Films, Reviews

Review: Doctor Strange (2016)

eoionog4yb7pbvfcboiwBenedict Cumberbatch is excellent as Doctor Strange. The character’s likeness is almost perfect, and it has some depth, but not more than you can expect from a commercial action-oriented film. Special effects are well designed and serve the narrative. The story is simple, but well-paced and with just the right amount of exposition. All in all, one of the best Marvel films so far .

My Little Pony, Reviews

Review: Double Rainboom (2013) by Zachary Rich et al

vlcsnap-2013-03-31-17h52m43s45Double Rainboom is a half-hour long animated episode, made as a college project by fans of the TV show My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. And it’s not only of professional quality, it comes very close to the actual show.

The story follows Rainbow Dash, as she experiences unexpected side effects of a magical potion, and takes us on a ride with with plenty of references to the My Little Pony fandom and to other animated shows.

Compared to the other recent fan-made episode, Snowdrop, production values are much higher. The animation is much more complex and ambitious, with lots of visual gags. Voice acting is also better than in Snowdrop, even if it can’t match the top-tier professional voice actors working on the TV show.

The most apparent flaw is the pacing, which is a little bit slower than we’re used to in animated children’s shows. In dialogues, it feels like we’re always waiting for characters to voice their lines. The episode could probably have been cut 5 minutes and been better for it.
Despite this, the episode ranks up there with an average Friendship is Magic episode, and is much better than many professional animations shown on TV.

This episode is well worth watching for anyone who likes children’s animation. And for fans of My Little Pony, I can only say: DO NOT MISS!

My Little Pony, Reviews

Review: Snowdrop (2013) by SillyFillyStudios

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When My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic started airing in 2010, it inspired a huge fan following, not among it’s primary demographic, 7 to 12 year old girls, but among teens and adults of both genders. They’ve produced a huge amoung of fan art, fan fiction, fan music and fan videos, and more than one group has set out to create an entire fan-made episode of the show. The first of these has now been released: Snowdrop.

The story is very simple: A school class is preparing gifts for Equestria’s princesses on the spring sunrise celebration. Snowdrop, a blind filly, can’t find anyone who wants to work with her, and has to use her unique skills to come up with a gift.

The animation is beautiful, but relatively simple, since the story is told mostly through dialogue and narration. The individual frames are beautifully drawn and closely follow the TV show’s style. Fans of the show may also appreciate the appearance of the Princesses Luna and Celestia in younger form, complete with exquisitely flowing ethereal manes.

The voice acting is not quite up to professional standards, but very competent. It could also have benfitted from a more diverse casting. The actress who voices the school teacher is far too young, despite her effort to vibrate her voice to give it an old lady’s timbre.

The story itself succeeds in being sentimental, sometimes a little too much. It also suffers from a flaw which is all-to-common in fan fiction: the main character starts out being misunderstood, then ends up being much more successful and celebrated than the story motivates. Despite this, it’s touching and poetic. A “must watch” for any fans of the show.

Films, Reviews

Review: The Hunger Games (2012)

The much anticipated Hunger Games film is based on Suzanne Collins’ young adult novel of the same name. Not having read the book or exposed myself to spoilers, I was forced to rely solely on the film to grasp the plot.

The basic premise is simple: in a post-apocalyptic future, North America is divided into twelve districts, mostly living in poverty, while being ruled by the affluent, high-tech metropolis called the Capitol. As punishment for a previous uprising, each district is forced to send one male and one female contestant each year to the Hunger Games, where they will fight to the death, leaving only one survivor.

When Katniss’ younger sister is selected for the Games, she volunteers to take her place. It gets even more complicated when the other contestant from their district is a boy she has sympathies for, and vice versa – only one can come out of the games alive.

The contest bears an uncomfortable resemblance to today’s reality TV shows. Taking place outdoors, they’re being filmed and televised by hidden cameras, and watched on big screens even in the poor, low-tech districts. The contestants are assigned stereotypical personas and backstories so they can more easily be sponsored and marketed. But the premise of reality TV is twisted an extra turn: having sponsors determines the contestants’ chances of getting extra help during the contest. This makes their very survival dependant on turning themselves into fake media personalities, and their fight for life and death into crowd-pleasing theatre.

So how enjoyable is it? In my opinion, the film is very well executed. It’s suspenseful and it’s easy to identify with the main characters. It’s relatively realistic and down-to-earth, which makes the characters’ situation feel more real (except for the characters’ near-perfect looks, of course, despite scratches in the face and being out in the wilderness for several days). It has violence and gore, but it never revels in it – it uses it to show the seriousness of the situation and add to the realism. There’s romance, but it’s never allowed to take over the storyline.

I only have a few complaints. The premise behind the Games seems a little sketchy, and the authorities blatantly interfere in them, which strains believability. The story also takes the easy way out a few times. The main character (Katniss) is sometimes a little too perfect, and hard situations and choices are sometimes avoided a little too easily, by events outside the main characters’ control.

Fortunately, the film resists a perfect happy ending, instead focusing on the hypocrisy of the Hunger Games and leaving some ambiguity.

Recommended for anyone who likes drama or suspense, and can stand some tastefully depicted violence.

Films, Reviews

Review: The Tree of Life (2011)

This review contains spoilers for the movie – but you may enjoy it more if you have an idea of what it’s about before you see it.

The Tree of Life is a story of a middle-aged man – Jack – who, in obvious pain, looks back at his childhood. His jumbled, and sometimes unrealistic, memories shows him growing up in 1950’s Texas. Through his abusive father, pain and suffering is brought into the child’s world, which twists and creates malice in him.

But the close, personal story is interrupted for a much more epic one: that of life on Earth. The creation of the universe is shown in splendid colours. The camera wanders through stars and nebulas. The Earth forms, and the first self-replicating molecules appear. Beautifully computer-generated dinosaurs wander over fern-covered forest floors, to meet disease or disaster. The purity and beauty of the creation point, slowly gives way to greater and greater imperfection, just as the boy’s happiness and innocence gives way to suffering and evil.

When we return to the young boy, we know his story is part of a much greater one – that of the Tree of Life. We are reminded of this over and over again, as the camera wanders over the intricate patterns of a leaf, or a swaying forest of underwater reeds, or any other of nature’s wonders.

What makes the film special are its images. The sequences with humans in them are shown very subjectively, as a human observer would see or remember them. The crispness and stark contrasts, together with the shaky camera, create a hyper-realistic feel. Special effects are used to enhance the storytelling, not just to impress or dazzle. Houses, clothing and machinery from the period are shown in their imperfect glory.

Unfortunately, the film relies almost entirely on its symbolism and visuals. For a viewer who doesn’t grasp them, there’s not much surface story to keep them entertained, and the whole film is likely to appear jumbled and incoherent. The director doesn’t go out of his way to explain anything – the film’s title is about the only clue freely given.

In Jewish mysticism, the Tree of Life is a symbol not only for life on Earth, but for the whole of creation. The origin of the universe – God – is perfection, but that perfection is corrupted as his presence trickles down through creation. In the film, this is reflected both on the cosmic scale – the perfection of creation is replaced by death, disaster and indifference – as on the personal scale – the innocence of childhood is replaced by suffering and malice.

This lack of perfection is not the result of sinning or free will, but part of the natural order. As the priest tells his congregation in one scene, disaster falls on everyone, good and bad alike. For the family, it may come as failure or the death of a loved one; for life on Earth, it may come as an asteroid impact. This, I believe, is at the core of the film’s message – the suffering you experience on a personal level may seem cruel and meaningless, but it’s part of a much grander cosmic order.

But is that all – enduring suffering and trying to see a deeper meaning? The film suggests there is also grace. At the end, we see dead relatives come to life and meet each other. They embrace, and old bodies turn young again. This mirrors the Jewish conception of the afterlife – the end times, when the dead rise from their graves.

The film may seem quite long if you’re not taken in by its message or its entrancing visuals, but in my opinion the beautiful creation sequences alone are worth getting to the theatre.