“Maleficent” (2014) – Review

Maleficent Poster

Director:  Robert Stromberg

Writer:  Linda Woolverton

Stars:  Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, and Sam Riley

IMDb Logline:  A vengeful fairy is driven to curse an infant princess, only to discover that the child may be the one person who can restore peace to their troubled land.

Pros:

  1. Angelina Jolie
  2. Special Effects
  3. Three Fairy God Mothers

Cons:

  1. Turned one of Disney’s most evil villains into a sympathetic character

Review:  Though a feast for the eyes with a great performance by Jolie as Maleficent, in the end the film is mostly forgettable.  The idea of providing Maleficent a reason why she becomes evil is a good one, but giving her a “Disney” ending just feels wrong.

Grade = C

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Click on image to view trailer


“X-Men: Days of Future Past” (2014) – Review

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Director:  Bryan Singer

Writer:  Simon Kinberg

Stars:  Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, James MacAvoy, Evan Peters, Peter Dinklage,  Nicholas Hoult, and Hugh Jackman

IMDb Logline:  The X-Men send Wolverine to the past in a desperate effort to change history and prevent an event that results in doom for both humans and mutants.

Pros:

  1. Truly ensemble film
  2. Stand-out performances from Michael Fassbender (Erik/Magneto) and Jennifer Lawrence (Raven/Mystique)
  3. Glorious over-the-top 70s costume and set design
  4. Wolverine used as a MacGuffin
  5. Evan Peters scene stealing turn as Peter Maximoff (Quicksilver)
  6. Just the right number of Easter Eggs for both film and comics fans
  7. More than expected use of my favorite X-Man, Iceman (thank you “Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends”), in the future scenes, as well as him being the last line of defence against the Sentinels

Cons:

  1. All the characters aged amazingly well in the future
  2. Magneto’s character motivation in Paris
  3. Magneto’s apparent never before heard of powers to see behind his head and immediately clot arterial bleeding
  4. 1973 Cerebro and underground X-Mansion set looked incredibly advanced and exactly the same as the 2000 set
  5. More a collection of set pieces than a complete and cohesive story

Review:  Though you know where the film is heading, you never know how you are going to get there and exactly what is going to happen.  Also, there were some surprisingly emotional deaths in the third act.  Overall a big surprise in terms of execution and how much I loved the film.

Grade = A-

Bonus material and comments after the poster/trailer link below.

Click on image to view trailer.

Click on image to view trailer.

Bonus Commentary 1: X-Men Cinematic Universe Continuity Issues (It really doesn’t matter) – Did you realize that both Professor X and Magneto are in their 90s in 2023–the year the future scenes in X-Men:  Days of Future Past occurs?  Both are pretty spry for older guys.  To be honest, the X-Men cinematic universe is closer in spirit to the comic universe–where continuity issues are the norm–than Marvel’s own Avengers Universe.  In comics the technology is always slightly more advanced than today, but time moves slower.  In a monthly series only a few days pass between issues, but in our time one month has passed.  Inevitably the comic writers revamp their series to catch the it up to current events, politicians, and introduced technologies.  This is why we all know Peter Parker got his powers in high school, accept him as currently being in his late 20s early 30s, and forget that he was created in the 60s.  Comic writers only run into serious  issues with characters whose origins are fixed by a historic event–Magneto being a Holocaust Survivor and Nick Fury leading the Howling Commandos in WWII.  To keep the characters fresh and relatable you have to play with history a little.  So long as the writer don’t take it too far, we happily go along for the ride.

By chosing the alternate reality route, Bryan Singer and company have broadened the choices of stories they can tell significantly while at the same time using the younger cast.  We can buy that Prof. X is alive in the future and Magneto has his power because we heard the Professor’s voice and maybe saw Magneto move a chess piece at the end of Last Stand.  We can accept that Jean Grey and Cyclops are alive at the end of Days because the past was changed so much that the events of the first X-Films probably did not happen exactly as we have seen.  But most of all, we accept all this because we want to keep seeing new stories with these same characters.

Bonus Commentary 2:  After Credit Scene – Worse one ever. First, based in the size of  material being moved around like tetris pieces, the pyramids took too long to build.  Second, that’s not even the power Apocalypse has.  And third, the character doe not even look remotely similar to the ancient Egypt depiction of Apocalypse.

Bonus Commentary 3:  Evan Peters appearing at Tampa Bay Comic Con in August 2014 – Why?  I usually view actors appearing and signing autographs at smaller comic cons as older, or who have nothing going on with their careers at the present time.  Evan Peters is young and is on a career high.  The guy appears on a hit cable TV series where he is not type cast, and is getting near universal praise for his scene stealing performance in X-Men:  Days of Future Past.  So again I ask why is he at the Tampa Bay Comic Con?  I don’t get it.

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“Only Lovers Left Alive” (2013) – Review

Click on image to view artist work

Click on image to view artist work

Writer / Director:  Jim Jarmusch

Stars:  Tilda Swinton & Tom Hiddleston

IMDb LogLine:  A depressed musician reunites with his lover, though their romance – which has already endured several centuries – is disrupted by the arrival of uncontrollable younger sister.

Pros:

  1. Tilda Swinton & Tom Hiddleston as vampires
  2. Set design and use of Detroit
  3. Sticks with basic vampire mythology

Cons:

  1. Glacial pacing
  2. Uninteresting dialogue
  3. Superfluous sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowaska), and Marlowe (John Hurt) characters

Review:  By the end of Only Lovers Left Alive, you ask yourself what the point of it was.  The premise is good, but the execution fails.  How does a vampire exist in a time when humans pollute their own bodies and you cannot easily dispose of bodies without an investigation?  How does an artistic, gifted, and undying vampire get his voice heard?  And what happens when he no longer cares?  For such heady questions and two such long-lived and intellectual characters, Eve (Tilda Swinton) and Adam’s (Tom Hiddleston’s) dialogue is amazingly vapid.  Though the film looks good, it does not stay with you.

Grade = C

Bonus:  If The Sandman project is an actual thing and not a pipe-dream, then the filmmakers should use Tom Hiddleston as Morpheus.  His performance of Adam is basically channeling the Dream of the Endless character.

Click on image to view trailer

Click on image to view trailer


“Godzilla” (1954-Criterion Collection) – Review

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Writer / Director:  Ishiro Honda

Stars:  Takashi Shimura, Akihiko Hirata, and Akira Takarada

IMDb Logline:  American nuclear weapons testing results in the creation of a seemingly unstoppable, dinosaur-like beast.

Pros:  

  1. Serious tone and message
  2. Gorgeous black & white cinematography
  3. Introduction of Godzilla and the classic roar

Cons:

  1. Over dramatic acting
  2. Jarring edit choices at times

Review:  This is a review of the original Japanese version of the film and not the Americanized version with Raymond Burr. Definitely the most adult of the Godzilla films. Though the filmmakers anti-nuclear message is beaten over the audience’s collective head, it makes sense when you take into consideration that Japan is the only country to have been subjected to nuclear weapons, and the use of those weapons was only a decade prior. The interesting positive take-away from the movie is the confidence the filmmakers have in Japan. This Japan is not a cowed and defeated country, but one that is confident in itself, but also is a Japan that has learned from its past.  Godzilla is dated by today’s standards, but it is an interesting look back to one of the greatest film characters of all time.  Also, if you grew-up watching Saturday afternoon movies of Godzilla vs another monster and are expecting that, then this film is not for you.

Grade = C

Click on image to view trailer

Click on image to view trailer


“Finding Vivian Maier” (2013) – Review

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Writers / Directors:  John Maloof and Charlie Siskel

With:  Vivian Maier

IMDb Logline:  A documentary on the late Vivian Maier, a nanny whose previously unknown cache of 100,000 photographs earned her a posthumous reputation as one the most accomplished street photographers.

Pros:

  1. John Maloof”s compulsive need to find Vivian Maier and his detective process is infectious.
  2. Beautiful photography
  3. The interesting character that is Vivian Maier

Cons:

  1. Would have liked to know the following:  How she died?  Did she continue making photos in her old age?  How did the three boxes of negatives that started the search for Vivian Maier end up for auction, and how did the auction house know she was the photographer?  Why did the brothers she nanny’d take care of her at the end of her life?

Review:  The two great characters in Finding Vivian Maier are Vivian and filmmaker John Maloof who took us on this obsessive compulsive journey.  The two are in many ways soul mates.  Maloof”s journey through Vivian’s things, interviews with former clients & charges, and even her voice in recordings brings to life a great unknown talent, and an equally great private detective.

Grade = A-

Click on image to view trailer

Click on image to view trailer


“Newcastle” (2008) – Review – Netflix Recommendation

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Writer / Director:  Dan Castle

Stars:  Lachlan Buchanan, Xavier Samuel, and Reshad Strik

IMDb Summary:  Seventeen year old Jesse lives in the shadow of his older brother Victor’s failure to become surfing’s Next Big Thing. Even when he’s in his natural habitat of magnificent surf breaks, his blue-collar future is brought home by the coal barges that constantly line his horizon. Jesse has the natural skills to surf his way out of this reality and onto the international circuit but can he overcome his equally natural ability to sabotage himself? A momentous weekend away with his mates that includes first love and tragedy leads him to discover what’s really important, and also to the performance of a lifetime.

Pros:

  1. Not your standard coming-of-age story
  2. Xavier Dolan performance

Cons:

  1. Completely misleading Netflix image (above)
  2. Family relationships are not made clear until the end of the film
  3. Coal container ship symbolism is a bit obtuse
  4. Excessive use of slow-motion surfing shots

Review:  Newcastle has potential but fails to deliver.  The main flaw is the films attempt to tell both brothers stories instead of just focusing on one.  Both story arcs are underdeveloped and rushed.

Grade = C-

Click on image to view trailer

Click on image to view trailer


“Boy Meets Girl” (2014) – Review – MGLFF

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Writer / Director:  Eric Schaeffer

Stars:  Michael Welch and Michelle Hendley

IMDb Logline:  Boy Meets Girl is a funny, tender, sex positive romantic comedy that explores what it means to be a real man or woman, and how important it is to live a courageous life not letting fear stand in the way of going after your dreams.

Pros:  

  1. Southern town setting with, for the most part, accepting residents
  2. Actual transgender actress (Michelle Hendley)
  3. Uplifting story

Cons:

  1. Michelle Hendley’s inexperience acting is noticable on occasion
  2. The ending wraps everything in a nice bow

Review:  It’s not often you get a transgender feature film, let alone a well made one.  Boy Meets Girl is a very familiar story told in a modern way, with genuine performances and people you grow to care about.  Eric Schaeffer does a good job fleshing out all the characters and making them all humane.

Grade = B

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“Kidnapped for Christ” (2014) – Review – MGLFF

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Director:  Kate Logan

Writers:  Kate Logan and Yada Zamora

With:  David, Ty, and Kate Logan

IMDb Summary:  A young evangelical filmmaker is granted unprecedented access inside a controversial Christian behavior modification program for teens, where she discovers shocking secrets and young students that change her life.

Pros:  

  1. Incredible access inside the camp
  2. Numerous story arcs developing at the same time
  3. Fully developed story with no loose ends

Cons:  

  1. Minimal; inexperience of the director sometimes shows

Review:  A multilayered documentary where friendly relationships turn antagonistic, friends become enemies, people become damaged and need to be heeled; and a documentary that clearly shows how much hurt someone can cause when they truly believe they are doing good.

Grade = A

Click on image to view trailer

Click on image to view trailer


Weekly Wednesday Funny

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“Snails in the Rain” (2013) – Review MGLFF

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Director:  Yariv Mozer

Writers:  Yossi Avni Levy, Yariv Mozer

Stars:  Yoav Reuvini, Moran Rosenblatt, and Yariv Mozer

IMDb Logline:  Tel Aviv, Summer 1989. Boaz, a beautiful and alluring linguistics student, receives anonymous, male written love letters,that undermines his sexual identity and interfere his peaceful life with his beloved girlfriend.

Pros:

  1. Honestly shows the emotional damage trying to live your life as others want you to be instead of living our life as you want it to be
  2. The interplay of the relationship between Boaz (Yoav Reuvini) and his fiancé Noa (Moran Rosenblatt)
  3. Yoav Reuvini

Cons:

  1. Unfortunate title
  2. Boaz’s paranoia about his unknown admirer smirks out of control a little too soon.

Review:  A deliberately paced character study about one man trying to discover who he really is, and whether he will sacrifice his own nature to be the man everyone expects him to be.  The emotional damage a closeted life is laid bare in one particularly brutal scene between Boaz and Noa, made more intense by Noa’s later reaction and strength of character.  But by journey’s end, no one is left undamaged.

Grade = A-

Click on image to view trailer.

Click on image to view trailer.