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Worth the price of admission
What a great re-telling of a classic fairytale. This one is from Maleficent's point of view which creates a whole fresh new outlook from a story that's been done to death in so many previous ways.
I can't say enough about how awesome Angelina Jolie was in the titular role. She walks the fine line perfectly between playing a character who's viewed as the villain yet she plays her with a depth that rounds out to a vastly more sympathetic portrayal.
Elle Fanning was perfectly cast as sweet Aurora who's naivety is played with grace and honesty rather than as a bubble head who can't think for herself. I also loved Sam Riley as Maleficent's right hand "man" (or whatever he morphed into) because he too wasn't a two-dimensional bad-guy dimwit.
Sharlto Copley as King Stefan was brilliant casting as well because he pretty much became the part of the humble man who changed drastically as the film progressed. He's one of those under-the-radar actors who has real talent to play any role, though he does shine in the darker ones for certain.
There are some pretty cool twists in this version of Sleeping Beauty that I liked even more than the original telling and the special effects are fantastic. This is worth seeing in the theatres if you can.
Europa Report (2013)
Intelligent, low-key sci-fi
I like science fiction movies in general and this one appealed to me simply by the title. Though only a few of the cast members names were recognizable by me (Embeth Davidtz, Sharlto Copley, Michael Nyqvist), I took a shot and I'm glad I did.
In the not too distant future, an international crew of astronauts undertake a long journey to explore Jupiter's enigmatic ice moon Europa in a quest to determine if there are life forms existing there. The beauty of this film is that it's shot entirely in documentary form, always veering between the interview-like scenes of mission control back on Earth to the crew going about their preparation aboard the space craft, using shipboard cameras (and later, helmet cams) to follow the drama. The storyline is subtly done but engrossing, building up suspense as the movie goes on while never relying on cheesy special effects (though there are a few, well done special effects of note to be seen throughout) so it never loses that documentary feel that makes it unique. There's solid character development that's necessary to bolster this story along but the reward is some really cool and other worldly alien vistas when the crew finally arrive at Europa for what they hope is their final payoff.
So, if you're looking for one of those (admittedly fun) big blockbusters where stuff gets the crap blown out of it every other minute and the drama is way over the top, this may not be your kind of flick. If you like a subtler, slow building intensity to your sci fi movies, see this one. It's one that will keep you thinking about it even after the movie's ended. Worth a watch.
Mr Selfridge (2013)
Interesting turn of the century series
For starters, "Downton Abbey" this is not. For some odd reason, a few critics out there expected another blockbuster PBS/BBC miniseries in the same vein as "D.A." but that rarely ever happens.
That being said, "Mr. Selfridge" is certainly a well-made tale about the titular character who's wonderfully played by Jeremy Piven. A few critics made comments of some kind or other, claiming that the actor was just playing his Ari character from Entourage with a different wardrobe or whatever but that's an unfair assessment, at least in my opinion. Piven plays Selfridge as a mercurial, ambitious man, driven to be a success, even at the expense of his sweet but frustrated wife Rose, played by a glowing Frances O'Conner. I liked how they showed Harry, flaws and all. You root for him, even when he's being a knob to his wife and family because Piven gives him a likability despite his often over-driven personality.
The series weaves in several other human interest stories, fleshing out the people that helped make Selfridge's the successful store it became (and still is today). I especially liked the stories surrounding shop girl Agnes, rising slowly but steadily from dirt poor to a senior position, all the while getting romanced by not one but two of her handsome fellow co-workers. The writers even give O'Conner's "Rose" a tempted storyline with a hot young painter when she starts to feel neglected by Harry and grows suspicious of his after hours activities (which tended to include popular chorus girl and reigning tart, Ellen Love). Good stuff.
The series did start off a bit slow in the first two hours but once it picked up steam and you knew who was who and what was going on, it really began to hold it's own. If you want Downton style drama, well, this series won't match it but the acting in Mr Selfridge is first rate and the character's stories will draw you in and keep you there. Another good one from the PBS/BBC juggernaut.
John Carter (2012)
Better than the critics suggest
I loved the Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars series books so seeing this movie was a must. I'm glad I did, despite some of the critical negativity out there. It's a scifi movie in the more traditional sense, with the old fashioned tale of a hero rescuing an exotic princess from the villain. Traditional tale aside, the special effects were outstanding, and while the film varies from the original book in many areas, it's not bad at all. In fact, the changes add even more excitement to this tale of a wandering, disheartened civil war vet who finds himself transported to the red planet; they help flesh out several of the main characters in a way that helps those who haven't read the books understand who's who and what's what.
Taylor Kitsch is well cast as the titular John Carter and he plays him with a whole lot of depth and a bit of humor, showcasing his acting ability in a way that he couldn't on the TV show Friday Night Lights. Kitsch strikes me a talent that's going to stick around for awhile and grow into even bigger leading man roles. Good for him. Mark Strong is really making a name for himself playing the dark roles , like Matai Shang here, the mysterious and nefarious ancient Barsoomian changeling with questionable morals. He's so good at being bad that it's no wonder so many films cast him in nice, meaty, villainous parts. He's great at it.
This film was very good and again, it played out like an old time Hollywood space opera (with top notch special effects) and maybe didn't hold the critics attention with the usual sights of mindless crap blowing up (though there's plenty of large and small scale battles in this movie, FYI) or the typical dumbed down dialog that seems to be more and more prevalent in so many movies, but it's certainly not a flop or failure in any respect. Good story, good cast, entertaining as hell, especially for people who like original scifi. Check it out.
A Good Year (2006)
Good story that could've been a bit better
I watched this story about a money making narcissist who inherits a beloved vineyard in France mainly because of the star power it had in it (Russell Crowe, Albert Finney and Marion Cotillard, to name a few). It's gorgeously filmed, from the grey filtered coldness of the London scenes, to the warmer golden tones used in the French countryside scenes. Visually, this film rocked. Storywise, it had more promise than what wound up being the end result. What's good: Crowe plays an obnoxious, materialistic English trader named Max who conveys all the warmth of an iceberg through a good part of the film until he pulls his head out of his backside and starts to appreciate the happier memories of his youth with his uncle (an outstanding Albert Finney) and thus re-awakens his dormant humanity. It's cool to see an unlikable character like this mature into a better person as the film progresses. Though I'm no Russell Crowe fan, the man can act and carry a film, even if he's not the nicest person off screen. Very good support from Didier Bourdon (as the guy who truly loves and works the vineyard and sees it for what it could be), Tom Hollander (as Crowe's legal friend who plays the freewheeling cad with wonderful relish), and Abbie Cornish (in an early role, playing Crowe's long lost American cousin who's trying to find her roots). What's not so good? The story kept milking the unbelievable developing relationship between Crowe's jerky Max and Marion Cotillard's aloof Fanny, a woman who clearly thinks Max is a tool but lets herself get worn down by his questionable charm to eventually cave to him. They had no chemistry with each other and it all felt forced and dragged the main story down every time they wasted time on this particular chapter. So, watch it for beautiful French scenery, for great supporting characters (who really drive the story along) or if you love movies about wine. It's not bad; it's just not really amazing either. It's just fair.
Falling Skies (2011)
TNT makes good television
The TNT network proves again that it's a force to be reckoned with in the world of TV series. While the big named main networks are cranking out more and more brainless reality TV shows, this cable network is taking the higher road by creating another decent series. I'm already a fan of Leverage, Rizzoli & Isles, and Memphis Beat so add Falling Skies to that growing list. The storyline follows a rag-tag group of survivors, both civilian and military, as they try to escape the city limits of Boston since it's already fallen to alien invaders. This show isn't one of those flashy, cartoonish shows where the acting is over the top and the special effects play the main role; instead it's character driven and gritty, where each and every one of the main characters is flawed and human. No super heroes here. While the special effects in the show are quite good for the tube, it's the people and their stories you'll remember. I like the fact that the primary protagonist (played Noah Wyle) is a former American History professor who's thrust into the role of survivor, soldier and back up commander to Will Patton's hard edged military man Weaver. They don't see eye to eye on a lot of stuff but they still have a basic respect for each other. It should be noted that Colin Cunningham makes in appearance in episode 2 as a bad ass outlaw type who's equal parts borderline vicious but also manages to keep you from hating him completely because he does have some of the wittiest lines and rare moments of humor that show he's not as bad as he pretends to be. This is a good series that's definitely sci-fi but it has a good, methodical paced story developing with each episode. If you have a short attention span or hate sci fi, don't watch it. Otherwise, check out this real good series. It's worth it.
Step Into Liquid (2003)
Great, entertaining documentary
This is by far one of the most entertaining documentaries I've ever seen. While all docs are meant to be educational or enlightening, it's the rare one that amuses you as well and literally takes you somewhere else, like on a mini vacation to exotic locales right from your living room. Dana Brown's narration is wry and informative without being too over the top or wordy, never detracting from the drop dead gorgeous scenery the movie provides as we follow various surfers around the world. There's touches of humor here and there and, while some of the said surfers are certifiably nuts, you don't have to be a long or short boarder to enjoy this film. If you like good alternative tunes, amazing locations such as Malibu, Ireland, Hawai'i etc., then check out this cool little jewel of a documentary.
Good dark humor
I'm a Johnny-come-lately to this perfectly weird but truly addictive toon for grown ups and now I'm a total fan. The story revolves around the metal band Dethklok, five badass but hilariously stupid dudes who live in Mordland, a fictional place set amongst our non fictional world. The band is listed as the twelfth largest grossing corporation on the planet (or some such thing) which puts them square in the cross-hairs of an equally weird but completely deranged group of world leaders who meet in secret to discuss ways to infiltrate the band's realm. What makes it darkly funny is that the guys themselves are oblivious to the nefarious baddies and their evil plan, yet somehow they're able to overcome whatever attempt is made on them by said bad guys while still remaining blissfully clueless. The dialogue is often coarse and many of the situations Dethklok gets themselves into might offend the very sensitive at heart but this animated series in not for the faint of heart. It's funny, wry, dark and unique. I'd like to mention that the tunes completely rock, melding a heavy driving sound with some bizarro and often comical lyrics. With names like Nathan Explosion (the lead singer whose parents are, in fact, Mr. and Mrs. Explosion, which cracks me up), William Murderface (the foul-mouthed, lisping bass guitarist), Pickles (the pickled drummer with the seriously bad corn-rowed 'do), Skwisgaar (the Swedish lead guitarist who'll boff ANY woman, no matter how old she is) and Toki (the sweetly dense rhythm guitarist who forever lives in Skwisgaar's shadow). I hope there's going to be many more seasons to come because this animated show is better than the usual offerings out there. Keep 'em coming!
Good, fast paced action flick
This is not the deepest of movies but it sure is one hell of a ride. The story centers on a runaway train (caused by the lazy impatience of said train's engineer) that starts it's juggernaut run through the mill towns of Pennsylvania. The action kicks in fairly quickly, within the first 15 or so minutes of the film and there begins the craziness. Denzel Washinton and Chris Pine display a nice bit of chemistry as engineer and conductor respectively, one a member of the "old guard" that's being pushed out involuntarily to make way for the "new blood". The clash a bit in the beginning but slowly form a believable working relationship. It's nice to see the Federal Railroad Administration inspector (ably played by the low-key Kevin Corrigan) as a helpful character rather than as the usual Hollywood stereotype as "bumbling government guy who messes stuff up worse" character. It's refreshing. There are a few minor holes in the plot concerning the way they try to stop the train but overlook those because this movie is a great, old-fashioned action/adventure that keeps rolling along like (forgive me, seriously) a "freight train". It's just a fun, on the edge of your seat type of film. See it.
Warehouse 13 (2009)
A new favorite of mine
SyFy (nee "The SciFi Channel") can usually be counted on to air some pretty interesting series; everything from humorous scifi light (Eureka for instance) to the darker, intense stuff (Battlestar Galactica and it's spin off, Caprica). I would definitely put "Warehouse 13" into the previous category rather than the latter. It's a cool quirky series that knows how to have fun with it's six primary, very different, series regulars. Saul Rubinek's Artie Nielsen, who acts as a sort of curator to the warehouse is the gruff, often exasperated anchor point to the rest of the crew and I have to admit: I wasn't crazy about his character at first but he really grew on me. He's kind of like that grouchy uncle you have that really has a heart of gold underneath. C. C. H. Pounder (as regent Mrs. Frederic) is one of those powerful actors who plays such a strong but subtle role brilliantly. Love seeing her on the little screen after such an amazing amount of varied roles on both the tube and the silver screen. The whole cast is a nice mish-mash of personalities that compliment one another but I have to admit a growing favorite of mine is Allison Scagliotti's "Claudia Donovan", who's funny, bright, endearing and occasionally flawed which makes her all the more likable. She winds up getting into some seriously funny messes that require the leads (an equally humorous Eddie McClintock and perfect straight-man Joanne Kelly as agents Lattimer and Bering) to bail her out. The weekly series always has some really cool artifact that belonged to some famous historical figure that wields some kind of science-bending power to it and the leads are tasked with retrieving said artifacts without getting themselves killed or some such other disaster. This show is good and it's getting better with every new episode (thanks to excellent writing) and it's definitely worth checking out if you're not already a fan.