Archive for the CGI Category

SHARKNADO (2013)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2013, Action Movies, All-Star Casts, CGI, Garrett Cook Articles, Sea Creatures, Sharks, SyFy Channel Movies, TV-Movies, Visions of Hell with tags , , , , , on July 28, 2013 by knifefighter

SHARKNADO
Movie Review by Garrett Cook

PHvf6lEANnmQyD_3_mThe lifeblood of any narrative is conflict. Without conflict, you have a bunch of people standing around staring into space, waiting. When they start waiting, conflict occurs. The conflict being, uninteresting as it is, that what needs to happen hasn’t happened yet. Good conflicts make good stories. The more you throw at your hero and the hero has to get out of, the better and more exciting their situation. But what do you do when competing with the Hollywood event picture and Sundance Channel juvenile delinquency/Palm D’0r-grubbing adversity porn, who have cherry picked the worst things to happen to everyone? WAGES OF FEAR (1953) . SOPHIE’S CHOICE (1982). FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC (1987). THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW (2004). Those are big, juicy conflicts.

SyFy’s solution? Revive the giant bug/giant shark/giant alligator/giant problem movie. Sharktopi, Dinocrocs and Supergators have a way of knocking the wind out of a crying Meryl Streep for an hour and a half or so, and, if you’re looking to unwind after work, they’re generally more fun. They are by no means good by any conventional standard, but at least they have that going on.

Recent SyFy spectacle SHARKNADO took this principle and really ran with it. A hurricane off the coast of LA picks up 20,000 sharks. JAWS (1975)? One huge shark. OPEN WATER (2003)? A few sharks. These situations presented gigantic problems for the heroes who had to make it out of them alive. But 20,000 sharks? That’s a real problem. Not just for the heroes, but for you, the reader/potential SHARKNADO viewer. 20,000 sharks are dangerous enough to kill 90210’s Ian Ziering…oh, 20,000 times and enough of a spectacle that they leave you, potential SHARKNADO viewer, in danger of making what might be a terrible decision.

Is it a terrible decision? That’s what you’ve probably clicked on this article to find out. You want to know if it’s worth trading 100 minutes of your time for the experience of Ian Ziering and Tara Reid having to deal with sharks falling from the sky. Some of you, having seen the premise of the film restated will now stop sitting on the fence and decide to go watch SHARKNADO. Good. SHARKNADO was unequivocably made for you, thesis statement/pitch line enthusiast. But you might need actual info. Person who keeps reading to gather more data, SHARKNADO might be a little more challenging for you.

SHARKNADO begins with a corrupt sea captain, who you will never see again, brokering a deal with a shady Asian man to sell him 20,000 sharks. Does this deal precipitate the sharknado (no very dry pun intended)? No. Maybe. The shady Asian man and the captain are killed, the Asian man by the captain, the captain by the very sharks he sought to sell. Which actually makes you wonder if Anthony Ferrante and Thunder Levin (the director and writer of the film, respectively) stopped to make a sanctimonious finger wag at the practice of eating shark fin soup. Because right after we see mankind treating sharks badly, the sharks get caught up in a hurricane and start to be blown around, as if God himself were an angry shark.

This scene leaves you wondering whether SHARKNADO believes that the sharks are justified in their attacks because of our consumption of shark fin soup, whether the director has some sort of divine justice in mind, and whether this movie was made by poets or naifs. It is hard to tell. This is not the only time this occurs and of course, it’s a common phenomenon in really awful movies, like SHARKNADO, which is a movie that sucks.

This intro transitions into scenes introducing our hero, surfing bartender Fin (groan), played by 90210 non-favorite Ian Ziering (the blonde guy who looked like he’d been held back seven grades). He bartends, and he surfs. His Australian friend Baz (played by Jaason Simmons, whose name’s extra A stands for Awesome, because he is, in spite of this material) surfs with him but does not do much bartending. Possibly none. Adorable waitress Nova (the wooden, but sublimely hot, Cassie Scerbo) pours drinks for non-hot but adorable drunk, George (played by John Heard, from HOME ALONE (1990), C.H.U.D. (1984) and serious films from the early 80s), and life looks good, save for Fin’s estrangement from ex wife April (Tara Reid). I say good riddance, but as Flaubert writes, “the heart wants what it wants”. Fin and Baz go surfing, Baz is bitten by a shark and Fin sees signs that there is a hardcore hurricane on the way and he should get his daughter and son to high ground. He returns to the bar, calls up April, who says not to bother and that her slimy new boyfriend takes care of the family now. Fin decides maybe he’d better go save his daughter.

His intuition proves right when he sees that the hurricane is getting stronger, picking up sharks and dropping them on people. Which is a tremendous problem. It’s a big, juicy conflict that does not involve cancer, drug addiction, Nazis or Kryptonians. At least give it that much. George, the loveable drunk, is killed, Nova reveals that she is skilled with a shotgun and Fin and Baz kill many sharks. It’s a pretty intense scene, the sharks are pretty well rendered and it establishes a sense of urgency. It also begins to wag its finger at the harshness and lack of consideration that LA can have.

Arriving at his ex wife’s place of residence with her slimy L.A. boyfriend, Fin is reprimanded by her, her boyfriend and his sullen daughter, Claudia (Aubrey Peebles), who is sullen because she’s a teenager and it’s a liability. Due to a prodigious flood, the problem quickly swims up and bites the boyfriend in the ass for being an LA phony. It is hard to tell whether the writer and director believe that Hollywood is unsympathetic or think that America believes that Hollywood is unsympathetic. This question might seem moot, but is actually very important in determining whether SHARKNADO has shades of GLEN OR GLENDA (1953) bad- film-with-a-heart brilliance or whether it is actually pandering just as badly as one would have to assume it is.

Either way, Los Angeles is facing sharky judgment and Ian Ziering needs to find his son, who it turns out is in flight school. This initiates the film’s second act, which is weirder and more judgmental of Los Angeles culture and by extension, the film industry. In an abandoned flooded cityscape full of sharks, the movie takes on an air of “MULHOLLAND DRIVE meets BIRDEMIC” that might make this movie worth watching for curious film geeks and Bizarro fans. You see a bus driver who has come to town to be an actor and ends up being eaten for it, and hear a weird rant from a paranoid shopkeeper. There is something off kilter about these scenes in a way that transcends bad dialogue. Are these weird grains of sincerity shining through?

During these scenes, you get to experience the thing I really like about SHARKNADO, or just the idea of SHARKNADO. Tornados of sharks are spinning around Los Angeles eating people and a man has taken it upon himself to resolve this. The biggest, most senseless conflict imaginable and Ian Ziering will brave it to reach his son and save a city that the movie implies might not be worth saving. SHARKNADO parallels the experience of being a small budget filmmaker, a person dealing with a ubiquitous shitstorm using only courage and ingenuity and sometimes chainsaws. Saddled with a less than stellar premise, a talentless cast and a sub blockbuster budget, these filmmakers had to create something people would enjoy. Does Fin do a better job of it than the directors, writers and cast of SHARKNADO? Yeah. But that’s why we create heroes.

Somehow in quixotic combat with hopelessness, the hero wins the day, making this the most recklessly optimistic film ever made. “Will people watch a film called SHARKNADO with the least popular 90210 actor at the helm? YES!” “Can a man take on a Sharknado? YES!” “Can a coherent film be made about a Sharknado?” “YES!” These guys do Ed Wood proud. With the negativity, the cynicism and the constant barrage of bad news around us, a little optimism is a good thing. Sometimes too much optimism is a good thing. If enthusiasm is more important to you than success, you ought to watch SHARKNADO.

But you probably shouldn’t, anyway. SHARKNADO sucks.

© Copyright 2013 by Garrett Cook

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PACIFIC RIM (2013)

Posted in 2013, 3-D, Aliens, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Giant Monsters, Guillermo Del Toro, Monsters, ROBOTS! with tags , , , , , , , , on July 15, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  PACIFIC RIM (2013)
Review by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

pacificrimnewposter(THE SCENE: The interior of a monstrous robot.  MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES attempt to work together to get the robot battle ready.  However, things are not going well…)

VOICE:  You guys had better come out of there. Things aren’t working out.  You’re supposed to be sharing minds, not battling each other.  You’re just not compatible.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  You think?

L.L. SOARES:  Dammit!  I really wanted to fight with this thing.  I have to find me a new partner to pilot this baby.  I wonder if Dudar is available?

VOICE:  He’s in another robot with Lil’ Stevie.

MA:  Oh well. It looks like we’re just going to have to review today’s movie, instead.  At least our incompatibility comes in handy in the movie review department.  And judging by your recent glowing comments on Facebook where you shower praises on today’s movie PACIFIC RIM (2013), today’s column should prove volatile.

LS:  Don’t tell me you didn’t like the movie? More proof that you need to have your head examined.

MA:  I’ll do more than that.   I’ll tell you why I didn’t like it.

LS:  You have no taste, that’s why.

MA:  If only things were that simple.  Anyway, first, a plot summary.

PACIFIC RIM, the new big budget fantasy adventure by Guillermo del Toro, can be summarized so quickly you’d better not blink, because if you do, you’re gonna miss it.

Giant monster aliens arrive on Earth from an underground fissure under the ocean

LS: It’s more than just a fissure. It’s a portal to another dimension. Instead of attacking us from the stars, aliens have gained access to the Earth through this dimensional doorway at the bottom of the ocean. Pretty neat idea, actually.

MA: Except it’s developed for all of two seconds.

LS:  Hardly. Early on, they state it’s there. They don’t understand it, and neither do we. We learn as they learn. But considering the entire last half is about closing the portal, I think you need a new watch. That’s a lot more than two seconds.

MA:  There’s a difference between developing an idea and including an idea in a movie.  There’s a portal in the movie, but it’s hardly developed as a concept.

In order to survive, the human race builds a series of gigantic robots to fight back.  These robots are controlled by two fighters inside the machine whose brains are connected through a neural hook-up, so they can fight as one.  You need two fighters because the technology is too much for one fighter to handle.

LS: The main reason why there are two pilots is to represent the left and right hemispheres of the brain. The pilots are the brain of the robot, so this is apt.

MA: The early rounds go to the humans and the robots, but over the years, the giant monsters keep on coming, and with defeat just around the corner, it’s up to a select few led by military man Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) using a top secret plan to stop the giant monsters once and for all.  And that’s it for plot, folks.  Everything else is gravy, and it’s watered-down flavorless gravy, at that.  Furthermore, what I just described to you is explained in the first few minutes of the movie.

LS: I liked that the movie started out with a quick synopses to bring us up to speed. It was short, sweet, and yet completely brought us up to date with what was happening and why. You didn’t have to scratch your head and wonder why anything was happening. It was already explained for you. All you had to do was sit back and enjoy.

MA:  I liked this too.  The problem is I didn’t like what followed.  The whole film adopted this quick storytelling style so that plot points fly by quickly in order to get to the action, which unfortunately, simply didn’t impress me. .  The rest just goes on and on and on.

LS:  That’s not fair. There’s much more to the plot than this. The reason the robots start losing is that the monsters that come up from the ocean are evolving. They are represented by classes based on their size and their level of dangerousness. The robots do okay for a while, until the creatures they’re up against just get bigger and meaner and eventually are out of their league. The humans can’t build the robots fast enough to counteract these amplified baddies.

There’s also an alternative plan to build a giant wall separating the area where the creatures come out from the human population. The wall takes time, though, and doesn’t seem to be as effective as the people in charge had hoped.

MA:  If you want to add more details, be my guest, but I’d argue, why?  This is one of the major weaknesses of PACIFIC RIM.  Its story is so bare it almost blushes at its own nakedness.

LS: I completely disagree. That’s the germ of the idea, but there’s so much more to it.

MA: Really?  In this movie?  You mention the wall, for instance.  That idea is glossed over so quickly we never even know why it was a viable idea in the first place.  A giant wall?  Seriously?

Granted, I didn’t hate PACIFIC RIM.  It’s just that after hearing lots of positive buzz about this one, I hoped it would be really good, but seriously, it played out exactly the way I feared it would play out.  It has less in common with CLOVERFIELD (2008) and IRON MAN (2009) than it does with the TRANSFORMERS movies.  It’s basically TRANSFORMERS without the silly robot personalities.  In this one it’s the humans with the silly personalities.

Now, while I thought this one looked cool, in that both the monsters and the robots were rather impressive looking, there wasn’t one action scene in this movie that I liked.  I thought the battle scenes were hopelessly boring and blah.  I was very disappointed with what I saw and ultimately bored by the whole thing.  You’ll find more impressive monster battles in a GODZILLA movie.

And the monsters here are put to little or no use.  You have these really cool looking creatures, and they don’t do anything.  They’re about as scary as Mothra and his Toho friends, and they’re far less fun.  At least the Toho monsters have personality.  If you want to see scary giant monsters, you’re still better off watching CLOVERFIELD.  No one’s come close to matching that film for giant monster thrills, which surprises me, since it’s obvious movies today have the technology to create realistic looking giant creatures, yet nobody seems interested in making a horror movie about them.

The robots are impressive looking too, but they’re just too similar to Transformers to instill much excitement.

(ROBOTIC VOICE comes over the loudspeakers)

ROBOTIC VOICE: Warning! Kaiju spotted in the vicinity of the Atlantic Ocean, approaching the mainland. Opposition must be provided.

LS: I guess we have to work together after all.

MA: This is never going to work.

(LS and MA mind-meld as pilots and scream in agony as they have to be subjected to each other’s thoughts. Somehow, they are able to maintain this long enough to activate their giant robot and go to face the latest threat.

ROBOTIC VOICE: Ladies and Gentlemen…the STAY PUFT MARSHMALLOW MAN from the movie GHOST BUSTERS (1984))

MA: Uh, oh. He’s a lot bigger than I remember.

LS: And a lot meaner. But we’ll fix him.

(Their robot and the MARSHMALLOW MAN battle violently, destroying buildings along the shore, until the robot finally rips the MARSHMALLOW MAN to pieces. He then takes the pieces, skewers them on giant trees whittled to a point, and builds a fire)

MA: S’mores anyone?

LS: I think we could feed a whole city with this guy!

(Great crowds of humans run towards them, carrying giant blocks of chocolate and graham crackers)

MA: Not bad for our first mission. Although having access to your thoughts is really disturbing me.

LS: Me, too. Your thoughts are so goodie-goodie, I’m getting sugar overload. Who knew you were really like that.

MA: Now that the threat has been averted, back to our review.

LS: Oh..okay.

Pacific-Rim-Movie-PosterMA: So, what did I like about PACIFIC RIM?  I liked Idris Elba in his lead performance, and I enjoyed Ron Perlman in his fun supporting role, and that’s about it.  Rarely has there been such a disparity in acting quality in a movie.  You have two excellent performances by Elba and Perlman, while the rest run from hopelessly mediocre to God-awful bad.

LS: What are you talking about? The whole cast in this one is pretty good.

MA: I like Elba a lot, and he doesn’t disappoint here.  His Stacker Pentecost— what kind of a name is that?—the kind that is hardly mentioned in the movie! — is a rousing dominant figure who possesses the strength to lead the resistance against the monsters.  His “it’s time to cancel the apocalypse” speech is one of the highlights of the movie.

LS: Elba is great. I think he has the makings of a major star and I’m surprised that hasn’t happened yet. Maybe PACIFIC RIM give him the attention he deserves. The man is an acting powerhouse.

MA: I agree with you 100 % here about Elba.  He can and should be a major star.

And Ron Perlman is hilarious as Hannibal Chau, a colorful and very shady black market dealer who sells dead monster body parts, including their “crap.”  But it’s a small supporting role, and as entertaining as Perlman is, he’s not in the film enough to save it.

LS: Perlman is a regular in Guillermo del Toro movies, and there’s a reason for that. He never disappoints. Hannibal Chau is a great character, and Perlman plays him perfectly. What a great character! And he’s in the movie a lot more than just a “small supporting role.”

MA: He’s in handful of scenes.  That’s not much.

LS: He’s in it enough to leave an impression and be one of the best characters here. Once again, your time-telling skills are questionable at best.

MA: I never said he’s not one of the best characters in the movie.  He is. But if you think it’s more than just a small supporting role, you’re the one who’s time challenged.

The folks who are in the movie for the bulk of the time are about as plain and exciting as a slice of white bread.  Charlie Hunnam has the lead role of Raleigh Becket, the soldier who has to overcome his brother’s death from the beginning of the movie in order to lead the robots in battle.  Ho hum.  Hunnam is particularly bad here.  He acts like he belongs on the crew of BATTLESHIP (2012).

LS: I liked Hunnam a lot. Most people will recognize him as Jackson “Jax” Teller, who is one of the lead characters in the FX biker series SONS OF ANARCHY, a show that also features Ron Perlman as one of the leads. He may not be in the same league as Elba and Perlman, but I think he does a fine job as Raleigh.

MA:  Fine job?  Yeah, if you’re playing a guy who spends his time inside a robot and has no personality elsewhere.

LS: I agree, in these kinds of movies heroes like him are always a little bland, but Hunamm does a good job with what little he has to work with. He’s great in SONS OF ANARCHY and he was great in the underrated Eric Bana movie DEADFALL (2012). I like him. And his scenes with Mako are actually pretty good here. You’re exaggerating this.

MA: Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori, a woman soldier who’s fighting past demons of her own, isn’t much better than Hunnam.  This is a huge problem with PACIFIC RIM.  These are your two main leads, and they’re about as compelling as wallpaper.  In fact, I found myself looking at the walls of the theater a few times instead of at the movie.

LS: I guess that’s what you do when you have a small brain.

MA:  I wouldn’t know.  You?

LS:  Instead of watching the screen you watch the walls.

MA:  Walls are interesting.  Seriously, I don’t watch the walls.  Of course, if a movie bores me, I do get restless and I may occasionally glance somewhere else.

LS:  Maybe you should have gone to see LONE RANGER again instead. That might be more your speed, Slowboy.

Mako was one of my favorite characters here, and she has a strong back story about one of monsters (they’re called Kaiju in this movie—the Japanese word for “giant beast”) destroying her city and killing her family. She’s driven by a desire for revenge against these creatures, a desire that may prove her undoing.

MA:  A strong back story?  You mean that five minute flashback that shows her by herself without any information about where she’s come from or the family she might have left behind?  That story?

LS: Seriously, your perspective on time is just horrendous.

MA (laughing): By all means, correct me.  Fill in the details.  How did her family die? How many people were in her family?  Were they killed in front of her?  Is there a scene in the film that shows any of this information?  Some strong back story!

Charlie Day as Dr. Newton Geiszler and Burn Gorman as Gottlieb are entertaining as a couple of nerdy scientists, but they’re pretty much comic relief, and while they do take part in major plot points during the movie, they’re no substitute for the main fighters in the robots, which is too bad because they’re more interesting.

LS: They start out as supporting characters, and Gottlieb pretty much stays one throughout. You might remember Burn Gorman from the excellent BBC series TORCHWOOD, where he played Owen Harper. He also had roles in movies like LAYER CAKE (2004) and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012), and in British series like THE HOUR (2011) and the Masterpiece Theater version of BLEAK HOUSE (2005). He’s a solid, dependable actor, but here he mostly just plays an uptight scientist, which isn’t the best role, but yeah, he’s mostly used for comic effect.

Charlie Day on the other hand, has a much larger role in the movie. His Newton “Newt” Geiszler is the more visceral member of the PACIFIC RIM think tank. While Gottleib is more concerned with the math and the theories (some of which turn out to be pretty important), Newt is the guy who wants to take the enemy on in a much more physical way. His main theory being that we can access the brains of the Kaiju in a way similar to the mind melds used by pilots in the robots (called Jaeger here, the Japanese word for “hunter”). Newt is the one who tracks down the mysterious Hannibal Chau, and Day has some great scenes with Ron Perlman. I’ve been a big fan of Day in the FX comedy series IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA, where he plays the goofy idiot Charlie Kelly. He’s a good comic actor, but it’s been interesting to see him grow and develop as a movie star.  His biggest role up to this point was playing Dale Arbus, the dental technician, in HORRIBLE BOSSES (2011). But I think Day is really terrific here and has more range than just a comic relief character. He’s one of my favorite things about PACIFIC RIM. His chemistry with Gorman—and especially Perlman—is priceless.

MA: Day’s scenes with Perlman are okay, but priceless?  I don’t think so.

LS: Speak for yourself…You’ve been doing a good job of that so far.

MA: Am I supposed to be speaking for someone else?

The rest of the cast is forgettable, not because they’re bad, but because they’re— forgettable.   I was really surprised at how poorly developed the characters were in this movie, because I’d been hearing so many good things about it.

LS: What about Robert Kazinsky as the Australian Jaeger pilot, Chuck Hansen? Fans of the series TRUE BLOOD will recognize Kazinksy as the vampire Warlow from the newest season of the HBO series, and he’s good here as Raleigh’s main rival. And Max Martini is good as Chuck’s father and co-pilot, Herc (a father and son mind meld? That’s got to be messy).

MA: I found them terribly bland.

LS: Well, I sort of agree with you there. They’re okay – they fill a need in the conflict – but they are kind of bland. I like Kazinksy as an actor, though.

MA: People are singing praises about Guillermo del Toro and this movie, but I can’t say that I recommend it.  There’s a lot going on visually, but to be honest, I wasn’t impressed.  The battle scenes bored me, the monsters didn’t scare me, and in spite of the fact that this movie looked good, there really wasn’t anything creative about its action scenes.  I found it all rather flat.

The screenplay by Travis Beacham bored me.  He also wrote the screenplay to CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010).  Both movies share unimpressive stories and wooden characters.

I’m a huge Idris Elba fan, and he’s the only reason I didn’t hate this movie.  I enjoyed his scenes, and he’s in this one a lot, which helps.  I also liked Ron Perlman’s performance, but he’s not in it as much.  Everything else about PACIFIC RIM I could have done without.

I give it two knives.

LS: Fine, you’ve had your say. Now I’ll tell you why you’re completely wrong.

(ALARM goes off again, as ROBOTIC VOICE announces a new threat)

ROBOTIC VOICE: New menace sighted that needs immediate attention.

MA: Not again!

LS: What awful timing.

(They activate their robot again and go out to face their  next threat: BARNEY THE DINOSAUR. One hundred tons of pure purple evil, singing a song in a high-pitched voice as he destroys buildings)

MA: Oh no.

(People run  screaming as MA and LS launch their robot at the monster. BARNEY puts up a good fight, and there is a sudden appearance of a second Kaiju, BABY BOP. But the robot soon makes short work of them. The robot puts chunks of dinosaur meet on skewers and starts a fire)

LS: Dinosaur steaks everyone. Come and get it!

(Waves of people come running, this time carrying gigantic bottles of A-1 STEAK SAUCE) pacificrimMA: Now that we’ve fed the city twice over, we can go back to our review.

LS: Okay. I was just about to show you why your negative review was so wrong.

MA:  No, you’re going to state why you liked the movie.  I’ve stated why I didn’t like it.  Right and wrong have nothing to do with it. But if you prefer to use those moralistic terms, be my guest.

LS:  You know I hate critics who bring their moral perspective into movie reviews. That was a low blow!

MA:  I know.  But you started it.

ROBOTIC VOICE:  Stop fighting!  You’re supposed to be working together.

MA:  Yeah, yeah.

LS:  Whatever.  Where was I?  Oh yeah.

When we were kids, we saw a lot of GODZILLA movies. And many of them featured humans building giant robots to fight the monsters. In fact, there is pretty much a whole genre of Robots vs. Monsters movies in Japan, including the several TV series based on the character Ultraman.

Whenever I watched these kinds of movies, though, there were a few things that struck me. First of all, when you’re a kid and you want to see monsters fight, the last thing you want to do is watch scenes involving a human storyline. But all of these kinds of movies had some human subplot to familiarize us with the men and women inside the robots, or striving to use science to solve their Kaiju problem. The thing is, in almost every case, the human storylines paled against the monster stuff, and were mostly uninteresting. I remember constantly thinking, “Screw this, just get to the fights.”

In PACIFIC RIM, it was one of the few times where I was as interested in the human storyline as I was in the monsters. I thought the characters were well-developed, and it was interesting to see the process that went into becoming a pilot: the training, the mindset. I thought the whole two pilot mind-meld thing was fascinating and the ramifications were very interesting. Two minds bonded, sharing thoughts and emotions, is a fascinating concept.

MA:  Are you kidding me?  What training?  The pilots are already fighting the monsters before the opening credits role!  It’s a neat concept, sure, but there’s no story development here.  It’s just thrown at us.

LS: So the fight training I saw with Raleigh was a hallucination? If you are going to make sweeping, general statements, then what’s the point of this discussion? Keep talking in generalities. I’ll talk about specifics.

MA:  You’re talking specifics?  I thought you were just hurling insults.

How’s this for specific:  the training sequences are about as well developed as a scene from TOP GUN (1986).  It’s superficial! What are you talking about?

LS:  I especially liked when Mako co-pilots a Jaeger for the first time and freezes up with the vivid memory of her childhood, wandering the streets of Tokyo alone and crying as a giant crab monster destroyed the city. The little girl’s complete terror and anguish during this flashback makes for a very convincing scene.

MA:  Did the crab monster destroy the city?  We see it destroy one street.  That’s not very cinematic.  And as far as it being a convincing scene, why?  Because she was crying?  What did she lose?  We have no friggin idea!

LS:  You’re especially dense this time around, aren’t you, Chocky? It’s her memory. She’s not going to remember every building in the city – she is going to remember her perspective. As for what she lost – I don’t think I need to draw you a detailed diagram do I? She’s a child, she’s alone, she’s crying. You can’t figure that one out yourself?

MA:  Figure it out for myself, which means it’s not a very cinematic scene.  Look, you called it a very convincing scene.  I strongly disagree.  It’s a little girl crying.  I don’t see why that’s so special.

LS:  Also going the “science will solve this” route, I found Charlie Day’s adventure in trying to find a solution (and in turn going to find Hannibal Chau) just as entertaining. Throughout, Idris Elba is solid as a rock as the man in charge of it all.

Another problem I had with the old monster movies was that the monsters were never really convincing. They always looked like guys in rubber suits, or puppets, and while some of the creature features were more convincing than others, they never really scared you or made you believe in what was going on. They were a lot of fun, but they resembled wrestling matches with costumes.

In PACIFIC RIM, the monsters are amazing. The special effects in this movie are top-notch and the monsters are really convincing as living creatures.

MA: Yes, the monsters here are convincing looking, but they are way underused.  These things should be terrifying.  They’re not.  That’s because tangling with a giant robot isn’t exactly fear inducing.

LS:  I agree that the monsters are underused. I wanted more of them. And I wanted more of them without the robots’ involvement, so we could really see them in action. But the point of the story is that, once one of these things shows up, the robots are deployed immediately to minimized damage and deaths. Which makes perfect sense.

The robots are pretty cool, too, but they did remind me of giant version of Iron Man. The creatures, on the other hand, were completely new, and I loved that each one was different from the next. Where one might look a bit like a shark, another one would look completely different and have behavior more similar to a gorilla. And the way the creatures got more and more complex as the movie went on was fascinating. I saw PACIFIC RIM in 3D – one of the rare times when I actively sought out a 3D showing – and it did add to the experience, especially during the battles. Del Toro does a very good job of making the creatures and robots look HUGE. They have a heft and a dimension to them, and this is crucial in making us believe what is on the screen.

MA:  Interesting.  I saw it in 2D.  I don’t want to be the one to say it, but perhaps 3D is the way to go with this one?  You liked the 3D effects?

LS:  Yes, I thought they added to the “bigness” and the chaos of the movie, especially during the monster fights.

Yet another issue I had with the old movies was that you never really got a sense of the human toll in all this. Sure, the monsters would smash up Tokyo, and people would be running away screaming, but you saw this in all of the movies, and it got kind of boring fast. In PACIFIC RIM, you get more of a feel of how devastating the damage and amount of deaths are. There are very real repercussions to these attacks—it’s not just a matter of rebuilding a city later on and going back to normal. Some cities in PACIFIC RIM are completely wiped off the face of the map. During the battles, buildings are destroyed, bridges are smashed, luxury liners and train cars are used as weapons. And very few people escape alive.

MA:  Really?  There are scenes of mass killings?

LS:  Do you need to see stacks of bodies to know there’s a human toll? Maybe if this was rated R they could get a little more explicit about the actually numbers of human deaths, but this is PG-13, and there are going to be some limitations.

For the first time for me, the whole “monsters attack a city” thing felt real, and had real consequences. It wasn’t just a fun wrestling match between monsters. And I thought that was pretty terrific.

MA:  I didn’t get this sense at all.  It felt exceedingly fake to me.  I had a stronger feel for world danger in the recent WORLD WAR Z than in this movie.  PACIFIC RIM played out like a weak fantasy in my book.

Where’s all the devastation and damage you’re talking about?

LS: I’m starting to wonder if we even saw the same movie at this point.

I also think you approached this one in exactly the wrong way. Del Toro is not trying to make some “big statement” here. It’s not an art film. It’s not PAN’S LABYRYINTH. It’s an action movie first and foremost. It’s also one helluva good one. He basically schools people like Michael Bay and shows them how it should be done.

MA:  I didn’t see much of a difference between this and a Michael Bay movie, which is a big reason why I didn’t like it all that much.  Sure, it might have some better ideas in it, but unlike you, I wasn’t impressed with what it did with these ideas.

LS:  I mean just look at the basic concept, “Robots vs. Monsters.” On the surface, this is a pretty silly idea, and in anyone else’s hands, I wouldn’t expect much from it. But del Toro sells it. You mention TRANSFORMERS, but that’s based on a toy and the idea of robots that are alive and aliens from another planet. The Jaegers from PACIFIC RIM trace back to Japanese horror films, an entirely different source material.

But this wasn’t meant to be rocket science. I hope you didn’t go into the theater hoping it was going to change your life, because it wasn’t meant to. It was meant  to be a fun riff on a nostalgic concept from our childhoods.

MA:  I didn’t expect it to change my life.  I expected it to be fun.  And it was, to a minor degree, but for me to sit here and listen to you call it a masterpiece cracks me up!

LS:  If fish is brain food, then PACIFIC RIM is fish for your inner fanboy. For everyone who’s ever been nostalgic about those silly old monster movies with Godzilla and Jet Jaguar fighting Megalon and Gigan. This is a big “what if?”: What if someone took one of those silly old Toho movies and had a big budget and good actors and turned out something that was the caviar of monster movies. That is all PACIFIC RIM aspires to. To take you back to what it felt like as a kid watching Creature Features on TV and watching Godzilla do the happy dance. On that level, PACIFIC RIM pays off in the way no brainless summer blockbuster has in years. This movie has a brain. Not a huge brain, but compared to the comatose state of most blockbusters, a small brain is still a big step up.

It’s brainless fun for people who have friggin brains!

MA:  I agree that it had a big budget, but that it’s it.  I’d rather watch an old Godzilla movie.

LS:  I also thought that PACIFIC RIM was the exact opposite of another recent blockbuster, THE LONE RANGER, which was overlong, had too little action, and was just plain bad. PACIFIC RIM was just as long, and yet the time flew by for me. In fact, I wanted it to go on longer. I wanted more of these characters and these creatures. The action was top notch, and while we do get a long middle sequence that focuses on the human story, I was interested enough in the characters involved to follow them gladly. I imagine the creature sequences were expensive as hell to create – they were so well done. But the human story was equally convincing from a visual standpoint. The bunkers, the military base where the pilots train, the mysterious lair of Hannibal Chau, life on the city streets, it was all as real and believable as the monster battles.

MA:  Yes, PACIFIC RIM is full of action, but it’s not exciting action.  You wanted more of these characters?  Of these cardboard cut-outs?

LS:  Just about every summer blockbuster has characters that are cardboard cutouts. I thought these characters were better developed than most. I don’t think a lot of the characters seemed cardboard at all.

As someone who has seen a lot of summer blockbusters, I can tell you that the large majority of them fail to live up to expectations. They’re big and loud, and – while trying to reach the largest audience possible – pretty hollow. It’s all action and no substance.

MA:  That’s a nice description of PACIFIC RIM.

LS:  You’re nuts!  I didn’t feel that way once while watching PACIFIC RIM at all!. I thought it was one of the rare times where a movie exceeded my expectations. The trailers and TV commercials for this movie don’t even scratch the surface of why this movie is so good. In fact, the commercials make it look a lot dumber than it actually is.

MA:  No, the commercials describe it exactly as it is.

LS:  Between the well-thought out plot and the fleshed out characters, I totally disagree with your assertion that Travis Beacham’s script is unimpressive. And for the record, Beacham came up with the original story, but he co-wrote the script with director Guillermo del Toro, and I’m sure that is what separates this from something like CLASH OF THE TITANS, which looked okay but had a very weak script. Del Toro is a visionary, and I’m sure he added a lot to make the script smarter and more visually astounding.

MA: Except that it’s not smart nor is it visually astounding.  It’s an ordinary story with some decent special effects that were nice but certainly didn’t blow me away.

LS:  Del Toro is the guy who gave us PAN’S LABYRINTH (2006) and the HELLBOY movies, and I have been a fan for a long time now. I remember seeing his first feature film, CRONOS (1993), in an art-house theater when it first came out, and being totally captivated by it. I’ve watched his career closely ever since, and while not everything has impressed me (I wasn’t that big of a fan of MIMIC, 1997, or BLADE II, 2002, yet they both have some individual scenes that are terrific), most of his stuff has. I loved CRONOS and THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE (2001), two much smaller, more intimate horror films. I thought the HELLBOY movies were action-packed, a lot of fun, and, often times, visually arresting. There’s a giant monster in HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY (2008) that resembles a gigantic flower, for example, and it’s as visually intriguing and satisfying as it is formidable. In a lot of ways, del Toro is a poet who uses celluloid as his verse.

At one point he was supposed to direct the new HOBBIT movies, and I’m glad that fell through. PACIFIC RIM is so much more interesting to me. This is the summer tent pole movie I have been waiting for. And it’s not a sequel, it’s not part of a franchise (yet), or based on an old TV show. It’s completely original and fresh and exciting. There’s a reason why del Toro has such a strong and devoted fan base—he’s one of the few directors these days who consistently delivers the goods. He is just as much of a fan of this stuff (more so!) than we are, and treats each project as a form of personal expression. His movies have heart and soul and aren’t just another product to get us to spend our money.

MA:  Original?  It’s giant monsters vs. giant robots.  I don’t know what makes that so original.

LS: Original to U.S. audiences. Not everyone has seen every Toho Godzilla movie ever made like us. And it’s an original take on the subject—a serious take with a decent enough budget to make take it to a level we haven’t seen before.

Del Toro’s dream project has always been to bring H.P. Lovecraft’s classic novella, AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS to the big screen, but the expense to do it right has been prohibitive. I hope PACIFIC RIM is a big enough hit to give him the chance to finally make that movie.

And, for the record, I enjoyed PACIFIC RIM and its characters so much, that I was left wanting more. So the inevitable sequel (if it does well) doesn’t fill me with as much dread as most sequels would.

I absolutely loved this movie and would not be surprised if it is the best summer movie we see in 2013. I give it four knives.

MA:  Well, you’re not alone.  People are gushing over this one.  I just don’t see it.

LS:  That’s because you’re looking at the walls!

MA:  Ha, ha!

LS: By the way, like a lot of movies these days, this one has a hidden scene at the end. You have to sit through some of the end credits to see it. So don’t be in a hurry to leave the theater.

(ALARM goes off)

ROBOTIC VOICE: Another threat has been detected. Please respond immediately.

(LS and MA mind-meld and their robot goes out to meet the latest challenge…the KRAKEN from CLASH OF THE TITANS)

LS: I always wanted to punch that guy in the nose.

MA: I think this one will be a bit more of a challenge, so we better give it our full attention.

Until next time, goodbye from Cinema Knife Fight.

LS: I think I’ll pretend he’s you and really eff him up!

MA:  It’s an effective strategy.  I pretended Barney was you.  Very satisfying.

(Cue Dramatic Music as the film dims and goes black)

-END-

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives PACIFIC RIM~ TWO KNIVES out of five!

LL Soares gives PACIFIC RIM~ FOUR KNIVES out of five!

IRON MAN 3 (2013)

Posted in 2013, 3-D, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Comic Book Movies, Marvel Comics, Superheroes, Surprises! with tags , , , , , , on May 6, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  IRON MAN 3 (2013)
Review by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

iron_man_3_new_poster (2)

(THE SCENE: The sky.  Two figures in Iron Man suits zoom by. Inside the body armor are MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  This is so cool!  I can’t believe Tony Stark was okay with our borrowing these suits.

L.L SOARES (laughs):  Who said anything about borrowing?

MA:  But you said you spoke with Stark and he agreed that—.

LS (laughs some more):  And you believed me?  What a doofus!

MA:  So, you’re telling me that we stole these suits?

LS:  Something like that.  But don’t worry.  We’ll fly these babies back before anyone even notices they’re gone.  I just thought it would be cool to be wearing them while we review today’s movie.

MA:  From up here?  While we’re flying in these things?

LS:  What’s the matter?  Can’t you do two things at once?

MA:  I most certainly can, and I’ll prove it to you by going first and starting the review.

LS:  Suit yourself. (snickers)  That’s a pun.

(MA Socks LS with his iron fist, sending him away flailing.)

MA:  And that’s a punch.  You owe me after all the trouble you’ve gotten me into today.

Anyway, welcome folks, today we’re reviewing IRON MAN 3 (2013) the third movie in the wildly popular Marvel Iron Man series starring Robert Downey Jr. as everybody’s favorite superhero alter ego, Tony Stark.  We’ve been talking about this a lot lately, how the Marvel superhero movies have enjoyed a tremendous run during the past decade with a string of well-made hits.  Iron Man, thanks to Robert Downey Jr., might be their most popular movie character to date.

LS (returns):  By the way, I owe you this.

(LS punches MA, sending him hurtling toward the Earth. At the last minute, he stops his descent and flies back up into the sky)

MA: Let’s call a truce until the end of the review at least. I’m really looking forward to this one.

LS: Okay okay. We’ll have our big battle after the review.

MA: So, as I was saying, Iron Man is a very popular character in an amazingly successful series.  The Marvel movies have done so well because for the most part, they’re made so well.  And IRON MAN 3 only adds to the list of high quality movies.

LS: How about ending the commercial for Marvel Comics and get on with the review? Not all their movies are that high quality. I wasn’t all that impressed with IRON MAN 2, for instance. The script was pretty lame. So I’m not really sure why you’re gushing so much.

MA: I gotta give credit where credit is due.  They’ve got a tremendous track record.

LS: Michael, your autographed photo of Stan Lee just arrived! He signed it, “To my favorite shill.”

MA: In this one, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) just isn’t the same guy anymore.  He’s suffering the after-effects of his traumatic encounter with both aliens and a massive worm hole at the end of last year’s blockbuster Marvel movie THE AVENGERS (2012).  He can’t sleep, he suffers anxiety attacks, and things aren’t going too well with the love of his life, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow).

LS: I thought this was interesting, that Stark actually had some psychological fallout after the events of THE AVENGERS. In the comics – and most superhero movies – it’s like these guys take everything in stride and never get affected. So that was an interesting idea, having him suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Except they never really do anything interesting with it. Stark just has some panic attacks at some inopportune moments. But the movie only really touches upon this in a very superficial way. When the real action starts, it’s pretty much an afterthought. This was a clever idea that wasn’t used all that well.

MA: I disagree.  I thought he had confidence problems throughout the film, even at the end.  I thought the film did a good job highlighting his weaknesses.

But back to the story.  A terrorist by the name of The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) has set his sights on humiliating the United States and in particular the President (William Sadler).  Leading the team to find and destroy The Mandarin is Tony Stark’s buddy Colonel James Rhodes (Don Cheadle).  Rhodes dons a patriotic red white and blue Iron Man suit and goes by the name of Iron Patriot.  He tells Stark that he doesn’t need his help, as catching The Mandarin is government business, not superhero business.

LS: Yeah, the big joke is that they changed the name of War Machine (Rhodes’ original name when in the metal suit) to Iron Patriot because “War Machine” didn’t do well in a focus group. This is a kind of satirical point, but sadly, also reflects the way the movies dumb down and sanitize comic book characters to fit certain audience expectations. Kind of ironic, actually.

MA:  You’re thinking too much.  It was funny, plain and simple.

LS: Yeah, I’m thinking too much about the things that annoyed me about this movie.

As for the Mandarin, they take a character who is supposed to be a Chinese warlord longing for the days of the ancient dynasties, and turn him into an Osama Bin Laden wannabe. Maybe that is more timely, but it also seems really cliché.

MA: But when Stark’s friend and personal security chief Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau- yep, the same Jon Favreau who directed IRON MAN & IRON MAN 2) is critically wounded in a terrorist blast credited to the Mandarin, Stark calls out the villain in a public rant in front of news cameras where he gives out his home address to the baddie and says he’ll be waiting for him.

(WAR MACHINE suddenly flies toward them and stops)

WAR MACHINE: What the hell are you guys doing here? And where did you get those suits?

MA: Uh oh.

LS: How do you know one of us isn’t the real IRON MAN?

WAR MACHINE: Because you’re just hovering in the sky, arguing about movies.

LS: Oh.

WAR MACHINE: I suggest you take it down to Earth, before you get mistaken for enemy crafts. This is monitored airspace.

MA: I told you this was a dumb idea.

LS: I still think it’s fun.

WAR MACHINE: Fun? These suits are a responsibility, not a game. Does Stark even know that you have them?

MA: Errr.

LS: Sure he does.

WAR MACHINE: I think I’ll call in and check with Mr. Stark. (Talks on radio) Tony, did you let two idiots borrow Iron Man suits today?

(Looks around)

WAR MACHINE: Where did those guys go?

iron-man-3-international-poster

(LS and MA are back on the ground)

LS: That guy is a real stick in the mud.

MA: These suits are probably worth millions of dollars. I think we should bring them back.

LS: All in good time, my friend. We’ve got to finish the review. Race you to the other end of the beach.

MA: Okay.

(They continue talking as they have a foot race in the Iron Man suits)

LS: Was it just me or was Favreau incredibly annoying in this movie?

MA: Oh, he might have been a little annoying, but I kinda liked him, and he really wasn’t in it enough to be too annoying.

LS:  His character, Happy Hogan (who he has played in all three IRON MAN movies) is just grating in this movie. Every time he appeared onscreen, I just wanted him to go away. I don’t remember him being this annoying in the previous films. I’m just glad that, after he gets caught in an explosion, he’s stuck in a hospital bed and we only see him rarely.

MA: And like all good movie villains, the Mandarin wastes no time in descending upon Stark’s compound and blowing it to bits.  But not before Stark is visited by a former girlfriend Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) who tells him she thinks her boss Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) is working for the Mandarin.

LS: How intriguing!

MA: Her boss, Killian, is a brilliant scientist who, along with Maya, has been working on experiments involving the process of regeneration.  Their treatment allows humans to grow back limbs.  Killian once tried to work with Tony Stark, but Stark snubbed him.

Killian also dated Pepper Pots for a time.  It’s a small world.

LS: Too small. The scene where Stark first meets both Killian and Maya (New Year’s Eve 1999, on the eve of Y2K, in Switzerland) starts the movie, and while it’s not a bad opening, I have to admit, the more this movie went on, the more I didn’t really care about these characters at all.

MA: After the Mandarin destroys Stark’s compound and kidnaps Pepper Potts, all bets are off, and Tony Stark makes it his mission to track down the terrorist and rescue the love of his life.  Along the way, there’s a major plot twist that I didn’t see coming, and I can easily see how hardcore fans might not like it, but I thought it was refreshing and quite funny.

LS: Yeah, let’s not spoil it, except to say there’s a very interesting twist that involves the Mandarin’s reason why he’s involved in all this skullduggery. The thing is – I’m a big fan of the character, and I had a mixed reaction to the big surprise. On the one hand, I felt a little cheated, except that this character not once seemed like the Mandarin from the comics. On the other hand, I thought the surprise was clever and funny, and maybe the only truly inspired moment in the entire movie. So I can’t complain too much.

MA: I have to say, I really liked IRON MAN 3 and place it among my favorite Marvel superhero movies. While not quite as good as THE AVENGERS or the first IRON MAN movie, it’s right behind them, and is way better than IRON MAN 2 (2010) which I barely remember.

LS: I remember IRON MAN 2 just fine, and I wish I didn’t. It was pretty bad. And totally wasted the Iron Man villain Whiplash (played by Mickey Rourke in that one, and except for one cool scene, he mostly just sits around doing nothing). Like IRON MAN 2, the third one eventually pushes aside a great villain from the comics to focus on a more generic bad guy, in this case, Guy Pearce’s Killian.

There are so many better villains who could have been in this movie instead, involved in the plot with the Mandarin. And if the effects guys want to give us tons of  guys in armor, then why not do it right and give us the Crimson Dynamo or Titanium Man?  No, instead we get Pearce’s Killian, who is about as compelling as toothpaste.

MA:  I liked Killian.  I think Pearce gave him an edge that made him better than he should have been.

LS:  An edge? (laughs) You really think so? Good for you.

There’s also a subplot about how Killian founded the organization Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M.), which opened up a ton of possibilities. In the comics, A.I.M. is an organization of evil that gave us MODOK – a major bad guy in the Marvel Universe! When A.I.M. was first mentioned in IRON MAN 3, I immediately hoped this meant that we’d eventually get an appearance by MODOK, but no such luck, at least not in this movie. Another total letdown.

And what’s with the need to have a hundred people in Iron Man suits in every movie? They did a variation of this in the second one, and in this one, there are a ton of remote-control Iron Man suits (pretty much an army of robots) in the big final fight, and it’s mostly boring. How about one really cool and powerful Iron Man instead of a hundred second-rate ones? But I guess it keeps the CGI guys busy.

MA: That didn’t bother me.  This one actually plays better than its story, which is nothing special, but the writing, the dialogue, the special effects, and most of all the acting lift it to the top.  And while the story wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen before, it was interesting and entertaining.  I liked the regenerative science Killian was working on.

LS: The Lizard did it better in the last SPIDER-MAN movie, and even that movie wasn’t that great. And why do people who get this regenerative upgrade from Killian have the side-effect of turning into a crispy critter? At first, I thought they were Lava Men, another old-time Marvel reference, but no, it’s just a drug side-effect that makes no sense at all.

MA: Well, I found it interesting.  I liked the terrorist plot involving the Mandarin and the later twists which went along with it.  I liked how Tony Stark had to deal with his post-AVENGERS trauma.  I liked that Pepper Potts was more involved in this story, and I enjoyed the stuff about her relationship with Stark.  All in all, it was a very likable story.  I thought it was a very successful screenplay by Drew Pearce and Shane Black.

LS: I thought that, except for the big plot surprise in the middle and a couple of good scenes, the script was pretty crappy for most of the movie’s running time. In fact, I will go so far as to say this one is on the same quality level as IRON MAN 2. Which is nothing to get excited about.

MA:  I don’t think so at all.  The script here is far superior to the one in IRON MAN 2.  Just the Tony Stark/Pepper Potts relationship alone is an upgrade.

LS:  But we still haven’t gotten to the worst thing in the movie…

iron-man-3-poster

MA:  I think all that high altitude flying we just did went to your head.  Not only is IRON MAN 3 a decent movie, it’s one of the best Marvel movies period!  I think you’re letting your affection for the comics cloud your judgment.  Jeesh!

LS: This movie pretty much made me forgot about any affection I had for the comics while it was onscreen. So it can’t be that. Maybe it’s….just a bad movie?

(Tony Stark appears above them in his IRON MAN suit)

STARK: Stop right there and identify yourselves.

MA: We’re the guys from Cinema Knife Fight, Mr. Stark.

LS: Yeah, don’t worry. We’ll return your dopey iron suits.

MA: I swear, I had no idea he didn’t ask you first.

LS: What a stool pigeon.

STARK: I have now taken control of the suits. You will have to vacate them.

(The suits open up, dropping LS and MA on the beach)

STARK: You’re lucky I don’t press charges, or kick your butts.

LS: Oh go play with your transistors.

STARK: I’ll let you two morons off the hook this time – against my better judgment. But don’t let it happen again.

(IRON MAN flies away, followed by the two radio-controlled suits)

MA (Looks around the beach): Do you even know where we are? How are we going to get home.

LS: Just finish the review. We’ll worry about that later.

MA: I guess so.

Shane Black also directed, and I thought he did a fantastic job here.  The pacing was great.  The movie clocks in at over two hours, but for me, it flew by, and there was barely a dull moment.  Yet, this doesn’t mean it was non-stop boring action.  It’s not.  There’s quite a bit of story here.

LS: Black does an okay job directing this one, but the script, which he co-wrote, didn’t excite me at all. It has one good moment, and then it’s business as usual.

I also found the big “Battle of 100 Iron Men” showdown at the end went on way too long and was tedious as hell. Black previously directed the 2005 movie, KISS KISS BANG BANG, a kind of neo-noir, which also starred Robert Downey, Jr. Otherwise, he’s mostly known as a writer, best known for the screenplays of the LETHAL WEAPON series. This movie looks good, but overall, it’s a very mediocre effort by Black.

MA: I didn’t find that final battle long at all.  I thought the timing was just right.

While the film looked great, I saw it in 3D, and I can’t say I was impressed.  This is one you could probably enjoy just as well in 2D.

LS: I saw it in 3D as well. Only because all of the 2D showings were SOLD OUT way ahead of time. What does this tell you? That this movie is going to be a big hit. But also that the audience is sick of being gouged by the more expensive 3D tickets, which only rarely are worth the added expense. If I see a movie that’s in 3D and 2D these days, which one I choose to see is based more on the convenience of the show time than anything else. I didn’t want to pay extra for 3D here, but I had no choice.

That said, I was completely underwhelmed by the 3D effects in IRON MAN 3. For most of the time, I didn’t even realize I was watching a 3D movie. I urge our readers – if you have to see this one –don’t spend the extra money for 3D. It’s not worth it.

MA: But the best part of IRON MAN 3 is the performances, starting with Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man.  He’s the most compelling superhero out there right now, mostly because—and this has always been the best part of the Marvel Universe—he’s a deeply flawed character.  He’s a guy who’s impulsive, quirky, and incredibly fun to be around.  He has no business being a superhero, but he is, and that’s what makes his story so cool.  Downey has played Stark in four movies now, and I can’t say that I’m even close to being tired of watching him.  I hope he plays the role again.

LS: God, you eat this stuff up, don’t you? Downey is fine as Stark. But he deserves better scripts than this.

MA (laughs):  As far as eating this stuff up, what can I say?  I sit through tons of bad movies every year.  The Marvel movies are not among them.  The odds says these film should be tiring by now.  They’re not.

LS:  The first IRON MAN was a decent movie, and he brought his A-game to it. He was also a real highlight in THE AVENGERS. But the IRON MAN sequels have been pretty embarrassing in comparison. Downey really needs to move on to better movies. Right now, he’s kind of trapped in a dumpster. Someone needs to open the lid and let him out.

MA: He brings his A-game here as well.  And if he’s smart he’ll keep making these films because it’s the perfect role for him, and there’s still more he can do with it.

LS: They’re the perfect movies to keep his bank account full. But a challenge for him as an actor? I don’t think so. Unless the scripts get better, he’s spinning his wheels.

MA: I really like Gwyneth Paltrow too, and she’s splendid here as Pepper Potts.  She’s played Potts four times now as well, and it’s probably her best performance as Potts.  She certainly has more to do in this movie than she’s had in the others.  Stark and Potts, as played by Downey and Paltrow, make a very likeable couple.

LS: I don’t know. I find Paltrow really stilted in these films. There’s this sense that she feels she’s too good to be acting in this kind of movie. Maybe she is. She never once seems relaxed or natural in this role. She has a couple of okay moments (one where she gains some strange super powers temporarily), but overall I just didn’t care for her. And I think if there’s any chemistry between Downey and her, it’s because Downey is doing enough acting to make them both look good. I’m just not a Gwyneth Paltrow fan, I guess.

MA: I don’t get that sense at all.  Maybe one of the reasons she doesn’t appear relaxed is because her character is dating Tony Stark!

Don Cheadle, one of my favorite actors, took over the role of Colonel James Rhodes in IRON MAN 2, and I remember not being all that impressed.  He’s excellent this time around, though, and it helps that Rhodes is integral the plot here.

LS: I think Cheadle is wasted in these movies. He’s Iron Man’s uptight sidekick. (Yawns). It’s funny how many good actors are wasted in this thing.

MA: Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin, I suspect, is going to generate some strong reactions from fans.  Diehard fans of the comics will probably hate him, while those of us, myself included, who aren’t as familiar with the comics, will find his performance refreshing and funny.  I loved it.

LS: I’m a diehard comics fan, or at least I used to be, and I didn’t hate him at all. I was disappointed they made him a Bin Laden clone—that just seemed very lazy to me—but despite any problems I have with the character here, I think Kingsley is the best thing in the movie. Maybe even better than Downey, because he doesn’t have to appear onscreen in almost every scene like Downey does, and doesn’t seem as burnt out.

MA (shaking his head):  Downey doesn’t come off as burnt out at all.  I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Guy Pearce is excellent as the villainous Aldrich Killian.  Killian is a particularly cold-hearted scientist, and Pearce does a good job bringing him to life.  I enjoyed Pearce here more than in last year’s PROMETHEUS (2012).

LS: When we first see Killian in a flashback, he looks like a reject from REVENGE OF THE NERDS (1984), with sloppy hair and bad teeth. When we see him in modern day, “cold” is the operative word here. Pearce might as well be playing a robot. He has about as much depth as a puddle. I really didn’t like him, and usually I’m a fan. I also hated the whole Killian character and storyline. He’s a major villain here, and yet he seemed generic and boring. The villain(s) might just be the most important thing about a superhero movie (if it’s not an origin story). And as one of the major villains here, Killian, is a complete snooze.

MA: For a complete snooze, he’s pretty damn deadly! He has the upper hand over Tony Stark/Iron Man throughout the film, and he was believable doing it.  I liked him.

I also enjoyed Rebecca Hall as Maya Hansen.  Hall was memorable in Ben Affleck’s THE TOWN (2010), and here as Maya she’s sexy, smart, and she has a dark side as well.  I liked her a lot.

LS: I liked Hall a lot, too. I didn’t care about her character’s storyline all that much, but I found that she was warm and human onscreen in ways Paltrow never comes close to being. Rebecca Hall just seems to relax in front of the camera and seems like a real person, and her scenes with Paltrow just make the contrast all that more glaring. Based on this movie, I’d rather date Rebecca Hall any day of the week. Paltrow comes off as an android ice queen.

MA: I’d have no problem dating either one of them.

The supporting cast is also very good.  I particularly enjoyed Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan.  He was a bit goofy, but I found him likeable.

LS: I already said what I thought about Favreau. They should have killed the character off in the explosion scene and spared us.

You didn’t mention James Badge Dale, who plays Eric Savin, Killian’s right hand man. I had a mixed reaction to him. It’s not like Savin has much of a personality either, but there are a few times where he seems to be trying to do something with the role. Most of the time, he’s just this killing machine, but I actually thought he was pretty good.

MA: Overall, I loved IRON MAN 3.  As the third film in the series, I had hoped it would be good, but wouldn’t have been surprised if it dropped off a bit in quality. Far from this, it was better than I expected.  It just might be my favorite film of the year so far.  Then again, I have a soft spot for the Marvel superhero films, mostly because they tend to feature strong acting, solid writing and storytelling, and impressive visual effects.  IRON MAN 3 is no exception.

I give it three and a half knives.

LS (stares at him): You’re joking, right?

MA: No way.  I loved it.

LS (shakes his head): And I notice you completely overlooked some of the worst aspects of the movie. Just didn’t mention them at all.

MA: Like what?

LS: Like a character named Harley Keener. Who is he? He’s a kid who helps Stark out after his Iron Man suit crash lands in Kansas. He’s a cute kid who lives with a single mother we never see, and Stark meets him when he stashes his damaged suit in the garage behind the kid’s house. There’s this big chunk of the movie that’s just about Stark and Harley, to give us some kind of surrogate father/son bonding that is meant to warm our hearts and show us that Stark has a heart of gold after all.

They have this cute banter back and forth, and Stark says some obnoxious stuff to the kid, and you think, “Wow, he’s still the same wise-cracking Tony Stark,” but he’s not. He’s gone soft, and he’s gotten stupid. This entire storyline played like an outtake from REAL STEEL (2011), another movie about a cute kid and a metal guy. These scenes were sappy and dripping with saccharine.

MA (laughing):  No they’re not!  The scenes in REAL STEEL were much more syrupy sweet than these!  These scenes were just amusing, and I didn’t mention them because I didn’t think much of them.  They’re a small part of the movie – it’s not like the kid is main player in the film. He’s not.  So, there’s a big difference between REAL STEEL and this.

LS: It’s long enough. It seemed to last a good half hour. It probably felt longer than it actually was.

In IRON MAN 3, Simpkins plays a sickeningly cutesy kid who is the visual equivalent of fingernails on a friggin blackboard. Every time he was onscreen, I completely hated this movie. And Stark’s smart-ass interplay with him was just as aggravating. This sequence made the entire movie grind to a halt, and the movie never fully recovers, going forward.

MA:  I think you just hate kids.

LS: I didn’t have any problem with Pierce Gagnon, the kid in LOOPER (2012), or Haley Joel-Osment back in THE SIXTH SENSE (1999). I don’t have any problem with kids who can act, and aren’t in a movie just to provide some sappy subplot.

I also think that Marvel movies are starting to get in a rut.  They take the comics and dumb them down, sandpaper away any real rough edges, and then hook them up to a script that is by-the-numbers and predictable. Aside from one surprise in IRON MAN 3, the movie is so predictable that it could have been written in someone’s sleep. These movies are all cookie-cutter products, and anything that was cool about them is going stale pretty quickly.

MA: Wow. I don’t view IRON MAN 3 as dumbed down or predictable at all.   And you think it could have been written in someone’s sleep?  Then that guy must be pretty smart to come up with a major unexpected plot twist in the middle of his nap!  It’s a cool story.  I can’t believe you’re complaining about it so much.

LS:  THE AVENGERS was a rare exception. But for the most part, the more recent Marvel movies have been pretty bland. And I grew up on Marvel Comics. I was a hardcore fan of the comics and these characters. So I should be the target audience, right? Someone who actually cared about these superheroes? Not even close. These movies aren’t made to appeal to long-time fans. They’re made to appeal to the widest audience possible—compromises and illogical changes are embraced without question—to separate them from their money.

MA:  They also appeal to people who appreciate good movies!  I can see why you, as a fan of the comics, would be more critical of the Marvel movies, but it’s not like for the rest of us the movies suck.  They’re well-produced, well-written, and well-acted.  I don’t see them as cookie-cutter movies at all.  That’s not to say that the Marvel movies don’t all follow a similar formula.  They do, but it’s a formula that so far is still working.

LS:  But it’s not just about comparing this stuff with the comics. If I was a hardcore comics fan and that was my only gripe, then I would hate the movie because of the way it treats the Mandarin, for example. But that’s not my problem. My problem is the script is very weak. Maybe it is no surprise that Marvel is now part of the Disney family. Because anything that was unique and exciting about Marvel’s characters is being washed away to give us the most assembly-line type of product possible.

I wish Downey would move on to better movies. He’s done what he could to make Tony Stark cool, despite completely moronic scripts. And he deserves to get the chance to actually act again.

MA:  No.  He should keep playing Tony Stark.  He has yet to wear out his welcome, and he might not.

LS:  I give IRON MAN 3 just one knife. And that’s only for Ben Kingsley and Rebecca Hall, and maybe 10 minutes of Robert Downey’s Tony Stark here. Otherwise, I think this movie is a waste of time. I’m sure it will make a gazillion dollars. I’m sure there are there are fans who will go completely gaga over it. But I’m one long-time Marvel fan who thinks it’s a dud.

There’s an end credit montage after the movie, that looks like a 70s action TV show, and it’s more fun than the entire movie that came before it.

Oh, and by the way, this one has a “cookie” at the very end. A secret scene after all the final credits role. Just like almost all other Marvel movies recently. This is annoying, because the end credits of this movie seem to go on forever, and the secret scene isn’t worth the wait at all!

MA:  I laughed at the last scene.  I thought it was funny.  And unlike you, I think people should run out to see this one.  It’s one of the more entertaining films of the year.

So how are we going to get back home?

LS: Hitchhike, of course!

(The two of them walk across the beach to the road and stick out their thumbs. A huge military-looking vehicle stops for them. The door opens)

LS: DOCTOR DOOM! I sure am glad to see you.

DOOM: Hop inside, gentlemen. You can accompany me in my latest plan for world domination.

LS: Excellent! After seeing IRON MAN 3, some world domination sounds like a great antidote!

MA: How do I get into these situations?

-END-

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives IRON MAN 3 ~ three and a half knives!

LL Soares gives IRON MAN 3 ~one friggin knife!

OBLIVION (2013)

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Aliens, Apocalyptic Films, Based on Comic Book, Blockbusters, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Clones!, Dystopian Futures, Science Fiction, Special Effects, Tom Cruise Movies with tags , , , , , , , on April 22, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  OBLIVION (2013)
by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

Oblivion poster

(THE SCENE: A spaceship high above Earth in the future.  MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES sit at the controls.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Shouldn’t one of us be down on the planet’s surface fixing drones?

L.L. SOARES:  No.  We both should be up here reviewing today’s movie.

MA:  Good point.  Shall I begin?

LS:  Sure. I’m going to check out the swimming pool out back, to see if there are any nude female assistants swimming about.  That was one of the highlights of OBLIVION!

MA:  No, you’re going to sit right there and review today’s movie with me.  Although I do agree with you, about that scene being a highlight.

LS:  As usual, you’re no fun.

MA:  Anyway, today we’re reviewing OBLIVION (2013) the new science fiction movie starring Tom Cruise.

OBLIVION isn’t exactly the most emotional movie you’ll ever see.  Its interior sets are dominated by one color, white.  As such, the film presents an almost sterile environment.  Likewise, it evokes about as much emotion as a sterilized white room.

In the future, Earth has been attacked by aliens.  Humanity won the war, but lost the planet, because in order to defeat the aliens, we used nuclear weapons, in effect making Earth uninhabitable for life any longer. Now, in 2070, humans live on Titan, Saturn’s moon.

LS: I didn’t realize Titan had an Earth-like atmosphere. Why the hell did they choose that as the new home for mankind?

MA:  Beats me.  Plus it’s not exactly in our backyard.  The trip would take several years.  Can you imagine the kids in the back seat?  Are we there yet?

Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) remains on Earth, working with a young woman named Victoria (Andrea Riseborough). Their job is to repair the drones that are defending the planet against the remaining aliens, known as “Scavs.”  They report to their commander Sally (Melissa Leo) who’s stationed in the space station above them known as the Tet.

(C3PO and R2D2 from the STAR WARS films, enter the cockpit)

CP30: Excuse me, gentlemen, did you say “droids?”

LS: No, he said “drones.”

C3P0: See R2D2, I told you you were mistaken.

(R2D2 beeps and whistles)

MA: What did he say?

C3P0: He said that OBLIVION sounds rather dumb. And I must say, its lack of droids is quite suspicious.

LS: I agree.

(R2D2 beeps again.)

MA:  Now what did he say?

C3PO:  He said he’s bored and he can’t wait to piss off more Stormtroopers in the upcoming STAR WARS movie.

(R2D2 beeps some more.)

C3PO:  No, R2, I don’t think these gentlemen know if there are any Stormtroopers in the area.

MA:  No, but there’s some drones down there on the planet you two could annoy.

C3PO:  Oh, splendid!  Let’s go, R2.  (The two droids exit.)

MA:  Back to our review.

All is well, except that Jack is haunted by images, perhaps memories, of a mysterious young woman whose identity he can’t remember.  Later, he finds this woman asleep in a kind of metallic coffin which has arrived on Earth from a spaceship called the Odyssey. He awakens the woman, and she reveals to him that she’s his wife Julia (Olga Kurylenko).  She tells him that his memory has been erased, opening the door for some dramatic revelations and plot twists.

Jack is later captured by some remaining humans, who are living underground. Needless to say, they aren’t supposed to be there. Their leader, Beech (Morgan Freeman) asks for Jack’s help in defeating the true enemies of Earth.  Jack then has to decide who to believe, who to fight for, and where the truth lies, but since he’s being played by Tom Cruise, there’s little doubt whether or not Jack will make the right decisions.

I can’t say that I really liked OBLIVION.  I never really got into its story, which wasn’t all that interesting.  I also wasn’t crazy about the characters..

The “aliens” are boring.  We never really see them.  The real menace in this one is Sally, and as played by Melissa Leo, she’s nothing more than a face and a stern voice on a video monitor.

LS: Yeah, that was major problem with OBLIVION. I thought it looked great, with the flying machines and drones. But to what end? I didn’t really care about these characters all that much. There are a couple of scenes that show us Jack’s humanity, the most obvious one being scenes at a cabin he made in the mountains, by a lake. It’s his one sanctuary from the world around him, and it’s a potent image. But otherwise, there’s not a lot about OBLIVION that has any emotional value.

 (The robot from the 1960s series LOST IN SPACE enters the cockpit)

ROBOT: Warning! Warning! We are entering the planet’s atmosphere!

MA: I thought you turned off the engines.

LS: You didn’t tell me to do that. It’s been on autopilot.

ROBOT: Warning! We have entered Earth’s atmosphere.

LS: So what? We have to land sometime.

ROBOT: This does not compute.

LS: Be quiet you bumbling bucket of bolts!

MA: You’re starting to sound an awful lot like Dr. Smith.

LS: Why thank you!

ROBOT: Humans. I will never understand them.

(ROBOT leaves the cockpit)

MA: Are you sure entering landing on Earth is a good idea?

LS: Why not? (looks out the window) Ah, home sweet home.

MA: Ahem. Time to get back to our review.

Tom Cruise is fine as Jack, but he was better as Jack Reacher in JACK REACHER (2012), as that character was more fully developed.  Jack in this movie is just your average standard hero.  I didn’t buy into his mission on Earth, nor was I all that intrigued by his love story with Julia.

LS: Oh yeah, JACK REACHER was a much better movie, and probably made at a fraction of the budget. No fancy special effects in that one.

MA: I did like Andrea Riseborough as Victoria. There was something very sexy about her in a quirky, offbeat way, but she’s not the main character in this one.  That would be Olga Kurylenko as Julia, who I didn’t enjoy as much.

LS: I liked both women, but I agree that Victoria gets short shrift. My main problem is that Jack and Victoria seem to have real feelings for each other, but when Julia shows up, Jack pretty forgets all about his feelings for Vicky.

MA:  I definitely agree with that point.  I really had the impression that Jack had genuine feelings towards Victoria, and so I agree with you it played out as strange that he simply forgets about her.  I expected some angst on his part, some tension, perhaps a love triangle, but as I said before, this movie’s too sterile for that.

LS:  Yeah, a love triangle would have been more realistic, and would have provided a bit of drama to the stale proceedings here. Sure, Victoria is uptight, is afraid to break the rules, and is an all-around stick in the mud a lot of the time-hey, she sounds a lot like Michael Arruda!

MA:  Hey!  I resemble that remark!

LS:  —but we’re led to believe they have a strong bond, and it’s not believable that Jack would be able to just sever that without a second thought. It would have made more sense if he had a real conflict about which woman he wanted. Instead, he doesn’t seem to have any trouble making a choice when this new woman shows up. Sure, he has had dreams about her before he meets her. But I just didn’t like how Victoria was tossed aside so easily.

MA:  I agree.

Oblivion poster #2

LS: By the way, Olga Kurylenko who plays Julia was previously in movies like SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS (2012), Neil Marshall’s underrated CENTURION (2010) and was even a Bond Girl—she was Camille in 2008’s QUANTAM OF SOLACE.

MA: Meanwhile, Morgan Freeman is Morgan Freeman.  He’s fine, but he doesn’t do anything here we haven’t seen him do before.

LS: I’m not sure what I feel about Morgan Freeman at this point. When there’s the big scene where he reveals himself for the first time, I felt it was almost—laughable. Like he was doing a parody of himself. But the thing is, his role in OBLIVION isn’t funny. Maybe he’s just played so many roles like this that I just can’t take him seriously anymore. He can’t be a convincing character—you just think of him as “Hey, it’s Morgan Freeman.”

MA:  Maybe he should just stick to narrating.

LS:  I liked the women in this one, and I liked Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Sykes, another leader of the human rebels on earth (kind of Morgan Freeman’s right hand man). Most people may recognize Coster-Waldau as Jaime Lannister in the great HBO series GAME OF THRONES. But while I liked seeing him in the OBLIVION, he really isn’t given very much to do.

MA: I thought the visuals and special effects were just okay.  They didn’t wow me.  Neither did any of the battle scenes. I thought it was pretty  ho hum throughout, and in this day and age, where movies can look so good visually, I thought OBLIVION was just average.  There weren’t any memorable images to go along with this one either.  The movie had its chances, with various images of Earth after the nuclear holocaust, but few if any of these images resonated with me.  There’s only so many times you can see the Washington Monument or the Empire State Building looking beaten and dilapidated and feel something, especially when these scenes don’t look all that real.

LS: I thought the machines and high-tech contraptions looks convincing enough. I thought they were all well done. But I didn’t felt “wowed” either. There’s just something about OBLIVION that wasn’t very exciting. And you’re right about the battle scenes. They were kind of boring. The first time we see Jack confront a drone, it’s kind of interesting. But after a while, they just become tedious.

MA: The screenplay by director Joseph Kosinski, Karl Gajdusek, and Michael Arndt did little for me as well.  It’s based on a comic book by Kosinski and Arvid Nelson.

LS: It’s called a graphic novel.

MA: Comic book, graphic novel. What’s the difference?

LS (shrugs): Beats me.

MA:  I thought the story was confusing at times, but worse than that, it didn’t win me over emotionally.  I cared little about these folks, mostly because they themselves didn’t seem to care much about what was going on.  I also didn’t find that Cruise and Kurylenko shared much chemistry, which didn’t help the love story.  I thought Cruise shared more onscreen chemistry with Riseborough, but they’re not the main love focus here.

LS: I didn’t find the story very satisfying, either. And while I am not as down on Kurylenko as you, I do think Cruise had better chemistry with Riseborough, too. I just found OBLIVION to be kind of bland and sanitized and despite its various plot twists, it seemed like something we had seen before.

MA: Director Kosinski also directed TRON:  LEGACY (2010), and I would say both films score about the same in the quality department. Neither one wowed me.

LS: I didn’t see TRON-LEGACY, so I don’t know if I’d agree with you. But I’ll take your word for it.

One thing that did interest me a little was the movie’s soundtrack. Kosinski has been making some interesting music choices in his films. In TRON: LEGACY, the soundtrack was done by French electronic group Daft Punk. This time around, OBLIVION was scored by another band I like, M83. Truth be told, however, I wasn’t really all that aware of the soundtrack while I was watching OBLIVION, maybe because I was kind of bored a lot of the time. I am curious to see if I listened to the soundtrack without the visuals if I would have enjoyed it more.

MA: OBLIVION is also nowhere near as ambitious in theme or scope as last year’s science fiction hit PROMETHEUS (2012) but the results are about the same, mixed.

LS: I don’t know. I thought PROMETHEUS was a little disappointing, but I thought it was much better than OBLIVION.

MA: I feel a chill in here, and that’s because I never warmed up to OBLIVION.  It was cold and emotionally detached throughout.

I give it two knives.

LS: I’m pretty much in agreement with you on all counts here. I give OBLIVION two knives as well. I thought it looked great, but it had no soul. Nothing meaty to grab onto.

(The DROIDS and ROBOT have returned)

C3P0:   Excuse me, gentlemen, but how do you get off this ship?

(R2D2 beeps and whistles.)

C3PO (pointing out window):  Look, there are those pesky drones come to attack us.

MA: I told you it was a bad idea to land here. Didn’t you learn anything from OBLIVION?

LIS ROBOT: Warning! Warning!

LS: So long, fellas.

(LS pushes a button that ejects the section of the craft where MA and LS are)

MA: I hope they know how to fly the ship without us.

(There is the sound of drone fire and an enormous explosion)

LS: Oops,

-END-

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives OBLIVION ~ two knives!

LL Soares gives OBLIVION ~two knives, as well.

THALE (2012)

Posted in 2013, Adult Fairy Tales, CGI, European Horror, Fantasy, Feral people, Foreign Films, LL Soares Reviews, Mythological Creatures, Supernatural, Unusual Films with tags , , , , , , on April 1, 2013 by knifefighter

THALE (2012)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

thale

The last few years, we’ve been getting some interesting genre films from unlikely places, like RARE EXPORTS (2010), from Finland, which gave us the truth about Santa Claus and his elves (they’re really scary creatures), and TROLLHUNTER (also 2010), from Norway, about a special government agency focused on keeping Norway’s troll population in check. And of course, the films of Lars von Trier, who has been making unusual films in Denmark for several decades now (including the excellent THE KINGDOM, 1994—which was the inspiration for Stephen King’s underrated TV series, KINGDOM HOSPITAL—and more recent films, such as the distrurbing ANTICHRIST (2009) and the end of the world tale MELANCHOLIA (2011).

The new movie THALE (2012), like TROLLHUNTER, is also from Norway, and once again deals with creatures from Norwegian folklore, although instead of being about trolls, this time we learn about the huldras, woodland creatures that appear to us in the form of beautiful women with tails, that are much more dangerous than they appear to be.

As THALE begins, Leo (Jon Sigve Skard) and Elvis (Erlend Nervold) are at a house at the edge of the woods, which is also a crime scene. It’s their job to clean things up after the police are done. The two of them are also old friends, and Elvis is filling in for Leo’s usual partner. The two catch up on news about their lives and joke around, when they are told that only half of the victim’s body was found; the other half was most probably carried away by animals that live in the nearby forest. They have to try to find as much else of the corpse as they can, so they start looking around the property, tearing out the floors of the outhouse, etc., when they find a hidden stairway leading down to an underground bunker, which does not appear to have been used for years. Everything is covered in dust, and the canned goods that are stored down there have long since expired.

Elvis finds an old cobweb-shrouded cassette player, and somehow it still works. When he turns it on, the tape inside plays a conversation between a doctor (the victim of the crime they’re cleaning up, presumably), and a girl. Or rather, the doctor does most of the talking (actor Roland Astrand provides the doctor’s voice). We only hear the girl when she screams during a painful procedure.

Who are these people? It’s not long afterwards that the two men find Thale (Silje Reinamo), who appears to be a girl in her 20s, and who has been abandoned in this bunker since the doctor’s death. It seems that she was the subject of his experiments, and there’s something not right about her. Like the fact that she doesn’t speak, but if she touches you, she can project vivid images into your head that “speak” for her.

Silje Reinamo is very effective as the otherworldly THALE.

Silje Reinamo is very effective as the otherworldly THALE.

As the men try to figure out who and what Thale is, some strange creatures stalk the woods outside, and at one point some nefarious men in gas masks and hazmat suits (and toting guns) arrive. It seems there are several individuals who would like to have access to Thale, now that the doctor isn’t around. Which ones have her best interests at heart, and which ones want to hurt her? Well, that’s for the viewer to find out. And Leo and Elvis are caught in the middle, waiting for their compatriots to show up (they’re delayed).

THALE is an atmospheric little film,  that gives us a good feel for the woods of Norway. The acting here is pretty good. I liked Leo and Elvis a lot, and Silje Reinamo is particularly  good as the otherworldly Thale. Effectively written and directed by Aleksander Nordass (whose other work is mostly short films and TV movies), I thought THALE was an enjoyable horror/fantasy that reveals that there are probably many Norwegian fairy tale creatures who have yet to be explored on film.

Despite its short running time of 76 minutes, I thought THALE fleshed out its characters well, and has a compelling storyline. My only complaint is that the other huldras we see, which are much more animalistic than Thale, are CGI creations that really are not very convincing. For the most part, Nordaas films them from a distance, or fleetingly, but there are times when they are in full view, and they don’t look realistic at all. I think it actually would have been better to go with makeup effects for the creatures in this case; they are just more visceral and not as cartoony as low-budget computer effects.

Aside from this one setback, however, the movie is original and worth seeing. I give THALE three knives.

It was made in 2012, and was shown in Austin, Texas last year as part of the South By Southwest Film Festival, and is getting a brief theatrical run (mostly in arthouse theaters) now. It is also currently available on cable OnDemand.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

The original Norwegian poster for THALE.

The original Norwegian poster for THALE.

 

(Editor’s Note: I was originally planning to see and review the new Ryan Gosling film THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES this weekend, but it was in limited release and wasn’t playing anywhere near me. When it goes into wider release, I’ll be writing about it here).

LL Soares gives THALE  ~three knives.

OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013)

Posted in 2013, 3-D, Adult Fairy Tales, Based on Classic Films, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Exotic Locales, Fantasy Films, Highly Stylized Films, Prequels, Sam Raimi, Witchcraft, Witches with tags , , , , , , , , on March 11, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013)
By Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

oz-1

(THE SCENE: A circus, filmed in black and white.  L.L. SOARES, dressed in a magician’s costume, stands on a stage in front of a sparse crowd.)

L.L. SOARES:  For my next astonishing trick, I’ll need a volunteer from the audience.  You, there!  The silly-looking gentleman standing in the back.

(Spotlight lands on MICHAEL ARRUDA, standing in back of audience.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Are you talking to me? (points to his chest.)

LS (under his breath):  Yeah, you, you Travis Bickle wannabe.  (louder to audience) Yes, young man. Come up here. Don’t be afraid.

(MA approaches stage to mild applause.)

LS: For this amazing feat of magic, I shall require the services of my magic wand.  (Lifts magic wand, dripping with blood.)

MA (now standing next to LS):  Are you sure that’s not your magic knife? You haven’t been drinking and mixed them up again, have you?

LS:  Silence!  For this trick, I shall make him disappear.  Hocus frigging Pocus!  (taps MA on the shoulder with bloody wand.  There is a great puff of white smoke, and when it clears, MA has disappeared.)

I like this gig!

(MA finds himself back in the audience)

MA:  Not so fast!  (Rushes back on stage).  We have a movie to review, and you’re not getting rid of me so easily!

(MA leaps at LS, the two wrestle, and fall out a back door onto an incredibly colorful path, as the scene is now in bright Technicolor.  They are on a hill, standing on a yellow brick road, looking down at the glittering Emerald City of Oz.)

MA:  We’re not in Kansas anymore.

LS:  When the hell were we ever in Kansas?

MA:  It’s a figure of speech.

Well, now that we’re here in Oz, let’s review today’s movie, OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013) Disney’s prequel to the classic THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939).

The story opens in a scene similar to the one we just left.  Young magician and con-man Oscar Diggs (James Franco), who goes by “Oz” for short, is struggling to make ends meet with his sideshow magic act.

LS: I have no idea if the Wizard has a regular name in L. Frank Baum’s OZ books, but do you think the fact that Franco’s character’s name is Oscar is a joke because he hosted the Oscars one year with Anne Hathaway? I remember they were pretty much pilloried for that gig.

MA: Who cares?

He’s helped by his assistant Frank (Zach Braff) and by clueless women who he charms and lies his way into getting them to be part of the act on stage.  When one such woman, Annie (Michelle Williams), tells him that someone has asked her to marry him, she professes her love for Oscar, but he tells her to go ahead and get married because he’s not a good man.  Their conversation is interrupted by the circus strong man, who is angry at Oscar for giving a gift to his woman—a music box, to be precise, which we learn Oscar gives to every woman he is romantically interested in— and so Oscar leaps into a hot air balloon and flees his former life, only to be caught up in a massive tornado which propels him of course to the Land of Oz.

LS: That’s the same way Dorothy got to Oz in the original movie! Hey, it was funny how there’s a scene with Franco, Williams and Braff, and I realized, there’s a whole new generation of actors whose careers started in television. Franco was on the short-lived, but revered cult TV show FREAKS AND GEEKS (which only lasted one season, from 1999 to 2000, yet almost everyone from that show has gone on to a bigger career, including Seth Rogan and Jason Segel); Williams, of course, became famous on DAWSON’S CREEK (1998 – 2003); and Braff first became a familiar face on SCRUBS (2001 – 2010). It was like a TV reunion! And yet, all three are really good here in a theatrical movie!

MA: I agree.  And I remember liking Braff a lot on SCRUBS.

In Oz, Oscar meets Theodora the Good Witch (Mila Kunis), who tells him of the prophecy that a wizard named Oz would arrive from the sky to free their people from the wicked witch of the land.

LS: And Kunis’s big break was also on television, on THAT ‘70S SHOW (1998 – 2006). Hey, don’t forget the part of the prophecy that says the wizard will have the same name as the land of Oz. I thought that was kind of goofy, but funny, too.

MA: Not to mention unbelievable, but since this is a fantasy, I let it slide.

Theodora falls for Oscar immediately and is convinced that he is the wizard from the prophecy, and that he will become king and she’ll be his queen.  She brings him to the Emerald City where she introduces him to her sister, another witch, Evanora (Rachel Weisz).

LS: Finally, someone who didn’t start their career on television! Well, American television. Weisz began her career in television in England, but became familiar to American audiences in movies like THE MUMMY (1999). I also thought she was kind of amazing in Neil LeBute’s 2003 film, THE SHAPE OF THINGS.

MA: On their way to the city, they meet up with and befriend a talking flying monkey, Finley (voiced by Zach Braff).  Oscar saves Finley from the clutches of a lion, and as result, Finley promises to be his faithful servant for life.

LS: Was it just me, or was Finley one of the best-looking CGI creations we have seen in a long time? The level of detail, and his facial expressions, were just terrific.

MA: No, it’s not just you.  I thought the same the thing, and I also thought the little China Doll was just as good.  Excellent special effects here!

The witch sisters show Oscar an enormous “treasure room” full of gold which will all be his once he has defeated the wicked witch, and all he needs do to accomplish this task is to destroy her magic wand.  Unable to resist the temptation of all that wealth, Oscar agrees to the task and sets out along with Finley to destroy the wicked witch.  Along the way, they rescue and repair a broken talking China doll (voiced by Joey King) who cries her way into becoming part of their team.

LS: Yeah, China is another amazing CGI creation. At least the effects in this movie are incredibly well done.

MA: Once in the dark forest, they attempt to destroy the wicked witch, but it turns out that this witch, Glinda (Michelle Williams), isn’t wicked at all, but a good witch.  The true wicked witch, according to Glinda, is really Evanora.

LS: Hey, wait a minute. We’ve been walking along as we talked, and we’re in a dark forest now as well.

MA: Funny how that happened.

LS: Hmmm, we’re surrounded by apple trees. I could go for an apple right about now.

(LS picks an apple off a tree, and the tree turns around and slaps him with one of its branches)

TREE: Do I go around picking things off you?

LS: One of those cool talking trees from THE WIZARD OF OZ!

TREE: I asked you a question.

MA: Sorry.  We don’t usually talk to trees. And where we come from, apples are food.

TREE: Food! How barbaric! I oughta knock your block off.

LS: Hey, how come you trees weren’t in OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL. I missed you guys when Oscar goes into the dark forest this time.

MA:  I never liked those trees, and so I’m glad they weren’t in this movie.  (An apple plunks him on the head.)

TREE: Maybe we were saplings back then and weren’t big enough to talk. How the hell do I know? Now give that apple back.

(LS hands over the apple he picked, and the TREE takes it)

TREE: Now hurry on off if you know what’s good for you!

LS: Okay, okay.

(LS and MA continue walking along the road)

MA: Anyway, Glinda introduces Oscar to the oppressed people of Oz and tells him that it’s up to him to free her people from the clutches of Evanora, and her unsuspecting sister Theodora, who it turns out, is about to undergo a dramatic personality shift, to say the least.

LS: Yeah, I have to admit, I didn’t see that coming. So let’s not spoil it further.

MA: OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL gets off to a slow and rather clunky start but ultimately improves to the point where it becomes a movie that I —surprisingly—- really liked a lot.

LS: I didn’t think the beginning was clunky at all.

MA: Well, not the very beginning, the black and white sequence where we see Oscar working as a sideshow magician with his assistant Frank, which I liked.  These scenes were humorous and shot in the tradition of the original movie, THE WIZARD OF OZ.  They also set the stage for the transformation to the colorful 3D extravaganza known as Oz.

LS: I also noticed that, during the black and white scenes, the screen we see is smaller. But when gets to Oz, it is not only more colorful, but the screen expands to widescreen perspective. A clever trick!

MA: But it’s in the early moments in Oz that I thought the film faltered.  I did not enjoy the early scenes between Oscar and Theodora.  I found Theodora to be incredibly naïve and as a result not very believable.

LS: There aren’t naïve people in real life? And wouldn’t it make sense if she never before saw a man fall out of the sky? It’s not something we see every day. And there is the prophecy!

MA: She falls in love with him in less than a minute.  Naïve.

I also thought the dialogue here, especially Theodora’s, was particularly bad, and the scenes inside the castle where Oscar meets Theodora’s sister Evanora aren’t much better.

Things pick up once Oscar sets out to destroy the wicked witch, along with his faithful monkey Finley and the little China Girl, two CGI creations who not only look terrific, but who are also two of the better characters in the movie. They’re better than most of the “real” people here.

LS: I’ll agree with you on that point.

MA: And then things really get moving once they confront Glinda and we learn that she’s not really a wicked witch.  When she explains to Oscar what his true mission must be, and he accepts, the movie takes on an entirely different and more rewarding emotional feel.   The scenes where Oscar must lead the various groups of Oz inhabitants, farmers, tinkers, and of course Munchkins, are light, funny, and ultimately gratifying.

LS: I actually had a mixed reaction to the scene where we first meet the Munchkins. They begin to sing, and Oscar discourages them. In a way it’s funny, and I’m not normally a fan of musicals, but at the same time, the music was one of the indelible stamps that made THE WIZARD OF OZ so unique. How there was music and singing, but it wasn’t really a musical per se. I think this new OZ could have let its hair down a little more.

MA: I’m glad Oscar told them to shut up.

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Of course, these scenes also coincide with Theodora’s transformation into the true threat of the movie, a transformation that I both bought and enjoyed.

LS: Enough of that!

(A MUNCHKIN suddenly walks by. He’s holding a stick over his shoulder with a knapsack on the end, like a hobo)

MA: Hey little guy, where are you headed?

MUNCHKIN: Far away from here. They won’t let us sing in this movie.

LS: Is that so bad?

MUNCHKIN: Don’t know a lot about Munchkins, do you? We were born to sing. It’s in our hearts, it’s in our souls. We live to sing! And this Oz character shows up and tells us to “Take 5.” The nerve of that guy!

MA: So where are you headed? Going to go to Middle Earth and hang out with the Hobbits?

MUNCHKIN:  Of course not, they don’t sing either!

LS: Going to go sit in a display case at Dunkin’ Donuts?

MUNCHKIN (sticks out his tongue): Very funny. That would be a big No.

MA: So where does a Munchkin go if he’s not allowed to sing?

MUNCHKIN: Why the show GLEE of course. I’m sure they’d invite me to join the cast.

LS: Good luck with that.

(MUNCHKIN walks away)

LS: Back to our regularly scheduled program.

MA: In spite of its slow start, I liked OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL a lot.  Sam Raimi has hit yet another home run with this colorful, agreeable, and highly entertaining fantasy tale that has a lot of things going for it.

LS: I agree with you. I liked it a lot, too. And I think a lot of the credit goes to director Raimi. This sure makes up for the awful SPIDER-MAN 3 (2007)! Nice to see him back to full power again.

I went in wondering how it would compare to THE WIZARD OF OZ, because comparisons are inevitable. And it compares quiet well. The level of acting and the script are good, but do not seem to be as solid as the original film. And strangely, though technology is so advanced now, I think the original 1939 film still looks more amazing and the land of Oz looked more “real” back then.

MA:  James Franco is excellent as Oscar, “Oz,” and in a movie driven by special effects, he still manages to carry this movie and drive it along.  I bought into his character and accepted his flaws as genuine.  He basically plays Oscar as a guy who succeeds in spite of himself, and I liked this.

LS: Oscar isn’t the most likable character in the world, but that’s okay. He’s not supposed to be. He’s actually kind of a fool. But this is a tale of redemption, and Franco shines in the lead role here. I love that goofy grin of his. He’s making it up as he goes along, but he has no idea what the rules are in this new world, and so he’s going to get duped sometimes, as a lot of us would be.

MA: Michelle Williams makes a sincere and touching Glinda, and I’d have to say I thought she delivered the best performance in the movie, which is saying a lot because I didn’t expect much from this character, and yet she makes for such a strong and attractive presence, I found myself that much more interested in the story whenever she was on screen.

LS: You know, in our COMING ATTRACTIONS column earlier this month, we made a big deal of Mila Kunis being so beautiful in the trailer for this movie. But the truth is, Williams is just as beautiful (and Weisz is certainly no slouch, either) here. The thing is, you’re right—she does deliver the best performance in the movie. I thought she was perfectly cast here. It’s so easy for such a completely “good” character to be just plain boring. Usually the bad guys are the most exciting ones. But Williams makes Glinda believable. And I liked her character a lot—which amazed me, because I always root for the bad guys! She really has become an amazing actress over the years. I thought she was great as Lily in BLACK SWAN (2010).

MA:  I have to agree with everything you just said, and I think that’s why I liked her so much.  For once, the “good” character was just as interesting as the bad!

I did not enjoy Mila Kunis early on as Theodora, to the point where I was hoping she wasn’t going to be in the movie much.  But I really liked her dark side, so much so that it made me forget completely her lame interpretation of Theodora at the beginning of the movie.

LS: Oh give Mila a break! The way she plays Theodora early on is crucial to what happens later, and I think she does a good job.

MA:  Gag!

LS:  She is beautiful, and her character is supposed to be clueless and easily manipulated. That is vital to how she ultimately reacts to both her sister Evanor and Oscar. I will admit, there are some scenes where Kunis did seem a little stilted, and her performance isn’t the best one here, but she’s coming along nicely as an actress. Who knew, when she played a supporting character on THAT ‘70S SHOW, that her career would be so huge. I don’t think she’s an amazing actress, yet, but I think she’s getting better and better.

MA: Like we both said earlier, the two CGI creations, Finley the monkey and China Girl, voiced by Zach Braff and young Joey King, were two of the most captivating and enjoyable characters in the movie.  They’re on par with Yoda in the STAR WARS films and Gollum from the LORD OF THE RINGS movies.

And the 3D effects here are excellent, too. I’d have to say that this is the most visually satisfying movie I’ve seen since HUGO (2011).

LS: Yeah, I saw the 2D version. Maybe I should have seen it in 3D instead. But I will say that seeing the 2D version didn’t hurt my enjoyment of the film at all.

As for the special effects, everyone who worked on them for this movie deserves heaps of praise. OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL is way above average, which made it stand up much better in comparison to the 1939 movie, which set a high bar.

(A FLYING MONKEY from the original WIZARD OF OZ walks by, carrying a knapsack over his shoulder)

MA: Hey little guy, where are you headed?

LS: Is there an echo in here?

FLYING MONKEY: I thought the wicked witch’s flying monkeys were one of the coolest things about THE WIZARD OF OZ, and now I find I’m out of a job.

MA: There are flying monkeys in OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL.

FLYING MONKEY: Let’s be specific here, shall we? The flying monkeys in this movie are flying BABOONS. There’s no sign of the monkeys from THE WIZARD OF OZ this time around. We’ve been replaced.

LS: You mean you don’t want to put on a little bellhop’s outfit and pretend to be Finley?

FLYING MONKEY: That wimp? No way! If the only choices I have are dressing like a bellboy and being all cute, or being out of a job, then I’ll be on my way.

LS: I do agree this was a little annoying. As a kid, I always thought the flying monkeys were the best part of THE WIZARD OF OZ. They didn’t need to be improved, and they didn’t need to be changed into baboons. Hell, if you want scarier monkeys, why not go all out and hire some mandrills?

MA: I didn’t mind the baboons here, although I’ve always liked the flying monkeys from the original, so admittedly I did miss them a little bit.

LS: The CGI flying baboons were okay, but they were one of the things I liked least about OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL.

FLYING MONKEY: Well, unless you can hire me on as an evil henchman, I’ll be going.

LS: I’m tempted. Honest I am.

MA: It’s not in the budget!

LS: I know. Farewell, scary monkey.

(FLYING MONKEY continues walking down the yellow brick road)

MA: The screenplay by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire manages to tell a compelling story with lots of references to the original movie, from a lion in the woods, to scarecrows, to the poppy fields.  There are many moments that will indeed bring back memories from the 1939 classic.

LS: A movie you admit you don’t like.

MA:  Guilty as charged.

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LS:  As a fan of the 1939 film, I was surprised how good OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL was. I really thought it would look shallow in comparison, and it stands up quite nicely. The script is clever, and sticks to the story of THE WIZARD OF OZ pretty closely. It explains a lot of things in a smart way.

MA: One thing I didn’t like, or at least didn’t understand, was that in the 1939 film, the characters that Dorothy meets, the Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, Wicked Witch, and even the Wizard himself, all resemble people she knew in Kansas, which makes sense because at the end of the movie it’s revealed she was dreaming.  Here, characters Oscar meets also resemble people he knew back home, yet here it’s not inferred that he’s dreaming.

LS: Maybe he is. Then again, maybe he died in that tornado and Oz is the afterlife! The way I saw it, maybe it’s not inferred because maybe he wasn’t dreaming, and maybe Dorothy wasn’t either. Maybe she really visited this other dimension (or perhaps she had a near death experience and got a glimpse of the afterlife as well), too. You can debate it all you want, because it’s open to interpretation.

MA: But if we are to infer that it’s all a dream, then how does this tie in with Dorothy’s dream later?  Can they both have the same dream?  Or is Oz real?  No doubt, I’m overthinking this, but it was something that was definitely on my mind as I walked out of the theater.

LS: That’s a first. You can barely think and now you claim to be overthinking. I think poor Finley has more brains than you.

MA: Which goes to show just how clueless you can be sometimes!

LS: You know, one thing I was worried about was that Disney would make this story extra bland to appeal to the widest audience. They have a way of doing that sometimes, although I must admit, it wasn’t a problem with Andrew Stanton’s underrated JOHN CARTER (2012). Just last week you were complaining that JACK THE GIANT SLAYER was super homogenized and didn’t have any kind of edge to it. I was surprised that OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL has any kind of edge at all. But Franco’s Oscar is certainly a flawed character, the witches here can be kind of scary, and while it’s a great movie for the whole family, I didn’t think it was reduced to Disney-flavored pablum. What did you think about that, Michael?

MA: I agree.

It’s funny because JACK THE GIANT SLAYER was rated PG-13, and OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL was rated PG, yet OZ has more of an edge than JACK!  Now, there are more battle scenes in JACK than there are in OZ, but Oscar has more flaws than anyone in JACK, and the witches and even the baboons are scarier than the giants in JACK.

Nonetheless, to my surprise, since I hadn’t been looking forward to this one, I really enjoyed OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL.  Sam Raimi can add another notch to his belt because he’s made yet another classic movie.

I give it three and a half knives.

LS: Well, I have to admit, I’m amazed by your reaction, because you have gone on record as saying you don’t like THE WIZARD OF OZ.

MA:  I’m just as amazed.

LS:  And yet the reason why this new OZ is so good, is because it sticks to the original story so well. It makes a good companion piece to the 1939 film, and I wouldn’t be surprised if kids of the future get exposed to both films together, the way we got exposed to THE WIZARD OF OZ as children. Despite your dislike of the original, I remember it being a big deal as a kid. It was shown on television just once a year, and EVERYONE seemed to watch it, and make it a special occasion. Videotape wasn’t around yet, so you couldn’t watch the movie whenever you wanted.  You had to wait. And that created an anticipation around it that made it seem very special.

With a movie that is such an important part of a lot of people’s childhoods, it’s going to be very tough to make something new that can stand alongside it. And yet, I think Sam Raimi has done a terrific job here.

I don’t think OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL is a perfect film. I don’t think everything works, and there are moments when it seems stilted or that it’s trying too hard to be clever. And not all of the characters are equally interesting. While I like Rachel Weisz a lot, I didn’t find her Evanora all that interesting, even though she was crucial to the storyline (and Weisz seems to do what she can with the role). I don’t think all of the special effects are equally good – but that only makes sense, because they’re so expensive to do. I think Finley the monkey is amazing, for example, but I was less impressed with the flying baboons that Evanor commands. And I still think that THE WIZARD OF OZ packs more of an emotional wallop. In comparison, the new OZ is a love tap, but a very good one.

I also give it three and a half out of five knives (and,just to put things in perspective, if I had to rate the original WIZARD OF OZ, it would get four and a half or maybe even five knives).

By the way, this isn’t Disney’s first trip to Oz since the 1939 original. In 1985, there was a sequel called RETURN TO OZ, with Fairuza Balk as Dorothy, It was rather dark and I liked it a lot. But it wasn’t an all-star blockbuster like this one. I think the world of Oz still has a lot of potential – there are so many stories and characters created by L. Frank Baun that haven’t been tapped into yet.

(They reach the gates of the Emerald City. A GUARD waits outside)

GUARD: Halt! Who goes there.

LS: Hey, wait a minute, you’re Bruce Campbell, right?

GUARD: Of course not, I’m Winkie the Gatekeeper!

LS: I saw Bruce Campbell’s name in the credits, but I didn’t see him anywhere. I was sure he was Winkie.

GUARD: You are sorely mistaken.

LS: Rats! I always wanted to meet Bruce Campbell. Speaking of Bruce and director Sam Raimi, I wonder if the remake of their classic EVIL DEAD (1981) will be any good.

MA: That doesn’t come out til next month!  (to GUARD) Hey, will you mind letting us in?  We’ve come a long way.

GUARD: Well, boo hoo for you. No one goes inside today! The Emerald City is under renovation.

LS: Double Rats!

MA: Oh well, I guess we’re headed back home.

LS: Can we at least take a hot-air balloon this time?

-END-

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda & L.L Soares

Michael Arruda gives OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL ~ three and a half knives!

LL Soares gives OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL ~three and a half knives, as well.

JACK THE GIANT SLAYER (2013)

Posted in 2013, 3-D, Action Movies, Adult Fairy Tales, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Exotic Locales, Family Films, GIANTS!, Heroic Warriors, Michael Arruda Reviews with tags , , , , , , , on March 4, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  JACK THE GIANT SLAYER (2013)
By Michael Arruda

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(THE SCENE: The Kingdom of the Giants, high above the clouds.  A GIANT stomps onto the scene, approaching MICHAEL ARRUDA, who sits on a rock counting some beans in his hand.)

GIANT:  Fee Fi Fo Fum, I smell the blood of an English Muffin!

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Don’t you mean Englishman?

GIANT:  No, I mean English muffin.  (pulls out an enormous English muffin).  I love the nooks and crannies.

MA:  I see.  Does that mean you’re not partial to human flesh?

GIANT:  I didn’t say that.  I’m just in the mood for an English muffin right now, that’s all.

JA

MA:  Am I safe to do my review here without worry that you might try to eat me?

GIANT (with his mouth full of English muffin):  I’m not going to eat you.  I prefer to eat meat in the evening, not in the morning.  I’m watching my cholesterol.

MA:  I see.

GIANT:  Start your review.  Don’t mind me.  I’ll just sit here eating my breakfast if that’s okay with you.

MA:  Not a problem.  Welcome everyone to CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.  I’m riding solo today, as L.L. Soares is on the other side of the clouds reviewing THE LAST EXORCISM PART 2.  I’m here in Giant Land reviewing the latest fairy tale movie, JACK THE GIANT SLAYER ( 2013).

And you know what?

GIANT:  What?

MA:  For the most part, I liked this one.

GIANT:  No kidding?

MA:  No kidding!  It certainly has its share of drawbacks, but it could have been a lot worse.  That being said, I’m also here to tell you it could have been a lot better.

Jack (Nicholas Hoult) lives in a kingdom where the children grow up hearing the legend of the giants who live high above in the sky, and how they were vanquished years ago by the heroic King of the land, who defeated the giants with his magic crown which, upon his death, was buried with him.

Jack is a young farmer who lives with his uncle.  Sent to the village to sell a horse, Jack instead takes in a traveling show where he happens to meet the Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson).  The princess is restless and upset that her father King Brahmwell (Ian McShane) has arranged a marriage for her with the much older Roderick (Stanley Tucci), so she constantly disguises herself and sneaks out of the castle.

When she runs afoul of some aggressive men, Jack jumps to her aid, but before the men rough him up, the king’s guard arrives, led by the head of the royal guard, Elmont (Ewan McGregor), and they whisk the princess back to the castle.

But you can’t keep a good princess down.  She sneaks out again, coincidentally ending up at Jack’s farm (yeah, that’s believable!), when the magic beans Jack had taken for his horse sprout the gigantic beanstalk which rises high into the sky above.  Jack manages to escape the beanstalk, but the princess is trapped and is lifted into the sky.

The king organizes a rescue party, led by Elmont, which also includes Roderick and Jack.  It’s up to these men to climb the beanstalk and rescue the princess from the clutches of the flesh-eating giants.  Things grow more complicated when it’s revealed that Roderick has an agenda of his own, and saving the princess isn’t part of it.

JACK THE GIANT SLAYER has its moments, and the best part of the movie is that everyone involved seems to be taking it quite seriously.  You won’t find goofy camp here.

However, on the other hand, although the material is treated with integrity, it’s handled with kid’s gloves.  This movie is rated PG-13.  It easily could have been rated PG, and in fact felt like a PG movie.  This was not a good thing.  So when the menacing giant takes a human and bites his head off, the camera cuts away long before we see what happens.  When soldiers suffer deadly wounds, not a drop of blood drips from their bodies.

Which makes JACK THE GIANT SLAYER a curious animal.  The actors in the film play things as if they’re in Peter Jackson’s LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, director Bryan Singer, the man behind the first two X-MEN movies, shoots it with the pacing and ferocity of Wolverine, and yet it’s edited in such a way that it is so kid-friendly it makes you wonder if somewhere along the line the folks behind the film changed their minds as to how they wanted to present this thing.

The end result is it’s really nothing more than just a children’s fairy tale.  The kiddos will love it because it’s exciting and action-packed, a bit more serious than their usual fare, but it’s all wrapped in a neat little PG package—sure, the rating says PG-13, but trust me, it’s PG material.

I found it enjoyable in a mild sort of way, but kept wishing it was a darker picture, and by darker, I don’t mean “R” rated, but I mean something along the lines of the aforementioned Peter Jackson LORD OF THE RINGS movies (not THE HOBBIT, which lacked the same intensity).  JACK THE GIANT SLAYER is more akin to a Ray Harryhausen Sinbad movie than LORD OF THE RINGS, only without  Harryhausen’s fun effects.

GIANT:  Speaking of special effects, how were the giants in the movie?  I’m always eager to hear how my cousins are represented on the big screen.

MA:  I’ll get to the giants in a bit.  Not yet.

Jack

Nicholas Hoult, who was one of the few things I liked about the recent zombie romantic comedy WARM BODIES (2013), is very good again here as Jack.  There’s something very likeable and sincere about him, and I found myself easily rooting for Jack.

Eleanor Tomlinson is also very good as Princess Isabelle.  She does a nice job playing both the strong and independent woman, and the vulnerable princess who doesn’t mind having Jack rescue her once in a while.  I bought into her performance as a princess much more than I did Kristen Stewart’s tomboyish take on Snow White in SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2012).

JACK THE GIANT SLAYER is also helped along by its veteran cast.  Ewan McGregor as Elmont, the head of the king’s royal guard, shows more passion and exudes more personality here than he did in three movies as the sterile Obi-Wan-Kenobie.  It’s a neat role for McGregor.  He’s not the lead, not the young farm boy, but the seasoned veteran who is single-minded in his purpose to serve the king.  To use another STAR WARS reference, he’s Han Solo to Jack’s Luke Skywalker, although he plays Elmont less like Solo and more like James Bond.

Playing King Brahmwell its Ian Mcshane, a veteran actor who I almost always enjoy watching.  McShane has been in countless movies, and he’s probably most famous for his British TV show LOVEJOY (1986-1994) and for playing Al Swearengen in the HBO series DEADWOOD (2004 – 2006).  Incidentally, McShane was also in last year’s SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN, where he played one of the dwarves, but he’s much better here as King Brahmwell.  That’s because in JACK GIANT SLAYER he delivers a performance that’s way above the material.

Stanley Tucci rounds out the veteran cast as Roderick, and surprisingly he was a disappointment.  His performance was fine, but he doesn’t get to do a whole lot.  Roderick should have been a juicy role for Tucci—a no good scoundrel whose secret desire to rule the kingdom leads him to betray just about everyone in his path—and for a while it is, but he never really develops into the kind of villain this movie needs.  I expected more.

And not to nitpick, but since Roderick was in line to marry the princess per order of the king, and was about to inherit the kingdom without having to lift one treacherous finger, the fact that he goes to all this trouble to conquer the king makes little sense when you think about it.

GIANT:  Are you going to talk about the giants now?

MA:  Not yet.  Soon.

Director Bryan Singer brings a lot of energy and zing to this one, imbuing the film with exciting action sequences, colorful sets and costumes, and pacing that keeps the movie rolling.

The screenplay by Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie, and Dan Studney offers likable characters, enjoyable dialogue, and enough references and tweaks to the original tale to satisfy fairy tale connoisseurs.  McQuarrie also wrote the screenplay for JACK REACHER (2012), VALKYRIE (2008), and, way back when, THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995).

The set-up is all here for a rousing adventure, but somewhere in the editing room, it must have been decided this needed to be watered down.  The final result therefore is a mixed bag, an entertaining story without much bite.

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GIANT:  I’m going to bite you if you don’t start talking about the giants!

MA:  Okay, I’ll talk about the giants.

GIANT: It’s about friggin time!

MA:  What can I say?  I was saving the giants for last.

Anyway, it should come as no surprise where the giants fit in here.  Like the rest of the movie, they run hot and cold.  At times, they look really cool with some neat attention to detail, while other times—actually, most of the time—they look fake and cartoonish, off the set of some old Looney Tunes cartoon.

They’re portrayed as menacing evil beings that’ll bite off a man’s head in an instant, but we never feel their wrath or their enormous hatred of humans.  They’re rarely scarier than a villain in a Disney movie.  In fact, some Disney villains are scarier.

Like other watered-down parts of this movie, had the giants been grittier, the film would have been that much better.

And don’t ask me how the giants procreate.  There’s not a female giant anywhere in the land.

I chose not to see JACK THE GIANT SLAYER in 3D, believing the 3D effects wouldn’t be worth the extra money.

I liked JACK THE GIANT SLAYER, but I certainly didn’t love it.  The acting by everyone involved was very good, the story decent, and the film itself energetic and exciting, but it could have used more of an edge—an adult take to the fairy tale proceedings—as well as some more convincing and frightening giants.

I give it two and a half knives.

GIANT (burps):  That English Muffin was delicious.  But I’m still hungry.  Now what shall I eat?  (Eyes MA and licks his lips.).

MA:  You’re watching your cholesterol, remember?

GIANT:  I know, but it’s so difficult!

MA:  Here, have some magic beans.   (tosses beans up towards giant.)  They’ll put beanstalks on your chest.

GIANT:  I probably shouldn’t eat these.

MA:  No, but you can trade them in for all the food you want.  They’re worth quite a bit.

GIANT:  Gee, thanks!  (Exits)

MA:  Okay, we’re done here.  Time for me to return to the real world.  Now just where is that beanstalk again?  I sure hope the elevator is working this time.

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives JACK THE GIANT SLAYER ~ two and a half knives!