Friday, June 29, 2012

Brave Movie Review

Pixar has been around long enough for everyone to have a favorite Pixar movie. And why shouldn’t we? Pixar has produced some incredible feats of cinematic art, showing us amazing unique worlds, memorable characters, and stunning animation. I think their worst Pixar film was Cars, and even that was good! The latest Pixar movie, Brave (2012) goes in a different direction than its predecessors, but still remains a great film.
Set in Scotland in a rugged and mythical time, Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) is a flame-haired Scottish tomboy with an unmatched skill for archery. Her parents, King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), love her and her triplet brothers dearly. A free-spirited young woman, Merida lives for days that she can ride her horse, practice archery, and explore the world. Elinor does her best to show Merida how to be a lady, but to little avail. When Fergus and Elinor arrange a tournament to determine a suitor for their daughter’s marriage, Merida defies an age-old custom sacred to the burly, uproarious Scottish Lords. Merida begs for a spell from an eccentric witch (Julie Walters) to help change her mother’s mind about the marriage. It does more than that; Elinor is turned into a bear.  To further complicate things, King Furgus had his leg bitten off by a bear years prior and has been abhorrent towards them ever since. Unsurprisingly, when he sees his wife as a bear, he fails to recognize her.
Brave has a quintessential fairy tale quality to it. Which is odd since that is customarily Disney’s territory. It’s a well written story in the tradition of an old Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson story that we should be familiar with, yet it’s unlike any fairy tale I recall hearing before. It’s has a magical influence, though not enough to make it an over the top, high-end fantasy.
The 10th century Scotland setting was beautifully captivated in Brave. The characters all have lovely Scottish accents and wear traditional medieval clothing and kilts. The music in Brave is absolutely gorgeous, emphasizing lots of Celtic drums, bagpipes, and flutes. It complements the setting brilliantly and forces us to be swept up in the story.
Holding true to tradition, Pixar shows us unprecedented and beautiful animation. The Scottish countryside looks so lush and detailed, truly worthy of the country on which it is based. Pixar has done some impressive feats of animating hair and fur in The Incredibles and Monsters, Inc. These are nothing compared to the detail in Merida’s hair. She has this wooly mane of lovely red hair. The sheer number of curls that they had to get to move naturally in every frame is mind-boggling! On top of that Merida is an action princess; she has lots of movement to account for. It took Pixar six months to develop a new “hair” computer program to get Merida’s hair movement to look natural. Merida has some of the wildest hair imaginable and it complements the character amazingly well. She’s a wild spirit. She wields her beautiful curly mane in confidence; it’s part of who she is.
Speaking of characters, Brave has introduce to us some remarkably well written and developed ones. Fergus and Elinor are archetypal parental figures with lovable quirks and mannerisms that they would remind anyone of their own parents to at least some degree. Fergus loves telling stories of his younger days and how he lost his leg, joking with his kids, and getting into at least as much trouble as his children. Elinor is the rational one of the pair, worrying about what’s best for her children and making sure they understand propriety in any situation. The main conflict arises between Merida and Elinor as their interests and wills clash. Both think the other doesn’t listen them, and they’re both right. Brave constructs a resonant tribute to mother-daughter relationship that is every bit as moving as the father-son dynamic in Finding Nemo.
One of my favorite parts of Brave was that Merida doesn’t get married. There’s an oft overused theme of the character wanting to make their own path or not get married. Every single time this has happened, the character is married before the credits roll. But Merida doesn’t settle down or consent to be married; she  is still the free spirit who actually does carve her own path. I think seeing a strong female protagonist like Merida actually following through with her decision about not letting society dictate her life is empowering to witness, regardless of the viewers’ gender.
I have to admit that Brave wasn’t quite the groundbreaking cinema event we’re accustomed to seeing from Pixar. That’s not to say it was bad. In fact, the worst thing I can say about Brave is that it’s a great Disney movie, not so much a Pixar movie. But upon intruding on classic Disney territory, we get a believable female protagonist and a story with a lot of heart and Celtic tradition. I think this is worth catching in theaters, and if you aren’t put off too much by it being more Disney than Pixar, I’d say get a copy on Blu-Ray. I will.

What is your favorite Pixar movie? Why do you like it so much? Comment below and tell me all about it!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Beverly Hills Chihuahua Movie Review

I tend to have mixed feelings about Disney. They are responsible for some of the most beautiful cinematic art in the history of film as well as some of the worst insulting rubbish imaginable. When Disney actually makes a masterpiece it is nothing short of amazing. Then there’s other crap that they produce that is so grotesquely unpalatable it makes me nauseous. Beverly Hills Chihuahua (2008) falls under the latter category no matter how you look at it.
Chloe (Drew Barrymore) is a diamond-clad Chihuahua who favors traveling in the purse of her wealthy owner, Vivian Ashe (Jamie Lee Curtis), over frolicking in an open park. Papi (George Lopez) is an independent Chihuahua pup that Chloe won’t give a second glance. One day a vacation mishap leaves Chloe stranded in Mexico. Not speaking a lick of Spanish and being completely lost, Chloe seeks the help from street-smart German Shepherd Delgado (Andy Garcia) to guide her home. Meanwhile, Papi races to the border intent on proving his love for Chloe by rescuing her himself.
Disney did have a pretty good start in talking animal movies with Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey. Babe was also decent, if a little silly. But in recent years talking animal movies have become so painfully bad that the cute-factor is utterly crushed under its own egregious presentation. It’s as if the company executives believe that the simplest formula to make money on a kids movie is to make a half-baked movie with superficial lip-service to self-actualization and realization that features cute talking animals. Yes, that technically makes money for the studio, but now we are inundated with crappy kid movies like Marmaduke, Cats & Dogs, and Dr. Dolittle on the assumption that small children haven’t learned to appreciate quality cinema yet. Good talking animal movies exist, but not many.
Another terrible thing about Beverly Hills Chihuahua is that it is racist. It is rife with jabs at Mexican and Latino culture. In one scene Chloe is asked by another dog “Don’t you speak Spanish?” She asks why she should and the Mastiff replies, “Hello? You’re a Chihuahua, m’hija!” as if one's heritage determines linguistic ability. I would hope you wouldn’t walk up to someone who looks Hispanic and berate them for not speaking Spanish. These are anthropomorphized animals; if it’s not okay for humans, it’s not okay for dogs. Is that the kind of example you want your kids to be exposed to?
Beverly Hills Chihuahua is devoid of creativity. A lot of the sets are small and don’t even look good once they leave Beverly Hills. That’s not to say Mexico looks bad, but it’s certainly not visually portrayed to be even the slightest bit interesting. The filming locations were remarkably bland. In fact, the filming locations and cinematography in the teaser trailer exceeds that of the actual film. On top of that, the movie included some colloquial gems such as “Oh no she didn’t!” and “Say hello to my little friends!” Sadly, these were some of the best lines in the whole script. Its lack of creativity only reaffirms that this movie was a money making scheme bereft of soul.
To its credit, Beverly Hills Chihuahua had some good acting on the parts of the animal cast. Their timing and blocking was impressive, especially since there were often several animals on the set for most scenes. If each animal has a trainer giving them commands and there are four or more animals on set, each doing something different it would take an immense amount of patience and reshooting to get a shot where everything works out just right. The animals did great, and in many cases did a better acting job than their human costars did.
Beverly Hills Chihuahua had a large production value and some big name actors, but it’s just another money making scheme from Disney without passion or artistic aptitude. It’s sad to think how many ambitious screenwriters and directors don’t get work because Disney prefers to pump millions of dollars into a dead-end project like this. Much like the diamond jewelry that Chloe wears, this movie is ridiculous and overvalued. Please don’t encourage Disney to make more films like this; don’t buy or rent this movie. Only two reasons exist why you would enjoy Beverly Hills Chihuahua: you haven't learned to appreciate good movies, or you are an obsessively fanatical dog lover. 

There are some good talking animal movies out there. Two of my favorites are
The Lion King and Over the Hedge. What are some good talking animal movies that you enjoy? Comment below and tell me why! 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief Movie Review

Harry Potter made some significant contributions to young adult and children’s literature, as well as produced some fantastic movies. Each one has high percentile ratings on Naturally, someone is going to try to capitalize on the success of these books and movies. Rick Riordan wrote a five-book series entitled Percy Jackson and the Olympians which has many similarities to the Harry Potter books. When a film version of Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief  (2010) was made, Chris Columbus, the same director who did the first two Harry Potter movies, was used. It does seem like a Harry Potter knockoff, but it has a strong supporting cast and has lots of fun with Greek Mythology.
When his lightning bolt is stolen, Zeus (Sean Bean) accuses Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman), the son of Poseidon (Kevin McKidd), of stealing it. If the lightning bolt is not returned in fourteen days, Zeus will initiate war among the gods which will devastate the world. Meanwhile, teenage Percy visits The Museum of Metropolitan of Art with his school. There he is attacked by a Fury disguised as a teacher. After this, his best friend Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) reveals that Percy is a demigod, that Grover is his Satyr protector, and his teacher Mr. Brunner (Pierce Brosnan) is a centaur. Brunner gives Percy a pen that transforms into a powerful sword with which to protect himself. Grover and Percy go to Percy’s house to collect his mother, Sally (Catherine Keener), and set off for Camp Half-Blood to be safe from other monsters. However they are attacked by a minotaur who causes Sally to vanish before Percy can help her. In the camp, Percy befriends Annabeth (Alexandrea Daddario), warrior daughter of Athena.  Hades (Steve Coogan) appears in camp, demanding that Percy give him the lightning bolt in exchange for his mother whom Hades has in the Underworld. Percy, Annabeth and Grover set out on a dangerous quest to find the lightning bolt, make peace with the gods, and save Percy’s mother.
There are so many similarities between Percy Jackson and Harry Potter; a boy discovering he is more than just another ordinary person, a clumsy but lovable sidekick friend, a competent female companion, a place for them all to gather and be themselves, a secret world that normal people don’t see, and magical mayhem around every corner. It even mimics the title structure: “Main Character and the Plot Device.” Never the less, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief has a few things to offer that Harry Potter didn’t; a United States setting, Greek gods and demigods with incredible powers, and Greek mythological monsters appearing in highly creative but familiar places, rather than in a far removed castle. Even young viewers will probably recognize the obvious parallels between Percy Jackson and Harry Potter. It’s difficult to disassociate the two. But Percy Jackson is still unique enough in its own right to be a decent movie.
Kids and teens can relate to the titular character; he’s awkward, has ADHD and dyslexia, lives with his mother who in turn lives with an abusive man. But all these things are indicators of something greater within Percy. As a demigod, he’s brain is hardwired for Greek. It’s difficult for him to read English. He has natural fast thinking and combat skills. Modern diagnosis for these conditions are ADHD and dyslexia. It’s a great premise for Percy’s character to have normal problems which are actually indicators of his own abilities and strength. It’s fantastic seeing Percy understand more of himself and grow in confidence and ability as he goes. What kid who has been diagnosed with such conditions hasn’t dreamed of having these labels turned around into strengths?
The cast for this movie was excellent. Even the static characters are believable. Greek mythological characters were defined by their attributes, not personality. Hurling lightning bolts is what Zeus does, so when his lightning bolt is stolen, where does that leave him? Zeus was a simple, non-developing character but was still good in the context of the movie.
Props must be given to Uma Thurman as Medusa; she really looked the part and was a great villain to overcome. They encounter her in a shop that sells lawn statues (Medusa’s victims). Not having mirrors to approach her with, Percy uses the reflective surface on his iPhone to see to combat her. This is just one creative way that Greek myths collide with the modern world in this movie.
The soundtrack was creatively implemented in Percy Jackson. Percy, Annabeth and Grover set out on the highway to find Hades and the entrance to the Underworld (located in Hollywood, of course). As they set off, we hear “Highway to Hell” by AC/DC. The threesome make a stop in Las Vegas at The Lotus Casino which is owned by the Lotus-Eaters of Greek myth who eat narcotic lotus flowers. When served these flowers, Percy and friends are lulled into peaceful apathy and become trapped at the casino. As the narcotics take effect, we hear “Poker Face” by Lady Gaga. It’s a bit silly, but still fun.
I loved seeing Greek myth and the modern world collide in this fun family movie. Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief  is a better alternative to Clash of the Titans (2010) in terms of  setting, plot, and characters. The only thing I could see that may be off-putting to some viewers is seeing some non-descript fiery figures being tormented in the Underworld, the Grecian version of hell. All in all, it’s a clean movie, fast paced, exciting, and silly. The setting isn’t quite as well developed as it was in the book, but the movie still stands on its own well enough. It’s worth renting for a “light viewing” movie night, but I’m certain kids between 8 and 13 will enjoy it enough to want their own copy.

Do you think that it’s fair to compare Percy Jackson and Harry Potter? They are similar, but still fun for their own reasons. Do you think Percy Jackson is just another Harry Potter knockoff? Comment below and tell me why!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Super 8 Movie Review

When the 2011 movie Super 8 hit theaters, I saw lots of jokes online about how Super 8 was essentially E.T. (1982) with lens flares. Now that I’ve seen this movie that J.J. Abrams wrote and directed,  I can’t really think of a good argument against the critical jab at this movie. But to its credit, it has a great feeling of nostalgia.
In the summer of 1979, a group of 13-year-old boys set out to make a zombie movie on their Super 8 mm film camera. Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) is still grieving the recent loss of his mother, but still agrees to help his friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) shoot a movie. They enlist the help of Alice (Elle Fanning), an older girl who drives them to shooting locations and acts as their film’s leading lady. While shooting a scene at a train station at night, they witness a horrible train crash caused by a truck driving towards the train on the track. Narrowly escaping with their lives, the kids return home agreeing to never speak of the event. The next morning the Air Force is prowling around their little town and cleaning up the train wreckage. Over the next couple of days, unusual disappearances and inexplicable events begin taking place all over town. Pet dogs are found many miles away from town, people disappear, microwaves and car engines go missing, gas stations are wrecked, etc. The local Deputy Sheriff Jack Lamb (Kyle Chandler), Joe’s distant and depressive father, tries to uncover the truth to no avail. Once Charles’s film is finally developed they find that their footage caught something on camera that doesn’t appear to be from Earth.
J.J. Abrams is known for the TV series Lost and the movies Mission: Impossible III (2006) and Star Trek (2009). Super 8 is his first original film; not a sequel or reboot of a previously established film franchise. It seems as though Abrams hasn’t quite developed his own style yet and sought too much advice from the film’s producer Stephen Spielberg. A lot of Super 8 feels like a nostalgic early Spielberg movie in terms of character, setting, and even some camera work. Don’t misunderstand; I love Spielberg and his movies. It just seems like Abrams felt too insecure about his own story and directing, that the big name producer’s input over-insinuated itself in the movie.
Super 8 has an oft over-used story element where the kids have found something important and are piecing the puzzle together and the parents refuse to listen to them. When this is done poorly, it makes the characters and story unrealistic, glorifying children as something more than their stage of development would merit and making experienced adults appear abnormally stupid and narrow-minded. Super 8 did it the right way. The kids are obviously in over their heads, they are scared (one kid even throws up regularly when frightened), they don’t have the ability to oppose the powers that be, they lack experience to know how to handle these situations, and they try to tell the adults who would be better suited for the task. The kids act like kids in every realistic way. I have to praise Abrams for that.  And the adults aren’t listening to the kids because they don’t take the kids seriously. They are in the middle of a crisis, everyone is panicking and the adults don’t want to stop and hear about what the kids found on their camera.
While Super 8 has some great CGI and a great train derailment scene, the movie focuses more on the human drama between the characters. I like a good character driven story, but the characters aren’t that deep or complex. Some of the characters are given one or two shticks that are reiterated every time they are on screen. This is occasionally funny, such as the borderline pyromaniac kid who is supposed to be in charge of their film’s special effects and explosions. The kid actors do a decent job with their roles, but they aren’t going to win Oscars for it. Because the characters are simple and some even cliché, the character drama isn’t always captivating. That, compounded by the fact that the good action scenes are few and far between, only makes the movie drag out longer than is necessary.
All in all, Super 8 was an okay movie. It seems to be made for adults to remind them of movies they loved as kids. This isn’t something I’d show to young audiences; there’s a lot of intense frightening imagery, profanity (mostly from the kids), violence, and drug use to truly be a family film. People die in this movie, and the kids are constantly in peril. If you liked E.T., The Goonies (1985), Star Trek, or Mission: Impossible III you’ll probably enjoy Super 8. I did like it, but not enough to want to own a copy of. It’s a good renter.

What did you think of Super 8? Did you like it? Was it more than just “E.T. with lens flare?” Comment below and tell me why!

Friday, June 15, 2012

X-Men: First Class Movie Review

In my review of X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), I said that prequels are consistently horrendous.  Again, I find myself withdrawing a previous statement.  Not only was X-Men: First Class (2011) an outstanding prequel, but it was also the second best movie in the X-Men franchise just below X2: X-Men United (2003).
During the Cuban Missle Crisis of 1962, CIA Agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) discovers a mutant named Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) who can absorb any kind of energy and expel it in powerful blasts. Shaw is threatening military leaders to get them to advocate the U.S. installing nuclear missiles in Turkey. MacTaggert convinces the CIA to seek out recently graduated mutant genetics expert Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and his foster sister Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) to advise them on mutant powers. Both end up being mutants themselves; Charles is a powerful telepath and Raven is a shape-shifter. With his abilities, Charles helps the CIA locate Shaw. During the skirmish Charles rescues Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender), another mutant bent on getting revenge on Shaw who killed his mother in a concentration camp in the last World War. Erik can create and manipulate magnetic fields to control metal. Seeing what they are up against with Shaw, the CIA invites Charles, Raven, and Erik to the “Division X” facility where they meet young scientist Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), a prehensile-footed mutant. Hank helps create a mutant-locating device called Cerebro which amplifies Charles’ telepathic range to find and recruit mutants against Shaw. They recruit Angel Salvadore (Zoë Kravitz), taxi driver Armando Muñoz/Darwin (Edi Gathegi), Army prisoner Alex Summers/Havok (Lucas Till), and Sean Cassidy/Banshee (Caleb Landry). Charles and Erik learn that Shaw is in Russia, threatening military officials there to send missiles to Cuba starting a nuclear war to wipe out the humans and leave the mutants reigning over the earth. Charles and Erik start training the misfit group of young mutants to hone their powers so they can help stop Shaw and prevent a global nuclear holocaust.
X-Men in general is about becoming a better person in spite of how society views you. In 1981 Chris Claremont, a writer for the Uncanny X-Men comics said, "The X-Men are hated, feared and despised collectively by humanity for no other reason than that they are mutants. So what we have here, intended or not, is a book that is about racism, bigotry and prejudice." This theme was implemented in the other X-Men movies, but seems to be most prevalent in X-Men: First Class. Good science fiction makes commentary on contemporary issues in a unique, metaphorical way. We like to think that we are tolerant of everyone, but racism, religious antagonism, bullying, and bigotry are still prevalent in most societies. People who are different in any way are often negatively sanctioned for it. Those who are victimized by such antagonism don’t deserve it. Not only does X-Men show us what it’s like for those targeted by bigotry and hate, it also shows us how evil and cowardly we can appear when we demonize those who are different from us, no matter the form it may take.
The writing and dialogue in First Class is studded with gems of wisdom and encouragement. When Charles is trying to help Erik hone his powers Charles tells him, “There's so much more to you than you know, not just pain and anger. There's good in you too, and you can harness all that. You have a power that no one can match, not even me.” Erik in turn sees  Raven (later to become Mystique) trying so hard to blend in and hiding her natural blue skin and tells her, “If you're using half your concentration to look normal, then you're only half paying attention to whatever else you're doing. You want society to accept you, but you can't even accept yourself.” Lines like these are put in places that really help develop the characters and plot to make them dynamic and solid. Yet we can still relate these bits of advice to ourselves. It really makes the movie uplifting and memorable.
The biggest drawback in this movie is that it is a prequel. If you’ve seen the other X-Men movies or are familiar with the comics, you’ll know the condition everyone will ultimately be in by the end of the movie. It’s neat to learn where Professor X and Magneto came from, but we still know what will happen to them. Nevertheless, First Class is so well written that the characters we already know don’t get superfluous back stories that make the character illogical in context of the original story. The characters' past stories actually are interesting and compliment what we already know about them; the tension isn’t destroyed by knowing what will ultimately happen in the story. This is a pretty solid movie. There are a few disagreements in the timeline in relation to the other X-Men movies, though. One of which is having Xavier explain that Magneto helped create Cerebro in X-Men (2000), but in First Class we see Hank McCoy constructing it. There are several others, but pointing them out would be nitpicking; they don’t detract from the movie.
Comic book lovers, fans of alternate history, and fantasy-prone moviegoers in general will find something to love in X-Men: First Class. The visual effects are smooth and creative. The movie has an intelligent script that was well-acted with a multi-layered theme. It’s possibly the best prequel I’ve ever seen. It’s not a kids movie, unless your kids are comfortable with harrowing World War II concentration camp scenes spoken entirely in subtitled German. This was a good movie and is worth buying a copy.

Who is your favorite X-Men character? It could be from the movies or comic books. Why do you like him or her so much? Comment below and tell me why!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman Movie Review

How on earth does Kristen Stewart keep getting acting jobs? There hasn’t been acting as bad as hers since William Shatner. She just can’t act! Fortunately for her, Stewart’s signature blank expressions and pathetic delivery actually works for her in Rupert Sanders’ first major motion picture, Snow White and the Huntsman (2012).
Young Snow White (Kristen Stewart) has lost her mother. Her father, King Magnus (Noah Huntley) eventually falls in love with the beautiful Ravenna (Charlize Theron) after rescuing her from the Dark Army, and the two are married. But Ravenna is in fact a powerful sorceress and the Dark Army's master. She kills Magnus on their wedding night. Ravenna sizes control of the kingdom and locks Snow White in the dungeons. Ravenna uses a Magic Mirror (Christopher Obi Ogugua) to capture all the women whose beauty might surpass her own and drain them of their youth. This allows her to use her beauty as a weapon as long as she is “the fairest of them all.” Years later, The Mirror eventually warns Ravenna that the now grown-up Snow White is destined to surpass her and that she must consume the princess’s heart in order to become immortal. Snow White escapes into the Dark Forrest where Ravenna has no power. The Queen enlists the aid of a mead-guzzling hunter (Chris Hemsworth) to brave the Dark Forrest and bring Snow White back to the castle. The Huntsman doesn’t trust the Queen, and intentionally betrays her by helping Snow White. After meeting up with a band of dwarves the group begins to form a rebellion to overthrow the evil queen.
Everyone knows the original story of Snow White by the Brothers Grimm, even if it’s the sugar coated version Disney produced back in 1937. Snow White and the Huntsman features everything from the original tale from magic mirrors, dwarves, poison apples, and evil queens, to tender hearted huntsmen. This really is a respectable adaptation of the original fairy tale. It’s dark, action packed, fanciful, exciting, and features some above average medieval battle scenes with a siege of the castle which is always exciting. Snow White and the Huntsman captivates some of the menace of the Brothers Grimm tales that were meant to frighten children rather than comfort them.
The characters in Snow White and the Huntsman range from interesting to drab. Ravenna is a fantastic villain; the way she speaks and acts really helps you understand how she actually uses beauty as a weapon. She’s beautiful and evil, and makes a wonderful villain that you just love to hate. The Huntsman is an endearing survivalist drunkard widower with whom we can sympathize over his lost love. Chris Hemsworth has shown us some good acting in Thor (2011) and The Avengers (2012), and he doesn’t let us down in Snow White and the Huntsman.
Then there is Snow White. If you’ve seen any of the Twilight movies you’ll know how vacant Kristen Stewart’s expressions are and how devoid of feeling her delivery is. She does basically the same thing in Snow White and the Huntsman. As a child Snow White witnesses her father’s murder, sees many people she trusts and depends on killed or driven away, and then is locked in a dungeon for fifteen years. She’s a damaged character, and Stewart’s dreadful acting actually works for this character. She’s not easy to care about because she doesn’t do much on her own until the end of the movie. She’s the least developed--odd since she is a titular character-- but she’s not as horrible in this role as she has been in everything else she’s appeared in. She even smiles several times in this movie. I didn’t know she could do that! She actually has quite a nice smile!
The dwarves are played by several familiar actors whose faces are placed over some actual dwarves' bodies. These actors include Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, Nick Frost, and Toby Jones. It’s an amazing CGI technique, but deprives some real actors of jobs, which isn’t very fair.
Like Twilight (2008), there is a love triangle set up among the characters. Snow White reminds the Huntsman of his deceased wife. Snow White’s childhood friend William (Sam Claflin) wants to rekindle an old love interest. Fortunately this is a subplot at most, not the whole story. It’s also a pretty weak subplot; not one character seems impassioned enough for us to believe their love. The kisses in the movie are as innocuous as the snow is white.
Snow White and the Huntsman was a respectable effort as its director's first major motion picture. It was intensified with excellent application of the latest cinematic technology and featured an all star cast. It wasn’t bad in spite of Kristen Stewart. It gets pretty slow in the middle, but has a strong opening and ending. Some characters and plot devices were a bit weak which made it difficult to really care about them. We’re given a warrior princess for our day, though she could stand to be a more rounded character. Charlize Theron stole the show and made it exciting and interesting. Snow White and the Huntsman isn’t a great movie. Yet while it may not be as dynamic as we were expecting, it seems to achieve what it sets out to be. It’s an above average renter, and may be worth a matinee ticket. If you’re a big fan of dark fantasy, you may even consider buying a copy on Blu-Ray.

What do you think of these dark fantasy fairy tale revisions?  Are they too dark? Are they at odds with your concept of a fairy tale? Are they perfect? Comment below and tell me all about it!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva Movie Review

Movies based on video games generally have pretty pathetic adaptations. In my Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time review I stated that movie makers have yet to make a good movie based on a video game. I’m pleased to say that I have to retract my previous statement. Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva (2009) was a respectable adaptation of the Nintendo DS puzzle games.
Archeologist and avid puzzle solver Professor Layton (Yô Ôizumi/Christopher Robin Miller) and his self-proclaimed apprentice Luke (Maki Horikita/Maria Darling) think back to one of their earliest cases together… Janice Quatlane (Nana Mizuki/Emma Tate), famed opera singer and former student of Layton, requests his help after meeting a strange little girl. The girl claims to posses eternal life and to be the reincarnation of Janice’s deceased friend, Melina. Layton and Luke attend Janice’s latest opera performance. At the end of the recital, the audience is shocked to find that the entire opera house has been converted into a ship and that a mystery man now holds them all captive. The man forces them to solve a series of riddles. The winner will receive the secret to eternal life, but the losers will die. Each successive puzzle proves to be more and more hazardous as an insidious plot unfolds.
Nintendo’s best selling Professor Layton video game series features the titular character and his assistant Luke as they travel around solving some really tough puzzles in order to solve mysteries. There are currently four titles in the series and two more in the works. Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva is a unique story that fits into the game’s chronology. Fortunately, the story doesn’t depend on the viewer having played the games; it stands alone just fine. Even if you’ve never heard of Professor Layton, you won’t be lost watching this movie.
A Professor Layton film adaptation is not a bad idea. The games are plot driven and have some endearing characters; no cyborgs or muscle-bound heroes here. Simply a tea-drinking, top hat-wearing gentleman detective whose only “special move” is thinking really hard. Both lead characters are portrayed by the same voice actors from the games and are written to fan expectations. Some of the music from the games is even incorporated in to the movie. Layton remains a quiet man of thoughts and actions while Luke is filled with child-like energy that doesn’t annoy.
The story in Eternal Diva keeps our attention, though it does have a several common anime clichés. For a movie based on a puzzle game, there are precious few puzzles for the audience to solve along with The Professor. That’s just fine; the plot and characters are the driving force in the story. This is a movie, after all, not another game. For a mystery story it has a major snag; not enough clues are shown to the audience for us to figure out “whodunit.” There are several times when Layton reveals his conclusions, and they are often out in left field. There are plenty of mystery stories that do this and still remain decent stories. Even so, Eternal Diva puts any Scooby-Doo mystery to shame.
Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva is possibly the best video game based movie made to date; though that isn’t saying much. Like the game on which it’s based, this movie shows us that entertainment can appeal to all ages and doesn’t need to talk down to us. It’s not great, but it’s a decent movie that is appropriate for the whole family. By itself, it’s an enjoyable film. As a video game movie, it’s a great example of how to do it right. Whether you’re new to Professor Layton or a veteran puzzler, you will likely enjoy this movie.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Creation Movie Review

It seems that Hollywood is capable of giving any given event a romantic spin. To romanticize the story of Charles Darwin and his book On The Origin of Species is a fairly unexpected turn of events. The biopic Creation (2009) both tells a tale of romantic turmoil and respects the historical events.
Charles Darwin (Paul Bettany) has traveled all over the world studying animals. Several years back he settled down with his wife, Emma (Jennifer Connelly) and raised a family. In Darwin’s studies he came to conclude that more successful organisms survive better than the less successful ones; resulting in improvement of future generations. He called this process “natural selection.” It applied to all living organisms; mammals, insects, fish, birds, plants, etc. But did it explain Man? Even Darwin himself was hesitant to ask. Emma did not think it explained Man. She believed that God alone was the author of Man as described in the book of Genesis. This conflict of interests puts a strain on their marriage. It’s not until the death of their 10-year-old daughter Annie (Martha West) that Charles' faith in God is destroyed, yet the same event reinforces Emma’s faith. As Charles’ life begins falling apart, his colleagues Joseph Hooker (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Thomas Huxley (Toby Jones) urge him to complete his book which will one day change the history of science forever.
The subject of the theory of evolution stirs controversy even some one hundred and fifty years after the publication of On The Origin of Species. As such, Creation had plenty of opportunity to ruffle a few feathers. It could have preached the glory of science while besmirching religion, or vice versa. Even Charles did not want to stir up controversy. In one scene Huxley exclaims to Charles, “Congratulations, sir! You've killed God!” Charles looks horrified by this. There are also scenes where theology is touched upon. Emma is distraught by the divergence growing between her and her husband over his findings, she asks him, “Do you not care that you and I may be separated for all eternity?” The Creation focuses on the interests of Charles and Emma and doesn’t become preachy in favor of religion or science. It’s about the characters, not the bigger concepts. In fact, you won’t leave this movie knowing any more about evolution or religion than you did going in.
A nice device used in Creation is that the movie breaks away to show us some of the natural world and allows us to see the concept of survival of the fittest in action. It’s not forced or dramatized; it may as well have been from a nature documentary. It helps us see the world through Charles’ eyes and allows us to see his perspective, but allows us to draw our own conclusions from it.
You can buy the romance between Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly, as they work very naturally together. This is probably because the two actors are married in real-life. Both do a superb job with their roles. Charles is in a state of sadness and grievance for a lot of the movie, but Bettany’s acting maintains a nice balance of emotion without becoming melodramatic. The same can be said for Connelly. Martha West also did a fantastic job. Most children aren’t the best actors, especially not when it comes to dramatic roles. Yet Martha did a very convincing job, even during her death scene.
Creation was a decent movie; a nice historical dramatization with some romance stirred in. It featured some great acting, some excellent direction by Jon Amiel, and an interesting subject matter. No matter where you stand on evolution versus creation, you will still have reason to enjoy this romantic drama.

What’s your favorite movie based on a real person or event?  Comment below and tell me all about it!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Battleship Movie Review

Hasbro has made a few movies based on their toy products. Some of these include Clue (1985), G.I. Joe: the Rise of Cobra (2009), and the Transformers movies. Film adaptations of other Hasbro games would be hilarious: Jenga? Hungry Hungry Hippos? Connect 4? Most of us rolled our eyes in exasperation when we first heard news about a movie based on the famous board game, but Peter Berg's Battleship (2012) wasn't half bad.
After irresponsible beach bum Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) is arrested for a reckless stunt, his older brother, Stone Hopper (Alexander Skarsgard), demands that Alex make something of himself and insists that he join him in the Navy. Alex's stunt was supposed to impress Samantha Shane (Brooklyn Decker), but since she is the daughter of Stone's Navel commanding officer, Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson), it reflected poorly on Stone. Meanwhile, a transmission is being sent into deep space to see if there is intelligent life on a nearby Earth-like plant. In as much time as it takes to get Alex into a uniform and on a U.S. Destroyer, five alien crafts enter our solar system in tight formation. The U.S. destroyers exchange fire with the alien crafts which prove to be formidable opponents. Two Naval ships are destroyed, one of which was commended by Stone. After several officers on Alex's ship die, he is left as the highest ranking officer, and must take command. As this is happening, Samantha is revealed to be a physical therapist working with Army vet Mick Canales (real life Iraq hero, Colonel Gregory D. Gadson). They meet Cal Zapata (Hamish Linklater) who has escaped from the communications relay which was taken over by the aliens. The aliens are trying to use the satellite relay to call for reinforcements.
Battleship is loosely based on the board game of the same name. If you keep a sharp eye out for them, you can find subtle references to the game.  The officers find a way to track the alien ships' underwater movements using weather buoys. The resulting display grid resembles the Battleship game board. The Aliens make a gigantic force field around their splashdown area, trapping some of the Navy ships inside. So it's a few Navy ships versus the alien ships; a finite combat area with no external interference, just like the board game. Also, the aliens launch large explosive canisters at the Navy ships which get lodged in the hull for a few seconds then explode. These canisters are shaped like the pegs used in the board game to mark hits. These are subtle references; the movie isn't trying to sell us a Battleship board game.
The characters in Battleship aren't very complex or deep. Yet they are still more interesting than the characters we saw in Transformers. Alex resembles a lot of swashbuckler-type characters from recent movies; fearless, energetic, foolhardy, disobedient, and unpredictable, yet they excel despite their impertinence. He's like Captain Kirk on Star Trek (2009) or just about any character that Sam Worthington has played. Rihanna portrays Petty Officer Cora 'Weps' Raikes and was pretty good for what she was; a butt-kicking female protagonist who also exhibits creativity and resourcefulness. This was this R&B/pop star's first acting role; she did very well. Colonel Gadson, an American bilateral above-the-knee amputee, did a fantastic job in this role. In Battleship he plays a war veteran who lost his legs and feels it makes him less of a man; unable to perform even some of the most mundane tasks. He's a great character with a powerful presence. He grows, regaining self-respect, and again accepts the call of duty.
Holding true to B-movie formats; we send out an invitation to possible alien life forms to make contact with us, the call is answered, and without bothering to communicate, the military fires on the aliens. At several points in Battleship we're given reason to think the aliens may not be here to invade or destroy; they primarily attack our weapon structures (military vessels, weapon depots, etc.), and even then it's only after being fired upon. This could have made an interesting plot device, but the movie didn't do anything with it. There isn't a specific villain; just a faceless army that shows us only a few troops. Because the aliens have no lines and don't necessarily seem have malicious intentions, it weakens the conflict.
Battleship isn't simply a nonstop barrage of special effects and explosions. The story and characters are a bit more intricate than Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen, though that's not saying much; it's still overall a weak movie. Battleship honors war veterans throughout the movie, especially in Canales' character. Veterans are shown to be real heroes before, and are fully capable of being heroes again if called upon. It's a perfect Memorial Day movie. Battleship wasn't great, but it was a fun time for what it was if you can ignore the writing tropes and silliness. I could see it becoming a cult classic one day. It's still cheesy, but not as much as we expected it to be, we can still laugh at it and enjoy it, and it's based on a board game for crying out loud! It might be worth seeing once; catching it on DVD would be fine, but a matinee ticket will show you some pretty great explosions on the big screen. I don't think it's worth owning a copy, though.

Did you see Battleship? Did you like it? Did you hate it? What do you think of movies based on board games? Comment below and let me know!