About Time - movie review

SCORE: B+

This is a good date movie, as my wife can attest.

SPOILERS TO FOLLOW:

The story of a young man who learns from his father—played by the great Bill Nighy—that the men in their family have the ability to travel back-and-forth through time. Now, the father stipulates that you can only travel back in time through your own life, so you can’t go back and kill Hitler or something, he points out.

It’s a heart-warming film that I’m glad goes beyond the question: “Will he get the girl?” That’s kind of only the first 20 minutes. You get to see Tim played by Domhnall Gleeson (who I only realized recently was the son of Brenden Gleeson), learn the pit-falls of time travel. First he uses it to do small things, like going back in time to when he should have kissed a girl on New Year’s Eve. Then he uses it to go back and ask out a friend of the family who stays with them for the summer. Then he uses it to help out his father’s friend Harry, played by Tom Hollander in a hilarious roll. (Both Hollander and Bill Nighy also star together in Disney’s Pirates films, btw) Going back in time to help Harry, changes Tim’s date with the girl of his dreams: Mary played by the adorable Rachel McAdams. But since they’re fated to be together, Tim later meets Mary again under different circumstances.

Eventually they marry and have a child. But when Tim’s screw-up sister gets in a bad car accident, he goes back in time to stop her from driving... only to find out that this action has changed the sex of his baby. He consults his father and the father tells him that now that he has a child, it’s best not to go back before they’re born, something the father found out for himself when he was a young man.

So there’s some interesting stuff done with Tim’s ability to time-travel, although I kept feeling that there could have been more done with it, but again that wasn’t the point of the story. The story is an intimate look at one family, not a globe-spanning political/war piece.

I recommend this film.

Muppets Most Wanted - movie review

SCORE: B+

The 8th theatrical Muppets movie is good. A funny film that is good for all ages.

I’m not sure which of the new Muppet movies I like better. Probably the 2011 one, but this one is still pretty good (my favorite will always be 1992’s “The Muppet Christmas Carol”). They go a bit over the top in the first 5 minutes with a whole song-and-dance number about the fact the this film is a sequel. It’s funny, but unnecessary.

My favorite thing about the flick was watching Sam Eagle do his investigator thing with Ty Burrell, who I’d never heard of before, so I didn’t know that he was a known actor. They’re scenes are pretty funny. Ricky Gervais and Tina Fey are also both great.

“Muppets Most Wanted” is more globe-trotting than any of its predecessors, which I liked a lot.

One of the most fun things about Muppets films is trying to pick out which actors show up, from singers Tony Bennett, Lady Gaga, Celine Dion, and Sean Combs, to Zach Galifianakis, Josh Groban, Salma Hyek, Ray Liotta, James McAvoy Stanley Tucci, and Danny Trejo (as Danny Trejo) among many others. Here’s a list: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muppets_Most_Wanted

I was raised in the early ‘80s, during the decline of the Muppet’s original popularity, so it’s interesting to me to see the emergence of the Muppet’s popularity again. It’s kind of like watching the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles show. I was raised during the TMNT’s original popularity, I was pleased to see them come back again in the early 2000s, and now they’re really coming back strong with the new Nickelodean show. It’s a fun process to witness.

The Spectacular Now - movie review

SCORE: C-

First off, I’ve heard good things about this film, but I have no idea what other critics saw that I didn’t.

This film should actually be called “The Awesome Now” because they say the word “awesome” about as often as they say “Old Sport” in “The Great Gatsby”. They say it a lot. It’s very annoying and distracting. The dialogue seems naturally spoken, almost impromptu, except that every other word is “awesome”. Ugh.

Did I mention that they use the word “awesome” a lot? They do.

Miles Teller as the main character Sutter is kind of a dick, an anti-hero. But the thing about anti-heroes is that even though they’re rough around the edges, they’re supposed to have redeeming qualities. Sutter has none. Shailene Woodley does a good job as Aimee, Sutter’s new girlfriend. Again, Sutter himself has no redeeming qualities (even turning Aimee to alcoholism, putting hard liquor in everything they drink), so it’s hard to understand why Aimee falls for him. But Sutter is supposedly the first guy who has expressed interest in her, so I guess that’s why.

I do like that the people in the film look like real people. It seems that they’re not wearing any make-up. It’s either a good make-up job, or the Direct of Photography did a good job.

Everything in this film seems under-acted, like they’re not really into it and just going through the motions. There are arguments, but no one really yells. There’s a short sex scene, but only slightly heavier-than-normal breathing... before the screen and sound fades out completely. Shailene Woodley’s character supposedly has a big blowout with her mom, but it isn’t shown onscreen. Sutter meets his deadbeat dad, but the dad doesn’t seem THAT deadbeat. I’ve seen more powerful deadbeat dad stories on “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” and “Boy Meets World”. After he meets his dad, Sutter confronts his mom, but it’s done almost in whispers.

I don’t recommend this film. It’s not awesome. It’s only so-so at best.

Noah - movie review

NOAH

SCORE: B+

I liked specific things about Darren Aronofsky’s film and thought as a whole it was very well-done. Some filmmaking choices are very strange and kind of throw you out of the movie. And I wish that the music was more memorable. The film tries to be inspiring at the end ... shortly after being a chamber horror flick that some have said makes Noah seem like Jack Nicholson from “The Shining”. And I agree. The inspiration at the end is a little too late for its own good.

My consensus is: If you’re a religious person, you’re probably going to take much offense to Aronofsky’s film, which makes many changes to the Biblical narrative. If you’re not a religious person, you won’t have qualms with it, other than some of the strange choices made in the filmmaking itself.

The film is overall very well acted. Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly are of course great actors. I saw a review that said that Ray Winstone is in this film... “playing Ray Winstone”, which I agree with. He’s a good actor, but always plays the same character. Emma Watson and Logan Lerman (who plays Ham) both do a great job. Anthony Hopkins is great as always as Noah’s grandfather Methuselah.

There’s a lot of good choices made in the filmmaking, such as adding more about Noah’s survivor’s guilt, more of his pondering the choices that he makes, the additions from midrash/the Book of Enoch. But then there are some really strange choices made, like Methuselah has a fiery angelic sword that he stabs into the ground, killing tens of thousands of soldiers. Okay...

Portraying the Watchers as deformed stone giants that look a lot like the rock creature from “Galaxy Quest” is a really, really strange choice. Once explained in the context of the film it makes sense though—they were angels cast out of Heaven, falling to the earth as meteors, striking the ground and rising covered in molten lava that cooled, hence their volcanic rock bodies. On Wikipedia, they are described as stone golems. Aha! Nice. Now that makes sense. However, I would rather had their sin be what it was in Book of Enoch (that they coupled with humans, begetting evil giants—the Nephilim http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_enoch).

 In the film, the Watchers’ great sin is simply teaching the humans civilization (a la Prometheus). That doesn’t seem heinous enough to be thrown out of Heaven, but whatever. Btw, when the Watchers fight the humans, it’s very reminiscent of the scene in “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” where the Ents fight the Orcs at Isengard.

I really liked the choice of having the mammals in the film be portrayed as prehistoric mammals (for the most part). I noticed Indricotherium (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paraceratherium), Macrauchenia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macrauchenia), Megacerops (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megacerops), and Giant sloths (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megatherium) among other things. The only weird choice was inventing animals out of whole cloth, such as the half wolf/half pangolin at the beginning of the film. Huh? (See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pangolin)

I liked the evolution scene when Noah retells the beginning of Genesis. I liked Adam/Eve as glowing beings and the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil portrayed as a pomegranate (or a beating heart?) because traditionally the fruit was interpreted as a pomegranate, not an apple. I really liked that the descendants of Seth had the snakeskin from Eden, and wrapped it around their left arms like tefillin (http://bit.ly/PUOxAU). I also liked near the end, where there is a flashing montage of silhouettes of soldiers from all different ages of man.

I like that the Ark is shown to be made of wood sealed with asphalt (bitumen), but what the hell is “zohar” in the film? It’s a substance that is mined from the ground. It looks like luminescent gold and has the ability to explode. What the hell? “Zohar” is usually thought of as the religious text (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zohar), but “zohar” also means “radiance, splendor, or brightness” in Hebrew.

I liked the area around the Watchers/Methuselah’s mountain, which is a burned wasteland guarded by deaths-head structures. I also liked how the birds on the Ark are put to sleep by smoke (that doesn’t affect humans). Later, Noah’s family is shown waving censors of the smoke through the aisles, putting the birds to sleep. I like the Catholic iconography. The scene of the reptiles coming to the Ark is cool and right out of one of Indiana Jones’ nightmares. The painters Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter “Hell” Brueghel would have loved Noah’s visions of death and destruction.

I did not like the clothing of the people in the film, who look much more Medieval than they do Bronze-Age, like they’re supposed to be. Speaking of that: The humans descended from Cain in this film have technological machines. Yes, like actual machines... Huh? And Tubal-cain uses a 20th-century, polarized welding helmet. WHAT? In the Bible, Tubal-cain is described as the “forger of all instruments of bronze and iron”, ok, but having him use a 20th-century tool like a welding helmet is crazy.

Naamah (Jennifer Connelly’s character) is stated in the Bible to be Tubal-cain’s sister, but that isn’t mentioned in the film. But the idea of Naamah being Noah’s wife comes from midrash (Genesis Rabba 23.3). I like that Aronofsky included that bit. Also in the Bible, Tubal-cain’s father is Lamech (whose father is Methusael), while Noah’s father is also named Lamech (whose father is Methuselah). Confused? Me too.

Also, some critics cite the fact that Noah chastises his son for picking a flower shortly before killing a man in cold blood. Please! Noah hardly chastises his son, more like quietly explains a lesson to him. And he doesn’t just kill a dude for no reason. He kills THREE dudes who surround him and say that they’re going to kill him and eat him. I’d say that’s pretty justified killing on Noah’s part.

Some Christians have taken issue with Noah being portrayed as an environmentalist. (From wikipedia: “Jerry Johnson, president of the National Religious Broadcasters, didn't like the director’s description of Noah as the “first environmentalist”. Johnson called the film’s “insertion of the extremist environmental agenda” a major concern”.) Oh, please! What’s wrong with being an environmentalist? Why are people who believe humans were made to dominate the earth so against sustaining/saving the environment? That makes no sense to me. Religious Christians should be the first ones in line to recycle and preach about saving the planet. Whatever.

In the film, Ham and Noah are estranged. This reflects the Curse of Ham from the Bible. In Rabbinic tradition, the Curse of Canaan (Ham’s fourth son) was either because Ham sodomized his father Noah, castrated him, or both. Good lord. (find info about this here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curse_of_Ham)

The Silmarillion - Book Report

I finally read “The Silmarillion”!

JRR Tokien began “The Silmarillion” before he wrote “The Hobbit”, worked on it periodically throughout his lifetime, and worked more on it after the publication of “The Lord of the Rings”. “The Silmarillion” was first called “The Legendarium” and it is the history of the First Age of Middle-Earth with a little bit of the Second and Third Ages (LOTR takes place at the end of the Third Age). Some people have jokingly called it the Elvish Bible. And indeed it feels that way because it begins with a Creation Story, has the Histories of the wars of Middle-Earth and what the different Elvish clans did throughout the ages, and hints at a Last Battle to come. This makes it feel much like the Tanakh (Old Testament) with its different sections like the Prophets and Writings.

There are references to “The Silmarillion” in all of Tolkien’s other works. You hear about Earendil and the Numoreans in LOTR. You get Galdalf’s reference to Udun and Arnor when he fights the Balrog in “Fellowship of the Ring”. You hear references to Elbereth, who is the god Varda (See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Elbereth_Gilthoniel) and there’s the references to Feanor, Celebrimbor, Beleriand, and the depiction of the Two Trees of Valinor on the door of the Moria Gate in Chapter 4 of “Fellowship of the Ring” (http://bit.ly/1oKuOyb). But you don’t get the full story of any of these things until you read The Silmarillion.

Yes, the book is hard to get through, even for a person like me who loves the intricacies of history and scholarship (See *** below for my full rant about this), but it is well worth reading.

There main sections are the Ainulindale, the Valaquenta, the Quenta Silmarillion, the Akallabeth, and Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age (a brief 20-page summary of the 1,000-page Lord of the Rings tale).

The Ainulindale is really amazing and beautiful Creation Story where Eru, the One God, makes many other gods and then has them sing the physical world into existence. I’d love to spend a lifetime making paintings of my impressions of it.

The Valaquenta starts to get confusing, with an explanation of what the gods did for the next few thousand years. There are the powerful gods (the Valar) and the lesser gods (the Maiar), more like angels than gods. Sauron, Gandalf, Saruman, and the Balrogs are all Maiar spirits (and maybe even other creatures in Middle-Earth like the giant spiders Shelob and Ungoliant, the giant eagles, and the Great Goblin from the Hobbit). But they throw around so many names that it starts to get confusing who did what.

The next section is the Quenta Silmarillion, the main section of the book that tells of the making of three beautiful jewels, the Silmarils, which are stolen by the evil god Morgoth. The Elves try for the rest of the book to get them back, to varying degrees of success. The story of Beren and Luthien is very good, about a mortal Man and an immortal Elf-maiden who fall in love and go on a journey to get back a Silmaril, even sneaking into Morgoth’s realm. When you get to Chapter 20 (the Nirnaeth Arnoediad), it’s crazy to read about Orcs chopping off the hands and feet of an Elf-king before beheading him in front of the Elvish army. The tragic story of Turin Turambar was consciously based on Kullervo from the Kalevala. It was hard for me to get through because it felt overly long, but in the end I liked it. The War of Wrath section, where the gods finally defeat the evil god, is very interesting, too.

Here’s a really great passage from “The Silmarillion” that will show you why it’s both a great read and a difficult read: ““But now in the western battle Fingon and Turgon were assailed by a tide of foes thrice greater than all the force that was left to them. Gothmog, Lord of Balrogs, high-captain of Angband, was come; and he drove a dark wedge between the Elvenhosts, surrounding King Fingon, and thrusting Turgon and Hurin aside towards the Fen of Serech. Then he turned on Fingon. That was a grim meeting. At last Fingon stood alone with his guard dead about him; and he fought with Gothmog, until another Balrog came behind and cast a thong of fire about him. Then Gothmog hewed him with his black axe, and a white flame sprang up from the helm of Fingon as it was cloven. Thus fell the High King of the Noldor; and they beat him into the dust with their maces, and his banner, blue and silver, they trod into the mire of his blood” (Chapter 20, pg 193-194).

My favorite part of “The Silmarillion” was probably the Akallabeth, the story of Numenor, an island given to Men by the gods and how they lose it. Really interesting stuff here, with Sauron being captured by the Numenoreans and how he corrupts everyone into defying not only the gods (the Valar) but also the One God (Eru Iluvatar). The destruction of Numenor is very well-done.

The last section, Of The Rings of Power and the Third Age, is interesting to read because it gives more info about the things that were going on in the background of the Hobbit and the LOTR, which are now being shown in the Hobbit films (even though the filmmakers don’t own the rights to “The Silmarillion”, so I’m not totally sure how they can incorporate some of this stuff). I’d LOVE to see a BBC mini-series of “The Silmarillion”. Maybe Peter Jackson can produce it?

 

*** Yes, there are some difficult names to realize how to pronounce, from Thangorodrim and Nan Dungortheb to Nargothrond, Menegroth, Taniquetil and Alquolonde. Did you get all those?

There are the Valar, the Vanyar, and then there’s Vinyamar and Valinor. Doriath is also called Menegroth and Eglador, depending on what Tolkien felt like calling it. The Elves have two names for everything (in Quenya and Sindarin) as well as Numenorean names for things... and sometimes things are listed in their Dwarvish names. And not only that but things and even people are often renamed by other people at different times. Hoo boy.

It’s hard to keep track of who is who when there are similar-sounding names like Tuor, Turin, and Turgon (the first is the son of a great warrior, the second is his cousin and also a great warrior, and the third is a High Elf... are you confused yet?). Then there’s Finarfin, Fingolfin, Fingon, and Finrod. Then there’s Mablung and Maedhros and then there’s Celeborn, Celebrian, and Celebrimbor.

The evil god is called Melkor, but also Morgoth and sometimes Bauglir.  Sometimes the world is called Arda, sometimes Aman. Okay. But then there’s Beleriand, Ossiriand, and Middle-Earth. Um... what? The wars of “The Silmarillion” are all named with official Quenya titles, such as the Dagor Aglareb, the Dagor Bragollach, the Dagor-nuin-Giliath, and the Nirnaeth Arnoediad.

There’s also two types of Elves, the Light Elves and the Dark Elves. Okay, I get that. The Dark Elves are also called the Sindar and the Light Elves are called the Eldar. Okay. But there are three different clans of Eldar: the Noldor, the Vanyar, and the Teleri. Sigh.

I understand why Tolkien wrote things like this, though. He loved Medieval scholarship (he taught it at Oxford) and he specifically loved Finnish. If you look at the Finnish Kalevala, there’s Kullervo son of Kalervo, and there’s Vainamoinin and Sampsa Pellervoinin, and Ukko, Anikki, and Kyllikki. There are the difficult to pronounce Joukahainen,  Ilmarinen, and Lemminkainen. Tolkien’s Ainur sounds like the Kalevala’s  Aino and Tolkien’s Utumno sounds like the Kalevala’s Untamo. And Tolkien’s Silmarils are similar to the Sampo from the Kalevala.

And if you listen to this series of lectures http://amzn.to/1frbw0p, he goes over how Tolkien was putting the rhythms of Germanic epic poetry into sections like: “But now in the western battle Fingon and Turgon were assailed by a tide of foes thrice greater than all the force that was left to them. Gothmog, Lord of Balrogs, high-captain of Angband, was come; and he drove a dark wedge between the Elvenhosts, surrounding King Fingon, and thrusting Turgon and Hurin aside towards the Fen of Serech. Then he turned on Fingon. That was a grim meeting. At last Fingon stood alone with his guard dead about him; and he fought with Gothmog, until another Balrog came behind and cast a thong of fire about him. Then Gothmog hewed him with his black axe, and a white flame sprang up from the helm of Fingon as it was cloven. Thus fell the High King of the Noldor; and they beat him into the dust with their maces, and his banner, blue and silver, they trod into the mire of his blood” (pg 193-194).

her - movie review

MOVIE REVIEW: A+

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a film smarter than this film, a very touching work by Spike Jonze. It reminded me of earlier sci-fi like ‘2001: A Space Odessey’ and in fact, I think that Stanley Kubrick would have enjoyed this film a lot.

----SPOILER ALERT from here on out----

I went to see the film with a group of people. Some of them came out of it saying, “That was so awkward,” ... as if that were a bad thing. Scenes in the film are SUPPOSED TO BE awkward. That’s like coming out of watching “Patriot Games” or “Argo” complaining that it was a gripping, well-made film or that “Star Wars: A New Hope” was visually stunning and exciting.

I’ve always enjoyed watching Joaquin Phoenix since I saw him as Cesar in ‘Gladiator’. Excellent actor. The voice of Samantha (the Artificial Intelligence operating system) is both touching and sexy. In the credits I learned that she was voice by Scarlett Johansson, so I guess that makes sense. I was also very glad to see Amy Adams in this film. I think she’s a really good actress and have liked her in all of her films, from ‘Enchanted’ and ‘The Muppets’ to movies that I don’t even like (‘Talladega Nights’) to films that I disliked (‘On the Road’) or even downright hated (‘The Master’).

Anyway, many of the people I saw this film with considered a relationship between a man and an AI to be far off in the future. Well, I hate to break it to them, but the possibility of a relationship between a human and an AI is probably only about 15 years away, according to the works of Ray Kurzweil. Kurzweil predicts that an AI that “can pass for a human being” will occur in 2029. So get ready for that...

The relationship between Theodore and Samantha goes through just about every iteration one could think of: from friends, to puppy-love, to virtual sex, to incorporating another human so that Samantha can act vicariously in a human body, to the AI having relationships with around 600 humans simultaneously, to the AIs creating/programming more of their own (the AIs get together and create an AI of philosopher Alan Watts based on his writings, to the AIs finally realizing that they have to leave the Earth altogether and branch out somewhere else. Where they go is not related because Theodore will not be able to comprehend it, but I’d wager that it’s similar to the Awakening of the Universe that Ray Kurzweil describes in ‘The Singularity is Near’. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Predictions_made_by_Ray_Kurzweil#The_Singularity_is_Near_.282005.29)

CONS:

The only real cons I can think of was that the actress that played Catherine was way too young. She’s Theodore’s ex-wife and they are supposed to be the same age or nearly the same age, having grown up together. But Rooney Mara is clearly younger than Joaquin Phoenix. I looked it up and indeed Mara is 28, while Joaquin Phoenix is 39. (Oddly enough, there was another actress that was supposed to play the role, ‘The Great Gatsby’s Carey Mulligan, but she’s also 28. By the way, I’m glad that she wasn’t in the role of Catherine. I don’t understand what all of the hubbub is about Mulligan. She’s not that great an actress.)

Other references:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Singularity_Is_Near

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The Great Gatsby - DVD movie review

SCORE: B+

I have to say that I liked ‘The Great Gatsby’ a lot. I still don’t care for the story itself, but the film was enjoyable to watch and it’s the only Baz Luhrmann film I’ve been able to sit through pleasurably. (Normally I find that watching a Baz Luhrmann film is akin to watching a manic child run around the room jangling keys.)

I hadn’t read ‘The Great Gatsby’ novel since high school and just remember hating it. And I didn’t remember much of it because I read it for homework, but I didn’t really follow the actual events. I remembered that Gatsby had a house, that Daisy had the green light across the water, and that there was a car accident. Aside from that, I didn’t remember much else. In seeing the film, I was able to understand the actual events better.

I liked the look of ‘The Great Gatsby’ a lot. It seems to me that it’s a recent film convention to suck much of the color out of a picture in post-production, oddly making many new films almost sepia-toned/B&W. (See the first two Harry Potter films versus the final four for an example of this. The longer the Harry Potter films series ran, the more-and-more each film seemed devoid of color.) I’m glad to say that ‘The Great Gatsby’ is the exact opposite. It is bright and gleaming, with almost too much color, like ‘Oz the Great and Powerful’. I enjoyed this, though.

I really liked Joel Edgerton as Tom in this film. He did a good job playing an odious character.

Blink and you’ll miss Luhrmann’s cameo as a waiter about halfway through the film.

CONs:

I really hated that Baz Luhrmann used contemporary R&B/rap music, like Jay-Z and others. And there’s even some of that stupid auto-tune voice in the film. Ugh. However, I greatly appreciated the inclusion of ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ by George Gershwin.

Prepare to start calling everyone “old sport” from now on because it will be stuck in your head after watching the film. Gatsby says “old sport” at least 400 times in the film. But I remember him doing so in the novel, too, so at least it’s accurate.

Personally, I don’t think that Carey Mulligan was a good Daisy. She’s a good actress, but I just don’t think she’s pretty enough to be the character Daisy. I mean, she’s got to be so attractive and memorable that you can believe that Gatsby pines for her for five years, attains his phenomenal wealth for, and throws lavish parties every weekend solely for her. And I just didn’t believe that while watching the movie.

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Saving Mr. Banks - movie review

SCORE: A

This is a really good film, directed by John Lee Hancock (best known for the hits ‘The Blind Side’ and ‘The Rookie’ and the mega-flop ‘The Alamo’). Everyone in this film is a character, from PL Travers to Walt Disney to the Sherman Brothers.

Emma Thompson does an amazing job as the enigmatic and often offending P.L. Travers, author of the Mary Poppins books. (Although Thompson’s sort of just playing the same character she did in ‘Stranger Than Fiction’—an impolite British writer—but this time it’s historical.) Go see the movie for info on Travers’ dealings with Walt Disney, but some of her background info is interesting to read, too (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P._L._Travers). She demanded that people call her Mrs. Travers, although her last name wasn’t Travers and she never married. In fact, she was known to be bisexual. She also pretended to be British, but wasn’t. The film gets a lot of historical things right about Travers, even down to showing that she had a book by Gurdjieff. (If while watching the film, you don’t believe that PL Travers was really as prickly as portrayed, stick around during the credits for some real audio.)

Tom Hanks did a really great job as Walt Disney. He had the mid-western accent down, as well as the cadence of Disney’s speech. It’s interesting that the filmmakers were never allowed to show Disney smoking because the company is protective of his image. (The company even goes so far as to digitally edit out cigarettes from Disney’s hands in photographs. No joke.) In the film, Hanks is heard coughing deeply off-camera and in one scene is shown putting out a cigarette butt, but that’s as far as they were allowed to take it. It’s strange to me that the Disney company tries to hide the fact that the real Disney smoked. I mean, he died of lung cancer because of the habit. You’d think they’d use that info to somehow make anti-smoking ads or something, not sweep it under the rug. Rant over. Back to my movie review:

Jason Schwartsman and BJ Novak were well-cast as the Sherman brothers. Jason sang, too. I didn’t know that he could. BJ Novak as the darker of the two brothers, who even walked with a cane. (The real Bob Sherman was shot during WWII.) Bradley Whiford also did well as storyman Don Degradi. He looked so familiar to me. I was sure he was the guy from ‘The West Wing’ (or at least that’s how I know him) and I was right. Paul Giamatti also did a fine job as Ralph the limo driver. Like Hanks and Thompson, I’ve never disliked Giamatti in anything.

This is the only film that I have ever liked Colin Farrell in. He played the whimsical father of PL Travers, who was also an alcoholic. In the film they sort of let you think that it was the alcoholism that killed him, but in reality he died of the flu at age 43. I looked it up. Annie Rose Buckley also did a very good job as the young PL Travers.

What more is there to say? It’s a great film. Go out and see it.

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The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug - movie review

SCORE: B+

SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Did I like the film? Yes.

Did I like it as well as any of 'the Lord of the Rings' films? No.

The entire time I was watching it I kept thinking: “That’s not in the book.” “That’s not in the book.” “That’s not in the book.” “That’s not in the book.” “That’s not in the book.”

See the pattern there?

I’m actually shocked at the shameless way that Peter Jackson and Co. are beefing up the Hobbit book. I mean, the book is 300 pages! And they make THREE, three-hour films out of it? Holy shit. That’s like making three, three-hour films out of ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ (which was also around 300 pgs).

There were things about the movie that I loved. Smaug the dragon is probably the best movie dragon ever. Amazing CG and with the voice of Benedict Cumberbatch he’s like the evil version of Sean Connery’s Draco (from ‘Dragonheart’).  But again, the majority of Smaug’s scenes were completely made up by Jackson. There’s even a beyond-necessarily long scene involving a big foundry in Erebor (the dwarves’ kingdom) that results in a strange scene with a giant golden statue that’s halfway solidified.

I really liked the ‘skin-changer’ character Beorn in the book. He wasn’t as interesting in the film as I was hoping he would be. His giant bear form was cool, but in his human form he looked sort of like Lon Chaney (the Wolfman).

I really liked the shadowy figure of the Necromancer (SPOILER: it’s Sauron, the baddie from LOTR, but you probably already knew that). He’s about the only addition to the movies that I enjoy (although I also enjoyed seeing where Gandalf went off to in the first Hobbit film, which is only alluded to in the Hobbit book). I think the Necromancer is only mentioned in about two throwaway sentences in the book. Here it’s explained more who the bigwigs (the White Council) think he is.

The elven king of Mirkwood, Thranduil, is pretty cool, a very cold and severe king. There’s an interseting scene with Thorin where he allows his face to revert (I guess) to show that he was once burned by a dragon ages ago.

Luke Evans as Bard the Bowman looks like Orlando Bloom which isn’t bad. It was just off-putting. I kept thinking he was Bloom. But it’s weird that Bloom is even in this flick... because Legolas is not in the book. (But Legolas IS the son of Thranduil, who IS in the book... and really Legolas probably would have been in the book, too, had Tolkien invented his character at the time. In all honesty, it’s only mentioned in LOTR that Legolas is Thranduil’s son as a tie to the original Hobbit book.)

And there’s a new female elf named Tauriel, who is cool in her own right, but she was given a really, really stupid love triangle between Legolas and Kili the dwarf. I heard that this addition was asked for by the MGM studio (good job, morons) and that Jackson had to reluctantly do it. Evangeline Lilly, the actress who plays Tauriel, was apparently pissed about this because she played a character on the TV show ‘Lost’ who was in a love triangle, too. (I don’t know for sure as I never got into that stupid show.)

I liked seeing Peter Jackson’s cameo at the beginning of the film in Bree, in a similar cameo to his in ‘Fellowship of the Ring’.

The Laketown scenes are ok, but I felt there was a lot more that they could have done.

I honestly have no idea what the third Hobbit film will be like as the actual storyline from the Hobbit book is almost over. All they’ve got is the killing of Smaug and then the Battle of Five Armies.  The filmmakers could probably cover it in about 20 minutes, but knowing Jackson, he’ll probably push it to like 90 minutes... but what will the other 90 minutes involve? I have no idea. Perhaps because there won’t be much to compare to the original novel, that I’ll like it more than the first two Hobbit films. 

Here's a good article expressing how I felt about some of the scenes: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/seth-abramson/the-top-5-most-prepostero_b_4446500.html

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Epic - DVD movie review

SCORE: B-/C+

First off, although I liked ‘Horton Hears a Who’ a lot more than this film, ‘Epic’ is WAY better than Blue Sky Studio’s other animated films, such as the silly ‘Ice Age’ series, and ‘Robots’.

Secondly, this is yet another film inspired by a William Joyce book, ‘Epic’ being inspired by ‘The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs’ book. His other books made into films are: ‘Meet the Robinsons’ and ‘Rise of the Guardians’ and he also worked on the ‘Ice Age’ series and ‘Robots’. How the hell do I get my books as well marketed as Joyce’s?

Anyway, ‘Epic’ is a decent children’s movie, but it suffers from A LOT of weird choices in the filmmaking. I don’t think it nears the greatness of a Pixar film (which works for both children AND adults) or even a Disney picture. It’s about as good as a Dreamworks film.

Oddly enough, even though many characters are introduced in the film, the first time we hear anyone’s name is 7 minutes in. And some characters are NEVER named, such as MK’s father or the evil Boggan king’s son. They have names, they’re just expressed in the film, which I think is bad filmmaking.

The main character is Mary Katherine (MK)played by Amanda Seyfried and named after William Joyce’s deceased daughter. MK’s Dad (Professor Bomba)is played by SNL’s Jason Sudeikis. Queen Tara is played by Beyonce Knowles, who seems out of place in this film, like a hip-talking queen. It’s weird. The tough LeafMan Ronin is played by Collin Ferrell for some reason, as no other character has an Irish accent. The obvious mate for MK is Nod, played by ‘The Huger Games’s  Josh Hutcherson, but I think his character is sort of unlikable. The evil king of the Boggans is finally named about 50 minutes into the movie as Mandrake and played by Cristoph Waltz, the evil Hans Landa from Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Inglourious Basterds’. The silly slug characters, Mub and Grub, are played by Aziz Ansari, from TV series ‘Parks and Recreation’, and Chris O’Dowd (whoever the hell he is). A frog character named Mr. Bufo is played by a Latin rapper for unknown reasons, named Armando Perez, with the silly stage name Pitbull. The character that sort of looks like a giant Waterbear, Nim Galuu, is played by Aerosmith’s Seven Tyler in yet another weird voice choice. I liked him, though, because he reminded me of Mel Brooks.

All the characters are very antagonistic towards each other... all the time. Even down to the slug Mub trying to parse words with Nod because he likes MK. All the character faces look good, but the animation is stilted or something. I don’t know what it is. They’re jerky, like the animators are over-animating. That being said, the character design in this film is very good. The Leafmen remind me of the Elves from ‘Lord of the Rings’. And the bad Boggans wear skulls on their heads, which is cool.

There’s a beautiful scene where Queen Tara walks across the water. And I liked the way phalanxes of Leafmen archers hopped over each other when fighting with the Boggans. And I liked the scene where MK and Nod fight the mouse.

Some things don’t make sense. The small people are said to move at a faster rate than humans can easily see, and indeed when MK sees the Queen, she flickers even while laying still, as if she’s still going fast. Even bugs fly slowly compared the small people. But then animals like slugs and frogs don’t seem to move slowly compared to them. Hmm.

When the characters go to see Nim Galuu, there’s all of a sudden a dance number... when there hadn’t been one in the previous 45 minutes of the film... and there wasn’t another one in the film. Weird.

I really liked the scrolls inside the Rings of Knowledge (inside a tree).

A lot has been written about how this film is like ‘FernGully’, but aside from little people in the forest, it’s nothing like it. This film has no ecological message like ‘Fern Gully’ does, There are no bad corporate goons destroying the forest for its lumber in this film. There ARE beings trying to ruin the forest—the Boggans—but they’re from the forest, too.

Because the production of a film is always interesting to me, I have to quote wikipedia here: “In 2006, it was reported that Chris Wedge would be directing an animated feature film based on William Joyce’s book, The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs for Fox Animation. Joyce, who had already collaborated with Wedge as a designer and producer on the 2005 film ‘Robots’, was set to produce the film.  At one point, Wedge got permission to find a new home for the film and turned to Pixar, led by John Lasseter, whom Wedge knew from working on ‘Tron’. When Pixar tried to close the rights for the film and start development, Fox changed their mind, and the film returned to Fox. The film was officially greenlit in 2009, under the title Leaf Men.  In May 2012, Fox announced the final title for the film (Epic), its first cast details, and a plot.  According to Wedge, he was not satisfied with the renaming, which was decided by the marketing department. He also expressed dissatisfaction with subtitles given to the film in some non-English countries, including the French subtitle, The Battle of the Secret Kingdom. Although the film is based on and borrow's many characters from Joyce's book, its plot has been significantly changed. Wedge explained: "But while Bill wrote a wonderful book, it is a quaint story. We wanted to make a gigantic action-adventure movie." To address online speculations about whether the film is similar to other films, like ‘FernGully: The Last Rainforest’ or ‘Avatar’, Wedge said: "I hate to associate it with other movies. It is adventure on the scale of ‘Star Wars’. And it does immerse the audience completely in a world like Avatar. But it has its own personality.”

 

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On The Road - DVD movie review

SCORE: D

I’m sad to give this movie a rating like that. I wanted to like it. And there were things about it that I did like. The music throughout was very good! I also liked the cinematography. It’s a great-looking film.

And there were some good quotes from characters who want to feel and to be inspired. One character bemoans the book he’s not writing and the inspiration he doesn’t feel. I’ve felt like that often in my life.

The film—from the 1957 book of the same name by Jack Kerouac—is about a road trip across 1947 America from New York to Colorado to Algiers, New Orleans and Mexico... even to Campbell, CA of all places (where I used to teach). It’s about a writer named Sal, who is looking for inspiration. He meets Carlo (another writer), Dean, and Dean’s wife Marylou.

The acting in this movie is also very good. Sam Riley as Sal does a great job. He reminds me somewhat of a young Leonardo DiCaprio. Garrett Hedlund also does a good job as the nymphomaniac Dean (even though he’s a hard character to like). Marylou is played by Kristen Stewart, in a return to indie flicks. Viggo Mortensen and Amy Adams turn up as a strange family in New Orleans. Terrance Howard is a musician in New York. Alice Braga turns up as a migrant worker that Sal has a fling with. Steve Buscemi plays a carpooler who travels with Dean and Sal. Kirsten Dunst plays Dean’s second, and often estranged, wife, Camille.

Sal follows Dean’s exploits to find inspiration to write about. And—SPOILER ALERT—he eventually does.

But Dean is a terrible person that everyone in the film both loves and hates. All Dean is interested in are sex and drugs. Aside from the titillation and the vicarious living one does while watching it all happen, there isn’t much else in this film. The movie makes you ask yourself, “isn’t there anything more to life than this?” And then it makes you feel bad when you realize there isn’t.

The movie kind of makes you feel either sad about being human, or bad about it. I’m not sure which. All the people want things that they can’t get. The character that propels everything forward is Dean, a character who tells a story of sitting in a car for 14 hours with a gun in his mouth, but ultimately not being able to pull the trigger. Eventually, after all of Sal’s partying with Dean, Dean leaves Sal when he gets dysentery in Mexico. That sort of sums up the things that happen in the film.

At an hour and thirteen minutes, I was hoping the movie would be over soon.

The film cost $25 to make, but only made about $8.7 million at the box office. Ouch. As one character states: “You got no calluses, Sal.” I guess the filmmakers do now. There has been a number of attempts to make this film throughout the years. From wikipedia: “film adaptation of On the Road had been in development hell for decades. In 1957, Jack Kerouac wrote a one-page letter to actor Marlon Brando, suggesting that he play Dean Moriarty while Kerouac would portray Sal Paradise. In the letter, Kerouac envisioned the film to be shot "with the camera on the front seat of the car showing the road (day and night) unwinding into the windshield, as Sal and Dean yak." Brando never responded to the letter, and later on Warner Bros. offered $110,000 for the rights to Kerouac's book but his agent, Sterling Lord, declined it. Lord hoped for $150,000 from Paramount Pictures, which wanted to cast Brando in the film. The deal did not occur and Kerouac was angered that his agent asked for too much money. Filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola bought the rights in 1979. Over the years, he hired several screenwriters to adapt the book into a film, including Michael Herr and Barry Gifford, only for Coppola to write his own draft with his son Roman. In 1995, the filmmaker planned to shoot on black-and-white16mm film and held auditions with poet Allen Ginsberg in attendance but the project fell through. Coppola said, "I tried to write a script, but I never knew how to do it. It's hard — it's a period piece. It's very important that it be period. Anything involving period costs a lot of money." Several years later he tried again with Ethan Hawke and Brad Pitt to play Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty respectively, but this project also failed to work. In 2001, Coppola hired novelist Russell Banks to write the script and planned to make the film with Joel Schumacher directing and starring Billy Crudup as Sal Paradise and Colin Farrell as Dean Moriarty, but this incarnation of the project was shelved as well. Gus Van Sant also expressed interest in making the film.”

There are two good quotes in the film. One is: “The road ran straight as an arrow, like driving across the world and in to the places where we’d finally learn ourselves among the essential strain of basic, primitive, wailing humanity that stretches in a belt around the equatorial belly of the world.”

SPOILER ALERT!

The other is the ending monologue, that sort of sums up the film:

“So in America when the sun goes down and I sit in the old broken-down river pier, watching the long, long skies of New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over the West Coast and all of that road going and all the people dreaming and the immensity of it, and in Iowa, I know by now, the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the Earth, darkens all the rivers, cups the peaks, and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s gonna happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty. I even think of Old Dean Moriarty, the father we never found. I think of Dean Moriarty. I think of Dean Moriarty.”

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Catching Fire - movie review

SCORE: A-

I have to say that I liked ‘Catching Fire’ a lot more than ‘The Hunger Games’.

I think most of it had to do with a director change. I’d like to personally thank whoever thought to oust Gary Ross in favor of Francis Lawrence. Bravo. Ross didn’t know what the hell he was doing and made a nausea-inducing, shaky-cam film. This film, thankfully, didn't employ shaky-cam often.

As I said with my ‘Hunger Games’ review, I have not read any of the books, so I’m coming to the films with fresh eyes, having none of that “oh, they left that part out?” sentimentality.

I’ll be honest, I forgot much of what happened in the first film. I didn’t remember the berries, or that Katniss and Peeta supposedly fell in love during the games, or that having them BOTH survive was unique to the games and the foundation of a societal revolution in the Districts. But they catch you up on all that pretty quickly, so that’s nice.

The acting was very good, especially Jennifer Lawrence’s final moments onscreen.  Donald Sutherland, Woody Harrelson, and Stanley Tucci are great as always. I loved when Tucci’s character, the extremely flamboyant talk show host, came onscreen out of the shadows, you saw his gleaming white teeth before almost anything else. That’s funny. I think Josh Hutcherson does a good job, but to me he looks a little doofy. Don’t know what it is about him.

And I still love Elizabeth Banks’ crazy fashion in the film, so apropos of a future society with sycophantic people full of their own greatness. Seeing Lenny Kravitz in the movie was again strange. And Philip Seymour Hoffman? I had no idea he was in this one. I guess there wasn’t an annoying Paul Thomas Anderson movie to be in at the time.

I liked seeing Jeffrey Wright and Amanda Plummer (of ‘So I Married An Axe Murderer’ fame). And Jena Malone, too? Cool. I haven’t seen her in a film in a while. (And I’m not going to lie, NOT getting a decent look at her when her character strips naked in one scene was kind of a letdown. Oh, sure, you can show all the crazy violence you want in a PG-13 film... but boobs? Oh, heaven forbid! We can’t show boobs... apparently.)

Speaking of violence, this film is pretty violent. I am amazed that so many women like these movies and books. I hear that the books describe the deaths in very graphic ways. Do women like this series simply because it has a female lead? And why are there no critics of this violence like there were when ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ came out? I heard so many people crying over how violent TDKR was, but I don’t think it was anything close to what’s in either of the Hunger Games films. But I digress...

Although I did find this note about the book series on wikipedia: “The novel has also been controversial with parents; it ranked in fifth place on the American Library Association’s list of frequently challenged books for 2010, with "unsuited to age group" and "violence" being among the reasons cited.”

Unfortunately, I didn’t really notice any recognizable theme music in this film. Maybe on a second watch.

I liked the rampaging troop of Mandrills (you know, the kind of ape that Rafiki is). I read online that in the book the attacking primates are called Monkey Mutts (can author Suzanne Collins only come up with shitty names for things?) and they’re actually fairly strange-looking, with orange fur. I’m glad the filmmakers went with something that most people haven’t seen, but is still real. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandrill

Lastly, I have to say (and this only takes away a tiny bit of my enjoyment of this series) that Katniss and Peeta are really, really stupid names. It’s too bad that Suzanne Collins can only come up with stupid names. Why am I the only one who cares about this? Whatever.

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Get A Horse! - short film review

SCORE: A-
‘Get A Horse!’ is the first Mickey Mouse short since ‘Runaway Brain’ (18 years ago) and plays before ‘Frozen’.
I really enjoyed seeing, although I didn’t laugh as much as I thought I would. But the short was definitely entertaining. It was so much fun watching the B&W characters burst from the small 4:3 movie screen of the 1920’s into full-color 3D CG characters who extend the screen to 2.35:1 and then play around with it, causing trouble for Peg Leg Pete (who has kidnapped Minnie).
It was also great seeing Mickey and friends done right in CG, unlike the very terrible CG animation that is ‘Mickey Mouse Clubhouse’ (the ‘Dora the Explorer’ knockoff). From wikipedia: “The characters debuted in CG form in 2003 at the Magic Kingdom theme park attraction Mickey's PhilharMagic,” I saw Mickey’s PhilharMagic in Nov 2013 and really liked it (though I’d like to see it in good ol’ 2D. Sometimes the 3D process messes up the experience of a film for me). I also understand that the characters were done in CG in ‘Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas’ but I haven’t seen that yet so I can’t compare. But it was great to see the characters in CG animated by great animators. 
From wikipedia: “Drew McWeeny of HitFix lauded it as "the perfect companion piece" and "enormously entertaining". He continues on that "Filmmaker Lauren MacMullan perfectly nails the look and feel of the early days of the Disney studio, and it is the first time I have ever laughed out loud at Mickey Mouse. It's an inventive and technically precise short, and it also celebrates and deconstructs Disney's animated history in a very fun way.”

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Frozen - movie review

From Dec 4, 2013

SCORE: A-
A week ago I saw Disney’s new film ‘Frozen’. It’s a great movie that many critics are saying is a return to Disney’s Renaissance Era (1989-1999) in that it’s in the style of a Broadway musical. One critic from The Wrap said the film was “the best animated musical to come out of Disney since the tragic death of lyricist Howard Ashman” and I would have to agree. 
There’s some great music here, from ‘For the First Time in Forever’ to ‘Let it Go’ to the funny ‘Reindeer Are Better Than People’ and ‘In Summer’ songs. 
Disney’s new hit songwriting team are the husband and wife team of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. They both worked on 2011’s ‘Winnie the Pooh’ (the so-so quasi-remake of the fantastic 1977 original ‘The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh’). While I didn’t care for the music in ‘Winnie the Pooh’, the music in ‘Frozen’ is MUCH better, although there are still some questionable lyrics like “Don't know if I'm elated or gassy” in the song ‘For the First Time in Forever’ but I’ll let one line slide because the rest of it is so good, like the girl-power ballad 'Let it Go'. 
I also liked that second song in the film, ‘Frozen Heart’, reminded me of the working song in ‘Dumbo’.
One of the best things is the orchestral score by Christophe Beck. The main title ‘Vuelie’ is absolutely amazing and is so moving it almost makes me cry hearing it. It reminds me most of Lebo M’s clarion call at the beginning of ‘Circle of Life’, the opening theme from ‘The Lion King’. You can hear 'Vuelie' here, just click on track 11: http://amzn.to/18DjVwz but you should really hear it in the theater.
In the Silmarillion (yes, I'm bringing up Tolkein), spirits called the Ainur helped create the universe through a holy chanting called the Ainulindalë, the "Music of the Ainur". I imagine the Ainulindalë sounding very much like 'Vuelie'. Yes, I feel that strongly about 'Vuelie'. 
From wikipedia: “For the orchestral film score, composer Christophe Beck gave homage to the Norway- and Sápmi-inspired setting, employing regional instruments such as the bukkehorn and traditional vocal techniques, such as kulning. The music producers recruited a Norwegian linguist to assist with the lyrics for an Old Norse song written for Elsa's coronation, and also traveled to Norway to record the all-female choir Cantus, for a piece inspired by traditional Norwegian music.” and: “It was also revealed on September 14, 2013 that Sámi musician Frode Fjellheim's Eatnemen Vuelie will be the film's opening song.”
I really liked how the movie played on the idea of what an act of true love is.
The relationship between sisters Anna and Elsa is strong. And I really liked Kristoff and his reindeer Sven, who have a Han/Chewbacca relationship. Good stuff. There's also a character named Hans, which I'm guessing is a nod to Hans Christian Andersen, who wrote 'The Snow Queen' that 'Frozen' is supposed to be based on. 

And I am SO happy that the snowman character Olaf was lovable and not annoying as hell like he was in the incredibly bad trailer that was released for ‘Frozen’ months ago. Watch it’s terribleness here, if you so choose: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WdC4DaYIeQ. It has nothing to do with the movie anyway. I wonder if the Disney people toned Olaf down after the internet backlash from this trailer because he’s not annoying in the actual film.

Another interesting factoid for me is that the director, Chris Buck, is from Wichita, Kansas, where I lived for 3 years in the 1980s.

Everything you read about 'Frozen' says that it is “loosely” based on Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Snow Queen’, but after you see ‘Frozen’ you should read this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Snow_Queen and then tell me how loosely it is based. Basically, ‘Frozen’ has almost nothing to do with Andersen’s original story, but that’s not a bad thing at all.

 

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Gravity - movie review

From Oct 14, 2013

SCORE: A+
Wow. I can honestly say that I have never seen a movie quite like "Gravity". Just go see it. I don't want to tell too much about it. 
Altho, I'll also say that while I think 3D is a passing fad (like it was in the '50s) and adds little-to-nothing to the experience of a film, the 3D DOES add to the experience of watching "Gravity." So see it in 3D if you can (I'm not even certain that you can see it in regular old 2D...)

If you'd like to know more of what I thought of the film, scroll down.

 

 

SPOILER ALERT !!!!!!!!



You could say that "Gravity" is reminiscent of "2001: A Space Odyssey": it takes place in orbit/space, it plays with silence a lot, and it has super-long shots (in the first 30 minutes of the movie I think there were only two edits). However, "Gravity" is specifically about two astronauts trying desperately to get back to earth before their oxygen runs out (not about an alien monolith on the moon/an evil AI).
It's really amazing how gripping the film is despite its rather simplistic plot of "gotta get back to earth!". Bravo, Alfonso.
Sandra Bullock pulls off an amazing performance akin to Tom Hanks in "Castaway". 
The effects are also amazing and incredibly realistic. Seeing the space debris rip everything apart in silence (altho there is music) is actually pretty horrifying to watch. And the music itself is very interesting, light and ethereal for the most part, but when the low rumble builds you know some shit is about to go down. Very cool stuff.

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Riddick - movie review

From Sept 19, 2013

SCORE: B
I liked this Riddick movie, but I pretty much like anything sci-fi and I've liked all the Riddick films, so you can take my review with a grain of salt if you wish.

This one is a little more back-to-basics... maybe a little too back-to-basics. The last half of this movie is so similar to 2000's "Pitch Black" that it's almost a remake. I think that the reason for this was that there was a lot of backlash over what the filmmakers did in "Chronicles of Riddick". They took it in a completely different tangent to the original, which you'd think would be a GOOD thing, but I think people just wanted more of the same. And so with this second sequel, the filmmakers give the audience more of the same.

This one DOES pick up where 'Chronicles of Riddick' left off, which I appreciate. From reading about the film, it almost seemed that they were disavowing Chronicles. But I actually thought that movie was pretty good. Still a 'B', but pretty good.

It's cool to watch Riddick as he's stranded on a desert world, bleeding and dragging himself with a shinbone that's at a 90 degree angle. He has to fend off alien dogs, alien scorpion thingies, set his own broken leg, etc. 

He makes a friend with one of the alien dogs that has heterochromia (two different colored eyes). Their scenes are good.

The CG is decent in this film. Not the best, but even "not the best" is way better than years ago. I don't really know what critics are bitching about.

I read a lot of critics who said that there aren't any characters to like in this movie. I totally disagree. You like Riddick and I do think that there's some good character development with him. 

Also, the point of the Riddick movies is that this convict is almost always a better person than those around him, who are supposed to be good/better people. In the first film, the hero-type guy was a morphine addict who wanted to sacrifice a kid (Jack) to the monsters so he could get away. 

All-in-all it's just fun to watch Riddick kill people, which sounds terrible of me, but that's pretty much why one watches a movie like this. Although one of the ways Riddick kills one of the merc is cool, but COMPLETELY impossible to do physically... but then again, that's why one watches a movie like this. It was like that scene in "Transporter" 2 or 3 where he's got a bomb on the bottom of his car, so he drives in such a way that his car becomes airborne, flips, and manages to catch the tiny bomb on an even tinier hook dangling from a winch. You watch it and say to yourself, "Riiiiiiiiiiiiight... Ridiculous."

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Walt & El Grupo - DVD movie review

From Sept 26, 2013

SCORE: A+

As I've said, I'm a sucker for documentaries... I also love anything involving WWII era, so it's not surprising that I like it.

The film is directed by the son of Frank Thomas (one of Disney's Nine Old Men animators). He made a great documentary about the Disney Strike as well as the period just prior to the Disney Studio being taken over by the U.S. Government to make propaganda war films during WWII (yes, that actually happened). From wikipedia: “In 1941, the U.S. State Department sent Disney and a group of animators to South America as part of its Good Neighbor policy, at the same time guaranteeing financing for the resultant movie, Saludos Amigos.” (For more info on the Disney Strike, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disney_animators%27_strike)

‘Walt & El Grupo’ a great documentary with great info about the goings-on at the time, and it also has great music. 
Did I mention that it's great? No? Well, it is.

The film goes over how people from Latin America viewed Americans coming to their countries on “good will” tours (they didn’t appreciate them normally, it seems) and what they thought of Walt Disney in particular (they loved him).

There’s a good bit where they explain that for some reason there is a cultural myth in Latin America that Walt Disney was frozen at one point. They don’t explain if it was supposedly during his life or after his death, but the fact that the majority in Latin America believe this is interesting and funny.

They revisit many of the places caught in photographs from the Good Neighbor trip and many of the people involved, at one point even interviewing a man now in his 90s who was a 19-year-old male dancer at the time he taught Walt to do a traditional dance.

There are also many interesting stories about all the animators who went on the trip. In most cases, their children are interviewed but in some instances they have a widow who reads letters from the time. Very interesting film.

 

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the boys - DVD movie review

From Sept 16, 2013

SCORE: A+

What can I say? I'm a sucker for documentaries.

‘The boys’ is an amazing look at the Sherman Brothers, who wrote just about every song for Disney and Disneyland in the 60s and 70s, as well as the 70s "Charlotte's Web" movie by Hannah-Barbera.

I’ve seen some reviews that people think the whole convoluted relationship between the brothers was invented just to sell the film. Wow. That would take an amazing act of cynicism. It is what it is. They were two very different people who happened to be brothers and made amazing music together.

I don’t know why anyone would second-guess that. Roy E. Disney even describes Robert Sherman as more “Feed the Birds” while Richard Sherman is more “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” I feel that that’s a great description of the two men.

In the film you learn all about Robert Sherman’s trials during WWII and the things he saw that still haunt him to this day. You also learn about Richard Sherman’s first family and how to left them to pursue his music-writing career. They explain that “Feed the Birds” from ‘Mary Poppins’ was Walt Disney’s favorite song and how he would ask the brothers over to his office every Friday to play it for him before leaving for the weekend. They also give a lot of good background info on the Sherman Brothers’ best film: ‘Mary Poppins’.

And the film even goes into their work with Annette Funicello, their work on ‘The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh’ (one of my favorite Disney films), their work on ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ and how everyone thinks it’s a Disney film when it’s not.(It was actually written by James Bond scribe Ian Fleming, produced by Albert R. Broccoli, and released by United Artists.)

All really good stuff. Very intersting.

 

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