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Star Wars (Damned If They Do, Damned If They Don’t)

3 Jan


Like millions and millions out there, I am a huge Star Wars fan. I watched and re-watched the original trilogy (Episodes IV, V and VI) more times than I could pretend to count. And when the prequels were finally made (Episodes I, II, III) by George Lucas, I was as excited as the rest of the world. But then Lucas did something unforgivable: He created a new trilogy….of mediocrity. They were not bad movies by any means, they had fun universes, some great actors (Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor), a fantastic John Williams score, and added to the mythology that we had been waiting to gain pieces to since 1983’s Return of the Jedi. But it was mediocre, plain and simple. The quality of actors for Anakin Skywalker were distractingly bad, the overuse of CGI for characters that had previously been done with love using Muppets was jarring, and the dialogue was frequently laughable. The most interesting protagonist (Neeson’s Qui-Gon Jinn) and antagonist (Darth Maul) of the movies were killed off so quickly, that we were left with mostly the dregs. And don’t even get me started with Jar Jar Binks….But still, you couldn’t NOT watch, you still got a thrill by watching the mythology unfold. You still appreciated the vastness of the universe and the storytelling. It was still a fun ride, and thankfully the best chapter was left for last (Revenge of the Sith aka Episode III), so it did end on a positive note.

Then, years went by, and fans were given a huge gift…George Lucas sold Lucasfilm for 4 billion dollars, and a movie a year was going to be made. And thankfully it would be created by other writers and directors, and specifically made by fans, for fans.

Time has passed, the the first 2/3 of the new trilogy has been made (Episodes VII and VIII), and it’s astounding, but these movies are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t with us fans. It’s too massive a franchise NOT to piss off millions of people, so The Force Awakens and now the recent The Last Jedi have proved the old adage that “you CAN’T please all of the people, all of the time”.

The Force Awakens was a nostalgic pleasure to watch. It flooded our hearts with memories of our childhoods watching the original iconic trilogy. Han Solo with his rascally personality was back with Chewbacca and the Millenium Falcon, the music, the visuals, the universe we love, all back, hooray! What was the problem? Well many people complained loudly that it was completely unoriginal. It was simply a rehash of everything we knew. Story-lines mimicked the originals, there was even basically a new Death Star with yet another conveniently designed fatal flaw that if you bomb it will blow up the whole place. “JJ Abrams how could you make us wait so long and then do nothing NEW with it???”

Well I didn’t feel that way, I loved the nostalgia, I loved seeing Han Solo again, I loved being engulfed by that universe again, and I had no complaints. But I DID leave the theater telling Adi and my friends that it’s okay for Abrams to have made this as a sort of “apology” for the mediocre prequels, and finally make one “for the fans” after all these years; BUT that it was a one-time baton pass from the old to the new, and all future ones would HAVE to be original storytelling.

And that’s exactly what happened. And that’s unfortunately what proved my point that fans cannot all be satisfied. Because along came The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson, an extremely creative director in tow (did you ever see Looper? If not, check it out, one of the most clever movies of the past 10 years). Critics loved The Last Jedi, arguably the best reviewed movie in the franchise’s history. But…audiences were divided. “How could you destroy our childhood and make Luke so angry?!” some would yell. “An entire mission that fails, what was the point of that?!” others would cry out. “Rey has iconic parents, that can’t be the real answer to that mystery!” others would complain. Even Mark Hamill, aka Luke Skywalker went on social media saying how upset HE was that Luke was not the same positive character he had always been (until Disney likely pressured him to shut up, and he suddenly did a total 180 and apologized in public). A petition was actually started to remove this from the Star Wars official canon, and remake it; over 80,000 people have signed it and counting (see it for yourself here). Wow, fans can be truly whiny!


But I think that’s a GOOD thing! There aren’t enough things left in this world that instill passion into people, but this franchise still makes people leave their homes to see their first movie in 2 years. It still makes people happy OR mad enough to make them angrily post on social media and argue with their friends about how great or terrible it was. Try making that happens with 99.9% of the other movies out there…it won’t happen. Let’s continue to create movies and television that makes people want to continue talking about it long after they’ve left the theater or turned off their TVs. Personally, I think BOTH movies were awesome. I saw each one in theaters TWICE, and these are the only movies I can say that about in the past 10 years! Both did far more to thrill me and make me care than the disappointing prequels. I think The Force Awakens did what it needed to do and gave us all the gift of nostalgia that we had been longing for after many years, and The Last Jedi appropriately moved on from there. I appreciate that it did not take the safe route. I love that missions failed. I loved the continued awesome music and visuals, and new creatures that were NOT reliant on CGI. I loved that I did not know what was going to happen next, and I am excited to see how this trilogy finishes….and in a fascinating twist of events, it will revert back to the original director JJ Abrams, so time will tell if he will continue from the tone that Rian Johnson just left it with, or if he will revert to the safer version of the first one that he kicked off…

I will leave you with one additional point. Disney recently bought 20th Century Fox for over 52 billion dollars. I would love for them to reward us by putting their iconic fanfare back in front of each Star Wars movie, because most of us fans can agree that this is how the opening should always sound.


This is easy. The movies were each far far better than Episodes I, II and III (the prequels), though still unable to take the crown away from the original iconic trilogy.

Quality Rating (Star Wars: The Force Awakens): A (Hard to give something an A+ that so closely tried to imitate the original, even if imitation IS the sincerest form of flattery.

Boaz Rating (Star Wars: The Force Awakens): A+ (I couldn’t have been more excited from the start to finish if I tried. Harrison Ford was back on the screen playing Han Solo, there was new story, the dialogue was not cringe-worthy, I was in heaven.

Quality Rating (Star Wars: The Last Jedi): A (There are still a few weak lines of dialogue, a incongruous shot of Adam Driver with his shirt off, that ever so slightly weaken the quality of this highly original movie.

Boaz Rating (Star Wars: The Force Awakens): A+ (The continuation of the awesome story but in a far more original and unexpected way? I was sold, and riveted, and that held true upon a second viewing.)

Jurassic Park (3D) (“My Research & Adulation About The Masterpiece”)

30 Apr


Synopsis: “During a preview tour, a theme park suffers a major power breakdown that allows its cloned dinosaur exhibits to run amok.” (Rated PG-13; 2 hours, 7 minutes)

Steven Spielberg is a God. Is that too sacrilegious a statement for an observant Jew to make? Fine, I’ll clarify it and say he’s just a god among men. How else to describe the fantasy that he has helped bring to life SO many times over the years with movie spectacle after movie spectacle.

It’s not just his budgets that create wondrous blockbusters, because numerous directors get hundreds of millions of dollars to play with, and their movies may be cool and fun, but they sure aren’t magical (I’m talking to you, Michael Bay). And he certainly doesn’t exclusively choose Oscar-bait material, because many of his movies would have been second-rate in other peoples’ hands. Imagine Jaws directed by anyone else. What are the chances  that the LACK of seeing the shark would be what scares the bejesus out of us. (I was one of countless kids who for years still had lingering twinges of fear when I’d dip my toes into a swimming pool!) How about Saving Private Ryan; do you think anyone else would have given you the terrifying sense of “being there” that you had during its initial 20 minute D-Day scene? In my opinion that scene escalates the film so much, that I consider it to be the greatest war movie ever made. I could honestly go on and on about my all-time favorite director, but let’s focus my attention on the brilliant blockbuster at hand, Jurassic Park. Oh what an awesome movie it was. And I’m happy to report that it stands the test of time. Seeing it on the big screen once again was exhilarating;  it was as scary, thrilling and (yes) funny as ever.

I need to mention the fact that Adi went with me to see the movie in 3D. For anyone who is unaware, I am incredibly critical of the 3D experience in movies, and my feelings generally range from hatred to mild apathy. Whether it’s about the distractions of the glasses constantly slipping off my nose, or how they feel pressed against my own glasses underneath, or the dulled tones and colors that result from the 3D effect…I despise the format. But for the sake of this particular blog post, I will write about the movie and not mention the 3D aspect again; one of these days I will revisit the topic and address/attack it as its own article.

Unlike most of my posts, the vast majority of people reading this blog will have seen the movie in the past, so I don’t need to convince anyone that it’s worth checking out. What I would like to do is remind people about some of the more brilliant aspects of the movie, and possibly offer some new information I’ve compiled from my research.

The Music

As soon as you saw the poster above, didn’t you start playing the music inside your head (or out loud for that matter)? If not, I welcome you to get in the mood and listen to it right here (at the start of the YouTube clip as well as the 2:25 minute mark). John Williams composed the score for all of Spielbergs’ movies, and has thus created some of the most memorable melodies in film history. He managed to somehow make 2 notes absolutely terrifying with his Jaws theme. He gave a platform to world-renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman, who was forever immortalized in the beautifully haunting Schindler’s List theme. As Spielberg created another piece of cinematic history, so often John Williams followed. The melody for Jurassic Park was an instant-classic, and you would hear people singing it as soon as they’d leave the theater. To say it set the mood for the wonders on the screen would be a glaring example of understatement.

The Special Effects

It’s been 20 years since the movie came out. There have been so many advances in technology, computers and special effects, and nobody would even try to contest that statement. Then why on earth do these effects hold up as better and more “real” than the majority of big budget movies today? The amount of thought, care and dedication that went into the visual arts of this movie are astonishing. As fantastic as some of the CGI (computer-generated imagery) movies have gotten, so many film-makers have abused it to the point where it’s not uncommon to hear “CGI-heavy” as a descriptor for a movie – and it’s rarely meant as a compliment. (I’m looking at you Transformers!) Although Jurassic Park had plenty of CGI (and essentially revolutionized it), some of their key moments and characters were mechanical, touchable, animatronic dinosaurs – amazingly REAL ones I might add. When Sam Neill hugged the sick Triceretops? He wasn’t hugging a blue screen, the creature was created for the movie, and it was as if dinosaurs were alive and real…you can’t replace that realism! What about the giant Tyrannosaurus Rex that moved around snapping and snarling and darting rapidly? It was usually a robot. Holy cow-eating dinosaur! In fact it was SUCH a feat of brilliance creating the T. Rex that I invite you to watch these videos that were recently released here; they show the thought and genius that went into it, led by the world-famous special effects pioneer Stan Winston. There are 3 segments at 4 minutes apiece, and you may not understand all of the technical terms they’re using, but you will be amazed by their inventiveness! Are you curious to read a fun National Geographic piece about how the T. Rex from the movie compares to what we actually know about the monstrous creature? I am happy to provide you with a fun piece of reading material here!

Spielberg had originally hired Phil Tippett to use his go-motion animation technology to move the dinosaurs around. Tippett had previously created numerous famous go-motion effects, including the Imperial Walkers during The Empire Strikes Back. Spielberg wasn’t happy with the end-result’s lack of realism in Jurassic Park, and when they saw initial CGI footage of the T. Rex running around and hunting the stampede of other dinosaurs, he famously said to Tippett, “You’re out of a job”, to which the go-motion wizard responded, “Don’t you mean extinct?”. That witty exchange of course made it into the movie itself! As for the shots when the dinosaurs WERE computer generated? I have no explanation as to why they still seem more real than most modern day effects. They just do.

The Script

It sure doesn’t hurt when the author is also one of the screenwriters, and that’s what happened here. Michael Crichton was hired to adapt his own screenplay, and David Koepp came in later and made some very clever changes to its final product. For example, there had been a lot of exposition in the book (and Crichton’s screenplay) about the backstory of HOW it was scientifically possible to bring dinosaurs back to life. Koepp solved this by creating the cute cartoon that was shown to the characters that explains it all. This and other changes took the meat of the clever story, and made it flow so darn well in a 2 plus hour movie. He also took Richard Attenborough’s owner-of-the-island character and made him a sweet, misguided, well-meaning old man instead of a ruthless billionaire. Trust me, when you watch the movie again you’ll realize just how many lines are now classic, and the comic timing is hilarious, especially when Jeff Goldblum speaks. Although I must admit I was rolling my eyes at the ridiculousness of the script where Goldblum’s character Dr. Ian Malcolm asks Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) if she’s heard of chaos theory, and then later the butterfly effect. In both cases neither she nor anyone else is even familiar with the concepts. Seriously?! What the hell sort of schools did these other scientists go to? I was a lazy student in high school but even I had heard of both, c’mon! In spite of that slight lapse in judgment, the script was fun, memorable and well written by the author himself and Koepp. Other notable movies that Koepp has written include Mission: Impossible,  Spider-Man, and last year’s underrated popcorn flick Premium Rush.

The Actors

I would have never thought Sam Neill could be such a great hero, but he really pulled it off. It’s funny, because I don’t associate him with roles like this, as he’s usually a bit stodgy or serious, but here he fit the hat of an Indiana Jones-type perfectly. And it’s ironic, because Harrison Ford was actually Spielberg’s first choice. As the director once reported, “My first choice was Harrison. I went to the art department and I had them do a photo-realistic painting of the T-Rex chasing Harrison… and I put Harrison’s face on the character of the archaeologist, and sent the script, the book, and the picture to Harrison. The next day I got a call and he said, ‘This is not for me, pal.'” So as often seems to occur with famous roles, it could have gone to someone else and now we can’t really imagine it any other way. (William Hurt was also considered for the role before Sam Neill turned up.) Laura Dern was an interesting choice to make since she was mostly doing indie flicks at the time. According to a recent Entertainment Weekly article, she got the script while working on Wild At Heart, and only accepted the role when Nicolas Cage told her that it was his dream to work on a dinosaur movie and she’d be CRAZY to turn it down. And don’t get me started on Jeff Goldblum, his unique delivery is an acting class in itself.

Did You Know?

Pieces of information I wasn’t aware of until yesterday include:

-At the start of their automated tour of Jurassic Park, Richard Attenborough’s character tells everyone, “”The voice you’re now hearing is Richard Kiley. We’ve spared no expense.” I assumed Richard Kiley must have been a well-known actor from the days of yore, but there’s more to it. In the book, Chrichton wrote that Kiley was the narrator of the tour, so fittingly Spielberg was able to get him to actually do it for the movie.

-When they showed dinosaurs entire bodies moving around, or more distant shots, it was usually CGI. Most close-ups of them were animatronic though, including the majority of the climactic velociraptor-kitchen scene, which most people falsely believe was CGI. In fact during that scene Joseph Mazzello at one point ran into one of them and got injured. The seamless blend of computers with fleshy animatronics works so darn well, and that scene was terrifying!

-During filming a massive hurricane hit Kauai, causing the entire crew to flee. The pilot who took them off the island was Fred Sorenson. Who’s that? He was the same pilot who flew Indiana Jones away during the opening scene of Spielberg’s own Raiders Of The Lost Ark!

The Director

This brings us full circle back to the genius himself, Steven Spielberg. Seeing the movie on the big screen after all these years, I was able to see countless details and moments that demonstrate his mastery of the film-making craft. I will give some examples of this from just one famous scene in the movie, the T. Rex encounter: The cup of water rippling each time the T. Rex took a step…iconic. The rear-view mirror vibrating out-of-focus during that same thunderous sequence…brilliant. The close-up of the side-mirror showing the T. Rex chasing their vehicle, and almost caught up, with a funny focus on the words, “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear”!

There were truly endless moments of masterful film-making throughout the film, and as Adi said to me, it did two things that most movies never achieve: It scared her, and it made her care. The animatronics and CGI were able to make these dinosaurs more real than it had seemed imaginable, and the script was able to provide a hell of a fun story; but it’s only thanks to Steven Spielberg that each moment was actually suspenseful, touching and highly effective. The movie fires on all cylinders, and I can’t wait to see what he does in the next chapter of his illustrious career.

The movie was better than its sequels, including the Spielberg directed The Lost World. That one was certainly entertaining, but never as brilliantly innovative as the original. It wasn’t as good as…geez, do I really have to pick a better movie than a classic? Sure, okay, technically it wasn’t as fantastic as his own Schindler’s List. Are you happy now? I need to go wash my hands after that dirty, dirty comparison…

Quality Rating: A+(After everything I’ve written here, was there ever any doubt?)

Boaz Rating: A+

Oz The Great And Powerful (“My Take On Eagerly Anticipated Movies”)

31 Mar


Synopsis: “A small-time magician is swept away to an enchanted land and is forced into a power struggle between three witches.” (Rated PG; 2 hours, 7 minutes)

Everything about this movie screams that I would love it:
1. Sequel/Prequel – Yes, I’m a sucker for these. I know, I know…they usually disappoint. So rare that they are as good as their predecessors, and many people leave wishing “the filmmakers had just left it alone and perfect without an unnecessary add-on just to make more money”. Or some rant like that. But I’m of the greedy, “I want more” mentality.  This means that when I see a good movie, I’m ecstatic to hear there will be sequels. Yes, there are many things that shouldn’t make a movie better – and often make it worse – but still give me a built-in-excitement before I’ve even walked into the movie theater. Oz being a prequel to the 1939 classic certainly qualifies.

2. 215 Million Dollar Budget – It also means if I find out the budget is even bigger, I’m excited by how visually stunning it might be (hoping for another Titanic, knowing I might instead be getting the next Alexander).

3. 127 Minutes – It means if it’s a movie I’m already excited to see, I’m even happier to find out it’s 140 minutes instead of the usual 90 (the Harry Potter movies are a perfect example of this).

4. Exciting Previews – It even ties into my wanting to watch previews for the movies, knowing that those very previews will undoubtedly give away too much information about the movies (as detailed in my recent rant about them here). I still watch those previews and turn to whoever’s next to me and say, “I can’t wait to see that one!”

5. Sam Raimi – This isn’t a guilty pleasure of mine, but simply a pleasure. Sam Raimi is a director I love to watch. He created a name for himself making the fun-as-hell Evil Dead movies. In fact let me explain just how much this man loves making movies. He made The Evil Dead on a shoestring budget. It looked low-budget, and was a totally absurd movie, but it was boatloads of fun watching this hilarious horror flick. Thanks to its popularity, Raimi went on to make a sequel, but basically wanted to make the movie that he never was able to do in the first place; and thus Evil Dead II was basically a semi-remake of the original, but looked better, was made better, and was now more of a comedy and less of a horror movie (comparable to the awesome The Cabin In The Woods). Finally he made a third one called Army Of Darkness, which was absolutely ridiculous and hysterical, and added such a huge glob of comedy that you could hardly even call it a horror movie anymore. If you like the idea of a horror comedy and you haven’t seen those movies – run, don’t walk. And although it may be sacrilegious to say, you can start with the second one. Raimi went on to make a very good dark indie (A Simple Plan), an exciting, record-breaking blockbuster superhero franchise (Spider-Man), and another fantastic horror comedy (Drag Me To Hell). Yes, knowing Sam Raimi was behind the helm absolutely excited me most of all.

How was the movie after all of this build-up? Cute. Enjoyable. A really good climax. But overall you wish it was better, and a great – not just cute movie. It begins with a really nice homage to the original in black & white, and I really enjoyed the way they tried to mimic the magic of going from the doldrums of Kansas to the exciting and colorful world of Oz. I need to clarify something at this point: Adi and I saw this movie in 2D, and not the intended 3D experience. From what I hear the opening was quite cool in 3D, and I’m sure we missed out at least a little bit of that. (As for my attitude towards 3D movies in general, I’ll get into that rant another time.)

There were nice winks to the original throughout the film, with characters and moments that you realized would eventually lead to the creation of the tin man, the scarecrow and the cowardly lion; and I appreciated all of those elements. And I’ll readily admit that it was great fun seeing the Munchkins make their big entrance back on the big screen. But there was just something I can’t quite put my finger on that made this movie that was all about magic a less than magical experience. For anyone who saw the Tim Burton version of Alice In Wonderland, it felt a lot like that. It was cool to see with a big budget on the big screen, but it never quite clicked as a great movie even if elements of it were visually impressive.  It was certainly enjoyable enough, just a matter of my high expectations hoping for something…better.

The casting of James Franco as (The Wizard Of) Oz was in large part to blame. I do realize that he was meant to be a charlatan, a trickster, all smoke and mirrors and thus a bit of a weasel; but it’s just no fun watching the protagonist as such a sniveling, whiny brat of a character. I wasn’t particularly rooting for him, and you kind of just wanted to slap all of the rest of the characters for treating him with such adoration and reverence. James Franco played Oz basically the same way he pretended to be an Oscar host in 2011: as a lazy, laid back, uninteresting character who mailed in his performance. It was bad enough that he did it as a host in a live ceremony, but for Sam Raimi to have months to film him, and somehow still think his performance was adequate as a character that kids should be watching and rooting for? It just didn’t make sense to me. (Editor’s note: Ironically, the movie we ended up seeing next was Spring Breakers, a film where I felt that the best thing about it WAS James Franco’s insane performance, as reviewed here.)

That was all on top of another fact that my friend Mark – who works for the Museum of Tolerance – pointed out to me. Franco’s character Oz encounters all of these powerful and truly magical witches in the movie. They had the power of true magic, while Oz was a faker, but yet these powerful witches reverted to their old-fashioned roles of needing a man to save the day. The more I thought about this fact the more it rang true and made me laugh. Even when these witches realized that he was all smoke & mirrors, they still wanted him to rule because of what his image could represent and do to inspire the people in the Emerald City. Really? So these witches who could basically do anything with the snap of their fingers needed a man just to be there and pretend to do things so that people could be safe again? Talk about  going back in time with gender roles!

Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis are three pretty actresses who played their melodramatic roles of good and evil well enough. Zach Braff from the TV show Scrubs, was his usual cute and adorable self, as the voice of Oz’s monkey friend (and animated very well to boot). And Joey King was heartbreakingly cute as an animated China Doll. In fact her first two scenes as both a human and a China Doll (that strongly paralleled one another) were some of the most touching moments of the movie.

For all of the disappointment that James Franco brought to the role, the movie was saved by not only its visual splendor and respectful winks to the original classic, but by Danny Elfman’s fantastic score. His music created such an effortless whimsy to the movie, that it’s impossible to know just how much better the movie was as a direct result. All of that plus the fantastic final act, which pulled everything together in a very satisfying way, really gives me hope that the inevitable sequel may actually improve on this prequel. It allowed me to leave the movie on a high note, and although I won’t go so far as to call it a great movie, it certainly should provide a few nice hours in your local theater.

The movie was better than Return To Oz, a disappointing, infrequently-seen sequel to The Wizard Of Oz from 1985. Naturally, it wasn’t even close to the beauty and perfection that was the original The Wizard Of Oz.

Quality Rating: B (The visuals, creative opening and climax made for a solid but not great grade)

Boaz Rating: B+

Jack The Giant Slayer

24 Mar


Synopsis: “The ancient war between humans and a race of giants is reignited when Jack, a young farmhand fighting for a kingdom and the love of a princess, opens a gateway between the two worlds.” (Rated PG-13; 1 hour, 54 minutes)

So. Much. Fun.

I feel like I’m repeating myself when I say that you shouldn’t believe everything critics tell you, since this morning I posted my review for The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, and focused on that very message. The same thing absolutely applies to Jack The Giant Slayer, in fact even more-so.

I have NO idea what the problem is that critics are having with this movie. It is a grand, wondrous spectacle that entertained Elana and myself from the opening scene until the last image. Think I’m simply too easy on big budget adventure movies? Okay, that’s fair. I do enjoy just about all of them. Allow me tell you about my friend Elana who joined me for this fairy tale adventure: She is an unbelievably intelligent English teacher, who will read about a hundred books each year but only see one or two movies. One genre that she happens to love are fairy tales, with the hopes that they will be authentically portrayed. This does not mean that creative liberties cannot be taken to be clear. To her it means that the costumes are authentic, the dialogue at least attempts to avoid modern slang, and most of all that it is far removed from the usual rude, crude and constantly winking-at-the-audience style that most adventures are portrayed with these days. To give an easy example, take the story of Hansel & Gretel. In the old days, if it had been made into a movie, it would have simply been a straight forward telling of the children’s dark fairy tale. These days it is quite typical instead for the movie to be made into Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, which I enjoyed watching earlier this year but as you can read in my review, I was laughing AT the movie as much as WITH it. As such, Elana told me she would not have enjoyed that movie whatsoever, as it was full of modern warfare and vulgar cursing, and lost all of the pure, childlike (and often dark) wonder that spawned these fairy tales in the first place.

I am very happy to report that both Elana and myself had a great time watching this wondrous fairy tale, which lacked any need to dumb things down for a modern audience, and felt like a good old-fashioned adventure. The giants were large, grotesque and well-made special effects, each with extremely detailed and distinctive looks and personalities. It didn’t hurt that Bill Nighy voiced the main giant, since he is always such a great talent. And I will admit, the feeling I got when the characters first finished their climb up the beanstalk, and entered the land of the giants…it reminded me of the grand entrance to Jurassic Park, like I’d been transported to a vast magical universe and already knew I would enjoy the ride.

Stanley Tucci does a fun job playing the usual eeeeevil villain, and he hams it up quite well. Ian McShane plays a small role as the king with a nice amount of honor and respectability. (As great as he was in Deadwood, he’s highly capable of acting well, even when not saying that one notoriously unprintable word from the show!) Ewan McGregor is generally good in his dramatic roles, but really gets to have a good time in this movie, playing a light-hearted, swashbuckling hero. Eleanor Tomlinson, who plays the part as Jack’s princess love-interest, was previously best known as a young Jessica Biel in The Illusionist. And finally Jack was played by Nicholas Hoult, who has managed to go from being the child in the awesome movie About A Boy, to years of obscurity thereafter; and then this year he suddenly starred in not only Jack And The Giant Slayer, but also the really creative zombie movie I have already reviewed earlier this year, Warm Bodies. Both are movies I really enjoyed, so this looks like a pretty good comeback to me!

Bryan Singer does a great job directing the fun, and he should know what he’s doing. After all, this is the same man who made the first two entertaining X-Men movies as well as the super-cool movie The Usual Suspects – not too shabby. Though the last movie he directed was in 2008 (Valkyrie), so I’m glad to see him back making movies again.

I do want to clear up some confusion that I had, and I expect many others may have as well: Jack And The Giant Slayer is NOT the same fairy tale as Jack And The Beanstalk. Well not exactly…there have been different versions of Jack And The Beanstalk printed over the years, with the most popular one having been written by Joseph Jacobs. But there is a DIFFERENT story called Jack The Giant Killer which was written a full century earlier in the 1700’s. The history seems vague, but if you’re interested in reading more, you can link between the different stories here, and read up on it.

At the end of the day, I had so much fun watching this movie, and if a big, lighthearted epic fairy tale adventure sounds like fun to you, you’ll have a great time watching this one.

The movie was better than Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, which I enjoyed as a comedy more than as an adventurous fairy tale. It wasn’t as great as Hook, a fairy tale that continued the Peter Pan story that for some reason was also snubbed by loads of critics, but was such an incredibly fun and magical movie that so many of us still love.

Quality Rating: A- (The movie looked and felt great to watch, and although the writing was not particularly memorable, they created an entire rhyming bedtime story about the giants within the movie, which  book-ended the movie perfectly)

Boaz Rating: A

Beautiful Creatures

17 Feb


Synopsis: “Ethan longs to escape his small Southern town. He meets a mysterious new girl, Lena. Together, they uncover dark secrets about their respective families, their history and their town.” (Rated PG-13; 2 hours 12 minutes)

Marketing. Stupid, stupid marketing. As a movie-lover, it really makes me angry when a movie doesn’t get a fair shake thanks to lousy marketing decisions. This happened notably with John Carter, a movie which I ranted all over Facebook was a heck of a lot better than the Star Wars prequels, but was marketed as if it was a kid’s movie, with the title sounding like it was a Denzel Washington drama. The author of the novel was Edgar Rice Burroughs (who had also written Tarzan), and the book was part of the original inspiration for George Lucas to create Star Wars, but yet none of that was included in the marketing…and the movie bombed of course. It was like, what???

Beautiful Creatures is the latest casualty to be absolutely mis-marketed, and I really hope more people take a chance on it, because guess what? It’s good!

You’d think from watching the previews that it’s trying to cash in on the Twilight crowds running to see another piece of dreck about teenage love with the backdrop of fantasy and danger; and you see all of these over-the-top melodramatic moments that make you think it’ll be another movie to see and make fun of afterwards. But from the opening scene of the movie I knew it was actually a fun, witty, cleverly written movie, which just happens to be in the teenage setting of fantastical love. Did the movie simply focus on the monotonously bland expressions of the awful Twilight actors (I can not STAND the one-note acting performances of Kristen Stewart nor Robert Pattinson), where there was literally nothing to watch in the movies other than a tone and vibe of teenage longing and love? No, here in Beautiful Creatures the main character is an intelligent and hilarious protagonist who actually reads books and quotes Charles Bukowski and Kurt Vonnegut, and doesn’t talk down to the adults in the audience. It’s like watching a Pixar movie where the kids can love it but the adults should just as much, except this time it’s made for both tweens as well as adults; and thank you Richard LaGravenese for adapting and directing the book into this really fun film. Adi, Josh, Elizabeth and myself all laughed out loud at various witty lines, were impressed by some of the inventive directions the plot takes the magical story, and got to appreciate some darn good actors working the nifty dialogue.

That’s one sign that a script must have been pretty good; if a few quality actors sign onto a movie it’s either because tons of money is thrown at them,or because the script was appealing, and I have to assume it was the latter here. Emma Thompson was great at hamming it up as two different sorts of characters that I won’t give away here. But it was the most fun I’ve had watching her for years. Jeremy Irons did his usual solid work as the non-evil version of himself that he occasionally portrays (e.g. Eragon). Both are English actors putting on Southern accents, and they do a fine enough job with that. Emmy Rossum who I always enjoy seeing in the Showtime TV show Shameless was fun to watch playing against type as an evil, seductive witch (or as they prefer being called, “Casters”). But I have to admit, the lead actor Alden Ehrenreich, mostly unknown until now, gave one of these great little performances that really makes you hope that he’ll be around for a long time; he was just so likable in a nontraditional way. And not to be forgotten, Viola Davis gave her usual good performance, and was involved in a scene which stood out as a brilliant decision by either the director or the editor. This one late scene in the movie involves the main character (played by Ehrenreich) speaking to Viola Davis’s character and after a big reveal, instead of going back and forth with the cameras to each one as you’d normally see, the camera stayed on Viola Davis for an uncomfortably long time. It was actually an emotionally powerful moment that gave me the chills; it really impressed me, both because of her performance itself, and the decision to show it that way. (Yes I’m being vague so I don’t give away any awful spoilers!)

Did I see some of the main plot twists coming in a typically predictable way? Sure, I’m not saying the movie was a revelation, or the next Princess Bride, but I can see a wide range of audiences being just as surprised as we were and simply enjoying themselves with this one, and rooting for the main characters in their love against the odds. But alas, this blog isn’t read by nearly enough people to undo the damage already done by the marketing strategy discussed earlier, and the movie already bombed in its opening weekend, so my advice will likely come too little, too late.

The movie was better than every single movie in the Twilight series combined. It also was far better than all of Richard LaGravenese’s previous attempts at directing movies, including P.S. I Love You, an awful chick flick that Adi actually loves for some inexplicable reason. It was however not as good as a movie that LaGravenese WROTE years ago, The Fisher King, which was one of Robin William’s more clever movies.

Quality Rating: A-

Boaz Rating: A (Thought about giving an A+ here, since I genuinely enjoyed it all the way through for all of the right reasons, but can’t say I LOVED it like I do a few movies a year since it was really enjoyable, but still somewhat predictable)

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

9 Feb


Synopsis: “In this spin on the fairy tale, Hansel & Gretel are now bounty hunters who track and kill witches all over the world. As the fabled Blood Moon approaches, the siblings encounter a new form of evil that might hold a secret to their past.” (Rated R; 1 hour 28 minutes)

Did you know that Hansel & Gretel used modern curse words and beat the shit out of witches? I didn’t, but it sure was ridiculous fun finding out! The Brothers Grimm may have been rolling in their graves, but Elizabeth and I were having a grand old time watching this entertaining piece of gory, but lighthearted fluff.

There are certain things you simply need to accept when watching this movie. Even though this is supposedly taking place in fairy-tale land, likely in the Middle Ages, and probably in Germany:

  1. Half the people speak in German accents, many sound British, and some more are simply American. Which leads me to…
  2. Hansel & Gretel – brother and sister – speak with totally different accents. That’s simply awesome, no explanation given, and none needed if you ask me! (Take THAT Brad Pitt and your lousy British accent in Troy, you were better off not even trying!)
  3. As I said earlier, modern speech and slang and especially curse words? Totally in play! In fact many of the key zingers and one-liners were amusing moments of Hansel (Jeremy Renner) dropping the F-bomb and sounding like a modern-day John McClane; although he didn’t actually say, “Yippee-ki-yay, mother fucker” he did say, “You’ve gotta be fuckin’ kidding me!” at least a few times…Brothers Grimm, you must be so proud at how your little boy Hansel grew up so strong and crass!
  4. Bows & Arrows? Swords? Daggers? Why bother with old-school weaponry when you can settle for shotguns, tasers, grenades and big-ass machine guns? They’re certainly more efficient and that’s what Hansel & Gretel use – yeah!
  5. They had insulin. For diabetes. Which Hansel had because of all of the candy he had to eat when he was a child. Nobody else seemed to know or understand what he was injecting himself with, so basically he must have invented insulin on his own. In fact nobody in this world had guns nor insulin but them. They were still using daggers and old-school weaponry like the backwards fools they were. Just accept these things!!!

In case it wasn’t blatantly obvious yet, this is not a movie that’s meant to be taken seriously, nor true to any book. This is simply a really fun matinee of a movie that’s full of silly monster gore, but is honestly more of a comedy than a horror flick. It’s a lighthearted action comedy where the bad guys are ugly witches and the heroes are a good-looking brother/sister combo who are equally good at kicking butt and being famous bounty hunter heroes.

I will say one annoying thing: not once, nor twice, but every single time they’d finally catch up with a witch, tackle her down and put a gun to her head, instead of just pulling the trigger right away, they’d ALWAYS give a long pause and tell the witch to “FREEZE!” and give just enough of a break for the witch to escape as they’d be wildly firing at her. I mean seriously, for the world’s best witch-bounty hunters, they were pretty bad at making the same mistake over and over and over again. Especially considering the fact that they weren’t trying to capture them alive, their purpose was to kill them, so why say “FREEZE” as if they’re under arrest, just pull the damn trigger! But of course then the action scene would end there, so this silly cliche was a necessity.

You can predict most of the movie, but really, who cares? The action is fun, the sets and costumes and effects are all good. I especially liked the troll and honestly couldn’t tell if he was CG or in a big cool costume, and I love that I couldn’t tell. And the acting was silly, fun, and even provided a scenery chewing Peter Stormare, which is never a bad thing.

Sometimes it’s okay to just go have a fun time at a silly movie that never pretends to be smarter than it is, and reassure your brain that you’ll turn it back on when the credits roll.

The movie was better than Red Riding Hood, a silly fairy tale adaptation that decided to be moody and appeal to the Twilight crowd, which unfortunately was about as good as those Twilight movies, missing the fun that this one provided. It was less good than Into The Woods, the fantastic Stephen Sondheim musical which cleverly incorporates many different fairy-tale characters into a hilarious and also very dark show (okay, technically not a movie, but the Broadway show starring Bernadette Peters and many others was filmed for an American Playhouse episode in 1991, and it was so good)!

Quality Rating: B- (It was ridiculous and trite, but it wanted to be. And the technical aspects looked good. I stand by this!)

Boaz Rating: A-

Beasts Of The Southern Wild (“My Only Oscar Nominated Disappointment”)

29 Jan


Synopsis: “Faced with both her hot-tempered father’s fading health and melting ice-caps that flood her ramshackle bayou community and unleash ancient aurochs, six-year-old Hushpuppy must learn the ways of courage and love.” (Rated PG-13; 1 hour 31 minutes)

This is going to be the exact opposite of what most of my reviews are. Usually I manage to see the positive fun in the mediocre crap that’s out there, and absolutely love the ones that manage to offer something original. Unfortunately this is the one and only Best Picture nominee for 2012 which I appreciated, but never got into.

The visuals were always captivating. Using the Blair Witch-style shaky camera technique (which I think is really overused these days), you really get down and dirty in this wild part of Louisiana called the “Bathtub”, where people really seem cut off from the rest of civilization, and spend most of their time drinking and dancing in the filthy but charming ambiance  Hushpuppy, the little girl and central character, impressively lives in her own independent space from her father, and one of the more interesting aspects of the movie is their unusual relationship. Not often do you see a father/daughter combo where he’s both a lousy and somewhat abusive father but also someone who clearly really cares and loves her and you somewhat…appreciate him. You are at once impressed by what he gives her but more-so disgusted by how she’s treated and neglected. I couldn’t help but be annoyed that this little girl was stuck with a group of lowlifes who ran away from hospitals, and “lived it up” in a way that basically endangered her life regularly. They were thus the titles’ “beasts” of the southern wild, especially once Hurricane Katrina struck and they ran from the safety of civilization.

It was very impressive watching a movie starring a tiny child and a drunk and sick father, when neither really seemed like they were acting. It had an effective “real” look and feeling to it all, and for a low-budget movie I’m impressed by how much Benh Zeitlin did with it all.

All of that being said, the problem is I just really never connected with it the way that most people seem to be. It was strange but never captivated me enough to get me “into” the story. I kind of felt similarly this year with The Master. An entirely different type of movie, but once again it was bizarre, expertly directed and acted, but I felt like I was watching something fascinating and impressive but also grew tired of it quickly. It’s one of those things where I felt like saying, “yes, I get why people think this is great, but when is it over, I’m getting sleepy?”

I know, I’m ridiculous and end up enjoying Schwarzenegger’s ridiculous action movie more than this extremely creative one, but hey, this is my movie obsession and I have my ratings system for a reason!

It was better than August Rush, an average drama about a child on his own in the world looking for his father, but I thought Where The Wild Things Are was a better movie about a child alone in the wild world with fantastical and imaginary creatures, whose story and emotions pulled me in far more than this Best Picture nominee.

Quality Rating: B+ (Gets major points for creativity and being technically impressive)

Boaz Rating: C (If I get bored during a movie, there’s only so high I can personally rate it)