Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Croods review

I'm not sure why, but the trailers for this movie did not make it look particularly appealing to me. Perhaps it was just the strange-looking characters? Perhaps the story just came across as silly? I wasn't sure, so I decided to give it a go anyway.

Turns out it's a good movie. It's funny, exciting, visually impressive, with a pretty good story and likeable characters. I'm not usually impressed with Nicolas Cage's acting, but I thought he did a great job as Grug. It almost goes without saying these days, but the rest of the voice acting was spot-on.

I did have a bit of a problem with the film's "message". Mild spoiler warning I guess, skip this paragraph if you must. Anyway, the father's story arc involves learning to "never be afraid". Now that might be good advice to upper-middle class families in first world countries, but I don't think it works in the context of the movie. Their entire world, the animals, the birds, the plants, and even the planet itself, spend the entire movie trying to kill the Croods. Practically very hour of every day in their lives is a struggle for survival; under those circumstances fear is not only a valid response, it's the correct one. Not being afraid will very quickly get you killed. But I suppose it's more important for children to learn to be brave and enjoy life, so I probably shouldn't complain.

I'm giving it an 8/10; it's a nice fun movie.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Jack Reacher review

Tom Cruise has been on a roll lately. I think this is his fifth movie in a row that I've really enjoyed.

Being as it's a movie about a single character and starring Tom Cruise, I think I can be forgiven for assuming it was intended to be a mind-blowing summer special-effects action extravaganza. It isn't. It's a thriller. Having said that, I enjoyed the action more than do in many action movies.

In fact, I enjoyed just about everything about this movie; I just found it all to be very well executed. There was a balanced amount of action, and it was all fast, brutal, and convincing. The story was interesting enough and flowed well, it wasn't terribly unpredictable (what is these days?) but it wasn't blindingly obvious either, and the obligatory twists were handled well enough. Basically, watching Jack Reacher work was just fun.

A do have a few criticisms. The film has an anime-like obsession with making the central character look cool and mysterious, which might feel silly to some people but didn't bother me personally (actually, it felt a bit like a guilty pleasure; to enjoy watching a guy who isn't all human and vulnerable but rather just outright cool and awesome). The main villain, while quite characterful, isn't particularly menacing and probably could have benefited from a bit more screen time. Likewise some of the supporting cast could have had a bit more depth or backstory.

The thing that bothered me most, however, was that I felt the film has something of an anti-gun theme. It opens with a very powerful (and disturbing) scene of a sniper gunning down helpless civilians that's interspersed with shots of ammunition being carefully hand-loaded; while in theory this is just about establishing the character of the sniper, I can't help but get a "crazy gun people who are so obsessed that they load their own ammunition are really scary" vibe from it. Even the nice gun range owner who shows up later doesn't seem to have any objection to his patrons being universally referred to as being crazy.

I don't really think that's fair myself; anyone who's much good at anything spends a lot of time and effort on it, and that includes paying attention to the small details, whether it's shooting, driving, cycling, programming, writing, or cooking. In fact, tinkering and experimenting with every element is often part of the fun of many hobbies.

Of course Jack Reacher saves the day in the end using guns, so either I'm reading too much into it or the movie is somewhat hypocritical. I only mention it because this is kind of a big issue right now that Hollywood actors have decided to get involved in, which could end up affecting movies since guns on screen are part of the debate.

I'm giving it 8/10; a solid and engaging movie.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Escape from Planet Earth review

Despite finding some of the characters rather annoying, I enjoyed this movie. It was funny and the idea was novel.

I'm giving it a 7/10.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone review

Bread doesn't taste bad and it stops you from going hungry, but it's not exactly an enjoyable experience. Burt Wonderstone felt exactly the same to me; it wasn't bad and it stopped me from feeling bored, but it wasn't exactly entertaining either.

I think it's supposed to be a comedy, the problem is I never laughed. I guess, in retrospect, there were a few moments that I would classify as having some humour value, although I don't remember thinking so at the time. The story was not great, with Burt's character arc being very shallow and poorly handled - his entire personality does a complete 180 after a five-minute conversation. And the "big finale" was decidedly underwhelming; rather than take the opportunity to present some kind of big spectacle befitting of a movie about stage magic, they basically just had one single drawn out silly joke that I found neither funny nor interesting and just... well, underwhelming.

The only redeeming feature I saw in the film was that some of the characters were quite likeable (which is more than I can say for many comedies these days), chief among them being Olivia Wilde's character Jane. This is actually the first time I've been impressed with Olivia Wilde's acting. Steve Buscemi also impressed me considering how little he had to work with. Steve Carell handled "pompous stuck-up jerk" just fine, but when it came time to portray Burt as more of a sympathetic human character, well, I just didn't feel it. I'm sorry, but I think Carell is one of those actors who plays a certain type of "character" very well, but isn't very good at playing actual human beings.

Overall I'm giving it a 6/10. Watch it if you're bored and there's nothing better on, but don't bother to go looking for it.