Movie Review – Maleficent

rs_634x939-140310102825-634.maleficent-poster-angelina-jolie-031014

If ever a film were to come along and inspire me to revive my blog, it would be this one. Not because it was good, but because it so horrifically missed the mark I had no choice but to scream about it. I’m not going to pretend Sleeping Beauty was my favourite Disney movie (Lion King). It wasn’t even my favourite princess movie (Little Mermaid), but I did grow up in the Disney generation and this could have been something really spectacular. The problem is: it wasn’t.

Sleeping Beauty is a rough story to tell from any vantage point. Girl spends half the story asleep and the other half a baby. I can see the challenge that decorated director Robert Stromberg (PotC: At World’s End, Hunger Games, Pan’s Labyrinth) faced in taking on Maleficent’s story, but the fundamental truth he (or maybe executive producer, Angelina Jolie) failed to grasp is that Maleficent is an evil, unsympathetic, bitch. She’s jealous of the baby’s beauty and inherited power, she drunk with her own, and she wants nothing more than to rain suffering down on innocents. Her miserable existence is all there is there. She is a brutally uncaring piece of human (re: faerie) garbage and that’s why we love to hate her. But no, Stromberg, no Jolie, you had to take one of the best Disney villains of all time and turn her into nothing more than another Elsa from Frozen, another Elphaba from Wicked. You gave her back a humanity that wasn’t your right to give and you should be ashamed.

Moving on for a moment, we’re going to talk about the talent because I want you to know what you are truly getting into when buying a ticket to this movie. When purchasing your way into the theatre to see this you are willingly subjecting yourself to the most average man on the planet, Sharlto Copley, who was great as the most average man in the world in District 9 (Wickus) but doesn’t quite cut it in either his sympathetic nor later unsympathetic roles.  If that wasn’t enough to keep you glued to your seat then try the generic brand version of Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning, her younger sister who plays Aurora. Now, I know when I’m getting a knock-off, I’m a pretty seasoned veteran of the silver screen and the fact of that matter is that little Elle actually did better than expected compared to her ankle-high-barred co-stars. She’s not the actress that Dakota is and likely she won’t be (who am I to say) but she’s precious and all she really needed to do was smile and be precious since her character is essentially dead for half the movie (more like 5 minutes but really there’s not much to poor SB when she’s awake either). Let’s keep going because Prince Phillip is a good one. You won’t know him from anything because he’s some pretty Australian they probably got from the same store that makes Liam Hemsworth and Jesse Spencer but what he has been in is probably the worst film that I have ever had the displeasure of scraping across my retinas: the remake of Blue Lagoon. Now finally, the crow (who is a character, trust me) is played by Sam Riley who hasn’t really been in anything worth while but bless his little heart, was a big redeeming point for the film. Props to you, Sam. In fact, it seems the almost immediately ran out of cash after buying a big ticket item like Jolie that the only other person of note was Imelda Staunton (Professor Dolores Umbridge, Harry Potter series) who you still hate so much from Harry Potter you can’t really enjoy as a little annoying faerie.

Now that I’m done grinding these poor actors into the metaphorical dirt I’m ready to come back to the soggy old bus tire they called a plot. I’m going to put it under a break so if you don’t want to be spoiled which spoilers: you do because this movie really isn’t worth your hard earned dollars besides the costume porn, you don’t have to be.

Score: 4/10

Spoilery Parts

Ender’s Game – Movie Review

Enders-Game-Poster1 (1)

 

I have just returned from seeing Ender’s Game in theatres and I wanted to write this review as fast as possible for those out there wondering what could have possibly happened. This movie touches so many of us truly to our core. Readers of this series who see the poetry that is Ender and the cruelty that is his life. We know there are many sides to any situation, we know that other sentient species can be framlings, utlanning, ramen and yes, varelse.  We know that the Formic Wars were fought against the Buggers, not against the Formics, but whatever I guess. What I’m trying to tell you, those who have not taken the journey to the stars in words, is that we already love this and we did not need the help you will need to see its beauty. And I’m sorry for that. I’m sorry I cannot access the world by ansible to tell you to stop and to read Ender’s life before you see it. Watch the movie that is the book. Love him first. Then meet him, because otherwise you’ll fall into the trap laid out by metacritic giving this movie a 51/100 and you’ll agree and you will hate everything we love.

Back to the basics. This movie stars Asa Butterfield as Ender Wiggin, the protagonist (and antagonist) of his own life story and the life story of every other human that lived while he lived. Now, this is not Asa Butterfield’s first rodeo. He’s been in really notable roles before such as Hugo from Hugo, Mordred from the popular British series Merlin, Bruno from The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, and several other very noteworthy roles. Asa Butterfield is essentially the opposite of a nobody and will likely be someone to keep an eye on with three or four starring roles already and two title roles. That’s big, this kid is no joke. Other noteworthy players are Harrison Ford as Colonel Graff, Ben Kingsley as Mazer Rackham, Abigail Breslin as Valentine Wiggin. Some others to note are Hailee Steinfield as Petra known for roles like the lead in True Grit alongside Jeff Bridges and Juliet in the new Romeo and Juliet movie. I could go on, but at this point it’s just good to know that the cast is filled with people who have been around the block a time or two.

This story is simple and wonderfully complex at the same time. Ender Wiggin is a rare occurrence, a third child in a future Earth that normally only allows families to have two children. He is mature well beyond his years and is a candidate for the military battle school training young commanders to fight in a war against an alien species known in the movie as the Formics. They are bug-like and massive in number and we defeated them once prior, but other than that we know very little. Ender’s story is a hurdles race. Adeptly trying to avoid and dodge obstacles in a game whose rules are constantly changing. In war there are no children, there are only soldiers.

Now here’s the actual review. I truly loved this.  I thought Asa played a fantastic Ender. I found myself raging against Graff’s harsh treatment of the children as show ponies and empathizing with Anderson. I saw Peter as a monster and Valentine as an angel. But I realized sitting next to my good friend who had not read the books, that he did not feel any of this. The subtle beauty was gone. For him, it was looking through a window, but for me it was a telescope. Without the foundation there was nothing to see, just what was there whereas I saw so far beyond what was in front of me. It shouldn’t be that way. It should have been richer, perhaps focusing more somehow on the Formics and where they came from. Perhaps enriching the direction to show the brutal cruelty that was being in Bonzo’s army or being cut off from Ender’s family. Perhaps somehow showing the politics of the world they were trying to save by not ruthlessly leaving Demostenes and Locke on the cutting room floor. I honestly don’t know. I can’t know. I can’t tell you what this movie was missing because for me it was a complete and beautiful puzzle, but for those who had not read it it was a miserable failure to communicate necessary information.

So I am truly at a loss. I am an unreliable narrator. I am Holden Caulfield and Huck FInn and I honestly cannot say I’m sorry enough. I have no way to guide you in this one, but only to say that the vast differences in experiences leads me to tell you to please read the book first if you want to enjoy it. And if you don’t, then I hope you can enjoy what you see regardless.

Score: 7.5/10

 

Once Upon a Time in Wonderland – First Impressions

once-upon-a-time-in-wonderland

 

I know I know, three updates in 24 hours is just too much but I keep watching new things and I kind of owe it to you guys after so sparsely updating the last couple of months. I just finished the pilot of Once Upon a Time in Wonderland and while I’m going to stick with it, I have some major issues. Once Upon a Time in Wonderland is what happens when companies are rolling in so much money they decide to make a spin-off. Now given that, the premise is actually very Disney and super adorable. Alice falls in love with a genie named Cyrus in Wonderland but loses him in a battle against the Red Queen’s guards. Devastated she returns to London where she is sent to an insane asylum and given the option for, what seems to be, a lobotomy. Before she can get the surgery to erase all of her painful yet beautiful memories with Cyrus the knave of hearts and white rabbit show up and whisk her back to Wonderland on a claim that Cyrus is alive.

Alice is a fantastic character. She’s stubborn, witty, hopelessly in love, and she knows karate. It’s a pretty great match. She is played by Sophie Lowe who I recognize from absolutely nothing alongside the knave of hearts, Will, played by Michael Socha who actually is recognizable as Tom from the British version of Being Human. The White is voiced very obviously by John Lithgow. In the first episode it is revealed that the Red Queen is working with Jafar who is played by Naveen Andrews otherwise known as Sayid from Lost and Akbari from Sinbad. Here’s where I hit the first of my major issues. The Red Queen played by nobody Emma collagen face Rigby. She is portrayed as a total vapid waste of space completely at the whim of Jafar and her tentative usefulness seems to be a deus ex machina attempt to keep her around for sex appeal instead of just killing her off like they should. Coming from such a wonderfully tragic, evil, dimensional villain like Regina in the original Once Upon a Time, I am appalled. Cyrus is pretty cute although his screen time has been minimal. He is played by Peter Gadiot who is a complete no one, but is now a profound someone.

So I don’t really know who to blame and who to praise. Can’t praise casting because they allowed Emma Rigby to happen (though maybe she’ll improve, I always leave room for that) and I can’t blame them either because Sophie Lowe is a diamond. Can’t praise vfx because their blatantly green screen work looks to be circa 2002 but their choices of a chess castle and marshmallow pit are quite well done. Can’t blame the directors because the chemistry between Alice and Cyrus is so beautiful I had goosebumps during any of their scenes but can’t praise because someone told Emma Rigby that she needs to make her face more like a fish and that was a poor call. So really there are major triumphs and major shortcomings in all departments. But for each “yeesh” moment there was a scene that totally had me one billion percent backing Alice and ready for the next adventure. I’m sticking with it in hopes of improvement. Getting the kinks out of a new show can be tough.

Score: 7/10

Sleepy Hollow – First Impressions

sleepy-hollow-banner

 

 

It’s been all over the internet and I finally put some more miles on my hulu+ account and watched the first two episodes (of the 4 that have aired). Sleepy Hollow is sort of the “Elementary” of the Headless Horseman story. It takes place in modern times and the writing is quick and witty. It stars Tom Mison, known for basically nothing outside of the theatre, as Ichabod Crane and Nicole Beharie, known for her role as Rachel Robinson in the Jackie Robinson tribute film 42, as Lt. Abby Mills. In fact, among a veritable sea of nobodies one man instantly stood out. John Cho plays Andy Brooks another officer of Westchester County. John Cho is known for here and there TV roles, his role as Sulu in the 2009 Star Trek film and none other than Harold from Harold and Kumar.

The story is simple, Ichabod fights in the American Rebel Army in the Revolutionary War under General Washington and in the process seeks out and decapitates this super soldier redcoat who takes his own life in the process. Two hundred and fifty years later he wakes up in a ditch and has to continue the fight he started in the war against the headless soldier with the help of Abby Mills and Katarina, Ichabod’s past wife whom he can only see in dreams. On top of the base plot there is the inevitable man-out-of-time endless humor that ensues between Ichabod and Abby. When it could be cheesy and stupid it is actually witty and sharp. I give the writing team a lot of credit on this as they are developing all characters in all directions. Abby isn’t some bland “strong female” she’s a complex, rational girl trying to parse all of the information she’s receiving. She’s well-directed and doesn’t make me want to jump out of a moving car.

Ichabod is fantastically realized. He is a simple man pulled into a truly strange war which he willingly enter due to his undying loyalty to General Washington, but sandwiched in that purpose is a man. One who likely had a simple job in England, who joined the military as he was needed and who switched to the revolutionaries when he felt their purpose to be more powerful than English tyranny. He had a wife as we know and she has her own interesting secrets. He portrays all of this extremely well. You get that he was just a normal guy in Revolutionary War times and it makes the dynamic between him and Abby quite hilarious but also quite equal. They are both just people, just people who got put into a situation that can’t be considered “just” anything and are trying to keep up. My only complaint is that sometimes Ichabod and Abby can be painfully slow on the uptake and the show can end up hand-holding you through the episode. Perhaps this is just a first few episode problem as the shove you into the plot, but it is both unnecessary and annoying.

So far I am truly loving this show. The immediate realization is that this is not for the faint of heart. This show is pretty violent (which I love) and heavy on the vfx which is rare for TV. There is /a lot/ of decapitation. Get ready. If you don’t like open neck cavities and rolling heads then this show is not for you. But if you don’t mind that stuff then you should definitely check it out because it is so far a very well-realized show. I’m going to go watch the other two episodes that are available and I’d love to hear what everyone else thinks so far as well!

Score: 8.5/10

Gravity – Movie Review

gravity-movie

Just saw Gravity in IMAX 3D today! Gravity opened last week on October 4, 2013, and has a Metacritic cumulative score of 96/100 which qualifies it as a total hit. Directed by one Cuarón brother (Alfonso) and written by both (Alfonso and Jonas), Gravity is the story of Specialist Doctor Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) in a rather catastrophic space mission. In this movie the Russians attack one of their own satellites causing a debris field of destruction to assault the crew of the “Explorer”, a fictional space shuttle. What is immediately apparent in this movie is that it is phenomenally small-casted. The only two living humans displayed in it are Bullock and Clooney as well as a short cameo by Paul Sharma who was also in Children of Men directed by Alfonso Cuarón. Small world! 

The action of floating untethered in space is truly terrifying and the first person shots were a risk that paid off. They can easily fall into the cheesy category but instead read instead as suspenseful. You are often not shown enough to understand your surroundings, left instead, like Bullock or Clooney, to parse everything in pieces. It is frustrating, but also rewarding to watch. Oxygen is depleating, jet packs are running out of compressed air. The whole process leaves your heart in your throat.

This movie is entirely fueled by the special effects team and is brilliantly filmed. I read up on a lot of this movie because the line between live filming and vfx is so blurred I honestly didn’t know what was done to accomplish this. Apparently, to film the closed in scenes they used a small 9×9 foot lightbox filled with monitors to give the basic structure of Bullock and Clooney’s space shuttle/Shenzhou/ISS. Bullock spent hours in this box filming since the scenes are predominantly her and she admitted the experience was exceptionally lonely. The emotions she demonstrates in the movie seemed very raw and visceral and it is entirely possible that they were lightly sprayed with reality. The female role for this movie went through several incarnations. The first choice was Angelia Jolie who turned the role down. Then they thought perhaps Scarlett Johansson or Natalie Portman, but things seem to happen for a reason and Sandra Bullock got the role. She really was perfect. They did a lot to strip her femininity. They cut her hair, they gave her a gender neutral name, put her in a space suit and when she wasn’t in the suit she was in a very nondescript Navy tank top and Underarmor mesh shorts. It suited the role, making it so much less about a woman and so much more about a human. She is relatable through the entire process because she goes through the same emotions that anyone would: fear, hopelessness, desperation, and those are not gender specific so her character did not need to be either.

The cinematography in this movie was insane to say the least. It switched between deep close ups to first person shooting to wide wide panoramics where you aren’t sure you see anything let alone action. The emptiness of space was brought to reality here in a brilliant way. The soundtrack is silence, there is no sound in space and Alfonso Cuarón was adamant about that ringing true in the film. Explosions happen of course, but they are silent in a vacuum. Often the only sounds are Bullock and Clooney’s shallow breathing. It makes for a very eery, suspenseful experience. There are scenes that are filmed so close to Bullock’s character that you feel you are also in an extremely tight compartment. Perhaps it is to the benefit of the American audience that nothing was in English because it likely would open up continuity issues. Everything was either in Russian or Chinese.

Overall, I think this movie was really something special. It is rare for a movie to have truly only two (or one) cast members and so it was a refreshingly different type of film. I highly recommend that you see it in IMAX 3D as well because they utilize that technology so deeply that the movie may fall a bit short without it. Highly highly recommend. Truly great watch.

Score: 9/10

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – First Impressions

20130511061034!Agents_of_SHIELD_logo

 

Well I just watched the first episode of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD and I have to say it’s completely AMAZING! The writing is witty and clever, the action moves quickly as does the story, all characters and I mean every single one have value and thought put into them like each one was precious. The whole is truly phenomenal television almost too good to be true.

The story follows Agent Coulson played (of course) by Clark Gregg as well as Malinda May played by Ming-Na Wen, actress of Eureka, SGU Stargate Universe, Vanished, ER, Two and a Half Men, and voice of Mulan fame. Alongside these two veritable big screen kingpins is Brett Dalton as Grant Ward who you may have seen as Robert Todd Lincoln in Killing Lincoln but likely in nothing else (baby!). Perfect and gorgeous, Chloe Bennet of Nashville fame plays Skye, a hacker extraordinaire and self-made cyber-anarchist.  For those of you who are fluent in the ways of Scottish soap operas (none of you, don’t even joke) you’ll recognize Ian De Caestecker as Agent Fitz (my new boyfriend) and from literally nothing I’ve ever heard of before ever is Elizabeth Henstridge who plays Agent Jenna Simmons.

So with pretty much the most phenomenal cast the potential success of this series is already unbelievable, but wait because as we’re all keenly aware, it’s written by Joss (and brother Jed!) Whedon. The universe’s most successful writer/director. Really, there’s no way for this to go wrong. AND IT DOESN’T. After just 15 minutes I was completely sold, after an episode I’m it’s biggest fan! Clark Gregg’s deadpan delivery of his lines has the meter hitting the “perfection” category, the subtle grace of the cogs and gears of the plot working behind the scenes in the way that we know more than any one individual but never enough to play god. We’re at the mercy of the creators as much as the characters are, peaking in on what they allow like flies on the wall. There are so many questions I need answered I just can’t wait to sink my teeth into the next episode!

Even as I type this on September 29, 2013 the day of the finale of Breaking Bad I put Agents of SHIELD first because it was SO GOOD I refused to stop watching it.

Seriously, as far as first impressions go, this is probably the best one I’ve ever had. Perfect perfect perfect please check this show out!

Score: 10/10 

Snow White and the Huntsman – Movie Review

screen-shot-2012-06-03-at-10-31-450x600

I finally got around to watching this movie. I really wanted to for a while and just never found the moment. Snow White and the Huntsman got pretty mediocre reviews across the board and I can’t say I fully disagree with that. The movie was clearly a showcase piece for the amazing Colleen Atwood costuming and the special effects team at Universal Studios. I think it accurately and effectively did that, but that doesn’t make it a good movie. Starring Charlize Theron, Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth and Sam Claflin this movie sort of promises a better delivery than it actually executed. I’m trying to walk a very delicate high wire here. This movie was not bad, but it was not good either. It was simply decent. I do not feel I wasted time watching but I also do not feel I gained anything from the experience. This is entirely due to the writing team’s utter failure. So if out of true curiosity you go watch this movie as well, do not sit there and say “Chris Hemsworth is so boring” or “Kristen Stewart is just horrible”. Instead look behind the curtain to the men pulling the strings and see that the writing and directing on a film with such potential (and budget) was a colossal failure and without Colleen Atwood desperately pulling out all the stops on the costume design front, this movie would have moved head first into the “terrible” category. It’s hard to hate beautiful people, it’s the same for movies. If it is beautiful we try to fool ourselves into thinking it has to be good, but unfortunately that can’t always be the case. This movie was decent, excelling in some areas while failing in others. A perfect C student.

The movie follows the classic tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs with Kristen Stewart as Snow White, Charlize Theron as the evil queen, and Chris Hemsworth as the Huntsman. The story is obviously altered in that the Huntsman plays a major part in the story when normally his role is very minimal. The Prince, conversely, plays an exceptionally small and meaningless role which I didn’t fully love since that truly makes no sense. Charlize Theron’s psychotic evil queen character was really neatly put together. She wasn’t the jealous Disney version as much as an insane version obsessed with youth and perfection. Her character wasn’t built on the concept that she simply was beautiful and deserved the world for it, but rather that she had skillfully put together this perfect beauty and used it to obtain the world. I liked that her character didn’t act on what she deserved, but rather what she could accomplish, it made her more complex and less petty.  That being said she was probably the only decent character in the whole movie. Nothing against KStew but she was given so few lines and such little character development that she came off rather blah. I found I didn’t care if she died because they didn’t make it so I would. I was more upset about secondary character loss than major character loss. I don’t know why there’d be as little dialogue as there was and what was the reasoning behind that. Chris Hemsworth was also fantastically decent in his role. He played a rather bland character rather blandly and the whole performance was a stunning display of bland.

Some things stayed true: the kiss, the apple, the prince but all in sort of a strange way. I love when fairytales are reinterpreted, but this didn’t seem thoughtful it just seemed incorrect. I didn’t hate this movie, but I do hate all of the wasted potential. I’m going to give it a 6 following along most of its other reviews. Seems accurate.

Score: 6/10