The Sapphires — Review

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2Star

 

by Ken B.

I’m disappointed. The Sapphires, a drama of at least partial basis in fact, never really captured my full attention for more than a few minutes at a time. In total, there are 98 of them, but it felt longer and more of a waste of good talent than I’m willing to come to terms with.

Australia, 1968. We are introduced to Gail (DEBORAH MAILMAN), Julie (JESSICA MAUBOY), Cynthia (MIRANDA TAPSELL), and Kay (SHARI SEBBINS). They’re Aboriginal, and sisters. Kay, light-skinned, was taken away from the family at a young age by the Australian government during what is known as the “Stolen Generations”.

One day, in a hotel bar, Gail, Cynthia, and Julie perform in a talent competition headed up by Dave Lovelace (CHRIS O’DOWD), an Irish talent manager who lives out of his car. While the crowd, all white, dismisses the girls, Dave sees something in them, and soon they’re performing for American troops in Vietnam – with Kay.

It’s from here where the movie spidered off in a lot of different directions – there were parts about past love, new love, revelations about talent vs. personal perception, war, and, of course, music. Arguably, the best thing about The Sapphires was the musical performances, which are mostly of and Motown-era soul hits. They are performed wonderfully absorbingly, and are a real treat to the viewer. The acting, especially from Mailman and O’Dowd, are very much sound. So what went wrong?

The answer may be just about every other factor. The writing, based off a play written by the son of one of the subjects, is about ninety percent lackluster and uninvolving. Early on, locations and time periods are introduced through a CG map and stock footage. This idea could have been interesting and a nice quirk, but it’s abandoned very early in the film. Overall, these parts of the film and their mediocrity are so overwhelming that only a couple of scenes really end up all that memorable.

The Sapphires was a movie that really had the potential to be good – great, even. It had a moving story, thoughtful characters, and great music. But a by the numbers execution killed almost every element except for a few standouts. This overrated and predictable drama even has the Biography Title Cards at the end! (Title cards over a black background explaining what happened to the subjects of the film after the events in the film, accompanied by a picture). I said it before: I am disappointed.

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Beasts of the Southern Wild – Review

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3-5Star

by Ken B.

Beasts of the Southern Wild makes you want to celebrate independent movies. Benh Zeitlin’s near-masterpiece features the debut performances of actors, it’s his own first feature film, and much of the production crew is made up of people that lived around the area it was filmed. It’s different than some of the things the Sherwood Baptist Church puts out – while a film like Facing the Giants features similar ambition and credibility for effort, Beasts of the Southern Wild has the added benefit of a fantastic screenplay (written by Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar which would have been hacked and smashed by a major studio) and incredible performances.

At the center of the film is The Bathtub, a name used for a low-lying part of Southern Louisiana. It’s a rather small poverty-level community, filled with people that have hit hard times. There’s still a deal of well-being among them, no matter how minimal or unapparent. Two residents of The Bathtub are Hushpuppy (QUVENZHANÉ WALLIS), a determined, frank girl of about 5, and her father, Wink (DWIGHT HENRY), who sometimes disappears and returns in a hospital gown, which Hushpuppy associates with a dress. Wink isn’t the best father, but there is an unquestionable important relationship between them. Hushpuppy’s mother left a long time ago, but Wink has told his daughter many stories about her.

The film is peppered with stock footage of melting glaciers in the Arctic, which leads to a massive storm sweeping through The Bathtub. This in turn leads to a series of events which accumulates in a sweeping finale, understated in literalism but epic and poignant in scope.

The only problem I could find outright with Beasts of the Southern Wild was a recurring issue with the cinematography. Like far too many dramas of its kind, Zeitlin attempts to express realism through a strange form of visceral cinematography, and a majority of it (most notable in the first half of the film) is shot with a shaking handheld camera. All it does is come close to ruining the otherwise wonderful choice to film on 16mm. I’ve never liked the practice of shaky-cam, and here it is nearly as egregious as The Hunger Games.

But that is the only real problem – the other aspects are close to perfection. Wallis, as you may have heard, is phenomenal as Hushpuppy, displaying a wondrous performance that many child actors (and more than a few adult ones) can’t match. It is said she beat out four thousand other girls for the role. A lesser praised but still vital performance is Henry. He displays illness and confliction in a commendable and believable way.

It is said that Beasts of the Southern Wild is based off a play by Lucy Alibar. I can’t really imagine this playing out on stage – it is cinematic in its storytelling and execution, the most notable being a fascinating motif in long-extinct aurochs, the predecessor of modern day cattle. According to Wikipedia, the last one died in 1627. In the movie, they appear as an imposing figure; most notably in the climax, after being briefly alluded to earlier in the film. I wish I could go into detail about it, but that would ruin your own experience of this very good movie.

While I can’t forgive the cinematography, every other technical and creative aspect of the film shines, including a musical score written by Zeitlin and Dan Romer. I recommend this film. It is heavy and thought provoking. It contains hits of both uncertainty and stability. Beasts of the Southern Wild is brilliant.

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Moonrise Kingdom – Review

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3Star

by Ken B.

Moonrise Kingdom is as exciting a movie one can imagine that isn’t really billed as such. As typical of director Wes Anderson, everything’s perfect (or maybe “unreal” is the right word) from an aesthetic standpoint. Here, camera shots are precise, dialogue is said without a second thought, exterior scenes are shot with a sepia tinge, and a storm at the end over a near-Nolan blue. But under this, there is a well assembled and admirable movie. It’s become lazy to resort to the word “quirky” when referring to the contents of Anderson’s filmography, but it’s sort of obvious.

Most of the film transpires over three days in September 1965. Sam (JARED GILMAN) is 12 years old and a member of the “Khaki Scouts”, Troop 55. Scout Master Ward (EDWARD NORTON) notices that Sam’s tent is empty one day, and a massive search goes out for him. Where is he? Well, to explain this, we flash back a year and find out about him meeting Suzy (KARA HAYWARD). Through letter correspondence, they realize that the other considers themselves an outcast and concoct a somewhat elaborate scheme to run away together.

Anderson’s script (co-written with Roman Coppola) is intriguing. Each character is fascinating, regardless of their prominence in the film. I was especially interested in Bill Murray will faithfully appear in Anderson’s films does so here. (He plays Suzy’s father). Jason Schwartzman, whose career arguably started due to his involvement in Anderson films, has a small but significant role towards the end.

It’s probably wise not to go into a Wes Anderson film not expecting realism – a hyper-realism-esque deadpan may be a more appropriate descriptor. Open emotion is restricted to a minimum. It is a factor in the background of scenes, and the construction of dialogue, but it is intentionally not overtly displayed as part of the overall output of the scene itself.

Music is a recurring theme in Moonrise Kingdom – the film starts and ends with a 45 rpm containing a voice dissecting an orchestra, and this continues with Alexandre Desplat’s score over the end credits. This almost provides a strange contrast with the mood of the movie itself – music, by nature, is based on an outpouring of emotion.

This is a well done film, no question about it. While it has no lasting impact as anything especially great on me, this is not because of the existence of big, gaping flaws, but just by the fact it doesn’t stand out from other three star movies in terms of overall memorability. That’s not to say that it isn’t different, though. Moonrise Kingdom is very different than most any other movie I’ve reviewed this year. I was excited when I had the chance to look at a Wes Anderson film, as I had heard so much about his movies and his career in general. Now that I have, my conclusion is basically what I hoped for going in – clearly styled, well and uniquely written, acted as mandated, and a recommendable feature.

Buy from Amazon: DVD / Blu-ray

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House at the End of the Street – Review

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1-5Star

by Ken B.

This serves me right for reviewing something just because everyone hated it. Curiosity killed 101 minutes.

I think I’ve seen enough (read: too many) movies to draw some conclusions on what is in a bad movie. And through this, I’ve found there’s nothing more agonizing than finding talented actors stuck with a bad script. House at the End of the Street is chock-full of some absolutely moronic writing, but contains effective and commendable performances from its actors. They should have gotten some sympathy baskets.

This movie was filmed in 2010, before Jennifer Lawrence was able to appear at the forefront of “up and coming” performers. I wonder what it would have taken for her to appear in it today, two blockbusters and one Academy Award later.

This is about Elissa (JENNIFER LAWRENCE) a high school student who has moved with her mother (ELISABETH SHUE) to a house in an otherwise nondescript suburb. The house next to theirs is shrouded in mystery and murder. Some years earlier, a girl named Carrie-Ann murdered both her parents in one spooky lightning-infested night. Now the only one who lives there is the introverted son, Ryan (MAX THIERIOT), who was with a relative at the time of the murders. He wants to fix the house up and sell it. There’s nothing wrong with him at the start, really. He wears a lot of flannel shirts and is more or less approachable. But it’s weird that a person would choose to live alone in the same house where his sister killed their parents, no? Well, he is an outsider. He’s bullied by others on a regular basis and a local police officer (GIL BELLOWS) has defended him on multiple occasions. But as all movies go, we find out Ryan isn’t what he seemed to be in the first place.

This leads to a moderately surprising twist ending, and I was pleased to see some kind of silver lining at the end of this movie. But it’s just not worth sitting through the rest of it to arrive at the conclusion. It’s inexcusable that a movie whose concept was supposedly in development for seven years before production would be this poor. The script is loaded with those jump scares – you know, that thing where something of varying degrees of threat suddenly appears behind, in front, or alongside the main character and is accompanied by a loud clanging sound via the soundtrack. I made a count of how many times this happened – the final tally was 11 (or roughly one jump scare every 9 minutes and 45 seconds). Only one worked for me, and that was only slightly (I wasn’t paying attention to the screen and when it happened, I jerked my head up towards the screen to see what was going on). Additionally, most of the plot points that lead up to the finale are reliant upon increasingly absurd and hastily written events.

House at the End of the Street wastes a clearly talented cast – while Lawrence doesn’t need to prove her talent or potential to anyone at this point (then again, she had to when this was filmed), she does a good job in her role, which requires parts skill and vulnerability. Thieriot is effective as the neighbor – the character’s personality is required to change as what minimal story there is evolves, and he handles each with about as much precision as one can put in to a screenplay like this. Few others are really given enough screen time to be considered memorable or poor.

One thing I noticed is that, like a lot of movies from the past couple decades, the main credits (names of the director, stars, writers, etc.) are listed at the end in a fittingly atmospheric and creepy sequence. This was placed in the wrong part of the film. Had this been moved and presented as an opening credits sequence, this would have been worthy of creating a creepy atmosphere and would have been good at engaging the viewer. At the end, it’s more or less pointless. “Pointless” may be the definitive descriptor of House at the End of the Street – it’s not that memorable and its overwhelming negatives sink its handful of positives. Simply put, it’s just plain bad.

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Life of Pi – Review

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3-5Star

by Ken B.

DISCLAIMER: Not movie-killing in the slightest sense, but if you want to see the movie as a complete outsider, you’d better skip the first paragraph. I guess you could call them spoilers…

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When boiled down to its simplest terms, there are two types of fiction. Escapism, which shows fantastical elements, based on what the audience would want to see. Such examples would be a love story, where one-hundred percent of couples meet in childhood stay together forever, or a story where the differences between the good guys and the bad guys are clear as night and day, and the bad guys learn remorse and are punished, the good guys rewarded. The other type is realism, where it’s a slice of life, and it typically isn’t pretty. Comparably, the relationship between the couple doesn’t last, but they get experience for life at the most, or the good guys fail, and the bad guys seem to have their day. (Mind you, the escapism can be in reality, or transition into it). By the end of Life of Pi, based on Yann Martel’s bestselling novel, we are presented with one story told in two. One dealing in forms of escapism and one in realism. The story obviously wants us to believe the one rooted in escapism, as it has spent a good chunk of its time and money showing it to us. On the other hand, the realism version has only been briefly glossed over. I preferred the escapism version, for it was so odd and miraculous, you almost believe it could have happened in real life, also the far more uplifting and wonderful version.

Life of Pi, like the highly-overrated but still enjoyable Avatar, it a big budget special effects spectacle. But there’s a difference. Life of Pi is pitted in a soul – a life, an emotion, a connection. Avatar had a story that wasn’t really a story, just a recycled jumble of ideas. While there are several points where Life of Pi, no pun intended, appears just about to fly overboard, it doesn’t in the end. What struck me the most over these comparisons to Avatar is that Life of Pi was produced on roughly half the budget of Avatar, where truly the impact lies with the least expensive.

Based off Yann Martel’s bestselling novel, we are presented with the story of Piscine Molitor (like the swimming pool in France) Patel (SURAJ SHARMA for most of the film, various actors at other ages for other parts of the story). He is considerably scrutinized by his peers, due to the unpleasant reverberations of what happens when you say “Piscine” in a stereotypical Indian dialect (“pissing Patel”, yagetit?). He amends this by using the name “Pi” and the first day of school where he employs this climaxes in him writing hundreds of digits of Pi on the blackboard, showing the character’s mathematical talent.

He can’t figure out what religion makes the most out of his life – he observes and commends three at once. A few years later, he also has his first girlfriend. Simply put, he’s at the years where he’s finding himself as a person, and when his family makes the decision to move from Pondicherry to Canada, all of this is thrown off course. Especially so, when the boat is wrecked in a sudden and violent thunderstorm, and he’s stranded on a life raft with a Bengal tiger.

Well, this is a bit of a setup. We know, of course, that surviving anything more than a few hours with a Bengal tiger in a lifeboat, with few supplies, in the middle of the ocean is unrealistic, but because the movie shows itself as an appealing film experience, we are able to suspend disbelief for 127 minutes. What helps is that even though this is, indeed a story engaged in the unbelievable, 2 time Oscar-winning (Brokeback Mountain, 2005 / Life of Pi, 2012) director Ang Lee, along with his marvelously talented visual team, cast the film in mostly low, unsuspecting hues, almost injecting realism into the depths of fantasy.

For the middle chunk of the film, the primary (and for most of the time, only) human actor is Suraj Sharma as Pi. And he delivers a strong performance, but for the sake of the movie, he pretty much had to. But still, the fact that he’s pretty much surrounded by CGI is still mind-boggling, thanks to a combination of actor emotion and the brilliant visual effects. And the sound isn’t too shabby either. It’s rich and full, highlighted further by a beautiful score by Mychael Danna.

For those of you who have seen Life of Pi, the scene, late in the movie, during a violent storm on the life raft (I won’t spoil it in its entirety for those unfamiliar) was the most emotionally powerful to me only while it was occurring. As I write this, less than 24 hours later, it has lost nearly all of its impact on me. (It kind of had by the time scene itself had ended!). Life of Pi, as an entire movie, is certainly memorable, and may be quite compelling at times, with its symbolism (Pi writes a journal in a survival handbook with a pencil – as time goes on it gets shorter and weaker, like his hope… either that or it’s simply a pencil that was used a lot) and visuals, but its mistakes are too apparent to be completely overlooked and to brandish with a perfect rating. The 3.5 star rating here is low-end.

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Les Miserables – Review

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25Star

by Ken B.

Les Misérables may well be the longest 2½ hour film I have seen. Seriously – this thing goes on and on… but that’s not my point right now. Is it one of the best movies I’ve seen this year? No. Is it one of the worst movies I’ve seen this year? No. Is its interest level to audiences gobsmackingly subjective? Yes, of course. No one’s going to see a movie called Les Misérables unless they’re familiar with the musical, or even the 1862 Victor Hugo novel.

Apparently extremely loyal to its source, the plot follows Jean Valjean (HUGH JACKMAN, who does an excellent job), a convict in the midst of the French Revolution, serving time for stealing a loaf of bread to support his sister and her children. After being granted parole by Javert (RUSSELL CROWE, who does a very good job acting wise but a merely passable job singing-wise), Valjean becomes a factory owner. Several years later, we are introduced to Fantine (ANNE HATHAWAY, who delivers an especially good performance), a factory worker who sells hair, teeth, and body to support her young daughter, Cosette (ISABELLE ALLEN in earlier scenes, AMANDA SEYFRIED in later scenes). She is very ill – Valjean sees her one night and takes her to a hospital before she dies.

Then, another several years later, Cosette, now much older and adopted by Valjean, falls in love with a rebel, Marius (EDDIE REDMAYNE, who delivers a very good performance), but any type of optimistic ending is hopelessly stuck through the revolution, which affects all.

Highly publicized through this film’s ad campaign was the feat that all singing was done live on set, as opposed to the typical route of earlier recording a song and lip-synching it while filming. While being toted around as “the first” to have done it, research revealed this has been done three times before in musicals, with At Long Last Love (Bogdanovich, 1975), The Fantasticks (Ritchie, 1995), and Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Mitchell, 2001). Still, Les Misérables is the first musical to have live singing done on this grand scale of production.

Speaking of music, the movie, as you’ll know if you’re familiar with the musical, is nearly entirely sung through, which justifies the above method. The camera, whenever there is a song, will have the relentless ability to perform an extreme close-up on the actor singing at the moment – but this tactic only really worked twice (Hathaway’s spellbinding rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream”), and to a lesser extent, Redmayne’s “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”). Regardless of its effect, thankfully no especially ugly people had to sing in this movie.

And speaking of the cinematography, let’s talk about it. Resorting to either the above mentioned ECU, long crane shots (usually signaling a change in set year), and indirect shots through translucent curtains, nets, or prison-like bars, which give an onlooker type of angle, which is retired after the first third of the production. Also? Shaky handheld camera which is often turned into said close-up, or a Dutch angle. The camera work here is extraordinarily schizophrenic.

A massive positive is the fantastic set and costume design which is quite apparent. Setting the mood well, detail is brilliant. The acting is covered in the plot, in a direct way. These are prime performances with actors to express great emotion and sorrow through their impressive singing.

The musical, which has been running worldwide for over a quarter century, was composed first by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boubil, translated into English by Herbert Kretzmer. They returned to the film production to compose one new song – just one, for the movie. However, one can’t help feeling it was just so it was eligible for an Oscar for Best Original Song, another nomination in the swarms this one will probably receive come January 10.

I’m going to end with a marginal recommendation for Tom Hooper’s latest production (Hooper also directed 2010’s Oscar-winning The King’s Speech). Actually, two separate recommendations. For fans of the musical, of which I probably made clear I am not familiar with, by all means, go out and see this. You’ll probably like it. For people who have no clue who any of the characters mentioned in the plot above, and are hopelessly confused by this review… well, I think Lincoln’s still playing.

Buy from Amazon: DVD / Blu-ray / Soundtrack

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Skyfall – Review

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3-5Star

by Ken B.

Skyfall is a superb movie; entertaining, witty, and spectacular visually. It’s the twenty-third installment in the James Bond series, marking the film franchise’s 50th anniversary when it was released in the UK on October 26, 2012.

It’s widely agreed that the 007 franchise officially rebooted itself for the 21st century with 2006’s Casino Royale, the first featuring current Bond Daniel Craig. Fans of earlier Bond installments felt it alienated them – there was nothing classic about it. However, this edition contains plenty for newcomers to the series, and longtime devoted fans.

Following a wonderfully shot motorcycle chase eventually accumulating atop a train, James Bond (Craig) is assumed dead, but is revealed to be, well, alive just in time for M (JUDI DENCH) to assign him to track down the source of a hacked hard drive from MI6, the contents of which contained the classified names of all employed agents.

It’s then linked all back to Silva (JAVIER BARDEM), a quick and clever Bond villain who has power and the henchmen to match it, ready to destroy MI6 at any moment.

Also in this series is a new Q (BEN WHISHAW), a mysterious field agent, Eve (NAOMIE HARRIS), an elusive Bond girl named Severine (BERENICE LIM MARLOHE), and a supervisor whom Bond dismisses as a bureaucrat, Gareth Malloy (RALPH FIENNES).

If you skip some off pacing at the beginning of the last third of the film, it’s well paced, keeping your attention at various degrees, but mostly strong, for all 142 minutes.

The cinematography from Roger Deakins is stylish, using up every bit of the 2.35 frame. Thomas Newman finds ways to throw the iconic classic 007 Theme into his musical score, Sam Mendes’ direction creates a proper mood, and the screenplay by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan is cleverly written. Craig, Dench, and Bardem especially shine in their roles, with everyone else somewhere on the road between good and very good.

However, few of those things would matter as much without the extremely well done visual effects placed throughout this movie. Every well and good on and offscreen work here works together to create a wonderful cinematic experience.

Definitely one of the strongest installments in the series of the 21st Century, Skyfall is a perfect way to introduce the James Bond series. This concretes Daniel Craig as a solid actor within the series, and shows the 007 franchise still has a few tricks up its sleeve in this love letter to fifty years of shaken martinis.

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The Hunger Games – Review

by Ken B.

Some visual  details in The Hunger Games will most likely always be questioned in my mind,  particularly due to director Gary Ross’ (Pleasentville, Seabiscuit) constant use of what I affectionately refer to as “San-Andreas vision”, or the employment of an extremely shaky camera during action sequences. And when I say “extremely”, I do mean that.

But first, let’s start with the backstory. By what I can tell (the first thirty minutes were a cinematic nightmare, more on that later though), this is the story of Katniss Everdeen (JENNIFER LAWRENCE), a sixteen year old girl who lives in Panem, the remains of North America in the distant future, a now “united” multi-district supernation headed up by a mysterious capital.

Katniss lives in District Twelve, the dirt-poor district, the industrial district, the Hollywood-version-of-Detroit-and-an-off-forest district. She has a little sister named Primrose (WILLOW SHIELDS), and life is somewhat normal, although that’s about to change.

Every year, for the past 74, Panem has held something called “The Hunger Games”. This is where, chosen at random, is one boy and one girl, between the ages of 12 and 18, from each district is sent to fight to the death against each other, until there’s one left. That’s a 23 to 1 chance of survival, for those of you who aren’t good at math.

Surprise, surprise, Primrose is chosen as the District 12 girl, and as a result, Katniss believing she won’t stand a chance, volunteers to take her place. The male tribune is a boy roughly the same age as Katniss, the son of a baker called Peeta Mellark (JOSH HUTCHERSON). This is about the time where I start complaining.

Earlier in this article, I mentioned that I hated the first half hour of this film. And rightly so. Unfortunately, it is necessary. Without the first thirty minutes, you would have no clue who the good guys and bad guys were. They’re interchangeable and you don’t feel for anyone, really.

I assume this is because the screenplay assumes that most viewers will be familiar with the book it’s based from. However, I have not read the books, and if you have to read a novel to understand a film, it is clear that the film has not accomplished what it should do.

When the titular Hunger Games kick off, the shaky camera is almost all we know. I assume this is to reduce the impact of the violence (despite that, Lionsgate decided to cut a few seconds to avoid a restricted rating in the US (“R”) and the UK (“15”). However, for the viewers who can handle the harsher stuff, it comes off as an irritating mess. If I had seen this film when it was in theaters instead of on home media, the excess of  intentionally shaky and blurry imagery would have caused me to erroneously report to the manager that the projector was out of focus. Really, it’s a problem.

Now, let me talk about  acting. A later example in this film (AMANDLA STENBERG) showed me  under 18s are capable of good acting, and unfortunately, Shields as Primrose Everdeen is hit-or-miss. All the  script gives her is a squeal and scream here or there and a bit of dialogue. The dialogue, however, is not delivered, you know, without being in a state of the period right before bursting into tears. (And it usually isn’t in context).

Jennifer Lawrence is a talented actress, and past roles have revealed that. She plays a strong female lead here, and she does very well as usual. But I had that feeling that the script was limited her potential. It was nothing that could have been prevented, that’s just a sidenote.

Among the supporting cast is Donald Sutherland who plays the barely on screen president. he’s the senior member and the best, he says so much with so little. However, it’s still quite inexcusable to underuse Donald Sutherland in your movie.

Is it safe to say that I had no emotional investment in anyone? The script takes the story and twists it into something reduced, just for the hardcore fans. Who said this was acceptable?

If there is one compliment I have, it’s the experience. The Hunger Games is a unique experience, filled with a sense of importance and harm, not unto itself, but into itself. My best guess is that this film was supposed to be deep, dark, painful, and lingering. However, you feel no pain for the characters, and it’s easily forgettable.

Wreck-it Ralph – Review

by Bret W.

I want to preface this review by saying I hate 3D movies. I absolutely despise the direction that Hollywood has been heading for the past few years. I feel like I’m stuck in the 1950’s. I want to go to California and shout at the top of my lungs, “Hey, Hollywood! Not everything has to be in 3D!”

Apparently it does.

OK so now that I’ve got that out of the way…

Wreck-It Ralph tells the story of a videogame bad guy who is tired of being a bad guy. Not because of what he does or how he acts, but rather, how he’s treated by others. He is excessively jealous of the games protagonist, Fix-It Felix Jr. (I feel I must say at this point that this game is an amalgamation of many popular 8-bit and 16-bit arcade classics, particularly Donkey Kong.)

When Ralph is not invited to the 30th anniversary party of the game, he crashes the party and is told in no uncertain terms that he is not welcome. One of the residents tells him that if he could win a medal (like Felix does when he successfully repairs the apartment building that Ralph, uh, wrecks), not only would he be welcome but he could live in the Penthouse.

This causes Ralph to go on a quest for a medal, by hopping into a bruatl first-person shooter called “Hero’s Duty.” Don’t worry, the writers did not miss the double-entendre and go to great lengths to milk it for all it’s worth – much hilarity ensues. Although he does win a medal, he accidentally awakens a cyberbug, falls into a rocket, and is shot – with the bug – into the sickeningly sweet racing game Sugar Rush.

This causes quite the conundrum for all. The cyberbugs do not know they are in a videogame, and whatever they consume they become. They are like a virus, which means it could be curtains for Sugar Rush and every other game in the arcade if they are not stopped.

I don’t want to give too much of the plot away. Suffice to say that Ralph meets some interesting people along the way, and even Felix has a little romantic twinge for Sergeant Calhoun, the female non-com from Hero’s Duty who is trying to find the cyberbug and destroy it before it’s too late.

So, like I said at the outset, I hate 3D movies, and I only went to this one because my son loves them. Thing is, the 3D was so well-done in this film (give Disney some credit) that I found it quite enjoyable. Maybe it didn’t add anything to the story but visually it made it rather appealing.

As for the story – it was compelling. There was some mystery and intrigue among the characters in Sugar Rush, particularly between King Candy and Ralph’s new friend, Vanelope von Schweetz. Plus there was the aforementioned romantic interest between Fix-It Felix Jr. and Sgt. Calhoun.

As for the acting – it was convincing. Voice-acting has always been something of an art form but the trend as of late has been to use big-name actors to voice animated parts. While it wouldn’t seem too wise for an actor to be heard and not seen, it has certainly boosted some careers. You might think that there would be less demand on a voice-actor. You would be wrong. In fact, it’s harder, I think, to convey emotion when you don’t have body language to use. That’s up to the animator. But the voice actor has to bring their character depth, and this is quite convincingly done by John C. Reilly in his first voice-acting foray. The rest of the cast are equally good – hats off especially to Jane Lynch as Sgt. Calhoun and Sarah Silverman as Vanelope. And I loved Alan Tudyk as King Candy. You may remember him as Noah Werner in Suburgatory, or as Gerhard in 20 Days, or my favorite, Wat in A Knight’s Tale. When I heard Tudyk’s King Candy, I thought they had resurrected Ed Wynn, one of the foremost actor/voice actor crossovers of his day (as The Mad Hatter from Disney’s Alice in Wonderland).

From start to finish, Wreck-It Ralph was touching, funny, and clever. It made me think of a video game version of Toy Story. Being a Disney film, it’s probably no spoiler to say that there’s a happy ending. But the way it resolved itself had me guessing right until the very end. Suffice to say, I have an easier time guessing the end of M. Night Shyamlan films than this one.

If you haven’t seen Wreck-It Ralph, do yourself a huge solid and go see it. And if you want a real treat, go see it (I can’t believe I’m saying this) in 3D. It’s well worth the extra money.