Archive for the 4.5 Stars Category

Nana Review

Posted in 4.5 Stars, Drama, Foreign, Review, Romantic on August 26, 2009 by russellsreviews

Nana is a live action adaptation of a popular manga, anime series of the same name. I have never seen or read any of it, and the little knowledge I have of Nana was really only what I remembered from when my fiance talked about it. Its a foreign romantic story, yes, so if you have low tolerance on character drama or “love stories” this could mean to some people will automatically write Nana off, but to these people I say grow up, and try to expand your horizons a little. Now thats out of the way on to the movie.

Nana is ironic story of two girls from very different worlds, but with the same name and some deeper things very much in common, meet by chance on a train. Some time later when one Nana decides to look for an apartment in Tokyo to be closer to her boyfriend she once again bumps into the other Nana looking at the very same apartment. Recalling how well they got along at that chance meeting on the train and how they both are need of a room mate they decide to move in together. Although the two girls couldn’t look or act more opposite, they find similarities in their lives, grow closer, and become a much needed support in crisis. They help improve each other and make them see that their love life needs a second look.

All of this might sound too girly, but the movie never crosses that line so even the average guy should like this film. The problems of both girls look very real and well done that you care and feel their ups and downs. All of the emotions have real weight to them. Not only this, but the outcome you can never be sure about. It’s been a long time since I have seen a romantic movie were you don’t have a check list of what happens next and how they all end up.

On top of the great love stories, you have a great message about humanity in general. Both Nana’s are totally different, yet the same. They both have insecurities, passions, and desires. Through the bridge of music they find something to build a friendship on. If people could be nice to each other and try to find things to relate to life would be much easier. You can’t judge a person by looks or how they act alone. Look deeper at that person that you might have thought was weird or different to you could end up being a better friend to you than the ones you have now.

I can’t say how well Nana adapted the source material to film, but as movie it accomplishes a lot. The acting, the direction, and emotions are top grade. Nana is another movie in a long line that mainstream Hollywood should check out on how to make simply good drama. So should you.

4.5 STARS

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Ponyo Review

Posted in 4.5 Stars, Animation, Anime, Foreign, New Movie, Review on August 16, 2009 by russellsreviews

In the U.S. 2-D animation is all but dead. If it wasn’t for Pixar, not even Disney would be making them and when they do its about one every three years. Television now is even moving away from it. The only place really to get 2-D anymore is from Japan. Hayao Miyazaki is consider the master of this craft in Japan, and there is no reason why he shouldn’t that recognized in the states as well. Ponyo, Miyazaki’s newest, is finally given its chance in American theaters. His movies are normally critically acclaimed, although always overlooked by the Academy, but never a commercial success. Can Ponyo change all of this?

Ponyo is a fairy tale of a young boy named Sasuke who finds a mysterious fish, Ponyo, and decides to take care of it. Only this goldfish is actually the daughter of a mad wizard who is in charge of keeping the balance of human and magical worlds separate. If Ponyo stays with Sasuke too long it will shift everything out of balance and cause the moon to get closer to earth and put all of Japan underwater. Only Ponyo has fallen in love with Sasuke and is willing to risk everything to become a real girl and be with Sasuke forever.

Ponyo is more light hearted than his previous films and little more innocent, but that’s what Miyazaki was going for. All of his movies deal with love, but Ponyo’s whole theme is love. The love story takes place with two very young kids to show how love is innocent and pure and shouldn’t be corrupted, much like a child. Much like his other films as well he as a environmental message. Human ways are hurting the magical creatures, yet they coexist with the humans for their ability to love and work together.

It was very refreshing to see the hand drawn character movements and the painted environments. In my opinion, movement, motion, and emotion in a 2-D will never be matched by CGI. Ponyo is just another in a long line examples of this. Ponyo might not rank up there with some Miyazaki fans, but deserves praise for trying to tell a tale in a more simple fashion, dare we say more assessable to the west. Miyazaki is a master of animation, because he creates movies with fascinating worlds seen no where else, while reminding adults of important messages, and most importantly while never loosing the imagination or the fun to reach all ages. I hope Ponyo will be the one to finally to make a good buck in America and would only be called predujice against Asian culture if it doesn’t get at least gets nominated this year.

4.5 STARS

Chocolate Review

Posted in 4.5 Stars, Action, Foreign, martial arts, Review on July 27, 2009 by russellsreviews

Prachya Pinkaew, the action director and the man who discovered Tony Jaa, has discovered a new talent only this time its a girl. When JeeJa Yanin was discovered by Pinkaew he thought she was talented enough to headline her very own serious movie. With the exception of Michelle Yeoh, its really been rare recently to have a leading star in an action movie a female. Does JeeJa Yanin have “it” or is the famous Thai director just over hyping and she will fade away like many before her?

It would a shame if JeeJa Yanin fades away. Chocolate rocks.

First lets talk about the story. Most great action movies have a passable story, or at least one that gets you to one fast action scene to the next. Chocolate goes beyond this and gives you a great back story to the characters. You are not simply in awe of the fights, but you root for her and her family and it makes it more rewarding when she wins.

JeeJa Yanin totally delivers. Fans of Ong-Bak will feel right at home with the action. She flies,leaps, and pulls of crazy kicks that you will want to see again and again. The action is just as fast and unbelievable as any man can pull off. Chocolate is just as good as advertised and JeeJa Yanin has a huge future. Fans of martial arts, this is a can’t miss. With Tony Jaa and now JeeJa Tanin, and the popularity of Muy Thai growing, Thailand looks like it can take the crown from Hong Kong in kung fu and have a chance to keep it for a long time.

4.5 STARS

20th Century Boys Review

Posted in 4.5 Stars, Drama, Foreign, New Movie, Review on July 17, 2009 by russellsreviews

A good mystery can be a non-stop adventure that leads to one direction then to the next. Its full of twist and turns and of course the who done it. A good mystery could also be a slow build, working like a snowball building suspense and clues along the way until the huge reveal. 20th Century Boys does a great job of both.

In 1969, Kenji and a group of his elementary school friends build a secret base to get away from big twin bullies. The kids spend every day there playing and coming up with crazy dreams and stories of a future disaster that can only be stopped by a group of friends. Flash forward to the mid 90’s, Kenji has now given up his dreams and is forced to settle managing a convenience store. When he goes to a class reunion he bumps into most of all his old friends and attempts to reconnect them. Kenji sadly finds out that one them recently was killed and turns the group’s lives upside down. At the same time a strange cult being lead by a masked man simply calling himself, Friend, is growing and is found out to be behind Kenji’s friend’s murder. Friend is also commenting terrorist attacks, literally acting out every detail that Kenji and his friends wrote about when they were Kids. Why is Friend acting this out and how did he find out about these stories? More importantly who is Friend? Only Kenji and his friends know whats going to happen and have the power to stop Evil Friend’s plans.

20th Century Boys is a masterful mystery going back and forth from different points of Kenji’s life that only gets better as the movie moves along. Story and flash backs that once you thought was just character development plays big parts down the line, this is not the kind of movie you can divert your attention from. The movie rewards you doing so ,however, and ties in every character making everything important and engrossing. Seeing how the friends interact when they are kids and when they grow up only attaches you more to their problems and make you care for the outcome. The movie pace builds upon every scene and as you come closer and closer to the answer you still can’t figure it out. Friend is a formidable villian and only becomes more engrossing every step Kenji gets closer to figuring out who he is.

The final showdown comes down between the group of friends and a giant robot. For those who think the giant robot might ruin it, don’t be afraid, the movie never looses its maturity mostly because the design of the robot is realistic and very impressively done on the movies low budget. The final scenes are very memorable and no doubt go down in cinema history at least in Japan and hopefully be somewhat recognized in the west.

20th Century Boys is epic and deserves attention. It’s high class and one of the best films to come out Japan. The only reason you might feel down after the movie is since the movie is based of a popular manga it had to be broken into three parts and ends in a exicting cliffhanger. What’s great though is since all of the movies were filmed at the same time, if you wait after credits they show a cool trailer for part 2. There has been news recently that the whole trilogy is going to be brought over for North American release on DVD very soon, so it will be easy to watch what has already taken Japan by storm. I recommend you do.

4.5 STARS

Speed Racer Review

Posted in 4.5 Stars, Action, Review, Uncategorized on May 24, 2009 by russellsreviews

Speed Racer was one of the first tastes Americans got of the wonderful world of anime. If it wasn’t for Speed Racer  along with robotech, voltron, and battleship Yamato there never would have been a chance for mobile suite gudam, Dragon Ball, or Pokemon to come to the states many years later. The show was fast, surreal, and with races scenes never been seen before. The Wachowski Brothers from the matrix fame have stated several times they are huge anime fans and wanted to bring to life one of there favorite series and recreate the magic of the original. The Brothers managed to revolutionize films by taking fighting styles from anime and implanted in an American movie with great success with the matrix trilogies, but can they pull off a whole live action based off a mostly forgotten, but much beloved series?

Wow! Speaking from being a anime fan myself and growing watching old reruns, I couldn’t be more pleased. The Wachowski Brothers have boldy and faithfully adapted Speed Racer to the silver screen. They took the classic mock 5 and updated it enough to be cool for a new generation, but kept the old school feel. For what they did for fight scenes they did for the car races. The cars rushed and battled for position just like the anime and each turn grew faster and more exciting. There is also a great fight scene in the snow where the snow follows the motion of the punches and kicks. Luckily, this isn’t the only achievement. I have to really commend the Wachowski brothers for also trying to capture in a live action film the pacing and scene transitions anime does so well. The camera spins or characters several faces flood the screen it never looses focus or color. There is one scene when Speed is explaing why he is going to stay with his father’s racing team and what his family means to him and the background moves from moment to moment just add to the emotion and rarely seen outside of anime. They took so much care in the source material that they even gave the man who did mostly all the voices for the show Peter Fernadez a role.

Speed Racer doesn’t just rely on the action and great track locales its all about family. You really feel the impact of Speed’s brother Rex on the whole family the entire film and is the driving force for most of the characters actions. The two speeches from Speed’s parents are very heart warming,deep, mature, and would make anyone crack a smile. Emile Hirsch and John Goodman look and act like Speed and Pops. Christina Ricci gives a charming performance of Trixie and acts like a living breathing anime character. Mathew Fox in another stand out feature film role stole the show as Racer X. It could have been easy to just say the lines and call it a day, but he gave a great gravely voice and delivered the lines with uber coolness. His last scene where he remembers and reveals to the auidence the full extent and pain to hide the truth to the Racer family was put together masterfully with combination of his acting, great camera work, and a great score from Michael Giacchino. This scene still makes me emotional upon repeated viewing. I really think Mathew Fox deserves a starring role in a feature film. Since the Wachowski Brothers were faithful to the anime and wanting to make it more family friendly there are a lot of scenes with spritle and chim chim. Some of thier jokes were hit and miss, but some of them were actually being pretty funny.

For the untrained all these visual cues and speed can be a little itimating at first, but at the end I’m certain you will be caught up in the rush and emotions. I know the critics killed this movie and it bombed at the box office, but I don’t think this movie could have been made any other way. I really feel the Wachowski Brothers pulled it off and made my favorite movie last year. For people who don’t understand anime might feel this film is a sensory overload, but thats just them being Jaded. If you have a warm heart and open mind for something truly different and exicting then you will enjoy Speed Racer even if you are not a fan of anime or the original show. Speed Racer is groundbreaking and the Wachowski Brothers should be proud no matter what “critics” say. I hope they keep on making films inspired by eastern styles and animation, and show off thier imagination. The producers who made the awful Dragonball movie should have used this same approach. This is one movie where the critics and the masses are wrong. Speed Racer is a great film and I’m sad they will never make the sequels they originally planned. GO SPEED GO!

4.5 stars

LOST “The Incident” Review

Posted in 4.5 Stars, Drama, Review, Sci-Fi, Uncategorized on May 21, 2009 by russellsreviews

Being such a geek about the show Lost and after the great season finale I decided I had to write a review just to get all these thoughts out of my head. Viewers started to tune out during season 2 and then even more jumped ship season 3, but after seeing this season’s finale “The Incident” I can say they are going to be left out for LOST special last season. With only one season to go and still tons of mysteries and questions left unanswered they had to start cracking them out. The “Incident” didn’t disappoint.

The opening scene reveal of Jacob opened new take on the mythos of the island. Not only does Jacob not look like the long hair bearded ghost, but he is not alone and both appear to have lived on the island for a very long time. Through out the show during flashbacks and flash forwards we learned that the castaways were oddly connected, but it turns out it was all planned by Jacob and against his new “friend” wishes. Jacob has been appearing at key moments of the cast aways lives  feeling them out, and indirectly pushing them to come to the island. In a very LOST fashion, we still don’t know for what purpose, but it appears to me that its for some sick game of destiny vs. free will. My guess is Jacob stands for good since he was wearing the white clothes, and free will, saying to Ben right before he was seemingly killed “you always have a choice.”

Whats confusing to all this is how can a person or being stand for good, yet put all these people through these trails without their approval and be for free will . It’s also troubling how Jacob dealt with Locke. What was the purpose for bringing Locke to the island? He was told and groomed from the island that he was something special and a higher power and serving for good only to fail almost everything he tried to accomplish in life. His father betrayed him, he had no friends, no love life, crippled, was left alone with no one believing in him and only to get killed by his enemy Ben. All Locke became was a loop hole for this mysterious other to find a way to kill Jacob. Jacob had to have known that Locke was going to somehow fit in this loop hole. Was this Jacob’s plan all along? Is there still something great for Locke to do or is the real Locke really just a dead body

Which brings me to what really keeps me and millions of others to tune in every week. We all love Kate, Juliet, Sawyer, Jack, Ben, and the whole crew are great, but these philosophical questions and spiritual under tones engages the real fans. The frustrated rant that Ben gives Jacob asking why after all the things he did for him and he never got to see him until now I think any religious person has struggle with in their own understanding of GOD’s plan. Hearing Jacob’s reply of “what about you” would anger anybody and Ben’s rage becomes understandable. This last phrase really makes me question if Jacob is on the good side at all. Or again this could be Jacob simply acknowledging Ben and has plans to make everything up and more to Ben and Locke. This is whats great about LOST, the questions and how there could be several answers to each one. I hope this shows the empty suits at network TV that you don’t have to nothing but reality shows, Law and Order or CSI spin offs, contests to have a successful show. Viewers will accept a challenging serial Drama as long as its unique enough to keep people coming back.

The episode could have answered more mysteries with only 16 episodes left in the show, the season finale still really did a great job of setting up the last season. The episode ended with probably the best cliffhanger since Jack’s famous “We have to go back!” and really could go anywhere the writers want it to. After seeing the LOST logo change after five seasons from white on black to black on white, the last season can’t come fast enough.

4.5 stars

Spider-man 3

Posted in 4.5 Stars, Action with tags , on April 29, 2009 by russellsreviews

the battle within...

Spider-Man 3 is a perfect example of how a trilogy should be when you keep all the same actors, writers,  and most importantly the director.  After each of the first two films, small layers of story were planted that were going to be resolved in this final film. It’s extremely satisfying to see all these threads come to a head finally after the first two films. Peter’s relationship with Mary Jane grows more mature and Harry’s resentment towards Peter comes full circle.  Some would say the movie tried to take on too much. However, each new and old villain had a purpose and melded at the end to the theme of the movie; really the same theme of all the movies: responsibility and forgiveness.  The best part of these movies is that the death of uncle Ben which is the very reason Peter becomes spider-man is still affecting the overall plot even still in the third movie… and I hope that it continues to in the fourth movie in three years. lol

Eddie Brock was basically a mirror image of Parker. They look similar, act similar, have the same job, and eventually were the same suite. They both make very bad decisions. Brock tries to cheat his way to the top and Peter lets his new found confidence get to his head and mistreats MJ. The Venom suite feeds off the dark side of humanity. Peter, because of the tragedy of Uncle Ben, sees his mistake and gets rid of it, while Brock embraces it. The pain of Peter losing his father figure actually built his character and gives him the ability to deal with hardships of life.

The sandman in the comic was a very generic thug, just with a really cool power. The movie actually improves his character, which is rare, and somehow ties him back to uncle Ben’s death.  The action scenes between the sandman and Harry lived up to the aerobatics of the first of two. Sam Rami really came up with creative ways to use sandman’s powers. The scene at the end when Peter forgives him for uncle Ben’s death is really touching and a deep scene for a comic movie.

The backbone of all three movies has always been Harry, Peter, and MJ. The tension has been building and when Harry and Peter finally face off and face their demons it was a huge payoff. It was kind of sad to see MJ and Peter take a step back, but it was plain to see that they both still had a lot of growing up to do.

It has been stated that Sam Rami ( the director) was talked into adding Venom into the movie and it was great seeing such a fan favorite finally on the big screen, but it did take a little way from sandman a bit; and will make people who only saw the movie just to see venom feel a little let down. However, Rami did a masterful job making Venom fit in the overall theme and put together a very “deeper than the surface” comic book trilogy of one greatest super heroes of all time.

4.5 stars