Beauty and the Beast: Old and new it stands out of time…

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Beauty and the Beast – 2017, 1991

Directors: Bill Condon (2017) and Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise (1991)
Screenplay: Stephen Chbosky, Evan Spiliotopoulos (2017) and Linda Woolverton (1991) based on the story by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont
Starring:  Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson (2017) and Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson, Richard White, Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers, Angela Lansbury, Rex Everhart, Jesse Corti (1991)

Disney has been remaking their animated classics for so long now, I can’t remember a time when they weren’t. I think it may have started with 101 Dalmatians but in all honesty most of them are not good enough for me to go back and research. Over the last few years, the most notable have been their attempts to put women on the screen as real life princesses or (in Angelina Jolie’s case) should have beens. The one that everyone will talk about and remember has just arrived.

Everyone’s real hero of the Harry Potter series, Hermione Granger (no one wants to imagine she really married the doof who shall not be named) is now as likely and deservedly remembered as Belle. Although not being considered a singer before being cast in this musical, Emma Watson creates her own version of the role that Paige O’Hara mastered a generation ago.

The question of whether the movie update is necessary is immaterial at this point. A more pointed question would involve a contemplation on whether or not live action should include as much if not more animation than the original animated film. I am not going to discuss that either, though. I am really just here to celebrate both films, since, miracle of miracles, they both turned out to be pretty great.

To do this, I am just going to discuss the elements of each film that stand out more for me than the other. At this point, can we really review a film that everyone will see and love…except for those who insist on pointing out flaws. Well, I will try, but it will all feel like quibbling when I throw criticism to the side and just say it is a classic despite them.

First thing is first. What parts of the new film are not as good?

  1. The first time we see Belle’s village: For a second, I got a sickening feeling. Everything seems so close and claustrophobic, it felt like I was watching the recent redo of The Smurfs. There is no feeling of span in the town and it feels like Belle is walking in a really tight circle. The empty bookstore feels bigger than the whole confines of the village.
  2. Jerry Orbach and Angela Lansbury as Lumiere and Mrs. Potts can’t be beat: It is a personal preference, as McGregor and Thompson do well in the same roles. To McGregor’s credit, he just moved forward with his much less distinctive voice and personality. While it isn’t as memorable, it works. Orbach completely mastered the role, though, making Lumiere seem older and more virile at once. Thompson is a blander version of a character one would normally consider to be quite bland. No one ever made us sit down, make ourselves comfortable and have some tea like Lansbury.
  3. The ballroom scene. Especially true after the remastered version of the original pumped it up about 200%, there is just no beating the myriad colors and sweeping grandeur of the original. It’s one of the great animated scenes in cinematic history.
  4. I just wish they would not have cast Stanley Tucci. It’s so tiring to see him in every movie, even when they give him bad teeth to inhabit.

So what was made better in the new film? Surprisingly, quite a lot.

  1. LeFou: Gad is an inspired casting choice. His nuanced performance works in every way possible. The original was barely a placeholder for Gaston, to the point where I wondered why he was even included in such a large musical number. This time around, the character is fully fleshed out, an improvement in every way. The only time it doesn’t fit is when the residual lines from the original make it necessary to have him be somewhat illiterate and ill-informed. It is quite likely the LeFou has read most of the same books as Belle.
  2. Maurice: Good Lord I hated Belle’s dad in the original. I would have thrown him in the loony bin or old folks home right off the bat if I had to listen to his babbling. Totally moronic and typical Disney Dad, with his head in the clouds while missing every possible thing on the ground. He even thinks she should hook up with Gaston. Kline presents a slightly preoccupied, but deeply saddened man. He is completely aware of his daughter and he wants to protect her from the horrors he’s experienced, while showing her the beauty he sees in life. It’s completely understandable how they could be related in this version of the tale. She enjoys the same things he does, with her own spin. Incredible that Disney finally gets a Dad right, for once.
  3. The night-time trip to Paris: This adds a completely new dimension to Belle, her father and heretofore absent mother. This scene has a great song (How Does a Moment Last Forever) and in its inclusion, we allow a moment of true bonding between Belle and the Beast. This is the kind of scene upon which romances are built and it makes what follows all the more meaningful.
  4. Letting Belle get plastered by the snowball: It was always a little weak to have Beast hoisted by his own petard in the original.

To delve any deeper, you really have to just accept the differences between these two as just trades for each medium. Human Again (from the restored version) is traded for Evermore. The wardrobe is now an opera singer instead of a maid. My eldest noticed that Philippe was a different sort of horse. The library is remarkable either way. Gaston is as delightfully deplorable now as he was in animated form. Alan Menken is a treasure. I don’t know how he keeps drawing classics from this well.

It would be unfair to not recognize Watson’s achievement. Paige O’Hara has created, in all truth, the best Disney Princess. Instantly memorable for her pluck and her voice, all other Princesses have yet to reach the bar she set. Watson wisely avoids the pitfall of trying to match O’Hara’s voice and instead applies her own spin on the character. The songs and her performance are equally good and entirely different. I found myself hearing her voice in my head for songs that I have heard for a quarter century with O’Hara’s. She’s elevated the live action princess role that Amy Adams created so effortlessly and placed her own stamp on cinematic history, between this and Potter.

Dan Stevens is a little old, even for a 27-year-old Watson, but the role works, especially if one considers the time passing under a spell. It’s close enough and not yet creepy. His voice in Evermore is remarkable and nearly worth the price of admission on its own.

Celebrate these films. They are gifts to humanity. There have always been beauties who were drawn to beasts that they had to learn to understand. There have always been beasts who are society’s winners that smart girls know to avoid, too. This film has brought hope to many a bookworm girl and boy that they will someday meet and learn to accept one another. And grow. Everyone wants to feel like they can do that.

Both films (***** out of *****)

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X-Men: Days of Future Passed / The Rogue Cut: We can go anywhere from here

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X-Men: Days of Future Passed – 2014

Director Bryan Singer
Starring Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Ellen Page, Peter Dinklage, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart
Screenplay Simon Kinberg based on Days of Future Passed by Chris Claremont and John Byrne

Theatrical Version:

The X-Men movie series has infuriated those who love the comics as  well as many who love the movies series itself. For those who love the comics its been an endless – some say haphazard – onslaught of characters ripped out of their own stories and thrown into the backdrop of “What’s Wolverine doing now?” episodes. These critics also insist that the key interplay between Magneto and Xavier has been downplayed, outside of X-Men: First Class. This ignores certain truths about Marvel itself, that has never had problems reinventing characters in multiple story lines – different universes even – whenever the creative impulse hits.

As for the movies, the biggest problem until now is how each of the visions and various stories intersect, diverge or are in some cases, prematurely ended. X-Men: The Last Stand and the first of the Wolverine movies are the biggest violators of the implied agreement between story-teller and audience. Each film has taken liberties, though, to be sure.

In the same way as Star Trek‘s reboot in 2009, the beauty of X-Men: Days of Future Passed gives everyone what they were looking for, and more.  We get:

  • Xavier and Magneto contemplating the weight of their friendship in the midst of crisis
  • A bone throw for Kitty Pride (who was the hero of the comic series) as the portal for time travel
  • Halle Berry’s continuous mis-fire as Storm is kept in her place
  • Jennifer Lawrence gets to kick ass in blue, if not much else.
  • Dinklage  delivering to us his version of Bolivar Trask with minimal screen time, which is certainly more advanced than the Bill Duke version we see in The Last Stand.
  • Nicholas Hoult and Kelsey Grammer as Beast.  Hoult’s performance always begs for more screen time, while Grammer seems the perfect result for Beast.
  • Evan Peters in a remarkably sly turn as Quicksilver, perhaps the best segment of the film.
  • And what would X-Men film be without Wolverine getting 2/3 of the screen time?

The conceit to time travel movies is, really, they can go back to any time to get it right. If they go back real close to the event, well you know it’s because they have to ratchet up the tension. Everyone knows that Bolivar Trask could be eliminated at birth, but that would make it a bit cruel. Singer’s skill is making all of this flow as if it were in real-time. His story lines gather and then diverge effortlessly. There is not an ounce of clunk to the early 70’s scenes, even if the “present time” seems as forced as it did in the comic. We all know there has to be a deadline. This time, plenty of people get dead on the way to that point. Some even pull it off twice.

The acting is good throughout, with special mention to Hoult, Fassbender and McAvoy. Hoult’s Beast is a character that begs for its own story line. It would be great to see how we get from his uneasy early years to his confident older ones.

Fassbender’s character has the clearest delineation to McKellen’s performance.  Both are very driven and quite consistent with their rationale.

As his counter, McAvoy is all over the place.  It was a brave place to take the character, but he does a great job showing us what was on his troubled mind and not just saying it.

It’s easy to take Jackman for granted, since he’s been in every one of these films. The miracle is that he has evolved from Eastwood with a growl to a multi-dimensional bad ass. This time is a clear extension of everything he’s gathered from The Wolverine.

The best part about the movie is the epilogue. Seeing the result of the work is heartening because we get to see mistakes corrected without worrying about the consequences.This result will no doubt not give everyone a good feeling. Some might even feel like it’s pulling the rug out. It’s alright for this reviewer. Like merry go rounds, the ride is fun, even if it just goes in a circle.

(****1/2 out of *****)

The Rogue Cut

It is easy to understand why people become leery of the X-Men enterprise, especially when it comes to their home video releases. I bought 1.5 and wondered why the heck I did, and I followed through with purchases for every subsequent film, even following them to Blu-Ray. It is perhaps because I never read the comic and rarely followed any of the animated scenes that my patience has not frayed, even when the talk of Days of Future Past included news of a thread of scenes that would involve Rogue that were eventually excised from the theatrical cut. Most assumed that these few scenes would appear on the video release. By the time that arrived, the sequence had turned into a whole new cut of the film to be released at a future date.

If one decides that this is the place to draw the line…think again.

The Rogue Cut is like the bloom of a rose the day after you thought it had reached maturity. Instead of beginning to wilt, it flows even more thoroughly from its core, giving the bloom a depth and resonance it never had previously. The interesting thing about it though, is that it’s not only or even primarily because of the sequence of Anna Paquin scenes that this version of X-Men succeeds.

The best thing for viewers of the film is a fleshed out perspective of several characters, including Magneto, Mystique and Beast. The arc between past and present has more resonance and clearer connections. The weakest part of the film was that it never felt like it mattered what was happening in the present because even if it is riddled with challenges, the characters were able to continue manipulating time. This is changed for the better. Midway through the last act, they have a mission that takes them away from the stronghold. Accomplishing that mission is not without its cost. The consequence actually leads to a logical reason for a final battle, instead of just having the bad guys show up, because, well, it’s the last act.

The extra 17 minutes don’t feel extra at all. They are fully integrated within the story. Even when it changes the story slightly, this feels like the definitive version. There are some flashback scenes that go through every previous film, making their telling still relevant even if we know they will be ultimately stricken from the official record. It feels like this is the only way the story could have ever ended up. This is the new canon.

(***** out of *****)

The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies (***1/2) – So it ends…

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The Hobbit – The Battle of Five Armies

Director Peter Jackson
Starring Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Orlando Bloom, Aidan Turner, Billy Connolly, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm
Screenplay by Fran Walsh, Phillippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro based on the book The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

Around the time that George Lucas was putting out his joyless prequels, Peter Jackson started us out on a joyful quest with The Lord of The Rings. Each of the films burst at the seams with character, brilliant animation and a concise screenplay. Changes were made here and there, things were cut out for reasons of streamlining the story. There were some outlandish moments, like when Legolas took a ride on an Oliphant, but overall, the films paid almost as much attention to gravity as it did the source material.

Now, at the end of Peter Jackson’s joyless prequel trilogy, the quest feels more like a financial obligation. We’ve committed the funds to see the first two, might as well see the last one and get it over with.

The first two films have been a progression steadily downward. The weight of added characters and story lines to push one book to two, then eventually three films have made the enterprise of a delightful story into a bloated animated collection of wholly unrealistic scenes that barely connect to one another, much less to anything of the universe Jackson created in the first film series.

Luckily there is not much more he can do to Middle Earth. The story that is left to tell leaves little room for embellishment. In short, they have to slay a dragon, argue about the spoils of a Dwarf Kingdom and then fight a big battle. We also have the Jackson story lines: inter-racial lovebirds Kili and Tauriel (Turner and Lilly) and the rebirth of Sauron. He has no more need to add more baggage. At 144 minutes, it feels like a sort of parole for the viewer as compared to the first two that came out over 161 minutes each.

Story execution is mixed. The death of Smaug (Cumberbatch) is mercifully brief. There is a lot of scrambling by the townsfolk and the remaining dwarves and then there is one of those monologues that lasts just long enough for Bard (Evans) to get off a clean shot. The interplay between Bard and his son works well here and pays off in multiple ways.

Back to the Lonely Mountain, we discover that Thorin (Armitage) has been afflicted with dragon sickness, making him doubt everyone around him and ramps the greed up to 11. It is easy to extend the idea of dragon sickness to Jackson. Viewers don’t need to make too big a leap to see themselves in the position of his Dwarf companions; struggling between the loyalty to the master who leads them to the promised land, and incredibly uncomfortable and bored with him now that they are forced to live there.

Thorin really wants the Arkenstone, and Bilbo (Freeman) has it. After negotiations go sour with the people of Laketown and Thranduil’s Elves due to King Thorin’s spiraling madness, Bilbo gives the Arkenstone to Bard. This goes nowhere too.

Thankfully, at Dol Guldur, Galadriel, Elrond and Saruman (Blanchett, Weaving and Lee) arrive to rescue Gandalf (McKellen) from Sauron and the Nazgul. This scene is new to the book’s story, but it fits well within the sequence of events. It’s a nicely played resolution to the subplot as well.

Back at the battlefields below The Lonely Mountain, as the battle is about to start between the Elves, Men and the newly reinforced Dwarf army led by Thorin’s cousin Dain (Connolly), the orcs surprise them and begin to attack from two sides, splitting the newly joined 3 forces.

From here, Jackson just lets loose. Some of his better sequences, along with some of his worst take place within the ravages of the battle. The original is kind of a free for all, so for this viewer, it is fine if Jackson wants to add some structure to it. Attempting to inject some levity and tension throughout, we see some really neat things. In particular, Thorin’s battle with Azog and Bolg’s battle with Kili. Unfortunately, both of the battles go on too long and become convoluted.

Convoluted is the best word to describe Legolas’ continued fight with Bolg. It goes on forever and defies any sense of physical space whatsoever.

One of the best scenes from the original trilogy is the battle with the giant ogre within the Mines of Moria. That scene set up the foundation for much of what is to follow. The best thing about it is seeing how incredibly hard it was to take just one of those things. Then to see many of them falling over in unison with phantom punches is disturbingly sad and indicative of a “let’s get it over with” type of laziness.

The singular scene that stands out as a plus with an ogre is when assaulting the city next to the Lonely Mountain. As the troops of orcs run towards the wall, one ogre bearing a large helmet of rock attached to his head runs directly into a wall and breaks through. Immediately he bounces back from the blow, stands for a second and then falls back, out cold.

The pacing of the majority of the film is uneven. So much is going on, it’s impossible to figure out whether it’s momentum or kinetic confusion that the viewer is witnessing. Even so, this film is definitely the best of a bad second lot. Given that the first series is nearly perfect, this one doesn’t even belong in the same conversation.

(***1/2 out of *****)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Opportunity Lost and Exhausted

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – 2013

Director Peter Jackson
Starring Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Orlando Bloom, Aidan Turner
Screenplay by Fran Walsh, Phillippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro based on the book The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

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Who remembers this beautiful moment from Attack of the Clones?

I can remember when I first saw the movie Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.  For me it was to be an elixir for a tepid (read: bad) first installment.  They had promised more action, they promised a dark turn, and they promised less Jar Jar.  Somewhere around the point where Anakin called Padme “Milady” for the 12th time and then proceeded to try balancing on a poorly animated fattened cat of some sort, I realized the feeling of dread creeping over me.  Fighting every impulse to flee, I stuck out the garbage to the bitter end and boy did it make me bitter.  I knew at this point that the series was damaged beyond my hopes of restoration.  Even when the third installment ended up being not that bad, it was too late.  Even now, with a solid new director some new and good old ideas, the series has lost its luster.

The Hobbit reached this point for me right as they threw Bard in the clink.  We’d spent nearly a half hour there by this point, and Jackson was telling us that we were about to spend some more.  And what a boring time it was proving to be.  So many side stories over the first two films had taken liberties to the extreme, while, inexplicably cutting the charm out of some of the book’s best moments.

Among them, the meeting of Beorn, which mirrored in the most delightful way the original introduction of the Dwarves to Bilbo.  What had been one of the more colorful characters in the Tolkien mythical world abridged into a grouchy, hairy and lonely man-bear.  Even more appalling, the charming and lyrical showdown between Smaug and Bilbo (Cumberbatch and Freeman) is abbreviated painfully, turned instead into a keystone cops episode when the dwarves are drawn in for some wacky hi-jinks.  The story reaches low levels of absurdity as flames shoot everywhere but, like the A-Team, poor Smaug can’t hit anything.

Somehow and quite improbably, the lithe dragon loses his ability to avoid the most obvious calamity.  The makers to turn the dwarves into heroes that we are punished with the most ridiculous set of circumstances executed with the same penchant for ignoring the laws of physics as Jackson has shown since King Kong.  So inane is the last 20 minutes of the film, it almost undoes completely the even pacing and impressive action sequences of the first half of the film.

The better moments include the spider webs of Mirkwood forest, the subsequent capture of the party by the Wood Elves.  Their escape within the barrels on the water, and the heroism of Legolas and Tauriel (Bloom and Lily), while incredible is fun enough and close to the spirit of the novel.  Even the burgeoning romance of Tauriel and Kili (Turner) is somewhat of a delight, and to see how it turns out, gives one reason to see the third part.  Gandalf turns into a detective, taking on the mission of discovering the puzzling evidence of the Necromancer.  His findings seem a little premature, but overall, most of the Unfinished Tale called “The Quest of Erebor” is covered here to neutral effect.  Showing Radagast,  once more with his bird poop hair, turns it into a net negative.

Overall though, the second entry should have been a stronger than the mess it ends up being.  They have worked too hard on the dwarves, with Gimli’s model deemed not sufficient to base a film (or three) on.  There could be a few differences among them, but Thorin has gone from venerable old man in the source material to another version of Strider.  They’ve changed the tenor, and somewhat the true honor of the proud, stubborn race to the point when we see Legolas’ father (Pace) treat them cruelly, we wonder why he would, because they are all such nice guys.  The Orcs are everywhere yet again, and there still is no difference between them and the goblins, even if there was, slightly, in The Lord of the Rings films for a time.

A typical Thorin as Strider scene

At this point, the third film is an inevitability, just like The Revenge of the Sith.  Even if the film meets the source material closer in spirit, the damage is done psychically for those who saw the opportunity for Peter Jackson to carry out something on par with his original homage.  He took some liberties in the first series, but none of those took away from the essential spirit of the novels, and the quiet observation that the littlest, most insignificant things can make the biggest difference.

As with the first Hobbit film, Freeman is game to the challenge, and his performance is on par with the dignity that most ascribe to Bilbo.  It’s just a shame to see him watching the dwarves make asses of themselves avoiding massive jets of fire, not even needing to hope that Smaug will stay just right there so their clunky plan can work perfectly…or not.  The effectiveness of Cumberbatch as the great winged beast is muted the moment his standoff with Bilbo leaves the mental arena where it excelled originally and it becomes an all out party of pranks with the Dwarves, who really shouldn’t be there.  It’s at this point I begin to feel that its me who shouldn’t be here.  I hope I can shake this feeling before There and Back Again.

(**1/2 out of *****)

CPE and Em: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Slightly better than expected

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – 2012

Directed by Peter Jackson
Starring Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Ken Stott, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis, Sylvester McCoy, Manu Bennett, Benedict Cumberbatch, Barry Humpheries, Graham McTavish, Ken Stott
Screenplay Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, Guillermo Del Toro, Jackson

Upon discovering that Peter Jackson were breaking the story into three parts, the wind left the sails in my wish to watch the film’s three parts.  It smelled like greed and lots of fluff.  The Lord of the Rings was bursting out the seams with story parts left on the cutting room floor. For each line of dialog that they gave to Liz “Come and claim him” Tyler, one lamented the omission of The House of Tom Bombadil and The Scouring of the Shire.  This time, they took the opposite tactic.  Rummaging through unfinished stories and appendices left over from The Return of the King, Jackson and fellow screenwriters Del Toro, Walsh and Boyens filled out non-existent gaps and provided bulk to a fighting trim story.  The fear was that it would end up feeling like a middleweight champ picking up a beer gut and fighting a heavyweight champ.  A lot of useless weight to gain just to get your butt kicked.

Starting off with an older Bilbo (Holm, carried over from LOTR) narrating a story about the dwarf kingdom located in what would eventually become Lonely Mountain, we are eventually led into the classic opening line of The Hobbit.  From here we move swiftly through the recruitment the unexpected party.  The dwarves are presented in a mixed bag,  Some look comically unreal while others look decent.  Whoever’s decision it was to give each a different ridiculous hairstyle erred in the same way George Lucas did when he tried to make different looking Ewoks.  There is a certain look that just doesn’t lend itself to action figures.

Jackson does manage to push through the introductions and the mess of Bag End with a nod to the inherent silliness of the source material.  Soon as they are on the road, we get some more background from the rest of Middle Earth, allowing the inexperienced viewer a chance to piece together this story with what is to come.  This includes the revelation of two nemeses who will loom large in time.  We also get a glimpse of Ragadast, who is shown as little more than a drugged out wizard (too many ‘shrooms, according to Lee’s Saruman).  We also see the White Wizard, Elrond (Weaving at his most accessible) and the elegantly beautiful Galadriel (Blanchett, winsome as ever) gathering with Gandalf for a council about one of the looming threats.  Gandalf (the skilful McKellen in a more humble, less enigmatic form) is subservient as he should be.  Problem is, for a man who has so much common sense the rest of the time, it’s astounding to see him bowing to the foolishness spewing forth from Saruman.  To my recollection he actually was a wise leader once.  Yes, the voice is addictive, but the elves sure seemed immune to it.  Why couldn’t one of them called B.S.?

The battles are inter-laced with bits of humor from the source material, and the special effects can be absolutely illuminating (the rock fight and the dwarf kingdom) or depressingly foolish (so many falls from astounding heights).  The whimsy with which Jackson treats his characters gives no attention to things like gravity or balance and instead concentrate on making the action scenes fast and frenetic.  The result counters some of the charm of Martin Freeman’s performance as Bilbo.  While he’s facing his Riddles in the Dark, the rest of them are undergoing the most improbable of escapes.  Just when we are in the most dramatic point in the history of Middle Earth, we are seeing an I Love Lucy skit with the fat Great Goblin and his minions.

This is not to imply that the movie is not without its charm.  The pacing is excellent, and there are few moments that ring as false or out of character, even if the character is slightly more streamlined than the book.  The dwarves, despite their plastered on look, have some depth to their characters when necessary.  Bombur is still a fat idiot, though.  Gandalf does not give you much if you did not already see him in LOTR, but he still has time.

An Unexpected Journey is good enough to start a series.  The padding does not feel like padding.  As thrilling as the prospect of The Desolation of Smaug feels, there is still 6 hours more of this stuff.  This movie helped to assuage some of the fears created watching the bloated corpulent waste that King Kong became.  Watching the shoddy battle scenes produced different concerns.  It was bad enough watching the never-ending falls in 2D, but one can only imagine how annoying it would be in 3D at 48 frames per second.

Hopefully they will take the under performing box office numbers of this first installment as a cue to take a little more time creating mood in the next film, because the battle scenes from There and Back Again loom like a Bombur on a chair with a weak leg.

(***1/2 out of *****)

Em’s Review:

What did you think?

I was really disappointed that the movie did not cover the whole book.  2 Stars.  1 Star.  Actually, 1 and 1/2.

But I told you many times that I was letting you watch it because you’ve read up to the part where the Eagles saved them, and that is where the first movie was supposed to end?  

Nobody told me that there was going to be 3 movies, Dad.  I think they wasted my time.

You’re 10 years old, and you watched the movie intently.  And I am pretty sure that I told you several times it was not the whole book.

If someone goes to the effort of making a movie, I will sit there and watch it.  I am not like Ellie, who will sit there for 3 minutes and walk away.

(Christine) Despite your feelings about not making a movie about the rest of the book, what did you think about what they did do?

I would give it 3 Stars.

I think you will like it better after reading the rest of the book and seeing the next two movies.  

How many more hours will that take?

Cool Papa E Reviews Marvel’s The X-Men / Wolverine Movies

Many are hailing this coming week’s X-Men: First Class as the best Marvel movie ever.  Everything I have seen so far looks fantastic.  Now is as good a time as any to check what we’ve seen so far from the X-Men Series of films.  This list will be comprehensive within the next couple of weeks, but for now, we will just cover the ones that have been released and are available on Blue Ray and DVD.

X-Men – 2000

Directed by Bryan Singer

Starring Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Hugh Jackman, Famke Janssen, James Mardsen, Bruce Davidson, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Anna Paquin, Ray Park, Tyler Mane, Halle Berry

Screenplay by David Hayter based on a story by Bryan Singer and Tom DeSanto and characters by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee

Review Solid basis as the foundation for the series.  The strengths of this film lay in the casting of McKellen and Stewart as kings on the chessboard of a game of mutants.  They take their time introducing new characters, and they can afford to do this with the introduction of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.  His delivery is straight Clint Eastwood, but it is the best stroke of casting luck this film could’ve had.  After Dougray Scott, the original choice, chose to go be the bad guy in the unremarkable Mission: Impossible II, the director Bryan Singer settled on Jackman.  The rest is cinematic history.  Janssen is excellent as the tortured Jane Grey, even if James Mardsen seems a little too young to be her husband.  Or maybe just too short.  The brilliance of the movie, however, is that they are able to use McKellen and Stewart so effectively.  The only stretch in casting is Halle Berry as Storm.  The weak actress lacks any sort of presence at all as the supposedly powerful Storm.  It would have been nice to see a real actress, like, Angela Bassett, wreak havoc with the character.  Apparently she refused the role.

Best Sequence – Magneto (McKellen) exhibits how far he is willing to go beyond Professor X (Stewart) to get what he wants at the train station.  All of those humans with their guns.  Nice to see Wolverine so helpless.

Worst Sequence – Pretty much all of Halle Berry’s scenes with that wig make one feel like they are watching a B-Grade film.

Rating – ****

X2: X-Men United – 2003

Director Bryan Singer

Starring Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Hugh Jackman, Famke Janssen, James Mardsen, Bruce Davidson, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Anna Paquin, Halle Berry, Brian Cox, Alan Cumming, Aaron Stanford, Shawn Ashmore, Kelly Hu, Michael Reid-McKay

Screenplay by David Hayter, Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris based on a story by Bryan Singer, David Hayter, Zak Penn and characters by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee

Review – A more comprehensive film that takes advantage of the strengths of the first picture and adds glimpses of other characters, while expounding on the others enough to make them well-rounded.  Jackman grows exponentially in a role that, while not as entirely a leader, a damn good captain.  McKellen and Stewart again are solid, if less of a focus as before.  Cox provides the perfect bad guy, using hypocritical methods to get what he wants, all while providing enough of a sly grin to let you know he really enjoys it.  Speaking of enjoying it, Romijn expands her performance to match Mystique’s cult figure status.  Alan Cumming, as Nightcrawler, plays the most normal creature of his career.  Seeing him as religious is ironic.  Halle’s wig is better…slightly.  The acting isn’t any better.  Good script, tight direction, well-paced.  This is the jewel in the crown of the X-Men universe thus far.

Best Sequence – Wolverine absolutely kicking ass unrepentantly as the men of Stryker (Cox) attack Xavier’s School.  This is Wolverine as all X-Men fans dreamed of seeing him.

Worst Sequence – Adamantium boiling for 15 years is kind of a stretch, but the fire guy is mostly annoying…mostly.

Rating – (****1/2)

X-Men: The Last Stand – 2006

Directed by Brett Ratner

Starring Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Hugh Jackman, Famke Janssen, James Mardsen, Bruce Davidson, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Anna Paquin, Halle Berry. Kelsey Grammer, Michael Murphy, Vinnie Jones, Bill Duke,  Ben Foster, Ellen Page, Shawn Ashmore, Ken Leung, Aaron Stanford, Eric Dane

Written by Simon Kinberg, Zak Penn based on characters by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee

Review – After an organic pairing of the first and second films, this one feels overwhelmed by new characters and too many factions.  The disappearance of Cyclops feels like someone who was called off set to another movie.  From there, the handling of Phoenix / Jane Grey is a mess.  It was powerful enough to have been a multi-movie arc, but instead just jumps around here and there, dotting the storyline like a ghost.  The “death” of several of the characters feel like cheats, especially when you see mutants (like Toad) who died in the first film appear in the third.  That said, Berry is better than she was in either of the first two films, but that does not say much.  Storm and Wolverine are showcased probably too much, due mainly to the economy of characters.  I am not sure how the brotherhood ended up in a tent city out in the woods.  The end is a hodgepodge of one note power shows.  It’s hard to fault Director Ratner too much for any of the issues, as he was thrown into the mix late in the game.  It’s really not a bad movie, but it certainly is not a very good one.

Best Sequence – Hard to say.  So much seemed over the top, nothing was really that entertaining.  It would be a tie, I guess, with Wolverine versus the man with regenerating arms (“Grow a new pair of those.”) and Kitty Pryde versus the Juggernaut.

Worst Sequence – The Golden Gate Bridge?  Really?  Really dumb.  To top it off, they give McKellen’s Magneto the dumbest line of all time:  “Charles always wanted to build bridges.”  He must have absolutely cringed.

Rating – (***)

X-Men Origins: Wolverine – 2009

Directed by Gavin Hood

Starring Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Dominic Monaghan, Ryan Reynolds, Will.i.am, Kevin Durand, Lynn Collins, Taylor Kitsch

Written by David Benioff, Skip Woods

Review – The fact that this is just another ensemble of mutants teaming together and falling apart does not detract from the good performances.   I thought it was nuts to have Sabretooth back, but hiring Schreiber in any capacity was a masterstroke.  Overall, the story is passable, but having Huston, Schreiber and especially Reynolds along helps to push the material up a notch.  Jackman shows a great early version of the role that made him a star.  His multi-layered performance shows how lucky they were that he landed on the producer’s doorsteps for the first movie.

Best Sequence – Seeing the early version of Deadpool (Reynolds) in top form, massacring a room full of gun-firing Nigerians with only two swords.  It beats anything else by a long shot.

Worst Sequence – Not sure which is worse, killing Grandma with a shot to the head, or the ensuing motorcycle chase which leads to the incredibly ridiculous stunt with the helicopter.

Rating – (***1/2)

X-Men: First Class – 2011

Directed by Matthew Vaughn

Starring Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Jennifer Lawrence, Oliver Platt, Kevin Bacon

Written by Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stenz, Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn

Review – here

Best Sequence – Magneto finally moves the coin…much to Sebastian Shaw’s dismay.

Worst Sequence – The Beast outfit almost outdoes Hoult’s performance, and who can forgive the fact that they did not kill off Michael Ironside.

Rating – (****1/2)