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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

******************************Review********************


 
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

******************************Review********************


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.

******************Review********************

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-