‘Pete’s Dragon’ soars with nostalgic, timeless storytelling

“Pete’s Dragon” flies in to set Disney’s live-action remake praise streak in stone.

Based on the original 1977 classic of the same name, ‘Pete’s Dragon’ follows Pete (Oakes Fegley), an 11 year-old boy who has been living in the woods after a car accident six years prior. He is not alone in the woods as he comes across a dragon named Elliot who acts as his guardian and best friend.Unbeknownst to them, Elliot is a local legend in tales as told by local wood carver Mr. Meacham (Robert Redford).

One day, Pete is spotted by park ranger Grace Meacham (Bryce Dallas Howard) in the woods with Pete being taken to the hospital. Elliot himself gets spotted by local lumberjack Gavin (Keith Urban) who is hellbent on finding the dragon and bringing him to the town to boast of his catch. It is up to Pete to protect Elliot in return and show the town he is not a danger.

petes-dragon-movie-disney-2016
I SEE A DRAGON: Pete (Oakes Fegley) and Elliot walk around the woods coming upon the townspeople.

The reason that makes this remake stand out on is unexpected, but welcomed change. It takes the base concept of the original film, a boy with an unlikely friend, and creates a film incomparable to the original cheese-filled musical. It instead becomes akin to films of the 80’s done in the vein of Spielberg and captures the timeless nature of those films.

It lends itself to the tropes we’ve come to love and expect out of those types of films to get the audience interested, even if it is quite predictable at points. The cinematography of the film makes the film’s setting larger than life and add a weight to it. In a way, this is ‘Super 8’ if Disney decided to make their own version. It is dark at times with hints of brown and green in order to capture the feel of a small mountain town.

The use of CGI for the animation of Elliot is quite a stand out as well. Instead of the marvelously hand-drawn animation of Don Bluth, we instead get a giant dragon that will remind some in the audience of Falcor from ‘The Neverending Story.’ His character shares the same traits as before such as being innocent, breathing fire and turning invisible. One key difference however is his fur that is a tinted green with brown notes that help him blend more into the woods than the hand-drawn version. It truly a great sight to witness on screen.

The performances themselves are great, if some characters come off as more ridiculous than others. Fegley as Pete excels in the wonderment and bravery of his character by playing it straight and somber. Howard and Redford are comfortable as their adult selves with Howard playing Grace as a motherly type figure and Redford being the old grizzled explorer that enjoys telling his stories to the next generation. One standout is Oona Laurence as Natalie, Pete’s new human friend, as she captures the innocent curiosity of childhood fascination with the discovery of Elliot.

The flaws of the film are few and far between. The aforementioned predictability deters from some of the films more perilous moments in the third act, which in turn features the highlight of the film’s set-pieces. The pacing can be slow at times, yet the world is so intriguing that it keeps the audience wide awake for the duller moments.

Karl Urban as the villain Gavin is very hit-and-miss. He feels less realistic than what the film presents itself as and his one moment of sympathy is not enough for the audience to care about him. Urban’s performance is not as hysterical as the original’s Dr. Terminus, played by Jim Dale, yet it borders on being a villain just for the sake that the film needs one.

‘Pete’s Dragon’ rises above the original’s concept by creating a story to stand on its own, even if the audience can see certain elements coming from a mile ahead. It is a throwback film that combines the elements of classic family film-making and new elements of modern cinema to deliver a new Disney classic.

Final Verdict: 4 out of 5

 

Advertisements

Sci-fi action romp ‘Elysium’ shoots to thrill

elysium_ver2

Director Neill Blomkamp has come back to the big screen to deliver his follow-up to Best Picture nominee ‘District 9’ with the high budgeted sci-fi thriller ‘Elysium’. Blomkamp may have a huge undertaking after his last film being highly regarded, but ‘Elysium’ shows no sign of Blokamp slowing down.

‘Elysium’ follows Max Da Costa, played by Matt Damon, living on the now desecrated and dilapidated Los Angeles in the Year 2154 with the poor and sick while the rich and powerful inhabitants live in the space station above known as Elysium, overseen by Secretary of Defense Delacourt, portrayed with an awkward British accented Jodie Foster. Max is slowly dying of cancer and wants to head to Elysium to be cured, but undertakes a risky job by sleazy dealer Spider, played by Wagner Moura, to wear an exo suit and faces against samurai-esque Agent C.M. Kruger, played viciously by Sharlto Copley. What secrets lie with Max could save the lives of everyone on Earth, if he can succeed.

Elysium-Header

‘Elysium’, like ‘District 9’ before it, serves a an allegory for current problems in the world. As ‘District 9’ dealt with the segregation in Africa, ‘Elysium’ deals with healthcare reform and immigration with not so subtle hints about the ordeal, yet plays to the strength of these issues as they connect to the audiences quite well. Never has there been a movie so pro-immigration and pro-Latino and yet can reach out beyond that demographic. The story is intriguing and sets up a world where the audience can give a damn about the rights of the people and wonder if freedom can come. The premise helps the audience care about Max’s struggle and his anti-hero ways to help not only himself, but those around him.

The performances in the film are stellar with Sharlto Copley’s villainous Kruger stealing the spotlight. Copley is intimidating and terrifying great at what he does and will attack and kill just to have a laugh. Matt Damon’s heroic Max is the perfect foil, rising above what Kruger thinks and delivers on getting the job done, no matter what comes in his way. Sadly, the weakest person in the film is Jodie Foster doing a horrid British accent that would make even the Queen tremble. She is not intimidating or as menacing as Copley’s character, but tries to measure up with being just a stern and boring individual. On the action and visual front, it is a spectacular mix of CGI and practical that is thrilling and blends seamlessly together. It would be a huge task to tell the difference between what is CG or handmade. The action is stellar and brutal, but dives into ‘Zack Synder syndrome’ with unnecessary slow motion just for the sake of making the scenes seem “cool.”

‘Elysium’ is another fantastic work by Blomkamp and will make fans of his last film surprised at what he can do with a bigger budget, despite minor flaws that can make some deter away from it. ‘Elysium’ is rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout.

‘Planes’ is as mediocre and plain as can be

Planes

 

Welcome to the world above the cash-cow that is the World of ‘Cars’ brand known as ‘Planes’. Originally set to hit the home market in fall of this year, Disney decided to have the DisneyToon Studios produced film hit the big screen to deliver a new franchise. Unfortunately for Disney, ‘Planes’ has a tough time getting  perfect takeoff.

‘Planes’ focuses on a cropduster named Dusty Crophopper, voiced by comedian Dane Cook, as he dreams of being in the international Wings Across The World race. When the opportunity finally comes for him to qualify to enter, Dusty takes it under the advice of his mentor Skipper Riley, voiced by Stacy Keach, and heads off to race against other planes such as the British racer Bulldog, voiced by John Cleese, the Mexican luchador racer El Chubacabra, voiced by Carlos Alazraqui, arch rival Ripslinger, voiced by Roger Craig Smith, and Indian racer and potential love interest Ishani, voiced Priyanka Chopra. The only question remains is if Dusty can get over his fear of being high in the sky and overcome the various environmental obstacles to win the race.

Capture3

The premise is the basic template of the underdog story audiences have seen over and over again and does nothing to improve upon it. It is textbook generic and can be underwhelming for anyone viewing it as they can see certain notes of the film come from miles away. The jokes and comic elements are very hit and miss and will only appeal to those younger viewers as there is nothing for the adult audiences to truly enjoy unlike this year’s ‘Despicable Me 2.’ The performances are decent with Dane Cook doing his best to make us believe he is just a small town boy with big dreams. Stacy Keach, on the other hand, delivers a great performance and makes the background of his character enthralling and rich.

Visually, the film is quite impressive. It is nowhere near Pixar or Dreamworks quality, but the fact it is done by a minor studio on Disney radar responsible for Direct-to-Video features like the ‘Tinkerbell’ series is a triumph. the flying scenes during the race are handled well with lush backgrounds and high flying POV shots from the planes, adding another layer of depth and feel to the experience. Yet, such as with the earlier feature from this year ‘Epic’, visuals cannot make up for the blandness in this feature.

‘Planes’ tries to fly high in the sky to appeal to the built in audiences of ‘Cars’, but cannot quite make its landing. ‘Planes’ is rated for some mild action and rude humor.

‘The Conjuring’ Provides Fascinating Spook House Scares

Not even in the summer swelter can audiences escape the chilling frights brought on by ‘Saw’ and ‘Insidious’ director James Wan’s latest film, ‘The Conjuring.’ 

 

Based upon one of the many case files of Ed and Lorriane Warren, played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga respectively, the film is a look at their encounters with the Perron Family, lead by Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor, alongside with their daughters as they deal with a paranormal experience terrorizing their new home in Rhode Island. The Warrens, armed with their knowledge of the supernatural, start to take the case head on, only to discover this might be the most destructive and terrifying case they have ever witnessed. 

Wan brings his signature styles of terror by delivering another winner that is closer with his work in ‘Insidious’ providing slow builds to amplify the scares with great Hitchcock-like suspense to help create an uneasy feeling to film-goers. The scares never feel forced or go over the top like current horror films and manages to recreate feelings of classic spook house features of the 70’s. When the scares come, they feel natural and unexpected unlike the scares of last year’s scare flick ‘Sinister’ which were predictable and played to much to what audiences already know. The depth it goes into to explain what the Warrens do for a living and what they have experience, along with going more into the Perron’s daily life, drives the film with a more personal and unique touch, a element missing from the modern supernatural films. Knowing the bond that keeps the Warrens together gives the audience a couple to root for and hope they pull together in the end.

The acting is all around stellar with Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga performing as the Warrens with expertise and genuine fright as the story continues into much darker territory. Farmiga as Lorraine is fantastic capturing every emotion and sense of concern with realism and foresight as Wilson supports as the intelligent yet unsure Ed. Lili Taylor fits into her role well and even shines in later scenes tackling a feat most actresses in a film such as this could not take on. The five daughters, portrayed by Mackenzie Foy, Shannon Kook, Joey King, Hayley McFarland, Shanley Caswell and Kyla Deaver, tackle on as the paranormal bait with strength and uncertainty of the situation at hand being both wide eyed and in fear of what is next. The only complaint of the film would be that some supporting characters get limited time and explanation as to why they show up, but it is only a minor complaint in a feature like this.

‘The Conjuring’ is a near-perfect summer scare that is actually terrifying and will leave one shaking long after the credits roll with scares aplenty, a story worth mentioning and characters one can actually root for than despise. ‘The Conjuring’ is rated R for sequences of disturbing violence and terror.

Current Reviews: Synder’s ‘Man of Steel’ weaves a darker vision, fails in execution

Seven years after Bryan Singer attempted to bring Superman back in the aptly titled Superman Returns, Zack Synder brings his dark vision in the new reboot Man of Steel to reinvigorate interest in the character. Unfortunately, not every step to bring him back is for the better.

The film follows Clark Kent aka Kal-El, played by Henry Cavill, wandering on Earth after being sent by his father Jor-El, played by Russel Crowe, to help bridge the gap between that world and the dying world of Krypton. Clark finds his true purpose and becomes the Man of Steel, saving Lois Lane, played by Amy Adams, and having to deal with the nefarious General Zod, played by the always terrifying Michael Shannon, coming to Earth to find a mysterious codex that may lead to the future of Krypton.

f1f9b-blogger-image-778544478

The film’s first act is nothing short of fantastic by re-imagining the origin of the titular character and focusing on the past that leads Clark to be the man he is in the future. His Earth parents, played by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane, help guide Clark on his way via flashbacks that may seem sporadic, but make sense in the context to the situation he is facing. This leads to some great moments between Cavill’s take on the role and Synder show Synder can try to tell straight forward origin story. When Lois gets close to Clark, she soon discovers what makes him great as well as they build a strong bond.

The prologue of the film on Krypton is spectacular. The drama surrounding the destruction of the planet is phenomenal giving a presence to General Zod’s betrayal of Jor-El with his right hand henchwoman Faora, played icy cold and brilliant by Antje Traue. It is a stunning sequence with some great action and gives more insight into the roots Kal-El comes from more than previous Superman features.

a8687-blogger-image-1573766783

Sadly, the second half of the film suffers from Synder’s weakness for weak action storytelling and relying too much on big set pieces and CGI to carry on a story that twist is unbelievably stupid and basically makes the smart man Clark grew to be a big dumb oaf. The action falls flat going over long with CGi that is blatant. Synder still has yet to realizes that a blockbuster films must not only rely on the spectacle, but a great story to let the audience connect to what is going on.

The twist brings the story down to ridiculous levels and abandons any potential this film had to be ranked above the mediocre Returns from 2006. The intelligence of Superman has been striped away from the first act in order to deliver a manic action sequence that destroys half of Metropolis, causes millions of deaths on his hands and has Superman do something Superman would not do without feeling any sort of remorse that he does in the comic canon doing the certain act. Another fault of Superman is hammering the point to the audience that Superman is a allegory for Jesus Christ that is so blatant, unintentional laughter may be heard in the distance.

39ddf-blogger-image-681363747

The acting of the film is quite good with some minor exceptions. Henry Cavill as the Man of Steel is good, not great, but can work with the bland material given to him with a cool wit and smile. Cavill does show human elements to the character, but loses it in the climax of the film. Michael Shannon and Russel Crowe do a terrific job being foils of one another with Shannon shining bright and deliciously evil as General Zod. Costner and Lane’s potrayal as Clark’s parents are great providing the backbone to the son of Jor-El.

Antje Traue as Faora is badass, plain and simple, by being as menacing as Zod and seems ready to kill Lois at any moment. Amy Adams as Lois Lane seems lost in the shuffle by not showing off her version of the character and becomes bland. The other characters at the Daily Planet and the US Army suffer the problem Amy Adams suffers by being put on the back burner and never given development beyond the shadow of themselves.

Man of Steel is half good, half a mess with a overall great start, but suffers to even finish as strong as it began. Maybe instead of focusing on getting a Justice League movie right, Synder and Warners Bros. should focus on what made Superman great and not fall under the dark shadow of Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy.

‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ continues to amaze while relying much on the past

The beloved rebooted crew of the Enterprise returns after a four-year absent to venture into darkness in a action packed thrill ride that breaks from the mold, but is pulled down by remnants of the past.

Six months after the events of the 2009 reboot, James T. Kirk, played by Chris Pine, and his crew must hunt down international terrorist John Harrison, played by Sherlock actor Benedict Cumberbatch, under The Federation’s Admiral Marcus, played by Peter Weller, into Klingon territory while not trying to cause war in the region. As they come upon Harrison, the crew faces their darkest hour that will test their bond, their faith and their will to survive.

Into Darkness is a great follow-up to the previous film with spectacular action, stunning visuals and a tight-knit devotion to each character. Space never looked better with space battles that are beyond belief and true peril once the Enterprise starts to get destroyed mid-warp by the Vengence providing a true sense of danger. Industrial Light & Magic step up their game from the previous film to deliver out-of-this-world visuals that capture the feel of what space should be that pop in 3D, which is surprisingly well done for a post converted feature.

Benedict Cumberbatch proves his true acting power as a terrifying and intense villain. The booming voice Cumberbatch has works well delivering monologues that heighten the tension and fear that is looming. Another newcomer Alice Eve as Dr. Carol Marcus is a bit of a rough start, but Eve starts to come into her own once the film amps up the dark turn it takes. Simon Pegg gets more screen time as Scottie after being seen toward the end the first film and delivers great moments of humor alongside Karl Urban’s portrayal of ‘Bones’  that rivals DeForest Kelley’s original take on the role. Pine and Zachary Quinto are better than ever and feels as if they never kept apart from one another.

One main gripe with the film is the reliance of much of the past lore of Star Trek. While great in theory to deliver some fan service and nods, over reliance to what made the original series a classic harms the reboot more than helps. Without spoiling too much, the reboot is about moving the franchise into a different direction and break from the old. Into Darkness tosses out nods left and right in the third act that may make old fans grow weary and new fans who have seen the film series wonder if it was really necessary. The reveal of the villain is truly a shock, but the reveal of another character might be seen coming from a mile away which most fans were slightly unenthusiastic about. Worse is the fact that a scene is taken verbatim from a previous film in the Star Trek films series which deters from any emotion to be felt or had, despite the two actors giving it their all.

J.J. Abrams ventured into the world of Star Trek to deliver another winner retaining the sleek wonder of the reboot, but with taking cues from the past, one should wonder whether this trend will continue in future films of the franchise. As for Abrams, maybe he should learn from some of the mistakes of this film before tackling the galaxy far, far away.

Current Reviews: Evil Dead (2013)

(Originally Published in ELAC Campus News Spring 2013, Issue 17, April 17th, 2013)

The book of the dead is ready to rise again in the highly anticipated remake of the horror cult classic ‘Evil Dead’ with gore galore and shocking fun.

The story focused around a group of friend ready to help out David, played by Shiloh Fernandez, with an intervention for his junkie sister Mia, played by Jane Levy, at their former summer cabin.

As the intervention and withdrawals symptoms come to play, the group finds a book in the basement, which is littered with dead cats.

Unfortunately, one of the friends opens the book and after reading a few words from the book all hell breaks loose with demonic possession, voices from beyond and cringe-inducing moments of pain and utter torment.

“Evil Dead” plays to the strength of its horror roots by delivering some terrifying imagery. Scenes such as possessed Mia splitting her tongue with a box cutter to pulling out nails from one’s skin lead to squirms from audiences yet seems to not turn up an actual scare.

The film relies more on the spectacle rather than the reaction of fright and terror from the audience.

The expectations for the film were at an all time high after months of marketing itself as “the most terrifying film you will ever experience,” as it reads on the poster for the movie, and for a film like this to fall short on actual scares it is disappointing.

That should not truly deter from the experience as the spectacle is just as good as the cult classic sets-up. The simple beginning is handled with care and structure, delving deep into what is going on, leaving the audience to wonder what is really going on and what does the mysterious book discovered behold.

The imagery is beautifully gruesome. The heavy use of practical effects make every painful moment realistic with believable moments of blood spewing from flesh and numerous creative death scene.

The story although entertaining seems to drag on at certain points seeming it could come to a close or scenes just need a definitive end. This is only a minor problem as the film is relatively short at 90 minutes and manages its time well.

“Evil Dead” may not break any new ground or deliver on a heavy number of good jump scares, but still manages to be an entertaining ride in horror.

“Evil Dead” is in theaters now and is rated R for strong bloody violence and gore, some sexual content and language.