Amazing Moving Pictures
Mary and Max
Directed by: Adam Elliot
Written by: Adam Elliot
Year: 2009
Running time: 92 minutes
Rating: NR

In the year 1976, Mary Daisy Dinkle (Toni Collette) is an 8-year-old from Australia. She is poor, awkward, and unattractive. By pure chance, she finds a pen pal in Max Horowitz (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a New Yorker with Asperger syndrome. Over the years, they bond over their mutual unpopularity and love of chocolate.
The film is one of the darker comedies I can think of, with the humor doing little to relieve the bleakness of the story. That being said, the movie isn’t all sad, and there are many funny or uplifting moments. I ended up feeling shaken, but overall happy by the time the conclusion rolled around.
The main problem with the plot is that it often seems driven by coincidences, and implausible ones at that. There are many plot points that are rather hard to swallow. That best parts, by far, are the exchanges between the titular characters, which provide poignant and hilarious insights into their psyches.
The animation is great, and even breathtaking at times. The claymated characters are really well done, but it’s ultimately the incredibly detailed sets that steal the show.

    
Overall: Depressing, but worthwhile.

Mary and Max

Directed by: Adam Elliot

Written by: Adam Elliot

Year: 2009

Running time: 92 minutes

Rating: NR

In the year 1976, Mary Daisy Dinkle (Toni Collette) is an 8-year-old from Australia. She is poor, awkward, and unattractive. By pure chance, she finds a pen pal in Max Horowitz (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a New Yorker with Asperger syndrome. Over the years, they bond over their mutual unpopularity and love of chocolate.

The film is one of the darker comedies I can think of, with the humor doing little to relieve the bleakness of the story. That being said, the movie isn’t all sad, and there are many funny or uplifting moments. I ended up feeling shaken, but overall happy by the time the conclusion rolled around.

The main problem with the plot is that it often seems driven by coincidences, and implausible ones at that. There are many plot points that are rather hard to swallow. That best parts, by far, are the exchanges between the titular characters, which provide poignant and hilarious insights into their psyches.

The animation is great, and even breathtaking at times. The claymated characters are really well done, but it’s ultimately the incredibly detailed sets that steal the show.

Overall: Depressing, but worthwhile.

Notice

My opinions on several of the films I’ve reviewed have changed over time, so please take these entries with a grain of salt. Thank you!

-Ben

Ben reviews Django
Directed by: Sergio Corbucci
Written by: Sergio Corbucci, Bruno Corbucci
Year: 1966
Running time: 92 minutes
Rating: UR

One day in the old west, a sex slave (Loredana Nusciak) is rescued by a mysterious gunman named Django (Franco Nero). She follows him into town, where it soon becomes apparent that he has a plan involving Jackson (Eduardo Fajardo) and Hugo (José Bódalo), the region’s rival warlords.
Django is one of the most influential westerns of all time, and has been hailed as a classic of the genre. It’s clear why. Despite a slow opening and weak climax (which I will discuss in the spoilers section), the film is a tense action-thriller that measures up to contemporary westerns.
The violence is high, but it doesn’t feel forced (although Django’s godlike gun skills are a touch goofy). The graphic fights convey great atmosphere and help round out our villains.
The cinematography is quite good, and the pacing is perfect for the most part. It’s just a shame the romantic subplot feels so tacked on.

Overall: While the first and third acts are a bit rough around the edges, most of this movie is a pitch-perfect thriller. A must see for fans of westerns or heist movies.

Spoilers: The best scene of the movie comes when Hugo’s men break Django’s hands. In the space of a few minutes, Django loses his gold, his love, and his greatest weapon. It’s so stark because, up until this point, Django is portrayed as an unstoppable badass who’s always in control of the situation. The sudden reversal of fortune is executed flawlessly, and leaves a big impression on both the characters and the audience. 

Ben reviews Django

Directed by: Sergio Corbucci

Written by: Sergio Corbucci, Bruno Corbucci

Year: 1966

Running time: 92 minutes

Rating: UR

One day in the old west, a sex slave (Loredana Nusciak) is rescued by a mysterious gunman named Django (Franco Nero). She follows him into town, where it soon becomes apparent that he has a plan involving Jackson (Eduardo Fajardo) and Hugo (José Bódalo), the region’s rival warlords.

Django is one of the most influential westerns of all time, and has been hailed as a classic of the genre. It’s clear why. Despite a slow opening and weak climax (which I will discuss in the spoilers section), the film is a tense action-thriller that measures up to contemporary westerns.

The violence is high, but it doesn’t feel forced (although Django’s godlike gun skills are a touch goofy). The graphic fights convey great atmosphere and help round out our villains.

The cinematography is quite good, and the pacing is perfect for the most part. It’s just a shame the romantic subplot feels so tacked on.

Overall: While the first and third acts are a bit rough around the edges, most of this movie is a pitch-perfect thriller. A must see for fans of westerns or heist movies.

Spoilers: The best scene of the movie comes when Hugo’s men break Django’s hands. In the space of a few minutes, Django loses his gold, his love, and his greatest weapon. It’s so stark because, up until this point, Django is portrayed as an unstoppable badass who’s always in control of the situation. The sudden reversal of fortune is executed flawlessly, and leaves a big impression on both the characters and the audience. 

Ben reviews 47 Ronin
Directed by: Carl Rinsch
Written by: Chris Morgan, Hossein Amini, Walter Hamada
Year: 2013
Running time: 119 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Vaguely inspired by: The Forty-Seven Ronin (folk tale / real life)

Yes, I’m back! You can all stop holding your breath. I know my absence was sorely missed.
Yeah, probably not.
It took another bad idea of Patrick’s to spur me into reactivating this dusty old blog. My god, someone has to review 47 Ronin. Even though many people already have. Whatever.
What’s it about, you may ask? Who cares! You, probably! But you shouldn’t. This is, by far, the most unspectacular film I’ve seen in my entire life. Not good enough to not be bad, but not bad enough to be really bad.
Basically, it’s about a bunch of samurai in feudal Japan. Their boss, the wise and archetypal lord Asano (Min Tanaka), is framed for attempted murder by rival lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano) and his witch friend (Rinko Kikuchi). After Asano is put to death for his crimes, his old friend Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada) vows vengeance.
You may have noticed that I did not mention Keanu Reeves. That’s because, in the grand scheme of things, he isn’t even the protagonist. Odd, right? That doesn’t mean it’s okay to just randomly make the one white character in this movie the center of the entire marketing campaign. But I digress *coughrascismcough*.
47 Ronin is minimal effort in the form of a movie. The writing is beyond simple. The editing is basic, and too choppy during the fight scenes. The acting is good, but held back by the writing.
The story is a mess of loose ends, nonexistent character development, and clichés. This is actually worse than After Earth, if you can believe that.
In fact, it feels like this was edited down from a film about twice as long. If there exists some three and a half hour version of this film, it actually might work.

Verdict: I can’t feel things anymore.
 

Alternative: 13 Assassins, a far superior feudal Japanese revenge film.

Ben reviews 47 Ronin

Directed by: Carl Rinsch

Written by: Chris Morgan, Hossein Amini, Walter Hamada

Year: 2013

Running time: 119 minutes

Rating: PG-13

Vaguely inspired by: The Forty-Seven Ronin (folk tale / real life)

Yes, I’m back! You can all stop holding your breath. I know my absence was sorely missed.

Yeah, probably not.

It took another bad idea of Patrick’s to spur me into reactivating this dusty old blog. My god, someone has to review 47 Ronin. Even though many people already have. Whatever.

What’s it about, you may ask? Who cares! You, probably! But you shouldn’t. This is, by far, the most unspectacular film I’ve seen in my entire life. Not good enough to not be bad, but not bad enough to be really bad.

Basically, it’s about a bunch of samurai in feudal Japan. Their boss, the wise and archetypal lord Asano (Min Tanaka), is framed for attempted murder by rival lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano) and his witch friend (Rinko Kikuchi). After Asano is put to death for his crimes, his old friend Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada) vows vengeance.

You may have noticed that I did not mention Keanu Reeves. That’s because, in the grand scheme of things, he isn’t even the protagonist. Odd, right? That doesn’t mean it’s okay to just randomly make the one white character in this movie the center of the entire marketing campaign. But I digress *coughrascismcough*.

47 Ronin is minimal effort in the form of a movie. The writing is beyond simple. The editing is basic, and too choppy during the fight scenes. The acting is good, but held back by the writing.

The story is a mess of loose ends, nonexistent character development, and clichés. This is actually worse than After Earth, if you can believe that.

In fact, it feels like this was edited down from a film about twice as long. If there exists some three and a half hour version of this film, it actually might work.

Verdict: I can’t feel things anymore.

 

Alternative: 13 Assassins, a far superior feudal Japanese revenge film.

Ben reviews The Riddick Trilogy
Created by: David Twohy
 
This cult sci-fi series stars Vin Diesel as Richard B. Riddick, an escaped convict who flees across the galaxy from the long arm of the law. Each film has a mostly self-contained story, and details a particular episode in Riddick’s life.
 
 
Pitch Black
Directed by: David Twohy
Written by: Jim Wheat, Ken Wheat, David Twohy
Year: 2000
Running time: 109 minutes
Rating: R
Riddick has been captured by his longtime rival William Johns (Cole Hauser). However, while traveling to prison, the pair crash lands on an uninhabited planet. They must band together with the other survivors in order to escape the sunbaked world before they are killed by savage wildlife.
The first film in the series is a good example of low-budget sci-fi. You’ve got twelve stranded survivors who you just know are going to get picked off one-by-one by some danger. It’s not bad, but it’s hardly great either, suffering from an overuse of clichés and some lapses in logic.
 
 
The Chronicles of Riddick
Directed by: David Twohy
Written by: David Twohy
Year: 2004
Running time: 119 Minutes
Rating: PG-13
Years after Pitch Black, Riddick is again on the run from the law. However, the universe is a different place, as the vicious armies of the Nercromongers are spreading from planet to planet. Riddick is recruited by an old friend to deal with the menace.
This movie is the odd one out. While Pitch Black and Riddick are closer to “space horror” films, this one has a grand, epic feel to it. It’s massive in scope, with battle scenes between warring factions instead of the humans vs aliens vs Riddick fights of the other two.
While the effects aren’t spectacular, the scenery is diverse and detailed, making each planet stand out as a unique setting. The action scenes are fun enough to retain interest. The movie’s biggest problem is that it feels too big for its running time. The backstories of the different races involved in the cosmic conflict are hardly explained at all, and the central conflict feels too big for only two hours of film.
Also, the camera angles are often tilted for no discernable reason.
 
 
Riddick
Directed by: David Twohy
Written by: David Twohy
Year: 2013
Running time: 119 minutes
Rating: R
This movie resolves the ending of The Chronicles of Riddick rather quickly and introduces a new story. Riddick, now stranded on a distant world, hatches a plan to steal a ship and escape. The only problem is that he must use himself as bait in order to lure some greedy bounty hunters.
While the bigger budget is a promising sign for this movie, it’s in many ways the weakest of the trilogy. It starts off as a unique and interesting tale of wilderness survival, but the plot is whittled down until the second half, by which point the movie seems like a retread of Pitch Black.
While there are some great cat-and-mouse moments in the film, most of the characters aren’t interesting enough to make the audience care. Speaking of characters, the less said about Dahl (Katee Sackhoff), the better. I’ll put it this way: I doubt this movie is going to do well with the feminist crowd.
 


Overall: While none of these films are anything more than good, they do occupy a unique enough position in the cinematic world to justify their existence. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter what order you watch them in, or even if you watch more than one. Just know that each film ruins the ending of the previous one.

Ben reviews The Riddick Trilogy

Created by: David Twohy

 

This cult sci-fi series stars Vin Diesel as Richard B. Riddick, an escaped convict who flees across the galaxy from the long arm of the law. Each film has a mostly self-contained story, and details a particular episode in Riddick’s life.

 

 

Pitch Black

Directed by: David Twohy

Written by: Jim Wheat, Ken Wheat, David Twohy

Year: 2000

Running time: 109 minutes

Rating: R

Riddick has been captured by his longtime rival William Johns (Cole Hauser). However, while traveling to prison, the pair crash lands on an uninhabited planet. They must band together with the other survivors in order to escape the sunbaked world before they are killed by savage wildlife.

The first film in the series is a good example of low-budget sci-fi. You’ve got twelve stranded survivors who you just know are going to get picked off one-by-one by some danger. It’s not bad, but it’s hardly great either, suffering from an overuse of clichés and some lapses in logic.

 

 

The Chronicles of Riddick

Directed by: David Twohy

Written by: David Twohy

Year: 2004

Running time: 119 Minutes

Rating: PG-13

Years after Pitch Black, Riddick is again on the run from the law. However, the universe is a different place, as the vicious armies of the Nercromongers are spreading from planet to planet. Riddick is recruited by an old friend to deal with the menace.

This movie is the odd one out. While Pitch Black and Riddick are closer to “space horror” films, this one has a grand, epic feel to it. It’s massive in scope, with battle scenes between warring factions instead of the humans vs aliens vs Riddick fights of the other two.

While the effects aren’t spectacular, the scenery is diverse and detailed, making each planet stand out as a unique setting. The action scenes are fun enough to retain interest. The movie’s biggest problem is that it feels too big for its running time. The backstories of the different races involved in the cosmic conflict are hardly explained at all, and the central conflict feels too big for only two hours of film.

Also, the camera angles are often tilted for no discernable reason.

 

 

Riddick

Directed by: David Twohy

Written by: David Twohy

Year: 2013

Running time: 119 minutes

Rating: R

This movie resolves the ending of The Chronicles of Riddick rather quickly and introduces a new story. Riddick, now stranded on a distant world, hatches a plan to steal a ship and escape. The only problem is that he must use himself as bait in order to lure some greedy bounty hunters.

While the bigger budget is a promising sign for this movie, it’s in many ways the weakest of the trilogy. It starts off as a unique and interesting tale of wilderness survival, but the plot is whittled down until the second half, by which point the movie seems like a retread of Pitch Black.

While there are some great cat-and-mouse moments in the film, most of the characters aren’t interesting enough to make the audience care. Speaking of characters, the less said about Dahl (Katee Sackhoff), the better. I’ll put it this way: I doubt this movie is going to do well with the feminist crowd.

 

Overall: While none of these films are anything more than good, they do occupy a unique enough position in the cinematic world to justify their existence. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter what order you watch them in, or even if you watch more than one. Just know that each film ruins the ending of the previous one.

Ben reviews Sherlock, Jr.
Directed by: Buster Keaton
Written by: Jean C. Havez, Joseph A. Mitchell, Clyde Bruckman
Year: 1924
Running time: 45 minutes
Rating: UR

Watching Sherlock, Jr. has been one of those very rare experiences that I have come away with feeling that I have just watched one of favorite movies for the first time. I saw this movie less than an hour ago (at the time of writing), and I’m still enthralled by how great it was!
A young movie theater projectionist (Buster Keaton) wants desperately to become a detective, but finds himself stuck in a dead end job with a crush on a local girl (Kathryn McGuire). With a mere 45 minutes, this simple setup proves enough to leave a lasting impression. This movie has energy, surrealism, thrills, and most of all, humor in spades. It’s hard to talk about much without ruining some of the great moments, but trust me when I say that I loved ingenious moment.
If I had one complaint, it would be that I have mixed feeling about the soundtrack by the Club Foot Orchestra. On one hand, it’s odd for a silent film to be rescored with more modern instruments, but on the other hand, there’s really no reason not to. Ultimately, the score works in some parts and doesn’t in others, and either way, that does not affect my review of the original movie.

    
Overall: I consider this film proof that you don’t need sound – or a 90-minute running time – to create a brilliant and hilarious work of art.

Ben reviews Sherlock, Jr.

Directed by: Buster Keaton

Written by: Jean C. Havez, Joseph A. Mitchell, Clyde Bruckman

Year: 1924

Running time: 45 minutes

Rating: UR

Watching Sherlock, Jr. has been one of those very rare experiences that I have come away with feeling that I have just watched one of favorite movies for the first time. I saw this movie less than an hour ago (at the time of writing), and I’m still enthralled by how great it was!

A young movie theater projectionist (Buster Keaton) wants desperately to become a detective, but finds himself stuck in a dead end job with a crush on a local girl (Kathryn McGuire). With a mere 45 minutes, this simple setup proves enough to leave a lasting impression. This movie has energy, surrealism, thrills, and most of all, humor in spades. It’s hard to talk about much without ruining some of the great moments, but trust me when I say that I loved ingenious moment.

If I had one complaint, it would be that I have mixed feeling about the soundtrack by the Club Foot Orchestra. On one hand, it’s odd for a silent film to be rescored with more modern instruments, but on the other hand, there’s really no reason not to. Ultimately, the score works in some parts and doesn’t in others, and either way, that does not affect my review of the original movie.

Overall: I consider this film proof that you don’t need sound – or a 90-minute running time – to create a brilliant and hilarious work of art.

Ben reviews Chinatown
Directed by: Roman Polanski
Written by: Robert Towne
Year: 1974
Running time: 130 minutes
Rating: R

Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is an expert private investigator in 1930’s Los Angeles. After being hired by Evelyn Mulwray (Diane Ladd), he discovers that her husband (Darrell Zwerling) is having an affair. However, not is all as it seems, as it soon comes to light that Evelyn is an imposter. Jake sets out to find out who would dupe him, and why.
This movie is a classic of film noire. While its visual style is more warm and dry than most of its fellow films, it manages to capture the characters and feel of the genre to a “t”. The mystery, while predictable to a certain extent, is not the great pull of the movie. The acting and atmosphere (enhanced by a great score) are really what makes this picture shine above the rest.
That being said, the slow pacing and odd twists may be off-putting for some viewers.

    
Overall: It’s deliberately paced, but it creates a world of fascinating characters that’s worth delving into.

Ben reviews Chinatown

Directed by: Roman Polanski

Written by: Robert Towne

Year: 1974

Running time: 130 minutes

Rating: R

Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is an expert private investigator in 1930’s Los Angeles. After being hired by Evelyn Mulwray (Diane Ladd), he discovers that her husband (Darrell Zwerling) is having an affair. However, not is all as it seems, as it soon comes to light that Evelyn is an imposter. Jake sets out to find out who would dupe him, and why.

This movie is a classic of film noire. While its visual style is more warm and dry than most of its fellow films, it manages to capture the characters and feel of the genre to a “t”. The mystery, while predictable to a certain extent, is not the great pull of the movie. The acting and atmosphere (enhanced by a great score) are really what makes this picture shine above the rest.

That being said, the slow pacing and odd twists may be off-putting for some viewers.

Overall: It’s deliberately paced, but it creates a world of fascinating characters that’s worth delving into.

Ben reviews Blancanieves
Directed by: Pablo Berger
Written by: Pablo Berger
Year: 2012
Running time: 104 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Based on: Snow White (folk tale)

After a famous bullfighter (Daniel Giménez Cacho) is mauled at a stadium and his wife (Inma Cuesta) dies, he retreats into solitude and despondency. However, in doing so, he abandons his young daughter Carmencita (Sofía Oria) to the wily machinations her evil stepmother, Encarna (Maribel Verdú).
This brilliant film deftly incorporates elements of both dark and light, both enchanting and disturbing the viewer with its fairy tale sensibilities. It’s hard not to become captivated by the tale of Carmencita, who is a likeable, well-acted character. The film’s sweeping scope tells a story spread out over decades, though it never seems rushed. My only major complaint with the story is the ending, which I felt was perhaps unnecessarily cruel towards a certain character.
The fact that the movie is silent was a strange decision by the director, but it never detracts from the overall experience. If anything, it enhances it by letting the audience focus on the magnificent score by Alfonso de Vilallonga. The score is pitch perfect for every scene, bringing the viewers to heights of joy and pits of despair.

    
Overall: While the conclusion left a foul taste in my mouth, this movie is overall a triumph, and well worth watching.

Ben reviews Blancanieves

Directed by: Pablo Berger

Written by: Pablo Berger

Year: 2012

Running time: 104 minutes

Rating: PG-13

Based on: Snow White (folk tale)

After a famous bullfighter (Daniel Giménez Cacho) is mauled at a stadium and his wife (Inma Cuesta) dies, he retreats into solitude and despondency. However, in doing so, he abandons his young daughter Carmencita (Sofía Oria) to the wily machinations her evil stepmother, Encarna (Maribel Verdú).

This brilliant film deftly incorporates elements of both dark and light, both enchanting and disturbing the viewer with its fairy tale sensibilities. It’s hard not to become captivated by the tale of Carmencita, who is a likeable, well-acted character. The film’s sweeping scope tells a story spread out over decades, though it never seems rushed. My only major complaint with the story is the ending, which I felt was perhaps unnecessarily cruel towards a certain character.

The fact that the movie is silent was a strange decision by the director, but it never detracts from the overall experience. If anything, it enhances it by letting the audience focus on the magnificent score by Alfonso de Vilallonga. The score is pitch perfect for every scene, bringing the viewers to heights of joy and pits of despair.

Overall: While the conclusion left a foul taste in my mouth, this movie is overall a triumph, and well worth watching.

End of Watch
Directed by: Michael Ayer
Written by: Michael Ayer
Year: 2012
Running time: 110 minutes
Rating: R

Reviewed by: Chloe

Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena star as two LAPD officers who work in South Central Los Angeles, which is typically an area known for violence and gang-related activity.  Officer Taylor (Gyllenhaal) and Officer Zavala (Pena) are both work partners and best friends and they try to protect their city even, although as stated in the beginning of the film, they don’t necessarily agree with the laws.
End of Watch is different from other cop films in the way that the characters break the fourth wall regularly. At the start of the movie, Officer Taylor is holding up a camera and tells his fellow cops that, as part of an assignment for a filmmaking class he’s taking, he has to record the events of his life. So anything that happens on screen is supposed to be captured on one of Taylor’s cameras. Although the film is not always consistent in keeping with the limited scope of Taylor’s small camera devices, the tone of gritty realism is done beautifully.
The very best part of End of Watch is the performances. Gyllenhaal and Pena have completely immersed themselves inside of their characters and by the end, it’s akin to watching a home video of two good friends. Natalia Martinez and Anna Kendrick, who play the love interests of the two protagonists, are both very funny and believable. To me, all of the characters from the police officers to the gang members were fleshed out and given a good deal of development from start to finish.

    
Verdict: End of Watch captures the police force and gangs with nuance and maturity. This is a great film to watch even if you typically don’t enjoy cop/gang movies.

End of Watch

Directed by: Michael Ayer

Written by: Michael Ayer

Year: 2012

Running time: 110 minutes

Rating: R

Reviewed by: Chloe

Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena star as two LAPD officers who work in South Central Los Angeles, which is typically an area known for violence and gang-related activity.  Officer Taylor (Gyllenhaal) and Officer Zavala (Pena) are both work partners and best friends and they try to protect their city even, although as stated in the beginning of the film, they don’t necessarily agree with the laws.

End of Watch is different from other cop films in the way that the characters break the fourth wall regularly. At the start of the movie, Officer Taylor is holding up a camera and tells his fellow cops that, as part of an assignment for a filmmaking class he’s taking, he has to record the events of his life. So anything that happens on screen is supposed to be captured on one of Taylor’s cameras. Although the film is not always consistent in keeping with the limited scope of Taylor’s small camera devices, the tone of gritty realism is done beautifully.

The very best part of End of Watch is the performances. Gyllenhaal and Pena have completely immersed themselves inside of their characters and by the end, it’s akin to watching a home video of two good friends. Natalia Martinez and Anna Kendrick, who play the love interests of the two protagonists, are both very funny and believable. To me, all of the characters from the police officers to the gang members were fleshed out and given a good deal of development from start to finish.

Verdict: End of Watch captures the police force and gangs with nuance and maturity. This is a great film to watch even if you typically don’t enjoy cop/gang movies.

Expanding the team

Starting today, I (that is, Ben), will no longer be working on this blog solo. It is my pleasure to welcome Chloe as the second contributor to Amazing Moving Pictures! Her non-movie tumblr can be found at “stephaniesays-feminism.tumblr.com”. Look out for reviews, previews, and general musings from both of us in the coming days.