Thursday, August 14, 2014

Film review: Maleficent

**Spoilers ahead**

Sleeping Beauty gets the "Wicked" treatment here. The villainess isn't evil, just misunderstood, and ultimately, the real heroine. So, it loses points for borrowing that concept.

It starts off interesting, it ends with a nice  -- if not totally original -- climax, it's the middle where things lose momentum. I usually feel patronized when a film throws in a gratuitous action sequence to prop up a sagging middle (I'm looking at you three most-recent Star Wars movies, and Casino Royale), but this film needed it. In the second act we watch Aurora go from baby to 15 in a totally unremarkable childhood.

Unremarkable ... couldn't anything happen? A world of dungeons and dragons, and absolutely no conflict in the flabby middle. Just Jolie becoming protective then loving of the princess she had cursed. There had to be a better way of showing that than a playful mud fight with the local trolls.

Just as in the Disney classic, three fairies raise her, but they're incompetent so Maleficent takes over raising her. The incompetence is supposed to be humorous, but never actually is funny.

It's a literal adaptation of the animated film - they frequently recreate scenes faithfully - and I'm sitting in  the theater thinking: please, take liberties, please, someone say something sarcastic. Wicked told an old story in a new way, turning what we knew about Oz on its head. This film, not so much.

I could also see parallels to "Terminator 2." The cyborg didn't turn good to service the story, the cyborg turned good because between Terminator 1 and Terminator 2 Arnold Schwarzenegger became a big movie star, and big movie stars don't play the bad guy. (the exception would be Jack Nicholson who's secure enough in his stardom to play the Joker or Jessup in "A Few Good Men.")

This is the same deal, Angelina Jolie is too big a movie star to play a villain. You could hear her agent yelling at the Disney people, "If you want her to be in this movie, she demands that she's the one who kisses the princess to break the spell!"

"Um...but in the story..."

"We don't care!"

As  a result, when the handsome prince does show up, he has nothing to do. In fact he spends more time unconscious than Sleeping Beauty.

It's like that Monty Python sketch "Scott of the Antarctic," where the dim  lead actor wants a rewrite in which he fights a lion. Nevermind there are no lions in the Antarctic.

So when Jolie gives the princess "true love's kiss," the only thing you see is Jolie's true love for her career.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Garfunkel and Oates: Speechless

IFC is streaming the first episode of this show here. It feels like a lost "Seinfeld" episode. The walking down the street talking about minutiae, running into someone, plot gets set in motion…and the comedy begins.

It's a little slow going at first as the pins get lined up, but once it all comes together we get a hilarious ending well worth the set up. Then there's a post-ending ending which explains everything which is also hilarious.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Film review: Guardians of the Galaxy

OK, we got a ragtag team of rebels who bicker, but must band together to fight a force much more powerful than themselves. I will give you it's a retelling of the Star Wars story, but it's probably the best retelling of the Star Wars story since Empire Strikes Back.

This is the kind of movie George Lucas used to know how to make.

The action sequences were relentless and funny. Yes we've seen jail breaks before, but this one starts with a laugh and ends with a surprise that makes perfect sense.

Everytime Quill puts on his Buck Rogers suit you just know it's going to be great.

We get to hear 70s standards in a whole new way, and  they even acknowledged their homages by giving credit to the Maltese Falcon and the Ark of the Covenant.

I never read the books, so I didn't have that to hold  back my enjoyment, but me and my 6-year-old both had a great time at the movies.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Film review: Earth to Echo

If you're old enough to be a parent, then you're old enough to have seen "E.T." and/or "Stand By Me," and if you've seen those movies, you're going to be bored silly by "Earth to Echo," which borrows liberally from both classics.

(Watching "E.T." back in '82, I couldn't get over how much it borrowed from "Escape to Witch Mountain.")

It has the added quality of borrowing from  the 'found footage' genre, pretty much guaranteeing the easily queazy a case of motion sickness.

It's a well-made film, your kids will love it. There's nothing objectionable. But, I had to sit through it with my eyes closed to keep from throwing up.

On a positive note, Teo Halm will be a big movie star someday probably soon.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Mystery of the One-Season Detective

I've been binge watching "Ellery Queen" on Hulu Plus. This was an NBC mystery from 1975-76. It was a whodunnit created by/produced by Richard Levinson, William Link and Peter Fischer. These three would later create "Murder, She Wrote," another whodunnit for CBS. The difference is, one of these shows ran one season, the other … what … 12 seasons?

The only reason I can see is "Murder, She Wrote," got the sweet time slot right after "60 Minutes," which was always a top 5 show in the 70s and 80s. (and any other network would have given the show the boot after three seasons so it could build another hit). "Ellery Queen" on the other hand was on NBC in the mid-70s, a time when no one watched NBC. The network went an entire decade without a hit show.

I liked the '40s setting, they put a lot of work on the cars, sets and props. But why the late 40s? All the good movie mysteries were from the 30s and early 40s. And though the women were game in having 40s hairstyles, the men for the most part kept their shaggy 70s hair. All the period shows in the 70s did this (except for the first season of "Happy Days.") My only explanation is all the guest stars were working actors, and couldn't very well get a 40s hair cut if they were due on the "Kojak" set first thing Monday morning.

And maybe Jim Hutton and David Wayne were too old for their roles. Hutton was a 42 year old guy living with his dad. And Wayne was in his 60s, perhaps too close to retirement to be a chief inspector. And sometimes Queen's absent-mindedness seemed rude. For a drinking game, take a shot every time he says, "Huh?"

Otherwise it was probably better than "Murder, She Wrote." Ellery tagging along with his police inspector dad was certainly more believable than Jessica Fletcher stumbling into murder after murder. EQ also had a better sense of humor; any joke on "Murder She Wrote" was definitely forced, or saved til the last freeze frame. EQ's humor was a little more organic, either through dialogue or the characters.

Saturday, June 7, 2014


Comic legend Bill Watterson made a cameo last week in "Pearls Before Swine." He didn't have to, but he did. Thank you, Mr. Watterson.

I thought it was his style, but didn't imagine he'd come back.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Really overdue film review: Skyfall

I get the feeling everyone looked at their watch and said, "Ohh, time to make a James Bond movie." And that's all the thought they put into the script. By its nature, the James Bond series is going to have some recycling, but "Casino Royale" managed to recycle things so well, it all seemed new. "Skyfall" seemed like minimum effort script-wise.

And I'm not talking about the standards: he must be in a tuxedo in a casino, he must have a doomed lover, he must have a physically deformed villain. I'm talking about plot elements stolen without any hesitation.

Judi Dench in jeopardy just like "World is Not Enough"
James Bond resurrected like "You Only Live Twice"
James Bond being told he's too old and must undergo training, just like "Never Say Never Again"
The rogue MI6 agent from "Goldeneye"
The palm-reading gun, just like from "License to Kill."
Bond breaks into M's flat, just like in "Casino Royale," and that was only two films ago.

But then there's the scenes overdone from other movies:

The criminal mastermind being questioned in his super secure standalone cell from which he'll escape,… from "Silence of the Lambs," "X-Men 2," "Avengers," and last night's episode of "The Blacklist."

The last act was like "Die Hard," except without the henchmen with individual personalities

Head scratchers:

How did Javier Bardem hack into MI6's computers? He worked there ten years ago and they still have the same computers with the same passwords?
How did he escape from the super inescapable cell? And how did he kill all the guards?
They introduce the new Q and all he has to offer is a gun and a radio? Why bother?

If the Daniel Craig films represent a reboot, where did he get the Aston Martin with built-in machine guns? Granted, There's no reason he should have Sean Connery's car except to get cheap applause from the audience.

(And the headstones at Skyfall disprove the Internet theory that "James Bond" is just a codename passed down from agent to agent, just like the 007 designation.)

The Moneypenny introduction was cute albeit unnecessary. Samantha Bond was still probably the best Moneypenny.

Great action scenes, great cinematography, great locales, but, nothing original.