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A Surprisingly Strong Classic Film
I caught this on Turner Classic a couple of weeks ago, and went into it not really knowing much at all about the story of Cleopatra. I know I had to read Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" in high school, but I never really got into the more romantic side of the story of Cleopatra, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. I've also never seen the Elizabeth Taylor version of the film that comes thirty years or so after this movie, so I went into it quite blind.
I found the 1934 version of "Cleopatra" to be a real treat. The film tells a dramatic tale that is quite encompassing. The acting was good and the story quite developed. One of the best parts of the movie is the detailed and grandiose sets throughout the movie--all of which are quite ornate and extraordinary even by today's standards, let alone by 1934's. At the end of it all I found myself enlightened to a bit of world history that I did not know before the movie, and entertained throughout. The only reason I didn't rate the film higher is that despite it's being so well done, I can't really say that it stands out as a favorite or something I'd want to watch over and over again. Still, it's quite good for what it is, and certainly worthy of seven stars.
Rogue One (2016)
A Fantastic Chapter in the Star Wars Series!!!
Like most on opening weekend, I went into "Rogue One" fairly blind. It was known that the story took place in between Episodes III and IV, but the characters were all unknown. As such, there was a lot that I was unsure of. How would this fit into the chronology? Would it be a completely standalone film, with no connection to the other movies at all? That was pretty much how the previews made it out to be.
That being said, as it turns out, "Rogue One" is the immediate prequel to Episode IV, the original Star Wars movie, "A New Hope". It absolutely is directly connected to that film, but tells its tale through a cast of characters that are mostly new (Vader and one imperial commander and a couple of reprisals of rebel leaders being the exceptions). And, the story and film are exceptional on the whole. The style is a bit more serious and gritty than the other episodes, and the first half of the film goes by a bit slow at times--but by end it gets very good!
About the only drawback to this movie is its use of what I like to call the "Bourne" camera-work. At points the camera wobbles incessantly as figures are in battle. That was annoying, but not so much that it completely took away from the movie. And so, all things said, I have to give "Rogue One" 9/10 stars. It's fantastic, and falls just short of being a perfect ten. You definitely should see it!
A Fantastic Disney Princess Movie
So--full disclosure: "Moana" is one of the few Disney "princess" movies that I've actually seen. That being the case, I really don't have a lot to compare this movie to, at least in terms of how she stacks up to other Disney-produced female leads. What I can say, though, is that as someone who is a fan of movies in general, this was a fantastic movie!
One thing you can expect from this movie is that it follows a tried and true formula of the heroine going on an adventure, having to defeat an evil antagonist, and there being lots of kid-friendly singing along the way. The movie nevertheless takes on this task in a way that feels fresh and welcoming, by telling the story of an island girl whose tale incorporates her tribe's ancient mythology into the adventure.
All in all I'm giving this movie 9/10 stars. It's fantastic, but just a tad bit shy of a perfect rating. Perhaps a bit less song and dance would have made it a perfect 10 for me. Still, a fantastic movie through and through.
I wasn't terribly enthused about this movie going into it. I'm in no way a Harry Potter fan (never read the books, couldn't get into the movies), and so I was skeptical about J.K. Rowling's latest wizard tale, "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them". Still, the hype surrounding the film coupled with its coming out at a time when there wasn't much else of interest on at the local theater prompted me to go see this movie. And I'm really glad that I did.
Eddie Redmayne shines in this film. If you're not familiar with his other work, I highly recommend you check out "The Theory of Everything", which he won Best Actor for a couple of years ago. Here he plays a more light-hearted role of a traveling wizard in circa 1930's America, and we are introduced to a large cast of American wizards, witches and warlocks. The movie is the right balance of black arts in a kid friendly kind of way (I'd say it's certainly suitable for kids ages ten and up, and perhaps younger). It also tells its story well, and as someone who firmly believes that storytelling is the most important part of movie making, that goes a long way for me.
All in all I have to give this movie 9/10 stars, and I've even toyed with going all in and giving it 10/10. The movie is a breath of fresh air, and there's little that can be said negative about it.
However, if I were to offer up one helpful criticism, it might be that there's a fair bit going on in the movie and that it's the kind of film you have to pay attention to of you may get lost along the way. If I'm honest, I actually saw it twice--the first time as an attempt at getting away from a stressful day, and my mind was too distracted with everything that was going on in my world to really keep up with the movie. Still, I liked it so much I decided to go back for a second viewing so as to take it all in, and enjoyed it every bit as much the second go around. It's definitely a strong 9/10.
A Fun Halloween Tale--But Basically a Musical
I had never seen "The Nightmare Before Christmas" until this year (2016). It came out while I was in high school, and I think at the time I was going through a "I'm too old for cartoons and kids movies" phase. I'd been wanting to see it for several years now, but every year Halloween would come and go and I would miss it.
In fact, that's one important thing to know about this movie. Before I saw it, I always wondered if it was better to watch at Halloween or at Christmas. I'd now answer that question with a definite "Halloween". The movie is about a character from a village that is oriented around a Halloween theme who wanders off one day and discovers a series of portals to other holiday-themed towns. This takes him to Christmas-town, where he decides he wants to bring Christmas back to Halloween-town. But, before it's all said and done, he discovers that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, and that the holidays don't mix well. That being the case, the movie has a lot more Halloween-oriented characters than Christmas-oriented ones, so definitely watch this during the former season.
Another thing you might want to know going into this movie so that you'll get the most appreciation out of it is that it is in fact NOT an animated film. Or at least it's not a cartoon or a computer animation. Rather, it's stop motion. All of the scenes in the movie were shot on site, with props that were used to make the set. Taking that into consideration certainly adds to the appeal of the movie, and it really is quite a feat for filmmaking.
As for the story and the plot of the film, it's not terrible. Indeed, the plot itself is somewhat becoming and certainly novel. However, the movie relies heavily on music and song, making it basically a musical film. Musicals are my least favorite genre of movie (even though I realize it's a very popular thing to do for a kids movie), and so it was hard for me to get into this film.
Still, all things said and done, I have to give this movie a strong 7/10 stars. It's certainly a fun, well made film. Just not in the upper echelons of my favorites is all.
Doctor Strange (2016)
A Well Made Superhero Film--But an Overused Formula
I was happy to get to go see "Doctor Strange" this week, after hearing good things about it both from comic book enthusiasts and several friends with kids who are not as much of a geek as I am. That said, I went into the movie with high expectations. And while the movie was good overall, I walked away not having my expectations quite met.
Let's start with the good. There is indeed much to like about "Doctor Strange". The film gives a healthy helping of back story, fleshing out a character that I myself didn't know too much about, despite having read some of his earliest appearances from the Stan Lee silver age era in the 1960's. By and large the film is pretty solid in the storytelling department, and the actors all turn out strong performances.
That said, the downside to this movie is that it uses a banal superhero movie formula that at this point has come to feel quite trite. Super-rich, super-smart white guy gets some super-powers, there's a bad guy, the bad guy is hellbent on destroying the universe (the dimension?) and, golly gee, in the end the superhero saves the day.
OK, so it's a little more nuanced than that. Still, it just felt like it was a movie that was made on a cookie cutter formula. It's far from a bad movie, but there are others quite like it--and perhaps others that do what it does, only better.
All that said, I have to go with 7/10 stars for this one.
It's Like They Made the Terrible Sequel First
So, I first saw "Ouija: Origin of Evil" (2016) in the theater when it came out, and I thought it was fantastic--I gave it 9/10 stars. And so, of course, I decided to go and watch the first film in the series, simply titled, "Ouija". I did so despite my having been warned by a couple of friends that it was a pretty bad movie. But, come on, how bad could it really be??? "Origin of Evil" is AWESOME....so the first one must be pretty good, right?
Wrong. This movie is terrible. TERRIBLE.
About the only thing I can say for the movie is that it does more or less follow the storyline of the prequel (although there are some glitches there, too), and as such it was marginally fun to find out how the story ends, so to speak.
But, man, this movie just downright sucks all the way around. The plot is bad, the acting...is...OK, but nothing to write home about. The story is not developed at all, and it's like they just threw together a few general concepts and tossed it into a movie.
All that said, it really is like they made the terrible sequel first, after the hit horror movie. The 2016 prequel is leaps and bounds better than this movie. But this movie itself is weak as can be. 2/10 stars....a rating I have hardly ever given before. This one's bad folks. Real bad.
Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)
The Perfect Horror Film for a Non-Horror Fan
I'm a casual horror fan at best. I've seen a number of horror films spanning several time periods, from Hitchcock to 80's slasher films to a few from the 21st Century. Still, I'm not a huge horror buff, and I don't take in scary movies time and again the way that some people do.
That being said, I found "Ouija: Origin of Evil" to be the perfect horror movie for someone like myself who likes a good scary movie now and then, but isn't a huge horror buff. The movie is very well made, features good acting and has an intriguing plot. And, again taking into consideration my personal comfort zone with these type of movies, I found it to be the right blend of scary but not over the top intense. The movie is not very gory at all (it's rated PG-13--a rating I find appropriate for this film), and while it certainly does have its creepy side, it's not the kind of thing that's going to keep you up all night. Well, I suppose that's a subjective thing--but for me I found it to be a fun kind of scary, rather than an overly unsettling film.
In light of all that, I'm giving this movie 9/10 stars--a rating that I give to relatively few movies. I feel that this movie is deserving of that because it nails its aim, which is to be a well made horror flick that is "family friendly" so to speak, i.e. suitable for a teenage audience. If I had teenage kids, I'd definitely feel comfortable letting them see this movie--and I wouldn't mind sitting through it with them, as it was fun for me as an adult. Having seen it on October 25th, it's definitely helped get me in the mood for Halloween here in a few days!
A Fine Follow Up to the Original Serial
I'm giving this serial, "The Green Hornet Strikes Again", the same score that I gave its predecessor, the original "Green Hornet" serial movie--7/10 stars. Opting for the same score is an easy call since this serial follows the exact same formula as the original, albeit with a different actor assuming the lead role.
The gist of the film is that Brit Reid is a newspaper editor who assumes the mantle of a vigilante crime fighter, the Green Hornet. Armed with only his wits, a mask, and a gas gun that puts people to sleep upon firing, the Hornet fights lots of adventures, all related to one devious racketeer scheme. Each episode ends with a cliff hanger scene, and each new episode begins with the previous chapter being resolved, usually because something fortuitous happened that wasn't shown at the close of the previous episode.
I have to say that I did find these stories to grow on me a fair bit as I watched these two serials. One thing that came to mind is that the Green Hornet is essentially a very similar character to DC Comics' Golden Age Sandman--at least in terms of the crime fighter himself, although the alter ego is a bit different. The Hornet was first a radio serial starting in 1936, while the Sandman made his debut in comic book form in the summer of 1939. The first of these two serials was released in 1940, so it's a curious thought as to how much the Sandman character took its cue from the Hornet radio show, as well as how much these Hornet movie serials may have been influenced by the Sandman comics.
Whatever the case, all in all I'd give this serial 7/10 stars. Like the original, it's extremely well made and fun. The only reservation I have is that it does get a bit repetitive, and that despite its fun it's certainly a niche product that won't appeal to just anyone in a modern audience.
Oh, and before you go spending money on this serial, look for it on YouTube. I watched the entire fifteen chapters there for free!
Enjoyable, But Complicated
As soon as I saw this movie, I came home and had a phone call with an uncle of mine. He asked me what I'd been up to for the evening, and I told him I'd just got in from the movies. He asked me what I had seen, and that led me to trying to explain to him the plot of "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children". If you've seen it, I would suggest that you try to explain it to someone else. When you do, I think you'll agree that while it may be enjoyable, it is a bit too complicated.
So what is the movie about? A time traveling youth gets sent on a mission to stop a fellow group of evil time travelers from doing harm to a group of characters with fantastic powers who have taken refuge from the world by living in a single day in time that they repeat every single day of their lives by rewinding the day over and over again. So, basically a mix of the "X-Men" movies with "Groundhog Day". Only to make things all the more complex, there's a bit of a family drama involved, a bizarre love triangle between a pre-teen, a young man and his grandfather (seriously), and various monsters and shape shifters.
All that said, this is not a terrible movie. In fact, it's quite good in some regards. But it has a very complicated plot--perhaps as complicated as "Inception", if not more so (but not as enjoyable as "Inception").
All that said, while this is far from a bad movie, I have to go with 6/10 stars here simply because of the fact that I didn't find it to be of the caliber of what I tend to give a seven or above. Perhaps it's close to a seven--but there are lots of sevens out there that I like more than this film. It's worth seeing, and if you're into teen fiction it may float your boat. But I found it to be just a smidge too convoluted to be a huge fan.