Christopher Nolan's DARK KNIGHT trilogy has come to an end. In many ways it reminds me of another great trilogy's finale — RETURN OF THE JEDI. Not quite up to the grand standards of its predecessors, but a satisfying conclusion to the story of its main characters.
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DreamWorks' MADAGASCAR series has always been its attempt to bring a Looney Tunes vibe to animated features. In the third installment, the frenetic pace of classic Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck shorts is turned up to 11. While the series has never produced anything truly inspired, it has delivered entertainment and here Alex and friends get into the entertainment business.
Marvel has been building to this movie ever since the comics company started bringing their heroes to the big screen on their own. Nothing like this has ever really been attempted before. The build up to this mash up includes IRON MAN, IRON MAN 2, THE INCREDIBLE HULK, THOR and CAPTAIN AMERICA. Besides the great original IRON MAN, this accumulation is the best of the lot and the best multiple superhero film ever made. For those kinds of films, it has set the new bar much higher.
Based on Suzanne Collins' bestselling YA series, Gary Ross' screen adaptation has already become a mega hit. The film was supposed to be the next TWILIGHT and it has surpassed it at the box office already. But is it any good? In the categories of story and especially acting, it is certainly better than any of the TWILIGHT films. With its dystopian society and futuristic technology, it tells a compelling sci-fi yarn. But I still have a sneaky feeling that I've seen it before and done better.
SUPERMAN, LORD OF THE RINGS, STAR TREK, STAR WARS, AVATAR and dozens of other sci-fi and fantasy tales owe their origins to Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom series. This new film is based on Burroughs' A PRINCESS OF MARS, a classic of pulp fiction. Now Andrew Stanton, who won Oscars for FINDING NEMO and WALL*E, has brought the world to the screen.
This dark comedy isn't the prettiest looking release, but Sony does bring it to Blu-ray in a quality MPEG-4 AVC 1080p transfer. Dimensionality is the biggest issue with the image often looking soft. This then lowers the depth of field. Colors are natural and balanced well. When more vibrant colors pop up in the palette they do indeed pop. Blacks might not be inky throughout, but they aren't too murky. Digital issues aren't problematic, but crush is its biggest issue. Of course night scenes in low lighting suffer the worst. Some noise and banding occur but nothing too awful. Most of the issues with the picture quality presumably stem back to the source, which was a low-budget indie shot on Super 35. The worst thing you could say about the image would be that it is inconsistent. Some darker scenes can be murky and feature pixelization, but daylight scenes can be crisp and deep.
It was a surprise when Brendan Gleeson was announced as a Golden Globe nominee for his role as a corrupt, drug using, foul mouthed cop. Once you've seen it you'll know why. He owns the role. The best statement said about his character is he's either really stupid or really smart.
Over the years Steven Spielberg has certainly adapted his style to fit the project. The black & white cinematography in SCHINDLER'S LIST added a grim solemnity. The desaturated colors and herky-jerky photography of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN only matched the gritty war sequences. In WAR HORSE, he tackles the first World War with a touch that matches the melodramatic nature of the source book and play. He channels the melodramas of the 1940s and 1950s like John Ford's HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY, creating an almost surreal fable.
Based on Stieg Larsson's international bestseller, this film makes this the second time this story has been brought to the screen. The original Swedish version is very fresh in my mind, having made my top 25 list last year, ranking fourth, just behind David Fincher's THE SOCIAL NETWORK. Now we have Fincher's version of the same tale in English.
Steven Spielberg has made a rousing globetrotting adventure that harkens back to his early INDIANA JONES films. Using performance capture, he brought to life Herge's world-renowned comic strip character in a strangely realistic and surreal way. The lightning paced action scenes will be well accepted from the videogamer set, while older audiences might want it to have slowed down a bit to let us meet these characters.
For a continuing franchise it's so often the quality of the villain that makes the series longevity. The hero never changes, or we think that is the case. It's a good villain that pushes the protagonist to the edge. This is the case with the introduction of Professor James Moriarty into Guy Ritchie's steam punk version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's great detective.
Roman Polanski adapts Yasmina Reza's dark comedy play for the screen. For better and worse, Polanski, who co-wrote the script with Reza, doesn't adapt the film very much. Outside of a dialogue free opening and closing in a park, the rest of this dialogue-heavy production takes place in one New York apartment. Primarily his top notched cast keeps the film from crumbling under its weaknesses.
Those damn, dirty apes look quite amazing in this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 Blu-ray. This is certainly one of the best Blu-ray releases of the year. The picture quality is crystal clear adding great depth and detail. Weta's CG apes really stand out from fur to skin textures to their realistic looking eyes. The color palette is natural and clean with black levels inky throughout. There is a light film grain that runs through the picture, which does not increase during night scenes. Crush in those night scenes is also nonexistent. As for compression issues and other digital artifacts, they are completely absent.
What I love about so many Chinese historical epics is how they blend history and myth. Now famed director Hark Tsui, who created the ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA series, brings the real life story of Chinese historical icons Detective Dee and Empress Wu to the screen in a big budget, vfx-driven spectacle that includes spontaneous human combustion, high flying kung fu and a talking deer.
This transfer of Hark Tsui's epic fantasy is gorgeous. The MPEG-4 AVC Blu-ray has colors so rich that they actually took me aback, especially in the film's elaborate vfx sequences. Because of the detailed clarity, some of the wide matte-painted backgrounds look strikingly realistic. It shows off the impressive quality of Korean vfx firm AZ Works and their partners' work. The rich golds and reds of lavish costuming pop and the detail even reveals threads. When the film descends into the underground Phantom City, the contrast of shadow is represented nicely without any noticeable crush. Grain is practically nonexistent in daylight scenes, but does creep up in lower lit sequences. Digital anomalies like banding, aliasing or pixelization were not evident to me.
Director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody last collaborated on the Oscar nominated JUNO. Cody won the Oscar for her screenplay, her first produced script. Some thought she was a one hit wonder following her entertaining, but not all that original, horror flick JENNIFER’S BODY. YOUNG ADULT proves them wrong.
Tomas Alfredson, who directed the wonderful Swedish vampire film LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, adapts John le Carre's classic spy novel into a slow burn thriller. His film is as laconic as his central character, played with great reserve by Gary Oldman. From its Cold War setting to its visual style, the film at times conjures up memories of Hitchcock's latter day thrillers.
Michel Hazanavicius' effortlessly charming dramedy is really like discovering a lost film from the silent age. The director of the popular French OSS 117 spy spoof series recreates every aspect of a black and white silent film of the 1920s. From the classic 1.37:1 aspect ratio to the title cards to the dramatic pitch, he gets all the details right. His performers nail the acting style, which is a key to the film's success. But it's not just a gimmick. It's a reminder that sometimes words get in the way of visual storytelling.
Your appreciation of this AVC transfer relies heavily on knowing the source of this indie sci-fi drama. Filmed with a 720p camera on a next to nothing budget, the picture contains a great deal of grain that increases exponentially under low lighting conditions. One scene in the snow at night really highlights its digital origins. Banding and aliasing often creep up in higher contrasted scenes. Color are muted and natural, which fits the cool mood. But when compared to the DVD version, clarity is greatly increased with the grain issue minimized. All things considered this 1080p release is about as good as this material can look.
Here is a unique use of sci-fi. For the most part this film is a drama regarding recovering from a tragic event that fundamentally transforms one's life over night. The concept of a doppelganger planet is used as metaphor for how decisions we make create new lives and even selves.
What could a 3-D family film from Martin Scorsese be like? With HUGO now as an example, the answer is magical. And it's a magic that Scorsese is best suited to bring to life — the magic of the movies. At one point, a young boy visits a movie studio and the director leans down to him and tells him if he's ever wondered where his dreams come from this is where they are made.
The holidays have different meanings to everyone. For better or worse it's usually a time for family. Now from Aardman Animations, the creator of WALLACE & GROMIT, comes a modern look at Santa and his family. What we find out is that even good ole Saint Nick has a dysfunctional family.
David Cronenberg is not director shy in exploring the strangeness of sexuality. So it seems obvious that he would tackle psychoanalysis pioneers Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud. Based on Christopher Hampton's screenplay adaptation of John Kerr's book, the conflict between Freud and Jung centers around their relationship with patient / future psychoanalyst Sabina Spielrein, who will challenge their thoughts on repression.
Jason Segel has made his love letter to the Muppets. This nostalgic comedy is clearly made by fans. It takes some vibe from the TV series and some from the features. While it might not have the spark of the original MUPPET MOVIE or the very best of THE MUPPET SHOW, it respects those origins and presents a heartfelt film for a cynical world.