Movie Review – Astro Boy

November 12, 2009

[REPOSTED]

This was a review I’ve done for Funkygrad: http://www.funkygrad.com/lifestyle/displayarticle.php?artID=1144&subcat=popcorn

*****

Release Date: 12 November 2009
Genre: Action/Adventure
Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes
Featuring the Voices of: Freddy Highmore, Kristen Bell, Nicolas Cage
Director: David Bowers
Rating: 3/5

Astro Boy is one of the most popular Japanese manga characters around, a claim not so far-fetched if you consider the facts. The 1952 series by Osamu Tezawa had since seen three television animation spin-offs in 1963, 1980 and 2003 (the latter to celebrate the TV franchise’s fortieth anniversary) that has been broadcasted on television networks internationally.

But this first film adaptation has seen armchair critics quick to denounce Imagi Studios’ (the studio behind the 2007 film adaptation of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) attempted revival of the obsolete character that has greater halcyon days.

This is no surprise, as remakes these days are often trashed both critically and commercially for being much worse than the fondly-remembered original.

Yet if such historical anachronism is cast aside, this contemporary update is actually not half-bad. The film has defining moments along the way that will certainly connect with audiences both young and old, hence making it a pretty enjoyable day-out at the movies for the families.

Astro Boy follows the conventional superhero story arc that has been rehashed ad nauseam. The unwitting superhero, with all his debonair, is forced into dire straits by unbecoming circumstance. And in the mandatory fight between good-and-evil, Astro Boy falls down, comes back stronger, and of course, eventually emerges triumphant. All this, of course, provides for the perfect cathartic relief from the ills of society. Who does not like a story where the good vanquishes the evil?

Without going too deep into the spoilers, the story background remains generally true to the original (other than the fact that unlike the original, Astro Boy now dons a blue top rather than going topless). The year is sometime in the distant future and Earth has become a slum of discarded robot parts. With the exception of the cosmopolitan Metro City, a small metropolis that floats in the sky, an unveiled reference between the authority-wealthy rich and the poor who reside in the wastelands. Dr. Tenma (voiced by the versatile Nicolas Cage), is the chief scientist of Metro City and the father of Toby Tenma (voiced by the effervescent Freddy Highmore). The latter, mischievous as all young kids are, got himself killed in a laboratory accident through no fault of anyone else (and hence is unable to evoke my sympathy). Dr. Tenma then sets out to create a robotic version of his son, with “blue core” positive energy empowering his heart, hence establishing his superhero status. But along the way Dr. Tenma gets too conflicted with his own emotions for his own good.

Erstwhile, in a political twist President Stone (Donald Sutherland) is the overpowering leader who is pulling all stops to win the forthcoming elections with his popularity polls at an all-time low. And that includes creating an enemy character against the city for him to fight, and win, against so as to sway the votes of the public. Yet in reality winning a war is not a guarantee to winning elections, as President George H W Bush could easily testify, having lost to the succeeding Democrat President Bill Clinton-a relative unknown in the political scene at that time-due to the more pressing economic matters at home.

And this is where the main problem of the film lies. Within a short span of 1 hour 35 minutes the writers attempt to be apostles of too many pressing world issues, covering too much breadth but too little depth along the way. With so many directions pulling the film apart, there is no single clear focus. As a result more important factors like character development is sacrificed, which resulted in ambivalence quite a number of parts of the film despite Director David Bowers’ (the helm behind 2006’s Flushed Away) obvious efforts in milking emotions.

Also, while it is obvious that Imagi Studios was attempting to create an animation style in extolment of the original series, but the result was inconsistently glaring in a potpourri of animation and visuals that are neither modern nor historical.

For all its flaws in the kitsch artistic sense and poor editing, Astro Boy remains an enjoyable movie that has both laugh-out-loud moments and touching scenes, hence the above-average rating

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Movie Review – Saw VI

November 5, 2009

[REPOSTED]

This is a review I’ve done for Funkygrad: http://www.funkygrad.com/lifestyle/displayarticle.php?artID=1142&subcat=popcorn

*****

Release Date: 5 November 2009
Genre: Horror
Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Cast: Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Costas Mandylor
Director: Kevin Greutert
Rating: 3/5

Halloween is upon us once more, the October 31st celebrations capturing the visceral imaginations of many around the world. While the festivities here (or lack thereof) are unfortunately restricted largely to the club scene and do little justice to the age-old festival, we can seek solace in how horror films have simultaneously hit local screens en masse, perhaps an indication that we are not a wimpy nation afraid of those fiends that go bump in the night.

Trick-or-treating we may not be going, nor are we displaying jack-o’-lanterns around town, but Darah, Saw VIParanormal Activity,Halloween II and Lesbian Vampire Killers, amongst others, are worthy companions.

Heralding the advent of the monster/horror genre was the 1922 vampire classic Nosferatu, considered a film noir gem today. The genre has since expanded to include all forms of fiends, the plethora ranging from ethereal ghosts and poltergeists, indestructible humanoid mass murderers like Freddy Krueger (Wes Craven’sNightmare of Elm Street) and Jason Voorhees (Friday the 13th) and even plants (Frank Oz’s Little Shop of Horrors; M Night Shyamalan’s The Happening).

But along the way the show was a victim of its own success. The writers threw in more twists than the audiences could bear, and more questions slowly popped up along the way than were answers proffered. Of course confused audiences would not stick to a sinking ship and ditched the franchise, as evident from its free-falling ratings. The bloodbath stuck but it was insufficient in keeping viewers faithful.The Saw franchise was a successful departure from the mass murderer norm. Despite being a bloodbath in itself, Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) was an advocate of egalitarianism thus providing a modus operandi of Pecksniffian righteousness as he aims to rectify society’s ills. This was unlike Krueger and Vorhees who killed at their own whim and fancy, anyone who dares to cross their path. The astute concept and ingenious weaponry that could only be borne in the minds of a pervertic engineer led to a critically-acclaimed box office hit for the first editions.

The series expanded from the originally-schedule trilogy to six installments, and from the cliffhanger in this episode, future parts are certainly likely. Continuing its tradition of a US release the weekend prior to Halloween, Saw VI successfully redeemed itself in a step-up from the recent installments. The metamorphosis can be attributed to a change in focus as the film offers answers to many questions that were thrown up in previous installments, tying up many loose ends in the saga. The gore remains, albeit in a more mellowed fashion as much of the screen time was devoted to flashbacks. But with more coherence in the plot this time round, cinemagoers sure would not be left so bewildered.

The writers cleverly tackle the health care system, perhaps a timely social commentary in view of the debate thrown up with Obama’s presidential campaign this year. In particular, the ineptitude and conniving nature of insurance companies that engage in pseudo-Darwinism was scrutinized. The famous naturalist purported that nature yielded “the survival of the fittest”, and the writers attacked the despotic manner some insurance companies take in denying coverage to the weak. In a flashback scene, the late Jigsaw (who died two installments ago), having been denied insurance coverage due to his malignant cancer, questioned William Easton (Peter Outerbridge) of his insurance company, “Who are you to judge who has the will to live,” the latter refusing to take the gambit by claiming it’s company policy.

And of course William would find himself a victim of Jigsaw’s game, posthumously continued by his successor Lieutenant Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), having to complete a series of gruesome tasks in order to survive. Of course, it ain’t going to be pretty, and the effort put in devising the repugnant devices this season is remarkable. The steam room was disgusting in itself, at least to me, due to a natural revulsion for the notion of burning flesh (yes, the botched sun-tanning machine scene in Final Destination 2 vividly sticks in my head), though it passed pretty mildly. And if you hate carnival rides, wait till you see what the victims strapped onto the carousel in this edition have to face.

You just cannot help but root for the protagonist, himself a victim of his own occupation in a double-bind situation in spite of his own character flaws, as he weaves through the maze. The concise direction and editing lends itself to a tense atmosphere from start to finish.

But the episode is nonetheless unlikely to win the series any new fans with its tried-and-tested formula, and you wonder how many more installments could there be before the writers finally exhaust themselves of devices to torment, or of posthumous twists to introduce for Jigsaw.