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Friday, November 30, 2012

[6.50/10] The Man with the Iron Fists (2012)

Brief review: Driven by his gigantic passion for Chinese martial arts, Wu-Tang Clan leader and actor, RZA, finally makes his directing debut, giving us "The Man with the Iron Fists" - a semi-successful martial arts fantasy flick for western tastes, that is heavy on action, but very light on plot. The story, narrated rather poorly by RZA himself, is unnecessarily complicated,  confusing, and not particularly original, and as a result the film feels forced and all over the place. RZA's inspiration from old-school kung-fu films is obvious, but he also gives the movie a modern edge in order to mix things up. He may be a lazy narrator and sub-par director, but RZA certainly has taste for visual panache, and that shows through the movie's lavish overall look and strong production values. The action sequences are frenetic and highly-stylized, complemented by first-rate wire-work, and featuring a surprising amount of violence and gore. The choreography by the legendary Corey Yuen is very creative, though at times, there's too much going on on the screen, and that combined with the choppy editing, makes the fights a bit hard to follow, if still thrillingly spectacular. There are far too many characters in the movie, none of which is particularly memorable. The colorful, international cast including Lucy Liu, Russell Crowe, and Dave Bautista do their best with the given material, but it is the mediocre script that doesn't let them shine.

Overall summary: It's wildly uneven, and overstuffed with characters, and the weak plot is just an excuse for some over-the-top action scenes, but "The Man with the Iron Fists" still can be fully enjoyed for what it is -  a visually stimulating martial arts extravaganza for grown-ups.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

[8.00/10] Sinister (2012)

Sinister (2012)

Brief review: Aptly titled "Sinister", this is "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" director Scott Derrickson's latest movie, about a true-crime writer, who comes across some weird clues, while writing his new book. To call "Sinister" a proper horror movie would be fair, because its succeeds on pretty much every single level. The writers has put so much thought into the script, successfully balancing murder mystery, true-crime drama and heavy supernatural elements, with sense of style and sophistication, and even though the plot itself seems familiar at first, the end result is a gripping and intriguing fright-fest, destined to become a horror classic. In terms of atmosphere and scares, "Sinister" certainly lives up to its title, and then some. Delivering everything from jump-of-your-seat boo scares and ghastly images to nail-biting tension and edgy suspense, "Sinister" is one of those horror movies, that quickly gets deep under your skin and stays there long after the credits roll. The film's intentionally gloomy look, ominous setting, and effective music score also add to the eeriness factor, not to mention the creepy-as-hell Mr. Boogie / Bughuul, who will surely come to haunt you in your dreams. Ethan Hawke gives a spot-on comeback performance, brilliantly portraying one of the most memorable male protagonists in recent 'horror' history. The supporting cast does a solid job as well, complementing Hawke's character so perfectly.

Overall summary: Atmospheric, superbly-conceived, and compellingly mysterious, "Sinister" is every bit as creepy as its title suggests, and also one of the best horror movies of 2012, as it manages to deliver genuine scares and tons of suspense, without having any major flaws.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

[5.75/10] The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (2012)

Brief review: Let's face it, "The Twilight Saga" is cheesy stuff for teens. Thankfully though, after last year's nicely-shot, yet ultimately boring "Breaking Dawn Part 1", director Bill Condon manages to deliver the most watchable and reasonably entertaining entry in the popular series, since Catherine Hardwicke's guilty pleasure-ish original. It wouldn't be a lie if we call "Breaking Dawn Part 2" eventful, because there are more things happening in this installment alone, than all the other  four put together. Yes, the cheesy 'yawn' parts are still there, and but the plot is more intense, exciting, and tightly-paced than ever before, and the entertainment value is much higher. "Part 2" also introduces many new, mostly secondary characters, without feeling overcrowded, with Bella's daughter being at the center of attention. The final battle is epic, indeed, and certainly the biggest highlight of the movie, and the franchise in general. After shooting "Part 1", Bill Condon's love for the series has obviously grown, and that shows through his improved direction. He also adds the much needed slickness to the visuals, and therefore gives the film a much more polished look. Bella and Edward still lack a believable chemistry, despite the actor's real-life relationship. Pattinson continues to be stiff as a board, but at least Stewart finally displays some charisma, exposing a tougher, grittier side of her otherwise dull character.

Overall summary: All the typical cheesiness and some below-par acting aside, "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2" feels like a delicious dessert at the end of a mostly bad five-course meal - it's enjoyable, well crafted, and definitely better than its 3 lifeless predecessors.

This review is also featured on TVFilmNews.com

Friday, November 23, 2012

[8.00/10] Wreck-It Ralph [3D] (2012)

Wreck-It Ralph [3D] (2012)

Brief review: From "The Simpsons" TV series director, Rich Moore, "Wreck-it Ralph" is yet another winner from the esteemed Walt Disney Animation Studios, that can be easily enjoyed by all ages. What makes this gem of an animation as complex as it is, is the fact that it manages to be visually breathtaking, without compromising on the plot and character development. The unique and wonderfully-conceived story successfully pays homage to the classic arcade video games we all loved, and grew up with, hence, it brings back precious memories from our childhood. "Wreck-it Ralph" may be lively and playful, but it's not all about fun and games, as it has a softer, emotional side that teaches it's okay to be different, as well as a powerful moral message for children, about giving chance to misfits. The film also has a very charming and lovable, main character with quirky personality and big heart, that many kids can relate to, and an adorable and very memorable heroine. Visually, "Wreck-it Ralph" is absolutely stunning to look at. The largely experienced Disney animators once again demonstrate an almost explosive imagination, and cleverly and skillfully mix together different styles of animation, with the end result being a brilliant blend of old, new, classic and contemporary CG graphics, that are also bright and incredibly colorful. The 3D effects, while far from spectacular, add detail and depth to the imagery. 

Overall summary: Clever, thoroughly original, delightfully nostalgic, and emotionally heartfelt, "Wreck-it Ralph" is a smashing entertainment for children and adults alike, that not only dazzles with its vividly beautiful 3D imagery, but also has a surprising amount of heart and soul.

This review is also featured on TVFilmNews.com

Monday, November 19, 2012

[6.50/10] Upside Down (2012)

Upside Down (2012)

Brief review: Hitting US theaters on Dec10 this year, "Upside Down" is the second feature film by Argentinian director Juan Diego Solanas, who manages to deliver one of the most extraordinary love stories ever made, meant to those willing to see something truly one-of-a-kind, both premise-wise and execution-wise. However, "Upside Down" is definitely not for everyone, as the whole idea of the movie is odd, and may be 'too much to handle' for more traditional viewers. Also, the forbidden love type of romance doesn't feel sincere at first, but it gets more believable and charming as the movie progresses. Mixing sci-fi and romance is one movie is rarely a smart move, but Solanas blends these contradictory genres rather seamlessly, and with an exquisite sense of flair. He also deserves a lot of credit for his work in creating this movie on a purely technical note, because "Upside Down"is incredibly difficult to shoot and execute, considering its 'upside down' concept, and the fact that it requires great skills to be made properly. Visually, "Upside Down" has a lot going on about it, sometimes even more the eyes can take. The visuals are imaginative and nothing short of striking, and while there are a lot of CGIs involved, those are absolutely top-notch. Kirsten Dunst and Jim Sturgess not only do an excellent job in their roles, but also share a great chemistry, and the supporting cast is pretty much on par.

Overall summary: Slightly pretentious and at times utterly peculiar, yet still engaging, "Upside Down" is an unusual love story full of originality, inventive ideas and stunning, never-seen-before imagery, that is further elevated by some solid performances from the cast involved.

This review is also featured on TVFilmNews.com

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Best American Remakes of Foreign Language Films

Hey, guys! Click on the screen shot above, or THIS LINK, and check out my article "Best American Remakes of Foreign Language Films", written for my monthly column in the awesome White Cat Magazine. I hope you like it, and please, don't forget to leave a comment. :)

Friday, November 16, 2012

[9.50/10] Cloud Atlas (2012)

Cloud Atlas (2012)

Brief review: Adapted from David Mitchell's 2004 novel of the same name, "Cloud Atlas" is a high-end piece of cinema for thinking grown-ups as well as viewers with very high requirements. It's basically a hypothesis of reincarnation, mutual dependence between us people, how past lives can affect us in our current lifetime, and how we build our own future. This deeply meaningful multi-layered story takes place in six different time periods - past, present and future, and despite its complexity and seemingly complicated plot structure, it easily understandable, and flows smoothly and cohesively, thanks to the gripping narrative and competent editing. "Cloud Atlas" has it all - it has originality, it has substance, it has humor, it has action, it has interesting dynamics between the characters, and even a touch of romance. As expected from such visionary directors as the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer, "Cloud Atlas" is an outstandingly imaginative and visually-sumptuous film, shot in various locations, and featuring as many authentic period sequences as breathtaking futuristic ones, with those set in Neo Seoul deserving  a special mention. Also, the three filmmakers seems to be working together in perfect harmony, as their co-direction is refined, polished, coherent and inventively brilliant. Arguably the best ensemble cast of the year all deliver a wide variety of performances as impressively colorful as the actors themselves.

Overall summary: Highly complex, yet never confusing, "Cloud Atlas" is a unique, thought-provoking, and often mind-bending masterpiece of modern philosophy, flawless storytelling, eye-popping visuals and wild imagination, and unlike anything you've experienced before.

This review is also featured on TVFilmNews.com

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

[6.75/10] The Bay (2012)

The Bay (2012)

Brief review: Barry Levinson continues to demonstrate his undeniable versatility as a director, showing yet another side of him with ecological horror thriller, "The Bay". While hardly groundbreaking, and slightly uneven, this film is nevertheless conceptually refreshing in terms of both premise and execution. It's cleverly-conceived and successfully blends eco-disaster with foreboding plague and flesh-eating parasites, with the end result being a constant creep-fest, that also hides an important environmental message. The best thing about "The Bay" is the fact that, as paradoxical as it may sound, the movie manages to be forbidding without being actually scary. Even though it's full of gross-out moments of gruesome gore and rotten flesh, it intentionally avoids cheap scares, and relies more on tension and shock value to send a chill down your spine, plus, it's disturbingly believable. Luckily, "The Bay" is more of a mockumentary rather than your common 'found footage' flick, and that definitely works in its favor. Levinson takes the POV shooting style to a whole new level, using an admirable variety of filming techniques and many different type of cameras, such as webcams, car cams, TV cameras, security cameras, and of course hand-held cameras, which are typical for the sub-genre. Thus, he not only showcases his abilities and inventiveness, but also provides the viewer with visual diversity.

Overall summary: It's far from terrifying, and it suffers from quite a few pacing issues, hence, it feels rather incoherent, but thanks to its clever approach at mockumentary horror, "The Bay" still manages to succeed in various areas, and is guaranteed to make your skin crawl.

This review is also featured on TVFilmNews.com

Sunday, November 11, 2012

[7.00/10] Citadel (2012)

Citadel (2012)

Brief review: After five shorts, UK director Ciaran Foy finally brings us his first feature film, about a recently widowed agoraphobic young father, who tries to protect his baby daughter from a gang of cranky, evil kids. "Citadel" is hardly a crowd-pleaser, lacks cohesion, and has more than a few pacing issues, but these weaknesses are nothing, compared to the strengths it possesses. Being suffering from agoraphobia himself, the director puts a personal touch here, making both the bizarrely engaging story and characters easier to relate to. There's something inexplicably frightening about "Citadel", as it has that nagging sense of dread and unease, that makes you uncomfortable, but in a good way. The scares ain't cheap or in-your-face, and there's plenty of nail-biting suspense and sinister imagery. In typical British fashion, "Citadel" is quite bleak in feel and look, even depressingly moody at times, but that only adds to the grim nature of the story. Foy easily maintains the eerie atmosphere throughout, with the final act being the absolute highlight of the movie, not only because it takes place in one of the creepiest settings ever put on film, namely a dark and grim tower block, that will surely give you the chills, but also because the level of intensity is sky high. Aneurin Barnard does an amazing job with a difficult role, carrying the entire movie on his shoulders, and the supporting cast complements him perfectly.

Overall summary: It's slightly muddled, and its inconsistent pacing may put some viewers off, but Foy's unique and very personal little chiller, "Citadel", more than makes up for these faults with originality, spot-on performances, plenty of effective scares, and spooky visuals.

This review is also featured on TVFilmNews.com

Friday, November 9, 2012

[8.75/10] Skyfall (2012)

Skyfall (2012)

Brief review: Brought to life by one of the most gifted directors in film history, Sam Mendes, "Skyfall" is everything a modern spy thriller should be, and then some. It starts out very promisingly, with a (thankfully) long, super-thrilling, high-octane opening sequence, filled with very impressive stunts that are both difficult to perform, and hard to execute. The end result is an electrifying action spectacle, you’d hardly forget, followed by tone of he coolest-looking opening credits. The film not only begins with a bang, but continues to excite until the very end. The well-balanced and smartly-written script skillfully alternates dynamic action sequences with equally as absorbing dialogue-driven scenes, providing the viewer with a well-thought-out plot that is complex, but at the same easy to follow. Even though it would be a lie if we call "007: Skyfall" 'action-packed', the action it provides is nothing short of startling. Sam Mendes yet again demonstrates great versatility, interesting directing choices, and classy camera work, plus, the subtle, yet highly polished cinematography adds sophistication to the already tasteful visuals. Daniel Craig is arguably the best Bond so far, and he proves that with yet another strong, charismatic performance, baring a whole new vulnerable side of his character. Javier Bardem is perfectly cast as the quietly intimidating villain, Raoul Silva, and the supporting performances are all equally as memorable.

Overall summary: Clever, thrilling, endlessly compelling, and brilliantly put together, Mendes’ "Skyfall" may be a notch below Martin Campbell’s astounding "Casino Royale", but it still ranks as one of the best, most accomplished, and ultimately entertaining Bond films to date.

Click on THIS LINK, and check out the extended version of my "Skyfall" review, written exclusively for White Cat Magazine. Comments are very much appreciated. Thanks in advance!