Sunday, December 23, 2012

Wreck-It Ralph (2012) CGI movie review

Overall verdict: 9/10

The Good: seamless blend of multiple art styles, solid characterisations, emotionally rich narrative, nostalgia laden setting and soundtrack, heart warming underlying themes, numerous video game references and cameos

The Bad: CGI seems mediocre at times considering the movie's high budget

When the lights go off at Litwak's Arcade, it's just the end of another day on the job for all the video game characters.  Like any working stiff after a days work, they go home and party, visit friends, chill at a bar. Using Game Central Station, characters can leave their own game and live their lives until the Arcade reopens the next day. One such life is that of Wreck-It Ralph, the "villain" in the game "Fix-It Felix Jr". Having become disenfranchised with never getting the love and recognition the "good guy" does, Ralph decides to leave his game and enter another game to win a medal hoping that doing so would finally win him acceptance among the other characters in his game. He journeys through Game Central, to a "First person shooter" game called "Hero's Duty" where he unwittingly unleashes a "psy bug" virus into another game, a kart racing game called "Sugar Rush". Along the way, he interacts with well known video game characters, unwillingly causes a near disaster, uncovers a hidden conspiracy and finally finds acceptance in a most unlikely friend. 
Wreck It Ralph is to video games what Toy Story is to children's playthings.  The story itself feels familiar; we've seen variations of this family friendly, all ages appeal type of story in many previous films from disney and pixar, just in a different narrative setting. Yet director Rich Moore (better known as director of many Simpsons episodes) present this tale in an ingenious and fresh way. He cleverly uses the CGI format to tap into the boundless imagination and joy that one finds in video gaming. Some of the characters even move in that jerky fashion as seen in old games and designs span the whole gamut of evolving styles from cartoony retro to stylised modern. There is a smart play on irony here too: real life gamers play games to escape, to become another character that they are not in real life, and yet the characters themselves are unable to do that since they are programmed to be who they are and nothing can change that. Escape from reality is precisely what Ralph tries to do.  

Key to the appeal of the movie is it's characters. Although lacking in "A-list" hollywood cast members, the voice acting is top notch. Every role is infused with that much personality and emotion that, like any good movie, you forget about actors or their roles and just see these characters as characters. Ralph himself is very easy to relate to; the outcast misfit trying to gain acceptance and to come to terms with a purpose for which to use his talents. Not surprisingly, this sounds like the stereotypical profile of the big sized socially inept gamer boy. Another perspective is that he represents the adult reality; a working stiff who has grown jaded of his job and just wants to escape into another game world. Along the way he meets the annoying Venelope Von Schweets who is the very definition of the word "brat". Yet Venelope herself is a character with many layers and below the rude bratty exterior lies a little girl who, like Ralph, just seeks acceptance for who she is. her happy go lucky nature easily represents the inner child without a care in the world yet forced to grow up under less than ideal circumstances. Ralph and Venelope play off each other with perfect chemistry, allowing for one truly heart wrenching scene near the movie's climax. 

Cheeky pokes on video game genre stereotypes and at how gaming has evolved through the years. From the simple pleasures of 8-bit platformers to cutsey kart racers to high definition badass First Person Shooters (FPS). Even the characters within those games are parodied. For example, Sgt Tamora, a character in the FPS Hero's Duty gets a tragic backstory so common in such characters. Fix It Felix Jr speaks in an overly polite style with dated slang, further highlighting his game's retro status. Special mention goes to the music score by Henry Jackman who combines orchestra with electronic synths. It goes from a purely electronic simple melody for the retro games, segues into j-pop inspired tunes for the candy inspired Sugar Rush kart game and even lampoons the heavy metal style music in science fiction FPS games. 

There is something truly nostalgic here and it is just oozing from the art style, the music, the very concept of the show. The film's only shortcoming is it's animation which looks surprisingly mediocre considering it's 165 million dollar budget. Perhaps a lot of the money went into buying the rights to use characters in cameos like Zangief and Bison from Street Fighter, Sonic the Hedgehog, PAC Man, and other famous video game characters. Another let down is the misleading advertising campaign. Posters and wallpaper featuring all these famous characters walking next to Ralph, or even featured more prominently than the true main protagonists, implying that their role in the film will be a substantial one. Alas, all we get are cameos that never last beyond a minute.

Yet something about the story just tugs on the heartstrings of the inner child. Gaming adults and pop culture enthusiasts will have a thrilling time picking out all the little references and homages while children and children at heart will be amazed by the colorfully creative repackaging of a familiar story. The game world is a world of unlimited potential. Who knows if we might see Ralph, Venelope and their friends move beyond the arcade and into the world of internet Cyber gaming! Now THAT calls for a sequel and fast!

*****************************Review End******************************

Go For it: if you want to see what could possibly be the best video game movie that is not actually based on a video game, if you love heartwarming tales of friendship and if your inner child craves something to take you back to simpler days of youth
Avoid it: if you never did like family friendly animated stories in the first place.

Entertainment: A
Story: A
Characters: A
Animation: B-
Art: A
Music: A
Voice work: A
Replay Value: A
"Brains": C+

Monday, November 12, 2012

Starship Troopers: Invasion (2012) direct-to-video animation review

Overall verdict: 6/10

The Good: Visually captivating designs, top notch Computer graphics for a modest budget, unrelenting action, professional voice cast

The Bad: little character development, messy story narrative, generic stock characters, lacks any of the clever underlying themes of its predecessors, relies too much on eye candy.

Current Availability Status: on DVD in local shops. Blu-ray available online

The Arachnid Bugs are back but not in some second rate low budget Direct-to-video movie. This time the Starship Troopers franchise explodes onto screen as an R-Rated, cutting edge CGI feature film from the director of Appleseed Ex Machina and Halo Legends. The result is the beautifully animated but ultimately shallow STARSHIP TROOPERS: INVASION. At very least, this movie has learned from previous mistakes and manages to be decent entertainment fare with enough action and eye candy to thrill all.

Although in CGI, this is not a continuation of the critically acclaimed "Roughnecks: Starship Trooper Chronicles" CGI TV series. Instead, it is a continuation of the movie series that started with Paul Verhoven's first film and continued in two direct to DVD live action movies.

A big plus,especially for fans of the franchise, is that the characters from the first Starship Troopers movie return and play major roles in the story. Johnny Rico, Carmen Ibanez and Carl Jenkins are now seasoned veterans with Rico now a general leading his "Marauder" Mech squad (introduced in Starship Troopers 3), Ibanez a fleet captain and Jenkins the ever secretive head of paranormal warfare. Sadly, STARSHIP TROOPERS: INVASION relies too much on tying into the previous movies that it is barely able to stand on its own.

No introductions or character development are given to the returning characters. A cast of new characters are featured but none of them go beyond your typical "hard edged space marine squad" stereotype characters. There is the token Asian character who (surprise surprise) practices kung fu, big tough African American, the tough chick and the quiet gal for sexy factor, strong silent hero, the list goes on. At least the voice cast does a top notch job that is only limited by the mediocre script which only calls for wannabe "tough talk".

The story also starts off in a complete mess with a Mobile Infantry taskforce sent to evacuate Fort Casey, a base overrun by the Bugs. Carl appears with a secret weapon and with no explanation steals a ship, Captain Ibanez takes another ship and goes in pursuit, a Bug Queen is introduced, our main squad tries to retake the first ship and people die. No one knows the characters motivations or their personalities aside from the superficial characterizations. Beyond that, newcomers who are not familiar with the franchise would just be lost among the jargon, the characters who all just seem to know each other without any introduction to who they are or a recap on what they had gone through in the past together. The film's main mistake is grounding itself too strongly in what has come before and thus making the film near inaccessible to newcomers to the franchise.

If it is not the convoluted heap of a story that would win over viewers, it is definitely the action and the visuals. STARSHIP TROOPERS INVASION brings back the powered suits and the mechs that were featured in the original novel but absent from the first movie. Not only is this movie the closest one can get to the book in terms of the Federation's weapons and tactics, but it looks awesome too. The CGI featured in this film is nowhere near the big budget Pixar movies, but it gives Final Fantasy Advent Children and Resident Evil Damnation a run for their money in terms of visual splendor. Hair flows, movements are smooth, and the filming style mimics that of live action movies, thus making the CGI look a lot better than it really is. The movie truly earns its R rating with bloody dismemberment, gore and even explicit nudity.
 Yes, more explicit than this.
 Battles are rapid, tight and epic; they would have definitely required a budget higher than the previous 3 movies combined if they were in live action. All this is set to a soundtrack score by Tetsuya Takahashi who successfully incorporates themes from the previous Starship Troopers movies.

Leave it to the Japanese to be able to visualize Starship Troopers right. Ironic in that Starship Troopers (the novel) was highly influential in the creation of the "Real Robot" genre first popularized by Mobile Suit Gundam. But like previous Japanese CGI projects, style overpowers substance and no amount of visual beauty, creative directing or eye candy can excuse a confusing, convoluted mess of a story with none of deeper themes that its predecessors had nor the complete lack of character development. Watch this purely for the action, the visuals and maybe that one nudity scene.
*******************Review End******************
Go For it: if you are a fan of starship troopers and would like to see the film franchise continued in a new, visually astounding medium. Or if you liked japanese CGI productions like Appleseed and Final Fantasy
Avoid it: if you yearn for the dark humor and clever political themes of the original Starship Troopers movie as there are none here, or if you prefer character development over character nudity and dismemberment.

Entertainment: B+
Story: C-
Characters: B-
Animation: A-
Art: A
Music: B+
Voice work (english): A-
Replay Value: B
"Brains": D

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 (2012) Direct to DVD animated movie

Overall verdict: 9/10

The Good: Faithful to the source, elaborates and expands on the original comic book, superb animation and artwork, talented voice cast,

The Bad: replacing the original muted colors with a more generic animation color style

Current Availability Status: DVD and Blu rays in stores now


One of the most beloved Batman tales finally gets the animation treatment. So influential was Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” that it inspired Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan when they were crafting their live action Batman movies, as well as the 1990s Batman animated series (which gave birth to an entire universe of DC animated shows). Warner decided to split the tale, originally spread over 4 issues, into 2 movies. Turns out that it was an excellent decision which not only successfully adapted the first half of Frank Miller’s epic, but added layers to the story and characters that the limited page count of the graphic novel could not leave in. 
Rarely does an adaptation surpass the original source material. But Dark Knight Returns part 1 is just such an example of an animated movie that is not only true to its source material, but expands upon it. The original was great; the animated adaptation makes it better. The story will sound familiar to anyone who watched Christopher Nolan’s “The dark Knight Rises”. It has been years since Batman went into retirement. Billionaire Bruce Wayne now drifts from day to day hoping that the people of Gotham can take care of themselves. But now, a new threat emerges: The Mutants. A vast gang of street thugs led by their grotesque but incredibly strong and savage leader. Despite his age, Bruce is forced to become Batman once again to save his city. But can the aging crime fighter stand up to a threat that is faster, stronger and more powerful than he has ever been?  And what happens when Batman comes face to face with his old nemesis Two-Face?

Beyond the narrative lies a thorough deconstruction of the Batman character, especially when played opposite the two main villains, Two Face and the Mutant Leader. Both villains serve as a dark reflection of Batman himself. Like Two Face, Bruce Wayne and Batman are presented as two separate personalities fighting for control. But is Batman truly just a mask Bruce wears? Or is it the other way around? And as for the mutant leader, both he and Batman operate as a symbol to inspire others to action. One a symbol of chaos and crime, the other a symbol of hope and justice. But if the mutant leader’s extreme acts can rouse Batman to return to vigilantism, so too can Batman’s actions rouse criminals to return to their old ways (as one character claims in the story).

The characters are brought to life by a fine voice cast who nail their roles perfectly. Peter Weller of Robocop fame takes the role of Batman; a role that may comes across as a monotone baritone at first. But Weller infuses Batman’s voice with nuance and subtlety which fits the character well. The only downside is that despite wanting to show a dichotomy between Batman and Bruce Wayne, Weller uses the same tone of voice throughout the whole movie; Compared to previous voice actors, like Kevin Conroy, who used different speech patterns and tones for Wayne and Batman.

A lot of deep themes about the nature of heroism vs vigilantism abound in this tale, all of which were in the original comic but just expanded upon in the animation medium. On that note, the animation presented here is the perfect balance of fluidity and art detail. Iconic frames, memorable battles and atmospheric scenes are replicated faithfully. Movie goers will be able to see many scenes that Nolan’s Batman trilogy lifted from THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, including a fight scene illuminated intermittently by a gun’s muzzle flash. Its only downside is that Warner decided to use its generic color palate rather than replicate the muted tones and heavy grays colored by Lynn Varley in the original artwork.
Fans would be pleased at how true to the original this is and how it expands on the original, smoothening out the rough edges while adding a whole new dimension to the characters. The action is intense and beautifully animated, accompanied by an epic score by Christopher Drake. This is a true ADAPTATION that does not translate the comic wholesale but translates the comic while making full use of the animated movie medium.

*****************************Review End******************

Go For it: if you want to see the all time favorite batman classic masterfully adapted to animation with top notch voices, action and well developed characters
Avoid it: if you never liked the source material in the first place

Entertainment: A
Story: A
Characters: A
Animation: A
Art: A-
Music: B+
Voice work: A
Replay Value: A
"Brains": B+

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Dredd (2012) movie review

Overall verdict: 8/10

The Good: Awesome visual experience despite modest budget, fast paced plot that maintains sense of tension, "no nonsense" protagonist, straightforward action narrative, intensely violent combat scenes, stays true to the spirit of the original comic

The Bad: plot feels like a generic special forces raid/crime film,  lack of more subtle underlying themes, much superficial thrills with little depth


The world slows, colors are more vibrant, words are pin sharp, everything is more brilliant. No it is not the ad for the new iPad but the effects of the drug “Slo-Mo”. One experiences a moment of true beauty and wonder; a fleeting moment that feels like an eternity until the “Slo-Mo drug wears off and you are snapped back to a harsh painful reality. Reality is a scorched earth with the remnants of humanity crammed into the overpopulated “Mega-City One”. Reality is rampant crime and chaos; the death of a man is a common occurrence that is treated with as much dignity as taking out the garbage. In this grim reality order is maintained by the Judges: futuristic police given the authority to judgment without trial be it a year in an isolation cell or a death sentence. Most notably among them, is the mysterious Judge Dredd (Karl Urban).

Resolute, unwavering, and seemingly devoid of bias, pity or empathy, Dredd represents the strict and uncompromising law that he serves; a law that is just as extreme as the criminals he deals with. On a routine training assessment for rookie Judge Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), Dredd and Anderson end up at the notorious “Peach Trees” mega block: 200 floors of slums controlled by a gang run by a sadistic drug lord “Ma-Ma” (Lena Headley). When the Judges capture one of Ma-Ma’s head henchmen, she locks down the entire block and orders the death of both Dredd and Anderson. The sentence for the attempted murder of a Judge is death; a sentence that Dredd is more than happy to carry out. It is guns-a-blazing action as Dredd and Anderson blast their way up the Mega Block, going up against enemies within and without toward their ultimate goal of dispensing justice.

For fans of the original comic, one would say that this movie does to Judge Dredd what Christopher Nolan did for Batman. This “Nolan-ised” Judge Dredd sports a uniform more akin to modern day Special Forces gear than his comic book get-up. Gone are the aliens, robots, hover bikes and space ships. This is a future that is grounded in our current reality. Other than the presence of the Mega Blocks, the city wall and the Judges’ Hall of Justice, Mega-City One is your standard crowded metropolis of today with familiar architecture.

Yet the movie succeeds in remaining true to the spirit, heart and soul of the concept and the character (a lot more so than the  1995 Judge Dredd movie starring Sylvester Stallone). Karl Urban IS Dredd. His mannerisms, body language and voice are a perfect fit for this faceless lawman of the future. All the other roles are played so well that you forget about the actors and just see them as the characters they are. This proves once again that one does not need big name actors to make a good movie, just good actors. .

Director Pete Travis and his team manage to find the perfect balance between no-holds-barred action and quiet lulls between the gunfire. At no point does the movie drag; the “talk time” serves to flesh out the characters and build up tension which is then released in the many stylish shootouts. Accompanying the carnage is a synth rock soundtrack by composer Paul Leonard Morgan. In this age of loud bass, heavy percussions and grand orchestral movie scores, it is refreshing to hear DREDD’s synth soundtrack. The composer weaves a familiar heavy metal and electronic rock sound that is agile beyond belief; going from intense pulse pounding to match the action scenes to an ethereal and surreal feel for the “Slo-Mo” scenes.

On that note, DREDD is one movie that turns slow motion into a true work of art.  Drops of water shimmer like diamonds as they fall, smoke billows like clouds in heaven. This creative cinematography and use of special effects make the slow motion scenes stand out from other abusers of slow motion filming such as Paul WS Anderson’s Resident Evil retribution.  

DREDD is able to prevent itself from being a typical “all action no brains” movie. Within its narrative lies unique characters, a frightful vision of our possible future and a small snicker of satire. Its fast paced plot, grim protagonist and gritty violence hearkens back to the golden age of the 80s action films while its creative cinematography matches that of high concept arts films.The bottom line is, everything from the visuals, the story, the music and the characters fit together to produce one magnificent adaptation of the beloved UK comic book.

Truly a rare diamond in the rough amidst the run-of-the-mill modern action flicks. And  despite critical acclaim, DREDD is no doubt destined to be serverely underrated by box office takings.

*****************************Review End******************

Go For it: if you yearn for the days where action heroes were strong, tough and more than glad to fulfil their violent purpose with extreme prejudice or if you love easy-to-follow "Cops and Guns-a-blazing" movies.
Avoid it: if you expect deep philosophical, political or social themes such as in "The Dark Knight Rises" or if you demand a strict adherance to the original comic book's outlandish setting and style

Entertainment: A
Story: B+
Acting: A
Characters: A
Music: A-
Replay value: A
"Brains": C-

Friday, October 5, 2012

Resident Evil Retribution (2012) movie review

Overall verdict: 4.5/10

The Good: appearance of game characters are true to the source material, beautiful set pieces, a few visually outstanding scenes

The Bad: overly coreographed fights, tiresome usage of slow motion, plagerises from numerous other movies,offers nothing new in terms of creatures, foes or concepts.


Paul WS Anderson takes “style over substance” to its limit in his fifth installment in the Resident Evil movie franchise. At least half the action scenes are in slo-mo, similar to the previous franchise entry. What might be more stylish than slo-mo? Slo-mo in reverse! And that is exactly what the opening sequence delivers; it wastes almost 5 whole minutes picking up from the previous film: Umbrella Corporation forces attack the ship that Alice and her friends are on, there is lots of shooting then Alice is blown into the water. All that IN REVERSE, then forward again. Alice is captured and trapped in a vast underwater facility that houses replicas of the world’s major cities like New York and Moscow. It is revealed that Albert Wesker (the main villain so far) has splintered off from Umbrella corporation (which is now being run by the artificial intelligence program “Red Queen”). Alice must escape, but not before fighting her way from one movie cliché to another.

For those new to the Resident Evil movie franchise, it is everything you’d expect from a skewed piece of fan fiction. Paul WS Anderson’s wife, Milla Jovovich, stars as the ultimate Mary Sue character named Alice; effectively reducing main characters from the Resident Evil video games to supporting roles. Stripped of her superpowers, Alice is still unnaturally agile, sickeningly strong and uncannily durable. Bullets magically miss her, convenient tools and weapons appear to her when she needs them and her guns never run out of ammo.  
If all the slow motion scenes were played at normal speed, this already short movie will be a lot shorter. Its actual narrative is already THAT thin, not to mention that most of it is a pastiche of scenes and concepts ripped off from other films. James Cameron’s Aliens, Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead and many others are blatantly and shamelessly plagiarized. In what I suppose is meant to be a “smart” reference of a reference, Paul WS Anderson rips off the “X-Ray vision bone crunching” fighting gimmick that was used in 2009’s Mortal Kombat video game (not surprisingly, Anderson directed the very first Mortal Kombat movie).

Within the zombiefied narrative, we are treated to more “startling” revelations that only serve to muddle up the already messy story of the Resident evil movie franchise. New creatures pop out of nowhere without any conceivable explanation, a new zombie infection called “las plagas” is introduced, and we get unsurprising origin of Alice and who she truly is. Speaking of zombies, they feature very rarely in this movie; or at least the traditional human zombies that Resident Evil is known for. Giant Mutant creatures only make occasional appearances as “mini-bosses” for Awesome Alice to kill (as usual). Most of the fighting involves Alice, former Umbrella operative Ada Wong and a mercenary team led by Leon Kennedy going up against cloned Umbrella troopers including a few familiar faces.

Yes the special effects are top notch (considering its huge budget), and the slow motion will keep ramming that fact into your face. But other than that, there is little else to enjoy about this movie (perhaps some will get off on a near nude Milla Jovovich’s torture scene). There is no sense of peril for the characters and even the fight choreography is more like dancing than fighting.

With a story that feels like a filler episode in a TV series, shallow characters, blatant plagiarism and a overall “been there done that” feel, Resident Evil Retribution shows a zombie movie franchise in the literal sense; the same thing that just keeps coming back from the grave, more mutated than ever.  What we have, at best, is a multi million dollar tech demo for fight choreography, slo mo cinematography and 3D.

*****************Review End******************

Go For it: if you like fight scenes that play out more like a dance than actual combat, self glorifying fanfiction, fancy cinematography or 3D special effects in general
Avoid it: if you crave even an ounce of originality, a sense of tension, narrative competence and well written characters

Entertainment: B-
Story: C-
Acting: B
Characters: C-
Music: C+
Replay value: C
"Brains": D-

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Total Recall (2012) movie review

Overall verdict: 7/10

The Good: exciting from start to finish, many references to the original, sympathetic protagonist, delves into questions of identity and perception of reality, creative and original production design of the future cityscapes and sets, dripping with intensity and energy.

The Bad: choppy action thanks to over reliance on shakey camera and lens flare, lack of suspenseful plot twists, missing the dark humor of the original film, generic plot without the visuals.

What makes up who we are? Are we the result of our past experiences and memories or does our identity stem from something much deeper? These are questions that the 2012 remake of the classic action film "Total Recall" could have delved into. What we have instead is a showcase of the best and worst of modern science fiction film making. It is Definitely a product of 2012 as much as the original was a product of the early 90s.

The aforementioned themes are only teased but never developed in this intense tale of on man's quest to uncover the truth of his identity and past. In a vastly overcrowded, class segregated future, everyman Douglas Quaid is haunted by dreams of being a secret agent on the run. Convinced that these are repressed fantasies brought on by his monotonous life assembling security automatons (which are like Cyber Stormtroopers) Quaid visists this place called "Rekall"; Rekall claims to implant fake but realistic fantasies into one's mind. So he gets a fantasy of being a double agent implanted. Suddenly, its discovered that he already has memories of being an agent: meaning he actually is an agent with his memory erased. A swat team busts in for some reason and he dispatches them to some beautiful camera camera pans. What follows is "Kurt Wimmer's 'Salt: dystopian future edition - minus Angelina Jolie" (surprise surprise, this movie is also written by Wimmer) with Quaid's wife turning out to be a psychopathic killer, his past a complete sham and his grip on that fine line between reality and fantasy slowly slipping. In the background lies a dastardly plot by a rich chancellor involving the poor dissidents of the overcrowded Colony and the leader of an underground resistance.

The most striking feature of Total Recall would be the stunning vision of this overcrowded future. Floating buildings to make up for scarce land, a country confused by its melting pot of cultures, cyborg police, hover cars, it is amazing. This is a future that seems very real judging from our current world: Strict class segregation taken to the extreme. The dichotomy in the design between the rich and elite United Federation of Britain and The ramshackle Colony is beautifully rendered thanks to the amazing production design headed by Patrick Tatopoulos (the guy who worked on Independence Day, Starship Troopers and Dark city).

A pity that the rest of the movie is fairly typical of modern day chase thrillers. Compared to the original Total Recall film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, this remake has Less twists, a less ambiguous ending and lacks the cynical dark humor that made the original so memorable. Instead of keeping it ambiguous as to whether the events unfolding are real or part of Quaid's implanted fantasy, this remake spoils its own mystery for the audience.

Director Len Wiseman brings in all that is good and bad in modern day film making into this movie. He shoots Total Recall with an over reliance on shakey cam and lens flare, almost like a "Paul Greengrass meets J.J Abrams". Think Bourne Supremacy with the visual style of the 2009 Star Trek film. The future is epilepsy inducing, we get it; and sometimes this really distracts from the tip top designs.

The cast is basically a reunion of mist actors that were in Len Wiseman's Underworld franchise. They do an excellent job with the acting and chemistry but the good actors like Bill Nighly felt under utilised. Only Kate Beckinsale was able to truly shine playing Quaid's wife-turned-assassin. Quaid himself is played by Colin Ferrel and is perhaps the only improvement this remake boasts over the original. Schwarzenegger's Quaid was the quintessential action hero but Ferrel's portrayal of the character had a greater sense of peril: he looks nothing like an action hero and this makes his transformation from everyman to savior of the downtrodden all the more powerful.

Whether one finds this a good movie or not depends on whether one can accept the modern trends of science fiction film making. It is the same plot as the original with all the "1990s" elements taken out and replaced with "2012" elements. Art Aficionados will be impressed by the overall look, style and camerawork showcased here. Those looking for a deep meaningful dive into the nature of human identity or even those looking for clever twists or smart dialogue will be let down. Take away the visuals and it's a rather generic, straight forward modern chase thriller.

*****************************Review End******************************

Go For it: if you love impressive visuals, stunning camerawork and a bleak but awesome vision of a dystopian future and can accept modern filmamking trends like shakey cam all set to an "easy to follow" thiller.
Avoid it: if you prefer the deeper themes of identity inherant in the original prose story by Phillip K Dick, the dark humor, clever twists and testosterone laden nature of the 1990 original movie.

Entertainment: A
Story: B-
Acting: A
Characters: A-
Music: B-
Replay value: B+
"Brains": C-

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Superman Vs the Elite (2012) direct-to-video animated movie review

Overall verdict: 8/10

The Good: tackles deep socially relevant themes, clever deconstruction of modern day superheroes, superb voice acting, well developed main characters and antagonists, gets you thinking.

The Bad: sub par animation, inconsistent artwork, goofy character designs

Current Availability Status:

Contrary to what the title implies, "SUPERMAN VS THE ELITE" is not some brainless action brawl (like Hulk Vs Thor or Freddy Vs Jason). It is a relevant piece of fiction and metafiction, possibly the darkest animated Superman tale ever. The story itself is adapted loosely from a story in Superman #775 "What's so Funny about Truth Justice and the American Way".
SUPERMAN VS THE ELITE tackles the long lingering question of whether Superman's non-violent policy is still relevant in this day and age. How relevant is superman as a hero and a crimfighter? Criminals like the Atomic Skull are sent to prison, they escape, and Superman just sends them to prison again. It's a vicious cycle. That is, until one day these four new super powered beings show up calling themselves "The Elite"
They fight crime just like Superman, they take down bad guys like Superman. But unlike Superman, they are willing to kill to ensure the bad guys do not return. It is obvious that the world is sick of the revolving door of supervillian imprisonment. Atomic Skull's latest rampage was the clincher. If Superman had finished him off instead of sending him back to prison, it would have saved lives and millions in property. Support for The Elite builds and Superman's ethics are called into question as the world demands more direct action to deal with it's escalating problems. Superman objects to their violence of course. But to the Elite, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. And problems must be dealt with, permanently.
The original comic served as a deconstruction of the man of Steel by pitting his non-violent moral stance against characters representing the growing trend of morally ambiguous anti-heroes in comics. It was metafiction that tackled story fads, and very clever metafiction at that. This animated movie ends up delving deep into moral philosophy, politics, the definition of a hero and ultimately a heartfelt reaffirmation of the goodness Superman represents. It is socially relevant too, calling into question the death penalty, America's foreign intervention policy, and much more. Here is material that would put even live action comic book movies to shame.

The story is dark. Almost "Dark Knight trilogy" level of Dark. It would leave you questioning human nature, human morality and ultimately you will ask yourself "If i was in that situation, with supervillians running amok because they escaped incarceration time after time, would i also support the actions of the Elite?". The characters are written very well and given enough development to keep them interesting. Though the Elite themselves are meant to be parodies of modern anti-heroes, their actors do a wonderful job of fleshing them out and even having the audience on their side for a time. The voice acting is pitch perfect and the accents are clear, not exaggerated.
George Newbern from the Justice League animated series reprises his role as Superman and almost makes one reconsider him as the "definitive" superman voice over Tim Daley. He masterfully pitches the contrast between Superman and Clark Kent, delivering the occasional humorous quip and the heartfelt "for the greater good" lecture with equal passion. Perhaps of particular note is that he is the first to portray superman as genuinely scary. Without spoilers, let's just say that Superman "goes Batman" at one point and it's a performance that can wet one's pants.
Sadly though this clever, deep and socially relevant tale is marred by what could be the worst animation and art in DC's animated movie history. The designs themselves call to mind saturday morning anime like One Piece or pokemon with their exaggerated anatomy
inconsistent character models

and weird facial expressions

The casual viewer can immediately point out the numerous animation goofs in the footage such as the way Superman's chin size never stays the same.

The designs are also quite silly looking. Palms and fists look like balloons for example and Superman himself looks more like Bananaman.
Such goofy designs might have fit in better with a comedy or a light hearted cartoon aimed at kids. But SUPERMAN VS THE ELITE is definitely aiming a lot more mature with it's story and themes. The simplistic shadows and flat coloring on the characters clash with the intricately designed backgrounds of the city scapes, especially during action scenes.
Telecom Animation Film Co (who worked on Inuyasha and Akira) have done wonders with the previous "Justice League: Doom" animated movie. Yet for reasons unknown, all of these technical issues convey the impression of a rushed production or a low budget. It is no better than Tv series standard , Which is a huge pity because this is a story to be taken seriously. How do you expect us to take a serious story when the characters look so silly?

SUPERMAN VS THE ELITE could have been the best Superman animated movie; or even the best Superman movie EVER. Yet shoddy production and questionable artistic direction taints an otherwise perfect story.
*****************************Review End********************************

Go For it: if you like a socially relevant piece of animation that gets you thinking about deeper issues that many cartoons tend to avoid talking about.
Avoid it: if the goofy artwork turns you off

Entertainment: A-
Story: A
Characters: A
Animation: C+
Art: C-
Music: B+
Voice work (english): A
Replay Value:A-
"Brains": A-

Monday, July 30, 2012

Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker (2012) direct to video CGI movie review

Overall verdict: 6.5/10

The Good: Beautiful background CGI artwork and character designs, passionate voice acting, , well choreographed Action and bloody violence, brisk moving "betrayal/vindication" plot.

The Bad: Cassandra's inconsistent accent, Cel Shading used to hide mediocre character animation, wasted potential for more complex plot subtext, inconsistent musical style, near inaccessible to those unfamiliar with the Dragon Age franchise

Current Availability Status: out on blu ray and DVD

The best selling video game series from Bioware gets the CGI anime treatment courtesy of the creative team behind Vexille and To. A semi-prequel to Dragon age 2, "DRAGON AGE: DAWN OF THE SEEKER" Chronicles a pivotal early adventure in the life of Cassandra (a side character NPC within the Dragon Age 2 game).
It is a time of great mistrust across the lands. While the "Chantry" religious order holds power thanks to their Templar forces, there is suspicion of a conspiracy within the leadership. An order known as the "seekers of truth" was formed to act as a check adn balance to the power of the Templars. After rescuing a elf girl from rogue blood mages, Cassandra Pentaghast and finds herself embroiled in a clandestine plot when she is framed for treason and murder. It is suspected that some among the Chantry have been secretly aiding the blood mage order. On the run, she finds an unlikely ally in a Circle Mage called Galyan. Despite her hatred of magic users, Cassandra and Galyan must band together to clear her name and weed out the true traitors.

A simple story from the get go, Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker makes its first mistake by bogging it down in a lot of backstory. After a full 3 minutes of narration explaining the world of Dragon Age, the various orders, the difference between mage clans, the Chantry etc, it is still rather difficult to follow for most people except those already familiar with the Dragon Age games. Fantasy stories like Lord of the Rings slowly reveal their fantasy world as the audience explore it with the main characters. Dragon Age just throws you right in with a brief explanation.
Here is a movie that cannot decide if it wants to be japanese anime or follow more closely to the original game fighting mechanics. We have scenes of soldiers in full armor fighting like how you would expect knights to fight. Both feet on the ground, sword to attack, shield to block. Then you have Cassandra wielding dual swords, charging, leaping and kung-fu-ing IN FULL ARMOR in your typical over-the-top japanese anime fashion. Suspension of disbelief can only be take so far when there is no explanation at all for Cassandra's superhuman abilities.

This brings us to the aforementioned action scenes and the overall visual standard of the film.
The actual designs and detailing within scenes is breathtaking considering the show's modest budget.
Look at that view! Check out the scales and tiny reflections on the body of that lizard!
Lighting, reflections and other effects are rather good. The only downfall is in the animation of the characters themselves. Hair flop around in clumps like thick wet noodles, creatures and animals in motion have an unnatural stiffness to them. Motion Capture seems to be used for some scenes to animated the human characters and these show very smooth and fluid motion. The faster paced and more over-the-top combat scenes however seem to be key framed and that's where the character movements are stiff, jerky and unnatural. Closeups and jittery camera effects, along with the cel shading, help to hide all those technical shortcomings. Nonetheless, the keen eye can pick those flaws out easily.

Like the animation, the characters are also hit and miss. While the show does showcase some excellent vocal performances, some of the voice actors seem to struggle with keeping their accents consistent. Colleen Clinkenbeard especially delivers a passionate rendition of Cassandra's fiery personality. Sadly she cannot decide if Cassandra is american, british or italian. Switching to the japanese audio does not help matters as some roles seem miscast (Cassandra sounds too young) and the seiyuu are generally over-acting their parts. Inconsistency also extends to the soundtrack which switches between Gothic inspired medieval melodies and modern electronic riffs.

Pretty much every good aspect of Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker has a counterpoint. The story is engaging, the dialogue is snappy, the acting is solid. Yet the convoluted backstory and slipping accents weight down those assets. A lot of attention was paid to crafting and designing the characters and CGI sets yet little effort was put into actually animating the characters. Visually, this movie looks exactly like 2004's "Appleseed"(a science fiction CGI movie that used similar cel shading techniques). When your movie looks only as good as something from 8 years ago, either technology has come to a standstill or CGI animators are getting lazy.

This show could have been so much more. A skilled writer could have turned this into a witty jab at the ancient Church's power during the middle ages, or even a jab at religious extremism and zealotry. Alas, those would forever remain lost opportunities. It's mediocre visuals, needlessly complex narrative and reliance on backstory might alienate all audience except Dragon Age fans. What could have been an animated fantasy epic with brains ends up as a run-of-the-mill excuse to cash in on the name of a video game.
*****************************Review End******************************

Go For it: if you are a fan of cel shaded CGI animation or an existing Dragon Age player
Avoid it: if you have never played Dragon Age (or read it's wiki entry) or had hoped for another big fantasy epic

Entertainment: B-
Story: B
Characters: B
Animation: B-
Art: A-
Music: C-
Voice work (english): B+
Voice work (japanese): B
Replay Value: B-
"Brains": C-