Friday, April 10, 2015

My Thoughts On The Movies I've Seen So Far This Year.....

(WARNING: Beware of many, many spoilers ahead. I don't do a recap of the plot, but I talk a lot about major plot points in detail. Each section for each movie has a title, so I suggest you skip a write up if you don't want to be spoiled.)

Can you imagine the first quarter of 2015 has almost ended!Can you believe it? It doesn't seem that long ago that 2015 was lurking around the corner, but looks it's already been time enough for New Year's resolutions to have drifted out of recent memory. I do recall though that once again I resolved to keep track of all of the movies I see this year. I've neglected that resolution as I have done in year's past, but I am giving it another try. I want to be able to give an overview of everything I've read and seen in 2015. So here's a run down of what I've seen so far.

So much care on the shoulders of one humble hobbit. 

The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies

From early on in this movie series, I quickly realized that The Hobbit movies would not leave me with the same sense of awe as the Lord of the Rings movies. I don't want to be unfair to Peter Jackson here. He did such an amazing job with those three movies that it seems too much to ask him to top that astonishing experience. I know....but we couldn't help it though! "In Peter We Trust" and I still do to a certain extent. I expect a love of the source material, a commitment to majestic, sprawling battles and moments when I hold my breath, and these films did feature those aspects. Where production went wrong I think is when the decision was made to spread the book over three films. My main problem was that I could feel scenes being unnecessarily drawn out. Amazing things were happening, but sometimes I didn't need them as much as I needed the story to move on. I suppose that this was not Peter Jackson's decision, but it took it's toll out on the story.

All that said, Battle of the Five Armies had less of a long winded feel than the other movies. I didn't feel that all of the battles were dragged out except of course for Thorin's battle at the end which received only a few lines in the book and which took up quite a lot of time in the same style.

However I felt invested in the characters despite their overly lengthy adventure, partly because most of them are old favourites from the book and partly because they are all played so well. Martin Freeman is vulnerable and sturdy and practical, an excellent Bilbo Baggins. The characters of Gandalf and Thranduil are perfect. We see more of Thranduil than we do in the books, and this is one welcome extension for me. The dwarves are each, one and all, wonderful and enough attention is paid to the most interesting ones. A great deal of fuss has been made on the internet because of the addition of the elf Tauriel who is not a Tolkien character, and though I don't find her absolutely necessary, I like her contribution to the tale well enough. Her love story may be tacked on, but I felt for her despite myself. As Thorin Oakenshield, Richard Armitage is excellent as usual, adding to and enhancing our impressions of Thorin from the book, and the emphasis on his relationship with his nephews is the sort or of interaction which is carefully structured to destroy me emotionally.

I will add that the comic relief in this movie is the best in the series, but not overdone, so I think I will continue to trust in Peter Jackson. Still contemplating whether to buy the inevitable extended editions. I don't need longer battles, but more good character interactions would be much appreciated. I'm tempted.....

The Wedding Ringer

I think Kevin Hart's stand up is funny. I've watched a few minutes of his show "The Real Husbands of Hollywood" and thought it was okay, but that somehow did not fill me with anticipation of seeing his new film The Wedding Ringer, but I found myself watching it nonetheless with the BFFF. As usual the company was excellent, the film though was only ok.

When I described it afterward to anyone, I kept talking about Kevin Hart's wigs which were amusing enough but understandably are a flimsy foundation for comedy. The plot is similarly shaky. The lead character realizes that he does not have many male friends and has no one willing to be his best man, and for some reason, he becomes incredibly stressed and cannot bear to let his new family know. While this can be a bit embarrassing, what follows is so much more stressful, embarrassing and expensive, I'd imagine it would cure anyone of wanting to pretend he has a best man. Somehow Kevin Hart's character makes a lucrative living off of pretending to be the best man of anyone in similar situations. The insane (sometimes gross) scenarios follow one after the other and somehow the two bond over them and of course the plot has to throw in one of the tropes which isstarting to tire me out the most. How many times will we see a guy with a woman who he liked for some reason before the story began, but later realizes is crazy? There were no signs of this before? Come on!

I can say that the movie I Love You Man has a similar plot minus some of the most ridiculous contrivances AND has the beautiful Paul Rudd in it too. Watch that movie instead citizens! Hie thee to that . You won't be disappointed.

Kingsman: The Secret Service

I think it's impossible to keep up with all of the books and comic books which have been turned into movies. Kingsman: The Secret Service turned out to be loosely based on a comic book. I can't fault filmmakers for mining this resource. The ideas that arise from these books bring a freshness to the screen. The result is that Kingsman is a SO much fun though I had some problems with it which I will touch on shortly but first:

The FUN Stuff

You really can't lose by having Colin Firth being suave and cool and a little edgy in a perfectly tailored suit.  I loved the attention to clothes and sophisticated gentlemanly manners in the film and newcomer Taron Egerton is adorable as a cheeky, rough around the edges type. Colin Firth transforms him into a very dapper looking gent by the end, but it's lovely to see the adorable rougher side showing through the polish. I have no issues with Taron at all. He needs to be in more movies. Or rather I need to see him in more movies. Apparently he will be in Legend with Tom Hardy soon, so I will probably be getting my wish.

Definitely part of the FUN stuff
The other standout character in this is Samuel L. Jackson who plays a Bill Gates - like visionary named Valentine with endless quantities of money at his disposal and big, brilliant ideas. Too bad these ideas are also psychotic! Kingsman pays homage to James Bond movies a lot as you may have guessed, so Valentine is a villain with odd quirks. What's delightful is that the quirks are very uncool, so he has a speech impediment, has an embarrassing taste in clothes, and he gets nauseated at the sight of blood - even though his plan promises that there will be copious amounts of it spilling everywhere before he's done.

His hench woman Gazelle is quite unique in that she's an amazing, intimidating, graceful physical weapon, but she isn't sexualized. She has an important part to play and watching her at work is a treat. As henchmen go, Valentine shows his smarts in choosing her.

The action in this movie is thrilling and over the top as suits this type of film. It starts to get too gory for me at some points though and this leads me to

The BITTER Stuff i.e. the things that left a bad taste in my mouth

I'm not always the best person to review an action film because I don't have a deep love for extreme violence. Sometimes this film crossed the line for me, but I think it went past my usual tolerance. It ended up being too gross to be fun, and at one point crossed a moral line which I couldn't tolerate. The scene in the church is highly memorable, and I thought pretty unnecessary. I found it interesting that director Matthew Vaughn made a point of making the church goers the vilest people he could imagine, made sure there were no children in the scene, then felt it was safe to allow Colin Firth's character Galahad go to town on them all in graphic and lengthy detail. That didn't work for me. I didn't think that loathsomeness of the church goers erased the fact that Galahad basically killed a place full of civilians - unpleasant civilians yes - but that's not usually allowed as an excuse for mass murder. I won't say that the scene wasn't important to the plot, but the movie could have easily continued without us having to see the whole massacre, but that was supposed to be part of all the fun I think.

I am not sure it was a cop out or not to avoid allowing Galahad the opportunity to process what happened. As a man of honour would he have been able to live with what he had done? But in a film like this, there doesn't seem to be any room for that kind of deep thought, so perhaps Vaughn did us a favour by not trying to deal with the aftermath as it could only have done in a superficial manner. I suspect most action fans would argue that I'm thinking too much about a film that's not to be taken seriously, but that's what a review is for and I assume why you're reading this, so you can think a little more about the movie than merely saying, "That was cool" or "That sucked".

The movie's treatment of women was not spectacular though there were some high points. Lancelot was the only important girl character, and she was given an important part, but I felt that she was removed from the main action. I would have liked to see her with more to do. The infamous last scene with the Duchess character bothered me rather (was she a Duchess? I can't remember, and I'm having trouble searching in the right places to find out). She was a surprisingly strong character who was suddenly reduced to the sexual reward of the main character. I had actually thought she was going to have a more interesting part of play, and the whole thing felt rather jarring and unnecessary. I've seen people compare it to how women throw themselves at James Bond in Bond movies, but I still thought it didn't work well. If you can come up with a scene like this that is actually less subtle than the "un-subtle" Bond movies, you've accomplished quite a feat, but I didn't appreciate it.

And did anyone else keep cringing a bit when Eggsy keeps finding his mother in a disturbing domestic violence scenario but keeps walking off and leaving her alone with the abuser for weeks at a time? We know he's really concerned about her, but it doesn't seem to fit with his reactions.

Despite all this I'd love to watch more about this unlikely secret service. As of now, I don't know if the movie sparked enough interest for this. We shall have to see.

Jupiter Ascending

Everything is beautiful. 
I got the impression that this movie received a lot of snarky comments from critics when it came out. I saw a title for a review on it which basically said that it was very bad, but you should go see it anyway to laugh at it. I have an odd quirk in me: I am quite capable of being snarky myself, but when I feel a kindly inclination toward something, I start to feel defensive when I feel people are punching it when it's down, and I felt very kindly inclined to Jupiter Ascending well before I saw it.

For some reason, the moment I heard about this movie, I had been dying to see it. Maybe there's something in fantasy movies about women coming into their own which appeals to me. I don't know. Something deep inside of me was stirred, and I knew I'd see this movie no matter what. So I guess that means that I was prejudiced in its favour before I even saw it, so keep that in mind as you read on.

There's a lot that is not perfect about this movie, but it didn't overshadow my interest in it. Mila Kunis could have done a better job, but I didn't expect a lot from her, so what I saw was sufficient. I cannot dislike Channing Tatum in anything, and in the more intimate scenes, I felt the pathos of his character. I could have done with more of that. The only character I thought bordered on the annoying was Eddie Redmayne who we can all agree was demented and strange,

Besides this, I found myself interested in this beautiful movie, and make no mistake, this movie is truly beautiful! I was just enthralled by the images of ships coasting through fantastic landscapes of stars. I loved Jupiter's costumes. I loved the unexpected beauty of scenes on earth: a garden, a chase scene over a brightly lit city. I couldn't stop looking at everything.

And I was pulled into a world of military angels, of warring intergalactic families, of hybrids, of an immigrant family, of insane, funny and familiar bureaucracy, of flying over earthly cities and of a child of immigrants born under the stars with country to call her own, and I wanted to know more. I wanted to explore this mythos more thoroughly, and despite the difficulties which critics have pinpointed and which I saw myself, I was drawn in.

I wish the movie was greater, so the film makers would feel moved to do something more with it, to tell us more stories about it. I thought there was so much more that needed to be explored. I wanted to know more about the bounty hunters, about the history of this strange and deadly family, about what will become of earth and the other planets under their control and what will become of Jupiter and her beautiful, scarred body guard. Maybe someone will write a graphic novel about it. I would have to have it. I know at least it would be gorgeous.


Cinderella is another appealing looking movie though not as unforgettable in this sense as Jupiter Ascending. If I have to tell you the story at this point, I would be even more saddened than I am at present at people's lack of literary IQ. I'll just assume you have an inkling of the tale and move on.

This movie was directed by Kenneth Branagh, who I have raved about in previous posts, so once more you know where my prejudices lie. I would rather that he spend his time directing more Shakespeare adaptations, but he and I have the sort of relationship where if he wants to do something I trust in him and let him do what he likes whether it's film noir or Thor.

Instead of disowning the worldview of their previous creations, Disney continues to embrace them but they seem to be using their live action tales to put a more modern spin on their stories. At least that's what I heard they did with Maleficent though I admit I didn't see that movie. I think that's a great idea and could work really well if they wish to continue, and I have no doubt they will: Cinderella made a lot of money

The Cinderella character here is a good girl but a bit more defiant and outspoken than her previous Disney version. She meets the prince early on, so that problematic love at first sight angle is dissolved (though if you think about it, she still doesn't know that much about him before the love declarations are made). He asks her if she will have his hand instead of assuming she will have him, though I never had a problem with that before. After all, It seems that marriage is what they both want in the story. What I like though is that the feminist angle is pretty seamless to the story. If you haven't realized from my other writings, I am a feminist, but I sometimes find it distracting when a story seems to hold up certain aspects and try to scream, "Look kids we're all about equality and strong women. Look! Look!" I think I can recognize it without it being awkwardly shown to me, and I think Cinderella did a good job of just letting it be comfortably and organically part of the story.

The villains were good in this as well. Cate Blanchett is perfect as always, and I think she manages to outshine poor Cinderella with her wardrobe. Rather unfair of course because no one wants to buy Cindy anything, so she couldn't show off her rich fabrics and colours and impeccable taste even if she wanted to. Still Blanchett is not only gorgeous to look at but she manages to be deliciously evil without being over the top, and she had her moment when you see that she's not only delighting in degrading her perfect step daughter, but she truly feels for her own two despite their faults that grate on her. We see also that she loved her first husband and was lost when he passed away, leaving her to try to make a life with someone she did not love. Of course we can sympathize with that dear Step Mother, if only you did not have to take it out on Cinderella. I enjoyed the step sisters enough to wish we saw even more of their awfulness, but they were very good in their scenes.  Lily James is also sweet and likeable as Cinderella herself and does a good job of portraying Cinderella's own mother's advice of being brave and being kind which I think is going to be the official motto of the Disney princess club from now on, and I don't think anyone could complain about that.

However, despite all the good things about this, I can't help but think that this movie doesn't have a lot of surprises to it. Of course plot twists in this type of story is unlikely and not really wanted, but other versions have managed to enrich the story in various ways. For example, I don't love Ever After -sacrilegious I know - but it manages that quite well, and though I have not seen the version of Cinderella with Brandy and Whitney Houston for a long time, and I don't remember all the details, I am left with the impression that it was the more enjoyable movie with richer characters. If I get a chance to watch it, and I find that time has changed my mind about it, I'll be sure to recant.

So that's what I've seen so far. And there's lots more to come. Movie season has begun! Feel free to comment below with your thoughts about these movies or let me know which ones you've seen so far and enjoyed.....