Friday, April 18, 2014

Underworld Movie Review

When they are portrayed correctly, I like a good werewolf or vampire movie. They usually aren't portrayed very well. I've wanted to see Underworld (2003) for  awhile since it features both vampires and werewolves duking it out. About eleven years later I finally got around to it. I kind of liked it, but for the wrong reason.
Vampires and werewolves have been sworn enemies for hundreds of years, never seen by human eyes. Now fought in the present the conflict takes and unexpected turn. Selene (Kate Beckinsale), a beautiful vampire warrior, uncovers a Lycan/werewolf plot that could prove fatal for her entire race. She shadows a human, Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman), the Lycans' supposed target. Selene is unable to stop the Lycans in time and during a violent struggle, Michael is bitten by Lucian (Michael Sheen), the Lycan overlord, long thought to be dead. Michael will become a werewolf on the next full moon, but how does this fit into the Lycan's plans? Both sides must decide how to end the conflict and save their species as new and terrifying secrets unearth themselves and threatens the existence of both species.
The story here is not very complicated or terribly interesting. It's like, fight fight, fight, fight, "Oh, the Lycans are up to something," fight, fight, fight, fight, "Uh-oh, you're gonna be a werewolf," fight ,fight, fight, fight, "The Lycans have Michael! But why?" fight, fight, fight, fight. That could have been my summary paragraph; not much else happens beyond that until the last fifteen minutes or so. There are plenty of plot twists, but you can see most of them coming from a long way off. Even with a predictable and basic plot, the plot twists do their job well by keeping the audience guessing, even if the audience manages to guess the outcome sooner than the movie would probably like them to. The writing isn't bad in terms of plot development, but the story itself was sub-par at best.
Underworld was painfully stylized. It had a very artificial color palette; lots of black and light blues, with the very occasional and contrasting bright red for the blood. It seemed to me like the actors were striking artificial poses and posturing to the point that it resembled a sexy cologne commercial, especially with the black leather catsuits and unreal color and artificial backgrounds. Everyone was overacting in an almost exaggerated way, and the lack of character development made it difficult to care about any of the characters. It looks like they were trying to emulate The Matrix with the leather bodysuits, trench coats, sunglasses, and slow-motion action but failed to be anywhere near as good.
Unfortunately the vampires weren't very vampire-y, and the werewolves weren't very werewolf-y. The vampires possess the superhuman physical prowess commonly seen in pop culture, but none of the mystical weaknesses of mythical vampires; crosses, holy water, garlic, stakes, etc. The werewolves have a pretty impressive transformation process, but the end result is pretty lame. They resemble gorillas with canine snouts and claws. This is the only time I've seen werewolves considered immortal like vampires are. Even when they were CGI animated, they still resembled men in rubber monster suits. That was probably the most disappointing part of the movie for me.
What I thought was most interesting about Underworld wasn't actually part of the movie itself. As I was watching it, I kept thinking of a couple of games by White Wolf, Inc. called Werewolf: The Apocalypse and Vampire: The Masquerade; storytelling role playing games both set in the World of Darkness setting. As it turned out, White Wolf, Inc. filed a lawsuit against Lakeshore Entertainment Studio for seventeen counts of copyright infringement and claimed over eighty points of unique similarity between White Wolf's game systems and the movie. White Wolf was granted an expedited hearing and the lawsuit ended in a confidential settlement. Seriously, that was what was most interesting about the movie to me, and it wasn't even a part of the movie. Underworld did earn a few points with me only because it resembled a game I like to play. Neat as that is, it doesn't say much for the movie itself.
Underworld is not the most creative, memorable, good movie by any metric. The acting is forced and exaggerated, the blocking looks like it was designed by a modeling runway director, the colors look out of place and unreal, the story was weak, and I didn't particularly like the vampires and werewolves. It is good for being an over-the-top action movie with magical guns that never run out of ammunition. This movie did earn a few points for resembling a couple of role playing games that I enjoyed, but that was about it. Don't bother with Underworld unless you really want to see a crazy action movie that asks you to take its credibility beyond a movie's normal threshold. If you do play Werewolf: The Apocalypse and Vampire: The Masquerade, you'll probably get just a little bit more out of it. That alone bumped my assessment of the movie from "meh" to "eh, okay."

What's the best movie werewolf you've seen? Not the best werewolf movie, but the movie werewolf that looks the best. Comment below and tell me about it!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Movie Review


Considering the current state of America and its government's reluctance, inability , or refusal to help average, non-wealthy, non-corporation citizens, it seems the only kind of patriotism these days is the knee-jerk "we're number one" nationalism variety. I praised Captain America: The First Avenger for its comments on patriotism and where the true strength of America lies. Now that Captain America is finished with The Avengers movie and is returning for his own second movie I had high hopes for more patriotism, political commentary, and superhero action. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) did not disappoint.
For Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), awakening after decades of suspended animation involves more than catching up on pop culture; it also means that this old school idealist must face a new world of subtler threats and difficult moral complexities. That becomes clear when Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is killed by the mysterious assassin,  The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), but not before warning Rogers that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been subverted by its enemies. When Rogers acts on Fury's warning to trust no one there, he is branded a traitor to the organization by Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), a senior leader within S.H.I.E.L.D, a member of the World Security Council, and an old comrade of Nick Fury. Now a Fugitive, Captain America must get to the bottom of this deadly mystery with the help of Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and his new friend, Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie). The battle will be costly for Captain America, with Rogers finding enemies where he least expects them while learning that The Winter Soldier looks disturbingly familiar.
The characters in Captain America: The Winter Soldier were positively amazing. Steve Rogers in particular was great. He's been working for S.H.I.E.L.D. for the two years that followed the events in The Avengers, and he's still trying to adjust to the modern world. It's not so much a question about his shock with modern technology as it is about societal differences. He has gone from the 1940's to today; he comes from a world where people were more trusting and the threats were not as deep. Now it's harder to tell who's right and who's wrong. In our world, actions you take to protect people from threats could compromise liberties and privacy. That is really tough for Steve to swallow. He is teamed up with Natasha and they form a fascinating dichotomous contrast. She is incredibly modern, not very reverent, and exceedingly blunt whereas Steve is a man from the 40's. Steve isn't necessarily a boy scout, but he is reserved and has a strong moral center, whereas her moral center moves around as the situation requires. As a spy, Natasha lies for a living. Steve is a character who tells the truth. Give them a problem and they'll have very different ways of approaching it. She pushes him to modernize while he pushes her to add a certain level of integrity to her life. The characters and their respective actors bounce off each other beautifully.
The First Avenger told us about real patriotic American values. Winter Soldier makes some fascinating commentary about modern politics in a very relevant way without being heavy handed in trying to be relevant. It raises questions about the United States Government and how it behaves. It does this in a smart, almost subversive way. It's very pertinent to how we define freedom currently, versus how we defined freedom in the 1940's. There is a scene early in the film that sets up this interesting question. Fury tells Rogers a story about his grandfather and a gun; basically a variation on "walk softly and carry a big stick." But then Fury shows Rogers "the stick;" weaponry that can take out 100 hostiles in a minute, than can read a terrorist's DNA from a million miles away, and basically eliminate threats before they can become threats. "We're going to neutralize a lot of threats before they even happen," Fury tells Rogers. "I thought punishment usually came after the crime," Rogers objects. "S.H.I.E.L.D. takes the world as it is, not as we'd like it to be," says Fury. Rogers boldly retorts by telling him “You hold a gun on everyone on Earth and call it protection. This isn’t freedom. This is fear.” How could one not think of the way America has invaded other countries based on rumors of stockpiled weaponry or the monitoring internet use for any signs of correspondence with enemies? In the other Marvel movies we've had invading aliens, killer robots, and super powered villains to fight. Here we've got very human enemies that are using very real methods to attack and undermine the good guys. The only things we're asked to believe is the "super soldier" Steve Rogers being at above normal human ability, and S.H.I.E.L.D.'s airships and their Bond-style spy gear. Everything else is pretty down to earth, and that makes it all the more relatable. The villains aren't just trying to take over the world, they're probably targeting YOU specifically!
Disney has taken over Marvel and their second wave of movies leading up to The Avengers 2 has been good so far. These Avengers movies have proven to be a corporate cash cow, and I'm surprised that they took the chance to tackle these big issues rather than playing it safe. And similar to what was done in Iron Man 3, it messes around with the franchise canon a bit. I won't spoil anything, but any fan will know that is horribly taboo. S.H.I.E.L.D. has never been without it's issues, and I'm interested to see where the movie series goes with it.
The Winter Soldier was a formidable opponent for Captain America to face, but The Soldier didn't have much of a presence until toward the end of the movie. He's a good villain and introduces further moral dilemmas for Captain America to deal with. Moral dilemmas for Captain America are always black and white, but The Winter Soldier presents the only real grey area that he has had to face. It makes the character dynamic all the more fascinating. Sebastian Stan did an outstanding job acting this part; he gets few spoken lines, and most of his face is obscured for much of his screen time. Having said that, he manages to portray a great deal of emotion through facial expression and actions. Stan did a great job in this role given his limited screen time. The Winter Soldier's theme music starts off eerie and gradually swells into a sort of panic screech which makes the formidable enemy all the more frightening. I didn't think he played a big enough role to get his name in the title of the movie. If you're familiar at all with the comic books, you'll know that The Winter Soldier has a huge story arc and that this is probably just the first chapter of his tale.
Captain America: The Winter Solider was excellent. It delves deeper into theme and character than the other Marvel superhero movies have. It's a very character driven movie that has some very pertinent themes that are magnificently woven into the story so as to avoid being preachy. We get several new characters and we get some glimpses into their past without focusing on unnecessary details; each character has their own distinct arc. The action is great, the pacing is even, and the effects are amazing. Even if you don't enjoy super hero movies that much, you'll probably enjoy this one. I recommend brushing up on your Captain America lore by watching the first movie again before seeing this one. Make sure you watch for Iron Man, Thor, and Hulk references, and stick around for mid-credit and post credit scenes. I'm going to be getting a copy of this when it hits Blu-ray. Don't miss this movie!

Have you seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier yet? What did you think? Avoid spoilers, but tell me what your impressions were and what the future might hold for the Marvel Universe movies.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Non-Stop Movie Review

It's true that not all of Liam Neeson's movies have been good, but he's the sort of actor who has such a powerful presence that he effectively makes movies better when he is in them. Clash of the Titans for example was pretty bad, but seeing Neeson as Zeus and hearing his line "Release the Kraken!" made the whole thing worth it. He's very good in action movies, and while Non-Stop (2014) wasn't the greatest movie, it was made much better because Neeson is in it.
Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) is a former cop who took to drinking to cope with his daughter's death. Now working as an air marshal, he boards a transcontinental flight from London to New York. Once the plane is over the Atlantic Ocean, Marks gets mysterious texts on his secured network phone demanding that he instructs the government to transfer 150 million dollars to an off-shore account. Until he secures the money, a passenger on his flight will be killed every 20 minutes. He fails to get help from his fellow air marshal (Anson Mount), he enlists the aid of a passenger Jen Summers (Julianne Moore) and flight attendant Nancy Hoffman (Michelle Dockery) to help pinpoint the who is the threat. As the situation becomes more complicated and Marks resorts to more unorthodox measures, passengers begin to suspect that he is the one hijacking the plane.
Liam Neeson is of course great in this movie. His delivery is spot on, his presence on screen is powerful, and his accent is as endearing as ever. Neeson brings enormous conviction to his late-career action roles. He's a fairly large person and moves his big body through the confined spaces of the airplane with so much power you'd might expect to see him rip out the seats. I have no doubt that delivering his line (shown in the trailers) "I'm not hijacking this plane. I'm trying to save it!" is going to go down in Neeson History like so many of his other memorable and dramatic lines.
On the other hand, most of the other cast members were wasted on what is otherwise a mediocre script. Julianne Moore is a great actress who has been in several outstanding films; that said, why give her such a weak role that could have been played by just about anyone? Her role would have been a perfect shot at a big for an up and coming actress. The same could have been said of most of the rest of the cast as well. In fact, Lupita Nyong had a small bit role as a flight attendant, even after winning an Academy Award for 12 Years a Slave. She IS an up and coming actress; Non-Stop is in fact her only other movie role. It still seems like her remarkable skills were wasted on a bit role here.
The story is pretty good for a mystery-thriller. Having a death threats issued on an public airplane is pretty scary. The idea of an airplane hijacking after all the security measures that started after 9/11 is all the more unsettling. The plot devices used in Non-Stop resonate with viewers pretty well, which makes for an interesting movie.
The movie is not without its flaws, though. My biggest pet peeve with "whodunnit" sort of stories is when we are given virtually no hints as to who has actually done it. When we finally get the big reveal at the end, it's completely out of nowhere and there's no way that we could have reached the same conclusion on our own. There's a brawl between Marks and another passenger in one of the airplane's lavatories; I don't see how anyone the size of Liam Neeson could even fit into one of those lavatories, let alone fight with someone else inside of one. It's a tense scene, but a bit difficult to believe. One of the killings remains unexplained. We understand clearly how it happened, but not by whom or when. In fact, this one murder is developed in such a way that there is effectively no way it could have happened, but the movie quickly moves on to other plot twists and hopes we didn't catch that detail.
Non-Stop is a fun movie that was made even better by Liam Neeson doing what he does best: glaring and growling through tight spots and effectively making the movie less preposterous by his mere presence. He elevates an otherwise B-movie thriller into a decent enough tense action movie. The acting is good, even if the material was occasionally sub-par. The action was great and makes for tense movie. The ideas thrown around by the plot are verisimilar and will likely strike a chord with audiences.  I enjoyed Non-Stop for what it was. I think it's worth seeing, but worth waiting for on DVD. It didn't seem to gain much by being on the big screen. It might even be worth owning an inexpensive copy of to pull out on occasion for a fun movie night that doesn't require a whole lot of thought and effort to watch.

What is your favorite Liam Neeson role? Comment below and tell me all about it!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Divergent Movie Reivew

Oh, hey wow! Another set of movies based off of a young adult novel trilogy. We certainly haven't had enough of those lately. Contrary to the circumstances when I saw The Hunger Games, I had read the Divergent book before the Divergent (2014) movie hit theaters. This is a rare case where I think the movie is better than the book upon which it is based.
Set in a futuristic dystopia where society is divided into five factions that each represent a different virtue, teenagers have to decide if they want to stay in their faction or switch to another for the rest of their lives. Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) makes a choice that surprises everyone by leaving the Abnegation faction that values selflessness and joins the rough and rugged Dauntless faction which values bravery. Beatrice and her fellow faction initiates have to live through a highly competitive initiation process and training from Four (Theo James) and other trainers. They must undergo extreme physical and intense psychological tests, which end up transforming them all. But Beatrice has a secret; she is Divergent, which means she doesn't fit into any one faction. If anyone knew, it would mean a certainty of death. When Beatrice discovers a growing conflict lead by Erudite leader, Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet), which threatens to unravel the seemingly perfect society, Beatrice's secret might help her save the people she loves, or it might destroy her.
So, I have read the Divergent book. It bears a more-than-passing resemblance to The Hunger Games; dystopian future, society divided into groups, rebellion, searching for a sense of identity, worrying about being different, etc. The characters were inconsistent, the story wasn't developed well, and most of the events were thrown together without obvious connection. It's a pretty weak novel that didn't inspire me to check out the others in the series. Having said that, I think the writers of the Divergent movie did a great job of taking a mediocre book and developing it into a decent movie. It's sad if the movie does a better job of telling the story than the original book did. In the movie the characters are more consistent, we understand the reason for certain events, and the story is more evenly paced. That's not to say the movie was exceptionally good, just better than the book it was based on.
Much of the film revolves around the rigorous training that Beatrice and the other newbies are put through. Four and Eric (Jai Courtney) are heartless and tough on the new recruits, so naturally Beatrice develops a romantic interest in Four. The scenes where this enigmatic interest develops was very much forced. Four puts his hand on Beatrice's side or back to help her with fighting stances and posture and then leaves them there just a little too long for comfort. Of course this is supposed to be romantic and is meant to illustrate the growing passionate tension between the two characters. It ends up looking so awkward and uncomfortable that I literally laughed out loud nearly every time this happened. I think this is more of a flaw of the script and maybe a lapse in directing; the actors do a decent job acting their part, they just didn't have very good material to work with. In fact, I think Woodley and James's performances were a strength in the movie, it could have been a lot worse with less skilled actors.
There are a number of creative liberties used in making this movie. We actually get to see Beatrice develop from a rather frumpy reserved puritan-like character into a hard core fighting machine and strategist. We get to see what make Four tick. Jeanine has a much more prominent and developed role as the villain. There's some emotionally intense scenes near the end that made me a lot more invested in the characters. The big fight at the end of the movie is very different, but much more logical and poignant to the story and characters. These differences made the movie a lot more solid than it was in the book, I think.
Apart from the hallucinogenic mind-test scenes, there isn't a whole lot of particularly intensive special effects. A lot of the action scenes were executed with practical effects which is always a plus in my book. Most of the CGI was in the exterior shots of post-apocalyptic Chicago. Ruined structures, the huge defensive fence around the city, and some futuristic buildings were rendered by computers with such remarkable detail that one would hardly suppose they were artificial. It really helped sell the post-apocalyptic setting.
Divergent wasn't a bad movie. It had plenty of weaknesses, including some shaky cam which I'm convinced was trying to imitate The first Hunger Games movie. The love interest was illogical, some characters were left underdeveloped, the Young Adult Fiction formula undercuts some potential for an interesting theme and makes the story predictable. On the other hand, the acting is pretty good, the special effects are well integrated and coupled with some good practical effects, the story is reasonably well developed, and we've got a strong female protagonist. Divergent was much better than the book, but still wasn't a wholly remarkable movie. The book didn't inspire me to read the others in the series, but I liked the movie enough to check out its sequels. Unless you're a huge fan of the books, I'd wait for this to be on home video. It's a renter, but it's a pretty good renter.

So, Young Adult books seem to be a movie genre any more. What is a Young Adult book series that you would like to see made into a movie? I think The Looking Glass Wars would be pretty cool. Comment below and tell me what you think!
 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Harold and Maude Movie Review

Several years ago Harold and Maude (1971) was recommended to me as a cult classic. I'm usually up to snuff on my cult classics, but I honestly had never heard of it. I put it on my movie list, but hadn't got around to watching it until recently. Now I can't imagine why it's not more widely known.
Self-destructive and needy, but wealthy, seventeen-year-old Harold (Bud Cort) is obsessed with death. He spends his leisure time attending funerals, watching demolition of buildings, visiting junkyards, having sessions with his psychologist, and simulating suicides to try to get the attention of his indifferent, snobbish, and egocentric mother (Vivian Pickles). When Harold meets the anarchic seventy-nine-year-old Maude (Ruth Gordon) at a funeral, they become friends and the old lady discloses other perspectives of the cycle of life to him. Meanwhile, Harold's mother enlists him in a dating service and tries to force him to join the army. As Harold and Maude's friendship grows, he finds the truth about her life as it begins to draw to a close.
This movie is categorized as a romantic comedy. I really don't see how this is a romantic movie at all; romance is about two people sharing a mutual love and admiration for one another. The relationship in Harold and Maude was about these two fairly unique characters sharing a mutual love and contentment for life itself. The comedy element is certainly there, and more often than not it's rather dark. The scenes where Harold stages fake suicides are funny but bleak. There are other scenes that are more lighthearted, but the overall tone of the movie is dark. Having said that, the movie is rated PG. As I detailed in my review of The Jerk, the PG-13 rating didn't exist before 1984. Given the dark comedy and the faked suicide scenes, I think it would qualify for a tame PG-13. It's not graphic, but it's tonally dark sometimes, and probably not something to watch with small kids in the room.
I simply adored the themes in Harold and Maude. Harold embodied nihilism; he believes that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated. Existentially, he is without meaning. This was very typical of the doomed outlook of the alienated youth of the era during which this movie was released. Maude embodied a purpose driven life full of optimism having overcome some truly hard times in her past. The two characters are therefore at different points on the same path. Harold is part of a society in which he has no importance. Maude has survived and lives a life with meaning and deliberate choice. It's easy to get drawn into philosophical analysis here, but suffice it to say that it's well implemented and will make you think about life.
The humor is certainly amusing. Easily my favorite scene is when Harold's mother is filling out the information form for the dating service she is signing Harold up for. She's answering all the questions they way she would answer them. She asks Harold how he would answer, but doesn't bother to wait for his input. She indicates that Harold is in favor of capital punishment, thinks women should run for presidential office, and that he has head and back pains after a stressful day. Meanwhile, Harold is loading a handgun and aiming it at himself. His mother takes no notice, until Harold apparently shoots himself. She doesn't even look up and snaps, "Harold! Please!" and calmly continues with the questionnaire.  The humor ranges from dry, to dark, to silly, to ironic. It ends up being pretty funny overall.
Harold and Maude was an excellent movie. It's funny, it's interesting, it's dark, and it will make you want to go live life to its fullest. The characters are unique, the script is well written, and the story is fun. It's not perfect, though. The visual style makes everyone look fresh from a wax museum, and the camera work is anything but inspiring. While the characters and story have aged beautifully and are still relatable today, the 1970's cars and fashions have not. Nevertheless, Harold and Maude is a good movie that is worth seeing if you aren't put off by the dark humor. It was a box office bomb in its day, later developed a cult following, and finally started earning a profit in 1983. It's now a cult classic, and I may consider getting a copy of this for my personal collection.

What's the oldest cult classic movie that you enjoy watching? Comment below and tell me about it!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Charlotte's Web Review

The E. B. White children's classic, Charlotte's Web, seems to be such an icon that it never occurred to me that there have only been two versions of the movie to date. There was an animated feature from Hanna-Barbera in 1973 and more recently a live-action one in 2006 from Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies. I was raised on the old animated version, but I still think this newer one is pretty good.
Fern Arabel (Dakota Fanning) is a young girl growing up on her family's farm. When a sow gives birth to some piglets, Fern's father (Kevin Anderson) intends to do away with the runt of the litter,  but Fern persuades her father to let him live. The pig, named Wilbur (Dominic Scott Kay), becomes Fern's pet, but when he grows larger, he's put in the care of homer Zuckerman (Gary Basaraba), a farmer down the road. Fern is still able to visit Wilbur regularly, and it soon occurs to both of them that pigs tend to have a limited life expectancy on a farm, and that unless something unusual happens, Wilbur will eventually become Christmas dinner. Charlotte (Julia Roberts), a friendly spider who lives in the barn, hatches a plan to make Wilbur seem special enough to save by weaving messages about the "terrific" pig into her web, and she soon persuades her barnyard friend to join in her plan. Time files and the end of the season approaches and everyone wonders if Charlotte's messages be enough to save Wilbur.
Charlotte's Web was a very cute movie. It was a competent retelling of the classic children's book that will easily endear it's audience. It's got a timeless feel to it, similar to that of The Odd Life of Timothy Green. The book was originally printed in the early 1950's, but this movie doesn't specifically take place in that time period. It could very easily have taken place at any time; the clothing and sets looked typical of an idyllic Norman Rockwell style country setting. There are no TV's or cell phones, but they probably wouldn't have looked terribly out of place. This gives a timeless feel that people of any age could relate to.
Each of the two Charlotte's Web movies have their own thing to appeal to kids. Apparently, it was assumed that to please kids in the 70's there had to be lots of musical numbers because kids like songs. In 2006 it was assumed that to please kids there had to be a bunch of fart jokes because kids like fart jokes. I can understand wanting to appeal to the target kid audience, but the fart jokes got pretty annoying after a while. This version of Charlotte's Web didn't have musical numbers, but we did spend a lot of time watching Templeton the rat doing gross rat things. They spent a lot of time on the rotten egg scene, I thought. It's interesting to see how movie studios have changed their tactics in kid movies, but I'm not sure that moving to fart jokes from musical numbers is necessarily a flattering development.
Charlotte is given a friendlier face than
that of a real spider.
There are a lot of stars that make up the animal voice work. It includes Steve Buscemi, John Cleese, Oprah Winfrey, Cedric the Entertainer, Kathy Bates, Reba McEntire, Robert Redford, Thomas Haden Church, and André Benrubi. It's a fantastic cast that pulled together and made a pretty darn good movie.
I watched Charlotte's Web a good eight years after its original release. CGI effects haven't made particularly huge leaps and bounds in that time, but the computer animation still looks pretty good today. Charlotte's size doesn't always seem to stay consistent from scene to scene. Charlotte has the hairy texture of a spider, but is given a bit of a cartoonish appearance, probably to keep arachnophobia audiences from losing it during the movie, or at least to keep from making new arachnophobes out of the young audience.
Charlotte's Web simply has too much talent and too strong a story to truly mess it up. There was some potential to do more with the story, but this incarnation is respectable and a good update to the classic story for a new generation of kids. It's got everything a good clean family film needs; humor, drama, some sadness, and an emotionally satisfying ending. I liked this version of Charlotte's Web even with the excess of fart jokes. If you've got kids at home, this is something you may consider getting a copy of. Even though I enjoy kid movies from time to time, I didn't really enjoy this one enough to get a copy myself. My opinion might be clouded by nostalgia, but I think the animated version was just a little bit better.

Surely you've seen at least one version of Charlotte's Web. Which one do you prefer? Comment below and tell me why!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Casa de mi Padre Review

I seem to have been giving a lot of the movies that I have recently seen predominantly positive reviews. It's high time for a bad movie. I heard about Casa de mi Padre (2012) from The Q Filmcast. I figured it was a bad movie because Will Ferrell is in it. When it comes to disappointing, Will Ferrell rarely disappoints.
Armando Alvarez (Will Ferrell) has lived and worked on his father's ranch in Mexico his entire life. As the ranch encounters financial difficulties, Armando's younger brother Raul (Diego Luna) shows up with his new fiancé, Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez). It seems that Raul's success as an international businessman means the ranch's troubles are over as he pledges to settle all debts his father has incurred. But when Armando falls for Sonia, and Raul's business dealings turn out to be less than legit, all hell breaks loose as they find themselves in a war with Mexico's most feared drug lord, the mighty Onza (Gael Garcia Bernal).
 This movie is an odd phenomenon. Once the opening credits are over and before the first scene starts you hear Kris Kristofferson doing a short voice-over that says, "If it sound Spanish, man, that's what it is; it's a Spanish movie." Apart from a couple of short lines from an American character, everything is in Spanish. Will Ferrell spent a month learning Spanish with a dialect coach for the role. I'm far from fluent in Spanish, but Ferrell's Spanish is spot on and is pretty convincing from my perspective. At first I had thought it was a voice over, but no, that's really him. I kept expecting poor Spanish from Ferrell, or at least discrepancies between the dialogue and subtitles, but no such luck.
The movie tries very hard to parody Mexican Telenovelas; limited-run dramatic programming with soap opera quality dramatics and dialogue. Everything is highly intense and exorbitantly dramatic; subtlety has no place in this soap opera style movie. There are lots of gags to suggest a low budget; small sets with obviously painted backdrops, a lot of fake animals used as props, intentionally using editing mistakes and errors in cutting the film during editing. There's one scene when Armando and Sonia ride side by side in a shot that doesn't actually show the horses they are riding on while the background slides past at a different speed than the horses are apparently galloping. During fight scenes Raul is always smoking, and often has an alcoholic drink in one hand.
The movie is in Spanish, but I genuinely don't think it is intended for Spanish speaking audiences. It's features a lot of American style humor, but it's in Spanish. Armando and his fellow Rancheros will make a joke and then chuckle amongst themselves for an uncomfortably long time. One time this is interrupted by Sonia who asks if she can be included in their joke. Armando unapologetically tells her no because the joke was about her. Seriously, that's just about the funniest bit of dialogue in the whole movie. In another scene, Onza is supposed to be delivering some dramatic lines while lighting up a cigarette. This is done naturally and fluidly and looks dramatic in an ironic sort of way. As he continues talking he lights a second cigarette and is soon speaking with two cigarettes hanging from his mouth. This is probably the funniest stunt in the whole movie. There's a ridiculous sex scene where about half the shots have a mannequin prop instead of Sonia. The humor is very typical of a Will Ferrell movie, that is to say, it's not very funny at all.
There are a couple of reasons this was probably a bomb in the box office. It's barely been two years since it was in theaters and no one can remember ever hearing about it. The advertising campaign must have been pitiable at best. On top of that, it's in Spanish with subtitles. Americans don't seem to like having to put forth the effort to read their movies, least of all the demographic that actually finds Will Ferrell's comedies funny. I prefer subtitled movies to dubbed movies; there is less interference with  the director's artistic intention. No one seems to have heard of Casa de mi Padre, and even upon hearing it, I doubt anyone would go out of their way to see it; it just isn't something that I think would appeal to very many people.
Casa de me Padre was just awful. It's kind of like a frozen enchilada dinner from the supermarket; it seems like it could be a good idea at first, but you quickly realize it lacks flavor or anything else appealing. The irony is thick in this movie; acting was ironically dramatic, the sets were cheap, the effects were terrible, and the dialogue was silly. That's great since that's what it was trying to do! However, it didn't do much other than be ironic. The movie is supposed to be first and foremost a comedy and it's just not funny. The humor is at best juvenile and usually didn't get a reaction from me. Seriously, the only movies that featured Will Ferrell that I liked were Stranger Than Fiction and The Lego Movie where he's counter typecast; he's just not good at being funny. Don't bother watching this movie. It's stupid. It does irony well, but not well enough to be enjoyable.

What's your favorite parody of a film genre? I like Kung Pow: Enter the Fist which is a parody of 1970's Kung Fu movies. Comment below and tell me about yours!