Monday, May 23, 2011

Quick rental reviews - Mary and Max, The Shawshank Redemption, Pan's Labrynith and T2: Judgement Day

Mary And Max (2009)

These days, animation away from Pixar and Dreamworks are often overlooked. The reason? Pixar has more appeal (by that on story, emotion and characters) to a mass audience. Mary And Max is a Pixar-resque feature from Academy Award winner Adam Elliot and the entire film seems to be a one-man band because Elliot designed, directed, produced and written this movie and its animation.

It explores the long-distance friendship between Mary, a lonely and friendless 8 year old girl from Melbourne and Max, a lonely overweight Jewish man in his mid-40s from New York who cannot relate to people. Through 98% of the movie narrated, we know that Mary lives with her mom an alcoholic and dad who works almost most of the day in a tea bag factory, hence neglecting her. We know that Mary has no friends at school and cannot cope with her depression. For Max, we know that he "find the world very chaotic". We know that when he often get reminded of his past, he get anxious. We settle on 20 years where Mary falls in love with her neighbour, Max's diagnosis with Aspergers Syndrome and their darkly wacky situations they face.

Adam Elliot wants to stay away from conventions of animation and with this flick, it's a stroke of genius. Mary And Max has the appeal of Pixar except that it doesn't aim at kids and is so dark. The animation is exquisitely and moodly crafted with the sepia and black and white cinematography as well as the storytelling by Elliot. What really work are the hearts of the story both voiced by Toni Collette and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. With these two characters, we've become fascinated by their idiosyncratic situations that grow through loneliness, suffering and depression. It's filled with poignance that's deep and melancholy that is both moving and touching, but is sometimes funny through these events.

Through from the opening credits, it was based on a true story from Elliot who also had a pen-pal in New York. Through to the closing credits, the ending may have become too welcome. But I don't care. This is one developmental animation that is the best of its genre. A+ (10.0)

Pan's Labrynith (2006)

Now this is a movie that I would have put in my best list of fantasy films... until the ending. Guillermo Del Toro must have directed a film that is a mixture of Alice In Wonderland, Cinderella and Hansel & Gretel. It is not only a fantasy flick but also one about war.

Set in 1944 during WWII, Spain is in the midst of a Civil War between the fascist militia and the Allies, a girl Olfelia arrives with her pregnant mother to stay at the barracks lead by her stepfather. Olfelia is a girl who enjoy reading fairytales and has a huge depth of imagination and she meets a Faun at the centre of a labrynith who ask her to perform three simple tasks so she can meet her real father who is a king.

Del Toro brings a range of influences through his screenplay and direction. The story is terrificly imaginative, one where we could watch the heroine filled with emotion and turmoil in both worlds. A heroine like Cinderella, whose enslaved by her stepfather but optimistic. Pan's Labrynith is what I think is vivid imagery through the eyes. The cinematography is inventive and so are the design of both characters of the fantasy land and production. The characterization of the stepfather and the scenery of the Civil War plays it brutally well.

Unfortunately this is where I become pissed off with this film. I enjoyed two-thirds of the film and the other third just knocks me down. Where it get into a serious climax (and it is brilliant) up to the final minutes, there is a twist but then the ending.... where can I start? What is Del Toro trying to tell us about this ending? There's a lack of meaning through that part because we don't get enough character arc for Olfelia that would guide us into this film. A twist wouldn't help out and with the lack of meaning, it have made this worst.

Overall, this movie is solid with such crafted visual imagery, but would've been better had Del Toro brings in some justification for the entire film. B (7.4)

Terminator: Judgement Day

For the most obvious reasons, Terminator 2: Judgement Day is one of the most influential SEQUELS of all time. First there's the star player: Arnold Schwarzenegger reprising his role as the Terminator himself. In the first film, he's the villain. Now he plays as the hero.

It starts off when in 1995, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is put into a mental hospital where she's targeted by a cyborg from the future to kill her. Now another Terminator from the future the T-1000 is sent to kill her son John (Edward Furlong) who believes would be the leader for the Resistance in the upcoming war against the Machines. The T-1000 is deadlier and more newer. But another Terminator (played by Arnie) is sent to protect him along with Sarah and they must prevent the origins of the war by destroying the technology that created the machines.

With the first Terminator movie stylised as a film noir with science fiction elements, this is better than the first Terminator movie. The action gets you gripping followed by the visual effects, especially the specialties of the T-1000 that are so advanced at its time. With that, it's James Cameron's direction and storytelling that exemplifies the film's genre into something significant.

The performances are dynamite. It's Edward Furlong who steals the show as the down-to-earth and cheeky John Connor. However there's nothing that tells us that John would be a leader because of that. The relationship between him and both the Terminator and Sarah are endearing. With Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger, they're both badass.

Anyone could enjoy this movie, even the most cynical movie geek. A- (8.9)

The Shawshank Redemption 

The highest rated film on the IMDb website makes me wonder why it was so high before watching this movie. You often wonder whether it's the ballot stacking or how safe the movie felt. Look back in 1994, the best year for movies in the 90s, the best movies like the Lion King and Forrest Gump were all safe movies that have an emotion appeal followed by a sublime story. The only movie though that took all risks in film at that time but have a story and we wouldn't call safe would be Pulp Fiction. The Shawshank Redemption would be the most underrated film of that year, but it's too safe and conventional.

The story follows up in 1941 where a banker named Andy Dufrense (Tim Robbins) who's convicted two consecutive life sentences of murdering his wife and her lover but he thinks he was framed. Dufrense's sent to Shawshank State Prison where he develops a friendship with a fellow inmate also serving a life sentence for murder Ellis Boyd "red" Redding (Morgan Freeman). When Dufrense overheard a conversation between the guards about their financial situation, he uses his intelligence including his knowledge in banking to solve their problems thus being protected by the guards and through the warden who uses Dufrense's loyalty in a money laundering operation.

It's beautifully directed by Frank Duramont with superb performances from Freeman and Robbins. Apparently the film looks gritty with the prison scenery so realistic and the photography amazing. But sadly, the story has a flaw in which we questions Dufrense's liability. We don't know if he's innocent and the chance of an almost identical murder most likely doesn't make him one. If he was protected by the guards during the money laundering then why hasn't they give him the fair treatment to all the prisoners. It's feels discriminating.

But ultimately, if you enjoy hope and ambition in every movie you'll see, you'll put this in your Great movies list. I'll say this film tears my heart out because for every character there's a lot of poignant moments in here. My advice before seeing this film: don't trust the IMDb list. B+ (8.4)

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