Category Archives: Alex’s Reviews
Directed by Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck
Written by Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck, and Shane Morris
When I reviewed How To Train Your Dragon, I drew a line in some imaginary sand separating it from the cynically produced schlock that gets dumped on the kid demographic these days. As much as I love that movie though, I have to admit that it only seems so great because everything else is so bad. For a long time, CG movies were too annoying to even endure, Pixar’s output aside. But now Pixar sucks too. Go ahead, admit it. They haven’t made a great movie since Wall-E, and everything since has been worse than what came before it—Monsters University in particular is downright abysmal.
Strangely enough, as Pixar has declined, Disney Animation has experienced a resurgence. Bolt was way better than anyone expected, and, for the most part, Tangled feels about as effortless as any Disney 90’s hit did. Wreck-It Ralph was terrible, and The Princess and the Frog was a bit too paint-by-numbers, but whatever—all upward trends have their occasional dips. Now we have Frozen, which, despite its stupid title, is without a doubt the peak of this new renaissance. I have a feeling this all has something to do with Pixar legend John Lasseter’s appointment as Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios following Disney’s buyout of Pixar in 2006, but I’ll leave that speculation for someone more informed and just get back to Frozen.
Ender’s Game (2013)
Written and Directed by Gavin Hood
Very minor spoilers ahead.
I read Ender’s Game a week before seeing the movie, and now I almost wish I hadn’t, because the book is fucking great. I don’t know whether I would have liked the movie more, or less, if I hadn’t read the book first, but I do know that I won’t be able to talk about the movie without talking about the book.
Don’t worry, though—I’m not going to make a checklist of everything the book did right that the movie did wrong. In fact, I’ll say up front that I don’t think that movie adaptations of books have any business being ‘faithful’. Or rather, I think they should be faithful in specific ways, and not in others. For instance, it’s important that an adaptation captures the themes, character arcs, and, whenever possible, the tone of its source. It’s not important that it hits every plot beat, or revisits every location, or namedrops every side character. That sort of keeping faith does little beyond providing little jolts of recognition to fans of the source material. A movie can get bogged down in superfluous details, or tripped up in its pacing, if it just methodically ticks off a checklist of things that happened to have happened in the book. And this, unfortunately, is what happened with Ender’s Game.
These characters are so. Fucking. Boring.
Pacific Rim (2013)
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Written by Travis Beacham & Guillermo Del Toro
Warning: spoilers ahead.
2013 was supposed to be the year that saved big screen science fiction. When this summer’s lineup began filling out, I had more anticipation for this movie season than I’d had in years. Names were popping up like Blomkamp, del Toro, Shyamalan (fuck the haters), Abrams, Cuarón, Wright (and Pegg and Frost), and startlingly, there seemed to be more original properties on the horizon than sequels/adaptations: Elysium, After Earth, Gravity, Pacific Rim, Oblivion, Ender’s Game, Star Trek Into Darkness, The World’s End, etcetera. From what I saw of the trailers, these movies didn’t look like your typical disaster porn invasion movies, á la, Battle: Los Angeles or Transformers (except Pacific Rim, though its premise justifies, and even necessitates it) nor were they part of the insufferably relentless deluge of Marvel/DC sequels and spinoffs (except Into Darkness, whose trailers gave it the tone of a Dark Knight movie; y’all looking forward to Thor: The Dark World?). I loved the designs I saw in the Oblivion trailer, I liked the visual approaches of After Earth and Ender’s Game, and I love the idea of Sandra Bullock leading a stranded-in-space drama.
The Lords of Salem (2013)
Written & Directed by Rob Zombie
If there’s one movie trend I can totally get behind, it’s the “B Movie Love Letter”. It’s almost its own genre at this point. Recent examples include Neil Marshall’s Doomsday, Wright and Pegg’s Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz (and their upcoming The World’s End), Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained (really his whole catalogue), Ti West’s House of the Devil, Lexi Alexander’s Punisher: War Zone, and Peter Travis’ Dredd. And Star Wars and Indiana Jones are some not so recent examples. These filmmakers mine their inspirations for their best aspects and transplant them into modern productions—which are almost inevitably better than the movies they pay homage to, as the ‘originals’ were often made quickly and on the cheap just to provide cheap thrills and make a buck or two. Dredd was much talked about last year, and I’m hoping The Lords of Salem gets similar attention this year, because it’s even more fun.
I could not talk about the Oscar winner for Visual Effects without first bitching about its visual effects, but I’ll try to keep it short, as my thoughts on VFX have already been made clear enough. Basically, the CG in Life of Pi is certainly impressive, no doubt. More than once, I went back and paused on frames to gawk at the insane level of detail they crammed into the animals, which are animated with eye-popping fluidity. They may be too fluid, however, because I found myself slipping in the uncanny valley here and there—the most jarring moments being when footage of an actual tiger is juxtaposed with a CG tiger in quick succession. By and large though, the omnipresence of CG animals isn’t too bothersome. It’s integrated into the physical set well enough that it usually feels like it’s really there.