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Review: Batman: The Dark Knight Rises

(spoiler-free)

In the third installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman series, the inspiration seems to have been lost. The previous two films worked so well, not in small part due to the excellent character portrayls, but in this film, the characters lack depth and their actions are not well explained. This is a major blow to the film, becuase we need to go deep into the characters if we are going to believe that heroes dress up as bats to fight crime, or villains spread chaos around them for no good reason.

The plot quickly turns into a stereotypical comic book plot. There’s actually a pretty clever plot twist, but it falls flat because we’re not invested in the characters.

It’s an adequate film for a few hours of quailty entertainment, but not nearly as memorable as The Dark Knight.

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.

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Review: John Carter (2012)

John Carter is based on Edgar Rice Burrough’s pulp hero by the same name, or more specifically, the novel A Princess of Mars. It’s a classic sword-and-sorcery tale with bare-chested heroes, beautiful princesses, monsters, natives, and evil conquerors – except that instead of taking place in the ancient past, the setting is Mars, and instead of magic and swords there’s science and alien technology.

The story revolves around civil war veteran John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) who’s transported to Mars by a mystic amulet. There, he meets the alien natives (the four-armed Tharks), and becomes involved in the fight between two cities populated with humans. He meets the princess of one of the cities, Dejah Toris (Lynn Collins), who is about to be forced to marry the opposing city’s leader to broker peace.

It’s not hard for anyone who’s ever seen an adventure film to guess how it ends, but the journey there is surprisingly pleasant. The story holds together all the way and is told with clarity and precision. The special effects are plenty, but are not allowed to take precedence over storytelling. The film manages to develop the main characters and give them distinctive personalities in a very short space. The film makers have also provided a framing device – the original novel’s writer (Burroughs) is also in the film, and learns the story from Carter’s diary, which allows for a twist ending.

The special effects render the alien species, architecture and vehicles very well, and it’s quite entertaining to see the titular character’s feats of superhuman strength, enabled by Mars’ lower gravity. The main characters also provide some eye candy, especially Carter/Kitsch, who runs around bare-chested for most of the film. Recommended for anyone who likes well-told action/adventure films.

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Review: The Chase (2012) by by Tomas Vergara

The Chase is a short, independent film about a hitman job gone wrong. The animation is technically very well done, with realistic physics and movement. There are many examples of falling, crumbling physical structures and human acrobatics, which makes the film seem more like a technological demo than a vessel for storytelling.

The storyline is simple and straight-forward, with little characterisation and no dialogue. The pacing feels flat – for example, the cuts are long even during the action-filled scenes, and there’s little sense of urgency.

I think the film is a good example of how much can be done by talented artists in their own homes using today’s technology.

Info:

Directed by Tomas Vergara
Characters by Mauricio Galvez
Music and SFX by Jay Taylor

Watch the film on Vimeo.