Friday, November 25, 2011

Enchanted Movie Review

Even outside of fairy tale stories, we still have an idea of what it means to live “happily ever after.” Even in action movies, we expect the hero to get the girl and ride off into the sunset. This archetype isn’t accurate to real life, and what better authority to comment on real world vs. fairy tale romance than Disney? This is the backbone of Enchanted (2007).
Giselle (Amy Adams) lives in the animated fairy tale world of Andalasia. She lives in a cottage in the woods with her animal friends and dreams of meeting a handsome prince. One day her Prince does come. She meets Prince Edward (James Marsden) and he proposes they be married tomorrow morning. The wicked Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon) is threatened by Giselle; not wanting to surrender her rule of Andalasia to the prince and princess. Narissa banishes Giselle to a far off place where “there are no happily ever afters,” real-world (and live-action) New York City. Here Giselle meets Robert (Patrick Dempsey), a hardened but friendly single divorce lawyer. Robert reluctantly takes Giselle in at the insistence of his young daughter, and with great suspicion by Robert’s girlfriend. Prince Edward follows Giselle to New York along with his manservant Nathanial (Timothy Spall) and her chipmunk friend. Edward roams New York searching for his princess while Nathanial, under Narissa’s command, attempts to kill Giselle with poison apples. Fairy tale antics collide with real world complications, causing those involved to reevaluate what it means to live happily ever after.
Enchanted makes unabashed references to classic Disney fairy tales. It starts off with an opening narration (provided by Julie Andrews) read from an old book resting on velvet as was done inSnow White (1937), Cinderella (1950)and Sleeping Beauty (1991). There are many shots through out the movie that herald back to scenes from Disney classics such as the ballroom scene in Beauty and the Beast (1991), Giselle’s cottage being modeled after The Seven Dwarves’ cottage,  and Narissa being modeled after the evil queen in in Snow White. In one hysterical scene, Giselle sings a tune to summon animal friends to help clean up Robert’s apartment. The New York wildlife which responds are rats, pigeons, flies, and roaches; nevertheless they help do dishes, dust, and clean the bathtub. This pays homage to Snow White and Cinderella scenes. One of several musical numbers includes some of the old Mickey Mouse Club member (now seniors) as dancers. These references are fun and hilarious, but are seamlessly incorporated so they fit into the story without drawing attention to themselves.
I have yet to see a movie featuring Amy Adams where she is not a lovable character. Amy Adams’ inherent cuteness really helps sell her Disney-like Princess role; she acts sweet, naïve, optimistic, and makes exuberant displays of emotion. No one else could have played Giselle like Amy Adams does. Prince Edward is a headstrong hero who is very accustomed to everything working out perfectly as they always do for the prince charming, but New York doesn’t operate by fairy tale rules; Edward is yelled at in one scene after trying to slay a bus he mistakes for a dragon. James Marsden plays up the awkwardness of the colliding world settings very well, providing a lot of ironic and embarrassing humor. Patrick Dempsey plays the straight laced, down-to-earth lawyer; it’s great to see how Giselle helps show him that fairy tale love really can exist in the real world, and also how Robert helps show her that there is more to love than simply being with someone. The way Dempsey and Adams bounce off each other helps makes this movie both humorous and thought provoking.
Enchanted is a highly charming movie that the whole family would enjoy. If you haven’t seen it, you should. If you have seen it already, you should watch it again. Kids will love the quirky humor and the fairy tale situations, adults will enjoy the romance and nostalgic allusions of Disney classics they grew up with. This movie is comfortably sitting on my movie shelf with many of my other favorites; this is one worth owning, especially if you have small kids.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thor Movie Review

Marvel Studios has been making a lot of Super Hero movies over the past couple of years. Hardcore Marvel fans are getting revved up for the Avengers movie; hints of this major crossover movie have been dropped since Iron Man (2008)But possibly the most difficult Avenger to make a movie for would be Thor; he’s not human, he’s a god, most of his story and adventures don’t take place on Earth. Thor is so far removed from these other heroes that doing his story justice would be pretty tricky. Fortunately, 2011’s Thor movie (directed by Kenneth Branagh) pulled it off well.
Many centuries ago, a race of Frost Giants tried to take over Earth. A powerful race called the Asgardians lead by their king, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), thwarted the Frost Giants. These events became Earth’s Norse Mythology. Years later Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the son of Odin is to be made king of Asgard. The Ceremony is interrupted by some Frost Giants in the castle. Thor gathers some friends to retaliate against the Frost Giants’ home world, demanding answers. In doing so, Thor violates a treaty between the Asguardians and the Frost Giants. King Odin puts a stop to Thor’s juvenile, violent tirade and as punishment for Thor’s arrogance and stupidity, banishes Thor to Earth in modern day New Mexico as a mortal, stripped of his powers and strength. Thor, assisted by an astrophysicist college student Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), must try to recover his powers, atone for his mistakes, regain his father’s respect, stop the Frost Giant’s impending attack, and reclaim his place as heir to the throne of Asguard before his manipulative brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) claims it for himself.
A big obstacle for the writers and film makers of this movie was that a majority of the characters are gods. Things could easily have gone overboard; making the characters so foreign to the audience that they wouldn’t be able to relate to the characters. But even the mortal audience can understand the sibling rivalry between Thor and Loki, being severely humbled, discovering what your limits are, and loosing the respect of someone you admire. Also, you get a sense of what each character is capable of doing or not doing. It was never remotely established that these characters can do anything at all; they do have the powers of gods, but they still remained believable within the context of their world setting.
The special effects and CGI graphics were stunning. Occasionally you get movies that are simply a display of visual effects with a weak storyline stringing them together like in Tron: Legacy(2010). The visual effects in Thor complimented the storyline so well that they simply blended together. Asgard was nearly completely done in CGI; it was pretty and sold the idea that here magic and science truly are the same, as Thor describes it. Traveling between worlds via the Bifröst was a colorful spectacle that was awesome to see, but still held to the movie’s color scheme and helped establish the power of the Asgardians.
The pacing of the movie was done well. The prologue, narrated by Odin, seemed a little bit rushed; similar to the opening prologue to The Lord of the Rings (2001). There was a lot of back-story to establish but it was important to the main events, and had they revealed the back story slowly over the span of the movie it wouldn’t have set up the main plot as well. It was important for the audience to be on the same page that Thor was from the beginning. During part of Thor’s duration on Earth the pacing slows down. But this, coupled with the far reaching expanses of desert, establishes the feeling of despair and of being lost. Aside from these two points in the movie, the pacing is fairly consistent and keeps the audience interested without allowing them to fall behind.
Thor was a well done film that was enjoyable to watch. Marvel fans will enjoy seeing it. Even those new to these Marvel characters will enjoy this film. Between Thor’s endearing dialogue, the stunning visual effects, and fun characters, Thor is certainly worth watching or adding to your home movie collection.

Who is your favorite superhero from The Avengers lineup? Comment below and tell me why!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

X-Men Origins: Wolverine Movie Review

In general, sequels usually are not as good as the original movie, but they aren’t always bad. Prequels, however, are consistently horrendous; often tarnishing the original movie and characters. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) is no different.
In 1845 Canada, young James Howlett (Hugh Jackman) sees his father killed by groundskeeper Thomas Logan. The trauma activates the boy's mutation: bone claws protrude from James' hands, and he kills Thomas, who reveals with his dying breath to be James' real father. James flees into the forest along with Thomas's son Victor Creed (Liev Schrieber), who is thus James' brother. They spend the next century as soldiers in the American Civil War, both World Wars, and the Vietnam War. Major William Stryker (Danny Huston) offers the two of them a position in Team X, a group of mutant special operatives. But James leaves because of the questionable actions and disregard for life. Years later, James now goes by Logan and lives in Canada as with his girlfriend, Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins). Colonel Stryker appears to warn Logan that someone is killing members of Team X. Shortly after, Victor murders Kayla and attacks Logan. Stryker offers Logan a way to beat Victor; an experimental procedure that would reinforce his skeleton with adamantium, a virtually indestructible metal. Logan asks for new dog tags that read “Wolverine” after a story Kayla had told him. After the procedure, Logan overhears Stryker ordering Logan’s memory to be erased. Logan violently fights his way out, and learns about Stryker’s elaborate plot to combine the powers of several mutants into one: Weapon XI, the Mutant Killer.
The story in X-Men Origins: Wolverine really seems haphazardly thrown together in an attempt to maintain interest in X-Men film series. The story was rushed; they threw in lots of well known comic book characters but didn’t give them enough screen time to allow any of them to develop into the interesting characters that they are. I was most upset about Remy “Gambit” LaBeau (Taylor Kitsch). Gambit was always a favorite of mine; like most of the other characters, he shows up for a little bit delivers a few lines and shows off some mutant powers and that’s it. One of Gambit’s more endearing traits is his thick Cajun accent, which is scarcely detectable in this movie. It just so happens that Gambit owns and knows how to fly an airplane to transport Wolverine to Stryker’s hide out; that never occurred in the comic books. It’s almost like after the story was written, they then stuck iconic Marvel characters in wherever it was convenient, regardless of how illogical it would be for the previously established characters. It’s just poor writing.
It was neat to learn about where Wolverine came from, but it removes the intriguing mystery behind the character. Wolverine is one of the more popular X-Men characters, and there really is no one that could play him like Hugh Jackman, who is perfect for the role! Wolverine’s ability to heal from anything makes him the perfect action hero, and the action in this movie is over the top and fun. Having an invulnerable character as the main protagonist brings to mind tank-like action heroes of the early 1980’s; fun but uninteresting. I’d hate to think this movie has essentially thrown Wolverine away, but there’s not much left that can be done with him. It would have been much better to have Wolverine go on a quest to find out all the details of his past (since in the original movies he has amnesia), and see how these revelations change him as a character and how he grows from it. Starting over from the very beginning and encountering token cameos from other popular characters doesn’t do the franchise or characters any favors.
If you’re an X-Men fan, I do not recommend watching X-Men Origins: Wolverine. It’s a weak attempt to keep the franchise alive and will leave you upset with what they did to your favorite characters. The only reason to watch it is to see Hugh Jackman be Wolverine some more. If you aren’t a fan, it will just leave you confused and annoyed. Just stick with the first two X-Men movies.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Movie Review: In Time

Good science fiction makes commentary on contemporary issues in a unique, metaphorical way. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), comments about anti-communism McCarthy-era paranoia. George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) critiques 1960s domestic racism. In Time (2011) is a creative science fiction movie that makes some interesting social commentary about issues of today.
In the future, scientists have discovered how to make people stop aging after 25 years. At this point, they have one year left; the minutes are visibly ticking down on a digital readout on their left forearm. Everyone is allowed to earn more time through work, gambling, or investment. As a result, time has become the main currency. Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) lives in a time ghetto with his mother (Olivia Wilde), barely making ends meet with scarcely a whole day on their hands. Will rescues a wealthy, depressed man named Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer). They fall asleep after a long talk about life. Will wakes to find a century on his clock and Hamilton about to jump off a bridge. Will tries to stop him, but is too late. This is caught on a security camera; making Will a prime suspect in Hamilton’s supposed murder. Will uses his newfound time to get to a wealthier time zone. There he meets Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried), daughter of the richest man alive, Philippe Weis (Vincent Kartheiser), who is himself heavily involved in controlling the time markets. A Timekeeper police officer, Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy), attempts to arrest Will who takes Sylvia hostage. After seeing what the time ghetto is like, Sylvia decides to help Will overthrow the system that perpetuates the socioeconomic divide, all while eluding the Timekeepers.
In Time was written and directed by Andrew Niccol, who also wrote and directed Gattaca (1997). The two movies have some qualitative similarities; Niccol seems to make up an amazing and creative science fiction setting, and put an underdeveloped storyline into it. The premise in In Time is just fascinating! You see subtle background details about how time as currency has changed things; I like the 99 Seconds Store and the Timeshare Savings and Loan. This is some good science fiction that makes you think about the real world; the value of a dollar, how you spend your time, and the current economic status of the world. It does this very well. Unfortunately that is about all that In Time does. It seems to continually beat you over the head with the premise to make sure you know there is a socioeconomic divide, and that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Niccol could have developed story further and expanded the premise more; he just didn’t venture deeper into the movie’s potential.
Whenever I see Justin Timberlake, I can’t help but think of the boy band fad of the 1990’s. Timberlake was pretty good in In Time, given the script and material he had to work with. He pulls off the action hero look well: lean figure, facial stubble, and buzz-cut hair. I can overlook his *NSYNC years after seeing In Time. Cillian Murphy delivers a good, but different villain as Raymond Leon than he did as Scarecrow in Batman Begins (2005). He was suave and well mannered in his cruelty. His motivation for wanting to stop Will was selfish, but understandable. He is the kind of villain you like because you can relate to him on some level. Amanda Seyfried did a good job of playing a pretty sheltered brat. That’s about the extent of the character, but like Timberlake, she did a good job with what she had to work with.
In Time was a really interesting science fiction combination of Logan’s Run (1976), Bonnie & Clyde (1967), any Robin Hood movie, and the real world Occupy Wall Street movement. In fact, if you are involved with Occupy Wall Street in any way you’ll love In Time. I’d highly recommend seeing it. If you are not, I still recommend seeing it just because the setting and themes are so interesting. But since the story isn’t all that dynamic, I’d recommend a matinee viewing or just wait for it on home video.