Archive for the 3.5 Stars Category

Thor Review

Posted in 3.5 Stars, Action, New Movie, Review with tags , , , , on June 3, 2011 by russellsreviews

The summer of 2011 is filled with comic book movies. Thor, however, has a total different battle than the rest. Even though very important in the Marvel comic universe, Thor is the least known for the casual crowd and has the hardest chance of capturing the viewers acceptance. The previews and hype of the Avengers movie got people to go see it, but does the film have enough to be the next Iron Man or is it a Elektra?

Thor is a son of the most powerful Odin whose sole purpose is to protect all worldly realms from the once mankind greatest evil the frost Giants. Thor is handsome and strong beyond belief and next in line to the throne. His abilities have made him reckless and arrogant so Odin punishes him by stripping his powers and sending him and his legendary hammer to learn humility on our planet Earth.  

My biggest worry for the film was how well they were going to be able to translate the world from where Thor was from, Asgard, to the big screen. I was pleasantly surprised that they toned down the things they needed yet kept what made it so fascinating in the first place. The armor Thor, Odin, and Loki wore wear believable and yet still stylized and other worldly. Asgard was so interesting that you will wish they spent more time in that realm than on Earth.

This movie could have very have been too cheesy and ended up a disaster, but I was impressed how much they pulled it off. Part of that is how well the actors brought so much emotion to something they could have just cashed in and let the special effects do all the work. Actors Anthony Hopkins , Tom Hiddleston, and Chris Hemsworth all did a commendable job. Natlie Portman, who brought her acting skills to a new level in Black Swan, seemed to simply enjoying playing more simple role was the weakest link to the film, but in the end wasn’t that bad.

Although not digging as deep or as good as  the Spiderman,  first two X-men, and Batman films it’s still as entertaining as Iron Man or any other summer movie. Thor even holds well as its own movie rather than just one hyped tie in movie that Iron Man 2 was for the upcoming Avengers movie. Thor isn’t one of the best comic books movies ever made, but its upper middle and with all the things that could have gone wrong I call this movie a nice success.



Gantz movie review

Posted in 3.5 Stars, Foreign, Horror, Japan, New Movie, Review, Sci-Fi with tags , , , , , , , on January 23, 2011 by russellsreviews

After the successful live-action adaptations of Death Note, Detroit Metal City, and 20th Century Boys its becoming more common for Japanese film studios to take a chance on a mature manga/anime series. Gantz is the newest one by creator Hiroya Oku. However, Gantz is a much different beast than all the others before it. Its not that the manga isn’t as deep, but it goes to some very dark and intense places for it’s characters. Does the Gantz movie pull any punches or stay true and risk loosing a broader audience?

Kei is a underachieving teenager simply waiting for his train to arrive. A drunken man stumbles and falls on the tracks and everyone, including Kei, just stares and being curious to see what happens next. The only person who decides to help turns out to be Kei’s childhood friend, Kato. With the pressure of seeing his friend, Kei drops down to help raise the drunken man back on the platform only for them to be ones crushed by the oncoming train. Kei and Kato immediately find themselves with other killed strangers in a small locked white apartment with a giant black ball in the center room. Are they really dead? Where are they? How did they get there? More importantly why are they there?

That’s as far as I want to go as a set up, because the main draw of the series for me is seeing these mysteries played out and never know whats going to happen next to the characters. From the very first time I watch the anime of Gantz I felt that the story could translate very well to the big screen and would no doubt blow the sci-fi genre craze wide open if the the action was done well. The only problem is the original Gantz goes to some disturbing limits. This will ultimately be the deciding factor if you will enjoy the film or not if your a fan. To be honest there were parts of Gantz that went to far in my opinion. I know the main character did some really nasty immature stuff and part of showing all that sex and violence was for you to see how far Kei grows as a human being, but it was borderline too far  sometimes and crossed over to being simply there for shock value and to get the very same people Kei is growing out of to watch the show. The Gantz movie rolled back the unnecessary sex and made Kei into much more likable guy from the start. Gantz might have pulled back a little too much in some areas that hurt it from being near perfect, but in this reviewer mind it also helped making it a more balanced movie. If you were one of the fans of the Gantz manga that liked it only for how messed it up it got sometimes you will feel jipped. Fans should not worry about the action side of the film. All scenes are very close to the original and are surprisingly good.

For those that know nothing of Gantz are in for a real treat. You have a lot of the fat trimmed out for a more streamlined version and are in for something totally fresh and interesting. A fair warning though. The version shown in American theaters is dubbed and dubbed very bad in some emotional scenes that did twist some powerful scenes into unintentionally funny ones. Some fans will predictably cry foul, but a lot will walk away feeling pretty satisfied and will be excited to see what the sequel might bring.


ONG-BAK 2 Review

Posted in 3.5 Stars, Action, Foreign on June 24, 2009 by russellsreviews

Every generation has a ground breaking martial artist. One that comes along with a bang and changes how action movies are made for decades. He inspires many imitators, but there is only one true original and each one brings something different and amazing than the one before.. The first of course was Bruce Lee, then followed by Jackie Chan, Samo Hung, Jet Li, and Donnie Yen, but now with Jackie Chan and Jet Li cutting back a little, the future of Kung Fu was starting to look a little bleak. Then ,however, out of unlikely place of Thailand comes Tony Jaa. Ong-Bak crushed anything made in years, became a international breakout hit, and showed the world that Hong Kong isn’t he only place for great martial artists. Tony Jaa’s follow up Tom Yum Goong (or the protector in the states) was just as masterful, but the world was still waiting for a true sequel and anxiously wanted to see if he really was the next big thing or just a one trick pony. Finally after a long wait, Ong-Bak 2 is here.

It’s been no secret this movie went through tons of drama backstage. Even though this is only Tony Jaa’s third movie he sat in the director chair. The film went over budget and with the huge pressure with the massive early success and being labeled the next big thing meanwhile he was also starring, directing, and choreographing the fight scenes, Tony broke down and left the set to meditate in the jungles of Thailand. Then somehow Tony’s long last friend, producer, and director of his previous films gets more money and reaches an agreement with him to finish the film, but with his former director retaking the helm. This is no doubt why the film feels very much like two films.

The movie will take much criticism for not being a true sequel. The movie takes place 600 years before the first film and has no connection the previous film. I have no idea why they called the movie Ong-Bak 2 when not even the Buddha statue of Ong Bak is not even in the movie. Ong-Bak 2 is void of humor of the original and very much more of a traditional action period piece. The movie has a much darker tone,lighting, and takes much longer to hit on all cylinders. Much of the reason for this is you see the main character grow up and learn various fighting styles. To a martial art film junkie like me, seeing Tony Jaa learn and fight in many fighting classic fighting styles outside of muy thai only grew my respect and opinion of him, but for pacing and expectations that most people have for the film will just really want to see him in the next muay thai fight scene. I hope people can look past this and really appreciate or understand that Tony Jaa was just trying to show you he isn’t a one trick pony.

Now for those that wait Ong-Bak 2 picks up and finally delivers. The action picks up the intensity and offers the same jaw dropping painful fight scenes that set him apart. Seeing muy thai against all of the other styles is pleasure any kung fu film lover must see. One of which he takes out a whole crowd of pirates laying on his back. There is even a good twist at the end, but unfortunately the movie just ends. That’s right, a kung fu movie ends in a to be continued.

Reviewing this based of the first Ong-Bak, the movie is a mess. Watch simply as a complete separate film, the movie works. Despite the ending, the movie is well worth it just to see more from the best in the business. Its obvious that the movie is flawed and Tony Jaa took on too much too soon, but to me and hopefully the world this film will prove that he is real deal and here to stay. So relax Tony Jaa, you are destined for greatness so take some pressure off, trust yourself and let success come naturally. Ong-Bak 3 and your career will be better for it.


Drag me to Hell Review

Posted in 3.5 Stars, Horror, New Movie, Review, Uncategorized on June 12, 2009 by russellsreviews

First let me say that I’m a huge Sam Raimi fan. I loved all of his movies and would consider him one of my favorite directors. He can work in any work in genre and takes it to the next level. Sam also has been responsible for some of the best sequels ever made in Evil Dead 2, Army of Darkness,  and of course Spider-man 2. Way before he starting doing higher budget flicks he made a living with very low budget horror film series called Evil Dead. It took Sam 17 years, but finally he takes another shot at horror with Drag me to Hell. Knowing that just like those films Sam Raimi and his brother Ivan wrote and directed Drag me to Hell, needless to say I had high hopes and expectations for this film. So can he deliver on the same level as Evil Dead after all these years?

grave pic

Christine is a loan officer with opportunity for promotion for in her bank, but her manager thinks she is weak and unable of making tough choices. When a old gyspy lady Mrs. Ganush asks for an extension for her mortgage for a third time Christine sees this has her chance to prove herself and denies her. Only Christine picked the wrong person to show a backbone too. Ganush then gruesomely attacks her in the parking lot and curses her to damnation. Anyway, the plot in horror movies have never been their strong point, they simply rely on cheap thrills and scary jumps. That’s really what makes Sam Raimi horror movies stand out. He is so self aware of this he never really takes his horror too seriously. He makes these movies almost in way that its making fun of itself enough to be smart and campy, but yet not too much to be a comedy or loose its shock value. Sam shows this also by showing the old universal logo at the beginning of the film almost saying yeah you know whats coming.

Unfortunately, Drag me to Hell doesn’t do this as well as his previous films. It still has style and the camera turning and zooms that you love as a Raimi fan, but it looks like maybe Raimi is a tad rusty. The freights are good, but it feels like maybe Raimi was holding back a little of the craziness or camp to fit the PG-13 rating. This all could come down to why you like horror movies to begin with. Sam Raimi’s scary movies are scary and creepy, but didn’t resort to the old something behind you bang! play loud music then throw in gore. His horror is loony, crazy, and if it has gore its so over the top its funny. Their so weird in a cool way even though you might dislike horror you enjoy them anyway for other reasons. You finally see a lot of this in later part of the film, but since the movie is only about 90 mins. long you wish you had a little more of it. Some of lines from Christine are something Ash from Evil Dead might have even said. For most of the other parts of the film its just a better than run of the mill horror films you can see anytime.

Under any other director Drag me to Hell probably would have been average, but only through the style and dark humor is worth seeing. If you go see it with your expectations a little lowered I have no doubt you will enjoy it. Even though the film didn’t live up to the hype, its still a good film. It’s not a slasher flick or like any of those nasty gore fests most horror movies are nowadays that I hate. The biggest praise Drag me to Hell has is that its a horror movie thats more classic and fun than whats been out in years. I won’t say welcome back to horror that most critics say about Raimi, because I think he is extremely talented visionary and hope he doesn’t get trapped in one genre. Now lets hope Sam Raimi’s next horror film is Evil Dead 4.


Shaolin Girl review

Posted in 3.5 Stars, Action, Comedy, Foreign, New Movie, Review on June 11, 2009 by russellsreviews

Stephen Chow’s Shaolin Soccer is one of the most successful Asian films of all time and finally put Stephen Chow on the map in America. To try to piggy back on the success of that film, here comes Shaolin Girl. At first glace this looks like Japan’s version of Shaolin Soccer but with a girls lacrosse team, but it does branch off enough to be worth a look.

The movie starts off with almost the same idea, Rin, a shaolin trainer, moves back to  Japan with dreams of bringing back the all but forgotten shaolin martial art in her home country. Finding very little interest from anyone, she gets the idea of joining a local college girls lacrosse team and show off her abilities in hopes that it gains a new audience to want to study the ancient art. One of the cool things about this movie is even though this movie was made in Japan and has really has nothing to do with Shaolin Soccer it still has enough homages and familiar faces to feel like a sequel . About the time the team learns how to work together and starts to see the benefits of learning shaolin is when the movie breaks away a little. Shaolin Girl from then on becomes more of a kung fu movie and feels less like a Shaolin Soccer clone.

The kung fu in this movie is pretty good and each fight scene is better than the last, but only the final fight scene will make you think wow. Most of the action really has been done before but its executed enough to please most martial art fans. The fight scene taking place entirely on water is the one that will stay with you. Shaolin Girl never quite hits the magic or cords they were banking on, but if your a major fan of these types of movies there is a lot to enjoy.