Thursday, February 26, 2015

Jack the Giant Slayer - Classic Fairytale

Movie: Jack the Giant Slayer
My Rating: 3 stars

I was surprised by how much I liked this movie.  For as much as I like seeing classic, fairy tales, retold, I wasn’t expecting very much from this one.  Maybe the market has been a little oversaturated with these things.  But, I was very pleasantly surprised.  Maybe it was the charming actors.  Nicholas Hoult is a lovable, puppy-dog-eyed Jack.  Eleanor Tomlinson is radiant and bewitching as the princess.  And, Ewan McGregor is a surprisingly charismatic, yet hateful villain. It’s a great cast.  And, they’re all terrific actors.  No one was cast on looks alone.  It’s a shame that I even have to mention that as a plus, but we’ve all seen examples to the contrary.
This is a pretty classic retelling of the Jack and the Bean Stalk story—but with an added love interest.  Stories are always a little more exciting with the love of an intoxicating princess on the line.  But, this film also weaves in a much richer back-story for the traditional tale.  It explains the origin and importance of the magic beans, and gives more context for the existence of the kingdom of giants in the clouds.  And, the movie actually creates some stakes for the kingdom in which these characters live.  There’s a reason for all these elements, rather than having them be a random and fantastical turn of events.  It turns the story from a simple, child’s tale, into more of a heroic epic with heroes and villains, and power struggles.  And, I always appreciate good storytelling, and this movie does is very well.
This movie is also very visually gorgeous.  Of course, I did find the giants to be a little offputtingly computer-generated.  But that aside, the kingdom is richly filmed, the beanstalk is lush, the royal palace is splendid and awe-inspiring in scale.  And, I’m always a sucker for a richly draped, medieval costume.  (Surprising, I know).  Can someone get me an ermine-lined king’s cape, please?

This is a good movie and I recommend it.  As an added bonus, it’s a film that everyone in the family will enjoy.  (Of course, nothing’s going to help you if you have a kid who’s afraid of every dimly-lit scene or snarling animal).  But, the movie is exciting and beautiful, and it has a well-crafted story.  And, I think this one has been a little overlooked, with the constant influx of exciting new movies being released.  So, I definitely think it’s worth it to go back and check this one out.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service - Ridiculous Fun

Movie: Kingsman: The Secret Service
My Rating: 5 stars

This is probably the most fun I’ve had at the movie theater in a really long time.  It’s a loud, over-the-top, wildly implausible spy story.  There are lots of crazy gadgets, lots of explosions, plenty of sexy ladies, and a criminally insane super villain.  It’s the way all spy movies ought to be.  Eggsy, a rough-and-tumble, British youth, has found himself on the wrong side of the law.  But his life is about to change when he’s bailed out of jail by the same, mysterious aristocrat (Colin Firth) who came to offer condolences after his father’s death many years ago.  Now, Eggsy finds himself being recruited by a super-secret group of gentleman spies.  But will he make the cut?  Or will the rich, snotty, kids, from good schools edge him out?
This movie is just as silly as you’d want it to be.  The action sequences are always twice as incendiary as they need to be.  The screenwriters never skip an opportunity for a fistfight.  And, the characters always deliver terrible puns, right on cue.  Even the villains are extra wacky.  Samuel L. Jackson plays a flashy-dressing, criminally insane, billionaire, Valentine.  And, his bodyguard/paramour is the lithe Gazelle—the beautiful, high-kicking, martial arts expert with razor-sharp blades for legs.  Killer beauty is always a favorite of mine, but this time I was particularly smitten.  You can’t get much more amazing than that.  And really, who can say no to that haircut? ;)
Needless to say, Valentine and Gazelle are up to no good.  And it’s going to have to be the Kingsman fellows that stop him.  Government security agencies are just too caught up in politics, or in the pockets of big-business to be of any help.  You can’t count on them to act swiftly and competently enough to take down a motivated megalomaniac.  And, even though Eggsy is still just a trainee, he’s going to have to pull his skills together pretty quickly if he’s going to help out.

I loved just about everything about this movie.  I loved the music, the action, the humor, the aesthetics.  And, I really appreciated that it didn’t take itself too seriously.  This is a super fun movie, and it’s definitely the kind of thing you’d have a great time watching on the big screen.  I saw it in a packed house, and the audience was going wild for all the silliness.  I’d say it’s even worth making a special trip.  I definitely recommend watching this movie.  It is pretty violent—lots of limbs being sliced off, plenty of body parts exploding, hand to hand combat—that kind of thing.  But, it’s all cartoonish, spy-movie violence.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Coherence - An Indie Sci-Fi Thriller

Movie: Coherence
My Rating: 4 stars

This is one of the most exciting indie films I’ve come across in a long time.  I love sci-fi, and I love time travel stories.  And, this micro-budget film from director, James Ward Byrkit, weaves together elements of both.  This isn’t exactly a “time travel” story, per se.  But, it’s very similar, incorporating the disorienting qualities of alternate timelines, personal identity, and the consequences of choice.  It’s one big game of, “What If?”  And, it’s chilling to the core.  But really, the less you know about the actual plot of this film, the better.
I was really blown away by Byrkit’s execution of this material.  As I mentioned before, he filmed this on a micro-budget.  The primary filming took place over only five nights, and pretty much in a single location.  Byrkit deals with extraordinarily complex, interweaving plot lines, and still manages to create a tight, coherent, and very captivating story.  It’s one of those films where tiny details are extremely important.  It’s a script filled with very eerie moments of realization, and a story you have to watch more than once to pick up all the subtle clues to unravel the central mystery.  It reminded me a lot of Primer—both in subject matter, and style.  And, you know how much I loved that movie.
The editing is probably the star feature of this piece.  All of the acting is pretty standard for a low-budget, indie film.  Although interestingly, almost the entire script was improvised.  Of course, Byrkit was in charge of the overarching storyline.  But, actors were only given character details and motivation, and very rough outlines of the scenes they were to enact.  Then, all the dialogue came from them, on the spot.  But, the editing is what makes this film something of a thriller.  There are scenes where just noticing one tell-tale detail when an actor enters the room will make your heart drop into your stomach.  I love when that happens!  And, how often do you get to experience such a creepy chill like that anymore?  I was pretty impressed by this film.

This is a small film.  So, if you decide to watch it, don’t go into it expecting a slick thriller.  In fact, I think I was so moved by the film because it managed to accomplish so much drama and dread with so little.  But, I definitely recommend you go out and watch this one.  It may just surprise you.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

They Came Together - Cure for Your Post-Valentine's Hangover

Movie: They Came Together
My Rating: 3 stars

Valentine’s Day has come and gone again this year.  And, what better way to commemorate it’s passing than with a biting satire about the whole Rom-Com genre?  I hate those things.  They’re so sappy and trite.  And, whoever’s writing those movies sure doesn’t have a very high opinion of women or their intelligence.  The material is usually pretty insulting.  And, that’s why I was more than happy to sit back and laugh along as Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd tore the genre to shreds as the romantic leads in this story.
This movie pokes fun at all the ridiculous tropes you see in almost every single Romantic Comedy.  The women are desperate for love, and are sending out all the wrong signals.  The men are focused on their careers . . . almost too focused.  The main characters always seem to have very important jobs in very vague sounding fields, like “business” or “publishing.”  And, they must have some unnamed, independent sources of wealth, because the characters never seem to have to actually go to those jobs.  These wacky love-birds never seem to have their priorities straight according to their families.  But, there are always a few well-meaning, best friends to clear up any confusion and set them on the right path.  These friends are always quirky, confident, and fiercely independent.  Coincidences keep popping up out of nowhere, and they always manage to throw our heroes together into all kinds of wild and sexy scenarios.  There are always a few comic misunderstandings that tear our couple apart.  But, all the relationship red-flags always manage to conveniently dissipate by the end of the film.  The way nature intended. 

This movie is pretty spot-on with how it criticizes these movies.  And, the jokes are pretty over the top.  So, if you’re watching the movie with someone who actually happens to like Romantic Comedies, they may get pretty upset.  (Of course, if your date is particularly dim, they might not notice that anything is amiss at all).  But, I’d like to think that people can be good sports about this kind of joke.  (Although sadly, I’ve been disappointed before).  But, I do recommend this movie.  It’s silly, light and fun—the perfect remedy for your post-Valentine’s Day emotional hangover.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Damsels in Distress - Some Valentine's Fun!

Movie: Damsels in Distress
My Rating: 3 stars

Valentine’s Day is coming.  And, what better way to prepare than to watch a movie about socially-clumsy singles, bumbling their way through life, in search of true love?  This movie is perfect for the season.  Greta Gerwig plays Violet, the leader of a band of busy-body, college girls dedicated to doing “social work” on campus.  That is, they engineer the social interactions of “needy” peers in order to bolster their self-confidence and general attractiveness.  The girls take a special interest depressed students, including in the recently-dumped, and the chronically unlucky in love.  They stage anachronistic dance parties to get people out of their heads about what it means to socialize.  And, they introduce these sad students to people who are far worse off than them in order to bolster self-esteem.
So, who are these people who are worthy of extra pity, you ask?  Why, the gentle, feeble souls enrolled in the university’s fraternity system, of course!  Our do-gooding girls have a soft spot in their hearts for those, poor lummoxes.  And, this is one of the most hilarious running gags in the film.  It treats these fraternity brothers as a special class of childlike morons, who must be protected from the harsh realities of the outside world.  They must be housed, fed, and clothed.  They must be given periodic, planned social events, and treated with lenient kindness, because these simple-minded boys aren’t capable of making their own decisions.  Violet’s group of social workers feel like they’re doing the frat bros a favor by introducing them to nice, young ladies to talk to.  And, they’re helping their depressed sisters by showing them people who are truly worthy of their sympathy.  But, of course, it’s not just Violet’s targets who are misguided.  She and her henchwomen are pretty tone-deaf themselves.  And, their obliviousness defines the deadpan comedy of the film.

So, just about every character in this story is a little dumb.  But, who wasn’t a little dumb in college?  It’s one of life’s luxuries—having the freedom to make all kinds of low-consequence mistakes for a few years in a controlled environment.  And, one of the funniest things about stupid people is just how certain of themselves they are.  It’s comedy on legs!  The best part is that you don’t even have to prompt these characters.  Just sit back in silence with a box of popcorn, and let the magic unfold in front of you.  These types are masters of their own destruction.  And, that’s what this movie is about.  We get to watch groups of very confident dullards, who take themselves very seriously,  bungling up their love lives, and those of everyone around them for a little while until they eventually get things right.  This is a comedy, so we know it’s all going to work out in the end.  Plus, this movie has the added benefit of making you feel a little bit superior as you watch these silly kids wallowing in disasters of their own creating.  (A little ironic, no?)  So a perfect pick for Valentine’s day!