Monday, October 20, 2014

Review: The Book of Life

Release date: October 17, 2014
Running time: 95 minutes
Starring: Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum 
Who to see it with: Your kids or childhood friend


An animated movie from 20th Century Fox from a relatively unknown animation studio, The Book of Life didn't inspire a ton of confidence in me going into the screening. However, what I experienced was a colorful, imaginative, and beautifully animated film. The imagination and creativity shouldn't come as much of a surprise, given the attachment of Guillermo del Toro, but what was surprising was how much I enjoyed it the story.

Starting with the animation, it's absolutely beautiful with some detailed characters and really spectacular touches. The story is told as if being reenacted by puppets, so the characters in the main film all look the part. It's a small touch, but one that definitely helps the overall feel of the movie and the sense of story. Additionally, the style is downright amazing, with vibrant colors and imaginative sets. The movie definitely gets its style from the Mexico inspired setting, which gives you some bright sets and wonderful costumes. 

The story itself is fairly typical kids story, but it is an enjoyable journey with some really fun characters. Although it seems to start with a sexist premise, it ends up being much more than that, with some good lessons for kids about expectations, friendship, and machismo. Additionally, the music is wonderful. The film uses contemporary songs that are redone by the main character, who plays a Spanish guitar. It's a treat to hear a song that you recognize redone in a Latin style, and I was definitely smiling as the film worked some contemporary hits into the story. The Book of Life is a vibrant and imaginative kids movie that will entertain while teaching some valuable lessons.

Watch it.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Review: Kill the Messenger

Release date: October 9, 2014
Running time: 112 minutes
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosemarie DeWitt 
Who to see it with: A conspiracy theorist friend


Based on a true story, Kill the Messenger follows a Bay Area reporter named Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner) who uncovers a possible government conspiracy to illicitly finance Nicaraguan contras. When Webb, after researching some very shady individuals, finally publishes his story, the consequences of it are swift and far reaching for the reporter and his family. The film bears the dreaded, based on a true story tag, which always makes you wonder how much of it actually happened and how much of it was fabricated for the silver screen. In the end, it's tough to tell, but at least the film paints an interesting picture while doing it.

Most of the movie is spent with Renner, who does a masterful job portraying the somewhat complicated Webb. Renner gives a believable performance that is powerful at times and goes through a variety of emotional states. Renner is pretty much the highlight of the film, although many stars make cameos and add some unique and quirky characters to the unbelievable story. Speaking of the story, the film is "based on a true story," which is better than inspired by but still begs the question of how much creative liberty was taken with the underlying material. Many of the scenes seem convenient and at the same time, far-fetched without much exploration into alternative explanations. The film weaves an interesting story that starts to unravel, or at least show some possible flaws, when you poke at some of the angles. And as is sometimes the case with films based on true stories, the ending feels both stretched and unfulfilling. Although Kill the Messenger involves an engaging journey with some very good acting, the overall film feels fantastical at times and leaves you with an unsatisfying ending.

Rent it.