Tag Archives: James

Animated Movies Review

2016 was a stellar year for animated movies from Zootopia to Moana to Kubo And The Two Strings to Finding Dory. 2016’s line-up gave people lots of reason to come to the movie theatres. 2017 was very lackluster in comparison. We’re talking about a year when The Boss Baby was nominated for Best Animated Feature and even the mere existence of The Emoji Movie. 2017 almost made it look like if Sausage Party were released that year instead, it would be a Best Animated Feature nominee! However the best animated movies of 2017 slowly made its way on the screen in the latter months of 2017. I was lucky to see Ferdinand, Coco and Loving Vincent: three of the best of the year.

Ferdinand

Ferdinand

When I was about to see Ferdinand, I wondered how they would able to take the small story and turn it into a feature-length picture. I myself remember an animated short made by the Walt Disney studios made decades ago that was very humorous. However I wondered how would a feature-length adaptation play out?

The story starts out well with an entertaining look, but a bit of sadness at the beginning. As it progresses to adult Ferdinand, Ferdinand is funny and charming as a husky but flower-loving bull. John Cena adds to the characterization of full-grown Ferdinand. The characters of Lupe, Una and the other bulls add to the story.

There were times I wondered how will they get to where Ferdinand is scouted out by his accidental outburst? How will it be written out? Although it’s not true to the fable, the writers were able to create a way for Ferdinand to be discovered and sent to the bull rings to fight.

Another case that had me wondering was right in the middle of the story. It had me wondering how on earth the story would have a happy ending? Of course the film needed to have a kid-friendly happy ending, but in a situation where the bull either becomes a fighting bull who dies in the ring or to the slaughterhouse as meat? Nevertheless the writers were able to make the story work with good events to the plot and not just simply drag it out over the time. Even creating an ending where Ferdinand wins over the crowd and getting them to want him to live works for the film.

For the most part, Ferdinand is not all about the type of intricate story you’d expect to find in a Disney/Pixar film. Instead Ferdinand is about creating a charming modern adaptation of the short fable with charming and entertaining characters. It succeeds in charming the audience as well as entertaining the children. Despite the story being elongated into a feature-length picture, the film does not waste time. It succeeds in being entertaining. It also adds in some other elements that gets one nervous of what will happen to Ferdinand, even if they know the story. The story works in its feature-length and will not disappoint fans of the fable. It’s also good at winning crowds too as it made a good $282 million at the worldwide box office.

coco

Coco

Very often you know the Disney/Pixar collaboration will deliver something fresh and original in its arsenal that’s able to win us over. This year, they deliver Coco. Coco is unique because it’s of a Mexican family situated in Mexico. The question is will they make something original and unique entertaining to the public?

The team of writers and animators at Disney/Pixar are known for their innovations and their frequently-successful way of trying new concepts. First there was 1995’s Toy Story: the first-ever 3D animated feature. Then came A Bug’s Life which created an engaging story revolving around insects. Then Finding Nemo not only told a story about fish, but successfully took us to another world. The Incredibles was good at teaching morals in an entertaining way. Ratatouille made an entertaining story involving a rat. Wall-E magically gave us an engaging story about two robots in love with very little dialogue. It was Brave where they not only gave us their first female protagonist, but welcomed a female writer on their ‘dream team.’ And there was Inside Out which made character out of emotions.

Coco is not just a new movie from the Disney/Pixar collaboration, but a new chapter for them. They hired Mexican/American writer Adrian Molina as the scriptwriter along with Matthew Aldrich. Molina had already been part of Pixar as a 2D animator for Ratatouille, a storyboard artists for Toy Story 3 and Monsters University, and even wrote the script for Walt Disney Studios’ The Good Dinosaur. The voice cast is predominantly of Mexicans or Mexican Americans. Disney/Pixar even hired a ‘cultural consultant’ group of three Mexican-Americans including one former CEO of the Mexican Heritage Corp to make sure they were doing a film respectful of Mexican people.

The result is a film that has garnered praise even from both critics and even Mexican-American communities. The film even received excellent reviews from Latin American film critics. The film was also a top box office winner having grossed $730 million so far. Even in Mexico, it spent three weeks at #1 in the Mexican box office and grossed a total of $57.8 million in Mexico.

Now the film itself does what Disney/Pixar films have a reputation for: taking the audience to a new world. Here they give an excellent depiction of the Land Of The Dead that looks very intricate and maybe too big, but succeeds in making sense to the viewer. Once again the animation team does an excellent job in creating this new world and even the smallest detail is done with perfection. Once again Disney/Pixar is tops in animation quality.

However there was one time I was confused by the story. I’ll admit like most, I thought Ernesto was the great-great-grandfather. I was shocked when I learned that Ernesto killed Hector with poison. It left me wondering if Miguel’s great-great-grandfather was in fact a dirty killer. Even seeing Ernesto send Miguel to die in the cenote pit left me shocked. ‘Why would Ernesto do this to his own great-great-grandson?’ It’s in the pit with Hector that we learn that Hector is really the great-great-grandfather. That was a relief. It was there where it became better sense why Miguel needed to redeem the name of the family through the spirit of Hector. The story was very well-written and very entertaining. Also the song ‘Remember Me’ is an excellent song for the movie that makes for the perfect tearjerker moment you don’t feel manipulated by.

One again Disney/Pixar delivers a masterpiece in Coco. It is as top-quality as it is magical to watch.

kinopoisk.ru

Loving Vincent

Now the previous two films in which I just talked about are both the more family-friendly films. Loving Vincent is the polar opposite of both. It’s not cute, it’s less family-friendly, and it’s not even 3D computerized animation. It also didn’t even make $10 million at the box office. Nevertheless it is charming in its own ways.

The film is a plot where Armand Roulin is asked by his father Joseph to deliver a letter from Vincent Van Gogh who died a year earlier to his brother Theo. After learning Theo died, Armand looks to find the right person to give the letter to. Throughout the journey, Armand tries to get the answer to whether Vincent’s death was a suicide or not? He was released from a hospital after found to be in good mental capacity six weeks before.

Armand comes across many people in Vincent’s life. Some have positive things to say. Some negative things. All have something to say about the person of Vincent, the various people he met with or fought against, and his personal feelings before his death. This still leaves Armand confused and his question of Vincent’s death unanswered. It’s right after Dr. Gachet promises to give the letter to Theo’s widow that he learns van Gogh’s suicide wasn’t of mental agony, but to free himself and his brother. Later Armand receives a letter from Theo’s widow thanking him.

This animated film about Vincent Van Gogh couldn’t be a simple animated film. Instead this is a film in which the images were done by 100 painters trained to paint like Van Gogh. The object of the film was to create a story involving characters of people Van Gogh painted and was close to in his life across a backdrop that’s just like the paintings he painted. Basically an animated story about Van Gogh that captures the essence of Van Gogh’s art. The story may be fictional, but it succeeds in playing out like a Van Gogh painting. It even gets one that knows very little about Van Gogh’s works or his life intrigued. It even gets fans of Van Gogh’s art admiring the film for capturing the essence of the artist and his works. I also like how the film ended as “Vincent (Starry Starry Night)” was playing. It would make those who never understood what the song was all about understand it better.

So there’s my look at three of the best animated films of 2017. All three are nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature. All three are enjoyable in their own way.

Advertisements

Oscars 2017 Best Picture Review: Call Me By Your Name

Call Me By

Call Me By Your Name is the story of a son of a professor (played by Timothee Chalamet; right) who falls in love with an academic (played by Armie Hammer).

Call me by your name,

And I’ll call you by mine.

This year’s Best Picture nominees feature a wide variety of themes and subjects. Call Me By Your Name may get note about its gay subject matter, but it’s a lot more.

Elio is a 17 year-old American boy living with his father, a Jewish-American archaeology professor, and his Italian mother in his father’s summer getaway in Northern Italy in the summer of 1983. He has a passion for reading and is prodigious in playing the piano. During the summer, his father invites Oliver, a 24 year-old Jewish American graduate student, up for three months to help with his academic paperwork.

Elio’s first impressions of Oliver are not the best, especially since Elio has to give up his bedroom for him. He finds him arrogant, a show-off, and it annoys Elio when Oliver flirts with one of the local Italian girls he knows. Why should it matter to Elio? He has a girlfriend named Marzia.

However Elio and Oliver develop a friendship as the two spend a lot of time together. You don’t know if something’s happening between them or not. You’re tempted to think the latter as Elio is trying to get more sexual with Marzia and even talks about it at the dinner table. However it becomes obvious Elio is attracted to Oliver as Elio smells his swimsuit and masturbates. Elio makes the first move, but Oliver tells Elio he should not act on his feelings. Even a kiss at the post office doesn’t work on Oliver.

After being distant for a few days, Oliver gives Elio a note to meet him at a tree by midnight. The two kiss. The relationship grows more intimate and more sexual, but they have to keep it a secret, not knowing how their Jewish families will react. Meanwhile Marzia notices Elio has become more distant with her.

Then the time comes when Oliver’s stay is nearing its end. They don’t know what to do. The parents sense the relationship with them, but recommend the two spend a three-day trip in Bergamo. The trip eventually becomes their last intimate time together. Oliver leaves for the US and Elio returns home brokenhearted. Marzia gives him sympathy and agrees to stay friends and his father tells him he should be lucky because a true love like that is rare. A phone call from Oliver on Hanukah where Oliver discloses that he is to marry a woman, leaves Elio with mixed feelings over what should be but will never be.

The story is not as thick on the drama as the other Best Picture nominees. This is a story that simply unravels itself slowly and quietly. Nevertheless the events are consistent and they all fit within the story. This story bears a lot of similarities with Blue Is The Warmest Color where the protagonist is just becoming an adult and just learning of their same-sex attraction after believing they were hetero the whole time. Like Blue, the story is as much about the protagonist’s progression into adulthood and meeting their first same-sex love. Like Blue, the protagonist struggles with their same-sex attraction even as they pursue love with someone of the opposite sex. Also like Blue, it’s about a person of the same gender that sweeps them of their feet. Another element where it’s like Blue is that the story takes place along an artistic setting. While Blue is about Adele becoming infatuated with Emma through her paintings, it’s Elio becoming infatuated with Oliver in Northern Italy in an environment full of art: both natural and man-made. It’s also Oliver becoming infatuated with Elio through his readings and his piano playing. It’s a unique story how two young men– one who’s artistically-inclined and one who’s academically-inclined– both feel like polar opposites at the beginning, but come to love each other over time.

Another element in common with Blue is that it features a lot of elements one would commonly find in French films. We see how the imagery of the Northern Italian country side and even all the art and artifacts in the more urban areas play in with the story. We see how the elements of Oliver’s academia and Elio’s passion for the arts also help colorize the story and even heat up the romance. We also see the environment of the 1980’s and the music in the film adds to the story line. And we especially see how the theme of apricots plays into the romance. It goes from simple academia discussion to an element of their love. The film could have simply been titled Love And Apricots! Such background elements found here are common in French films as it helps provide a lot of value and background to the story and even the themes of the film.

However the biggest difference between Blue and Call Me By Your Name is that the story of Adele meeting Emma is more about meeting her first same-sex love and Emma being more like a chapter in Adele’s life. Call Me By Your Name is different because it’s a case where Olivier is more than Elio’s first same-sex love, Oliver becomes his soul-mate. The film is also a sad love story because it’s a case of what was meant to be can’t be. We don’t learn of the true divide of the two until the very end. While Mr. Perlman is supportive of Elio’s love to Oliver, Oliver has to marry as he knows his parents not only would disapprove, but send him to a psychiatrist for therapy. I won’t say the reason being because Oliver’s family’s Jewish, but more because the US in the early 1980’s was still very hostile towards homosexuality. That was it. Two soul mates from two different worlds that would face their big divide at the end.

The film is the accomplishment of the collaboration of director Luca Guadagnino and scriptwriter James Ivory. Both openly gay, they did a very good job of creating a story about meeting the love of one’s life and placing it in a glorious picturesque background that gives the story its charm and its feel. The film is also an accomplishment for young actor Timothee Chalamet. Most of the film revolved around Elio and Chalamet delivered an excellent job of a 17 year-old who learns of his sexuality through meeting the love of his life. That end scene where the film focuses on his face and his various emotions is as much the best part of Chalamet’s acting as it is a heartbreak for the audience to see.

Also excellent is the acting of Armie Hammer as Oliver. He portrays a man who first appears arrogant, but possesses an excellent gift of making his academia sound almost like poetry. It’s easy to see why Elio would be charmed to him. Also very good is Michael Stuhbarg. He first just appears in the movie simply as the father and a professor, but his characters fruition comes out at the end as he tells Elio of how happy he is Elio loved Oliver. The choreography by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom was spot-on as it was the various camera angles and capturing the Italian beauty that was needed to make the story.

It’s funny how most people thought that Sherwin and Johnathan from the viral animated short In A Heartbeat were to be 2017’s top gay pair on film. Looks like Elio and Oliver overtook them in the end. They may not be as cute-as-a-button as Sherwin and Johnathan, but they are better at giving the romantic feel to their respective film.

Call Me By Your Name may be a gay-themed film, but it’s a lot more. It’s a film that will charm those who see it with its beauty and its story.

Oscars 2017 Best Picture Review: Darkest Hour

Darkest Hour

Darkest Hour is the story of Winston Churchill (played by Gary Oldman) and his struggle to convince the people of the UK that fighting Hitler is the right thing to do.

Usually around the latter part of the year, historical dramas are common for release. Darkest Hour is one, focusing on Winston Churchill and World War II. The question is does it fare well as a film? And does it have relevance to the present?

The film is set in May 1940. World War II had just begun eight months ago with the fall of Poland. France is next. The film hits hard in the UK as they fear war is looming. It hits so hard, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain is pressured by the opposing Labour Party to resign for not doing enough. Neville needs to find a successor, but his first choice, Lord Halifax, declines. He goes for his second choice: Winston Churchill.

Now Winston Churchill was seen as a bad choice as the successor to Chamberlain. He has a bad record with his roles in the Admiralty, the Gallipolli Campaign During The First World War, his views on India, and his support for Edward VIII during the Abdication Crisis. Even his own personal manner is of question as he is oafish and has a reputation for infidelity and a quick temper. He’s even temperamental to his new secretary when she mishears him, but his wife Clementine gets him to come to his senses.

King George VI encourages Churchill to form a coalition government along with Halifax and Chamberlain. Churchill’s first response to Hitler’s invasion of France is fast and immediate: no surrender to Hitler and fight if we have to. He made it clear on May 13 1940 in his ‘blood, toil, tears, and sweat’ speech.

The speech is not well-received by the Parliament. They think he’s delusional. The Nazi army is too powerful. It even gets flack from King George VI. The French Prime Minister thinks he’s delusional for not admitting the Allies lost in the Battle Of France. People in his party offer Churchill to accept Hitler’s offer to negotiate for a peaceful end to the War, but Churchill declines. He does not trust Hitler.

The situation gets frustrating to the point both Halifax and Chamberlain are looking to use the Italian Ambassador as a route to negotiate peace with Hitler. Both plan to resign from the Government if Churchill doesn’t comply, hoping to cause a ‘vote of non-confidence’ to allow Halifax to become Prime Minister. Meanwhile Churchill is trying to seek support from the US with President Franklin Roosevelt, but he declines as the US signed an international agreement preventing military action in Europe years ago.

However war is pressing. The UK find themselves in battles in Dunkirk and Calais. Churchill, against the wishes of the War Brigade, orders a 30th Infantry Brigade in Calais to organize a suicide attack to distract the Nazis allowing the soldiers in Dunkirk to evacuate.

The defeat at Calais causes the War Cabinet to want to negotiate with Germany. However as Churchill is about to make his way to Parliament, he receives support from his wife, support from King George VI fearing exile if Germany wins, and support from a group of citizens in the London Underground he takes to parliament. Even members of the Outer Cabinet and other members of Parliament give him their support. News comes that the evacuation in Dunkirk ‘Operation Dynamo’ is successful. At parliament in front of cabinet members and members of the War Cabinet, Churchill delivers his speech of ‘we shall fight on the beaches’ to the support and applause of all, even Halifax and Chamberlain.

Lately there have been a lot of biographical films that don’t thoroughly focus on the person’s life, but instead focuses on the one moment that defined them as a person. We saw in Lincoln how getting the Emancipation Proclamation made constitutional and the political fight to get it done is what defined Abraham Lincoln the most. We saw in Capote that it was the making of In Cold Blood that would become Truman Capote’s biggest legacy of a writer, and would eventually lead to his downfall. Here we see the period of one month how Churchill couldn’t just simply say that Hitler needed to be fought, but had to convince the people and especially the parliament that fighting him is the right thing.

Such a situation in our world history is not uncommon. If you remember Lincoln, you will remember that Abraham Lincoln had to do political campaigning in order to get the Emancipation Proclamation made constitutional. The Proclamation itself was up for vote in the House. Just a reminder that even the most righteous political laws still have to go through the same political processes. Even for powerful speeches, it’s about saying it at the right time and the results to follow. We may remember how back in 1987, Ronald Reagan stood at the Berlin Wall and said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” This is something JFK could have told Nikita Khruschev to do, or Nixon telling Brezhnev to do, or even Reagan himself telling Brezhnev or Andropov to do, but it would not result. The Soviet leaders were just that stubborn and dead-set on their rigid ways and dismiss what the POTUSes said at hot air. But Reagan said that just during a time when it appeared the Cold War appeared to be thawing and Gorbachev was the first Soviet leader to appear cooperative with the US, but not without its friction. That sentence is memorable because the Wall did come down in a matter of two years.

Here in Darkest Hour, we see another example of how words that are true in conviction and the right thing to say still faced political opposition. When Churchill was placed as Prime Minister, he didn’t waste time in speaking his opposition to Hitler and that the UK should not surrender. However those in the office all thought his words were deluded. They knew of the Nazi army and the invasions it’s caused already in less than a year. Hitler and the Nazi army were just that menacing. They also saw the efforts, or lack thereof, from the previous Prime Minister fail. On top of that, France had just fallen to the Nazis. They were simply afraid.

It was easy for people to think of Churchill’s words as deluded. He already had a reputation in the British parliament of being quite the buffoon. In fact the opening scene of the film shows his buffoonish nature. Churchill knew in his heart that the UK had to fight the Nazis, but he had to convince the British parliament. And he had to do it fast. Over time, more tyranny from the Nazis occurred and the UK was feeling the heat. Churchill was denied support from US president Franklin Roosevelt because of an agreement signed the year before. That negotiation for peace from the Germans would seem like something one would cave into and it was easy to see why the British politicians thought it right, even though we all know it to be wrong.

The last fifteen minutes of the film just as Churchill is about to deliver the ‘fight on the beaches’ is a very powerful scene as it shows how Churchill is able to win support in his stance from his wife, the King of England and even people on the subway as he makes his way to parliament. I don’t know if that really happened to Churchill in real life, but that subway scene is a powerful scene. Sometimes I think that scene is telling me that all too often, the common person has a better sense of what’s right than the people in power.

For the most part, the film is as much of a biographical drama as it is an historic drama. The film is very much about the speeches of Churchill and the start of the mission of British forces to fight Nazi Germany. The film not only focuses on Churchill’s quest to fight in the war, but his quest to convince the people in political power to believe him. It focuses on Churchill as a man of great conviction, but also a man of noticeable flaws. That had a lot to do with why people first thought he was a madman or deluded. It reminds you that a head of state can sometimes be reduced to a pawn in their political building. The film does remind people of the common saying that: ‘What’s right isn’t always what’s popular and what’s popular isn’t always what’s right.” Churchill knew in his heart he was right, but he had to fight to make it believed by all. It was necessary as the Battle of Dunkirk would soon happen

It’s interesting how Darkest Hour is release in the same year Dunkirk is. I find it very appropriate because it was actually just right after the Battle Of Dunkirk and the subsequent evacuation that Churchill delivered his speech of “We shall fight on the beaches.” The fight on the beaches of Dunkirk and the evacuation and rescue mission was the first significant sign of what the UK needed to do to win against the Nazis. Churchill was there to pay all respect to those heroes, the survivors and fatalities, who were a part of it.

Director Joe Wright and writer Anthony McCarten deliver a very good historical story. However there are times when it does feel like it’s completely restricted to being about Winston Churchill. I understand what the story is all about, but they could have explored some additional angles to go with it. Without a doubt, the film is owned by Gary Oldman. He does an excellent job of delivering a performance of Winston Churchill. His depiction of Churchill first appears cartoonish at the beginning, but the depth and dimension develops over the film and he really comes out shining.

Although the film is dominated by the portrayal of Winston Churchill, there are supporting performances from Kristin Scott Thomas as Clementine Churchill and Lily James as Elizabeth Layton that are able to steal the moment. Also capturing the moment are Ben Mendelsohn as King George who slowly supports Churchill and Ronald Pickup as Neville Chamberlain who supports Churchill despite his own political downfall. The film also does an excellent job in the technical aspects such as the Production Design to reconstruct parliament, costuming from Jacqueline Durran and the makeup and hairstylists to fit the era, the cinematography from Bruno Delbonnel and the musical score from Dario Marianelli which capture the intensity and triumphs of the moments.

Darkest Hour is more than just an historical drama or biographical drama. It’s an excellent film about standing by your convictions without crossing the line of being preachy.

Movie Review: Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2

gallery-1486477910-guardians-of-the-galaxy-vol-2-team

The Guardians are back, even with a Baby Groot, in Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2.

We first met the Guardians Of The Galaxy back in 2014. The Guardians are back in Guardians Of The Galaxy Volume 2. But do they have what it takes to deliver this time?

Back when the first Guardians Of The Galaxy came to the big screen, most people have not heard of them. This was a chance for Marvel to introduce them to the world. It was a unique mix of quirky characters, both virtual and live, loads of action, and a mix of both music and humor that made it a hit with families and superhero movie fans alike. The movie became the third-highest grossing movie of 2014 and turned the Guardians into household names. In fact “I am Groot,” became the top movie line of that year.

This time around is about bringing about the sequel.  Most of you already know my feeling of Hollywood sequels in my review of Furious 7. However sequels can either propel a movie franchise further or sink it. Sequels are hit and miss. I’ve seen so many sequels where they simply rehash the formula of the first movie plot-for-plot, moment-for-moment. That’s why I’m mostly turned off sequels. That’s also often all one needs to do to end a franchise. Nevertheless there are a good number of sequels or second-movies that do differ a lot from the original. That’s often the better idea but even that’s a gamble. One example is the second and third film of The Matrix. It was too different from the original film that blew audiences away in 1999 and they disappointed fans.

This sequel for Guardians takes the chance of being very different from the first film. One can already notice the differences here: animosity between the members, the stormy family relations of Peter and his father and Gamora and her sister, the people of the various galaxies going against each other and all galaxies being threatened by Ego. I appreciate them creating a scenario different from the original. Nevertheless there were some things from the original that they had to bring back into the sequel like the humorous tones in various scenes, the unique and sometimes crazy personalities of each of the Guardians, and of course the use of 70’s songs in the many scenes. It was all a case of making the right choices of what to include from the first and what to change up. I feel they made a lot of the right choices here.

Another difference I noticed in Volume 2 is that there are a lot more ‘salty’ and ‘spicy’ things in the film. For example, I noticed there was more swearing included and a lot more lewd talk. There were even scenes hinting towards sex or even showing suggestive situations like a stripper bar in another galaxy. Sometimes I think ever since Deadpool shook things up in the world of superhero movies, directors are less afraid of including risque stuff even if they know children will be watching. However unlike Deadpool, the film knows it’s supposed to be a superhero movie and the theme of heroes and the values they stand for and fight for is definitely not forsaken. Whether it’s okay for parents to take their children to see it or not is completely the parents’ call. I’d say it’s best for 11 and older.

James Gunn again delivers as a director and a writer in this sequel. He takes some of the first, some new ideas, and some racy choices and turns it into a movie that works. Chris Pratt delivers again as Peter and Kurt Russell does a very good job in playing a deceptive villain. Zoe Saldana again proves why she’s the top actress in sci-fi movies with her performance as Gamora. Dave Bautista was hilarious as Drax as was Bradley Cooper as Rocket. Michael Rooker was also good as Nebula. Baby Groot had a lot of funny moments but there are times I felt in retrospect that he went too much on the ‘cutesy’ side. Michael Rooker was also good as Yondu. The two newcomers–Karen Gillan as Nebula and Pom Klementieff–were good in their roles even if Mantis did come across as too weird or ditzy. Judianna Makofsky did a very good job in designing the costumes to fit the story, Tyler Bates delivers a fitting score to the film, and the visual effects team with hundreds of credits again delivered effects to make the action and drama that more exciting.

It seems appropriate that Guardians Of The Galaxy Volume 2 kicks off the 2017 Summer Movie Season. It’s a sequel that delivers the right stuff most of the time. It’s able to deliver some new magic without compromising the magic of the original and keeps one thrilled one moment, laughing another moment, and entertained throughout.

Movie Review: Black Mass

Johnny Depp is unrecognizable as James 'Whitey' Bulger in Black Mass.

Johnny Depp is unrecognizable as James ‘Whitey’ Bulger in Black Mass.

DISCLAIMER: Okay, I know I’m late in reviewing a lot of movies, including this one. I’m hoping to do some catching up in this time. So please bear with me.

James ‘Whitey’ Bulger is a man of infamy. Black Mass is a movie that attempts to reveal what type of person Bulger was and how he was able to get away with what he did all this time.

It’s 1975. The streets of South Boston are ruled by James ‘Whitey’ Bulger and his Irish-American Winter Hill Gang with Stephen Flemmi as his right-hand man, Kevin Weeks as his rising rookie and Johnny Martorano as his merciless hitman. However it’s rivaled by the Angiullo brothers who have ties to the New England Mafia family.

In the middle of this, former FBI Agent John Connolly returns to Boston in hopes of stopping the Angiullo brothers and does the tricky task of trying to get Whitey’s help to do so. Besides Whitey and brother Billy Bulger, who’s the president of the Massachusetts State Senate, are childhood friends. At first, Whitey is reluctant to be an informant but agrees after one of his Winter Hill Gang members is gunned down.

No kidding having Whitey as an informant for an FBI agent is touchy stuff and it even causes suspicion from Connolly’s boss. However it becomes a case where Bulger is the one pulling Connolly’s strings as he uses Connolly’s ‘protection’ for covering his crimes. Whitey becomes more violent after his six year-old son dies of an allergic reaction to aspirin. He even gains more success in achieving FBI control in terms of trying to down the Angiullos. Connolly however becomes more attached to Whitey which interferes with his marriage.

However the bond between Bulger and Connolly reach a turning point as Whitey orders one of his men to kill two men associated with a scheme Whitey was to profit over. One man in whitey’s ring, Brian Halloran, comes across as untrustworthy and senses him to be a possible rat. Fearing for his life, Halloran goes to the FBI for help but to no avail. Connolly informs Whitey of Halloran’s sayings and Halloran is killed.

Bulger’s lust for blood and his own menacing behavior only grow over time and it leads to a downfall in his relationship with Connolly. Over time a new district attorney, Fred Wyshak, is hired in Boston. Despite Connolly’s attempt to befriend the ‘bulldog’ attorney, Wyshak refuses and attempts to have Bulger arrested. Eventually the secrets are unraveled thanks to the help of the Boston Globe which leads to the arrests of Connolly and Bulger’s three other men. Bulger however is successful in avoiding arrest of his own however he would be arrested in 2011 after 16 years ‘on the run.’

I’m sure what most people would be interested in seeing when they watch this film is yet another character played by Johnny Depp. The weird thing is about how unrecognizable he comes across with his balding hair and blue eyes. However I’m sure he was chosen because of how he could embody the character of Whitey with his criminal mentality and his personal demons both on the street and within himself. Mind you Whitey was quite the character in real life to give himself his own exile before ultimately being brought to justice only as he was in his 80’s. Some may find Johnny’s hair and make-up rather distracting but it doesn’t take away from the story.

This is a story of intrigue. Those who know the story of Whitey Bulger, or even those who only know the name but not the whole story, will take an interest in why Whitey carried this all out and why an FBI agent was willing to assist. No doubt the story is mainly about Whitey. However the story is about Connolly too. It makes one wonder why a childhood friend would be so loyal to the point he’d be willing to go against his job in order to help him out despite the fact he’s carrying out such hideous crimes. No doubt the theme of loyalty is very present in the film as it is a common fact that loyalty to family and friends is something valued greatly in Boston. The theme of loyalty comes to the point where we see a scene of Bulger on the run but not before thanking Billy just before he and the other men are sentenced.

The make-up of Depp as Bulger may get a lot of attention but the highlight of the film was his performance of a man who is smart but troubled and very easy to infuriate. Depp also did a good job of conveying Bulger’s growing anger and personal motives in his carrying out in the crime activities but he also did a good job in showcasing Whitey’s mind in why Bulger felt it was right in doing all these hideous crimes and why he needed his men to carry it out and an FBI to be ahead of the game. Even showing how the accidental death of his son would be the turning point in Bulger and his lust for control and vengeance adds to the story and the character. The film rested predominantly on the story of James ‘Whitey’ Bulger but it was Depp’s ability to show Whitey the person that made the story work at its best.

Sure, Johnny Depp carried the film but the film did feature other good supporting performances as well like that of Joel Edgerton as Connolly whose loyalty is questioned, Benedict Cumberbatch as Billy. The performances of the wives caught in the middle–Erica McDermott as Mary Bulger and Julianne Nicholson as Marianne Connolly– added to the human element of the story and kept it from being your typical hard-story crime drama.

This actually Scott Cooper’s third film as a director. The former actor’s best film making feat up to now has been Crazy Heart about a faded country star on a comeback. I don’t know if it’s as good as Crazy Heart but this is a very good film done by Cooper and is definitely his commercial breakthrough. Writers Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk did a good job of keeping it from being your typical mob-leader story.

Black Mass isn’t simply about an infamous crime leader. It’s also about the codes of loyalty some people would do for their friends, even if it meant violating their duties as an FBI. Very insightful and full of intense moments.

VIFF 2015 Review: Deathgasm

Deathgasm is a New Zealand horror comedy of metalheads taming up to save the day.

Deathgasm is a New Zealand horror comedy of metalheads taming up to save the day.

Deathgasm was one of those fringy movies shown at the VIFF that was shown at the Rio Theatre at 11pm on certain days. It was entertaining to watch after a long night and became a guilty pleasure of mine.

Brodie is a metalhead coming from a dysfunctional home. His mother was institutionalized and he is sent to live with his devoutly religious Uncle and Aunt and his obnoxious jock cousin David. Life at his new school isn’t the best and it’s only made worse by his cousin David’s bullying. However he is able to catch the eye of a classmate named Medina and he meets a few metalheads like him: Zakk, Dion and Giles. The band goes well and with good camaraderie but Brodie doesn’t know Zakk came onto Medina

Since the four of them all like heavy metal, they form their own band which Brodie names Deathgasm. One day, they break into an old house which they later find one of their heavy metal idols Ricky Daggers living there. Ricky gives them some magical sheet music but only before he’s killed by a cult leader after they left. The band plays the music only to find that one part of the song sends to send off demonic spells. Nevertheless they’re tempted to play it.

One day they play the ‘demonic’ part so intensely, it casts a curse on the neighborhood. Almost everyone outside of the band affected by the music has turned into a zombie. On top of it, the demon has been released and must be destroyed. It’s a gory battle trying to kill all the zombies in town. Fortunately David finds himself an eventual casualty. He had it coming! However that was just half the battle. They have to find the demon to end everything for once and for all. It ends on an entertaining note and leaves you thinking “That was fun!”

Overall it was a funny movie. It was an entertaining horror comedy to watch and it appeared like the real gruesome moments happened at the right time. I’ve seen a lot of horror movies that didn’t want to be comedies but ended up that way. This is one that tries to be a comedy and knows how and when to place the shots. In many ways, it reminds me of when I saw Housebound: a New Zealand movie that tries to mix thriller moments with comedy and succeeds as well. I’m sure most people will get the joke and treat the more gruesome moments as the jokes they’re intended to be. Scenes such as the airborne severed penis and one enemy strangled and decapitated with their bloody spinal column coming out, how can one not take it as a joke? I figure if people can sit through Saw, they can watch this.

The funny thing about this film is its inclusion of ‘metalheads’ in the story. Seeing the images of the metalheads, the ‘demonic’ heavy metal music and of the heavy metal fantasia brought back a lot of memories of the heavy metal phenomenon. It’s probably still in existence for some teens. You just have to look around. However this element is questionable if it could win over young people outside New Zealand. Would they be able to identify with metalheads or even get a lot of the humor? That’s something to think about.

I give credit to writer/director Jason Lei Howden for creating this comedy which happens to be his directorial debut. It was hilarious and enjoyable in a gory sort of way. Milo Cawthorne was funny and did his role as Brodie right. James Blake and Kimberly Crossman were great supporting players in this film. Even the minor supporting actors added to the humor of the film in their own way.

Deathgasm was a funny horror comedy from New Zealand that was a great entertaining way to end the VIFF with.

And there you go. Those are my reviews of the Vancouver Film Fest films I saw. Blog about how the VIFF went for the year coming soon.

VIFF 2015 Review: Cop Car

A corrupt cop (Kevin Bacon) had his car stolen by two eight year-old boys in the dark comedy Cop Car.

A corrupt cop (Kevin Bacon) had his car stolen by two eight year-old boys in the dark comedy Cop Car.

What do you get when you mix two eight year-old boys, a corrupt cop, a crooked man, a female witness and an empty cop car all out in the middle of Colorado? You get a bizarre dark comedy called Cop Car.

The film starts with two eight year-old boys, Harrison and Travis, walking along the Colorado farm land cussing and having fun. During their fun, they notice an empty sheriff car not running and nobody inside. They go in to check it out and find the keys. They’re able to turn it on and the two start their fun.

We found out how it got there. A corrupt sheriff named Kretzer appears to have killed two men; there’s one lifeless in the trunk and one Kretzer buries in a hole. Kretzer returns to where his car was parked only to find it gone. All that remains is his empty beer bottle. He goes to town to try and steal a car for himself. Nobody can know of his plot. Once he steals one, he goes to town and alerts the police of what happened. Meanwhile the boys are driving superfast on the highway and catches the eye of a passing motorist who questions what she sees. She reports it to police but they think she’s crazy. Even she’s seen sitting at a diner questioning what she saw.

Kretzer believes it and sends the boys a radio message letting them know they’re in trouble. But they don’t hear it because they’re playing around with the police tape and assault rifles in the car. All of a sudden, they hear a thump coming from the trunk. The other man is alive and scared as hell. However he’s shocked to see two boys looking at him. The two help free the man from his ‘shackles.’ Sheriff Kretzer sends another message to the two boys, this time more comforting. They boys say to meet him at a location but it’s at the gunpoint of the man who threatens them and their families if they don’t do as he says. Then he goes with the two assault rifles hiding behind the windmill right in the remote rural highway.

SPOILER ALERT: The ending of the movie will be revealed from this point on. If you want it a complete surprise, do not read any further.

Sheriff Kretzer arrives. He sees the two boys in the car but suspects something suspicious. Coincidentally the witness is driving on that same highway and bumps into the sheriff car again. She gets out relieved that she is not as crazy as they say she is but ready to give those two boys a good talking to. However she’s shot and that’s when the shootout between Kretzer and his hostage occur. The hostage is dead. Kretzer is badly injured and the two boys are scared as hell. They shoot the car window down by accident and Travis is accidentally shot. It’s up to Harrison to drive back to town for safety. But not without one last pursuit by Kretzer which proves fatal for him. The film ends with Harrison still driving over 70 mph with the lights flashing and the sirens on.

I don’t think the film was intended to give a social message. I don’t need to see this film to know how corrupt a lot of cops can get. What I think director Jon Watts and co-writer Christopher Ford are trying to do is tell a story and have fun with it. They have fun showing the wonders of what it’s like to be a child to the point their cussing and diarrhea joke seem like a disgusting but charmingly funny reminder of how we were kids. They have fun showing the two boys having fun in this bizarre and even dangerous situation. They have fun with a corrupt policeman whose stuck in the middle of his crime right and tries to ‘set things right.’ They have fun with the witness who questions what she saw. They have fun with the hostage in the trunk who doesn’t seem to have a clue what’s going on.

They also have fun with the audience. One of the elements in making it a dark comedy is that they have us at the edge of our seats. They show two boys driving off in the sheriff’s car shouting ‘this is our cop car!’ and leaving us the audience nervous and afraid of what will happen next. They show police tape by the car as Sheriff Kretzer sends the boys a message only for us to learn the two boys are having fun with it. They show the boys playing with the guns, even the assault rifles, leaving us afraid a bullet will go off any minute but it doesn’t. They show the hostage threatening the boys and demanding they relay Kretzer a message only to appear clueless in what he’s about to do. I think that’s one thing Watts and Ford try to do: play with our fears. I know I was afraid as hell what would happen next. Even that scene at the beginning of the boys trying to crush the snakes in the snakehole was the first sign of the fun Watts and Ford were going to have with us.

However both Watts and Ford do set a moment where the fun ends and things become more serious: right at the shootout. The carefree fun even ends for the boys as it finally sinks into them the danger they’re about to face. I think the moment when it gets darkly serious was timed right.

The film shows a lot of surprises. Firstly we’re all surprised not to see the two boys land the car in any dangerous hill. We’re also surprised the hostage in the trunk is alive right while the boys are playing around. We’re surprised to see the witness actually bump into the site of where the boys are with the car. We’re surprised of the hostage’s plans of his own on Kretzer. We’re surprised the sheriff not only survives the shootout but is fit enough to drive. We’re surprises that Harrison is able to turn to avoid the truck while Kretzer smashes into it. We’re also surprised to see despite playing around with the car and the guns, the moment Travis gets shot is when he uses it for help. We’re also surprised to see the best driving of the boys come from Harrison as he’s rushing back to town for safety in the pitch dark and the police lights flashing.

The film is full of ironies. However one of the best qualities of the film is not just of what we know but of what we don’t know. In fact the film will leave us asking a lot of questions. Why did Kretzer kill one man and hold another hostage? What exactly was the hostage after that he was trying to kill Kretzer? Why did the witness have to get shot? I think it’s trying to have us decide for yourself why things were this way. Even the ending leaves us asking a lot of questions. Will Travis be okay? Will Harrison drive back to town safely? I think that was the quality of the ending. I believe it lets us create our own ending to the story.

Watts and Ford delivered a good fun dark comedy. I wouldn’t call it a stellar movie but it’s hard to notice the imperfections. Kevin Bacon’s performance as the corrupt Sheriff Kretzer may be Golden Globe worthy but I don’t think it’s Oscar worthy. He made the right comedic choices in his character for it to work and fit with the story. Shea Whigham was funny as the bumbling hostage. Camryn Mannheim made the most of her brief appearances in her minor role. The two boys, Hays Wellford and James Freedson-Jackson, owned the show. It’s funny how they cussed, played dangerously and told a crude joke but still managed to maintain the innocence of childhood.

Cop Car first got a lot of good buzz at the Sundance Film Fes5tival and has been an attraction at various film festivals this year. It was given a box office release in August but only grossed up to $150,000. That’s odd for a film starring Kevin Bacon.

Cop Car is a surprise treat. I’ll admit the movie left me so nervous and afraid of what will happen next, I wanted to walk out. Nevertheless it was a delight to watch.

Double Movie Review: Paddington and Cinderella

Normally I don’t see live-action family movies unless the renown for it catches my eye. In the last three months, there were two that caught my eye: Paddington and Cinderella. I’m glad I had the chance to see them.

PADDINGTON

Paddington Bear was adapted into a movie for the first time. The movie is an impressive result.

Paddington Bear was adapted into a movie for the first time. The movie is an impressive result.

For the first time, Paddington Bear comes to the big screen. And in live-action format rather than animation. However this did involve taking some chances. The first chance was making a movie that could entertain today’s children. The second was not having to mess with the Paddington Bear people know and love.

The film does a good job of keeping many aspects of Paddington such as his love of all things British, especially marmalade. The film also does a decent job of not trying to resort to too many cheap laughs like one would come to expect in today’s children’s films. It’s not to say there were some questionable moments, like the scene where Paddington thinks the toothbrushes are ‘earbrushes.’ The film also does a good job in presenting Paddington in today’s world and meeting the Brown family who are actually reluctant to adopt at first.

I give kudos to director/writer Paul King and co-writer Hamish McColl for coming up with a very good adaptation of Paddington Bear into a feature-length film. It was no easy task to make such a film especially when Paddington has resorted to being simple children’s books since the 1950’s.  The plot where Paddington boats from Peru to London only to find a cold country, a reluctance to adopt from the Brown family and being pursued by the daughter of a poacher whose goal was to make him hers to kill and stuff worked well to entertain crowds. The inclusion of the effects in the film couldn’t be avoided as nowadays family movies have to have some special effects to win crowds. Even though Paddington wouldn’t be the type of movie for a lot of visual effects, the effects included did things right without messing with the story.

I also give them credit for not messing with the spirit of Paddington whose sweet charm is the reason why he has become one of the most beloved children’s book characters in recent decades. He’s even so beloved in England to the point there’s a bronze statue of Paddington Bear at Paddington Station where he got his name from. I also give them kudos for adding character to the Brown family. They may not be much like the Browns in the Paddington books but the character of the Browns do fit well in the movie.

Just as much deserving of respect are the performances of the actors. Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins did a very good job playing the Brown parents. Madeleine Harris and Samuel Joslin also did well as playing the Brown children. They both played their roles well without being too overly-cutesy. Julie Walters succeeded in stealing scenes as the wise Mrs. Bird. Nicole Kidman also did a good job of playing the evil Millicent Clyde without becoming too hateable. Actually Millicent Clyde was rather entertaining as a villain. Finally Ben Whishaw did a very good voice-over as the voice of Paddington. Paddington needed a sweetness in order to make the story work and Whishaw was the right fit.

Paddington is now out on DVD and BluRay. For those that didn’t see it in theatres, it’s worth seeing. I don’t know if it’s the type of family movie one won’t need to see with a family of their own but it is entertaining and very good quality entertainment.

CINDERELLA

In ofor Cinderella to work as a live-action movie, the set design and costuming had to be top notch.

The live-action version of Cinderella had a lot of expectations placed on it but it delivered.

If you think making a film about Paddington Bear is difficult, try making a live-action version of Cinderella. And knowing that it will be Disney doing the work, you can understand they’d be under a lot of pressure. We’re talking about the film company that made their 1950 animated version a staple into many people’s hearts. So it would not be surprising that there would be a lot of questions surrounding the make of the new live action version. Will it have the same Disney spirit? Will it stray too much from the animated version that lives on in the hearts of millions? Or even the book? How will the sets and costumes be done? And will it entertain crowds of today?

There’s no question that making a live-action version of a fairy tale can be expensive in production. Cinderella wasn’t too expensive to make but $95 million is expensive enough. For a film like Cinderella to work, there’s no question that one of the top aspects to focus on would be the technical areas like set design and costuming. Dante Ferretti was a top choice for set design. We’re talking about a set designer whose works have earned him nine Oscar nominations and three wins for The Aviator, Sweeney Todd and Hugo. Ferretti did not let anyone down. In fact his set designs in all scenes worked perfectly for the movie. It was hard to notice a glitch.

Costumer Sandy Powell was another top pick with loads of cred including ten Oscar nominations and three wins. Here she again adds to the reputation by making costumes perfect not only for Cinderella but for all characters in the movie. My favorite costumes were actually the bratty looking outfits for Drisella and Anastasia. It fit their brattiness perfectly. However Cinderella’s glass slippers really caught my eye. They looked more like crystal slippers. The visual effects team also did a top job in adding the necessary visual effects for the film and giving them the magic that will remind people of the magic Disney movies are famous for. They even succeed in making the mice and lizards human enough without being too ridiculously cartoonish.

Credit should also be given to director Kenneth Branagh and writer Chris Weitz. People easily forget that Branagh is as much of a director as he is an actor directing films from Shakespeare (Henry V) to comedy (Love’s Labor’s Lost) to superhero action flicks (Thor). Now he ventures into the territory of fantasy films. The result is excellent. Just as excellent is the writing from scriptwriter from Chris Weitz. He does a very good adaptation by retaining the spirit of Disney and even including some aspects not included in the original. Actually his writing makes you forget he wrote American Pie!

Despite all those efforts, the success of the movie would have to bow down to the roles being done right. The inclusion of the king, the prince’s father, added to the story as did the appearances of Cinderella’s parents. The characterizations of the mice and lizards were well done and didn’t go over the top or even cheesy. The characters of the two stepsisters were very good depictions. They were nasty and bratty but you’ll actually find yourself laughing at how stupid they are rather than hating them. If there’s one character you will hate, it’s the stepmother Lady Tremaine. Cate Blanchett did an excellent job of depicting Lady Tremaine as both cruel and hurting on the inside to the point she feels she should hurt Cinderella. Her depiction also fits within the common Disney theme of featuring a female villain who’s beautiful rather than ugly. Blanchett’s depiction actually seems more like the queen from Snow White rather than the stepmother of the animated version.

There were some radical choices for character depictions in the movie. The first was the prince as being more of an awkward young adult rather than the flawless Prince Charming we come to expect. Even referring to himself as ‘an apprentice’ during the casual contact with Cinderella is something no one would have expected. The most radical of character depictions has to be Helena Bonham Carter as the fairy godmother. I found it very different to have a clumsy fairy godmother this time around. I wasn’t expecting another fairy godmother that sang ‘Bibbity Bobbity Boo’ but this was way different from what I expected.

Finally I focus on the character of Cinderella. Lily James did a very good job as Ella. She’s already an experienced actress in her native England and she does a very good portrayal here. She portrays Ella as a young woman who doesn’t make having an imagination look like a weakness. We shouldn’t forget her imagination has kept her holding her head high during the toughest of times such as the deaths of her parents and keeps her going strong with her stepmother and stepsisters whom even her father described as ‘trying.’ Hah, ‘trying’ is an understatement! However she does not come across as naive as most would come to expect of her or anyone with an active imagination. In fact it’s the scene where she says to her stepmother: “You were never my mother and you never will be.” shows Cinderella to have more inner strength than most thought.

Focusing on Cinderella lastly seems appropriate because she is essentially the epitome of the theme of the movie. The movie showed two people who had a lot of tragedy in their lives: Cinderella and Lady Tremaine. One was bitter about it. The other did what her mother said: “Have courage and be kind.” Cinderella’s courageous positivity upset Lady Tremaine to the point she had to hurt her however she can. Cinderella stayed strong. There were some points where her courage was tested but she still stayed strong. I guess that’s what this version of Cinderella was trying to say. That staying positive is not being oblivious. That having an imagination is not a weakness. That’s what was not only shown in Cinderella but almost every Disney movie.

Both movies have had their own box office success stories. Cinderella has grossed $197 million in North America and over $500 million worldwide. Paddington was not as big of a hit but it did have its own success with $76 million in North America and $259 million Worldwide. Impressive since it was done with a $55 million budget. The marketers of Paddington did a common job but a smart job in releasing it in most of Europe, South America and Asia first during the latter weeks of 2014 before releasing it in the US on January 16th. That’s a common technique used to plug movies with characters common in European pop culture. They did that with Tintin back in 2012.

Paddington and Cinderella are two family movies that have pleased the critics and will also please audiences alike. Both have what it takes to entertain children but they both also have elements that will please adults.

Movie Review: Furious Seven

Furious 7 was Paul Walker's last hurrah. But was it done right?

Furious 7 was both a continuation of the Furious series and a final farewell to Paul Walker. But was it done right?

Sure, Furious Seven is another sequel. However it is one that has been anticipated hotly. Particularly of a star’s death. Nevertheless does it hold up as a movie?

I admit that the only previous Fast and The Furious movie I’ve seen was the very first one. I can’t really judge it against the ones I haven’t seen. What I can say is that it is for the most part a very cliched movie. There were some notable moments that made the story unique with some cred like Dominic’s love to Letty and Brian’s struggle of being a family man while simultaneously being part of the ‘mission.’ However it had the typical thick action you’d come to expect from an action movie. The plot is nothing you haven’t seen before. It also includes scenes where you’d feel it’s too over-the-top. It’s especially notable when you see Dwayne Johnson come on from out of the hospital with his machine gun. You can see the Mr. Heavy Testosterone acting there. Even the comedic parts from Roman looked too ridiculous and question if it was too over-the-top for this movie. Many times I asked myself during his ‘song and dance’ at the Dubai party “Is this really necessary?”

Despite all this, there are some relevant qualities to the movie. Vin Diesel did well as Dominic. Actually he made the role of Dominic in the franchise. I was better at stomaching him than Dwayne Johnson as he was better at playing a macho character that doesn’t come across as Mr. Testosterone. Michelle Rodriguez was also impressive as Letty as her acting wasn’t as showy or over-the-top. And Ludacris as Tej knew how to keep Tyrese Gibson from unnecessarily stealing the show. And Paul Walker, whom I will focus on later in this review, did a respectable job as Brian.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I’ve only seen the first of the series. The first Furious movie was a good adrenaline rush, especially for those who like to street-race, but had a formula too similar to what you’d find in popcorn movies. I remember turning 2 Fast 2 Furious down because Vin Diesel wasn’t in it. Being a person who’s only seen the first and the last, I have to say the films other biggest quality is showing how far this film series has come. When The Fast And The Furious started, it started as street racers who would find themselves involved in fighting criminal activity Most of which are at high speed. The film ended with a street race. Six sequels later, the street-racing days are over but the fighting crime has continued and even progressed to the point of the type of action you’d come to expect in superhero movies. High speed action scenes continue to occur but this will surprise anyone who has only seen the first Furious movie. I’m sure I’m not the only one. I usually pass on Hollywood sequels because for all intents and purposes, I consider most Hollywood sequels the actors, directors and producers masturbating for two hours. This sequel was common to expect from a Hollywood sequel but it did have some positive traits. Showing how far this franchise has come since the first is one of them. When I saw the first, I didn’t expect it to grow this big.

Finally I’ll focus on the memorializing of Paul Walker in the film. It’s no question that the Fast and The Furious series was what made Paul Walker. Sure, he had experience as a child actor in TV and movie bit parts, sure he had a major role in the renowned Flags Of Our Fathers, but it is his role as Brian O’Conner in the Fast and The Furious franchise that he will most be remembered for. Of course the first movie was a product featuring Vin Diesel and hoping to propel his stardom further. Even though it did, it also made a star out of the supporting player: Paul Walker. It was the breakthrough Paul had hoped for. Otherwise his movie career’s peak would have been the Disney Schmalzfest Meet The Deedles. Paul would go to star in all but one of the Fast And The Furious movies. It seems like a bizarrely tragic irony that Paul’s death at the age of 40 came as he was street racing along with his friend and crashed his car at a high speed. The death could even add to the stigma of Paul Walker being Brian O’Conner. So it shouldn’t be that big of a surprise that Furious 7 opened huge, albeit a bigger-than-expected $140 million on opening weekend. That set a record for biggest opening weekend for an April release.

As for this movie being a fitting ‘last hurrah’ for Paul Walker, his acting was fine. Nothing spectacular but nothing out of what you’d expect for the role of Brian O’Conner. The ending first seems like a good tribute to Paul and a nice final salute to him. However it would not be too long until the secret was given out that Paul’s look-alike brother was used to film the final screen and that his face was computer enhanced to look more like Paul. Knowing that will make the final tribute to Paul very questionable. Even seen as tacky. It’s also a question whether this movie was intended to be Paul’s last Furious movie right from the start. Right into the plot Paul talks about the challenges of putting his past behind and moving onto family life. That could be a hint this may have been intended to be his last movie. Even the ending of the beach scene will make one wonder if it was planned before his death or after. Something to think about, especially as they’re in the works of making Furious 8.

Furious 7 is your typical Hollywood sequel continuing and building on the formula made popular. It also tries to be a good farewell to Paul Walker. Despite it being off in a lot of areas and leaves Paul’s farewell questionable, it does have some positive qualities and succeeds in entertaining its core audience and pleasing fans of the franchise.

Movie Review: Into The Woods

 

Meryl Streep plays a witch in control of the fates of fairy tales in the film adaptation of Into The Woods.

Meryl Streep plays a witch in control of the fates of fairy tales in the film adaptation of Into The Woods.

Into The Woods is the latest Broadway musical to hit the big screen. The question is does it entertain and charm well enough for moviegoers?

The film begins just as the fairy tales do so: Little Red Riding Hood is about to go to grandma’s with her basket, Jack has to sell the cow as she’s getting old, Cinderella is being mistreated by her stepmother and stepsisters, a lonely couple want a child, and Rapunzel is imprisoned in a castle by the Witch. The Witch puts a request on the couple. You first thing it’s just Rapunzel’s hair but she also asks for a red cape, a white cow and a golden slipper.

As they search the stories proceed: Riding Hood is lured off the path by a wolf, Jack goers to market but will only accept an offer that would mean the return of his cow, Cinderella arrives at the ball. However the couple find their way into the story or pass by it: Jack receives magic beans from the husband, the wife tries to swipe Cinderella’s slipper off her feet after running from the ball, the husband passes the tower Rapunzel is kept captive in, and both notice Riding Hood’s cape.

After a series of misadventures, the couple has all the items needed to produce the spell to receive their baby, all the fairy tale characters have their expected happy endings and the witch is able to regain her beauty with the potion. However the ‘Happily ever after’ endings don’t end up being so happy after all. The Baker worries he might end up being a poor father to his son just like his own father, Cinderella loses her charm for prince charming and the lavish life with it, Rapunzel is scared by the outside world, the witch loses her powers with her returned youth and Jack is pursued by the giant’s wife –ahem, widow– who came down to earth via a second beanstalk and demands Jack or she will destroy the village and its inhabitants.

Soon everything goes opposite to what’s planned. Casualties include the Baker’s wife who fell for Prince Charming before her accidental death, Rapunzel as she ran off forever with her prince, Riding Hood’s mother and grandmother, and Jack’s mother. The latter three killed in the Giant’s Wife’s rampage. On top of it, Cinderella and Prince Charming part ways. At first those still standing–the Baker, Cinderella, Jack and Red Riding Hood– think that Jack should be offered back only for them to blame each other. Nevertheless they do work things out, defend against the Giant and there’s the genesis of a new fairy tale the Baker reads to his son.

I have to say as a musical, Into The Woods was probably not the first time fairy tales have been mixed together to surround a main plot. It’s not even the first in motion pictures. Remember Shrek? What it needed to do was stay true to the fables while mixing the story of the baker and his wife as well as the haunting of the Witch during the first half and then allow for a believable twist to the fables we all know to occur in the second half. Even though the twist occurred starting with the giant’s wife appearing, all the twists of the stories had to appear sensible and pertinent to the original story. Some of the twists were very surprising and even tragic but it did come together in the end. That’s how the stage musical of Into The Woods worked.

The next trick was to bring Sondheim’s musical to the screen. Putting a stage musical to screen is a very difficult thing. There’s a lot of decision-making on what from the stage play to leave in and what to leave out. That would fall into the hands of director Rob Marshall and scriptwriter James Lapine who wrote the original Broadway version. However when it’s Disney that buys the rights, you think it would be a big break but there was an added challenge. Naturally with this being a musical about a mish mash of fairy tales, Disney would want to make this a family film and that could be intrusive to the control Sondheim and Lapine have over the play. This was not the case as both Sondheim and Lapine insisted to Disney that any changes would have to be approved by them. Even then, they would have to work within time constraints and keep it to a respectable running length.

In the end, Sondheim, Marshall, Lapine and the production company were able to create a finished adaptation 125 minutes in length that brings the musical to a big screen audience with big-name stars and additional musical talents. I myself cannot compare the film to the stage version since I’ve never seen the stage version. I will start by saying it doesn’t surprise me that Disney acquired the rights to adapting the musical to film as Disney is world famous for bringing fairy tales to life. I will say that one can do a good job differentiating the actors who know how to do musical acting and those who don’t. You just know it. There were some like Chris Pine and Mackenzie Mauzy who struggled, there were some like Billy Magnussen and James Corden who could have done a better job, there are some like Daniel Huttlestone, Lilla Crawford and Tracey Ullman who know how to deliver both singing and acting and then there are actors like Emily Blunt and Meryl Streep who are able to deliver a performance in a musical. Meryl was especially excellent as she had the role that would hold the film all together. Musical film is another genre she can add to her list of accomplishments.

I will say that the film adaptation did very well in terms of special effects and set design to give the fell like there really was one terrain in the world where all the original stories happen at once. Colleen Atwood once again knows how to create the right costumes for the movie. The music was not a problem at all as the songs were well-sung and fit the scenes well. The film also did a good job of handling the story where all the fables get their twist in the end. However the film does leave some noticeable things out. There are some times where it felt the story had key scenes left out like the big bad wolf living in the tree about to eat Red or Jack in the giant’s house or Cinderella’s fairy godmother creating her clothes for the ball. There were even some times when one could easily forget that this is a musical and it would take a song some time later to remind you. There were even a couple of scenes that made you wonder if it should have been kept in. I can’t think of a better way to do it but I’m sure there are areas that could have been done better. Rob Marshall did a very good job of directing. It’s fair to say this is his best work since Chicago but there are some areas I feel he could have been better, like not having us forget this is a musical in some areas. It may not completely be his fault as the script was written by James Lepine. Lepine may be an accomplished scriptwriter and director in musical theatre and this may be Lepine’s best musical ever but somehow he could have done a better job at a stage-to-screen adaptation.

The film adaptation of Into The Woods has been long awaited. Now that it’s here, it’s imperfect but very enjoyable and entertaining.