276 posts tagged Movie Reviews
The real Jane Austen, were she alive today, would take offense that saccharine stories are being written in her name. From literary spin-offs capitalizing on the popularity of iconic characters like Pride and Prejudice's Mr. Darcy to film adaptations of books such as The Jane Austen Book Club, the cult of Jane Austen continues to persist, yet it does the Sense and Sensibility author no favors. Instead, films like the 2013 rom-com Austenland (based on the novel by Shannon Hale) seem to make a mockery of the English novelist’s work, displaying none of their wit and even less of their charm. Austenland centers on thirtysomething down-on-her-luck Jane (played by Felicity's Keri Russell), who travels to England in pursuit of the ultimate Jane Austen experience. She does so on the premise that a whirlwind fantasy romance will help her chances of landing a real life one. When she travels back in time for this period piece pretense, however, the lines between fantasy and reality become blurred and Jane starts to wonder whether she is falling in love for real.
To her credit, author Shannon Hale had a passable idea with Austenland. The notion of a Jane Austen fanatic taking her enthusiasm for the novels to a whole other level with this elaborately designed trip is rather delightful. The majority of the film’s problems, however, resulted from a poorly-constructed, often unfunny script and moments that were more excruciating than romantic. In its desperate attempt at appealing to the hopeless romantics in all of us, it failed miserably at inspiring swoons, eliciting facepalms and groans instead. While the male stars in the film tasked in doing the wooing were quite dashing, the scenarios that were set up in order for them to romance Jane were so hilariously inorganic that it almost seemed as though the viewer was forbidden from joining in on the love fest. For something that’s supposed to be a romantic comedy, the film was neither romantic nor comical, save only perhaps by some of Jennifer Coolidge’s character’s over-the-top frenzies.
It’s quite ironic that the film was about actors trying their desperate best to portray certain characters from Jane Austen’s world, because at the end of the day, this was all that they really were. Keri Russell’s Jane is no more than a poor woman’s Elizabeth Bennet, and JJ Feild, no matter how brooding and dreamy, only seemed like he’s trying to put on his best Mr. Darcy. One might argue that this was the point of the movie, to show that there are real world people that resemble the much-loved figures in Austen’s books. Yet Austenland's glaring problem is that it is too lazy to construct characters who are interesting beyond who they are based on. Instead, it expects the audience to fall in love upon recognition of these characters. For instance, Russell's Jane is an insecure, hopeless romantic, yet she drops this at the earliest convenience, when the script demands she play the part of headstrong, opinionated Elizabeth Bennet instead of someone with her own personality and convictions. As much as one adored Austen's works, it was too much to ask the audience to unquestionably accept a character they are expected to know as representative of the smart and sassy Elizabeth or lovable curmudgeon Mr. Darcy.
For all its tributes and homages to Jane Austen, Austenland lacked substance and some Sense and Sensibility. Worst of all, the film is so unbelievably unromantic (despite the obvious chemistry between the cast members) that the sought-after feeling of butterflies was replaced by waves of nausea instead. The whole film might as well have been titled “ISN’T THIS ROMANTIC?” because it certainly seemed as though every scene was an attempt at convincing the audience that the trappings of their love were real. One might say that rom-coms shouldn’t be taken too seriously, as if it were enough of a lofty goal to show super sugary scenarios. However, the least that viewers ask for when going into a rom-com is the chance to piggyback on fake onscreen romance, and yet Austenland is so obviously contrived that it almost seems eager to stop us from floating above the clouds.
THE WIND RISES (2014)
The Wind Rises isn’t your little brother or sister’s Hayao Miyazaki. It has none of the whimsy of Howl’s Moving Castle or the playful nature of My Neighbor Totoro. It’s a grown-up Miyazaki that is, in many ways, a return to more socially-conscious work such as Princess Mononoke and Nausicaä and the Valley of the Wind. Reportedly Miyazaki’s final film, The Wind Rises is the story of young Jiro, who dreams of building beautiful airplanes. The audience follows his journey, from a young boy who devours magazines that talk about the latest in aviation to a man faced with the grim reality that his work may be used to destroy instead of giving joy. It’s a unique coming-of-age tale that sets out to impart an important message: that of the persistence of life. As the title borrows from poet Paul Valéry’s own version of carpe diem: ”The wind is rising…we must try to live.”
The Wind Rises takes place in early 20th century Japan, a time when the country endured great upheaval that involved an economic crisis and the infamous Great Kantō earthquake of 1923. The film introduces its protagonist Jiro as a young boy who initially dreams of becoming a pilot, yet whose myopic vision prevents him from ever truly becoming one. This doesn’t deter him, however, from pursuing his love of flying. Jiro is a bit of a Walter Mitty, occasionally zoning out into these elaborate dream sequences where he talks to a quirky Italian airplane engineer named Caproni, his idol and a sort of benevolent, imaginary sage. It is Caproni who encourages Jiro to pursue his dreams in a slightly different capacity, as an aviation engineer instead of a pilot. After all, if he can’t fly airplanes, he might as well have a hand in building them! We then follow Jiro as he goes on to become a student of engineering, and onward to his employment at the prestigious Mitsubishi company, which at the time built airplanes for the Japanese military. We see that as Jiro grows older and his journey to become an engineer progresses, the Japanese landscape too changes. Soon Jiro becomes cognizant of forces beyond his control; forces that threaten to embroil his model airplanes into something bigger and more brutal than he ever meant them for.
The Wind Rises is very much in keeping with Studio Ghibili’s portfolio of films that push the envelope of what animation can do. Ghibli’s Grave of the Fireflies is perhaps one of the bleakest, most anti-war films ever made, and yet in little pockets throughout the film, we see a sense of wonder, joy, and always, a plea to live. Despite its more adult themes, the same spirit is alive and well in Miyazaki’s latest. It may not be as emotionally devastating as Fireflies, but the reality depicted in the beautifully hand-drawn story is just as sobering. The film may be seen as a condemnation of war, but it is even more so a celebration of life. From its uplifting title to the soaring ambitions of young Jiro, it beckons the audience to think about the power of positive thinking, and how this can help fuel and fully actualize inventions through the dignity of hard work. It is in moments when the audience sees Jiro’s dedication to his craft, his openness to creative ideas, his own desire to pioneer and champion, that the realism of The Wind Rises becomes evident. Jiro isn’t blindly idealistic; he knows that one day his creations will be used for insidious purposes. But he chooses to build his planes anyway because he believes in the purity of his dream, and there’s something innocent and respectable about that perspective.
The film takes its time crafting Jiro’s story. As Roger Ebert brought up during his conversation with Hayao Miyazaki, there are beautiful moments of stillness to be found in the film. There are scenes where the characters are just sitting and looking out a window on a moving train, or having a cigarette on a hotel balcony during a quiet night. In these scenes, the story isn’t necessarily moving forward, but the characters are more and more alive in these snapshots, as they seem to ponder themselves or their situations. There’s a beauty in doing nothing at all, and for the audience it allows us to breathe, as Miyazaki pointed out. It is evident how much care went into this film as a result of such patient storytelling, allowing the characters to be shown in as many dimensions as possible.
For instance, the poetry in Jiro’s nearsightedness isn’t lost on the viewer, because it is this myopic vision that becomes the foundation for his story. Jiro’s nearsightedness only allows him to see his dream to be an engineer and nothing else. He doesn’t see the big picture that is in store for his planes. He only sees beauty and craftsmanship, not the war and strife that were to follow because of them. Were he to take into consideration the death and destruction that would undoubtedly follow as a result of his creations, surely that would cripple him with fear and anxiety. Some critics think that this represents a fatal flaw in the film; that somehow Jiro contributed to the war by continuing to make these deadly bombers and fighter jets. The focus on whether this justifies the Japanese wars that followed is misguided, because it seems to idealize the notion of taking a stand at the expense of one’s dreams. Yes, ideally it would have been nice for the Japanese military not to have such firepower at their disposal. Perhaps it would have prevented the brutal military onslaught that followed. However, by demanding such conditions on Jiro’s arc, critics are also taking a deeply personal story and turning it into propagandist agenda, which is certainly not Studio Ghibli’s style.
It seems that these folks have unfortunately missed the nuances present in the film. The Wind Rises acknowledges the necessity of war, but doesn’t revel in it. It actually brings it up in a manner that seems almost regretful. The film implores the audience to look at large scale world events like war, famine, and natural disasters from a human perspective. Not everyone is always thinking about the bottom line, or the effects on geopolitical maneuvering when a young man decides to fulfill his dream of building airplanes. Miyazaki also makes the argument that just because bad things are going to happen, it doesn’t mean people should just lay down and accept it. Again, from the title based on a poem by Paul Valéry: “The wind is rising, we must try to live.”
This quiet struggle against the forces of inevitability is what Miyazaki champions in his last film. We see it in Jiro’s relentless pursuit of his childhood dreams and, most clearly, in his love for Nahoko, a woman he meets during disastrous circumstances, who even in her unwell state, mustered the strength to remind him of his will to live. Nahoko suffers from a severe case of tuberculosis and it seems inevitable that she won’t live long. She asks Jiro to wait for her to recover before they commit to each other; after all, who wants to be married to a dying woman? Jiro initially agrees, but after realizing that he could lose the woman he loves any day now, he races to her bedside and begs for her hand in marriage. It is a defiant decision; it is Jiro and Nahoko looking death in the eye and saying, “We know we don’t have long, but we’ll make the most of the time that we have.” It’s an unapologetically sweet sentiment, and Miyazaki layers this on in a subtle enough manner that the audience can feel it without necessarily being hammered on the head with it.
Its stance against nihilism - which often states that we’re all going to die anyway, so what’s the point in living? - is also laid out in a simple yet profoundly affecting manner. Life is indeed fleeting, but this isn’t what makes it meaningless. What we do with the numbered days is what gives it meaning. And truly, if all we had to think about every day was how short our lives were, how painful love is, how the Earth is getting warmer and warmer and man-made catastrophes are becoming regular occurrences - if all we thought about was the inevitability of death, how would we ever manage to get ourselves out of bed, let alone wake up every morning? It’s these thought-provoking messages in The Wind Rises that really elevate the film.
Yes, there’s a wistfulness to the story that would break hearts, and the sober reality of the world we live in is emphasized in every meticulously-drawn frame. The Wind Rises may not be a rallying cry to “suck the marrow out of life”, as Dead Poets Society's O Captain my Captain may say, but it succeeds in preaching the same message with a gentle prod that only an artist like Hayao Miyazaki can. The lesson that The Wind Rises hopes to leave viewers with is that everyone should dare to dream no matter how dire the situation we find ourselves in. Dreams exist in the realm between reality and fantasy where they remain pure, untouchable by the forces that wrestle with people’s lives - war, politics, the economy, natural disasters. People dream without necessarily wanting to escape their lot; instead they dream because they want to believe that things can get better. Isn’t that what Martin Luther King, Jr. meant when he gave that iconic civil rights speech?
Overall, while it may not have the wild imaginings of Spirited Away or the flights of fancy in Kiki’s Delivery Service, The Wind Rises is a touching, thoughtful piece about ambition, hard work, love and the beauty in the persistence of life. These are all things that celebrate being alive, and lessons that everyone, regardless of age, creed, race or nationality, can appreciate. Perhaps it is your little sibling’s Hayao Miyazaki after all.
CHARLIE COUNTRYMAN (2013)
Charlie Countryman (or the movie formerly known as The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman) is a terrible movie. There may be a few ifs ands or buts, but they don’t amount to nearly enough to save this convoluted, hot mess of a movie. Shia LaBeouf is Charlie Countryman, an aimless twentysomething American who hops on a flight to Bucharest, Romania prompted by a vision of his dead mother. On the way there, the man next to him on the flight drops dead, and his last words were for Charlie to deliver a gift to his daughter, Gabriella (Evan Rachel Wood). Charlie tracks down Gabriella, falls in love with her, but gets caught in a scheme involving Gabriella’s former lover and mob kingpin Nigel (Mads Mikkelsen).
It’s amazing that this project was able to lure Mads Mikkelsen, Melissa Leo, Evan Rachel Wood, Aubrey Plaza and Vincent D’Onofrio, considering there were few, if any, redeeming parts of the film. While Shia LaBeouf deserves commendation for committing to the role, however underwritten it and all the others may have been, the film suffered mostly from its ridiculously awful script. Penned by Project X scribe Matt Drake, the screenplay suffered from an identity crisis, never quite deciding whether it wanted to be a crime drama, a romantic comedy or Project X set in Bucharest. It’s not a problem if a film doesn’t want to pigeonholed; in fact, some may even consider it ballsy to mix genres. However, Drake seems to only know of the clichés in every genre, throwing in everything but the kitchen sink into this film. There was nothing new, interesting, or insightful in this story, and worst of all, the audience couldn’t care less about its bumbling protagonist.
Mads Mikkelsen was perhaps the most ill-served by the lousy script. His crime lord spouted pretentious riddles and pop culture references in an effort to assert his power, which probably read well on paper but completely failed when finally translated on screen. Mikkelsen brings an intensity to every role he takes, and his Nigel was no exception. But his character was written in such an overly exaggerated way that it was impossible to take him seriously. Another usually reliable talent who wound up in such an abysmal role was Evan Rachel Wood. It’s unclear what accent Evan Rachel Wood was going for in this movie, but it sure wasn’t Romanian. She had a thick Russian accent instead, and was the only one in the film who spoke in this manner, which made the whole affair even more ridiculous. The worst offenders by far, however, were James Buckley and Rupert Grint, who played Charlie’s drug-addled English roommates. Matt Drake must have been heavily intoxicated when he came up with their characters, because they could not have been written in a worse way.
While the film looked great and was well shot (thanks in large part to director Fredrik Bond’s music video background) and featured an excellent, atmospheric score by composer Christophe Beck, as a whole it felt empty and soulless. It didn’t evoke any particular emotions, except perhaps regret on behalf of the viewer, because watching this film meant roughly 90 minutes that they will never get back. Because Drake couldn’t make up his mind as to what kind of film he wanted this to be, it was difficult to really invest in Charlie’s story, let alone his romance with Gabriella or his troubles with Nigel. Usually stories that involve lost souls trying to find themselves while they go on exciting excursions around the world have some sort of big idea or thought-provoking message. Charlie Countryman doesn’t even bother with any of that, nor does it boast of any sort of whimsy or sense of adventure. Charlie Countryman was no fun, not funny and overall, painfully contrived. A terrible waste of time and good talent.
Smart, insightful, thought-provoking, and driven by emotion rather than high-octane explosions or CGI savagery, José Padilha’s RoboCop is a tin man with brains and a lot of heart.
Remakes and reboots tend to bear the unfortunate burden of having to contend with an audience of extremes. If they stick too close to the original, they are deemed unimaginative and unnecessary. If they deviate too much from the source material, they become bastardizations and affronts to the original. It’s quite the tightrope walk for a remake to pay enough tribute to the original material to sate the often rabid appetites of fans, while at the same time forging its own identity. So when Brazilian director José Padilha decided to take on the 1987 Paul Verhoeven cult classic RoboCop, it not only opened the doors for nth degree concern trolling, but it also left viewers who were oversaturated by blockbuster reboots wondering whether this was a story worth retelling, and whether the Elite Squad filmmaker was the man to tell it.
In anyone else’s hands, the answer probably would have been a resounding no. But Padilha, no stranger to tackling political subject matter and certainly not shy when bringing up controversial topics, seemed to understand the audience expectations behind his endeavor. He adopted the right approach with this remake, seeking to update it both visually and thematically, while keeping the spirit of the original film intact. So to address the foremost question on everyone’s minds - does this 2014 remake live up to the original? - the answer is yes. Padilha’s RoboCop is relevant, well thought out and does what a good remake should do: pay homage to the original while establishing its own identity and universe. It also takes much of the subversive quality in Verhoeven’s film and incorporates it into the story in a new and interesting manner.
THE LEGO MOVIE (2014)
Everything is awesome about The LEGO Movie, and that’s not just hyperbole or internet bandwagoning.
Anyone who has grown up with LEGOs, or charted any meme-filled corner of the internet, will enjoy this fun, hyper-meta LEGO adventure, which features the voices of Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Alison Brie, Morgan Freeman and Liam Neeson. Some misguided folks may think that animated films have no right to be this intelligent, but we’ve seen time and again that animation has a voice, and it has some pretty compelling things to say. With a touching story that celebrates imagination and creativity while also injecting some surprisingly thoughtful commentary on ideas of individualism vs collectivism, The LEGO Movie pulled off quite the feat. Charming, entertaining and brimming with great ideas, it’s a film that can be enjoyed by everyone, and it has a delightful message about the importance of creating things.
The story is set in a dystopian LEGO world where a sort of weird (and colorful) totalitarian consumerism reigns supreme, thanks to the villainous President Business. President Business wants the whole world to be exactly as he envisioned it. Everyone is expected to follow instructions, and no one is allowed to break the rules. And the LEGO citizens seem perfectly content with this development. After all, what a relief to not have to think for oneself for a change - to have someone tell you what music, TV shows, food, movies you like instead of having to go through all the trouble of developing a taste of your own. Emmett (voiced by Pratt) is one such citizen, perfectly content in his blissful ignorance and the most painfully average construction worker in LEGO Land. His whole world is turned upside down when he is informed that a prophecy exists that tells of someone called The Special, a chosen one who will rid this LEGO world of its mindless sheep and the sinister shepherd who commands them. Emmett just might be The Special, but this would mean a whole lot of rule-breaking.
Potential spoilers under the cut.
THE MONUMENTS MEN (2014)
Among the many, many unsung heroes of World War II were the Monuments Men, a group of men and women of the allied forces who joined together to protect, restore and return art that was stolen by the Nazis during their occupation of Europe. George Clooney plays Frank Stokes, the Danny Ocean to this art buff version of Ocean’s Eleven. Stokes puts together the team that will infiltrate certain historical monuments with the mission of protecting precious works of art from bombardment, as well as recovering ones that were seized by the Nazis.
It’s a compelling story. Most of what we’ve heard of World War II is related to the atrocities committed during the war, from stories of Auschwitz to The Diary of Anne Frank. The Monuments Men makes the case that there was another war being fought during this time - a war for the preservation of culture and a way of life. Clooney’s Stokes says that people’s lives reside within these canvases, sculptures, books, frames, and so they are worth protecting just as much as every man, woman and child. It’s a sentiment that will certainly be shared by anyone who has seen some of these historic paintings and marveled at the stories they tell. When one looks at Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” or Michelangelo’s David, culture emanates from these pieces, and they aren’t just 17th century paintings or historic sculptures.
I personally love these types of stories. I’m a big fan of historical fiction, so the story of a group of art buffs wading into war in defense of precious artwork is like music to my ears. The film makes a very good case for the cultural significance of art, even going so far as to plead with audiences of today to continue appreciating these works because they are, in a way, survivors as well. As far as historical accuracy, the names of the Monuments Men have been changed, and there are of course the usual Hollywood embellishments to cater to the thrill-seeking audience, but for the most part the spirit of the group was alive in the film. I was a little dismayed that the Allied military was portrayed as largely uncaring about the endeavors of the Monuments Men, when truth be told it was certainly a concerted effort by many involved in the war to ensure that historical monuments were not destroyed during sieges. However, for the purposes of tension and giving the sense that this group was somewhat isolated in what was portrayed as a seemingly trivial mission, I understand why this was the case.
While The Monuments Men benefited greatly from its star-studded ensemble - from George Clooney (who co-wrote, directed and starred in the film) to Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett to Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, John Goodman, Hugh Bonneville and Jean Dujardin - as a whole I would say it was mostly straightforward, inoffensive fare. Cate Blanchett, in my opinion, is one of those rare actresses who can morph into any role near flawlessly. Her Claire Simone was funny, strong-willed and seemingly undaunted, despite the ruin that she witnesses everyday as an unwilling French assistant to one of the Nazi captains during the occupation of Paris. Another cast member who never ceases to amaze is the criminally underrated Bob Balaban, who I guarantee you is in damn near every film but who always seems to be forgotten when bigger name celebrities surface on screen. It’s safe to say most of the cast did a passable job, but I couldn’t help but get the sense that everyone else other than Cate Blanchett and Bob Balaban sort of phoned it in.
One of the things that surprised me about the film was in how it threw in sentimental scenes in what I thought were inopportune moments. There were scenes that could have used that oomph of emotion, but instead missed the opportunity. And the scenes that were sentimental, in an attempt to remind viewers that these charming, endearing men and women were still embroiled in a grim war, were done in a manner that seemed to me slightly mawkish. I also found the ending rather abrupt and a little unsatisfying.
While I did appreciate the vintage aesthetic that cinematographer Phedon Papamichael brought to the film, I was surprised at how, for the most part, it was shot in a very understated, ho-hum kind of way. For a film that celebrates art, I kinda wished I had seen more of it. There was, however, an abundance of humorous moments (maybe a little too many), and I appreciated the running gag of the French disdain for Americans who, in their attempt to parler Français, completely butchered the language. Clooney and co-writer Grant Heslov seemed to be going for a more comedic route with this film - a dramedy of sorts, with the premise of an unlikely group of soldiers with a unique mission. While this formula certainly worked, I felt that it sometimes chipped away at the noble efforts of these men and women.
Overall, art aficionados or fans of historical fiction will probably find the film enjoyable, however some (including yours truly) may find it, as a whole, rather mediocre. There was a lack of depth in the whole endeavor that minimized the heroic deeds of the characters, even though the film was pretty self-aware of the importance of these people’s roles. While not something to write home about, and not something you have to see on the big screen, The Monuments Men is an entertaining enough affair with a good message. The film opens this Friday in US theaters.
ROOM 237 (2012)
There are critical analyses of films and then there’s just thinking too much. Room 237 falls into the latter category, and it’s not pretty. A poorly-made documentary that indulges in absurd fan conspiracy theories surrounding Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film The Shining, Room 237 is almost the cinematic equivalent of the cabin fever that results from locking oneself in a room and trying desperately to find more meaningful things in a film that, even at face value, is already rather explicit in its message. Sometimes, you just gotta know when to step back and say, “Yeah, this film is deep, but it’s not that deep.”
As always, film is a subjective experience, and depending on one’s world view and how it was constructed, different interpretations of films inevitably arise. However, there is such a thing as reading too much into things, the same way a LOST fan would freeze-frame through each of the show’s episodes to find a deeper meaning in every bush or tree stump. The Shining's power is in its allegory, yes, but not for anything other than its symbolism for alcoholism. It's quite clear that the Torrance family is plagued by demons - a pestilence in the form of Jack's drinking problem and short temper. The film's themes are very apparent, and these are the same ones that the Stephen King book on which the film was based on also contemplated. Wendy and Danny tiptoeing around Jack, Jack's passive-aggressive treatment of Wendy, Wendy possibly suffering from Battered Women's Syndrome - these are all themes that both the film and book explore in ample detail, and they are all very interesting things that contribute to a larger discussion about how alcoholism slowly tears a family apart.
The problem with Room 237 is that it indulges the most preposterous theories, operating on the fanboy idea that Kubrick’s tedious methods of filmmaking mean that every single thing in his films is more than meets the eye. Yes, Kubrick was legendary in his meticulous methods, and his works often leave audiences with thought-provoking ideas and questions. Room 237 would have been a far better film had the filmmakers weeded out the far reaching conspiracy theories and instead focused on how the director’s unique techniques helped deliver the film’s themes to the audience. There are already plenty of fascinating aspects of the film, and surely were the theories put forth even remotely convincing, we would pay the documentary heed. However, Room 237 merely presents these theories and never really explores them. More importantly, it rests the validity of these theories solely on the fact that there are people who actually believe them.
From a technical standpoint, this just isn’t a very well-made movie. For one, as a documentary it fails at establishing conviction from the get go. It doesn’t bother having the theorists connect with the audience, which makes their assertions even more ridiculous. It’s even more unsettling because in the beginning, we get the disembodied voice of someone talking about their wild interpretations of The Shining instead of a face that we can associate with these ideas. There’s also never an “Aha!” moment in the film, or even a “hmm”; only a bunch of head scratchers. The use of clips from various Kubrick films was also done in a manner that seemed lazy and unimaginative. It didn’t seem like the filmmakers had enough material or time to put together a comprehensive project, so they figured throwing a bunch of clips together in iMovie was enough.
Overall, the film is a complete waste of time, and not something I would recommend as a shining example of film analysis.
I, FRANKENSTEIN (2014)
Some people are saying I, Frankenstein is one of those movies that’s “so bad, it’s good”. I counter that I, Frankenstein is so bad, it’s…well, bad. Frankenstein’s monster may have found his soul during the course of this movie, but I lost mine in the process.
The horror fantasy revolves around the premise that Victor Frankenstein’s monster, dubbed Adam and played by The Dark Knight's Aaron Eckhart, is alive in the modern day and embroiled in a war to save humanity from the destructive forces of both heaven and hell. A group called the Gargoyle Order (yes, they are actual gargoyles!) makes up the forces of heaven, led by Gargoyle Queen Leonore (played by The Lord of the Rings' Miranda Otto). Bill Nighy, no stranger to playing evil demon lords, is Naberius, commander of the legions of hell. The Gargoyle Order finds Adam threatening because his very existence casts doubt that only God can create life. Naberius and his minions are after your typical run-of-the-mill dominion of Earth, and they figure that learning about Dr. Frankenstein's experiments on Adam will allow them to possess the bodies of dead humans to serve their sinister purposes.
Following the plot so far? Let’s just say that Mary Shelley would not only be pissed, but probably rise up from the grave to exact vengeance on the purveyors of such nonsense. I’m not sure where the idea of hot Frankenstein came from, but the whole notion seems utterly ridiculous. For something that was strung from the mutilated parts of various corpses, this man doesn’t look like Frankenstein’s monster. He looks like a Chippendales performer who showed up to play Tarzan. It’s not that the fantasy isn’t creative, but for all its grandiose ideas, it’s the film’s execution that is rather poor. Similar-themed films like Legion and Constantine fared much better, with the former creepy enough to hold an audience’s interest while the other was droll and entertaining enough for us to stick around. I, Frankenstein has none of those qualities. Instead, it so bland and boring that the audience hardly feels the need to invest in the story or its protagonist’s quest.
It’s not that the performances are really terrible. Miranda Otto, and maybe Bill Nighy and Jai Courtney, tried their best to look like they were actually taking things seriously. Aaron Eckhart and Yvonne Strahovski, on the other hand, looked like they were pulling teeth as they uttered their lines. I can’t say I blame them. This script is one of the worst things I’ve come across. Not only did they not bother establishing the world these characters lived in, but they were in such a hurry to get the action going that they breezed through Frankenstein’s monster’s inception like they were reciting the Cliff’s Notes edition of the book. What potentially interesting aspects it had - the idea that the existence of Frankenstein contradicted the notion of an omnipotent God, was completely squandered because they never bothered fleshing it out. Cheesy lines abounded as well, and it’s a miracle none of the actors burst out laughing as they recited them. What I’d like to know is at what point during the script reading of this movie did a studio executive go, “You know, this would make a great movie.”
The pacing was also really terrible in this film. It was as if everyone was just making things up as they went along. There seemed to be so much disorganization with the fight choreography, which you would think this film would at least get right. I will give the visual effects artists this: the transformation from human to gargoyle was pretty seamless and well done. The problem was that the action sequences were largely underwhelming. There was nothing impressive about Frankenstein or his fighting prowess, leaving one wondering whether they could have simply done this movie using some random literary hero. The funny thing, too, was that for a story whose moral drive lies in saving the human race from the inevitable slaughter that a war between heaven and hell would bring forth, there were a total of like, 4 humans. There really was no human cost in this story, and yet the audience is supposed to believe that everyone is fighting so hard to save humanity.
It’s rare for any movie to not have at least one redeeming quality, and I’m afraid I, Frankenstein is that exception. The short version of this whole post is that it’s simply awful, and if you want a much more entertaining take on an existing fantasy tale, I’d go see the criminally underrated Hansel & Gretel Witch Hunters instead. That one, at least, had some spunk and style.
ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE (2006)
Writer Jacob Forman and director Jonathan Levine concoct an absurdist revenge fantasy that takes on horror conventions like none else in the genre do. It’s a very good thing that All the Boys Love Mandy Lane finally emerged out of development hell and got a proper release, because it is one of the smartest, most unapologetic takes on horror tropes out there. Mandy Lane (played by Amber Heard) is the object of everyone’s affection. Girls want to be her, guys want to sleep with her. It’s not necessarily her winning personality or supermodel looks that draw people in. Rather, it’s Mandy’s virginal appeal that attracts everyone: her silky blond hair, doe eyes, conservative outfits and what seems like a complete unawareness about her sexuality. The guys go crazy over what they consider the unattainable, while the girls worship Mandy for her incorruptibility and the near effortless way she attracts attention like honey to bees.
When Mandy and a group of friends travel to a secluded ranch, things get bloody when someone starts picking them off one by one. The result is a clever, thought-provoking film that takes advantage of the audience’s familiarity with the horror genre. Writer Jacob Forman doesn’t exactly upset the conventions of horror with the same glee that Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard opted for with The Cabin in the Woods; the film’s tone is dead serious, even though there are some pockets of absurdist humor peppered throughout. Instead, there’s plenty of startling clarity, almost a dare to audiences who are used to the genre’s conventions, asking them to look closer. And we do.
One of the film’s themes that is revealed upon closer inspection is its mockery of the romanticization of rape culture. Forman and director Jonathan Levine ask the audience: why is it considered normal for men to assert their sexual needs on women? Why is the mere presence of a female body in a crowded room considered an invitation for sex? What happens when the woman in no way “asks for it”? Is the unwanted attention still warranted then? What happens when the woman isn’t completely wasted at a party but is painfully sober? Are her refusals and rebuttals more valid then? Mandy Lane asks viewers to examine the way women are usually portrayed in this genre and goes a step further, imploring us to look critically at a culture that thinks a short skirt is an open invitation and that silence is somehow an unequivocal “yes”. Undoubtedly inspired by this disgustingly sexist meme, Mandy Lane also completely skewers the archaic notion that women are harlots for merely existing, and that the defense that men are simply responding naturally to explicitly sexual yet nonverbal behavior is patently absurd. Even more importantly, the film breaks down the misleading image of the “friendzoned” guy, who turns out to be more dangerous than anyone else because of his entitlement. What is usually romanticized as a “good guy friend who is sexually frustrated by his unjustly hot female friend” is completely destroyed by Mandy Lane, and rightfully so. It states, in very resounding fashion, that just because a man decides to be friends with a woman does not mean that she owes him anything.
Despite being the object of everyone’s desires, Mandy is in no way, shape or form ‘asking for it’. She never tries to seduce the men, or deflect their advances passive-aggressively with teasing. Her innocence is what drives them all crazy. Yet despite her disinterest in the men, they do not stop trying to take advantage of her, making the point that it isn’t about short skirts, tons of make-up or cleavage-baring outfits. It’s always going to be about the masculine need for dominance. It’s debatable whether the film considers this need inherent or whether it’s something that is learned. I’m of the opinion that this is learned, which brings me to another theme of the film: violent pop culture and how it, in turn, perpetuates rape culture.
THE LEGEND OF HERCULES (2014)
Welcome to today’s edition of Shit Movies Starr Will Watch So You Don’t Have To.
I walked into The Legend of Hercules because I was having a bad day, and I figured that nothing could possibly make it worse. I was wrong. Very, very wrong.
The Legend of Hercules is quite possibly one of the worst movies ever made. And I’m being generous. The problem stems from a script so weak, a second grader seemed to have written it (no offense to second graders everywhere, I’m sure you’re all lovely people). Sometimes a weak script, however, can be slightly rectified by a talented cast. Since the star of The Legend of Hercules was Kellan Lutz, all hope was thus lost.
I’ll give Kellan Lutz this: he looked the part of Hercules. A bronzed bod that would make Hollywood Tans proud, boobs bigger than Pam Anderson - I mean, he was Fabio sans the flowing gold locks (which probably would have made the movie ten times better). The problem with Kellan Lutz is that he only has two facial expressions: dazed and confused. Honestly. No matter what the circumstance. It’s like his face wasn’t aware that he was acting. Army of soldiers coming to kill you? The same glazed over expression. Discovering that you are the son of Zeus? The blankest stare ever. Love of your life threatened by your jealous brother? “Hmm I could use a burrito right now.” I know Summit Entertainment loves Lutz because of his involvement with Twilight, but good God (pun intended) the guy can’t act to save his life.
Special effects? They hurt my soul. From the awkward and excruciating slo-mo editing of the action sequences to the lion that looked like a muppet, I don’t even know what to think about the visual effects of this film. In the sound department, they played a lion roar every time Kellan Lutz cracked open his mouth. It was the most absurd thing.
Jonathan Schaech is supposed to be playing some Egyptian warlord and I don’t know what the fuck kind of accent he thinks he’s doing. At least he wore the eyeliner. Because that just made him 500 times more convincing as an Egyptian warlord.
There was one interesting scene towards the end of the film involving Hercules’ love interest, but it was completely nullified by the cop-out ending.
Poor Liam McIntyre. After starring in the light years better Spartacus from Starz, he is reduced to taking roles in shit films like this? Poor guy. I get that he likes the sword and sandal genre, but even he should have standards.
Don’t even bother looking for historical accuracy in this film. It makes Pearl Harbor look like a goddamned textbook.