Saturday, December 29, 2012

Movie Review: The Hobbit- An Unexpected Journey

Last night, I saw this movie with my family. I also recently read the entire novel, so I will add some comparisons between the movie and Tolkien's work.


This movie is the start of a trilogy that is loosely based off of Tolkien's child novel "The Hobbit," a prequel to the entire "Lord of the Rings" novels. Bilbo Baggins is living in Bag End, content to live a simple life filled with comfort and security. However, the wizard Gandalf has other plans. He ropes Bilbo into going on "an adventure" with thirteen dwarves, led by Thorn Oakenshield, who want to regain their homeland Erebor from the dragon Smaug. Along the way, Bilbo will face trolls, goblins, wizards, wargs, and even Gollum, who possesses a magical ring that makes Bilbo invisible when he puts it on, and he will need plenty of courage to go onwards.

The movie's plot is about the first six chapters of "The Hobbit," but Jackson has added more to the story, like the White Council's doings and the rise of the Necromancer in Mirkwood (which were briefly mentioned in "The Hobbit" but were given in more detail in appendices of "Lord of the Rings"). Not only that, but Jackson has added extra things not in the books at all, such as the grudge between Azog and Thorin (which would have never happened because in the book Azog was dead long before the company set out for Erebor; but that's beside the point). Even though I thought the White Council sub-plot was a good addition to the story, the other additions like the Azog/ Thorin grudge did not fit in well because it was not in the original works. Other parts of the plot were deviations from the original that I was not overly fond of, like Bilbo being the one who keeps the trolls arguing until daylight, Bilbo's encounter with Gollum happening concurrently with the dwarves facing the Goblin King instead of at separate times, or even certain twistings of Middle Earth's history, like the whole thing with the Necromancer resurrecting the Witch-King of Angmar; however, I do admit I am a stickler for details when it comes to book/ movie adaptations, so some people might not care about that.

The movie is a rather long one, being far longer than any of the "Lord of the Rings" movies, and it can get tiring after a while. By the time the White Council was finishing up their meeting, I was beginning to feel restless in the theater, and I've heard other people saying the same thing. It did not help that certain scenes were either added or drawn out. For example, I thought the whole chase scene with Radagast, the company, and the goblins was unnecessary, and I thought the affair with the goblins and the Goblin King seemed too long in comparison to the shorter confrontation in the book. I'm still wondering how on earth Jackson is going to release extended version of already long movie, but I suspect it is more of a moneymaking opportunity than anything else.

One final thing about the movie's general plot. I've read complaints from other reviewers about the amount of humor in "The Hobbit" and how it seems unbalanced compared to some of the darker aspects of the story, like the Necromancer and Dol Guldur. I did enjoy the dwarves being comic at times because that was pretty much the tone of the original book. Even though I understand that "The Hobbit" is a much lighter-hearted story than "Lord of the Rings," the movie is still darker than the original. Because of this, there were a few scenes that, to me, seemed almost silly, a little too light-hearted even for the book, like the scenes with the Goblin King and Bilbo's encounter with Gollum.

In general, the characters were pretty good. Martin Freeman did a very good Bilbo; he just looks like he could be a hobbit who loves his comfortable life in his comfortable hole. I had previously seen Richard Armitage in "North and South" (not counting his brief role in "Captain America: The First Avenger"), and originally I was a bit hesitant at the news that "Mr. Thornton is playing Thorin." However, Armitage did a very good job at capturing Thorin's prideful, stubborn self. I also liked the characters of Balin, Fili, and Kili, and the other dwarves were well-picked. Radagast was an interesting character, and I admit I'm not fully sure what I think of his addition to the movie. There are also old characters like older Bilbo, Frodo, Elrond, Gandalf, Saruman, and Galadriel who show up in the movie, and you can tell that a few of them have definitely aged/ grown up ever since the Trilogy was released.

To this day, the "Lord of the Rings" soundtrack remains one of my favorite soundtracks to listen to and be inspired by. However, I was a bit disappointed in the soundtrack for "The Hobbit." There are some of the old familiar themes, but there are a couple of new ones that I'm still getting used to. One thing I was very disappointed in was the use of the "Nazgul theme" when Thorin challenged Azog; it completely did not fit, and I've heard complaints about that from other people, especially since Howard Shore did such a good job with the themes on the Trilogy's soundtrack. I wasn't impressed either by the song that was played over the credits. However, for a pro, I did enjoy the songs from the book that were added into the movie, like the dwarves singing when they throw Bilbo's dishes around or in their other song about Erebor (that song sends shivers up my spine every time I hear it).

As for special effects, I'm not sure. I'm not sure if it was because of the way the movie was filmed or if it was because it was on a large screen, but the effects looked a little fake, especially in comparison to the Trilogy's. I did like, however, the brief glances into Erebor at the height of its glory and the town of Dale before Smaug's arrival; it was nice to see both the cultures of dwarves and elves, especially since we didn't get to see much of either in the original Trilogy, and I was impressed with the sets for those.

It is hard to put "The Hobbit" on the same level as "Lord of the Rings" because the two stories are so different in their tone and content, and so I admit that I probably should not compare the two. However, to me, there is a difference between two related stories who are of equal quality; it sort of reminds of me of the comparison between "Alien" and "Aliens," which are different but both are still enjoyable for their own separate reasons. For me, "The Hobbit" was a step below the quality of original Trilogy (which had its own issues), and so was not as memorable. I was glad I saw it, and there were parts that I did enjoy, but overall it was only an ok movie to me.

I give it three out of five stars.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises

I saw this movie back when it was first released, but I opted not to do a review of it until I had seen the movie a few more times and understood it better.


The movie is Christopher Nolan's final film in his "Batman" trilogy that he has worked on for the past seven or so years. This movie takes place eight years after the events of "The Dark Knight" and, although it references a few events like Harvey Dent's corruption and Rachel's death, it actually has more in common and more references to "Batman Begins." Bruce Wayne has become a recluse inside Wayne Manor while Gotham is at peace, but things quickly change when the masked former League of Shadows member Bane shows up on the scene with his plan to restore justice to Gotham. Bruce must come out of hiding and use manipulative jewel thief and young cop John Blake (who admires Batman) to bring Bane down.

The movie's plot is a bit twisted, and it takes several viewings to understand it fully and to catch all the little details. However, there were some parts that were weak, left unexplained, or did not make a lot of sense. One thing, for example, was why Bruce became a recluse for eight years; it could have been because of the events of "The Dark Knight," but it was never explained and so seemed a little odd. Another was Bane's connection to Talia al Ghul and how their exact partnership worked. The movie's ending was also a bit unsatisfactory, with the rather uneventful deaths of both Bane and Talia and with the discovery that Bruce is alive; to me, it was a bit of a letdown, especially knowing Nolan's talent for storytelling. I did like the whole "Robin" revelation at the end; it ties up things very nicely and would enable for the story to continue (if put into the right hands). Despite the movie's length, it does not seem that long.

The movie had some pretty good characters. It had the usual old ones of Bruce, Alfred (who actually plays a much smaller role than in previous films), Gordon, and Fox, but there are new ones too. Tom Hardy plays an excellent Bane, physically being a big beast of a guy but also being highly intelligent; the only thing that I wished they changed was that it is difficult to understand him because of the mask. Anne Hathaway also did a good job as Selina Kyle/ Catwoman, though I wish that there had been more of a chance to develop her character; and I think they should have developed her relationship with Batman a little more because them getting together at the end seemed a little rushed. Marion Cotillard plays Miranda Tate, a woman with her own agenda who becomes Bruce's girlfriend, and I think they could have emphasized her more manipulative, villainous nature better. Joseph Gordon- Levitt did a good job as well as John Blake, and I wonder if he will have any involvement in future Batman movies.

The movie had good effects and stunts (I'm still scratching my head over Catwoman's acrobatic movements in heels), and I really like Batman's bike. Hans Zimmer did an excellent job, as usual, on the soundtrack, using both themes from previous Batman films and, and I recommend his song "Aurora," which he composed in honor of the victims of the Aurora, Colorado shooting.

This movie, to me, is not the best out of the trilogy ("Batman Begins" is still my favorite out of the three), but it was a good conclusion to the trilogy. Despite its various plot holes and weak spots, I still think it is an enjoyable film.

I give it four out of five stars.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Movie Review: The Bourne Legacy

I apologize for the lack of posts on here, but I have either not had enough time to post or known what to post about. So, I will give a review of the latest addition to the Jason Bourne series: "The Bourne Legacy."


The movie is a further continuation of the popular "Bourne" movie series. While the events of "Bourne Ultimatium" are happening, more government conspiracy involving other spy programs is going on. Ezra Kramer, fearing that Jason Bourne will expose the government's secret operation, goes to Colonel Eric Byer (portrayed by Edward Norton) for help. Byer and his team decide to destroy Operation Outcome, a project that uses pills to increase the physical and mental abilities of its subjects. This means them also killing the operative Aaron Cross, portrayed by Jeremy Renner. Cross manages to evade Byer and meets up with Dr. Marta Shearing (portrayed by Rachel Weisz), who has just survived a shoot-out at her work that was ordered by Byer because of her work's connections to Operation Outcome. Cross and Shearing then make their way to the Philippines to get access to a virus that will help Cross maintain his mental abilities.

When I heard of the movie being made, I was optimistic because, even though the director was different, Tony Gilroy, who wrote the other movies, was directing, which made me enthusiastic that the movie's quality would be as good or maybe even better than the other films. Unfortunately, I found this film to be the weakest of the Bourne films and my least favorite.

One of the major problems with the film was the plot. It was weak, and there were several aspects that did not make sense or were not explained well- enough, such as Byer's connection to the shoot-out at Mara Shearing's work. While the previous films focused on Jason Bourne trying to remember his past and bringing down the government conspiracies, this one focuses on a government operative successfully fleeing for his life and trying to find a virus that will enable him to keep his mental abilities because the pills have increased his IQ and he does not want to lose his newfound intelligence. The whole introduction of the manipulation of genes and the pills that can improve people was a bit strange, especially when you consider the content of the previous films, and I did not find it as intriguing of a plot as the other films. Another issue with the plot was that the movie did not end very well; the audience finds out that Pam Landy's attempt to reveal the government's secret operations fails, which I think is realistic, but the movie felt like a letdown because the bad guys are still working and nothing has truly been solved or dealt with.

Another problem was the characters. Jason Bourne was difficult to sympathize with because he was more machine than human in his personality, but Aaron Cross is different, as he knows how to talk and interact with people. However, I did not like Cross as much because, to me, it seemed like his goal of maintaining his IQ was a selfish one because he had no intentions of revealing and putting an end to the corrupt politicians who used him for murder and other crimes. Rachel Weisz did a good job, but ultimately her character was not overly memorable. Edward Norton is a good actor, but I don't really recall anything special about his character Byer.

The stunts for this movie were only ok, which was a disappointment. To me, the stunts got better with each film with spectacular chase scenes and fight scenes, but this film did not ultimately have any memorable action scenes. The final chase in Manila seemed to be too similar to the chase in Tangiers in the 3rd Bourne movie, which made it a let-down and, in my opinion, not very good.

I had high expectations for this movie, but I found it to be a letdown. It was not very memorable and was a few steps down from the quality that I have found in the rest of the trilogy.

I give it two and a half stars out of five.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-man

Last night, I went out to see the new movie reboot of the "Spider-man" franchise.


The movie is basically a reboot of the series that Sam Raimi did only a few years ago. Peter Parker is an orphan, whose parents handed him over to his aunt and uncle when he was a child before they disappeared. After he finds a secret briefcase that used to belong to his father, Peter works with his father's former co-worker Dr. Curt Connors to make a serum that can enable humans to heal themselves. He is bitten by a spider and decides to use his abilities to hunt down the man who killed his uncle while at the same time he must manage his new relationship with classmate Gwen Stacy and Dr. Connors becoming an aggressive, giant lizard.

It is hard not to compare this reboot with Raimi's original series, but I came out of the theater liking Raimi's version better (generally, that is... there were certain things about his movies that I wasn't overly fond of, and I do not like "Spider-man 3"). One major problem is that the reboot came way too soon. Unfortunately, Hollywood is all the rave about superhero/ comic adaptations nowadays, which includes rebooting stuff that may or may not have been a failure in the first place. Hence, the movie, to me, felt like a comic book cash cow.

One of the major things that I did not like in this version were the characters. I had heard good things about Andrew Garfield's version of Peter Parker, but I personally was not very impressed. Garfield's version, to me, looked more like an emo, angsty teenager who walks around wearing a hoodie most of the time with occasional moments of his geek-ness and genius coming out. It didn't help that his character also was inconsistent; in his teenage form, he was quiet and generally not memorable but in his spider-man suit he turns cocky and sarcastic, which seem out-of-character for him. I was not overly fond of the new versions of Uncle Ben and Aunt May; neither of them had good chemistry with each other or with Garfield, and neither of them came across as being particularly encouraging to Peter or giving him good advice. This meant that I personally had little sympathy for them, especially during Uncle Ben's death scene. Gwen Stacy was not an overly memorable character either. I found her less annoying than Mary Jane from Raimi's adaptations, but she had no substance to her or anything that was particularly memorable. Dr. Curt Connors was not a very interesting villain either; in a rather bizarre twist with no explanation for it, he starts off as a guy that you like, someone who wants to help the human race, and then, after injecting himself with the serum, he becomes a madman who wants to turn everyone into giant lizards.

Another problem with the film was the plot. The movie was unevenly paced, and it took a while for the plot to get going; Peter didn't turn spider-man for a while, and Dr. Connors also got a late start in becoming the villain. The plot also was not organized very well in that it seemed to keep changing and that certain aspects were dropped. Peter dons his spider-man persona for the sole purpose of tracking down the man who shot his uncle, but he abruptly drops that to focus on dealing with Dr. Connors; instead of being a general crime-fighter, his focus is too narrow, and thus it doesn't make sense when certain city members decide to help Spider-man save the city because he honestly has not done much to help them in the first place. The whole villainous scheme for Connors to turn everyone into lizards I thought was a rather dumb idea and did not fit in with his character either. The romance between Peter and Gwen did not have much chemistry either, and it came across as being more of a teenage crush than anything else.

The effects and stunts were ok, though the effects definitely showed how much technology has changed in the last decade; they allowed for a grittier, darker feel in certain scenes. The stunts were very similar to what had been done in Raimi's versions, and so they were not overly spectacular or mind-blowing. Some of the stunts that Peter does while testing out his flexibility and new-found abilities were interesting. On a related note, I did like how Peter's transformation was done and how he struggled to get used to using his new abilities, which felt realistic and added some humor to the movie.

All in all, the movie was only ok. The characters were not memorable, and the plot was not very gripping. It could have been better, but instead it came across as a weak attempt at a reboot.

I give it two and a half stars out of five.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Movie Review: Underworld: Awakening

A little while back, I watched this film with my family after a recommendation from a friend.


This fourth installment of the popular vampire/ werewolf series "Underworld" starts off after the events of the second movie: "Underworld: Evolution." Humans have now discovered the existence of vampires and lycans and have begun waging an exterminating war against them. Selene wakes up twelve years later, having been cryogenically frozen, and escapes from the medical corporation Antigen that holds her. She makes contact with a young girl named Eve and, with the help of a vampire called David and a human detective called Sebastian, must rescue Eve from Antigen and uncover the sinister motives of Dr. Lane.

I was not overly optimistic about seeing the movie, given my feelings towards the third film and that the trailers did not look interesting to me. Unfortunately, the movie was indeed nothing special or worth remembering. Compared to the other three movies in the series, this one had a completely different feel to it. As my dad pointed out to me in a conversation after we watched the movie, there is no mythology or history attached to this movie; instead, you have more science and less of the mythology. The whole back stories with early vampires and early lycans have been told, leaving an uninteresting story that doesn't fit with the series.

A major problem with the movie was the entire plot. The whole idea of lycans trying to become immune to silver and growing to ginormous proportions was rather dumb; one would think that humans are the major villains of the story, especially given the first five minutes of the film or so. The reasoning for Eve's importance, how her DNA is important for making the lycan serum, didn't make sense either. Eve's origins were also left unexplained: was Selene pregnant when she was captured (which doesn't make sense because she was frozen for twelve years and wouldn't have been able to give birth) or was the girl born out of a test tube? Either way, it was not explained and thus didn't make much sense in the movie. Some aspects of the plot also seemed repetitive; for example, Selene bringing Eve to the vampire coven reminded me of her bringing Michael Corvin to the manor in the first "Underworld" movie.

The characters in the movie were not overly interesting either. It didn't help that Selene was the only familiar character and that Michael had a brief minute of screen time in the entire film. The new characters were dull and nothing interesting; at least the characters in the first film, despite not having much personality and being predictable, were at least interesting to watch, especially Lucian.

In the end, I wasn't expecting much from "Underworld: Awakening," and I didn't get much. The first two movies were good popcorn entertainment, but this one was not. I hope they either stop making more movies to milk the cash cow or that they get some better writers in there.

I give it one out of five stars.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Pixar List

In honor of Pixar's latest offering "Brave" being released this weekend, I'm going to take a look at all of what Pixar has done over the years.

"Toy Story"

This movie holds a special place in my heart because I recall seeing it in theater when I was probably around six years old, maybe a little older. The adventures of Woody, Buzz, and co. were a childhood favorite in my household, and the movie still remains entertaining to this day, with its witty dialogue and memorable characters.

"A Bug's Life"

This movie was another household favorite when I was younger. Inspired by the fable of the ant and the grasshopper, this story takes place among the world of insects. Dreamworks released "Antz" around the same time (which I also saw), but to me "A Bug's Life" was a far better film in regards to its plot and its characters.

"Toy Story 2"

Generally when a movie studio announces a sequel to an excellent film, doubts begin circulating as to whether or not the sequel will be as better than or equal to the original, and most of the time sequels fail in some way. Not so with Toy Story 2, a movie worthy of its predecessor. To this day, my favorite scene is the toys crossing the road inside traffic cones, which still makes me laugh.

"Monsters Inc"

In terms of Pixar movies, this one has the most fascinating twist in terms of the plot and world-building. Starting with the basic idea of monsters hiding in closets, Pixar writers showed off their genius by giving the monsters a reason to scare kids: for energy to power the monster world. The cast, especially John Goodman and Billy Crystal, were well-picked and definitely made the friendship between Sulley and Mike memorable, and the little girl Boo is definitely a scene-stealer. The effects for this movie are amazing, whether it be from the details on individual hairs moving on characters like Sulley or from the room where all the bedroom doors are kept. All in all, I've got to say that "Monsters Inc" is one of my favorite Pixar movies in terms of its screenplay, characters, and effects.

"Finding Nemo"

In this film, Pixar explored new boundaries in special effects by setting their story in the ocean, off of the coast of Australia. The effects for the coral reef, the movement of the water, and the movement of the fish were very well done, and it shows that the crew definitely did their home on researching the ocean. Even though the plot itself might be controversial among parents because of Nemo's statement "I hate you" to his father, it is an interesting concept: a father chasing his son from the reef to Sydney, Australia to get him back from a diver who "fish-napped" him. The dialogue was humorous, and all the characters are memorable and interact very well. In terms of the effects, this was another high for Pixar.

"The Incredibles"

This was the first Pixar film that did not have the involvement of Lasseter, Doctor, or Stanton, and it also turned out to be the first PG offering. However, "The Incredibles" proved to be a high for Pixar. Using humans for the main characters for the first time, Brad Bird paid homage to superhero films and James Bond by telling the story of a retired superhero who seizes a chance to get back into work, though he soon discovers that the threat is larger than he expected and that he can't do it alone. The writing is humorous, and the characters are memorable and interact well. This is another favorite Pixar movie of mine.


Up until this point, Pixar had proven itself to be head and shoulders above most other film studios, putting out family-friendly movies that were original, humorous, and heartwarming. For me, the trend went down a bit with "Cars." Don't get me wrong; "Cars" is not a bad movie, but it just was not up the same standards of other Pixar greats like "Monsters Inc" and "Finding Nemo." The story was one that has been used several times before: a hot-shot, arrogant person is somehow forced to stay in a small town for a few days and during the process learns humility and completely changes, except that cars were used instead of people. While the movie is still entertaining, it was not as good as earlier Pixar films.


After a slight slump with "Cars," Brad Bird shot Pixar back up with his new offering and reminded audiences why Pixar was so good. Using an original plot (I mean, who thinks up a story about a French rat who loves to cook food?), Bird used plenty of humor and good special effects to give us a very memorable movie. This is another one of my personal favorites from Pixar.


Unlike most of the other Pixar films, I never saw this one in theater because, even though the movie got good critical reviews, I heard mixed reviews from people I knew who saw it. Unfortunately, in my opinion "Wall-E" was a low point for Pixar and their first film that I was not fond of. The effects were good, and there were some redeeming moments, but ultimately I found that the whole environmental/ criticizing modern society message was too overhanded and that the characters and plot were not overly memorable. While the concept was good, I thought it was poorly executed.


After the disappointment of "Wall-E," I was pleasantly surprised by "Up." Even though "Up" is not one of Pixar's best, it still has plenty of redeeming qualities. The plot was fairly straightforward, but there were aspects of the movie that were either just a little strange or didn't really fit in, like the house being carried by balloons or the dogs with the collars that enable them to talk to humans. However, the film had several good aspects that I love about it. The relationship between Carl and Russell is cute and memorable (Russell is one of my favorite Pixar characters), and the talking dogs was entertaining in that the writers definitely got inside the mind of animals and how they think. The eight minutes or so that details Carl and Ellie's married life without the use of dialogue is one of Pixar's highlights, and it captures the love between the two, and the dialogue throughout the movie is also memorable and humorous. All in all "Up" was entertaining, though it was not as good as earlier Pixar films.

"Toy Story 3"

Again, like sequels, a third movie in a series gets people nervous about the quality. "Toy Story 3" was able to stand up to its two predecessors, though in my opinion it was not quite as good as them. The movie had its humorous moments, but at times it was a little intense or even meant for more mature audiences than for children. Not to mention that the plot and certain incidents were very similar to those used in "Toy Story 2," which made this film feel a little too derivative. Still, it provided a satisfactory conclusion to the story that started with "Toy Story."

"Cars 2"

I admit that this is the only Pixar full-length film that I have not seen and have no interest in seeing. When I saw trailers for this film, I was not very impressed and thought it looked like it was relying on stupid gags for humor, not using witty dialogue and such that has been used in previous Pixar films. After seeing a low score on (a site I frequent to see movie reviews and such, though I sometimes don't agree with their ratings), I was very disappointed to see a Pixar film fail so much.

Pixar has generally had a good run with their films, but in recent years it has made me wonder if the studio is running out of steam a bit. Ever since "Cars," their movies have been hit-or-miss or were entertaining though not as good as earlier films. It does make me wonder what will happen with "Brave" being released this weekend. Watching trailers and such, I have not been overly impressed with the plot, characters, or even the humor, which seems crude sometimes. Maybe the film will turn out better than I think it will, but I do hope that Pixar still has some life left in them before they go down the road of Disney studios: churning out crappy movies while leaving the audience to ooh and awe over the older films that were amazing.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

TV Show Review: Once upon a Time

Last fall, one of the new shows to premiere on ABC was "Once upon a Time." The show was centered on the following plot: a young woman Emma Swan (played by Jennifer Morrison, "House M.D.") is contacted by her son Henry, whom she gave up for adoption long ago. As Emma is drawn into Henry's town Storybrooke, her son tries to convince her that the entire town is made up of characters from fairy tales who were banished there long ago by an evil queen, whom he believes is his adopted mother Regina Mills. Each episode is formatted in a way that is similar to "Lost" (which, ironically, shares some of the same writers as "Once upon a Time"): half of the episode focuses on something that is going on in Storybrooke while the other half is a kind of flash-back to fairy-tale land and what happened to the central character(s) there. I watched the entire first season, but unfortunately I found the show to be quite a let-down from its interesting concept.


One of the main issues I have with the show is the entire plot, not just overlying arcs but also individual stories that pop up occasionally when a main arc is not being told. Concerning the overlying arcs, the pacing was not very good. The writers dragged certain arcs out (for example, David and Mary Margaret's affair and also Mary Margaret being accused of murdering David's wife Kathryn. Both of them, I thought, took way too long to tell their respective story). One of the plot arcs that took way too long to resolve and still has not been fully resolved is the whole Prince Charming and Snow White trying to be together; the season spent way too many episodes focusing on them and their pasts, and it could have been compressed into something shorter yet better instead of being drawn out into ridiculous episodes like "Heart of Darkness," or the writers could have explained more about some of the other situations like Rumplestiltskin and Baelfire's story, which was largely ignored most of the season. The pacing also showed its flaws in certain episodes like "Fruit of the Forbidden Tree," where it is revealed that Sidney is in an alliance with Regina to bring Emma down; this alliance is largely ignored for the rest of the season and only shows up one other time towards the end of the season when Emma realizes Sidney's true motives. Other story lines like Sidney's double-agent status are also introduced, forgotten most of the time, and then suddenly re-introduced for no good reason at all, such as Belle hiding underneath the hospital for most of the season, and other story lines are ended too suddenly with little resolution, such as Kathryn being found alive (even though Emma suspects Regina is behind it and believes Sidney is covering for her, we never got an explanation for what actually happened because the story line was abruptly dropped). Most of the stories in individual episodes also suffered from problems. Episodes like "Dreamy," "That Still Small Voice," and "Hat Trick" were boring and felt more like filler episodes than anything else. Especially as the season wore on, the episodes became more lackluster and less interesting than earlier ones. A final issue with the plot was certain story lines that had dumb resolutions, such as Snow White losing her memory and then getting her "good" self back after kissing Prince Charming or even Emma's kiss breaking the curse in Storybrooke; the resolutions could have been much better, but I think the writers took the easy way out.

The issues with the plot are not helped by the characters. Good, well-written, intriguing characters can make a convoluted story more bearable (like how I felt with "Lost"), but unfortunately this is not the case in "Once upon a Time." The overwhelming majority of the characters (both real world and fairy world) are flat and one-dimensional, having little personality and very few redeeming qualities. Regina Mills/ Evil Queen is meant to be evil, but she comes across as being more ridiculous, not creepy or overly memorable; even the episode "The Stable Boy," which was meant to portray her in a brighter light and to explain how she became evil, did nothing to change her flat character or redeem her. The only interesting character is Mr. Gold/ Rumplestiltskin, but I am not sure what the writers have in mind for him because they change him from villain to possible good guy so frequently.

Another major part of the show that could have been so much better was the whole re-telling of fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Beauty and the Beast, and Red Riding Hood. While some of them had interesting twists, like Rumplestiltskin being "the Beast," or tried to offer background for stories like "Pinocchio," most of the re-tellings were not ultimately very memorable or well-done; the only one I really liked was The Red Riding Hood one. While it was an interesting concept to combine fairy tales or to make them intermingle in some way, like the Evil Queen sending Hansel and Gretel to steal the poisonous apple, most of the time the attempts were shoddily put together with little explanation for them, like why Jiminy Cricket was somehow involved with Snow White and the dwarfs or why Belle was involved with the dwarfs. Another thing that did not make sense was including stories that were not directly connected to fairy tales, like the Mad Hatter and Wonderland or even the use of King Midas; the writers sort of explained this in an episode where one of the characters (I've forgotten which one) said that all stories are based on reality, on events that happen in multiple worlds, but I thought it was a poor explanation and didn't fit with the show's billing of being based on fairy tales.

"Once upon a Time" had good potential to be something new and fun, but unfortunately it fell flat. The plots were uninteresting and badly paced, the characters were flat and boring, and the re-tellings were sometimes confusing or just not memorable at all.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Movie Review: The Avengers

I generally don't go to the movie theater much, as it's too expensive and there's really not many good movies that are worth seeing nowadays. However, for my birthday, I went with my family and a small group of friends to see "The Avengers."


"The Avengers" takes place at some point after all the other movies (i.e. "The Hulk," "Iron Man," "Iron Man 2," "Thor," and "Captain America") have taken place. Thor's adopted brother Loki shows up at a S.H.I.E.L.D. base and steals the tesseract, also converting Erik Selvig and Hawkeye/ Clint Barton to serve him. Nick Fury then begins assembling Captain America, Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, and Black Widow to get the tesseract back. Thor ends up joining the team when he tries to convince Loki to stop his ambitions to rule over mankind. The Avengers team must learn to put up with each other and unite to bring down Loki and his alien army.

I must say that the movie was very, very enjoyable to watch. The characters were good and, generally speaking, portrayed very well. I'm still not fully into Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/ Hulk, and I wasn't overly impressed with the Black Widow's character either. I liked Hawkeye's brief cameo in "Thor," but he spent half of this movie as a bad guy and wasn't seen around much until the last battle in New York City. I did enjoy Chris Evans as Captain America, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, and Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man. What made the characters really memorable, to me, was their interactions with each other. The Avengers team all have their different personalities and abilities, which often set them at odds with each other but makes for good, realistic entertainment. Tom Hiddleston as Loki was also very good. Loki, since "Thor" the movie, has grown more darker and creepier, and the actor does an excellent job of pulling off a good, worthy villain.

The plot itself was good and pretty easy to follow, though I'm still trying to figure out Loki's motivations for his captivity (I'll probably understand it after a second viewing of the film or if I watch the movie with captions- I'm a bit shameful about my use of captions). Joss Whedon did an excellent job of making the film darker than "Iron Man" and "Thor" but adding plenty of humor to lighten it. Even though I'm only familiar with Whedon's work on "Firefly" and "Serenity," he has a good sense of humor and did an excellent job on directing as well as writing the screenplay. The visual effects were also very good, and plus, you get to see New York City destroyed for the billionth time in cinema history.

In conclusion, the movie was very enjoyable and definitely worth seeing in theater. I saw it a few days ago and am already itching to see it again. I will say, though, the plot and characters are easier to understand if you see the Avengers set-up movies like "Thor," "Captain America," "Hulk," and "Iron Man" ("Iron Man 2" didn't really add much to the story, except for the introduction of Black Widow, but that was about it). So, if you're a big Marvel fan or just looking for an enjoyable action-adventure movie, this one is for you.

I give the movie four out of a half stars.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Movie Review: The Hunger Games

I apologize for the lack of posts, but things have been dry writing-wise around here. Anyway... recently, I saw went and saw "The Hunger Games" with a friend, even though I'd never read the books before. I will give a review, but I also will talk about some issues concerning the books and movie that have been rather controversial in certain circles.


Set in a post-apocalyptic and dystopian North America in the future, the country of Panem (Latin word for "bread") is living under a totalitarian system. The Capitol controls the twelve districts with an iron fist, every year requiring each district to offer two tributes (one male, one female) between the ages of twelve and eighteen to fight in the annual "Hunger Games," a fight to the death among the children that is viewed as entertainment in the Capitol. The protagonist Katniss Everdeen, played by Jennifer Lawrence, is living in poverty and struggles to keep her family from starving. When her little sister Primrose is chosen to be tribute, Katniss makes the brave sacrifice of taking her sister's place in the annual games, and she is joined by Peeta Mallark, a boy who once gave her bread. Katniss goes to the Capitol, where she is trained, witnesses the decadent lifestyle of the residents there, and must make herself appealing to the audience so that she can get sponsors for when the game happens. Finally, the day comes when Katniss and Peeta must go into the arena and fight for their lives.

I thought the movie was very well done. The acting was good, and the characters were memorable. Jennifer Lawrence was very convincing as Katniss Everdeen in showing her bravery and yet sometimes showing off her vulnerability. I liked her interactions with Gale, and I admit I wasn't quite bought with her whole relationship with Peeta (though as I understand it, her feelings were not entirely genuine because she was trying to save his life), though I may change my mind with a second viewing of the movie. The plot itself was easy to follow and understand, especially given the fact that the film is based off a book in the first-person perspective. There were, however, a few short scenes that were a bit tricky to understand, but I think if I read the books I might understand them and their placement a bit better.

Now a few warnings for interested moviegoers. First, be prepared to cry. I got teary-eyed in a few scenes, and in one of them my eyes were so blurry that I couldn't even see the movie screen. And I generally don't cry a lot in movies, but it ultimately depends on the moviegoer. Second, if movies with a lot of jolting, frenzied scenes cause seizures, migraines, or anything like that in you, I would hold back on seeing it on the big screen. There are a few scenes that are blurry, very fast-paced, and, I admit, a bit tricky to watch on the big screen. If this is a problem for you, wait until the movie comes out on DVD and see it then.

Now to talk about the violence in the film. As I understand it, the books were violent, but the movie actually tones it down. A good percentage of the violence was done off-screen, which I personally liked because it left such things up to the imagination and also because it increased the shock value. However, even though most of the violence is not shown, I would be very cautious in showing it to children and younger teens. The movie is very intense, largely because of its premise of kids killing each other, and I would leave it up to parents to decide whether or not to let their children see it because the story is not for the faint of heart.

"The Hunger Games" series and the movie recently have come under fire for its violence and for the fact that the series is targeted towards teenagers. However, I disagree with the view that the story glorifies violence. If that were the case, I believe the movie would have been more violent and Katniss would have actually killed people and not acted only in self-defense. Instead, watching the movie, I found themes of government control, a decadent culture centered around personal entertainment, sacrifice, and even regard for life.

In the end, I really enjoyed "The Hunger Games" and am looking forward to seeing it again. I am also hoping to start reading the book series very soon.

I give it four and a half stars.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Movie Review: Contagion

Last weekend, my mom, who is the resident science expert in the house, and myself decided to watch this thriller.


"Contagion" takes place over a period of a few months in the world. It begins with Gwyneth Paltrov's character Beth Emhoff returning home from a trip to Hong Kong... and bringing with her an unknown illness. Beth and her son both succumb to the disease quickly, leaving behind Beth's husband Mitch (played by Matt Damon) and their daughter. The CDC and WHO, meanwhile, are realizing what is going on and that they have a potential epidemic on their hands. The CDC works to calm the frightened population down, impose quarantine on certain cities, and try to find a cure for the disease while the WHO sends Dr. Orantes (played by Marion Cotillard) to track down the disease's origin. As things degenerate into chaos, a conspiracy theorist blogger Alan Krumwiede (played by Jude Law) claims that the CDC and government are conspiring and that the cure for the disease is a homeopathic remedy called forsythia.

Despite the movie having several characters and several plots going on at the same time, the movie made sense and was not confusing. The plot was set at a good pace and kept you engaged, wondering what was going to happen next. I thought, however, that the movie tied up a little too nicely and that everything seemed to be resolved too quickly given the tense situation with the epidemic and the time-frame of its spread. Some of the characters might not have been entirely memorable, but I thought the actors nonetheless did a decent job.

One big issue I had with the film was its propaganda. It was pro-government control in how the CDC and WHO were portrayed (except towards the end when Dr. Orantes learns that they tricked a village of Chinese people), and it was pro-vaccines, which I have personal issue with. Another issue is the portrayal of Jude Law's character, that people who are anti-vaccines and pro-homeopathic remedies are scumbags looking to make money off of desperate people. Even though I am certain there are people like Krumwiede out there, I took personal offense because I far prefer homeopathic remedies over what are generally considered to be safe cures for diseases and I'm generally skeptical of the medical industry to begin with.

Despite its faults, "Contagion" was a genuinely entertaining movie. Not amazing or something to watch over and over again, but definitely something to watch every once in a while for a good thriller about an epidemic.

I give it four out of five stars.