Category Archives: Movie Review

A review of a movie in the fantasy genre.

Movie Review: Cinderella (3 *’s or 4 ½ *’s) (2015)

All right. I admit it. I broke down and went and saw Cinderella. Mostly for this blog. But I was also curious. Anyway, the film is by Disney, of course. It was directed by Kenneth Branagh and starred Cate Blanchett (the cruel stepmother), Helena Bonham Carter (the fairy godmother), and a number of lesser well-known names.

It tells the story of Cinderella. And just so. I haven’t seen the original Cinderella animated film nor read any of the stories for a number of years, but this version added nothing new. It kept to the original storyline and at times seemed to move swiftly through it, ticking off story details as it went. Which is fine. I was kind of hoping that there would have been some additional “meat” to the story, but there wasn’t. It was basically (as far as I can remember), the animated version told with real people with little variation. It is a far cry from the film Ever After (starring Drew Barrymore in 1998) which is a Cinderella story with real content that I highly recommend.

Anyway, Cinderella is a young woman whose life takes a turn for the worse when first her mother dies, and then her father (after remarrying). The stepmother and her two daughters treat Cinderella awfully, making her basically an oppressed servant in her own household. Then, through a freak chance she meets the prince and the romantic legend begins to bloom.

Strengths: it was put together fine; the acting was fine; the special effects were spectacular, of course (but that goes without saying … I mean it’s 2015 and it’s Disney); the plot, although somewhat thin, made a coherent whole. Weaknesses: probably the only major weakness was that the romantic relationship was built on virtually nothing … a couple chance meetings, and that was it. But the film was made for children, so that’s probably not a fair criticism. Anyway, it was okay as far as Disney children films go. Not sure it needed to be rated PG; it might have gotten away with a mere G.

Anyway, I’ll give Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella three stars if you’re an adult, but four and a half if you’re a little kid looking for a classic romantic fairy tale.

Old Movie Review: Heavenly Sword (3 ½*’s) (2014)

Heavenly Sword is an animated film (I did not realize that when we first picked it out—but that’s okay, animated films are fine) set in ancient Japan (or, at least, that’s how it appeared to me). The main character is a young woman named Nariko (voice by Anna Torv). She has a compatriot (her sister) named Kai (Ashleigh Ball). The movie is based on the computer game of the same name. I’ve never played the game, so I can’t really comment on it. The movie had the feel of a computer game. It was almost like watching someone else play a computer game. Although if that is the case, the individual playing has the skill to complete it.

Anyway, the basic plot is …. hmmm, where to begin? Nariko’s family has guarded the Heavenly Sword for untold years. The Heavenly Sword is the weapon of a deity who wielded the blade to defeat an ancient, powerful enemy centuries ago. Then the deity disappeared. There is a prophecy that one day the Chosen One will be born to Nariko’s family and will wield the Heavenly Sword once again. Nariko is that child. Well, almost. She’s born at the right time and place—the first child of her father—but she’s a girl. Believing that only a boy can be the Chosen One, her father all but ignores her growing up and does little to train her. Then one day an evil king arrives at the family’s fortress with an army behind him. Soon, the fortress is in ruins and Nariko is fleeing across the countryside with the Heavenly Sword in tow, desperately searching for the true Chosen One, presumably her half-brother.

Strengths: the action was good; the plot was engaging; the dialogue was interesting. There were a few cliches, but that’s fine. Like I said, it had the feel of a computer game. It was a good way to spend about an hour and a half if you are looking for some mindless violence and chaos … all for fun, of course. Weaknesses: like I said, there were a couple cliches. But other than that, I don’t recall any major weakness in the storyline or the characters. Well, it might not be appropriate for very young children because Nariko’s father, after her birth, slept with (and sometimes raped) numerous other women in the hopes of begetting a son. But that all happens off-screen in the past.

Anyway, the film was okay for what it’s worth. I’ll give it three and a half stars out of five.

Movie Review: Seventh Son (3 ½ *’s)(2015)

            Seventh Son is a movie inspired by the novel The Spook’s Apprentice. I think there is also a novel or a series of novels out there entitled The Seventh Son of a Seventh Son which has some connection to the movie as well, but I’ve read neither, so I can’t say for sure. Anyway, the main character of this book is Tomas Ward, the apprentice of Master Spook, Gregory. A spook is a man who hunts down evil spirits and creatures. The main antagonist in the story is an evil witch queen named Mother Malkin who leads a group of lesser witches in a bid for absolute power.

The story begins with Master Gregory imprisoning Mother Malkin in a deep dark pit, covered with iron. He thinks this will hold her forever, and so he leaves her. However, ten years pass; the iron covering rusts; and the blood moon rises. As her power peaks, Mother Malkin escapes and begins to plot revenge. She kills Master Gregory’s current apprentice and he is forced to find another. Enter Tomas Ward. He is the seventh son of a seventh son (as all Spooks are). Master Gregory seeks his family out, pays the parents a significant quantity of coin, and recruits Tomas. Pressed for time, Master Gregory endeavors to train Tomas on the go. He barely survives the first evening in Master Gregory’s home because he encounters an infernal skeleton that animates and attacks. Only the intervention of Master Gregory saves him. Still, believing he lacks the time, Master Gregory still insists on seeking Mother Malkin out and training Tomas on the go. The movie follows the standard fantasy quest from there. There is a love interest, a few conflicts, lots of special effects, and so forth.

Strengths: the characters were interesting and well-developed, the story was consistent and semi-decent, and the special effects were good (as most modern movies are). The acting was fine and the dialogue was decent. Weaknesses: the plot was somewhat lacking. It was pretty much standard fantasy quest type stuff … no surprises. My biggest complaint isn’t so much a complaint as it is a warning concerning the portrayal of witches. They are portrayed in the typical Western way. Witches are evil (except for one who isn’t), servants of demons and hell. There is no exploration of the religion of Wicca in the film. For me, this is fine, because I kind of like the demonic witch figure for the purposes of story-telling. That said, such stories tend to do a disservice to real witches. Real Wicca does not involve Satan-worship or the casual practice of evil despite what some groups might say. In Wicca there is a God and a Goddess (or a Goddess and her Consort). If I want to know what a witch believes in, I will ask the witch and not someone from a different religion that has a skewed view of her. Anyway, I could probably go off for pages on Wicca and its misinterpretation, but I’ll just leave that topic there.

Anyway, Seventh Son was okay, but nothing to write home about. I’ll give it three and a half stars out of five.

Movie Review: Exodus: Gods and Kings: (3 ½ *’s) (2014)

Exodus: Gods and Kings is the latest Hollywood attempt at making a movie from a biblical story. The film stars Christian Bale as Moses, as well as Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley in two minor roles. There are other actors, of course, but none with names as big as these.

The story is basically the main story of the book of Exodus in the Bible. The Israelites are forced to seek refuge in Egypt from a famine (I think that’s accurate). At some point in their stay there, they are declared slaves and forced to build many of the great structures of ancient Egypt. Their slavery lasts four hundred years, giving them time to multiply, be beaten down, and ruthlessly oppressed. They call out to God, but it seems that he does not hear, until a savior is born. A child by the name of Moses who escapes certain death by being abandoned in the Nile by his mother and found by a member of the royal family. He is raised a prince in Pharoah’s house unaware of his true heritage. He visits the Jews in their servitude. One of them tells him the truth; he does not believe him, so goes on his way. He is accosted by an Egyptian guard whom he kills. He is banished from Egypt for the murder, sentenced to live in exile. In the desert he is tested and tried until he finds a new home and family. Then, he has a terrible fall and encounters God and his whole life changes.

Strengths: the acting was good, the story was engaging, and had one or two embellishments which added to it in an acceptable fashion. There were no terrible holes in the plot. The God in the movie acted through nature as opposed to in contradiction of nature … which can be a plus or a minus depending on how you want to look at it. Biblical purists probably won’t like that aspect of it. Weaknesses: they had an Egyptian counselor who explained the plagues of Egypt in a scientific fashion that seemed too advanced for the time in question. But that is what you are probably most likely reduced to when you have a God that works through nature. Also, the plagues were over in a heartbeat. Finally, I didn’t like the portrayal of God as a child; in fact, God, at times, seemed almost demonic to me. Oh yes, and one more thing, the movie didn’t seem to have a clear grasp that Moses was the servant, and God was the God. When he was inscribing the Ten Commandments Moses said, “I wouldn’t inscribe them, if I didn’t agree with them.” That’s a bit touchy. It’s really not Moses place to agree or disagree with God. And Bible purists will probably take issue with that as well.

Anyway, despite its faults, it was an entertaining movie, and I’ll give Exodus: Gods and Kings three and a half stars out of five.

Movie Review: Into the Woods: (4 stars) (2014)

Into the Woods is the latest musical released into theatres by Disney. It follows the tradition of many animated features, but is a live-action film with lots of singing. It showcases a lot of talented actors and actresses in it. The most significant are: Meryl Streep (as the witch), Emily Blunt (as the Baker’s Wife), Johnny Depp (as the Wolf), James Corden (as the Baker), and Anna Kendrick (as Cinderella). The tale told incorporates four famous Fairy Tales into a single tale woven around a Baker and his wife.

The Baker and his wife are childless. At the beginning of the movie, they learn that this is the result of a curse. A witch offers to reverse the curse, if the pair obtain four special items integral to four concurrent fairy tales: a cow white as snow, a golden slipper, yellow hair like corn, and a cape red as blood. The cow, of course, belongs to Jack (Jack and the Beanstalk), the slipper belongs to Cinderella, the yellow hair belongs to Rapunzel, and the red cape belongs to Little Red Riding Hood. Desperately, the Baker and his Wife enter the wood in search of the four items, items with which the owners may not easily part. Each tale interweaves with the others creating a tapestry of mystery and magic.

Strengths: it was a musical, so the acting qua acting (love that word) was minimal, but what there was was very good. There was lots of singing, and the singing was well-performed as well. The special effects were good, and the plot was engaging. The dialogue, via song and sometimes not, was also good. Weaknesses: the movie was dark at times, possibly too dark for the very young. However, it was rated PG, not G, so I would think that parents should be cautioned against bringing the very young to the film. My biggest complaint comes at the end. And it has nothing to do with plot, acting, or dialogue. One of the last musical numbers played in the song had questionable lyrics. There was a lot of “There is no right or wrong,” or something to that effect. Disney did the same thing briefly in Frozen, an animated film I richly enjoyed. I just do not think it is a good idea to try to instill in our children that there is no moral truth. Yes, I get the notion that we all make mistakes. But you can only understand a mistake through a moral lens. The music itself was fine … it was just the words were not appropriate, I think. Also of concern to parents, I’m sure, was when the Baker’s Wife and Cinderella’s prince (married prince, at that) had a brief tryst in the woods.

Despite its flaws, it was still an enjoyable film and I’ll give Disney’s Into the Woods a full four stars out of five.

Movie Review: Interstellar (4 *’s) (2014)

Interstellar is the latest film directed by Christopher Nolan, the man who brought us the most recent Batman trilogy. It is a long film (nearly three hours) that tackles the realities of interstellar travel, actually intergalactic travel to be more precise. It stars a number of big names: Matthew McConaughey (as Cooper), Anne Hathaway (as Brand), and Michael Cain (as the elder Brand). Cooper’s daughter, Murph, is played by three actresses: Mackenzie Foy (10 years old), Jessica Chastain (adult), and Ellen Burstyn (old woman).

The story begins on Earth in the not-too-distant future. A terrible blight has struck wiping out entire crops at a time. The only thing that grows is corn, and its future is uncertain as well. The situation is desperate. The elder Professor Brand works at a secret NASA station on a secret project. As a result of an apparent paranormal event (which is explained later in the film and which is probably the film’s biggest weakness), Cooper is given the coordinates where the NASA station is located. He sets off with his daughter, Murph, in tow and finds the station; whereupon he is captured by a robot. After a brief interrogation, Professor Brand actually offers Cooper a spot on the upcoming mission that NASA is preparing for. The goal is to find a suitable planet where humanity can start over. Cooper and four other astronauts (including Professor Brand’s daughter) are to be sent to the outer reaches of the solar system to where a wormhole has opened leading to another galaxy. The explanation for the wormhole is somewhat mysterious: “they” are responsible—a mysterious alien race that has taken an interest in the Earth’s plight. So, Cooper and the others pass through the wormhole in search of a habitable planet. Will they find one? I’m not tellin’!

Strengths: the acting was superb, the plot was … stellar (just kidding)—the plot was really good, the special effects were great and always appropriate, and the music score was exceptional as well, kind of a mix of haunting melancholy at times and adventurous derring-do. The fact that they tackled relativistic time distortions effectively was a big plus. Weaknesses: I think the film’s biggest weak point was the explanation of the paranormal event I referred to earlier. It did succeed in tying everything back together again, but it struck me as a little cheesy. Other than that, I don’t think there were many big weaknesses. Although it was long; this film is definitely a major time commitment.

Overall, I enjoyed Interstellar quite a bit. I’ll give it four stars out of five.

Movie Review: Hunger Games 3: Mockingjay Part I (4 *’s)(2014)

Hunger Games 3: Mockingjay Part I is the latest instalment in the Hunger Games series, the best-selling books by Suzanne Collins that have been made into movies. It brings back the usual cast of characters: Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark, Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne, Donald Sutherland as President Snow, Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy, Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee, and Julianne Moore as President Alma Coin. A lot of big names for a big movie.
The story continues where the preceding Hunger Games movie left off. Katniss has destroyed the Hunger Games and has escaped the wrath of President Snow by taking refuge with the resistance housed in District 13. Her home, District 12, has been destroyed. She finds herself in the midst of a love triangle, torn between Peeta Mellark, her companion for the Hunger Games, and Gale Hawthorne, a young man she has known since childhood. At this moment in the story, she seems to be favoring Peeta. But there is more to her than budding romance. She finds herself the center of attention for a burgeoning rebellion against the Capitol and President Snow. With some reluctance, she agrees to be the symbol of this growing rebellion. Death and destruction are both becoming more prevalent throughout the Districts as sparks of unrest flare. President Alma Coin—the freely chosen democratic leader of District 12—knows that the rebellion needs a unifying figure. Katniss may be just what she is looking for, yet she has doubts. Katniss must first prove herself to this woman. Can they learn to work together and bring down President Snow? Or is Katniss destined to lose all she holds dear including both Peeta and Gale? Find out and see the movie.
Strengths: the acting was good, the plot was good, and the special effects were well done and realistic. The characters were well-developed; you really learned about the evil and ruthlessness of President Snow while admiring the tenacity of Katniss. It was a good flick. Weaknesses: there were a couple of points where I thought Katniss was kind of childish, but those were rare, and they may have been deliberate. She was a complex character (maybe). I thought a couple scenes and some of the dialogue was too predictable. For example, there was a scene with Katniss, Coin, and Plutarch where Katniss shows her spine that I thought was somewhat cheesy. But perhaps that is just me.
Anyway, I’ll give Hunger Games 3: Mockingjay Part I four stars out of five.

Old Movie Review: Carrie (2013) (4 *’s)

Carrie is the remake of the movie of the same name based on the Stephen King novel, again, of the same name (I think). It tells the story of Carrie White, a shy, introverted young girl who is a pariah amongst her peers at school. She is the daughter of a religious fanatic, actually an all-but-psychotic religious fanatic played by Julianne Moore. In full disclosure, I have never read Stephen King’s novel, nor did I ever see the original movie.

 

The story begins with Carrie having her first period in the girls’ shower at school. Unfortunately for her, because she has been so obsessively sheltered by her mother, she doesn’t know what it is. To her she is simply bleeding and there is pain. The result is that she starts flipping out. She doesn’t know what’s going on and she starts calling for help. The other girls in the locker room quickly figure out what’s going on and pretty much do what most teenage kids do to the unpopular kid in school. They start to torment her by throwing tampons and what-have-you at her. One of the kids actually comes to her senses and stops of her own accord, but the rest continue until a teacher shows up. From there, it is a kind of typical kid-being-bullied story in high school with an added twist. Unbeknownst to anybody, Carrie is telekinetic and her powers grow in strength throughout the movie. A final reckoning comes (spoiler alert) when the mean girls dump a bucket of pig’s blood on Carrie at the senior prom. This sets Carrie off, and she begins to slaughter people. The chaos culminates at Carrie’s home where her psychotic fanatical mother tries to kill her. The movie ends with the one sympathetic school mate Carrie had testifying in court to the events that transpired saying basically that Carrie was the same as the rest of us; we just pushed her too far.

 

Strengths: the acting was good, the story held together well, there were no glaring flaws that I noticed, and the special effects were good and did not come to dominate the film. Weaknesses: my one complaint, and this probably goes back to the original novel, was the character of Carrie’s mother. She was portrayed as a psychotic religious nut and I get kind of tired of seeing that type of character pop up in movies. It seems that any mention of religion in these movies is always through the lens of psychosis or what-have-you. She wasn’t really a character, she was more a caricature. And that gets tiresome. Of course, a ‘normal’ religious person probably wouldn’t be as interesting as a crazy one, but oh, well.

 

Anyway, I’ll give Carrie four stars out of five.

Movie Review: Fury (4 *’s) (2014)

I don’t usually watch military movies—they normally don’t interest me, but Fury seemed like an unusual and intriguing story; so I went to see it with a friend. It’s a war movie set in Germany during the final Allied Invasion in World War II. The main characters are the five man crew of an American tank called Fury. It stars Brad Pitt (as Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier), Shia LaBeouf (as Boyd “Bible” Swan), and several other lesser-known actors. Logan Lerman plays the latest recruit to the crew: Norman Ellison, a green private who is ill-prepared for the job ahead.

The story begins, roughly speaking, with Fury’s return to an Allied base after a brutal combat in which they lost their gunner. The master sergeant assigns private Norman Ellison to replace him, much to Don Collier’s dismay. In any event, they are given a new mission: to assist in the capture of a nearby town. Six tanks short, they proceed on their mission. It is a quick success; they capture the town, execute an SS Nazi, and disarm the children who were being armed against them. (Yes, according to the film, the Nazi’s used children as soldiers, and if they resisted, they were hung up to die and serve as examples to other children).Then, they are assigned another mission: to take and hold a crossroads. It’s a critical juncture between the Allied Forces and the Germans. It is there that their courage, resolve, and stamina are truly tested. A lone tank with limited ammo against several hundred troops. Can they hold their position? Or is their destruction inevitable? I’m not telling.

Strengths: the special effects were good, the acting was good—Shia LaBeouf, in particular, did an excellent job. For once a religious person was represented by Hollywood in a non-demeaning way. The plot held my attention throughout the film. And there were no logical loopholes (but, of course, I think it was supposed to be based on a true story—I think) that I detected. Weaknesses: there were none that I noticed. For a moment, I was going to say that the use of plastic was a problem because I wasn’t sure how long that material has been around, but according to Wikepedia, it’s been around for quite long.

Anyway, I’ll give Fury a full four stars out of five.

Old Movie Review: Transformers 4: Age of Extinction (4 *’s) (2014)

Transformers 4: Age of Extinction is the latest installment in the Transformers series. It stars a number of big names: Mark Wahlberg (as the gifted mechanic Cade Yeager), Stanley Tucci (as the corrupt, in-over-his-head business tycoon, Joshua Joyce), and Kelsey Grammer (as CIA agent Harold Attinger). I was never a big Transformers fan as a kid—I think they came out about a year too late for me: I thought they were kind of pedorky. Nowadays, I kind of rate them as neutral. They generally don’t get me excited, but neither do I run fleeing from them in disdain. I went to see this movie to hang out with a friend who is a much bigger fan of the Transformers. And I have to say, I really liked this movie.

There are several story threads going at the same time throughout the movie; each thread is related to the others and they weave in and out to tell a complete tale. On the one hand, there is Cade Yeager, a brilliant mechanic who enjoys turning junk into technology. One day he brings an old beat-up truck home to work on. Surprise! It turns out to be Optimus Prime. Unbeknowst to Yeager, there is a corrupt CIA agent named Harold Attinger who, in conjunction with an alien Transformer bounty hunter, is seeking out Autobots in general, and Optimus Prime in particular. Attinger has formed a special unit called Cemetery Wind to do the dirty work. Finally, there is business tycoon Joshua Joyce who has made a deal with Attinger to acquire transformium (the material Transformers are made from), study it, and develop new technologies from it. Little does he know that he’s being manipulated by Megatron. It is up to Cade Yeager, Optimus Prime, and the remaining handful of Autobots to once again save the world. Pitted against them is Megatron, who has been upgraded to a more advanced robot, and he has an army of new decepticons, also upgraded, to aid him.

Strengths: the special effects were great. The acting was good, although with Mark Wahlberg, Kelsey Grammer, and Stanley Tucci it’s hard to go wrong. The dialogue was good and the plot was engaging. I was engrossed in the movie the whole time. And, of course, the Dinobots were really cool. Weaknesses: I can’t really think of any weaknesses. There was action, excitement, and everything flowed from one moment to the next. Everything held together and made a cohesive whole. If you like Transformers, I’m sure you’ll like this movie.

I’ll give Transformers 4: Age of Extinction a total of four stars out of five.