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Sleeping Beauty (2014)
Low Budget, Lower Expectations
The Script: Horrid and Stilted. The Acting: Horrid and Stilted. The Costumes look like a cross between "bring your own" and bad Renaissance Faire rentals. The Music was ridiculously melodramatic, as though they thought that would help the audience to care about what was happening. The castle set looks like they were filmed in someone's backyard with about half a dozen extras trying to look like a "kingdom". There is about as much emotion as a chess match. While the Sleeping Beauty story is one of my all time favorites and I have seen and read almost every Sleeping Beauty story, book and film, I couldn't get past the first 20 minutes of this awful, awful film. Don't bother.
The Hobbit: A Personal Story
I have seen the previous movie and TV incarnations of The Hobbit huge, horrible messes, and could never figure out why they were so bad. The book told a fairly simple and very personal story of one person's journey into something bigger than himself, in finding reserves and strength he would never have know that he had, of a cleverness and ability to think on this feet, of a hero emerging out of a common man
So why did the previous terrible movies even get made?? One was a silly cartoon, stripped of any deep emotion or urgency, and that other one that was so filled with horrible special effect battles, and very little else, as it they were the whole story. So. Now, on to Peter Jackson's interpretation
After the grandiose vision presented in LOTR, I expected an epic. I expected gorgeous vistas. I expected great special effects and creepy critters. What I did not expect was the humor, the up close and personal aspects of the book coming alive in very capable actors' eyes. Ian McKlellan seemed a less sure wizard, a bit more watchful and uncertain of the outcome. Martin Freeman as Bilbo was spot on in his quizzical and comical reactions to the unfolding events. Time was spent getting to know these characters, and most of them got enough screen time to bring them alive, to see the different personalities emerge. They were engaging and fun, powerfully evil (although
is it just me, or did the pale orc just keep ordering his minions to kill/go after/behead our heroes, even though he was standing right there? Seems kinda cowardly to me), majestically ethereal (Kate Blanchette's Galadriel was perfect; the costuming, the lighting, everything was simply gorgeous), strange and compelling, outrageously difficult and campy
At 169 minutes, it drags a little in a few places, but quickly steers back on course. Bilbo's introduction to Gollum was brilliantly creepy and funny, weird and felt very important, as we all know it was. The special effects were very nearly perfect; the big critters had mass and weight and various weird skin conditions, each of them was individual, no cookie cutter CGI monsters here! The battles were well lit so discerning what was happening was much easier than in much of LOTR, which at times seemed to be a gore-fest without much purpose. There were some places where the special effects take over the movie (think thunder mountains) to no real purpose other than to put the band of travelers in jeopardy and show off technical skill. The size differences of the various main characters were seamlessly executed, and after the first few minutes of the movie, I forgot about them and just immersed myself in the film
although the Bilbo's (and Frodo's) big hairy feet still looked like a bad toupee had been stapled to a slab of heavy inflexible plastic with barely carved toes. It has been decades since I have read the Hobbit and LOTR. I have heard that there were changes in this, the first part of what appears to be a trilogy based on The Hobbit, but the story line seems intact and clear; whatever changes there were did not seem to distract from the movie experience. Except the cloak, I did miss the cloak; it seemed weird that Bilbo could just duck down and suddenly no one notices him anymore. Engaging, fun, intense, epic and personal, I am very much looking forward to Part II!
The Avengers (2012)
Assemble for a FABULOUSLY Fun time!
(SPOILERS) Comic Book movies should ALWAYS be written and directed by people who love comic books. Joss Whedon's genuine love for the genre comes through in every frame of this blockbuster. There is something for everybody; it is an over the top, energetic thrill-ride, funny and totally fun movie. Rather than treating the characters with deadly seriousness or turning them into jokes in tights, his respect for the disparate back stories as already told in the preceding movies (Ironman, Thor, and both Hulk attempts), shows though and he somehow manages to bring them together in a totally believable and yet still 100% comic-book way.
He also understands that aside from the absolutely amazing (WOW!!!!) special effects, this is still a character story at heart.
In a less complex director's hands, you could just have The Avengers all be perfectly reasonable and noble, and have Fury send out lovely engraved but cryptic invitations (which they would all politely accept), sit them all down around a round table and explain that Something Big and Bad is out there and they must, virtuously and selflessly, sacrifice their lives to the Common Good. And they would of course, being heroes, immediately acknowledge their moral Duty and, already being suited up in their cute costumes with capes and leather and tights and armor, begin the Battle for Earth without even stopping for lunch. Of course they win. Heroic Music swells and the credit roll.
That's the way someone who doesn't really understand the genre may have approached the film.
Not Joss. Our Heroes come from all over the place and only one is already on board with the Avenger Initiative. The rest have to be persuaded. So how do you get all these guys in the same room and playing nicely on the same side when one had been brain-hijacked, one doesn't believe the cover story, one doesn't even want to be there, one is certain this is simply a personal fight, one has nothing left to lose, and one super-spy-intelligence gatherer is being pulled into an epic war with superior firepower? Do they all just suit up because Nick Fury tells them to in a deeply rousing and inspiring speech? Nope. They walk away with varying degrees of disbelief and I-Have-My-Own-Problems attitudes and snipe and snarl at each other, bicker and fight like a bunch of siblings in the middle of a Testosterone War (apologies to Black Widow).
And when Superheroes fight... Well. Let's just say things get broken up a bit. They only begin to work together when everything is falling (literally) apart. I guess falling to earth in a broken . (insert major spoiler here nah, not gonna do it!) will do that to a team. Of course they weren't ALL on board the *********, but they all did literally succumb to gravity in their own way. Everyone gets knocked on the head a bit, shakes it off and realized they had better Do Something.
Working in pairs at first, then cross teaming, they finally get to the point where Captain America is calling the shots with all the assurance of a broken military general who is finally in his element and completely understands his troops. Only then are they The Avengers.
But they still annoy each other, maybe just a little.
Within the scope of the main Save the World from a Terrible Menace plot, there are smaller interwoven stories, many character reveals, and of course, as this is a Joss Whedon project, completely believable and absolutely hilarious humor sprinkled throughout.
The Big Bad, Loki, is as complex as any other character, and is much more menacing than in the Thor movie; less, dare I say, comic book two dimensional. In Loki's determined and demented quest to be loved, feared and revered, even he understands on some level that he is manipulating forces that he cannot completely control, but he continues to play his part in the game with a grim determination and certain maniacal glee at the thought of beating his step-brother down. Who cares about the puny humans; they are ants, he is the boot.
There is a lot of fighting, amazingly realistic effects, spectacular settings and many surprises. A few questions are answered and some more are raised. My biggest question has to do with the Hulk, if the end is true, then why the first time?? Hmmmm. I have a theory, but will see the movie again tomorrow to see if it bears out.
Quibbles were few and were drowned out by the completely immersive FUN of the overall experience. And as we learned from the other Marvel movies, stay until the very end of the credits. Something happens, and then later, a small, but funny scene. Just stay. And see if you can count just how many special effects companies were involved! I saw it in a regular 3D (IMax was sold out *pouts*) in a nearly sold out theater, and suggest that you see it in 3D, too. I can't believe that Joss has never filmed in 3D before, it was handled MASTERFULLY.
What a ride... I can hardly wait to see it again!
Mirror Mirror (2012)
Like an Apple: tart and sweet
"MIRROR MIRROR" Movie Review (Minor Spoilers): Taking a well known, well since the Disney version of 1937, fairy tale and twisting it, making sure that it never takes itself too seriously, MIRROR MIRROR was a delight.
Dominating the first half in every possible way, Julia Roberts was obviously having the time of her life playing the evil, vain and petulant Queen to absolute perfection. Every pretty snarl, roll of the eyes and bored, "I am surrounded by idiots" look played off of the incredible, lavish costumes. The movie suffered a little when she was not on screen, for while the entire cast was game, Roberts was so completely at home in the setting and role that even terrifically comic performances by Nathan Lane (Brighton), Arnie Hammer (The Prince who keeps losing his shirt) and all of the dwarfs (really should be dwarfs, but that's a quibble that goes back generations) could not completely save the faltering second act.
Lily Collins as Snow White was lovely, if a bit clumsy and rather weak of character; I would have liked to see more of the spunk and fire she demonstrates at the very end earlier on. And I do admit to being shallow enough to want to pluck those eyebrows, just a little bit.
Many very, very funny scenes and hilarious lines were scattered throughout the film, like candy gaily dropped along the path that we as an audience eagerly scooped up, but the story's darker themes were barely skimmed over, leaving a bit of an incomplete feel to the film. When absolutely everything is played for laughs, then there is nothing to lose, and therefore, there isn't really anyone to root for.
The real menace was, of course, the Queen, and just as she was getting to the place where she could expose her really, really "dark side", she was cut off and her part of the story was essentially over, apples at wedding notwithstanding. ALTHOUGH, Puppy Love, hilarious! The effects were really wonderful, especially the Mirror, and making the mirror image, well, who it was, was a master stroke. On the whole, the movie was like an apple, tart, juicy and quite delicious, but needing just a little something more to make it a real meal.
The Hunger Games (2012)
Well done, but could have been more...
HUNGER GAMES Movie Review (minor spoilers): I approached this movie with more than a little trepidation. As much as I tried to shield myself from the media, headlines caught my eye and I was truly afraid that the movie would not live up to the hype, which is what SOME people were saying, while others praised it to the skies. After this first viewing, it is important to note two things: 1) If you are a fan of the book, it pretty faithfully follows it. 2) If you have NOT read the book, you will still "get" it; this is NOT one of those movies where everyone who read the book has to explain what is happening on the screen to those who have not.
It clocks in at 2 hours and 22 minutes, so they packed in as much of the book as humanly possible, without making it seem too rushed. The actors did an incredible job of portraying the characters and the costumes were excellent, if not exactly what I pictured from the book.
The changes that were made to the story were fairly minor... and, on reflection, seemed necessary for time and/or clarity. Except for one that I really missed, but, hey, I really liked the scene in the book, so I kept looking for it.
The beginning was very disorienting loads of camera shake in an in/out of focus montage, but still managed to convey the backstory fairly effectively, although the burnt bread scene, rather important in the book for a lot of reasons, was chopped into several tiny bits as flashbacks and didn't really work except to confuse the un-read audience. The flashbacks regarding Katniss' Mom were odd as well, and happened extremely late in the movie, at that point it almost didn't make sense to have it in the movie at all.
Showing the differences between the Haves (Capitol) and have-Nots (everywhere else) was striking. The silliness of the costumes, the inanity and shallowness of the People of Capital as compared to the rest of Panem underscored their differences: the children who are forced to fight (and kill) each other to survive and silly giddiness of those who view the Games as entertainment and those who exploit the spectacle for political oppression of the masses.
The entire Arena section was very compressed, and contrary to some of the other reviews, not really sanitized, just really FAST. The effects were excellent, and the whole "Reality Show/Gladiator TV Show Heartless Let's keep Those Ratings UP" mood was conveyed very well. There were some brutal scenes, a couple of jump-out-of-your-seat moments, and some funny flashes scattered throughout, enough to break up the tension. Gotta love that Effie!
The heart of the book was the heart of the movie, and I cried during that scene in the film, just like I did in the book... Those of you who have read the book know what I mean.
NOTE: If you have kids who have read the books and who are old enough to actually understand the theme and are able to discuss it, by all means take them to see this movie. Talk to them about it. It was far less violent than just about any Stephen King movie or Jurassic Park, for example. I would not take a young child (under 11) who is sensitive or who has NOT read the books, however.
On the whole, an excellent movie with a few minor quibbles. We saw it in an IMAX format, in perfect seats. I will be seeing this one again!
Once Upon a Time (2011)
Once Upon A Time Delivers
Episode 1.2 (MILD SPOILERS) Now THAT'S what I'm talking about! Any little feeling of trepidation I had about the pilot was just blown away. Excellent, excellent episode. Some surprises, some twists, and some certain people getting their courage on and fighting back. More depth in all the characters and only a few very very minor quibbles with the script. Included in this episode: a lot of advancing of the mythos, some interesting teasing of back stories, and again, the same fantastic visuals without the almost let's-take-ourselves-a-little-too-seriously tone from the pilot. Maleficent - my favorite villain of all time - makes an appearance with an
odd sidekick. And who didn't chuckle at the gnome statue?? Still curious as how much Regina actually knows. Say "please"! My rating: 9 + 1 (for fabulous visuals) = 10