Cinema-Maniac: The Iron Giant (1999) Movie Review

Animation filmmaking is one area I don’t touch on frequently. The genre does interest me, but very rarely do I personally feel that its even taken advantage to its full potential. What’s often categorize as a family friendly genre can visualize a greater connection to reality that wouldn’t be captured the same way in a live action film. “The Iron Giant” is one of those films that in live action form special effects regardless of quality would have distracted from the true heart and power within its story and characters.

The Iron Giant is about a boy befriending an innocent giant robot that a paranoid government agent wants to destroy. Structurally “The Iron Giant” plays out similar to another classic “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial”; in both a kid encounters a begin from space, befriends the space begin who is stranded on earth, takes it home and hides it from his mother (yet oddly in both film there’s no father present), and the paranoid government come into play. While both films share similar plot threads and aside from sharing the same quality that’s where the comparison between these two films end. Characters are sophisticated and their interactions with one another feels natural. Conversations never allude to anything specifically plot related every moment of humor and drama is a genuine occurrence in these characters everyday life. Both the human characters and our giant robot are treated as equal. Instead of seeing the iron giant as a piece of machinery we see the iron giant as a living being. Identifying with the iron giant as much as we do with the human characters. Giving events a greater sense of emotion, a greater sense of importance, and more involving seeing every outcome.

Political commentary is risking especially in this film when the setting is just days after the Russians launched the Sputnik satellite. The atmosphere is tense and paranoid in this time setting. What the iron giant metaphors is easy to grasp with scenes hinting perhaps this other worldly creation has a different function. Later on sending a message about being a weapon through key development scenes. Unlike the humans we never learn about the iron giant past or purpose. Like a weapon we presume the intention is a path of destruction. If the iron giant was never given any human traits this would have been a cautionary tale about humans thrive for creating weapons eventually killing them. In this film we have a giant robot who is programmed to do a specific function. However, his interactions define his decision and questions what he was program to do. It’s as much the iron giant story to not follow a set path programmed for him as much as it is a our human character story on the escalation of fearing the unknown.

Animation mixes hand-drawn imagery coupled with a computer-generated iron giant. The title character is a 3D composition done digitally, mixed with the 2D action surrounding him. There are some highly imaginative shots of the robot mixing in with the film’s environment with aura of an classic sci-fi feel surrounding him and his design. Detail is evident in the whole: the season subtly changes from fall to winter; the characters are always doing something, even if they aren’t directly in focus; in some parts of the movie the little details actually become crucial to the movie’s strength and validity. Character designs and voice actors who made them come to life verbally were perfect. Eli Marienthal fitted very well with the animated design of the character. Harry Connick Jr. was just as good at being humorous. Kent Mansley, our main antagonist, was very well designed and acted. Christopher McDonald relatively calm voice made the villain memorable. The Iron Giant himself is voiced by Vin Diesel. While Diesel says very little he sounds exactly like a robot, but hints slightly of perhaps adopting a speaking pattern to that of a human.

The Iron Giant is a masterpiece. Transcending beyond an hand drawn two dimensional plain to provide three dimensional characters whose interaction are so natural you don’t feel like you’re watching a piece of vividly drawn fiction.


Cinema-Maniac: Monsters University (2013) Movie Review

Prequels regardless of what series they belong to always run the risk messing up a franchise timeline, creating plot holes, and possibly lessening the film that came before it. In the case of Monster University it wants to fill a gap that wasn’t weak in its predecessor. It could have taken the route set out for it to be an easy cash grabbed, but instead rejects that label aiming high as its predecessor creating a world filled with lovable characters.

Monster University is about the relationship between Mike and Sulley during their days at Monsters University. Narratively predictable not because the outcome is already set in stone, but because a story like this has already been told plenty of times. Carrying over a speculatively evil headmaster, oddball underdog heroes going up against the college champions in a competition, flunking classes, threat of expulsions, fitting into the crowd, and several overused situational jokes. At it worst you will know where the story is heading with bad jokes thrown in, however overcoming those issues is strong writing. Both Mike and Sulley arcs have a familiar starting point that stronger resonate the more it develops moving forward. Its success lies in the duo relationship bringing to challenge the same struggles and differential life philosophy they came to challenge. Going left field with its cliches with truthful messages; one of them being failing to reach your dreams and how that’s not necessarily a bad thing. A philosophy often ignored in a genre where success is always guaranteed for being positive. Making these messages effective are it cast of characters. Vibrant as they might be each go through their own arcs becoming fleshed out as our protagonists. Wanting to spend time attaching to these characters for who they are instead of by nature. An attachment that becomes more powerful in the final act which is easily the best act of the film. Seeing our characters growth in the final act makes a great film in a strong one that’s dramatically powerful. Showing the true strength of the writing and its characters friendship. Just like its characters, expectations are thrown at the plot refusing those expectations to become better than anyone expected it to be.

Animation is top notch. Sporting more than a eye pleasing color palette designs of monsters are varied. These monsters might share anatomy similar to a human offer a range of different appearances being insect like while other being straight up bizarre. Some having fur, some having scales, some not having legs, and whatever pops into the animators mind. It oozes in creativity for it universe inhabitants, though the environments are nothing spectacular. Environments don’t have any new spin to them in any form going against the film theme of defeating expectations. Voice acting is all stellar with the standout being the strong chemistry between Billy Crystal and John Goodman. Delivering on the comedy, drama, and enhancing the film with their presence. Helen Mirren is strict and overpowering. Steve Buscemi has his wonderfully evil voice that’s memorable even in a film that necessarily has no villains. The film score while not noteworthy does is job adequately whether it be mellow for a touching moment or upbeat for a fun sequence.

Monster University follows a straightforward route taking different directions to reach the same destination with different outcomes. Going into Monster University you know where the journey is headed and you know what the destination is, but what matter most is who you are taking it with. In this case the characters you take the journey with make every minute count.


Cinema-Maniac: Diana (2013) Review

“After an unexpected hiatus (holiday season, good friend moving to LA) it was about time I got back into writing reviews. An idea one of my friends also had as she (for some reason) checks my profile for my thoughts on films. Noticing I didn’t post anything for two weeks she decided to shoot me with her ray gun, take me to her spaceship, insert a bomb into my genitals, and set a timer for three hours. Telling me the only way to survive is to watch “Diana” and write a review in my limited time. Thus I did it and barely made it out alive. However, she refused to remove the bomb!”. Excerpt from the biography “Based on a true story”.

Diana follows the last two years of Princess Diana life secret love affair with Pakistani heart surgeon Hasnat Khan turning a life story into a very crummy romance film. Calling this film a biopic is the equivalent of saying the film “2012” is base on a true story. Problem number one with this film making the person of interest boring. As someone who knows nothing about the Princess of Wales this film shares no insight about her nor the people around her. Its reluctant to share anything even the most basic of understanding of who Diana is a person becomes lost to its audience. Now because of the structure of the film manipulative narrative Diana comes across as a one dimensional Gollum. Now going by written dialogue in the film Diana “Gets very excited by Hospitals”, “I’m a princess and I get what I want”, and wonders if “Did they publish the pictures of the kids with all their arms and legs blown off”. That’s some awful dialogue yes, but the rest of the writing is equally appalling. Not to forget exploitative beginning the film starting on the night of her death hammering the message that there is no return.

Earlier I said this is more of a crummy romance and I stand by that. For example, the film paints Diana was so swept off her feet that she ignored her children and her work. Doing charity work for the sake of good lips service. In any other fictional film if you have bad characters, underdeveloped elements, and sloppy narrative you simply get a bad piece of fiction. Not here as even if the events in the film did happen it feels false. In a movie that has the Dwayne Johnson Quartet (sadly Dwayne Johnson is nowhere in the film) you end up quitting finding any shred of truth that the film might share. Even its main focus on the romance is terribly written. Important events are glossed over, the romance is egotistical (ones a whiner and ones comes across as too clingy), and at no point allows us to see Diana the way the filmmaker intended us to see her. There’s a line in the film that goes “You don’t perform the operation, the operation performs you. And when it’s over, reality is a bit flat. You’re very tire.”. That statement holds true to the film itself. You don’t experience the film, the film attempts destroy you and your perception of Diana in reality. Hoping in the end you’re too tired to search for the truth and accepts the false reality the film gives you.

Naomi Watts has little material to work from, the result being overuse of only a few mannerisms and speech characteristics. She delivers some awful, awful lines with a straight face. If anything the acting is best the thing about the film. All the performances are average, but at no point do they attempt to ham it up or go over the top with their performances. As for everything else it’s unnoticeable. The direction is on autopilot with no interesting shots being stuck in limbo and the film score is forgettable to the point the closing credits remind there was actually music in the film. Also, playing Beethoven 9th Symphony during heart surgery is not romantic.

Diana is a terrible romance film that I refuse to consider biopic. A biopic should tell us, show us, or give insight on the person of interest gaining some level of understanding that person in a new way something this film does not do. Instead “Diana” chooses to do the opposite capitalizing on someone death exploiting people’s feeling for the sake of cash. If that wasn’t the intention of the people involved in making this were it’s the feeling they get across.


Cinema-Maniac: Steins;gate Fuka Ryoiki No Deja Vu (2013)

Going blind into a film adaptation of any series is risking. In my case going into Steins:Gate film adaptation without any exposure to the anime series, visual novels, and (to my surprise) a video game based on the series was not a good decision. Many of the film events, characters relationship, and world are build up from its many different medium that offer more time to build everything as oppose to a film which works on a specific time frame. Regardless of a lack of exposure to the series the film itself stood on its own feet. As a piece of romance, sci-fi’s, drama, and time traveling philosophy that is intricate, layered as its compelling protagonists.

Steins; Gate the Movie: The Burden of Deja Vu is about Kurisu’s internal conflict to save Rintarou Okabe (a time traveler who constantly saved her) is erased from existence. My synopsis of the films plot is about as simple as its ever gets. Once pass the basic first fifteen minutes the film goes heavily into memories linking different worlds with time travel thrown into the mix. At its own pace the film takes it time to explain how memories in different timelines can be retained and how using time travel to create branching path holds consequences. Admittedly half of the film dialogue is reliant on these specifics delicately balancing key focus on its main story. While a complete understanding of how everything works in Stein;Gate universe is difficult what’s more accessible is the core of the story. A sci-fi love story that takes risk in its protagonist tempted to accept defeat to prevent further damaging the timelines fate has already sorted out. Internal conflicts created by the protagonist love interest challenging her philosophy whether or not his existence is important because it’s right versus her true feelings. Conflict is unavoidable in our protagonist. Much like newcomers to this universe we become involved in our protagonist journey uncertain in her decisions to accept the world created for her. Its major draw and best benefactor are the characters. Filled with interesting personalities and strong interactions (with few moments of humor) can make the film’s most complicated moments easy to follow. Never does the film remain simple just like its characters dilemmas creating multiple layers in what otherwise who would been a basic sci-fi love story. Just like its characters, the narrative chooses what it believes is the best possible outcome that when reaching the ending that nicely wraps its story adding more depth and significance to what unfolds on screen.

Animation style while nothing outstanding or visually impressive is all solid in design. There’s no stiff animations to be found when characters move, small usage of CG is not a jarring distraction, and characters blend well with their backgrounds instead of sticking out. Sets are common everyday places like an apartment or laundromat while not exciting are detailed. The same attention given to detailing the characters is noticeable in what they wear and what they interact with. Meshing well with everything instead of overlapping. Asami Imai is the definite standout among the cast. Sure it helps that she voices the main protagonist, but at the same time exert an emotional yet restraint performance in her character. Making her difficult to read and just as captivating as the character she voices. Other voice actors Saori Goto, Kana Hanazawa, Yu Kobayashi, Mamoru Miyano, and many others receive little to medium screen time. Some won’t of the voice talent won’t have an expanded performance, but nonetheless are great in their roles regardless of size. Music on the other hand works is decent with only the ending credit track standing out in the film. Its sounds are ambient setting the tone serving better its narrative more than just exposition from scenes to scenes.

Stein;Gate the Movie: The Burden of Deja Vu is a difficult film to understand, but easy to get behind with strong characters and tight narrative that keeps the focus among its many layers of complex ideas. It’s not a film for everyone not because of its complex nature, but depends on the viewer exposure to the source material. While some events won’t connect to newcomers as it will for fans one thing it does well enough is work as a stand alone film. Containing strong characters, a deep philosophy, solid animation, and tying everything up for a animated film that narratively aims highs and reaches greatness.


Cinema-Maniac: Charlie: A Toy Story (2013) Review

Charlie: A Toy Story is about 10-year-old Caden, along with his golden retriever, Charlie, protecting his dad’s toy shop and greatest invention from the bumbling town bullies. Despite the title this is not a “Toy Story” rip off by any means. It’s more in the liking of “Home Alone”, but even that’s being too generous. Whereas “Home Alone” while juvenile was fun through and through understanding it shouldn’t attempt to be anything it’s not. In “Charlie: A Toy Story” that’s not the case. To the film credit it contains elements that could have made a decent movie; young child protagonist dealing with parental issues, childlike dad learning to grow up with his son, neglectful bully father-son relationship, and a message on family values. All these elements in context work to an extent. Firstly you have a child like dad who always presented as the fun one while the mother is always presented as the serious one. Both parents despite lacking depth are both painted in a positive and negative way. Neither is purely good or bad, but that won’t excuse how cliche their arc turn out. The married couple mostly are shown on uneven grounds, but neither ever become elaborated on. A basic idea that remains basic with a predictable outcome. While a lesson in growing up and realizing your responsibility is a good one so are showing realistic problems with realistic solution.

The second element are the bullies. Now these bullies follows all the rule of being family friendly bullies (an idiot and the leader) resorting to such horrible name calling like dog boy, moron, loser boy, and two usage of the word frickin. VAN DAMME it squeaky clean dialogue! This movie is too innocent in that department. Bullying has become more of an growing issue in recent years and the film representation is too by the numbers. Bullies in this film have lousy name calling, are incredibly inept (I know their kids, but what bully feels actual pain when getting shot with small marshmallow and confetti), and the only solution presented is too set simple traps around the small town. Sounds cool for a climax right? Well once again the film lacks inspiration in that department. Throughout the film the usage of traps have no real pay off even comedically these traps are rather pathetic. As for some backstory at least one of the bully gets somewhat justification for his action. That reason being a neglectful which the film spends far too little time on. Sure it sends the message of doing bad deeds is not the way to get a neglectful parent attention, but does not bother to show the hardship in fixing a family relationship.

The third element I left out intentionally deal with the more supernatural and hinted religious overtone. Wait….what about Charlie? Isn’t he after all the main character? Nope, in the film the name Charlie belongs to a dog who plays no major part in the story. I thought the dog would have come into play as a metaphor for the child protagonist to learn about taking care of another living creature, but it’s just a side kick with no significance in the story. So baring with the film the magical elements are never justified to exist. These magical elements are only here because according to this film “all you gotta do is believe”. Now in the film the child like father creates the ultimate toy. It’s basically a chest (called the “Wondermation”) with the power to create any toy with the power of user imagination. This unexplained magical chest logistics gets a free pass from me since I have to face it how would anyone reasonably explain that working in a real world scenario. However, one thing that is not excusable are the usage of Angels. Yes, a film whose Christian undertone remain subtle comes out of left field with angels. Angles are never hinted at or even mentioned in the film. Not to forget the ending of this scene including angels tonally fits a psychological horror.

Director Gary A. Brown execution of the film is too simple. Everything from its lightning, one note visual style, and acting screams low budget limitations. There is not interesting shot as every shot is either a medium shot, medium long shot, or a close up. Occasionally cinematographer Chuck Hatcher will choose different shot sizes and his lack of effort makes for one dull looking film. Most of the dialogue is delivered awkwardly, either in a halting, tentative manner or in an over-enthusiastic rush. I blame bad direction for the uneven dialogue delivery. Rheagan Wallace for example emotes the right emotion for her one note role speeds through her line delivery. Almost of as if someone just wanted to end filming as soon as possible. The adult actors are fine in all respect. They don’t add much personality to their roles, but do an adequate enough job that it doesn’t feel lazy. Children actors on the other hand are bad. Not on bad direction, but simply because the child actors don’t have any ideas they’re filming a movie. Performance wise they look like they’re having fun filming or bored not doing anything exciting. If you’re the kind of person who can’t stand bad child actors stay away from Raymond Ochoa in this film as his face never seems to change. Music of the film ranges okay to huh? According to the credits actor Tanner Fontana provided a song for the film. Of course I’m going to point out some bad lyrics. It goes like “It’s nap time. To celebrate all the good time. I put it all on the line every day that I’m alive.” I’m utterly speechless with those lyrics.

Charlie: A Toy Story has some heart, but all emotion all lost in a generic execution. While the end result just turned to be generic it wasn’t as bad originally expected. For a straight to dvd family picture its not entirely insulting, its bearable thanks to some solid ideas, and has enough sustain itself to the end. True you could do a lot worse when it comes to family films, but why settle for less regardless of the audience intended.


Cinema-Maniac: Carlito’s Way: Rise to Power (2005) Review

If it wasn’t for the Carlito’s Way collection set I would have never known about the existence of the prequel. Now a prequel in this case makes some sense exploring more Carlito Brigante life and diving deeper into how he became to be the man he went on to be is by no means a bad thing. Unfortunately this prequel does very little in terms of developing Carlito Brigante further than what was already established in the original Carlito’s Way.

Carlito’s Way: Rise To Power is set in the late 1960s, follows Carlito Brigante emerging as the heroin czar of Harlem. Much like the original its heavily driven by dialogue, but the narrative path taken is strictly linear. Following the routine of a standard crime film the script does not bring anything you haven’t seen before to the table; you have a young criminal rising to power, the wise and well spoken mentor, to the old and angry Italian wiseguy who doesn’t like young punks, romance with a street wise woman, and many more crime film tropes. Going as far as showing the outcome of the climax like it predecessor in the beginning of the film. Unoriginality only begins to scratch the surface of problems. Characters are entirely new without a single one created in attempt to bridging the two films. These new characters are written with good intentions, but the interactions between them is predictable. One new character upon being immediately introduce is utterly unlikable only to become a driving force for the film narrative. At no point is this character downfall ever tragic because by design making the film most unlikable character have emotional weight does not work. This same notion works with the rest of the film. You have a standard setup or plot device with a predictable outcome appearing superficial only to become a major part of the story serving it weakness. Story elements are often half baked, generic in execution, and empty of any risks. The film’s ending is easily the biggest drawback of the story. With this being a prequel it fails to show exactly how Carlito Brigante went to jail for a force happy ending. At no point does this prequel help pave the way for events of the original “Carlito’s Way”. By the time the climax comes you will truly feel just how unspectacular everything turned out to be.

Jay Hernandez who played Carlito does a decent job, but if you are looking for the intensity of Al Pacino, it won’t be there. Hernandez’s smoothly understated performance and the colorful presence of Mr. Van Peebles performances are better than the film itself. Sean Combs give sa moderate performance looking directly at the camera and delivery over the top lines to the best of his abilities. Luis Guzman (also in the original Carlito’s Way) was entertaining as the nutty hit-man. His casting in this film is a huge problem not only does he play a completely different character, but it adds confusion seeing an actor from the original breaking continuity and comes off as goofy that Carlito would meet two people who look and act exactly the same. Mtume Gant comes off as annoying, but that’s mostly to blame on the material. If anything Mtume Gant is quite good making his character as unlikable as possible. It’s a shame the material didn’t offer him any scene to show of his character good sides. Aside from poor writing is director Michael Bregman is too blame for this lifeless prequel. Wait why does that name sound familiar…he was a producer on “Carlito’s Way”. In that that case his directorial effort is awful. Every scene is just plainly shown without a personality or any kind style behind the camera. Michael Bregman simply films a scene and that’s it. No emotion, no eye for details, nothing that conveys the interest from Bregman. Everything is comes across more lifeless than the characters killed in this movie. Bregman might have worked on the original, but chose not to retain anything that worked in Brain De Palma film.

Carlito’s Way: Rise To Power fails as a standalone film for staying closely to the genre routine without an attempt to be different and as a prequel fail to connect the dot to its predecessor in any way. It fails in these two areas even more so taking into account that with a failure to expand upon a beloved film in any area. It’s just about as superficial as a prequel can get.