Song of the Sea (2014) Film Review

Song of the SeaSong of the Sea is an animated film directed by Tomm Moore, the director of The Secret of Kells.  I really need to get around to watching that movie after having watched Song of the Sea.  I was blown away by this movie.  One could say that my expectations were blown out of the water.  For a movie titled Song of the Sea, there really is not a lot of singing.  Instead, we are treated to a touching story that is made more emotional with a beautiful animation style that looks like a children’s book came to life.

At the start of the movie the protagonist appears to be a young boy named Ben who lives with his parents next to a lighthouse.  That is until his mother unexpectedly dies giving birth to his sister.  Time passes and his sister is seen celebrating her sixth birthday.  Ben’s sister, Saoirse (pronounced like Sir-cha) is mute.  Ben likes to rub it in her face that she is not normal.  He doesn’t seem too fond of her because he thinks she is responsible for the death of their mother.  His attitude towards his sister was understandable, but annoying.  Luckily his attitude changes and improves through the course of the movie.

One night, Saoirse puts on a white coat she finds in a closet and goes for a swim.  The coat looks like something Maggie Simpson would wear except with a hood.  This is a magical coat that turns her into a seal, at least while she is in the water anyways.  Night time swimming is viewed as irresponsible parenting by their visiting grandmother and the kids are taken away to go live with her in the city.

The rest of the movie is about the kids running away trying to figure out how to get back home.  The journey isn’t easy when it is discovered that Saoirse is a Selkie, a term straight out of Irish folklore.  Reality starts to become twisted with surreal surroundings that are just a pleasure to watch.

One thing that caught my attention in Song of the Sea that multiple times the movie pans to a shot with a door that has suggestive writing on it.  There are heavy Irish influences in this movie so I checked to see if the writing meant something else in Irish compared to English.  It more or less has the same implied meaning that one would think.  This was a little odd for a PG movie.

Keep out
Keep out

Song of the Sea did not see a wide theatrical release in the US.  This is unfortunate as it deserves to be seen.  The movie is available on Blu-ray, but is currently on the more expensive side of releases.  If you are an Amazon Prime member, put that membership to use and stream it.

The Kid (1921) Film Review

The KidThe Kid, the classic Charlie Chaplin film, not the Disney movie starring Bruce Willis or any of the other movies that share the same name.  It is a silent film that is primarily a comedy filled with slapstick humor, but there are some dramatic moments that make the film slightly darker than I expected it to be.

The movie starts off with a woman carrying a newborn baby.  Well, it’s implied that it is a newborn since she is walking out of a hospital with him, but the baby is huge.  I guess using a fake baby was out of the question.  The movie then pans to another scene where an artist is standing in front of a fireplace.  On top of the fireplace is a picture of the woman seen earlier.  The picture falls and the artist just tosses it into the fire.  It is harsh, but it is great way of letting the audience know that the woman is a single mother.

Much like the father wanting nothing to do with the mother, the mother wants nothing to do with the newborn.  She places the baby in a stranger’s car and walks away.  This is a shocking and irresponsible move.  If only there was some way to get rid of an unwanted baby.  The situation gets even worse when the car gets stolen by a pair of thieves.  The thieves notice the baby and just leave it in an alleyway to presumably let it die.  Then Charlie Chaplin’s character, the Tramp, appears and everything is hilarious.

The movie jumps ahead five years.  The kid becomes a pawn in a shady business scheme and breaks windows for a window repair business.  He seems too young to be working, but I guess cultural expectations back then were slightly different.  Also, life at home seems a bit rough.  The Tramp can barely support himself let alone a kid.

The majority of the scenes with the Tramp and the kid are played for laughs.  The movie also jumps away to scenes of the kid’s mother and how her life has turned out.  While the scenes with the mother are not funny, it adds an interesting dynamic to the story as we discover whether or not she regrets her decision to leave her child.

Ultimately, there are some heavy-handed themes that I just was not expecting from The Kid.  Although the film was released in 1921, the themes regarding being a single parent still make The Kid relevant in today’s society.  These themes along with the previously unheard-of blend of comedy and drama is probably why The Kid is considered one of the best silent films of all time.  Clocking in at a little over an hour, The Kid is an easy silent film to get through and is worth watching.

Palo Alto (2014) Film Review

Palo AltoIs Palo Alto basically the Nickelodeon equivalent of Spring Breakers?  Instead of James Franco and two ex-Disney Channel stars, we get James Franco and two ex-Nick stars.  Nat Wolff has really turned his career around.  His performance in Palo Alto almost made me forget that he starred in a television show that I despise.  Knowing how he got his start, I would like to think that Nat Wolff was not really acting and that his show left him this crazy.  Emma Roberts also gives a great, but not as crazy of a performance.

Palo Alto consists of a few different stories that are meant to somehow connect together.  The best of these stories involves James Franco and Emma Roberts.  James Franco plays a charismatic high school soccer coach who strikes up a relationship with Emma Roberts’ character, an underage high school student.  He may be a bit too charismatic as his character is not as creepy as it probably should be.

The other major plotline in Palo Alto involves two teenagers played by Nat Wolff and newcomer Jack Kilmer.  Their characters are probably best described as juvenile delinquents.  Both appear to be reckless, but one of the teenagers tries to turn his life around after getting into an accident while driving drunk.  This adds some depth to the characters and the story, but it seems like an excuse to introduce some odd but fantastically edited montages.  The editing in this film is great and is the highlight of Palo Alto.

Palo Alto is a decent movie that could have been better if the different stories did not feel so forcibly interwoven.

The Bling Ring (2013) Film Review

The Bling RingI like the premise of The Bling Ring more than I like the actual movie.  It is about a group of teenagers that break into the homes of a handful of celebrities.  It is actually based on true events which make the premise all the more interesting.  Unfortunately, the characters are insufferable to watch.  At least it has Emma Watson, so that must make it slightly better, right?  Not really.

The novelty of Emma Watson acting like the complete opposite of Hermione Granger wears of pretty quickly.  The novelty of watching people breaking into the homes of celebrities also wears off just as fast.  Outside of a few parties, most of the movie revolves around robberies.  This is probably for the best.

There are no forced romances or other plots to give the characters depth.  I am skeptical that the real-life counterparts of these characters had any sort of depth.  Everyone is shallow.  They have no real goals or ambitions, or any sort of discernable characteristics.

The Bling Ring just sort of goes on a loop of robberies until the last third of the film.  This is where the movie starts to get better and just comes to an end.  The movie makes an excellent point about how as a society we are generally more interested in news that brings misfortune into other people’s lives and how no one cares about people who do good deeds.  I did not need to watch a movie to figure that out, but watching the misfortune of others is the entire reason why I watched The Bling Ring.  This point changed my perspective of the movie.

There is not much to The Bling Ring and the characters are not likable, but this is what made me appreciate the movie by the end.  I was hoping for an elaborate story, but the truth was not interesting.  The movie tried to glamorize it, which frustrated me when I was watching it, but it feels like a joke now.  Maybe the lives of people who do terrible things are not worth watching and we should just move on.  Unless you really want to watch Emma Watson pull off an American accent, skip The Bling Ring and move on.

The Spectacular Now (2013) Film Review

The Spectacular NowThe Spectacular Now is about the lives of two high school students preparing to graduate.  It addresses issues that most teenagers are probably thinking about.  What will bring them happiness?  Do you really need to be constantly thinking about the future?  What if things are fine just the way they are?  What if I don’t want to grow up and I just want to be a Toys R Us kid?  Well, teenagers are probably not thinking about that last question, but it sort of goes along with the theme of the movie.  Does a person need to change or can they just live in the moment, the “spectacular now”?

The film is fantastic because it does not try to hit viewers over the head with the answers to these questions.  The answers are hinted at throughout the movie as it explores the lives of the two teens portrayed by Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley.  The characters feel like real teenagers.  The acting is not over-the-top or overly dramatic.

Miles Teller’s character, Sutter has a drinking problem.  Some people around him notice, but his mother seems oblivious to it.  This just goes to show how bad his family life is.  The families of both characters are broken, but it is explored in such a natural way.  There is a huge amount of character development in The Spectacular Now that makes it interesting to watch.

The Spectacular Now kept me on the edge of my seat, not because of its gripping drama, but because of the number of driving scenes.  It just seems like driving scenes never end well in a drama.  I kept expecting something terrible to happen with all of the distracted and drunk driving.  Remember, buzzed driving is drunk driving.

Anyways, The Spectacular Now is a great film.  It is one that I wish I had watched sooner.  Also, is Shailene Woodley just destined to play a 16-year-old or a high school student?

Forrest Gump (1994) Film Review

Forrest GumpForrest Gump is as fantastic as everyone says it is.  It really is impressive that I find myself glued to the screen for two and a half hours and wish the movie just kept going.

Forrest Gump is a movie about a man who tells his life story to strangers at a bus stop.  No one asked for it, but it is a great story.  The film moves at a nice pace and ends at a good point.  This is not surprising at all considering that the film is directed by Robert Zemeckis.  Just look at Back to the Future, a movie in which not a moment is wasted.  Unlike Back to the Future, Forrest Gump never received a sequel, well at least not as a movie.

There is a novel named Gump & Co that serves as a sequel to the movie and the book it was based on.  I have not read it.  I have not read the first book either.  I heard Forrest becomes an astronaut.  I also heard that the books are much darker in tone than the film.  I am kind of afraid that the books are going to ruin my perception of Forrest.

Forrest Gump is a textbook example of an unreliable narrator and the movie is better for it.  It adds to the film’s charm.  Forrest is a simple man that does not know any better.  He continues to mow lawns even after striking it rich by investing in a “fruit company”.  This is his most believable moment in a long list of extremely impressive accomplishments.  I want to believe everything he says.  It just gives me hope about the future.  If he can do these things, so can anyone.  It makes me feel optimistic.

If there is anything that ruins the film’s optimism, it would be Forrest’s best friend, Jenny.  Jenny is a terrible person.  This is probably the direct result of her abusive childhood.  Maybe it also has something to do with her trustworthy advice of running away from everything.  I do not want to dwell on her character too much.  Jenny is frustrating, but she does not ruin the movie.

Forrest Gump is a must see film.  The story is fantastic.  The special effects are impressive.  The soundtrack is also a great starting point for anyone wanting to dive into 60s/70s music.  At the moment, Forrest Gump can be found on Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video.  There is no excuse not to watch it.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 (2015) Film Review

Paul Blart Mall Cop 2 coverPaul Blart: Mall Cop is a decent movie.  It is certainly a movie that is better than the trailers and advertisement campaign made it out to be.  I have watched it more times than I would care to admit.  It does not need a sequel.  Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 raises the stakes and takes Paul Blart on an adventure in Las Vegas.  It is not the Ocean’s Eleven spoof that I thought it would be, however.

Instead of protecting money, Paul gets to protect pieces of art.  This is slightly better than it sounds.  I guess it does not really matter what a mall cop is guarding as the humor comes from the premise of a man taking a job that no one takes seriously, too seriously.  This type of humor is more unrealistic this time around.  Instead of seeing a man passionate about his job, we are shown an ensemble of equipment and weapons that have no practical use.  I suppose that is the joke, to further push along the notion that mall cops are useless.

In fact, the entire movie seems unrealistic.  The first movie was absurd, but it is entirely believable that thieves would try robbing a mall on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year.  This time around, there are thieves that want art from a hotel.  Their motives are not really clear and their plan is sloppily constructed.  These thieves seem to get around the security sensors on art pieces by using what appear to be flash drives.  I would have thought security in Vegas is a bit more complicated than that.

Looking past how unrealistic Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 can get, the movie still has problems.  Paul Blart as a character is less likable and acts as a showoff throughout the entire movie.  The relationship with his daughter is a major plot point, but making it important does not make it any more interesting to watch.

There are still some laughs to be had with this movie.  A highlight of the movie is the inclusion of Vic Dibitetto, the guy from that popular “Bread and Milk” video that was popular on YouTube a few years ago.

The first movie is better.  If you liked the first movie, give Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 a watch.  If not, this movie will not change your mind about Paul Blart.

P.S. Keep your eyes peeled for a Cherry brand mechanical keyboard.  I thought I had just imagined seeing one, but the folks over at /r/MechanicalKeyboards confirmed it.

Cherry Keyboard
/r/MechanicalKeyboards sure knows a lot about keyboards.

X-Files 201: s01e09 “Space”

With a show about aliens, you would think an episode of The X-Files about space travel would fit right in. It probably would if you actually got to see inside the spacecraft. Instead, the only signs of space seen in “Space” are from stock launch footage and blurry video from screens in the NASA headquarters that Mulder and Scully are at.

All of the budget must have gone to animating a former astronaut’s face that morphs into an alien’s face. It doesn’t even look that good. The astronaut, Mulder’s childhood hero, is the antagonist of this episode.

Mulder's face when he realizes his childhood hero is corrupt.
Mulder’s face when he realizes his childhood hero is corrupt.

The astronaut overacts to things resulting in scenes that are more humorous than frightening.

There is some sort of spirit haunting the astronaut that I guess moves to a spacecraft currently on a mission. I’m not really sure how that works. It is just sort of tossed in there. Basically there is a spacecraft that needs to be guided back to Earth. It’s not interesting since you never get to see a good shot of the ship.

The episode in general is uninteresting. One thing that caught my attention aside from the use of stock footage is how cheesy the special effects in the image below look like. This was deemed worthy of showing on prime time?

spaceGhost

X-Files 201: s01e08 “Ice”

“Ice” is probably the best episode of The X-Files that I have seen so far. It is filled with tense action right from the start. Unlike other episodes where the cold open sets up the appearance of some paranormal monster/force, “Ice” has two men standing off at gunpoint. It is not clear why they are fighting. Is it a heated argument or did something serious happen? One of the men looks badly injured. The scene ends with the two guys committing suicide with no reason as to why.

As soon as the opening credits finish, Mulder and Scully are watching footage of a team of scientists in Alaska which features the two men from the cold open. Something is wrong. One scientist sounds like he has gone crazy, but it is highly unlikely for that to happen. Mulder and Scully fly out to Alaska to investigate the case. Pretty much all of the episode takes place in the Alaskan outpost that they fly to. This was supposedly done for budget reasons, but with the pacing of the episode, it is something that I barely noticed (it just gave me less opportunities to find stuff in the background that I found mildly interesting).

Investigations show parasites moving around underneath a dog’s skin. Eventually the parasites move to a human body and the tenseness really starts to ramp up. There is fear that the parasites may have spread and it leads to a great standoff between Scully and Mulder. This is the first time that they have been at such a large disagreement.

There is a sense of peril in “Ice” that I have not felt in other episodes. This is mainly due to the fact that all of the characters are aware of the danger lurking because they can actually see it. The threat is real. That is not to say that the threats in other episodes have not been real, but they are built up in such a way that not every character is aware of them right away or at all.

I hope that there are plenty of more episodes that are as gripping as “Ice”.

X-Files 201: s01e07 “Ghost in the Machine”

“Ghost in the Machine” is the story of an artificial intelligence turned bad. It has been done before and there really is not anything new here. There is a certain novelty of seeing what people envisioned the future of computers would be like, so it at least has that going for it.

In the first minute of the episode a man is shown typing on a keyboard. If a camera is going to focus on a person’s hands typing, the actor should try and make the typing look realistic or at least use more than just the bottom row of keys when what he is typing quite clearly requires more than one row of keys.

Some technical jargon is used in this episode. I would really like to know what data travelers, electro wizards and techno anarchists are.

Another car in this series gets damaged again when a security gate falls on it. I’m surprised it didn’t cause more damage.

X-Files Car Crushed

Mulder’s backstory is briefly explored by introducing one of his former partners. I don’t know if he is going to be brought back in future episodes, but Deep Throat from the second episode in the series made a return. This is the first time in the series that I have noticed explicit continuity between episodes.

In the end there are movies that are far better about artificial intelligence that can be watched instead of this episode of The X-Files.