All posts tagged movies

Justin and the Knights of Valour – Review

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Something strange happens when watching this film. For the first sixteen minutes, there are uncomfortable limitations in the animation that only its spectacular art direction and the detailed textures make it possible to overlook. Too much story information is setting itself up. Far too many characters are introduced. It’s tricky to keep track of who is who. The character’s names, most of them long and complex, are not repeated enough to learn.

Giving the artists the benefit of the doubt, the plasticity of the character renderings is balanced by the expressive nature of the poses, likely a result of very strong storyboards. But relative “weights” of characters and objects don’t always ring true. The story teeters between “been there, done that” and “should I care, since I’m lost anyway.”

But then, 16 minutes and 45 seconds into the film, Justin and the Knights of Valor (available on DVD and blu ray on July 22nd via Arc Entertainment) really begins where it should have. Young Justin (voice of Freddie Highmore) starts on his way to the training grounds, first stopping at a pub housing the film’s most interesting characters—Talia, a likable barmaid (Saoirse Ronan), and Melquaides or “Mel” (Little Britain’s David Walliams), a “mystic” with two personalities.

Mel is the most amusing character in the movie. He talks to his “other self “ like Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films, but he can move so fast from one place to another, he often is seen literally as two people. It’s a pure animation conceit, and very clever.

When Justin leaves the pub and resumes his journey, this is where film’s title should come onto the screen. Next, we meet Justin’s trainers, another set of better-realized characters (voiced by James Cosmo, Charles Dance and Barry “Dame Edna” Humphries). Though we’ve been here before in Kung Fu Panda, How to Train Your Dragon and The Karate Kid, the sequence still works, with amusing side gags including a room sized miniature chess-like tableaux that is constantly in danger of being destroyed.

There is no denying that this film feels derivative of How to Train Your Dragon, but it has no genuine magicians, fairies or dragons (except for a ridiculous makeshift fire-breather). Justin must accomplish his quest on his own. The story puts one more in the mind of The Sword in the Stone (T.H. White’s, not Disney’s).

Here is a an exclusive clip from the film.

The film’s “presenter,” Antonio Banderas, gives a fine comic performance in the role of charlatan Sir Clorex, the type of macho buffoon that Patrick Warburton practically patented. But with a few exceptions, the film tends to lean toward characters who are act silly but aren’t largely funny. Considering that this was made in today’s more sensitive age, it’s disconcerting there is such a stereotypical character in Sota (Rupert Everett). Did Everett know that his character would be animated in such a mincing, Monty Python way? Sota continues to be a broad caricature in the second half of the film, but his flouncing isn’t as pronounced.

No kidding, you could cut out the first 16 minutes and 45 seconds and have a very entertaining motion picture in which most of its shortcomings are less pronounced. All the plot points are repeated and clarified, including a very nice two-dimensional retelling of the story of Justin’s grandfather. Characters come along when they should, in due time—and their names are given more frequently as the film progresses.

The climactic battle is inevitable and predictable, but nevertheless exciting and suspenseful. Because Justin has to train and learn rather than get assistance from magic or sidekicks, the movie sends a strong message to kids about seeking goals with hard work and no shortcuts.

Ilan Eskeri’s score is suitably sweeping to buoy the action and breathtaking visuals; a handful of contemporary tunes recall the tunes in Treasure Planet. While incongruous to the storybook setting, the songs are not intrusive. Had this film begun at 16:45, one ballad that provides a “heart moment” would not slow the film at all, but would only make the viewer more invested in Justin’s situation.

Watch Justin and the Knights of Valor from the beginning and it’s a passable diversion with technical issues that are hard to ignore. But watch it from 16:45 and it becomes a more solid film in which its shortcomings are overshadowed by the brisk pace, nicely balanced character interaction, and—while still not an A-lister by any stretch—a handsome and engaging entertainment.

If you enjoyed the music from the movie Guardians of the Galaxy there’s some good news for you. This week Guardians of the GalaxGuardians of the Galaxyy Awesome Mix Vol. 1 is free on Google Play (this is evidently a US exclusive).

The mix includes 12 songs from the movie:

  • Hooked on a Feeling
  • Go All the Way
  • Spirit in the Sky
  • Moonage Daydream
  • Fooled Around and Fell in Love
  • I’m Not in Love
  • I Want You back
  • Come and Get Your Love
  • Cherry Bomb
  • Escape (The Pina Colada Song)
  • O-O-H Child
  • Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

While this is a little off the topics we generally cover, I figure 1) there’s enough of you who will enjoy this fine collection, and 2) there’s not too much that my sick behind is going to be able to cover today.

Even if you’re not in the Android Ecoverse, grab it. You can download MP3s of the music and transfer them to whatever system you want, or just listen to them online.

The freebie comes at the same time the movie has been released for download/purchase, so chances are it’s just a clever ploy to get you to remember how great that movie was and plunk down $19.99 to buy it in HD.

Download: Google Play

Film Review: ‘Dracula Untold’

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'Dracula Untold' Review: A Tale of

 

There’s nothing new under the moon in “Dracula Untold,” a decorous but dull origin story that attempts to turn history’s most famous vampire into a kind of male Maleficent — a misunderstood husband/father/ruler who turned to the dark side out of the noblest intentions. What next? “Freddy Krueger Meets Dr. Freud?” Lavishly mounted by first-time feature directorGary Shore, minus the cheeky good humor that propelled his 2006 creature-feature short “The Draft,” this Legendary-Universal co-production (which opens today overseas, 10 days ahead of its domestic bow) looks to scare up only modest Halloween-season biz amid competition from Warners’ “Annabelle” (out Oct. 3) and U’s own “Ouija” (out Oct. 24).

Like Bram Stoker before them, screenwriters Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless (the forthcoming “Gods of Egypt”) take their inspiration from the real historical figure of Vlad Dracula (aka Vlad the Impaler), a 15th-century Transylvanian prince, taken hostage as a teenager by warring Ottoman Turks and trained in their military ways (events recounted here in a visually striking prologue comprised of three-dimensional static images). We then pick things up a couple of decades later, where an adult Vlad (Luke Evans, suitably glowering and downcast) has returned to his people, who maintain an uneasy peace with the ever-looming Turks. When the new Sultan, Vlad’s childhood frienemy Mehmed II (Dominic Cooper), demands 1,000 Transylvanian youths as conscripts for his army — among them, Vlad’s own son, Ingeras (Art Parkinson, cementing a very conspicuous “Game of Thrones” vibe) — the war-weary prince sees no option but to defy the Sultan’s demands. And so the outnumbered, out-sworded Transylvanians prepare for battle.

But lo, all hope is not lost for ye who enter here — here being a mountain cave stumbled upon by Vlad and two adjutants, wherein lurks an ancient ur-vampire (a lip-smacking Charles Dance) who, after making mincemeat out of the prince’s traveling companions, offers him a special trial membership (who knew?) in the cult of the undead. Drink his blood, says the vampire, and for three days Vlad will possess the strength of 10 men, along with a voracious craving for human blood. If he succumbs to that temptation, then vampire he shall remain for eternity. If he can resist, then at dawn on the third day the curse will be lifted.

This being an origin story whose outcome is pretty well known, “Dracula Untold” doesn’t really have anywhere to go from there, save for a couple of frenetic, large-scale battle scenes designed around Vlad’s newfound ability to shape-shift from human form into a colony of bats — a special effect that wears out its novelty while Shore is still playing with it like a shiny new Christmas toy. (Most of the time, it looks like a flurry of dirt particles in front of the lens.) The only real suspense here isn’t so much whether as when Vlad is finally going to sink his pearly whites into the jugular of his devoted wife, Mirena (Sarah Gadon, so pale, trusting and beautiful that one knows it can’t possibly end well for her). Well, that and how a creature with a marked aversion to wood can continue to spout Sazama and Sharpless’ dialogue.

Whereas Francis Coppola’s 1992 “Dracula” (a veritable golden oldie in today’s short-term cultural memory) was a baroque, high-fashion free-for-all, “Dracula Untold” opts for the stately, staid approach, and even at a mere 85 minutes (sans credits) it’s something of a bore — neither scary nor romantic nor exciting in any of the ways it seems to intend. The Irish-born Shore, who’s also logged a lot of hours as a commercials director, certainly knows how to frame an attractive shot, and cinematographer John Schwartzman has accommodated him lushly by shooting in 35mm anamorphic widescreen. But the movie never finds its own style, or feels like more than a mashup of outtakes from “Thrones” and the entire Peter Jackson catalog (with a nifty but fleeting infrared vision effect borrowed from the urban werewolf classic “Wolfen”).

“Dracula Untold” is too high-minded to let go into the kind of energetic, B-movie escapism a director like John Carpenter or Paul W.S. Anderson might have brought to the same material, while the material itself is too thin to support the heavy-handed Wagnerian approach. The result is finally something neither here nor there — a vampire movie with nothing at stake.

moviecreator2

Microsoft just released a new app for WP devices, called Movie Creator (beta). the app allows users to edit and create movies on the go from their phones. Move Creator allows you to add, remove and trim video clips, along with filters, captions and cinematic effects. The app can also add background music from the music app stored on your phone (as long as it’s not DRM protected), and  sync them to your movie.

Making movies has never been easier, right from your Windows 8.1 phone!

Movie Creator helps you quickly and easily combine videos, photos, music and even cinemagraphs into stylish movies for sharing anywhere.

It’s simple! In four quick steps you select your footage, select a theme (that’s a style for your movie), add music and titles and then you’re ready to watch your movie.

You can personalize your movie too! The tools included allow you to rearrange clips, apply filters to your clips, adjust trim & duration of clips, rotate/flip/mirror clips, pan & zoom clips, add text titles & credits and adjust volume. You can also change movie themes and music anytime and even get more themes from the in-app Theme Store.

Save your movie in the size you wish and you are ready to watch and share it.

22 Jump Street Review

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22 Jump Street - 2013

Sugar-rush entertainment … Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum in 22 Jump Street.

Could it be the Godfather II of bromance action-comedy sequels? 22 Jump Street is the outrageous and very immature follow-up to 21 Jump Street, proving that the next in the franchise series doesn’t need to be awful. This it does by breaking out the gags, the stunts and the cheekily self-aware riffs like there’s absolutely no tomorrow. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (from The Lego Movie) direct, and the screenplay is by Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel and Rodney Rothman, from a story devised by Bacall and Jonah Hill.

It certainly provides that rarest of things: relaxing enjoyment. In all its uncompromising goofiness, 22 Jump Street brings onstream a sugar-rush of entertainment. Reviewers’ noses too often wrinkle up at comedies – unless, of course, burdened with darkness or surrealism – while horror and superhero pictures, no matter how moderate, are greeted with cowed respect. Here, on the other hand, is a movie that made me feel guilty for laughing quite so much. There is sometimes something inspired in its screwball craziness. It features a line about Cate Blanchett which pretty much justifies the price of admission on its own.


Reading on mobile? Watch the trailer here.

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are back as the appalling Schmidt and Jenko, two grown men in their late 20s who are police officers co-opted into a top-secret undercover division, posing as teenagers in high school to root out drug dealers. The first movie was based on the 1980s TV show with Johnny Depp, where the premise was taken reasonably straight; in the film it is played for laughs and kidulthood satire. Now Schmidt and Jenko return, and the idea is that they have graduated to college. They must go in deep, posing as undergrads to … to root out drug dealers. Their superior officer, Deputy Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman) announces this weirdly similar assignment in the manner of a jaded Hollywood executive who is hardly able to believe that the first story has spawned a new one.

And when Schmidt and Jenko report  for duty at another disguised disused church, across the road from the old one, their commander is once again Captain Dickson, played by Ice Cube, who is just as scornful of his team, but thrilled at the fact that their HQ is now kitted out with all sorts of pointlessly flashy furnishings.

Schmidt and Jenko duly show up at college, and naturally find that they really do discover themselves there. Superjock Jenko, with his cubic head and permanently hungover face, finds fulfilment such as he has never known on the football team, and his course on sexuality is moreover very rewarding. He bonds with fellow player Zook (Wyatt Russell), while Schmidt is deeply hurt at his buddy’s new “bros before lesser bros” policy and what appears to be the end of their friendship. Meanwhile, Schmidt goes to excruciating poetry slams and finds a tender new relationship with sensitive arts major Maya (Amber Stevens), a liaison that is to lead to all sorts of problems at work.

Finally, Jenko suggests to Schmidt that they “should investigate other people. Sow our cop oats.” And all the time the youngsters wonder at the crinkly lines around our heroes’ eyes and how old they look. Hill and Tatum have a great double-act going; I’m tempted to invoke the memory of Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, only both are interestingly subdued, and Tatum is no straight man; he has a gift for comedy.

 

The two leads have what can only be described as a thwarted heteroerotic relationship, challenged by the quasi-grownup demands of college. Schmidt’s love life brings him into conflict with Maya’s roommate Mercedes, played by SNL writer Jillian Bell, who absolutely steals every scene – dead-eyed and contemptuous at all times. She is brilliant in a later sequence featuring a fist-fight with an awkwardly sexual undertow, an example of what the script calls “Mr-and-Mrs-Smith-ing”.

There is a great deal of supremely watchable and funny silliness in Schmidt and Jenko’s new life together in their college dorm room, especially when they have to bond with the twins who live in the room over the hall, Keith and Kenny, played by the Lucas Brothers, whose synchronised way of speaking is winningly strange.

As for the prospect of more Jump Streets, the idea is comprehensively trashed at the beginning and end of the film in some very sharp self-reflexive satire, which uses up loads of perfectly serviceable ideas and generally burns its franchise boats. They don’t want to wind up like some sort of two-man Police Academy. Fair enough. It was very funny while it lasted.

The Anomaly Movie Review

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If something doesn’t feel quite right about British sci-fi thriller The Anomaly, it’s because the script should have spent longer in development. As a director and producer (this time not a writer), Noel Clarke proves that you don’t have to throw a lot of money at the screen to create the right atmosphere, but it takes more than a few nifty camera tricks and digital effects to draw an audience in.

Clarke also has the starring role, as Ryan, an apparent hostage who wakes up in the back of a van where a boy called Alex (Art Parkinson) is begging for his help. Ryan has no memory of how they got there and barely a grasp of his own identity, although judging by his skills in hand-to-hand combat, he’s not your average civilian.

The shadow of Jason Bourne looms large, not least in the many fight scenes, except that Clarke has been a little too tricksy. He speeds up and slows down the action against the thumping beat of synthesised music, but rather than feeling raw and immediate, the effect is stagey with the fights overly choreographed (bad guys unnecessarily dancing up walls) and his camera never gets in amongst the action to make a visceral impact.

Alexis Knapp and Ian Somerhalder in The Anomaly

Alexis Knapp and Ian Somerhalder in The Anomaly

The world that Clarke creates is more eye-catching. London is still recognisable in the not-too-distant future (a few additions to the skyline and some airborne billboards), but Ryan repeatedly blacks out and wakes up in other far-flung places, including New York. He is only in his right mind for ten minutes at a time and so much hopping about, having to muscle his way out of tight corners, becomes monotonous. The main focus for Ryan is his search for Alex and yet he can’t make progress without first finding out what is happening to him. Fortunately, most of the clues fall into his lap.

A steely-eyed American (Ian Somerhalder of Lost) is the one face that keeps popping up wherever Ryan happens to be, and evidently is in control of his fate. A grand conspiracy begins to unfold (through unlikely confrontations and expositional dialogue) in which Ryan is a very expendable part and the truth he seeks has catastrophic implications for the future of all life. At the same time, the filmmakers skirt around the big issues that might have given this film some much-needed substance, so the answer to the question ‘What is the Anomaly?’ feels overblown rather than profound.

The people who populate this dystopian future are similarly lacking in dimension. Alexis Knapp is the stereotypical ‘tart with a heart’ who is thrown into the mix, ostensibly to remind our man of what being human is all about, which is difficult when you’re dead behind the eyes. Her primary function is just to sex up the action. Meanwhile, Brian Cox is wasted in a small role that could have been played by a jar of organs and Clarke, despite making things happen behind the camera, is not a convincing action hero. The Anomaly has all the ingredients of a winning formula, in the wrong measures.

Are you Here Movie Review

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A comedy with no laughs. A drama disconnected from any known reality. It’s tempting to diagnose “Are You Here” with schizophrenic genre disorder. But that just sounds like an excuse to cover up what it really is, an unmitigated mess that feels the need to present yet more iterations of that tired Hollywood species known as man-child run-amok-ous. Sometimes it tries to be a “Broadcast News”-style comedy, with Owen Wilson as the type of smarmy philandering moocher he has done countless times before. The difference here is that he is a local TV weatherman in Annapolis, Md., who makes Bill Murray’s on-air forecaster in “Groundhog Day” seem like a paragon of repeated virtue. Wilson’s Steve Dallas is a regular one-man rodeo all right—full of bull and proud of it. He has a constant need to have a potential bed partner at the ready at all time—be it co-worker, casual pickup or prostitute.

He also has a propensity to peep at his shapely across-the-way neighbor as she disrobes in front of her windows each night, and not in a Jimmy Stewart non-creepy way. Then there is his charming habit of pretending to be able to pay the bill with his worthless credit cards and his constant use of mind-altering substances even on the job. Other times, “Are You Here” appears to be a portrait of a dysfunctional family in the vein of “August: Osage County” when Steve’s best—and seemingly only—friend, Ben, learns that his father has died and the funeral requires a road trip to rural Pennsylvania. To mention that this hirsute near-hermit, manic-depressive idealist and fellow pothead residing in a mobile shack whose interior decorator was obviously the Unabomber is played by Zach Galifianakis is akin to stating the obvious. There is even a hint of “Witness,” as Amish folk occasionally materialize and then quickly take their leave in a possible attempt to add some existential folksiness to the over-reaching muddle that unfolds onscreen. An enveloping plot of sorts exists, one that involves the ever-popular contested last will and testament, but it struggles to tie the overload of random themes together. The most astonishing fact about “Are You Here” is not the casual insertion of a pseudo-incestuous sex scene that no sane person would ever want to see. Nor that there is an actual chicken running around with its head cut off at some point.

 

Or even that a talent so above this enterprise as Amy Poehler agreed to play Ben’s sister, a miserable shrew defined by her harsh eyeliner and seething dissatisfaction tied to her inability to have children. No, the most shocking thing is that Matthew Weiner is the perpetrator behind this sad enterprise. It took the much-lauded creator of TV’s “Mad Men” and invaluable contributor to “The Sopranos” eight years to bring this foolhardy venture to theaters. “Are You Here” is not his actual feature debut—that would be a tiny 1996 effort titled “What Do You Do All Day?”—but it’s the first to see the light of day. As a frustrated would-be movie director, it feels as if he’s dumped every brainstorm he ever had on the screen, including a prominent farmhouse kitchen sink, with little desire for self-editing. And shame on the man behind such complex female characters as Peggy Olson, Joan Harris and Sally Draper for inventing such a passive creature of desire as Angela (Laura Ramsey, who appeared in “Mad Men’s” “ The Jet Set” episode), Ben and Terri’s impossibly young, earth-mama stepmother who swans about in filmy white ensembles even though she lives and works on a farm. She exists only to fulfill the fantasies of men, including Wilson, Ben and his father, who felt compelled to provide extensive nausea-inducing details of their sexual history in his will.

I have to give credit to Weiner for one achievement: He makes some sharp casting choices among his supporting ranks. He has obviously watched series other than his own, considering that he is smart enough to hire Paul Schulze, so good as pharmacist Eddie on “Nurse Jackie,” as Wilson’s boss and Lauren Lapkus, the female prison guard Suzanne on “Orange Is the New Black,” as his fawning co-worker. But if Matthew Weiner weren’t Matthew Weiner, there would be no way this script would attract the likes of director Peter Bogdanovich (who also did “The Sopranos”) as a judge and Edward Herrmann as Ben’s therapist or convince Jenna Fischer of “The Office” to show up in the final 10 minutes or so in a nothing role. Maybe Weiner deserved this chance. Maybe he has gotten it out of his system. But maybe he should be more concerned about putting together a satisfying finale for “Mad Men” next spring (he already told “Rolling Stone” he is anticipating mixed reviews) rather than tilting at such a flimsy windmill of a movie.

First ‘Furious 7′ trailer is a wild ride

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The makers of the Fast and Furious franchise sure do have a lot of fun with cars. The first trailer for Furious 7 is here, and it swiftly dismisses the notion that they’ve run out of ideas. We’re treated to nearly an entire, outrageous action scene — complete with airplanes, flying cars, sheer cliffs, and, of course, Vin Diesel and company. It’s jaw-dropping stuff. Just to mix things up, Jason Statham and Kurt Russell are along for the ride this time, but does anyone really care about the story? The movie hits theaters next April.

New Avengers: Age of Ultron Trailer: You're Not Worthy

The first Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer showed more than our share of ass-kicking (and getting asses kicked). But this second look at next year’s best movie settles a quieter score: Who can lift Thor’s hammer?

While it’s fun to watch Iron Man try to lift Mjölnir like some billionaire playboy Sword in the Stone rewrite, it’s even more interesting to see the context behind Ultron’s grand entrance. What we’re seeing here is pride; based on the rest of the trailer, the fall looks to be steep and explosive. And of course, there’s also all that Hulkbusting.

Avengers: Age of Ultron comes out May 1 of next year, and frankly I just want to fall asleep right now and wake up then.