Mini-Review: Battle for Terra (2007/2009)

Battle for Terra (2009)
Originally released as Terra in 2007 outside the US

Starring Evan Rachel Wood, Brian Cox, James Garner, Chris Evans, Danny Glover, Amanda Peet, David Cross, Justin Long, Dennis Quaid, Luke Wilson

Directed by Aristomenis Tsirbas

Expectations: Low. I’m not too fond of 3D animation, but I love sci-fi.


I’m a huge science fiction fan. This is a blessing and a curse. In the case of Battle for Terra, it’s a bit of both. There’s nothing wrong with the film, it’s pretty good. As a long-time sci-fi fan though, there isn’t anything in this film that’s particularly new or unexplored within the genre. It is very similar to Avatar in that way. What makes this more enjoyable than Avatar is Terra‘s 84-minute runtime. It doesn’t over stay its welcome.

The film opens by introducing an alien culture living in a tree-like structure floating above the clouds. The inhabitants of the city look like ants, but they don’t have legs and they float around as well. It’s sci-fi, just go with it. One day, a mysterious ship covers the sun and some villagers get abducted. A rebellious child named Mala (Evan Rachel Wood) investigates the situation and we’re off.

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(500) Days of Summer (2009)

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Chloë Moretz, Geoffrey Arend, Matthew Gray Gubler, Clark Gregg, Rachel Boston, Minka Kelly, Maile Flanagan, Patricia Belcher, Richard McGonagle

Directed by Marc Webb

Expectations: Extremely low.


This movie was better than I expected. It wasn’t great, but it had its moments. It’s one of those movies that people like to call “a cute little movie.” It tells the story of Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a greeting card writer, who believes that one day he will meet his soul mate. Enter Summer (Zooey Deschanel). But as the opening narration states, this isn’t a love story. It’s also not really a comedy. It’s more of a drama than the ad campaigns would have you believe.

The films unravels in a non-linear way, which I almost always feel is a clever device used to make a boring story more palatable. In this case it mostly works, but at only 97 minutes, it still feels really long. That is not to say that it’s uninteresting, just that some of the scenes could have been more engaging. The film is also an incredibly mainstream looking movie for an independent film. Tons of over-the-shoulder dialogue shots and close-ups. It’s not without innovation though. There are a few great ideas in the movie that are executed with perfection. Spoiling them would be just rotten of me, so I’ll just say that one of them involves the main character looking into a mirrored surface and seeing a very clever reflection. There’s also a fantastic split-screen scene involving expectations. I’ll leave it at that.

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Mini-Review: The Seafarers (1953)

Starring the Seafarers International Union

Directed by Stanley Kubrick


The Seafarers is a documentary directed by Stanley Kubrick two years before his feature debut, Killer’s Kiss. It was thought lost for many years, but in 2008 it was released on DVD for hardcore Kubrick fans to watch and analyze. It is an industrial short made for the Seafarers International Union to show to potential members. It is notable as Kubrick’s first use of color film.

Surprisingly, there are a few moments of the budding Kubrick touch. The most enjoyable were the sideways moving dolly shots through the cafeteria. I always found the similar shot through the apartment in The Killing to be one of my favorites, so it’s fun to see what that shot evolved from. A fun 30 minutes for any Kubrick fan, but don’t expect anything groundbreaking.

Red Cliff: Part II (2009)

Red Cliff Part II [赤壁] (2009)
AKA The Battle of Red Cliff

Starring Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhang Fengyi, Chang Chen, Zhao Wei, Hu Jun, Shidō Nakamura, Lin Chi-ling, Tong Dawei, Hou Yong, You Yong

Directed by John Woo

Expectations: Moderate to high. I enjoyed the first one a lot and I hoped that Part II was as good.


So the question is this: Does Part II live up to the expectations built up after watching Part I? Yes, yes it does. I liked this 140 minutes of Red Cliff more than the first 140 minutes, not necessarily because it’s better, but because of familiarity. Part II opens with a brief rundown of what happened in Part I over the credits. The first new shot is of troops opening the gate into Cao Cao’s camp. The music swelled and I broke a smile. It reminded me of how I felt when I first saw Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Both films (Rings & Cliff) were made as one movie and then chopped into parts for release. So instead of the feeling of watching a sequel, with a slightly different production style, you are watching more scenes from the same movie. It’s a good, nostalgic feeling of revisiting something you love and finding treasures you had never seen before.

From there, Part II just consistently entertains. I especially enjoyed the part when Sun Shangxiang (Zhao Wei) is infiltrating and mapping Cao Cao’s camp and when the Southerners use a very inventive way to get the 100,000 arrows they need. The end battle of Part II is nothing short of spectacular. It’s a part naval battle, part castle siege, part kung fu action extravaganza. Like Part I, this end battle fills up the final hour of the film. The review would not be complete without mentioning how awesome Zhang Fengyi is as Cao Cao. Absolutely perfect in the role. All the actors are great, but Zhang Fengyi’s performance really caught me by surprise.

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Brigadoon (1954)

Starring Gene Kelly, Van Johnson, Cyd Charisse, Elaine Stewart, Barry Jones, Hugh Laing, Albert Sharpe, Virginia Bosler, Jimmy Thompson

Directed by Vincente Minnelli

Expectations: I’ve seen this movie countless times as a child and always enjoyed it. Does it hold up?


I decided to watch Brigadoon again for the first time in about 12 years. Well, that’s not exactly true. I checked out the DVD from the library because I saw that it had some outtake musical numbers that I had never seen before. When I put the disc in to watch these outtakes, I decided first to watch a bit of the actual film to get myself into the mood. About two hours and one Brigadoon later, I got around to watching the outtakes. I couldn’t stop myself from watching the entire film.

Brigadoon tells the story of two hunters (played by Gene Kelly and Van Johnson) who find themselves lost in a Scottish forest. Out of the mist, the town of Brigadoon reveals itself and before Gene Kelly knows it, he’s met the girl of his dreams (Cyd Charisse). I watched this movie at least 20 times while I was growing up. It was one of the staple movies in our family. At first, I hated it. “Oh, not Brigadoon again,” I said to myself. The more times I watched it though, I found myself looking forward to parts throughout the movie. First it was the chase sequence towards the end. Then I became fond of the song I’ll Go Home With Bonnie Jean. Pretty soon, I was enjoying the whole thing.

Continue reading Brigadoon (1954) →

Red Cliff: Part I (2008)

Red Cliff Part I [赤壁] (2008)
AKA The Battle of Red Cliff

Starring Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhang Fengyi, Chang Chen, Zhao Wei, Hu Jun, Shidō Nakamura, Lin Chi-ling, Tong Dawei, Hou Yong, You Yong

Directed by John Woo

Expectations: Moderate. I loved John Woo when I was a teenager, but I am more realistic about his strength as a filmmaker these days.


No one films action like John Woo. He is known for it and he does it very well. The action sequences in Red Cliff: Part I are outstanding, specifically the battle at the end of the film. The final battle fills up most of the last hour and it flies by. Without a doubt, one of the best action sequences in recent memory. It’s incredibly inventive and it feels like new ground, which is hard considering the massive legacy of kung fu pictures.

But to lump Red Cliff with standard kung fu films is wrong, because it really is more than that. It’s epic in its scope and its production design. It’s a kung fu film for the post-Lord of the Rings film era. But this is also where it falls a bit short for me. This first part of the film runs 146 minutes. It’s long. It feels long. There are times when certain scenes don’t seem necessary, so I found myself waiting through them, hoping for a better one next time. But a lot of my disappointment stems from my expectations. I came in to this film expecting a John Woo action picture. It delivers on that promise, no doubt, but it just takes a while to get there, so plan accordingly.

Continue reading Red Cliff: Part I (2008) →

Mini-Review: Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)

Starring Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Jennifer Coolidge, Val Kilmer, Brad Dourif, Xzibit, Fairuza Balk, Michael Shannon, Vondie Curtis Hall

Directed by Werner Herzog

Expectations: Low due to Nicolas Cage, but optimistic because of Werner Herzog.


Until now, I had not seen a Werner Herzog movie I didn’t enjoy. I unabashedly love his documentaries. His fiction films are less interesting, but so far I’ve seen enough to know that his work is usually engaging on some level and worth my time. This is not the case with Herzog’s latest, Bad Lieutenant. Nicolas Cage plays the same character he’s been playing for years, the washed up drug-addled fiend that can’t quite get his life together. Does he at least play it well? Not really, but I’ve never been a big fan. To his credit, the supporting cast is worse than he is, with an overweight, bored Val Kilmer at the top of the trash heap. Brad Dourif plays a bookie and has the distinction of being one of the few believable actors in the film.

Cage plays a drug addict cop that is slowly slipping over the edge into oblivion. He is surrounded by the rest of the clichéd corrupt cop genre characters; the call girl, the useless partner cop, the dealer, the woman with a baby at the door of the dealer’s house who let’s on where the dealer is hiding. You get the idea. Cage is investigating the murder of a family of immigrants from Senegal, but the story goes haphazardly between the mystery and Cage getting off in some way, be it sex or drugs or both. Herzog likes to deal with madness and obsession in his films, and Cage’s character has both in spades, but he doesn’t do anything to make it engaging. I love a good obsession film, but this was just boring. Cage really should hang it up at this point, or at least take a few years off. It would be unfair though to lay all the blame on the actors as Herzog seems to be as uninterested in the story as I was. I was hoping that the film might rise above the swampy filth it had been sulking in, but alas, the pull was too great. On a positive note, the film’s score by Mark Isham is pretty good in spots.

So yeah, I hated it. I do have an odd desire to re-watch it, though.

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