Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The elephant in the room

Let me preface this review with these four words: I read the book.

And then these four: This review contains spoilers.

If you have not read the book and plan to...turn back now. If you have not seen the movie and plan to...watch for the wild-arrangement of asterisks. You'll know it when you see it. Reader beware...

Water For Elephants
Director- Francis Lawrence
Written by- Richard LaGravenese and based on the novel by Sara Gruen 
Top Billed Cast- Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson, and Christoph Waltz

Ah, the circus. The real circus. This is a story about the circus. Sort of. The circus is the setting, the people are the story. Robert Pattinson plays a young man who, having lost his parents, his house, and his career in one foul swoop, set off to try and fine a new path in depression-era America. He stumbles onto a train..but not just any train..it's the train for the greatest circus on earth! Well, behind Ringling..but we won't talk about them.


* At the start there was great usage of lines from the book directly into the script. And I liked that a lot. In my opinion, if you're going to have a movie based so heavily on a book...you need to treat it with respect and use the lines the author wrote for her characters as much as possible. After all, the book was a best seller first so obviously the dialog she wrote was more than sufficient for character growth and development.

* I LOVED how the train seemed almost..melodic at the beginning. They really used the chuff-chuff-chuff and the horn to punctuate the cadence of the scene.

* I love big scenes in movie. No, not scenes involving big things. I like scale and this movie had several good large-scale scenes. One of which was the first time they showed them setting up for the show. Lots of equipment and lots of actors but well done.

* Really enjoyed the score in this movie. It was soft when it should be and swelled when it needed to.

* They seemed to really capture the era with the lighting and and tone of the filming, I appreciated that.

* Christoph Waltz..just wow. As sad as I am that they cut out Big Al..at least they cast an actor capable of combing the roles. Well done.

* At this point..my notes kind of just morphed into various praises for Waltz. Therefore, he gets two asterisks.

* I think this line kind of captures not only what the circus is about, but also what movie making is about: "To talent...and illusion."

* The filming style, for the most part, wasn't overly mind blowing but there was one scene in which you really see a change in Waltz' character and they showcased this by switching to a handheld..and it worked. I'm not a huge fan of handhelds because they're so shake a lot of the time, but this time it was good.

* Though there were a LOT of things that were different from the book (and I do mean a LOT), they did seem to pay homage to it at times and I especially appreciated the inclusion of the lemonade scene, even though it was different.

* At first, I really wasn't feeling Reese Witherspoon's performance. She just didn't seem passionate enough. But, as she described her (totally wrong) backstory, I finally bought it.

* My notes, ever entertaining, describe several things that I liked..but I'm not entirely sure what I was talking about. Something about an instrument that I appreciated, fly noises, and good fog use? I'll go with that.

* I don't normally include the viewer's reactions to movies in my reviews but I thought it spoke for the film that hardly anybody in the audience said anything for the first 60 seconds after the credits began to role; nobody jumped up; no loud complaints. When people finally started to stir, they were whispering. I don't think I heard an actual voice until I was in the hall...and there were other movies getting out at the same time so I'm not sure which group was doing the talking.


* I was really excited to see the older version of RPats' character (Jacob)...but then he spoke. And I couldn't understand him. Is annunciation really that hard?

* I couldn't really decide if the voice overlay was a good thing or a bad thing so I put it here. It was interesting..but I don't think it was necessary.

* Camel...great character..poor actor choice. I just didn't like the way he delivered his lines.

* When Sara Gruen described the circus in her book and she mentioned a Giraffe...I didn't picture a baby one and I doubt she meant one either. In fact, I'm pretty certain she did not since she described its massive body and what not. Did circuses have baby exotics? Yes. Did this one? Maybe. Did it have a baby giraffe? I don't think so.

* RPats...since your character is a (almost) vet who's father was a large animal vet and who was planning on taking over the practice...shouldn't you know how to lift a horse's leg??

* I hate hate hate hate cgi smoke. It never works.

* If a horse has an abscess or is foundering to that degree..it's not going to walk as nicely as that one did.

* Call me the spatter police, but sheesh..he was wearing white and the shot was at point blank range...but there was no blood. None.

* Marlena's backstory. I just can not wrap my mind around why screenwriters feel the need to change such a non-important (to the character development) plot point needs to be changed sooooo much? I mean, it's not like they changed it a little, like added a city or changed some names..no no, what they had her say was just a complete lie and I didn't understand it.

* Either they have an extremely talented makeup artist on call 24/7 on that struggling circus, or Marlena has magic quick-heal skin.

* If you thought you were going to get to see some awesome stunts by Reese Witherspoon and her stunt double..you'd be wrong. I was under the impression that they were going to do all these cool things with her and the elephant and her and the horses. Nope. It was rather lame.

***************_____________****************** (told ya you'd see it! If you hit the "end" button and scroll up, you'll be safe)

* As one of the major plot points in the book, the whole "jake" incident is not hard to remember. In the book, Camel offers Jacob some and he does NOT drink any. So when Camel gets sick...Jacob has a moment of "Thank goodness I didn't drink it!". Yet, in the movie...he drinks it and is miraculously fine.

* I was not a fan at ALL of the way they depicted the menagerie escape. It was jumanji-like.....and that was lame even then.

****************************______________________***************** (safe now)

Now Mother..

This movie is rated PG-13. You should be prepared to talk about spousal abuse, the great depression (specifically prohibition), and the circus way back when. There is smoking, drinking, a strip tease, and (a bit more than) implied sex. Viewer beware..

This movie. The parts that I liked, I really liked. The parts that I didn't like, I hated. It's not that I was in love with the book...at all. It's the fact that I saw no need, no real reason, behind the changes they did make. Heck, in my notes I even praised parts of it that they changed because it made sense; they didn't have all day, they needed to tell the story. But the bits that they changed weren't left out..they were just different. Still took up time, still cost money..just not the same. 3.5/5 stars.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Conspirator

Wow. Quite a bit to discuss with this movie and less of it positive than I'd hoped. I'm still not exactly sure how I felt about it. Hopefully, by the end of this review I will have formed a true opinion.

The Conspirator
Director- Robert Redford
Writer(s)- James Solomon & Gregory Bernstein
Top Billed Cast- James McAvoy, Evan Rachel Wood, & Tom Wilkinson

This movie is, essentially, about the trial of Mary Surratt: The mother of one of the many suspected conspirators behind the Lincoln assassination. It's a study of ethics and poses the question: even if somebody has committed such a heinous crime, do they not still deserve a fair trial? If you were asked to defend a suspected murderer, would YOU act on their behalf and really try to discover the truth? If it interfered with your day to day life? Cost you your job? Your husband/wife? How far would you go to defend what you believe in?


* The color scheme was very consistent from the very first scene.

* I appreciated that they didn't actually *show* Lincoln; it was always the back of his head, his legs, or his profile. There was one single shot that showed his face (other than drawings, which I don't count). Although I'm aware that there are lots of actors that are capable of portraying him and look like him, I think Redford made the right choice with this.

* They did a very nice job with the sound mixing. I think a lot of people don't realize the importance of good sound until it's missing. I try to hear as much "noise" as I can, and this movie did really well with the bugs and what not in the background. Yea for crickets!

* There was a moment when I felt like I was watching CSI: 1800s, and for me, that was fun.

* I'm not sure if she reads this blog but if she does...Whitney, your horse was in this movie! From the slightly dappled winter coat to the star on his forehead and right down to the measly mane (sorry Dusty!), he was definitely a fine steed.

* While they might've had a mixed cast ("Southerners" & "Northerners"), they didn't skimp on pronunciations on either side. I can't even recall how many times I heard "ExacTly", and this made me smile.

* The way this movie was shot was interesting and I felt like at any moment, Wishbone was going to come running on screen in a cute little costume.

* Clarence Sweetwater (Stephen Root). It's ok, you don't have to know who this is. Just know that when I saw him, I smiled and therefore, this is a pro.

* I liked the word choices in the script. I realize that it was a period piece and, therefore, most of the script is going to sound different but that doesn't make the word "writ" sound any less cool in my mind.

* Robin Wright and Evan Rachel Wood did really well in this movie, I was especially impressed with Wright's choices with her character. Wood was a tad over dramatic at times but, the era was also a lot more dramatic in some aspects.

* For a film with several of its leading actors being from countries other than the US, the accents were quite consistent.


* Ok, I had to look this up (actually, I've had to look a lot of things up for this list), but...hats. Hats in the 1860s were primarily outdoor accessories. Were they worn inside? Yes, on occasion, but mostly when going out "calling" or just running errands. Once inside some place they were invited (dinner, a play, a trial...), they would remove them. Maybe if only one or two people were wearing hats it'd be one thing but...all of them? That's a tad intense. I'm not just talking about little hats or even the hats worn a bit later in time as more of a fashion accessory, I'm referring to just a tad fancier than your average Little House bonnet.

* I'm not sure how much of this was director/actor choice but MAN was there absolutely ZERO chemistry between McAvoy and Bledel. Sheesh people. I get that he went off to war and is a changed man but come on, even at the beginning of the movie you couldn't give us something? Anything?

* After shooting the President, Booth rode out of town quiiiiiiiite slowly. I don't know about you, but when I'm trying to get away from somebody, I try to get my horse to run *faster* than the guy on foot. (Note: I'm actually not 100% sure if the guy I'm talking about was Booth..that sequence of events is kind of a blur, but I know that this guy did shoot/attempt to kill somebody and was running away).

* I'm sure they don't hold exclusive rights to it but, Planet of the Apes has a very famous line that was used in this film. I only saw that movie once (and it was the remake) and yet I still recognized it.

* Remember how I noted in the Pros section about it feeling like Wishbone was going to come running in any second? He never showed. This whole movie felt sooooooooo PBS. It's not really a bad thing, I guess? It just was really weird.

* In one of the scenes with Mary Surratt and Fred Aiken (Wright and McAvoy, respectively), Mary quotes Psalm 139. As a former member of a youth choir that sang this song pretty much every week at rehearsal, I know it well. Yet, when Aiken finishes the verse, Surrat says "You know your Proverbs". Sure, she could've just meant that as a general term..but it still bugged me and I'm ok with it if I'm the only one.

* I gave props to the sound people earlier but they really failed in the re-dub department. I truly don't understand why there seems to be such a need for this or why nobody can get it right. Sound mixing is an art, that I get, I just don't get why people seem to be so bad at it. All the time.

* In one scene McAvoy is walking down a dark street...or is he??? -insert Twilight Zone music here-. Either the lighting was so bad that it made him look invisible, or they tried some weird layering technique with the film.

* Zero resolution. I think I'll leave it at that on this one. There might've been resolution to the more "important" plot line but there was no resolution to several others.

Now Mother..
This movie is rated PG-13. It's pretty clean minus some drinking, a war scene, and hanging. Be prepared to discuss the events surrounding the assassination of Lincoln as well as the ethics surrounding the trials following. Viewer beware...

This movie confuses me. I like period pieces. I like Lincoln. I like Robert Redford. I like Alexis Bledel. I did not like this movie. It was over two hours of a horrendously slow plot. I understand that trials back then, and even now, are slow but 1 witness a day? Like 3 questions MAX per witness? It just seemed that this might've done better on that network it already resembled so much, PBS.

I made a note that the fight they were fighting in the movie is basically the one we're fighting today: stay true to the constitution? Or, give the people what they think they want?

I just didn't feel it. I was frustrated with the lack of  "oh my gosh, I can not believe that just happened!"s and "these performances are amazing!"s...not even that many "wow, look at that set..this is such a well done movie!"s. It felt cheap. It felt long. And I was disappointed. 3/5 stars is being generous.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A How To Guide

In today's fast paced society, it seems that even simple tasks such as enjoying a good movie are becoming increasingly more difficult. No matter the genre, time of day, or what Leading Lady/Man is on screen, people can't seem to drop their lives for the required 90+ minutes in order to take in what they're watching. I can't tell you how many times I've seen people checking their email, updating facebook statuses, or even texting the person sitting RIGHT next to them during a movie. I, too, am guilty of this crime.

Having Movie ADD is not a very good thing if you're expected to have a semi-coherent opinion on what you just watched. So, I've come up with a few ways to combat this problem and I'd like to share.

1. Arrive just before the previews...if you sit around in the theater for too long, your Movie ADD will kick in long before the roller-coaster.

2. Sit in the middle. Now, not only will this help with the viewing, but it will also keep you from being sucked in to watching the people (who don't read these tips) run in and out of the theater for who knows what reason.

3. Not only should you sit in the middle, but you should also sit where you can put your feet up on the seats in front of you. If this isn't possible, take a big bag (which you'll want anyway..see #4) so you can prop your feet on that. The more comfortable you are, the less you'll fidget and the less your eyes will be pulled off the screen.

4. Snacks. Now, I know movie popcorn isn't everybody's cup of tea but snacks really do help keep you focused. Why? Because, in today's world we're used to doing at least 10 things at once so when we DON'T have something else to occupy us, we go searching for it. For instance, right now I'm watching TV, reading another blog, talking to two people on messenger, and eating baby goldfish snacks...all while writing this post. What the popcorn does is keep your hands and mouth occupied while your eyes and brain are focused on the movie.

5. While I advocate snacking, I do advise not to go overboard on the drinks. Speaking from personal experience, having to visit the lavatory halfway into the film does not enhance the movie-going experience. If you're like me, you won't want to get up lest you miss an important part, so you instead sit in misery for the duration. If you do decide to get up, you either have to work out the important details yourself oooorrr rely on your movie buddy's best description of the chain of events...yeah.

6. Change your cell phone's screen brightness to something so low that makes trying to see it not even worth the effort.

7. Go see movies at night. Yes, it's more expensive but it's scientifically proven that our sight and hearing senses are stronger at night so that makes the movie experience that much better. Plus, the later it is (unless it's a midnight premiere)....the less crowded and, therefore, less distracting. AND you can wear your PJs!

8. Watch the previews...I know some people see them as a waste of time, but it helps you get focused and primed for what's about to happen. A good preview set will have you well into what's happening on screen and you will have lost track of how long they've been on and, if they're really good, what movie you even came to see. I feel it's important to have this few minutes to get out of reality before the story even starts.

9. Don't answer your phone. Remember the days when people didn't carry their phones everywhere? Often left them at home and didn't have to charge them for over a week? I barely do...but I remember enough. In this day and age, if it's a life and death matter, the person in question will text you that. While I don't advocate actually texting during a movie, I feel you'll know if it's imperative to do so. When you answer a call, you're not only missing potential key plot points, but you're also taking yourself WAY out of the movie AND distracting the people around you no matter how quietly you think you're whispering "I'm in a movie, can I call you back?".

10. Don't expect anything. This is probably the hardest thing to do, especially for me. Before I go to a movie, I've IMDB'd it to death and know just about everything about it...from the star's first ever acting gig to the name of the pig's trainer. So it can be hard for me to go in without a pre-formed opinion. If I go in expecting to love a movie, I often find myself hating it. If I go in thinking I'll hate it, I sometimes kind of like it but don't want to admit it*. So, try to be neutral.

*Please note that, 99% of the time, if I say I hated a movie..I legitimately hated it.

I hope these tips help you like they do me! I still can't really enjoy "at home" movies unless I watch them on my computer because of my extreme Movie ADD. Sad day. Hopefully a new movie review coming at you this weekend!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Director- Joe Wright
Written By- Seth Lochhead & David Farr
Top-Billed Cast- Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, & Cate Blanchett

Eric Bana and Saoirse Ronan are father and daughter living in the wilds of...well, I'm not really sure where they are. But, it's cold. Very cold. And Eric..Erik is training Saoirse...Hanna, to fight. Not only fight, but to kill. Teaching her everything he knows about how to survive and also all that he knows about how to make sure Cate...Marissa, does not.

I didn't take too many notes for this movie. Not because I didn't want to..but because I couldn't type and keep track of the movie at the same time.


* Superb sound mixing. Might not sound like a big deal but man, when it's done right..it's a very big deal.

* Very quick open, which I liked.

* The use of the accents in this movie was really awesome. Hanna's changes in hers were particularly distinct.

* The pace and scale of this film was really great

* I loved how you could see Hanna experiencing these things for the first time..and I actually believed it.


* I'm putting this in here not for the average reader..but for those that were paying attention during the movie. Poor poor Vincent. Hopefully he lived a better life than Trudy.

* When they went to pick up Hanna..she sees the very bright helicopter light yet these people are dressed in extreme camo? I saw no point in that.

* You'd think that living in isolation for so long would make father and daughter remarkably close..this was not the case.

* I really hated the house of Grimm. But more because it creeped me out than because it was badly done.

* I was a tad thrown by the fact that Hanna claims to have not experienced music. I could understand having no records or the like...but she implies that they've never sung or done anything.

* I was a tad insulted by the end but am kind of excited at the prospect of a Hanna: 2 (doubt this will actually happen).

Now Mother..

This movie is rated PG-13 and is very violent. There is implied sexuality and quite a bit of gore. Viewer beware..

In the end, I liked the movie. I wish I had taken more notes so I would be able to further explain why I liked it..but I didn't. 4/5 stars.

Sooooo it seems that Hanna is the winner here! It was close though. I really enjoyed the process of watching all of these movies..and while they weren't Oscar contenders (most likely..), they were entertaining and that's the whole point!

Soul Surfer

Soul Surfer
Director- Sean McNamara
Written by- Sean McNamara, Deborah and Douglas Scwartz, Michael Berk, and based on the book by Bethany Hamilton.
Top Billed Cast- AnnaSophia Robb, Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt, and Carrie Underwood.

Bethany Hamilton is a teen surfing sensation! She's won the regionals and is preparing for nationals when her life changes forever. While out training with her best friend and her father, a shark attacks. The movie chronicles her journey back to the top.


* I couldn't decide if I liked the chemistry between Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid or not..I mean, it was kind of awkward but kind of cute? I suppose that's a pro.

* They did a scene of night surfing and they had all of them wear the glow-sticks....that was a neat concept

* I looooved the water shots! They really utilized the underwater cams (or had extremely good CGI..)

* Speaking of CGI....good work on the arm!

* I had noted that I disliked the use of the dog at first..but then I found out that it was played by Bethany Hamilton's own dog..so I put this as a pro instead.


* Before I go an further..I have to ask: Why...why...WHY did they cast Carrie Underwood in this movie? I could tell that she was trying. I really could. But I just didn't get it.

* A lot of the shots were just too quick to process. One millisecond is not enough time to form an opinion.

* The script. I mean, I wasn't expecting anything amazing but there seemed to be a lot of in-between-time. A lot of time between expressed thoughts. Or something..I'm not really sure, it just wasn't that great.

* There were a LOT of unnecessary build-ups to un-climactic events. We don't need a major orchestra swell every scene.

* The shark...oh the shark. Jaws didn't die. Sorry to inform you.

* I did see the "ghost arm" once..barely there but..def there.

* Some awkward transitions such as from shooting a shark to shooting a picture. Just not ok.

* Lots of product placement. This actually made me laugh in the theater. I know, you do what you gotta do :)

* They had an *amazing* translator. She was practically IN the Thai lady's HEAD.

* I understand that this is an inspirational true story and that Bethany Hamilton credits God for her amazing recovery and all that she's able to do, but, I really hate church scenes in movies. It always feels sooooo contrived. I just can't even focus on the real point of the scene because I'm so distracted by these actors pretending to worship. They could really believe what they're saying, I don't know..I hope they do!

* I hate to put this here because I know it's practically impossible to do a water movie without them but..nose bubbles. Never attractive.

Now Mother..

This movie is rated PG. There's blood but nothing major. The biggest thing you'll have to discuss is the loss of a limb and how that does and doesn't change a person. Viewer beware..

Overall, I didn't flat out hate this movie but I also wasn't expecting all that much. I was surprised at how great the shots were and the surfing was awesome. I think that it was better than I expected. 2.5/5 stars.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Battle is on..

Between Battle: LASoul Surfer, and Hanna! What are they competing for? Stars, of course! Whoa...three movies in one post? Yes..I went a tad crazy. But then I procrastinated...so here they are!

Battle: Los Angeles
Director- Jonathan Liebesman
Written by- Christopher Bertolini
Top Billed Cast- Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, & Bridget Moynahan

Basically, Aaron Eckhart is a Marine that has put in more than his time and has just gotten his retirement approved when, you guessed it, aliens attack. I took a lot of notes for this movie..again, amusing to read back over. Maybe one day, I'll just post the notes and let those speak for themselves.


* The CGI-work was pretty darn good...for an alien movie, this is important.

* The scale. When I'm watching a movie, especially one with lots of fight scenes, I feel that often the choice to stay right on the main character is a poor one...the shots are so close you can hardly make heads or tails of what's going on. While this movie had some too-close-sequences, there were a LOT of really great open shots!

* All of the choreography that goes into these battle scenes is just so incredible. Everybody has to be on their toes and remember so much. The best is when it *looks* like chaos..but we all know that true chaos and a movie set don't really get along.

* They did a really good job with the set designs and the props; so much debris to keep track of.

* I really liked the way they designed the ships

* The use of alien goop was nice

* This movie made me jump..there are few that can do that to me (at least to this extent). Despite my feverish note taking, I got drawn in and I liked it.


* While this movie had great scale, it was a tad too Blair Witch for my liking with the filming. I'm all for realism when the time calls for it but I am not all for motion sickness in a movie theater. A good balance is key.

* Little do you know walking in that you will have to remember like fifty-gazillion names! I made up my own for them. It worked for me.

* So..the aliens communicate. And they sound a lot like the aliens from Signs. Yes, aliens are way popular and I'm sure it's hard to be original but..come ON.

* Aaron Eckhart...I just felt that his character was left too harsh. I mean, he has a backstory and we know it hurts him but at some point during this whole thing, he should break. Or..at least show some sort of emotion.

* The power goes out. The tv works.

* This is an ALIEN movie. Most of the world is dying. And yet...as always, love abounds.

* I can't help but see Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent..curse the ONE superhero movie I watch for ruining this actor for me for life.

Now Mother..

This movie is rated PG-13. There are INTENSE battle sequences, frequent use of the Lord's name in vain, and a lot of alien guts. Viewer beware..

Overall, I liked this movie. I liked the pace and the intensity. Was it predictable? It's an alien movie...of course it's predictable. There was one line that I really liked, it sounds really cheesy and I'm aware of that but still, doesn't this just sound so profound coming from Aaron Eckhart's Harvey Dent growl?
"Discard any lingering doubt." 3.5/5 stars.