Mini Reviews

The Great Gatsby (book) – millions of school children likely hate this book after being forced to read it. But it is quite good. It is short and punchy and moves. The plot is predictable except for one plot twist. But it is about character and setting and theme more than plot.

Its greatest strength is the language. Fitzgerald writes and conjures.

Its greatest weakness, IMO, is that all the characters are weak. Their flaws are their defining traits – never their strengths.

It has one of the best and saddest last lines in all of literature. Go look it up. Or read the whole book and get there naturally.

Oblivion – packed to the brim with sci-fi goodness and yet it was dull.

The movie presented itself as a big action, dramatic visuals, neat concepts type show. But it really wanted to be a thinking man’s sci-fi. But there weren’t new ideas to ponder and debate – there was just the setup for the next plot twist. But it moved too slowly.

I did enjoy it. But it was no Matrix.

Now I will spoil the plot twists.

Spoilers – gonna give some space

List of sci-fi tropes in show. Incomplete:
– aliens
– the aliens are after our water
– the aliens are machines
– memory wipe
– the robots will turn on us
– oops, working for the bad guys
– the guys we thought were the bad guys and aliens? Those are the human resistance.
– clones
– “Nuke them IN orbit. It’s the only way to be sure. “

Movie Quote Mashup

I think I only manages to make about half of these funny.

1. The dude abides – Ghandi
2. You had me at Hello – The Exorcist
3. Get your stinking paws off me. You damn dirty ape. – King King
4. We’re gonna need a bigger boat – Titanic.
5. I’m walking here! I’m walking here! – The Hobbit
6. You can’t handle the truth! – Saw
7. There’s no place like home. – Psycho
8. What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate. – See no evil, hear no evil
9. I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse. – Indecent Proposal
10. There can be only one – Alien
11. I’ll be back. – Return of the Jedi

Got funnier ideas than mine? Or more quotes? Let me know

The Hobbit :An Unexpected Journey – A review

Note: I did not see the movie in HFR or 3D. Unlike every other review of the Hobbit, there won’t be any talk of the new technologies.

Note 2: This review contains spoilers.

The first fantasy book I remember ever reading is The Hobbit. My parents had shelved their copy under the assumption that a small boy would one day want to read it. Considering the course my life has taken reading that book must be considered one of the formative experiences of my life. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is a grander, more epic tale, but The Hobbit remained my favourite.

The Hobbit has elements to make a good movie. A strong core character, exciting action and one of the best villains ever put on paper. But it has more elements that won’t work. It doesn’t adhere to a classic act structure. Instead it has a series of episodes. They culminate in a strong climax, but the adventures don’t really grow. In fact during the most cinematic portions of the climax, the Battle of the Five Armies, the main character is unconscious and misses it. Bilbo may be a strong main character and Thorin gets some development, but the rest of the characters including the other 12 dwarfs and Gandalf are basically stock characters.

Thus, even after the success of LOTT, I observed the announcement and production of the films with a large measure of trepidation. More so when I heard that there would be three movies instead of one. The Hobbit would be an epic to rival LOTR despite never having enough source material. Additionally it is marketed as a prequel to LOTR. Tolkien had LOTR in mind when he wrote the Hobbit. He seeded ties between the two stories most notably Bilbo, Gandalf and the ring. But The Hobbit isn’t a true prequel.

Wow. That was a lot to say in order to reach the point. All my worry is for naught. The movie is excellent.

Let’s hit my fears. The length – the length is achieved is two ways. One they have allowed scenes to breathe. The early scenes in Bag End included the full diner party including two dwarfish songs. I cannot think of any scene abridged. Secondly, they added material relating to the Necromancer of Dol Goldur. This plot was hinted at in the book. It is the true beginning of the LOTR saga. Here that material is developed. Both work well. The pacing of the movie is uneven – slow at the beginning and packed at the end. But it is never boring. I loved the immersive qualities of the beginning and the time taken to achieve it.

That brings my to the second fear. Making it a prequel. Emphasizing the Necromancer certainly moves in that direction. But the material works. It makes the overall plot more complex and dark, but not too complex or dark. Really, my fears here are realized. But, I repeat, it works.

Stock characters – Beyond excellent work by Martin Freeman as Bilbo, Gandalf and Thorin are nicely developed by Ian McKellen and Richard Armitage. The rest of the dwarves are given the quirks they have in the novel and the length of the movie gives the actors time to bring them to life. Dwalin, Balin, Fili and Kili in particular have great moments and personality. Bifur, Bofur, Oin and Gloin also get a little time. Ori, Nori and Dori round out the group. They probably had bits too. I just need to watch it again. ūüôā

Episodic structure – two ways. First they gave it a normal three act structure. The opening. Then the trolls, orcs and Rivendell are linked. Finally the third act from the entry into the Misty Mountains until the end is a giant series of linked action scenes. Next they emphasized the theme of home in each act to give a strong through line.

Ok fears done. What else does the movie do well?

It is fun. It is exciting. It is scary. It is funny. It is gorgeous. It is true to the book, but also cinematic.

It is pretty darn awesome.

Fun? It captures the thrill of the book. It has word games and riddles. Stone at sunlight and danger in the dark. There is magic and wonder.

Exciting and scary? More so than the books there is a constant feel of peril. The trolls are the most humorous, but even they are scary. The introduction of a head evil Orc works particularly well.

Funny? Quite. All the humour of the book is there. Additionally, there is humour in reactions and sight gags. The dwarfs are hilarious without losing their nobility. I’m not sure how that was achieved.

True and gorgeous. These elements are brought forward from Jackson’s work on LOTR.

And Gollum is great. As everyone expected.

I give this film a very positive rating. Huzzah.

The Dark Knight Rises – A review

It is weird to consider talking just about the movie considering the tragedy that occurred during a screening last night in Colorado. ¬†I’m going to do just that, but specifying that in praising the film I in noway indemnify the actions of the gunman and I feel sympathy for the victims of the crime.

The movie is too long. ¬†It has some stupendously silly moments. ¬†The climactic battle between Bane and Batman doesn’t work – (although that isn’t the end of the long movie climax). ¬†Bruce Wayne’s journey (character arc) is not great (although it has moments).

These are the flaws of the movie that I saw.  They are big flaws.  Some of the silly moments launched me right out of the movie and I have a high ability to suspend my disbelief.

But I really enjoyed this movie.  Enjoyed is a good word.  It is a dark show, but the lightest of the Batmans in the trilogy.  Oddly many of the scenes occur during the daylight.

Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt were the highlights of the movie. ¬†Hathaway played Selina Kyle and captivated during her time onscreen. ¬†Her early scenes are the best during which she is able to verbally fence with Wayne. ¬†The later scenes don’t allow for as much leeway since the demands of the action had to be met, but the reward was the vision of Hathaway in the Catwoman costume. ¬†Some guys behind me made some admiring comments when it first appeared. ¬†Comments I thought were crass, but still very true.

Gordon-Levitt is the centre of the movie.  While not a critical standout role, he touches on every character and scene.  He likely also has the most satisfying character arc in the piece.

It is almost impossible to talk about the plot without spoilers.  Here is the setup.  It is 8 years since the end of the Dark Knight.  Gotham is peaceful.  Bruce Wayne is a recluse Рtormented by the deaths of Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes.  Batman has retired.  But under the peaceful city, Bane is acting and assembling an army with a new nefarious plan to plague Gotham.

Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman get good bits in their roles of Alfred and Fox. ¬†Thomas Hardy as Bane has a menacing physicality that works, but the voice acting must almost be called bizarre. ¬†It isn’t ineffective, but it is a jarring non-sequitur. ¬†Gary Oldman has a lot to do as Commissioner Gordon, but you’ve seen him do these things in the previous movies. ¬†Marion Cotillard is the final main cast member . ¬†Her role as Miranda Tate is largely underwritten.

But it is a superhero movie.  A Batman movie.  The action is stupendous.  The Batman gadgets are just nifty.  And the suspense continues through the whole picture.  The movie certainly lags a bit during moments of its 2 hour 44 minute running time, but I always felt on the edge of my seat.

There are fights, explosions, chases, heroics and villainy. ¬†The plot behind the show is mostly solid. ¬†The silly moments undercut it unfortunately and sometimes you think you spot plot holes. ¬†But most of those are on purpose. ¬†The is no performance to equal Heath Ledger’s Joker, but the movie doesn’t need it.

The final act of the trilogy is builds on the previous movies.  Going back and rewatching Batman Begins in particular will prove rewarding.

I really liked this movie.

Superman Isn’t Dark

The footage of Superman released at Comicon has been descried as darker. ¬†The poster for the movie has a Superman mostly hidden in shadow. ¬†The director, Zack Snyder, said the following, “A lot of the time, Superman is always this kind of big blue Boy Scout up on a throne,” he said. “We tried to make him within reach.”

There have been a lot of portrayals of Superman over the years.  The earliest comics reflected the pulp roots of comics and featured a Superman that was far less gentle with criminals.  Later comics had a Supes who was a bit of the practical joker and sometimes the jokes were a bit cruel.  The most recent comic reinvention has a Superman who is more rebellious and angry.

But Superman isn’t dark. ¬†He’s the light. ¬†People look at the good guy in the first movie and say, “That worked because it was a simpler time.” ¬†Baloney. ¬†That same year saw the release of Deer Hunter, Halloween, The Omen II, Jaws II and Debbie does Dallas. ¬†It was decades after Film Noir gave us tortured heroes in film – and gangsters such as James Cagney were around even longer. ¬†People knew dark, but they decided that Superman was not that.

Everyone worries about Superman being relatable. ¬†He isn’t. ¬†Jimmy Olsen is relatable. ¬†Superman is the example – the paragon. ¬†But you can still care about Superman. ¬†The tie is that he cares about the people and the world around him. ¬†It has to be shown and be honest. ¬†That is how to make people like him and become invested in his struggles.

Not every story can be told with Superman. ¬†That is just the way it is. ¬†Find those stories that work with the character you’ve got and tell those.

Darkness sells movies.  But good movies also sell movies.  Give that a shot.

(Principal filming of the movie is already done and it is in post-production. ¬†It is too late for feedback. ¬†Plus I’m reading a lot into marketing and some comments on the ‘net. ¬†They could be wrong.)

The Amazing Spider-Man – Review

More than most movies this Spidey begs the question: Is it necessary?  10 years ago Spider-Man by Sam Raimi with Tobey McGuire and Kirsten Dunst was released.

But I can’t think of an objective standard to answer the question. ¬†Instead, i’m going to ignore it and just talk about whether I liked this movie.

[This review contains minor spoilers.]

Marc Webb is the director, Andrew Garfield is Spidey/Peter, Emma Stone is Gwen Stacy, the love interest, Dennis Leary is Capt. Stacy, Gwen’s father, Martin Sheen is Uncle Ben Parker and Sally Field is Aunt May Parker.

Right off you can see it is an interesting cast.  The only unfamiliar name is Spidey.  There is also no JJJ or Daily Bugle staff is this version.

Garfield is a more interesting actor than McGuire is.  I find that McGuire only has the one most befuddled look that he uses for most everything.  Garfield has an amazingly expressive face.  Eighteen different emotions play across it every time the camera is on him. He is interesting and effective in the role of Peter.  Because he is so facially expressive, this Spidey seems to lose his mask in every scene.

The Gwen Stacy character is cool.  Emma Stone brings life to an underwritten part.  There is some background to the character Рshe has a research assistant job as Oscorp while still in High School.  But soon she gets the role of reacting to things that Peter does.

The plot is in two parts. ¬†The origin of Spidey is retold and then his first adventure/heroics. ¬†The origin is significantly tweaked from the classic. ¬†There is no wrestling for Peter this time around. ¬†And when Uncle Ben meets his fate it is no longer just random bad luck – I like that bit. ¬†Peter’s parents, their disappearance and Peter’s feelings towards them play a larger role. ¬†Finally the only negative is that the classic line of “With great power comes great responsibility” is not included, but only a paraphrase.

The second part has the Lizard as the main villain. ¬†Plus complications as Peter starts to interact with Gwen’s father, Police Capt. Stacy. ¬†The Capt. Stacy parts are quite good, but the Lizard parts seem quite rote.

The effects are strong.  That is expected, I think.  Swinging is old hat now, but there are several neat web stunts.

The action is good, but unexceptional. ¬†There is a nice sense of threat to Spidey’s life. ¬†He’s still a novice and threatened by normal thugs. ¬†The Lizard is much tougher than he.

Finally the direction.  Webb has a brisk movie with few lags, but with few flourishes too.  There is nothing to distinguish this film from other Super-Hero flicks other than its pedigree.

In a few words, the movie has many excellent bits, but when all put together as a whole it is less than the sum of its parts.  It is entertaining and exciting, but ultimately forgettable.

John Carter – A review

My bus got me home for 7 and I ust finished supper.¬† This might be shorter than I intended.¬† Asides like this and the next won’t help either.

I’ve got a lot of ideas this week and a half finished blog about Tim and the crocodiles, but talking about John Carter seems more timely.

It was, apparently, a box office disaster.¬† Underservingly so.¬† This was a solid, fun, entertaining action/sci-fi flick.¬† I can heartily recommend it.¬† It isn’t without its flaws, but they are not huge.

John Carter is the newest Disney movie.¬† Directed by Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo and Wall-E) although this is a far different beast.¬† It is filled with actors you probably don’t know – although the supporting cast is an incredibly solid mix of Dominic West (The Wire – Det. McNulty), Mark Strong (Sherlock Holmes – Moriarty) and James Purefoy (Rome – Mark Antony).¬† The trailer looked like a very generic mess.¬† And now it didn’t do well at the box office.¬† This movie needs saving.

John Carter is a former calvaryman from Virginia.¬† As he searches for a rumoured gold mine and outruns a posse, he is transported across space to the planet Barsoom.¬† But this isn’t a made up planet – it is the one we can see in our night sky.¬† The red planet – Mars.¬† Waterless, filled with giant plains and looming canyons, but with less gravity.¬† John Carter finds that a simple step turns into a leap and a single blow of his first can cave in a chest.

That’s right because Mars is populated with Martians.¬† The martial and savage, but honorable Tharks.¬† The human looking resident of the two cities in an ongoing civil war – Helium and Zodonga.¬† The mysterious Therns.¬† And a variety of both vicious and loyal beasts.

Carter is quickly embroiled in the civil war.  He befriends the Tharks and involves them as well.  The Therns seem to be manipulating events from the sidelines.  But the core plot is about Carter fighting for the love of the Martian princess of Helium РDejah Thoris.

Intriguing, if a bit conventional, plot Рcheck!  Interesting characters?  Check Рespecially Dejah Thoris and the Thark Jeddak (general/leader) Tars Tarkas.  Cool effects?  Yes.  Exciting action?  Yes Рincluding fight scenes, chases, and environmental hazards. An emotional through line?  Yep.

It is rated PG although there are some scenes of combat that might be intense for younger kids – a villainous Thark is beheaded and a vicious white ape is disemboweled.¬† (I thought the later was a bit gratuitous in a PG movie, but if the kids are fine with the Rancor’s death this isn’t far different.)¬† It won’t insult an adult’s intelligence to watch it.

Plus the movie is just fun.¬† Fun.¬† Fun. Fun.¬† It has a brave, solitary hero.¬† A brave, intelligent, beautiful martian princess.¬† A brave alien leader – Tars Tarkas.¬† It isn’t a funny movie, but it doesn’t lack wit.

Here are my quibbles;

  • John Carter speaks with a gravelly “Batman” voice.
  • The sci-fi aspects – the ravaging city of Zodonga – the planes that fly through the air – the power of the ninth ray – not enough time is spent on these for my sci-fi bred interest.¬† (YMMV)
  • Dejah Thoris may be too beautiful.¬† Her character is complex with a number of layers, but the camera lingers on her gorgeous eyes.¬† (It doesn’t ignore her stunning legs either!)
  • It has a ‘princess must marry to save her people instead of for love – oh the injustice!’ subplot.¬† This is just one of those plots that annoys me – like a carebear stare ending.
  • The villains are played by two awesome actors who get almost nothing to do.¬† That made me sad.¬† Sure they get to be villainous, but not – not interesting enough.
  • 3D does the movie no favours.¬† It is filled with vistas of Mars that are all blurry because they are in the foreground of the 3D shot.¬† It was really annoying. See this in two-D if you can.¬† (I spent $19 on an Imax ticket when only 5% of the huge screen was in focus at a time.)

None of these are a reason not to see the film.¬† If you can’t see it, rent it or buy it, VOD it or PVR it.¬† Figure out how to go watch it.

This movie owes a lot to Star Wars.¬† You’ll see touches of it here and there.¬† But, it is trying to do the same thing as Star Wars – have fun, entertain and thrill.¬† In many ways it succeeds.¬† It is no Star Wars, but it aspires to be.¬† That is pretty nifty.