Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Interview

The Interview - 112Min - R
I threw myself on this bad movie for Web Wombat. You don’t need to see James Franco and Seth Rogen’s Asshattery. The only part that got a chuckle out of me was delivered by Lizzy Caplan.

This journey into bad taste can be skipped. Or do you think I am wrong.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Hobbit Trilogy

The Hobbit Trilogy - 474 min  - PG13

I had the opportunity to do a Hobitthon when the final film of this trilogy came out.  It wasn't affiliated with any theater. It was my son and I watching the first two on video on demand and then going to the final one in the theater. As I was watching this with my son it was easier to take off the critic hat and enjoy it as a fan. I have always stated that the story doesn't have three movies worth of content. The BBC did a experiment and they found that it takes 5.2 hours to read the book where it takes 8.5 hours to watch the trilogy.

Face it, this trilogy is mostly fan fiction.  Because of the liberties that were taken with the hints and nuggets of story threads J.R.R. Tolkien left in the stories.  This is the best funded production of fan fiction I have seen. At times it feels like a contrived prequel to the LoTR movies. I can't ignore the heavy-handed attempt at blending the two. This story is a prequel on its own but on screen it feels overly so.

I have already reviewed this film here. I am not going to spend a lot of time on this one. But in retrospect it's probably the best one out of all three. It lays the groundwork to make transition from LoTR seamless, and gives us a look at what started Bilbo's journey. We also start seeing a lot of the fan fiction parts that Mr. Jackson created. 

The book never goes into what Gandalf is doing when he is not with the party. We just see him exist stage left to go do Wizardly things.  We wouldn't understand.  Poof he is gone. Mr. Jackson takes liberties and makes use of these gaps by inserting speculation on what Gandalf was doing.  That is one reason this story takes so long to tell.

We also get a lot more on Azog as he is the Orc who is relentlessly chasing Thorin down. He is a pawn in the larger subplot of Sauron's return. Again summation from Mr. Jackson as to what was happing behind the scenes.

Breaking this story up into three parts is hard because you need a clear break point in the action. The second film feels heavier as it relies more on the fan fiction elements.  The end point here is the moment before Smaug takes his wrath out on Lake-town. In retrospect this is a good breaking point because we lead off with a kick-ass dragon fight on the last leg of this journey.

We also get a lot of backstory on the return of Sauron or the rumors of his interference. This second story feels less organic and more contrived to make it blend in with the other trilogy. I suspect that's what makes the final two seems so forced.

There is no doubt about the quality of filmmaking. The scenes draw you in and the sets and costumes are outstanding. The down side is that it's just too much information. I found myself feeling the time draw on. Especially during the setting up of the social structure of Lake-town. 

The humans of Lake-town are not important. We don't need to see how corrupt the government is. It adds needless flavor to a story that is rich enough on its own. It was nice to Stephen Fry on screen. I'm a fan, but it added more time where it wasn't needed. 
Kind of funny how much security is played up. The heroes gotta sneak in and stay out of sight and get in through a loo to Bard's house.  But elves and orcs seem to have run of the place and there is absolutely no sign of any sort of city guard during any portion of the last battle. The Master of Lake-town had people watching Bard's house.  You kind of think that his guards would have thought the parade of bad guys rampaging through town would have been noteworthy.

We also have a huge battle sequence in the dwarf's halls with the dragon. Great to see on screen but really it is only fan boy eye candy, because the battle ended the same with Smaug going to take out the city.  There was no change in the end result from book to mov'e. Yes it was cool to watch, not at the cost of time and attention span. 

The fight that was promised pays off here. We jump right into the battle over Lake-town and the death of Smaug. After the fight we see Thorin fall to the dragon sickness and the paranoia starts taking him over.  His affliction with greed sets up the events that lead to war with the elves and humans.  The orcs also take this opportunity to wipe them all out and join in on the battle.

The fan fiction storyline shows us that Sauron's attempted return is thwarted and we have a bit of a redemption story with Thorin and his realization of what a dick he has been. He has a change of heart and joins in on the fight and saves the day but at the cost of his own life.

Anyone who has seen all three films and is reading this I know I am cutting out the love interest between Tauriel and Kili. I am leaving them out of this review to illustrate that not every story element added to the film was needed to tell the story.  Again I am going to be using the analogy of too much spice ruins the sauce.

Some observations I made while watching, all of the hot looking dwarves die. What is that saying about the genetic diversity of the dwarves left to make more dwarves? This may explain why Gimli looks the way he does.

Perhaps I have an untrained eye but I saw no significant improvement in the 48 FPS over the normal 24 It really boils down to whether the money you spend on an effect or technique pays off in the final product. From this reviewer's point of view it could have been skipped. Filmmakers should spend less money on flash and more on substance.

After about eight and a half hours of eye candy I really needed a break and watch something with some really good storytelling. We were going to launch right into the Lord of the Rings trilogy but even my son didn't have the strength or interest in going that far.

Books that are turned into movies will always be a different version. The two mediums can't share the same elements. The changes to The Lord of the Rings were great. I appreciated the changes and understood why they were cut. The changes to The Hobbit really seem to be just filler to make a longer story than what needed to be.

After looking back at my binge session in Middle Earth, my son and I both agree it was a great ride, but we are not going to be taking it again anytime soon. Making a good movie that everyone sees is spectacular, but making a movie that people want to see over and over again is better.

My advice would have been to stick closer to the book. The Hobbit should have been and would have been a great single story movie even with the preamble that set it up for the other films.  But keep the story as one. Then take the secondary story of Sauron's return into a Gandalf film, I would watch the hell out of that film, that blends into the other story. It always bugged me that Gandalf was a part of this group and kept popping off and not an explanation but he was always there when he was needed. If done correctly you could have included scene from the first film and shown it from his point of view.

Drop the Azog and the love story altogether and you make it a wonderful launching pad for your true treasure: The Lord of the Rings.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit - 105Min - PG13

This review of the Jack Ryan Reboot/update on Web Wombat is one of the funner reviews I did, I liked this movie. IS there a role Chris Pine cant do? I also liked Keira Knightley, well I should say continue to like her work. Kevin Costner slips smoothly into managing director level roles, but as we saw in 3 days to kill can also kick ass.

This movie is completely divorced from the books but I think a great way to launch a new franchise, what do you think?

Monday, January 19, 2015


Annie - 118min - PG

Remakes have their work cut out for them. When filmmakers attempt to take on a beloved classic there are a lot expectations to live up to. This film did a fine job at reimagining the original story. There are some updates that are mixed well with some of the classic songs. They did a fine job playing to the target audience. It's a family film that caters to the younger audience members. This movie was a family film, my son enjoyed it and so did I. It fits nicely in the green light category.

Annie (Quvenzhané Wallis) is an orphan, sorry "foster kid". She is under the care of Mrs. Hannigan (Cameron Diaz), a washed up pop star from the 80's who doesn't like the kids in her charge. Annie inadvertently runs into billionaire Will Stacks (Jammie Foxx) when he saves her from being hit by a car.  This helps improve his standing in the mayoral race, so his campaign manager, Guy (Bobby Cannavale), tells Mr. Stacks that more interactions with Annie are going to do wonders for his image. Annie was meant to improve Stacks' public image but she ends up improving more than that.

Quvenzhané is so talented. She is the embodiment of the indomitable spirit of Annie. She is naturally engaging on screen. Musicals are not in fashion now so it is nice to see two at the theater. This one seems to be more aimed at the younger audience, and brings Annie to a new generation. There are some updates to the film that needed to be done however they are not distracting.

I do have two issues with the film. The first is that Annie's inability to read is underdeveloped. There were hints there but they play it off so well that you don't catch that she can't read. Maybe that was the intent, to show how easily people can hide it, but it ended up feeling forced in to the story. It would have been better to show the audience that she can't read and then, when she is faced with having to read, we can share her fear. This is such an important massage that it really needed more time on the screen.

The second problem was how Jamie Foxx's scene in the helicopter was poorly filmed or edited. There was so much distraction with the outside shots mixed in with the internal ones that it really lost focus on the message of the song. Ideally they should have had some external shots before and after the song, but really just stay on Mr. Foxx while he sang. It seemed like a tender moment was lost because of the poor handling of the shots.

Despite the two errors in judgment this is a great movie to take the kids to. The songs are too catchy to not have you and your kids singing in the car on the way back home.

What movie have the critics trashed but you really enjoyed?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Johnny English Reborn

Johnny English Reborn - 101min - PG
I choose to review this film for Web Wombat. This is less Mr. Bean and more Rowen Atkinson. Watching him do parkour is priceless. Rosamund Pike dose a great job as well as Gillian Anderson. Great watch for a light easy weekend afternoon.

Did you think the first one was better, worse or on par with this one?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Into the Woods

Into the Woods – 125min – PG

Of the two musicals out now, this one is my favorite. I enjoyed the stage show and I think it translates well to the screen.  They had to make some changes to adapt it to a screen but the heart of the story is still there. As this is a Disney production it’s been watered down in parts but there is absolutely loads of talent in this project that give the production life. There are some great messages for the kids but it’s not exclusively a kid’s movie. This film is a green light.

A baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) have been cursed by a witch (Meryl Streep).  They will never have a child unless they go into the woods and gather items for a spell. Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) goes into the woods to get advice from her mother because she wants to go to the Festival. Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) is in the woods to sell his cow.  Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) is on her way into the woods to visit her grandmother. 

We see the beginning of all of these fairy tails and watch as they intermingle and interact while they are trying to accomplish their own quests in the woods. The story also changes from fantasy to some real life problems that people have to deal with. It’s a cautionary tell that shows you what happens after the “happily ever after” of each of these stories.

Bernadette Peters will always be the witch for me but Meryl Streep did a fine job of managing the role. They did tweak the interaction between her and the baker.  In the stage production the witch only mentions once that she can’t come in contact with the items she has asked.  In the film there was three times that the plot point gets related. 

Anna Kendrick really caught my attention with her performance. I have to go back and watch her previous work as a singer. She is the stand out performance in this film. She is wonderful in the second act comforting little red riding hood. There is a tenderness that comes through her performance; it’s very motherly and engaging. 

The one issue I have with this film is more of a costume design issue.  Johnny Depp’s performance was fine but having him dressed more like a Zoot suited Tex Avery version of a wolf makes his song seem more like a sex offender than a carnivore. They should have made him look more like a creature unless they were aiming for a skin crawling scene. I would have felt better.

The song "Agony" is well worth the price alone. The princes' dueling suffering is done much better in the film. The powerful performances couldn’t be contained on the stage, It can only truly been enjoyed on the big screen.  They dropped the subplot of the princes chasing after Snow white and Sleeping Beauty. That change is reflective of how much they have scrubbed the more adult aspects of the play. The story has been Disney-ified. The Baker’s wife and The Chroming Prince go from a roll in the hay to a snogging in the woods.

Some of the cuts in the story serve to streamline the story without losing the effects of the lessons it’s trying to teach. One of my favorite songs that stayed was "I Know Things Now" and is the best lesson people can learn. 

What was your favorite part? 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues "Super-sized Version"

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues - 119+ min - Not Rated

It is not a surprise that I am not a fan of this kind of humor. I reviewed this on Netflix for Web Wombat. They did an outstanding job it was good work, just not my thing. Steve Carell has to be my favorite part with Kristen Wig.  Will Ferrell is hit or miss with me I do like him in some stuff.

The one cool thing about this is that it is a different move from the theatrical release. If you enjoyed that version you have to see this one, because its the same film only not. Just watch it you’ll see.

What was your favorite part?

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Hunger Games Mockingjay part I

Studios have a new weapon in their arsenal: the ability to break a movie into two parts to tell a story that fits into one. The final Harry Potter film did this and it was groundbreaking. The Hobbit did this as proof positive that people will buy this kind of storytelling. This film feels like they are stretching the story to fill time. As its really only half of the story, I have to grade it on it's own merits as opposed to a complete story. At this point, I have to award this film a provisional yellow light. I will upgrade it if it turns out the story was worth the long walk it's taking us on.

Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) wakes up in a resistance bunker in District 13. We see the events that happen right after the explosion in the games. Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) has been seized by President Snow (DonaldSutherland) and is being held to be used as a political pawn. The resistance wants Katniss to fight for them and become a symbol. Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is also in district 13 as he helped Prim (Willow Shields) and her mother (PaulaMalcomson) escape before District 12 was destroyed. President Alma Coin (Juilanne Moore) and Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) are pushing Katniss to be the face of the rebellion.

The one thought going through my head for the entire film is this is Philip Seymour Hoffman's final role. This film, good or bad, will be his legacy. He was such a talented actor and I enjoyed almost every role he had. I savored each and every scene he was in. I remember hearing that some of the scenes in the second film are going to have to be altered or adjusted because of his death before filming was complete. I hope they don't CGI him poorly.

His loss really overshadowed this project for me. It will be interesting to see how they compensate for the lost scenes.  I know that there is no way to compensate for the loss of such a talented star in our universe.

The performances were great. I felt really connected with the characters. I had one issue with the community members of District 13. Peeta goes on screen publicly and denounces the rebels and what they stand for. I can understand the initial distant for him, but as the other propaganda material is broadcast he shows signs of malnutrition and abuse. Were they so blinded by their hate that the only one who saw what was really going on was Katniss? Even President Coin called him a traitor. This makes me worry about the type of government that will be taking over if they win the war. In case you haven't already guessed I have not read the books.

There is nothing earth-shattering or remarkable about the film. It really feels more like a preamble than a film. I am going to have to re-watch this film before I go see the second one. I am sure that the theaters will be offering this as well. If not I will Netflix the first one and then see the second one in the theaters... Or I will wait until they are both on Netflix.

Would you rather go to two hour and a half movies or one move for three hours?