Thursday, April 4, 2013
As long as I can remember watching movies I remember watching Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel on their show At the Movies. Though I was only ten years old at the time I remember when Gene Siskel died in 1999. While things were never the same without Siskel, Roger Ebert soldiered on and the reviews continued. The internet made Ebert more accessible than ever to his fans, especially since he was a regular Twitter user. For the past few years I made it a weekly habit to check Roger Ebert's website and read his latest reviews. Despite Ebert's failing health due to his battle with cancer, we got one final review from Roger Ebert just last week: The Host. While it's too bad that his last review had to be of a movie he didn't really like (2.5 out of 4 stars), this is a reminder that Roger Ebert watched and reviewed all kinds of movies in his lifetime. Before I write about a film on this blog I usually look it up on Roger Ebert's website or the video repository of At the Movies episodes at SiskelandEbert.org to see what he thought about it. I am able to his to find his reviews for the most of the movies I watch!
"Going to see Godzilla at the Palais of the Cannes Film Festival is like attending a satanic ritual in St. Peter's Basilica."
"Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo makes a living cleaning fish tanks and occasionally prostituting himself. How much he charges I'm not sure, but the price is worth it if it keeps him off the streets and out of another movie."
"Young men: If you attend this crap with friends who admire it, tactfully inform them they are idiots. Young women: If your date likes this movie, tell him you've been thinking it over, and you think you should consider spending some time apart." - Battle: Los Angeles
"If you recall the lore from the earlier films, you'll know that marriage to Edward means Bella must become a vampire herself, which any groupie who has slept with Gene Simmons will understand." - The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1
Although I love Roger Ebert there have been many times when I disagreed with him. Ebert gave 2 stars to A Clockwork Orange and undervalued The Thing and Blade Runner. On the flip side Roger gave Anaconda 3 and a half stars and liked the first Transformers movie. In my review of My Bloody Valentine I discussed how both Siskel and Ebert viewed the glut of early 1980s slasher movies as the result of an anti-female sentiment from the creators and fans of these films. I think that simple answer for why we saw so many of these movies was that Halloween and Friday the 13th were very popular and it was cheap to make movies in a similar vein that would turn a quick profit.
Even when I have a differing opinion from Roger Ebert, I still feel that like its having a debate with a friend. Part of this is because he and Siskel used the medium of television to come into our homes. Instead of just telling us about a scene the two could actually show it to us to prove their points. Later on Roger Ebert would use the internet to welcome film goers into the discussion by being active on Twitter and having open comments for people to voice their opinions on his blog for the Chicago Sun-Times. Even Ebert's reviews include the rating of his readers right next to his own. While websites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic have a similar feature, it isn't quite the same as you are comparing your score not to another person, but an aggregate of critics. With Roger Ebert it felt like I was having a conversation with a friend about films, despite never having met the man. This personal connection to everyday people was very important and part of the reason he is so beloved by many film fans.
Watching films from now on will be a bit different for me. I'll still have the old reviews and videos but whenever a new movie comes out I will wonder "What Would Roger Ebert have thought of this film?"
Before I got overwhelmed with other commitments I made it a point to seek out films on Roger Ebert's Great Movies List and write about them on this blog. Although no more movies will be added to this list, I will make an effort to see as many of them as I can when I get the chance.
Roger Ebert was always entertaining and his enthusiasm for film was contagious. Thumbs up and four stars to a fantastic film critic, writer, and movie lover.
Sunday, March 31, 2013
Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)
The fourth and final animated film of this week is not based on a comic or any pre-existing material. Atlantis: The Lost Empire doesn't feel like your typical Disney film as it's not based on a children's story, has no musical numbers, and is rated PG. While this is certainly is not a bad thing, I think the change in tone was why Atlantis got a cool reception from critics and audiences during its original release. Atlantis is about linguist Milo Thatch, who tries to finish what his grandfather started and find the lost civilization of Atlantis. An eccentric millionaire who was a friend of Milo's grandfather funds the expedition and puts together an intrepid crew for the voyage.
Atlantis mixes traditional animation with CGI. The animation still looks quite good after more than ten years. I liked the steam punk style as its not something you see everyday and works as a contrast to the more magical world of Atlantis. Michael J. Fox does a good job as usual headlining the cast as our protagonist, Milo. The expedition crew is full of interesting, diverse, and fun characters. My favorite was Vinny (played by comedian Don Novello, best known for his Father Guido Sarducci character), the Italian demolition expert who loves to blow stuff up. The rest of the voice cast includes everyone from James Garner to Leonard Nimoy to Jim Varney!
The story of Atlantis is simple and predictable as its not that far off from Fern Gully, Pocahontas, or even Avatar. But overall the movie is still enjoyable thanks to its art and characters. Atlantis: The Lost Empire is worth a watch though probably not something I'll feel the need to revisit.
Friday, March 29, 2013
No Batman this time, but Persepolis is another movie based on a comic book. It might seem like a weird follow up but this is oddly appropriate for me since Batman: Year One and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi were two of the first comics or graphic novels I ever read and both made me appreciate the form. I didn't read these until I was near the end of high school and already thought of comics as either kids stuff or only featuring super heroes. Both surprised me and opened me up to a lot of stuff I would not have read otherwise. Getting back to the film, Persepolis is a coming of age story based on the real life experiences of author and artist Marjane Satrapi growing up in Iran in the 1970s and early 80s. As Marjane or "Marji" gets older she clashes with the ideals of the Islamic Fundamentalists in power. This eventually leads her to leave her country to study in Vienna before returning to her home years later. The movie is a French language film and I watched it with subtitles. I kinda want to see the dubbed version sometime though because the English language cast includes Sean Penn and Iggy Pop!
The comic Persepolis is made up of two separate books, while the movie covers the story of both. I've actually only read the first book, which ends with Marjane leaving Iran for college. Persepolis is a pretty accurate adaptation despite being condensed since it has to cover the material of two books. I can understand why this choice was made but still think it would've made more sense to make one movie for each book. The animation looks pretty much just like the comic. Even though some parts of the story were cut it did feel like I was paging through the comic again. I still need to read Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return but so I can't say how close on an adaptation that part of the movie is. But if it is like the first half then it is pretty close but just leaves out some less important parts of time. Persepolis was nominated for Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film in 2007 but lost to Ratatouille. I recommend both the book and the movie. If you've read the book you'll appreciate the film as a good adaptation and if you've seen the movie but want a longer version of the story then check out the comics.
Next up: Animation week concludes with a film that is not based on a comic or an adaptation.
Thursday, March 28, 2013
Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010)
Batman appears yet again in animation week! Unlike The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 and 2, Batman: Under the Red Hood is based on the comics but is not a direct adaptation. Instead, the film features a new story that is influenced by the comics such as the "A Death in the Family" story arc (which I have read) and the "Under the Hood" storyline. The basic plot is that a new vigilante called the Red Hood arrives in Gotham City five years after the death of the last Robin, Jason Todd. Unlike Batman, the Red Hood has no qualms with using guns or killing and starts taking down the criminals of Gotham.
I enjoyed Under the Red Hood a bit more than The Dark Knight Returns movies simply because I didn't really know what would happen. The identity of the Red Hood was pretty obvious but the character and his interactions with the Joker, Black Mask, and Batman were compelling and led to an interesting conclusion. The mixing up of characters and events into a new story worked great as it allows both new and old fans to jump right in while still having some surprises along the way. The voice work was solid all around with Bruce Greenwood (Batman), Neil Patrick Harris (Nightwing), and veteran voice actor John DiMaggio as the Joker as stand-outs. Like The Dark Knight Returns, Under the Red Hood is another very good movie from the DC Animated Universe. I look forward to whatever they have in store next.
Tomorrow: Yet another movie based on a comic, though it does not feature Batman or any super heroes.
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2 (2013)
Back in October I saw and reviewed Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1, so now its time to discuss Part 2. This is also the first movie I have seen released in 2013. It is direct-to-video but that still counts!
Most of what I wrote for Part 1 applies here so I'll keep this post short. The Joker plays a major role this time and I liked how he was handled. Voice actor Michael Emerson did a good job of fitting his character of the story instead of simply trying to be like Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill, or Heath Ledger. I appreciated that he tried to do something knew while fitting with the depiction of the character in the comic and it worked out great.
Like Part 1, the second part gets rid of any monologues in order to make it more cinematic. While I appreciate this technique, it did change Superman's character. I think there could have been a way to explain Superman's motivations better while still not using monologues. Someone who has not read the original story could read Superman's story arc pretty differently from somebody has read Frank Miller's comic. But overall both parts were a very good adaptation of the comic to the screen. I need to read the comic again, but honestly after watching these I kind of feel like I already have! I'll be looking forward to any future DC animated movies done by this production team.
Next up: More Batman!
Sunday, March 24, 2013
My finals are over so in my week off it's time to do some catching up before I get busy again with classes and work. I noticed that about a third of the movies I still need to do write-ups for are animated so that is the theme for this week! To give a hint as to what is coming up without spoiling the surprises, I will be covering two theatrical releases and two direct-to-video animated films. All four have been released since 2001. I've never done a theme week before so this should be fun. Who knows, I may plan on doing something like this again!
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
I've been busy with work and classes so expect future posts to be brief. I'll still try to get a couple posts up each month but I won't get back on track until the summer.
I've never played the board game Dungeons & Dragons and this movie doesn't want to make me try it any time soon. Of course to be fair I'm sure this movie is nothing like the game.
Dungeons & Dragons features one dungeon scene and little screen time for the dragons so it doesn't really live up the its title. I came into the movie expecting a generic sub-par PG-13 fantasy movie and it was still disappointing.
Thora Birch is dressed up as a cross between the child-like Empress from The Neverending Story and Queen Amidala from Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace. Despite being an empress, Birch's character doesn't have a lot to do and isn't in the movie much despite being one of the bigger names in the cast. Oscar winner Jeremy Irons plays the main villain, Profion, but like Birch has less screen time than expected. The scenes with Irons as funny because he hams it up, a welcome respite how unentertaining the rest of the movie is. Profion has an evil henchman named Damodar (played by Bruce Payne) who is just as over the top as Irons. I won't even get into the lead actors (which include Marlon Wayans) as I just found them boring, like much of the movie.
Dungeons & Dragons feels like a TV movie despite having a $45 million budget. I'm surprised this poor film got released in theaters but not surprised at all that it was a box office bomb. Director Courtney Solomon managed to survive this disaster as he later directed An American Haunting (2005) and has a film coming out this year titled Getaway starring Ethan Hawke and Selena Gomez. I wouldn't be shocked if we saw a future movie with the Dungeons & Dragons title to cash-in on the board game, especially since increased popularity of fantasy films (The Lord of The Rings, Harry Potter) and TV shows (Game of Thrones) in the last decade. Hey, it couldn't be much worse than this one!