Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Movie Review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

When going to a movie like this, you have to throw some common sense out the window.  The first trailers seemed more serious than comical, but the movie itself tried to maintain a balance between the two.  The story follows the life of Abraham Lincoln, filling in the blanks with things of a more supernatural variety.

I won’t lie, I’m not a history buff, never had the draw, especially for American history.  Compared to most nations, America is still very, very young.  Thus our history seems hardly old at all, one reason I can’t bring myself to find it all that fascinating.

In this re-telling of Lincoln’s life, the story revolves around well-known incidents, such Lincoln’s mother and son dying.  These things did indeed happen, and chronologically, the movie depicts it occurring at the right times.  Where it deviates is by turning the killer into a being, a vampire, instead of sickness.  After this, Lincoln becomes obsessed with killing vampires and is tutored by a mystery man to learn the ways of killing the undead.

The story is absurd, but if you’ve read this far, then you should have expected this.  The idea of a former president of the United States being a hunter of the undead is rather ludicrous, but the attention to detail, historically, made for a very interesting movie.  By placing events of Lincoln’s life accurately, the suspension of disbelief is fully realised.  You want to believe that this could be true, because the story makes it just believable enough to possibly be true.

Story aside, the special effects were quite impressive, especially in 3D.  I’m not usually one for 3D movies, I think the effect is rarely executed well, but in this case, it had great successes and subtle differences at varying points.  The story had a great deal of intrigue to it, but no actor truly stood out in the telling of it.  This is a very B type movie, but was enjoyable, entertaining and ultimately forgettable.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Defending Jacob: Elaborated Book Review

Normally I keep my book reviews on Shelfari, you can see my often disjointed thoughts there, but after finishing the book this past Saturday, I realised the book was still with me.

In the novel, which I won’t go into great detail describing, the story is told from a first person point of view of the man who is one of the DAs of the small town and his son is accused of killing a fellow classmate.  What follows is a somewhat discordant story where time bounces back and forth between present, past and future.  It isn’t until the end of the book that the reader realises that some sequences have yet to occur.

The father maintains throughout the story that his son is innocent, the evidence never truly stacks up to point to one specific suspect.  The family is strained greatly by the accusation, both financially and emotionally.  The psychiatrist they consult with proclaims the child to be utterly unable to be empathetic.  This causes him to never reflect upon the power of his actions.  There is a wonderful reveal, with no consequences, where the child’s best friend tells the father the child had a dog, the dog went missing and then was found dead.  Killing small animals is a hallmark of a serial killer.

The crime drama continues to unfold, the child finally being found ‘not guilty’ when a known paedophile commits suicide and admits in his suicide note that he did it.  This strains believability, for the reader and the family.  The family leave for a vacation trip after the father confronts his convict father about the unusual circumstances.  It is clear the father believes that his father had the man killed and admits he did something he didn’t do.

Interestingly, the book broaches the topic of bullying, something we hear as a buzz word a lot these days.  The child who was killed was known to be bullying the child who may have killed him.  Once the family leaves the town, being exonerated of all charges, they go on a short vacation to the islands.  The child befriends another little girl, then after a few days, she goes missing.  No one suspects anything, but her body washes up on shore days after they’ve left, the girl having been drowned.  It certainly could have been an accident, but the mother, who shows great strain from the trail, doesn’t believe it was an accident.

What was so masterfully done in the book is that the time lapses that occurred never hint to the ending until you reach the end.  The author, in a very underhanded way, makes you believe the story ends one way, but he takes a bold approach, killing off the mother and child once the mother realises the child is indeed a heartless killer.  The courage she displays is amazing and the flash-‘backs’ were actually transcripts of the father on the stand for the wife, who is on trial for manslaughter.

I myself have started to dabble in the writing arena, my big admission for the day, and when I got to the end, it was like a light bulb went off in my head.  You can kill off major characters, despite what we’ve learned from Stephanie Meyer, Suzanne Collins and even the perfect JK Rowling.  In most of my favourite series, be it Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, the concept of sacrifice in a situation that requires it, but isn’t given, like, say, the ending of the Twilight saga, leaves the reader feeling like it wasn’t worthwhile.  Even at the end of Harry Potter, I do sometimes wish that Ms Rowling had killed Harry, or Ron (oh how I loathe Ron), but she didn’t.  And yes, Harry lost a lot of people he loved, but what if he had died?  I grant you, writing a children’s book with that sort of ending would be impossible, but would really set the stage for a realistic ending.  If you do something on a grand scale, you don’t survive unscathed, no one does.

I may be veering off on a tangent, or already have, and my three faithful readers may have long stopped reading, but it was an interesting lesson to learn, and goes to show, book clubs have a purpose besides making new friends.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Movie Review: Rock of Ages

When I first saw the previews for this movie, saw Tom Cruise in it, I was immediately turned off.  Certain people, Tiger Woods for example, make me angry in an irrational sort of way. Tom Cruise, despite his enormous talent, is also one of those people.  His eccentricities distract from what should be the focus, the man can act.  In Rock of Ages, a musical made into a movie (this I didn’t know), the story is your typical musical that starts off with a girl moving to a new town to make it big.  She gets a break as soon as she gets there and feels the highs and lows.

The reason you’d see Rock of the Ages isn’t for the story, it isn’t anything new, but for the songs and the spot-on acting by an ensemble cast that has no visible weaknesses.  Julianne Hough plays the lead role, opposite her is Diego Boneta, the boy that falls for her on sight.  The supporting cast is much stronger, including the always hilarious Russel Brand and Alec Baldwin.  Paul Giamatti and Catherine Zeta-Jones are wonderfully despicable throughout.  Tom Cruise, unequivocally steals the show from everyone.

The soundtrack to the film kept me engaged, and perhaps the only thing that turned a mediocre musical into something timeless.  As each song began, it was like the soundtrack to my childhood, which dates me, I realise.  Tom Cruise belts out all the hard rock songs with amazing accuracy and veracity that make it memorable.  This is the perfect musical to be a sing-along musical on the first viewing.  I knew all the songs, as did most of the audience.

But what was more compelling, to me, was the fantastic back-and-forth between Cruise’s Stacee Jaxx and Malin Akerman, the Rolling Stones reporter, Constance.  The two have a short interview in which Constance later tells the truth about Jaxx and his tortured life, he is no longer a person, but an act, the real Jaxx hidden underneath the energy and infamy of Jaxx.  It made me think about the likes of Lindsay Lohan and the like, stars who appear to be strangely trouble-prone, but may in actuality, be in a situation they can’t get out of.  Fame is something I doubt I’ll ever understand first-hand, but the effects of which can make even the most sane person, seemingly, do the most insane things.

The movie isn’t going to change your life, or your world view, but it was good fun and worth a viewing.  The music alone will make you reflect on when you were, perhaps, thinner, younger and had higher hopes for life.  Rock on, my friends.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Movie Review: Madagascar 3

If you know me at all, you know that I’m a huge cartoon fan, and I love watching the Penguins of Madagascar on Nickelodeon.  If they ever release the show on DVD, that would really clear some space up off of my DVR.  If you haven’t seen the first two Madagascar movies, you won’t have a hard time following the story, but will miss some of the subtle references to previous movies.

The premise of the third movie starts as the second movie finishes, the four friends are in Africa and want to get back to New York.  The penguins have flown off with the only plane and are headed to Monte Carlo to gamble with the chimps.  The lion, hippo, giraffe and zebra all follow them, but begin being hunted by a crazed French Animal Control officer.  She hunts them down as they join and purchase a circus that could go to America if it is good enough.  The way there is full of mistakes and hilarious scenes, many of which are more adult than not, but still had the kids in the theatre laughing.

The humour is aimed at kids, mostly, but there are a great deal of adult related jokes that I found myself enjoying, mostly involving the lemur king, King Julien and the penguins, all regularly appear in the cartoon.  What was tough was the voices for those characters were the usual celebrities and not the ones from the TV show, so that was slightly distracting at times.

It was a nice, fun movie.  The 3D was quite good as well, items flying through the screen at regular intervals.  The whole experience was quite good and one of the better animated movies I’ve seen in some time.  This is one of those movies you can take anyone to and they should enjoy it.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Movie Review: Prometheus

I still remember seeing the first Aliens movie on one of five channels we had on our box-shaped TV from the early 1980s.  I remember being utterly terrified with the first two iterations.  The third and fourth entries were decent, but more mystery than scary.  This fifth movie follows the last two movies more than the first two.

The story picks up much like Jurassic Park, two scientists discover a thirty-five thousand year old painting in a cave.  The information is discovered by a large cooperation and they pay to have everyone transported to a distant planet.  The two-year trip is only witnessed by an android, who wakens the rest of the crew as they draw near to the planet.

The two scientists lead the exhibition to the planet and quickly find a body that was long dead, outside what appeared to be a tomb.  As the crew get more scared, two members peel away from the group and we have our first two casualties.  The scares are minimal, but the graphic nature of them makes for some eye-covering scenes.  The crew make their way back to the ship, the group that has not gotten lost and slowly fall into a false sense of security.

There are a great deal of mysteries to be had, the person the android, David, played ably by Michael Fassbender, truly works for and who he owes his life to.  There is a great discussion about what the purpose of his existence is, given that greater plot is unearthing aliens that predated humans on earth.

While I could sit her and spoil the entire movie, there is no need.  If you’ve seen one Alien movie, you’ve seen them all.  What makes this one standout was the 3D, which was subtly done and perfectly executed and a star-studded cast.  Noomi Rapace plays the lead scientist, truly believing in her cause as things fall apart around her.  Playing her boyfriend is Logan Marshall-Green, most notable for his performance from Devil.  Charlize Theron and Guy Pearce both deliver quiet performances that make their characters stand out more.  It was interesting to see Theron in two surprisingly similar roles in two consecutive weeks.

I’m glad I saw it, and before noon, as most movie theatres charge half the admission fee at that time.  It was a fun movie, but it didn’t hold up after a few hours and I’d already forgotten I’d seen it.  For the special effects, it would be worth seeing in the theatre, but it isn’t a must-see by any means.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Hunger Games Left Me Utterly Unsatisfied

I starting reading the series for book club about a month ago, but saw the movie at midnight with a friend because I need something to replace Potter and Rings.  This was not a great choice. 

The first book is written beautifully, the struggle for Katniss to survive in the brutal Hunger Games is very compelling.  Much like battle-dome, the idea is that twenty four kids enter; only one emerges.  Of course, nothing goes according to plan and our heroine has a painful parting before whittling down the opponents to two.

The second book starts off where the first left off, the two kids from Katniss’ area survive and are forced to enter another Hunger Games as part of a 75th anniversary celebration.  In this round of the Hunger Games, Katniss is befriended by unlikely sources, saved again and again by other victors.  As their time in the Games continue, the victors work together to fight the way the Games are set up, instead of trying to kill one another.  They manage to set up a trap, breaking out of the Games and being whisked away.

Unfortunately, as we see in the third and final book, Katniss was saved, but Peeta was captured by the Capitol.  The third book follows the progression of the Rebel attempt to overthrow the Capitol.  The first-person perspective greatly hampers the story here, as the reader only sees and hears what Katniss herself is privy to, making for a disjointed story.  As she makes her way through various battle zones, she is faced with the death of many of her friends and two love interests, Gale and Peeta.  The final few chapters are surreal and I honestly thought she was dreaming through it.

Sadly she was not imagining it.  What starts off as a very endearing series ends in a triumphant sigh.  Suzanne Collins had the chance to make a meaningful ending, and while she does kill of some endearing characters, the ultimate mental state of Katniss makes her an unsympathetic character.  She herself muses about her indifference for both Peeta and Gale, who are hopelessly in love with her.  Not unlike the oft-maligned Twilight series, Katniss doesn’t want to hurt either of their feelings, but uses them for her own gain.

As the second book progressed, I found my disdain for Katniss to increase, she became an insufferable gnat in what would otherwise be an amazing story.  I think my desire to have Potter or Rings replaced was overstated when I picked this book up.  I’d like to think that the underlying themes of loyalty and friendship, like Potter or Rings, come out in this book, but they don’t.  The story is far darker than I expected despite the obvious backdrop.  I was disappointed with the ending and now wish I hadn’t bothered reading the second or third books.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Movie Review: Snow White and the Huntsmen

When the first trailers for this movie began to appear online, I thought, oh dear, Kristen Stewart, what have you gotten yourself into.  But with Charlize Theron, I can speak no ill about any project she is involved with.  She is stunningly beautiful and terrifying in one breadth.  As soon as she appears on screen, there is no question to the ending.

The story of Snow White isn’t new, the idea has been rehashed time and time again, but in this new version, the premise that makes it different is that it is darker and scarier.  While I’d like to say that it delivers this, there are various setbacks.  The story begins with a happy family, mother giving birth to a perfect daughter, the love of the entire kingdom.  The mother grows ill and dies, and the father falls in love with another woman, who promptly kills him.  She takes over the kingdom, locking Snow White in a tower.  She narrowly escapes, but is sought after by the Queen.  She finds the lost princess, poisons her and she is only revived by a prince.  The princess, now revived, leads an army to take the Queen.

The story is done with amazing special effects, the darkness creeping out of the theatre with the castle in ruins and the Queen killing innocent women to gain youth.  The princess is played perfectly by Kristen Stewart, the normally mono-emotional Bella Swan.  With a very believable British accent, Stewart takes on the oft-weak role of the princess and makes her tougher and more dynamic, someone young girls could wish to be, a princess that doesn’t need saving, but can lead an army.  There was a great moment, towards the end of the movie, where Stewart gives a rousing speech about fighting the Queen and it made me think of Keira Knightley’s failed attempt at the end of At World’s End, doing the same, but failing miserably.  Stewart gets a lot of flak for her wooden performances in the Twilights series, but redeems herself slightly with this surprising performance.  Across from the stunning Theron and the always surly Chris Hemsworth, she held her own.

The cast was made up of other cast-offs, none truly taking the stage away from any of the main talent.  Theron makes bad beautiful again, terrifying all with her sudden aging and thirst for a lease on life.  Hemsworth plays the atypical hero, I am starting to realise he plays the same character in every movie, nice to look at, so no complaints there, really.

Overall, the movie is worth watching, but doesn’t break any new ground on an age-old story.  The movie is worth seeing, if just for the great female performances.

Movie Review: Men in Black 3

On a whim, a friend and I decided we might as well see this movie, so that should set your expectations accurately for what I loosely describe as a review.  I’ve never been a huge Will Smith fan; have often found Tommy Lee Jones serious and also seriously hilarious.  But despite all that, Men in Black was decent, not great, but good.  To me, it was clear the movie was directed at children, not adults.  There were snapshots of seriousness, but for the most part, it was mired in childish jokes.

The first two Men in Black movies were so long ago, I shudder to try to recall them from my memories, but they were entertaining, though most of the best parts were in the trailers.  Not so with the second one, and less so for the third.  In the third movie, using a tried and true literary practice for science fiction movies, a former baddie goes back in time to kill K, Tommy Lee Jones’ character.  J, Will Smith, must go back in time to thwart him.  Much hilarity ensues.

What Men in Black lacks in a compelling story, makes up for with special effects and a few great moments for Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones.  Both actors are superb in this sub-par movie, bringing the movie up a notch or two, making it enjoyable and just barely watchable.  If you want a mindless science fiction movie that is as forgettable as the $12 popcorn, this is your movie.