Wrinkle in Time, A (2018)
★ / ★★★★
At least its intention comes from a good place.
“A Wrinkle in Time” aims to empower young people to learn to love themselves, to embrace their flaws yet remain open for the possibility of self-improvement, to be malleable should the occasion call for it, to be proud of being smart and self-reliant. But director Ava DuVernay has failed to make a truly captivating picture for children and young adolescents because the approach is often ostentatious rather than introspective, quiet, and personal. One gets the impression that she wished to create a film that would be remembered for years to come. But in order to achieve this, it appears she has forgotten one simple rule: the emotions behind the situations shown on screen must not only ring true, they must be treated with constantly evolving complexity that runs parallel to the growth of the person we are asked to follow.
I found the movie to be intolerably fake, from the expensive special and visual effects down to the would-be tears streaming down a child’s face during the most dramatic moments. With the former, it is so obvious whenever actors are emoting in front of a blue or green screen. As a result, the supposedly costly visuals look cheap and laughable. I’ve seen much more convincing visuals from modern video games. With the latter, clearly Visine or water was dropped onto eyes of actors and they were instructed to look sad. One sees through the sham almost immediately because when they cry their eyes do not even look slightly red. Their lips do not tremble convincingly. Involuntary ticks associated with sorrow or despair are nowhere to be found.
At its most preposterous, one gets the impression that a fashion show is taking place, particularly when Meg (Storm Reid), our heroine who goes on a quest to search for her missing father (Chris Pine), an accomplished NASA scientist, crosses paths with Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), beings in the form of adult women who possess the ability to travel across time and space. These veteran performers deliver a parade of annoyance, particularly Witherspoon who appears to not have created a character that is worthy of the story’s fantastical universe. But perhaps the dialogue shares equal responsibility, too.
Screenwriters Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell appear to not have an understanding of what piques children’s curiosity. Nearly every line that characters utter is dumbed down. Helpful life lessons are as subtle as a kick in the gut. Once in a while a complex scientific term is thrown around—but do not be fooled: as a person with a solid scientific background, let me tell you that these serve merely as decoration. I found it maddening that the material is afraid to explain an intricate concept yet its overall message touches upon the value of being inquisitive. Why must these writers make the same mistakes as generic children’s films that have nothing to offer except busy activity and noise?
Notice its misguided use of music. Score and soundtrack are omnipresent—most distracting and inappropriate because there are moments in the film when the characters and the audience must ruminate. How could we get into a place of genuine feelings and deep thoughts when such musical signals shove us into feeling or thinking a certain way? This creates an impression that the filmmakers do not trust the audience to come up with their own conclusions. How can we feel empowered by our own experiences with the work when there is implication that there is only one way to respond to it?
This interpretation of the beloved novel by Madeleine L’Engle is a disgrace for it does not practice what it preaches. Great movies for children are memorable exactly because they are personal stories told through a filmmaker’s personal touch. They do not aspire to be big, they just are—and sometimes time actually makes them bigger, grander, more definitive than they were. Here, DuVernay’s signature is drowned by all the blinding colors, meaningless noise, and stupidity wrapped in bad fortune cookie aphorisms.
Z for Zachariah (2015)
★★★ / ★★★★
After a nuclear war, the majority of the planet became uninhabitable. One of the exceptions is the valley that Ann (Margot Robbie) resides in which was somehow protected by the nuclear fallout and quite possibly has its own weather system. Although Ann has lived with family, it has been a year since the rest of them attempted to find survivors outside of the valley. To her surprise, while doing her usual chores and rounds, Ann crosses paths with a man named John (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a research engineer wearing a suit designed to protect from radioactivity. Soon enough, despite their initial but important differences, they decide to live together.
“Z for Zachariah,” directed by Craig Zobel, is a contemplative piece that works as a chamber drama and barebones science fiction. Credit to the casting directors for choosing actors that are comfortable portraying many different emotions very often in one scene. This is because, aside from the main plot involving faith and science, the film is also about the images the characters paint in the viewer’s mind as they recollect traumatic memories.
Scenes that stand out involve characters simply sharing a meal or standing in a room and talking to one another. Particularly moving is when Ann opens up about her extremely isolated existence in the farm, what she had to go through before meeting John. We get a taste of her lifestyle during the first ten minutes as she trudges forward during her usual routine, a dog being her sole companion. Although the word “suicide” is never uttered, the subject is brought up with an elegance and a sadness. One cannot blame her for considering such an action and yet one ought to commend her strength for ultimately continuing to live, to keep fighting.
The pacing is slow and deliberate which is most appropriate in a story like this. Thus, the material is successful is building a lot of sexual tension between John and Ann. It is critical that we believe they are eventually drawn to each other, despite their differences especially when it comes to believing in God, because their feelings for one another—whatever it is exactly—is challenged later, upon the arrival of Caleb (Chris Pine), who claims that he is on his way south due to news that there is a colony of survivors there.
On some level, the picture works as a thriller in the final third as we begin to question how far a character, or characters, is willing to go in order to defend or upend the status quo. The ambiguous ending is wonderfully executed because clues are laid out for further dissection. It is up to us to decide which avenue to believe. In the wrong hands, it could have been simplistic, too fixed, altogether too clear, offering no sense of mystery or questioning. More importantly, the ending shoves us into the mindset of its characters.
Loosely based on the novel by Robert C. O’Brien, “Z for Zachariah” is a piece of work that is polished, certainly shot beautifully, but has enough roughness around the edges—its ability to take risks to be exact—to keep it fascinating. It is made for a more contemplative, empathetic audience.
Wonder Woman (2017)
★★ / ★★★★
“Wonder Woman,” directed by Patty Jenkins, is yet another superhero picture that is over-reliant on CGI and does not offer enough imagination to impress or move the viewer beyond images presented on screen. This is especially inexcusable since the film is over two hours long. What results is a barely passable popcorn entertainment—clearly not a project that will be remembered decades from now and be utilized as a bar to be met for the sub-genre. I find that it possesses a skeletal idea of what it wishes to be, but the execution lacks the necessary inspiration to create first-rate entertainment.
The casting of Gal Gadot is spot-on not only because of her physical beauty. While capable enough of carrying both dramatic and comedic moments, I enjoyed it most when the performer simply stands among a crowd and yet our eyes gravitate toward her. Magnetism is something that a person naturally possesses and Gadot has plenty to spare. She manages to stand out even when computerized special and visual effects invade the screen to the point of overload.
Notice that the best scenes in the picture are moments of levity, whether it be Diana, having been raised on a hidden island, discussing the pleasures of the flesh (and how she read twelve volumes of a book detailing such information) with an American pilot named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) who is obviously attracted to her or Diana being forced to try on different articles of clothing so she can fit in with the crowd in London. When the material does not take itself too seriously, and willing to slow down the plot so we can get to know the characters a little more, it is refreshing in ways that other superhero movies are not. This is because the jokes are specific to Diana’s story, where she comes from, and what she hopes to achieve.
Conversely, when the material takes itself too seriously, the tone is dour, uninviting, and at times soporific. All of us have seen war films before and great ones shake us to the bone. The events that transpire here is a bizarre combination of real-life drama and comic book. Clearly, these extremes do not mesh well. A diluted version of reality is thrusted upon our laps and somehow we are supposed to find entertainment value out of it. Since the screenplay by Allan Heinberg lacks depth, it simply does not ring true on any level.
In addition, broad topics such as corruption, horrors of war, sacrifice, and heroism are touched upon, even mentioned outright, but these ideas are never explored in such a way that we are given insight as to what these words or ideas mean to the characters we are supposed to be rooting for. Instead, a pattern emerges: an idea is brought up and it is immediately followed by a relatively uninspired action scene. This is especially pervasive during the final hour of this drawn out film.
Those looking for dimension, depth, and insight from superhero pictures are bound to be severely disappointed by “Wonder Woman.” Here is a picture with outposts—important events that must be introduced into the plot in order to create a semblance of story—but the journeys between these outposts are rushed and lacking in flavor. I take comfort in the fact that the romance between Diana and Steve offers enough surprises.
Finest Hours, The (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★
Craig Gillespie’s “The Finest Hours” depicts an exciting, suspenseful, and seemingly impossible rescue mission that is based on actual events that took place in 1952. It works because it is interested in specific details of the jobs at hand—both from the U.S. Coast Guard perspective and the men stuck on a sinking ship during a terrible storm.
The screenplay by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson ensures that we understand the tasks at hand. Notice that when something needs to be explained because many of the viewers are likely to be unfamiliar when it comes to the particulars of rescue efforts and keeping an oil tanker afloat, vivid dialogue is employed coupled with a relatively calm background. It takes its time so that we are able to construct images in our heads.
Our expectations are slowly developed—and either upended when things go horribly awry or a sigh of relief fills the air when something goes right eventually. There is an efficient balancing act between action-thriller sequences, particularly of a small motor lifeboat led by a crewman named Bernard “Bernie” Webber (Chris Pine) that must make it past a barrier of enormous waves, and its dramatic core. We are reminded constantly that the characters on screen are real humans who are flawed, fragile, and determined.
I also appreciated the details of how the environment takes its toll on its subjects. For instance, inside of the oil tanker that had been split in two, we notice the increasing level of fatigue of and amongst men from having to work for many hours straight not only in order to keep the ship afloat but also to steer it in the right direction and be on the lookout for rescue. Their energy is inversely related to the rate of the ocean water swallowing them whole.
Casey Affleck plays Ray Sybert, the SS Pendleton’s engineer whose first task is to convince about half of the crew that taking the lifeboats as a means of survival is a bad idea. There is a growing but subtle weariness to his performance that I found compelling. We understand that he does not see himself as a leader but one who is forced to lead nonetheless because the others do not know as much as he knows. He has doubts in himself and it does not help that a few others have doubts about him, too.
“The Finest Hours” is likely to be criticized for embracing a more traditional approach of showing a rescue mission. While the picture is not adventurous in terms of form or structure, it is nonetheless comparable to those considered to be superior films within the sub-genre because it is constantly grounded in reality, it presents many specific details of what a certain occupation entails, and there is increasing level of anticipation throughout. It is not simply about getting from Point A to Point B. It is concerned with the process.
Hell or High Water (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★
“Hell or High Water,” written by Taylor Sheridan, offers a plot involving two brothers who decide to rob banks in rural areas of Texas but it should not be mistaken for a standard action picture that has nothing on its mind other than a final battle between men of crime and men of law. Credit to the writer for creating a thoughtful and intelligent story about men driven by a purpose and in their journey finding themselves fueled by desperation.
The story’s template is all too familiar and so we believe we know exactly where it is heading. But most refreshing about the film is its ability to surprise consistently, whether it be in terms of plot direction, the beautiful interior details of its characters, or the symbolisms between the land and the men living in it. And although the picture consistently moves forward with a sense of purpose, notice it is willing to slow down at times so we can pay attention a little closer to the plain faces of men and women in these small towns. Here is a picture about poverty in forgotten places of America, where the poor remain poor for generations and the banks keep their eyes on the profit at the cost of human dignity.
The performances are precise and worth looking into. Ben Foster and Chris Pine play the brothers, Tanner and Toby, respectively, with such electrifying intensity that scenes where they remain quiet usually command a high level of tension. Quite opposite in temperament and personality, we cannot help but wonder which is the more dangerous: Tanner the more dominant and explosive of the duo or Toby the more intelligent and patient of the pair. Early on we realize how and why the brothers’ partnership works—and, equally important, why it is a formidable force, a fascinating challenge, for a nearly retired Texas ranger, Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges).
Bridges brings his expected strong presence—a trait that many viewers take for granted. Bridges has numerous amusing lines, especially when interacting with his American-Indian partner (Gil Birmingham), but also appreciate instances when he doesn’t say a word and his eyes communicate paragraphs in just a few seconds. Bridges is such an experienced performer that he is able to communicate something entirely different by simply changing the way his character breathes or gives out a look a few degrees to the left. Right from the very first scene where we meet his character, we know that the ranger is highly intelligent, curious, and one who has captured a lot of criminals in his time. This makes him either a wonderful protagonist or antagonist—depending on which party the viewer ends up rooting for.
Aside from eye-catching shots of the land and the horizon, here is another beautiful detail the film offers: there is no standard hero or villain despite an ordinary plot involving cops and robbers. Since the material takes on enough detours in order to get us to understand what makes its characters tick, either way we become convinced soon enough that the material, directed by David Mackenzie, will offer no expected dramatic ending. There is only life and the continuation of that life with positive or negative consequences based on what had transpired.
Star Trek Beyond (2016)
★ / ★★★★
In terms of quality, Justin Lin’s “Star Trek Beyond” is several solar systems away from J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek,” an exciting, thrilling, mainstream summer blockbuster that has more similarities with the classic “Star Wars” pictures than it does with its original material. There is great energy and freshness to Abrams’ film, elements that are sorely lacking in this installment, resulting in a dour, slow, expected foray into what is supposed to be uncharted regions of space.
It begins from an interesting perspective given that the USS Enterprise and its crew are in their third year of a five-year mission. Led by Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), we feel the team’s fatigue which stems from the day-to-day responsibilities that have begun to feel more like chores. From a storytelling standpoint, it works because it is a way of relating to the audience directly: Although the characters’ mission involves space exploration, what they do is still job and so there are times when excitement hits a low point. But the writers, Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, fail to take this perspective in fascinating and thought-provoking directions.
Instead, we are given a whole enchilada of action. Although they can be appealing once in a whole, it comes across as painfully standard. None of the extended shootouts, spaceships crashing on landscapes and onto one another, or even the hand-to-hand combats are memorable. One gets the impression that kinetic movements and a sci-fi action noises are simply served to appease viewer expectations rather than to challenge, question, or provoke. Put the film on mute and the images mean nothing because the majority of them are computerized anyway; there are no concrete ideas for us to hang onto and ponder over.
Because the screenplay is dirt poor, notice that even the musings of Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto)—usually the most curious and amusing of the crew—sound forced and out of place. The attempts at humor are even more awkward; the timing from the actors are there but the material’s wit is lightyears away. These exchanges are supposed to function as reprieves between the elaborate action sequences but they, too, do not offer anything of value. Over time, I caught myself actually looking forward to the battle scenes not because they are necessary better but at least they are steps taken toward the film’s conclusion.
It is said that movies within this genre are defined by their villains. Krall (Idris Elba) commands a terrifying swarm of bee-like fleet but the character himself lacks any dimension worth exploring. Some effort is put into fleshing out the villain during the final act but it is too late by then because we have ceased to care about his motivations; the special and visual effects, the noise, and other distractions have completely taken over.
“Star Trek Beyond” is missing an identity and substance. Compared to its two direct predecessors, notice there is not one moving scene to be found here that precisely digs into why this team and its members are worth investing our time and energy into. It is clearly inferior, not at all within the league of its livelier and more thoughtful antecedents.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)
★★ / ★★★★
When Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) was a Ph.D. student in London, he witnessed the 9/11 attacks on television. This inspired him to join the Marines two years later but a missile aimed at the helicopter he was riding sent him to the hospital for eight months. There, a man who works for the CIA, Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner), approaches him, clearly impressed by Jack’s background, and insists that he finishes his doctorate because upon doing so, an undercover financial analyst position will be waiting for him.
Criticisms that the picture comes off bland as a whole, especially since the protagonist is based on a character created by the highly respected novelist Tom Clancy, are not entirely unsound. While it is comprised of familiar elements from variety of espionage thrillers, it remains somewhat enjoyable nonetheless because it exercises restraint for the most part: It is not one of those techno-thrillers where the gadgets and booming soundtrack eclipse the thrills. Although computers are used, the material is old-fashioned in that the script tries to get us to care about Jack as a person first and a government agent second. Note, however, that the key word is “tries.”
Part of the problem when it comes to presenting Jack’s personal life is the casting. I was not convinced that Keira Knightley, Jack’s girlfriend for more or less a decade, exudes enough warmth for us to see why the title character is in love with her. While Knightley is convincing in playing a brilliant doctor, whenever she tries to be soft or accessible, the soft voice combined with a look of nagging desperation is too much of a performance. I did not see a character; I saw an actress trying to play a role that is not a good fit for her. Also, Pine and Knightley look very appealing on their own but when their characters are together, especially when expressing how much they care for one another, there is no sensuality or sexuality that radiates.
An avenue that should have been explored more is the relationship between Jack and the CIA specialist that gave the former a chance to become somebody. Scenes where Harper protects Jack from a distance might have held more weight if we felt as though Harper is preventing harm to someone he feels close to rather than just another agent who had to be protected because it is his job. Costner is a good actor and I wished that the material had given him more to do other than to look stern and patriotic.
I liked the Jack Ryan in the first half. The first major hand-to-hand combat takes place in a posh hotel and we are able to see quite clearly that our protagonist is not a fighter—at least not like Ethan Hunt in the “Mission: Impossible” series. Jack can fight physically because of his stint in the Marines but his inexperience shows. His intelligence is the first weapon of choice. The director, Kenneth Branagh, who also has a key role in the film, is wise to include shots of our hero’s face during the kinetic mano y mano because it shows him thinking what he might to do next to overcome his sizable opponent.
When the second half comes around, however, Jack Ryan becomes an action star. The car chase across Moscow and the motorcycle sequence in New York City do not work because what is front and center is not consistent with the man that we have come to know. One gets the impression that the writers, Adam Cozad and David Koepp, did not have enough inspiration to have concocted a more believable way to present the climax and resulting denouements.
“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” offers some good entertainment but it does not leave any sort of lasting impression. With so many movies of its type that are coming out and have come out, it is important to stand above most of them and show to the audience why this story is special and ultimately worth telling.
Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★
In order to save the destruction of a planet with primitive inhabitants, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew must render a volcano inert prior to eruption via cold fusion. But the success of the mission hinges on the denizens of Nibiru not seeing anything that will irrevocably change their beliefs and way of life. As usual, Kirk is unable to abide by Starfleet’s directives completely, this time for moral reasons, and so he is demoted to First Commander. But not for long. A man named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) executes an act of terror in London.
Colorful, thrilling, with surges of humor when least expected, it is difficult to deny that “Star Trek Into Darkness,” directed by J.J. Abrams, has a very high entertainment value. I was regaled by it mostly because something is often galloping across the screen. It is strongest, however, when the action takes a backseat and the screenplay allows the characters to catch up to one another–and we to the plot while being reminded of the actors’ chemistry–through conversations. The kinetic action pieces are impressive but only a few are indisputably memorable. Such an imbalance is not present in its predecessor.
I relished the interesting villain. Harrison is wonderfully played by Cumberbatch, exuding the right amount of intrigue and menace often simultaneously. I appreciated that Cumberbatch is willing to make his character look ugly by scrunching up his face, for instance, in the attempt to express a small percentage of rage that his character compartmentalizes. There is great drama whenever Kirk and Harrison duel with words and mind games, the former always finding himself trying to catch up to an opponent who is consistently ten steps ahead. We know that Kirk’s usual tactics–being brash and relying on luck–will be ineffective against this mysterious enemy.
When Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) fight, it is refreshing and funny; when they are affectionate, one is likely to wish to get out of the room. I craved a more meaningful exploration of their relationship. With Spock, half-Vulcan and half-human, always being so logical and not attuned with his emotions, surely Uhura is more frustrated than what she is shown to be. Instead, at times she comes across moody rather than someone who is genuinely concerned about the relationship she values.
One of my favorite scenes in the previous film involves Kirk and crew diving through the atmosphere and onto a drill’s platform that is only about twelve to fifteen feet in diameter. Here, it offers something similar–and more daring–as Kirk and another character are ejected from the U.S.S. Enterprise to a neighboring ship. To enter the latter, they must fit through a hole that is barely six feet in diameter. Before getting to the entrance, though, they must make their way through debris while traveling at high speeds. I shifted in my seat out of worry, dread, and excitement. I imagined Spock’s voice declaring the possibility of failure each time something goes terribly wrong.
“Star Trek Into Darkness” reaches some emotional high notes. Most interesting is the father-son relationship between Kirk and Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood). When the camera is up close on the actors’ faces during their characters’ quieter moments, such as the scene that takes place in a bar, one can get a glimpse of a universal relationship. This one just so happens to take place in a future full of sensational space adventures.
Many of us have at least one person in our lives who believes unconditionally in our ability to break the barriers and make a difference. But, since they are often there to act as a safety net when we fall, there comes a point when we end up taking that person for granted. I think that is key in Kirk’s evolution. Since he is still learning, surely there are more adventures to be found just beyond the next horizon.
Star Trek (2009)
★★★★ / ★★★★
While investigating reports of lightning storms in space, U.S.S. Kelvin, a Federation vessel, is attacked by a gargantuan Romulan ship. Nero (Eric Bana) demands the U.S.S. Kelvin’s captain (Faran Tahir) to reveal the location of Ambassador Spock. Meanwhile, George Kirk (Chris Hemsworth) is assigned to oversee and ensure safe evacuation of the ship. As luck would have it, his pregnant wife (Jennifer Morrison) goes on labor.
Infused with wild energy, charming performances, and an imaginative script, “Star Trek,” directed by J.J. Abrams, made me pay attention to a franchise I had no interest in whatsoever. It understands the art of intrigue. While names like “Kirk” and “Spock” are easily recognizable names, it is a curiosity–to non- or semi-fans anyway–how these characters so opposite in personalities will learn to set their differences aside and form a team that saves lives both human and alien.
After a moving opening sequence, a parallel is immediately established between James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto). They struggle to keep their emotions in check, an element that they must learn to reroute and control if they were to successfully become leaders and partners in the U.S.S. Enterprise. As a child, it is suggested that Kirk has a lot of anger due to not having a stable father figure. Over time, he drinks and gets in trouble with the law. Meanwhile, Spock is bullied for being a half-blood, his father a Vulcan and his mother a human. His anger for being considered less than festers within.
Despite the non-stop action after revving its engine and flying into the depths of space, the script has enough humor to keep it grounded, from Jim pursuing Uhura (Zoe Saldana), an ace xenolinguist, to physical stunts that go awry somewhat or completely off the rails. The comedy usually functions as release during the more intense sequences. The scene involving three characters diving through the atmosphere and attempting to land on a drill that works as a signal jammer has an excellent balance of thrill and laughter.
The more overt visuals are spectacular, but I was most impressed during the early scenes that take place on Earth. I liked the way a flying cop vehicle feels so right chasing a kid driving a car clocking in at over eighty miles per hour–with the Beastie Boys blasting from the speakers, no less. There is also a bar where humans and aliens can go to have drinks. A feeling of integration, I think, is crucial if we are requested to buy into a universe where humans can time warp and explore various alien worlds and cultures.
It might have benefited from establishing a more interesting villain. Nero does a lot of snarling and bossing around but at times I was bored by him. The talk about his planet and family–yada-yada-yada–get old after a short while. Not once do we see him step off his ship and actually do what he needs to be done. If I wanted to hear more yelling, I would rather watch more in-fighting within the U.S.S. Enterprise, the power struggle between Spock and Kirk.
“Star Trek,” written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, emphases how disparate characters come together to form a team that we, as intelligent audiences who care about motivations as well as stellar sci-fi action, can stand behind and root for. We remember the adventures not because things explode–since those are a dime a dozen–or implode–less common–but because we understand and feel the chemistry among the key players.
Rise of the Guardians (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★
Pitch Black (voiced by Jude Law), also known as the Boogeyman, decides that it is time for children to start believing in him again. The last time his power had reached an unfathomable zenith was during the Dark Ages when everyone lived in fear. His resurgence, however, involves destroying children’s hopes and dreams which in turn fuel the powers of North (Alec Baldwin), Tooth (Isla Fisher), Bunny (Hugh Jackman), and the Sandman. If children stop believing in them, the Guardians will cease to exist. To help them fight Pitch, the mysterious Man in the Moon appoints a new Guardian: Jack Frost (Chris Pine), the spirit of winter who hopes to recall the memory of his past life.
Based on the book series by William Joyce, “Rise of the Guardians” offers plenty of material to be enjoyed by both children and adults. Although the characters are based on fictional figures but are nonetheless a part of our cultures, the material is more child-like than childish, infusing a sense of wonder and genuine emotions in its story rather than resting on running evanescent and shallow gags.
Part of the fun is that our archetypes of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Sandman, and the Tooth Fairy are turned inside out. Because the way they look are so different from what we normally expect, the screenplay is one step ahead in engaging us. For example, we do not expect Santa Claus to have tattoos or the Easter Bunny to be a six-footer, tough-talking, boomerang-wielding warrior.
Their personalities, too, are turned upside down. Not all of them are immediately likable. Not all of them even get the chance to speak. I was impressed that the Sandman does not get a chance to utter a word and yet he is given so much personality. Throughout the course of the film, we learn to like some of the Guardians a little more since our first impression.
I found it difficult to find fault with its style of animation. Since it is has plenty of action sequences, the texture of the movements feel swift even if a character only walks from Point A to Point B. This fluidity allows the film to truly shine, for instance, when the Guardians use their superpowers to stop Pitch from executing his master plan.
But the picture is not only strong during the hyperkinetic action. The facial expressions of the characters perfectly match the emotions behind the voices. In terms of voice acting, Law excels in exuding real menace. The way Pitch slithers and goes on about his devious intentions correspond to the sliminess in Law’s voiceover.
There is a little boy named Jamie (Dakota Goyo) who is intent on holding onto the belief that the Guardians are real. Though cute, this is the weakest strand because the script at times verges on sentimentality. Perhaps the intention is to make the human element as simple as possible so that it will be more accessible to children. Either way, it did not work for me completely. The material is more enjoyable when it focuses on the dynamics among the Guardians and the clever little jokes aimed at them or each other.
Directed by Peter Ramsey, despite its sugary shortcomings, “Rise of the Guardians” is visually arresting and offers a story worth telling. Almost everything about it is delightful. It is difficult to imagine a child not dropping what he or she is doing and paying attention to it because there is so much energy behind the battles as well as during times when characters are required to speak.
This Means War (2012)
★★ / ★★★★
After FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy), best friends and partners at work, turned a supposed covert assignment into a public catastrophe, their boss in the CIA (Angela Bassett) relegated them away from field work. During their time off, Tuck thought it would be a great idea to join an online dating service and see women. Luckily for him, Trish (Chelsea Handler) clandestinely created a profile for Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) because she thought her friend could use a man in her life. Eventually, though, Lauren decided to see both FDR and Tuck because she was the kind of girl who liked having options before settling for a product. “This Means War,” directed by McG, had a ridiculous premise which almost worked because its early scenes were full of swagger. Unfortunately, as it went on, it couldn’t be denied that there wasn’t much to the story and Witherspoon as a blonde Barbie was not only unsympathetic, she was not funny. Pine and Hardy had wonderful chemistry and the screenplay by Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg capitalized on their characters’ opposite qualities. FDR’s softer facial features was a nice contrast against his blasé playboy lifestyle. He was so slick, he even had a swimming pool elegantly, mesmerizingly placed on his apartment ceiling. On the other hand, Tuck’s more angular features provided an interesting incongruity to his more sensitive side. Having a young son and a passive-aggressive ex-wife, it was very easy to root for Tuck to find some sort of happiness in his personal life. When FDR and Tuck were together, there was a natural bromance that oozed out of their verbal sparring, a very fun, funky energy that reminded me of how it was like to be with my best friend. Because the two were so charming in their own right, scenes that might have been creepy, like the two breaking into Lauren’s home to know more about her and use the knowledge they had acquired to gain an advantage in the dating scenarios, had a playfulness to them. Sadly, Lauren was as boring as a cardboard cutout. The writers injected neuroses in her in order to convince us that she had a semblance of a personality, but not only did her quirks not come off as amusing, it felt almost desperate. It seemed like in every point where she had to make a decision, she consulted Trish. Lauren had a fancy job in downtown L.A. but how come she couldn’t she think for herself? Trish had the funniest lines and Handler was more than capable of reaching a certain level of energy to deliver the punchlines. I wish the picture was more about her. In the middle of it, I began to wonder how the movie could have been more interesting if the two handsome bachelors tried to win Trish’ affections even if she was happily married most of the time. There was a subplot involving Heinrich (Til Schweiger), a person of interest in the eyes of the CIA, wanting revenge for the death of his brother but, like Lauren, it was just so banal. The action scenes were very uninspired, almost unnecessary. “This Means War” was an innocuous romp that desperately needed edge in order to keep its audience on their toes, to feel like we were active participants in the charade. Since pretty much everything was so safe, I noticed that there were times when my eyes began to gloss over out of the dreariness happening on screen.