Snow White and the Huntsman

The trailers were abuzz the last several months with the event that now is Snow White and the Huntsman. Some of the hoopla was well founded but more than some failed to deliver on such a powerful story as that of Snow White. The film was directed by Rupert Sanders. He has nothing prior on file with IMDB, in other words he’s a “noob” with this one. An interesting factoid is that IMDB lists his future project as a sequel to this movie. I suppose they’ll need a new witch to fuel the dollars further? But I digress. It was written by Evan Daugherty, also a relative noob to the business, and John Lee Hancock who is known for direction the amazing film the Blind Side. There are two other credits for writing listed on IMDB but the link is misdirected. Anyone who has collaborated on any creative knows that the more people involved, the more delicate and difficult the challenges become. I have a feeling some of the holes in this screenplay are owing to the abundance of creative writers.

There are plenty of movie stars in Snow White and the Huntsman. Kristen Stewart, known for Twilight, plays Snow White. She is an interesting choice with pros and cons resulting throughout. Chris Hemsworth, known for Thor, plays the Huntsman: an oddly familiar figure as if from Gladiator and Spartacus the HBO series. Charlize Theron, known for so many things like Hancock, Devil’s Advocate, and Monster, plays Ravenna. There is a long list of other A-name actors in this film as well. One example is Bob Hoskins who plays one of the key dwarves. Sometimes this many stars can equal a great movie but other times, and I would argue in this case, they are lured by the promise of a name like Snow White in the title. A big budget with big actors does not an amazing movie make. It takes a lot more than that and it’s too bad these writers and the director didn’t know that. The movie is fun, okay I will say that but it is not believable and worse than that, confusing in many places. Snow White and the Huntsman should have flowed better in my opinion.

Did you know the horses scenes were difficult for Kristen Stewart because she suffered an injury as a child while riding one? You wouldn’t know it from the film footage. She rides deftly as she does everything else. From the dwarves to the trolls, everyone in the forest is buying it. For me? I wanted more of a reason to believe she was going to save the kingdom. What’s more, I wanted to believe the all-to-famous kiss was heartfelt. But I’ll stop on that subject there. Here a short version of the film: Ravenna is running out of life after lifetimes of sucking it from youthful people. Her mirror, which is a gold shape shifting thing instead of a mirror like in Shrek, tells her she must kill Snow White or face a final demise. She dispatches the huntsman to bring her back to the castle but he instead decides to join with Snow White to win back the kingdom. Many things happen in the forest. There are new creatures the likes of which we have never seen, not even in Lord of the Rings, although there is much borrowing of tone and theme throughout. I suppose any movie that makes as much money as LOTR did will be copied right? Eventually, the entire forest and oppressed people of the kingdom fight for Snow White and the end is played out (which I never like to share in these reviews). It is a contrived movie from start to finish but the effects are good and when Kristen Stewart isn’t struggling with her accent, it’s a fairly decent adventure/fantasy film.

In the final analysis, this is a swashbuckling film that sways quite aways away from the original Grimm fairy tale. Audiences will like the special effects and the actors though, in spite of the writing that may a little too far afield of the original story for some viewers. Oh, and one last thing: the PG-13 rating is well earned. There is a lot of blood and senseless violence here. I’d say kids below 10 would have a hard time with this.

The Damien Riley Podcast – How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003)

My preview of another ROM COM now streaming on Netflix. Stars Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey. Everyone I know that have I talked to who’s seen it loved it. I am no exception ;) Please leave a comment and follow me for more reviews. Listen to me in this episode try and convince you to watch it. Was I successful?


Inherent Vice


Title: Inherent Vice
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama
MPAA Rating: R
Year: 2014
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson, “Boogie Nights,” “The Master” …
Top Billed Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Katherine Waterston, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio del Toro …
Brief Synopsis: Los Angeles in the 1970’s was a place where many lived double lives. This film follows a hippie PI through some of that as he uncovers more secrets than he bargained for.
My Word to the Wise: The cast and acting is amazing. I’m not too crazy about the story. To follow it you need x-ray focused attention and even then it’s hard to follow. I didn’t feel the payoff was worth the wait. That subtracted two stars for me.

The rest of this review may contain spoilers.

Best scene by far is when Brolin is transporting Phoenix to the station while making oral love to a frozen banana. There are some great dramatic scenes by Brolin as well. Phoenix does a good job. I liked him better in this with disheveled hair and huge sideburns than his clean-shaving character in “The Master,” also directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. You might say he has a face for a beard. I have a feeling the story as laid out in the book is much better than the convoluted presentation in the movie.

Trolls

The Trolls in this film are not ugly like the dashboard ones of the 80’s. Instead they are endearing, cute, and presented in vibrant colors. The powerful colors reminded me of those in Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2. Vibrant colors help to deliver a message of happiness and finding it in yourself and through love. This film can be enjoyed by anyone but those around the toddler age will certainly be playing over and over, singing and dancing to the music.

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If you get into upbeat music, you’ll like the movie. If you like cute animation with a decent story, you’ll love this film.

The main idea of this film is that we all have happiness inside us. The ugly creatures have to eat Trolls in order to be happy and obviously, this doesn’t go well with them. Through a random course of events, the Trolls have to show the ugly creatures they can be happy on their own and in fact, the happiness was inside them all along.

The music is powerful and makes this movie a better animation film than others. You have the music and voices of Justin Timberlake, Zoe Deschanel, Anna Kendrick, and more. Supporting the music is amazing animation in a colorful style we haven’t seen … ever before I think it’s safe to say. It’s a feast for the eyes and ears. The story is also very cute which makes it all the more suited for the younger ones.

I’d recommend this film for everyone who likes the elements I have mentioned but especially kids ages 4-9. If you’re like me you may find you are a kid at heart because I really loved this film. Because it won’t be for everyone, it lost just 1/2 a star.

‘Crawl or Die’ – Horror in the Pipeline with a Girl

Horror, Sci-Fi, and Thriller never looked so good in a film. It’s been called “The Most Claustrophobic Film.” I would agree with that. For horror fans, those scares are met by the incredible performance of Nicole Alonso. The Director Oklahoma Ward has created a film that sends fear down your spine and makes it impossible to turn away. Several elements work well to make this a perfect indie horror film.

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Crawl or Die (2014)
Cast

Nicole Alonso, Torey Byrne, Tommy Ball

Directed by

Oklahoma Ward

Written by

Oklahoma Ward

Other Info

Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller
1hr 30min

Just like rock and roll bands try to play what rocks, so horror directors try to know what scares. As long as I can remember people have said claustrophobia is one of the most universal fears. People don’t like being in an enclosed space. Crawl or Die plays on that fear and believe me, it scares!

Furthermore, the fear of unknown creatures is another fear of many and Director Oklahoma Ward weaves a really scary creature into his film. These scary aspects combined with the extreme physicality of Nicole Alonso as “Tank” make Crawl or Die a horror, sci-fi, thrill ride of a film.

A high level security force is chosen to transport the “package,” the last woman on earth that can become pregnant. The earth as we know it is gone and the continuance of humankind rests in the safe passage of this woman.

While transferring this package, the team has to find its way through a labyrinth of pipes and tunnels. As if that wasn’t bad enough, there is a hungry creature that lives in the passages, coming to feed on them.

*The rest of the review may contain minor spoilers

The star of the movie is Tank (Nicole Alonso). She plays an angry, sexy, soldier role in the manner of Avatar‘s Trudy Chacón (Michelle Rodriguez), Colombiana‘s Cataleya (Zoe Saldana), Alien‘s Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), and the like. Alonso’s physical acting is extreme. You see her pulling her own weight to and fro inside the pipes with artistry and grace. She is fun to watch and definitely easy on the eyes. At the same time, there is a determination in her eyes that builds suspense and keeps you guessing about the horror that is right behind them all.

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The creature definitely adds to the terror. In the scenes where you expect the creature to appear, Oklahoma Ward (Director) has deftly added subsonic beats that are choreographed to stop. In some of the early scenes, it seems an eternity before the creature crumbles its spider-like leg through the dirt. This works perfectly to release the scares that are not always that scary. It’s more the waiting on bated breath that creates the horror. Having said that, there are plenty of scares that send chills down your spine. It’s refreshing and remarkable what Ward and Alonso did in this film with such a simple set and formula. This is definitely a movie-makers movie as well as a critic’s film. There is much to talk about. I know I’ll be looking for an interview with the makers soon.

To expand on the “simple conventions” idea: I noticed the team used flashlights in an interesting way. They hung them on their boots as well as held them in their left hand while holding a gun in their right. I suppose when you are in a tunnel that’s getting smaller, you hold your light just about any way you can. The gun is a good thing too although it appeared that even an AK-47 assault type rifle cannot take out this monster. I’ve read online that this is to be the first film in a “Crawl or Die” trilogy. I will be eager to see how Ward uses more simplified effects to produce scares and suspense. As an independent film trying to use minimal budget and conventions to scare, I give this film a perfect score. I am a fan now and am looking forward to next one!

You can follow what’s happening with the Crawl or Die trilogy here.

The BFG (2016)

This is a repost from last year, the BFG is now streaming on Netflix!

With highly advertised Summer films like The Secret Life of Pets out this Summer of 2016, this film has a lot to stand up to. Fortunately for the giant, he is 26 feet tall so he can stand up to audiences with confidence. Some movies like The BFG should not be over analyzed but rather surrendered to. It has been engineered to take you away as if you were in a dream. Some of the finest names in movie making, including Spielberg as director, have joined forces to do that. Set controls for the heart of childhood, The Big Friendly Giant is here to sweep you away.

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The BFG
Cast

Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton

Directed by

Steven Spielberg

Written by

Melissa Mathison (screenplay), Roald Dahl (based on the book by)

Other Info

Adventure, Family, Fantasy
Rated PG
117min

There are two main characters: Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) and the BFG (Big Friendly Giant – voiced by Mark Rylance). Both characters don’t quite fit into their respective worlds and find a special friendship with each other. There isn’t much by way of plot but that’s not a problem. The tenderness between BFG and Sophie is so powerfully developed and delivered, they can do anything and it’s engaging. Just watch them opening “dream jars,” for example. The plot is thickest when the other, larger giants threaten to eat Sophie. When that’s not happening, Sophie and BFG spend quality  time in “Giant Land.” At some point, they solicit the aid of a “head of state,” (I’ll call her that to not spoil the surprise of who she is) and the bad giants are dealt with.

bfg1At one point, BFG tells Sophie giants have been walking about since the beginning of time. There is no growth or transformation in either character, it’s not that sort of film. We are meant to admire them like art hanging in a gallery. Along those lines, one should remember the book is by Roald Dahl, all his books are highly visual. You see a world that is a reflection upside down on a lake. You also see peoples’ dreams in little pixie sizes, squeaking. There are signature silly words here just like inWilly Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. In fact, when a rich human serves him toast and jam, he yells out, “Scrumtapdiliumpcious!”

The main reason The BFG is effective and entertaining because it’s simplified. This is how it should be with a Spielberg film. He’s been making movies since the 1970’s and should know by now a few things that work. He leaves the worthless stuff out. Through the 2000’s his direction was hit and miss. I recall a couple real misses as examples: Cowboys and Aliens and Super 8. I went in to both expecting the caliber of E.T. and instead got uninteresting, worthless movies. Bbfg2ut after all the modern trial and error, it’s great to see him hit the bullseye again with The BFG. I want to recognize the screenwriter Melissa Mathison as I type my review. She has been a collaborator with Spielberg on several project including ET. She passed away tragically from cancer last year. She was only 65. By way of trivia, From 1983 to 2004, Mathison was married to Harrison Ford; they had two children together.

In conclusion, this is the Summer of 2016, and as most movie viewers know there is some family film competition, including The Secret Life of Pets. While a CGI character, the BFG has a lot of personality in his face and body movements. Clearly byt looking at the actor, you can see they fashioned him after Mark Rylance. He’s well known for winning the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as Rudolf Abel in Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies. The casting of Rylance in the BFG was an excellent choice. To me, he IS BFG. While it is performing slowly at the moment at the box office, I truly hope a lot of people get a chance to see this film.

Have you seen this film? Care to see it? Leave your thoughts about the film in the comments.

The Hunger Games

I wrote this in 2012 when this film was relatively new. I repost it now as a bit of nostalgia.

the-hunger-games-posterMore buzz is out on a famous bestselling book that was made into a major motion picture. Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games may end up rivaling Stephenie Meir’s Twilight Saga. It is expected to earn 250 million after this first weekend and by those terms it’s an indisputable success. It was directed by Gary Ross known for Pleasantville and Big. It stars Jennifer Lawrence as protagonist Katniss Everdeen and Josh Hutcherson as her love interest Peeta Mellark. There are a handful of other major actors which includes Woody Harrelson as Katniss’ coach, Haymitch Abernathy. When someone reads a book, she/he wants a personal experience. When someone watches a movie made from a book, it’s no guarantee they’ll have the same experience. My guess is the only people crying in the theater will be the ones who’ve read the book first.

I’m in a position to make that statement because my wife and son who I saw the film with have both read the Hunger Games. As for me, I had very little exposure to the story and characters. I had seen Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone a few years back and really appreciated her talent in that. Otherwise, they were the experts on the Hunger Games and I saw it with ignorant eyes. I found it well crafted and suspenseful but for me it lacked the backstory and character development to really move my emotions. My wife and son had a different experience. They loved it on a visceral level and to quote my wife she, “got everything she wanted” from the film adaptation of the novel.

The Hunger Games is a story about a government that places a select number of its citizens in a survivalist arena where only one emerges alive as the winner. They call this event the Hunger Games. It is meant both to punish the lower class for attempting to revolt and thereby entertain the wealthy, ruling class. Katniss volunteers to be in the bloody games in the place of her young sister who is selected by lottery. Once the players are selected, the majority of the movie consists of people killing each other off. The “players” hate the government and yet turn into murderers immediately upon beginning the games. There is a winner and after the win, the movie ends quite abruptly. Sequel anyone? Based on box office results, I think that’s inevitable.

Jennifer Lawrence delivers an entrancing performance. I really “believed” she was Katniss in the Hunger Games due to her incredible acting. There is really only one other actor who delivers a strong performance, Woody Harrelson. As Katniss’ coach he has relatively less screen time. Still, we have his backstory: he won the games at one time so we know he has killed and lived to tell about it. The rest of the characters are extremely flat with, again, little or no backstory. I assume there is more character development in the novel but when you have that many people killing each other, it helps to know why they think the way they do.

Are people truly that bent on living that they will kill to appease rulers and entertain the rich? I think these killings are rather gratuitous. There is one killing they did right: a little girl was killed, which was a horrendous act against a child. When her killer was taken out, someone in the audience cheered. I agreed with him. They gave a backstory, built up anger against a character’s actions and then killed her off. If all the killings were treated that way I would have liked it more. despite its shortcomings with me, The Hunger Games has wonderful cinematography and special effects. People who know the book well will probably like it more but most who haven’t will probably like this movie just for its action and fantasy.

Anne with an E (2017)

A Netflix original series: This is more than Laura Ingalls Wilder’s vanilla adaptation by Michael Landon: Little House on the Prairie. It’s a clever, charming, witty, risk-taking adaptation of the beloved young girl novel Anne of Green Gables.

 

Each episode on this Netflix original series has a new director. They have all dome noteworthy things. Niki Caro is known, for example, for the Zookeeper’s Wife. Helen Shaver has directed 2 episodes of 13 Reasons Why and an episode of Orphan Black. There are many other impressive accolades in the directors of the series.

Amybeth McNulty plays Anne, a spindly legged freckle-faced waif with a mind of her own and a mouth that will not remain quiet. She is not as cute as the original series’ actress Megan Follows but she makes up for it in surprisingly good acting ability. She partakes very little in the culture of young women and instead portrays a lot of outrage and anger. Of curse, she’s funny too. In short, she’s a drama queen and I love it!

The original actress was much more tame and subdued. She did the sewing and cooking and spoke out sometimes. This one lets you have it what she thinks in nearly every scene, but that’s a good thing! This will appeal to readers of the beloved books as well as girls in the tween to teenage years. It has humor adults will get, especially parents of teenagers. It’s a retro show and the costumes and props are very authentic. I enjoy watching the show as a laid back, low key yet entertaining tv series.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Young girls have had such a rough shake through history. For many centuries, all they could do was have the children and cook. I think it’s healthy for girls of today to watch the constraints on little girls and women in general and how Anne debunks all that. She’s an excellent role model for outspoken girls. The show may not be for everyone as it is a bit like Masterpiece Theater at times. People talk in a sort of Salem accent and sometimes the points being expressed are subtle and take time to reveal themselves. I personally enjoy and recommend this charming series, now streaming live on Netflix.

8/10

Man Up (2015) – Now Streaming on NETFLIX!

This film is NOW STREAMING on Netflix! It’s part of my current series:

Please read my review to see what I think of the film. Then if you can, RT the post, and leave me a comment before you go. Thanks in advance.

Title: Man Up
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
MPAA Rating: R
Year: 2015
Director: Ben Palmer. Known for: “The In Betweeners.”
Top Billed Cast: Simon Pegg, known well for “Shaun of the Dead” and many more films, Lake Bell, known for “In a World,” and Olivia Williams, known for “An Education” and “The Sixth Sense.”
Brief Synopsis: Jack makes plans with an online dating interest to meet in person. Plans are fuddled and a different girl, Nancy, impersonates the online dating woman in the rendezvous. What results is the comedy and drama of the film.
My Word to the Wise: Simon Pegg has become synonymous with award-worthy British humor. There’s enough of that along with romantic comedy that at times, despite questionable casting chemistry, does actually work. This is a fun date movie to be sure but don’t expect something amazing.

The rest of this review may contain spoilers.

Simon Pegg has become a powerful presence in films. I found myself questioning if a character played by Lake Bell would in real life have interest a character played by the lead actor. We come to find that despite her youthful age and vivacity, Lake Bell’s character is in fact a bit dishonest and as a result unlikeable. The question in my mind was whether this goofy big brother-type could be the love interest of the girl.

There’s a lot of romantic comedy material in this: the all night bar hop, the visiting the parents, etc. For that reason, it had my wife interested. I’d say the ast 1/3 disappointed me. It didn’t wrap up the way it started. Still, no rom com films have perfect plots, we just need them to snuggle and such. This one’s definitely a good snuggle film. Because the writing as a bit unfocused, especially at the end, it lost posts with me as a romantic comedy. As a drama, I’d say it fails substantially more. Dramas have to seem real, rom coms don’t.

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