Friday, December 26, 2014

Exodus: Gods and Kings Review

In 2014 we had not one, but two Bible epics hit theaters. I never did get around to seeing Noah. I was interested in seen an updated version of the Moses story in Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014) because the movie technology is such that elaborate, complex depictions of the ancient world can be shown to audiences in a way that couldn't have been done years ago. In the hands of director Ridley Scott, it has great potential. This movie does have the epic quality of old Bible epics back in the day, but it seemed to be lacking something to make a lasting effect on you.
Raised as brothers by Pharaoh Seti (John Tutrurro), Moses (Christian Bale) and Ramesses (Joel Edgerton) have a mutual respect and love for one another and have fought side by side defending their home country of Egypt. After Ramesses succeeds his father as Pharaoh, rumor of Moses being of Hebrew parents comes to Ramesses. Rather than give into the demands of Queen Tuya (Sigourney Weaver) to kill Moses, Ramesses exiles Moses from Egypt. Moses creates a new life in Midian where he meets Zipporah and eventually marries Zipporah (María Valverde). Years later Moses comes face to face with a burning bush and a boy called Malak (Issac Andrews), who tells Moses that he must free the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. Reluctantly, Moses returns to Egypt and uses his military skills to try to free his people. But when Ramesses refuses to comply, God sends deadly plagues to the people of Egypt. Moses tries to keep the Hebrews out of the crossfire, but the conflict escalates pitting the two brothers against each other.
Now, the story of Moses has been around since roughly 1300 BCE. Even if you aren't affiliated with a Muslim or Judeo-Christian religion, you've had plenty of time to have heard this story before and I'm not going to avoid spoilers in a story that is well over three thousand years old.
It truly should go without saying that when a movie based on religious texts is made, creative liberties are taken. Were creative liberties not taken, there would be nearly no character development, no meaningful dialogue other than the most basic and direct communications, and likely no defining theme drawing the story together coherently. In Exodus: Gods and Kings some characters aren't what I have been told they are. Ramesses not so much a stubborn and prideful ruler who thought himself superior to God, he was more of a spoiled privileged brat who lacked the competence and foresight to lead a country. Moses wasn't a mighty man of faith but a military general who may be somewhat off his rocker, we see him grow in faith but it's not really there when he starts out. I was disappointed that we didn't see the two characters butting heads more often. Moses didn't go talk to Ramesses between each plague saying, "Let my people go!" They were at odds with one another, but we didn't see enough of them opposing each other specifically to get a feel for what becomes their broken relationship as brothers.
The way that God was depicted was particularly interesting. It was a small kid whom only Moses could see after sustaining a head injury. I don't think this was supposed to literally be God, but rather a abstract messenger through which God communicated to Moses. The kid's name is "Malak" which is the Semitic word for "angel." God in the Old Testament is often depicted as a god of vengeance and punishment; taking that into consideration, I could see why this messenger speaking for God would be depicted as a willful, angry, and petulant child. This may be a deal breaker for some viewers of faith; Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike see this story as foundational and might find this portrayal of God to be incompatible with scripture and deeply held beliefs. I didn't find it offensive. I thought it was an odd way to depict deity, but it was unique and creative and still kind of fits with this interpretation of the story. Yet there is a scene when Malak and Moses are talking and the things the boy says, though powerful and exquisitely delivered by the child actor, made me think, "Yeah, that's not the same God from The Bible. We went overboard here, Ridley."
While I often hear the way some of the plagues were depicted was inaccurate, I thought it was fascinating. The first plague was water turning to blood. This was illustrated not by Moses striking the river with his staff causing the water to turn into blood, but rather having crocodiles in the Nile go on a killing spree, killing nearly anything that moved in the water, causing the water to turn red from all the blood. This caused the plague of frogs which were escaping from the bloody water, which in turn let the insects multiply unhindered by their natural predators. It goes on like this, and I thought it was neat. It removes the divine intervention which is what was supposed to have caused the plagues. Even the parting of the Red Sea seemed to be caused by some kind of tsunami sea withdrawal that coincided with the escaping Hebrews with impeccable timing. It's another discrepancy that I appreciated the creativity of, but didn't see as something that would challenge someone's faith outright.
This was visually an incredible movie to watch. Egypt was as elaborate and detailed as I had hoped; it was shown to be a vast country with many inhabitants of all walks of life. The costumes of the Egyptians as well as the Hebrew slaves looked fantastic. The plagues were really interesting to see and the meticulous details that went into them made me grateful I wasn't watching the swarming locusts in 3-D. The free-flowing visual splendor is so gorgeous to behold that you feel transported into these ancient days watching this movie.
Exodus: Gods and Kings isn't one of Ridley Scott's greatest movies. It has its ups and downs, but lacks something to give it enough oomph to make it a truly memorable movie. It will likely fade from our collective consciousness before too long, much like Ridley Scott's Robin Hood did. The visuals were simply incredible and really sold the historical setting. The plagues and such were also amazing. Given how many faith-based movies are content to tell their audiences what to think or feel, it's satisfying to see one whose images alone are enough to compel an awestruck belief. The story is spiritually watered down. It doesn't preach to the audience, it doesn't tell us how to interpret things, and it even removes some of the divine influence these events are said to have. However, all the characters and symbols are present; we are left to interpret the story as a faith building story about God's influence, or simply as a tale that we have passed down for thousands of years. Overall I liked Exodus: Gods and Kings. It may not settle so well with some viewers, but it didn't go as far out in left field as I understand Noah did. I say this is worth watching even if you are not religiously inclined. Even if you are religiously inclined, I still say watch it but take it with a grain of salt. Understand that this is not scripture, but a film director's take on a very old story.

Are there other Bible stories or ancient texts you think would make a good movie? Comment below and let me know!

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay part I Review

The first movie series to be based on books that had the final book split into two movies was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. This made a lot of sense because there was a lot of story to cover in that last book. Then the Twilight saga split their last book into two movies. This made no sense at all because nothing had happened in any of the previous movies; it was clearly a marketing ploy to milk the Twilight brand for all the money the studios could. We could also accuse The Hobbit movies of doing this, but that's a discussion for another time. The Hunger Games have been very successful as future dystopian survival stories which a lot of other books and movies have failed to imitate. But did The Hunger Games: Mockingjay part I (2014) really need to be divided into two parts?
Following the destruction of the last Hunger Games event, a few of the tributes managed to escape as the oppressive Capitol tried to intervene. Among the escapees were Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin), and Beetee (Jeffery Wright). They are joined by Katniss's friend Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) and other refugees from their home in District 12 and end up in the believe-to-be-destroyed District 13. Under the leadership of President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and the advice of her friends, Katniss agrees to become the "Mockingjay," the symbol of the rebellion for the districts of Panem to overthrow The Capitol. Katniss is prepped and made over to inspire others for the rebellion, but her thoughts are with Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) and his safety while being trapped by The Capitol.
So, The Hunger Games was a pretty good solid movie with lots of action, some good characters, and an interesting story about a televised death match. Catching Fire did a similar thing and took everything to the next level; bigger action, higher stakes, and more complexity. Mockingjay part I went in a totally different direction; there's no Hunger Games whatsoever. The Hunger Games event is over, but the fight rages on in a different arena. Mockingjay is more about the political battle going on between The Capitol and the rebels. The Capitol is producing televised propaganda ads to belittle and dismiss the rebels as nothing but troublemakers. District 13 has been waiting for an opportunity like this for decades; now they have a symbol of hope in Katniss to bring the Districts together and fight against their oppressors. So they make their own propaganda ads featuring Katniss showing how evil and corrupt The Capitol is. It's like a political chess match played out through the media. We get to see how difficult it is to run a rebellion and the impact that media can have on a nation, for good or bad.
At the same time, it's mostly a movie about shooting television ads. While that is interesting, it gets dull. There is a lot of down time, which slows the pacing of the movie. The action scenes are fantastic! I loved seeing Katniss and Gale fighting Capitol airships, but much of the movie is rather slow paced. On top of that we get a whole bunch of new characters thrown at us, but apart from Katniss few of them are developed enough. There's a great action sequence featuring Gale. It was an exciting and tense scene, but this being the third movie Gale has appeared in and I still don't have much of a feel for who this character is. If I had, it would have made the scene all the more tense and would have made me want Gale to survive even more. As it is, Katniss gets most of the development and depth of character at the expense of the significantly expanded cast.
The Hunger Games books are told from Katniss's perspective, and something the movies have done is show us events that Katniss did not witness and thus was unable to narrate. In Mockingjay, we get to see acts of rebellion among the Districts as a result of the rebels' propaganda. Each District specializes in a particular industry, and we see them use the skills associated with that industry to fight against The Capitol's presence in a given District. We see guerilla war acts in District 7 who specialize in lumber and District 5 whose industry is electrical power. When these scenes start you know the District is about to fight back, but how they actually do it totally blew away my wildest expectations. These extra scenes were outside the canon of the books, but were creative and pertinent to the story.
Since Mockingjay is divided into two parts it doesn't have a satisfactory ending. What we get here is good, but not great, and once things really start getting interesting, the closing credits start rolling. It's like standing in line and anticipating an awesome rollercoaster ride, getting buckled in and ready to go, only to have to be taken out and told to wait for the next train. It's kind of a disappointment and almost feels like a bait-and-switch. Having read the books, I am of the opinion that of all the books the third one had the least amount of storyline, so dividing it up into  two-parts seems silly. But there's not much we can do except wait for Mockingjay part II.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay part I was good. It wasn't as good or exciting as the previous two movies, but it was satisfying enough, given the frustrating fact that we don't have a conclusion at the end. Mockingjay revs up our anticipation for the series' grand finale. It's loaded with outstanding, solid performances from the cast, even those who don't get much screen time; it's packed with intriguing, smart political subtext; but the movie comes up short on the action front, though what action scenes we are privileged to see are excellent. I don't think the story justifies a two-part set of movies, but I'm still psyched to see Mockingjay part II. If you're a fan of The Hunger Games this is worth seeing in theaters. But since this movie revs you up and leaves you hanging, you might want to just wait for this on home video and watch it once part II is in theaters so you aren't waiting around for the rest of the movie.

What are some of your expectations for Mockingjay part II? Comment below and tell me about it (no spoilers, though)!

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Theory of Everything Review

As I said in my review of Creation, it seems that Hollywood is capable of giving any event a romantic spin. The relationship between Charles Darwin and his wife in Creation took center stage and was less about the development of the theory of evolution. The Theory of Everything (2014) is similar; we see the relationship between Stephen Hawking and his wife Jane and the life they had together. I thought it was odd to have a biographical romantic drama about a person who is still alive, but The Theory of Everything proved to be a darn good movie.
As a healthy, active young man, Cambridge astrophysicist student Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) was a brilliant student. While at a school dance he meets Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones) and the two form a deep love for one another. Stephen begins having some difficulty with fine motor movements, and after a terrible fall received an earth-shattering diagnosis at the age of twenty one. He has Lou Gehrig's Disease, a degenerative motor neuron disease that is incurable, he is expected to live for only more two years. Stephen embarks on his most ambition scientific work, studying the very thing he now has precious little of - time. Together, Stephen and Jane defy impossible odds, breaking new grounds in medicine and science, and achieve more than they could ever have dreamed.
The Theory of Everything is part biopic and part love story. There are some cute moments between the two main characters, but few that truly tugged at my heartstrings. I liked the relationship between Stephen and Jane. Stephen flirts like a stereotyped scientist; awkwardly. His flirtatious lines usually involve explaining in scientific terms why some things in the world look beautiful. Jane is a pretty church mouse who is studying arts at Cambridge. It's very much the same character set up as it was in Creation. Two very different people get married and have struggles and are occasionally conflicted about theology, yet they both love one another. Most of the conflict is in the mounting stress and Jane feeling overwhelmed  as Stephen's body slowly deteriorates. It's encouraging to see a relationship like theirs last over the decades.
Jane and Stephen Hawkings' wedding
photo recreated for the movie
The actors were outstanding, Redmayne in particular. He's played handsome young men in other movies such as My Week with Marilyn and Les Misérables. Playing the renowned physicist was very different. Here he played a an awkward young man losing his ability to control his muscles. His portrayal of the disease was depicted with uncanny accuracy. To be frank, it is uncomfortable seeing someone with a noticeable physical handicap struggling with something. Redmayne played his character's handicap so well it was often uncomfortable to watch him on screen. And yet his depiction of Stephen Hawking was so compelling and interesting that I cared about him and wanted to help out the character on the screen. He's simply incredible.
The sets were also very impressive. The story spans a number of decades. While we see the characters age with the magic of makeup, the passing of the years is most prominently depicted in the sets and costumes. The story starts out in the early 1960's and ends roughly in the late-1990's. The hair styles and clothing fashions change and evolve over the years. The buildings and interior decoration slowly takes on a more contemporary look as time in the movie passes. The changes are so gradual and subtle you hardly notice them, yet the sets are so detailed they are hard to ignore. The camera captures the actors and the background in such beautiful detail that every shot looks gorgeous, and every scene like a perfectly captivated moment from the past.
The Theory of Everything is a good movie. While science plays a role in the movie, you won't leave knowing any more about general relativity or quantum gravity than you did going in. What Hawking developed was less important in this story than how it was developed. The story remains just interesting and inspiring enough to hold my attention to the end, but it still feels a lavishly produced period drama that was probably produced for the sole purpose of earning nominations for Academy Awards. Basically, it's Oscar bait. The story is not bad, though does little outside Jane and Stephen's relationship. The acting is phenomenal, especially Redmayne. Even if romantic biopics aren't the kind of movie you enjoy, seeing The Theory of Everything is worth it just to see Redmayne's acting. There is very little that can be said negatively about this movie, the only reason not to see it is if this particular genre doesn't appeal to you. I think it's worth seeing, but you're probably safe waiting for it on DVD.

The real Stephen Hawking is still around and was able to see this movie. He said the following about it:

"Watching the The Theory of Everything Movie at the London premiere last night was an intense emotional experience for me. It is perhaps the closest I will come to time travel. Based on Jane's book, it follows our life together exploring the mysteries of the universe. I enjoyed watching it with my family and friends, and I hope audiences around the world enjoy it as well."
--Stephen Hawking

Friday, December 5, 2014

High Anxiety Review

I'm a big fan of Alfred Hitchcock's movies. Psycho might be one of my all time favorite movies. I recently discovered that one of my favorite comedy film makers, Mel Brooks, made a hilarious "tribute" to some of Hitchcock's films called High Anxiety (1977). I can thank The Q Filmcast for introducing me to this hilarious bit of cinema. As a comedy film, it's pretty good. As a spoof of more than ten Hitchcock films, it's something along the lines of amazing.
Renowned Harvard psychiatrist Dr. Richard H. Thorndyke (Mel Brooks) conceals a fear of heights, or High Anxiety. Thorndyke takes over as the new director of the PsychoNeurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous after the last director dies under suspicious circumstances. He soon finds himself to be in the company of some very strange colleagues including Nurse Diesel (Cloris Leachman), a charge nurse with a dark sneer and a tendency toward domination; Dr. Montague (Harvey Korman), a psychiatrist with a closeted habit of his own; and Victoria Brisbane (Madeline Kahn), the eccentric daughter of a patient at the institute. Thorndyke heads to a psychiatry conference where he is framed for murder. Thorndyke must confront his own psychiatric condition in order to clear his name, save the Institute, his reputation, and his own sanity.
I've been telling friends and colleagues that I saw High Anxiety and have tried to introduce them to the movie's premise. Most of them have already heard about it and seen it. While I'm a fan of both Hitchcock and Brooks, I haven't seen the entirety of their filmographies, but you'd think I'd have heard about this movie related to the two directors. High Anxiety spoofs The Birds, Psycho, North by Northwest, and Vertigo and makes references to many others. Hitchcock wasn't involved in the making of the movie, but Brooks held a private preview of the movie for Hitchcock to see his reaction. When Hitchcock walked out at the movie's end without saying a word, Brooks feared that Hitchcock hated the movie. But days later Hitchcock sent a congratulatory case of wine to Brooks, knowing that Brooks was a wine connoisseur. Evidently Hitchcock himself got a kick out of High Anxiety on some level.
The Hitchcock references are many and cleverly woven into the story and dialogue. The location of the phone booth scene beneath the Golden Gate Bridge is Fort Point, the same location a critical scene in Vertigo was filmed. Brooks hired the actual bird handler from The Birds to work on the bird scene in this movie. As a tribute to the Roger O. Thornhill character in North by Northwest who never reveals his middle name, Richard H. Thorndyke in High Anxiety is hesitant to reveal his middle name. In another tribute to Hitchcock, Dr. Thorndyke is told that a "Mr. MacGuffin" changed his hotel room reservation. Hitchcock's MacGuffins were objects or devices which drove the plot but which were otherwise inconsequential and could be forgotten once they had served their purpose. There are a couple of nods to Psycho as well; Psycho has one of the most famous murder scenes which has already been spoofed many times over in other media, so you just know there's going to be some kind of a "shower scene" in this one, and it doesn't disappoint.
The humor is mostly good, as is Brooks' usual fare. There are some witty set ups to ridiculously silly punch lines. There's also some highly juvenile gags that you simply can't help but chuckle at. The movie also includes some crude humor here and there, which usually garners an eye roll from me. The movie is rated PG and while some of the crude humor suggests something dirtier, at face value it's pretty clean for a Brooks movie. For example, at the psychiatry conference Thorndyke is asked some questions about psychosexual development according to Freud. Right after he begins to answer, a conference attendee enters with his two children apologizing for their presence because he couldn't find a babysitter. Thorndyke continues to awkwardly lecture on the topic of sexual development while using kid-friendly vocabulary for the human anatomy which makes him sound like a buffoon. You're probably okay watching this with small children present since you'll get the underlying joke that will completely go over kids' heads. This was released before the PG-13 rating was created.
Comedy movies usually don't lend themselves to deep or interesting stories. High Anxiety isn't any different. The story is used mostly as a means of delivering a bunch of silly jokes, which it does exceedingly well. But as a story, there is a lot that is left unresolved and seems non-sequitur. It's a fun movie, but it isn't Mel Brooks' best. That's probably why I hear about Young Frankenstien, Spaceballs, and The Producers a lot more than High Anxiety. But you can't deny that High Anxiety is a good movie. Brooks put a whole lot of work into it; he was the lead role, director, producer, co-writer, and for the title song he was both composer and lyricist. You can't tell me that's not impressive.
High Anxiety is a good, funny Mel Brooks movie. Brooks has such a unique style that his movies are almost a genre unto themselves; this movie is no different. All the Hitchcock references are fun to watch for. You don't need to be an avid Hitchcock fan to appreciate High Anxiety, but many of the gags will be even funnier if you have seen a number of Hitchcock films. It's not Brooks' best movie, but I think it's worth seeing for a good laugh. As of writing this, High Anxiety is on NetFlix Instant Play; it's worth catching there. It's only worth purchasing if you're already a Mel Brooks fan.

What is your favorite Mel Brooks movie? Comment below and tell me why!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Big Hero 6 Review

Disney's latest animated feature film is the first one I can think of that features super heroes. I suppose this shouldn't be much of a surprise, since Disney bought Marvel back in 2009 and has been making tons of money with their Marvel Super Hero/Avengers movies. They have been championing Big Hero 6 (2014) as being from the creators of Frozen and Wreck-It Ralph, and those are some pretty good titles to compare to their new release. Does their first animated Marvel super hero feature hold up?
Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) is a fourteen-year-old robotics genius who lives in the futuristic city of San Fransokyo, and spends his time participating in back-alley robot fights. Hiro is learning to harness his genius, thanks to his brilliant brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) and his like-minded friends; adrenaline junkie Go Go Tamago (Jamie Chung), neatnik Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.), chemistry whiz Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez), and fanboy Fred (T.J. Miller). When a devastating turn of events catapults them into the midst of a dangerous plot unfolding in the streets of San Fransokyo, Hiro turns to his closest companion, a medical robot prototype created by Tadashi called Baymax (Scott Adsit). Hiro transforms the group into a band of high-tech heroes determined to solve the mystery.
I didn't know it at the time I saw the previews, but after Big Hero 6 hit theaters everyone started talking about how it's based on a Marvel miniseries. The team of heroes called Big Hero 6 are fairly obscure within the Marvel universe, but have had their own miniseries of comics. Spider-Man has called upon Big Hero 6 to help him fight Doctor Octopus, and for a time Wolverine's enemy, the Silver Samurai, was a member of Big Hero 6. Since this is technically a Marvel movie, you should stick around for a traditional post-credits scene, and watch for the king of cameos to make an appearance.
The characters in Big Hero 6 were adorable to say the least. I have no idea how they measure up to original comics, but I like the ones that were depicted in the movie. I said in my Real Steel review that child prodigy characters are very unrealistic and often indicators of bad writing. Hiro occasionally pushes credibility here, but he is still a kid; he's got the attention span, emotional maturity, inflated confidence, and insecurities of any adolescent, and these are incorporated into his character beautifully. Sure he's got a well-above-average skills with robotics, but he's still just a kid and the movie doesn't forget that.
Tadashi acts as more of a role model for Hiro than an actual mentor. Hiro has to learn some pretty tough lessons on his own. At one point, Hiro's desire for justice goes overboard and he makes some very serious mistakes, but he still didn't have a mentor to teach him what to learn from his mistake. I thought this was a particularly interesting bit of character development since Hiro had no one to help him figure out what to do with the experiences, and yet we still see him learn and mature as a young man and as a hero.
The other major character is Baymax. There is nothing about this character that isn't superbly lovable. The way he moves, talks, and interacts with the world around him is absolutely adorable. He resembles a semi-inflated balloon and looks so huggable. There were several clusters of small kids in the theater when I saw Big Hero 6, and nearly every time Baymax did anything at all there was an eruption of giggles from them. Baymax offers a compassionate and healing voice for those suffering, and a hug that can be felt through the screen. He sells the movie; it wouldn't have been nearly as fun without this irresistible blob of a roly-poly robot charisma. 
Big Hero 6 is a PG animated Disney movie and was chockfull of physical gags, funny characters, and silly jokes. There's also a lot of exciting super hero action and villain combat. There are also lots of hugs and love. It also features the kind of stellar animation we've come to expect from Disney. Big Hero 6 combines Disney wonder and charm with Marvel awe and action to deliver a movie that exhibits the best of both studios. While the action is good, it's the central character's heart that is the real appeal. Big Hero 6 has got something for everyone; there's a lot to enjoy in this movie. Kids will love the fun characters and silly stunts, older viewers will appreciate the action and animation, and everyone will love the heartfelt, genuine emotion these characters exude. I recommend seeing Big Hero 6 in theaters if you can. It's worth the ticket price. It's also worth getting a copy of on Blu-Ray when it becomes available.

Here's the trailer so you can get a feel for how Baymax was animated:

So, what do you think about Disney's first animated Marvel movie? I think it's good, but out of sorts with Disney's usual fare. Comment below and tell me what you think!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Interstellar Review

In late 2013 we saw teasers for Christopher Nolan's latest film, Interstellar. Throughout 2014 it was among the most anticipated films of the year. So many people were predicting Interstellar to be the 2001: A Space Odyssey this century. That's a bold expectation and is no doubt a high complement to Nolan's movie directing skills. While Interstellar is an intriguing film, it's less "2001: A Space Odyssey" and more "2014: A Space Exposition."
In the near future, the entire Earth has been devastated by drought and famine, causing scarcity in food and extreme changes in climate. When humanity is facing extinction, a mysterious rip in the space-time continuum is discovered, giving mankind the opportunity to widen its lifespan. A group of explorers use this wormhole to travel far beyond our solar system in search of a planet that can sustain life. The crew of The Endurance is required to think bigger and go further than any human in history as they embark on an interstellar voyage into the unknown. Pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is torn between seeing his children again and the future of the human race. He reluctantly joins biologist Amelia (Anne Hathaway), physicist Romilly (David Gayasi), geographer Doyle (Wes Bentley), and robots TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin) and CASE (voiced by Josh Stewart) as they search for a new home for humanity.
Christopher Nolan has earned the respect of audiences with some outstanding films such as Inception,  The Dark Knight trilogy, Memento, and others. His stories generally revolve around a character who has been wronged and wants to make it right, forcing him to fights against a universe that insists that things must ramain as they are. That makes for some fascinating stories and dynamic, interesting characters. In Interstellar, the universe dictates that mankind has reached the end of its existence. However, there are a handful who refuse to accept that fate, and they fight against the literal universe so that mankind can continue to thrive and exist. This had a lot of potential to get into some deep philosophical concepts and show us some fascinating struggles.
There are some complex struggles that the characters are faced with, but they aren't as deep as they could have been. Most of the problems that the characters in space are faced with involve managing time and resources. Einstein's theories of relativity are incorporated in Interstellar in ways that most sci-fi stories gloss over. There's still some aspects of "fantasy" science, but a lot of it is based on hard science. At one point they must decide whether or not to visit a planet which is near enough to a black hole that time bends with the gravitational pull, causing one hour on the planet to be close to seven years further away from it.
The story is episodic in nature; it's basically a tour of alien worlds with unusual climates. This kind of story lends itself a magnificent display of visual effects, but not a terribly interesting storyline. There is a great deal of dialogue explaining things as they go along. It makes sense because apart from Cooper, most of the characters are scientists and feel a need to explain things as they go. This results in a very verbose story in a visually based medium. Dialogue is important but a good piece of writing should show, not tell, us what is happening and why. More so in movies. Inception had a lot of exposition in it, too, but it was done in small increments between tense moments of action while still showing us examples as new information was presented. In Interstellar there was a lot of sitting around discussing science, relativity, and exchanges of feelings and doubts. It was good and well written dialogue, but made the movie feel slow at times. I still yearned to be shown these things rather than told. Possibly my favorite segment of dialogue was when Hathaway's character is speculating about love being a scientific force of nature, like gravity, that we haven't had the forethought to incorporate into our views of science. I'm unconvinced of that idea, but it was a good bit of dialogue.
Without the very important relationship between Cooper and his daughter, Murphy, Interstellar would have been much weaker and nothing more than a tour of alien planets. Generally I don't like having major child characters only because children don't tend to be good actors. Mackenzie Foy was highly impressive for a child actress; she and McConaughey had some outstanding and emotional moments together and father and daughter. I'm very much impressed with her, and look forward to seeing how she fares further on in her career as an actress.
It's hard not to hold 2001: A Space Odyssey up to Interstellar. Both are about space exploration, have "movie epic" lengths (a run time that exceeds two hours), and comment about man's place in the universe. I think comparing the two is like comparing apples to oranges. While I'm not the biggest fan of 2001, it is a masterpiece of cinema art, full of elaborate camera work, complex symbolism and theme, and mind-blowing abstract concepts. Interstellar is basically a gorgeous display of visual effects and a few touching family moments. It was lacking in symbolism, had a good but straightforward theme, and didn't feel nearly as profound as 2001. Similar to 2001, the last thirty minutes of Interstellar does some far out, even trippy things while tying the story together for its conclusion. As was the case with Inception, you may need to watch the last bit a few times before you are able to piece it together in your mind. Also, it's hard to ignore the similarities between 2001's monoliths and Interstellar's robots.
Overall, I did enjoy Interstellar, but it took me a while to decide that I did. It had some great visuals and camera work, several good characters that I could relate to, and some great bits of dialogue. Since it was so dependent upon these great bits of dialogue, the story feels slow from time to time, and it lacks the symbolism and thematic complexity that many of us where hoping for when we saw the trailer. Admittedly it was a bit foolhardy of us to expect another 2001: A Space Odyssey, but Christopher Nolan has given us reason to expect Kubrick-level cinema art from him, and I don't doubt that he is capable of that in the future. It simply wasn't accomplished on this occasion. If you value special effects and graphics in movies then Interstellar is worth catching in theaters. If you are like me and value characters, story, and theme above all else you're better off waiting for this on home video. I wouldn't mind seeing it a second time, but I didn't love it enough to get my own copy.

What did you think of Interstellar? Did you like it? Was it a disappointment? Do you have mixed feelings about it? Comment below and let me know! (But please avoid spoilers)

Friday, November 14, 2014

Hoodwinked Review

I've had several people (or maybe one person many times) recommend Hoodwinked (2005) to me. The trailer looked a lot like a wacky fairy tale story that was capitalizing on the novelty of Shrek. Most of what put me off was the low quality animation. I assumed it was a mockbuster; a film created with the intention of piggybacking on the publicity of a major film with a similar title or theme and is often made with very low budget. I was actually pleasantly surprised to find a lighthearted and detailed story with plenty of off the wall cartoon antics.
The recipes of the forest's goody shops have been stolen by The Goody Bandit, and many animals are going out of business without them. While the police are chasing the criminal, there is a mess at Granny's house involving Little Red Riding Hood (Anne Hathaway), The Wolf (Patrick Warburton), The Woodsman (Jim Belushi), and Granny (Glenn Close), disturbing the peace in the forest. They are all arrested by the impatient Chief Grizzly (Xzibit). Detective Nicky Flipper (David Ogden Stiers) is in charge of the investigation and each of the accused gives his/her own version of the incident. Are one of the suspects The Goody Bandit?
As I said previously, the animation here was just awful. The characters had very jerky movements and few facial expressions. Nearly everyone moved with unrealistic slowness and deliberation, or they moved with such ridiculous speed so as to seem unrealistic even for cartoon characters. The few really zany characters that actually made funny faces all made the same funny face. I have seen better animation from CGI Saturday morning cartoons that went off the air six years prior to this (i.e. Reboot, Beast Wars: Transformers). It really was distracting at times. About the only thing that looked reasonably well animated was a couple of explosions. It's no wonder this seemed like a mockbuster.
DreamWorks studios have put out some pretty weak movies in the past couple of years that displayed some good animation and a terrible story and script (looking at you, Shark Tale). But Hoodwinked is just the opposite; lazy, lackluster animation with an above average script. This seemed a lot like an old Tex Avery cartoon (who had spoofed the story of Red Riding Hood many times) combined with the "Fractured Fairy Tales" segment of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. There were so many funny lines and puns strewn throughout, it had me laughing out loud on more than one occasion. And the story was more elaborate and interesting than I ever would have guessed.
The first half of the movie consists of Nicky interviewing each of the convicted suspects. The story is then told and retold from different perspectives that lead up to the Red Riding Hood story set up at the movie's intro. Weird, seemingly non sequitur events and gags happen in each one and end up being explained later in another character's account. For example, an unexplained avalanche chases Red down a mountain in her story. Later Wolf has to take an alternate route to Granny's house because of the same unexplained avalanche. Then the Woodsman tells his story, and it's not until Granny's eccentric version of things that this plot device is explained. In the end all the wacky events come together to tell one fairly elaborate story that is still simple enough for young viewers to keep up with. I was genuinely impressed by this bit of storytelling, simple as it was. It's not a deep or moving story; it's just a fun, lighthearted romp that is a step or two above most Saturday morning cartoons.
Overall, I have to say that Hoodwinked is not bad. It's got an upstart charm, a clever premise, appealing characters voiced by a terrific cast and a script that should make you laugh out loud more than once. The animation was awful. It lacked subtlety, refinement, and texture; all of which had been achieved in CGI animation years prior. It lacks some of the wit that Shrek has, but still was worth a few laughs. This will appeal much more to kids than it will to adults. There were a few times I started to get bored, but I don't doubt young audiences would eat this up. Hoodwinked is currently streaming on NetFlix. I enjoyed it for what it was. If you've got kids this is worth watching with them, otherwise you'll be better off with something that has a bit more substance to it.

Can you think of another movie where the story/script was better than the animation itself? Comment below and let me know!