I went in knowing very little about the movie, besides that it involved time travel and I wasn’t particularly interested in seeing it. When the movie finished, I sat in my seat for a little bit, thinking. The film caught me completely off guard, perhaps because I had such low expectations for it, but perhaps because it was uniquely designed, told an unexpected story, and brought more to the table than its trailers promised it would.
The film is creative in many ways, especially in the way that it uses time travel as a tool, not as a purpose; time travel is set up an interesting way through which we can explore certain ideas. We could go on and on debating the incorrect details of how the did or did not handle time travel, but that’s simply displaced, even by the characters themselves. In the words of Old Joe, Bruce Willis, “this time travel crap just fries your brain like an egg,” who goes on to dismiss all.
There’s a terribly gruesome scene, during which we don’t actually see anything. Somehow, that lack makes the scene all the more worse – imagination has always been the most powerful storyteller.
There’s a wry sense of humor pervading the film. Small moments, like the name of the waitress with fewer letters. Good interplay between past/present Joe. Nice camera decisions, poignant imagery.
Emily Blunt did an excellent job here, coming off as both tough and struggling, a great improvement from her performance in “The Adjustment Bureau.” Joseph Gordon-Levitt was fine too, although he looked a little strange, trying so hard to be a young Bruce Willis.
After countless years of heroes that have ranged from toys to old men, from fish to cars, Pixar finally unveils its first movie with a heroine. This alone is exciting news, but add several Time Magazine articles building hype about the rise and fall of the movie, scrapping of the plot and starting over, a female director replaced by a male director – and suddenly, it feels like there’s a whole lot more at stake.
Within the first few moments, we see Merida, voiced amazingly by Kelly Macdonald, show her fierce personality. I can only imagine the hundreds of people who must have worked night and day to bring the bounce to Merida’s fiery red hair, every individual strand curled, blowing in the wind. She shows a stronger bond with the bow and arrow than with her mother’s teachings of propriety, and often shows her wild nature – we see her cantering in the woods, shooting targets (with proper bowmanship, according to Charles), and altogether being free and daring. She’s a fine heroine for Pixar to start with, and the trailer certainly highlighted her stubborn nature at its best.
What the trailer doesn’t truly show is the true plot of the story – at its heart, Brave is about the tense relationship between Merida and her mother, the ever-proper Elinor. With very little warning, Elinor is turned into a bear, and from there the actual story begins. I liked Brave until it took this turn – it made sense that Merida would refuse her suitors, showing up to “shoot for [her] own hand [in marriage],” and otherwise playing the tough girl. What I couldn’t get on board with was the choice to make this into a mother-daughter story, one that glossed over potentially complicated issues to make a movie about wild-daughter introduces proper-mother to nature.
As always, everything was beautiful. Merida’s hair was gorgeous throughout, the textures of clothing were always detailed, the animals were cute and the woods were wonderfully brought to life. Merida’s toddler triplet brothers provided adorable comic relief throughout the movie, though, as someone pointed out, it was completely unnecessary for furthering the plot. The soundtrack was heartwarming, and the ending was surprisingly touching, though as adults the riddles were no longer puzzling, and so the film lacked a sense of suspense.
Overall, 4/5 – Honestly, I enjoyed Brave a good deal, but I just expected more out of Pixar. Where was the magic from WALL-E? The originality from The Incredibles? The adventure from A Bug’s Life? After the disappointment that was Cars 2, I expected Pixar to outdo itself with Brave. While it created a story that was obviously tenderly crafted, Pixar fell short of its usual excellence here. The sweetest moment was probably in the accompanying short, La Luna (though it also, unfortunately, was predictable).
Fantastic Mr. Fox is one of my favorite movies of all time. I love everything from its whimsy to its color palette, its sarcastic lines to heartfelt animation. When I saw a preview for Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, I couldn’t wait for it to arrive at my local theatre, where, for one sweet, short week, it would run. Interestingly, the Michigan Theatre is actually a real theatre, where one would expect plays and operas – a gentleman played on an organ while the moviegoers filed in.
Watching the preview for Moonrise Kingdom filled me with a warm, fuzzy feeling, and the movie did not disappoint. All those cute moments are expanded, and there are some more mature moments as well. The script was sharp, the colors and homes were vintage, and the story was sweet. There was also a sense of tension building throughout the movie – we hear within the first few minutes that in three days, one of the worst hurricanes of all time will strike the small island town.
There’s something romantic about escaping into the wild to be with your love, and Moonrise Kingdom certain plucks at some heartstrings with its two young characters so certain of their undying love. Yet, for some reason, I had a hard time believing the world of Moonrise. Did I only like Fantastic Mr. Fox because it was about animals? I do love animals. Somehow, the animation and animal-centered story made it easier for me to fall in love with the characters, to forgive them any quirks that felt a bit too out of place.
It’s not to say that Moonrise was uncomfortable. In fact, it was an extremely pleasant experience. While Moonrise is not exactly a children’s film, it holds a nostalgic flavor of childhood, of simpler times and smaller things. I do wish we had learned more about Sam and Suzy; I feel like too much of the film was filled with all the supporting characters, though all of them did an excellent job. The music was sweet, the scenery was lush, and the kitten was adorable. I also loved little details like the children’s books that Suzy brought and read throughout the movie.
Overall, 4/5 – Moonrise Kingdom is an eccentric tale of young love, stylistically filmed and armed with a witty script. If you watch the trailer and feel happy, then you will enjoy the movie.
Why do we have remakes and adaptations? What is the point of hearing a story that we have all already heard before? Some new versions have been lovely – just consider the Wicked reimagination of The Wizard of Oz. It took an older story and examined it from the villain’s viewpoint, adding in a pretty impressive history and an original source of political unrest. Snow White is a story that has been redone countless times, though not recently by Hollywood according to my memory. Just this year, the 200th anniversary of the original Brothers Grimm tale, two remakes of Snow White have been released: Mirror, Mirror, a comedy with Julia Roberts, and Snow White and the Huntsman, a darker version with Kristin Stewart, Charlize Theron, and Liam Hemsworth.
While this film did introduce some original elements to the fairy tale, the film as a whole was unfortunately disjointed and undeveloped. The film appeared to sway back and forth, unable to decide whether to be completely unique or more faithful to well-known versions, namely Disney’s 1937 hit. SWATH’s eponymous Huntsman had a larger role, but with little meaning; Stewart again dallied in a love triangle, all the time expressing her emotions through heavy breathing (thank you, med students, for diagnosing her use of accessory muscles as COPD); the princess donned mail and fought for her kingdom, but will little lead-up and not enough screen time to seem natural.
Yet, despite all this, and despite the fact that everyone seemed to hate the movie, I sat through scene after scene of stilted Stewart and random mystical encounters actually enjoying myself. It’s true that I went into the movie with extremely low expectations, but I couldn’t help smiling as Snow White met a white stag on a lake while fairies and mythical creatures swarmed around (did this remind anyone else of Princess Mononoke?). I couldn’t help startling when the evil stepmother, an extraordinarily dynamic Queen Ravenna played by Charlize Theron, screamed at her servants. And I couldn’t help feeling a rush of excitement when the princess rallies the troops with, “Who will ride with me? Who will be my brother?” When I sit down and think, I know that this was a terrible film; perhaps I have simply reverted to the naiveté of a young moviegoer in my current film-starved state.
I was most intrigued by the continued mention of beauty. Queen Ravenna says to Snow White’s Father that men will discard beautiful women once they are old, and she is constantly consuming beautiful youth in order to stay young and magnificent herself. In a flashback, it is revealed that Ravenna’s own mother cast the spell in desperation while their village was being raided, saying that only her beauty would save her. Snow White and the Huntsman come across a small settlement of river women, who all have strange scars on their faces. “This is a sacrifice we make so that we can raise our daughters in peace,” one of the women explains, “We are of no use to the Queen without beauty.” I thought this thin line of exploration was interesting, and wished there was more contrast between the Queen and Snow White, but I think the directors were too busy making Stewart appear grungy and tough to massage out any details. There were also several scenes when Snow White is forced to make sacrifices and run on – she first leaves her prison-mate while escaping the castle, she leaves her horse while running into the Dark Forest, then she leaves the river people behind. I would have liked to see more of this idea explored as well – how does a princess feel, knowing that to save a kingdom, she must first save herself?
As a small note – I often don’t notice costuming and special effects, but here, I was constantly admiring whoever designed the Queen’s wardrobe. The constant aging/rejuvenating effects on the Queen were especially well done, and I liked the image of a castle by the sea. The hallucinatory effects were convincing, the sanctuary was calm and nature-y, and the Queen always had this sticky, liquid feeling to her. I also have to applaud whoever did the Queen’s Brother’s haircut, which was the most hideous thing I’ve seen since Javier Bardem’s floppy mop in No Country for Old Men. It makes you wonder, since the Queen’s brother is so hideous, if she too wasn’t initially ugly, or why she chose not to make him look better. Or maybe the film just needed him to be ugly because he was a villain. One almost feels bad for him when he begs, “Sister, heal me,” but then he’s just too despicable for the feeling to last.
Overall, 2/5 – an enjoyable introduction to summer, but there is unfortunately nothing special to this new branch on the tree of Snow White tales. Not even Theron and excellent special effects could save this movie from mediocrity. There can be many versions of a story, but people will only remember the version that cannot be retold. Snow White and the Huntsman, unfortunately, will be forgotten as soon as Prometheus comes out next week.
I was excited about this movie when I saw its preview at the end of Captain America last year, and again had my interest piqued in a Time article from this week, praising Whedon for making an enjoyable movie. Though this movie is proof of Joss Whedon’s juggling abilities, it is inherently limited by its own premise. No matter the amount of care gone into sculpting a film like this, each individual character will lack development. Sometimes writers choose to develop leaders more (X-Men: First Class), though here, no one seemed to care too much about Nick Fury.
How can a movie like this be anything more than a mess? Half the time, we are meeting new members of the team and explaining their subsequent backstories, struggling to make them all fit together with some semblance of coherence. As a result, any overarching story is lost. The climax was far too reminiscent of last summer’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon – a portal in the sky opening to another part of the galaxy and letting in aliens who want to enslave humanity over a skyscraper background? Sound familiar?
Orson Scott Card once wrote how each character added a whole new layer of complexity to the number of relationships that need to be developed – between A and B, there is one relationship: A with B; between A, B, and C, there are four relationships: A with B, A with C, B with C, and all three together; and so on, and so on. Think it’s hard with four people? Try ten on for size. When they all stopped fighting and actually talked to each other, I thought some good character dynamics came out. It was reminiscent of a Final Fantasy game – flying in the sky on some sort of ship, visiting different characters in the cockpit or laboratory, getting to know everyone… While I can’t stand Tony Stark/Iron Man, I dislike Steve Rogers/Captain America even more. There was some nice vicarious catharsis each time the two went at each other.
In terms of acting, casting Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/The Black Widow felt like a poor choice. I found her scenes to be unconvincing and flimsy, even grimace-inducing. I thought Cobie Smulders (Robin from How I Met Your Mother) as Maria Hill, Fury’s assistant, would have made a much stronger main character to develop and focus on. By the way, did anyone else totally think she was Jennifer Connelly? Mark Ruffalo also did an excellent job as Dr. Banner/The Hulk; he was probably the best of the set. Jeremy Renner, who I will always love for The Hurt Locker, was splendid though plain as Hawkeye.
Joe tipped me off to the not one, but two secret codas during and after the credits. Most of the audience left after the cliffhanger afternote set the stage for a sequel, (nowadays, everyone expects one secret preview at the end of a movie), but we stayed until the credits were all finished. Apparently, Robert Downey Jr. needs five hairstylists or so. The second secret scene was actually adorable, living up to the cuteness of the movie as a whole. All the characters have a continuous stream of one-liners and running gags, all to be expected from a Whedon production, with self-deprecating humor that is surprisingly charming.
Overall, I have to give this a 3.5/5 – it has good tension and dynamics, but the characters take up too much space and edge out any meaningful storytelling. It’s a nice kick-off to the blockbuster season, but not anywhere close to earning its current 93%-96%-8/10 rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
By the way, I talked to Orion, who is currently giving this movie a 4.5+. Maybe it’s because he’s read/watched all these heroes in action before. I’m not sure how people who have no history of comic books will feel about this film, since we are, after all, in the Marvel Universe, which seems to me like a very sentimental storage attic the size of a football field.
And one last endnote – we saw the previews for the Expendables 2, and I have to say, it’s ridiculous. Stallone, Statham, Jet Li, Chuck Nooris, Liam Hemsworth, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger…they seem to have given up on any semblance of serious storytelling.
Orion and I haven’t seen a lot of movies recently, because nothing has seemed interesting. We finally decided to see “Super 8” after hearing good things about it from everyone. We had to settle for the tiny Arlington Heights movie theatre, and for a while we were the only people in the entire theatre. I prefer watching movies with an active crowd, but the movie was nevertheless exciting.
“Super 8” felt like “E.T.” meets “War of the Worlds” – it’s a discovery film about alien life, from the point of view of kids, and with Elle Fanning instead of Dakota. The best part of this movie was the truly believable relationships – the children are at that awkward semi-teen age in their lives, and their interactions are entirely believable. (The exception is the way parents act; their actions seem over exaggerated and suggest a much darker backstory; an adult audience automatically infers some kind of romantic affair when the actuality is much simpler.) It’s clear the script was meticulously developed, because almost nothing feels forced. This natural, unnoticeable sort of development is the best kind, and shows a mature writer and director.
Unfortunately, I don’t particularly find budding pre-teen romance interesting. Although well-done, I found myself waiting for the next bit of action; I wanted to see the alien rather than a bunch of kids argue amongst themselves. Joe, our main character, is filming a monster movie to submit to a contest with his friends, and finds himself falling for Alice (Elle Fanning’s character); they both do good jobs, as do the rest of the children. Charles, the leader/director/producer of the film group, especially has a heavy repertoire of one-liners that add comedic relief to otherwise heavy scenes.
In many ways, “Super 8” is similar to another previous alien+film movie, “Cloverfield” (which director J.J. Abrams produced), which is also about a group of friends, and presented entirely through a handheld camera. I hated “Cloverfield,” and I remember I kept waiting for the handheld to cut to a real camera, and it never did. However, it’s a lot more interesting and a lot less annoying to hang out with a bunch of coming-of-age children (“Super 8” hero Joe and his friends are around 13) than a bunch of rowdy young adults (“Cloverfield” characters are old enough to drink but not old enough to be responsible or likeable).
Orion is likely to focus more on the personal development of the children in “Super 8,” but for me, the movie felt just a little too light. There wasn’t anything epic in this movie; sure, there were a few cheap scares and some great destruction scenes, but in the end, there wasn’t anything to grasp on to. If someone mentioned they were going to see “Super 8,” I would wish them well, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend it, especially in terms of a summer blockbuster.
Overall – 3.5/5; there’s nothing particularly wrong with “Super 8,” but there’s also nothing particularly great. My favorite part was probably the short film that plays during the credits, called “The Case,” which is supposed to be the film the children end up making and submitting to their film contest.
See also: Orion’s Review (4.25/5)
After we walked out of “Tree of Life,” we ended up in “Beginners,” simply because there was a subtitled, semi-talking dog in the previews. We knew some basics about the movie – Ewan McGregor starred as Oliver, a man whose father Hal (Christopher Plummer) is dying. We also knew he had a dog named Arthur and had just met a girl named Anna (Melanie Laurent).
“Beginners” felt very whimsical. The timeline of the film is criss-crossed between two different stories – the first, of Oliver’s budding romance with Anna, and the second, of Hal’s coming out and decline of health. We also receive a few shots of a young Oliver, with his very hip but slightly crazy mother (these scenes reminded me of Fitzgerald’s young Amory, from “This Side of Paradise”).
Christopher Plummer plays an excellent, believable character, who simultaneously makes us laugh and feel great sorrow; it’s difficult to fall in love with a character who we know is going to die, there is a feeling of missing someone who is still there. Having come out after Oliver’s mother’s death, Hal is suddenly super-involved with a new crowd, has a new boyfriend, and is trying to deal with his grave illness. The movie follows things through Oliver’s point of view (director Mike Mills based the movie on his own experience), but Plummer breathes a charm into Hal’s otherwise plain (almost cliché?) character. There is one scene in the movie where a homestay nurse attempts to style Hal’s hair, which sounds so simple and silly, but was terribly heartbreaking to see.
Less interesting and/or believable was Oliver’s relationship with Anna. It felt too contrived, to meet at a party where Anna does not speak, to return to her hotel room (Anna only lives in hotel rooms, because they make her feel “free”), and to have awkward breakup/makeup conversations. This type of whimsical couple-y arc felt too much like a chick-flick to me, even though things are from Oliver’s perspective. A girl who’s always on the run from being tied down? Thanks, but we’ve seen that all the way back in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
Throughout the film, Oliver is working on an assignment to make a cover for the band “The Sads,” and he works his own experiences into this assignment, generating tons and tons of potential album covers, none of which the band like. The film feels likewise scattered, which is okay at times, but leaves us with a cottony impression after leaving the theatre. Kevin fell asleep halfway through and slept for most of the film.
Overall – 3.5/5; “Beginners” offers a fluffy look at two relationships, one which is ending and one which is beginning, but despite the heavy backstory and a compelling performance by Plummer, that’s all it ends up feeling like: fluff.
This movie review is late. Part of the reason for that is the sheer disbelief I felt when leaving the movie theater after the credits—I needed time to process my horror over the destruction of a beloved brand. Perhaps I exaggerate: after all, the lead characters did their job admirably. I just cannot comprehend why the producers of this film thought it a good idea to return to the era of kitschy, campy, superhero movies, when The Dark Knight proved to anyone with a brain that superhero movies could be done seriously, and done right.
As noted above, the rapport between James McAvoy as Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Magneto is quite electrifying. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t give them enough room to grow: though it’s clear that the two characters respect each other (Xavier and Magneto go as far as to call each other “brother”), there is no real interaction between the two that explains this connection. Sure, the two play some chess, and talk about the nature of revenge, and of mutant rights—but that makes up maybe 10 minutes of a two-hour film. There simply isn’t enough material to go around.
Thus, despite excellent performances by both McAvoy and Fassbender, the relationship seems stilted somehow, strangely misplaced. This is all the more problematic because the two characters share an extremely complicated relationship in the other films and in X-Men canon. Magneto is no simple villain, and Xavier is no simple hero, but without a lack of development at the end of the film these are the positions each character holds.
And if that weren’t bad enough, the rest of the cast is at best lackluster. I don’t blame them. Playing such second-rate mutants as “Banshee” or “Angel” can’t have been exciting. The only characters the casual fan will recognize are Beast, Mystique, and maybe Havok. I don’t understand why these were the X-Men chosen to make up the “first class” of X-Men—obviously the movie doesn’t stick that closely to canon (everyone knows that the real reason Xavier is in a wheelchair is because of Lucifer, an obscure villain), but why use random X-Men nobody has heard of? Also, the first few X-Men also run into the same problem as Xavier and Magneto, getting so little screen-time that when one character is removed from action, the audience doesn’t feel a thing.
My feelings are captured in the last scene of the movie. Erik Lehnsherr has put on the mantle of Magneto. His cape is red. He’s wearing gloves. I’m excited for this moment, the beginning of the next chapter, the unveiling of one of the best comic book villains ever. And then the camera cuts to Magneto’s face. The helmet, which was cool before in silver, is now spray-painted a gaudy red. There are two horns on the front. He looks and obviously feels ridiculous, but he takes a deep breath and delivers a line that makes me smile in embarrassment.
See also: Apple’s Review (4/5)
I have been excited for this movie since the first preview. X-Men is set apart from other superhero/comic book series simply because of the sheer number of characters. There is no main superhero; instead, there are teams. Although the latest installation in the X-Men franchise, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” was terrible, the trailers for X-Men: First Class focusing on different characters just looked so exciting. Orion and I went to the midnight premiere, which is always fun and packed with energy.
James McAvoy stars as the young Professor X, still simply Charles, who begins discovering other mutants. There is a sense of coming together, and, as Charles says several times, “you are not alone.” There were many things that I liked about “First Class,” but I think my favorite was just how many characters there were, and how each character grew in his or her own way. (You guys can check out some of the character-specific trailers that are out there.)
Of course, the movie is filled with tributes to the original X-Men movies, both its predecessor and future. We see Charles and Erik attempt to recruit a gruffy Wolverine, we learn how Charles became wheel chair bound, and watch the rise of the Brotherhood. While this is pleasant and fun in one sense, it’s also sometimes frustrating; ne of the big problems I have with Marvel is just how many contributors there are to a series; so many different authors have all written in their own stories, so continuity becomes a big problem.
It’s amazing how much the movie was able to accomplish – not only do friendships form and break, but romances and alliances do as well. Of course, they’re not very thoroughly developed because of the sheer mass of events, but it’s enough to be believable. The division between mutants with physical abilities and mutants with mental abilities, for example, is something I never really considered before, but plays out in the movie.
Overall, 4/5 – the story was fast-paced, fun, and exciting! I love watching the students grow, and Charles and Erik evolve into Professor X and Magneto. Orion hated the movie though, so you’ll all have to stay tuned to hear what he thinks!
See also: Orion’s Review (2/5)
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.