Tag Archives: Film

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: 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.

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.

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.

Movie Review: Dracula Untold (4 *’s) (2014)

Dracula Untold is the latest vampire story to hit the theatres. It purports to be the origin story of the most famous vampire of all time: Count Dracula (but not a real life account of Vlad Tepes, obviously). As such, it returns the traditional notion of a vampire: a potent force of darkness and slayer of men. The title role is played by Luke Evans, the guy who plays Bard in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. There are a number of other actors, of course, but I didn’t recognize any of them.

 

The story begins with a brief recap of the young Vlad Tepes’ early life. He was given, along with nine-hundred ninety-nine fellow children, as tribute to the Turkish caliphate. Here he was raised and trained as a ruthless warrior, a profession at which he excelled. Fast forward to the later years of Vlad’s life. The central conflict of the story is between the fully human Count Dracula, that is, Vlad Tepes and the ruler of the Turkish caliphate, Mehmed. Vlad and Mehmed were once the best of friends. Now, as caliph, Mehmed demands tribute. Vlad is happy to comply when such is just money. But, Mehmed is not satisfied with simple wealth. He wants a thousand young boys to train to replenish his army, one of them being Vlad’s own son, Ingeras. That goes too far and Vlad rebels. In desperation he seeks out the aid of an unholy vampire, but such aid may come at the cost of his soul.

 

Strengths: the plot held together well, the acting was fine, and the special effects were well-placed and perfectly respectable. The count’s desperation was well-exemplified and well portrayed. And although there was romance in the film, it was not of the cheesy Twilight variety. Vlad’s vampire nature did not make him more romantic; the romance was beset with tragedy. Vlad’s vampire nature was not regarded as a blessing or in any way positive. Weaknesses: I would almost call the fight between Vlad and Mehmed at the end a weakness. Vlad, as a vampire, should have ripped right through Mehmed. But the movie made clear that the silver present weakened Vlad, so the climactic fight could be, in fact, a struggle. I can’t think of any other true or pseudo weaknesses at all. I liked this film.

 

I’ll give Dracula Untolda grand total of four stars out of five.

Movie Review: Left Behind (4*’s) (2014)

Left Behind is the latest Hollywood release that focuses on a fundamentally Christian event, although one that supposedly occurs in our future and not one from the distant past. The event: The Rapture: where Jesus of Nazareth gathers the worthy up into the sky so they don’t have to face the final tribulations before the end of the world. It’s based on the novel of the same name which is the beginning of a series of novels about the end of the world and the experiences of those people left behind from the Rapture. If you can accept the premise, it’s actually a good movie. Non-Christians, obviously, will probably find the movie to be too “Biblely” in concept, but I enjoyed it. There are a number of main characters in the movie: Rayford Steele (Nicholas Cage), Chloe Steele (Cassi Thomson), Buck Williams (Chad Michael Murray), and several others of less importance.

 

The movie begins with Chloe Steele flying home into an airport to visit her family for her father’s birthday party. Unfortunately, her father Rayford, a pilot, has been called in to work so he will be flying out soon. They meet each other at the airport and have a brief, tense, conversation. Chloe is angry that Rayford is working while she’s visiting. At the airport, Chloe also meets Buck Williams a famous, investigative journalist for the news and there is a little bit of romantic tension. There is also a ‘bible-thumper’ who is on-screen only for a couple minutes to relay the usual spiel that all the wars and disasters are signs of the Second Coming. Chloe tells her off, and she does not reappear in the film. Of course, a short while later, while Chloe is at the mall with her brother, and Rayford is flying a plane, the Rapture occurs. There is an initial bout of pure chaos as the people of the world try to cope with millions of people simultaneously disappearing in the blink of an eye. The story follows Chloe and Rayford in their search for answers and the desperate attempt to land Rayford’s plane.

 

Strengths: like I said, you have to accept the premise. Once you do so, this is a pretty good film. It held my attention the whole way through. It was religiously motivated, but it didn’t seem too over the top—at least to me. The characters were just average people dealing with a very unusual situation. Weaknesses: I don’t think there were many weaknesses. The only thing I’ll say is that it probably won’t appeal to non-religious, or non-Christian people, at least in concept. Those with an open mind, however, might like it.

 

Over all, I’ll give Left Behind a solid four stars out of five.

Movie Review: Hercules (4 *’s) (2014)

Hercules is the latest reimagining of the amazing Greek hero of antiquity of the same name. Finally, it is played by an actor who actually looks the part (although that could be said of The Legend of Hercules, too). I mean, I loved Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys but he’s just not quite as buffed up as I would have preferred. After all, Hercules was known for his great strength. Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a. The Rock of wrestling fame, is so ripped, it’s ridiculous. He looks the part. Dwayne Johnson is supported by a small cast of actors who make up Hercules’ traveling company. Unfortunately, I didn’t recognize anyone else except Ian McShane, who I’ve seen somewhere else, but I couldn’t quite place. Going by the credits, it could be Pirates of the Caribbean, or a few other things. Also, there was John Hurt who played Lord Cotys (spoiler alert), the true villain of the movie. I’ve seen John Hurt in a number of things and like him as an actor.

Anyway, the movie tells the story of a single adventure of Hercules’. There are references to his twelve labors, but this is not one of them. In actuality, the movie takes a “realistic” perspective of Hercules. He is a man of great strength, with a number of companions. One of them is the bard-in-training, Iolaus, who has the task of magnifying and spreading the Hercules legend. It’s kind of funny, tongue-in-cheek type stuff. Basically, Iolaus exaggerates the events that occurred, building up Hercules’ legend to demoralize enemies. It’s a different, and refreshing take on the legend. I think I prefer the Hercules as semi-divine hero story, to the Hercules as just a really strong man story, but I’ve always been biased toward fantasy. Anyway, the story revolves around Hercules’ encounter with Lord Cotys, a man who originally hires Hercules to train his army and bring to justice a rival warlord. Little does he know, that the warlord is really an honorable rebel, and Cotys is the diabolical tyrant.

Strengths: the acting was fine, the special effects were good, and the plot, although predictable to a certain extent, was still enjoyable and coherent. Weaknesses: if you are looking for magic and sorcery, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Like I said, the story plays up the realism angle. You are never convinced that Hercules really is the son of Zeus or not. The feats he performs, though, are sufficient to give you cause to believe such if you so choose. I kind of like that theory, so I’m sticking to it.

Overall, the movie was quite good and I’ll give it four out of five stars.

Movie Review: Oculus (4 *’s) (2013)

Oculus has an intriguing concept for a movie. Basically, there is a cursed/demonic mirror responsible for a string of deaths reaching back several hundred years. Two twenty-somethings, a brother and a sister, who witnessed the deaths of their own parents, are preparing to prove the mirrors culpability to the world, and, hopefully, destroy the mirror in the process. The movie stars Karen Gillan (playing Kaylie Russell), Brenton Thwaites (Tim Russell), Katie Sackhoff (Marie Russell—the mom), and Rory Cochrane (Alan Russell—the dad). The only one of those I’ve seen elsewhere is Katie Sackhoff who plays Starbuck in the remake of Battlestar Gallactica and a mercenary in Riddick (the third movie in featuring the dark hero played by Vin Diesel).

 

The movie begins with the psychological evaluation and subsequent release of Tim Russell. He is now an adult, having been confined to a criminal sanitarium for the murders of his father and mother. He meets his sister and they have a brief joyous reunion. Then, things start to turn dark. Tim’s nearly decade of psychological treatment has succeeded in warping his true memories of the seemingly impossible events of his parents’ deaths. He no longer believes in the mirror. Now, he has accepted the responsibility as the murderer of his parents. The sister, however, who has never undergone therapy, has not forgotten the true events and, after much research and hard work, she has found the location of the mirror. The first half of the movie consists of Tim and Kaylie arguing over the truth or falsity of their experiences. Tim says it didn’t happen; Kaylie says it did. Kaylie has set up an elaborate quasi-scientific experiment to prove to all the naysayers that his brother was innocent and that true culprit was the horrid power of the mirror. Woven into this dialogue are the reawakening memories of Tim regarding the horrid events of his past. It is seamlessly woven together and combined it makes for an intriguing trek. The tension builds throughout until reaching the deadly climax.

 

Strengths: the acting was fine; the plot was intriguing and very well done; and the shifts in timeline were well orchestrated. The special effects were well-placed and not overdone. Weaknesses: maybe I’ve seen too many of these, but I was never really scared watching the film. Startled a few times, perhaps, but not really frightened. Of course, I saw it on the TV and not in a theatre and that has an impact. Regardless, the movie held my attention throughout and it was very suspenseful if not frightful.

 

Overall, I’ll give the film Oculus a rating of four out of five stars … maybe even four and a half stars.

Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy (4 *’s) (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxyis the latest film adapted from Marvel Comics. I thought this movie was going to be horrible going by the trailer which did not impress me at all. Originally, I had no intention of seeing it. But I heard a few good things about it, so I figured I would give it a gander. It tells the story of a motley group of galactic heroes who, through happenstance and conscious choice, find themselves working together to save the Galaxy. It stars Chris Pratt as Peter Quill (aka Starlord), Zoe Saldana as Gamora, Dave Bautista as Drax, Vin Diesel as the voice of Groot, and Bradley Cooper as the voice of Rocket (the genetically modified raccoon).

 

The main character is, of course, Peter Quill, aka Starlord, a half-human, half-alien (although he looks completely human) who was abducted from Earth shortly after his mother’s death when he was about 10 years old. The story begins as Peter Quill is recovering an orb for a galactic outlaw. What is in the orb, he doesn’t know. But soon, he’s caught up in a chaotic struggle as the orb is stolen, re-stolen, and re-stolen again. Everyone wants the orb, but he doesn’t know why. The struggle brings him into contact with Gamora, Drax, Groot, and Rocket. They are a motley collection of miscreants who eventually decide to work together—but only after they have beaten each other senseless in their own efforts to get the orb. They wind up in prison together and must learn to trust each other in order to escape.

 

Strengths: the acting was good, the plot coherent, the special effects well done and well placed, and the characters were memorable. My favorite character turned out to be Rocket the Raccoon. Going by the trailer, I thought he’d just be stupid; but I was pleasantly surprised. That said, I liked all the characters and enjoyed the action and intrigue in the film. Weaknesses: this was a PG-13 movie—I’m not sure it had to be, but it was. There was some mild profanity which was fine by the PG-13 rating, but which really didn’t fit the overall tone of the movie. It’s like they put the profanity in as an afterthought to earn that type of rating, maybe. I don’t know. But it just didn’t seem to fit the characters, because for the bulk of the movie, the dialogue was clean. Anyway, it was still a good movie.

 

I’ll give Guardians of the Galaxyfour stars out of five.