Jack the Giant Slayer

Jack the Giant Slayer seems like a stretch, a bit too much expected from an old fairy tale. Luckily, the film delivers a lot of fun action and some surprisingly interesting characterizations, thus making it a fun time at the movies.

Sadly, the too-rampant CGI decreases that fun.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released March 1, 2013

Written by Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie, Dan Studney, and David Dobkin

Directed by Bryan Singer

Starring Eleanor Tomlinson, Nicholas Hoult, Ewan McGregor, Ian McShane, Stanley Tucci, Eddie Marsan, Ewen Bremner, and Warwick Davis

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Jack (Hoult) grew up hearing legends about giants that live far up in the clouds, but that they were repelled generations ago after they ruled humans for a time. When Roderick (Tucci), the chief adviser to King Brahmwell (McShane) hatches a plan to use a powerful magical item that will enable him to control the giants and use them to rule the world, Jack gets caught up in the plan through a mixture of naive bravery and chance.

Part of the chance is that Princess Isabelle (Tomlinson) craves exposure to the outside world and she runs away, coming upon Jack’s home. Another part of the chance is that Jack, not long before, recently encountered a monk who was trying to keep another magical item, some beans, from being used by evil powers. Yet another part of that chance is that it’s raining this night.

Jack’s courage came during his first inadvertent encounter with the princess, when he stands up to some people threatening her before being outshone by the king’s chief guard Elmont (McGregor).

Through a series of events, the beans sprout, carrying the princess to the land beyond the clouds to the domain of the giants. Roderick is pleased and does his best to get control of them, while at the same time Elmont ends up with Roderick and Jack and two others, Crawe (Marsan) and Wicke (Bremner), at the top of the beanstalk to try to find the princess.

There they encounter the entirely CGI giants and things hit the fan. This movie is not afraid to kill people off, which works entirely in its favor.

Much heroism is required and most of the characters have a surprising arc, some of which require extreme bravery and determination. All of this leads to at least two major showdowns, the first of which provides an opportunity for an unexpected twist.

Critique

Jack the Giant Slayer has a lot going for it. First off, the large cadre of writers showed no fear in trying some risky plot turns, killing of major characters in order to reveal other, more important characters behind them. Secondly, the dialogue is very nicely crafted, helping these fantastical characters have a grounding in reality and offering a lot of very clever humor. Ewan McGregor particularly seems to enjoy his apparently foppish but altogether surprising role. The fact is that Roderick is almost the primary hero of this story.

A second major thing going for Jack the Giant Slayer is that it is surprisingly well cast, for the most part. Nick Hoult as the lead is great. This kid delivers in every moment: comedy, heartfelt emotion, intensity– he’s very good. Tomlinson as the princess also does a nice job, although doesn’t hit it out of the park in any way. McGregor takes great joy in his role, finding ways to expand on his character’s vanity while remaining an overall good person who wants to save his kingdom. Tucci chews scenery and could have tried a little harder.

The movie also looks very good, with one very serious exception. The set pieces are great and the action is all kinds of fun. The problem is the giants. They are entirely CGI. What this means is that the animators built digital skeletons, overlaid digital muscle and skin, and then did their best to approximate humanoid expression and movement. But it falls a little short, meaning that the movement of the giants is exaggerated and their expressions are a little odd and they just aren’t convincing.

Why did the filmmakers decide to use humans for the giants? Certainly CGI is good enough to make that look good, as we saw in Lord of the Rings.

But despite the jarring giants, Jack the Giant Slayer provides a couple of hours of lighthearted, heroic entertainment. It’s a summer blockbuster that came out before summer, which was probably good since it had more time to gain an audience. This is a good movie.

Content warnings: Only a little salty language, all kinds of imaginative but fantastical action and some violence. Suggested dismemberment.

Writing: 4.5          Acting: 4.5          Overall: 4

Go slay your own giants by sharing this review. Go on, you don’t need magic beans.

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The Impossible (Lo Imposible)

As I sat in the darkened theater, preparing to watch The Impossible, I suddenly realized that I was very likely making a terrible mistake. This was going to be a movie about a mother and father and their three boys going through awful, heartbreaking tragedy.

Father of six that I am, with a dad’s easily stabbed heart, I wondered if I was going to make it through.

I did. So will you. This is an extraordinary film, made more so by remarkable performances and the fact that it’s true.

Here’s a trailer (warning, the music the trailer is set to is a very simple and lovely cover of U2′s “One” and you will likely weep slightly):

The deets:

Released sometime in late 2012

Written by Sergio G. Sanchez, based on the story by Maria Belon

Directed by Juan Antonia Bayona

Starring Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, and Oaklee Pendergast

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Maria (Watts) and Henry (McGregor) are vacationing with their three young boys in Thailand, right near the beach. They’re from London and their boys are impossibly pure-looking. The oldest is Lucas (Holland), a grumpy and boundaries-testing early teen or pre-teen. The next is Thomas (Joslin– and my oldest is named Thomas– so resonance), a sweet but easily unnerved young boy. The youngest can’t be older than 4 or 5, and he is Simon (Pendergast) and is a frank and good lad.

The family is on vacation for Christmas. The day after Christmas, as the family frolics in the hotel’s pool, the horrific tidal wave strikes. When it does, Henry is gripping Thomas and Simon, while Maria is pressed against a wall and Lucas is standing on his own.

Maria surfaces first, clinging desperately to life in the torrent and soon finding Lucas. We discover with Lucas that Maria is sorely injured, and Lucas must step up to keep her alive. His young boy innocence completely shattered, he can’t even look at his mother’s injuries. They push their way to safety, whereupon Maria collapses. With the help of villagers, they end up in a hospital that is completely flooded (sorry) with patients.

They are convinced that Henry, Thomas, and Simon have been killed.

Terrible and wonderful things happen in the hospital. Some wonderful things are terrible.

We fade to Henry’s legs as he finds one of his family’s toys. He’s searching and injured. He has the two youngest. He has to make a horrifying decision based on faith and trust.

No punches are pulled, no superfluous drama occurs (except perhaps the woman in shock who stargazes), but the family somehow comes together. It is impossible beyond description, but it is true.

We know it’s true; we know it’s going to happen. It’s still nearly impossible to not shout at Lucas to JUST TURN AROUND!

Simon, the dearest little boy, saves everyone. You will love how this is done. If you’re a parent, you will cry large tears. You might even do this if you’re not a parent.

Critique

The story is thin and offers nothing special beyond the fact that it’s true. We know the start and the end. We know the opening half of the first act is there to convince us this is a loving, devoted family with normal issues but that is very happy together. We know horrific events are going to transpire. We know a miraculous reunion will come to pass.

But this movie succeeds resoundingly for two reasons: an extraordinary cast with abilities that magnify each other and every attempt made to keep sentiment to a realistic level– keeping these people on the level of humans.

Naomi Watts does a great job portraying a mother who is trying not to give up after losing 3/4 of her family. Ewan McGregor is excellent, plumbing the depths of a father who is so close to completely broken but who must trust, trust, and trust some more. The scene on the phone is heart-rending.

But Tom Holland as Lucas– this boy can act. He has a great deal of experience on the musical stage, so you wouldn’t necessarily expect this boy to be able to act with subtle ability and strength. He is the main character and he should have received Oscar and other award recognition. His resolve, love, stark terror, near-paralyzing grief, and honesty carry this film along beautifully.

What a lovely movie that does great justice to an extremely blessed family. It does not whitewash the horror, does not act as if God determined that these people should live and others die, does not pass judgment. Some overly artistic interpretation in some scenes is overlookable.

This is a great movie experience.

Content warnings: There are scenes of extreme injury, as well as a few entirely non-sexual shots of a woman’s breasts.

Writing: 4          Acting: 5          Overall: 4.5

It would be impossible for me to become a famous reviewer if you didn’t share this review with your friends. I’ve made it easy for you– just click below.

Also, did you see this movie? What did you think? Does Naomi Watts deserve the Oscar?

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Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is almost exactly what the title promises: intriguing, quirky, and gently absurd. But while delivering all of that, this film also delivers a truly entertaining and delightful love story.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released in the USA (who knows??) but sometime in 2012

Written by Simon Beufoy, based on the novel by Paul Torday

Directed by Lasse Hallstrom

Starring Emily Blunt, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ewan McGregor, and Amr Waked.

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Harriet (Blunt) represents a rather visionary sheikh called Muhammed (Waked). This man is extremely wealthy and wishes to do some salmon fly fishing in the Yemen river. You know the river– the one in the middle of the desert. She contacts Dr. Alfred Jones (McGregor), who is the UK’s leading expert on fishing, and tells Fred about the sheikh’s vision.

Fred dismisses the idea as patently ludicrous. But the UK Prime Minister’s chief publicity offer, Patricia Maxwell (Thomas), sees the potentially joint project between Saudi Arabia and the UK as a great PR thing, so she pushes the project forward.

Now Fred and Harriet are working together in the middle of the desert, trying to bring the phenomenally wealthy’s vision to pass. But they’re also bringing something else to pass: a warm friendship that becomes something very lovely.

Critique

While the premise of the film, and the way the absurd idea is brought to pass, are completely nuts, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is an extraordinarily delightful movie. This is because the movie uses the absurd premise as a canvas on which to paint a story about three people who need to save each other. The sheikh is a man of great faith and vision, who needs to learn about what leadership really means. Harriet is a woman of great authentic love for life who needs to learn to see what is truly happening around her. Fred is the most flawed of the crew; he needs to find out what it means to see beyond his world and make decisions for himself.

With writing that doesn’t shortchange some very serious topics and that allows the characters opportunities to make mistakes, there’s very little to not love. The direction allows scenes to have a beginning, a middle, and an end– and it’s rare that the end of each scene doesn’t deliver something of a surprise. The love story is also a story of not exactly religious faith and the story of people who find that they are the authors of their destiny and happiness.

What might surprise you is just how unbelievably perfect Ewan McGregor is in his role. Fred is standoffish, dismissive, and abrasive from the get-go. But you don’t hate him, because you see his behavior stems from something deep inside Fred that fears much of what he doesn’t understand or hasn’t experienced. What won’t surprise you is that Emily Blunt delivers a lively, intelligent, deep performance as Harriet. These two headliners have a moving chemistry, and the film’s pace doesn’t rob the budding relationship at all, allowing a great sweetness to fill the space between these two.

Amr Waked is also truly great in his role as the visionary, wise sheikh. He’s not a caricature at all; he lives in a different world that is provided to him by his wealth, but he has not let his money ruin him. His vision is not selfish, either. He wants to bring peace and prosperity to the area where he wishes to fish.

This is a smart, tender, very funny movie. It’s not for everyone, but those who enjoy it will love it.

Content warnings: a little language, some brief violence

Writing: 5          Acting: 5          Overall: 5

Why don’t you spread the salmon that is this review to your social network rivers, eh?

As always, did you like this movie? Why or why not? And how lovely can Emily Blunt possible get, anyway?

 

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Haywire

Haywire is a strange animal. It’s got some nifty set-pieces that really ought to transport you, a slimy Ewan McGregor, a pretty impressive cast of professionals who know how to act– and a seemingly charismatic female lead.

But it’s flat and outright boring at times. Gina Carano looks engaging, but is actually opaque and somehow doesn’t allow viewers access to her as an actual character.

All in all, it’s cosmetically and technically a fine film, but it lacks heart and punch.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released January 20, 2012

Written by Lem Dobbs

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Starring Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Michael Angarano, Channing Tatum, Bill Paxton, Antonio Banderas, and Matthieu Kassovitz.

Rated: R

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Mallory Kane (Carano) is a black-ops super soldier who works for a murky government agency doing pretty much any wetwork required, from assassination to extraction. After a successful operation in Barcelona during which we get to see Kane’s excellent skills (Carano is a female UFC champ), she is sent to Dublin for an ostensible operation.

It turns out that her handler (McGregor) and some folks who are full-on corrupt need Kane to be the scapegoat for some hazy deed so she is betrayed by her colleague, Paul (Fassbender). Kane survives the attempt on her life and is now on the run from the baddies. The line-up of morally ambiguous characters includes Alex Coblenz (Douglas), a potentially straight-shooter in the government, Rodrigo (Antonia Banderas in a beard that makes him resemble, rather remarkably, Saddam Hussein), and Aaron (Tatum) who has been Kane’s partner and may or may not be a good guy who is being duped.

Kane gets in a fight in a diner and flees, dragging Scott (Angarano), a helpful diner patron with a car, along. The story starts with this scene and then goes back in time to the events that led up to the diner confrontation.

So here we have your basic story about a secret agent with ridiculously good skills at dodging bullets and killing people being underestimated by the people who betrayed her. And the story follows along pretty much how you would expect, culminating in a showdown at Kane’s dad’s (Paxton) house.

Critique

The writing, pace, dialogue, and set pieces all deliver. It’s kind of funny how well these four elements do, when contrasted with a protagonist who simply sucks the energy from every scene that she’s in. Her eyes never light with life, her manner never moves very far at all from the manner of a piece of wooden furniture. Carano was given a huge opportunity to make a splash as a legitimate female action star–

But she can’t do it. She’s got the moves, but lacks the heart and the on-camera sizzle that you need to carry this kind of role. And all of this lifelessness is strange in a crisp, fast-paced film that Soderbergh does everything right with, not counting the poorly cast lead.

You might enjoy this movie, but you will more likely come out of your viewing experience wondering why the movie never really felt like it had a life of its own.

Finally, telling is the fact that the moviemakers artificially deepened Gina Carano’s voice for some reason. She’s got the moves, the dialogue is crisp, the story hits all the bases, but the lead simply cannot deliver the home run this movie is trying for.

Content warnings: plenty of violence and language

Writing: 4          Acting: 3 (everyone else did great)          Overall: 3

Your life is haywire, isn’t it? Just crazy, I know. Treading water, barely keeping your head up.
You need to know that sharing this review on your social networks won’t make it any better, but it will make you feel better as you drown in life’s foibles. So feel good about yourself, eh?

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