Life of Pi

Life of Pi
Starring Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan and Rafe Spall
Directed by Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain)
Rated PG for emotional thematic content throughout, and some scary action sequences and peril

    Based on the much loved novel by Yann Martel, Life of Pi tells the story of a young boy with an usual life story.  Literally raised in a zoo, Pi’s family in India decides to sell their animals to a zoo in Canada and on the boat journey there, Pi becomes the sole human survivor as he escapes on a life raft after a deadly storm.  Soon to find out that also on the lifeboat is a ferocious tiger, Pi must find a way to not only survive his new boat mate, but also survive months lost at sea. 

    From frame one, you can tell that this isn’t an ordinary film.  So much of this movie passes for the surreal.  The images are extraordinarily beautiful and in 3D it’s hard not to just sit back and meditate on the fact that you are in movie heaven.  So many movies made today might offer a 3D gimmick, but there is no gimmick here.  This is one of the most impressive 3D offerings to date and exactly the kind of movie worth paying the extra dollars for the glasses. 

    Perhaps what is most impressive about Life of Pi is the vision of Oscar winning director Ang Lee and Oscar nominated cinematographer Claudio Miranda.  Apparently I’m one of the few folks out there that hasn’t read the book, but I can’t imagine a description this vivid on paper.  This is the work of brilliant people that know exactly how to deliver the images in their heads onto the screen.  Of course it takes the special effects wizardry offered today to create this vision.  After all, the CG tiger couldn’t have looked this real a few years ago and there’s absolutely no way to make this movie with a real beast, so it helps to make a film after finally having the technology to do so. 

    As for the story, I found every minute to be exhilarating.  If you think a two hour movie about a boy and a tiger floating on the ocean can’t be exciting, you simply must see it to believe.  The way the story is told, you feel almost every emotion felt by the young man at sea.  Had they made Pi and the tiger friends, the picture wouldn’t be half as strong, but here when Pi is fearful for his life, you become fearful also. I bit my fingernails down to nubs and found myself squirming in my seat wondering how Pi was going to stay alive while constantly thinking “so better him than me.” 

    All of the production team and cast deserve a lot of credit here.  Producing this kind of art takes an army, and for this project the right army was assembled.  From the beautiful and intimate score by Mychael Danna, to the inspired production design by David Gropman, to the pitch perfect performances by Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Patel and others, this movie is one of those rare films that brings its audience a mesmerizing experience rather than just a couple of hours of entertainment.  A+

New in Home Entertainment – November 27, 2012

New in Home Entertainment

November 27, 2012

Rated PG for scary action and images, thematic elements, some rude humor and language
Available on Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray and DVD

Universal Studio’s latest stop-motion animated pic follows a boy named Norman who is treated like an outsider from everyone around him including his family, simply because he can see and talk to dead people.  But when an ancient curse on his town is unleashed, Norman gets the chance to prove himself to everyone as he attempts to set things right.  Just like Universal’s last stop-motion animated pic Coraline, as well as Disney’s A Nightmare Before Christmas, ParaNorman is a dark little film that’s not for everyone.  It is uniquely creative and surprisingly fun to watch, but perhaps not the best film for all kids.  That being said, my two-and-a-half year old loved it and was glued to the screen.  As far as originality, the animation is original but the story feels a bit tried.  But then again, the film’s audience will no doubt still enjoy it regardless of not being able to understand or appreciate many of the references.  B+

Rated R for strong bloody violence, language and some sexuality/nudity
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Director John Hillcoat blew me away with his last two films The Proposition and The Road, so I was so excited to see his new vision of prohibition America as three brothers in Franklin County, Virginia attempt to fight off the feds and local law enforcement and defend their right to illegally make booze.  Tom Hardy was perfect as the tough-as-nails Forrest, but Shia LaBeouf felt horribly miscast as the youngest and most trouble-making brother Jack.  And to add injury to insult, the usually brilliant Guy Pearce was way too over-the-top to be believed in this historical drama.  I also loved Gary Oldman’s gangster villain, but unfortunately he’s not seen enough to make a difference.  C+

Men in Black 3
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, and brief suggestive content
Available on Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray and DVD

When Men in Black came out in 1997 it showed promise of a great franchise.  But then Men in Black 2 came around five years later to ruin everything.  Now, fifteen years since the original, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones are back as the secret G-men who regulate extra-terrestrials on Earth.  When the most horrible villain imaginable breaks out of his moon base prison, he goes back in time to kill Agent K (Jones), the man who put him in prison, and it is up to Agent J (Smith) to go back and work with the young Agent K (Josh Brolin) to prevent both his partner’s demise as well as the destruction of Earth.  The plot is much stronger than expected, although there are some major holes, and the story is a lot of fun to watch unfold.  I especially loved Brolin as the young Tommy Lee Jones.  It is an absolutely perfect performance and really helped the film’s entertainment value.  And it doesn’t hurt to have some amazing special effects and quite a few laughs as well.  Overall, I found this third film to be very enjoyable and if they can figure out another clever way to make a fourth, I’ll be a little more open-minded about it.  B+

New in Home Entertainment – November 20, 2012

New in Home Entertainment

November 20, 2012

The Expendables 2

Rated R for strong bloody violence throughout
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

The first Expendables had a good concept of taking a host of old and new action stars and blending them up into a big violent movie.  Unfortunately the writing and directing by its star, Sylvester Stallone, was less than great.  Two years later, Stallone has fired himself from the director’s chair and has hired a number of big writers for the even bigger sequel.  This new installment works as both a great revenge flick as well as a mercenary tale.  Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews and Randy Couture are back with beefed up parts for Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis.  Added to the game are Chuck Norris and young heartthrob Liam Hemsworth.  Even Jean-Claude Van Damme joins in as the super evil villain.  The film works well enough simply because the action is so non-stop you don’t have time to think.  And that’s a completely reasonable approach to a project such as this.  Sure the acting isn’t the best and much of the dialog by the big stars is completely tongue-in-cheek and self-aware, but it’s also a ton of fun and a great way to waste two hours.  B+

The Watch
Rated R for some strong sexual content including references, pervasive language and violent images
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

The Watch couldn’t have had worse timing this year.  The first ads for what was called “Neighborhood Watch” were released right before Trayvon Martins death occurred, forcing the studio to rename the film about a neighborhood watch group taking on an alien invasion to simply “The Watch.”  While this comedy starring Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill isn’t the funniest film of the year by a long shot, I firmly believe that its unfortunate timing was its box office downfall.  An open-minded viewing of the film will give you an entertaining evening, especially now that the words “neighborhood watch” are safe to utter again.  I will admit, though, that if you are looking for an alien invasion comedy, the British film Attack the Block, released last year, is a more interesting and more enjoyable rental.  B-


Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Rated PG-13 for an intense scene of war violence, some images of carnage and brief strong language

    When Spielberg originally envisioned a movie about Lincoln, it was to be a huge biopic encompassing the life of the great man who would be portrayed by Liam Neeson.  A lot changed though when playwright and screenwriter Tony Kushner (Angels in America) got ahold of the project.  Unable to narrow down the huge story of the life of Lincoln, he and Spielberg opted to just tell the story of the last few months of the Civil War and how Lincoln managed to get the 14th Amendment passed in Congress. 

    There are many things about this project which will make audiences flock to it.  First off is the story.  The events of the tale might be 150 years old, but they couldn’t be more relevant to today’s political climate.  It seems our country has always been one in which the leaders bicker and fight over principals and values even though history will most undoubtedly show some of the principals and values to be not just antiquated, but immoral.  Kushner’s screenplay is masterfully written and while the film comes in at almost 149 minutes, it seems that every minute is earned and the time flies by faster than you’d think. 

    Of course it helps having Spielberg at the helm.  You can tell that this is a project that he cares deeply about and his heart and soul went into it.  This  is his finest film since 1998’s Saving Private Ryan and he is sure to get a lot of attention come awards season.  To help him along here is the work by his long term collaborators cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and composer John Williams.  The color palate Kaminski uses here which contrasts between subdued colors and harsh shadows gives the viewer the imminent sense of danger our country was in at that time.  When combined with William’s remarkable score filled with beautiful piano driven melodies and lush brass choirs that perfectly matches the film’s feel and mood, you get a rich sense of texture that leads to a film filled with gorgeous art.

    I think the thing that will most excite audiences though are the multitude of brilliant performances.  People will justifiably be drawn by Daniel Day-Lewis as the commander in chief.  His performance is perfect.  Just like in Spielberg’s Jurassic Park where you just forget that you are watching visual effects rather than real dinosaurs, here you will forget that this is an actor and that somehow Abraham Lincoln has been brought to vibrant life.  There’s no doubt that this will go down as one of the great performances in Hollywood history.  Luckily the film also has a tremendous supporting cast including Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, Hal Holbrook, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and James Spader.  Everyone here is performing at such a high level, making the film seem that much more authentic.  A

New in Home Entertainment – November 13, 2012

New in Home Entertainment

November 13, 2012

Rated PG for some scary action and rude humor
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

Pixar’s latest fable tells the story of a young red-headed Scottish princess who loves her freedom and doesn’t want to marry the man her parent’s wish her to.  Oh – and then there is some weird story with bears.  At least with this new home video release, there is a short story called The Legend of Mordu which attempt to better explain the bear predicament.  It’s just too bad the short is crudely animated and not actually in the movie itself.  From an aesthetic point of view, the film is fantastic.  It’s beautiful to look at, has interesting characters and a terrific score by Patrick Doyle.  Unfortunately, the film’s heroine is a horrible role model for children due to the lackluster screenplay.  She’s a spoiled brat who gets her way, even to the end.  And then there’s the complete lack of a villain.  Who makes a film without a bad guy?  There’s a very good reason they exist in fiction and Pixar here ignores this centuries old rule and the film suffers because of it.  So by far, this is Pixar’s worst movie to date, and a complete departure from what made them special to begin with.  C+

Rated R for strong brutal and grisly violence, some graphic sexuality, nudity, drug use and language throughout
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Oliver Stone (Wall Street) wrote and directed this tale of two California drug growers (Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson) who get tied up with the wrong Tijuana kingpin and her henchman (Salma Hayek and Benicio Del Toro).  Just like Stone’s 1994 Natural Born Killers, the violence here is over the top.  The difference is that this film possesses some entertainment value.  Aside from the torturous performance by Blake Lively who plays the girlfriend of the growers and unfortunate lynch pin of the film, the performances here are better than I expected.  I especially liked Aaron Johnson who is one of Hollywood’s best chameleon actors.  I didn’t even realize that the Kick-Ass star was in this film until I started to write the review.  If it weren’t for Lively and the awful ending, I would recommend this film, but those flaws bring it down a few notches.  C+

Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Dinotasia is a group of short stories taken from The Discovery Channel’s “Dinosaur Revolution” and then repackaged as a feature length documentary with narration by German filmmaker Werner Herzog.  It’s a strange assembly of films that starts out lame and then becomes quickly captivating.  I was hoping this could be something for my dino-loving toddler, but these shorts are extremely violent and kinda scary.  There is also a sense of humor that is unexpected, such as a great scene where a dinosaur eats an hallucinogenic mushroom moments before being attacked by carnivores.  The visual effects are good but not great.  Don’t expect the big budget and you’ll be satisfied.  B

New in Home Entertainment – November 6, 2012

New in Home Entertainment

November 6, 2012

Arthur Christmas
Rated PG for some mild rude humor
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

While last year threw us some real duds in the animated feature category, a couple of films popped up unexpectedly as real winners.  A Cat in Paris, which I recently reviewed, was an excellent foreign film that snuck in with an Oscar nom, but the best of all of the category is finally getting a blu-ray release this week.  Arthur Christmas tells the story of the youngest son of Santa Clause who has a heart of gold, but is shadowed behind his older and much more arrogant brother.  As Santa is about to retire, his reliance on his oldest son leaves a child without a present and it is up to young and clumsy Arthur to save the night.  This is not only a wonderful animated film, filled with beautiful animation and story-telling, but it is one of the best Christmas films to come out in years.  The movie was far from successful at the box office last holiday, but my prediction is that this home video release could very well make this terrific film a new Christmas classic.  A

Ruby Sparks
Rated R for language including some sexual references, and for some drug use
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

From the directors of Little Miss Sunshine comes this unique little comedy about a writer who manages to bring his dream girl to life with his writing, and then continues to control her with every word he types.  You would think from the trailer and description that this would be a romantic comedy, but I think it’s far from it.  First off, I’m pretty certain that one of the reasons it performed so poorly at the box office was that many were turned off due it’s misogynistic central theme.  If it is demeaning to women, it certainly doesn’t mean to be, but being that the girl is almost like a programmable robot doesn’t exactly scream romance.  In fact, the movie takes quite a dark turn down this direction in the second act.  The script is brilliantly written by the films star Zoe Kazan who is obviously inspired by Charlie Kaufman more than Nora Ephron.  The casting is also perfect with her as Ruby and Paul Dano as the nerdy but kind-hearted writer.  What the film lacks in romance, it more than makes up for in thoughtfulness and creativity and it is overall very enjoyable.  A-

Your Sister’s Sister
Rated R for language and some sexual content
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

A year after the death of his brother, Jack is depressed and having trouble getting on with his life.  When his female best friend convinces him to spend some time in her parent’s remote lake cabin, he agrees only to find himself sharing the cabin unexpectedly with his best friend’s lesbian sister. Of course a drunken night with bad decision making ensues and when the best friend joins the fray, a dramedy of reflection, tension and secrets flows out.  The film itself is fairly entertaining.  The performances are good and the script is well-written, but you have to be in the mood for an adult-themed indie that is far less funny than it should be.  B-

Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon: The Criterion Collection
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Widely considered to be one of the greatest films ever made, Kurosawa’s classic is getting a very complete treatment from Criterion in this new hi-def edition.  When a man is murdered and his wife raped, four people give differing accounts of the events, showing how different the truth can be depending on the vantage point of the viewer.  This international classic is presented here with a new digital restoration and soundtrack as well as tons of features about not only the beauty of the film but also the legacy it has left behind.  A