Archive for the Fantasy Category

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Posted in Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy with tags on December 31, 2013 by Mark Hobin

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgI have no desire to write this review. I’ll give you a little insight into my creative process. I really enjoy evaluating movies I am passionate about, 4 stars or more. And I’ll admit I take some delight in assailing a production that is an affront to my sensibilities. That’s 1 ½ stars or less. The ones that earn 2-3 stars from me are the most difficult critiques to compose because those flicks merely exist. That’s not to say there aren’t moments of brilliance in them, but by and large they fail to truly engage me as a moviegoer. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is one of those films.

This is the 2nd time that James Thurber‘s short story has been made into a feature. Apparently bringing the comedy back to the screen again was a tough nut to crack. The origins of this long developing remake go back at least as far as 1994 when its producers had Jim Carrey in mind for the title role. The director included everyone from Ron Howard to Chuck Russell (The Mask) to Steven Spielberg. The lead actor changed as well. Owen Wilson, Mike Myers, Sacha Baron Cohen had each been attached. It wasn’t until April of 2011 that Ben Stiller was tapped for the lead. A year later he stepped up to direct as well. The current screenplay by writer Steve Conrad (The Pursuit of Happyness) is less an adaptation of the original short story and more of a modern rewrite. Walter still has a predilection to daydream. However it’s updated to a 21st-century milieu by setting it amongst the modernity of corporate downsizing and eHarmony online dating. The latter of which hopefully paid for all the free advertising they get here. 

Ben Stiller is a proven talent that knows how to connect with his audience. Tropic Thunder was a prime example of an innovative comedy that brought something new to the table. Conversely, it’s hard to believe this production is from the same director. The nicest thing I can say is that it’s inoffensive. Stridently bland and mild, the picture’s grand design is to serve up some special effects-laden setpieces whereby a milquetoast learns to find himself. Our protagonist manages the photographic negatives at LIFE magazine where he has a crush on his coworker Cheryl played by Kristen Wiig. She is quite likable in the part. Walter has a new boss Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott) at work.  Writer Steve Conrad has envisioned his part as a smug jerk. I think Ted is supposed to be amusing, but he’s just annoying. He’s also got a ridiculous looking beard. Actually his whole adversarial team have beards. Anyway, it looks fake, like it was darkened by a magic marker. I was distracted by how ugly it was. The tale is set against the backdrop of the magazine’s final print issue as it converts to online status. (Incidentally this occurred in real life for the 3rd and last time on April 20, 2007 when LIFE was a newspaper insert).

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is the whimsically labored chronicle concerning a daydreamer who finds himself. The screenplay is annoyingly twee. His amusing daydreams permeate the beginning. Some of these fantasies are kind of inventive while others are kind of random. In one he has the “Benjamin Button” condition where he ages in reverse, leading him to imagine growing old with co-worker Cheryl whom he fancies. He‘s sitting on her knee, as an old geriatric baby. However these delusions dissipate after a while and then we’re left with the reality of Walter Mitty. His goal?  To find a photographer! Zzzzzzzzzz. He flies to Greenland and knowingly boards a helicopter being maneuvered by a drunk pilot. Once in the air, he accidentally jumps out of that chopper and fights a shark in the water below, then takes a boat up to Iceland where heads to a volcano. The non existent drama is populated by overly precious scenarios without much substance. The story ends up having very little narrative heft. Ben Stiller’s Walter Mitty is an inconsequential fellow, much like the picture. His character has the soul of a dreamer, but the film itself has no soul.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Posted in Adventure, Fantasy with tags on December 15, 2013 by Mark Hobin

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug photo starrating-3stars.jpgThe ongoing story of one Bilbo Baggins continues its seemingly endless continuation toward completion. While An Unexpected Journey took forever to take root, The Desolation of Smaug gets to the heart of the matter a bit quicker. This interlude subverts the Bilbo character for an adventure centered around Thorin, the leader of the Dwarves, and his mission. A brief flashback reminds us why Thorin is on this expedition. In case you didn’t see Part 1 (and incidentally don’t bother watching this if you haven’t) he must locate the Arkenstone inside the Lonely Mountain which is guarded by a fierce dragon. We then jump right back into their quest.

The long chronicle feels stretched to the breaking point this time around despite the fact that it actually runs slightly shorter. The flick is superficially packed with more events, but that doesn’t mean it’s more engaging. In the novel, this is the part where Bilbo proves himself useful to Thorin, but the Hobbit is relegated to the background. There are examples where Bilbo increasingly relies on the ring, but the ramifications are not emphasized in the movie, like they were in the text. Thorin becomes the focus. The most affecting moments have nothing to do with Bilbo. Beautiful elf Tauriel is smitten with hunky dwarf Killi. Their romance forms a love triangle with jealous elf Legolas in the sidelines. The relationship comprises unexpectedly touching vignettes.  Ironically Legolas shouldn’t even be in The Hobbit. Peter Jackson is apparently more concerned with tying everything together with his earlier trilogy over making J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. He’s fashioning a prequel to Lord of the Rings.

The Hobbit 2 is once again a spectacle. It has lots of captivating computer graphics. At one juncture Bilbo climbs to the top of some autumn hued trees and a kaleidoscope of blue butterflies is unleashed. Soon after the Dwarves lose their way in the forest and are caught by giant spiders. That’s kind of cool too. The action is lively with occasional but rare glimpses of humor. This is true in an amusing scene where the dwarves escape their elf captors in barrels. Initially the elves, led by Legolas and Tauriel, pursue them but then they’re all attacked by the Orcs. There’s a brisk battle involving arrows and some accidental barrel crushing that hilariously saves the day.

The Desolation of Smaug is more of the same. In that respect, it’s still a visual display that will charm an easy-going viewer who wants pretty stuff to look at. Several set pieces will delight the senses. Smaug the dragon is a feat of CGI that is a wonder to behold. But the interminable length of the first film is only magnified this time around. 2 hours and 40 minutes is devoted to rendering 6 chapters (7-12) of a children’s book. There’s lots of eye-popping events, but the story doesn‘t develop in any meaningful way. There’s a feeling of treading water with this entry. It’s not the set up and it’s not the end. A distinct feeling of disappointment sets in when the production stops abruptly with Bilbo lamenting “What have we done?” It implies everything we just sat through was merely exposition to the real deal coming out next year. If you count the first part, we’ve endured close to 6 hours of a saga that hasn’t even reached a climax. The short tale of The Hobbit has become bloated with filler. Now if we were talking about a mattress or a bra, then padding would be a selling point perhaps, but in a movie it leads to diminishing returns.

Thor: The Dark World

Posted in Action, Adventure, Fantasy with tags on November 10, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Thor: The Dark World photo starrating-3stars.jpgLet’s see if I can simplify this for the uninitiated. There’s this thing called the Aether see, and it’s a power stone that can be used as a weapon. Actually it’s one of 6 stones in the Infinity Gauntlet. Ah but I’m getting ahead of myself here. The main baddie is Malekith (unrecognizable Christopher Eccleston), ruler of the Dark Elves, who wants to plunge the world into eternal darkness because well that‘s what villains do. He’s out for revenge or something. Anyway, Thor’s earth girlfriend, Jane, is inadvertently infected by the Aether following her teleportation to another realm. Malekith is somehow aware of this occurrence and now he‘s pursuing her. Side note: Thor is still in love with Jane and vice versa. Thor’s evil brother is currently in prison on Asgard for the war crimes he committed on Earth in Thor. However, Loki happens to knows of a secret portal to Malekith’s world so Thor must appeal to him for help.

The first half of Thor: The Dark World is needlessly complicated. You can probably tell from my encapsulation of just a mere fraction of the narrative. Additionally, it has more roles than a Shakespearean play. With names like Malekith, Algrim and Frigga, a playbill would’ve been helpful. Everyone finally restores peace to the 9 realms. On one, Vanaheim, there’s Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander) and this group called the Warriors Three – Fandral (Zachary Levi), Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), and Hogun (Tadanobu Asano). The quartet of combatants reminded me of a band of vampires you might find in the Twilight franchise.

The lifeless introductory crawl of Thor: The Dark World is overly concerned with set up and exposition. It’s rather boring. Luckily, about halfway through things get moving. In fact I can specifically pinpoint the moment at which the tale is transformed. It occurs the second they free Loki from his prison. Thor and Loki are walking together and Loki starts shapeshifting both of them into various disguises as different people. It’s an amusing display and where the picture finally finds its humor. I still like Chris Hemsworth. He has a presence (physique, acting, smile) that makes him ideally suited for the Norse god. Yet Tom Hiddleston is so engaging that Thor is essentially reduced to a supporting actor in his own film. I dare say this is the Loki show.

Thor: The Dark World is saved by Tom Hiddleston. In a production with an astounding number of characters vying for attention, he stands out head and shoulders above the rest. I’ll credit the script as well which makes his “villain” the juiciest part. While he’s kept locked up in prison during the problematic first half, the story looks to be a dud. The overreliance on computer graphics were accomplished by a mind-blowing seven (7) VFX studios. At times the special effects threaten to asphyxiate the proceedings. Once Loki is released, the plot eventually regains its footing. It’s the human element that makes these superhero movies work. His performance and a more lighthearted touch in the second half elevate this fantasy into fun entertainment. This is a superhero movie after all, not some dour historical epic. Thanks to Hiddleston’s solid portrayal, the action ultimately becomes a rousing good time.

Note: By now, Marvel should have you conditioned to remain in your seat until the very end of one of their productions, but just in case you haven‘t been properly trained: There is the traditional ending, a mid-credits scene and then a post sequence after the final credits. Stay for all of them, although one vignette won’t make any make sense to filmgoers unfamiliar with next summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy.

Escape from Tomorrow

Posted in Drama, Fantasy, Horror on October 14, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Escape from Tomorrow photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgThe last day of a family’s vacation at Walt Disney World goes from horrible to worse. Things get off to a bad start when the father gets a call from his boss that he has been fired. He keeps the news to himself not wanting to spoil their trip. But while on the rides he begins seeing the animatronic faces frowning at him. Then his son gets sick after he takes him on Space Mountain. This leads to a fight with his wife. His only relief from his misery are the sight of two pretty young French girls that he trails throughout the park.

At the very least, Escape from Tomorrow is a triumph of guerrilla filmmaking. Since The Walt Disney Company is fiercely protective of their “intellectual property” director Randy Moore shot the movie on the sly, clandestine style. That means his crew did not obtain permits or permission to film. He shot with hand-held cameras commonly used by visitors and tiny digital audio recorders to capture sound. Given the restrictive environment, the production is an absolute marvel of inventiveness. Many scenes are clearly shot at the complex in full view with real patrons in the background. Perhaps to get around copyright laws, no official Disney music from the park is used. This actually strengthens the sinister atmosphere. Weird, alternate music is substituted that give the attractions an ominous quality. At times the director uses green screens with venue locations for the backdrop of extended takes. The effect gives the picture an almost surreal, hyperrealistic quality. Black and white cinematography also adds to the simulation.

Escape from Tomorrow sounds like an interesting curiosity and it is. Unfortunately the back-story of how the picture was created is more fascinating than the film itself. The problem is this fantasy really doesn’t go anywhere interesting. The downward spiral of the tale is sort of a hallucinogenic head trip – but it’s incoherent. There’s a buried subtle critique that even Disney World’s sunny happy facade can’t mask true depression. But this has more to do with negativity in this family’s life than a comment on the actual merits of the park itself. For most of the drama I was intrigued where the chronicle would go. Then the movie takes a particularly nasty turn 10 min from the end that dares the audience to keep watching. It devolves into a scatological creepshow. Shame because with some judicious editing and more intellectual mindset, this could’ve been a perceptive commentary on the artificiality of the happiest place on earth. After screening at the Sundance Film Festival, there was some speculation that future audiences would never see Escape from Tomorrow because of legal difficulties. The work most likely falls under the fair-use doctrine as parody and therefore not subject to copyright law. Whatever the reason, Disney has decided to ignore the production so as not to bring more attention to it. You should probably do the same.

Pacific Rim

Posted in Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Science Fiction with tags on July 14, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Pacific Rim photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgThey don’t get dumber than this. It has a primitive story (robots vs. monsters), explosive special effects and game actors willing to say or do anything to get a laugh. You’ve got to give Guillermo del Toro credit for persuading Hollywood to indulge his fanboy urges. He combines monsters, er uh excuse me Kaiju, robots, an international cast, a huge budget ($190 million!), and throws it all against the wall to sees what sticks.

For the most part, it works. I only wish that Guillermo had the innovation to push this into material that excelled beyond primary concepts. Like puzzle pieces, each actor inhabits a stereotypical role you’ve seen before. Main protagonist Raleigh Becket has lost his brother in an attack and now lives a nomadic lifestyle mentally scarred by the loss. He reports to Stacker Pentecost, a stern commander that has two emotions, pissed and very pissed. I’m curious, was Charlie Day supposed to look like Rick Moranis in Ghostbusters and Burn Gorman recall Crispin Glover in Back to the Future? Regardless the screenplay is funny. Much of it unintentionally so. And my enjoyment was completely dependent on the fact that I was able to laugh with and more importantly AT this picture. There are a lot of humorous developments. Raleigh Becket butts heads with another rival, Chuck Hansen in a full display of alpha male posturing. Just the way actor Charlie Hunnam swaggers into every scene with chest puffed out is good for a few laughs. How many times does this guy need to change his shirt? And there’s something inherently amusing about a woman who has been brilliantly taught her entire life to fight like a champion by her English speaking guardian, but possesses only the most rudimentary command of that language. Was that not part of the lesson plan? Eh! No matter. The production really spoke to the 12 year old in me.

Pacific Rim unfolds like an homage to those Japanese giant monster movies. You know the ones.  Toho studios put them out starting in the 1950s with Godzilla. I grew up on those flicks. They played on TV weekday afternoons after school. (No I wasn’t alive when they came out if that‘s what you‘re thinking) Thankfully the script doesn’t spend too much time on boring exposition. There’s an opening crawl that kind of sets everything up, then lets the computer generated imagery do the talking. Occasionally there’s a slog through some dialogue that will have the viewer asking, “I wonder what the monsters are doing now.“ More often than not the plot has the presence of mind to get back to the combat. And oh what battles! These monsters spit liquid, sprout wings and scream with all the sonic force that modern technology can muster. The pleasures are pure and simple. I appreciate this much in the same way I get a kick out of Congo or Anaconda. No, those aren’t great films, but they are fun. And that’s why you watch something like this anyway, right?

Monsters University

Posted in Animation, Comedy, Family, Fantasy on June 23, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Monsters University photo starrating-4stars.jpg3 of the last 4 Pixar movies have been sequels. On the surface that sounds like a depressing trend. But delve deeper and we find that one of those was Toy Story 3, a stunning work of art that stands tall amongst the very best of that studio. The original effort on the other hand, Brave, was actually pretty mediocre. Maybe sequels aren’t so bad, or if you want to be truly technical in this case, a prequel. That positive progression is supported by Pixar’s latest offering.

Monster’s University is an engaging entry in the Pixar cannon. Naturally there’s an unavoidable “haven’t we seen this all before?” feeling. By definition an air of familiarity will creep in any sequel. But the dueling fraternities in college also have more than a passing resemblance to the basic outline of Revenge of the Nerds. It’s the preppies (Roar Omega Roar) vs. the underdogs (Oozma Kappa). We also have Greeks made up of Goth chicks, jocks, & pink ladies that are competing as well. All teams are vying to be the ultimate winner in the annual “Scare Games.” While the picture may not qualify as a classic, it’s a captivating story I thoroughly enjoyed. Screenwriters Robert L. Baird, Daniel Gerson, & Dan Scanlon have fashioned a well written tale full of heart and emotion around characters we know and love.

Mike and Sulley are back and it’s like they never left. They’re just as warm and charming as ever. They join the same fraternity and become teammates. Except their reasons are completely out of necessity and not because they are friends. You see they don’t really get along. That was unexpected. There are other little developments in the story that aren’t predictable either. The script keeps you guessing. It even dares to consider that certain truths cannot be denied or changed. Hard work will only take you so far. To give an example of my own, short people are going to have a disadvantage in the NBA no matter how vigorously they train. The screenplay acknowledges differences can be strengths, but does it a way that doesn’t feel preachy.

Monster’s University is a vivid delight. The animation beautifully exploits lavish color and texture possibilities in animating the myriad of creatures contained within. We get some new creations that are welcome additions to the ensemble. The actors put in extraordinary voice performances here. The most noteworthy includes Helen Mirren as Dean Hardscrabble, the headmistress. She’s flawless in conveying a strict authoritarian that should not be crossed. Charlie Day as Art, a goofy purple Oozma Kappa member that looks like the letter U upside down, is rather memorable as well. There are many more. The entire cast gives soul to a script that doesn’t fall victim to clichés the way other non-Pixar movies do. There’s some subtle life lessons that are more nuanced than many live action films. You kind of assume a happy ending, but it’s not really the one you’d expect.

Man of Steel

Posted in Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Superhero with tags on June 14, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Man of Steel photo starrating-1andahalfstars.jpgGeneral: What are you smiling about, Captain?
Captain: I just think he’s kinda hot.

Henry Cavill certainly looks like Superman. He’s handsome, almost distractingly so, sports a ripped physique that adheres closer to Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine than any previous incarnation of the role. The Brit even speaks the part affecting a perfect American accent with the necessary gravitas to make everything he says sound meaningful. But that’s where compliments end for Man of Steel.

Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster’s iconic superhero is given the bigger is better treatment in this updated version for moviegoers raised on Transformers films. Zack “I directed 300” Snyder has taken courses at the Michael Bay school for directors where spectacle is key and damn any coherence or dialogue that gets in the way. Loud noise is more important than the story. Millions of dollars gloriously spent to envision beautifully designed worlds of breathtaking 3D graphics only to be obliterated in some fantastic assault of bombs, explosions and mayhem. A bombastic excess where even Superman’s cape is digitally animated. Snyder’s aesthetic is money and spend lots of it

Man of Steel is an overinflated packed to the rafters display of computer generated imagery (CGI) that makes Transformers seem like Forbidden Planet by comparison. The CGI is ridiculously wild and unchecked. A full third of this film is fight scenes. Not exciting ones, but blurry, relentless onslaughts that are hard to follow. I think I counted three epic battles but honestly one conflict blurs indistinguishably into the next. Their sole purpose exists so Snyder can blow stuff up. The wanton annihilation of buildings in the climax doesn’t even appear to be Planet Earth anymore. At one point Superman wrestles with tentacles in the center of the globe as some rocket machine deconstructs the earth’s atmosphere to that of an alien planet. The whole spectacle is so removed from anything organic, it doesn’t even exist as a live action movie with human actors. More like a virtual 3D universe populated by automatons rendered by a computer program.

The obscene amount of CGI-enhanced activity might’ve been tolerable if it served a coherent story. Unfortunately following the haphazard chronology is a task in itself. Good luck figuring out what time period we‘re in. The films was apparently edited in a blender. First we’re on Krypton, then we’re on an oil rig with an adult Clark Kent, now Clark is a kid in school overwhelmed by his powers, suddenly he‘s older rescuing his classmates from a bus. Now he’s Superman in the Arctic. Now back as a child again with his parents near a tornado. The script flash forwards, then back, then forward and back again, back and forth, back and forth over and over to the point of complete incoherence. The movie is an attention punishing 143 minutes and you feel every single one of them.

Part of the reason the story is so mind numbingly long is because the plot spends an inordinate amount of time delving into Kryptonian society, and explaining the sociopolitical and ecological situation before the planet’s destruction. Just what I want to see in a Superhero film. How about some scenes inside the Kryptonian Senate while they vote on various bills and legislation? Last time I checked this was called Man of Steel but it’s a full hour before he even dons the suit and near the very end before someone clearly calls him Superman. Even then it’s used as more of a throwaway joke.

There are moments where the script attempts to convey Superman’s inner conflict. The narrative tries to present Superman’s undying love for the people of his adoptive planet earth. But his devotion never makes sense. He experiences overwhelming rejection from the faceless masses his whole life. We’re given infrequent glimpses of his interactions with the human population. School bullies tease him as a child, a bar patron humiliates him (shades of Superman II), the military wants to give him up to uber villain General Zod. This is predicted in early scenes by his father (Kevin Costner) who warns him: “People are afraid of what they don’t understand.” We comprehend why Superman isn’t accepted, but not why he still cares for the citizens of this foreign world called Earth. The population disregards him so thoroughly. We have no reason to sympathize, to care, or even to watch.

The movie is the creation of sterile perfectionism. The actors are pretty, everyone hits their marks, says their lines and does exactly what is asked of them. It exhibits slick professionalism but not art. The picture has no essence. There is no warmth, no wit, no humor, no joy. The only thing more offensive than the vulgar reliance on special effects in this flick, are the product placement deals. Word has it that it earned $160 million even before it ever played in a single theater due to all the advertising negotiations made. It doesn’t come without a cost. Superman literally has a fight that starts at 7-Eleven, heads over to IHOP afterwards, then wraps at Sears. All the while the aforementioned businesses conspicuously pop up in scenes where the action is a muddy blur but their beaming signs are clear as day. There is no spark of life to be found in Man of Steel. It is a soulless product bought and paid for by the Hollywood machine.

Epic

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Family, Fantasy with tags on June 4, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Epic photo starrating-2stars.jpgI have officially reached my limit of dull computer animated films. There needs to be more than just pretty CGI to hold my attention. Epic is the latest from the “creative” minds at Blue Sky Studios who brought us Ice Age.  A questionable achievement, but a downright masterpiece when compared to this utterly nondescript piece. The plot concerns an ordinary-size teen girl who is magically shrunken down into a secret world when she grabs a hold of a magical leaf pod. She’s subsequently thrust into an ongoing environmental conflict amongst various forest creatures who struggle to see who can become the most forgettable. Sorry sarcasm.

An hour after watching Epic, it was already fading from memory. The cast is made up of famous actors that turn in vapid voice work in exchange for a paycheck. Colin Farrell and Beyoncé Knowles are major stars. They charm in real life, but their voices are so bland here. The leader of the Leaf-Men and Queen of the Forest should be captivating, but their personalities only cause drowsiness. Don’t drive or operate heavy machinery under the effects of this movie. Aziz Ansari and Chris O’Dowd are a slug and snail respectively, but they should’ve been listed as hackneyed sidekick characters #1 and #2. They’re the comic relief but I didn’t hear a single child laugh in my theater. I suppose the script is the actual culprit.

This generic tale of good vs. evil  has been done countless times with more innovation and appeal. The story is lackluster in the extreme. Couldn’t the screenwriters have tried a little harder to come up with something interesting? The best lesson they can come up with is: “Many leaves, one tree; we’re all individuals, but we’re still connected.” Zzzzzzzz. It’s a shame because what the film does have going for it is gorgeous computer graphics. The animators have done a beautiful job giving zest to a script that has none. Epic won’t entertain adults and will leave kids wanting more. Children know a quality adventure when they see one and this ain’t it. You cannot foist a subpar saga on them and expect a hit. Not surprisingly, out of 8 productions, this became Blue Sky’s worst performing feature by a wide margin. It didn’t even recoup its $100M production budget in the U.S. Epic is neither majestic nor grand. It’s about as far from the word’s connotation as you can get. The most glaringly mistitled movie since The LAST Exorcism Part II.

Oz the Great and Powerful

Posted in Adventure, Family, Fantasy with tags on March 10, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Oz the Great and Powerful photo starrating-3stars.jpgOscar Diggs, a magician/con man, leaves Kansas in a hot air balloon, gets sucked into a cyclone and winds up in the Land of Oz. Here he encounters various personalities, including Evanora who promises all the wealth of the king if he kills the Wicked Witch by destroying her wand, the source of her power. This sends our fearless hero on an odyssey where he meets a couple of characters who join him. The action is all well and good, but the plot merely apes the events of the Victor Fleming version with less inspired results.

L. Frank Baum’s introductory novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is also the basis for this unofficial prequel. However the 1939 landmark film feels more like the real inspiration than that book. Director Sam Raimi was legally prohibited from replicating certain elements (i.e. ruby slippers) but he clearly references the 1939 classic with deferential respect. Raimi goes from black and white to color to highlight the transition to Oz and simulates the same environment in many scenes incorporating Munchkinland, the yellow brick road, and The Emerald City. The Winkie guards, flying monkeys and The Scarecrow are also among the many allusions. These are welcome touches, but the duplicated story is where the similarities become more problematic.

Ultimately Oz The Great and Powerful suffers in comparison. The human people here lack that same mythic sense of wonder. When Mila Kunis as Theodora first arrives, her modern ensemble appears like she time traveled back from 2013. Her floppy wide brimmed hat looks like something J.Lo would wear. Michelle Williams as Glinda the Good Witch is pretty but bland. She lacks the otherworldly charm (and distinctive voice) that Billie Burke had when she played the part. Rachel Weisz fares better as Evanora but only because we never really knew her in The Wizard of Oz. As Oscar the con man, James Franco relies on the actor’s insincere demeanor to play the role.  His trademark smirk is more than adequate, but less than enchanting. He certainly disappointed me in one scene. There’s a moment where Munchkins start to sing and dance in a lively musical number that got my feet a-tapping. Just as it was hitting its stride, Oscar puts his hand up and tells them to stop.

Oz the Great and Powerful has its moments. Visually it is a delight. The set design is first class with color and special effects combining in attractive displays. The film was shot in 3D, but I hardly think it demands to be seen in that format. It doesn’t contribute much to the already impressive spectacle. The frame is packed with gorgeous visuals that incorporate magical plants and bizarre creatures. A little porcelain China doll is a fragile creature that walks and talks with a cracked, reflective body. These demonstrations incite our fascination. The ending is particularly engaging too. The wizard’s impressive appearance to the people recalls his physical manifestation in the classic work. Oscar’s resourcefulness genuinely gets our emotions. Too bad you must wait to the end to see it. We’re constantly reminded with hints of the infinitely superior original. For most the production, the script simply isn’t unique enough. The narrative rings hollow although the smoke and mirrors just might be enough to entertain.

Jack the Giant Slayer

Posted in Adventure, Fantasy with tags on March 1, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Jack the Giant Slayer photo starrating-2stars.jpgJack the Giant Slayer is one of those effects-laden 3D eyesores short on excitement and big on CGI. It’s based on the English folk tale “Jack and the Beanstalk” and the lesser known (to this critic anyway) “Jack the Giant Killer.” It’s a story that has stood the test of time so this should’ve been a rousing adventure harkening back to traditional fables. Unfortunately this a largely uninspired effort full of flimsy characters, unexciting situations and copious amounts of CGI that look dated and ugly. Hollywood never seems to learn that simply throwing money up on the screen does not an enjoyable film make.

Given the subject, this anecdote could have been a spirited fantasy with touches of humor, but the oppressive spectacle has no joy. The cast includes formidable acting talent including Stanley Tucci, Ian McShane and Ewan McGregor. But the characters are disposable good vs. evil, rich vs. poor cutouts. Nicholas Hoult and Eleanor Tomlinson are particularly forgettable as Jack and Isabelle, the lead couple. I blame the script for the blah characterizations. Only Tucci exhibits the personality necessary for the lighthearted romp this aspires to be. Oh and the beanstalk gave a nice performance actually. Seriously it’s the most animated character of them all.

The adventure takes forever to get started. We all know the basic plot, so why the interminable intro? I struggled to stay awake during the first 30 minutes before the beanstalk gets planted. And when the screenplay isn’t generic, it’s stupid. You’ll question King Brahmwell’s mindset when he orders to intentionally cut down the very beanstalk that his beloved daughter has climbed up. Or her memory for that matter when she doesn’t question him on it later. Incidentally, when Jack and Isabelle do fall from the sky, their ability to remain alive is the most unintentionally hilarious display since the last Twilight picture.

This is a CGI nightmare. The entire race of giants, that live up in the sky are all computer generated. There are so many of them and they occupy such an important role that this becomes an animated film whenever they’re on screen. Many sequences would exist of nothing but simply a green screen without the computer graphics. At times CGI can improve visuals, but here they are badly executed and really ugly. The creations look hopelessly dated and cheap especially when they‘re interacting with real human actors. Why couldn’t the giants been accomplished using human actors and creatively shooting to make them appear larger? Oh how I missed the quaint practical effects of classic Hollywood fare of movies like Jason and the Argonauts. The technology may look antiquated today, but at least it had an organic quality that felt authentic.

There just isn’t enough innovation to Jack the Giant Slayer to justify why this was even made. Uninteresting characters, weak script and bad special effects, do not add up to a good time. It’s a deadly trifecta of bad movie making. The overreliance on poor CGI makes this a distinctly dreary exercise. There are snatches of excitement to be found. When Jack dumps a hive full of bees into a giant’s helmet, there’s gleeful anticipation in what will happen. But more often than not the action is a dull, labored affair lacking the fun of the original fairy tale. Not surprisingly the $195 million production has been a costly bomb. Maybe they should have just included music by Slayer. Guess we can be thankful we were spared sequels like Jack the Giant Megadeth or Jack the Giant Anthrax.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 491 other followers