briancham1994

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Reviews

The Godfather: Part II
(1974)

Slightly better than the original
I'm divided on whether the flashback structure complements the film's goals or whether it is just distracting. On one hand, it shows a direct comparison between the early life of Vito and Michael. On the other hand, the time skips keep interrupting the flow of the film. Personally, I feel that Vito's prequel story was far more interesting and the time skips weren't timed with good purpose so I lean a bit towards the "distracting" interpretation. The story is quite different from The Godfather and it really feels like a new film that is not tied down by its predecessor, which is good. The style and cinematography are even better than the original, especially in Vito's story. However, it suffers from the same pacing issues as the first film and I would not call it a masterpiece.

Goodfellas
(1990)

Better than The Godfather
There, I said it. GoodFellas is better than The Godfather. The pace and excitement are a lot faster which makes it more engaging. They are similar in showing the gangster life as a mix of unpredictable violence and temporary glamour. However, GoodFellas focuses more on the perspective of one individual and how the lifestyle appealed to him as a child and onwards. The direction shows this perspective with great skill - there are many scenes imbued with great excitement, paranoia, fear and brutality. All of this adds up to a true to life depiction of what the American organised crime experience is like and how it ends.

The Grinch
(2018)

Engaging but thin
Almost nothing from the trailer is in this film, and it's better that way. Illumination Entertainment has a reputation for purely profit-oriented lowest common denominator fluff with no substance. The trailer gave me that impression but the film thankfully overcame that. It's engaging with a good message but the plot is a bit thin. Most of the characters and plot events are purely in service of some gags.

The Godfather
(1972)

Good but overhyped
I'm ready to be downvoted into oblivion. Intellectually, I can appreciate the style, influence and popularity of this film as attested by its lasting reputation and universally positive reviews. Along with other classics like The Battleship Potemkin and Metropolis, it had a massive impact and has been lauded as a masterpiece. Yet, just like those films, I think it has more value as a piece of film history than an emotional viewing experience in itself. To put it more bluntly, I can see why it was a masterpiece at the time but I don't feel that way when I watch it now.

For sure, I'll give it plenty of credit for its acting and atmosphere. The cinematographic techniques add a soft, dreamlike quality to everything. The portrayal of the gangsters seemed (as far as I know) grounded and humanistic, not caricatured. However, there are definitely parts where it drags on and didn't feel engaging. If I watched this with no expectations and no idea of its status, I'd probably just think it's a well made film from an older era but nothing earth-shattering.

The Shawshank Redemption
(1994)

A simple classic
This film is a classic that stands on its own. The initial release was very low-key and it actually bombed at the box office, only gaining appreciation after many more years of being shown on TV purely on its own merits. The premise is deceptively simple as it revolves around innocent inmate Andy and his smuggler friend Red. Beyond that, there are many more characters and moments that add to the brutal portrayal of life in prison and change Andy's life in many ways across the twenty years he is in there. I would say it's expansive but purposeful, as all the scenes and story elements all tie in together for a single reason, no matter how irrelevant they may seem at the time. That reason is hope - no matter where you are, there is always a Zihuantanejo.

Barbie in the Nutcracker
(2001)

It is what it is
This film is exactly what you'd expect from a Barbie Nutcracker adaptation from 2001. The animation and the plot are pretty basic but it's still a good story with an intense condensation of the original ballet. It doesn't pretend to be anything more than it really is and it exceeds at being itself.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
(2001)

Basic but visually creative
This film was revolutionary in 2001. Not so much anymore. The animation is still lifelike and fluid to tell the story without distraction but it is on par with a cheap video game by today's standards. The plot is cool and engaging if a bit typical. I loved the banter between the soldiers, especially Steve Buscemi's character. The best part is the visually creative world and design.

Glass
(2019)

Terrific, flawed and everything in between
This film is, let's say, very interesting. As an auteur superhero film combining two other films, it has a unique style and premise that wouldn't be found in any other film. It is definitely a distinct viewing experience due to its creativity. As the title suggests, this film is really about the final member of the trio, the mastermind Mr. Glass. The other two characters The Overseer/David Dunn and The Beast/Kevin Wendell Crumb are really just there as part of his plan. This can be both good and bad. We see more of Mr. Glass and his plans beyond the terrorist attacks of the first film, but it almost seems dismissive of the other two characters. Their endings are very anticlimactic considering how much they were hyped up. There were other big flaws as well - too much of the film is dedicated to slow "therapy" sessions, the conspiracy came out of nowhere and the security in the complex was bafflingly incompetent. Overall an interesting crossover but doesn't fully satisfy.

FutureWeapons
(2006)

War on Terror era tech show
This is the most American show I have seen. It is very gung-ho and has endless American-style editing clichés, stock sound effects and jingoistic narration. If you are the sort of person who likes technology, you will find lots of cool ideas to spark your imagination, although they are not always very revolutionary. If you are an American patriot, you will find lots of hope that the next big thing here will dominate the battlefield in the near future. If you are the sort of person who likes to complain about the "military-industrial complex", this will be a good comedy as the American warfare aspect is quite exaggerated, or it will give you even more to complain about. Everybody wins!

Kureyon Shinchan
(1992)

Outrageously funny
I used to watch the Hong Kong Cantonese dub all the time, apparently. Shinchan (or Siusan as we called him) is simply the funniest little rascal.

Beowulf
(2007)

Severely underrated
This is quite an exciting film with riveting plot and characters. The animation style actually augments the quality of the film as it allows for some fantastical and fast-paced sequences that could not be done in live-action. The characters are all unique with their distinctly strong personalities and voice acting. I haven't read the original poem yet so I can't comment much on the changes, but from what I know, this film is actually an improvement as it fills in some gaps, turns Beowulf into a more human figure and intertwines the fates of the humans and monsters to show the cycle of causation.

Le voyage à travers l'impossible
(1904)

Grand successor to A Trip to the Moon
It must have been hard to live up to expectations with the follow up to A Trip to the Moon but this film succeeds at it. The Impossible Voyage combines all the signature skills and style but extended even further with lavish sets, designs and special effects. The entire journey is a wonder to watch. My only gripes are that it's not always clear what is going on, it's longer than it needs to be, the characters are indistinct and there is no key conflict like the moon residents in Trip to the Moon.

La sortie de l'usine Lumière à Lyon
(1895)

The most influential short film
The value of this short film is far more than just its contents (which are alright as far as historical time capsules go). It's really about the impact of this and the invention of the video camera in general. We may take it for granted but at the time it would have taken a great deal of curiosity and innovation to move technology in this direction.

The Great Train Robbery
(1903)

Still holds up
This film is an early example of dramatic storytelling on the level of today's films. Unlike the other 1903 title Life of an American Fireman, this film has a more frenetic pacing with cross-cutting and editing used to build excitement. The camera work is also more varied as it shows a variety of settings, distances and angles rather than just showing a full static scene with a long shot like many films of this era tend to do.

Life of an American Fireman
(1903)

Very straightforward early story
This film's greatest achievement is its scope and budget, as it portrays a rather extensive process of firefighting from the firemen waking up all the way to the dousing itself. From a historical point of view, it's interesting to see the equipment and uniforms used all the way. The editing and pacing let it down as it is rather methodical and slow and doesn't add to much excitement.

Rescued by Rover
(1905)

Great early story film
This is an early example of a film that shows a whole dramatic narrative story, and it is much better than Hepworth's earlier attempt at producing Alice in Wonderland. The story itself, while quite basic, shows a good understanding of dramatic and emotional impact. The camera work is clear and follows the action of the dog who plays the role quite convincingly.

Explosion of a Motor Car
(1900)

Early black humour
This is a very early version of black humour and it works just as well as any of today's jokes. It's a short and sweet film about the titular explosion of a motor car. The special effects were quite impressive for the time and really contribute to the absurdity of the situation.

Alice in Wonderland
(1903)

Early attempt
I'll give this film credit for being a passionate and motivated early attempt to adapt Alice in Wonderland to film, especially at a time when the medium was so new. There was clearly a lot of motivation put into this film. However, it still leaves a lot to be desired. Alice is supposed to be ten years old but this actress appears to be in her thirties. The special effects are rudimentary and unconvincing even by the standards of the time period. The story is haphazard and the intertitles are either redundant (why tell me that there is a dog in the garden when I can clearly see it?) or an excuse to not attempt certain technically challenging scenes. Good early attempt but fails to meet the mark.

L'arrivée d'un train à La Ciotat
(1896)

I like trains
I like trains, I like film, I like this film about trains.

Split
(2016)

James McAvoy deserves twenty-four Oscars
Wow, what a great film by Shyamalan! He totally makes up for the decade-long lull in quality content exemplified by duds like The Happening (2008) and The Last Airbender (2010) - it's quite shocking that the same man is responsible for those films and this one. The premise of the film relies on the ability of the lead actor James McAvoy and he totally delivers with many unique identities switching place across the film. There is a true sense of building tension within a very engaging plot that unfolds to reveal many horrifying things about Kevin. The main flaw as far as I am concerned is that the repeated flashbacks about Casey give away the fact that she will be the survivor.

Unbreakable
(2000)

Well made but plodding
This film resembles its antagonist Elijah Glass - on the surface it is elegant and well spoken, but underneath has a hidden fragility. I must give it credit for the crisp cinematography, directing and acting in this film which all contribute to a feeling of an (supposedly) ordinary man being trapped into something much greater. However, the core weakness of this film is its reliance on two big plot twists - that the protagonist has real superpowers and that Elijah Glass caused the Eastrail 177 train crash. Both of these are predictable from their first interaction, with or without knowing Shyamalan's penchant for surprise endings. This reduces the entire film to a brooding and plodding wait for characters to find out what was already obvious. The moments along the way flesh out their characters and abilities for sure, but without anything to redeem the pacing until nearly the end, the viewing experience devolves into a repetitive slog of unfruitful interactions.

El laberinto del fauno
(2006)

Modern day fairytale
This film is an interesting synthesis between a Franco era war film and a dark fantasy fairytale story. In some ways it reminds me of Spirited Away in that it features a young girl sucked into a fantasy otherworld with a lot of symbolism and interpretations. This film, however, is far more violent and tragic in both of the worlds. The art design and mythological feeling are amazing, and even better, they feed into an overall significance that is more than the sum of its parts.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine
(2013)

Rapid comedy
This TV show is a joke a second, fuelled by very distinct characters with their own unique personality quirks. The storylines are a rapid fire succession of unpredictable and enjoyable moments. The lead star is Andy Samberg of The Lonely Island fame - if that humour appeals to you, this show is worth checking out.

Life of Brian
(1979)

Intensely repetitive
I don't have a sense of humour, but if I did, Monty Python would not be it. There are a few nice satirical ideas in here, I'll give it that, but this film mires in repetition. The first time someone mentions "Biggus Dickus" or speaks with a speech impediment or follows Brian around even when he doesn't want it, it's not very funny. So there's not much worth in seeing that same concept dragged on for another five minutes.

Before Sunset
(2004)

A step up from the original
Why do I feel this is better than the original film, Before Sunrise (1995)? It is more grounded, the characters have more of a life of their own and there is more nostalgia to draw upon. The real-time conversation has more insight and you truly feel a deep human connection.

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