The Drop

The Drop
Posted by on Sep 25, 2014

The Drop tells the story of “retired” mobster Cousin Marv (James Gandolfini) who know runs a money drop through his bar for the new mob boss.  His partner in crime Bob (Tom Hardy) who is a little slow and slightly socially inept helps him to run the bar keeps things going smoothly.  This all changes when two thieves rob the bar putting Marv and Bob on thin ice with their mob “partners”.

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The Drop is sadly the last film of the late great James Gandolfini.  He certainly leaves us with an incredible film from start to finish.  His performance is nothing short of superb.  Capturing the characters essence of a mobster trying to grasp at his once tremendous presence.  The subtlety at which he presents the struggle of the characters shines through in the patterns of his speech and his overall presentation.  At times seeming to ramble while remaining on subject provides layers of simultaneous confidence and anxiety.  Gandolfini’s performance is matched and supported by Tom Hardy.

Tom Hardy portrays a character that seems at first, out of place with rest of these criminals and thugs.  This is highlighted by his floundering interactions with his female co-star Noomi Rapace.  His performance is truly telling of his potential with his ability to display the same mannerisms and characteristics of a character while providing completely different implications regarding intent.  I wish I could tell you more but I fear I am treading on the thin ice of spoilers.  Not to be overshadowed by her male counter-parts, Noomi Rapace excellently portrays a character trapped and pulled in two different directions.  She is forced to decide between two interpretations of wickedness.

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What I liked most about this film is how they misdirected the audience.  They lead the audience into making judgement’s about the characters which they flip later on in the film.  It is masterly crafted to lead the audience on.  The directing style is really slick, very simple and straightforward.  Camera shots are very steady and tracking shots are kept to a minimum.  The depth and complexity of the film is purely in the character portrayals and the choices they make.

Surprisingly, the subplot actually tied a lot of the film together.  This is where Noomi Rapace comes in.  Hardy first meets her when he walks by her house and notices that somebody place a puppy in her trash can.  Hardy ends up taking the puppy and starting to care for it.  Quickly realizing that he has never taken of anything else before, asks Rapace to help him with the basics.  She reluctantly accepts and a romance begins to bud.

What was also done very well is the balance between the plot and subplot.  Often times a subplot, especially that of the romantic variety, are thrown in without any relevance to the main plot.  You end up getting a subplot that adds nothing to the characters development, which is what a well executed subplot should do.  With The Drop, you get a romantic subplot that gives you insight into the minds and behaviors of the characters.  At first it seems fairly unrelated, just a random occurrence that allows the main narrative to divert to every once in awhile.  However, the subplot quickly interacts with the main plot and by the end the behaviors of the characters within, especially Tom Hardys, become clear.  I wish I could say more but I fear I’m starting to get into spoiler territory.

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All in all a great film and wonderful sendoff the late great James Gandolfini

My Rating: 8.5/10

The Hundred-Foot Journey

The Hundred-Foot Journey
Posted by on Aug 27, 2014

The Hundred-Foot Journey  starts with the story of a family from India who are forced to flee after their restaurant is attacked by political extremists.  They flee to London where they aren’t exactly impressed with the culinary options.  So, they continue their journey to France where they decide to start a new restaurant, right across the street from one of the most famous restaurants in all of France.  Their traditional Indian cuisine and style clashes with the other owners classic French style with hilarity and drama ensuing.

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The Hundred-Foot Journey is all in all an average film.  It’s not awful but it isn’t fantastic either, it is simply a strong film that rides the middle ground pretty well.  The best part of the film by far is Helen Mirren’s performance which isn’t all that surprising since it’s Helen Mirren.  Seriously, she plays a stuck up french woman who is constantly trying to find a reason to close down her new competition.  However, in a completely “unseen” turn of events she eventually comes around to the family.  What makes her performances so fantastic is the subtlety of emotion.  Whether it be joy or sadness, she is able to express complete and pointed emotions with extreme subtlety.  My favorite example of this is a moment where the rival head chef’s hands have been badly burned due to some overzealous employees from her own restaurant.  Her recognition of what the damage of his hands means in every metaphorical and literal sense is purely heartbreaking.  Regardless, beside Helen doing her thing there isn’t much else to this film.

The two main characters, Manish Dayal and Charlotte Le Bron do a solid job but due to the fairly predictable plot, it seems they lose the chance to really strut their stuff.  The rest of the cast do well enough to provide drama and humor where needed.  Outside of that they are easily replaceable.

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As said before the plot is predictable.  Partly because of the trailers leading to the film tell all that there is to the film and partly because it is a run of the mill romance/drama flick.  It has all the tropes from the shy pretty girl that doesn’t think she is pretty, the conflict that forces our two love-birds a part, even the whole two old people bickering who eventually fall in love shtick made it in.  While still well written in terms of dialogue, it still suffers from plot issues.

The best way to describe this film is a safe-bet.  It seems Steven Spielberg and Oprah, the two executive producers, set out to make a film that would return on investment.  They succeeded since this film has already made more than it cost.  Again, while not a terrible movie it still isn’t a good one.  If you are in the mood for a film that will leave you a little happier afterwards without giving you too much grief getting there than hunker down with your favorite snacks.

My Rating: 5/10

Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy
Posted by on Aug 2, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy is the story of how five outlaws banned together to stop a religious fanatic on his conquest to destroy worlds.  Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), and Groot (Vin Diesel) are the only hope the galaxy has for survival.

Guardians of the Galaxy is by far the most unique Marvel film to date.  It takes the audience to the farthest reaches of the galaxy, far from earth and into a world with talking trees and raccoons.  At it’s heart and really what this movie does, is tell the story of five misfits who have nowhere else to fit it.  Peter Quill is an orphan who was abducted from earth when he was young boy in the eighties.  Drax is a killer whose family has been killed and has left him with nothing except the burning need to avenge their death.  Gamora is one of the deadliest assassins in the galaxy who became that way after Thanos killed her family in front of her and raised her as weapon.  Rocket Raccoon is a raccoon that has been experimented on until he gained sentience and intelligence beyond the average being.  Groot is in as few words as possible, a space ent whose vocabulary is limited to 3 words, “I Am Groot”.  This ragtag bunch of outlaws somehow winds up saving the galaxy by being at the right place at the wrong time.  What is great about this film is it seems James Gunn embraced this idea of misfits.  This is most easily seen with Peter Quill and his bevy of eighties references.  After all, he was abducted in 1988 when he was child and enamored with the pop culture of the time.  While the audience understands his references, those around him don’t and they often end up misinterpreting his metaphors in hilarious ways.  Without spoiling too much, this culture clash humor is takenand applied to each of the individual characters in their own way giving each one time in the spotlight.

With a cast that rivals The Avengers, this film has a strong talent base to rest on.  Surprisingly, no characters seem underdeveloped or pushed to the side.  Each character fulfills their role brilliantly which creates a narrative that flows very smoothly.  Now, one thing that I found this movie had trouble with was some of the dialogue.  At certain pints, the dialogue seems forced and awkward when it shouldn’t.  However, most of these moments occur in the beginning of the film, when these characters are still melding together into a cohesive team.  I could very easily see this as a ploy by James Gunn to enhance this idea that these characters are very much outcasts and misfits.  The only other part of this film that seemed to struggle was it pacing, it really was a roller-coaster of a film.  Still, this comes down to preference because after all roller-coasters are pretty fun.  What’s gonna happen is you will find that scenes have a certain emotional focus and then find the next scenes have taken a hard turn towards another focus altogether.  Again, this will come down to personal preference but it could very easily be found to be jarring.

In the end, this film might have a few flaws here and there but these flaws are vastly outweighed by the humor, wit, action, drama, and storytelling that you will have the pleasure of experiencing.  This film is a must see unless of course you’re not a fan of good cinema.

My Rating: 9/10

Hercules

Hercules
Posted by on Jul 28, 2014

Hercules tells the story of the legendary mercenary Hercules (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson).  After completing his 12 feats, which have become more myth than fact, Hercules and his legendary band of mercenaries have been hired to help the kingdom of Thrace end a civil war.  Haunted by the death of his family and his apparent hand in their demise, he hopes that this will be his last job before he can go live out the rest of his days in peace and solitude.  However, after their apparent victory, things don’t seem to be quite as they seem and they might have just been fighting on the wrong side this entire time.

Hercules is a solid film, it’s not going to win any awards and isn’t a masterpiece of film making.  It is simply a fun popcorn film to kick back and enjoy.  What largely hinders this film is the implementation of it’s plot and various subplots.  The main plot was fine in terms of structure, it simply dragged along for the first half.  The film opens up with what boils down to Hercules and his band of mercenaries kicking ass and taking names.  From there we get a training montage, some back story that comes in multiple parts, and a couple battles.  What makes it drag for the most part is the multiple spots of back story.  Instead of giving it to us all in one go, which would be the most efficient delivery and would allow for more action sequences.  Not to mention that the majority of the subplots are either poorly executed or awkwardly resolved.  I won’t go into too much detail but essentially, by removing a few subplots or by smoothing them out a bit, the first half of the film would have been much better and more entertaining.

The last half of the film is much better and is far more entertaining.  There are fewer subplots and the action really takes center stage.  Not only that but the balance between humor and action is perfect.  It turns the film into just a fun ride.  You get to see Dwayne bust some skulls with the other mercenaries while cracking jokes.  If the first half of this film was like the second half, it would have been a home run.  Unfortunately that just wasn’t the case.  Thankfully, there was an awesome cast that helped smooth out the rough bits.  With the big man himself, Dwayne Johnson dominating the screen both physically and in terms of acting, the rest of the cast wasn’t left too far behind.  However, Rufus Sewell, who plays Hercules best friend, Autoclycus, nearly steals the show.  You might recognize him from his portrayal of the villain from A Knights Tale.  He by far has the best delivery and has some of the most memorable lines.  Plus, his character is the cool rogue of the group and who doesn’t love that character.  The rest of the mercenary cast, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Aksel Hennie, Reece Ritchie, and Ian McShane, all do a great job and have very good chemistry with each character adding a little more to the pot.  Honestly, you get the feeling that these actors have been great friends for awhile and they just decided to be in a movie together.  Regardless, this cast really helps to cover up the weaknesses of the plot structure and strengthens the film over all.

All in all, Hercules is a fun film to just sit back with some popcorn and enjoy yourself.  It doesn’t knock anything out of the park but is just a solid film to enjoy with some friends, especially if you are a fan of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

My Rating: 6.5/10

Begin Again

Begin Again
Posted by on Jul 24, 2014

Begin Again is the story of two people down on their luck.  Dan (Mark Ruffalo) has just been forced out of the music label he helped found.  Currently on a “break” with his wife, he is struggling to repair his life and his relationships.  Greta (Keira Knightley) has just left her boyfriend of five years who she was with on his way to stardom.  An aspiring musician and songwriter who believes in the purity of music, she has booked her ticket back home to England when by chance Dan hear’s her sing the night before she leaves.  The song brings Dan out of his self-pity party and he decides that he wants to record an album with her.  From here, we see their journey and the inevitable resolution.

Begin Again is a fun little film written and directed by John Carney (Once).  There are a few things that Begin Again does well.  It does an excellent job of being real.  Often times films have this feeling of being scripted, which is partly because they are. Moments that are either awkward or intimate are often very smooth.  Characters always know just what, when, and how to say what is needed.  Begin Again doesn’t quite fit this idea.  The characters are awkward when it’s awkward and often say the wrong thing or even rephrase what they just said.  Part of this can be attributed to the writing, the rest of it can be attributed to the actors.  They do a great job physically representing their characters.  Mark Ruffalo gradually goes from hunched over and erratic to more confident and upright.  Keira Knightley has a wonderful transformation that starts out happy and open to life to closed off and insecure.  Not until Dan (Mark Ruffalo) enters her life and helps her to realize her potential.  They both help to draw each other out of the dark and depressed place they are in.  The other actors do equally as well however, they don’t have as much screen time which makes it harder to see.  Not to mention the reactions the characters have when they are at their lowest seem very genuine.

This film is great because it defies certain Hollywood conventions.  For example, at first is seems that Dan and Greta would eventually end up together.  In fact, it seems that is what the film is building towards since they share more than a few emotionally close moments.  In the end, their relationship remains as close friends and their actions are meant to symbolize the vulnerability they both feel.  There is even this moment at the end of the film where nothing is said but they share this look where they both seem to realize that they wouldn’t work.  They seem to realize they helped them get through their low points but that they weren’t attracted to each other.  This whole relationship was very refreshing when it seems main characters always end up together in Hollywood.

With a strong supporting cast made up of some up and coming actors as well as some very recognizable musicians, Begin Again has a strong foundation which is easy to see throughout the film.  However, the weakest part of the film by far is it’s musical stars.  Since they are so recognizable they seem a little out of place and can pull the audience out of the film, not to mention their acting skills leave a little to be desired.  That being said, Cee Lo Green and Adam Levine both do a great job of being them.  Cee Lo is a charismatic, smooth talking, teddy bear while Adam is a rock star with a big ego.  Now they might not be anything like this in real life, but, these characters seem very natural for them.

Ultimately, this film does a lot of things right while doing very few things wrong.  If you won’t a little more of a relaxed movie to kick back and watch, then try this one on for size.  With romance, drama, and well balanced humor you could do a lot worse than Begin Again.

My Rating: 8.5/10

Edge Of Tomorrow

Edge Of Tomorrow
Posted by on Jul 3, 2014

Cage (Tom Cruise) is a solider in the US Army who joined up within the PR division so he could avoid combat.  However, when the last stand of humanity begins he is ordered to go to the front lines to record it.  He attempts to get out of it but in the end he is forced to fight against his will.  In combat he finds himself facing a slightly bigger mimic, the aliens that they are fighting.  This mimic is bigger, badder, and bluer than the others.  When Cage kills it and is drenched in its blood however, he finds himself in a Groundhog Day style loop.  With every time he dies, the day starts over and he gets another chance at survival.  With the help of Rita (Emily Blunt), a war hero who used to have the same ability, and Dr. Carter (Noah Taylor), a physicist who warned that the enemy mimics had this ability, are out to try and kill the mother mimic.

Edge of Tomorrow is first and foremost a fantastic sci-fi film.  If it had to be summarized it would probably be a cross between Alien, Star Troopers, and Groundhog Day.  A weird combination, nonetheless, this film borrows aspects from all of these films.  It does a great job of balancing the inherent repetitive nature of the main plot device while still keeping things new and entertaining.  This was obviously my biggest concern going into the film and I was pleased with how well they handled it.  In fact, they actually use the repetitive nature of the film to their advantage which results in more than a few light-hearted moments that help the audience get past the initial repetition.  The action in the film was well done and they do a great job of not repeating the same scenes over and over again as the film goes on.  You often find out through exposition that Cage and Rita have already gone through this situation multiple times.  Ultimately, if you enjoy sci-fi films, than this one is an excellent addition to your must watch list.  Even if your not a huge fan of sci-fi, it is still a great film that would not be a waste of time.

Now, while this movie did a lot of good things, one of them was not the ending.  I will do my best to make this spoiler free but be warned that there will be a few spoilers in from here on out.  The ending, in my opinion, was ruined twice.  Meaning they had two opportunities to have a great ending and they botched both of them.  The first time around they completely ignore what this whole movie has been about, infinite re-spawns to borrow the video game terminology.  In a situation where there are no stakes, where Cage has an unlimited number of attempts, the film sometimes seems pointless.  However, he eventually loses these powers thus raising the stakes since he know longer has the option to be reckless and is faced with the very real possibility of dying.  You would think the film makers would keep like this since it makes the audience more invested in the film since the main character now has to be careful of paying the ultimate price.  However, in the end, in a “twist” ending he regains these power so that the day will start over and he gets to be with Rita, who he has fallen in love with (did I forget to mention that whole subplot?).  Instead of killing the main character making this whole adventure mean something, the director decides to just bring him back so we as the audience can have a happy ending.

Looking past this ending, they had the opportunity to redeem themselves slightly by making the last few moments incredibly romantic.  After Cage wakes up for the last time, he of course immediately goes to Rita to supposedly confess his love in someway.  The last scene shows Cage approaching Rita who questions him. as to why he is interrupting her training.  His response is to shrug and nervously chuckle at the whole situation before the credits roll.  On the surface this isn’t a bad ending.  However, when you take into account that earlier in the film when Cage is trying to get Rita to open up and we see their love slowly growing, she confides in him her middle name.  All the director would’ve had to do is have Cage walk up and say “Hey Rose” or even just Rose.  It would have tied the film together more completely and would have made a very sweet ending.  Instead, the instead decides to just kind of end.

All in all, despite the ending Edge of Tomorrow is still a great addition to the sci-fi genre.  It’s funny, action-packed, dramatic, and romantic.  If you haven’t seen it yet I highly suggest it.

My Rating (With a different ending): 8.5

My Rating (With the current ending): 7

How to Train Your Dragon 2

How to Train Your Dragon 2
Posted by on Jun 23, 2014

The world has gotten much bigger in five years.  Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) has been busy, inventing new dragon riding equipment and exploring the world.  Discovering new lands and new dragons.  The rest of Berk has been busy integrating dragons into their everyday life.  Stoick (Gerard Butler) has officially declared Hiccup the next chief.  This of course causes Hiccup to run away and do what comforts him, fly.  During a talk with Astrid (America Ferrera) at a brand new archipelago, they spot burning patch of land.  They consequently come across a group of dragon trappers, led by Eret (Kit Harington) who informs them of the malevolent Drago (Djimon Hounsou) who has been forming an army of dragons.  After a few conflicts with his father, Hiccup discovers another dragon rider.  One that has created a sanctuary for dragons from Drago.  This mysterious rider turns out to be Hiccups mother, Valka (Cate Blanchett), who has been presumed dead for the past 20 or so years.  In an inevitable turn of events, the residents of Berk ally with Valka’s dragons to repel Drago and his army.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a great entry into Dreamworks pantheon.  It has plenty of heart, humor, and action.  Not to mention they aren’t afraid to add some real pain to the mix.  In a world where franchises are seen as easy cash cows, it is refreshing to see genuine effort put into another franchise entry.  Not to mention the great cast of characters surrounding the main protagonists.  While they don’t add much beyond some light-hearted humor, they are a nice tension relief during some of the more tense moments of the film.

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What this movie does the best, is expand upon the world that we were introduced in the first film.  They have truly created a world that is exciting and enjoyable.  Combining this whimsical world with improved visuals makes it all the more immersive.  Really, my one regret about seeing this movie is not seeing it in 3-D.  Not to mention the full on dragon war that occurs in the latter half of the film.  The design of the fight and flight scenes is absolutely perfect.  What is extremely interesting, however is this theme of dismemberment.  You have the heroes, Hiccup and Toothless, both missing a small piece of themselves.  What is important is that these injuries were essentially inflicted by each other.  To clarify, these injuries were not directly inflicted on them by each other.  However, these injuries were direct results from the others actions.  Regardless, these injuries go on to bond them to each other and shape their character.  This is put into contrast with the villains own dismemberment.  It is revealed that early on, Drago lost his arm to a dragon.  This turned him against the very idea that dragons could be anything more than mindless beasts.  Instead of choosing to grow from the incident, he chose to conquer his fears through domination.  Now this is all just my own musings since none of this is confirmed in the film.  However, it fairly easy to see when you observe how differently Hiccup and Drago approach dragons.  Hiccup always approaches new dragons with humility and calm.  Drago on the other hand approaches with rage and domination tactics.  Drago asserts himself over the dragons, demanding their obedience, while Hiccup earns their trust.  Honestly, I could write a whole paper Dreamworks representation of trauma and how it shapes.  That I will have to save for a rainy day.

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Now, all this to say How to Train Your Dragon 2 didn’t have its problems.  My main issue is how Dreamworks seems to rehash many of the same internal struggles.  We get it, Hiccup and his father don’t see eye to eye on things.  That was the last movie.  I can understand Hiccups struggle of entering adulthood and accepting more responsibility, but not in the way the represented.  Instead of focusing on that fear of growing up, they turned into more teenage angst about how his father doesn’t understand him.  It was really the exact same issue only with a different setting.  The peripheral characters were also very underwritten.  Taking Astrid for example, she really has no part in the movie.  Sure, she’s there but she offers very little substance to the film.  This goes for the rest of his childhood friends as well.  They do offer some excellent comedic timing but otherwise they seem over abundant and unnecessary.  It would have been nice to at least one of these characters at least add some kind of side conflict or telling Hiccup to just get over himself and take on some responsibility.

Now, since this is the second installment in a possibly 4 movie franchise lets take a look at where the franchise could go.  The best thing for Dreamworks to do, would be to show Hiccup struggling with his new duties as chief.  This seems fairly obvious but the majority of his struggles should come from one of his friends resisting and even becoming an enemy.  This could be difficult but not impossible.  Plus, it would be a new and very interesting situation for Hiccup to deal with.  Beyond that, since Dreamworks has exhausted the dragon army idea, they would need to go into non-physical territory.  For instance, there is some new disease that is affecting both dragons and humans.  Hiccup takes it upon himself to find the cure or the cause.  Not only does this raise the stakes by putting his loved ones on the line, but it would naturally open up the world even more.

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Wherever Dreamworks decides to take Hiccup and his friends, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is an excellent addition to the series.  It plays to Dreamworks strengths while still bringing in fresh and exciting story elements.

My Rating: 7/10

Frozen

Frozen
Posted by on Jun 22, 2014

Elsa (Idina Menzel) is the new queen of Arendelle after her parents death in a storm at sea.  During her coronation her childhood powers, which she has tried to hid her entire life, explode out of control.  It is up to her little sister, Anna (Kristen Bell) to stop her and turn end this eternal winter.  With the help of an ice farmer, Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his reindeer, and a magical snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad) they just might be able to save the kingdom.

Frozen is the latest animated film from the Disney giant and is a fantastic addition to the pantheon of Disney films.  It is based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale called The Snow Queen.  The original fairy tale is very different from the movie, which is now surprise given Disney’s methods of updating these fairy tales for the modern world.  In the original tale, you have two little children, Kai and Gerda.  Kai, who has essentially fallen under a spell from the devil, only sees the bad aspects of people.  This turns him bitter and mean to those around them.  One day, Kai meets the Snow Queen who kisses him once to make him immune to the cold and a second time to make him forget those he loved, like his grandmother and Gerda.  The townsfolk believe Kai to have perished in the river, since that was where he was last seen.  Gerda on the other, motivated by her heartbreak, believes that Kai is still alive.  Thus in true fairy tale fashion, she goes off on an epic quest to save Kai.  She meets women and creature on her journey that help her along the way.  When she finally reaches Kai, her kiss breaks the enchantments placed on Kai and they live happily ever after.

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Frozen is vastly different than the original fairy tale.  Elsa is the snow queen who can’t control powers and Anna is her sister who sets out to rescue Elsa and save the kingdom.  There is no Kai or grandmother nor any of the original characters Gerda meets in the original tale.  However, the reindeer is re imagined as Kristoff’s pet and life long friend which is a nice touch.  Disney also took the liberty of adding a few extra characters that ultimately act as the villains of the story.  The Duke of Weselton (Alan Tudyk) seeks to take of Arendelle or at the very least remove Elsa from the throne.  Hans (Santino Fontana) is prince from the Summer Isles who ultimately seeks to become king of Arendelle by first marrying Anna and then killing both sisters to ascend the throne.  These changes work out in Disney’s favor helping to add a little drama and progressive ideas into Frozen.

Alright, now to the meat and potatoes of Frozen.  What works really well with this movie is its focus on the female characters.  Neither are helpless nor do they pine away after some prince like many of their fellow Disney princesses.  In fact, in possibly the most meta critical moment, the song Love is an Open Door plays on many of the tropes that often accompanies the first meeting between prince and princess in Disney films.  This is made all the more poignant when Hans’ true colors are finally revealed and he attempts to kill Anna and Elsa.  For the record, props are in order since Disney basically brought in a character from Game of Thrones.  The amount Hans plays the characters off of each other to his gain is spectacularly brutal for a Disney movie.  Besides this song, Disney also shifts the focus on the love sisters have for each other instead of between a prince and princess.  In fact, the real love interest, Hans, doesn’t even make an effort until the end.  This focus is ultimately what made Frozen such a big deal.  Not to mention the popularity of Let It Go which has swept the world by storm.

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With the sister relationship taking center stage, the humor, music, and everything else simply acts as a pedestal to display this idea of true love.  Mainly, that love is not restricted to romantic relationships.  This is clearly displayed when Anna, who is slowly turning into ice due to being struck by Elsa’s ice, can only be saved by an act of true love.  Through out the movie, this act of true love is sold as true loves kiss.  However, in a series of twists, it is actually Anna saving Elsa from Hans’ sword that breaks the spell.  This act of true love is a refreshing change of pace from the power of true love’s kiss.

Now, for the parts that didn’t work in Frozen.  While I can appreciate unseen villain motif, I believe that Elsa would have made a great villain.  Comparing her whole story with any good villain origin story, you start to see more than a few similarities.  It seems a waste of a good villain setup but ultimately it doesn’t cripple the film.  On a more personal film, in the marketing leading up to the release of Frozen, it was often compared and presented as the next Lion King.  This just seems like setting up extremely high expectations seeing as The Lion King is possibly one of the most popular Disney movies.  Seriously, it is essentially the standard that people use to judge other Disney movies.  To come out and  throw down the gauntlet is just asking for trouble.  Regardless, while I do not believe it beat The Lion King, it doesn’t fall terribly short either.  The trolls were also a problem.  Now, I have not mentioned the trolls yet and that is for a reason.  The have been unmentioned so far mainly due to the fact that they are a largely unnecessary part of the film.  They are simply a plot device to move the story.  They are in the beginning so they can explain Elsa’s power and again to have a musical number that has little bearing on the actual relationships, other than pointing out Kristoff and Anna belong together.  They could have served the same function while being more relevant with the addition or change of a few scenes.  In the beginning when they are explaining Elsa’s powers, the simple addition of dialogue expressing that Elsa will always find help here is all that is needed for a setup.  A simple follow-up scene of a distraught Elsa running to the troll’s who then promptly leaves when she accidentally hurts one of them is all that is needed.  These two additions would have been all that is needed to make the troll’s more relevant.  There are a few other concerns, mainly with certain artistic choices that affect the overall message, but that is for another day.

Ultimately, blending positive messages of love, female empowerment, witty well-placed humor, and endearing characters.  Frozen is fun film for all ages and must see for any and all Disney fanatics.

My Rating: 8/10

Stardust

Stardust
Posted by on Jun 10, 2014

 

Stardust is a love story, just not one you have heard about.  Tristan (Charlie Cox) is a young man who lives in the small country town of Wall.  The kind of town where nothing particularly spectacular happens.  He has hopelessly fallen for Victoria (Sienna Miller) who is currently being pursued by Humphrey (Henry Cavill), the town stud as it were.  One night, as Tristan is attempting to woo Victoria with a romantic candlelit picnic, a falling star happens to pass over them and as a statement of true love Tristan vows to retrieve this star to prove his love.  However, over the wall, which the town is named for, is a magical land known as Stormhold where the next king is being chosen.  In fact, it appears this star was brought down by the kings amulet and the last remaining son will become king.  Tristan will truly have to prove his love by fighting off power hunger princes, youth seeking witches, and attempting to reason with a star.

If there is one word to describe this movie, it would undoubtedly be whimsical.  Based on the book of the same name written by Neil Gaiman, it tells the story of what true love really is.  Our hero, like many, has fallen for someone who quite frankly isn’t quite deserving of our hero.  Of course, blinded by his love for Victoria, Tristan goes on this quest to bring back a fallen star.  In turn of events, this star is less of a rock and more of women  named Yvaine (Claire Daines).  Of course hi-jinks ensue as Tristan must protect Yvaine from princes and witches who wish to devour her heart to live forever.

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The strength of this movie beyond the story telling is in its cast.  First off, you have Ian McKellen as the narrator whose narration skills could probably only be surpassed by Morgan Freeman.  Not to mention Mark Strong as the villain, and a villain he plays.  Killing his brothers, innocent bystanders, and even at one point aids in killing the leader of the church or at least sort of.  Nowadays, it seems villains are the only characters Mark plays, but that’s mostly because he does it so well and this time is no exception.  Michelle Pfeiffer plays the other villain, the leader of three witches who are out to eat Yvaine’s heart to gain near immortality.  Michelle doesn’t let Mark steal the villain spotlight.  Where Mark’s villain bull rushes on, Michelle plays things coy and methodical.  Setting up traps and attempting to trick our protagonists to their death.  Her portrayal of the witch Lamia is an excellent balance to Mark’s Septimus.

The highlight of the film though comes in the form of Robert DeNiro’s portrayal of Captain Shakespeare.  With Robert DeNiro is most well known for his tougher than nails characters often for humorous effect (The Family, Meet the Parents).  Stardust switches this dynamic where the character of Captain Shakespeare, a blood thirsty captain who pillages, plunders, and kills with out remorse is just that, a character.  The true Shakespeare is a man who abhors violence all together and prefers to spend his energy on cross dressing.  Yes, Robert DeNiro plays a homosexual pirate with a flair for the dramatic.  This film is worth seeing just for his performance since it is something that you won’t see everyday.

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My main problem with this film is in its deus ex machina at the end.  Everything works out for the heroes where nearly nothing is lost.  I’m not against a happy ending, I just think with this particular movie it would have been made more meaningful if our heroes had to struggle more for it.  Most of the ground work is laid out for the big resolve in the film, it still feels very neat and tidy in a story that has had one twist after another.  However, this is hardly a reason to place Stardust on your do not watch list.  If you are looking for a fun film, one that would be perfect for a date night, than I strongly recommend Stardust.

My Rating: 8/10

Dom Hemingway

Dom Hemingway
Posted by on Jun 5, 2014

Dom Hemingway (Jude Law) is  a loud, belligerent, drunk who is loyal to a fault.  After spending 12 years in prison because of this loyalty, Dom is ready for his thank you.  When a robbery goes south for our safe cracker, he decides to spend the 12 years for his boss, Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir), instead of turning on him.  After settling a few minor disputes, such as beating the man who slept with wife within an inch of his life, and celebrating his release, courtesy of Mr. Fontaine, he seeks the money he is owed.  With his best mate Dickie Black (Richard Grant) in tow, he visits Fontaine at his illustrious country estate for his reward.  After a few misunderstandings mostly caused by Dom himself, he eventually receive his reward and all three settle for a night of celebration that would rival the debauchery of Dionysus.  One thing leads to another and Dom finds himself down on his luck.  No money, a severe concussion, and collapsed on the doorstop of his estranged daughter, Evelyn (Emilia Clarke).  With a new sense of purpose, we find Dom on a mission to repair his relationship with his daughter.

Nowadays, Jude Law is most synonymous with his representation of Dr. John Watson alongside Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock.  To see Law move from a refined English investigator to belligerent degenerate is quite a shock.  Richard Shepard, who wrote and directed, does not shy away from making Dom a less than upstanding individual.  With on opening monologue about how magnificent his member is while being, shall we say, serviced in prison is only the beginning.  From beatings, to insults, and cursing Dom is not afraid to speak his mind.  That is unless it comes to his daughter.  Evelyn is about as far as you can get from Dom.  Her demeanor and personality help to show just how rough Dom is when compared to her much more caring character.  That isn’t to say she accepts him with open arms.  After all, Dom chose to sacrifice 12 years of being JudeLawRichardEGrantDemianBichirDomHemingwaywith his family in order to stay in the good graces of Mr. Fontaine.  That kind of abandonment can cause some relationship issues.  This ultimately is what this film is about.  repairing that damaged relationship so Dom cannot only be in his daughters life, but his grandson’s as well.  With a pretty clear split, the first half of this film is entirely about defining the character of Dom Hemingway.  A crass individual that you wouldn’t trust with your money but ultimately has a heart of gold and loyal to a fault.  This first half focuses on his faults and ultimately how they lead him in a downward spiral.  In the second half, the focus is on his better attributes.  With his loyalty shifted toward his daughter and his friends, you begin to see why this Dom isn’t such a bad guy after all.

The strength of this film is definitely in its cast.  Every actor delivers an incredible performance highlighted by Jude Law’s personification of debauchery in Dom.  Emilia Clarke, who you might recognize as Daenerys Targaryen from HBO’s Game of Thrones, proves that she can move beyond her most significant role.  What might throw some audience members is the style of directing and writing this movie adopts.  It watches much like a play.  It has long uninterrupted monologues or conversations with little to no cuts.  Instead, it seems the director shows the film as a window that the audience only has one perspective look through.  Another director with a similar style is Quentin Tarantino.  He will have long segments of dialogue with very view dynamic camera changes.  He differs because he often follows those segments with scenes of explosive, almost cathartic violence.  Richard Shepard distinguishes himself by not including such a direct violent followup.  Instead, his film follows more gradual increases and decreases that go throughout the film and with a lot of build up and a lot of release.

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Unfortunately, this film has few story elements that seem out of place.  The best way to describe this is replacing subtle elements with more overt.  For instance, one character that acts as the catalyst of change for Dom is really obvious about it.  Spouting off remarks about balance and the universe.  Honestly, this could fit since this movie is often very loud and equally ridiculous.  In fact when this character first appears, they don’t seem all that out of place.  Unfortunately, this character returns and in quieter moments as well where they seem out of place.  Another scene where this idea occurs is the final one of the film, where Dom after just a having life changing experience with his daughter, seems to revert back to his old ways.  This could be the directors way of saying that Dom will never change, which kind of sucks out the meaning of the rest of the film.

Overall, Dom Hemingway is a fun and loud ride that tells the story of a man trying to find what he wants in life.

My Rating: 6.5/10