Don't use the Z-word!
ParaNorman is the new stop-motion animated movie from Laika, the makers of Coraline. It's a story of Norman Babcock, a kid from New England who can speak to ghosts. When the story starts, this ability is old news to him, and the people around him just shrug his insistence of possessing this trait as him being a pathological liar who wants attention. Norman is a loner, misunderstood by his own family and schoolmates alike, but is forced out of his recluse life when he finds out that the curse of an 18th century witch hanged in his hometown is going to hit the town very soon, and he's the only one who can stop it.

This setup for the story is kinda basic, which undermines the genius of the film. The beginning is rife with really funny and clever gags with the ghost-speaking stuff, the movie knows exactly how to pace itself so the wackiness fades away slowly to make room for the plot, and the eventual story with the witch is really well-written and, dare I say, moving. By far my favourite thing about the movie is its tone; the premise and the characters are treated with a lot more weight and seriousness than what kids' films nowadays tend to. It's not a happy-go-lucky comedy movie with a dark third act, but feels thematically uniform. There's more laughs early on than in the end, but the drama and the humour are balanced and their mixture feels natural.

There is one big story misstep about the movie, a kind of "wait a minute, what was up with that" element that I only realised two minutes after leaving the cinema. If I had come to think of it in the middle of the movie instead, my opinion would surely be considerably lower, so I have to point it out, just to be fair and make clear that ParaNorman's plot is not without error. Highlight here if you don't care about spoilers: The ghosts that seem to be everywhere around Norman during the early parts of the movie are nowhere to be seen during the climax of the plot. He doesn't run into any random ghosts during late parts of the movie that he could ask for help. Spoilers end.

The animation is fantastic. There's just some things that work so well in this form of stop-motion, and Laika went out of their way to put in things that are normally really hard as well, and it all blends together perfectly. It's a shame this stuff takes forever to film, though on the other hand, that means the directors (Sam Fell, Chris Butler) have to take their sweet time planning everything out. They can't half-ass anything, and they have all the time in the world to plan every shot out perfectly while the others are being filmed. Maybe that's why pretty much every camera angle and every shot fits together in a harmonious, beautiful cinematography.

In addition to how it looks, ParaNorman has a surprising strength in characters. Norman is a surprisingly flexible kid whose social issues ring very true to me at points, and the four elements of his appearance, animation, vocal performance (by Kodi Smit-McPhee) and writing fit together perfectly. He's a good kid, and even when he's doing something dumb or inconsiderate, you cheer for him, because you can totally see how the situation he lives in has given him the flaws he possesses. The supporting cast are great as well. I'd give short descriptions, except that I think it would do a disservice to the movie to try to sum up the characters with a few adjectives. Besides, some of the character traits are really surprising, and played laughs, so I don't wanna spoil anything. The standout vocal performance (standout as in it stands out - not necessarily in a bad way - while Smit-McPhee's blends in) comes from John Goodman as the town bum.

Aside from the afore-mentioned story hiccup, the movie works damn well overall. Its gags are really good, and there are some really funny background jokes as well. It's a treat to watch, and a definite must-see for animation fans. I don't think it's quite as good as Coraline, but I liked it more than Brave, if that's any kind of measurement.


Total Recall (2012)

Please don't remake Scanners, though.
The Total Recall remake it out now. A Robocop remake is going to be released next year. All we need is a reboot of Starship Troopers and the Paul Verhoeven Sci-fi Trilogy will be all ruined!

Nah, just kidding. I actually liked this Total Recall about as much as I liked the original. The original had decent action scenes, really cool set designs and costumes, and some interesting sci-fi concepts. The new one matches those strengths beat-for-beat, and aside from trying to be a bit too serious, measures up to the original.

For those not in the know, Total Recall is the story of Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger/Colin Farrell), a lowly labourer having a boring life with his absurdly hot wife. For some reason, he is not satisfied in his life and finds himself drawn to news about the conflict between the evil authority and the rebels of the colony. He sees news for a company called Rekall, which sells virtual vacations in the form of lifelike memories inserted right into the mind of the customer, and decides to try it out. However, in the aftermath of the procedure, he finds out that in truth he is a secret agent gone rogue who has been captured and fed with false memories of being a labourer to keep him down. He embarks on a quest to find the truth about himself, and save the colony from its evil oppressors.

The major story differences between the versions are the following: in the original, the colony is in Mars, while in the remake it's in Australia (connected via an elevator that passes straight through the core of the Earth); in the original, the bad guys are an evil corporation, while in the remake they're the government; in the original, the added intrigue of the plot comes from secret Martian technology and mutants, while in the remake it comes from the evil government having robot soldiers and the politics of the situation; the original has the villain's right hand man Richter (Michael Ironside) as the secondary bad guy, while the remake promotes Quaid's fake wife Lori (Sharon Stone/Kate Beckingsale) to fill this role.

The remake puts a lot of effort right from the start into making the viewer believe Quaid is unsatisfied with his life on some strange level he's not able to explain. I really like that, though what I don't like is the fact that instead of having really vague dreams about being in the colony, he has really specific dreams about the exact circumstances of being captured by the state, which removes all ambiguity about whether or not the whole movie is just a dream.

Another thing they do their damn best to sell is the world. The opening info dump is a bit ham-handed, but makes sense (aside from a later, really weird scene that implies that London is an irradiated wasteland, even though Britain is among the only places in the world that's habitable), and then there's the set design. The establishing shots of the Colony and Britain look too similar for my tastes, but the actual streets of the countries look so radically different, with the hovercar highways and the floating buildings and whatnot. The roofs and back-alleys of the Colony serve as the locales of some really intense chase scenes that make great use of sets for scripting.

Overall, the first half of the movie has really good action, while the ending falls short on this. The previously-mentioned chases at the Colony and a fantastically tense extended action scene involving futuristic elevators were my definite favourites. The movie's advertising focused a lot on hovercar-chases, but they put all the hovercar-stuff worth seeing into the trailers, so... pointless.

The movie's main problem is its tone. It tries a bit too hard to go for deep emotional drama, which causes its shortcomings on the narrative side to be all the more visible. The girlfriend character is sorta one-note, the evil scheme of the villain makes little sense and the rebels are left really vaguely defined in regards to what they actually do to accomplish their goals. All this would be easily overlookable if the tone was campy and bright.

It's a fine movie, and a worthy remake. The references toward the original were a bit too on-the-nose at times, it's too serious for its own good and it's more straightforward, but other than that, I liked it. Go see it to get your action fill, if you're short on running and gunning right now.

(PS. Throughout this review, I have referred to the 1990 film as "the original". I know both movies are adaptations of a novel.)

(PPS. There is a three-breasted woman in the remake. So if you only want to see an update on that, good for you.)



Pixar, Pixar, Pixar. I have a strange relationship with that company. That is to say, I don't really see what the big fuss is about.

I mean, all the Pixar movies I've seen have been good, but none of them have really been fantastic. And I can't really even list any notable flaws and faults in them: I just can't get into 'em for some reason.

With that said: Brave. It's a movie about the red-haired Scottish princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald), who strives to be a warrior like all the menfolk around her, picking a special affinity for archery. This puts her in conflict with her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), who wants a proper daughter who minds her manners and marries a dashing prince.

Those who expect Brave to be an adventure with a you-go-girl protagonist will be disappointed. It's actually a pretty serious character piece focused on the relationship between Merida and her mother. I was actually surprised by how few locations the movie has, fooled by how proudly they were flaunting highland vistas early on.

I love how the movie looks and sounds. I mean, when I saw Tangled, my mind was blown by the fact that Disney managed to animate Rapunzel's hair. Now comes Merida and her red locks, and daumn, that's some pretty hair. As alluded above, the environments are really beautiful too. The music is fine on the ears (aside from the somewhat bland halfway-through song), and I can't help but adore everyone's Scottish accents.

Usually in animated movies, I tend to be annoyed by the comedy side cast, and gravitate more strongly to the protagonists and antagonists, but Brave provides an exception to the rule. The menfolk and their clan politics and boisterous noise were the highlight of the film to me. King Fergus (Billy Connolly) is a perfection of what Disney attempted with their characterisation of Zeus in Hercules: a loud, dumb, but lovable father figure. The chieftains and heirs of clans MacGuffin, MacIntosh and Dingwall are all funny and memorable characters too.

The film's plot is kind of formulaic, but it only gets predictable once you figure which formulaic plot they're going for. As soon as the movie starts in earnest, I feel it starts to get weaker. Despite the very strong start, it just didn't hold up my interest for the second half.

Overall, it's a good movie that's definitely worth checking out for all fans of Pixar, animation in general, Scottish history, and Celtic music. It's not a masterpiece, and aside from the advances in animating curled hair, I don't think it's a milestone in anything, but it's a good way to spend ninety or so minutes.

Summer Wrap-up (Spider-Man and Batman)

A dramatic re-enactment of this post
It's been two and a half months since my last update. Lots of stuff has happened in my life during the summer (a trip to Malta and being approved for college, for example), but I've only seen two movies in the cinema. I didn't write reviews because the first one I saw was so bad I couldn't make myself review it, and then I felt like I couldn't review the second until I'd reviewed the first.

To catch up and get started with the autumn season, here's my thoughts on them:

The Amazing Spider-Man:

A wretched pile of shit, and the worst kind of superhero movie. The Amazing Spider-Man is a tale of Peter Parker as you've never seen him before: a bland non-character with no defining traits, whose role in the story and overall personality are whatever the writer feels like making them at any given moment. His stalker-crush Gwen Stacy falls in love with him for no adequate reason, other than because [insert your own Twilight comparison here].

The Lizard looks like crap and has motives almost as vaguely explored as Peter's. The story is bloated with way too many subplots, some of which never get any kind of resolution since this is assured to get a sequel due to the presence of Spider-Man in the title. Awkward pacing and dialogue, lame performances and so-so action scenes finish the unholy combination of elements which make up a movie that manages to only be the second-worst film I've seen this year because I happened to see This Means War.

Also, Peter Parker skateboards. Seriously, fuck this movie. Seeing Spider-Man raped like this, I can finally understand people who get really personally upset about Michael Bay's Transformers.

The Dark Knight Rises:

A worthy, if a bit shoddy, end to the trilogy, with surprisingly large ties to the Batman comics which the previous two movies seemed to be afraid of associating themselves with. The villains work damn well, the directing and dialogue are awesome, and the music is fantastic. The film drags a lot, though: it feels like it's two scripts mashed into one.

There are some minor plot holes that I only realised afterwards, and Batman still sounds really funny. The final twist about Bane is really unnecessary, and seems to only exist to please comic nerds. It was a really poor choice to undermine the climax of the film with that move. I really liked the ending, even if it was a bit cheesy and predictable.

Batman Begins ends up being my favourite of this series, because I really liked the Gotham in it, and it felt the most like a Batman movie.

The Avengers was my favourite superhero film of the summer, but it's such a different movie than The Dark Knight Rises that I don't think you can really compare them on any objective level. Apples and oranges.


Snow White and the Huntsman (rant)

I'm a bit late on this one, but I guess it's better late than never. As far as I know, the general word on the street about this movie is that it's "not as bad as it seems". I respectfully disagree.

Well, not so respectfully. By the way, this review is going to be considerably more spoilery than what I usually write, so if you possibly believe your "enjoyment" will be hampered by knowing plot details, turn back now. Know, though, that I have little positive to say about the movie.

Snow White and the Huntsman is damn bad. Really bad. Laughably bad. It's a two-hour fantasy spectacle with next to nothing fantastical or spectacular about it, with some of the worst casting I've ever seen in my life. I don't think I've ever before complained about casting as a part of a movie. Sure, I've done it about individual characters, but never as a whole. I don't think there's a single character in this film who's cast well.

Where do I start? The name of the film is completely misleading. Did you know that the Prince Charming character still exists in this retelling? There's actually a love triangle. The huntsman (who is never given another name in the film, in some sort of attempt at "deep and meaningful"), played by Chris Hemsworth, is really arbitrary to the movie. His relationship with Snow White is barely developed at all, and in the end he just leaves when she's crowned Queen.

Snow White (Kristen Stewart) herself is one of the blandest, least interesting heroines I've seen in a movie in a long time. Her character is so inconsistent it's almost impossible to name any sort of qualities about her personality. They try to paint her as the Super-Good Holy Mega-Pure Maiden of Destiny, but she doesn't really come off as especially pure in spirit at all. She acts like any person who's being first imprisoned and then pursued. Later, before the laughably bad action finale, she suddenly becomes this fierce military leader just because, with no kind of explanation other than "it's her destiny to win". If you're trying to go for the Pure Maiden Who Can Ride the Unicorn and Is Flocked Around By Animals archetype, you are not allowed to make that character a military leader who rides a horse into battle and swings a sword to kill people. Read The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren sometime. In it, the characters discuss this dilemma.

The Queen (Charlize Theron) is one of the few enjoyable things about the movie, in the same sense that Bruce Payne is the most enjoyable thing about Dungeons and Dragons (playing the respectful role of That Blue-Lipped Guy): she is unintentionally hilarious. I couldn't stop laughing almost every time she was on-screen. The completely original character of the Queen's brother Finn is also really funny, which is partly because the character isn't the least bit threatening and partly because he sports the funniest haircut I've ever seen. That hairdo is so silly that there are no pictures of it online. I guess the actor demanded to be kept out of the marketing.

After Snow White escapes into the forest, the bad guys hire the Huntsman to track her. He immediately chooses to save her instead and they run from one horribad action scene to another. The movie tries to justify the Huntsman's presence by saying that he is the only man who has ever went to the Black Forest and returned. Yet, when he guides the villains into the forest, he basically just says: "Wait here, I'll go get her." And then he follows her tracks and finds her nearby. The Queen's men didn't need him at all, it seems, because it's later established they have a tracker of their own. The titular characters then escape through the forest and find this hidden village. The Queen's minions show up there within hours. They followed the heroes' tracks through the forest? I thought only the Huntsman was able to navigate through! Why do you lie to me, movie?

To skip ahead a bit, there's the part with the apple about half an hour before the end. It's established that Snow White is the only one who can kill the Queen, and the Queen can gain eternal youth by killing Snow White. So she poisons the girl and then proceeds to incredibly slowly drain her soul or whatever. The other good guys show up, and the Queen flees. Why? They can't kill her! The only person in the world who can kill her is comatose in the ground! JUST KILL HER FRIENDS AND THEN TAKE YOUR TIME IN FULFILLING YOUR PLANS! AAAARGHBAGFHG!

So here's the very short list of good things: I kinda like the concept of women committing self-mutilation to stay under the Queen's "fairness radar". That was clever, and actually carried dark ideas that could have been explored more if the movie wasn't preoccupied with trying to be super-hip for the young-uns or whatnot. Secondly, the visuals for the fairy forest are initially really cool, and I like the design of most of the stuff. Though that changes quickly with some of the worst CGI magpies I've ever seen. They look like something out of a 90s educational feature with a special effects budget of fuck all. Thirdly, the Queen's glass-shard minion would have been really cool if basically all of its screen-time hadn't been in the trailers already (and if it wasn't basically stolen from Medi-Evil).

It's just a really bland and dumb movie. I only got this upset about it in retrospect, when I realised it had initially fooled me into thinking it was average. Don't go see Snow White and the Huntsman. It has horrible performances (both bland and overblown in nature), incredibly large plot holes, very weak drama and suspense, and insults the intelligence of its audience.

Also, there's eight dwarves. Why?



Welcome back to Sci-fi (and horror, I guess), Ridley Scott! We missed you very much!

Prometheus is a prequel to 1979's Alien, though only in the sense that it's set in the same universe. Don't expect facehuggers and chestbursters, or for Ellen Ripley to show up. The film is intimately tied with the Alien mythos, but still works as a standalone story. The best thing is that it completely and utterly exiles the two Alien vs. Predator films from continuity by giving Wayland Industries an origin that's completely inconsistent with the one told in them. Yaaaay.

In the late 21st century, an archeologist couple find cave paintings from Scotland and compare them with carvings and pictures from half a dozen other parts of the world. All seem to depict the same constellation in the sky, along with Ancient Astronaut fuel. Wayland Industries funds a trillion-dollar expedition to an Earth-like moon revolving around a planet found near one of these depicted stars, with the belief that humanity's creators ("Architects") can be found there. After a few years of stasis, the crew wakes up and sets to explore this world, but the scientists discover that the company may have ulterior motives for funding the trip...

The film has a really interesting cast of characters, aside from a couple of extras with no lines, who are kind of distracting because they don't show up for most of the movie and when they do, you've most likely forgotten them. The main characters are really memorable, though. You've got the archeologist couple (played by Logan Marshall-Green and Noomi Rapace), who are kind of naïve and optimistic, which is why the most horrible things happen to them. Charlize Theron plays the cold-hearted Wayland representative, while Michael Fassbender does a stunning job as David, the Synthetic crew-member.

Prometheus is a horror movie, but thankfully doesn't have many jump scares. It's the atmosphere of desolation and uncertain doom that hangs over the setting that makes it eerie. What made Alien so scary in the first place was how, well, alien the threat was. Over time, we've learned exactly how Xenomorphs work, which is why they work better for action than horror nowadays. Prometheus throws a curve ball by featuring original monsters that work by their own rules. I really hope that other directors take a hint and start relying more on this kind of horror instead of cheap scares.

The design for the movie is great, with fantastic sets, props and costumes. It's obvious the creative team has spent a lot of time thinking about how everything works on the spaceship and the alien structures the crew explores. Not all of it is crammed in as exposition, mind you. The film raises way more questions than it answers, and it deliberately mysterious regarding things such as whether David has real emotions and many things about the aliens.

Prometheus isn't perfect, though. There's one action scene near the end which feels like it's taken from a completely different movie, the dialogue has some really awkward moments (most of them with Theron's character), and the film maybe goes a bit too fast near the end and doesn't stop to catch its breath before the climax. Also, pointless 3D that adds nothing. Oh, and the trailer spoils a huge detail about the film. If you've managed to either avoid the trailer or forget it, don't watch it!

Nevertheless, I really recommend it. This is the perfect way to pitch an original sci-fi movie to Hollywood today: have it be tangentially related to a really famous film for marketing purposes, but have the main plot be completely standalone. I've heard talks about Prometheus 2 being a possibility, and I'm kinda torn about that. In my opinion, the Alien saga can end here, but if they can think of a really good plot for another picture... why not?


(Mini-review) A Dangerous Method

Characters in reverse order of importance.
Hey kids! Do you like David Cronenberg? (The correct answer is yes.) Do you like Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen? (Also yes.) Do you like Keira Knightley? (Ehh...) Do you think psychology is interesting? (Hell no.) Whatever answers you gave, maybe you ought to go see A Dangerous Method.

It's a movie about Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud and Sabina Spielrein (Fassbender, Mortensen and Knightley, respectively), whose personalities clash all over early 20th century Europe. Friendships turn to rivalry, sharing of thoughts becomes theft of ideas, and love is tainted by envy and guilt. Deep discussions about sexuality, the nature of science, Wagner, and ethics are had.

The actors are fantastic. I never knew Keira Knightley had this much range, and Fassbender is quickly climbing his way up among my favourite contemporary actors. Mortensen is almost unrecogniseable from Lord of the Rings, but damn he does a good Freud. He's like this passive-aggressive douchebag father figure, and I found it very easy to relate whenever Jung ranted about how obnoxious the man is.

The film's weak part is the editing and story structure. There's way too few characters, in my opinion. We don't really see the psychologists interact with that many patients, so in the end they talk about psychotherapy way more than they actually practice psychotherapy. The transitions from scene to scene are way too sudden, and sometimes it'd hard to keep track where the characters are, currently, and how long it's been since the last scene.

What else... it's got beautiful scenery and really good Wagner-inspired music. Not much else to say than that. It's an artsy movie, and yet, I think it may be David Cronenberg's most mainstream production since The Fly. By the way, Cronenberg, I'm sorely disappointed by the lack of psychedelic mindfuck dream sequences in this film. Even Dead Ringers had one. Don't be afraid to be you!