Category: Movie Review (Page 1 of 9)

Life of Pi and the Problem with Relative Truth

Back at the end of 2012, I previewed Life of Pi via a sponsored post.  Part of the sponsorship was a free copy of the novel (movie tie-in paperback).  In summer of 2013 I got around to reading it and Summer 2014 I was able to view the film, on my parents’ DVR.

The book is well written, with an good storytelling and interesting plot.  The film is just an abbreviated version of the film, with brilliant visuals.

I won’t spoil any major plot points, but the themes and some of the logic of the main character Pi to me seems flawed.  The major theme of the story, solidified by the ending, is that you can choose your own truth and choose what to believe as truth.

For example, the story starts off with Pi as a Hindu, and very early on it progresses with him becoming Christian and Muslim, all while staying Hindu.  He sees no problems with being all three at once.

I don’t claim to be an expert on Hinduism or Islam, and I have a lot more to learn about and from my Christian God, but I do know that Jesus clearly says “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  There is one and only one way to know God in heaven, and that is through Jesus.  Faith in what he has done: he lived the sinless life we could not live and he died the death we deserve.  Then he conquered death and the devil by coming back to life from the dead.

Pi’s problem was that he was more interested in following rituals and being part of the different religious communities.  He cared more about how religion made him feel.  It enhanced his earthly life.  He really didn’t get the eternal point of Christianity or accept the Truth.  Author Yann Martel doesn’t get the point either.  The truth is without Jesus, mankind meets eternal suffering in hell.  With Jesus is paradise. You see, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

I’m going to end with a quote from my lovely wife Alyssa.  I couldn’t say it any better, so I’m going to just let her say it.

That’s the beauty and the pitfall of relative truth – sure you can decide what you want to believe and that’s all fine for the here and now, but what about later?  How can believing what you want in this life have any bearing or control over an eternity that you can’t be certain about?  Of course one might choose to believe there is no eternity and then just forget the whole thing- but I don’t really think that even someone who believes in relative truth would be really comfortable with that. “He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”(Ecclesiastes 3:11) We know innately that there has to be something more than this life, but I think people think they can ignore that inkling because they can’t control what happens in eternity. Ultimately, that’s folly. It’s foolish to believe whatever you want, to just be concerned about this life, because just because you believe in some arbitrary thing does not actually make it real (“what does it profit a man to gain the whole world but forfeit his soul…” or something like that).

Holy Batnipples! They made more of these!

Batman Returns

I wasn’t fan of its predecessor, but this sequel gets a couple of things right where Batman failed.  It certainly isn’t a great film, and I’m rather impressed these films made enough money that they made four of them.  In any case, I think Batman Returns may be the best film in this series.

First things first, Tim Burton really toned down the “iconic shots” in this film and majorly increased the plot (i.e. it had a plot this time).  There are 2.5 villains: the Penguin…a monster played by Danny DeVito, Christopher Walken plays himself (actually he plays Max Shreck, a power monger business man), and waffling Catwoman…played with a lot of crazy by Michelle Pfeiffer.

Overall, I liked this one better than the first one, but the whole raised by penguins thing still bothers me. 6 ramheads out of 10.

Batman Forever

The 3rd film, Batman Forever, has Val Kilmer, and he plays a weird, but not terrible Batman.  This has a very cartoon or video game feel, with a very enclosed world.  There are a handful of villains, all of them pretty boring.  3 ramheads out of 10.


Batman & Robin

TBaneJShe 4th film, Batman and Robin, is bad.  George Clooney is a terrible Batman.  He has no presence on the screen at all.  You don’t care about him or even realize he’s there most of the time.  This film has the worst, cheapest, feel to it.  There are a new handful of villains, including a pretty lame Bane. The only this that is interesting is the Batgirl story line, played strongly by Alicia Silverstone. 2 ramheads out of 10.



Interestingly, I liked the 2nd one best, but it is less memorable than the first one and the last one.  The 3rd is totally forgettable and also bad.

Here ends my blast from the past to the Batman films of my childhood.

Na na na na na na na na Batman! (1989 edition)

As a kid I remember watching the live action Batman (1989) and being very entertained.  It is probably because, as a kid, there wasn’t much for me to think about or understand in the film.

Style over substance

Batman displays a highly stylized (for 1989), almost cartoonish version of Batman, with very weak characters and plot.  Michael Keaton does fine, as a rather bored Bruce Wayne, with some pretty funny one-liners.  His portrayal of The Batman, however, is a bland, kind of lame superhero.  But you know, even a lame Batman is cool.  I think it is that suit.

Much of that is the fault of the writing/direction.  Burton seems to spend so much time getting some iconic shots of Batman, the Batmobile driving fast, the Batwing flying and posed in the moon, that he doesn’t develop the characters at all.  They don’t seem to have much common sense (making the audience not even root for them) and are generally very flat.

The Batwing flying straight up….for no reason other than this shot.

Aside from a couple Bruce Wayne quips, the only part that really entertained in this film was the psychotic, goofy portrayal of Joker by Jack Nicholson….sometimes.  Joker gets kind of annoying, though, when he’s dancing to late 80s music with his thugs, who look totally out of place with the big boombox and lame moves.

Plotwise, for most of the movie the Joker doesn’t seem to have much of a plan.  He really just wanders aimlessly, randomly killing or sparing people, with not much purpose.  Batman doesn’t seem to have much urgency either, there was a scene where he basically flies in circles in the Batwing for no reason.  Much of the movie seems disjointed, and I think this was the sacrifice that Burton made in getting the right “look”.

The right look is even better when you have solid depth to the characters and a great story.  Having seen how good Batman films can be in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, this one really disappoints.


Batman (1989) runs 126 minutes and is rated a [soft] PG-13.  I give it 5 ramheads out of 10.

Both sides of the war in Vietnam

Many war movies stylize war, glorify it, or soften it.  We Were Soldiers (2002), thankfully, isn’t this type of film.  Vietnam was a brutal war, and this movie really gives us a small glimpse of that brutality.

The film follows Lt. Colonel Hal Moore, and his cavalry in the Battle of Ia Drang.  The US really wasn’t prepared for the war, especially since the Vietnamese were fighting on their own rugged home turf, with years and years of experience.  Ia Drang was the first major battle for the Americans in the war and really set the stage for the rest of the war.  The US was actually letting family members know about their deceased via telegram at first, that’s how unprepared they were for this very deadly war.

While the film primarily follows Moore and the US, occasionally it shows opposing Vietnamese soldiers, writing in a journal or mourning their losses.  This technique further depicts the brutality of the war. People are on both sides, and no matter what side they are on, they really do believe they are fighting for the right side.  People fighting against people.

I’m not sure about the historical accuracy of this adaptation, but I do know that it accomplishes its goal and making war realistic for the viewer.  It really makes you appreciate what you have, and the many people who died defending it.  Thank a veteran and thank God.

We Were Soldiers runs 138 minutes and is rated R.  This film is not family friendly, it is quite violent with some language.  I give it 8 ramheads out of 10.

A bunch of mini-reviews from movies I’ve seen in 2012 and early 2013

So guess what?  I’m employed.  At a great company with great people doing stuff I love.  This means that I’ll be able to blog more.  First, though, I need to play a little catch-up.

The Avengers (2012) was a great action comic book movie.  It is really jam-packed full of action, the plot is a little thin, and Hulk is actually done well, thanks to Mark Ruffalo after one bad and one mediocre attempt at feature film.  It is pure comic superhero entertainment.  Thumbs up to Joss Whedon.  I give it 9 ramheads out of 10.

Next up, another comic book flick, The Dark Knight Rises (2012) was the close to a great Batman trilogy from Christopher Nolan.  It tied up loose ends, brought everything full circle (many Batman Begins and The Dark Knight nods), and features more real character development than in the past.  All the acting, action, and plot were top notch.  I like the film better than its predecessors, though it wasn’t quite as shocking as The Dark Knight.  This was probably my favorite film of 2012.  10 ramheads out 10.
Not comic-booky at all, Will Ferrell’s Everything Must Go (2010) features a Will Ferrell acting, not too much unlike his performance in Stranger than Fiction.  This time his character is an alcoholic who hits rock bottom.  His wife leaves all his stuff on the lawn, changes the locks, and then leaves.  He works it out.    Funny.  Sad.  And shows some of the effects of alcoholism on a guy.  I enjoyed this one.  I’ll give this one 7 ramheads out of 10.
My Amazon Prime subscription led me to watch a few films that I wasn’t sure about.  I had a good experience with Everything Must Go, but not so much with Melancholia (2011).  I only made it half through.  The part I saw was a couple at their weird wedding reception with a weird family and the new bride was going back and forth from being happy and depressed.  Then she sleeps with a random guy, not her husband.  I still don’t get the point of this depressing crap, and I know I wasted 45 minutes of my time.  1 ramhead out of 10.  I really don’t recommend seeing this.
Another Amazon Prime flick that was very highly regarded with critics and award shows, was Winter’s Bone   (2010).  This is Jennifer Lawrence’s foray into popularity, even if it was more of an indy film.  While I can’t say that I enjoyed it, it was very interesting.  The gist of the it: in southern poverty a 17 year old girl (Lawrence) has to find her drug-addicted father, who owes money, otherwise they will lose their land.  Her mom is severely depressed and pretty much useless, so Lawrence’s character is also raising her younger siblings.  Her character is very similar to Katniss in The Hunger Games.  The culture of drugs, family, and poverty is really what strikes the middle class Midwesterner that I am.  It is an honest picture of a world I’ll never know.  I give it 6 ramheads out of 10.
The final film in this post is another Prime watched film.  Into the Wild (2007) is a film about a young college graduate with a tough past and a very high intellect, just disappearing on a quest of sorts traveling across America and ending up living in solidarity in Alaska.  He’s trying to figure out life and how to be happy.  His final conclusion is very interesting.  Into the Wild is based on a true story.  I give it 8 ramheads out of 10.

A Zombie with Heart

I‘ve always enjoyed post-apocalyptic films, television, and literature.  So when I saw the trailer for Warm Bodies, I was intrigued.  A comedy about zombies.  Zombies with a heart?

I won’t go so far as to say it was a romantic comedy, because aside from a select few (noteably, Crazy, Stupid, Love) the genre itself is lame.  Plus, the main character is a zombie, impressively played with blank zombie look for most of film by Nicholas Hoult (X-Men: First Class‘s Hank McCoy/Beast).

I won’t go too into the story, because most of it is in the trailer:

I will say though, that this is the freshest, most unique take on the Romeo/Juliet story I’ve seen in a long time and the most creative movie I’ve seen since Inception.  (I know that Warm Bodies was based on the book of the same name, but it was still an excellent movie.)

The music was great, the jokes were funny, the acting and makeup was stellar, and the plot was very original.  There was a bit of language in this PG-13 film, not suitable for younger kids.  I give this excellent film 9 ramheads out of 10.  (P.S. I’m sorry, I review so many good films…I just don’t like wasting my money or time on bad ones. But look forward to my mini-review roundup.  I know there will be at least 1 bad film in there.)

Bane vs. Uncle Owen: My review of Warrior

Warrior (2011) is much more than your average fighting movie.  I’ve seen some of the Rocky movies, The Fighter, Karate Kid, and even Real Steel (which I really enjoyed).  While all of these are very similar in nature, usually stories with underdogs or family issues (or both), they don’t really handle the heavy emotional themes as well as Warrior.

My gut tells me it was the acting on the part of Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, and Nick Nolte. But thinking upon it more, it was really the performances combined with the amazing screenwriting and directing.  The way the dialogue slowly and delicately reveals more and more layers of past emotional complication and family history is a wonderful method of storytelling by director/screenwriter Gavin O’Connor.

The film starts off with Tommy (Tom Hardy) showing up at the door of the now-sober father he and his mother fled from when he was a kid.  They hadn’t seen each other since that day many years before.  Tommy really doesn’t say much, he doesn’t try to reconcile with his father, he just wants his father to help him train for an MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) tournament, no emotional strings attached.

Later we are introduced to Brendan (Joel Edgerton), a relatively unknown UFC fighter turned physics teacher who is probably going to lose his house because of medical bills from his daughter’s open heart surgery.

Just like string cheese (mmm string cheese) the next layer is peeled and we find out that Tommy’s father is also Brendan’s father, and they are also estranged. I won’t give any more away, but I’ll tell you, there are some powerful scenes, brilliantly acted by Hardy, Edgerton, and Nolte.

But what about the fighting?  It was awesome.  Warrior perfectly balances the action with the story.  This isn’t just a showy fighting flick.  That doesn’t mean the fighting is missing, though.  It is most certainly there and it demonstrates why MMA is way cooler than boxing (so many boxing movies…) and much more enjoyable to watch.

Warrior run 140 minutes and is rated PG-13.  Because it’s a fighting film, I wouldn’t watch it with younger kids, but older kids (boys especially) will really get into it.  I give it a strong Jimmy-was-moved 9 ramheads out of 10.  Go see this film! (You can see it on Amazon Prime like I did :).


Jimmy’s Movie Preview: Life of Pi

One of the upcoming films that caught my eye, mainly by its trailer, is Life of Pi.  It is based on the novel Life of Pi by Yann Martel and it about a kid who survives a “disaster at sea” and is stuck on a small boat.  The only problem is, he’s joined by a Bengal tiger.  In a miracle of events the tiger doesn’t eat him.

From the stills it looks like it covers more than just the “at-sea-with-a-tiger” part of his life, it probably covers a good deal of it…besides, it is called “Life of Pi”.

For the record, this is sponsored post (that is where all the cool photos come from).  My opinions still are my own and I wouldn’t agree to post about if I didn’t want to see this film.  

Here is the official synopsis:

Genre:Adventure-Drama in 3D
Release: November 21, 2012
Director: Ang Lee
Screenplay by: David Magee, based upon the novel by Yann Martel

With LIFE OF PI, director Ang Lee (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) creates a groundbreaking movie event about a young man who survives a disaster at sea and is hurtled into an epic journey of adventure and discovery. While cast away, he forms an amazing and unexpected connection with another survivor…a fearsome Bengal tiger.

Here’s the trailer: And here are some movie stills:

Finally, since I have them, here are a few behind the scenes photos:

I gladly welcome thoughts on the film both before and after you see it!

The Hunger Games Review, only a week late

I FINALLY got to see The Hunger Games yesterday afternoon and I was very pleasantly surprised.

Other reviewers liked it, but I was still not sure how they could accomplish translating a very good book, written from the first person perspective of Katniss–a girl who really doesn’t say much out loud but certainly thinks a lot–into a successful film.  I wondered if most of the film would be narrated by Jennifer Lawrence.  Not, so:  director Gary Ross took a different creative approach.

Ross decided to film it mostly with handheld cameras and close in-your-face shots.  There was also no narration, no first person.  Going from the printed page to the medium of film definitely required change, and Ross grabbed the bull by the horns.

First off, the casting was very good.  Jennifer Lawrence was perfectly cast.  She could play the tough, smart, tomboy Katniss very believably.  The one thing she did really well was convey Katniss’ silence, her working things out in her head.  Her lack of respect for the Capitol, but her need to survive.  Josh Hutcherson plays the perfect Peeta, likeable, good on camera.  Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci and Liam Hemsworth all worked perfectly.  (I loved Tucci’s Caesar Flickerman).  I’m still not sure about Lenny Kravitz as Cinna.

The emotion and spirit of the books is what shined the most.  It was obvious that Gary Ross gets it.  The handheld camera technique really captured the way Katniss was feeling:  overwhelmed by everything, fighting for survival.  Also since we weren’t in Katniss’ head, some other scenes were added to clarify those things that were merely implied in the book.

The music worked.  It wasn’t as sweepingly epic as The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter scores, but it really worked.  In a way it captures the bleakness of the situation, supplementing Katniss’ lack of expression and her silence.

The cinematography and approach to this film is what could win it awards.  The explosion in popularity in the past months is what is making it money.  The story and spirit of the books is why I would really like to see this one again.

The one thing I wish they would have perfected were the muttations at the end of the games.  I wanted to see each of the deceased tributes in them.  It really adds to the horror and tyranny of the Capitol.  (Also, having Cato being slowly eaten with his body armor and Katniss’ mercy kill would have be effective as well, but alas, it was PG-13.)

The Hunger Games runs 142 minutes and is rated PG-13.  You want to teach a kid about authoritarian government, show them this film (or give them the book, which I still like better.)  I give The Hunger Games 10 ramheads out of 10.  This film lives up to the hype.

You’ll be paranoid, but educated

What if there was a virus that can spread around the world in a few months and can cause death in a matter of a couple days?  There are plenty of those right now, but we have vaccines for them.  What if we didn’t?  The 2011 film Contagion explores this ‘what if’.

It explores this first and foremost from the perspective of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and a few of its doctors (Laurence Fishburne and Kate Winslet included).  This is the major U.S. government run agency that is responsible for these situations.

The film also looks at it from the perspective of an immune widower (Matt Damon) who lost his wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) soon after her return from a business trip to Hong Kong (and her secret sexual affair during layover on the way back).  Later that day he lost his young stepson.

Finally, the film also follows a professional conspiracy blogger (Jude Law) and his opinions on the virus and how it is being handled by the government.

This film really gets the viewer thinking about what he/she would do if this really happened.  Because it approaches the concept in such a believable way (unlike The Day After Tomorrow, et al.), it really has the ability to scare you.  How would you handle these situations?  What would you do?  I was more affected by the chaos that ensued when quarantines were set up than by the effects of the disease itself.  Fear can lead people to do desperate things.

Contagion really digs into the politics and the procedures that take place behind the scenes in government.  Everyone wants a say and this leads to inefficiency and slow-flowing information.  It is fascinating, yet unnerving.

Contagion is a good film covering a scary topic.  There are a few graphic scenes (an autopsy and the dying people) and a little language that would prevent me from showing a younger kid (who would probably be bored anyway), but otherwise this is a clean film.  Contagion runs 106 minutes and is rated PG-13.  I give it 8 ramheads out of 10.

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