Once Upon a Time Season 1 (2011)

Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time Season 1 Review

Once Upon a Time is a fantasy TV show which centers on the fairy-tale characters that are trapped in the modern world and can’t remember who they really are. It intersects from the present to the fairytale past and ties everything up eventually into a coherent whole.

The first season is a very strong one as it is more dramatic which some find problematic, but I personally love it as I find the switch from real to fantastical really well done and the parallels are many times striking and very well incorporated into each other. It starts magnificently with a fantastic first episode and ends with two amazing episodes, but the middle of the season has its inconsistencies with a couple of truly bad episodes, but more on that later.

First, the characters. I found Snow White’s character to be one of the best here. And she is the most intriguing person of the bunch as the two versions are very different from each other. Snow is the more ferocious and action-oriented one whereas Mary Margaret is the more emotional, sweet and calm one. But both are well depicted and although at times the show focuses too much on her, her story is still very well realized. David is one of the more annoying characters to me as his story is too soapy in the Storybrooke story and he is too arrogant in the fairyback. And the relationship between the two, although melodramatic and sometimes resembling a soap opera, is still at times quite moving and you root for them to find happiness as both are well developed and the actors share good chemistry.

Emma Swan is to me a very good character as she is not only very realistic but also feminist and, although mostly unlikable, still grounded and gets superb development. Her emotional scenes are superb and she is the one who gets the most development in this show with her relationship with Henry, her troubled past and her fear of being in charge all very well explored. August is fantastic and I really liked his story and his Pinocchio got excellent treatment in the fairyback and it wonderfully pays homage to Disney’s original film. But he is phenomenal in his relationship with Emma and also Gold, but his quest to make Emma believe is so dramatic and he is a very mysterious character done right. His scene with Emma where she fails to see his wooden leg meaning that she does not want to see magic even when it is right in front of her is so powerful and one of the best sequences in the series as that theme of not believing is well explored and the scene gets right to the heart of Emma’s character.

Jiminy Cricket is great in the fairyback, but I found his Storybrooke counteract quite forgettable. Huntsman is also not as best realized, but his tragic end is done well in a great scene. As for Henry, he is annoying, but not as obnoxious to me as others find him and his character is essential for the story which is why he has to be there.

Rumpelstiltskin is one of the best characters in Once Upon a Time as he is so mysterious and so powerful and the competition between him and Regina is so well established and leads to many memorable scenes. He is well explored in the fairyback, but Mr. Gold is even better and the shift between his campy and calm demeanor is so well done. But he is still not used as best as he could be used and he has a lot of potential to become even better as the series progresses.

Regina is the reason why I love this show. She is so amusing in both Storybrooke and faryback. She gets excellent backstory and her motivations are really well established and I love how everyone here has a reason for their wrong-doings thus staying away from the typically clear good-evil mechanics usually found in these stories. But she is powerful and her powers are visually appealing and her constant competition with Gold in Storybrooke is so entertaining to watch while her campy and over-the-top behavior in the past is so amusing. She steals every scene she’s in and is the highlight in my opinion.

Ruby is weak as Red, but even she got better treatment as the season progressed. Grumpy is so obnoxious and his backstory results in the worst episode of the season. But the other dwarfs are fine and even he is good when interacting with Snow as they are such a good team. Genie is also a well explored character, Maleficent is criminally underused, Cora is such a badass villain and Jefferson is one of the best characters from the season’s second half and such a welcome inclusion as his mad behavior is perfect and his Mad Hatter gets such a great backstory.

Yes, the backstories are here mostly really well done apart from a couple of weaker storylines. The pacing of the show is slower which I appreciated and I loved the many conversations and deals made throughout the season as they strengthen the characters and lead to a more coherent plot. Some of the highlights are the pilot episode which starts the season so incredibly well and instantly hooked me in. Huntsman’s episode is also superb and refreshingly dark, Red’s episode is also terrific and has such a terrific twist, Heart of Darkness is wonderfully dramatic, if soapy and Pinocchio’s backstory is excellent and of course the finale and the penultimate episodes are two of the highlights.

Dreamy is an awful episode that shows everything that is wrong with this season and that is sometimes cheesy plots and weak special effects, but most importantly some pacing issues as that episode stops the season’s progression in order to focus on an uninteresting character. And yes, it definitely does have some soap opera resemblances at times with the love triangle in the first half being so annoying, but this season is mostly stupendous and so incredibly entertaining with a great attention to detail and excellent use of objects as connectors in the entire storyline. The characters are mostly really well developed and I love how each and every character gets a proper due and superb backstory that wonderfully explain the origin of these fairytale characters. It also wonderfully parallels the two worlds with the fantasy and drama elements well incorporated. And it is so ambitious and epic in scope which I also loved about it along with its great world-building and intricate story elements. It is thematically rich as well and I loved its feminist overtones as they are so well handled. The action and cinematography could have been better, but the effects aren’t that bad and it overall looks pretty good. And the acting is naturally great as most of the performances are absolutely terrific and most actors deliver in spades.

This first season of Once Upon a Time has its problems, but it is mostly such an entertaining time to be had with well developed and intriguing characters, great themes, excellent performances, such ambitious and detailed storytelling and many memorable moments and a couple of truly powerful episodes.

Worst Episodes: That Still Small Voice and Dreamy.
Best Episodes: Pilot, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Red-Handed, Heart of Darkness, Hat Trick, The Stable Boy, The Stranger and A Land Without Magic.

My Rating – 4.3

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The Cat Concerto (1947)

The Cat ConcertoThe Cat Concerto Review

The Cat Concerto is a 1947 animated short which is the 29th of Tom and Jerry shorts. It is a very good entry that is probably the most famous one in the series.

Tom is playing a piano in a concert, but awakes Jerry who is sleeping in it and the mouse tries to ruin his play. This is the cartoon that is the most well regarded of all Tom and Jerry shorts and is regularly cited as one of the best animated short films ever made. And while I do not agree with it and I even find it slightly overrated, it is definitely very good and it features a change in pace for the series with superb music that is the highlight here as it is so well incorporated into the action.

Yes, the action here is inventive and memorable and the two have many great moments. The ending is well realized and the film is funny, but it isn’t as funny as some other previous entries and the pacing is too slow at first which are the two reasons for why I do not find it is as amazing as others do. But it is still entertaining and it executes its setting so well with fine gags to spare.

The Cat Concerto isn’t perfect, but it is entertaining and so well done as it features a unique scenario with some very inventive action and superb music.

My Rating – 4.3

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Paths of Glory (1957)

Paths of Glory

Paths of Glory Review

Paths of Glory is a 1957 war film directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring Kirk Douglas. It is one of the director’s best and most moving films.

It follows Coronel Dax who is the commanding officer of French soldiers who refuse to continue a suicidal attack and it is up to him to defend them in a court-martial. The story itself is quite simple here, but is really well realized. And I liked how it incorporated both action and drama rather well into a coherent whole. The first half has some superb action sequences that are so realistically depicted whereas the second half has some moving drama while also having courtroom drama elements as well.

I love that it is an anti-war film and that it so strongly opposes war and the army which is why it was not as well received when it originally came out back in 1957. But I loved its statements and although those can be a bit too on-the-nose, they are still powerful and the film is dramatic. But the most important thing about the film is how emotional it is. That ending with the soldiers listening to a German woman singing and tearing while singing is just spectacular not only in its evident and honest emotion, but also in its power as it is so well executed and such a perfect ending to such a good film.

The characters are really well developed with Dax being the finest one of course. He is a typical good guy, but his realistic behavior and his sense of humor distinguishes him from other similar roles. Broulard is such a realistic character, but General Mireau is the most interesting of the bunch with his amusing behavior and speech patterns and he is definitely the funniest character here.

Yes, the humor here is surprisingly good. It is one of the strongest aspects of Paths of Glory and that I was not expecting at all having in mind that this is a war film. But although subtle and not present in the first half, the humor is definitely there in the second half and it is stupendous with many hilarious lines that perfectly make fun of the army men of the time.

The acting is superb with Kirk Douglas giving one of his most memorable and definitely one of his best performances. But Adolphe Menjou is also good and George Macready overacts, but that is suitable in this kind of role. All of the actors did a fine job and they elevated the movie.

There are a couple of flaws in this movie including the overly short running time and its somewhat too simplistic and not that subtle approach. And every dialogue and every scene could have been a bit more dramatic and more impactful as only the ending is truly unforgettable here. It has its problems, but those are mostly minor and the film is overall very well crafted.

Paths of Glory is technically polished as well with terrific cinematography with some great camera movements. It is also rather well paced and of course Kubrick did such a phenomenal job as a director here and this is one of my favorites of his along with another war film ‘Full Metal Jacket‘ which is also his great achievement. The action here is so well depicted in its realism and that realism is present throughout the whole running time and I appreciated it a lot. But the conversations are also great and dramatic, the humor is fantastic and the performances are very good. The score is good and the tone is well handled. And the picture has one of the best endings of the fifties, there is no doubt about it.

Paths of Glory has one of the best endings of the time with such an unforgettable scene filled with power and emotion, it is also well acted and so well directed by Kubrick and although a bit too simplistic and lacking subtlety, it is still one of his best films thanks to excellent action scenes, great dramatic dialogue and it is filled with emotion and evident realism.

My Rating – 4.5

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Charlie Brown’s All-Stars (1966)

Charlie Brown's All-Stars

Charlie Brown’s All-Stars Review

Charlie Brown’s All-Stars is a 1966 animated television special and the second in the Peanuts series. It is definitely one of their best.

Charlie Brown is a manager of a baseball team and is offered a help from the sponsor. He would get free uniforms, but if he gets rid of the girls and Snoopy because no girls or dogs are allowed to play in the team. He rejects that because he does not want to betray his friends and after the girls mock him for losing, they find out what he did for them and they make him a uniform out of Linus’s blanket. That is the story in this special and it is absolutely amazing. It is so well crafted and always entertaining, but it above all showcases what’s best in this series by having such a fantastic humor and inherent emotion to it.

My favorite moments are definitely the ending which is so hilarious and heartwarming, but also every time that Charlie loses and the girls mock him is so funny and there are many lines here that are just hysterical. Yes, the humor is at its peak here as I found the whole film hilarious and probably the funniest Charlie Brown has ever been. But it also has superb character moments with Charlie Brown being excellent of course, but Lucy is expectedly great and Snoopy is so funny. But I liked how the rest of the supporting characters were also funny this time around with Linus being the funniest and the most likable of the bunch. It is well scored and acted and the plot always stays true to the losing spirit of the property which I loved about it. I wish that it would have been longer and sometimes the mockery was too aggressive, but this is mostly a perfect film that has everything I love about this property and I just adored every single second of it.

Charlie Brown’s All-Stars has such great character moments with every character getting their moment to shine, it has many heartwarming moments, it has an excellent plot with a superb conclusion and the humor is absolutely phenomenal with endless hilarious lines leading to an almost perfect Peanuts Special.

My Rating – 4.8

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Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)

Kung Fu Panda 2

Kung Fu Panda 2 Review

Kung Fu Panda 2 is a 2011 DreamWorks animated action comedy film directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson and starring Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman and Gary Oldman. It is a solid, albeit inferior sequel to the very good 2008 original.

Po must fight a new villain while discovering about his past and how he ended up in the Valley of Peace in the first place. This is an expected territory for the sequel and though very typical and familiar and even lazy, I still liked it overall because it has great attention to detail and is consistent. Po’s past is hinted at in the first movie, he learns about it in this second film and he is finally going to meet his father in the third one. I liked that structure as it works well as a trilogy and I hope it stays as such.

However, while I liked the overall storyline, I still disliked its excessive use of humor and action above character development and story. You get introduced solidly to the new villain, but the first act is still lacking and the second act in particular was quite boring and it had too much action. But the third act is an improvement with some memorable moments and a great conclusion that wonderfully makes you excited for the sequel. Now, my favorite moments have to be Po’s dialogue with his adoptive father near the end as it is so heartwarming and the sequence in which Po finally masters the new move is visually breathtaking and so well realized.

Speaking of Po, he was better realized this time around, but I still found his sense of humor and his personality annoying. But he got much development and his backstory is well explained. Mr. Ping is wonderful as his father and he is so likable and sympathetic and the relationship between the two was definitely the highlight for me. Master Shifu was ok, but much better utilized before. And the rest of the warriors unfortunately got even lesser screen time this time around which was so frustrating. Lord Shen is once again a joke of a villain, even more so this time around. Yes, he is visually interesting, has great action movements and has a backstory which is great in terms of characterization, but he is still a peacock which was a ridiculous choice for a villain in the first place and his daddy issues are pathetic and he was like that himself in the end.

Kung Fu Panda 2 once again has a terrific voice cast. Jack Black is good as is Hoffman, Jolie and especially James Hong in the great role of Mr. Pong. But the new addition of Gary Oldman to this cast proved to be a great choice as his voice fits the character and he did such a good job with the role.

The animation is really good. It is colorful and even when it’s dark, the light is well realized and it leads to great visuals. It is always wonderful to look at, but it is still such an inferior animation to that in the first Kung Fu Panda because there are no greater, majestic moments and the artistry is lessened to some degree. The same goes for the score which is much weaker this time around and that was very frustrating to me.

But the imagery in Kung Fu Panda 2 is once again great with some fine interiors as well. It is well directed, but the editing is weak and the action is overly present. It is again very well executed, but there should have been less of it and unfortunately not a single action sequence is unforgettable such as, for instance, the bridge sequence in the original.

And the humor remains the problem in this sequel as well. You get one extraordinary action or dramatic scene and afterwards you are quickly reminded that this is an American kiddie fare with some stupid punch line and some ridiculous slapstick. Yes, some of it is funny with the jokes regarding Po’s father being hilarious, but most of it isn’t as it is over-reliant on the panda’s excessive weight and stupid action slapstick that kills the tone that should have been more serious and more mature. But the film is emotional and I liked its baskstories and flashbacks as they flesh the characters and give answers. But it is still predictable and not at all original. And the dialogue is solid and the film has many great scenes and is very well concluded.

Kung Fu Panda 2 is undoubtedly inferior to its predecessor. Whereas Kung Fu Panda had a better story and much more inspired animation and especially action, this one has more character development and more story developments, but overall is definitely lacking. But the two share the same problems which are the predictable storylines and typical humor and this sequel is certainly a solid effort from DreamWorks that isn’t that worse and is definitely a solid flick, especially for a sequel. I just hope the third one is going to be the same.

Kung Fu Panda 2 is definitely inferior to the original film due to less interesting action sequences and not as inspired animation, but the plot is solid with nice flashbacks and backstories and the voice cast once again did a fine job and some scenes are phenomenal with the conclusion being intriguing. It is a weaker, but still solid sequel that has its moments.

My Rating – 3.5

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Strong to the Finich (1934)

Strong to the FinichStrong to the Finich

Strong to the Finich is a 1934 Popeye the Sailor animated short film that is one of the more flawed, but still funny entries.

Popeye shows the children how spinach makes everyone and everything stronger by using it on plants and animals. This is such an authentic premise as it does not have a single villain and is executed solidly. Despite having a rather disappointing conclusion, everything else was good here with the humor being really good and many scenes are memorable and visually inventive.

Olive is so weird here in her odd talk and different animation which are the reasons why I did not like her. But Popeye expectedly saves the day as he is so amusing and both the action and the humor here are especially good. And I liked this spinach-centric excursion as it is different, but still entertaining and charming.

Strong to the Finich has a disappointing ending and Olive, but Popeye is great as is the action and especially humor with its visual inventiveness and some great gags.

My Rating – 3.8

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Steve Jobs (2015)

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs Review

Steve Jobs is a 2015 biographical drama film directed by Danny Boyle and starring Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen and Jeff Daniels. It is such a good film and one of the biggest surprises for me this year.

The plot follows three major events in the life of Jobs: the release of Macintosh in 1984, the release of NeXT in 1988 and the 1998 launch of iMac. By focusing on just those three events, the movie manages to flow so well and it is great that they got rid of his life before and after these events as that would have been too much. But this choice is so phenomenal as it makes the movie all the more dramatic and so well realized not just in its characters, but in emotion and attention to detail.

The structure is fantastic as these three events are presented in three acts and all of these acts are incredibly well edited and they all work. The first one gets you invested in this story and gets you know the characters so well and so quickly due to some terrific characterization. The second act is probably the most dramatic one whereas the third act is the most emotional of the bunch. I loved all three of them, but the resolution did not work for me, but more on that later.

Steve Jobs is so well represented here. I’m not sure if his sense of humor was this good in real life, but everything else they did with him was so honest which is the main reason I enjoyed this film so much. His condescending nature, his smart talk and his troubled relationship with his daughter and especially his friend are all so well depicted and seem real. I loved how the filmmakers did not glorify him and never stayed away from the truth.

Steve Wozniak is also very well realized and the relationship between the two is so heartbreaking. I loved the conversation between the two near the end because it is so dramatically executed and so memorable. It is one of my favorite sequences for sure. Joanna Hoffman is also great, but I never really got why she cared so much about his family life. And Sculley is the least interesting person here.

The acting is most certainly one of Steve Job’s highest accomplishments. Michael Fassbender absolutely shines in this difficult role and his facial expressions, body language and above all his speech patterns are so well realized. He gave a powerhouse performance that is one of the finest of the year. But Kate Winslet is phenomenal as well and she disappears in her role and even becomes unrecognizable with all the make-up and different accent. But she steals every scene she is in and these two gave their best performance in recent years. Jeff Daniels is also good, but Seth Rogen surprised me as he did such a good job as Wozniak and he should definitely get more dramatic roles as he can be quite good in those.

Steve Jobs is technically a great achievement as it is so well directed and it is the best I’ve yet seen from Danny Boyle as I am usually not a big fan of his, but he did such a great job here. But the editing department is responsible for the film’s excellent structure and the entertainment value which is big as the movie is never boring. It is incredibly involving which is such an achievement as the material seems boring on paper. It is well shot and is a true chamber drama where the performances and the dialogue carry the movie and the locations are few, thus resembling a play. Speaking of dialogue, it is one of the biggest strengths here as it not only sophisticated, but engaging and I love its talkative and quick approach as it made the movie riveting, especially for a biopic.

Now, the flaws. There are a couple of problems I’ve had with the film. The relationship between Jobs and his daughter is probably the only flaw in this movie and every problem stems directly from it. By focusing so extensively on it in the third act, it felt somewhat structurally uneven as the family life and his business ventures aren’t that well incorporated here. Business is great and the relationships in the working place are all very well realized, but the family life is only there in the beginning and ending and almost disappearing in the middle. But the execution is so weak in the end. Whereas I liked it in the first act, I disliked it in the end as that whole ending is a bit too emotional in my honest opinion and it lessened the impact of the film to me.

Steve Jobs unfortunately went into overly maudlin territory in the third act, but everything else here works as the dialogue is so fantastic and involving, the characters are well developed, the editing is deft and the performances from Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet are so good. But its honest approach and its great, dramatic conversations are the reasons why the movie works and it is such a pleasant surprise, always entertaining and well crafted.

My Rating – 4.5

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Part Time Pal (1947)

Part Time Pal Part Time Pal Review

Part Time Pal is a 1947 animated short which is the 28th of Tom and Jerry shorts. It is a flawed entry that is one of the weaker for the duo.

Tom gets an order from Mammy to catch Jerry, but he gets drunk and befriends the mouse. Yes, the concept itself is quite intriguing and new, but as is the same with ‘Mouse in Manhattan’, it doesn’t make use of its premise rather well and ends up being weird and disappointing. It is above all too boring and slow paced to be enjoyed more and definitely lacks the energy and the humor for which the series is famous for.

It does have its moments though with Mammy being the highlight here and the ending in particular is so visually great and a fine conclusion. And the characters are likable here and the action is standard, but well executed. But in the end, it is a disappointment and is one of the weaker efforts from this series of shorts.

Part Time Pal has good action, fine character moments and it has its memorable scenes, but it is still a disappointment as it is so boring and slow and doesn’t use its premise that well.

My Rating – 3.6

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Amy (2015)

amy

Amy Review

Amy is a 2015 British documentary film about the singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse. It is critically one of the best documentaries of the year and rightfully so as it is terrific.

The film follows the singer through her rise of popularity, but specifically follows her substance abuse problems leading to her death. I loved that the film chose to follow that theme in particular as it made it much more coherent. And although it somewhat lacked focus at first, it was much better as it progressed and it ended on such a powerful and incredibly heartbreaking note.

Yes, the emotion is what makes this film so superb. You feel the pain she felt and the whole second half or so is imbued with such strong feelings of sadness and regret. And the emotion wasn’t forced or too emphasized, but rather natural and I loved that about it. The ending in particular is so tragic and the whole movie has that feeling of poignancy wonderfully achieved.

Another great thing about it is how it uses the real interviews and real archival footage of Amy Winehouse herself and that made the movie all the more real and truthful. And the interviews really let you know the person and I liked her really much and found her to be so likable which made her death feel all the more tragic to me. But the music is also well chosen and I liked the inclusion of many awards ceremonies as it showed you how special she was and a true artist.

Speaking of art, the film showcases her talent, but it also shows how celebrities struggle with their fame and how all that fame isn’t worth it in the end with the constant attack from paparazzi and trash talk that they experience from so-called comedians and other celebrities. I loved that honest look at fame.

The whole film is honest which is one of its biggest strengths. It never glorifies its subject and although it showcases what a fascinating person she was and how her death was immensely tragic, it still condemns her to some degree as she alone is the most responsible for all of that. That heartfelt, but grounded in reality approach made Amy absolutely terrific to watch. It has great interviews and excellent use of music with the lyrics on screen which I also liked a lot, but it also has strong emotional intensity and superb approach and execution. And although the running time is long, it is never boring as the pacing is excellent and the film is very well edited. The dialogue is great and the tone is deft, but Asif Kapadia did a particularly great job as it is so well directed and it is above all very well edited and crafted. It is inferior in its first act and it could have been even better and should have shown more from her life, but it is mostly an excellent film that is one of the finest documentary films of this year and it deserves every praise it receives.

Amy has an inferior beginning, but it is nonetheless a terrific film that is one of the best documentaries of the year due to excellent editing and directing, superb use of music and interviews and above all the inclusion of some great themes and the approach which is incredibly heartfelt, but still honest. It is a very good film that is always heartbreaking and intriguing, but above all a great tribute to this great woman.

My Rating – 4.5

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King Neptune (1932)

King Neptune

King Neptune Review

 King Neptune is a 1932 Silly Symphony animated short film by Disney. It is a color film that is one of the most mature in the series.

The story itself here is not only present and eventful, but quite good. The action is solid, it starts well and ends on a nice note, but the middle of the film is the best and most entertaining. I liked the singing as well and the animation in particular was phenomenal here and so colorful and it is nice to see such a great, repeated use of Technicolor after their groundbreaking ‘Flowers and Trees’.

But the film is interesting for being so mature in tone as it has both nudity and some sexual overtones. And although the flamboyant pirate was handled rather tastelessly and insensitively, I still liked the choice to go into more adult territory which was easily achieved as being a Pre-Code film. The whole film is never as great or as particularly likable as it should have been, but it is still an interesting diversion and one of the most intriguing experiments in the Silly Symphony canon.

King Neptune has absolutely amazing animation and such a mature tone to it that make it one of the more unique Silly Symphonies.

My Rating – 4

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