Saturday, January 25, 2014

Kevin Sorbo and Disney do Hercules better

Movie Title:  The Legend of Hercules

Grade: C

In a Nutshell:  I used to get a kick out of the old Kevin Sorbo TV show Hercules: The Legendary Journey .  Well, this is nothing like that.  You know that awesome Disney movie Hercules ?  Well, sadly, it’s nothing like that either.  Instead, this is a disappointing retelling that has no sense of humor and the worst movie extras I’ve seen in years.  You know a movie is bad when you actually notice the extras.  My 8 year old nephew walked out of the movie because he was bored.  Yikes.

It feels like it wants to be the movie 300 , but just can’t pull it together past 200.  It also reminded me of a cheesy version of the movie Gladiator . If you’re interested in watching lots of massive arms and muscular thighs fighting for an hour and half, you’re going to love this movie.  I’m thinking that Game of Thrones fans will enjoy the stylized production sets and epic scenery.

Uplifting theme:
  • A little help from God can make all the difference.  (wink)
  • I need to work out more.

Things I liked:
  • I thought Queen Alcmene’s hairdos were super cute.
  • Hercules and Hebe share some very romantic vows of love.
  • The aerial view of King Amphitryon’s kingdom looked amazing.
  • Nice 360 degree camera work during the scene when..SPOILER ALERT…Hercules is tied up with the Captain.
  • Cool electric whip at the end
  • Some of the fight scenes featured slow-motion action that impressively showed off skills and CGI.

Things I didn’t like:
  • Hercules ’ rousing speech could have been Braveheart worthy, but it was so rushed it was a yawn short of inspiring.  In contrast, I thought the speech given by the Princess of Crete to Iphicles about how much she loved Hercules was touching.
  • Kellan Lutz’ pretty-boy baby face and blonde hair didn’t scream Greek demigod to me.
  • The lion CGI looked totally fake and cheesy.
  • There were flurries in the air in several scenes.  Is it supposed to be snow? Cotton in the trees? 
  • Too many lines were growled through clenched teeth
  • I hate fake flying, especially in fight scenes.
  • There are some dumb lines like “Get out of my way, woman!”
  • What kind of accent was Jonathan Schaech going for?  Terrible.
  • HUGE SPOILER ALERT…so Hebe stabs herself to kill Iphicles behind her…she survives and he doesn’t.  Tell me how that works?  Lame.

Funny lines: None.  This film took itself too seriously.

Inspiring lines:
  • The Captain was asked “How is it you survived those places?” He answered “Hope.  I was given hope.”  Hope is a very powerful thing.
  • There were a lot of references to Hercules as Jesus Christ and Zeus as God the Father.  For example, Hercules is chained with his arms outstretched, immaculate conception, and even called a “so called Savior.”  In a speech reminiscent of Pontius Pilate, King Amphitryon mocks Hercules and asks “Do you offer these people salvation when you cannot save yourself?”  Hera says to Hercules “Your father has always been there.  You were just not ready for him.”  Another reference is when Hercules looks up in chains and cries “Father.  I believe in you.  Grant me strength.”

Things to look for:
  • The pretty golden eagle that is a sign from Zeus
  • The fun vertical braid hairdo on the guy in the rock pit fight scene
  • Blue fuzzy Trojan hat worn by an extra in a crowd scene towards the end
  • Cool arrowheads

Tips for parents:
Children familiar with the Disney telling of Hercules will not recognize this story or character.  There is a lot of fighting, but it is mostly bloodless.  No profanity, but there is a sexual scene when Hercules is conceived by an invisible Zeus, which is a bit odd and awkward.  Hercules and Hebe are mostly covered in a love scene in a meadow.

If you love Hercules movies in any form, check out some of these:

Frankenstein disappoints, but still has cool effects

Movie Title:
I, Frankenstein
Grade:  B-

In a Nutshell:  I know a guy who was Aaron Eckhart’s college roommate.  He said that Aaron often talked about becoming a movie star some day.  He did it!  I’m sincerely happy for him.  I love Aaron Eckhart’s eyes because one of my sons has the exact same eyes. 

Based on the graphic novel by Kevin Grevioux, I, Frankenstein features a teeth-gritting monster who struggles with who he is as he fights demons and Gargoyles in a battle to save mankind.  I wanted this popcorn flick to be a hit for Aaron, but sadly, it falls short of a blockbuster that’s going to get audiences really excited.  

There is not much of a plot, as the CGI effects and production design take center place.  True Mary Shelley fans will be disappointed that the classic tale has been re-invented with a ripped and skilled mixed martial artist, of sorts, as the “unholy abomination” of a monster.  If you’re into Sci-Fi or dystopian genres, you’ll the awesome special effects.  You feel mildly attached to Frankenstein , but there is not much time spent on real character development. 

Gideon is a name known to many Christians, but this character is so filled with hate that he doesn’t seem to be representing heaven.  He declares to Frankenstein “God will surely damn you.”  Frankenstein growls back “He already did.”

Uplifting theme:  Victor Frankenstein never named his creation, so Leonore, the queen of the Order of the Gargoyles symbolically names him Adam.  I’m a sucker for symbolism.  He is the first man of his kind.  He is made in the image of his maker, but has the free will to create his own life.  Like this new Adam, we often spend years trying to figure out who we really are.  It’s when we realize we need humanity and begin to love and serve others for a greater cause that we truly find ourselves.

Things I liked:
  • I loved the way Gargoyles died in a brilliant beam of light and were instantly sent heavenward.  In contrast, the demons turn into a fiery blaze that descends to hell when they’re killed.  The battle scene at the beginning panned out and you could see beams ascending and fire bursts swirling, notifying you how many gargoyles and demons were killed in combat. I thought that was pretty cool.
  • The slow-motion fight sequences looked like a video game. I’m sure this will come out as a video game and it could actually be pretty good.
  • I love Bill Nighy in everything.  He played a lovable and wise father in About Time as equally well as he plays a clever demon prince in this film.
  • There are some interesting weapons and cool slow-motion fight scenes featuring them.

Things I didn’t like:
  • You know when you see a big towering structure created by the bad guys that it’s going down at the end of the movie.
  • Everyone has a British accent except Frankenstein.  Come on Aaron.
  • The demons’ faces looked like masks from an old Star Trek episode.
  • It’s so clich├ęd that the brilliant, young scientist happens to be a beautiful girl.  SPOILER ALERT…So, will Yvonne Strahovski be the bride of Frankenstein in the sequel?
  • Shouldn’t the gargoyles have been nicer since they were working for God?
  • There is a complete lack of humorous moments, as the film seems to take itself too seriously.
  • Frankenstein doesn’t have a soul, but yet somehow he can feel pain and wants to do good, as well as have the desire for a female companion.  How does that work?
  • Of course, Frankenstein is supposed to be a grungy creature, but I really wanted him to take a bath.  He rinses off his face once, yet his face remains dirty.
  • We are told that Leonore is the direct link to the Archangels, but she mostly stands around while the gargoyles do all the work.  She prays and seems to have the best sense of morality, so I was disappointed when  (SPOILER ALERT) she turned against Adam and issued an order to kill him.  Despite that, it was great to see Lord of the Rings starlet Miranda Otto again.

Funny lines:  There really aren’t any.  This movie takes itself too seriously and could have benefited from some levity at its own expense.

Inspiring lines:
  • “Each of us has a higher purpose.  Yours is yet to reveal itself.”  - Leonore
  • “All life is sacred.”  - Leonore
  • “Just because something has yet to be found, does not mean it does not exist.” = Niberious
  • “It is not for you or I to deny God’s purpose.” – Leonore
  • “You’re only a monster if you behave like one.” – Dr. Wade

Things to look for:
  • The symbol seen from the aerial view that the bushes make outside of the Institute entrance.
  • There is a certain symbol of the Order of the Gargoyles that you start to see everywhere: on Leonore’s necklace, on the fabric sashes, on the dagger, on the cathedral, formed by the structure of the cathedral as seen from an aerial view.

Tips for parents: Young children may be afraid of the scary demons.  There is a gruesome scene with hundreds of corpses hanging in a large facility underneath the Institute.  There is a lot of bloodless fighting, but not much profanity.  The lighting in the scenes, as well as the general theme are quite dark.

If you're a Frankenstein fan who can't get enough, check these out:

Monday, January 20, 2014

Martin Luther King would have loved the movie "The Butler"

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I wanted to share a review of Lee Daniels' The Butler , released just last week on DVD.   I simply don’t understand how a mediocre movie like “American Hustle” can get nominated for Golden Globe and Academy awards when powerful movies like Lee Daniels' The Butler are completely overlooked.

Movie Title:  Lee Daniels' The Butler
PG-13, 2 hours 12 minutes

Grade: A

In a Nutshell:  Packed full of awesome star power, Lee Daniels' The Butler is a sobering look at U.S. history and the evolution of black Civil Rights. The film begins with the quote “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.”   “Light” has long been a symbol representing knowledge, truth, and understanding.

Lee Daniels’ gripping movie begins in 1926 Macon, Georgia where slavery was outlawed, yet still practiced culturally in the south.  “The only thing I ever knew was cotton” are the first words you hear from Cecil Gaines, a black man whose family worked on a plantation and destroyed by the bigoted, evil property owner.  Cecil’s journey takes him to the White House to serve as a butler and experience first-hand the political changes that affected a family and a nation.

For those unfamiliar with black history in this country, this “crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice” is shown in a Forest Gump-like overview through significant milestones in Civil Rights, such as: the Executive Order in Little Rock, 1960’s Fisk University, Freedom Writers [Blu-ray] , 1965 Malcolm X speaking tour, Bloody Sunday, Vietnam, The Black Panther movement in the 1960’s, and on up through President Obama. You hear the “N” word used a lot, a word defined in the film as a “white man’s word filled with hate.”

Uplifting theme:  There are many uplifting themes throughout the movie that should spark interesting conversations about equal rights at your dinner table.  It was fascinating to watch father and son approach their desire for equality and respect in different ways: one with dignity and patience, the other with reckless passion.  The screen shows the words “This film is dedicated to the men and women who fought for freedom in the Civil Rights movement.”  Thankfully, the movie points out that the group includes both white and black patriots.  It’s hard to believe that only a few decades ago, black Americans were not allowed to drink out of the same drinking fountain as Caucasians.  While our society still has a long way to go in regards to racism, we have come far.

Things I liked:
  • I thought the White House dinner scene was extremely powerful, combining it with scenes from the famous Woolworth restaurant scene.  Many of the film’s montages were very well done.
  • I love Robin Williams in everything.  He plays President Eisenhower in this movie.  Cecil serves eight presidents during his tenure as a butler.
  • I love Alan Rickman in anything.  He was a delightful Reagan.
  • I also adore James Marsden and thought he was perfect as John F. Kennedy.  I appreciate it when actors actually try to use the correct accent when playing the role of a real person in history.
  • I loved seeing real TV clips from history as the movie progressed through significant times in our country’s history.
  • The beginning and end of the movie both show an old man sitting in a chair in the White House.  I love it when movies take you in full circle.

Things I didn’t like:
  • Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey and many of the film’s actors did an excellent job, yet were left out of Golden Globe and Oscar nominations.
  • I thought it was actually offensive to see Jane Fonda playing Nancy Reagan.  Casting her in any political role is sure to spark controversy.
  • Mariah Carey wasn’t entirely believable as a wife of a black man, although she plays one in real life.   Oh, snap!
  • Because there was so much history to cover in a short amount of time (although the movie is 2 hours 12 minutes long), some scenes seemed a bit rushed and superficial.

Funny lines:
  • “We have no tolerance for politics here at the White House.”  - Maynard at the job interview.  The audience I sat in howled with laughter.
  • John F. Kennedy says “I’ll be looking forward to working with you the next four years.”  Jacqueline Kennedy quickly corrects “Eight years.”

Inspiring lines:
  • Referring to the White House, Gloria Gaines says “I don’t care what goes on in that house.  I care what goes on in this house.”
  • “A hero is one who fights to save the soul of our country.”  - Louis
  • “Americans always turn a blind eye to our won.  We look out to the world and judge.  We hear about the concentration camps, but these camps went on for 200 years in America.”  - Cecil Gaines

Tips for parents:  I thought it was interesting that the only F-bomb in the movie was spoken by the white Vice President of the United States.  There is some profanity, infidelity, lots of racism, and violence.  Not a movie for young children, but older teens may be introduced to some history that they never learned about in school. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Does the new version of the 47 Ronin add or detract from the legend?

Movie Title:  47 Ronin

Grade: B

In a Nutshell:  It’s as if this long movie couldn’t decide which one it wanted to be: epic war history or CGI action fantasy.  I love Keanu Reeves and wanted this movie to be legendary for him, but it just falls short of being very memorable.  It prides itself as telling a true Japanese story, yet it mixes in modern CGI villains that spoil the authenticity.  The movie takes itself very seriously, but has a few humorous moments, such as when a pudgy Ronin tries to cut a branch with Keanu’s sharp sword.  (Is Ronin plural?  What’s one Ronin called?  Roni?)

In case you didn’t know already, a Ronin is a masterless Samurai and the film is a remake of others made in 1994 and 1941.  While many critics have been quite rough on this version, if you’re interested in Japanese lore, you’ll still find plenty to enjoy here.

Uplifting theme: I thought the ceremony with bloody thumbprints on paper was powerful.  Oishi inspires with this short speech: “We will leave this record of courage so the world will know who we were and what we did.  Tonight, we will regain our honor and avenge our Lord.  None of us knows how long he shall live or when our time will come.  But soon, all that will be left of our brief lives is the pride our children feel when they speak our names.”

At the end of the movie, the narrator explains “the memory of the 47 Ronin who put duty and justice before their fear of death has lived down through the centuries as one of the greatest examples of loyalty and honor in Japanese culture.”  The screen then shows text, telling the reader that each year, on December 14th, thousands of people from around the world visit the graves of the 47 Ronin to pay their respects.  This film was inspired by their story.”  That statement alone made me want to learn more about the true tale.

Things I liked:   I love symbolism and the movie provides a few touches, such as the candles blowing out when one of the Samurai dies or when the Ronin wear white robes to show purity in obedience, surrounding a white tree in the middle, representing the pillar of tradition.  I also love it when Keanu calmly tells someone he’s going to kick their butt.  Rinko Kikuchi gave a sexy and bewitching performance.

Things I didn’t like:  The boy who plays Keanu’s character (Kai) when younger speaks with a British accent, but the older Kai does not.  Someone should have caught that little inconsistency.  The prejudice against Kai, the “half-breed” seemed a little too familiar and tired for a movie theme, although certainly experienced in many societies still today.  Maybe I’m just tired of ignorance.

Funny lines:
  • “I knew it was you.  I saw your belly sticking out from behind the tree.”  - Kai
  • “I knew you’d come for me.”  - Mika  (Wow, how many times have we heard that from melting starlets?)
  • My niece lived in Japan for a year and a half and told me oishi means “delicious”, so I thought it was interesting that one of the character’s names was Oishi.

Inspiring lines:
  • “Mountains of corpses will not stand in our way.” - Witch (Wow, that’s dedication, eh?)
  • “What I propose ends in death.  Even if we succeed we will be hanged.”  - Oishi  (It’s hard to inspire people with a speech like that.)
  • “A Samurai does not take credit for victories of others.”  - Oishi
  • “I will search for you to a thousand worlds and a thousand lifetimes until I find you.”   - SPOILER ALERT  - Kai  (Now that’s romantic, right?)
  • When a crime goes unpunished, the world is unbalanced.  When a wrong is unavenged, the heavens look down on us in shame.” – Oishi
  • “My father told me that this world was only a preparation for the next.  All we can ask is that we leave it, having loved and being loved.”  - Mika

Things to look for:
  • wooden Japanese shoes worn by the King Lord guy
  • Samurai wear 2 swords
  • Did you know Keanu Reeves is half-Asian?  He really is!

Tips for parents:  No profanity and mostly bloodless fighting.  It features honor and loyalty, but also revenge.  It’s certainly an opportunity to discuss those values as a family.  Young children may get a little bored.  

If you saw this movie, I'd love to hear what you thought about it!

In case you're interested in learning more about this famous Japanese story, check out these other versions of the retelling.  One of the most popular ones is Inagaki's Chushingura" Hana no Maki, Yuki no Maki (1962).

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Tom Clancy fans come out of the shadows to cheer on the new Jack Ryan

Movie Title:  Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
PG-13, 1 hour 45 minutes

Grade: A-

In a Nutshell:  Tom Clancy fans will love this prequel to the popular Jack Ryan save-the-USA stories.  Chris Pine, with his beautiful blue eyes, joins the club of fantastic leading men who have brought this patriotic character to life: Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck.  I would have loved to see some short cameo appearances with those guys!

Sure, the film is formulaic: inexperienced CIA analyst uncovers an attack on the U.S. and is suddenly thrust into operative status as he dodges bullets, guided by a crusty mentor (played by Kevin Costner).  It’s still a fun spy thriller that will get your pulse going as you yell “Hurry!” at the big screen.

Uplifting theme:  Jack is wounded in Afghanistan in the beginning of the film, but finds two unexpected motivations to recuperate: Cathy and protecting his beloved country. I loved the look in his penetrating eye (one was swollen shut) as he was wheeled off on a gurney.  It said so much about how this country felt after the 9/11 attacks. Meaningful motivation can push you beyond what you thought you could do.

Things I liked: Kenneth Branagh directs and plays a vicious Russian in the movie.  He proves he can equally navigate Shakespeare and Thor.  I liked that the setting is modern day and spotlights a very real threat of the collapse of the American dollar.  Jack warns “They’ll call it the American crisis, but after six weeks, they’ll call it what it is…the second Great Depression.”

Things I didn’t like:  I usually like Keira Knightley, but I just didn’t feel the chemistry between her and Chris Pine.  She seemed a bit forced with her American accent. There is an obligatory car chase scene and many of the tense moments feature pounding at computer keyboards.  One disjointed scene that annoyed me included a fight scene with Jack and Aleksandr in the water under the streets, but then suddenly they’re exchanging blows in a van moving above-ground.  With all of the recent talk in the news of NSA spying, it’s interesting to see how quickly the field agents can gather intel and act on it.

Funny lines:
  • “You weren’t kidding…you ARE in the CIA” states Jack.  William Harper responds “Somebody has to be.”
  • “This is geo-politics, not couple’s therapy.” – William Harper
  • “You Americans like to think of yourselves as direct, but maybe you’re just rude.” – Viktor Cherevin
  • “You Russians like to think of yourselves as poetic, but maybe you’re just touchy.”  - Jack
  • “The first night can be brutal.” = Viktor Cherevin after he tries to get Jack killed
  • William Harper asks “Any way to get that Boy Scout look off your face?”  Jack laughs “Not a chance.”  Harper responds “Good.  That’s what I like about you.”
  • “He drinks, right?” Jack asks.  The response: “Like a Russian.”
  • “I’m in the CIA  - Jack    SPOILER ALERT:  After surviving a frightening ordeal, Cathy sighs “Thank God.”

Inspiring lines:
  • “Wait 2 minutes before you take that” counsels Cathy to her new patient Jack who wants some pain killers.  When he asks “Why?” she inspires “So you know you can.”

Things to look for:
  • Read the words on the movie screen when Jack passes the data on to a field agent in the dark movie theater for a symbolic undertone.
  • The 360 degree camera pan while Jack is in the taxi after just arriving in Russia.
  • The picture hanging in Viktor’s office.  What is it? “Battle Of Bunker Hill ”?  Interesting choice, right?

Tips for parents: One F-bomb, but not that much other profanity.  Lots of bloodless fighting scenes. Jack and Cathy are found in bed for a conversation only.

Add this one to your collection of other fun Jack Ryan movies.  These are some of my favorite movies of all time: