Tag Archives: review

Snow White

5 Jun

So I went and saw Snow White and the Huntsman this weekend.  Testament to what a trailer with good fantasy images will do.  It looked neat, so I went.  Overall?  I liked it.  I think, unfortunately, that the end is by far the weakest part of the whole thing, but it’s worth seeing if you like fantasy stuff.

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One of the neat images from the trailer and film, though this one could have been deleted with nothing lost from the story

There’s an entire section in the middle of the movie that’s as close to a live-action Princess Mononoke movie that we’ve ever gotten.  It’s gorgeous!  And indeed very much like Princess Mononoke, complete with a forest spirit and blinking mushrooms.  Really great stuff.  And the story (save the end) is mostly well told, save for some unnecessary narration by Thor in the beginning.   “And so the scenes you have just seen came to pass.  As you have just been shown.”

Part of it feels (and looks) like Lord Of The Rings, and then after passing through both Miyazaki and Tolkien fantasy it unfortunately devolves into an unimaginative ending that seems to contradict the character of Snow White as established.

I’ll go into more detail, but I’ll also spoil the ending of the movie in doing so, so you’ve been warned.

The second she wakes up/is brought back from the dead via Huntsman’s kiss (his actual name isn’t given, he’s just called “Huntsman.”  I can only assume this is because we all know he’s really Thor) she puts on battle armor and incites the men around her into violence, even engaging in it herself, until she finally commits murder in cold (but “fair” I guess) blood.  She ceases to be Snow White and becomes just another one of the guys.  Then she becomes Queen herself which everyone seems happy about, but she doesn’t say anything at all.

The problem is everything the movie has shown us about her previously: the White Hart/spirit of the forest bowing to her, the ailments of those around her being cured, the positive emotions of the Huntsman being awakened, her sympathy and pity – but not hatred – for the Queen, her assertion that she doesn’t think she’d “be able to” stab someone to death.  All of these things are contradictory to the way she behaves upon being brought back.  It’s a disappointing resolution to the story, and whether that’s how “the original” goes or not, by the time the movie got there I was hoping for more from it.  It almost seems like the third act is from some weaker movie, perhaps  the real third act was lost somewhere, and they just pasted this ending on in order to have a whole movie.

So those are my thoughts on that.  It’s definitely a mixed bag, but so many of the fantasy elements are so great that if you like that stuff at all you’ll probably at least enjoy seeing it.

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With Eyes Unclouded – Dangerous Minds

11 Jun

Dangerous Minds was recorded on DVR so I must say that I didn’t really see the movie properly. I missed the start and there were commercials and all the swear words were dubbed over. Maybe the scenes that were cutout for the commercials would have made a difference, I don’t know.

Disclaimer aside, this is a movie that I felt had a very strong beginning and a predictable and weak ending. The story involves Michelle Pfeiffer (who is great) as a young teacher looking for a job. I missed the start so I’m not sure how, but she ends up at this school applying for a part-time substitute job and ends up with a full-time teaching job at “the Academy program” a “school within a school” for the “special” children. If only it were as good as Brookline’s actual School Within A School.

Turns out she’s been hired to teach a group of seemingly unruly kids from poor homes, bad neighborhoods, and violent homes, etc. Short of calling her “white bread” they ignore her when she first walks in, opting instead to continue dancing, talking, drumming on desks, being loud and unruly, etc.

At this point in the movie the problem is that I know exactly what happens next. This underestimated small woman is going to succeed against seemingly great odds. She will inspire these kids, change their lives, the audience is going to feel good about it and the potential of humanity, etc. That the movie doesn’t deviate at all from this old formula is the biggest weakness I think. It tries to. It puts in some tragedy. It tries to make us think that the poor small underestimated teacher, despite making great headway by bribing the children and using Bob Dylan songs as poetry, is going to give up. Yet I never really thought she was going to because, well, it’s a movie.

When the kids start to bluntly state out loud what should be subtext by saying things like “we come from poor neighborhoods,” and “you don’t understand our world,” I begin to see through the already paper-thin premise to the underlying underdog-makes-us-feel-good structure. It’s not a bad exercise in a movie, but it isn’t a great one either.

I guess that’s why it’s as remembered as it is, or isn’t. I remember it being talked about a lot when it was out, when Coolio’s song was on the radio, Michelle Pfeiffer was famous, etc. It was perceived as a really important movie at the time. I’d forgotten the movie existed until it showed up on TV and my DVR recorded it.

If you want to see a movie with this plot structure I enjoyed Stand and Deliver more (Lean on Me is another one, but I don’t remember it as well).

[Previous With Eyes Unclouded: Into The Wild]

On blogging, Summer Movie Write-up 2007

16 Aug

     So, clearly I’m not very good at the whole keeping a regular blog thing. I was good for about a week or so there… and now not so much.
      If I stopped demanding so much quality of myself I’d be able to update more. Actually, I’d be able to create a lot more if I stopped demanding that everything I make be of a certain caliber. The problem with my high standards for art/movies/writing is that if I never meet them it means I never actually create anything.

I never even finished the summer movie write-up. Of course since it’s still summer, and I never set a deadline, I’m not late.

4.0

     Live Free or Die Hard was, surprisingly, pretty awesome. Obviously it’s better than the second one, but that’s faint praise. I’m not going to think too hard about the actual premise ’cause I’m pretty sure it’s mostly implausible, but… moving on! Kevin Smith’s character is in a different movie, and in that different movie he’d be really funny, but in Die Hard 4.0 he just feels sort of out of place. Perhaps that’s the point, but it still took me out of the movie when I watched it. Those two quibbles aside however, the movie is really quite fun.
     Once the hacker/terrorist’s plan is put into effect the sudden excitement from realizing that the world may actually be forced to change is pretty awesome. It feels like a big deal. It’s not confined to a tower or a plane like the first two, it’s more broad, so it feels like there’s more for Bruce Willis to overcome. There’s something to be said too for the way in which they made this feel like an action movie from the 80’s (like the originals) and not a new fancy one from today. There’s no hyper-fast editing, no fancy colorizing, no slick computer generated camera moves, and thus the action is really easy to follow. I don’t tend to walk around wishing that I could see someone launch a car into a helicopter, or fly an F16 into a freeway in an attempt to disable a big rig truck, but they’re still cool things to have seen.

Zeus

      If the ancients had made movies about Zeus and Mt. Olympus instead of telling stories and putting on plays, they would have made Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.
      From what I gather I am among the minority in my liking of the third Pirates movie – but I’m also in the minority for my relative disliking of the first two. I mean, the Curse of the Black Pearl is ok, entertaining enough I suppose, and it does have two things going for it in Captain Jack Sparrow and the special effects/underwater skeletons. It’s really hard to impress me with special effects, and the Pirates movies are by far the best of modern day cinematic spectacle. But special effects do not a movie make. The second one is… well, more of the same. More mediocrity, more awesome special effects, and more Captain Jack Sparrow, but instead of underwater skeletons (who were obviously the coolest part of the first movie) there are gross looking half sea-creature half-corpse dudes. Oh, and Davy Jones. He’s a pretty cool looking marvel of special effects but he doesn’t do much other than play the organ. But just look at him! And there was a Kraken. That was cool too.
Davy Jones
      But the third movie had weight to it. If you want to ascribe meaning to At World’s End it will hold up to it where the first two don’t, but at the same time it doesn’t betray the fact that it’s the cinematic equivalent of a Disney theme park ride.
      In addition to the cool stuff from the first two, Pirates 3 had awesome extra weirdness (crabs, dead people in boats, islands made out of shipwrecks, ships falling off the edge of the world, up is down, more crabs, etc.) and, perhaps more significantly, it treated its storylines like an ancient myth. Of the trilogy it’s by far the most entertaining to watch.
      Will, Elizabeth, Jack, Barbosa, Davy Jones, Calypso et al turn out to be modern day Zeus, Aphrodite, Hades, Apollo, et al. Some have more power than others, and just like their ancient counterparts their foibles conflict with their virtues, so they’re basically pawns for the derivation of meaning. This aura of epic mythology didn’t exude from either of the first two movies, but At World’s End is clearly different right from the start when a song with Orpheus-like power serenades the murder of the young boy who started singing it. The whole intro is brilliant, by far the best opening of the three (and if you don’t believe me you can watch it right here on YouTube).
      Now I actually long for a sequel that follows Jack and Barbosa on their neverending (and never-succeeding) quests for immortality and Black Pearl captain-hood. It’s The Epic of Gilgamesh combined with a new Epic Cycle for a new generation.

     There. Now I finished the Summer Movie Write-up. Unless I see The Simpsons Movie (which I hear is actually really funny and good) and/or Stardust.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

18 Jul

The short review is that this is debatably the best Harry Potter movie. The longer review is as follows:
After seeing the fourth Harry Potter movie I said that they finally figured out the right balance between what to leave in, what to take out, and what to change when going from a Harry Potter book into a Harry Potter movie. While I still think that’s true, the final result of Movie Four (Goblet of Fire) feels somehow segmented. It’s one part, which leads to another, and then another, and so on until the final part. It didn’t feel as cohesive as Order of the Phoenix, which flows smoothly from frame one to the final showdown without stuttering.
Book five is among my least favorite of the books, and this time around the book is deleted, changed, and deviated from more than the other four but I think it’s to the benefit of the movie. We’ll soon know if anything too important was left out. Also, this movie does what none of the others have: it proves that Harry Potter is real.
Let me explain.
Luna
When I was at Hampshire we had a conversation where several of us stated that Harry Potter is not, in fact, fiction. I mean, you can get on a train in London and actually go to Hogwarts! It’s a real place and it’s all really happening! This movie proves it. You see, I make movies, I’ve worked with and seen performers, actresses, you know, and Luna Lovegood is no actress. Sure she has a pseudonym of “Evanna Lynch” but it’s really just Luna Lovegood. Yes, the crew this time around hired the actual character to play herself, on the condition that they call her “Evanna” so that we wouldn’t notice.
So let’s see, what else was cool about this movie? I’m glad that they finally started to use clips from the previous movies, and they managed (mostly with a lot of montages using The Daily Prophet) to set up a feeling that there’s a lot going on that we’re just not seeing on the screen. Things like Ginny and Hermione hanging out a lot, Fred and George planning on starting a store, Ron playing quidditch, etc. haven’t been deleted from the movie per say, they’re just not being shown on screen. There’s a lot that (could be) happening in between all the scenes. This also lends the movie an air of authenticity because it implies that the world of Harry Potter is too big for a movie. There’s mysterious “disappearances” going on that are only mentioned. There’s politics and secret societies and meetings that the younger characters aren’t involved in. There’s exams and classes and relationships that we don’t have time to see. But we know they’re all happening. Because it’s all real.
The payoff for all of this is that Harry has a weight to him that he’s never had before.
This is due in no small part to the increasingly talented portrayal by Daniel Radcliffe, as well as the way the script revised the story to focus solely on Harry. However they did it though, it makes this movie the most involving so far.
Did I mention that the final half-hour involves massive wizard duels including a showdown between Dumbledore and “Tom” himself? Cause it does. It’s awesome. No dragons though.
Oh yeah! I almost forgot to say that after a second viewing I noticed things about the structure of the story that have thus far eluded me due to the longer and more complicated nature of the book. There’s a huge running theme in this story about older, more experienced people versus the younger, more eager ones. The two new main characters are the best example. One is an older female who is proper, pink, and evil. She inspires, you could say, Umbrage. The other is a younger female who is naive, innocent, and joyful. She is, you could say, Lovegood. Another example is the M logo which represents the Ministry of Magic, that benevolent government out to maintain peace in the wizarding world (or perhaps just cause a war due to denial of reality). In any case if you flip their logo, the M, you get the W. W as in “Weasley.” It’s seen most prominently right after the fireworks burn Umbrage and erupt cheers out of everyone else (including the audience). The older characters in this story are mostly wrong, mostly blinded by their experience or their desire and end up in trouble for it. You know what they say about good intentions…
The younger characters are usually eager, strong followers of their desires and end up stronger and wiser for it. Perhaps the most poignant example is Dumbledore, who in this one is seen to be more humble than we’ve ever seen him. Especially when he admits, at the end, that he made a mistake with the way he dealt with Harry all year. Harry, on the other hand, seems more confident than ever.
One can only imagine how strong he’ll become once his unrequited love for Ginny is unbridled…

2007 Summer Movie Write Up – Part Two: Ocean’s 13, Shrek 3, Spiderman 3 and Ratatouille

9 Jul

      Ocean’s 13 is a good example of why I like to either see a movie twice, or wait a bit after seeing it before writing about it. Had I written an Ocean’s 13 review right after seeing it this would have been a gushing review, talking about how fun the movie is, how funny, how entertaining, and how well made. I suppose all of that is still true but the fact is that after a few weeks have gone by I’ve largely forgotten it. Soderbergh’s slick editing is as slick as ever, and the new casino that is computer generated seamlessly into the heart of Las Vegas is prime digital artistry. The music slickly glides along with it all and the cast is clearly loving their job. They’re fun to root for this time in part because they’re not stealing a bunch of money for themselves, they’re letting the people at the casino walk away with it thinking that they got lucky. The movie feels glitzy and glossy, like the shine from all the celebrities in it is physically manifesting itself and flowing out from the screen. So all in all Ocean’s 13 is fun to watch, funny, pretty, well made, and almost entirely forgettable.

soup

      Ratatouille on the other hand is a masterpiece. Everything about it – the music, the writing, the art design, the animation, the voices, the story, the humor, the purpose, the heart, everything about it is good. Pixar once again proves that they are far and away the best creative animation company in America (and possibly the world). Ratatouille is simply a joy to watch. In fact it’s only the second movie I can think of (after My Neighbor Totoro) which has conflict but no central villain. The drive of the story comes from wanting to fulfill the impossible dream – wanting it so much that maybe it’s not impossible, it’s only mostly impossible. It’s funny, it’s stunningly gorgeous to watch, and it’s just a gentle and loving story. All of the characters, not just the main ones, feel like they’re full-fledged living beings and while some of them may seem like functional roles, or exposition-carriers, by the time the movie plays out it becomes clear it’s more layered than that. It’s also interesting the way they dealt with the talking rats. Yes, they can talk, but only to themselves. To the human characters they sound like rats. So it’s not really about a talking rat that wants to be a cook, it’s about a regular rat (who happens to have heightened sense of smell) who wants to be a cook. It’s a shame if this movie gets lost in all the other big movies out right now. Do yourself a favor and see it.

      The less said about Shrek 3 the better I suppose, but I do feel like I should warn you. The best thing I can say about it is that it has some funny stuff in it. And of course the animation is stunning – the glint of light off the brass cookware, the puffed up fur of lightning-bolted rats, the way they animated the taste of different foods, the look of twilit Paris… wait, I’m talking about Ratatouille again. Nevermind. Shrek The Third is boring. It fails to make me care. Moving on.

      I feel similarly about Spiderman 3 except that I do care. I care because I loved the comics and really enjoyed watching the first two Spiderman movies. As time passes they become less enjoyable, but that’s no reason for the third one to be as un-fun as it was. It had good moments, (mostly stuff with Harry and Peter) but they all seem surrounded by so much implausibility or coincidence that the whole thing just doesn’t get passed my “suspension of disbelief” zone. Take Sandman: the music-free shot where he forms, starting with a macro shot on grains of sand and pulling out as each tiny grain slowly dances together forming and enveloping a new living entity, is downright beautiful. But the fact that he happened to fall into this science experiment just as it happened to be starting up? And that nobody after that knew what happened? And that the scientists started up the experiment despite not having any way to actually see what was going on inside it (like the fact that someone had fallen into it…) Wouldn’t they have cameras to monitor the experiment? What good is doing an experiment if you can’t watch it? And what, exactly, is this experiment anyways?
      And then there’s Venom who falls from space on a meteor which happens to land next to Peter Parker and happens to then attach to his bike. No other meteors fell with the black stuff? Only the one? Really? Not to mention the fact that if you’re going to put Venom into the movie it’s a shame to kill him off in the same movie. Also Gwen Stacy was wrong, but that’s been true since they stole her storyline and melded it with Mary Jane in the first movie. The bottom line is that the bad in the movie overshadows the good, and that’s a shame.

      And that’s all for this second installment of the 2007 summer movie write-up. Coming up next? Live Free or Die Hard, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End and… (yes, Care) Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix… which we are seeing at midnight on Tuesday.

2007 Summer Movie Write Up – Part One

28 Jun

Hello, and Welcome to part one of Juno’s 2007 Summer Movie Write Up. If you’d like to make that sentence as exciting as possible please go back and read it out loud with your best MoviePhone Voice impersonation. Today (since it comes out tomorrow) I cover Michael Moore’s new movie, Sicko, which is about the American health care system. The trailer can be seen here (although having seen the movie I must say that it’s a pretty terrible trailer. The tone of the film is entirely different, and some of that stuff isn’t even in the movie.) Other movies that will be covered include:

Shrek the Third
Live Free or Die Hard
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
Spiderman 3
Ratatouille
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Oceans 13

           Michael Moore is famous for being somewhat sensationalist. According to his reputation he’s concerned more about audience reaction than accuracy. Make no mistake, his TV show and movies support this reputation, and he is nothing if not a talented entertainer. Making films that end up with reputations as “documentaries” while eschewing accuracy for entertainment is a dangerous game, and it’s one he doesn’t totally win with Sicko, but I do think it’s the best he’s done, especially compared to his more recent fare of Fahrenheit 9-11 and Bowling for Columbine. This is mainly because the point of Sicko is bigger (and I would say more important) than anything else he’s done.
           Experience is the great determiner of human knowledge. The only way to really “know” anything is to experience it. Can one person’s experiences accurately present the complex story of America’s health care system in a simplified one-sided way? Not necessarily, but it is that person’s experience and that can’t be argued. For them at least, it is totally true. Much of Sicko consists of just this kind of presentation, which makes the movie immensely powerful. Perhaps he managed to find the only people in the country that get screwed over by America’s health care system, (not likely) but that doesn’t invalidate their experience or his main point. I’m sure there are people who love and have been saved by America’s health care system too, but they sure as hell aren’t in the movie. Does that make it sensationalist? Perhaps, but the point of the movie is still valid, powerful, and important, as are the stories of those that are in the film.
           Sicko introduces us first to people who don’t have insurance and have had to pay (or not) the price. These few people certainly had some unfortunate tales, but Michael Moore informs that the movie isn’t about them. Instead the movie is about the people that do have health insurance. Why? Because health insurance companies exist to make money, and they do that by not paying doctors and hospitals. The few people in the movie who don’t have health insurance get dwarfed by the myriad group of people that do have health insurance, but don’t have their health care paid for by it.
           Sicko (a terrible title, by the way) has footage of an (ex) insurance employee swearing in court that she is responsible for killing a man because she denied his claim, which meant he didn’t get the operation he needed. Why did she do this? It got her a promotion. Do all insurance employees do this? Do all insurance companies value the dollar over the health of their insured? Probably not… but Michael Moore shows that some, without a doubt, do. And they get rich doing it.
            The movie then follows Michael Moore as he follows a woman into Canada where she claims to be a citizen in order to get free health care. It’s illegal (as demonstrated by the cops showing up) but she does get the care she needs by running to the next-closest hospital where the cops aren’t. Michael Moore then travels to Canada, France, and London and asks locals how much their hospital stay cost, how much the house call by the doctor cost, how much they had to pay for surgery, etc. Always the answer is nothing. It’s all free. Are there citizens of these countries that get screwed over by their free/socialist/tax-funded health care system? Possibly, but they’re not in the movie. That doesn’t make experience and truth of the people in the movie any less valid. Does that make the movie sensationalist? Perhaps, but the overall point is still potent and true.
            I’m not going to go through the whole movie here (obviously I think you should see it for yourselves) but I would like to point out that it could very very easily have been even more sensationalist, and one-sided and, well, Michael Moore-ish. He doesn’t go bang on the doors of Kaiser Permanenté, or yell at Blue Cross and demand they atone for murder. He could, but he doesn’t. Because he doesn’t have to. Because Sicko is about something more important than simplification, petty politics, sensationalism, and fear of socialism.
            It’s about being humane.
            It’s about the fact that we, as humans, have a right to a healthy life. The point of Sicko is that we’re all human, so we should be given health care, whether we can afford insurance or not. It’s just humane. It’s just right. I can’t afford (and don’t currently have) health insurance. According to Sicko if I go to an American hospital and can’t afford my treatment the hospital will dump me on the street next to a shelter. (There is footage of this actually happening to an elderly woman in the movie. She is dumped, barefoot, still in the hospital robe, onto the street.) In France if I can’t afford my treatment it is given to me anyways, because I need it. And then I am given paid leave until I am better. Is this portrayal accurate? Is Michael Moore twisting things a little bit to tell a story? I don’t know. For the people in the movie though, yes, it is absolutely true. America (if not the entire world) should be like the France (or even the Cuba) of Sicko. If you’re sick, you need care. Period. You should get it. Period. Your country (if not your world) should provide it to you. Period.
            Perhaps we should all be provided with tickets to Sicko too. It may not be the best movie of the summer, but it’s probably the most important.