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Archive for May, 2011

So excited for X-Men: First Class! 97% @ RT.

I am so freaking excited for this.  And it even looks good.  Midnight showing, anyone?

(Jennifer Lawrence, Ree from Winter’s Bone, is young Mystique.  WTH?)

Categories: Snap Judgment

June 2011!

X-Men: First Class – James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender – sSet during the Cuban Missile Crisis, this takes a look at how it all began!  I am super excited for this!!

Super 8 – Steven Spielberg and JJ Abrams! – a found film about something extraterrestrial?

The Green Lantern – Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively – your favorite comic book hero finally gets his own movie.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins – Jim Carrey as Mr. Popper, as the businessmen who inherits six penguins!

Bad Teacher – Cameron Diaz + Justin Timberlake – teacher-teacher love.

The Troll Hunter – Nowegian film students go looking for trolls, which apparently have been kept secret by the government.

My fist hungers for justice! – on continuity and expansion in “Kung Fu Panda 2”

There is something very dangerous about sequels (and prequels and further additions). They can either be fantastic or terrible. Having thoroughly enjoyed “Kung Fu Panda,” I was hesitant to check out its sequel; how could anything top the original in terms of comic action, great voice acting, and an uplifting story? Luckily for us, “Kung Fu Panda 2” not only built on its predecessor, but also expanded the reach of its story to give us 1.5 hours of despair and delight!

The story continues: fatty panda Po, now the Dragon Warrior, happily protects the Valley of Peace along with the Furious Five, but a new trouble has arisen. Lord Shen, a peacock prince, is exiled and deprived of his birthright to rule. In revenge, he has invented a Weapon that threatens to overcome and extinguish all of Kung Fu! This new villain is elegant, an albino peacock with red and black eyes – he is more refined than the last movie’s Tai Lung, and also has more complicated issues.

Ever wonder why Po’s father is a goose? Apparently, he’s adopted! Big surprise, right? The story begins with Po experiencing a flashback/nightmare that throws him off guard. This causes him to confront his goose father and begin his search for answers to his mysterious past. The second movie deals heavily with the issue of parentage – our villain Lord Shen was banished by his parents, and Po’s parents are MIA – of course, the two end up talking about this connection.
The intimacy this approach takes, paralleled with the grand scale of Lord Shen’s plans (his goal is to have all of China bow down at his feet), gives the audience a great balance and scope of topics. The movie also stresses a similar topic as the first movie – a very soft, gentle (one might almost say squishy) approach to martial arts. Master Shi Fu tells Po at the beginning of the movie that he needs to “find inner peace” in order to grow as a warrior. It takes the whole movie, but the audience cheers Po on every second of the way.

Again, Jack Black is the perfect voice to fatty Po; Angelina Jolie provides a mature and solid voice for the hardcore Tigress, and Jackie Chan provides his typical comic relief as Monkey. The story’s action is nonstop, as is the humor; there are terribly sad scenes and also ridiculously comic ones. The leaps by which 3D animation has grown is really amazing; the expression on Po’s mother in one flashback is unbelievably emotional.

Overall – 4.5/5; a great, polished and surprisingly sophisticated sequel, “Kung Fu Panda 2” is an adventure well worth watching. There’s also a bit of a cliffhanger at the end of the movie, setting the stage for a potential third installation, which I hope will be just as great as this second one was.

Best regards,
Apple

Dragons and Vikings—Orion’s Take of “How to Train Your Dragon”

The village of Berk is really something else.  Filled with Vikings and sheep and constantly harassed by dragons, this is not a quiet village by any means.  Yet in this village lives a gentle, if kind of crazy, boy named Hiccup.  Yes, Hiccup—apparently Vikings give their children horrible names to scare away trolls and the like.  Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) is the son of the village chief, Stoick (voiced by Gerard Butler), and an aspiring Viking warrior.  Unfortunately for Hiccup, he is thin, smart, and too sarcastic for most Vikings.  He also has the problematic ability to wreak havoc whenever he steps outside of the smithy, where he is apprenticed to Gobber (voiced by Craig Ferguson) the one-armed, one-legged blacksmith warrior.  For this reason, whenever dragons attack, Hiccup is told to stay put inside, even though slaying a dragon is a source of pride, and a way to attract the attention of Hiccup’s love interest, Astrid (voiced by America Ferrera), a tough, no-nonsense Viking girl warrior.

Hiccup’s brainier approach to things comes in handy when he manages to capture a dragon no Viking has ever encountered and survived: the Night Fury, or as Hiccup calls him, Toothless.  Through Toothless, Hiccup begins to understand the nature of dragons, and comes to the conclusion that they aren’t all that bad.  Unfortunately, the things he is learning brings attention to him during dragon-slaying-training, which leads to an impossible situation: Hiccup is selected to kill a dragon in front of the whole village—something he simply cannot do.

If you think the plot sounds cute, you are right.  However, this is a plot which though simple on the surface, reveals deep complexities upon further digging.  Hiccup has to face questions like whether it is permissible to kill dragons, whether it is better to change into something you are not or to do something that might hurt the whole village, and so on.  These are not easy questions to answer, and the conclusion of the film proves that.  There are real consequences—even though you know Hiccup isn’t going to die, watching him struggle makes your heart jump.

The cast of this film is excellent, imbuing computerized characters with real heart.  Each Viking has a quirky personality to match an equally quirky name: Fishlegs is a rotund child who knows the Dragon manual like the back of his hand, Snotlout is a braggart whose pursuit of Astrid is doomed to failure, Ruffnut and Tuffnut are fraternal twins with nasty tempers.  But I felt the best characterizations of this film had to do with the dragons: each breed had its own style of fighting as well as its own unique look and personality.  Toothless is perfectly portrayed as a cat-like creature, aggressive and affectionate in equal parts.

Before I give this movie the great score it deserves, I want to write about the small, almost insignificant problem in this particular movie: the lack of strong female characters.  Apple disagrees with me on this point, citing Astrid as an example of a strong female supporting character.  Though Apple readily admits that Astrid doesn’t have a major impact on the story, she insists that this is due to the fact that Hiccup is the hero. I disagree—I feel as if the major actors of this story were inevitably male, even when they didn’t necessarily have to be.  This was only mildly distracting—I could see that the writers had purposefully tried to create a role model female character, but I still felt a little uneasy about the way Astrid turns very quickly from a competent, tough Viking girl, to a supporting teammate without any real decision-making power.  Despite this, I found myself utterly charmed by the dragons and Vikings of this particular story.

5/5 Waffles

-Orion

“But you just pointed to all of me!” – On cuteness done correctly in “How to Train Your Dragon”

I have to say that this is the cutest, sweetest, most exciting movie I have seen in a long time.  Screw “Thor,” which was terrible; it’s all about children’s movies!  I know it’s been a year since it came out, but Orion and I just sat down to watch “How to Train Your Dragon” today, after it was highly recommended over a Seabury dinner by Will, so thanks for that!

The premise is simple – the village of Berk is plagued by a little problem…dragons come and raid their livestock!  In response, the Vikings try again and again to find the dragon nest, to destroy them once and for all.  Despite this rather violent-sounding idea, the movie is still intended for children, and so everything is funny looking – the dragons are either fat or cute, and the people are either huge or scrawny.  This works quite well, actually, and the main dragon, named Toothless, is ridiculously adorable.

I’m not sure exactly why this movie was so good – it seems so simple, yet every aspect was done well.  The story moved at a reasonable pace, the characters were likable, and the animation was superb.  Very exciting, albeit silly, details make the movie even better.  (It turns out dragons hate eels and love grass, that they will chase reflected lights like cats chase laser pointers; who’d have thunk?)  Actually, the look of the dragons reminded me of an adorable children’s book, which I’m sure some of you must have read: “My Father’s Dragon”?  That book was adorable!

At the same time, the movie has a simple maturity about it.  It’s not particularly dark, but there are serious repercussions to messing with dragons, and in terms of a bildungsroman, our main little Viking Hiccup does seem to have learned by the end of the movie.  His rather funny relationship with his father Stoick the Vast, his friends, and also his dragon companion Toothless, are all reasonably (though by no means thoroughly) fleshed out.  It’s enough to drive the movie, anyway, and a very good one at that!

Overall – 5/5; this is an example of a movie that has everything done right.  Maybe this is because children’s movies have a smaller target audience (you’re only a child for a couple years; you’re an adult for a lot longer), but I feel that children’s movies have more thought put into them, more details considered and addressed.  It’s a shame the same can’t be said for older-audience movies – there are too many terrible ones to count!

Best regards,

Apple

“Do not mistake my appetite for apathy!”—Orion’s Take on Thor

May 7, 2011 3 comments

Bad movies can sometimes be good.  Stilted acting, corny costumes, and a little kitsch can act to render an otherwise terrible film quite enjoyable.  However, when a film transcends this kind of enjoyable terribleness, it plunges into the abyss of irredeemable stupidity.  Even the golden god of thunder can’t save this film from the trash can.

I don’t know how it is possible to make a movie like Eclipse look good.  Somehow, despite the formidable presence of a legend like Anthony Hopkins, this movie just sucked.  Maybe it was the utter incoherence of the plot—it’s as if the director couldn’t decide which angle to take (fantasy, sci-fi, comedy, romance?) so everything is smashed up into something that resembles a pile of sludge.  Though Chris Hemsworth does the best he can with a character that doesn’t do more than smirk and flex his muscles, but that simply is not enough.  What happened to Natalie Portman?  Watching her play an astrophysicist was as painful as getting teeth pulled.

The good parts?  What good parts?  No, ok, there were some redeemable scenes.  The scenes in which Thor beats some humans up is fun, but all the mystical/magical/fantasy fight scenes are an exercise choppy editing and more incoherency.  The humor is offbeat and often quite funny, but it simply can’t justify a terrible plot and even worse character development.  I don’t know what to say to such incompetency.

I guess all we can do is wait for Captain America and cross our fingers.

1.5/5 Waffles

Orion

This mortal form grows weak! I require sustenance! – on ridiculous attempts in “Thor”

It was down to “Thor” and “Fast Five” this week, and because I love Norse mythology, “Thor” won out.  Bad decision!  Hopefully, this terrible film doesn’t forever taint my memories of Thor, Odin, Loki, and all the rest.  In this movie, Thor is banished to Earth from Asgard for violating a truce between the frost giants and the Asgardians.  There, he meets astrophysicist Natalie Portman, falls in love, and learns (how exactly he learns, and from what, we’re not quite sure).

Giant Chris Hemsworth again dwarfs Portman, and the supposedly love that develops between the two is entirely ridiculous.  I don’t even know what the directors/writers were trying to go for when they made this happen.  It doesn’t help that the setup takes an incredibly long time to even get the story rolling, thereby cutting into valuable relationship-development time; actually, what am I talking about?  There was no relationship development.

While the drama in Asgard was okay, shot against a neat-looking background of gold and rainbows, the scenes on earth were just terrible.  This feels like one of those ideas that work really well in comic books, but a lot less so in movies.  This is especially bad because the movie kept cutting back and forth from Asgard to the New Mexico desert.  The fight scenes were also mediocre; after all, Thor has been deprived on his powers as part of his exile punishment, and keeps getting knocked out by silly things (I’m talking tasers here).

Overall – 2/5.  How in the world did “Thor” get such high approval ratings on Rotten Tomatoes?

Best regards,

Apple

It’s an easy B+! – on tributes in “Easy A”

“Easy A” begins with a montage of classic scenes from 80s movies – a teenage boy at your window holding up a boombox, driving a lawnmower, and pumping one’s fist into the air.  The film itself makes no effort to conceal its motifs to the typical teen-girl movie – these motifs could even be interpreted as tributes: we have a pop soundtrack, quirky parents, high school drama, and lots of snarky dialogue.   We even have a heroine with bright red hair, a la Lindsay Lohan from “Mean Girls.”

The premise behind “Easy A” is simple – Olive is a high school girl who gets caught up in the rumor mill.  Rather than feel ashamed, Olive basks in the attention and flaunts her newfound notoriety, even going so far as to embroider a crimson A on her clothes (the class is reading “The Scarlet Letter”).  This is a cute setup, and Olive is a refreshingly intelligent and relatively tough protagonist who at the same time has a compassionate side.  She’s willing to lie about what she’s done, and even willing to accept payment…

What sets “Easy A” apart from the slew of lamer high school comedy-dramas, (“John Tucker Must Die,” I’m looking at you,) is the charismatic Olive, for whom we must thank an excellent, quick-to-retort Emma Stone.  Penn Badgley is believably nice and sweet as “Woodchuck” Todd, the boy Olive’s had a crush on since eighth grade.  The rest of the supporting cast is nothing spectacular, but Stone brings energy to all the interactions in the movie.

There were quite a few parts of the film that could have been better – Olive goes through several uncharacteristic weak scenes, and the antagonist, super-religious Marianne Bryant (a plastic, fluffy Amanda Bynes), felt too staple.  As expected in a high school drama, there’s a side story involving teachers, (“Mrs. Norris is a pusher!” comes to mind), but the one here felt a little forced, a little misplaced; it was too serious to go with the light-hearted tone of the rest of the movie.

Overall – 3.5/5; fun and refreshing!  After getting so caught up in Starcraft lately, I’ve been skipping out on movies, and this reminded me how fun they can be!

Best regards,

Apple

Thor currently at 94/95% at RT:

I was under the impression that this was going to be terrible, but it looks like we’ll be in for a relatively good ride this Friday!

Categories: Previews
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