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Movie Ratings and Reviews

Sucker Punch
Sucker Punch(2011)

I'm going to risk sounding clichÚ, but when a film's main focus is great visuals, somewhere down the line the ball is dropped in exchange, and naturally, the victim that receives the most gouging is the film's potential to tell a compelling story. And in some ways, it can be argued that director and first-time writer Zack Snyder attempts to tell such a story in which a girl is wrongfully placed in a mental institute for girls and plans to break out. The problem is, however, whatever Zack Snyder is trying to convey through the story's premise can suddenly be thrown out the window when audiences watch this same girl suddenly go into flights of fantasy in which she is an ass-kicking, katana-wielding babe in a skimpy sailor outfit, duking it out against giant stone samurai toting mini-guns, re-animated ghoul Nazi soldiers, and robots straight from the iRobot movie reject, but less lame. Of course, these are dreams within dreams, much like Inception, except the girls imagine they are harlots forced to entertain in a burlesque house instead of a looney bin, while still having the other illusions of fighting in worlds straight from a video game. Trying to make sense as to how girls in 1940s-ish could imagine combating robots, let alone piloting steampunk mecha, could prove fruitless.

Does the film fail because of this? Not necessarily. But it leaves some missed opportunities to build these characters, at least care more of their plight. There are some intriguing characters present on the stage Snyder has created, but we never get past their limited dimensionality. Most wooden of them all, Baby Doll, the aptly named protagonist, is easier on the eyes than her performance on screen.

Aforementioned, if Sucker Punch does a few things right, one is the combat dream sequences, which illustrates a dance Baby Doll and company use to distract their captors and collect items needed for their grand escape. These scenes are full of high octane, kinetic energy. But the film isn't afraid to slow things down a little, figuratively and literally, and is not without some of Snyder's signature revving into and out of slow-mo that could make The Matrix blush.

The Bottom Line: Those expected more from Sucker Punch than a sequence of sexy girls kicking the tar out of mutant samurai, ghoul Nazi, and robots, with some story sprinkled of a breakout from a mental institute, will be sorely disappointed. Otherwise, Sucker Punch is a visceral visual kick in the teeth.

Alice in Wonderland

When Alice in Wonderland comes to mind, many immediately reflect on Disney's animated adaptation of the beloved children's books. Others might find it humorous how the books were written by Lewis Carol when he was often high. When Tim Burton comes to mind, many might would say he is one of the more intriguing visual-driven directors to grace Hollywood, or a man of utmost obscurity. So when you place Alice in Wonderland and Tim Burton together, you can expect either a splendid film or a pile of bile. Whatever your feelings about either topic, I'm sure one thing can be certain, things are going to get interesting.

Rather than a remake, Tim Burton's version of Alice's adventures in Wonderland takes place almost thirteen years, with a much older Alice, who has regarded her adventures in Wonderland nothing more than a dream. She is also caught in a curious predicament of being married to a rather snobbish suitor - an engagement pre-arranged - much to her discomfort. But when she spies a white rabbit wearing a coat and watch, she follows it, only to fall into the rabbit hole once more. In the time that has passed, Wonderland has not been much of a wonderful place. Under the iron-fisted rule of the Red Queen, the inhabitants of Wonderland are down-trodden and for the most part miserable. With the arrival of Alice, whom is believed by to be the one capable of slaying the Jabberwocky - a fearful dragon and the Red Queen's symbol of power - the inhabitants urge Alice to save become their champion to overthrow the tyrannic Red Queen once and for all.

Apart from this, the story mirrors several events of the books, although it is presented in a way that is doesn't feel rather stale - but also allows those who are not familiar with the source material some back story. While this eliminates most possibilities to experiment with the material, the performances by the cast (notably that of Mad Hatter Johnny Depp, Cheshire Cat Stephen Fry, and Red Queen Helena Bonham-Carter) makes up for what can be seen a less than original plot and dialogue that is not too sharp.

When it comes to stunning imagery, Tim Burton, being animator for Disney years before directing films, has provided a remarkable spectacle. The CGI is nice to look at, but the way that CGI characters, human actors, and actors that are cleverly enhanced by CGI, is something to marvel at. Though, it is unfortunate that I only was able to see the film in 2D.

The Bottom Line: When it boils down to it, it's pretty much split down the middle how you can receive this Tim Burton film. You might love it. You might downright hate it. But for this reviewer, never has a trip to Wonderland been quite a fun adventure.

The Grade: "B"

Battle: Los Angeles

I'm going to go ahead and inform the obvious: Battle LA is as fresh as dirty boxers in a drawer of other dirty boxers. It's sort of like watching any film that set in World War II, as in we get the same concept that Nazi's are the villains, the Allied Forces were the good guys, and good ol' Adolf Hitler and friends get their asses kicked in, eventually. The only major difference between these films in this backdrop in history? Different squad, different battlefield, same bloody war. The concept of aliens invading Earth to (naturally) harvest our natural resources or our brains - whatever the case - and all of humanity sets aside their differences to send E.T. packing back to the far side of the Milky Way, is a parallel one.

Now that we are done with the topic concerning originality, the challenge remains for Battle Los Angeles: how does it compared to such other dirty boxers like mega-hits Independence Day. Overall, about the same.
The story is very forthright. Aliens invade Earth, under the guise of crashing meteorites. They want our water (surprise, surprise) and they intend to kill off the human race to get it. The US Marines, the finest examples of American patriotism and can-do G.I. Joe mentality that can be asked for, are immediately dispatched to combat the threat. Forced out prematurely from retirement, Staff Sergeant Muntz (Aaron Eckhart) leads a squad to evacuate civilians from the Santa Monica district before a bombing operation blows the place to high hell, destroying the aliens. The film does not try hard to flesh out any characters save for Muntz, and probably for the best considering how most of these soldiers are picked off quite quickly throughout, with any screen time dedicated to such people shouting military jargon.

Naturally, the lack of complex storytelling allows the film to focus more on the carnage presented in the film. And carnage is plentiful, and rarely without a dull moment between heart-racing gunfights. It's just too bad that we can't watch this without the jarring camera shots. I've watched Cloverfield, District 9, and Black Hawk Down, all movies notorious among critics for the intentional "shaky camera" and had little complaints. We're talking almost on par with both Transformers films, here. If nothing else, this is my biggest quip with the film. I understand that shaky cameras can add to a chaotic scene, but what I wouldn't give to be able to grab the camera and force it steady.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Modestly delivers on what it aims for - aliens, Marines with firepower, and the chaos that ensues when worlds collide. Whatever morsels of storytelling are wedged between is just enough to remind audiences that they are rooting for the humans, and the frantic firefights, shaky cams, and explosions do the rest of the talking.

THE SCORE: "3 out of 5. Average."


Tangled, Disney's 50th animated feature (and the second CGI project not made under the Pixar name), we follow the story of Rapunzel, a young maiden extremely long hair who is held against her will in a remote tower when she meets a stranger and has her first exposure to the outside world. A tale as old as time, retold with a fresh coat of Disney paint. But how does it fare?

Tangled starts when a "sundrop" falls from the sky and lands on the earth, where there blooms a radiant flower with special magical properties, it is discovered by a withering old woman, who uses it magic to restore her youth, and keeps it hidden for herself. But when the queen of the land grows weak during labor with her daughter to be, the king sends out a search for a cure. The magical flower is found, and it cures the queen - and Rapunzel is born. Distraught, the old woman steals Rapunzel from her crib, and spirits her away into the woods. Raising the child on her own, the woman continues to use the flower's powers that now reside inside Rapunzel's own golden locks, and isolates her from the world. Eighteen years later, Rapunzel is growing tired of being cooped up in her tower, and wishes to explore the outside world. Along comes Flynn Rider, a dashing thief on the lam, who decides to lay low in Rapunzel's tower after a successful heist, but is knocked out cold by frying-pan-wielding Rapunzel. Striking a deal with Flynn, Rapunzel agrees to hand back his spoils if he takes her to see the "floating lights" that appear every year for her birthday. Reluctantly, he accepts, and the duo strike off on adventure.

Chances are, if you've seen enough Disney animated films, you know what to expect from the story. It flows in the formulaic, whimsical and family-friendly style that Disney has spent the last seventy years making themselves known for. That said, you can also expect the other motifs that are to be found in your typical Disney feature: slapstick and tongue-in-cheek comedy galore, a foray of musical arrangements that you have all been introduced to in prior films, with a dash of (usually) well-done animation by Disney's talented team of artists. Disney sticks to their guns with Tangled, more or less.

But for what little it does to really do anything too daring with the film, what is shown is still rather good. The main cast of Tangled, headed by Mandy Moore as the free-spirited protagonist Rapunzel, supported by Zachary Levi as the thief Flynn and Donna Murphey as the beauty-obsessed mother Gothel, are charming in their own right and add sparkle to what could easily ended up as a half-baked, pop-culture-filled animated ride. The animation is especially impressive, from the subtle expressions of the character's expressions to giving Rapunzel's hair a character of their own to presenting a beautiful world that is surprisingly spacious and eye-catching. The songs written for the film by composer Alan Menken are nothing too special from what he has provided with his prior material, but it won't cause any bleeding ears or any sudden urges to cringe. At least there is a lack of pop-music, and for that, I'm willing to set my nitpicks with the soundtrack aside.

The Bottom Line: It is nothing too original, and the been-there-done-that familiarity may fade the magic a little, but the film has enough retained from the beautiful animation and charming performances from the cast, there is plenty to love from "Tangled."

Score -- "3.5 out of 5 stars"

Toy Story 3
Toy Story 3(2010)

If there is one thing that I find myself sighing over is when unnecessary sequels are announced. Too many times I have seen sequels to otherwise great series and took everything about it that was grand and crushes it underneath it's heel - all for the sake of some extra box-office revenue.

Naturally, there are many great exceptions to this often-committed-too-many-times travesty. Some of the greatest and most successful films are indeed sequels, themselves. And like those that often defied the formula of the typical sequel, Pixar proved that their tale of toys that come to live when we do not see them would be just as great as the first time around. Although, I, myself, didn't find Toy Story 2 too much an improvement from the first movie, what Pixar offered in that film was a well-rounded and well-executed movie. And then, after what considered forever, fueled with the speculation created from the 'bloober reels' from Toy Story 2, the third film was announced.

While I have rarely questioned Pixar's ability to deliver excellent grade movies, I found myself feeling awfully skeptical about the project. One change that made me feel a little uneasy was the absence of John Lasseter from the director seat, who took the helm of the previous two films. A change of directors from one film to it's sequels is usually the first sign that the film has the potential to suck. And considering that this was the third film, very rarely does the third entry make par to the quality of the previous two films. But, since this was Pixar we are talking about, I decided to have faith that the film would deliver. And deliver it did. In fact, I found Toy Story 3 was my favorite of the trilogy.

The plot of Toy Story takes place years after Toy Story 2. Woody, Buzz and the gang face a daunting future when their beloved owner Andy have grown to be 17, and soon on his way to college. With many of their old friends gone over the years from yard sales and donations, those who remain fear the worst. Things get hairy when the toys are accidentally tossed out for garbage. Able to ditch being taken by the trash truck, the toys are convinced that the only viable option is to have themselves donated to the neighborhood children daycare, Sunnyside. Woody, on the other hand, insists that they return to Andy. Meanwhile, at Sunnyside, the toys are treated to a warm welcome by the resident toys, under the leadership of the strawberry-scented teddy bear 'Lotso' (Ned Beatty) - who shows them Sunnyside as a paradise. However, soon the toys realize that there is more underneath the surface than they realize, and the paradise is more like a prison - a hell they intend to break-out.

In comparison to the previous two films, Toy Story 3's story is the best of the three. All your favorites are around the second time, although be prepared to see some of the more notable toys from the past films to be MIA (although the absence of these characters makes sense in terms of the plot). But Toy Story 3 adds quite a colorful new cast - a notable addition seen in Michael Keaton's quirky but otherwise hilarious portrayal of Ken. The explorations of dealing with getting older and longing for a meaningful existence is well explored in this film, and really help in pulling plenty of heartstrings throughout the films, although you can still expect top-notch comedy from the masters of Pixar.

In terms of quality CGI visuals, Pixar has written the book and still schools many other studios with their brilliant artistry. Although the main characters designs of Woody and company have remained mainly the same. However, the human characters and toys with complex textures look splendid, and the amount to detail is amazing everywhere.

The Bottom Line: Like the previous two films before it, Toy Story 3 is the movie you should see this year. You won't be disappointed.

The Grade: "A+"

Citizen Kane
Citizen Kane(1941)

Chances are, if you're a fan of movies, you have seen or at least heard of Orson Welles' cinematic debut and arguably greatest achievement in Citizen Kane, a film that really does not need an introduction.

Up until my first quarter in film school, I admit that I never heard of the film, even though I was familiar with Orson Welles, who I recognized from hearing the famous radio broadcast of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds in a class during high school, and had also lend his voice for Unicron in the 80's animated Transformers movie. Upon doing some research for a project about Orson Welles, I learned more about the film, the politics and the trials behind it, and the rocky bends during Orson Welles' career. Regarded as a man too ambitious for his own good, a man of vision, and one of the greatest filmmakers in history, my curiosity about the man sparked, and wanted to watch his films to see if the films lived up to the praise it has received.

It's hard trying to grade this film based on the industry standards that my reviews are usually based on, and for the generality, I can barely pull myself through films this old. With that in mind, I try to let go most of the peeves that I had with older films when reviewing Citizen Kane, since this is an older film.

On with the review:

Citizen Kane starts with the protagonist, an old business tycoon Charles Kane, on his deathbed. Upon dying, the words 'Rosebud' are uttered by Kane, and the word's mysterious meaning entices the press to find out their significance. A journalist, Thompson, goes to interview any who personally knew Kane in life. This retells the events in Kane's life, from being given away by his parents, to his rise as a captain of industry and his race for political office, his trials with friends, and the drama that derived from it.

Like many much older films in it's time, Citizen Kane can be a trial to watch, mainly for it's slow pace, especially during the very beginning. The movie takes quite a while for the story to finally get the ball rolling. But once it gets going, the film does a nice job to keep things flowing more smoothly. Boasted for it's narrative, Citizen Kane does have intriguing material, and solid characters help the story, although Kane (played by Orson Welles himself) is the most colorful persona in the film, naturally, the kind you want to like and hate at the same time.

Citizen Kane's presentation probably deserves the most praise, notably the famed cinematography, alot of the shots are impressive, even for a dated film, with it's deep focus and massive wide shots. For being mostly radio stars, the cast does a good job serving the performance, although Orson Welles (no surprise) is the one steals the show. Some of the acting, gets a little awkward near the end with Susan's character.

The Bottom Line: While it may hold up much by today's standards, Citizen Kane at least deserves your attention, and perhaps a couple of viewings. And for a film this old, it's not too shabby. Not too shabby at all.

The Grade: "B"

Ninja Assassin

Ninjas are the epitome of awesome. Period. Screw pirates, Chuck Norris, or even Caption Falcon's super-effective Falcon Punch. Ninjas are awesome.

Now that we have established the awesomeness that is the ninja, on with the review.

Although ninjas can be found in almost any outlet in both Eastern and Western media, it seemed that ninjas in movies hit quite a bit of a dry spell. While the animated TMNT movie was a nice turn around after the last two weak films, and Snake-Eyes was probably the only redeeming factor in Stephen Sommer's summer blockbuster adaptation of G.I. Joe, we rarely get the opportunity to be presented a good film centered primarily around ninjas. From producers Wachowski Brothers and Joel Silver, the same gents that brought you The Matrix Trilogy, Speed Racer, and V For Vendetta comes Ninja Assassin (directed by James McTeige who also directed V For Vendetta), a movie about, well, ninjas fighting each other.

Taken in as an orphan under the powerful Ozunu clan, Raizo is rigorously trained with his fellow orphans to become ninja assassins - a process that is best described as hell. Despite the extremely harsh routines, Raizo finds some compassion from Kiriko, a kunoichi (female ninja), who resents the way of the shinobi. The years pass, and the two become romantically involved. But when Kiriko attempts to flee the Ozunu clan but is ultimately captured, Raizo is forced to see her executed, a tradition of the clan for treacherous ninjas.

Raizo continues to train, and soon completes his first assassination. But before he can become a full-fledged ninja, he is ordered to execute another captured kunoichi who attempted to flee. He cannot bring himself to do so and instead attacks the clan ruler, Lord Ozunu. He is brought down and falls from a skyscraper into a lake, barely alive.

Later in Germany, a Europol agent Mika Correti conducts an investigation on various assassinations around the world, and draws a connection to these and many high-value transactions to the Ozunu organization, as well as the assassination of a KGB operative who ran a similar investigation earlier. Targeted as a threat, the Ozunu sends an assassin to silence Mika, only the be interrupted by Raizo. Wanting revenge for Kiriko's death, Raizo agrees to keep Mika alive and help her organization to destroy the Ozunu clan.

In comparison to McTeige's previous effort in V For Vendetta, the story in Ninja Assassin takes the backseat. And like many martial-arts films before, it follows many traditions and cliches to be expected close to heart - including minimal character development and some unseasoned dialogue. While often times the film earnestly tries to take it's plot and setting seriously at times, it ultimately doesn't do much to elevate more juicy story elements. While what is here is adequate enough for what the film tries to accomplish, fans of more complex stories should probably seek out their kicks elsewhere. This isn't Kill Bill, and in it's defense, it's not trying too hard to be.

Of course, for those with appetite for bloody carnage are in for a nice treat. If the film exceeds in anything, it provides a well-rounded serving of kick-ass action. In the first ten minutes, when a ninja cleans a hangout of gun-toting yakuza and almost literally wipes the floor with their own dismembered body parts and blood, the moment is a blast to watch. While the rest of the movie never truly tops off the level of violence, I would be lying if I said that the rest of the violence in the film didn't at least make me crack a smile and a joyful snicker at least once. Although, if anything could be done less, I think McTeige could have used less of shifting back and forth into slow motion during fights like Zack Snyder.

The Bottom Line: The story's meat is never too juicy or thick. Yet, what 'Ninja Assassin' lacks in a more compelling narrative, it makes up for delivering what many of us want from a good ninja movie - kicking a lot of butt.

The Grade: "B"

How to Train Your Dragon

When it comes to animated CGI, one name is usually synonymous with quality - Pixar. And for good reason, too. Ever since the release of the first Toy Story in the 90's, the studio that brought us gem after shiny gem would set the bar of high-quality animation with intriguing story telling.

Then there was Dreamworks' animation studios, the second born that tries desperately to fill in the first born's hefty shoes, and constantly fell short of delivering a film even close on par of Pixar's legacy. While Pixar focused in delivering memorable stories and characters with high appeal, DW seemed to be a one-trick pony, taking the formula that made the original Shrek a hit (rather weak story with a ridiculous amount of pop culture humor with a heavy emphasis on star power) and applying it to every project. The routine got mundane really quick, and never showed any signs of true innovation or deviation. While DW seemed to get the idea a bit with Kung-Fu Panda and Over the Hedge, both still fell short from becoming trully engaging.

So with their newest work, "How to Train Your Dragon", does DW keep to their marketable and uninspired formula? Strangely enough, not really. And I must say, it's about freakin' time.

Based off the children's book with the same name, How To Train Your Dragon takes place in a viking village, where frequent encounters with menacing dragons has made dragon-slaying the most-demanded village occupation. Enter, Hiccup, the aptly-named village idiot who is less-than-helpful in everything he does in aiding with the dragon killing, causing much grief for his father, the village chief and hero. Desiring respect from his father and his fellow peers, Hiccup is determined to slay his own dragon. Using a contraption he invented, he manages to snag, by luck, a Night Fury - considered one of the most enigmatic and most lethal class of dragon. Against his better judgment, Hiccup releases the dragon out of pity, and in time, the two form a 'unusual friendship' as each helps the other to their own ends. Soon enough, both develop a better understanding between the misconception behind the conflict of their species.

Much like the uninspired title, the story is not the most original plot you have come across. The story is often predictable in most places from start to finish, leaving little to be surprised with. It's familiar, but the themes of unlikely friendships, pressures of growing up, and the underdog cliches really dog the film's attempt to stand out. Added with mildly interesting or intriguing characters, you don't ever feel too involved with the world nor the characters that reside in it. But compared to the other crap DW's animation studios have released in the past, it's a step in the right direction. When action in the film gets going, it gets good, but never peaks like it seems it should, always falling short of spectacular or amazing.

With that said, HTTYD is not without some sparkle. While the CGI is not impressive as other films, the burly and Nordic-inspired art direction gives the look of the film some flavor. Also, if you you a fan of flying sequences like in Avatar, the film delivers quite a spectacle. Another nod to the film is the lack of relying on a all-star cast to deliver a satisfying performance, something I wish DW would work more often to improve on.

The Bottom Line: Overall, this film tops what Shrek offers by leaps and bounds, making it the best Dreamworks animated film I've seen. And to this critic, that says alot.

The Grade: "B+"

Battle For Terra

Imagine an animated film that geared towards children, takes an interesting premise (albeit not too original), and all-star voice cast, and then decides to blend it with barely tolerable animation and presentation. Planet 51? Yes, that wouldn't be too far from the truth. But I'm pointing at a similar film - the lame-fest that is named "Battle for Terra".

Based off an original short "Terra", "Battle for Terra" places us in the shoes of a passive alien race until a hostile force invades to take over their planet. Us. Stanton, a proud human soldier, is rescued by one of the natives, Mulla, who provides him with shelter, in exchange for information regarding her father, abducted earlier in the film. Along with a trusty robot side-kick, the two strike off to return Stanton back to his mothership.

On paper, this idea seems rather solid for a sci-fi. The execution, however, is rather sad. While at times it seems that the film is heading in the right direction, it flops minutes later. For lack of a better word. It's half-baked.

Next, the animation. Sure, it's not Pixar or even Dreamworks' Animation Studios, and the animation is done by a smaller company, but I've seen much better animation work from smaller companies (like Imagi of "TMNT" and "AstroBoy"). Most models are too stiff, or showing only limited expressions. Nothing is dared with the direction, and it get's boring fast. I could expect something from a film made back in 2001, but for a more recent film, this is embarrassing. This makes "Happily N'ever After" look more appealing, and that was an awful film.

Voice direction is slightly okay. What the cast brings to the script is tolerable, but the dialogue was mostly a joke, or a very mucked up attempt to pass off as clever writing. Wanted to rub my face with a cheese grater.

The bottom line: So much potential, but perhaps the film should have focuses it's budget on it's animation and story development rather than having big names on the credit rolls.

The Grade: "D"


"You're not in Kansas anymore. You're on Pandora!"

It's been almost the good part of a decade that James Cameron had given audiences worldwide the tragic tale told in 1997's "Titanic" - which to this very day is the still the most high-grossing film of all time. After that, Mr. Cameron seemed to just vanish from cinema completely. While on the set with filming documentaries, Cameron did not touch movies for a long time.

Then in 2009, at this year's ComicCon convention in San Diego, Cameron announced his comeback - promising that his next film, "Avatar", would blow everyone's minds. A bold statement, indeed.

That was summer. Finally, after much waiting (which proved to be more than unnerving for a more-than-anxious film fanatic), the shuttle for Pandora came on December 18. Having gone there and back again, I have to say this: Mr. Cameron, you've done it yet again, you handsome devil!

Cameron's sci-fi epic takes us to the distant future - where technology has allowed mankind to travel the stars. Enter Jake Sullivan (Sam Worrington), a paraplegic and disgruntled ex-Marine who travels the long journey to Pandora - an exotic forest moon - where a mining operation for a precious mineral is halted by armed conflicts with Pandora's native inhabitants, the Nav'i. Despite being a more primitive civilization (similar to the Native Americans in the colonial era), the Nav'i have proved to be a handful even for the military backing. One of the villages of the Nav'i resting atop of the richest mineral deposit on the moon, the mining company CEO is desperate to have the Nav'i relocated - with force if necessary. Offering an alternative solution to violence, a science team have prepared "avatars" - living but mentally vacant vessels constructed from both human and Nav'i DNA and operated via a neural uplink - to make peace with the natives. Since the separate avatars can only operated by pilots that match their human DNA, Jake is called to step in for his late brother that was killed earlier before the events of the film, much to the dismay of the botanist and lead researcher behind the Avatar Project, Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver). Jake surprisingly gets adjusted to his avatar with little effort, and finds joy in being back on his feet - both figuratively and literally.

But Jake soon realizes that strolling through Pandora is no walk in the woods. Pandora's flora and fauna is dangerous as it is beautiful, and Jake gets a taste when a routine research mission gets him being pursued by man-eating, panther-like creature - separating him from the team. He is saved by Ney'tiri (Zoe Saldana), a warrior of the Nav'i people, who shares the same hatred for the humans as her own kind but shows some unusual compassion to the "dreamwalker". Convincing her tribe that he means no harm, Jake slowly learns from the Nav'i - tutored by reluctant Ney'tiri. Between connected to his avatar and back at base, Jake grows an appreciation for the Nav'i way of life. But his relationship between the Nav'i and his own race is threatened when a trigger-happy colonel (Stephen Lang) is more than eager to raise hell with the Nav'i, forcing Jake to choose his loyalties.

Having not been too impressed with 3D technology in movies in the past, and not seeing a 3D presentation since the 'Honey I Shrunk the Audience' attraction in Disneyland years ago, I was hesitant about James Cameron's ambition to bring 3D to a whole new record - spending a great deal of the film's budget to develop the 3D cameras specifically engineered to for this film. Coming into the theater as a critic, I left the theater amazed. The 3D version of 'Avatar' is absolutely incredible, if not ground-breaking. Never before have I felt so much the feeling of visual immersion in film, and as Cameron promised, it does take the technology in a bright new direction. If this actually pans out, I would love to see more movies done in 3D this way, and I would have even more reason to visit the theaters more often.

With that said, the 2D version of the film is still awesome to see. The amount of detail placed into the CGI and the photo-realism in this film is astounding. I swear that the joint efforts of CG powerhouses ILM and Weta, under Cameron's direction, has bridged the uncanny valley with this amount of detail, or they're really damn close. Let me put this in a different way: this makes Transformers 2 look like a pansy, and barely rivals that of District 9.

'Avatar' delivers top-notch in a feast for the eyes, though I have to say that Avatar is not quite a perfect film. One of this film's greatest enemies has been it's "unoriginal" premise, which is often scoffed as a "Dances With Smurfs" or "Fern Gully with aliens". Indeed, 'Avatar' is not the most genuinely original piece of cinema you will come across, and it does mildly borrow a bit from other films like Fern Gully's 'spirits of nature' and Dances With Wolves 'two different worlds collide' aspect. And in terms of writing, James Cameron has done better before. Granted, there's nothing here that might make you cringe like New Moon's laughable script, but sometimes it feels that the dialogue comes off as lazy or a tad weak. Despite it's slight road bumps, James Cameron is no slacker when it comes to directing a damn good movie.

The bottom-line: It's not perfect, but this deserves all the praise it's been getting. I encourage all who are curious to see it, and strongly encourage everyone to see it at least once in 3D, even if you are on the fence post about it. James Cameron has delivered us a masterpiece once again!

The Grade: A+

The Princess and the Frog

From Pixar's latest masterpiece "Up" and Wes Anderson's sudden dive into stop animation with "The Fantastic Mr. Fox", 2009 has been a stellar year for animated films. Instead of going with the mainstream with the release of a CGI film, the powerhouse of Disney digs deep into it's roots and it's trademark tradition of 2D animation with it's latest work - "The Princess and the Frog".

To be frank, I entered the theater with somewhat mild expectations. After "Treasure Planet", it seemed that the magic I grew up with in Disney's aptly named Second Golden Age waned rapidly. And with their focus leaning more to Hannah Montana and less on cell-style animation, it didn't take long to have Disney become a torn in my side as one of Hollywood's biggest money-making whore. With the advent of "The Princess and the Frog", it seemed like a step in a better direction for Disney, but skepticism still remained from the old scars. Luckily, I found myself in surprise as the film progressed.

This rendition of the classic fairytale (seems like Disney has yet to use up all the classics just yet) takes place in 1930s New Orleans. Riding on a dream she shared with her late father, Tiana has worked exhaustively hard for a long time to earn enough money to open a restaurant, saving money from the little amount of tips she gets between jobs. An opportunity of a lifetime falls unto Tiana's lap when an old childhood friend (with a spoiled-daddy's-girl complex that would put Cinderella's stepsisters to shame) hires her on the spot to cater for an extravagant costume ball - in hopes that Tiana's renowned cooking skills would help woo the heart of a Prince Naveen, a foreign prince that is looking for a bride after being cut off from his family inheritance. Meanwhile, Naveen arrives in New Orleans only to be tricked by a voodoo-practicing Shadow Man and transformed into a frog against his will. He escapes and runs into Tiana, whom he mistakes for a 'princess' and persuades Tiana to kiss him in order to break his curse. Instead, she is turned into a frog as well. Thus the two embark on a quest to regain their human form, while Shadow Man is right behind on their tails.

For decades, Disney has proven that they are masters of traditional animation - and once again they prove they can still live up to their legacy. The splendid visuals that parade, jump, dance, and dart about on screen are a testament to that tradition. Expect everything you can from any other classic Disney film in the past - a hartwarming tale, mixed with whimsical and even catchy humor for all ages, sprinkled by a surprisingly sharp musical score from Randy Newman of "Toy Story" fame.

As much as it does well, there isn't much here that hasn't been done before or better. As entertaining as the story is presented, it is nowhere close to the level of fresh or even spectacular like other Disney classics as "The Lion King" or "The Beauty and the Beast." All the characters fall into the familiar cliches that can easily be borrowed from past Disney films - or different ones altogether. One copycat I found disheartening was how the Shadow Man almost mirrored the Rasputin villain from Fox's own animated Anastasia, but without a cohesive motive behind his ploy other than for the sake of being bad.

Bottom line: With "The Princess and the Frog", Disney has shown us that good 2D animation is not completely dead yet - and has also given us a fun ride along the way. Not the brightest gem in the Disney tiara, but if anything, it does promise better things to come if this revival of animation pans out.

The Grade: B

Everybody's Fine

I don't know about you, but after seeing films like Meet the Parents, it's be scary to imagine if your father was like Robert DeNiro. And it also be understandable that it might be enough to convince you to stay away from home during the holidays. But after a viewing of Kirk Jone's 'Everybody's Fine', you might actually wanna stick around.

Somewhat coping with the loss of his wife five months after the funeral, a retired telephone wire worker (DeNiro) looses touch with his now grown-up children, played by Kate Beckensale, Drew Barrymore, and Sam Rockwell. Disheartened by the sudden late-minute notices that none of his kids will make it to a family reunion, he sets off to cross the country and visit each one individually instead - a journey that proves to be more than he bargained for.

Off the bat, this isn't your typical comedy. Quite on the contrary, don't consider this a comedy as much a drama - though some mild humor is present. And it's not much of a holiday film that the posters and ads suggest either. Not enough to sate your appetite for holiday fun? By all means, pop in 'Christmas With the Kranks' (and dread having done so in the first place.

For a lack of a better description, 'Everybody's Fine' can be described as bittersweet - though, in this case, do not associate 'bitter' as to 'horrible'. What it delivers, it delivers rather well. DeNiro changes his step than his typical patriarchal roles, and gives him a nice human touch. Of course, this can be complimented by Beckensale, Barrymore, and Rockwell's limited but adequate performances to garnish a well-rounded ensemble. By bitter, I found the story to be a little over depressing but in a powerful way. Almost balled at the end, and so far only a handful of movies have succeeded in leaving me in tears.

Bottom line: Those expecting laughs will find little. But what the movie lacks in a punchline, it makes up for sentimentality and heart.

The Grade: B

Old Dogs
Old Dogs(2009)

Let's cut to the chase. Old Dogs is possibly the worst attempt at humor cinema has to offer - of all time! Pure bullsh*t. No laughs, not even a chuckle. Just alot of crap - and unfortunately, a waste of time, money, and talent. Why nobody shot this film down, will forever be a mystery. I've seen better bullsh*t on f*cking YouTube!

Bottom line: For the love of God Almighty, do not touch this film.

The Grade: F

Planet 51
Planet 51(2009)

Sigh. So much wasted potential.

While at first glance, Planet 51 seems to take a different spin on the alien film convention, in which it is actually us meddling humans invading rather than ugly blood-thirsty aliens from Mars, Planet 51 squanders all of what it could have been into a rather boorish and ultimately bland animated flick.

On a distant planet, it's the 50s...again. Much like Cold War-era America, the aliens on this planet are in an alien frenzy. Things get hairy when human astronaut Chuck Baker (voiced by wanna-be acting superpower Dwayne Johnson) lands on the planet, discovering that the planet, contrary to readings taken by a dog-like rover unit arrived earlier, that the planet has intelligent life. There is panic as the military frantically seeks to detain the alien "threat" and cut out it's brains...or something like that. The whole plot becomes more and more stupid as the movie progresses.

If only the movie's premise was the film's only fault. Sprinkle in lackluster humor, a somewhat hammy performance from a rather stellar cast including the like of Gary Oldman and Monty Python's John Cleese, and dialogue that's as cheesy as a grilled swiss sandwich, and you get the hint that somewhere in the production that the creative ball was dropped way too early.

Bottom-line: Kids may enjoy this, but the magic fades at an alarming rate.

The Grade: D

Moulin Rouge!

Moulin Rouge, as a film, is many things. And depending on your artistic tastes, is either a feast of visual flair and musical splendor or an awkward flick. Yes, it is a very stylized film, coming from the same director of Romeo + Juliet and Strictly Ballroom. But at the same time, it has a voice, a soul, and most of all - heart.

The tale of Moulin Rouge starts in Paris, in the height of a bohemian renaissance. It is here that a hopeful poet Christian (Ewan McGregor) meets Satine (Nicole Kidman), the star female entertainer at the Moulin Rouge. To appease a snooty Duke for a chance as a renowned actress, Satine along with Christian, pitch an idea for a romance stage play (on-the-spot and totally improvised in an amusing way, I must add). The plan works and preparations for the production are underway. In time, Christian and Satine fall in love, much to the dismay of the jealous Duke, who is determined to have Saline as his own.

The look of Baz Luhrmann's films are very stylish and extravagant, and Moulin Rouge is no exception. The performance is quite over-the-top with the artistic flair, yet reflects the tone that the film aims for, and pulls it off rather well. And while I am admittedly not a huge fan of the musical film genre, and the some of the selection of songs featured in Moulin Rouge is borderline to what I consider tolerable, the film kicked it in the teeth for me.

Art and sounds make Moulin Rouge a grand spectacular, but where it really excels in in the performance of the players. The chemistry with McGregor and Kidman is, for a lack of a better word, is surprisingly amazing. For some time I have often neglected in watching Nicole Kidman act in films, and now I forgot as to why. What she brings unto the table in this film particular, I may not have much of a reason to turn a blind eye. Ewan McGregor is also fantastic in his role, and it's been a bit of a shame that he is not in more high-profile projects.

Bottom line: For the not-so artistic, Moulin Rouge can be a awkward roller coaster ride. But for those for a eye for flamboyant visual splendor and a mind to see past the skin, Moulin Rouge is a wonderful delight.

The Grade: A


To director Roland Emmerich, the concept of the end of the world is no stranger. Already ending the Earth as we know it by means of global warming in The Day After Tomorrow, Emmerich decided to take another swing at a flick with the same idea in mind.

Enter 2012 (based off the latest global scare foreboding the end of days, as predicted from observation of the Mayan calendar), a story starts in present day, three years before the cataclysm. Terrified by scientific readings taken from the sun in response to the planets' alignment, the various governments around the world prepare for the inevitable cataclysm. Meanwhile, a struggling science fiction author (played by John Cusack) finds himself out of touch with his family after the divorce. 2012 comes and the disaster arrives ahead of schedule. The governments panic and evacuations to safe haven is underway, while strange phenomenon around the globe occur: cracks appear all about the San Andreas Fault and extreme underground temperatures cause lakes in Yellowstone to evaporate. With no time to loose, Cusack tries to get his family out of dodge, and to safety.

From the get go, 2012 is at it's core destruction eye candy. Buildings fall, things go boom, and chaos it brings ensues. And it's all good eye candy, but soon it gets monotonous, and then by the end of the movie if you're not bored to tears, then chances are you'll almost there. And it doesn't help with a film like this when the "humanity" part of the film, where we are supposed to feel at least some form of tension or sadness of some kind, is flat like old soda. While the cast in for the ride are particularly good, the performance is usually bland or just enough to keep the story rolling. And throw realism out of the door when watching, because it is almost absent throughout.

Bottom line: Flashy but dull. Though I would recommend this above Transformers 2 any day.

The Grade: C

Terminator Salvation

As much as I wish I can give this movie a better score, I can't. Being a big fan of the first two Terminator films and one of T3's biggest haters, while Salvation looked from the trailers to be the series' ticket out of the slump, but the movie itself fared no better than T3. Salvation felt too much of a potential that was wasted on a piss-poor script, a story that felt like like another B-movie sci-fi, acting that really could use an adrenaline shot, and "fan-service" that was lukewarm at best. At least I can say that the cinematography was the movie's one highlights, but this silver lining doesn't save a horrible film.

The Grade: D

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

While I was too young to be part of the original Transformers ?Generation One? fanbase, I do remember fondly the memories in my childhood saving up for an Optimus Primal action figure, the Optimus Prime of the Beast Wars toyline (soon to be followed by Megatron). I also remember spending plenty of afternoons at a friend?s house, where Transformers was one of the many highlights of our playtime. I can also remember seeing the animated film made back in the 1980s, watching the Beast Wars series on TV, and collecting stats from every Transformer toy I bought.

While it has been a while since Transformers has been a big part of my life, I could remember a few years back when the first announcement teaser for the first Transformers film, and getting excited hearing that Michael Bay (Armageddon, Pearl Harbor) would be directing with one of Hollywood?s own grand behemoths Steven Spielberg as executive producer. People who know me could tell you that I was stoked for the film, further intensified by the news of Peter Cullen, the original voice actor for Optimus Prime in the TV shows, returning as Prime; and Hugo Weaving (V For Vendetta, The Matrix Trilogy, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy) lending his voice for Megatron.

Finally, after a long wait, Transformers was finally released in theaters. And much to my dismay, the film was a huge disappointment for me. While the Transformers themselves were animated well by the folks at Industrial Light and Magic, the icing on the cake couldn?t save this awful concoction of a bakery product.

To begin: the film suffered from a weak plot that felt too focused on the humans, which is a complete one-eighty for the franchise considering that any human characters took the backseat while the robots remained the star of the show (where they are supposed to be). If that didn?t already raise eyebrows enough, imagine having an annoying hyperactive teenager (played by no other than the ever-growingly dull Shia LeBeof) - who thinks a owning a cool car has a chance to win the heart of the sexiest girl in school ? being the leading role in the movie. Now this same teenager just happens to inherit an ancestor?s old set of spectacles, which just happens to be the key to finding the All-Spark, which according to the movie is a Transformer artifact that found it?s way on Earth during the war between the Decepticons and Autobots. The map is laser-burned onto the poor man?s glasses when he finds Megatron, leader of the Decepticons, frozen in the Antarctic, trying to retrieve the All-Spark, many a year ago. Now after all this time, the Decepticons finally decide to land on Earth to wreck havoc and retrieve the All-Spark for their dastardly plans. To oppose them, the Autobots come to Earth to save the little prick of a teenager, who alone knows the location of the glasses and is the hope of the world.

Next is the film?s uncanny ability to provide the audience with material that you could easily find in any B-movie aimed at the teenage demographic: cheesy dialogue and acting, a hot actress/boy-actor to provide eye-candy for the boys and girls respectfully, sexual innuendos, a soundtrack including popular artists like the Used, and a ?funny? black man. Of course, this is at the expense of providing any particular fan-service that longtime fans of Transformers could appreciate, other than the appearance of Optimus Prime and Megatron (the overuse of the tagline ?more than meets the eye?). While I could go on forever about how Bumblebee is not the Camero Autobot and Ratchet is actually an ambulance and not a Hummer, or how it would have been nice to see more key members of the Decepticons like Ultrasound, it would be a moot point. In a nutshell, if the movie did do anything for audiences nationwide, it?s would most likely be responsible for Shia Lebeof?s laughable acting career, naughty pictures of Megan Fox becoming ever popular on Google Image Search, and giving Spielberg more money in his pocket in a less-than-likeable way. But it sold well at the theaters, nevertheless. So how can you capitalize the financial success of a blockbuster better than to finance the sequel!

Almost two years later, we now get Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Taking place several years after the events of the first movie, Shia LeBeof?s character now tries to live a normal life as your run-of-the-mill college student while coping with a long-term relationship with love interest Megan Fox. Meanwhile, the Autobots (joined by new members) are now part of a an underground team codenamed ?Nest? that seeks out and eliminates rogue Decepticons after the fall of Megatron, but is getting criticism from the US government, who assume that the Autobot?s presence on Earth is more harmful than beneficial. Things get complicated when Shia Lebeof discovers a shard of the All-Spark in an old jacket, which within seconds of contact, forces him to see symbol sequences in an ancient Transformer dialect whose meaning is a mystery to them. Meanwhile, the Decepticons discover the location of another shard, which they successfully steal and use to revive Megatron, who now orders the Decepticons to search and retrieve the information in Shia LeBeof?s head, which is crucial to the Decepticon?s plans for conquest.

From there, the plot is one unnecessarily convoluted mess. With so many plotlines going on at once, it seemed that the movie itself wasn?t sure which direction it was trying to get itself, hoping that people watching this has extreme cases of ADD and hopes that they focus more on the robots kicking the tar out of each other than focus on what?s actually going on. As before, the presentation of Revenge of the Fallen fares no better than it?s predecessor. Shia LeBeof is as annoying as ever, Megan Fox serves nothing more than eye candy every time she?s on screen, the robots are easier to identify this time around (but not by much) but still hard to see what the heck each Autobot or Decepticon is doing to each other, camera?s out of control any chance it?s got, everything?s loud that it?s unbearable and hampers the ability to even make out what dialogue a Transformer is saying, there?s too many robots this time around (including three of the most annoying characters ever to be seen on screen since Jar Jar Binks), and besides some impressive computer animation and intriguing musical score by Steve Jablonsky, the film in and of itself is not impressive. It might give you some kicks, but don't expect this movie to dazzle after the summer movie season.

The Grade: D

District 9
District 9(2009)

Now this is what I call entertainment! From newcomer (and would-been Halo director) Neil Blomkamp and producer Peter Jackson comes a sci-fi spectacular that literally blows everything you've seen in theaters out of the water.

Set in South Africa - humans share a rocky tolerance for the alien race of insect/crustacean-like aliens nicknamed "Prawns", marooned on Earth when their mothership ceased to function. Finally after twenty years, the humans can't stand the presence of Prawns anymore and in turn try to relocate the aliens to an isolated area away from the human population. It is during the eviction when Wikus van der Merwe, a representative of MNU (an organization dedicated to "keeping the peace" with the Prawns) is exposed to a dark liquid when examining an alien device. Soon afterward he finds himself in a situation that will change his outlook of the Prawns, the MNU, and humanity forever.

While the first thirty minutes of the film's exposition will have more casual audiences frustrated at the movie's pacing, the next hour and the half is an absolute blast - never letting go until the end. For a $30 million budget, District 9 delivers on a level that few films with bigger budgets sometimes even excel on. The visuals are spectacular regarding the cinematography and special effects, and everything is visually coherent - which makes the film more believable and more engaging. And what's better is that the plot and dialogue does not suffer from it!

Bottom line: the movie flat-out rocks! If you have yet to see it, I'd highly recommend that you go and see it for yourself. Quite possibly the best film I've seen this season, and a prime contender for Best Film this year!

The Grade: "A+"

Disney's A Christmas Carol

When I had heard that Robert Zemeckis' lastest film was yet another CGI film based off a Christmas story, my expectations were severely low. Zemeckis has done incredible films, and one of the few directors that was able to jump from traditional film to computer animated projects. Why, thanks to him, films like the Back to the Future Trilogy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Forest Gump is still in our minds even today. While I found The Polar Express a bit of a bore (and after watching so many holiday films growing up, that kind of thing gets old really quick), his work in Beowulf was a breath of fresh air that showed that CGI shouldn't just be cutesy Disney-like with mediocre jokes in order to tell a great story. I was really hoping that Zemeckis would expand where Beowulf left off, so you could somewhat understand my hesitant in wanting to see his rendition of the classic Charles Dicken's Christmas fable.

With so many versions that have been made of Ebenezer Scrooge's journey to self-redemption and a re-kindled love for a holiday and mankind that is often joined in this supposedly happy occasion, the sense of the been-there-done-that is automatically this film's greatest enemy. This time, the role of the grouchy humbuging Scrooge is filled by Jim Carrey (which would seem like an odd choice). While it's hard to imagine that Carrey could render himself as a grumpy old man, Carrey pulls it off better than expected - though expect some of Scrooge's behavior to be over-the-top antic that only Jim Carrey could bring. He also plays as two of the three Ghosts of Christmas - Past and Present. Ghost of Christmas Future is mute in this version, but I've found this to work better for the character. Anyways, Carrey's work for the two other roles were also better than anticipated, though I wouldn't say they were phenomenal. Joining the cast, Zemeckis favorites Bob Hoskins and Robin Wright Penn return; along with Gary Oldman, Cary Elwes, and Colin Firth. All put a good effort, notably Oldman, but with the spotlight mainly focused on Carrey, it's hard to expect too much of a performance - but each help the film in a good way.

Being Image Movers Digital's third film under Zemeckis' direction, the CGI is well done, thought this film felt like a step back for me in comparison to Beowulf when it came to the human models. Otherwise, The Christmas Carol is nice to look at. It was a shame that I did not see this film in 3D, because there were many sequences that screamed to me that I should have - especially during the part of the movie involving the Ghost of Christmas future, which I admit was the best movie version of the character I have seen yet.

Overall, the film actually turned out to be a treat to watch. It's by no stretch of the imagination a movie that will rock socks off, but at least I felt that the time I spent watching it was worth it.

The Grade: B