Watch This Not That

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Olympus Has Fallen

olympus-has-fallen-gerard-butler-aaron-eckhartLast year two White House terrorist movies were released.  As far as quality movies go, Olympus Has Fallen was able to combine humor, action and familial love effortlessly. Brining in a high profile cast, the movie had stronger characters brought to life by a talented cast. Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Ashley Judd, Angela Basset, and to round things out Morgan Freeman gave life to the terrorist crisis. Director Antoine Fugua was able to focus on the action while mixing in emotions and humor without losing sight of the film’s plot.  Exciting, engaging, and entertaining Olympus Has Fallen has gotten a sequel to take place in London. Here’s hoping the team can recreate that same style.

 

…Not That

White House Down

816rBuBLsjL._SL1500_While it had a bigger gross at the box office (and a way bigger budget), White House Down falls short at fulfilling its scope in an emotional and exciting way. One of the biggest problems is that Channing Tatum is not a good actor. He’s good looking (I’d watch him in Magic Mike all day long) but he is not a quality actor. The movie also meanders along and it’s quite sure where it is going and when to end.  It’s heavy on the FX and that is what really steals the show. Like so many Roland Emmerich movies, this one looks good but fails at being a quality film.

 

 

Watch This…

300

300-Rise-of-an-Empire_zpsf2428956_1398972388300 took a graphic novel and made an inspiring underdog story and entertaining film. It didn’t focuses on gore, and Zack Snyder gave it a distinctive color palate to help mimic the look of a graphic novel. Mostly unknown Gerard Butler showed us he could be an action hero and Olympus Has Fallen continues to show that. Rounded out with Lena Headey and Dominic West, the movie’s cast captures the emotion of the characters without being sappy.  Well thought out and smart, the film stands on its own merits—even if it isn’t very factual.

 

…Not That

300: Rise of an Empire

300-rise-of-an-empire-movie-poster-3The problem with this sequel is that it is a spectacle movie. Rise of an Empire is not about the story, it’s not about the character; it’s about getting your attention with blood, gore and nudity.  Director Noam Murro tries to outdo himself adding in special filtering techniques and using slow motion way too often. Unlike the first film, it’s not a story of an underdog to inspire the ages. It just wants to push the envelope. Sorry it takes more than Eva Green’s breasts to entertain me.

Our Vampires, Our Selves

ONLY-LOVERS-LEFT-ALIVEVampires are windows to our souls. The fascination with the creatures of the night has always been ingrained in human history and psychology. The stories started with our lack of medical knowledge and what happens to our bodies after we die. Many a poor body was mutilated for fears that they were actually vampires. But as medical knowledge prevailed, we stopped putting stakes in hearts or bricks in mouth to keep the body from rising. Instead, they became an existential study of our selves. Human are drawn to these supernatural tales as a way to come to grips with their own mortality. We have romanticized them right into pop culture.

Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lover Left Alive is a perfect example of using the supernatural to reflect the fears of the natural. The story follows Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton), a husband and wife who truly love each other after centuries together. Eve returns home to despondent and suicidal Adam. He is tired of the world and how the humans treat it. His life is only made more complicated when Eve’s “sister” visits them.

The movie is beautiful allegory for drugs and rock and roll. These vampires are almost hippy like with their vintage music and soul charging highs. A search for the purest source is like that of a true drug aficionado—not just some crack whore. It’s the typical drug story just trapped with vampire edges and dark humor. Chaos and death reign in this world even though Eve and Adam only want to spend their time enjoying the world and each other. But like all drug tales, the source dries up and Adam must come face to face with an inevitable death.

The casting is superb. Hiddleston is so much more than the impish Loki of the Marvel universe. H nails the suicidal rocker on the head giving more depth to a character that could be one sided. His chemistry with Swinton is tight, and Swinton herself is, as always, superb. Mia Wasikowska plays the younger and fickle sister infusing chaos perfectly into the couple’s tiny world. And  Anton Yelchin evokes his best Matthew Gray Gubler as Adam’s minion who is a needed source of comic relief.only-lovers-left-alive-jim-jarmusch-05

The only issue with the movie is that Jarmusch wears his symbolism on his sleeve. He forces the use of spinning imagery upon the viewer wasting an endless amount of time with either dancers or spinning records. These sequencing using music are used to drive the story, but it really just slows it down. By the time you get to the end of the movie and a music sequence that was vital to the story, the viewer has lost interest and ready to move on.

Despite of these, Only Lovers Left Alive is a captivating and complex tale mirrors our human emotions in the faces of vampires. If they can find both self-love and romantic love why can’t we? But at what prices do we pay for our lives when we are just seeking out our next high?

Without All the Powers of Hell

Maleficent is based on the classic Disney animated feature Sleeping Beauty. The new film gives a new view point on Disney’s scariest villain. But in the process, the movie completely changes the character and the ending of a vintage tale.

The basic is story is the same. Maleficent casts a curse foretelling that the young princess will prick her finger on a spinning wheel on her sixteenth birthday and fall into death-like sleep. But then the story abruptly changes and the tale is rewritten.  The bad fairy’s heart is softened by the child. Maleficent comes to regret the curse but does not have the power to change the outcome. Instead she tries her best to break the spell. The king becomes the de-facto maleficentvillain as he sinks into further paranoia after the curse is set.

Maleficent, at first glance, is a grand tribute to the original picture. The production, make-up and costume crew pay great attention to detail. Angelina Jolie brings Maleficent to life working with a dialogue coach to mimic the distinctive tone Eleanor Audley gave the character in the original. The costume team recreates the basic iconic look of the character when she visits the baby princess. It was refreshing to see that instead of making Maleficent into Angelina Jolie, the production team turned her into Maleficent. And it worked well, Jolie enveloping the character and giving it new life.

But Jolie is the only great performer. Supposedly the cast was chosen based on the fact that they looked like the original characters but Prince Phillip looks like someone from One Direction and his character is minimized greatly. The film spends more time on Sharlto Copley as King Stefan instead. Unfortunately, Copley is flat, uninspiring and quite grating. Even Elle Fanning doesn’t blow you away with the stereotypical angelic child with a lack of fear and no idea of true evil.

This could all be overlooked if the film didn’t get all hippy dippy (for a lack of a more politically correct word) and rewrite the story. The idea of “True Love’s Kiss” is flipped 180, and Maleficent actually becomes quite found of the child. Even her most famous line “And all the powers of Hell!” is erased in this over-family-friendly adaptation.

The bright spot is the guardian fairies. While the iconic dress battle is not included, their ineptitude for carrying for the child infuses humor at each turn. These fairies aren’t the brightest of the forest blooms but they just might be the nicest.

Overall, Maleficent is a good movie if you can separate this film from the Disney classic you grew up with. But anyone expected the badass Maleficent will be sorely disappointed. But at least there is a dragon.

Godzilla Leaves Only a Slight Rumble In Its Wake

He has a star on the walk of fame, an MTV Lifetime Achievement Award and his own cartoon. He is Godzilla.

In over 30 movies, he has had a son, fought King Kong, and flattened countless buildings. Godzilla (Gojira in the original Japanese release) started as a cautionary tale about nuclear war that grew into its own franchise.  Like so many pop icons, Hollywood had to getting on the action. The original Japanese releases and several others of his films were reedited to add American elements. In 1998, Hollywood decided to create an All-American movie. The Matthew Broderick vehicle was critically lambasted and fans of the franchise were horrified (Put it this way: when RiffTrax set out to purchase the right to riff this version, the Kickstarter campaign met its goal in 16 hours).

Then Hollywood tried again this year. Awakened and rejuvenated by a nuclear power plant, a large insect like creature attacks Tokyo and heads to American to reconnect with its mating partner in Yucca Flats. These events cause Godzilla to awaken in order to restore peace to the planet. Viewers follow a father and son who know something is terribly wrong with the current earthquakes shaking Japan.

The movie tries to pay homage and treat Monster Zero with respect and reverence but fails. The biggest issue is that the movie spends too much time on flat characters no one cares about. While Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche do well with what hey have, the writers didn’t give them much to work with.  The lead is horribly flat. Aaron Taylor-Johnson has one expression and voice tone throughout the movie, unable to show vacillating human emotion. To be fair, the producers asked him to try to compete with a giant dinosaur.  Only Ken Watanabe’s character gives the proper awe and respect to the monster. His performance is spot on as always.

Unbalanced and capricious, the movie obscures the kaiju battles only letting viewers peek in on the monster bashing action. There are many, many shots of kaiju feet and scared looks by the stereotypical characters (even Frank Darabont couldn’t bring suspense to these scenes). When the battle is finally the focal point, destruction and mayhem take the stage. This is what Godzilla should be: monsters beating the crap out of each other and destroying things.

While Godzilla isn’t a bad film, it fails to capture the thrill and reverence of this iconic creature. If the sequels can lend more toward action at the end of the film instead of the characters, the movies could be everything viewers want them to be. We’ll see if director Gareth Edwards understands this and brings it into the other films.

Godzilla-2014

X-Men Proves That to Go Forward Sometimes You Have to Go Back

After several sequels dragged down the X-Men franchise, it is refreshing to see the latest movies prove that super hero movies can have deep themes and human context. Days of Future Past balances character development with action for an enjoyable movie.

The sequel begins in the future as viewers catch up with their favorite mutants and a host of new ones. Wolverine, Xavier, Magneto and Storm connect with Kitty Pride and her group of refugee mutants hiding from the giant machines meant to kill mutants. Hugh-Jackman-X-Men-Days-of-Future-PastThey need Kitty’s help to send Logan back in time to keep the Sentinels from destroying just not the mutant, but the human world.  Logan is transported into his body to the ‘70s and must keep a young mystique from killing Bolivar Trask the creator of the Sentinels. But to do so he will need the help of young Xavier who is at odds with his powers.

Like First Class, the film does well harking back to themes in the original X-men movie. The film delves into social norms and how we use our gifts when they are against those norms. Xavier and Mystique both fight with their powers and how to use them. It’s about accepting your differences and focusing on whether you express these differences with love or hate.

The film reverses the role of Xavier and Wolverine, and it’s interesting to see these characters outside pre-defined boundaries. The best moment? When Xavier throws Wolverine’s words in his own face.  But for everything we see these two overcome, viewers are still face with an inevitable end with Mystique and Magneto. Or are we?  The movie lags as Magneto rages out against the humans even though this becomes turning point for Mystique. Yes, he is full of rage and hate. We get that by now.  We know what becomes of these characters and of their predestined roles as villains.

But the ending proves we know nothing. The last few minutes of the movies make up for any mistakes made in the last X-Men movie and leaves viewers wondering how much of the X-Men cannon has changed now that the past has been altered. This makes the franchise ripe for the taking. Instead of a new Wolverine, the producers should focus on these changes within the X-Men world. There is so much room to expand whether in the present time or in the First Class world.

X-Men Days of Future Past is thrilling and fun. Though it has one lag, the last minutes of the film make up for any issues with the movie. This franchise can keep going and be successful.

Endless Wonder Remains

Warehouse 13 closed its doors Monday night. Fans sadly said goodbye to Pete, Myka, Artie, Jinks, Claudia and Mrs. Frederic.  While the Warehouse respawns, their adventures are not. In the finale, because of past events, the Warehouse is moving to relocation with a new set of agents.  Before then, Warehouse 13 - Season 5each team member has to record their defining moment on the stone tablet that was the genesis for the King Arthur tales.  These scenes capture something new about each character and are not just a mash-up of past events. In fact, each of this moment could have been expanded to comic, well thought out hour long shows. These sequences captured the magic of the warehouse as well as the personality of the agents. This is a fantastic way to end the show: mini-stories showing viewers something new The writers have Pete become the emotional stand in for the viewers. Like us, he rails against any attempts made at peace. He can’t lose the Warehouse. He tries in vain to keep the Warehouse from moving even referring to the manual (a nice touch). Pete finally comes to the understanding that this ending will be ok. Pete realizes it is not the Warehouse that defines him, he does.  He does have something to keep him distracted though. This is the moment where the show goes wrong. Pete and Myka are thrown together in a whirlwind kiss and a promised of a future. It’s odd that this is the love connection. Fans had no interest in them being together and, in fact, there is a huge population that wanted Myka to be with H.G. I am personally upset because they worked so well together without a romantic relationship. Hollywood has a tendency of saying that men and women can’t be friends or work together without sleeping together. These two are perfect partners-work partners, that is. The only other mistake is the last minute reveal of Artie’s son. The reveal is used to convince Claudia that she has a say about being caretaker. It seems abrupt but I wonder if this was pulled from story idea the creative team had before the show was cancelled. Was each section a story that they would have told? Then Artie’s revelation wouldn’t seem so abrupt, but as it stands it’s more of an absurdity than a plot twist. Overall saying goodbye to the Warehouse was a happy occasion as we saw Jinks find peace and learned that Lena knew her fate and was ok with it. It was fun to see H.G. go against Jack the Ripper in her defining moment. Even the montage (when Pete touches the stone, all his memories go flooding through) seems less repetitive and more like a reunion of friends. Warehouse 13 left us wanting more and still at the top of its game. Bittersweet as that is, it’s good to see he Endless Wonder not grow stale. Besides there is always the hope of a TV movie.

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How Season 4 of Game of Thrones Season 4 is Angering Book Fans

Game of Thrones brought TV viewers into a rich world book lover had known for ages. As most adaptations, the show changes things to entertain book and TV audiences.  In the case of GoT, the changes have been minimal. But the creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have consulted with author George R.R. Martin (the show will end way before the books ever will) and know what Martin plans to happen.  Evidence of that is popping up in Season 4 as the TV show is starting to give spoilers to book readers.

Taking some liberties with the material is good for the show and to keep book readers on the toes. This is valuable to a point. A Song of Ice and Fire is MASSIVE. There is so much going on those things often have to be cut out or condensed to tell and meaningful story. But it becomes a problem when you add material that did not happen in the books. For example, the story with the return to Craster’s keep. These events did not happen inGoT-S4E4 the books and the writers created a new villain as if there were not a plethora of villains in the text. While giving time to the wildlings as they terrorizes Mole Town can really give a more rounded look for these characters, it doesn’t help to draw out certain stories of over characters (here’s looking at you Bran).

The TV show is pooling things for book readers and this s angering fans of the books. It is known that the creators know where the general story is going and to hint at it, but to outright say “so and so killed Jon Aryan” is news to the reader, a reader who has read through thousands and thousands of pages and, in two seconds, the mystery is solved.  The television viewers are lucky; all is resolves for them and the book fans have become annoyed when their loyalty is not rewarded. Yes, the book and TV readers are somewhat of even footing when it comes to The Others, but should they be?

It also seems that the writers are inherently changing our characters. Jamie’s rape scene never happens. In fact, book readers are so angry at Cerci’s treatment of Jaime, that when he finally (spoiler) breaks away from her, fans cheered. I wish I knew the logic behind this change and why they decided that Jaime is suddenly a rapist (this up there with the logic behind everyone’s love of Stannis). There is a flip side to this. TV’s Margeary is much more innocent and isn’t conniving until her grandmother gets ahold her. In fact, in the show, she is completely innocent in Joffery’s murder helping some fans to appreciate her better.

Season 4 has deviated from the books the most. Previous ones just moved the plot along quicker or consolidated some characters for cast budgeting. But as they reach their end came, they veer further away from the story fans know and love. Will this pay off? The book fans may say no but the TV fans are saying yes.

Brick Mansions/Europacorp

In Brick Mansions

Paul Walker was best known for his work on the Fast & Furious franchise. Most fans didn’t take the time to catch his dramatic work choosing to enjoy the fast paced and fun world of street racing. Brick Mansions is in this similar vein and is extra special because this was Walker’s last completed work before his tragic death last year.

Brick Mansion takes place in the near future after the worst part of Detroit has been bricked off from the rest of the city. The government thinks that violence and crime cannot be regulated and they leave the citizens to fend for themselves. These citizens include Lino an immigrant who best talent is jacking drugs and jumping through small spaces.  He is trying to bring some justice against Tremaine Alexander the drug-selling, gun0running “leader” of Brick Mansions but this lands him in jail after his girlfriend is kidnapped. Meanwhile, Damien (Walker), a cop with a chip on his shoulder, is eager to get into Brick Mansion to seek vengeance for his father’s death and jumps at a suicide mission that is aimed at taking down Tremaine. The only catch? He must pair up with Lino who can get him around the decrepit city.

Luc Besson wrote the script based on the screen play of his French film Banlieve 13. He also brings in other collaborators. Camille Delamarre, a long time editor for the producer/director, steps into the director’s chair orchestrating jumpy fight scenes. David Belle reprised his role from the original which explains the most obviously overdubbed dialogue since Jackie Chan’s first English films. Belle, actor and stunt man does well with the fighting sequences but not the emotional aspects of acting. Delamarre is m-112bbm4328rv1jpg-e32547opposite slowing the shots down to capture the emotional aspects of the characters.

Never the less, this movie is just plain fun. While there is some philosophical ideas of race, poverty, and government the movies doesn’t focus on these. Instead, it puts the hand to hand combat at the front and watching Belle and Walker work off each other is frantic fun. It’s similar to RZA’s The Man with the Iron Fist, it may not be a great movie but viewers enjoy it and are able to get out of their reality for a couple of hours.

Would I like this movie as much is someone else (say Jason Statham) was in it? Not really. The movie works because viewers believe Walker as the character and can tell he had so much fun in making it. And, yes; there is a bitter sweet happiness to watching his final completed film. Luckily, I didn’t cry until the dedication at the end.

Brick Mansions doesn’t get overly preachy and is much better than Besson’s Three Days to Kill. If you’re an action fan or a fan of the late Walker, this is a must see for a good time.

 

 

By The Book: Ender’s Game

Ender’s Game has been surrounded by controversy. The book was rallied against for its support of violence and the movie was boycotted because Orson Scott Card is anti-homosexual. These controversies take away from a deep and provocative story that looks at politics, the military, and our future.Ender's_game_cover_ISBN_0312932081

The book is an in-depth look at the future after an alien war with the Buggers. Earth came together to create an army that will fight the future of the alien threat: training young children who use their intuition and lack of biases to fight these life forms. The book details Ender’s rise to military fame and his emotional breakdown from the stresses place on him. The book became keystone reading for several military groups, and the Ender franchise took off. The movie follows the same plot changing minor points.

Even though director/writer Gavin Hood only makes minimal changes, he manages to alter the tone and change the purpose behind certain plot points. Part of this comes from the fact that the movie isn’t able to get into Ender’s head like it did in the books and Hood often fails in portraying it in the storyline.  For example, Ender’s inner struggle with being a leader and the advanced pace of his training is downplayed and his explosion at the end of the movie seems out of place. In fact, the movie makes it seem like Bonzo’s death is the only reason he quit before he enters Command School.

To centralize the story, characters are given more screen time. Petra’s role in Ender’s life is increased and given more importance than in the book. And while it incorporated more of Bean, it change the characters time line as well as down played how smart, arrogant the character actually is. The movie demonizes the bad guys while making the good guys perfect saints. And none of the children are young enough. While this might be practical for filming, it really takes the enormity of the original story away.

tumblr_mk8d1vkdYW1rri3f0o1_1280This leads to the biggest issue with the movie. No one should have worked about anti-homosexual themes or any other political commentary. The movie is actually overly PC. Characters have changed to reflecting minority and women’s roles which in interesting because the books actually have more variety of ethnicities and gender than the movie did. There is no reference to the Bugger War; everyone just calls them Formics. This small change loses a lot of what Card was saying about humans and outsiders. Using slang for enemies is typical and part of the criticism included in the original novel. Though we see it start to change in Ender’s Shadow (chronologically parallel but written some time after the original), this is a reflection of how PC was adapting into the world and it has now completely enticed the movie.

The biggest change was the removal of politics from the film. Oh, you say, but there was so much politics with Graff and the military! That is nothing compared to the Ender Saga of books. Enders siblings are very important player in the world. Their actions and political dialogues change how regular people see the world and it sons reaches to the government. Their actions actually decide Ender’s fate. But you won’t see much of Peter or Valentine as Hood morphs the ending to come to a staggering halt instead of following into another tale.

Ender’s Game is a great science fiction movie.  The special effects are beautiful and the Battle Room lives up to expectations. Asa Buttersfield does well as the boy genius Ender, and Harrison Ford is great as Graff. But like most adaptations it can’t hit the depth and thought provocation of the novel.

Divergent: On the Screen and By the Book

On the Screen

 

Divergent is actually a pretty good movie. It’s much better than the YA adaptions Beautiful Creatures and City of Bones. Though it doesn’t live up to the caliber of The Hunger Games, it has its strengths in its own rights. As far as being a good adaptation, the movie does pretty well till it spins out of control in the end changing the last confrontation significantly.

Divergent, like many Young Adult based plot, takes place in a dystopian future. To keep the peace the population is divided into five factions each one elevating one characteristic above any other. Tris was born in Abnegation and must focus on other’s needs before her own. But citizens aren’t forced to stay in their birth faction. As their coming of age ritual, each teenager goes through an assessment where they find out what faction they should be but they are free to choose any of the five. Tris’ results are mixed which is rare and dangerous as it challenges the fragile peace set up by the leaders. Tris chooses a new life where she has to prove she can be dauntless instead of homeless while stumbling into a government conspiracy that will threaten her home faction as well as the whole city.

Divergent is fast paced, keeping viewers engaged in the action. Neither the viewers nor Tris have time to adjust to the dark Dauntless compound. Training begins immediately and romance blooms. The movie is mainly focused on the action with the romance sprinkled in ensuring the relationship between Tris and Four does not over power the story.

Four is played marvelously by Theo James. It is he and Kate Winslet who give the most powerful performances leaving the rest of the cast to be perfectly acceptable but not strong. Before seeing the movies, I had read lots of reviews touting how wonderful James was, but I thought no one could live up to that hype. Though at first glance readers will think he’s not Four, as soon as he opens his mouth, we are convinced. James manages to easily blend the emotional complexity Four manifests. His fearlessness, his kindness, his intelligence all blend together making Four easily fit in a variety of factions. Winslet, on the other hand, is smart and shrewd making Jeanine Mathews, the Euridite’s leader, inherently conniving. From the first time she interacts with Tris, the viewer knows something is not right with this woman. Winslet’s performance lacks innocence and you would never confuse her for raise to fame character Rose.

The movie is thrilling and the music is perfect. Ellie Goulding’s haunting chords match perfectly with what is going through Tris’ head putting icing on the cake. But how does it stake up as adaptation to the book? Keep reading below the pictures for By the Book and spoilers abound.

By the Book

As with most adaptations, there are some casting issues. Jai Courtney’s casting as Eric is horrific and the costume and make-up department don’t even attempt to make him look like the book Eric. (Besides why do people keep thinking he can act?) Shailene Woodley did well with Tris but she isn’t the Tris I saw in my head. My Tris was am ordinary person. She wasn’t glamorous but she had a spirit that emanated from her at every turn. Part of the problem isn’t Woodley’s fault. In an effort to simplify a very complex book, the script cuts down on Tris’ emotional struggles. She doesn’t just choose Dauntless because she thinks the enemy won’t find her. It’s about who she is and the conflict she feels within herself and with leaving her loved ones. This takes the edge off Tris making her character relatable. We all struggle to find ourselves.

The movie falls for one of the fatal mistakes made by City of Boones: emotional and complex issues are so minimized that they should have been left out because they don’t make since. It City of Bone sit was the fact Alec is gay; for Divergent its Al’s suicide. The movie spends about four minutes on his story. As non-dauntless is under lots of pressure to not become factionless, but his plight only comes out with the attack on Tris. The movie implies that he killed himself just because of the attack. But that isn’t the case. Al is an example of breaking under the stress and how not everyone can break out of their faction. But the movie never gets this thoughtful or reflective.

On the flip side the movie makes changes that make no sense. These span from minuscule facts (they drink the elixir in the school instead of getting a shot) to major plot points. As a reader the ending was atrocious. To give Winselt more screen time, the final confrontation comes between Matthews, Tris and Four. Eric is summarily dismissed before ever reaching the Dauntless compound. Tris must attack Matthews with wit and violence creating a whole new scenario that will unbalance the relationship that the two had in further books.

Until the end, the adaptation isn’t bad but fans come out with a bad taste in their mouths–especially since the majority of the film was well done and entertaining.