Archive for the Fantasy Films Category

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

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(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.

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THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (2012)

Posted in 2012, Based on a Classic Novel, Cinema Knife Fights, Epics, Fantasy, Fantasy Films, Wizards with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 17, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE HOBBIT:  AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (2012)
By Michael Arruda

Hobbit Poster

(The Scene: A cave in Middle-Earth.  Gollum sits admiring his ring.)

GOLLUM:  My precious!

(A large boulder falls from above, landing on Gollum with a loud THUD! flattening him.  The ring flies through the air through an opening in the cave where it’s caught in midair by MICHAEL ARRUDA who happens to be walking along the green mountain path above.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Cool!  (looks at ring).  This will make a nice stocking stuffer.  (Puts it in his pocket.  Looks over his shoulder).  Come on guys!  Pick up the pace.  This isn’t a leisurely stroll.  We’ve got a job to do!

(Behind him, a group of DWARVES march along.)

MA:  Figures L.L. would take this weekend off, leaving me to babysit a bunch of dwarves from Middle-Earth.

(The DWARVES start singing “Hi ho!  Hi ho!  It’s off to work we go!”)

MA:  Seriously?  Enough with the singing already!  This isn’t Snow White!  This is Cinema Knife Fight! Jeesh!  (one of the DWARVES flips him the bird).  Anyway, we still have a ways to go before we reach our destination, which will give me time to review today’s movie, THE HOBBIT:  AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (2012), Peter Jackson’s follow-up to his acclaimed LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy.

Based on the novel “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien, which he wrote before “The Lord of the Rings,” THE HOBBIT:  AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (2012) tells the story of a younger Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman).  The movie opens with an older Bilbo (Ian Holm) preparing to write down the events from his youth in order to share the story with young Frodo (Elijah Wood).

This time the plot involves dwarves, gold, and a dragon that drives the dwarves from their kingdom because they had stolen gold from him.  Years later, the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) decides to help the dwarves get their kingdom back, and he sees Bilbo as the key to the dwarves’ success.  As he says at one point in the movie, while others view great strength as the way to fight evil, he sees the little things in life as being the most effective, which is why he views Bilbo so highly.

DWARF #1:  That’s a bunch of tree hugging nonsense if you ask me!  Give me a bad-ass brawny warrior with a sharp sword any day of the week, not some soft-spoken hoity-toity Hobbit!

DWARF #2:  I like Bilbo.  And I don’t think hoity-toity is quite the word you’re looking for.  You can’t be hoity-toity and soft-spoken at the same time, can you?

DWARF #1:  Shut up!  Who asked you?

MA:  Much against his better judgment, yet unable to resist an adventure, Bilbo sets off with the dwarves to reclaim their kingdom, having to fight off all sorts of dark forces along the way, including Orcs, goblins, and giant spiders.  What about that dragon?  Sorry folks.  You’ll have to wait until the next movie.  Yeah, bummer, and that’s one of the problems with THE HOBBIT.  Its story is split among three movies.  Something tells me one movie might have been a better idea.

And that’s it in terms of a plot summary, because really, in this movie, the plot is secondary.  Does it matter all that much why hobbits and dwarves are battling evil forces?  Not really.  What matters is their exploits make for a grand spectacle on the big screen.

Now, while I liked this movie—it’s so visually satisfying how can you not like it?—I certainly didn’t love it.  It has a lot of drawbacks.  To me, the biggest drawback is it’s hindered by the feelings of “I’ve seen this before” and “they’ve gone to the well too many times.”  Simply put, it’s nowhere near as good as the LORD OF THE RINGS movies.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy had a stronger story, better characters, and was much more compelling than THE HOBBIT.  There are a lot of memorable characters in THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, characters I really cared about.  In THE HOBBIT, we have Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf, and some dwarves.

Bilbo Bagginsteams up with a bunch of dwarves in THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED ADVENTURE.

Bilbo Baggins teams up with a bunch of dwarves in THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY.

DWARF #1:  Will you listen to him?  We get no respect!

DWARF #2:  I heard him say he liked the movie.

DWARF #1:  Yeah, and now he’s knocking us dwarves for not being interesting characters.  I suppose he would have rather seen a movie about elves.  Fool!

MA:  Comparing THE HOBBIT to the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy might be unfair, but since they were both made by Peter Jackson, and both based on works by Tolkien, I think you have to, and in doing so, in viewing THE HOBBIT as part of the same franchise, it plays like the fourth film in a series, and as such, at times, it seems tired and redundant.

Again, this might be unfair, but in order to be completely successful, THE HOBBIT would have had to show me something different, something more, than what I saw in the LORD OF THE RINGS movies, which were phenomenal, all three of them.  THE HOBBIT doesn’t do this, it doesn’t have anything extra that those three previous movies didn’t have, and as a result, in spite of its impressive visuals, it comes off as a disappointment.

Long story short, I liked the LORD OF THE RINGS movies much better than THE HOBBIT.  Hands down.  THE HOBBIT, while good, isn’t excellent.  And another negative here is the knowledge that we have two more of these movies coming.  Really?  Seriously?  It reminds me of SON OF KONG (1933) following up KING KONG (1933).    SON was a likable enough movie, entertaining and well-made, but it wasn’t KING KONG, not by a long shot, and with that in mind, would you be looking forward to two more SON OF KONG movies?  I know I wouldn’t be.

In THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, Christopher Lee’s Saruman leads armies of Orcs in battle and is pretty much the main baddie in the series.  In THE HOBBIT, Christopher Lee’s Saruman sits at a table and has a conversation.   There you go.  One is all out and intense, the other is a dinner table conversation.

The main reason to see THE HOBBIT—and really, the only reason, unless you’re a huge fan of Tolkien—is its visuals.  THE HOBBIT is truly impressive to behold on the big screen.  You have to give Peter Jackson a lot of credit.  He must own the patent on Middle-Earth or something.  Everything about the world he creates in these movies, including THE HOBBIT, looks authentic, which is amazing, considering it’s a world of pure fantasy.

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I didn’t like the story, I didn’t really like the characters, but the scenery, costumes, make-up, CGI effects, and the entire feel to this film lifted it to a level that, without these things, wouldn’t exist.  Take all that way, and I don’t like this movie.  I enjoyed looking at this film and was completely impressed by what I saw on the big screen.  Unfortunately, the story wasn’t on par with the visuals, but I can’t deny that the world Jackson created was a remarkable one to see.

So, yes, Peter Jackson does an excellent job at the helm, although, truth be told, no one scene in this movie truly stands out as being memorable.  It’s just the entire package that’s memorable.

I had more trouble with the screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, and Guillermo del Toro.  The story wasn’t as strong as the LORD OF THE RINGS movies, nor was the dialogue as memorable.  I’m not sure it’s entirely their fault, as in general, the story told in Tolkein’s “The Hobbit” simply isn’t as compelling as the story told in “The Lord of the Rings” books. And again, I go back to, “They’re making three movies about this?”

The acting is okay.  Martin Freeman is excellent as Bilbo Baggins, and he easily gives the best performance in the movie.  But just how excited can one get about Bilbo Baggins?

DWARF #1:   Not very!

MA:  Bilbo is kind of a Hobbit version of Bob Newhart.  Nice guy, funny, but not exactly all that exciting.

Ian McKellen returns as Gandalf, and as you would expect, he again is very good.  But truthfully, no one else in the cast really stood out.  Compared to the cast of characters in THE LORD OF THE RINGS, the dwarves in this one are inferior.

DWARF #1:  I’m going to kick that guy in the teeth!

DWARF #2:  Can you reach his teeth?

DWARF #1:  Shut up!”

MA:  Andy Serkis fares well once again as his CGI alter-ego, Gollum, but we’ve seen this shtick before.  It’s no longer new and refreshing.  But hey, Christopher Lee is on hand once more as Saruman, and even for just one scene, it’s great to see him.  It’s 2012 and he’s still making movies.  Amazing.

And I saw it in 3D.  Do I even need to say it anymore?  The 3D effects, hardly noticeable, are nothing more than an afterthought, and certainly aren’t worth the extra admission price.

Bottom line, there wasn’t anything unexpected about THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY.  It played out pretty much exactly the way I expected it to play out.  It’s an expensive, well-crafted, near-perfect-looking movie that unfortunately has a weak story and blah characters that prevent it from being anything truly special.

It’s like picking up a book with weak writing that has unbelievably amazing illustrations.  You can’t praise the writing, but you can’t deny the illustrations are remarkable and fun to look at it.

So, it’s with this line of thinking that I give the film three knives.  It easily could have been a two knife movie, if not for the strength of its visual package.

(Stops at a large tree.  Turns to dwarves behind him.)

Okay, guys, we’re here.

DWARF #1:  We came all this way just to see a tree?  What the hell?

DWARF # 2:  It’s a very nice looking tree.

DWARF #1:  Shut up!

MA:  It’s not just any tree.  It used to belong to the Keebler Elves before they closed shop and outsourced.

DWARF #1:  What?  Are we going to make cookies now?  I’m a warrior, not a baker!

DWARF #2:  I like cookies.

DWARF #1:  Shut up!

MA: Something better than cookies.  I have with me – (pulls out a piece of paper) – the secret recipe for Twinkies!  It’s yours if you want it.  Something to fall back on if the warrior thing doesn’t work out.

DWARF #1:  What the hell is a Twinkie?

DWARF #2:  It’s a yellow sponge cake with cream in the middle.

DWARF #1:  Those things that last forever?  Hmm.  Sounds magical.  I just might like it.

DWARF #2:  May I suggest a new name? The Dwinkie.

MA:  And on that note, we’ll say so long, as my friends the dwarves debate whether or not to get into the baking business.

DWARF #2:  Can I get my face on the box and become the face of the franchise?  (mugs for the camera.)

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY ~ three knives!

Cinema Knife Fight Coming Attractions for DECEMBER 2012

Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Coming Attractions, Crime Films, Fantasy Films, Murder!, Tarantino Films with tags , , , , , , on December 7, 2012 by knifefighter

Cinema Knife Fight – COMING ATTRACTIONS:
DECEMBER 2012
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

 

(THE SCENE: A prairie somewhere in the Deep South.  MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES ride in on horses and come to a stop under a tree.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Welcome to this month’s COMING ATTRACTIONS column. The column where we preview what movies we’re reviewing for the month.

L.L. SOARES:  And we’re riding in on horseback, I reckon, because we’re on our way to Mississippi to review the big movie of the month—and the one I’m most looking forward to—Quentin Tarantino’s DJANGO UNCHAINED.

MA:  Which takes place in Mississippi just before the Civil War.  But this highly anticipated movie doesn’t open until the end of the month, and so we have a few other movies to review first.

LS: Dang it!

Well, the weekend of December 7th, I’ll be reviewing the movie DEADFALL starring Eric Bana as a criminal on the lam after shooting a cop. It looks like it might be pretty good, but I think it’s in limited release, which means Michael won’t be able to see this one. That’s okay, because I can take the following weekend off.

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MA:  Yep, the weekend of December 14th, I’ll be reviewing THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (2012), Peter Jackson’s follow-up to his LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy.  I’ll either be reviewing this one solo or with a guest reviewer, as L.L. here will be sitting this one out.

LS:  Yeah, I’m allergic to hobbits.

MA: Really? You’re physically allergic to them?

LS: Okay, not really. But  I hate ‘em. They’re annoying little bastards.

(Little hobbits run by and toss some cream pies at LS.  He ducks out of the way, and the pies hit MA in the face.)

LS (laughing):  Sucker!

MA (licking cream off his fingers):  It’s okay.  I love cream pies.

I also loved Jackson’s LORD OF THE RINGS movies, so I’m looking forward to THE HOBBIT, even though I’m not quite sure I’m ready for a trilogy based on Tolkien’s book “The Hobbit.”  I mean, it’s not like “The Hobbit” is an epic 1,000 page book.  But THE LORD OF THE RINGS movies were nearly flawless in their attention to detail, and I was thoroughly captivated by all three movies, enjoying the journey into Middle Earth, and I believed it, every step of the way.

LS:  Gullible fool.

MA:  Ian McKellen returns as Gandalf, reprising the role he played in the three LORD OF THE RINGS movies, and Martin Freeman will be playing Bilbo Baggins.  Peter Jackson directs once again, and is also one of the four screenwriters, in a group that includes Guillermo del Toro.

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LS:  I wasn’t a big fan of the LORD OF THE RINGS s movies. The first one was okay, the second one bored me to death, and I didn’t even bother seeing the third one, so I’m not the best person to review THE HOBBIT, and I’m more than happy to sit this one out.

MA: It’s too bad you missed the third one.  It might be the best of the three.

On December 21, we’ll be reviewing JACK REACHER, an action thriller starring Tom Cruise.  I’m not really a Tom Cruise fan so I can’t say I’m all that excited about this one.  The trailer makes it look like an updated variation of the Dirty Harry movies, and seeing Cruise in this tough guy role is about as convincing as if he were being played by Justin Bieber.  Nuff said.

It does have a decent supporting cast though, including Robert Duvall and Richard Jenkins, so at least we’ll have those guys to watch.

It’s written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, the guy who wrote VALKYRIE (2008) the OK Nazi thriller starring Tom Cruise, and way-back-when he wrote THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995), a film I liked a lot.

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LS: I’m actually more excited about this one than you are. I think the trailer for JACK REACHER looks pretty cool. I’m not a big Tom Cruise guy, either, but he’s good at playing these cold-blooded hitman types. I enjoyed COLLATERAL (2004) a lot, for example, where Cruise played a hired killer opposite Jamie Foxx as a cabbie who drives him around.

I’m looking forward to it.

Speaking of Foxx – the movie I’m looking forward to most is Quentin Tarantino’s new one, DJANGO UNCHAINED, coming out on Christmas Day. A new Tarantino movie is always a reason to celebrate, as far as I’m concerned. I love all his movies, and I expect to love this one, too. He delivers the goods.

This time around, Jamie Foxx plays Django, a slave who bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz, who was so terrific in Tarantino’s last film, 2009’s INGLORIOUS BASTERDS) takes under his wing. Django has information about some guys Schultz is hunting down, and in return for his cooperation,  Schultz agrees to set Django free and help him find his wife. With Leonardo DiCaprio as an especially sleazy bad guy named Calvin Candie, this one looks like a lot of fun.

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MA:  Yep, I’m really looking forward to DJANGO UNCHAINED as well.  It’ll be fun to see a new Quentin Tarantino movie, and while I’m not the biggest fan of Jamie Foxx, I do like Leonardo DiCaprio a lot, and I also remember really enjoying Waltz’s performance in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS.

It should be a strong way to finish the month, and—since this is December—the year as well.  I think 2012 has been a good year for movies.

LS:  Yeah, it’s been pretty good. Speaking of which, don’t forget to look for our BEST OF and WORST OF columns at the end of December, or early on in January. I’m sure both of those lists will be pretty easy to write this time around.

MA:  That’s right.  And that’s it for now.  Thanks for joining us everybody!  (to LS) Shall we ride off into the sunset?

LS:  Sure (hits the back of MA’s horse, and the animal panics and tears away with MA trying to control it.)  (LS smiles)  I’m such a basterd.

(Hobbits reappear and throw more cream pies as LS and his horse.)

LS:  Now you went and done it. My horse hates cream pies!

(LS and horse chase the little hobbits up the hill in zany fast motion while BENNY HILL music plays.  Meanwhile, MA finally slows his horse down just in time to be trampled first by the frightened hobbits and then by LS and his horse.)

—END—

THE OOGIELOVES in THE BIG BALLOON ADVENTURE (2012)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2012, Apocalyptic Films, Deformed Freaks!, Demons, Evil Puppets!, Fantasy Films, Fun Stuff!, Just Plain Bad, Just Plain Fun, Just Plain Weird, Kids Movies, Musicals, Mutants!, Peter Dudar Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 5, 2012 by knifefighter

THE OOGIELOVES in THE BIG BALLOON ADVENTURE (2012)

A Satirical Lesson in Writing and the Dangers of Drug Use

 By Peter N. Dudar

With Help From Vivian (age 5)

Vivian:  Daddy…Daddy, wake up. You promised we could have fun today.

Peter:  Gimme a few more minutes, honey. Daddy is still tired.

Vivian:  Now, Daddy!  You said we could go see THE OOGIELOVES today. C’mon, get up!

Peter:  What the hell are THE OOGIELOVES?

(Vivian throws the covers off her dad and drags him out of bed. Daddy chugs down a cup of coffee and then herds the family off to the car to go see the new Matthew Diamond film, THE OOGIELOVES in THE BIG BALLOON ADVENTURE.)

Peter:  You know, I don’t remember promising this. In fact, today was the day I wanted to talk to you about something very important. I wanted to talk to you about the dangers of drug use.

Vivian:  What are drugs?

Peter:  I’m glad you asked. Drugs are substances used to alter the physical and mental faculties of the human body. For instance…how do you feel right now?

Vivian:  I’m really excited. I can’t wait to see this movie.

Peter:  Now, you see…grown-ups don’t ever feel that kind of excitement ever, ever, ever. Some adults need a little help to feel that kind of enthusiasm. They need stimulants to maintain that kind of high. I can see by the way you’re shifting around in your car-seat that you’re pretty jacked up. Cokeheads look the same way after they’ve done a few lines. Seeing YOU doing it almost scares me a little. Looks like I’ll just have to grit my teeth and ride this one out. What is this movie about, anyway?

Vivian:  It’s the Big Balloon Adventure. It’s Schluufy the Pillow’s birthday, and the Oogieloves have to throw a party for her, but the balloons get all lost and stuff, and they have to rescue the balloons.

Peter:  Wait, back up a second. They’re throwing a party for a pillow?

Vivian:  Yeah, this is gonna be so great!

Peter:  Sounds like the guy who made this movie is on drugs.

(They get to the theater and take their seats. The movie begins, and the Oogieloves come out and explain what we’re about to see. Apparently, this is an interactive movie, and they will cue us for when we are supposed to get out of our seats and dance).

Vivian:  Okay, Daddy?  When we see the butterflies, we’re supposed to jump up and dance.

Peter:  This is such a drag. THE POSSESSION is playing in the theater right next door. Are you sure you don’t want to get up and go sneak in?

Vivian:  I want to watch THIS movie!

(In the film, the Oogieloves are beginning their day. J. Edgar, the vacuum cleaner, is some type of adult/authority figure. He’s gone off to get five magic balloons for Schluufy. On the way home, the vacuum accidentally lets the balloons float away. He gets back to the stately Oogielove Manor and tells the three grown-up sized kid puppets of his mishap, so they swear by Odin’s hammer that they will retrieve all five balloons. Okay, I made that last part up.)

Vivian:  This is so amazing…I love the music and the colors.

Peter:  Yes…this brings us to narcotics and hallucinogens. The natural state of euphoria you’re experiencing is akin to an adult dropping some acid or ingesting some psychedelic shrooms. You may even feel like getting up and dancing. There are other types of drugs…ecstasy, for example, that will make a person lose their inhibitions and just trance out to the music. Those drugs are all very dangerous, and you should never, ever touch them. But here in the theater, it’s groovy. Get up and shake that thing. Daddy’s just gonna sit here and munch on some popcorn.

(The movie continues. Goobie—the genius of the group, Zoozie—the playful sister, and Toofie—the jokester whose pants always seem to fall down at awkward moments, begin their quest for the balloons. They are aided by Windy Window-a magic pane of glass with a hot southern accent, and J. Edgar-the vacuum. Schluufy the Pillow remains sleeping on the couch).

Vivian:  Daddy, how come Schluufy never wakes up?

Peter:  Well, honey…Schluufy is a metaphor.

Vivian:  What’s a metaphor?

Peter:  It’s a tool writers use to draw a comparison between fiction and reality. I believe that Schluufy, there, is supposed to symbolize crack babies. See how she lays there like a vegetable?  No arms and legs or anything, but still sleeps peacefully with that big, goofy smile?  Crack babies are infants that are addicted to drugs because their mommies were users during pregnancy. They do that all day long. That’s why the Oogieloves want to throw a big party for her. They feel bad that she’s so messed up, so they want to be really, really nice to her. Maybe the magic balloons they are off to rescue will restore her brain capacity or give her new legs or something?

Vivian:  I still don’t understand.

Peter:  Neither do I. Somebody was obviously tripping when they sat down and wrote this.

(The Oogieloves find the first balloon at the top of a tree. The tree boasts a tree house in the shape of a giant teapot. Inside are Dottie (an ancient-looking Cloris Leachman) and her niece, Jubilee (Kylie O’Brien). They go into this whole dance number that gets Vivian out of her seat to dance. Daddy yawns and checks his watch. The song ends, and then Toofie climbs the tree and recovers the first balloon. When he gets to the ground, his pants fall down. Vivian howls in laughter).

Vivian:  Did you see that, Daddy?  That was so funny!

“Goofy Toofie, Pull Up Your Pants!”

Peter:  Yeah. Hysterical. Which brings us to marijuana. Marijuana, or reefer, contains an active ingredient called THC, which messes with the doohickeys in your brain and makes everything funny as hell. The hilarity you find in Toofie’s pants falling down is childish and stupid. Marijuana makes childish, stupid things seem really, really funny to adults. And it gives you the munchies. Speaking of which, I kinda wish we had some Girl Scout cookies. Ain’t you old enough to be a Girl Scout yet?

Vivian:  Shhh…I’m watching the movie.

(The movie continues, and the Oogieloves find themselves in Milky Marvin’s Milkshake Manor. The Oogieloves get caught in a milkshake-drinking contest to win back the second missing balloon. Marvin Milkshake (Chazz Palminteri begins another dance number that is actually the best song in the film. Sadly, I’ve already forgotten how it goes. The Oogieloves’ fish, Ruffy, wins the drink-off, and they escape with the second balloon.)

Vivian:  I’m having so much fun. I wish this would never end!

Peter:  That sounds like the cry of a heroin junkie. Now, that’s some heavy-duty stuff that you don’t want to mess with. Junkies are the lowest. It’s like throwing all your pride and your hope away. Remember that commercial where the girl breaks an egg open into a hot pan and tells us it’s our brain on heroin?  Plus, sharing needles can lead to some really bad blood-diseases. You’ll end up like brainless Schluufy, drooling all over yourself. Do you want that?

Vivian:  No, Daddy.

Peter:  That’s my good girl.

(The movie continues. The Oogieloves find the third balloon in an airplane hangar where Rosalie Rosebud (Toni Braxton) is ready to embark on her next world-tour. Rosalie is a self-centered diva who trips on her popularity and is addicted to roses, which ironically make her sneeze uncontrollably. She, too, breaks into a dance number, and I really hate this song. But Viv loves it, so I get up for the first time and dance with my daughter. There is only one other family in the theater, and they, too, are up and dancing. Goobie somehow rescues the balloon and the Oogieloves move on.)

Vivian:  She really loved her flowers.

Peter:  Yes, and that’s called addictive personality disorder. It’s a metaphor for alcohol. Now, alcohol is a depressant. It numbs the senses and makes you a little tired. Rosalie needs her roses to help cheer her up, but, because of her allergies, it’s really bringing her down and destroying her life. You dig?

Vivian:  You’re so weird, Daddy.

(The movie continues. Next, they track down the fourth balloon stuck at the top of an 18-wheeler belonging to Bobby Wobbly the Bubble-Blowing Cowboy (played by an unrecognizable Carey Elwes). Bobby Wobbly freakin’ loves bubbles, but he doesn’t understand why people just aren’t into bubbles anymore. Vivian disagrees vehemently and vocally as I just shake my head. There’s no end to this movie. They launch into ANOTHER song and dance, and I get up and join Viv again. It’s either that or fall asleep. This movie is assaulting all my senses, and I’m wishing the  movie projector would fall apart or something…)

(After this escapade, the Oogieloves track down the final balloon stuck at the top of a windmill. But the Oogieloves can’t cross the grassy field by foot. Instead, they have to ride to it in a giant sombrero piloted by Lero and Lola Sombrero (Christopher Lloyd and Jaime Pressly). In order to get the giant sombrero to hover across the field, everybody has to dance really, really fast. I’m bummed at watching the great Christopher Lloyd reduced to a one-line cameo and beating on bongos while Lola shakes and dances across the screen. Eventually, they rescue the final balloon, and then it’s back off to Oogieloves Manor for the party.)

Vivian:  They did it…they rescued all the magic balloons!

Peter:  Big duh!  What did you think would happen?

The Oogieloves. A children’s dream come true, or an adult’s worst nightmare?

Vivian:  Now they can have the party for Schluufy. I’m so happy.

(They wake up Schluufy the Pillow, and sure enough, the damn thing can’t do more than mumble incoherently and coo a lot. But she feels loved and looks happy. The Oogieloves rock out to one last dance number, and then, finally, the film is over.)

Vivian:  Did you like the movie, Daddy?

Peter:  I found it to be derivative.

Vivian:  What does that mean?

Peter:  It means that the screenwriter borrowed liberally from other sources. It’s obvious that they stole ideas and concepts from Sesame Street, Pee Wee’s Playhouse, The Teletubbies (and to little surprise, creator Kenn Viselman, actually has production ties to the Teletubbies), and Yo Gabba Gabba. But I did have fun watching YOU have fun, and that, to me, makes the last hour and a half all worthwhile. Did you like it?

Vivian:  I loved it. But I’m sad now that it’s over.

Peter:  And THAT, dear one, is called coming down. It’s a bummer. We had so much fun and excitement, but it all has to come to an end. But at least we’re not slumped over a toilet bowl and yarking our brains out, so bonus for us!

Vivian:  I don’t understand.

Peter:  I don’t, either. But let’s just be glad it’s over. How many stars would you give this movie?

Vivian:  I give it a hundred zillion, million, billion stars, all the way around the earth and back.

Peter:  I give it two. I’m going back to bed now. I have to work tonight.

Vivian:  Thank you, Daddy. I love you.

Peter:  I love you, too. And remember…drugs are bad. Just say ‘NO’.

The End

© Copyright 2012 by Peter N. Dudar

THE OOGIELOVES. A sure sign that the End Times are comin’

SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2012)

Posted in 2012, Adult Fairy Tales, Cinema Knife Fights, Fantasy Films, Magic, Special Effects, Sword & Sorcery, Warriors, Witches with tags , , , , , , , on June 4, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2012)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: An enchanted forest. A beautiful princess lies sleeping on a bed. By her bedside stand two men, one pale and forlorn, the other shirtless and brooding.)

EDWARD:  It’s all my fault. It was my job to protect her. If only I hadn’t been so distant and honorable, and chaste—why was I so chaste?  Idiot!—  perhaps she would have been happy and wouldn’t have come into these woods alone.

JACOB:  It is all your fault, you stupid vampire!  Any idiot can see that you’re not the right one for her!  I am, and I have the chest to prove it! (flexes his pectorals).

(A roar erupts from the woods, and suddenly, THOR jumps into the scene.)

THOR:  You’re both losers!  The princess belongs to ME!

(THOR begins beating Edward and Jacob with his hammer, and as they cower with lots of “Ouches!’  and “Oomphs!” THOR continues to pound away at them.)

(Camera slowly pulls back to reveal MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES eating popcorn and watching the proceedings.)

LS:  This is better than today’s movie!

MA:  There’s certainly more of an emotional connection. I want to be Thor right now.

LS:  Then what are we waiting for?  Let’s join the party!  (hands MA a club and lifts an axe over his head.)

MA:  No. We don’t have time to beat on characters from a lame movie series. We have a new movie to review.

LS: Damn!  We’re always working!

(EDWARD and JACOB flee, and THOR lets out a victorious roar. He approaches the princess and kisses her, but nothing happens.)

THOR:  Why isn’t anything happening?

MA:  Nothing’s happening because—and I don’t mean to burst your bubble, Thor, but— today’s movie is SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN, not SNOW WHITE AND THOR—and even though Chris Hemsworth’s performance as the Huntsman is Thor-like, he’s still playing the Huntsman in this one, not Thor.

LS: In other words, the chick’s not for you, Thor. Sorry.

THOR:  Dammit!  And I came all the way from Asgard, too!  (Skulks off into the woods.)

MA:  Yes, today we’re reviewing SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2012), the new movie that attempts to put an adult spin on the old fairy tale and turn it into a rousing action adventure story. It stars Kristen Stewart, of TWILIGHT fame, as Snow White, Chris Hemsworth as Thor…er…the Huntsman, and Charlize Theron as the evil Queen, Ravenna.

When we first meet Snow White, she’s a baby.

(A group of DWARVES by the edge of the woods start cheering and whistling.)

MA (shaking his head):  I said “baby” not “babe!”

(DWARVES boo and hiss. Some throw vegetables.)

LS: Thanks, I can make a nice salad later.

MA:  Then we see her as a little girl enjoying her happy life with her mother and father, who happen to be king and queen of the land—how’s this for a rousing start to an action adventure movie?  But then Snow White’s mother dies, leaving the family sad and grieving.

LS: And we never know how the mother died. It just says “It was a rough winter and Snow White’s mother died.” What kind of explanation is that?

MA:….until daddy meets Ravenna (Charlize Theron), is mesmerized by her beauty, and marries her immediately. She in turn murders her new husband, sneaks her army into the castle, and overtakes the kingdom, throwing Snow White into the dungeon.

LS: Actually, it’s not a dungeon, it’s a tower. Snow White is locked away in a tower. And it’s actually pretty ingenious how Ravenna tricks Snow White’s father into finding and marrying her. I thought that was pretty cool.

MA: Are you serious? Ingenious?  I thought it was a pretty standard trick.

We next see Snow White (Kristen Stewart) when she’s 18 and still locked away in that tower, but not for long, because the Queen’s magic mirror has informed the Queen that she’s no longer the fairest one in the land, that that title now belongs to Snow White. What’s an evil queen to do?  Why, kill Snow White of course!

LS: Funny how Snow White does not become a competitor for “fairest in the land” until she turned exactly 18. This is also when Ravenna’s brother, Finn (Sam Spruell), first tries to have sex with Snow White, when he goes to fetch her for the Queen. Nice to know everybody at least waited until she turned legal first! At least they all had such nice manners back then (and a keen awareness of statutory rape laws).

And even more basic to the story—why the hell does the Queen keep Snow White alive for so long? Why not just kill her right away? She doesn’t even find out about what benefit Snow White can give her until the girl turns 18—do your research, lady! —so why did she keep her alive for so many years? And if Snow is so important because she’s so innocent, wouldn’t her beating heart have been even more innocent for the Queen’s purposes when she was a child? None of this makes sense.

And what’s up with the magic mirror? It looks like a great big golden plate. Gold isn’t exactly mirror material. It’s not all that easy to see yourself in. And instead of just answering her every time Ravenna asks “Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” (each time she asks this, I have to admit, I winced), the mirror has to melt all over the place and the melted gold turns into a man-shaped thing (played by Christopher Obi – or at least it has his voice), and it takes forever. A simple “You are the fairest!” would have been nice.

MA: The Queen sends her brother to kill Snow White, but he fails, and she escapes, somehow managing to get out of the castle and into the woods, all the while eluding the Queen’s soldiers. Who knew that Snow White was related to Indiana Jones?

LS: This Snow White will kick your ass!

DWARF:  Snow White rocks!

LS:  Quiet, you!  We’re reviewing a movie here!

(DWARF sticks his tongue out)

MA: Queen Ravenna then hires The Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to go into the dangerous woods and find Snow White for her. Of course, as you probably already know, the Huntsman falls for Snow White once he finds her, and he eventually helps her fight back against Ravenna. They’re also befriended by the obligatory dwarves who also help them in their cause to defeat the evil Queen.

LS: There’s a key scene here that I had a MAJOR problem with. The Queen has promised she’ll bring the Huntsman’s wife back from the dead if he finds and captures Snow White for her. So he agrees, and he finds her, and Finny is there—the Queen’s brother, who let her get away from the tower in the first place—and Finn says, “Give her to me,” and the Huntsman says, “Give me back my wife first!”

Anyone with half a brain would say “I can’t give you back your wife, my sister is the sorcerer in the family. We have to go back to the castle first.”

But, instead, Finn says something like, “It’s all a lie, Ravenna can’t raise the dead, and you’re stupid for believing her!”

Why the hell does Finn do this? All he has to do is get the Huntsman (and Snow White) back to the castle, and he can double-cross the guy all he wants. But instead, he blows it. This just didn’t make any sense to me, and the only reason it happens is to move the storyline in the direction the writers want.

WHAT A STUPID SCENE!

MA:  Yep, I had the same reaction.  I sat there thinking, Finn, you’re an idiot.

And if you know the story of Snow White, you know how the rest of this movie plays out. No surprises here.

I was completely disappointed with SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. I actually thought I was going to be pleasantly surprised and enjoy this one. Boy, was I wrong!

This one lost me right from the get-go, as I thought the pacing was all off. It opens slowly, with those dull introductory scenes of Snow White’s origins, and for me, the movie never recovered. You’re turning Snow White into an action adventure story and this is how you start your movie off?  Come on!

LS: It’s called setting up the story. It made sense here.

MA: I get that, and it can be forgiven if what follows is compelling and exciting, but that’s not the case here.

It’s not like it has a slow beginning but the rest of the film kicks butt and so I can forget about the slow beginning. The movie is dull, and it started with those first few scenes.  That’s what I’m saying.

Truth be told, I didn’t find this movie adventurous at all, and I certainly didn’t find it exciting.

I also really didn’t like Kristen Stewart as Snow White. I thought she was miscast in this role. She seemed awkward and uncomfortable throughout, and didn’t come across as very princess-like. She seemed much more comfortable at the end of the movie when she gets to dress as a warrior and take on Ravenna in battle. But as Snow White, whose beauty is as pure as snow, I didn’t see it. She seemed like she would rather be riding a motorcycle than a horse.

LS: I think she would look more natural on a motorcycle, too, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing (laughs). But seriously, I think she’s growing on me after seeing so many damn TWILIGHT movies. It was just nice to see her in a movie that wasn’t about whiny vampires and shirtless werewolves. I liked her in SNOW WHITE. And toward the end, in her armor, I thought she might be able to play a decent Joan of Arc.

MA: As advertised, Charlize Theron has a field day as the evil Queen Ravenna, and this was one part of this movie that I did like. Theron gives the best performance in the movie, and she’s the main reason why I didn’t hate this film completely.  She’s as beautiful as she is evil, and she is exceedingly believable in the role. It’s too bad the rest of the movie doesn’t live up to her.

LS: I’m a big Charlize fan, and I agree, she looks beautiful here—in fact, I don’t once believe that Kristen Stewart is her competitor for “fairest in the land” —but I wasn’t all that impressed with her character, at first. All Ravenna does is scream at the top of her lungs all the time. I found her kind of irritating. Always shouting at everyone. She’s like a one-note character. And we hardly ever see her. In the beginning of the movie, she’s in it a lot after Snow White’s father finds her. But by the middle of the movie, she’s hardly in it at all. Every once in a while, there’s a shift from the action to show us the Queen looking menacing, but she doesn’t do much again until toward the end. I wish she’d been in it more, and they’d fleshed out her character more. There is one flashback to her childhood that makes you sympathize with her a little, but it’s not enough. I just think the character is underwritten. It’s too much of a standard baddie role.

MA: I agree with you that she’s not in the movie all that much, but I thought her performance was strong enough to overcome this. And  I liked all that shouting.

LS: But her character grew on me, because Theron does one thing that’s interesting with Ravenna. There are moments when she seems like a space alien. She just has no empathy or understanding for the characters around her, and she gets this weird look in her eyes—it reminded me of an insect—like she’s some alien creature trying to pass for human, afraid someone will figure out her secret, and I thought that was what redeemed her performance. This is an instance where acting ability is able to transcend a weak script.

MA: Chris Hemsworth’s performance as the Huntsman is about the only other bright spot in this movie. Sure, he’s a little bit like Thor here, but like Theron, he’s believable in the part, and he’s also very likeable.

LS: Hemsworth is fine, here. His character IS a bit like Thor, but that’s to be expected, considering it’s a fantasy film, and he’s kind of a warrior. But the guy has real charisma and the camera loves him.

MA: Veteran actors Ian McShane and Bob Hoskins are among those playing dwarves in this movie. The dwarves are supposed to be providing comic relief here, but they didn’t really do it for me. They weren’t over-the-top enough to make me laugh, nor were they earthy enough for me to take seriously.

LS: I couldn’t tell what they were trying to do with the dwarves here. Once or twice, they seem like comic relief, especially Gus (Brian Gleeson). But most of the time, it’s like they were trying to make the little guys much more edgy and dangerous. When the Huntsman and Snow White first meet them, the dwarves attack and then capture them, threatening to rob and kill them.

I don’t have a problem with more edgy dwarves, but it’s like the writers weren’t sure whether to keep them edgy, or make them more comic as the story goes on. Make up your minds!

MA:  I agree with you.  That’s why I didn’t really like the dwarves.  It’s almost as if they were written to be edgy and then somewhere along the line someone decided dwarves in a Snow White story shouldn’t be this dark and watered down their scenes.

(A DWARF comes out of the woods)

DWARF:  Is this edgy enough for you?  (Flips MA & LS the bird.)

LS:  You stick that finger out at me again, I’ll cut it off!

(DWARF darts back into the woods.)

LS:  Of course, here the dwarves are CGI, which means that instead of real dwarves, we’ve got famous actors “shrunk down” to look like dwarves. Between that, and the make-up (which is pretty good), it’s interesting to try to guess who’s who. As you said, the actors Ian McShane and Bob Hoskins are here, there’s also Nick Frost from SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004), and Ray Winstone (who I didn’t recognize at all at first) and Toby Jones, who we most recently saw in THE HUNGER GAMES as one of the announcers. It’s actually kind of fun identifying them.

MA: I’m happy for you.  Why don’t you develop a new TV game show while you’re at it: “NAME THAT DWARF.”

LS: Maybe I will

MA: I thought the writing was particularly weak. The characters aren’t fleshed out at all. What do we know about Snow White other than what we already know from the fairy tale?  Nothing much!  You know, if she wasn’t such a boring character, this movie might have been more fun!

LS: I don’t think Snow White is all that bad

MA: Come on!  She put me to sleep.  And if she’s such a kick-ass character, what does she need the Huntsman for?

When Ravenna decides she needs to hire someone to find Snow White in the woods, she immediately hires the Huntsman even though she seems to know nothing about him. When we meet him, he’s drunk and he’s in a fight. These are the qualifications needed to hunt down a princess?  I mean, who is he?  Is he the greatest huntsman in the land?  If he is, I missed the part where we find that out!

LS: Sometimes I think your story comprehension is a little off. They explained it clearly enough. Not many people have gone into the haunted forest and lived to tell about it. It’s dangerous. The Huntsman is one of the few people who have been in the forest and knows his way around. He’s not the greatest huntsman in the land, but he knows the territory and Finn and his soldiers can’t find Snow White without him.

MA: I wouldn’t say they explained it clearly.  They mention it in one brief scene.  And for me, it wasn’t clear that he was the only guy who could do this.  It just seemed a forced plot point to me.  I kept thinking, if Ravenna a sorceress, why can’t she just find Snow White using her black magic?

LS: Maybe if you hadn’t dozed off, it would have been clearer

MA: (laughing):  Shh!

LS: I agree about Ravenna, though. It’s never exactly clear how powerful she is. What her limitations are. In one scene she seems all-powerful, in another she’s unable to do something you’d think would be easy. I don’t get it.

MA: Evan Daugherty, Josh Lee Hancock, and Hossein Amini wrote the screenplay, which is about as fresh as a rotten apple. In Amini’s case, this comes as a surprise, since he’s the guy who wrote the screenplay for DRIVE (2011), a movie we both liked a lot.

LS: I didn’t think it was that horrible. It was weak in spots, but my main problem with the script is the whole idea of remaking a fairy tale in the first place. By doing this, you know what the outcome is going to be. You know what the characters are going to do, for the most part, so there’s no suspense. I think the script does what it can with the idea, for the most part, considering the concept is flawed from the get go.

MA: Yes, SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN definitely suffers from the “We Know This Story” syndrome. We all know the story of Snow White, yet the movie doesn’t seem to make much of an effort to approach this familiar story from different angles. Sure, Snow White gets tough in the final act, but before that, things are pretty dull.

The love story angle is also pretty much a dud. I have no idea who Snow White loves in this movie, the Huntsman or her childhood sweetheart, William (Sam Claflin), who returns to the kingdom to save her. She doesn’t seem particularly interested in either guy, and the Huntsman seems to be only interested in her because she reminds him of his deceased wife. So, even though this one plays like a love story at times, it’s missing the actual love story!  And there’s no sexual tension whatsoever.

LS: I’ll agree with you there. There were times when I thought this movie was trying to recreate the whole “love triangle” silliness from the TWILIGHT movies. Does she love William, who she grew up with as a child, or the Huntsman who’s more manly, and better looking, and stronger, and more heroic? The movie seems to be teetering on going for the triangle, but then it seems to just forget about it. Clearly the Huntsman is the main male character here, and it’s his kiss that becomes crucial later on (and there’s no Prince Charming to be found!).
And there isn’t a lot of sexual tension. The script just doesn’t give us any. And  the actors, while good here, don’t bring any sexual tension of their own to the screen.

MA: And why do all the creatures, both good and bad, instead of dying, shatter like glass in this movie?  Do all the living creatures in this kingdom have a different molecular make-up?  What planet are they on?

LS: They don’t all shatter like glass, only the ones the Queen conjures up with magic. But this effect is over-used and gets tired awful fast.

MA:  Really?  I could have sworn I saw some of the “good” animals shatter as well.

LS:  Were you drunk when you saw this movie?

MA:  No, but I was saturated with boredom.

SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN was directed by Rupert Sanders, and I can’t say that I was impressed. The pacing was off, and there really weren’t any memorable scenes to lift this movie out of its doldrums. There was also very little sense of fantasy. I wasn’t drawn into its world of dark forests and evil kingdoms, mostly because I found the action to be superficial and dull. It’s anything but exciting.

LS: I disagree. It has its flaws, and there are a couple of slow scenes, but overall, I thought it did a good job retelling a classic tale.

MA: The special effects were average. There’s a neat troll scene, and the troll looks cool, but it’s one and done for Mr. Troll. Needless to say, he doesn’t do much.

LS: I would really have liked to see the Troll come back during a crucial scene to help Snow White fight her enemies or something. He seemed like too cool a character to waste. But yeah, after showing us this monster, the movie just forgets about him.

But I disagree about the effects. This movie has terrific effects. Most of them are on a very small, detailed level, though. They’re not all as big and flashy as the Troll. Like when we first enter the forest. There are all of these weird animals and plants that we see – some of them are kind of fascinating.

(MA yawns)

LS:  And a scene in a part of the forest that belongs to the fairies is kind of beautiful, too. It’s mostly small stuff (except for that giant troll), but it’s fascinating to look at.

MA: SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN lacks the necessary edge and style to successfully make the jump from fairy tale to adult action adventure tale. I liked the two performances by Charlize Theron as Ravenna, and Chris Hemsworth as the Huntsman, but that’s all I liked. The rest of the movie is muddled and dull, exhibiting about as much imagination as a worm in an apple.

I give it one and a half knives.

LS: Yeah, we’re in disagreement about this one. We do agree about Charlize Theron, and Hemsworth. I liked Hemsworth doing his cocky warrior thing. He’s good at it, although it would be nice to see him play something completely different in another movie. So I agree with you about the two of them.

But I think Stewart is actually pretty good here. She emotes a little more than she does in the TWILIGHT movies.  She does have a kind of awkwardness to her. A kind of stiltedness, but it’s starting to work for me. And there’s actually one scene in this movie where she smiles!

MA:  I just didn’t think this awkwardness was a good fit for the Snow White character.
LS: It didn’t bother me. In fact, it kind of worked for me. And I thought Sam Spruell was interesting (and odd-looking) as the evil Finn. It almost seemed like he was in the movie more, and had more to do, than Charlize did. And I liked the dwarves for the most part.

I didn’t love SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. Despite the revisionist spin on it, I just find the story too familiar, and therefore a little boring. But I thought it was well-made, had a good cast, and was visually impressive. For what it was, I enjoyed it.

I give it three knives. It was at least as good as last week’s CHERNOBYL DIARIES, and I gave that three knives.

MA:  Wow, we really do disagree here.  And I think the main reason is where you found the story a little boring, I found it a lot boring.

(They’re suddenly surrounded by a group of menacing looking DWARVES.)

DWARF (points to LS):  You can go.  You said good things about us.  (Points to MA).  You stay.  We’re going to teach you a lesson.

LS (hands the club back to MA):  You might need this.

MA:  Gee, thanks.  You sure you don’t want to stick around?  It might be fun.

LS:  How so?

MA:  I was thinking of starting a new games show of my own: BEAT THE DWARF!

LS: Hmm.  Has potential. Maybe I’ll stick around, after all

DWARF: I prefer the new show, BEAT THE CRITICS.

(The DWARVES charge, just as MA lifts his club and LS wields his axe.)

(Suddenly, the BEAUTIFUL PRINCESS sits up in her bed. Everyone has forgotten about her, and she’s boiling mad)

PRINCESS: Will you all shut up! I’m trying to sleep here!

(Fade to White)

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN ~ one and a half knives!

LL Soares gives SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN ~three knives.

JOHN CARTER (2012)

Posted in 2012, 3-D, Action Movies, Aliens, Ancient Civilizations, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Epics, Fantasy Films, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , , on March 12, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: JOHN CARTER (2012)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: A vast desert. MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES are riding strange tusked creatures that look like a cross between rhinos and dinosaurs, called thoats. LS is wearing a hooded robe.)

MA: Uh oh, what have you got us into this time?

LS: What do you mean?

MA: I mean, we’re doing this review from the planet Mars!

LS: No, no. The natives call it Barsoom.

MA: Barsoom? Isn’t that a member of the brass family? A cousin of the tuba?

LS: What are you going on about? Stop showing your ignorance.

MA: I’m feeling a little lightheaded. This Martian atmosphere sucks.

LS: Nonsense. The Martian atmosphere actually energizes us so we can do amazing feats of strength and agility. Well, the atmosphere and the gravity. And the density of our bones.

MA: You’re not going to start leaping around are you?

LS: I was thinking about it.

MA: And how come I don’t have a cool hooded robe to protect me from the sun?

LS: Oh, stop complaining. We have a movie to review.

MA: Why don’t you start, since you seem so comfortable in this alien environment?

LS: Okay, I will.

JOHN CARTER is the new live-action movie from Disney, of all people, and is based on the novel “A Princess of Mars” by the great Edgar Rice Burroughs—the man who also gave us Tarzan! —which was first published all the way back in 1912. Strangely enough, the new movie stays somewhat faithful to the novel and yet seems completely modern. Burroughs was way ahead of his time, and has influenced everyone from the old 1930s FLASH GORDON serials up to George Lucas’s STAR WARS films. This is where it all began, folks. And it’s about time Burroughs got his due.

MA: Yeah, but the problem is in terms of movies, we’ve seen Flash Gordon, and we’ve seen all the STAR WARS films, so this movie doesn’t seem fresh at all.

LS (ignores him): “A Princess of Mars” was just the first of a whole series of novels Burroughs wrote about John Carter and his adventures on Mars, or as the creatures who live there call it, Barsoom. Back when the novels first came out, Carter was as popular as Tarzan, but over time, a lot of people forgot about John Carter. Nice to see Hollywood finally take notice of the character. So don’t sit through this one thinking “Hey, this is a STAR WARS rip-off” because John Carter came first.

MA: Not in the movies he didn’t. I hear what you’re saying, and I get it, but again, in terms of movies, this film isn’t bringing us anything we haven’t seen before, nor is it improving upon what we’ve already seen in movies like STAR WARS.

LS: What are you talking about? JOHN CARTER has its own look, its own creatures, and its own vision. It’s actually nothing like STAR WARS except on a very superficial level: flying machines and mix of humans and alien creatures. And there are dozens, maybe hundreds, of movies with their own versions of things like that.

The story here is how Carter, a Calvary-man and captain in the Civil War, tries to turn his back on soldiering to focus on gold mining. But, while fleeing from Apaches, he ends up in a strange cave where he is transported to the planet Mars. In the book, he enters a death-like state in the cave and his soul sort of “astral projects” to another version of his body on Mars. In the movie, an alien shows up in the cave, attacks Carter. After killing the alien, Carter picks up the being’s teleportation amulet, which sends him to Mars.

Not as mysterious as astral projection, maybe, but probably easier for modern-day moviegoers to understand.

In the movie, Carter is played by Taylor Kitsch, who some people might remember as high school football player Tim Riggins from the underrated TV series FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS (2006 – 2011). Kitsch was great on that show, but I had no idea what to expect of him in JOHN CARTER, since the last movie I saw him in, playing the X-Man Gambit in X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (2009), where he was awful and completely miscast as the Cajun mutant. Luckily, JOHN CARTER is a big step up from that dismal performance.

MA: Really? I though Kitsch displayed as much charisma in this one as a Martian rock.

LS: Are you still feeling lightheaded? Kitsch was just fine as Carter. I liked him a lot in the role.

MA: I didn’t. He’s supposed to be this rough and tough soldier, but I wasn’t buying it. He just wasn’t intense enough for me. Kurt Russell, he wasn’t.

LS: No, he’s no Kurt Russell. Or Russell Crowe. I actually would have preferred an older, more seasoned John Carter —I mean this guy was a captain in the Civil War —but Kitsch has the physicality to make the role work and make you suspend disbelief just enough to enjoy the show. Is he the perfect actor to play John Carter? Not really. But he’s a choice I could live with.

Once on Mars, John Carter learns that he has to adapt to the planet’s different gravity, and has a hard time moving around without going hurtling through the sky. Eventually he learns how to harness his ability to leap great distances. He also has superhuman strength. If this sounds familiar, it might be because Superman had similar powers when he came to Earth and got accustomed to our gravity and atmosphere. Oh yeah, and leaping great distances is also the way the Hulk travels around. So right away, those are two famous characters influenced by John Carter.

MA: Why don’t you just kiss the guy already?

LS: Not cool, dude.

(They come upon a lone THARK SENTRY in the desert)

SENTRY: Halt! You are about to enter Thark territory. What makes you think I should let you pass?

LS: Our incredible good looks?

MA: What is he saying? I can’t understand a word he said. And what are you saying now?

LS (to MA): Trust me on this one.

(LS suddenly jumps off his thoat and hurtles into the sky)

LS: These are some moves Michael Flatley taught me.

(LS jumps about crazily, so that it looks like some kind of frenzied dancing. The SENTRY applauds)

SENTRY: Very nice. Quiet entertaining for a couple of ugly white worms. You may pass.

LS: Why thank you!

MA: I still have no clue what’s going on. What was with the Mexican jumping bean routine?

LS: Just smile as we pass by.

(LS and MA enter the walls of a ruined city)

LS: That was close. Now back to our review.

Carter finds an incubation chamber in the middle of the desert where eggs are hatching and is immediately confronted by strange, giant, green beings with four arms (six limbs in all) and tusks, called Tharks. The Tharks are a warrior race and they almost look like giant praying mantises at times. They are much larger than puny little John Carter, and yet he is able to fight them man-to-man without any problem. The Tharks are led by Tars Tarkas (a CGI character voiced by Willem Dafoe), who takes a liking to this odd stranger, and who is captivated by Carter’s ability to jump extremely high. The Tharks at first take Carter prisoner, but he eventually becomes like one of their own.

In JOHN CARTER, the four-armed Tharks look a bit too "cute." Disney should have gone with more menacing faces for them, instead of "Disneyfying" them.

But the Tharks are not the only species on Barsoom. There is also a race of red, humanoid creatures, who make up the warring cities of Helium and Zodanga. Oh, and chieftains in all the tribes – humanoid and Thark – are called jeddacks (or jeds). Sound familiar? Sounds an awful lot like the “jedis” that would come several decades later. The red human-like species is more advanced and fights most of their battles in the air, using large flying crafts – while the Tharks are more like barbarians and fight on the ground, using swords and long-barreled rifles.

MA: Yawn!

LS: The princess of Helium is Deja Thoris (Lynn Collins), and she is also a scientist. Her father (and  Jeddack of Helium) Tardos Mors (Ciaran Hinds, who has been in tons of movies lately, most recently in last year’s TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY) has promised her to the Jed of Zodanga, Sab Than (Dominic West, whom a lot of people will recognize as McNulty from the excellent HBO series THE WIRE (2002 – 2008), and he was also the villain Jigsaw in PUNISHER WAR ZONE, 2008) in order to broker peace. The reason why Tardos Mors is willing to sacrifice his daughter is because Sab Than has access to the power of the “Ninth Ray” a powerful force that, in the right hands can offer the planet an unlimited power source, but in the wrong hands, like Sab Than’s, can be a most deadly weapon. In Sab Than’s case, he gets the weapon from a Thern (Mark Strong), one of a race of immortal beings who try to control the fate of the planet by interfering when it suits them. Their science is so advanced, they would probably be looked on as gods by the other inhabitants of Barsoom. They can also transform to look like anyone else they want to, to escape detection. The Therns are pretty much the bad guys of the movie. One of them is the creature who transported Carter to Mars in the first place! It’s interesting to note that in Burroughs’ work, they didn’t appear until the third book in the series, The Warlord of Mars.

The villainous Therns are able to change their appearance at will to avoid detection.

MA: This synopsis is almost as boring as the movie!

LS: Deja Thoris tries to escape in the middle of an air battle with Zodanga forces (captained by Sab Than, her intended husband!) and is almost killed. But she is saved from an almost fatal fall by John Carter, who leaps to her rescue. The rest of the movie is about the warring factions on Mars, John Carter’s rise as a warrior among the people of Barsoom and his attempts to make Deja Thoris his bride (something he has to battle pretty much all of Barsoom for, if he wants to stand a chance), and the efforts of Carter and the people of Helium to defeat both the villainous Sab Than and the treacherous Therns.

Is that enough plot for you?

MA: Too much.

LS: The movie is both faithful to Burroughs’ original novel in a lot of places, and changes things in other aspects where the screenwriters wanted to push the movie more in the direction of romance and intrigue. I didn’t agree with all of the changes, but for the most part the movie is in the spirit of the original books.

I was not sure what to expect here, because the movie was made by Disney, and there are some “Disney-fied” touches here and there, including the cute Thark babies early on, the fact that adult Tharks themselves have faces that are a bit too “cute” for my tastes (where they could have been much more menacing) and the playing up of the puppy dog aspects of Woola, the devoted “pet” of Carter’s which is a calot – a big creature that is kind of a cross between a dog and a giant frog. These cute touches are obviously to smooth off some of the rough edges of the story and appeal to a wider audience. But for the most part, the movie seems more concerned with sticking with Burroughs’ vision and keeping things, at heart, an adventure tale—they also clearly would love to turn this movie into part of a franchise—than homogenizing everything to fit the Disney image. Which is a relief. If it had been a completely Disneyfied version and rated G (it’s rated PG-13), it probably would have ruined the movie.

MA: See, I disagree. I thought this one was very Disneyfied. In fact, it felt like one of those older Disney adventures that they used to make, films like SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON (1960) and ESCAPE FROM WITCH MOUNTAIN (1975).

LS: You’ve got to be kidding me. It’s nothing like those movies. This movie is an epic.

MA: An epic piece of fluff, but that’s about it.

This one’s got Disney written all over it. Like you said, there was the cute Woola, the look of the Tharks, and to me, the entire movie played it safe. I felt like it was rated G. Not that this is a bad thing, but I didn’t think this movie had much of an edge to it.

(LS and MA are stopped by a THERN who suddenly materializes before them. He looks like a blue bald guy in robes)

THERN: What manner of creature are you two?

LS: We are from Earth. Jarsoom, to you. And we’re here reviewing the movie JOHN CARTER.

MA: Yeah. I ‘m just shocked I can understand this guy.

THERN: You two threaten my plans here on Barsoom. You must be eliminated.

(LS removes his hood to reveal his bald head)

LS: I too am a Thern, and I will disintegrate you if you do not leave immediately.

(THERN screams and teleports away)

MA: I have to admit, you’re finally handy for a change.

LS: I know the ways of Barsoom, that’s all.

MA: Yeah, stop congratulating yourself and just finish up the review. I’m getting hungry, and I heard Martian food is horrendous.

LS: It is kind of bland. Okay, where was I? Oh yeah.

There are also bookend storylines that occur years after Carter’s trip to Mars, concerning Carter’s untimely death on Earth and his leaving his inheritance to his nephew, who just happens to be a young writer named Edgar Rice Burroughs. At first, I thought this beginning and end part were unnecessary and annoying, but the end part does make sense with the rest of the story, justifying their insertion, I guess.

Considering that more than half of the characters in the movie are CGI creations (it reminded me of AVATAR in this regard), and most of the locations were green-screened, JOHN CARTER actually looks pretty good (and I normally hate CGI).

MA: It looks OK. I wasn’t that impressed.

LS: I had a good time with this one. I even saw it in IMAX and 3D, and while I think the extra expense wasn’t worth it (the 3D effects are a little better than most of the 3D movies I’ve seen lately, though) I still enjoyed the movie.

MA: I chose to see this one in 2D, for obvious reasons, chief amongst them is I’m tired of paying extra money for minimal effects. I like 3D effects, but I don’t want to pay extra for them.

LS: I give JOHN CARTER three and a half knives.

MA: You liked this one WAY more than I did, which makes sense, since you’re a fan of the books.

I just couldn’t get into this movie. JOHN CARTER proved to be exactly what I expected it to be: a big budget blockbuster without teeth. This one just never won me over.

I’ll start with the cast. You liked Taylor Kitsch at John Carter? I thought he was dull, and for the most part, he put me to sleep. I’m sure John Carter is a fascinating literary character, but in this movie, he’s not very interesting. Part of it is the character is known in the story as a great soldier, but we don’t see him use his military knowledge on Mars. Instead, he just leaps around and fights like a crazy person. The other part is Kitsch. He doesn’t add any sort of nuance or edge to the character. He’s no Christopher Reeve, Robert Downey Jr., nor even Tobey Maguire. They all put their personal stamp on their characters. Kitsch doesn’t.

Lynn Collins as Princess Deja Thoris also didn’t wow me. So, it’s hard for me to enjoy a movie when its two leads are less enjoyable than Woola, the alien dog!

LS: I liked Collins in the role, but I have to admit, she didn’t completely wow me either. But I disagree about Kitsch. He wasn’t up there with Reeve and Downey, but he was just fine in the role, bringing just the right amount of swagger and earnestness of a bygone era. The original books weren’t meant to be great literature – they were escapist fantasy and high adventure. And Kitsch is just fine.

Collins does a good job of playing Thoris as a smart woman, but in the book she just seemed more feisty and beautiful. Collins was a bit of a letdown to me in the role. She seemed too much of a brainy scientist and not enough of a “warrior princess of Mars.”

MA: I actually did enjoy the early scenes in JOHN CARTER, before he gets to Mars, scenes in the 1860s during the Civil War era. But once he gets to Mars, I just didn’t buy the film’s fantasy.

LS: I wasn’t as interested in that early stuff, and thought the whole thing about the army capturing him and trying to force him to fight for them again was kind of dumb (and it wasn’t from the book, so you can’t blame Burroughs). That whole sequence is completely different from the novel. But it was cool to see Brian Cranston from BREAKING BAD as Colonel Powell, even if I found that storyline to be kind of lame.

MA: The scenes with the warring Martian civilizations reminded me too much of FLASH GORDON, and I didn’t care one way or the other which side won the battle. I didn’t care for any of these characters. They were all as exciting as THOR and his god buddies, or Zeus and his CLASH OF THE TITANS pals. I couldn’t care less about these folks.

While I did enjoy the CGI Tharks, they were awfully STAR WARS-like. In fact, the entire look of this movie reminded me of the last three installments of George Lucas’ STAR WARS saga, which isn’t necessarily a good thing, since I’m not a big fan of those last three movies.

LS: I thought it was better than the last three STAR WARS movies.

MA: And I thought the action scenes were all rather boring, nothing I hadn’t seen before.

Overall, JOHN CARTER is a fairly entertaining movie, because it plays like a family-friendly Disney adventure, colorful and pleasant.

This should come as no surprise, as director Andrew Stanton directed a couple of Disney/Pixar hits, WALL-E (2008) and FINDING NEMO (2003). I’m really surprised to hear you say you didn’t think this movie was too Disneyfied, because as I watched this film, that’s all I could think of.

The screenplay by director Stanton, Mark Andrews, and Michael Chabon might have been faithful to much of the source material, as you said, but it doesn’t quite cut it as top-notch movie material. I thought the characters were bland and barely memorable, the story blah, and the dialogue forgettable.

Fans of the John Carter stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs like yourself, and children— now that’s a bizarre combination! —will probably find JOHN CARTER enjoyable. The rest of us will be hoping to hop on the nearest teleportation device and get back to Earth ASAP.

I give JOHN CARTER two knives.

And speaking of getting back to Earth, now that we’re done, how about it? Let’s get out of here and head back home.

LS: I kinda like it here.

MA: Well, you can stay here on Boombah as long as you want. I’m going home.

LS: Barsoom! Not Boombah!

MA: Boombah, Barsoom, what’s the difference? It still sounds like words used on the Adam West BATMAN TV show (1966 – 1968) during their fight scenes. POW! BAM! BARSOOM! I suppose those scenes were influenced by John Carter as well?

LS: You’re a pain.

MA: That’s why we get along so well.

LS: We get along?

MA: Can we get just go home?

LS: You might want to apologize first.

MA: Apologize? To who?

LS: To them. (Points over MA’s shoulder. Behind them stand a horde of Tharks.) You insulted their home world.

MA: You didn’t tell me they were standing behind me. Nice of you to have my back!

LS: As always.

MA (to Tharks): Don’t take it personally. I was just poking fun at the word Barsoom. I wasn’t insulting your home world.

THARK: We think otherwise. We think you should be punished. Painfully.

MA (points to LS): I have to review movies with him every week. Isn’t that punishment enough?

THARK: No. There must be more.

MA: What?

(Cut to LS giving a review of another new movie, standing before a vast audience of Tharks, while MA sits next to him, tied up with a gag in his mouth. As LS speaks, he asks MA for his opinion, and then laughs when MA can’t respond. The audience of Tharks applauds raucously.)

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives JOHN CARTER ~ two knives!

LL Soares gives JOHN CARTER ~three and a half knives.

Suburban Grindhouse Memories: WAR OF THE WIZARDS (1978)

Posted in 2011, Asian Horror, B-Movies, Fantasy Films, Kung Fu!, Magic, Martial Arts, Mythological Creatures, Nick Cato Reviews, Suburban Grindhouse Memories with tags , , , , , on November 17, 2011 by knifefighter

SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES:
Trying to Make Cash off of Clash
By Nick Cato

1981: While RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK was on its way to becoming a classic, those of us who knelt at the altar of stop-motion animation were thrilled when CLASH OF THE TITANS hit U.S. screens to showcase the talents of the great Ray Harryhausen.  Packed with countless monsters (and a mechanical owl!), this fun re-telling of the Greek myths brought the fun of classic creature-features back to the screen, along with a sword and sorcery theme.  I couldn’t get enough of how cool Medusa looked (let alone when she looses her head to Perseus’s sword, which featured a nice batch of red sauce seldom seen in a PG-rated movie) and I went back to see it three times.

And then one Friday afternoon in 1982 or ‘83, I spotted the ad (pictured above) in my local newspaper.  COOL!  Maybe this monster/sorcery thing was slowly catching on, and I’d be able to get my fix more often in a theater and not just between the pages of Marvel’s CONAN comics.

WRONG!

An older friend of mine managed to con his old man to drive us into New Jersey (GASP!) to see this, as it played everywhere in the tri-state area except for Staten Island.  I think it was twenty minutes into the film when I realized my buddy wouldn’t be letting me pick the movies anymore, and I was worried they’d leave me in the Garden State.

WAR OF THE WIZARDS turned out to be anything BUT a CLASH OF THE TITANS rip-off.  And it wasn’t until I recently attempted to find this film on the Internet (where it’s not even listed on imdb.com) that I discovered it’s actually a circa 1978 Hong Kong/Taiwanese film originally titled THE PHOENIXI KNEW something had to be up upon my initial (and only) viewing, when more screen time was dedicated to hokey martial arts action than monsters and sorcery.  But like a true trooper, I convinced my buddy and his dad to stay, and to this day haven’t heard the end of it.

The story (from what I could remember through the horrendous overdubbing) dealt with a fisherman who finds a bowl with magical powers at the bottom of a lake.  He becomes wealthy and begins to live the good life—until a couple of wizards and martial-artists discover he has this legendary artifact.  Two women manage to defeat all those attempting to get this magic bowl, and they both decide to marry the fisherman.  Like a true idiot, he begins to show off his wives (and his wealth) in public, causing more attacks on his life (including some really, really, REALLY bad-looking laser-beam effects from a magical religious cult).

The highlight of the film was the religious zealots attacking the wedding of our fisherman and his brides, when a cheesy-looking phoenix rescues the fisherman and takes him to a high mountain, where he’s trained to battle the animal spirits who control his wives, an extremely-sad-looking rock monster, and best of all, a hit-man of sorts played by non other than Richard Kiel (yes—THAT Richard Kiel, a.k.a. the metal-mouthed assassin “JAWS” from the James Bond films).  I’m assuming film producers in Hong Kong were so taken aback by Kiel’s performance in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977) they just couldn’t wait to get him into one of their mythical kung-fu flicks (makes sense to me).  In keeping with his metal-persona, Kiel attacks our hero with a pair of steel gloves (so at least he didn’t have to bite through thick cable wire or Roger Moore’s neck this time around) but proves to be little match for the scrawny fisherman.

With horrendous special effects all around (especially when the fisherman rides to the aforementioned mountaintop on the neck of the phoenix, which looked more like a gigantic peacock), unconvincing fight sequences, and a storyline that makes even less sense than what I just attempted to explain, WAR OF THE WIZARDS is a horrible film in WHATEVER title one may see it under.

I managed to find ONE review of this film on the entire World Wide Web, making it the most obscure title I’ve covered for this column so far.  I have no idea if a VHS or DVD was released (I’m assuming it has in Hong Kong, most likely under a third or fourth title), but suffice it to say my solo theatrical viewing was more than enough.

© Copyright 2011 by Nick Cato

RICHARD KIEL (fresh off his first stint as 007 villain ‘Jaws’) now goes after a newly-rich fisherman in this hokey martial-arts mess.