As a UK production, it's also Iglesia's first production outside of Spain. Sadly, it only got a theatrical release in the US two years after it had premiered in the UK. That was even after VOD rollout, so clearly there wasn't much interest in the film from distributors.

On the surface, The Oxford Murders looks semi-interesting. Most of that is due to the presence of Elijah Wood and John Hurt though. The fact that this film was pretty much ignored by distributors is still pretty worrisome and the limited critical reception that I've seen has been pretty harsh too. Who knows though, Iglesia just might find a way to make this mix of Oxford, logical series, mathematics and murders into a thrilling whodunit. Maybe.

May 4, 2015

Review: As Above, So Below (2014)

Found-footage horror movies are pretty popular to hate on these days. That's hard for me because I've been a fan of the genre ever since I saw The Blair Witch Project and even that's become a punching bag for popularizing the trend. I suppose there are some good reasons for movie watchers to be hard on found-footage since it's pretty rare to find any sort of innovation in the genre these days, but I'm all for giving movies a fair chance. As Above, So Below definitely seemed deserving of that much.

Found footage in the Catacombs of Paris? Maybe it's just me, but that premise alone sounds extremely cool. For once we're not dealing with ghosts or possessions in a house which is a nice change. Filmed in the actual Catacombs, it stars a relative bunch of unknowns and promises some shaky handheld camera mayhem. I was ready for a good time, or at least the kind of good time that horror movies can deliver if they're any good. 

May 3, 2015

Review: Toby Tortoise Returns (1936)

For Disney, 1936 seemed to be a pretty sequel-heavy period for the Silly Symphony series of films which Toby Tortoise Returns is evidently part of. Three Little Wolves and More Kittens are the other sequels. That makes three sequels out of a total of seven short films that were released that year. Compare that to the year before where Disney released ten unique films and it's my guess that Disney was slowly taking away resources from Silly Symphony as the number of releases decreased year to year as well. Why's that? To go full speed ahead with their feature length films of course. The final SS film came out in 1939. Know what else was released that year? Pinocchio and Fantasia.

May 2, 2015

Review: As Good as It Gets (1997)

No one can discount the success that James L. Brooks has had in the world of television or film. Being one of the creators of The Simpsons will definitely do that for you. Out of everything he's done though, one of his most impressive accomplishments to me was writing, producing and directing Terms of Endearment which is without a doubt one of the best "chick flicks" out there. Yes, even if you're a guy. The film won for Best Picture, Director and Screenplay Adapted from Another Medium at the Academy Awards that year and it was very deserved if you ask me.

As Good as It Gets is the first reunion between Brooks and Jack Nicholson since Terms of Endearment after fourteen years. You can't forget that Hollywood is full of failed reunions though. Still, I think it's pretty fair to expect good things from these two getting back together. They'd have another reunion in 2010 with How Do You Know, but it's pretty obvious just by looking at its poster that it's a run-of-the-mill romantic comedy. It was exactly that when I watched it a few years ago too. As Good as It Gets looks to be far better than that and it doesn't take much of an investigation to come to that conclusion.

May 1, 2015

Review: Batman (1943)

In 2015, superhero movies are inescapable. Even that crazy old lady down the street knows who Iron Man is these days. We got Avengers: Age of Ultron as the continuing conglomeration of Marvel's superheroes into one film being released very shortly and next year we'll be getting Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice which very obviously includes two of DC's most popular. That's not even counting all the solo movies that we've had like Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Man of Steel. Superhero movies are a fact of life now, so just accept it.

We've come so far and superheroes are clearly not just for the "nerds" anymore. Going back in time, Bob Kane and Bill Finger came up with the concept for "the Bat-Man" in 1939 following the success of Superman. Making his first appearance in Detective Comics #27 in May, Batman eventually got his own solo comic in 1940. It wouldn't be too much longer before he got his first film treatment. It's true, this 15-part Batman serial produced by Columbia Pictures may be more than easy to laugh at now, but it's still a piece of history that would only be the start for a character who has become a cultural icon.