Review: Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D

Mason Cook, Joel McHale, Jessica Alba and Rowan Blanchard in Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D (Dimension Films)

Here’s another case where compartmentalization is key. In My Rating Scale I try and stress that I am grading each and every film on what it is and not against every other film in the world. Meaning, I will not downgrade a film simply because I cannot live in a world where both See no Evil, Hear No Evil and Touch of Evil have the same score. In fact, I live in world where they do. I think they’re both brilliant in their own way. Which is just another way to introduce the fact that I will rate a Spy Kids film (or a Rodriguez family film) as such and not against El Mariachi or other films in this genre.

Having said that I do like this film. It’s not better than the first but it’s better than the third at the very least. There is in its circularity a cohesion to the narrative that one might not necessarily appreciate through the CG and 3D. Not to say that there’s any subtlety here but the theme seems more unified and more parallel than it has in most other installments it just doesn’t always seem like it is.

Reboots can be a tricky thing. Whether you’re just restarting a story with new characters or re-casting those characters you’re finding new actors to fit the archetypes that have made the franchise work. The most resoundingly successful aspect of this Spy Kids film is the new kids in the persons of Mason Cook and Rowan Blanchard. While they each show some echoes of their predecessors they have characters and abilities uniquely their own. Cook has a quiet depth and Blanchard an unpretentious spunkiness that make this new tandem a worthy rival of Vega and Sabara who themselves have very humorous and effective supporting roles in the film. Also, very entertaining in this film is Jeremy Piven whose interpretation is as funny as it is wild and he becomes a rather memorable villain in the series because of it.

One note of warning to send out there those that are not fans of potty humor best stay away from this film as it is most definitely the more pronounced in this film than ever. As a whole the story is enjoyable and moves quickly except for those parts where it circles around the drain, so to speak, before making that final connection. One piece of that puzzle is kind of apparent at the very beginning but I think even if you do get ahead of it it’s not likely to ruin it.

The effects work is somewhat stepped up here and holds up better to the 3D than the previous edition did. This is where most of the creativity in the film shines through.

While I will defend Robert Rodriguez in principle as it is his right, much as William Castle saw it as his duty, to create a fun gimmick to promote his film, the fact of the matter is the Aroma-Scope just does not work. I saw the movie twice at two completely separate theatres. The cards all have a unified odor and it’s hard to get those squares to smell like something different and when they do they rarely smell like what they’re supposed to be. However, that only detracts from the film minutely. Even if the smells were brilliantly accurate it’s still distracting you from the film (you look down, find the number, scratch and sniff). So no real damage done there.

Overall, I think that this film will definitely win over fans of the series, myself being one of them I was more than a bit skeptical when I first heard about it and I think that it will also create many new fans in its target audience. Moreover, I think that it ends on a note where growth of the story and the franchise is yearned for and not a place where you think potential has been maximized. Should the new generation continue it will do so in stronger films.

7/10

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Review- Glee: the 3D Concert Movie

Chris Colfer and Lea Michele in Glee: The 3D Concert Movie (20th Century Fox)

Perhaps the only real preface that this needs is that this concert film, perhaps more so than most, is really geared towards the fans of the show. I’m not sure how it would translate to someone who doesn’t watch it regularly. For the record, I didn’t see the first season and do not care for the term “Gleek” in general, therefore, I will not refer to myself as such despite watching the show.

So, basically, if you like the show you’ll likely enjoy this, if you don’t like the show you won’t care for this because this has a lot of the same pros and cons as the show does. What disappoints in a new and surprising way are some of the technical elements of the film.

The cinematography of the concert scenes is trite and facile and doesn’t engage you at all. A further problem is few and far between are the times where you get a true sense of depth which is an issue in a 3D film on an aesthetic level and on a value level since the poorly shot 3D is costing you extra money.

The editing within songs during the film and of the film as a whole is also a bit uninspired the pattern is quickly and easily decipherable and not very creative in the least.

What is not a given that takes this film a slight cut above things like the Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana film and the Jonas Brothers are the interstitial segments where fans of the show discuss what it has meant to them and how the show has made a difference in their life. We learn a little of their story and also of the positive impact that the show is made. Aside from the focal stories there are random interview snippets and of course the four-year-old Warbler wannabe who is hilarious.

Another aspect that lends this film a bit of a dynamic element is that for the most part you see the actors offstage staying in character, which leads to some very humorous moments throughout. This fine line between documentary and narrative makes the film a little more interesting than it otherwise would be.

The songs that are chosen are great and are performed very well and due to the concert nature of the performance are not overproduced. You get to see Lea Michele, Chris Colfer and Amber Riley really sing without exorbitent amounts of affectation. It also showcases Mark Salling who is likely the most underrated of the show’s performers. The concert’s set list is a bit like the show, however, it’s at times a bit unbalanced and skewed towards a few performers but eventually everyone in the film does get their moment.

While it can’t even be called the best film of its subgenre this year it is as mentioned before better in terms of overall content than those in the past few years. It’s light enjoyable fare that will definitely please fans if not necessarily create new ones.

7/10

Review- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (Warner Bros.)

It’s not easy to see a series you love come to a close. It becomes more difficult when you happen to be traveling when that final chapter receives its worldwide release. The difficulties I encountered trying to obtain tickets to a Harry Potter screening in Brazil may make an apropos footnote in another post but here they serve the purpose of stating that: it was hard to say goodbye and therefore it seemed almost fitting that it was difficult for me to make it to my first screening of the film.

While I stand by what I wrote in my series of articles entitled Keys to a Better Life as a Fanboy, hindsight has been beneficial in my viewing of the Harry Potter series; some have aged better than others but I believe, more so with this series than others, that the whole is truly greater than the sum the parts. Only now having seen it all can I truly see the enormity of the series. Whereas in each individual installment there was nitpicking to be done, or ignored, and the franchise became the Susan Lucci of my personal awards, The BAMs, now that it’s at its conclusion I can say it’s the greatest film franchise I’ve beheld.

Now what of this installment, you ask?

Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 (Warner Bros.)

Firstly, the issue of cinematic bifurcation needs to be addressed. When Harry Potter announced they split the seventh book of the series into two films it became the thing to do. Twilight followed suit and it seems The Hunger Games will likely do the same and perhaps some others that I’m forgetting. Now I’m not naive enough to believe that the main motivation to do such a thing isn’t financial, however, there exists in this decision artistic possibilities and responsibilities: the possibilities being to cinematically craft as much of the adapted work as possible and the responsibility to make it vital. I also want to clarify that while there might not be the Shakespearean foresight to make a multi-part work such as Henry IV or Henry VI it also was not a decision made retroactively in the editing room so some jets need to be cooled regarding the split-finale phenomenon.

Michael Gambon and Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Warner Bros.)

All series of films have their own inherent logic and language and thus they develop their own shorthand and therefore the bifurcation becomes much less of an issue. This, of course, does not mean that you could walk in cold to Deathly Hallows, Part 2 and get absolutely everything (an example would be how quick and dirty the Polyjuice potion usage is in this film) but conversely I don’t want to be able to walk into the end of a series cold and be able to watch it without wondering what’s happening at some point because it usually means that at some point the integrity of the series has been compromised.

So yes, this film does stand tall on its own as a self-contained piece of art with the above caveats noted. As the trend progresses other films will have this as a barometer as how to handle this adaptation phenomena. My feeling is that works which have distinct tonal differences in the beginning and the end, as this does, (going from foreboding progressing to all out chaos) will be more successful in pulling off this trick.

What this film ultimately does is deliver the desired conclusion to this mammoth story in the desired fashion. The pace of the film can best be described as a slow but steady depression of an accelerator and a very slow release at the end, which for the narrative being conveyed is just about perfect. Mark Day, the editor who has been the unsung hero of the tail end of this franchise, does his best work in this film. He creates the best montage I’ve seen since Up and perhaps surpassed it.

Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Warner Bros.)

Much like the pace of the film the tone is also established immediately. In a fashion not dissimilar to the recent X-Men film the film opens with a series of tense, brilliantly acted interrogatory scenes. The heroic triad is immediately gathering information and plotting their next move.

These scenes are also brilliantly and dramatically lit and also establishes the visual motif of camera movement which is not altogether foreign to Eduardo Serra and it just adds that much more tension and gravitas to all the proceedings.

I try and avoid departmental punchlists replete with commentary but the production and crafting of this film make it such that it’s nearly impossible to avoid. Alexandre Desplat has quickly catapulted to the A-List amongst film composers and his work in this film is absolutely sublime, it’s omnipresent but not overpowering and over-accentuating the film, it’s there for the taking if you want it and if you listen to it in isolation it’s amazing but in conjunction with the imagery sheer brilliance.

Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Warner Bros.)

The Harry Potter films have also been through the years a bastion for lovers of ensemble acting, what’s most enjoyable about this film is that there are a number of paired scenes wherein the supporting players really get a chance to shine and have their moment and each one is more staggeringly great than the last. While I’d definitely contend that the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 was the showcase for Radcliffe, Watson and Grint, however, it should be noted that it is usually they who paired off with these supporting characters like John Hurt as Ollivander who here is pitch perfect and has more screentime than in the rest of the series combined. There’s also Ciarán Hinds who plays Aberforth. Warwick Davis, who does double duty as Griphook and Professor Flitwick, has a very tense scene as the former and is incredibly versatile. Then you also have among the supporting cast the incomparable Alan Rickman who over the course of eight films has steered his character unerringly along a very subtle and incredible arc.

Alan Rickman in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Warner Bros.)

Perhaps what sticks with you most about the film though is the beautiful chaos of it all. The film does not bow down to the artifice of its artform and focus too singularly on any one tragic occurrence and just takes it all in as quick as one might in that moment. Some things just happen and you learn about it when characters do and you don’t know the how and the where just the result.

It almost goes without saying that the effects are outstanding and are the best and most blended of the series. As for the 3D I have not seen it as such but I do want to and have heard that for a conversion it’s a job well done for a detailed summation of that aspect I’d point you towards CinemaBlend who does a great series about the 3D or not 3D conundrum.

Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Warner Bros.)

One of the barometers for the Harry Potter films, and for films in general, that I like to use is how is the ending handled. Now not that it’s a make or break but you do want the film’s last moment to leave a good, lasting impression. For example, I think that The Prisoner of Azkaban really dropped the ball with an ending that was tonally discordant when the darker chapters had just begun and a bit more restraint was needed. This film, however, ends perfectly and as I’d expected the epilogue was more effective on the big screen than it was in the book as it seemed to be created for the big screen.

It is my assessment that Harry Potter is the greatest franchise I’ve beheld and it is to my delight and relief that it has concluded with the greatest cinematic chapter it has yet told.

10/10

Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Warner Bros.)

Review- Green Lantern

Ryan Reynolds in Green Lantern (Warner Bros./DC)

Note: Some spoilers within.

Of the rash of comic book films that are due out this year I’d put Green Lantern near the bottom of the list with regards to how much prior knowledge I had about him going in (As opposed to The X-Men with which I am quite familiar or the upcoming Captain America, which would rank lowest). Thus, the expectations might not be as great but the onus would be squarely on the film to convey who this guy is what the rules of this particular universe and his abilities are. It’s serviceable but it could’ve been handled better. A lot of information about who the Lanterns are and what they do is disseminated immediately in a voice-over and considering that there will be more information to absorb later along with a lot of flashy fight sequences that don’t require thought it’s a risky strategy and there was some debate of the finer points amongst my party after the film.

Having said all that for the most part the foundation is laid and laid well not only in establishing Hal, his world and how it changes when he is summoned but also going forward should the films continue. A factor this film benefits from is that it’s not a super-being tale but rather gifts endowed to a regular person, which makes identification somewhat easier. While typically I am more drawn to the vigilante-type a la Batman, this film does do enough well to be considered better than The Green Hornet, who is of the vigilante mold, especially when you consider that this film managed to incorporate comedy with making it one, which is a tribute to the casting choice of Ryan Reynolds.

One of the decisions that didn’t work as well for this film is that in essence it contained dueling antagonists. On the one hand you have Parallax who is essentially a personification of fear that grows more dangerous and violent the more it defeats and consumes, which was pretty cool and different from what you typically get, and on the other you have Hector Hammond. Hammond is a scientist who gets infected by contact with one of Parallax’s victims and that creates a psychic link. Part of the problem with devoting so much time to Hammond is that he’s essentially a tool. It does give us a good performance from Peter Sarsgaard but his narrative ends rather unceremoniously.

Not to say Hammond was unnecessary but it just feels certain aspects of the film are short-changed in the interests of keeping the running time manageable. While Hammond’s being developed, I wanted more Hal, while Hal’s having his doubts I wondered what was happening on Oa. It seems as if in the interest of trying to get a lot covered the whole wasn’t all it could’ve been. On the positive, I thought the sequence with the requisite backstory regarding Hal’s father was very well-handled as was the introduction of what relationship all these characters had to one another. It’s just that plotting and pacing suffered after a while when trying to do too much all at once.

There are then with two antagonists and two climactic battle sequences; little fish then big fish. While I’ll be the first to complain when one seems far too long these were oddly truncated and anti-climatic. They each have their “Oh, that was cool” moments but also have that “Oh, it’s over?” moment as well.

The animation was rather good considering that there was a lot of it but definitely could’ve been improved further. For the record I did not see this film in 3D as I saw no need to as it is a post-converted film and I try to avoid those.

Lastly, don’t leave as soon as the credits start rolling as there is a little teaser at the end. Or you could leave because it really bugged the hell out of me. Can we knock it off with the teasers already? I recognize that running time begins at fanfare and ends when the credits stop rolling but more often than not these tacked on scenes leave you scratching your head or rolling your eyes rather than giving you anything you’re actually glad you stuck around and watched. Any superhero film has a built-in “excuse” for a sequel: it’s about a superhero. There’s always a bad guy. You don’t need to bend over backwards for it.

Anyway, having said all that I do want to stress that I think this film does more well than it does poorly it just sometimes that the latter is easier to expound upon. It’s a fair indoctrination to the character and the Green Lantern concept as a whole and is enjoyable popcorn-fare.

6/10

Review- Rio

Rio (20th Century Fox)

For any viewer, regardless of your experience, academic acumen or whatever other qualifications you may have, there will invariably be occasions where a film plays into a sensitive area for you where it’ll either excel with flying colors or fail miserably, perhaps to a greater degree than it would otherwise, due to your personal experience. In the case of Rio it was targeted on my radar early on for two reasons: first, and the lesser of the two reasons, for my love of birds and conversely my loathing of smuggling but it hit home more because it’s set in Brazil, a nation of which I am a dual citizen.

Having been one who grew up cinematically with only Carmen Miranda and the anti-Lambada propaganda film The Forbidden Dance as major reference of American interpretations of Brazil onscreen my apprehension is understandable. Not that there’s anything wrong with Carmen Miranda but any icon can be turned into a stereotype in the wrong hands.

Suffice it to say that most of my concerns are addressed by the fact that one of the film’s writers and its director is a Brazilian, Carlos Saldanha. Yet, you also do not get a Disney-fied Saludos Amigos or Three Cabelleros rendition of Latin America, you have in the narrative of this film a setting which actually plays a role, which is rare but also one that is presented without frills and bereft of commentary. You see the glitz and glamor of Rio, the natural beauty, the beach life, the skyline at night, carnaval but also the favelas and in a minor way, crime. It’s a subtle but accurate portrait that doesn’t impose itself above the story. It shows the good and the bad. So with that personal concern overcome I can begin to address the rest of the film.

When dealing with animation set overseas there are invariably headaches of logic. There’s always the minor bugaboo of when do you float a word in said foreign language that English speakers will readily recognize? How many Brazilians and/or actors of Hispanic descent do you include in the cast? Now, there’s only one Brazilian in the principal cast, however, considering that many Brazilian actors have recently been cast as either Hispanic or “Vaguely Foreign” characters (such as Rodrigo Santoro himself in Love Actually) it all comes out in the wash.

In fact, quite a lot the voice talent does quite well either toeing that line or just being convincing that it makes you forget. Jesse Eiesenberg conveys the stressed, caged bird in the wild well and also has the unexpected task of struggling/learning to embrace his newfound culture. Anne Hathaway, perhaps more than any other name actor in the cast, vanishes behind the veneer of her character. Thankfully she is given license to sing and the few seconds of Portuguese she’s asked to speak sounds good.

The rest of the voice cast does rather well as a whole also. One of the most distinctive and hardest voices to overcome is George Lopez’s but his shtick with his wife is funny enough such that you eventually forget. While Tracy Morgan always sounds like himself it works in tandem with his character so well that it doesn’t matter. Will i. am provides the most consistent comic relief and perhaps the most overlooked voice work belongs to Jake T. Austin, perhaps best known for his work on Disney Channel’s Wizards of Waverly Place, he convincingly comes across as not only a Brazilian kid but also one who’s younger than he is.

The story of this film resolves itself quite neatly. It gets just the right amount of complication what with the smuggling plots getting aided with a scene-stealing performance by a Cockatoo (Jemaine Clement, who thankfully is also allowed to sing). Events head for the collision course you hope they’ll have and while there are dueling love plots and a heist everything thing has its proper priority within the infrastructure of the narrative. There’s more going on here than meets the eye with many of the villains not willing to do their own dirty work, such that you can see how it may be described as a mess but it truly does all work towards one end.

And that end is truly one of the more graceful and visual I’ve seen in some time. You realize the film is all but over and there are at least three questions/open ends you’re wondering about that are addressed in a few shots and wordlessly, without any lengthy denouement. It’s a thing of beauty of behold.

Moreover, it’s a musical that’s actually musical, meaning there are a few musical numbers where characters breakout and sing but not once does it seem random and forced. The score is tremendous and very present and when it’s not there it’s replaced by source music, which is usually a new take on a Brazilian standard. It’s another example of the synergy of location. The score is indigenous without feeling forced or trite. Even incorporating Samba beats the score and source music still underscores the action tonally.

I typically leave the 3D commentary for near the end when I do see something in 3D. I did see it as such and my general feeling is that right now animation, specifically animation by the biggest studios (Disney/Pixar, DreamWorks, Fox/Blue Sky) is usually your best bet for getting the most bang for your buck 3D-wise.

The animated feature film has become more of a box office and aesthetic presence than it ever was. It has truly grown in leaps and bounds over the history of cinema as something that was virtually a one-studio specialty to a medium that has become, at long last, a bona fide Oscar category. Having said that the category has been virtually monopolized. It’ll be very hard to justify that this year with Rio entering the fray I think.

As I may have said before, I now treat sitting through the end credits like a standing ovation. Considering the fact that I was so apprehensive about seeing it in the first place, I truly did not expect to watch this film all the way to its literal conclusion. Rio is a tremendously effervescent film that actually manages to capture some of the spirit of the city in a very honest way.

10/10

Review- The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Will Poulter, Skandar Keynes, Ben Barnes and Georgie Henley in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (20th Century Fox)

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is in a word, though there could be many, many more; glorious. Absolutely glorious in every single, solitary respect. Not only does it work brilliantly as a standalone tale but it also closes a chapter in a series with great effect. How it functions within the series will be detailed later.

The first thing that should be commented upon is the virtuosity of the players involved. Now this tale does have a rather big obstacle to overcome as in this tale the Pevensie quartet becomes a duo, as Peter (William Moseley) and Susan (Anna Popplewell) are scarcely seen but worry not Georgie Henley and Skandar Keynes are very strong and prodigious leads in the film. They each face their own trials and tribulations in their journey and support the film equally. Will Poulter, who broke out with his earth-shatterlingly good performance in Son of Rambow, is flawless in the part of Eustace Scrubb. He applies the affectations of an uptight, snobbish brat with great aplomb from a pitchy voice to flared nostrils and as his character mellows those layers peel back. Truly, Son of Rambow was most fortunate to have both he and the incomparable Bill Milner in the fold and The Dawn Treader would be so much less than it is without Poulter.

Lastly, and here is where we discuss this film in the context of the series, there is Ben Barnes. Ben Barnes, as Caspian, who is now a King; reprises his role but not identically to the last installment. In Prince Caspian a decision was made that the Talmarines, to differentiate themselves as men of a different nation, should be Spanish or speaking in a brogue thereof. Barnes did what he could to work with this impediment but that decision along with some in structuring made that installment a little less than it could’ve been. Therefore kudos are in store for the production team, principally the late great director Michael Apted, for deciding to rescind said decision. Ben Barnes speaking in his true voice is another actor entirely and he is a credit to this film.

This film, unlike many fantastic voyages, actually allows you to get into the character’s head a bit. In fact, that’s really what the enemy is all about: exploiting fears that each of the characters have. The characters are seen alone, the characters dream and they do battle with an enemy that knows how to defeat them. Mist or fog can be a very effective cinematic motif, as evidenced by eponymous films but you add a sentient nature to said mist and a whole other level is reached. Especially with the way it is framed and how the characters very infrequently sense its presence. I wrote recently of the jolting scares to be found in the most recent Harry Potter, well that is trumped by the ominous looming and chasing of the mist in this tale which gave me goosebumps on more than one occasion, as did some other events, CG or not.

Speaking of CG this may be an aspect of this film, which is almost taken for granted. To go through a laundry list of awe-inspiring visual achievements that the effects artists conjure up in this film would be tedious. However, it does need to be said that the work in this film is so accurate and precise that it likely goes overlooked by many. It has been short-listed for an Academy Award nomination and if it does not receive said nomination it will be one of the greatest injustices they’ve ever perpetuated [It didn’t get it, surprise, surprise].

This film is expertly edited and flows like a dream and treats time like a tinker toy. It makes the film move very briskly throughout but grinds the action nearly to a halt when things need observing in the minutest detail. If you had no notion of the time you’d swear the film is at least 20 minutes shorter than it really is, which is a testament to the pace of the tale.

You can’t have a sweeping epic story line without a sweeping epic score and this film most certainly has that as well, as there’s not much it doesn’t have. The score always matches but doesn’t overpower or over-accentuate the film and is dazzling.

The superlatives could continue to flow but I saw this film twice on the weekend so that should say something. I may see it anew to gauge the 3D quality, for the time being bear in mind that it is post-converted so buyer beware [I did end up seeing it in 3D later on and the conversion was pretty good] .

You have in this tale characters who are human therefore flawed and must struggle mightily against the darker parts of their nature to achieve their goal. You also have here in a series an ending as should the films continue different characters coming to the fore, even if this wasn’t the case the ending is quite the effective tear-jerker. This is without a doubt one of the most complete cinematic experiences I’ve had in a while, one of the best films of the year and a no questions asked must see.

10/10

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is available on DVD and Blu-Ray today.

Review- Megamind

Megamind (Paramount)

The phrase “flip the script” has become a part of the vernacular as an expression of a 180-degree change in the expected course of action. Oddly enough, even though there is a cinematic connotation to this expression you rarely see a film that exemplifies this expression. Megamind is that kind of a film. While you can’t claim it’s wildly original it does set up certain expectations and exploits them very well.

What is refreshing is that not only do you get a villain-turned-hero but you also have a new villain emerging from an unexpected source. You also have a reluctant hero who fades completely into the background and doesn’t make a triumphant return.

The film absolutely refuses to be overly-simplistic and didactic in showing why those who turned villainous did and why there was a change in our protagonist and how. It also nicely implies that heroism was, in fact, Megamind’s fate, as we never learn what his parents said to him before sending him off to Earth. It ended up being circumstance and not reacting to it well that lead him down the path he took.

What is also good to see is that as Megamind disguises himself to try and gain a new rival there is a great treatment of the “Bad Friend Plot.” This occurs with a rift between Megmind and Minion. There is no failed attempt to reconcile and when they do reunite it is surprising and satisfying, avoiding unnecessary convolution of the story.

While the film clearly excels in dramatic terms it is also rather successful on the comedic side of the equation and the comedy excels more often than not. Megamind’s mispronunciations, while hit-or-miss, do play a key role in the film.

While this is yet another animated film that insists on boasting name recognition in its voice talent with Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill and Brad Pitt, they do all commit themselves to their character work enough that eventually you do think of them in terms of their character and not the performer. It just takes a little time.

Which is also a tribute to the writing in this film. Aside from the many interesting variations on themes that you get there are also clearly defined characters with struggles, needs and wants that you identify with and this is true of all the significant personages.

The animation in this film is quite impressive with the great cityscapes it creates and in terms of the 3D there are worst purchases you could make at the movies this year.

8/10

Megamind is out on DVD today.

Review- Never Say Never

Justin Bieber in Never Say Never (Paramount Pictures)

If there was one thing that was most frustrating about watching Step Up 3 last year, whether it be the 3D version or otherwise, was the fact that there were moments that were magic about it that were almost immediately contradicted or overwhelmed. You could see that Jon Chu had latched onto something at least for a fleeting moment that was like catching lightning in a bottle but there just wasn’t quite enough in the story to propel the film past a few moments of grace and charm.

While I typically avoid any sort of comparative analysis in a review of a single film I mention this to begin the case for Never Say Never and may need to resort to it again to make a point. Chu is, in fact, the perfect candidate for this project because while prior it was like he was wringing a dry sponge here the story existed and it’s the kind of thing you can’t make up and he absolutely nailed it as far a making it a piece of narrative cinema.

Absolutely stripping away any notions you may have pre-conceived or otherwise about the music this film is quite amazing and exhilarating and that has every bit as much to do with the crafting of the film as it does with the narrative it tells.

So far as the crafting is concerned: the edit of this film great and rather impressive and, of course, it interlinks with the narrative. While the story is framed as a countdown to one show, Madison Square Garden, it is told neither chronologically nor does a majority of it take place there.

As the production team had protested for months most of the film is not a concert, hence it’s a little misleading to label it a concert film. There is footage, of course, but rarely is a full song used but what’s most incredible is that all the songs are placed perfectly just watch and listen to the tempo and the lyrics in conjunction with the flow of the film.

As much show footage as there is it doesn’t end up being about the show but about the journey but it’s not a one-sided tale. It tells things both from the perspective of Bieber and his team and with man-on-the-street interviews with his fans. So it makes sense that in a tale as someone who has been launched to astronomical heights thanks to the fervent devotion of his fans that both tales be told as they truly are one.

That is where this film truly separates itself from the other two recent teen sensation films (Miley Cyrus and The Jonas Brothers): this is a personal chronicle and the concert is not the thrust of the film but used as peaks and the big show is used as the climax. Whereas, you saw some goofy-we’re-trying-to-show-how-we’re-like-the-Beatles interstitial scenes in the Jonas Brothers film you didn’t learn anything about them or their journey. This film puts you both in the position of the performer and the audience almost simultaneously, which is quite a feat.

As if further evidence is needed that this film isn’t about the concert there is a star-studded line-up of guest performers, including Miley Cyrus herself in a duet, and it doesn’t detract or elevate things it just fits right into the mix.

It’s not a completely skewed depiction of the performer either. There is a part of the film, which propels the film towards its climax with stakes raised and plays almost like it was scripted, wherein Bieber is fighting off a throat infection and swollen vocal chords just before the MSG show, and his vocal coach asks him if he’d been straining his voice outside the performances. He, of course, responds “No” and then there is a quick montage hearkening back to a short layover he had in a hometown where he’s yelling and gallivanting with his friends that is quite funny.

Like almost anything he does, the film doesn’t take itself or its subject, too seriously and just shows things as they are. In showing him, as much as a film can in this format, as a real person there it can establish its dual connection to both performer and audience.

In the end, many quick flashes of home video and YouTube clips that started off the tale are quickly spliced into the last musical performance of the film and hint at the completion of the journey. The journey concludes in a frame wherein an anonymous user is linking their friends to his videos and hence the viral machine starts. There is also some very creative use of graphics displaying YouTube comments, tweets, subtitles and titles that also gave the film a little more cinematic leverage.

Watching this film, again based on comparison with the other two, was like being at a concert. It was virtually the same atmosphere. That alone should say something. It’s easy enough to dismiss this film as a crass money-grab if you want to but if you watch this and see it as anything less than a sincere depiction and a thank you to those who got Bieber where he is you’re not watching closely enough.

This is a film that is exciting and exhilarating cinematically if you give it an unbiased look and watch it as film, which is what it is. It’s not a concert film because there’s so much more to it than that. It’s the full story of this phenomenon about as well as it can be told. Kudos to Jon Chu and Paramount.

10/10

Why “Never Say Never” Makes Sense

This is a re-post from when Never Say Never was first announced. It makes sense to post it again on the verge of the film’s release.

Never Say Never (Paramount)

So recently both on his Twitter feed and on several media sources it was reported that Justin Bieber was to be the subject of an upcoming film release. The film would follow his world tour, intercut live performances be part doc, part biopic and be in 3D. Academy-award winning director Davis Guggenheim was attached to direct it, that has changed but those were the facts.
 
I find it a little humorous some of the reactions this announcement has been met with. Surprise should not be among the reactions though, derision though not necessarily deserved, was expected.
 
Taking some of these facts into consideration: Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus (as if they’re really two different people), The Jonas Brothers and even Celine Dion, of all people, recently had concert films so announcement this should be no surprise at all. Not to mention the record-breaking Michael Jackson doc This is It.
 
Not only is he talented but he’s out-earning all those acts at this point so of course a studio is going to want to put out a film. Being one who is familiar with him from his days of being pre-viral on YouTube it shocks even me that his rise to near pop immortality has been so meteoric and persistent.
 
And in 3D? Of course. Even though 3D fatigue is setting in, regardless of what scoffing studio execs say, there will still be those projects that will do it, and succeed, especially since a little more than a year has passed since Avatar smashed box office records just because it was shot in 3D. The overcharge, I mean surcharge, made it its money.
 
However, with him being a lightning rod anything Bieber-related is immediately fodder for conversation both positive and negative. It would seem this film is being overly-characterized as as a biopic, in the traditional sense of the word, much the way the photo book of his tour was being referred to as a memoir, where it is truly more of a chronicle, even if you don’t buy his assertion of it being a photo book.
 
Even more recently it was reported that Davis Guggenheim was dropping out. He is citing commitment issues as he will be plugging Waiting for Superman, his latest documentary about public education in the US, obviously there is speculation that he dropped it because his name was being dragged through the mud and the money wasn’t worth it.
 
I won’t comment on a personal/business decision but it most definitely would’ve been very time consuming. However, I don’t view this film as littering the cinematic landscape as it’s not a narrative film. It’s disposable (if you want it to be) entertainment that you can use once and destroy if you so wish and has no bearing on the overall aesthetic landscape of cinema as a whole.
 
This film will come and go and cinema will go on, so jokes or actual fears about the end times are greatly exaggerated.