The Hunger Games (2012)

0

Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 3:44 PM | Posted in


Clickbank Products

Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 8.5/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 9/10

THE HUNGER GAMES (2012) - Gary Ross

Happy Hunger Games, and may the odds be ever in your favor….

Every year 75 years ago, the Capitol of Panem hosts an event called the Hunger Games. The Games consists of two children aged twelve to eighteen from each district, one boy and one girl, who are chosen by lottery to compete in a tournament, a fight to the death, a test of survival. When a citizen turns twelve, his or her name is automatically entered in the lottery. For every year until they turn eighteen, they are entered in one additional time. In simplicity, the lottery portion is similar to the short story The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, and the actual Games bear a familiar resemblance to the Triwizard Tournament from Harry Potter, only here the contestants kill each other.

This is Gary Ross' third film, and his first action film. One of the taglines for the film, "The world will be watching," can be taken in the literal sense. The Hunger Games is based on the successful novel trilogy by Suzanne Collins. Supposedly, it was another Harry Potter, another Twilight, if I might add. I want to first state that I have never read the novels, but I have heard of their fame. The world was indeed watching out for Ross' new film. As a pleasant first move, the film stars Jennifer Lawrence, previously seen in X-Men: First Class and 2010's Best Picture nominee Winter's Bone. Co-starring with her is Josh Hutcherson, a talented young actor seen in Zathura and Bridge to Teribithia.

The film begins in District 12, a coal mine region, the home of sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), who volunteers for the 74th annual Hunger Games in place of her younger sister. Also selected from District 12 is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Mentoring them is drunk Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson). The film follows the group of District 12 preparing for and finally playing the Hunger Games.

Lionsgate revealed that over thirty actresses including Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit), Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine), Saoirse Ronan (Hanna), Chloe Moretz (Kick-Ass), and Emily Browning (Sucker Punch) auditioned for the role of Katniss. According to the author of the original novel, Jennifer Lawrence was the "only one who truly captured the character." Indeed she is. Lawrence is the greatest element here in The Hunger Games. She was effective, bearing little softness and great determination over what she is obligated to do. Her empathy creates the emotional reality that becomes crucial in the future as the Games unfold. She is perhaps the most compelling female action hero since Kill Bill and Alien. This movie is also one of Josh Hutcherson's greatest performance to date, up to par with Bridge to Teribithia. The chemistry of the two leads is engaging yet odd. Lawrence is taller than Hutcherson. In addition, the roles of the leads are reversed, where the male is the one who needs to be protected. With this uniqueness, The Hunger Gamesbears originality and creativity in characterization. Woody Harrelson is probably the best casted actor in this film, as excellent as the choice to cast Lawrence as Katniss. Harrelson's style of acting was always known as the kind that holds traits of being drunk yet bears a bizarre energy to it. This was clearly seen in Zombielandand even 2012. As a drunken mentor, Harrelson is perfect, exhibiting silliness yet knowledge in his character.

The story is absolutely captivating. It captures the dramatic violence as well as emotions that are necessary to be delivered. From the very beginning, I was already engaged. In fact, there are moments where one can forget to breath. It knows when to build heart-stopping intensity as well as when to calm down. This consistent ride was similar to the energy that James Cameron provided in Aliens. It provides a pulse-pounding spectrum of action, as if it were a survival reality TV show. It is much more than a game. Gary Ross' first step into action filmmaking successfully communicates the horror of violence to the audience, yet does not push the limit to an R rating. It pushes it thematic elements constantly, although I can say their philosophical agenda should have been pushed more. Still, it has as much to say about oppressive politics and the heartless media as it does about the internal "man vs self" struggles among the combatants in the Games. It throws its messages right at us, presented swiftly like a punch in the face.

Despite all the praises for the film, The Hunger Games was criticized for its style of filmmaking. The film opens with oddly plain text, and is assisted by constantly shaking camerawork. Even when characters are calmly talking, Ross jerks the camera around at times, similar to Tony Scott's style of directing. Put that with fast editing and the whole piece feels too fast. From a filmmaker's perspective, the attention to detail of cinematic art is, dare I say, sloppy. However, for a movie like The Hunger Games, all of those filmmaking styles are, dare I say, unnecessary to pay attention to. It is never a first-class film that is comparable to, say even the Harry Potter films. It is a hardcore entertaining flick that is skillfully directed and brilliantly acted. Even the most bored viewers will find themselves perched right on the edge of their seats. Indeed well-made action films need to contain levels of "cinematic violence," with well choreography and fantastic editing. However, The Hunger Games is a unique occasion in which the film almost needed to be bolder, simpler, and, dare I say, nastier.

In conclusion, The Hunger Games is a rich fantasy adventure. Ross has impressed me with every film he has made, and here, he keeps the science fiction themes vivid, the camerawork necessarily jittery, and the action thrilling. It is an excellent dystopian tale, a riveting journey with appealing visuals. Its intelligence is well-written, making its original fans as well as new fans crave for round two. Its spectacle holds our attention and the narrative moves rapidly as we journey with one of the greatest female leads in recent years. Its pacing is brisk, the stakes as high as they will ever get, and its lead performance is amazing enough that the odds - critically and financially - will be ever in its favor.


Seabiscuit (2003)

0

Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 2:37 PM | Posted in


Clickbank Products

Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 7.7/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 8/10

SEABISCUIT (2003) - Gary Ross

The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression in the decade preceding World War II. Known as the longest, most widespread, and deepest depression of the 20th century, it began in the late 20s and lasted until the early 40s.

Behind this melancholia is a Thoroughbred undersized racehorse named Seabiscuit. From an unfavorable start, Seabiscuit became an unlikely champion and a symbol of hope to many Americans during the time period. Seabiscuit became the subject of the movie industry. In the year 2003, Seabiscuit was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Seabiscuit is the second film directed by Gary Ross, who did Pleasantville five years ago. The film also stars Tobey Maguire, this time as the principal jockey Red Pollard. Assisting Maguire are the talented actors Jeff Bridges and Chris Cooper, the owner and trainer of the horse respectively. Unquestionably, Seabiscuit is a biographical film that bases itself on the life and racing career of Seabiscuit as well as the human characters around the horse.

The story bears a similar structure to other sports "underdog" movies like Cinderella Man, but here, the narrative is much slower, necessarily slower. It begins by exhibiting the conflict between the automobile and the horse. We are introduced with Jeff Bridges' character, originally a car salesman. After a family tragedy, he alternates into becoming a horse owner. Here, he meets Tobey Maguire and Chris Cooper. Soon enough, this character triangle becomes connected by the outcasted horse Seabiscuit.

Emphasizing more on characters this time by Gary Ross, Seabiscuit strives with characterization. Never once in the movie was the horse viewed like a human. It was always a horse, perhaps barely even aware of the dread around "him". Maguire has played one of his most serious roles here, the complete antithesis of his character in Pleasantville. He commits his whole heart and soul into the race as Jeff Bridges, a wonderful actor, progresses towards more and more wisdom. Chris Cooper, despite usually playing extremely minor roles, displays great emotion in Seabiscuit, due to his unaccountable faith in the horse.

Despite him focusing more on characters this time, director Ross still kept his art direction talent. In his previous film, he successfully brought the world of a 50s suburban town to life. Here, he brought the despair of the Great Depression to life. The things that everyone wears, the dirt and mud on their faces, their ripped hats and pants, all pave the way for historical accuracy. Ross did what great directors do best at which is taking a story and bring the setting to life, making the difference between seeing the time period and living it.

The directing on a technical basis is fascinating as well. Ross has taken his simplicity and raised it to the next level. He knows the best ways to transition scenes and time sequences. He knows how to make the horse races thrilling to watch. With the help of the cinematographer, Ross gets astonishingly close to the action, so close that we as observatory audience members will question where the camera is sitting at. We are suspended among several races at once, and at times, right in between two of the racers. Not only it gives a sense of the amount of passion Maguire and the horse has, but it also gives an atmosphere of the intensity of horse-racing. I was never a fan of horses, but Seabiscuit is engaging enough to let that interest slip by.

In conclusion, Seabiscuit is an inspiring film. It is not the greatest work of art, but it tells its simple story with great dignity. The most impressive element in Seabiscuit is Gary Ross. This is his second film, and he already has a clear and confident vision on how to execute the story at its best. It delivers in an old-fashioned way with beautiful cinematography. With great performances and uncontrived sparks of drama, it is extremely difficult to not root for Seabiscuit.


Pleasantville (1998)

0

Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 12:14 AM | Posted in


Clickbank Products

Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 8.6/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 9/10

PLEASANTVILLE (1998) - Gary Ross

Welcome to Pleasantville, a 1958 idyllic town where every morning husbands wake up and find breakfast already prepared on the table, where they leave for work every day while the wives stay home and cook. Life is paradisal in Pleasantville. Everything is simple, as simple as black and white.

"Nothing is as simple as black and white."

That was the tagline for the theatrical poster of Gary Ross's directorial debut Pleasantville. The film follows David (Tobey Maguire) and his sister Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon). Jennifer is shallow and outgoing barely reads, while David is shy and spends most his time watching the black and white sitcom Pleasantville. One night, a mysterious TV repairman arrives uninvited, quizzes David on his knowledge of the show, gives him a strange-looking remote control, and leaves. After a brief quarrel amongst each other, David and Jennifer suddenly find themselves transported into the television, into the world of Pleasantville. To their greatest surprise, they have now replaced the roles of the son and daughter of the show's protagonists (William H. Macy & Joan Allen). Unknowingly out of character, David and Jennifer as well as the entire population of Pleasantville find the town begin changing from black and white into color.

I never knew Tobey Maguire could do a true comedy. His sudden charisma and natural behaviors are what makes the amusing atmosphere of Pleasantville come to life. Reese Witherspoon is funny, charming, yet annoying. The two paired together forms outstanding chemistry, despite their personalities being extremely polarized. Macy and Allen once again prove that they deserve their respective places in the acting industry. One of the supporting roles, played by Jeff Daniels, also bears excellent characterization. The film strives with a terrific cast, but it is not the crucial element that makes it great.

The film as a whole is stimulating for us as audience members to discuss after being viewed. Ross makes an impressive debut with a nicely executed tale, contrasting culture of the 50s with culture of the 90s. At the same time, both time periods were accurately portrayed, similar to Back to the Future portraying the 50s and 80s with great precision. Corresponding to Schindler's ListPleasantville displays several shots where certain portions are in black and white while others are in color under the same frame. This majestic technique makes Pleasantville admirable to look at, stunning and splendid.

The theme that Pleasantville focuses on is the conflict of the rebellious individual against the conformity of society. From the words of Ross, the film is about "personal repression [giving] rise to larger political oppression…That when we're afraid of certain things in ourselves or we're afraid of change, we project those fears on to other things, and a lot of very ugly social situations can develop." Pleasantville almost effortlessly delivers this thematic message, simply because it manipulates not only our minds, but also our eyes. Visually, the film uses straightforward images to supply and enhance its mean of communication. In the town of Pleasantville, it never rains, the temperature constantly around the 70s, the fire department has never seen a fire before, and the basketball team never misses a hoop. The authorities of the town demonstrate the practice of McCarthyism, a practice common in the 50s, heightening fears of communist influence, a theme that Invasion of the Body Snatchers was known for. The acting in Pleasantville is marvelous, but the real honor belongs to Gary Ross.

In conclusion, Pleasantville is a witty fable that bears the subliminal elements of The Truman Show and also supplies delightful humor, a "feel-good" amusement that is equivalent to the hilarity of Back to the Future. The storyline is original, and the production design is remarkable. It is clever, ambitious, and satisfying in countless ways. In other words, Pleasantville is a pleasant movie.


Upcoming Reviews: The Week of GARY ROSS (3/25 - 3/31)

0

Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 8:15 PM | Posted in


Clickbank Products
Pleasantville (1998)
Seabiscuit (2003)
The Hunger Games (2012)

The Secret of Kells (2009)

0

Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 8:06 PM | Posted in


Clickbank Products

Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 9.1/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 10/10 (Full Score)

THE SECRET OF KELLS (2009) - Tomm Moore

"I have lived through many ages. Through the eyes of salmon, deer, and wolf. I have seen the Northmen invading Ireland, destroying all in search of gold. I have seen suffering in the darkness. Yet, I have seen beauty thrive in the most fragile of places. I have seen the book. The book that turned darkness into light."

As the opening lines were mystically whispered from the serene forest fairy, Aisling, a wave of quivering shivers went down my spine. In two minutes, I was already captivated yet chilled to the bone. Exquisite yet disturbing, the opening scene of The Secret of Kells gives the audience an aesthetically pleasing experience already. The rest of this fabulous work of art is just as refreshingly original and luscious to behold.

The Secret of Kells is an animated film on an $8 million budget. It began development in the year 1999, when director Tom Moore and his friends were inspired by Richard Williams' The Thief and the Cobbler and well as Disney's Mulan, which both based their visual style on the respective traditional art of the countries they were set in. The Thief and the Cobbler was set in Persia while Mulan was set in China. Moore decided to make something similar with Irish art instead. After ten years, what the film creators ended up with is one of the most unique animated films of all time.

The Secret of Kells is set in the eighth century and gives a fictionalized account of the creation of the Book of Kells, a real illuminated manuscript Gospel book in Latin. Abbott Cellach (Brendan Gleeson) is obsessed with building a mighty wall to defend his Abbey of Kells from the invading Vikings. Driven by his determination, he expects his young nephew Brendan to follow in his footsteps. Brendan however works in the scriptorium of the monastery and later becomes the apprentice of the great Aidan of Iona, a master illuminator who is working on the Book of Iona. In helping Aidan finish the book, Brendan enters the forest, forbidden by his uncle, to look for gall nuts to make ink. It is here in the forest where our protagonist Brendan meets the forest spirit Aisling.

The animation is the source of such magnetism. It bears the traditional taste of Irish art, yet brings it to life in the third dimension. Despite the images appearing to be flat, they have "layers," in which we as audience members can clearly see plants and insects being closer to us than the characters. It is as enchanting as its content. We lived in the year 2009, where the animation industries have already made movies of animated realism like WALL-E and Kung Fu Panda. But here comes a small film that quietly stepped into the movie theaters. It comes in as a silent rebellion against all the formulaic noise we have been given for so many years.

The lead character is lovable and charming enough for us to follow. Despite the plot being less engaging than it should have been, the animation effortlessly holds our interest. Brendan Gleeson, a wonderful actor, voiced the Abbott with great precision. His voice holds fatherly guidance yet displays strictness and harshness in his rules. The softly plotted conflict between uncle and nephew is consistent throughout the piece, and in some ways, is the main conflict of the movie. Behind this illuminated narrative, we are still disquieted by the imminent invasion of the Northmen. As a beautiful finish, The Secret of Kells concludes in an unpredictable way and emphasizes on certain lessons like the retainment of knowledge, art, and spirit, perhaps the most valuable elements for any society.

The story is attractively simple. It combines a classic fairytale with a singularly unique aesthetic that exhibits Celtic mythology. Even though the audience might have trouble becoming wholeheartedly drawn into the narrative, the hand-drawn and watercolored animation is guaranteed to entice their attention. From an honest look, and simply put, there was not a lot going on in The Secret of Kells. It is more of a movie that invites the audience into the world that the characters live in. Instead of watching a journey of characters, The Secret of Kells is more of a tale of an enchanted wallpaper. The story execution might not be compelling enough, but the visual experience is unlike anything one will ever see. With themes on war and faith, and a correct amount of cuteness to it, The Secret of Kells deserved to be recognized by the Academy as "Best Animated Feature," and in some way, it deserves the award over WALL-E.

In conclusion, The Secret of Kells is phenomenal. Despite its slow-moving narrative, the animation provides an experience of a different dimension. It seduces our minds, heart, and soul. The film strives with lyricism and jewel-bright colors. With an intricate use of lines, The Secret of Kells is the sweetest eye candy ever to behold, breaking the stasis of its genre and embracing our hearts with exquisite creativity.


Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

0

Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 12:01 AM | Posted in


Clickbank Products

Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 4.9/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 6/10

ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE (2001) - Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise

Atlantis is a legendary island first mentioned by the Greek philosopher Plato. It was known as a naval power that conquered many parts of Western Europe around 9600 BC. After a failed invasion of Athens, Atlantis mysteriously sank into the ocean. Now this is the perfect element for Walt Disney Pictures to bring to life to intrigue its young audience. 

From the directors of Beauty and the BeastAtlantis: The Lost Empire sets itself in the year of 1914, telling the story of a young cartographer named Milo (Michael J. Fox) who is alienated for his research on Atlantis and believes that he has found "The Shepherd's Journal," an ancient manuscript that contains directions to the lost island. The film follows Milo and a crew of adventurers as they attempt to discover the city.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire, at the time, made greater use of CGI than any of Disney's previous features. In addition, it remains one of the few to have been "shot" in anamorphic format. IfAtlantis was traditionally animated instead, then it might have lost its visual power, which is the strongest element in this film. The visuals are breathtaking and unique, especially for a Disney movie at the time. The native language of the city was created by Marc Okrand, and every detail is presented, enhancing the experience of "living" at the lost island. It delivers a dimension of reality for the civilization, and with the help of computer-generated imagery, they feel as real as ever. This overwhelming wonder was largely because of the film's digital production. Instead of focusing on a deep script like before, directors Trousdale and Wise both used a "virtual camera" for the cinematic shots within the film. With the ability to operate in the z-plane, the camera was able to move through wire-frame sets, creating a unique 2D and 3D experience.

The score was organically written and harmonically fresh, scored by the renowned James Newton Howard. In Atlantis, several key scenes did not contain any dialogue, and relied on visuals and music to convey the scenes' emotions to the audience. With an elegant combination of chimes and bells, James Newton Howard pulled off an impressive and expressive soundtrack.

Underneath all the fascination of Atlantis: The Lost Empire, the characterization and script are both heavily flawed. It struggles to be complex enough for adults yet simple enough for children and ends up giving neither audience exactly what it wants. Michael J. Fox is a terrific voice actor, and here it is clear that he tried his best to bring Milo to life. In a way, he did. However, the characters alone in writing concept were bland and not fully fleshed out. I found it extremely difficult to care for any single character in this film. 

The Disney creators invited us to dive under the sea to the mystical world of Atlantis. Unfortunately they forgot to bring an engaging plot with them. They trailed off the script way too much for the visuals, similar to DinosaurAtlantis, made by clever people, was not the least bit interested in being clever itself, except maybe one minor character in the film.Atlantis pays much attention to the architectural designs, however too much attention. It requires more depth and meaning for the characters, the people who we as audience members follow and fall in love with, something that Disney was effortlessly good at. Here, it is all missing, lost in the waters. The thin line between visual eye candy and true storytelling gets crossed back and forth. In summary, Atlantis: The Lost Empire should have been more daring. It loses sight of character and story behind all the spectacles that are still enjoyable to behold.

In conclusion, Atlantis: The Lost Empire is still a delightful movie. Despite Atlantis being a special addition to the Disney canon, it is still a peculiar animated film that features no children, no cute creatures, and no songs. It bears its own form of nostalgia, different from all other Disney movies. The story is exceedingly bland and also familiar, but Atlantis: The Lost Empire remains an eye-popping adventure. The distinctive direction that Disney took with this movie is what makes it memorable. It is rich with invention and lyricism, a nice entertaining way to bring the legend of Atlantis to life.


Buried (2010)

0

Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 2:43 PM | Posted in


Clickbank Products

Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 8.6/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 8/10

BURIED (2010) - Rodrigo Cortés

Paul Conroy has a lighter, a cell phone, 90 minutes of oxygen, and very few options….

Buried is a Spanish minimalist film shot in seventeen days with Spanish money, around two million American dollars equivalent. One might think: "Hollywood couldn't get enough money to make a movie about a guy in a box?" Apparently not. The film premiered at the Sundance Festival and received an overabundance of hype and buzz. It stars Ryan Reynolds, previously seen in The Proposal, and the voices from a few other actors, no other faces. Reynolds is the only actor we see on screen.

Buried revolves around Iraq-based American truck driver Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) who, after being attacked, finds himself buried alive in a wooden coffin, with a few items to help him escape before the oxygen in the coffin runs out. Soon enough, he discovers that he is confined in a hostage situation where he is held for ransom. The gimmick here is that the entire film of Buried takes place in the coffin. If one thinks, "When are they going to open the coffin?", do not look forward to it. The film never leaves the coffin.

Ryan Reynolds is riveting. This movie is, without even thinking, Reynolds' greatest performance to date. Unfortunately for him, he takes the suffering for our art. He presents emotions through unimaginable new depths. Even though Buried bears a tiny premise, it is nonetheless a showcase for Reynolds' talent. Despite his radical portrayal of a panicking man, the dodgy script trails him off at certain times. There are moments where he does things that we would simply not do at times. However, in the overall picture, Reynolds successfully conveys the true intensity and horror of an extreme life-or-death situation. He has probably done the most non-Hollywood role ever, nailing both the compressed physicality as well as the descending psyche of his character with great precision. He is sympathetic and intensely watchable from beginning to end.

Despite its setting being extremely restricted, Buried works not just because Reynolds is excellent, but because Rodrigo Cortés is far more superior. Since the film is an hour and a half inside a coffin, the camera needs to wander in places that the normal human would not imagine going to. It skids alongside Reynolds' body, as if we as audience members are mice or snakes. It displays the "roof" of the coffin as if we ourselves are trapped. In a location that is merely a few feet long and wide, the cinematography manages to capture our attention. It may be claustrophobic in its literal sense, but director Rodrigo Cortés assists us by providing interesting camerawork.

Even though Buried is a suspenseful and incredible surprise for a minimalist film, it becomes a gimmick at a certain point and turns from edge-of-your-seat nail-biting to illogical continuations. If one kidnaps a truck driver, would one really bury him six feet under to get his ransom money? Are there easier ways to execute this? Yes. It gets tired really quickly but thankfully it is saved a bit by a mediocre script and a captivating performance. People have claimed that director Alfred Hitchcock would have been proud. I disagree. Alfred Hitchcock, in his whole career, has only made two minimalist gimmick movies, Lifeboat and Rope. Other than that, films like Rear Window or North By Northwest are just solid thrillers. Here in Buried, it is simple and gripping from the beginning to end. Its sensation of confinement is so powerful that one cannot help but breathe harder and harder.

In conclusion, Buried is a thrilling movie that may have become a gimmick halfway in but is still surging. It is proof that sometimes the greatest movie ideas are the simplest, a suggestion that filmmakers these days avoid. The physical condition of the film is minuscule, but its impact is enormous. If only Edgar Allan Poe could see this movie. He would be uncorking a bottle of Amontillado and laugh at himself in entertainment. It is stirring yet smothering at the same time, one hell of a nightmare. Ryan Reynolds gives his most compelling performance yet, and has done so while lying on his back most of the time. His back alone deserves an Oscar for its absolute endurance in this film. It is a brutally intense piece that can be appreciated if one can look over the holes in its plot. Buried is enthralling, where we can fully respect Reynolds for his theatricals and Cortés for his impressive cinematic achievement, after we first catch our breath.


Win Win (2011)

0

Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 5:25 PM | Posted in


Clickbank Products

Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 9.4/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 8/10

WIN WIN (2011) - Thomas McCarthy

There are times when one must do what he believes to be best for his family. Sometimes it begins clouding his once-clear vision of what is right and what is wrong. And rarely we, as an audience, get to have a peek at these realistic issues in small towns within America, in a state like New Jersey.

Win Win centers on Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti), a middling lawyer who is unable to make ends meet and is unfortunately low on money. He loves his family and wife (Amy Ryan) but despises his job, an aggravatingly torturous occupation in which he is unable to afford repairing the boiler in his office, and going down to his knees fixing a toilet. He works as a wrestling coach at the local high school, call it a hobby or chance for him to escape into his past life. Coaching with him is Stephen (Jeffrey Tambor) and his best friend Terry (Bobby Cannavale). He has a client named Leo, who is slowly progressing towards Alzheimer's and refuses to live anywhere else except his own home. When Mike discovers in court that Leo's estate will pay $1,500 a month to a legal guardian, he takes the job himself yet immediately sends his client to a nursing home for his own easiness. The situation becomes unexpectedly complicated when Kyle (Alex Shaffer), Leo's grandson, runs away from home and hopes to live with his grandfather, but ends up living under the same roof as Mike and his family.

Paul Giamatti is a brilliant actor, as humorous as he is honest. He remains throughout the film as a steadily sympathetic character, even when he commits an appalling unethical act that drives the plot. With Mike Flaherty's character, Paul Giamatti was able to depart from his somber characters in his past movies. Despite the entire film bearing a comedy sitcom atmosphere, the amusement is indeed the heart of this piece. The drama is not forced, and the narrative is straightforward and easy enough to convince. Win Win is Alex Shaffer's first film as an actor, and here it is very clear that he still has much to improve. However, his stiff robotic enunciation of words enhances his actual personality in the film. His awkwardly small facial features and flat expressions makes us conflicted in his character. Is he one who we should help or is he too damaged for us to trust him? With Amy Ryan as the headstrong perfect mother, and Cannavale and Tambor playing a hilarious comedy duo, Win Win wins over its audiences' heart with its emotions and laughs.

Tom McCarthy, writer of Pixar's Up, is a great American humanist. He has a great sensibility and he tangles with common situations in remote towns without becoming tied up and at the same time, pulls off a hopeful sensation to it without forcing the emotion to the audience. The true irony of Win Win is that the entire piece consisted of situations that one would not call "winning". It is clever, witty, funny, and a delight to watch.

In conclusion, Win Win triumphs with its story. It deals with an issue that could not be more relevant than issues we face today: When it comes to survival, where do we draw the line of ethics between what's right and what's wrong? This very question is the crux of Win Win, and this is what enables us to emotionally connect to McCarthy's piece. With the help of a fine cast, Win Win is extremely satisfying. It is a portrait of honesty that exhibits the average American at his most flawed and most ethical stage in life. Rich in performances and populated with engaging humor, Win Win is a winner for independent films.


Upcoming Reviews (3/18 - 3/24)

0

Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 3:09 PM | Posted in


Clickbank Products
Win Win (2011)
Buried (2010)
Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)
The Secret of Kells (2009)

A World Without Thieves 天下無賊 (2004)

0

Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 5:23 PM | Posted in


Clickbank Products

Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: N/A
RT Audience Rating: 8.2/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 7/10

A WORLD WITHOUT THIEVES 天下無賊 (2004) - Feng Xiaogang

Theft is the taking of another person's property without that person's permission or consent with the intent to deprive the rightful owner of it. The one who carries out an act of or makes a career of theft is known as a thief. What's ironic about A World Without Thieves is that the film's premise is the exact opposite of the title, if looked at in the literal sense. A World Without Thieves is an award-winning Chinese action drama directed by renowned Chinese director Feng Xiaogang and stars notable actors Andy Lau, Rene Liu, Ge You, and Li Bingbing. It has won the Golden Horse Award (Taiwan's Academy Awards) for Best Adapted Screenplay and was nominated for Best Picture.

The film follows Wang Bo (Andy Lau) and Wang Li (Rene Liu), who are lovers as well as highly skilled professional thieves. On a train bound inland from Tibet, the couple encounters a naive village boy named Sha Gen who does not believe in the existence of thieves. As a result, he insists on carrying his five years of savings worth 60,000 yuan ($7,200 American dollars) with him rather than using remittance. Andy Lau's character wishes to steal the boy's money as a last hit to end their stealing career, but Rene Liu, pregnant with their child and moved by the boy's innocence, decides to protect the boy. The stakes are raised when a separate gang of professional thieves, led by Uncle Li (Ge You) and one of his followers (Li Bingbing), board the train and notices the boy. The film explores the theme of the fundamental human goodness and also humorously addresses the issue of thievery on public transport in China.

Director Feng Xiaogang is extremely talented, and his greatest skill is not just how the film looks, but especially in directing the actors. Both lead performances were phenomenal. They bear humorous dialogue at times when the tone is relaxing and express drastic emotions during times of crisis. Ge You, despite him playing a supporting role, is a renowned actor in his native country, and his talent is brilliantly presented through this film with the help of a great director and a well-written script. Li Bingbing plays the seductive yet deadly thief. Similar to one of her more recent films, The Forbidden Kingdom, her presence in the film unleashes a cloud of intimidation, as if her mind thinks two times faster than the audience does.

A World Without Thieves pushes the theme of human goodness through its script, and in a sense, it has done so successfully but not the best. For a Chinese film, the filmmakers have finally put their attention to the right element of filmmaking. The narrative is not confusing here, the plot is easy to follow, and it builds its own unique tension in a confined setting, a train. The series of "tricks", or "stealing", never once clashed with the moral that A World Without Thieves intended to give. Director Feng keeps the film grounded inside the mind of the boy, naivete but also hope.

The moments in A World Without Thieves where a certain character steals an item are undeniably creative. The hand movements are swift, almost like the way Jason Bourne knocks out an agent. In addition, they are inventive to the point that the audience might question: "How did anyone think of stealing it that way?" Feng Xiaogang not only entertained us because of the characters' quick gestures, but also because the emotion behind each one is diverse. There are instants were we laugh in entertainment when an item is stolen. Others cause our hearts to beat abnormally fast in hope that the item does not get stolen.

Despite the conceptual takes of stealing items are intriguing, they are shot too closely, meaning we are given close-up shots to the point where we are unable to make out who's hand is whose. This is no Jackie Chan movie, where choreography is everything. The cinematography for these crucial moments were pushed in too close to the point that we can guess that the actors did not do the entire physical stealing in one take. Here, there is no evidence of choreography, causing the snatches to lose some of its stylish factor. The first time I saw such a close-up, I let it pass. The fifth time I saw such a close-up, I lost interest in the scenes where something gets stolen. In the end, I end up only caring about who ended up with the stolen item. However, this entire flair of close-ups might be director Feng Xiaogang's original intention, to go in so close that we are unsure what happened, as if we ourselves have something stolen so suddenly. If that is the case, then this flaw is not so significant anymore.

The true drawback for A World Without Thieves goes back to a simple technicality: the editing. The music was shamefully mis-used. The tone of the melodies were contrasting to the tone of the actual scenes. Sentimentally, A World Without Thieves could have been a much more powerful movie, if it was not pulled back by such mediocre editing. In addition, there are a few scenes that should be swapped in their places, meaning a certain scene should have came after another. The cinematography, though, is impressive. The set designs were paid respect to even when the setting is mostly inside a train, and with the help of crisp lighting, the film visually is a treat.

In conclusion, A World Without Thieves is a wonderful film. In terms of an American movie, it still has a few problems to iron over, but it is inexorably superior than at least half of the junk we keep getting these days from Hollywood. As a Chinese film, A World Without Thieves takes Chinese cinema to a whole new height. It is living proof that asian movies have now grown to become more and more polished. It stands as a respected foreign film alongside Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon as well as another film starring Andy Lau, Infernal Affairs, the Hong Kong inspiration for Martin Scorsese's The Departed. In the end, A World Without Thieves is a rare artistic film that bears high production value as well as high recommendation.


Tangled (2010)

0

Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 1:20 AM | Posted in


Clickbank Products

Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 9/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 9/10

TANGLED (2010) - Nathan Greno, Byron Howard

It is the Disney Renaissance, an era that began roughly in the late 1980s and ended in the late 1990s, during which Walt Disney Animation Studios returns annually to make a successful 2D animated film, restoring public and critical praise in Disney. The animated films during the Renaissance include The Lion KingMulanThe Little MermaidAladdin, and many more. In the new decade, Disney began releasing Pixar films and experimenting with live-action movies and has triumphed with National Treasure and the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. But suddenly in the year 2009, Disney took a step back to classic 2D animation with The Princess & the Frog, a simple and straightforward princess movie that represents everything we loved in the past about Disney.

Due to the critical and financial success of The Princess & the Frog, Disney decides to release another film, this time 3D animation, on the classic folktale of Rapunzel and her magical long hair. Originally titledRapunzelTangled is an animated musical film that takes Disney back to its roots once again, only this time with crisp animation, loving characters, and a charm that covers the entire piece with magic.

Tangled tells the story of a lost princess (Mandy Moore) with long magical hair who yearns to leave her secluded tower. Against her mother's wishes, she enlists the aid of a bandit thief (Zachary Levi) to take her out into the world which she has never seen. Tangled spent six years in production at the cost of $260 million, making it the most expensive animated film ever made and the second most expensive movie of all time, behind Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End ($300 million).

Mandy Moore is exceptionally expressive here, although she is not the greatest singer for a Disney character. Rapunzel's character is one who we follow easily, and magically fall in love with, accompanied by a cute chameleon. She is easily added to the shelf of classic Disney princesses and to all honesty, she is the prettiest one too. Also, in the most innovative way, she knows how to defend herself, with a cooking pan. Zachary Levi is charming and hilarious as a slick yet silly thief, a gentleman of a character who we adore despite his literal occupation. Donna Murphy, based on voice acting, is the one who steals the show, similar to Gary Oldman in Kung Fu Panda 2 and John Lithgow in Shrek. She is as hysterical as she is terrifying, as amusing as she is sinister. Maximus, the horse, is also an entertainment add-on to the list of lovable characters. His movements are swift yet random, oddly humanlike for an animal, and strangely intelligent and keen for a horse. Although he is purely written for the younger audience, everything that Maximus does is not contrived in any way and is a charismatic entertainment factor to the film.

Tangled is a musical film. The film was scored by Alan Menken, a brilliant score composer. In this critic's opinion, Menken's genius was beautifully expressed through the soundtrack of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, one of the greatest cell-animated Disney movies. Here in Tangled, the score is upright, good but not great. It blends medieval music with 1960s folk rock. Menken's personality is not clear as water here. Despite a legitimate score, the songs in Tangled do work. One of them, nominated for an Oscar, is brilliantly sang by both actors, even though the lyrics themselves are mediocrely written. The important factor in music for Tangled is that Disney successful revived the musical sequences once again, where the characters "jump out" of the plot and sing a song for four minutes. It revisits the nostalgic tone of similar moments shared by the films of the Disney Renaissance. As a Disney film, Tangled is without a doubt, a knock out of the park.

Rapunzel has approximately 70 feet of hair. One might think: "Is Disney really going to animate all of that?" The answer is yes. Disney did not shy away from this. Every line, every detail, can be seen, almost like blades of grass. As a whole, the animation is unique in its own way. It combines computer-generated imagery with traditional animation. At the same time, it unitizes non-photorealistic rendering to create the impression of an oil painting. The settings were romantically designed, bearing a lush presence similar to French paintings. Rather than focusing on realism like Gore Verbinski's RangoTangled took an aesthetic approach. It looks and feels like a traditional hand-drawn Disney film…. in 3D, call it a "best of both worlds" and a "win win" situation. Furthermore, Tangled finishes it off with a divine animated sequence that can be comparable to classic animation sequences like the ball-room scene in Beauty and the Beast.

The real surprising factor for Tangled is the script. It is sharply written. In classic folk tales like Snow White, one can finish telling the story within a fair two minutes. During conceptual stage, Disney had to face the issue of taking a short story and stretching it into a full-length feature film. Rapunzel's tale can be told in a jiffy, but Tangled was an hour and forty minutes long. It does what Beauty and the Beast did really well at which was taking a little thread of a story without blowing too much air into it. The script needs to add new details, new subplots, and new complications. However, this adjustment is easy for the script to lose its faith and loyalty to the original piece. To my greatest surprise, Tangled never fell down that pit. It was terrifically done and was fully aware of what it had to do.

In conclusion, Tangled is one of the most pleasant surprises in animation. It is visually stunning and charming with its character duo. Unlike the Shrek series, Tangled bears no unnecessary pop references. Just fluid and graceful storytelling, and that is what Disney was best at. It is a dazzler, a short and sweet fairy tale that succeeds in its humor, appeal, and love.


Battle: LA (2011)

0

Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 9:47 AM | Posted in


Clickbank Products

Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 3.5/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 2/10

BATTLE: LA (2011) - Jonathan Liebesman

Everywhere in commercial advertisement, the military science fiction war film has been labeled as "Battle: LA". Battle, colon, LA. However, international releases promote the film as "World Invasion: Battle Los Angeles". When the film opens, and the title appears, the title is read "Battle Los Angeles". No colon. No LA. No World Invasion. Just "Battle Los Angeles".

Just decide already and make up your mind.

"Alien film": When these two excessively heard words are present in a movie's summary, public expectations are common to fall like a brick. Explosions everywhere. Nothing but visual effects and CGI-eye candy. However, here is a movie called Battle: LA which instead takes the alien invasion and narrowly presents it strictly through the perspective of a platoon. The film is set in modern day Los Angeles and follows a retiring Marine Staff Sergeant (Aaron Eckhart) who must go back into the line of duty to lead a platoon of US Marines during a global alien invasion. Unfortunately, this is not only an excruciating film, but also in a way, a recruitment film. This is a piece designed best for anyone who can shed a tear when the soldiers form a rebellion, fight back for our freedom, win, and yell "Hoo-rah" for an hour. How "patriotic".

So the opening of the film, quickly and atrociously, establishes each of the Marine characters. For a tedious time, the film attempts to convince us with the personalities of each character, similar to the cliche platoon group in World War II movies, but much worse. With choppy dialogue, the character development becomes weak and extremely contrived. In the end, we no longer care. Just get them out there and fight the aliens. However, once the platoon actually leaves, from that point on, Battle: LA turns itself into a big-screen first person shooter. The camerawork is extremely unsteady, like District 9 and The Hurt Locker combined with no actual good cinematography. The amount of sudden unnecessary zoom-in and panning shots is shockingly vast.

The key to warlike action films lie within other masterpieces like James Cameron's Aliens or even Starship Troopers. The set pieces need to be spaced out in order for the audience to breathe. During these soothing moments, the movie takes these times to build the characters and develop them until the final climax. Cameron's Aliens did all of the above and beyond. Despite its heart-stopping intensity, it calms down at the right moments so we can finally shake the dirt off our shoulders and say, "Okay, they're safe. Now what?" Here in Battle: LA, there is no humor in it. There are no surprises in it. It is all formulaic noise that bear surprisingly violent scenes and frightening moments involving children in peril. The editing is lazily done, and the fighting as a whole visually makes no sense. In a good movie like Saving Private Ryan, we are completely aware of where the heroes are, and where the opponents are, and how they fire on each other. We can visually see the chemistry and the geometric makeup of the scenery. In a chaotic disorder like Battle: LA, the frames are filled with flashes and explosions that are constantly loud and also exceptionally brief.

Despite the racket it hurls, Battle: LA does contain decent visual effects as well as satisfactory acting by Aaron Eckhart. However, never once in the movie was Eckhart truly portrayed as a war figure. He was portrayed like a superhero, a character who is never shown injured once and always succeeds in what he tries to do. The rest of the platoon, when the action begins, are hard to identify and since their personalities are barely fleshed out, we are conflicted to not care when any of them loses in battle.

The aliens should not be talked about at all. They are barely seen throughout, and the method of finally displaying their images is a spin-off of the way Cloverfield reveals the monster. The ship designs are exceedingly dumb. There is no skeletal design for them and they come in all shapes and sizes. Even for a mediocre alien film like Jon Favreau's Cowboys & Aliens, all the alien scout ships were identical, except the final mining ship. In Battle: LA, the ships seem to have been assembled by either an artist who makes junk sculptures or even a destructive tornado blowing through the junkyard itself. The aliens as well as their ships are aggressively ugly and cluttered, the final product being a sketch so unclear, we have no sense of what they are.

Battle: LA is, simply put, 90 minutes of non-stop wall-to-wall action to the point that the experience in watching the combat becomes numbing. It is a dull, visual cacophony that thinks is the "coolest thing in the world". The script, as lousy as it is, tries to contain tense fast paced dialogue. In a way, they are fine. But in its entirety, it is appalling. Director Liebesman wants us to feel trapped in the middle of the action, which begins as an interesting concept. He wants us to feel the heat of combat on our cheeks. Unfortunately, he also wants us to barf up our popcorn, with quaking camerawork that is extremely intolerable and by ridicule that Battle: LA can excessively jackhammer our nerves. In conclusion, Battle: LA is like watching somebody else play a video game. The worst part about it is the controller is not in your hands.