Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Australia Movie Review

I postponed seeing Australia (2008) because most of the people who recommended it to me don't generally give me good movie recommendations. I sat down to watch this nearly three hour movie expecting a overlong, bland movie about a couple who bicker and fight, then fall in love and live happily ever after. It turns out Australia was much better, and much more rich than I had assumed.
In northern Australia at the beginning of World War II, an English aristocrat, Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman), inherits a cattle station the size of Maryland called Faraway Downs. When English cattle barons plot to take her land, she reluctantly joins forces with a rough-hewn stock-man Drover (Hugh Jackman) to drive 2,000 head of cattle across hundreds of miles of the country's most unforgiving land, only to still face the bombing of Darwin, Australia, by the Japanese forces that had attacked Pearl Harbor only months earlier.
I'm sure the country Australia was somewhat romanticized in this movie, but wow! Australia spared no expense to show us some gorgeous shots of the outback. We get to see some Australian historical tidbits that I was unfamiliar with such as racism and Japan attacking Australia during World War II. I knew Japan attacked Australia, but most of my WWII studies revolve around The United States, Great Britain, Germany, and Japan; most other country's involvement seems to get swept under the rug. Australia is full of rugged cowboys reminiscent of Crocodile Dundee, Aborigine culture, and gorgeous Australian wildlife and wilderness. This movie shows us the Australia of our dreams.
The characters were good, too. Lady Ashley was hilarious for the first part of the film, being a pompous, lady-like British aristocrat who is shocked and appalled by nearly everything the brawny Australians do. She sees herself as the only civilized woman on the continent and believes that every graceless man there intends to have his way with her. The British seem to have a long standing practice of dressing in warm climates as if they were not, and Lady Ashley keeps up the tradition.
Drover gets his name from his job; a Drover is an experience stockman who moved livestock. I've seen Hugh Jackman in a number of movies but I think this is the first time I've seen Jackman actually use his native Australian accent. If you needed a rugged, manly Australian character in your movie, Jackman is easily your best bet. Kidman and Jackman bounce off of each other really well. Early on, Drover is talking to Lady Ashley about breeding horses which she erroneously interprets as coming on to her. Drover is offended by this and sparks fly and hilarity ensues. They do comedy bits well together, but they also have good chemistry. Later on they develop romantic interest in one another and while their characters clash, I can still buy their love.
Part of what draws the characters together is a Nullah (Brandon Walters) who is half-aboriginal, half-white. The boy is about 11, lives with his mother who works at Faraway Downs. Walters was a great kid actor and does a fantastic job of playing a tragic character. Since Australia is basically a western, there has to be evil cattle tycoons and rattlers. Neil Fletcher (David Wenham) plays both roles at some point in the movie. He's a great villain and makes very personal attacks on each character, and of course it's all about money and revenge for him.
Australia sounds like a long romantic western, but there are some excellent action scenes; brawling bar fights, stampedes, bombed harbors, hiding from Japanese invaders, and more. There were times I was on the edge of my seat, especially the scene where the stampeding cattle are headed for a cliff. The movie was longer than I thought it needed to be. At times it appeared that  the movie was coming to a nice place to end and wrap things up. But a small new plot development appeared and moved the story forward. This happened two or three times before the end credits started rolling. That isn't to say it was bad, Australia simply felt a bit longer than it needed to be.
Australia was a good movie, almost like an Australian Gone With the Wind. Good acting, great cinematography, romance, action, and drama; what's not to like? I imagine most men would be put off from Australia at first since it really does look like a dull "chick flick" at first glance. There is a good blend of action and drama that I think would give Australia an appeal to most any type of movie watcher. This is an excellent, worthwhile renter and I could see some people enjoying it enough to want their own copy.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Warm Bodies Movie Review

Gentlemen, I have good news! If you've ever had a girlfriend make you sit through an appalling Twilight movie, then you will definitely have grounds to make her watch this supernatural/romance/comedy/horror movie with you. It's hard not to compare Warm Bodies (2013) to Twilight, but I guarantee Warm Bodies is a fun movie that you will both enjoy.
With much of the future world's population rendered into an undead horde, R (Nicholas Hoult) is a young and oddly introspective zombie. On a feeding encounter with a human gathering party, R meets a human named Julie (Teresa Palmer) and feels an unusual urge to protect her. What happens with that is the beginning of a strangely warm relationship that causes R to start to regain his humanity. As this change spreads throughout the undead population, Julie and R eventually find they are facing a larger issue even as their friendship is challenged. Caught between paranoid human forces and the ferocious "Bony" zombies who are a mutual threat, R and Julie must find a way to bridge the sides of the fight for a better world no one thought possible.
There isn't much of a way to describe Warm Bodies without it sounding silly and cheesy. It's a romance story between a girl and a zombie amidst a zombie apocalypse. Yes, that sounds just like Twilight with zombies instead of vampires. That is a completely justified reaction, but there is more to it than that. Warm Bodies is creative, funny, and doesn't take itself too seriously. It's also got some highly interesting social commentary on interpersonal connection and dating. Twilight didn't do anything beyond the dreadful relationship, but Warm Bodies does. Besides, I think most of us could believe a story where a girl falls in love with rotting corps rather than a sparkly one.
This is the first time that I can think of where we get to see the zombie apocalypse from the zombie's perspective. R has some remarkably hilarious inner monologue as he thinks about the state of the world, the dull repetition in his life, and longing to connect with people. It's not really clear why R still has complex, civilized thoughts but still shambles around eating people.  The setting isn't quite detailed enough to explain that, but that's a silly thing to get hung up on. The Bonies were too convenient of an antagonist; they are just there to be a mutual problem. I understand the zombies and humans needed a reason to unite, but I think a little more thought could have been put into it. R narrates the only functional difference between them and the zombies, "They call these guys Bonies. They don't bother us, much, but they'll eat anything with a heartbeat. I mean, I will too, but at least I'm conflicted about it..."
Good science fiction makes commentary on contemporary issues in a unique, metaphorical way. Early in the movie R is lamenting how he's surrounded by dead beings who don't communicate with one another and tries to imagine what it was like before the apocalypse. It cuts away to the same pre-apocalyptic airport with living people who are all aimlessly wandering around while focused on their cell phones and electronic devices and not making eye contact. Our technologies and portable instant gratification devices are killing our ability to converse and meaningfully connect with others; we really are becoming zombie-like in a way. Warm Bodies also comments on the awkwardness of dating. R is a dead decomposing corpse and is looming over Julie and thinks, Don't be creepy! Don't be creepy! Later, R is trying to impress and thinks to himself, Play it cool, say something intelligent. He groans out the words, "How...are... you..?" then thinks, Nailed it. I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone who hasn't had a similar thoughts stemming from their own lack of confidence.
Warm Bodies makes some very subtle allusions to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. The two characters are R (Romeo) and Julie (Juliet) and they come from warring "families." Julie's former boyfriend is Perry (Dave Franco) references Paris, R's zombie friend M (Rob Corddry) is a reference to Mercutio, and Julie's friend Nora (Analeigh Tipton) is a nurse referencing Juliet's nurse. Julie's father (John Malkovich) is the hardcore military zombie-killing authority figure and kind of resembles Juliet's family who refuses to allow her to be with someone from the opposing family. There is also the infamous "balcony scene" parodied in Warm Bodies. These are pretty subtle; the movie isn't technically based on Romeo and Juliet, they just reference it in creative, subtle ways.
Warm Bodies features fairly simple but very relatable characters, zombie mayhem, some special effects that falter a little bit on occasion, some great social commentary, a well written script, some strangely sweet romantic scenes, good acting, and hilarious comedy. It managed to do this without screwing up our well-loved concept of zombies the way Twilight did with vampires. Yeah, there is some violent imagery but most of the nasty gore and such takes place just off screen; the imagery is suitable for its PG-13 rating. I took a friend to see Warm Bodies with me; she doesn't like zombie movies but she said she enjoyed this one. Warm Bodies probably isn't going stand the test of time. It's good, but not great; but still a better love story than Twilight. At just over an hour and a half, it's a nice, fun romp that never seems to quite fit into one genre. I'm going to say this is worth renting when it hits home video, however I enjoyed it enough to buy it on Blu-Ray.

Here's the trailer to show you how humorous Warm Bodies is:

Stephenie Meyer totally raped the concept of a vampire then left it wounded and crying. Warm Bodies put a slightly new spin on our beloved zombie model, but it's okay since it didn't twist it around into something shameful, deplorable, or irritating. Can you think of a movie or book that puts a new spin on a classic fictional creature idea that still respects the original? Comment below and tell me about it! I don't want to miss anything good.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

WALL-E Movie Review

Back in 1994, four movie writers had met together for lunch. They included Andrew Stanton, John Lasseter, Pete Docter, and Joe Ranft. Pixar's Toy Story was nearing completion and the writers were brainstorming ideas for their next big projects. From this lunch meeting, came the ideas for what later became Pixar classics; A Bug's Life, Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo. Stanton came up with the idea of mankind leaving the earth and forgetting to turn off the last robot. Thus the preliminary ideas for WALL-E (2008) were born.
The year is 2700, and planet Earth has long been uninhabitable. For hundreds of years, a robot called WALL-E (Ben Burtt), has been taking out the trash, and collecting precious knick-knacks in order to stave off the boredom of his dreary routine. Little does WALL-E realize that his recent discovery, a small plant, could make the ravaged planet safe for all humankind. One day a highly advanced search robot EVE (Elissa Knight) arrives on earth and WALL-E falls in love. EVE realizes the value of WALL-E's remarkable discovery and she excitedly races back to let the humans know that there's hope for their home planet after all. After centuries alone on earth, WALL-E can't stand the thought of losing the only love he's ever known. He eagerly follows her into the deepest reaches of space to a space resort cruise ship which holds all the humans who evacuated earth 700 years ago. Humans have become so lazy and fat from their own listlessness they can barely move on their own. For reasons unknown, the ship's auto pilot attempts to destroy the plant WALL-E and EVE have returned with. They have to recover the plant and get it to The Captain (Jeff Garlin) before it's too late.
WALL-E is one of the most innovative movies that have come along in some time. For starters, it's essentially a silent film. Yes, there are some voice actors credited, but apart from The Captain most of the characters voices are synthesized sound effects based on actor's voices. Ben Burt is a notorious sound designer who worked on the Star Wars and Indiana Jones film series. He's most notable for creating the "voice" of R2-D2, the lightsaber hum, the sounds of the blaster guns, and the heavy-breathing sound of Darth Vader. The "voices" for the robot characters were similar to R2-D2; digital whirring and beeping sounds that occasionally resemble human speech enough to say their own name. That alone sounds incredible, but the other subtle detail in sound effects is phenomenal as well! The sound effects don't quite sound as musical as Kung Fu Panda 2 did, but the sounds are so spot on that it's hard to ignore.
Pixar consistently outdoes itself in terms of animation, and WALL-E was no different. The detail in the sets was stunning; you could pause the movie at any point and that one shot would look gorgeous. Where the animation really shines is in the robotic characters. As mentioned, this is essentially a silent film and most of the characters use body language and robotic sounds to communicate and express themselves. Even though WALL-E only chirps, beeps, and whirrs, you still get a feel for what he is thinking and expressing. His movements are adorably cute and full of curiosity. It cannot adequately be expressed how remarkably expressive these basically mute characters are. Here is a television promotional clip for the WALL-E movie to illustrate how expressive the character is without words:

The themes in WALL-E made the story and characters all the more compelling. WALL-E features a strong passion versus apathy theme. The humans have become listless, lazy, and apathetic about everything from work to entertainment to social interaction. All the human characters are flooded with televised broadcasts and video chats and they bemoan the fact that they are bored. They are told what to think and enjoy through advertisements, and consume resources because they have nothing better to do. On the other hand, the artificial intelligences are highly passionate and excited about everything. WALL-E is highly curious and filled with wonder in each new experience he has. EVE is firmly dedicated to her primary directive. Even random background robots are passionate about what they do. The humans have had little-to-no physical contact with other people (communicating exclusively through video chat), while WALL-E and EVE are passionately in love with each other. There's also a strong message about personal responsibility, environmental awareness in an industrialized society, and the environmental impact of consumerism. Those are certainly reasonable things to think about, but WALL-E doesn't cram a "Go green" message down your throat.
With amazing animation, gorgeous Foley art and sound effects, adorable, lovable characters, a charming sense of nostalgia, and an excellent, relatable theme, there really isn't anything negative that I can say about this Disney Pixar classic. I saw this in theaters no less than three times, I loved it so much. I own a copy of it on Blue-Ray, and I don't know how many times I've seen it since then. I highly recommend this movie. It's amazing how much story is told through so little dialogue. It's even a sweet romantic movie as well. Viewers of any age will find something to adore in WALL-E. This is worth owning your own copy of.

Do you have a favorite movie robot? WALL-E is high up on my list. What's your favorite movie robot? Comment below and tell me why!

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Call of Cthulhu Movie Review

Chances are that if you enjoy science fiction, role-playing games, or are familiar with internet culture, you've heard of Cthulhu somewhere along the way. The  H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society (which is actually a real thing) distributed an interesting silent film adaptation of the Lovecraft classic, The Call of Cthulhu (2005).
Set sometime in during the 1920's, a dying professor (Professor Angell) leaves his great-nephew (Matt Foyer) a collection of documents pertaining to the Cthulhu Cult. The cult followers believe in an ancient deity which lies under the ocean waters, and they await the day that he will return to rule over the Earth; the Cthulhu cult are convinced that the day of reckoning is at hand. The Nephew begins to learn why the study of the cult so fascinated his great-uncle. Bit-by-bit he begins piecing together the dread implications of his great-uncle's inquiries, and soon he takes on investigating the Cthulhu cult as a crusade of his own. As he pieces together the dreadful and disturbing reality of the situation, his own sanity begins to crumble.
I have read Lovecraft's short story The Call of Cthulhu. Lovecraft's stories all took place in a similar setting, but The Call of Cthulhu is the only one where the legendary deity actually appears and frankly, it's not all that exciting a story. In fact, it's a pretty dull, slow read up until the end. I truly do not understand why it has become such a cultural icon. It has inspired and been referenced in art, music, video games, and even Saturday morning cartoons. I suppose it's just fun to toy with the idea of a fictional, all powerful deity destined to awaken and consume the world as we know it, much like we enjoy entertaining the idea of a zombie apocalypse.
The option to make this film adaptation into a silent black and white film was genius. This made the movie seem like it was contemporary to the 1920's, when the short story was first published, almost as if this were a long forgotten film from a bygone era and was only recently uncovered. It also allowed the film makers some liberty to use less expensive materials for sets and models; everything looked black and white in the final product so there was no need to spend extra money on making the color palette look exceptionally pretty.
The camera work and special effects were very much inspired by films in the 1920's. The camera angles were fairly basic and were only lopsided once in awhile to help depict character's psychological breakdown. The movie had several dream sequences that were much more surreal than movies were in the period of film style it was emulating. The visual effects were charming; lots of miniatures, blue screen, and stop-motion animation was used. There are model boats used instead of actual boats. Impressive miniature models were created and had actors in front of blue screens to show these model sets being explored. Best of all was probably the stop-motion Cthulhu which brings to mind the iconic stop-motion monsters in the 1933 King Kong movie. The whole thing feels like an old classic movie in terms of its art direction, camera work, and special effects.
But how is it as a movie? I've stated earlier that the short story which The Call of Cthulhu is based on is rather boring. The movie adheres very closely to the Lovecraft classic. Even though it is a mere forty-seven minutes in length, it is pretty slow moving. Since there is only background music and no dialogue to listen to, it's not unlikely that this movie would bore you to sleep. Reading the intertitles of dialogue might keep you engaged if you can read fast enough; they aren't on screen very long. The story still captures Lovecraft's style; the movie perfectly embodies his nihilistic world view, his cosmic perspective, and his sense that mankind is doomed by its own insignificance. It is, therefore, kind of a downer to watch. 
On the one hand, I'm glad I got to see The Call of Cthulhu for its excellent work in mimicking a basically dead filming style. But I probably would have been just fine had I not seen the film as it was boring and slow moving up until the end. I would only recommend The Call of Cthulhu to anyone who appreciates old silent films. Such fanatics will enjoy the nostalgic quality The Call of Cthulhu has to offer. I'd also recommend it anyone who is a fan of the Cthulhu Mythos (the fictional universe of H.P. Lovecraft's works). This was made by Cthulhu fans for Cthulhu fans; it was without a doubt a labor of love. If every "fan-made" movie was this well filmed and held this closely to its source material, it would put a lot of Hollywood suits out of a job. If you're not a Lovecraft fan or don't enjoy silent films, I'd pass on this one. But if you are interested, it is on instant play on NetFlix and on Hulu.com for free (as of writing this, of course).

Check out the trailer to see if this is something you might want to watch:

Do you have a story about discovering Cthulhu? On a novelty bumper sticker? Through a Dungeons and Dragons game? On a South Park episode? Share you Cthulhu story here, I'd love to hear about it!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Nowhere Boy Movie Review

I’m much more into movies than I am into music. Sure, there are some individual songs I enjoy, but there aren’t bands or singers that I am particularly a fan of. The exception is The Beatles; they’ve done more individual songs that I like than any other music group I can think of. So, when I heard about Nowhere Boy (2010), I was excited to see a movie about the formation of the one band I can honestly say I’m a fan of. I haven’t been this let down by a movie since I saw the 2003 Hulk that everyone tries to pretend didn’t happen.
Young John (Alex Ambrose) is a bright, but sharp-tongued boy living in the coastal town of Liverpool during the 1950’s with his Aunt Mimi (Kristen Scott Thomas) and Uncle George (David Threlfall). John’s father walked out on the family when he was five years old and he was given to Mimi to be raised, even though his mother, Julia (Anne-Marie Duff) was still alive. While Mimi’s strait-laced nature runs counter to John’s more reckless personality, they still love one another. Their world is turned upside down when George passes away. After the funeral, John meets his mother for the first time since he was a small boy. Her bubbly personality is more in line with John’s and she encourages his love of music and writing. But the renewed relationship with Julia brings up a number of unanswered questions, causing tension between Mimi and John. As Rock & Roll becomes the sound of the day, John falls in love with the bold new music and makes a friend who is interested in forming a band, Paul McCartney (Thomas Brodie Sangster).
Nowhere Boy features kind of a parental love triangle between John and the two dominant women in the first part of his life. It’s not a sexual thing, by any means. John is torn between Mimi who has exercised tough-love and acted in John’s best interest, and Julia who is an affectionate and empowering figure but can’t offer John the stability he craves. I was expecting a delightful movie about the formation of The Beatles, about events that inspired John’s marvelous lyrics and music, his struggle to get recognized, perhaps events that instigated his philosophy of peace and love, and the sparks that came from John and Paul as their talents resonated with one another. That is the sort of thing the trailer promised, after all. Even the movie poster alludes to that sort of a tale. But Nowhere Boy is more about a rebellious, foulmouthed, lascivious teenager in the 1950’s growing up in a broken, dysfunctional family and dreaming of being wanted by millions of women the way Elvis was. Certainly, every famous figure has to start somewhere and eventually become the person they are known for, but by the end of the movie I didn’t like this version of John Lennon any more than I like any other presumptuous and rude teenager I might run into on the street.
The fact that the movie differs so much from my expectations isn’t what made it bad. Because of all the interpersonal conflicts between family members and friends, Nowhere Boy seemed more like a well filmed and acted soap opera. Yes, Ambrose played a great John Lennon. Thomas did an excellent job playing his loving, but rigid aunt; it’s hard enough to show tough-love to a child, but I imagine it’s even more difficult to act it out. The sets were fantastic, and lots of the movie was shot on location in Liverpool. But for all the good acting, sets, and decent filming, the movie itself was painfully melodramatic.
The name “The Beatles” is never actually mentioned in Nowhere Boy. There are some allusions to The Beatles, but they’re so subtle that they are easy to miss. The movie opens with a dream sequence of John running from unseen screaming fan girls which is similar to the opening scene in The Beatles’ first movie A Hard Day’s Night. John rides his bike to school and passes a sign that reads “Strawberry Fields.” That’s about it, and they happen within the first five minutes of the movie. There’s no Beatles music in Nowhere Boy, but there is a lot of 50’s Rock & Roll music that John fell in love with; Elvis, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and Dickie Valentine to name a few.
With all the melodrama and gratuitous unjustified profanity, Nowhere Boy was not a pleasant movie to watch. It was all about uncomfortable family drama that was interrupted by brief moments of John’s interest in forming a band so that more women would want to sleep with him. It’s those fleeting moments in the movie that we’re reminded that this is a movie about John Lennon, and not just some insufferably difficult teenage douche bag. Both the real Paul McCartney and Lennon’s wife, Yoko Ono, said that the real John was much more loving than the angst-ridden teenage rebel in this movie. You might enjoy Nowhere Boy if you really like John Lennon and don’t mind seeing an unflattering depiction of him. I don’t recommend seeing Nowhere Boy. Neither the story nor the characters were engaging enough to keep me interested; I teetered between sticking it out and just shutting the movie off.

If you could have a really good movie made about a famous musician, who would it be? Frankly, I’d like to see a good movie about John Lennon sometime. Apart from that, I think a movie about Queen would be both messed up and fun. Who would you pick? Comment below and tell me why!

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Iron Giant Movie Review

I love Brad Bird. He’s an outstanding writer and director. He’s done a couple of my favorite animated movies, including The Incredibles and Ratatouille. His directorial debut in major motion pictures was The Iron Giant (1999). I do not understand why The Iron Giant was a box office flop. It’s message was meaningful in its day, but is probably even more pertinent today.
Set in 1957, Hogarth Hughes (Eli Marienthal) is an imaginative nine-year-old boy who daydreams of superheroes, alien invasions, and of protecting the homeland from Communist agents. He lives with his single mother (Jennifer Aniston) whom he frequently begs for a pet.  One day, he overhears a fisherman talking about seeing a metal man crashing into the ocean from space. Later, Hogarth finds a trail of crushed trees leading to the power plant near his home. There he finds the giant robot (Vin Diesel) trapped in the electrical wires. Hogarth rescues the robot from electrocution, and discovers the giant has lost its memory. Before long, FBI agent Kent Mansley (Christopher McDonald) begins snooping around looking for evidence of the alien threats, or worse Communists, in America. Hogarth seeks help from a beatnik junkyard owner, Dean McCoppin (Harry Connick, Jr.), to help hide The Iron Giant. But with the paranoid government, spooks are closing in, ready to obliterate anything with the potential to oppose America.
I love movies that take place during the Cold War. The McCarthy-era is a fascinating time period when paranoia of threats from other countries was rampant; we were even suspicious of the neighbors we’ve had for years of being Communists. Paranoia itself seems to be the antagonist in The Iron Giant, rather than Mansley, himself. He is a good power-hungry villain, but he genuinely is concerned about the safety and future of America. His fear and paranoia of a Communist invasion has reached unhealthy levels; he simply cannot conceive of a world where robots fall from the sky to do anything other than annihilate America.
The animation is stellar. It’s done in glorious 2D cel animation with beautifully detailed and smooth movement in all the characters. The backgrounds are gorgeous to look at. The Giant is animated with CGI; which looks great for its day. A lot of the art drew inspiration from Norman Rockwell, Edward Hopper, and N.C. Wyeth. This gave the movie a classic, even nostalgic feel.
The Iron Giant is also well written. The characters are deep enough to be believable, and the story tackles some touchy subjects. In 1957, the Soviet Union had launched Sputnik, raising the possibility of nuclear attack from space. This cultivated an atmosphere of fear and paranoia. In one scene we see Hogarth’s class watching an animated film called “Atomic Holocaust,” based on the “Duck and Cover” film shown in schools that offered advice on how to survive if the USSR bombed the USA.
The Iron Giant also has a message of nonviolence. The Giant sees a deer killed by hunters, the na├»ve robot with memory loss has to have the concept of death explained to him and how guns kill. Hogarth repeatedly tells The Giant throughout the film that “Guns kill” and “You are not a gun.” Fortunately, with the nonviolence theme the military is not demonized in any way. General Rogard (John Mahoney) is actually depicted as being a rational and sympathetic military figure, which contrasts the power-hungry civilian Mansley. There’s also the excellent message of “you are who you choose to be.” It’s not clear what the Giant's purpose is for coming to Earth originally; even the Giant doesn’t know. But he has the ability to be a force of unstoppable destruction, and he is faced with the choice of what to do with that ability. The Iron Giant tells us that peace is very hard work and that killing is the coward’s campaign.
I think the reason The Iron Giant was a box office flop was because Warner Bros didn’t realize what a fantastic movie they had on their hands, and therefore didn’t put much effort into their marketing campaign. I have never heard a single negative thing about The Iron Giant. It tackles some tough issues while remaining engaging, hilarious, and charming. It’s a beautiful animated movie with an outstanding story that is safe for the whole family. The Iron Giant reminds us how mistrust and paranoia can be stopped when everyone decides to lay down their arms and start using their hearts and minds. It reminds us that heroism can come in many forms. I think these are valuable lessons in our post-9/11 world where we are fearful and paranoid of terrorist attacks. I recommend The Iron Giant to anyone of any age. I’ve got a copy on my shelf along with other favorites of mine; it’s worth owning even if you don’t have young kids in your home.

I can think of several Cold War era movies that I enjoyed. X-Men: First Class comes to mind. Can you think of some other good ones? Comment below and tell me why!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

My Week with Marilyn Movie Review

To this day there is still a lot of mystique and gossip about Marilyn Monroe, especially for a person who has been departed for over fifty years. Her image was sexy without being promiscuous, vulnerable and sweet, yet confident and hopeful. Marilyn embodied the womanly ideal of her day and was hailed as a sort of American royalty that everyone loved and adored. Such an interesting and dramatic contrast practically begs for a film to be made. Thus, My Week with Marilyn (2011) was created.
Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh), the nearest thing to royalty among British actors, is making a movie in London.  Young Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), an eager film student, wants to be involved and through some bold negotiating he finds himself a job on the set. When film star Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) arrives for the start of shooting, all of London is excited to see the blonde bombshell. When Olivier is struggling to meet her many demands and acting ineptness, Colin is intrigued by her. Colin’s intrigue is met when Marilyn invites him into her inner world where she struggles with her fame, her beauty, her loneliness, and her desire to be a great actress.
My Week with Marilyn is all based on real events. Colin and Marilyn did spend a week together during the shooting of The Prince and the Showgirl while her husband, Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott), took a short trip back to the US. Olivier was at his wits end accommodating Marilyn’s apparent ineptitude, and Marilyn actually wasn’t able to accomplish much of anything without her acting coach Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker) and her business partner Milton H. Greene (Dominic Cooper). It was a tough and trying time for all involved. Frankly, it doesn’t make for a very interesting story, but it does makes for a fascinating character study and a unique look into the real Marilyn Monroe.
The real Marilyn Monroe vs. Michelle Williams
The best aspect of My Week with Marilyn has got to be Michelle Williams’ portrayal of the starlet. Marilyn had abandonment issues, sought a father figure, lacked confidence, acted glamorous and sexy, and exuded a lovable, feminine aura. There were so many facets to Marilyn that it would be a considerable challenge to portray this cultural icon, and Michelle Williams nailed it. She acts and looks the part so much it is truly uncanny and amazing to watch. There are times when she is very well composed and portraying Marilyn’s “public image” self, and other times when she is overwhelmed with depression and catatonic. Yet it’s still Marilyn. There’s scene when she and Colin are looking at a doll house, and she points to the doll family saying that the father is Colin, the mother is herself, and the kids are their children. Similar to how a little girl might project fantasies onto her toys. But coming from a thirty-year-old woman, it’s rather bizarre. The scene is important since it shows Marilyn’s desire for the normal family she’s never really had, while also showing us she’s a bit off kilter.
I’ve seen a couple of BBC movies, and I’ve noticed they seem to reuse a lot of actors. This isn’t bad, they are excellent actors. But I couldn’t help but notice actors that have played in Doctor Who, others from the Harry Potter films, and some have even been in both. Emma Watson appears as a wardrobe assistant that develops a relationship with Colin. It makes me wonder if Great Britain only has a handful of actors.
My Week with Marilyn teeters between interesting and tedious. Seeing Marilyn in such a diverse set of situations to show us what she’s really like is interesting, but at the same time it gets tedious and repetitious since everyone is exasperated and impatient with her by the end of most every scene she’s in. While the performances are excellent, the story (such as it is) tends to become sappy and doe-eyed from time to time. It’s got an R rating for some language, but apart from that it’s quite tame. I enjoyed watching it, and I recommend seeing it, but I don’t think it’s worth more than one viewing. Therefore, it’s a renter, albeit an intriguing one.

Admittedly, I'm not a big Marilyn Monroe fan. I like her photographs more than her movies. What is your favorite Marilyn Monroe moment? Comment below and tell me why!