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Given its movie-epic flair, “Queen of the Desert” is pretty enough to be watchable for its sweeping desert landscapes, picturesque British countryside, glorious 20th-century architecture, and classy period costumes. However, the story’s structure ultimately fails. Much of the problem comes from the acting, which is clearly a hit or miss, often the latter, and the episodic pacing that almost never engrosses the audience, even during the supposedly very emotional moments.

Based on the true story of the life of British explorer and adventurer Gertrude Bell, this underwhelming piece of cinema, surprisingly helmed by the respectable Werner Herzog, chronicles a journey through love, loss, and coping up in the eyes of a curious and adventurous woman way ahead of her time.

Nicole Kidman as Gertrude Bell doesn’t look desert-hardened despite the character she portrays. Her joys and pains remain quite difficult to understand even by the film’s end. There is barely any persuasive emotional depth invested on her character. While her maturity as an actress comes into place at certain times, the disappointing storytelling structure lacks both the sweep and psychological complexity the story desperately needs. The narrative remains passionless and devoid of layers that should have come from the trailblazing archaeologist and politician Bell’s many extraordinary adventures in the 1920s Middle East.

The conflicts of love and tragedy lets down as any death that comes in the story is not in any way impactful for the audience. Viewers are unable to get that crucial emotional attachment to root for the characters and their plight. All details that unfold come as they are without emotional investment of any kind for the audience to keep up with.

Robert Pattison as T.E. Lawrence is completely disappointing, rendering no depth to his persona to impose himself as Lawrence of Arabia. The emptiness in his character becomes the most dominant element in his role, especially whenever he utters his lines. Peter O’Toole could have probably cringed if he’s still alive and saw this unfortunate portrayal of his iconic character.

James Franco as Henry Cadogan adds a bit of spice to the bland sketches of male roles presented throughout the tale, but the film’s storytelling betrays his fate in the narrative that he is still unable to garner any form of convincing impact in the story.


‘Queen of the Desert’ Film Review: Beautifully Empty
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[Total: 1    Average: 4/5]

Inside Out movie review

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“Inside Out” is a powerfully moving animated piece about the importance of sadness in human life. Daring to explore the existential crises of the human mind and the emotions that affect one’s life, this formidably ingenious film works like a thesis or research project. With a material that strikes as a reflection on the power of emotions, it targets the family audience, particularly those with ages ranging from pre-teen to adult.

Packaged as a movie set inside someone’s head and how the mind and the emotions work together, the story presents a strikingly endearing take on a young girl’s growing pains as she encounters wave after wave of personal and familial problems. While traversing the bumpy road ahead of her, she also finds herself struggling to come to terms with puberty.

The narrative revolves around Riley, a sweet girl from Minnesota who gets uprooted from her Midwest life after her family’s financial struggle leads them to San Francisco. With the loss of the comfort of her childhood home, the company of her dearest friends, and the camaraderie of her hockey team, turmoil ensues inside her mind’s “Headquarters,” the control center where her emotions Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger live and help her through her everyday life. When Joy, her main and most important emotion, accidentally gets lost with Sadness, the arduous journey to get back to the Headquarters coincides with Riley’s progressing depressive state while navigating her new city.

The tale begins a bit too verbose for the youngest viewers, but the gorgeous imagery and colors often help keep most people’s eyes glued to the screen. This poignant entry to the Pixar catalog hits an elusive sweet spot with its fiercely sweet approach to animated filmmaking. In portraying both the intelligence and the fragility of a child’s mind, it encourages viewers to talk more openly about their feelings — although its theme’s complexity may be lost on the younger viewers. It plays around the intricacies of human decisions, actions, and motivations and turns the unexplainable into a stuff of grand drama.

As an ambitious motion picture, its epic journey across a fantastic landscape delivers such an empathetic answer to the question “What is going on inside one’s head?” What remains consistent in the film is its impressive level of intellectual-emotional exploration. Ticking so many boxes without feeling contrived, the level of conceptual cleverness and visual design utilized in the story creates tender magic on the big screen. It challenges the viewers to dream, play around the profundity of the subconscious, and understand life’s highs and lows better. With its deeply thoughtful insights on how sadness is as much a part of life as joy, it suggests that true happiness doesn’t just involve the feeling of perpetual joy, but rather a balance of all emotions that make one human. It effectively hits the viewer by mapping the human mind to a much broader palette and putting the workings of the human psyche front and center.

This feature’s computer-generated pixels and keen attention to detail meet the challenge to surprise and delight. It offers thrilling audacity to its audience with how it dares to convert abstract elements into luminously beautiful and dynamic visuals. It handles its intricate material with striking balance through a satisfying presentation of the human psyche. Using its own madcap, non-preachy way, the dazzling wit of its storytelling becomes a means of answering the intangible aspects of human emotions and visiting one’s subconscious — without bordering on the too serious, goofy, or irreverent. The picture’s colorful imagery and inventive situations offer an emotional roller-coaster ride to connect to the viewers and keep their attention.

More than its clear technical achievement, this ambitious candy-colored adventure offers a brilliant piece of writing that takes the idea of emotions to a whole different level. Crafty, playful, thought-provoking, and mood-moving all at once, both its humor and pathos promote the exploration of some of the most basic human emotions and how they work together to make people who they are. With jokes that are as funny as they are imaginative, it approaches the happy and the meaningfully sad by entertainingly penetrating the mind with bursts of imagination. It packs an emotional punch through tender wisdom and emotional punches. It also provides a nuanced yet elegant depiction of depression, as well as how interactions and memories affect human behavior.

This existential picture is an emotionally mature yet genuinely funny cinematic treat. Coming from a material that is very difficult to pull off, it maintains a believable humanity, while being intellectually engrossing and heartwarming at the same time. Interestingly, it succeeds where a lot of heavy, serious, and thematically complex live-action movies have failed.

As a brisk and effortlessly charming affair, it doesn’t just connect human emotions to people’s manner of processing ideas, it also turns them into engaging characters that wrap lessons in behavioral science into an ambitious and visually dazzling head trip.

Bold, sweet, funny, and heartbreakingly sad in various scenes, this wonderful piece of family entertainment boasts a wealth of spectacular voice talents including Amy Poehler as Joy, Phyllis Smith as Sadness, Mindy Kaling as Disgust, Bill Hader as Fear, and Lewis Black as Anger. As an ensemble, they are able to combine simplicity with the extraordinary, as well as the daring with the sophisticated. Its marvelous mounting of the human mind makes its patrons feel like visiting a laboratory that is crossed with a rainbow.

A worthwhile way to spend cash while consuming emotions in cinematic form, this significant contribution to pop culture by the people behind Pixar is another outstanding addition to the studio’s library. It offers a universality that makes it an instant classic. Its moving storytelling deeply touches through a fireworks display of fizzing ideas, as if it is designed to alternate on triggering the tear ducts and the facial muscles. It is easy to love this type of film when watching it for the first time, but it will prove even more enjoyable after repeated viewings.

‘Inside Out’ Film Review: Happy + Sad
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[Total: 1    Average: 5/5]

Spy movie review

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“Spy” takes a deliriously funny girl-power angle to its espionage movie package. Exceeding expectations, it charms with its no-holds-barred spoofs that are finely crafted into its action and comic elements. Its physical comedy turns out robust and intense without resorting to typically overused farcical treats. Its greatest strength comes from its rightful dose of empowering action and embarrassing incidents rendered in equal measure. All these turn out quite likeable through its potently funny lead actress who finally lands a role very much worthy of her talent.

This spoof sub-genre offering tells the tale of the deskbound CIA analyst Susan Cooper. After a tragic loss, she finds herself working undercover to avenge her partner who falls off the grid while trying to prevent an impending global terrorist act by a deadly arms dealer. So from being the insecure unsung hero on a dead-end desk job, she suddenly undertakes one of the agency’s most dangerous missions and eventually transforms herself into the most reliable spies ever to grace the CIA. Putting herself more and more at risk in every appearance of an annoying top agent whose compromised status prevents him from taking the mission, Susan further proves she is more than just a desperate choice and an unlikely replacement. She shows how much of a top-notch agent she can be through her quick-witted decisions and natural fighting skills.

This entertaining parody tastefully dismantles the genre it belongs to. The smart script utilizes neat plot twists while doing some wonderfully seditious feminist undertakings in its own comic ways. There are enough twists to make its spy-spoof parts engaging.

Working as a clear takedown of Hollywood’s “007” franchise right from its opening credits, this action-comedy flick puts a feminist twist to the story and makes the details work on a ridiculously straightforward level. It instinctively promotes its spy thriller side by not skimping on the action. Lighting, camerawork, and set pieces complement the acting performances. What makes the tale more interesting is how it succeeds in presenting its kick-ass lead female character beyond the Hollywood female stereotype. Its off-the-wall humor also becomes a breather as it consistently shows the women in awesome action and comedy, while the presence of males in various mission-oriented scenes always makes things worse on screen.

Writer-director Paul Feig has a full grasp of a material that could have possibly ended up in the dumb-movie route in the wrong hands. He is able to draw the best out of his characters in a narrative that bathes in many ridiculous plot points. His storytelling remains committed to the flavor he wants for the film and ends up delivering scores of laughs throughout.

The cast members help elevate this motion picture above the average comedy level. They seem pretty game for anything that they commit themselves to the ridiculous material and they end up owning most scenes, if not all scenes, they are in.

Melissa McCarthy as Susan Cooper anchors the material with empowering charisma and talent that she may just have worked in her first starring franchise. This motion picture is likely to end up as a box office hit with the usually supporting or co-headlining actress McCarthy now getting the main role she deserves in this full-throttle star vehicle. Her versatile take on her character sustains the comic showcase the story needs. In this movie, the viewers are asked to laugh with her, not at her.

Rose Byrne consistently works as a hilariously scene-stealing villain. Jude Law offers a campy-style acting that fits the bill. Jason Statham delights with his tough-man persona, which is clearly utilized for comic effects. The rest of the supporting performances turns out as acting gems that make the story even more deliriously fun from beginning to end.

‘Spy’ Film Review: Delirious spy fun
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[Total: 2    Average: 3.5/5]

San Andreas movie review

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“San Andreas” is predictable fun that hits the disaster territory. It is a heaving mess of a tale with senses-shattering effects to keep many eyes glued to the screen. Its fault is in its storytelling choices, which lack convincing depth and plotting.

This disaster movie presents the classic case of scale and spectacle over story. Its crumbling down California and Nevada sequences showcase pretty competent effects, but its narrative elements render nothing but cracks and crevices throughout. With no emotional weight for the most part, this predictable flick is best watched for its special effects showcase more than anything else.

The story revolves around a heroic public servant whose hang-ups with his dysfunctional family let him feel like it’s the end of the world — until a real worldwide disaster of epic proportions strikes. Every bit of the tale is based on the long overused disaster flick formula. There’s this heroic guy who can’t save his marriage as his ex-wife moves in with her flashy new beau; there’s that haunting past about the loving father failing to save his daughter’s life; there’s that romantic spark between two teens who eventually struggle to survive like the rest of the people around them; there are these scientist partners who stumble into a discovery of the worst type of earthquake to ever hit the world; and there are some heroic and not so heroic casualties that clearly add to the high body count from the seemingly never-ending shaking of the tectonic plates.

This earthquake flick directed by Brad Peyton opens up with great promise. The helicopter-saving-the hanging car sequence works well in its creative build to really kick-start things, as if all the energy in the movie’s need for mood and atmosphere gets focused in it. But as soon as the earthquake issues begin to dominate the tale, the ground opens up to a sadly familiar wasteland that swallows whole the potential for a good film. In no time, this plot-driven picture quickly degenerates from blissfully promising to fatally frustrating.

The cinematic offering’s template is so familiar that characters and plot points can be easily replaced by those from older disaster movies, with the latest possibly being the Roland Emmerich behemoth “2012.” The formula is so clear that this motion picture seems like “2012” reincarnated — only with a different family on the spotlight, but same everything: a family with relationship problems; a sidekick dying but still saving someone during the process; the smartest scientist in the world alongside media people warning everyone about the impending doom; the stepfather being a jerk as soon as the earthquake happens; and the hero of the story getting all the luck in the world by getting all-access rides via a helicopter, a plane, a truck, and a motorboat, inclusive of each split-second maneuvering to escape just about every falling building and other structural debris behind him.

While it is true that there are some engrossing moments in between the chaos of digitally produced action set pieces, it really doesn’t matter how impressively the buildings collapse if the suspension of disbelief is lacking. With the narrative’s loopholes and the endless list of forced details in the script, the viewers passively take the survival and non-survival scenarios as overdone and anything-but-realistic, which shall eventually lead to the material’s old-school commercial values largely slipping away from their memory.

In impressively blending practical shots and CG techniques for such a decently budgeted disaster blockbuster, the relentlessly over-the-top fun works more like disaster porn. Outstanding action with heart-stopping stunts abound. But amidst the fair amount of individually working destruction scenes, the picture ironically offers minimal tension because the story completely drives away from the sentimentality, emotionality, and/or profundity of the proceedings. The money’s worth is clearly geared towards watching the thrilling audio-visual flair, but a fair amount of storytelling wit could have saved the narrative. The special effects look sturdy; the relationships look weak.

What saves this movie from getting buried into the planet’s core is the charisma of its lead character Chief Ray Gaines played by the impossibly charismatic former wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Even with the weak dialogue plaguing the screenplay, he is still able to swing in to the rescue while delivering plenty of muscular thrills for the not so demanding audience. With a wry smile, a squint, or a jaw-dropped expression, he often owns the screen to present a Rock-buster picture where the rock-solid hero is always ready to save everyone he could. Overall, the woody characterizations in this movie, which also stars Carla Gugino as Ray’s estranged wife Emma, Alexandra Daddario as Ray’s daughter Blake, Paul Giamatti as the scientist Lawrence, Ioan Gruffudd as Emma’s new lover Daniel, Hugo Johnstone-Burt as Blake’s love interest Ben, and Art Parkinson as Ben’s brother Ollie, are generally able to carry their roles into either the conventionally likeable or acceptable route until each character falls right through the script holes.

This movie’s epicenter is found in the middle of action and mayhem. Its magnitude reaches the top of the scale of mainstream formula. Its intensity boasts digital destruction with characters and plot being less than structurally sound. It is disappointing to know how it is being marketed as an earnest human drama that offers some informative details about what to do during an earthquake — a worthwhile and timely endeavor indeed. However, it merely allows the viewers to spend two hours admiring the work of visual and sound effects artists and technicians.

‘San Andreas’ Film Review: Epicenter disaster
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[Total: 1    Average: 5/5]

Mad Max: Fury Road movie review

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“Mad Max: Fury Road” is supercharged with its own dose of resonant mythmaking. This action spectacle is not without flaws, but whatever narrative heft it lacks miraculously loses its ground in the storytelling — thanks to its adrenaline pill’s maximum overdrive of fun and pleasure. It proves a significant point that when done with the careful combination of heart, effort, and talent, a glorious symphony of violence, action, and manic flair can overcome the need for perfect story. The spectacle ends up so engrossing that it easily overshadows the questionable parts of the tale.

This “Mad Max” flick has more than just “What a lovely day” can offer.

This exhilarating piece of post-apocalyptic popcorn is loaded with fine madness in every nook and cranny of it. Early on, it readily gears up for a desert adventure full of mind-blowing action sequences to rival just about any other awesome action sequence ever to grace the big screen. Add up the subversive wit, propulsive momentum, feminist roar, and hilarious sexual politics and you get a full-throttle action flick that is inexplicably kick ass in every way.

Milking on the franchise for the fourth time after three decades, this “Mad Max” reboot, still helmed by the ultimate “Mad Max” hero George Miller, works as a road movie centering on the escape of an unlikely group from the greedy men in control of human’s basic resources. This leads to a feature film-long chase where a cult of manipulators and the manipulated do everything they can to catch the ragtag team led by Furiosa and Max.

This motion picture makes a stark statement about humanity’s violent tendencies. Imagine how these maniacs survived the world’s end and how they would probably blow it up again if they get the chance to take whatever’s left. Another interesting point in this film is how it becomes a testosterone and estrogen mash up. Max, Furiosa, and the rest of the escape group develop interactions and varying human relationships more than gender, culture, and beliefs and beyond what their wild society defines and dictates.

Plot, subtlety, logic, and character development get tossed out the window at the expense of staging a triumph of kinetic action in this motion picture. Interestingly, it succeeds in doing that as its hyper-accelerated rush of oil-fisted explosiveness spot-on hits that elusive nerve for insane entertainment to tickle the fanboys and the fangirls.

As an epitome of a badass thrill ride, this scrap-metal demolition derby makes it a point that the action never stops — unless a few good seconds of breathing time should be counted as such. The well-thought-of audio-visual frivolities are a lot of fun. They turn out as pure guilty pleasure from start to finish. The practical effects and stunts are nothing short of jaw-dropping. Knowing how much of the sets and props are real and completely functional, including the fire-wielding guitar and the speaker truck housing it, adds to that already bone-jarring, visceral impact of this limitlessly inventive masterpiece.

The spectacle promotes gloriously crackling entertainment envisioned by such a brilliant maestro. Full of relentless imagination aptly realized on screen, this two hours worth of rolling thunder is clearly targeted for action junkies. The presentation suggests that this picture is deliberately meant as an overdose of monumental thrills. An incredible array of physical objects moves through its cinematic space in unique ways that each frame can work as awesome wallpaper. Moreover, it lays out all the crazy on screen all at once without losing focus. Everything is an orgy of the loud, the louder, and the loudest.

From the cinematography to the production design, this towering, weird-ass heavy metal of a film suddenly redefines the action template. It sets a new gold standard for action cinema. Its action pieces make many other blockbusters, superhero flicks, and special effects-savvy offerings look like they were rough tests and B-movie projects.

Displaying a perfect balance of practical and CG effects, what primarily sets this movie apart from its contemporaries is how much it feels homegrown and handmade while still maximizing the benefit of digital wizardry. Its revved up vision showcases such a gloriously twisted design fitting its theme, story, and even its social context. It doesn’t try hard to incorporate its key messages and it just fits enough to make a hyper-accelerated rush of weirdness and insanity rightfully orchestrated to both entertain and tickle social values.

This gorgeously rendered warfare of a flick injects ferocious fuel into the franchise to fire up its sequel cylinders. If this is bait for another trilogy, looks like a good number of old and new patrons will be willing to line up for more adventures with George Miller and his team.

More than just its technical brilliance, the acting performances led by Ton Hardy as Max Rockatansky and Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa deliver a significant contribution in achieving the film’s revolutionary effect. While subjective, the ironically toned down madness of Max in the story works well with how he shares the stage with the equally toned down yet equally kick-ass Furiosa. Together, they shine amidst all the crazy elements around. They complement the insanity of their surroundings.

The way the rest of the characters are made to behave on screen promotes a strange kind of flavor for the storytelling, regardless of their level of acting skills. Miller really makes the ensemble work — making perfection even out of the imperfections. Supporting roles including those of Nicholas Hoult as Nux, Hugh Keays-Byrne as Immortan Joe, Josh Helman as Slit, Nathan Jones as Rictus Erectus, and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Zoe Kravitz, Riley Keough, Courtney Eaton, and Abbey Lee as The Wives keep up with the needs of the narrative accordingly.

“Fury Road” is beautifully strange, violent, and thrilling. It may be flawed in terms of character development and plot details, but it is undeniably a flawless piece of crazy entertainment. Its whirlwind of fire accelerates to breathtaking heights that nothing else matters.

So buckle up because this is one hell of a ride. It’s mad as hell, but it’s one wild ride worth taking.

‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ Film Review: Mad symphony + feminine fury
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[Total: 0    Average: 0/5]

Ice Age Dawn of the Dinosaurs movie review

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“X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” the first spin-off in the “X-Men” character flicks, is a considerably reliable, action-packed first attempt for an “X-Men” origin story. It largely succeeds on having Hugh Jackman back with his adamantium claws, with his charisma breathing the fire into  this superhero movie. For its scale and ambition, this motioni picture promotes heart and action through its own Shakespearean-style tragedy. However, amidst the strength of its regenerative charm as one of the “X-Men” pop culture favorites, the rather pedestrian and superficial parts of the script, the extravagantly loopy plotlines, and some by-the-number action spots weaken the film.

This film is not great. It is not bad neither. It still feels very much like every other mediocre comic-book adaptation. Some genuine archetypes and myths find their way into the mix, but the overflow of half-baked ideas adds to the clutter. It marries action and melodrama in a superficially cinematic way that half of it works while the other half becomes a major drawback for not having that much-needed deft for the material.

On the surface, director Gavin Hood mounts an action-packed adventure featuring Wolverine’s back story. Wolverine’s appeal proves strong with his mystery and origins uncovered for the thrills. The opening sequence looks promising. The emotional exploration on the relationship between Logan and his brother Victor is surrounded with superb action set pieces and a few complex character interactions.

With Hugh Jackman back with his adamantium claws as Wolverine, he uplifts the weaker parts of the film into a pretty watchable fare. He captures the essence of the lead character. This origins story would collapse under the weight of its unpolished parts if not for his considerable acting prowess, as well as his effective acting dynamics with Liev Schreiber. They know how to give good growls as Logan/Wolverine and Victor/Sabretooth. How Logan and Victor grew up as brothers provides the essence to the story. From there, things pick up toward the inner conflicts of Logan’s character.

Taylor Kitsch as Remy LeBeau/Gambit turns out as a pretty good addition to the movie. Amidst being a secondary character with very short screen time, he makes a lasting impression without upstaging the main characters. Overall, the ensemble cast uncompromisingly plays for keeps: Lynn Collins as Kayla Silverfox; Danny Huston as William Stryker; Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson/Deadpool; Kevin Durand as Frederick Dukes/The Blob; Will i Am as John Wraith; Dominic Monaghan as Chris Bradley/Bolt; Daniel Henney as David North/Agent Zero; Scott Adkins as Weapon XI; and Tim Pocock as Scott Summers. The script may be convoluted at times, but the characters generally deliver enough direction to the narrative’s entertainment and emotional requirements.

“X-Men Origins: Wolverine” is interesting enough to keep Fox and Marvel’s planned series of “X-Men” origin stories. For this offering, it is by no means perfect, but it is still an entertaining enough effort to please many of the “X-Men” followers, It condenses such a complicated origin story into a watchable fast-paced action flick; thus, leaving the door open for another “X-Men” prequel in the future.

‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ Film Review: Adamantium thrill and tragedy
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[Total: 0    Average: 0/5]

2012 movie review, film poster

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“2012” doesn’t bring anything new to the genre, but it is still one hell of a fun ride. It is everything you could possibly expect from a blockbuster disaster movie: an irresistibly visual spectacle that is perversely entertaining. The people behind these films really seem to live up to the idea that: “You don’t get off a roller-coaster and complain about the lack of storytelling.”

This popcorn flick is totally not credible when it comes to its showcase of unequivocally cheesy, ridiculous story; yet, it is hugely engaging with its mind-boggling visual effects.

The story is your basic end-of-the-world chaos narrative. It’s your usual Hollywood cash cow with the doomsday premise offered for mere escapism. They sure do blow up things real good. In fact, its graceless mess may kind of insult the intelligence of the logic-demanding crowd, but for some reason, it still leaves most people thrilled.

It is everything you can expect from such an apocalyptic movie material. The special effects are topnotch in making the film an intensely gripping experience where the protagonists are expected to flee and escape the most horrific events happening around them every single time. The main premise offers the usual mix of a flawed relationship in a typical American family, a responsible and all-good scientist, and a devoted and principled U.S. president — all struggling to make it through the last days of Earth.

The narrative is a chock full of cliches. Everything is too predictable that it’s really just a matter of enjoying the movie’s audio-visual flair — and nothing more. Nevertheless, some philosophical and emotional elements of redemption and the concept of survival of the fittest at least become apparent in some scenes — for a bit of spark about people’s existentialist notions of the world.

Formulaic and frenzied, this flick is undoubtedly a spectacular but ultimately silly blast from Master of Disaster Roland Emmerich (“Independence Day,” “The Day After Tomorrow”). In his tradition of catastrophic flicks, he offers another look at the end of the world in “2012.” This time around, it is the End of Days based on the idea that the Mayan calendar’s last day is said to be Dec 21, 2012. In the film, the earth’s crusts are shifting, causing earthquakes and volcano eruptions on a global scale, followed by inescapable tsunamis.

This motion picture follows the family’s journey towards their destination, en route to China, where the governments of the world have some sort of solution to the impending doom of the world through giant ships reminiscent of the bible’s Noah’s Ark, which convincingly shows the film as another Noah’s Ark story interpreted in a 21st Century setting.

“2012” heavily invests in cinematic time and popcorn. Its unrelenting pace, almighty effects, and sheer tongue-in-cheekiness make it consumingly enjoyable for its willing audience.

Emmerich provides rollickingly good visual thrills throughout. However, the movie lacks a strong script to support its massive scope and inflated length and turn it into a disaster classic in cinema history. It gets tad monotonous by the middle part and it further loses momentum by the last act. Things get too corny by the end that what keeps it really worth watching is indeed the fantastical, mind blowing visual feast it showcases from start to end.

This end-of-the-world story throws in bits and pieces from other disaster movies — with its familiar plot tapping into virtually every disaster flick ever produced.

Despite the consistently breathtaking sound and visual effects, the film’s acting performances are just a mixed bag. More often than not, actors including John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Danny Glover, Oliver Platt, Thandie Newton, and Woody Harrelson live up to the nonsensical script’s requirements, but there are instances that they really find themselves dwarfed by the demands for CGI flair. It gets clear that it is quite a job to act in front of chroma screens and other movie-making machines, while pretending to be already seeing the apocalyptic mess described in the script in detail. At least, most actors are still able to keep some humanistic touches in their scenes to deliver that incredible sense of urgency brought about by the world’s end and that emotional struggle of trying to survive annihilation. They strive to keep up with some inane and mostly cliched dialogue.

Watch this movie for its effects. Take them for what they are and leave logic behind.

‘2012’ Film Review: A spectacular disaster
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“Clash of the Titans” is a story of the ultimate struggle for power as men fight against kings and kings fight against gods. This cinematic piece centers on the perilous journey of Perseus (Sam Worthington), the mortal son of Zeus (Liam Neeson), King of the Gods. Born of a god but raised as a man, Perseus leads a dangerous mission to defeat Hades (Ralph Fiennes), God of the Underworld, before he can seize the power from Zeus.

Louis Leterrier (“Transporter 2” and “Incredible Hulk”) directs this motion picture based on the 1981 film of the same title. This time, the epic Greek story gets packaged to propel to new heights through a 3D presentation of the mythological worlds of gods and men. Enhancing the looks of larger-than-life mythical beasts and breathtaking vistas spanning from the depths of hell to the heights of Olympus, as well as the battles of men, monsters, and immortals, “Clash of the Titans” brings a more immersive 3D adventure through ancient Greece and beyond.

According to visual effects supervisor Nick Davis, “We were dealing with Olympus and with Hades, so we had heaven and hell, and we had gods and monsters; there were aspects of the fantastical inherent in the story. But at the same time, we wanted it to be photo-realistic. We want people to believe a horse is flying and that harpies are real within the realistic grounding we’ve given the movie.”

The team used a combination of CGI and motion-capture equipment to bring to life the the Kraken, Medusa, Pegasus, the harpies, and a number of other characters. For the scorpiochs fight, they began by blocking out what characters would be involved in the massive battle. Determining the scale of each scorpioch which measured around 25 to 30 feet (from claw-to-tail), the special effects team led by special effects and animatronics supervisor Neil Corbould built a full-scale rig to act as a makeshift scorpioch. This was to give the actors something to interact with during the shoot. Interestingly, Corbould as a teenager worked on the original “Clash of the Titans” directed by Desmond Davis, adding feathers onto Bubo the Owl.

Another critical creature in the story was the majestic flying horse Pegasus. Leterrier said, “Pegasus is a winged horse, he’s the companion of the gods, and no human has ever ridden one. He initially fights Perseus, which is yet another obstacle for our hero to overcome.”

The challenge for Davis and his team was how they should overcome the aerodynamic problems to make a supposedly non-flying horse, given its physique, to look natural when flying. The visual effects team developed a complex system of putting tracking markers and using special cameras to track every motion very carefully. After completing the flying movements, wings were placed via digital imaging.

According to Letterier, the design for the Kraken, the most feared beast in Argos, took approximately five months to finish. The water was a huge element in coming up with a cinematic design as the Kraken would rise from the sea, so it had water cascading off of it within a very massive scale.

Most of the shooting locations were done in vast canvases in Tenerife, Wales, and Ethiopia.

Rounding out the primary cast members were Gemma Arterton as Io, Perseus’ mysterious spiritual guide throughout his journey; Mads Mikkelsen as Draco who would take up his sword to join Perseus’ quest; Jason Flemyng as Acrisius, a one-time king-turned-hideous beast; Danny Huston as Poseidon, God of the Seas; and Alexa Davalos as Andromeda, a princess doomed to lose her life if Perseus would not succeed from his mission.

Warner Bros. Pictures, Clash of the Titans Official Press Kit and Bios. 2010.

Warner Bros. Pictures, “Clash of the Titans.”

Louis Leterrier’s Clash of the Titans: Behind the Scenes
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Alice in Wonderland movie review

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Average

“Alice” falls down a deep hole and is unable to get out.

In this 2010 cinematic rendition of the Lewis Carroll classic, Tim Burton’s individual stamp of masterful storytelling doesn’t register. With its wavering tone that is as uncertain as Alice’s decision-making in the narrative, Burton and company should really dig a lot deeper if they eventually decide to make a sequel out of it.

Stylish but dispirited, style over substance, “Alice in Wonderland” is a pretty disappointment. It has great visuals but lacks storytelling value. Clearly a feast for the eyes but not for the heart, it is teeming with marvelous sights but hollow at its core. Overwhelming visuals but underwhelming storytelling. Great canvas but not a great film.

This Disney movie is not the masterpiece people hoped for. It looks more like a coffeetable book showcasing CGI grandeur. It is definitely not within the caliber of Burton opuses such as “Edward Scissorhands” and “Big Fish.”

A Burton interpretation of this tale is quite intriguing and exciting. But shockingly, things just don’t work. The movie lacks the energy and emotional power to breathe life beyond the vision inside the filmmaker’s head. This director who apparently takes the producer role as well loses his authentic knack for effective storytelling. His expressionist signature turns out to be the only aspect he keeps in this motion-picture project.

With its visual splendor, this movie is still a technical feat, mainly for its visual effects, production design, and art direction.

Ken Ralston’s visual effects are pleasantly surreal. Character designs showcase such creative wizardry. Robert Stromberg’s production design is fun and dazzling. The amazing offbeat aesthetics as individual pieces are whimsically great in their own dark and bizarre fashion. Danny Elfman’s musical score offers some magical parts, but the elements don’t transcend to wonderful heights. Chris Lebenzon’s cutting is considerably fine, but it doesn’t reflect the supposed marriage of a Burton vision and a Carroll story. Dariusz Wolski’s photography is wonderfully magical. However, all these still fail to cover up the screenplay’s loopholes. Although the script has its moments, things don’t fall into one coherent piece. Empty, atmospheric, and lacking soul, some individual pieces actually work at times, but things never really work as a whole. The dialogue can’t live up to the film’s superficial narrative flow.

The film falls short in driving the character arcs. The acting is sometimes spot on, but sometimes out of range. Overall, the characters don’t have that firm grip to let the audience relate to and sympathize with them. From frequent Burton collaborators Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter and Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen, to first-time Burton collaborators Mia Wasikowska as Alice and Anne Hathaway as the White Queen, the acting performances provide characters that work more on solo flights.

For its 3D version, unlike in the 3D epic “Avatar,” this motion picture doesn’t offer an immersive 3D experience. Instead of rendering awe-inspiring 3D images, the movie’s shallow visual feast looks lame. The three-dimensional depth looks fake, perhaps because of the post-3D conversion process employed in the picture. Clearly, the technical requirements for filming in 3D are not entirely the same as the conventional filmmaking process done in 2D. The 3D here doesn’t look absorbing enough to recreate a new mythmaking factor for the film. Moreover, the movie lacks that captivating 3D spirit, perhaps because the envisioned film came out from ideas pegged in 2D format. 3D requires a specific sub-culture when it comes to utilizing the immersive qualities of the format, which means its own set of storytelling standards that may or may not entirely work with a 2D-envisioned film.

‘Alice in Wonderland’ (2010) Film Review: Overwhelming visuals, underwhelming storytelling
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Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs movie review

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Average

Catch colorful candies and marshmallows from the sky. Play around ice cream snowballs. Hop around nacho cheese fountains. Slide onto a giant gumball hill. Go gaga with a palace of Jell-O. Get endless supply of jellybeans. After which, there comes the massive pancakes, tornadoes of pasta, pools of nacho cheese, hailstorm of jellybeans, ice cream blizzard, pizza flurries, and deadly gummy bears… Then suddenly, it’s raining steak and gumballs! It’s “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.”

This eye-popping and mouth-watering piece of motion picture cooks up a veritable buffet of the bland and the bizarre, the sweet and the sour, and all other possible tastes that can be generously offered on screen. It serves up a riot of glee, color, and absurdity.

The story is engagingly ridiculous. It’s fun… and it works.

With a solid gag ratio and an entertainingly colorful animated visuals, “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” serves as a commentary on the potential perils of genetically engineered food and the downside of “overabundance.” Using its light and fun approach, it makes a social point about how people today have too much of what they need. In its subtext it questions the contemporary world’s a culture of excess where wastefulness seems next to coolness.

This impressive cinematic offering from Sony Pictures is a downright odd family flick featuring exuberant animation, quirky humor, and plucky characters. It aptly utilizes slick and solid slapstick, while maintaining technical sophistication and engaging storytelling throughout. This animated venture from writer-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller gives justice to their source material, the popular children’s book of the same title by Judi and Ron Barrett. They amusingly expand the book for the big screen.

The filmmakers know how to play with their food. They capitalize well on the universal compulsion for stomach-filling delight. As a computer-animated 3D extravaganza, this film provides awesome food fights and pleasurable food trips. It also provides whimsical details through increasingly surreal weather activities that would suggest some call to action and a hunger for more even when everything is too much already — just like how capitalism and consumerism in the real world become an alarming concern for every nation.

From the gloriously surreal buffet of predatory giant chickens to the psychopathic gummy bears fighting to death, things turn out weirdly wonderful on screen. While contemplating, it seems like “mutated food” in the real world isn’t very far anymore from the already existing reality of junk food and fast food stuff.

This movie works fine in 3D. Technically, this 3D food adventure makes good use of the format. But in any case, a conventional 2D counterpart is of good value as well. In fact, for its veritable feast of audio-visual splendor and its relevant social messages, this picture turns out as a good DVD collectible for the family.

The sophisticated presentation doesn’t overwhelm the storytelling. Scenes don’t look pretentious and they don’t sweat the message. As a computer-animated flick, it is bright, cheery, and at times flat-out hilarious in providing winsome sight gags involving giant food, references to disaster film cliches (including “Independence Day” and “Twilight Zone”), and endearing characters that vividly come to life. The running gags are pretty neat cliches as well. The storytelling promotes a pretty charming kind of slapstick that works well for the tale’s intended commercial value.

As a family-friendly movie, it provides a frenetically tasty offer. Indeed, it is insanely funny and at times wonderfully weird. Things work well with the gastronomically hilarious pace and tone of the comedy. It is visually inventive and can be swallowed very easily while serving some serious food for the thought on the side.

Unlike most children’s flicks that are often insipid and lowbrow, this quick-witted film doesn’t insult its audiences intellect. It is light on its feet, silly, and surprisingly enjoyable — not to mention, a little trippy. It bursts with random sight gags that boast intricate design and goofy humor. It has some grown-up gags to keep the adults amused as well.

The characters are likable amidst the fact that in terms of character development, they don’t render something of the caliber of Pixar’s “Up.” But still, this movie really assures the audience of a tasty adventure treat.

As a hyperbolic expose of human greed, abusive behavior, and environmental destruction, this food revolting spin of the 30-page children’s book into a 90-minute bountiful big-screen buffet is something that the general viewer won’t regret sinking his or her teeth onto. Its delicious and imaginative concept takes flight as a family delight. While it rains big food, it also rains big laughs and sheer fun.

‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs’ Film Review: Slick and solid family slapstick
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3D movies are actually older than most people think. Way before the latest 3D craze of our times, a number of 3D flicks during the 80’s were already hitting the box office. In fact, the 50’s and even decades earlier all became witnesses to a number of 3D movie offerings. The catch of these older movies (mainly using the anaglyph-style 3D via those red and blue glasses) was how they tend to amaze the viewers with that so-called “jump of the screen” effects.

Now, in the era of IMAX 3D, Real 3D, and Dolby Digital 3D, this best 3D movies list rekindles the long-gone hype of what 3D technology can offer to the big screen.

Since the resurgence of 3D movies from the mid-2000’s to March 2010, I have been personally hoping to catch the old 3D movies of yesteryears, then have them compared with what the modern times offer. But for now, these films from the new era of 3D filmmaking (using 3D stereoscopic technology) are my best picks for the Top 5 Best 3D Movies List as of March 2010:

1. “Avatar”
Year: 2009
Director: James Cameron
Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Joel Moore, Giovanni Ribisi, and Michelle Rodriguez
Plot: After the sudden death of his twin brother, the paraplegic war veteran Jake takes his place in a mission to infiltrate the Na’vi, a humanoid race from the distant world Pandora, through the use of an avatar. In exchange for the spinal surgery to fix his legs, he submits to the instructions of the military authorities and corporate executives, only to find himself torn between the greed of his own race and the need and value of an alien civilization that he begins to embrace.

This bold 3D eco-opus examining technological wonders and morality is totally jaw-dropping in stereoscopic 3D. Period.

2. “U2 3D”
Year: 2007
Director: Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington
Cast: U2 as themselves (Bono, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr., and The Edge)
Plot: With everything entirely shot with more than a dozen 3D cameras, U2 3D offers a groundbreaking concert movie featuring the legendary band U2’s 2006 “Vertigo” tour.

This rock documentary provides a perfect marriage of surround sound and 3D visuals that it felt like attending a real concert. At the IMAX theater, I and the rest of the viewers were standing, singing, holding up concert stuff, and jumping from our places with an energy like that from a real concert.

3. “Deep Sea 3D”
Year: 2006
Director: John Hall
Voice Narration: Kate Winslet and Johnny Depp
Plot: As a 3D nature documentary exploring the awe-inspiring depths of the oceans around the world and their marvelous creatures, this film becomes a spectacular journey around the homes of the many aquatic wonders of the planet.

This visually enticing 40-minute film offers a worthwhile 3D experience. It is breathtaking, educational, and so full of life. From the stunning and colorful species to the grotesque and weird sea creatures, it allows the audience to really feel the valuable presence of all these life forms and how significant they are in a world that humans should fairly share with them. How engrossing this short but meaningful movie is? Many of us inside the theater ended up personally touching mid air for several times to feel those majestic fishes that were seemingly right in front of us.

4. “Coraline”
Year: 2009
Director: Henry Selick
Voice Cast: Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Jennifer Saunders, Keith David, and Ian McShane
Plot: Based on Neil Gaiman’s novel, this 3D stop-motion animation project offer tells the story of the little girl Coraline who moves to an old house and discovers an alternate version of her life there. Feeling bored and neglected by her parents, she finds solace on the parallel reality of this other version of her world (where everybody has buttons instead of eyes). She initially finds it way much better than her real life. However, her adventure gradually turns into danger and she struggles to find her way home to save her real family.

This animated offering sets a significant template on how 3D films should be. It provides great storytelling, just enough “jump-out-at-you” moments, and a fantastical vision though its dark fantasy treatment. It effectively envelops the audience with an immersive adventure the way Coraline experiences it. The 3D imagery is utilized for the best of the film instead of becoming a mere 3D cash-cow gimmick.

5. “Beowulf”
Year: 2007
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Cast: Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich, Robin Wright Penn, Crispin Glover, and Angelina Jolie
Plot: The Danish king Hrothgar succumbs to the havoc initiated by the monstrous troll Grendel. He offers rewards for his death and the great warrior Beowulf lives up to the task. He soon becomes king. However, his darkest secret gets back at him decades after when Grendel’s evil mother, whom Beowulf had a life-enduring bargain with before, brings to his kingdom its worst nightmare.

Zemeckis’ foray into the world of actor-based computer animation turns this classic literary tale into a different kind of sensory experience in 3D animation format. It blends CGI, motion capture, and 3D sterescopic technologies to bring a level of 3D appeal that has become a pioneer for its time.

Top 5 Best 3D Movies List 2010
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Avatar movie review

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Average

As a feat of fearless imagination and audacity, “Avatar” is a bold eco-opus examining the themes technological wonders and morality. It is a breathtaking flight of fancy using the typical Hollywood formula.

Engaging its audience with its titanic technical achievement, its technical brilliance, alongside its timely and significant concept, is truly worth more than a decade of risky, arduous, and passionate work.

Leading the future for its new format of big-screen entertainment, watch it in 3D to get the full experience it can offer on the big screen.

Director James Cameron impressively leads the viewers to his Pandora’s box. Predictable story, cliched dialogue, and logical lapses aside, this motion picture turns out thrilling and explosive in the right mix. It has enough soul to effectively escape into the new world of jaw-dropping spectacle. This film gets the closest any has to fulfilling the 3D format’s fundamental mission of creating a new, immersive way of looking at movies. If there’s a chance, it is highly recommended to watch it in IMAX to see it in its full visual glory.

The most-hyped movie of the year just about merits the description. Cameron’s visionary bearing for his long-awaited pet project, his first film after the equally historical 1997 hit “Titanic,” is well worth the wait.

Its awe-inspiring technical brilliance kind of overpowers the storytelling — but the said flaw doesn’t really matter with how Cameron brings to life Pandora and the Na’vi, which clearly is a quantum leap in modern filmmaking technology.

The narrative explores the sub-stories of: a buffed ex-marine in a wheelchair who gets turned into an alien warrior through his avatar (his human mind in an alien body); a free spirited princess in an indigenous alien tribe getting into a love triangle; a military industrial complex with machinery and weaponry of the 22nd Century caliber; and a potential world filled with exotic life forms and million-dollar stones.

The tale about profit and progress vs. nature’s power and infinite variety promotes a fancifully detailed vision. However, the exploration of these societal issues gets quite compromised by the rather juvenile story exposition. In terms of the intense expectations for it, amidst the very promising concept, the film still falls short in putting enough dimension to its plot, as compared to its technical magnificence as a 3D epic.

Gorgeously rendered, this 3D offering sets a new bar in computer-generated animation. With the feast of technical details on display, the viewers can easily find themselves busy marveling at everything on screen. The photorealistic 3D imagery really transports the audience into an alien world rich with imaginative vistas, creatures, and characters; even at the middle of clunky lines, awkward scenes, cliched moments, and a script that plays things very, very safe.

The film’s concept is full of potential. Its vision is full of challenge. Not everything makes sense; but in the best way possible, things are dealt with for the sake of pure Hollywood entertainment. Every time the movie runs out of credibility, especially when it comes to the plot, the eye-candy provides enough sugar rush. The screen elements break the CG barrier by combining elaborate lighting elements and complicated visual details with state-of-the-art motion-capture technology and tried-and-tested recreation of live-action parts. Meanwhile, James Horner delivers the 3D equivalent of a soundtrack. From start to end, the sound and music are in par with what the visuals offer.

Cameron and his legion of skilled craftspeople mounts a convincingly realized artificial world created from scratch to the big screen. They blur the line between reality and CGI by definitively blending animation and live-action elements. The breathtakingly beautiful CGI landscapes present a story that easily travels from the human world to the fantastical and back. Its sophisticated editing rhythms represent what one contemporary blockbuster cinema (a $400 million project) dictates. The filmmakers’ aim for sheer wonderment for this sci-fi epic with gamer-geek sensibility truly delivers for its intended purpose.

While its cinematic impact may not quite rise to the ultimate expectation of being “a master of all masterpieces,” this bold and imaginative vision gets to the level of such a descriptive phrase as a “stunning masterpiece of cinematic technology.”

The metaphorical aspects of the film, though not played out at their best, are still worth noting. When trying to go deeper than the jaw-dropping visuals, the narrative reveal issues and concerns on progress vs. environment. Value is also given to themes about: tribes and races; physicality and spirituality; love and survival; humanity and technology; pride and purpose; responsibility and morality; and war and greed.

The world of Pandora is very immersive and the Na’vi people seem to resemble the old culture of the world in the alter ego of American Indians. The marines and the scientists resemble the capitalist and fascist thinking in modern civilization. The heroes of the tale show how it is to become truly human, while being torn in between two different worlds.

It is interesting to note that unlike the overall storytelling that gets sort of overpowered by the film’s audio-visual grandeur, the well-realized culture of the Na’vi becomes comparable to a fantasy novel getting the reader engrossed to the value of its world, resources, and people — to the point that the special effects don’t exactly become a barrier to let you feel for them as they struggle against the destruction of their home by the so-called “sky people.”

This decade-in-the-making dream project of Cameron is like the “Star Wars” of this age. For all the technical virtuosity of its mythical 3D universe, the Na’vi characters seem much more expressive than most motion-capture technology creations of this generation — making it in par with the brilliance of the exemplary Gollum-Smeagel character in “Lord of The Rings.” The invented world is also comparable to the technical and thematic milestones that George Lucas and Peter Jackson made in the realms of fantasy and special effects filmmaking.

The technical wizardry is at the service of a recycled plot that still rightfully pumps blood for the purpose of cinematic immersion. The film’s digital world effectively transports the audience to a domain that doesn’t exist — and it is just impossible not to get engaged with the fantastic visuals of such painstakingly intricate details.

“Avatar” is a little hollow at the center as compared to great film concepts and scripts that have become masterpieces; but the sheer scale and ambition of its production look as tactile and as tangible, as if they are made of real materials and living tissues.

The creative epiphany in “Avatar” is the extraordinary experience that more than lives up to the hype. Despite its flaws, it is a brilliant, visual extravaganza that is simultaneously thrilling, provocative, and surprisingly moving. It ma be more impressive on a technical level than as a piece of storytelling opus, but it proves to be a successful approach in creating a good 3D film experience; thus, paving the way for it to become a 3D sci-fi classic in the history of world cinema.

This motion picture is essentially a movie that people have seen before; but it is boldly made to look like nothing anyone has seen before. The inadequacies of the story become relatively forgivable — thanks to the undeniably beautiful, engrossing, and mind-bending audio-visual epic that it is.

‘Avatar’ Film Review: What jaw-dropping 3D can be
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Ice Age Dawn of the Dinosaurs movie review

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Average

Looks like the “Ice Age” series is not yet too close to extinction. Since the trailers of this third franchise offer, there is no doubt that “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” still provides that appealing energy based on the material’s already established charm.

As an adventure-packed ride, this animation provides an astoundingly eye-catching animation built on the fun foundation given by the old characters. Some scenes may feel repetitive, but for the needed surface-level fluff, this kiddie flick generally works. For the most part, this movie utilizes well-paced comic moments.

The story revolves around the discovery of a crack in the ice which grants the characters access to a more primitive age that features tropical weather, green grass, extensive foliage, and dangerous giants. This takes the central characters away from their wintry, ice-packed habitat to the cavernous underground world of danger where carnivorous dinosaurs roam. On a mission to rescue Sid, the old gang travels into a mysterious underground realm where they encounter a whole new world of flora and fauna.

This third  “Ice Age” installment doesn’t overdo its stereoscopic 3D part. The DVD version may not have the same flair as its 3D counterpart, but judging from what the theatrical version shows, this motion picture really keeps up with the franchise’s signature fun and colorful visuals.

A lot of entertaining elements can induce laughter to the willing audience. The novelty in its extra dimension and eye-candy visuals, as well as the overall comic fun rendered by its characters enhance its storytelling spectacle.

Director Carlos Saldanha and co-director Mike Thurmeier envision nifty camera tricks, funny character antics, and charmingly mounted moments to keep up with the film’s box office requirements. Scenes like the laughing gas adventure and even the overly familiar trailers of Scrat’s initial meeting with Scratte, as well as Sid’s milking of a bull, all provide good laughs for the general audience. Scrat’s dialogue-free scenes are punctuated by music and all things heart-shaped work as usual. His pursuit of the elusive acorn is as fervent as his quest to win the eye-fluttering Scratte, which alters his nut hunting priority.

Amidst the sureshot enjoyment, it is still clearly not of top-caliber level when compared to the best Pixar animated classics. This animated feature merely relies on formulaic elements to make it a fun family ride. Moreover, the playful bantering between the characters could have been more creatively done. There are some forced dialogues and some phoned-in voice acting around. Nevertheless, this sequel from the popular animated movie is clearly targeted at the kiddie crowd. It still works as an entertainment pastime for the family.

As expected, “Ice Age 3” promotes a cutesy end to both the old and new characters’ sub-stories. Aside from the old gang, it features some snappy new characters including Buck and the loads of dinosaurs around.

Parenthood becomes the hot topic for Manny (Ray Romano) and Ellie (Queen Latifah) as they await the birth of their mini-mammoth. There is something lacking on their side of the story in terms of characterization; but when their baby comes out, things just become totally adorable with the cute little mammoth out.

The goofy sloth Sid (John Leguizamo) turns out as a pretty convincing friend who feels abandoned, then adopts three baby dinosaurs like a new surrogate mother.

The flurry and scurry squirrel Scrat (Chris Wedge) is still awesome with his wanderings, which are motivated by the iconic acorn as usual. But this time, he gets company in trying to nab that ever-elusive nut through his newfound hottie frenemy who is conveniently named Scratte (Karen Disher).

The saber-toothed tiger Diego (Denis Leary) doesn’t quite render enough emotional attachment here. His issues of growing too soft when hanging with his tamed pals and his goal to leave the herd to prove himself don’t quite get that much message across.

The twin opossums Crash and Eddie (Seann William Scott and Josh Peck) generally work with their pratfalls and fart jokes amidst their stereotypical antics.

The relentless, vine-swinging, and dino-hunting weasel Buck (Simon Pegg) is a comical and lively one-eyed warrior who guides the “Ice Age” friends through the underground prehistoric habitat of the hungry dinosaurs — in order to save Sid. With his conventional but steadily working jokes, he puts fun in the adventure of the characters as they traverse the Chasm of Death, the Plates of Woe, and the treacherous Lava Falls.

Overall, “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” brings visual cuteness, action, and frivolity for the audience to enjoy. It puts the usual requirements on moral elements for the typical family movie getaway, with the story centering around the importance of family and friends. The movie is a surefire hit with the kids. The 3D version in the theaters definitely has an additional appeal, but even a DVD version can still work as a great addition to your family-friendly movie collection.

‘Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs’ Film Review: Dino-ice adventure
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Average

Pixar’s “Up” is a symphonic balance of touching silence, witty dialogue and cinematic flight of fancy.

This animated picture further strengthens its impressive track record of making noteworthy animated films. It provides a symphonic balance of touching silence and witty dialogue where the flight of fancy is carefully crafted through wildly creative fantasy, inner childhood, and rediscovery.

As an emotional and heartfelt story with various levels of relationships and sense of belongingness, this high-altitude exploration about love and loss and letting go makes a beautifully balanced effort, propelling the viewers up, up, and away with its colorful balloons of cinematic adventure.

This family film doesn’t pander. The audience’s suspension of disbelief, especially for some of its preposterous elements, never insists itself as a negative issue. In fact, the cleverness and originality the film exudes through it becomes considerably boundless. Highly supported by visual wonder and worthwhile story investment, the theme of this exquisitely cinematic work tweaks the common elements of a grownup tale and rejuvenates the storytelling with much spark and pop.

From belly-laugh humor to tear-in-the-eye despair, it never becomes anything less than incredibly touching and entertaining. Alternately funny and touching, and exciting often all at once, this tale about unfulfilled dreams and fulfilling promises is punctuated by gentle whimsy and tender human values. Through its intimate character study about rediscovering the soul, or surviving the worst and making the most of it, the film’s creative synergy of sharp, funny, and tear-jerking elements delivers both a thrillingly fantastic adventure and a devastatingly poignant piece of realism.

What makes “Up” more special is how its animation efforts are utilized for maximum value. It combines the basic filmmaking requirement of imaginative and sincere storytelling with dazzling and dreamlike visuals on a level that can work best on animated films. It creates an experience that is a special characteristic of animation: at once utterly convincing and completely impossible, but all in all, lovingly acceptable for its kind of medium.

This swashbuckling romp starts slow and classy. Then it picks up helium and soars into a continent-hopping adventure and an understated, nuanced psychodrama with an end as inspiring as its title. For children, it’s an adventure movie; for adults, it’s an adventure on a whole different level.

“Up” is a breezy kid’s fun yarn embedded in a sentimental grownup tale with serious consideration on love, death, and lives left behind. The “visual wow factor” can resonate more powerfully to the kids while the amusing brilliance as a sweet, gentle, and imaginative tale about grief and regret, purposes lost and rediscovered can resound more to the adults.

The opening sequence sits in silence, telling the story of young Carl and Ellie filled with emotions and alleviated by Michael Giacchino’s magnificent music transporting the viewers to a make-believe place. Tears fall at the end of this beginning to cast a spell over the willing audience. It hits the right notes as the musical score becomes practically a character in the film itself. The contemplative montage taking Carl from childhood to widowhood truly makes imaginations take flight. Director Pete Docter and co-director Bob Peterson, along with all the talented people from Pixar, create such a palpable story while maintaining itself as a piece of expertly-rendered and artful type of entertainment.

Colors match the emotions seen on screen. Shapes and sizes in every frame promote such valuable storytelling subtexts like: the character design of Carl being very edgy while the designs of Ellie and Russel being full of curves.

The various characters balance the thrills and tenderness to make a truly beautiful and compelling work. The gruffy old widower Carl Fredrickson (voiced by Ed Asner) ties thousands of balloons to his home and sets out to fulfill the lifelong dream initiated by his already departed wife Ellie (with the young Ellie heard in the film voiced by Elie Docter) to see the wilds of South America. Right after lifting off, however, he learns he isn’t alone on his journey, since Russell (voiced by Jordan Nagai), a wilderness explorer 70 years his junior, becomes a stow away on the trip. As he finds himself reluctantly sharing his ride with the short-attention-spanned kid, he embraces the jungle adventure with more and more characters coming their way including the colorful, sweet-toothed bird Kevin, the talking dog Dug (voiced by Bob Peterson), and his childhood idol, the adventurer Charles Muntz (voiced by Christopher Plummer) with his pack of dogs led by Alpha (voiced by Bob Peterson).

“Up” has a genuine warmth of a true classic. It orchestrates itself into one truly unforgettable piece of animated film for all ages.

‘Up’ Film Review: Pixar goes up, up, and away
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District 9 movie review

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Average
 

“District 9” is a hybrid of a film: it is a Hollywood material that looks like a successful anti-Hollywood venture and a brilliant social commentary.

Produced by the people behind “LOTR” including its helmer Peter Jackson, this motion picture delivers its universal message about ethnic tolerance through the tale of a doomed extraterrestrial race forced to live in slum-like conditions on Earth, mainly in a South African ghetto, until these beings suddenly find a kindred spirit in a government agent exposed to their biotechnology.

This sharp-edged, down and dirty science-fiction work incorporates a great deal of big-budget elements in a part-fake documentary, part-body horror, and part-robot flick. As a comparably smaller offer than the usual Hollywood sci-fi offering, it is still utterly reminiscent of the failed alien and mechanical warrior sequels of similar franchises like “Terminator,” “Aliens vs. Predator,” “Transformers,” and “G. I. Joe.”

Director Neill Blomkamp packs this gritty sci-fi tale with compellingly bold and imaginative pop elements. People have seen too many alien invasion flicks before, but nothing anything quite like “District 9” has come before it, especially in terms of its carefully merged dramatic story, biting satire, low-key CG inventiveness, tightness of editing, and carefully rendered set details. The special effects don’t overwhelm the harrowing story, which helps make the storytelling more emotional. The gross and the drama, together with the big guns, chases, and explosions, remain appropriate to the storyline. Thus, paving the way to a fresh franchise potential.

The good thing about “District 9” is that it’s both intelligent and entertaining. There is clearly no need to dumb out the audience just to be able to get that combination of funny, violently gross, and wildly enthralling speculative movie that exude genuine emotional resonance.

This motion picture is unlike any of those mostly seen in Hollywood’s sci-fi canon. It is not targeted for those who don’t find psychological and physical gore favorable as they would probably feel a little uneasy in a couple of scenes. Some may find certain shots kind of stressful to watch. But sitting through it has its price — a fresh and thought-provoking, if not groundbreaking story, making a good point about racial prejudice and posing a number of serious questions about the state of humanity.

“District 9” is a superb realization of a poignant satire, irony, humor, violence, and drama that is not afraid to examine the essence of what it actually means (and what it might cost) to be human. It is an edgy, provocative commentary on the human condition. It has a heart and soul to its piece. It keeps up with its own technical challenges. As a sci-fi actioner that entertains mercilessly, it opens up a certain compassion and humanity to its audience. It is a swift and subtle movie that trusts its viewers to do some of the work — and it’s quite effective at that. It serves as a pop allegory for the racial tension of apartheid, issues on mass immigration, and man’s inhumane ways to both humans and non-humans.

A modestly budgeted project with an actual idea in its head, this cinematic offering aptly combines breathless action, political satire, and poignant drama that can generally hold the viewers’ attention from start to finish.

This piece of cinema proves that sci-fi flicks don’t always need star-studded or mega-budgeted requirements to be visually intense, remarkably executed, and thoroughly entertaining. Its relatively unknown cast works very well. Lead character Sharlto Copley as Wikus Van De Merwe puts the right dose of pathos for the film through grit, charm, naivete, and humor.

People have seen many aliens coming to earth in movies. Many have seen the finest use of computer-generated imagery on the big screen; but it’s rare to see an intriguing, sci-fi fable that is consistently gripping. This makes “District 9” an original classic in its own right.

‘District 9’ Film Review: Thinking man’s sci-fi
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Watchmen movie review

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Average

“Watchmen” is visually brilliant but flawed in certain ways. Nevertheless, this eye-poppingly faithful adaptation is a carefully crafted as a lavish cult movie. It spins a comic deemed unfilmable into a blockbuster epic for the specific admirers of the superhero genre and the fan base of the groundbreaking book from writer Alan Moore and illustrator Dave Gibbons. Grappling with the graphic novel’s multi-layered storyline, this dystopian film utilizes a deeply dark heart unmasking the world’s harsh realities.

“Watchmen” is no doubt a love letter to those who have been waiting for the film for the last two decades. The success of the acclaimed 1980’s graphic novel about moral relativity, the futility of life, the violent nature of man, and the deconstruction of the concepts of humanity and heroism have pushed this film into monumental anticipation. Director Zack Snyder brings the superhero-noir murder mystery to life through the aesthetic pleasure of reproducing the key scenes with storyboard-like fidelity. As a deconstructionist superhero flick, it generally works in making fans thrilled with its visual experimentation, radical mythology, psychologically rich idealism, and grand indulgence.

Overall, the mood and tone of the film is what most fans could hope for. As the cinematic version of one of the world’s most celebrated graphic novel, this sprawling motion picture stays faithful to the book. It trims and reshapes it to its prime essentials. It may not include every nuance in the graphic novel, but it gets to capture the basic requirements of the filmmaking medium. However, the overflowing technical energy leads to a power lost in terms of characterization and emotional engagement to the story. The technical brilliance upstages the other aspects of the film a bit too much.

The filmmakers lose sight of what could make a film effective more than just the faithful rendition and the audio-visual flair. The film lacks the emotional attachment for the audience to relate to the characters and the world they live in. While it is true that the fans who are clearly familiar with the characters and their alternate universe would find the film readily understood on screen, non-fans would find the non-superficial facets of the narrative a bit confusing. Indeed, this proves that a great source material, a respectful translation from graphic novel to film, a big budget, and an overflowing visual power are not enough to make a film live up to the greatest expectations for it.

Having such a complex narrative structure, it is quite understandable that this picture is weaved with less back stories and plotting compared to its book source. For cinematic purposes, significant changes are made in the script and what has actually worked out during the course of production. For some, especially to those who are not knowledgeable with the crucial details from the original material may find it a little difficult to get that same appeal the excited fans get. It could be a slightly different experience for anyone who does not know the book, especially since the interaction between the characters and their multi-layered sub-stories remain integral points to understanding the story. So, those who are not literally immersed in the 80’s era, the Cold War, and the book’s astonishing vision would find it a bit more difficult to get a full grasp of the story’s core.

Through impressive, computer-enhanced eye candy, the film’s pop-art fusion features its blood-stained smiley face well. Though it captures the look and feel of the novel, it still fails to totally engage its audience because its emotional center gets buried deep under its self-gratifying visual style. For all of the ferocious flashes of spectacular physicality, there are substantially-challenged parts that sometimes feel misapplied, overcranked, or too ramped up. Unable to measure up to the technical competence of the material, there is never enough time spent with moments of emotion and suspense to make the audience relate more with the characters’ undertakings.

“Watchmen” has moments of wonder. Not all of them work, but parts of them do. At some point, this cinematic piece feels artificially stylized — its soulless aspects hindering it from becoming great. It is bold and bloated, fascinating and flawed, stunning and scattered.

Amidst its flaws, the film is intense. It is backed up by the book’s fascinating and contemplative tale. Its philosophy and take on genre deconstruction keep up with its heavy, adult-themed plot. It has interesting social and political ideas in doing the ultimate sacrifice and making the world fall part, then putting things back together again with the Machiavellian ideology in mind. Indeed, it depicts itself as a self-styled parody of the world’s “true face” and the “big jokes” of the society.

Visually, this flick is a lavish and exciting screen translation reverential to Moore and Gibbons’ work. Filled with visceral action and powerful special effects, its dark world boasts of keen attention to physical details. The production design, art direction, and cinematography are gratifying. The rich and gorgeous palette and campy costumes are a sight to see. The original comics shines through Snyder’s approach to satisfy fans with a densely-packed motion picture experience. He puts a grimy and gritty, yet glossed pop culture feel to the picture. He tries to preserve other information by including a short “historical” opening title sequence, then he readily fills the screen with the visual treat he has become known for since he made the historical “300” in 2007. However, there is a disappointing part to it: he merely yields to his trademark shots in his Spartan opus without recreating his visionary style for an entirely new project — making them look like mere copies of his memorable “300” scenes. And so, the crucial scenes that merely feature copycat shots and elements never fully satisfy. But against considerable odds, the story’s dense and complex mythology remains.

Snyder’s direction clearly focuses on style and technique. The acting and thematic and emotional aspects of the storytelling suffer. The acting department is actually filled with talented performers. The billing for the “Watchmen” superheroes includes: Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Edward Blake/The Comedian; Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan/Jon Osterman; Matthew Goode as Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias; Malin Akerman as Laurie Jupiter/Silk Spectre II; Jackie Earle Haley as Walter Kovacs/Rorschach; Patrick Wilson as Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl II; Carla Gugino as Sally Jupiter/Silk Spectre; and Stephen McHattie as Hollis Mason/Nite Owl. However, this talented bunch ends up rendering some wooden performances due to the story’s hollow and disjointed characterizations.

This visually striking “Watchmen” deserves credit for what a dozen of other directors have struggled to do — and never did — for the last 20 years.

‘Watchmen’ Film Review: Deconstructing the film in reference to the graphic novel
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Average

The swoony supernatural romance and the neo-horror motif of “Twilight” can both amuse and bemuse — depending on the type of viewer.

From the initial fans of the book to the newly-recruited fans of the Edward-Bella love team, the teen bite of the tale clearly gets into their veins. The formula for this movie’s charm is very much apparent. It offers that dose of ordinary girl-meets-extraordinary boy who turns out as the prince charming to the damsel in distress. It has key elements for romantic spree backed up by both physical and occult-ish appeals, providing enough escapism for its target audience. All these float to the surface of what is supposedly “just another overused teen love story,” which often times would not offer a record-breaking pursuit for blockbuster appeal.

This adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s best-selling teen novel focuses on a rehashed plot that merely shows what happens to the characters in every second of screen time, leaving no much room to grow their interactions beyond the emo-romance fare. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that this type of movie doesn’t work. In fact, it is pure fantasy for girls who want to be princesses — while having their bad boys by their side. Regardless of how questionnable its values are, this is really what makes this particular movie a successful new franchise. It is able to establish the needed teen moodscape where the chemistry between the main characters offers enough smoldering desire that the teen crowd would typically love.

This kind of romance flick is clearly geared towards those who enjoy straight-up unforbidden love, angst-filled behavior, and underage rebellion on screen. With a distinctly young sense of tragedy and sparkle, the pop material turns out effective in making its willing viewers crazy over a tale centering on two star-crossed lovers trying to bridge the gap between humans and vampires.

This movie promotes a defiant human-vampire dating fantasy with some girly swirl of obsession for the main audience’s delight. Interestingly so, it doesn’t try hard to be hip for its intended crowd. It is one vampire love affair where sharp teeth, cold hands, and supernatural powers require the viewer to sit back and enjoy the camp. Otherwise, it just wouldn’t work.

The weak CGI isn’t much of an obstruction for this picture to hit big at the box office. Not even the dodgy dialogue nor the lack of a more developed storyline can hinder its success. It may be quite a chore to endure for the unwilling victims; but for its hard-core fans, it sure carries everything well.

The cool references put accessible fangs to its lucrative teen hook-ups. Watch some vampires play baseball, drive the coolest cars, live in a classy glass mansion, climb trees taller than the penthouse of a city skyscraper, and glitter under sunlight. Indeed, it is the kind of vampire flick that can get its pop culture-stricken patrons excited and addicted. It turns out as a blatant attempt to cash in to the devotion of its die-hard followers with a door naturally left open for the next installment..

Director Catherine Hardwicke, along with screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg, recreates a world where the heroine becomes obsessed with surrender and submission to a man who is constantly tempted to kill her. Now, that is one sucked-up subtext about culture and society that may be worth a psychological study.

This movie is like a vegetarian diet in the vampire movie canon. For those uninitiated and for those outsiders from the movie’s intended demographic, this kind of pop treat is plainly overused, dopey, and melodramatic. The jumble of cuts and pastes from the book, along with the music video bits, the often second-rate visual effects make the movie a hackneyed teenybopper show of synthetic affection.

As a vampire tale, the type of angst it plays around with remains too dull throughout its running tale that its own fangs turn out questionable, especially in the action side of things. There is a lot of build-ups but not much of resolution. The hokey dialogue may just be too much to bear. Unless one can get past the sloppiness and shallowness, there is no way to get really sucked in.

As a fantasy romance involving a self-loathing vampire and his sweet-blooded human beloved, its theme works well with the rising and falling teenage hormonal requirements. Focusing on the palpable chemistry of the main pair Kristen Stewart as Bella Swan and Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen to mesmerize the fans, they work well with playing around sidelong glances, twitchy rule-breaking escapades, and head-spinning rushes of the moment — which highlights their intangible yearning and romantic affection for each other. Amidst the overacting parts at times, their on-screen romantic charm really does it all for the movie.

The story best utilizes its principal tandem with such brooding romanticism. Stewart as the introvert Bella is somebody most teens could relate to as an average type with some fairly likeable attributes, a glum expression, and a risky attitude. Pattinson as the 100-ish pale guy with overly red lips and living on a deer blood diet is totally a hit for giggling fans who are completely fascinated with his furrowed eyebrows, crooked smiles, and cool hairstyles.

The members of the supporting cast, though at times looking too superficial for their pale vampire demeanor, generally deliver for the movie’s intentions: Bella’s father and mother Billy Burke as Charlie Swan and Sarah Clarke as Reneee Dwyer; the Cullen clan including Peter Facinelli as Dr. Carlisle Cullen, Ashley Greene as Alice Cullen, Elizabeth Reaser as Esme Cullen, Kellan Lutz as Emmet Cullen, Jackson Rathbone as Jasper Hale, and Nikki Reed as Rosalie Hale; the vampire antagonists including Cam Gigandet as James, Rachelle Lefevre as Victoria, and Edi Gathegi as Laurent; and Bella’s new school pals and family friends: Christian Serratos as Angela, Anna Kendrick as Jessica Stanley, Michael Welch as Mike Newton, Justin Chon as Eric Yorkie, Taylor Lautner as Jacob Black, and Gil Birmingham as Billy Black.

This movie knows what it is meant for. Either one likes it or hates it. It has a sweetly idealistic charm on its own. It pleases its devoted fans, but does little for the uninitiated.

‘Twilight’ Film Review: That willing teen bite
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Deep Sea 3D movie review

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Average

If you have that fancy for scuba diving and underwater magic without getting wet, then the jaw-dropping experience of submerging into the coolest underground deserts and forests in “Deep Sea 3D” should be worth your while. Clocking in at around 40 minutes, this 3D offering showcases how the sights and sounds of the “real deep sea” becomes “cinematic magic.”

“Deep Sea 3D” is a real marvel in 3D filmmaking. The IMAX experience lets you sink way down for that amazing acquaintance with the grandeur of the deep seas and the spectacular IMAX 3D underwater cinematography. Indeed, with 3D images so crisp and engrossing, this movie takes you to another world that is filled with an array of both familiar and unfamiliar sea creatures. IMAX provides this privilege by transporting exotic sea creatures literally to your noses, ready to be touched by your own hands through the magic of cinema. Young and adults alike tend to share awe and delight in trying to feel those luminous moon jellyfish and shimmering glassy minnows upfront.

The fascinating tour of the oceans and the bizarre-looking life forms around the globe allows you to spend every moment “oohing” and “aahing” at the amazing life under the sea. You may find yourself gasping for air as the scenes keep enveloping you with that fascinating up-close-and-personal experience with some of the ocean’s irreplaceable treasures — both gently and wildly swaying down the deep blue seas.

This film may not provide the conventional thrills of a full-length narrative, but it is surprising how this documentary makes the ocean seem so intimately real that you really feel like swimming alongside the splendid coral reefs, friendly sharks, colorful school of fishes, deadly squids, thinking starfish, comic shrimps, character crabs, and monstrous octopus — all drifting to and from the currents of sheer underwater beauty.

“Deep Sea 3D” magically goes down the ocean floor with its gorgeous cinematography that in some ways, you can actually overlook the loose ends in the film’s structure. You start flowing in harmony with the underwater life forms. You start agreeing with the importance of symbiotic relationships among various species. You get more concerned about the violence humans do against nature. You become more conscious of the sad state in which humans leave the oceans and why humans should not upset nature’s delicate balance. This short film creates a vision of nature that many humans, at some point, would get to appreciate and would soon want to conserve and save the ocean’s natural resources.

More than its documentary thread, this motion picture’s beautiful underwater footage become its ultimate source of artistic leap. The visuals wrap themselves around a magical treat that entertains the eyes and touches the heart.

IMAX films like this may be expensive to produce, but this particular one is well worth it. With the charming and magical appeal of this short documentary in the company of the voices of Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet, and most especially, the company of the many wonderful creatures of the sea world, this project shows the great potential of the relatively young IMAX 3D technology in the movie industry. The technology is clearly evolving and getting better. Although there are some minor annoyances and occasional drifts in the storytelling, this film is still one of the more solidly entertaining documentaries filmed in IMAX to date.

‘Deep Sea 3’ Film Review: Underwater magic at the movie theater
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Average

For “Ocean’s Thirteen,” watching the inventive and spontaneous bunch of professional men pulling off an impossible heist for the third time, is a guilty pleasure to watch.

The usual suspects known for delivering their witty lines in effective, nonchalant ways, as well as doing impossible tasks in various capacities, are back with sophisticated humor, peppered ironies, comedic suspense, and contagious energy that has marked the franchise since “Ocean’s Eleven.”

Centering the saga on male camaraderie, team loyalty, and cool professionalism, it has clear personal motivations: brotherhood in the middle of revenge. The clan is reunited again to avenge their mentor from the moral crime of his swindler x-partner.

This star-driven genre flick maintains the grace and manners the franchise is known for. The gentleman heistmeister Danny Ocean (George Clooney), along with his best dressed tactician and sidekick Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) and the rest of his wild bunch, return to Las Vegas. They recapture much of the spirit of “Ocean’s Eleven” by pulling off another con to get even with the egomaniacal Vegas kingpin Willie Bank (Al Pacino) who double-crosses one of the original eleven Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould). Without being exploitative of the original film’s reputation, this motion picture’s familiarity and interconnections become a confection of silly gags and great visuals adhering to a clear and simple premise — all spiced up with a complicatedly breezy plotting.

“Ocean’s Thirteen” looks fresh and sharp amidst the touches of that formulaic Hollywood style. Making up a true fun escapist heist movie, its smart one-liners and cool references to its previous chapters, and even to the stars’ off-screen personas, put the right chips on for a good deal.

“Ocean’s” helmer Steven Soderbergh proves his bravura wits as he engages the audience with grand visual and aural pleasure. The technical and scientific aspects of the heist are so complex that they may be hard to follow, but Soderbergh knows his way around. He has a firm grasp of technical devices to elevate the story with his splendidly staged scenes, fast tempo, and stunning framing. They all work together to keep up with the textual properties missing in the raw material. Indeed, his masterful direction and the lensing by Peter Andrews, along with the contributions by the rest of the equally-delivering staff, crew, and cast, make the film awesome to watch.

Credit is due to the clever script from writers Brian Koppelman and David Levien, also the ones behind the poker drama “Rounders.” The film consists of hundreds of brief scenes where the new heist is for the sake of friendship, not money. The cool and witty lines build a sleek narrative momentum throughout the film.

Each of the well-crafted characters deliver lines with relaxed wit, which makes the screenplay work for its best purpose. Danny and Rusty have the biggest parts in the screenplay, while the rest of the gang in smaller but still well-written parts often operate individually in their own fun times.

The physicality of “Ocean’s Thirteen” relies on elaborate play on light and color. The whole film boosts of a rich and diverse color palette. The stylistic flourishes and ostentatious interior design of Bank’s spanking new high-rise casino named appropriately as The Bank boasts bright and hot colors, mainly sumptuous golds and reds. Shot on a lavish set built on Warner Brothers’ biggest soundstage to date, the lurid colors, sterling sets, fabulous costumes, and illustrious props really keep up with the demands of an eye-catching Vegas. Add up The Bank’s impeccable CGI work, the absurd but nonetheless amazing twisting structure dominating the Vegas skyline yields to the film’s grand production demands.

The bright and warm colors of the casino spots render effectively opposite the blues and grays of the exterior scenes. The”Ocean’s” troupe aptly maintains that “cool men in cool clothes” look wherever they are. Production designer Philip Messina and costume designer Louise Frogley should be given due credit to their enormous contributions to the movie’s physicality. So goes with cinematographer Andrews, editor Stephen Mirrione, and composer David Holmes — all complementing each other’s work for the good of the final picture.

‘Ocean’s Thirteen’ Film Review: The odds of guilty pleasure
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Star Wars Episode 3 Revenge of the Sith movie review

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Average

“Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” provides closure to finally weave the two “Star War” trilogies.

This film serves as the final chapter to the culturally historical galactic empire saga from the real master behind the force George Lucas, along with his dedicated behind-the-scene heroes from the “Star Wars” of the 1970s and 1980s (“Star Wars Episode IV: A new Hope” in 1977, “Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back” in 1980 and “Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi” in 1983) to the prequels made two decades after (“Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” in 1999, “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones” in 2002, and finally, “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” in 2005).

As the classic franchise’s concluding motion picture offer, “Revenge of the Sith” features a lot of foreshadowing and connections to keep in touch with what the trilogy from the past has become known for. George Lucas also plays a cameo role as the blue-skinned Baron Papanoida, which is shown at the opera scene.

From the use of the 1980s-style transition effects to the standard opening credits about “the galaxy far, far away,” its original appeal is well-kept. Loose ends get tied up with modern imagery without losing the original “Star Wars” look and feel.

The opening sequence is a jaw-dropping collage of moving ships in battle, starting off with a long shot filled with lightsabers and machines. The sound elements in weapons, moving aircrafts, and holograms are never left out by the powerful visual effects. Even the scoring further validates how John Williams really imprinted his signature in the “Star Wars” music.

The political intrigues exposed in this epic motion picture exudes some satirical tones.

The problem with a hard-core effects-filled film is that at some point, it becomes a victim of losing its own touch on the true dramatic display of human emotions. The good, kind-hearted, and well-brought up Anakin lacks the hesitation and moving and striking moments as he struggles and consumes himself into the Dark Side. The film relies too much on visual and physical cues on Anakin more than giving valuable acting moments that can better manifest his real emotions on screen. A much better characterization and acting performance could have justified his slaughtering of the young and old Jedis alike, and all his other abrupt change of actions after embracing the Dark Side.

Even the great love between him and Padmé does not render enough motivation. It is not thoroughly expressed. There are no tear-jerking moments amidst the gravity of the tragedies that happen to the main characters. Even with the death of Padmé or the pain of Obi-Wan losing a brother and apprentice are just mere visual feasts: splendid costumes; cool lightsaber fight scenes; impressive CGIs; opulent production design; and impressively challenging cinematography. Personally, I like how C3PO’s entirely metallic body looks like a walking golden mirror on screen without reflection issues out of all those present lights, cameras, and other production equipment.

“Revenge of the Sith” lacks the deeper and more consistent motivation for Anakin to take the fall into the Dark Side. While there is that need to validate his undying love for Padmé, the treatment offers no much heart to capture the very emotions of love, fear, and confusion. R2D2’s fun role actually provides a more effective characterization compared to the supposed heaviness and emotional struggle Anakin offers.

In this installment, it is quite disappointing to see the warrior-type Padmé of “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones” suddenly belittled into an almost useless character. Other than her pregnancy, her characterization mostly leaves her a damsel in distress that is way out of her character from the previous installments. She may be pregnant, but this doesn’t mean she can’t be a much more interesting female character the way Anakin or Obi-Wan can face a hell of Droids with their lightsabers no matter how impossible their stunts would get. Padmé is full of grief with what happens to Anakin, but this doesn’t mean she can no longer kill even a single Droid or escape a simple danger the way she used to in the former “Star Wars” episodes. At the very least, she can simply make a stand at the Senate or say any striking word as a Senator witnessing an intergalactic chaos. Frustratingly, she has been turned into a weakling of a character throughout the story — a supposedly strong woman unable to fight for her love and for her world. In terms of gender sensitivity, a bit more redemption for her character could have meant a lot in the story.

As expected, the fight scenes offer the best highlights in the film, primarily the lightsaber battles between the various evil Darths. The final battle between Obi-Wan and Anakin in a volcanic planet is choreographed well. This, along with a couple of other action scenes, makes this “Star Wars” movie something worth checking out.

‘Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith’ Film Review: The real force behind the ‘Star Wars’
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The film Aninag by Rianne Hill Soriano

To the staff and cast of Aninag:

Aninag is showing in two film fests this June 🙂 Thank you so much to all of you!!

The New York International Independent Film and Video Festival – Aninag is showing on June 26, 2005.
http://www.nyfilmvideo.com/cgi/schedule.cgi

The New York Filipino Film Festival - Aninag is showing along with The Memories of a Forgotten War on June 12, 2005, in celebration of the Independence Day
 http://www.theimaginasian.com/events/index.php#433
This is an article from Yehey.com:
 http://www.yehey.com/entertainment/movies/article.aspx?i=8170
 Date: 6/27/2005 8:20:49 AM

“Aninag” (“Light’s Play”)
a film by Rianne Hill Soriano

15 mins., 35mm Fantasy/Children New York International Independent Film and Video Festival 2005; Cinema Purgatoryo 2005; New York Filipino Film Festival 2005 Indiemand: The 1st Pi Omicron Independent Film Festival; Pelikula at Lipunan Film and Video Festival 2005

Isabel journeys in a dream world with her new mystical friends “Saya” (Happiness) and “Pag-asa” (Hope) in an attempt to overcome her isolation due to her blindness.

“Aninag” (“Light’s Play”) is a 15-minute narrative shost in 35mm film. Isabel, a blind girl who journeys in a dream world formed through the emotions she feels, plays with her new mystical friends “Saya” (Happiness) and “Pag-asa” (Hope). As they leave, Isabel succumbs to her negative thoughts. Her life becomes endangered. The question is: “How would she overcome her fear, helplessness, and depression in this struggling situation?”

“Aninag” (“Light’s Play”) is a film grant from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA). Most of the film stocks used in the film came from Kodak Philippines through the filmmaker’s prize as Kodak Film Awardee 2003 of the UP Film Institute through her thesis film “Karsel” (“Prison”). With the help from production houses Filmex (through a number of short ends and lending of equipment) and Production Village (through a number of short ends), the film was greatly blessed with a good number of generous institutions and artists willing to help out with this kind of independent film production.

The film’s dream sequence was inspired by the storybook “Ang Ika-Sampung Taong Kaarawan ni Prinsesa Mayumi” (“Princess Mayumi’s 10th Birthday”), which the filmmaker originally wrote for the film.

The child actors were from the Advocacy Program of the Museo Pambata (an institution helping deprived, underprivileged, and street children and a museum for kids). The staff was proud of these three kids who each did a great job as first time actress/actor for a 35mm film.

Through the help of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR, Province of Rizal, Philippines), the City Hall of Antipolo and the Municipal Hall of Rodriguez, Rizal, the bulk of the film (dream sequence) was shot at the historical site of the Wawa Gorge, more familiarly known as the Wawa Dam, in San Rafael, Rodriguez (formerly Montalban), Rizal — where the legend of Bernardo Carpio’s “Dalawang Nag-uupugang Bato”(The Two Clashing Boulders) originated.

The Cast

Patricia de Silva – Isabel

Karla Pambid – Mom

Joel Torre – Dad

David Trinidad Jr. – Pag-asa

Rency Van Dorpe – Saya

Charisse Mara Luluquisin – Fairy dancer

Iroy Abesamis – Fear-fed shadowman

The Production Team

Rianne Hill Soriano – Screenplay and Direction

Wowie Hao – Director of Photography

Chrisel Galeno – Production Designer (Day 1 to 3)

Joy Puntawe – Production Designer (Day 1)

French Lacuesta and Joy Puntawe – Asst. Directors

Ron Dale – Editor

Philip Arvin Jarilla – Musical Scorer

Jason Galindez and Noel Bruan – Audio Engineers

Alda David, Rianne Hill Soriano and Mayleen Enorme-Menez – Production Managers

Iroy Abesamis – Choreographer

AG Sano, Rianne Hill Soriano and Philip Arvin Jarilla – Storyboard Artists

Rianne Hill Soriano – Original children’s storybook made for the film

Al Rio and Ojay Desuasido – Storybook Artists

The filmmaker would like to thank the NCCA, Filmex, LVN, Provill, Optima, Museo Pambata, Kodak Phils., Kontragapi, UP Film Institute, First Call, Sun for All Children, GiantSponge, City Hall of Antipolo, DENR (Rizal), Municipality of Rodriguez, the people of Wawa Gorge, and all those who helped us in the production.

My film ‘Aninag’ screens in the U.S.
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Comic, satirical, and mocking in its style, “La Visa Loca” offers a dose of laughs and slaps for the Filipino viewers, whether they are on the nationalistic or pragmatic side of things.

This film explores the decision-making process in cases that involve one’s mind, heart, pride, idealism, and most of all, economic stability. Crafted in a light and subtle way, the story works on a simple premise, which clearly promotes a social commentary on how a number of Filipinos become fanatics of the relatively elusive U.S. visa. It has a distinct statement over the madness for that “greener pasture” in the land of Uncle John.

The film has an interesting opening credits, which tastefully depicts how Filipino hopefuls pray for the precious stamp of approval at the U.S. embassy.

The cinematography, music, and editing generally complement one another. Metaphors here and there present the film’s satirical side. These include the scenes of a hardworking carnival mermaid and the parodied rituals and various types of fanaticism in the Philippines — the myths during the Holy Week and other religious and cultural beliefs, the Filipinos’ colonial mentality, among others. The irony in banning the eating of pork in opened beerhouses during the Holy Week says a lot about the narrative. Many speaking lines hit on small unresolved issues such as the banning of the use of the Filipino translations of penis and vagina in broadcast media. All these clearly give a social commentary on the Filipino mentality.

Filled with gray characters that are finely stitched into an ensemble, the story unfolds in a light and entertaining way amidst the heavy issues inside it. Meily turns the characters’ flaws into comic fun without losing focus. Most of the major roles casually deliver the needed narrative punches. The father-and-son relationship between actors Johnny Delgado and Robin Padilla gets carefully molded along the way to validate the film’s end. At some point, the emotions become overwhelming; the situation renders its own kind of redemption. Meanwhile, even with nothing much to say, the short but poignant mother-and-son look between Evangeline Pascual and Padilla gives enough connection without becoming too melodramatic and overacting.

Paul Holme delivers substantial flair as the “Planet Strange” host Nigel Adams. With the things that happened to him in the tale, he gives enough credibility to his lines, particularly the wake up call to the Filipinos’ bad habits and colonial mentality, as well as certain citizens’ opportunistic attitude towards tourists.

Johnny Delgado as a DOM type justifies his very character. The story says he is neither good nor bad, as he falls into the errs of being human — a victim of sacrifices getting left with even more sacrifices to come.

Robin’s acting is mostly commendable. He serves as a personification of an ordinary Filipino trying to live up to the American Dream, while suffering from disillusionment in his own country. Yet, he offers an attempt to live up to a certain redemption of the Filipinos’ image and pride. He makes his own sacrifice for his country, and at the same time, just like his father, he makes a sacrifice to attain his dream.

Ruffa Mae Quinto’s charisma adds to her character, but the so-so acting doesn’t add much to the story.

The passion chorus adds a venue for style — in par with the Filipino elements such as the Kristos and the faith healers. Collectively, these serve as a counterpart for voiceover by singing out loud the comments for Padilla’s character. Although the film can stand without such, they add heart to the presentation.

The cameo roles seem to extend the fun the production had during the shoot. Some of them are seen in the credits. The audience see actors and actresses Earl Ignacio, Bearwin Meily, Raymart Santiago, Eddie Gutierrez, Ricky Davao, and Evangeline Pascual, directors Andoy Ranay, Khryss Adalia, Quark Henares, and even Mark Meily himself, cinematographers Jorg Schifferer and Lee Meily, and even Unitel producer Tony Gloria. With all these cameos, the film lives up to the mood and mockery its theme clearly suggests.

In terms of gender sensitivity, it is quite disappointing to know that Padilla’s character as the personification of a Filipino trying to redeem his race remains the typical womanizer without any good change by the end — as if saying that all Filipinos play around the women in their lives. Further validating this concern are the portrayals of major female roles in the film — Pascual as an irresponsible mother and Quinto as a pathetic single mother who gets some help from an ex-boyfriend. So goes with that woman quarreling with Mark Meily (in cameo) involving that Las Piñas-Caloocan issue inside a cab. As a film trying to make a statement for a hopeful change in the country’s questionable mindset and attitude, it seriously lacks storytelling sensitivity to gender concerns.

The ending is quite predictable. Nevertheless, it remains valid for the story’s needs. The film’s style, look, and temperament are often times appealing. As a comedy carrying a load of heavy issues with it, it is expressively fun, witty, and meaty. In between its imperfect moments, it provides some carefully orchestrated elements meant to strike the emotions of the general audience.

‘La Visa Loca’ Film Review: Visa fanaticism
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Behind its eerie theme, Tim Burton’s “Corpse Bride” presents a morbid and romantic trip between the cold dwelling place of the living and the colorful nderground world of the dead. Fun, genial, expressive, and charming, this semi-musical stop-motion piece is set at death’s door, saluting the liberating power of true love and sacrifice.

The story revolves around a young groom-to-be who mistakenly weds a girl from the grave and complicates his upcoming marriate to the womaan he loves.

The directors paint death as a more colorful plane of existence compared to life, as literally shown on the visuals — a bitterly cold presentation of the world of the living as compared to the colorful and musically vivid world of the rotting flesh. It turns out there is more life at the dead’s company.

The engaging story, the expressionistic visuals, and the heart for the very statement it wants to insinuate make an overall witty animated tale. It is whimsical yet eerie, funny but melancholic. On a light, side-splitting note, it promotes a necrophiliac entertainment which can find a good place at the hearts of people who like watching a pile of bones set in an ironic and animated space, whether or not it is the Halloween season.

Tim Burton, along with co-director Mike Johnson, ventures into the world of stop-motion animation for this motion picture, rendering that tedious job of hand-manipulating characters that move incrementally to be shot frame by frame.

So how tedious can this work be? A film is a moving picture. Each frame is shot. Each shot becomes 1 frame. From 1 frame to another, the movements are incrementally shown over a certain period of time. For a TV show, there are generally 30 fps (frames per second). In film, the standard is 24fps. Taking it from here, one can just imagine the challenge of shooting each frame of “Corpse Bride” with 24 shots to be done for a 1-second clip of the film, 48 shots for a 2-second clip, and so on. Each frame is carefully shot with human hands, rightfully moving the different parts of the body of each character for 1 frame, then move all the body parts very incrementally to shoot the next frame and make sure everything complements the previous movement of one particular character. Each frame requires very dexterous hands moving the subject creatively and effectively. According to IMDB.com, instead of film cameras, tthe filmmakers used 31 commercial digital still photography cameras, particularly the Canon EOS-1D MARK 2 SLR, interestingly with Nikon lenses.

The musical score by Danny Elfman, just like Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter who are Burton’s frequent collaborators, makes a delightful mix of flight of fancy for the film. A stylistic and touching moment to create a more human tone on the love story is shown in many ways as the accurately presented piano scene of Victor and the Corpse Bride. Overall, the musical parts are very flourishing. As usual, Burton’s team makes up a new world out of the dark and expressionistic style Burton is known for.

The story is not as refined as the usual art-house works. But this film makes a poetic form out of what it has. Its minor flaws are easily overlooked as the eyes roll over its Burtonesque-style of storytelling. Its imaginatively done puppetry promotes a dark and grand fairy tale brimming with quirky characters and gothic sets.

“Corpse Bride” is a darkly enchanting tale about the celebration of love that is told in a quirky, gothic, and ironic style. It has the courage to address issues about love and sacrifice and life and death in a shadowy, poetic, and creatively bizarre way.

‘Corpse Bride’ Film Review: A charming grave fairy tale
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If you think Hogwarts is the only secret school for extraordinary kids, well there’s also the heroic children’s world of “Sky High.” This film is a hybrid superhero flick: “The Incredibles” meets the “X-Men” via “Harry Potter.” It may be a Disney flick with a big celebration of superhero cliches; but it is entertaining enough for its target market. As a derivative, it never claims to be genuinely superior to its more successful blockbuster sources. Despite having a mediocre and formulaic script, it still turns out as an engaging family movie.

Exploring the lives of emerging superheroes during the time called “coming of age,” it is a lightweight adventure that dwells into the themes of puberty, popularity and family acceptance (living up to the issues of celebrity parents or parents who excel at their chosen professions and expect their children to excel in the same field as well).

The story builds up at a secret school up in the clouds named Sky High, an elite school for kids with superhero parents and superpowers themselves. The freshmen group rides a bus towards the campus and gets a sight of cool gadgetry and awe-inspiring superskills amidst some parental battles, peer pressure,and teenage love moments.

Living their high-school life in a cloud-floating campus, the teens are at the peak of discovering their superpowers. These include a rock monster, an acid spitter, a glow in the dark boy, a vegetation commander, a beautiful and popular senior technopath, two bullying boys with superspeed and superelasticity, a snooty cheerleader, a dangerous rebel with flammable arms, animal-morphing, beach ball-morphing, and puddle-morphing kids, and lots of other teens with superpowers. Further exaggerations are seen with their professors such as the forgotten-sidekick and formerly known All-American Boy who is now the dorky mad science teacher with a gigantic brain.

Living up to the people’s expectations, Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano) is pressured by the fact that his father, the Commander (Kurt Russell), and his mother, Jetstream (Kelly Preston), are the world`s most legendary superheroes. At Sky High, the freshies are divided into two classes by a cruel gym teacher (reminds us of Hogwarts’ Sorting Hat): the Heroes and the Sidekicks/Hero Support. Initially, the mundane Will joins the ranks of the Sidekicks as a late bloomer who apparently shows no signs of special powers inherited from his parents. Upon hitting the peak of his superhero puberty, he finally inherits his dad’s colossal strength and even his mom’s ability to fly. His outcast days are over as part of the Sidekick class whose gifts aren’t adequately impressive, as far as the school standards are concerned. As the inevitable villain plot endangers Will’s parents and the whole Sky High, he and his teenage superfriends (a group of freshmen sidekicks plus his former arch-rival Warren Peace (Steven Strait), take the hero’s path to save Sky High.

The movie kicks off with bright, comic-strip panels and tries to wrap up in the same way. It is a combination of mild teen melodrama, quirky characters, and superhero fantasy revolving around the tragedies of high-school life. The discrimination within the superhero hierarchy (heroes and sidekicks) involves both emotional and practical concerns. It manages to put some undertones in putting catchphrases such as “hero support.”

Scene transitions feature the classic use of tilted camera shots and contemporary B-movie style CGIs to heighten the movie in a not so distracting fashion. Effects are seemingly spent within a limited budget — having no big-time intro and finish to boast of. Ironically, this works for the movie’s advantage as there is no much distraction from the plot mechanics. The superhero costumes are deliberately “action-figurey.” The script is completely dependent on formula, superhero conventions, and standard teen movie cliches. Yet, its undemanding tone gets a certain charisma for the enjoyment of its targeted young viewers.

“Sky High” is classic Disney filmmaking. It crosses the superhero saga with a kiddie-flick charisma designed to bring delight to the young. This is a bright, fanciful, and warm-hearted flick fitting a family day.

‘Sky High’ Film Review: Soaring high school heroes and sidekicks
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Ring of Nibelungs movie review

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Benefiting from the epic success of the “Lord of the Rings” in terms of theme and source material, “Ring of Nibelungs” offers a dose of swords, kingdom, ice, magic, and dragon amidst the conflicts of love and greed.

The film’s tone combines that of “LOTR” and “Asterix and Obelix,” primarily rendering a mythical and historical look that settles in the vastness of the cold countries of the north.

With the sight of the film’s poster, which quotes the movie as Tolkien’s inspiration for LOTR, it suggests that the story revolves around the character of Brunhild. However, in the film, Siegfried clearly has the most exposure.

In “LOTR,” the plot revolves around a magic ring that grants the power to rule the world towards destruction. In “Ring of the Nibelungs,” the plot revolves around the greed that blinds humans and leads them to their own destruction. Clearly capitalizing on the tested market of the former, this film’s narrative is still able to capture its market. Amidst the bulky material, the story’s focus remains strong. Amidst its huge scale and scope, it is able to turn the story into a generally entertaining mainstream fare.

The tale begins with a brief background about the Norse gods including Odin, the god of wisdom and war and the chief of the gods. After which, the narrative focuses more on the human characters from the legend. From here, the plot moves on to the story of Siegfried (Benno Furmann), a conquered kingdom’s heir who grew up with the blacksmith Eyvind (Max von Sydow). When a meteor crashes into the Earth, he goes his way for it. There, he falls in love with the Norse warrior queen Brunhild (Kristanna Loken). With the gods, they become destined to be reunited through their love. Siegfried uses the metal on the meteor site to forge his great sword. As he journeys his way towards Iceland to reunite with his Valkyrie love, he slays the dragon Fafnir for the Burgunds. Since then, he has been revered as the dragon slayer who is now invincible through the dragon’s blood (but similar to Achilles having a certain weak spot on his back).

Siegfried ignores the curse that lies on the treasure and the Ring of the Nibelungs, which was initially stolen from the Nibelungs by Fafnir. This later costs his life and his love for Brunhild. The treasure brought by Siegfried to Burgund leads to betrayal, deception, and greed: King Gunther (Samuel West) of Burgund envies the strength and heroic stance of Siegfried and he agrees to have him killed; Kriemhild (Alicia Witt), King Gunther’s sister, agrees to use magic to steal Siegfried’s heart for her own; Hagen (Julian Sands), King Gunther’s trusted advisor, kills Siegfried to get the treasure and its power solely for himself; and the other people of Burgund blind themselves to the lust for gold when Hagen promises them part of the treasure if they would go by his side. Upon avenging the death of Siegfried by Odin’s estranged daughter Brunhild, she reunites with Siegfried by killing herself beside his cold body.

For a film, it is not the happy ending people usually prefer to see — but it is a rather good and faithful ending for such a tragic-stricken material.

Looking into a broader perspective of how a woman in the character of Brunhild gets portrayed here, there is that irony on her great strength and warrior stance vis-a-vis her femininity, faith, intelligence, and love. The honeymoon scene of Brunhild and Gunther is such a comic scene, one of the rarest type of honeymoon that can probably be seen on screen: the seemingly unbeatable wife pinning down the husband like a mortal enemy ready to be killed.

Furmann’s facial features show great resemblance to Jennifer Lopez. On a more serious note, he is effective enough for the character of Siegfried. Only that, the young Siegfried child actor during the first few scenes of the movie leaves no much resemblance to the adult Siegfried. Loken looks great as the warrior queen of Iceland. West’s face looks too bulky at certain angles, but his acting for the King Gunther role generally works. Sands’ dark and gothic features offer a fine conviction for his dark and evil character.

Brunhild’s crown, braids, and fur coat and cape seem inspired by Freya, the goddess of love and war and the wife of Odin. The production design, especially with the jewels and costumes, promotes a visual feast of Nordic grandeur. However, the dragon Fafnir’s design looks unimpressive.

Although it becomes a bit of an issue that the epic musical score sounds very similar to that of “LOTR,” overall, the “Ring of the Nibelungs” soundtrack turns out effectively haunting and compliments most parts of the story well — except for the music at the end part that is not enthralling enough for the movie’s ending.

‘Ring of Nibelungs’ Film Review: Another ring tale
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Kingdom of Heaven movie review

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Ridley Scott makes another epic — this time, streamlined in the middle of the conflicting religious beliefs of the Christians and the Muslims. A fiction inspired by historical accounts, “Kingdom of Heaven” renders a cinematic vision of the Crusades of the 12th Century.

Balian (Orlando Bloom), the young, grieving blacksmith from a small village in France, finally yields to the invitation of his estranged father, Baron Godfrey of Ibelin (Liam Neeson), to go to the Holy Land of Jerusalem. With the hope of relieving his and his dead wife’s sins, he finally convinces himself to lead the way towards salvation there so that his wife may go to heaven after committing suicide. As his father’s heir, Balian rises to protect his people from the Muslim invaders. From a blacksmith on a soul-searching journey, he becomes the defender of Jerusalem — carrying with him his father’s guiding legacy and ideals of promoting peace and getting hold of the kingdom of heaven.

This motion picture starts with vast coldness. But as Balian reaches Jerusalem, lives a new life as a knight, and becomes the dedicated leader of his people, the film’s richness in color and texture starts complementing the film’s change in mood, the exposition of the characters, and the progress of the story. Scott’s directorial treatment often features playful shots utilized in effective places. He primarily combines panoramic and close-ups shots, jarring camera movements, blades and arrows flying in mid air and meeting blood or snow, and smoke effects in this religious epic fare. Though situated in an epoch of staged battles and slow-motion movements, the storytelling doesn’t turn out as remote and distant as the exotic locales the story depicts.

Characterizations are given some emotional investment through tight shots. The confrontation scenes allow the audience to get nearer the characters and see their reactions through effective close-ups. The intimacy on the shots gets further amplified with the fight scenes seizing moments for each dying man. The overall visual treatment promotes not just the opportunity for sheer grandeur and lush cinematography for a period epic, it also opens up the storytelling to the more human side of the tale. The many lingering shots help the audience digest the emotions involved in the scenes.

This motion picture’s musical score seems pegged from its epic film counterparts such as “Alexander,” “Troy,” and even “Lord of the Rings” (“LOTR”). But its distinct combination of Christian- and Muslim-inspired tunes renders good timing and personality to the material, which is in par with the story’s visual and emotional requirements. This also gives its space of separation from its epic pegs. The orchestral soundtrack particularly puts atmospheric grandeur to the many battle scenes.

“Sometimes, you should choose to do the lesser evil to do the greater good.” This is the idea behind a striking dialogue between Sibylla (Eva Green) and Balian during a time of crucial decision-making — whether he marries her or not — after he kills her wicked and arrogant husband Guy de Lusignan (Marton Csokas) who happens to be the heir to the throne after the leprosy-stricken King Baldwin (Edward Norton) dies. The idea of doing one evil for the sake of the greater good opens up some conflicting ideas to rattle the minds of the audience, especially in a Christian world were murder is absolutely a sin.

The relationship between Balian and Sybilla is one of the movie’s weaker points. It gets developed in an uneven manner. It is as if it starts out as a given aspect in the main storyline, but during the latter part of the story, the issue becomes precariously injected without concern by putting cutaway shots of Sybilla in between the battle scenes without any useful sway.

He may be wearing a mask the entire time, but Edward Norton shines in his sensitive portrayal of the leprosy-stricken King of Jerusalem. Neeson, Green, and other supporting cast members render fine acting performances. However, for the main actor Bloom, his portrayal turns out mostly two-dimensional, and as if he has not left his Legolas role in “LOTR.” His performance lacks dramatic breadth. More often than not, he tends to recite his dialogue like in an acting class — while practicing for a monologue.

The story never loses its focus. It clearly concentrates on Balian, and Scott never completely fails the audience with his main character, even though Bloom is not able to deliver very well on the acting department. It’s quite a disappointment though that Sybilla gets forced with such a presence by the latter part of the picture, as if she is a useless or an unfitting garnishing on a delectable plate.

The issue between the conflicting religious beliefs of the Christians and the Muslims, which are carefully presented in the story with respect and in good faith, make their own marks in the story. Even if this tale is set centuries ago, modern viewers can easily relate to it.

Even with its flaws, “Kingdom of Heaven” remains as an entertaining mainstream offering with its grand cinematography, production design, and sound design. Its confrontational parts, intimate moments, and battle scenes are directed with engaging style. This motion picture runs nearly 2.5 hours, but the pacing doesn’t drag. Those who prefer consuming cinematic luxury on screen should find this film most enjoyable.

‘Kingdom of Heaven’ Film Review: War and religion
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