Sun, Mar 31, 2013

: Snow White and the Huntsman

My feelings are so divided about this film I’m not sure what to think. On the one hand, the visuals are terrific and the film has a unique feel, but the lifeless story is pretty much the regular Snow White story and isn’t innovative at all. I want to like it, and I did like much of it, but in the end it feels like a whole lot of fuss about nothing.

Yet I’m also split because I like that it sticks true to the original story. If it hadn’t, I probably would have bashed it for being different. I suppose part of my trouble is that my impression from the promos was that this was a different story and it wasn’t. If I’d known going in that it was the same story, I would have been better prepared for that. Instead I was disappointed.

There’s also too much action in the film; I never thought of Snow White as a warrior, and seeing her in battle armor and sword fighting is just ludicrous. Most of the fighting isn’t very interesting, either, and it feels superfluous as though added in to spice up a dull story.

Visually, the film is outstanding, however. I love the way magic is used in the film: very subtle and really cool. For instance, when the Wicked Witch turns into a flock of ravens and escapes, she returns to her castle and the ravens morph back into her human form and she’s wearing a black suit covered in oozing black oil and black feathers. She’s ill and crawling along the ground like a dying bird stuck in oil; it’s really creepy and perfectly done. Similarly, much of the aging/youthifying magic is so subtle and well-done you barely notice it.

(That said, I thought the magic mirror was horrible — some sort of featureless silvery blob that forms from the mirror. With five minutes thought I can think of ten ways to do that in a more interesting manner.)

The casting of Charlize Theron as the Wicked Witch is amazing; unfortunately Kristen Stewart as Snow White is just as bad in the other direction.

Ultimately this is one of those uncomfortable films: great in some ways and worth seeing for those, but full of odd flaws and an uninspiring storyline that just isn’t compelling. I fell asleep watching it, but I’m still glad I saw what I saw as I did enjoy the spectacle.

Topic: [/movie]


Fri, Mar 29, 2013

: G.I. Joe: Retaliation

You don’t expect much with a movie like this, but even I was disappointed with the way the characters and story were presented. Everything happens in a mishmash way, with tons of character backstory we’re not given (sometimes we are, and sometimes we’re apparently just supposed to know who is who). The feel is an odd one, as though half the movie got left on the cutting room floor or we’re only reading every other chapter in a novel.

That said, the plot is fairly simple. A bad guy makes himself look like the U.S. President and takes over the government, kills all the G.I. Joes (except for our heroic handful), and attempts to take over the world with a superweapon. And guess what? The Joes stop him! Quell surprise.

Pretty much what we have left is a series of action set pieces and a few joke or “emotional” scenes for balance. The action is quite good. Some parts, like the wild fights dangling from lines on the side of a mountain, are just ridiculously over-the-top and a lot of fun. The humorous bits are also good, and really help make the movie. (The dramatic moments are Transformers quality, which means they’re pathetic.)

Still, the whole thing is entertaining and pleasant enough. Visually it’s striking, and there are plenty of cool gadgets and guns. It’s meaningless fluff, but you already knew that.

Topic: [/movie]


: Dream Park

Authors: Larry Niven and Steven Barnes

This is a fairly old book — originally published in 1981 — and it some ways it’s remarkable and holds up quite well, while other parts feel oddly dated. Set in the future in a high-tech amusement park called “Dream Park,” which is a little bit like Star Trek’s holodeck except more mechanical, players play games that are very similar to today’s RPGs (role-playing games).

The game concept is actually very neat. For example, the cast is partially made up of actors who play various roles defined by the gamemaster, and swords have holographic blades so that players are not injured for real (the computer indicates injuries via a player’s colored “aura”). There are rules so that the game itself must be winnable (the gamemaster can’t put players into impossible situations), and players (and the gamemaster) win gaming points for the successful completion of tasks. Note that this isn’t a video game: players actually hike and camp out and fight monsters and whatnot, and after several days in such an immersive environment, it’s difficult to not believe the game is real.

Layered onto this story about a game in progress, we have a murder mystery. Unfortunately, our authors are not good mystery writers and it shows. The murder is strange (and not very interesting — one of the park’s security guards shows up dead), and Dream Park’s reaction is even weirder: instead of calling the police, they send their head of security into the game as a player to figure out which one of the players sneaked away from the game and killed the guard and stole some top secret Dream Park tech. Apparently stopping the game would be incredibly expensive, as well as a publicity problem, so sending in a spy seems to be better approach.

However, once our hero gets into the game, there’s very little about the murder investigation. The story is mostly about the game (which is important, since if the security guy gets “killed” in the game, the jig would be up and the game would have to be halted), but what intrigued me about the story (the double agent aspect) isn’t very significant for too much of the novel. Worse, the resolution of the murder is weak and not very satisfying. If this was strictly murder mystery and not sci-fi, it would be terrible.

Still, the main aspect of the story is the game, and that’s very well done and quite entertaining. It actually sounds like a fun game I’d be tempted to play. (Far more interesting than today’s video games.) If you read the novel for the game rather than the mystery, you’ll enjoy it a lot more.

Another flaw is that because the game has so many players (and most are suspects in the murder), the novel introduces us to a gazillion characters — the Dream Park personnel, all the gamers, the various people in the adventure game the players play, etc. It’s quite a chore remembering who is who and for large portions of the novel I was very confused and couldn’t figure out what was going on. (The authors exacerbate this problem by frequently referring to characters by their last name for long periods, so that you forget their first name and when that’s used you don’t know who it is, or using character’s nicknames or game names.)

Overall, this is interesting for socio-technological reasons, and not so much as a great novel.

Topic: [/book]


Fri, Mar 22, 2013

: Olympus Has Fallen

This film is pretty much Die Hard in the White House. Despite the A-list cast, I hadn’t seen much about it, but it’s pretty good. Not quite Die Hard good, but decent enough.

The plot’s implausible, where a terrorist organization manages to take over the White House and hold the President hostage, but they do their best to make it seem realistic. The special effects are impressive — how they got permission to blow up the White House, I’ll never know.

Our hero is a Secret Service agent who is the lone inside man and he has to take out all the bad guys one by one. Predictable, but there are enough little surprises and twists to keep things interesting. Well-acted and directed, with some decent action, it’s a lot of fun. Recommended if you’re a fan of the genre.

Topic: [/movie]


Tue, Mar 12, 2013

: Oz The Great And Powerful

I was cautious about this, as I’m not really a Wizard of Oz fan. It’s supposedly a classic (both the movie and the books), but I never found them very compelling. (They’re not bad; just not my cup of tea.)

This version is a prequel, telling how the Wizard of Oz ends up in Oz. It opens in black-and-white square format in Kansas at a carnival. Oz is a con man and struggling magician there. Once he gets whisked off to the land of Oz, we go to widescreen color.

I loved that. In fact, I loved just about everything about this movie: the direction, the sets, the characters, the story, the cast. Almost everything is wonderful. I wasn’t too crazy about the casting of James Franco as the wizard; he seems too tall and too good looking, though he is good as the charming con artist, and he grew on me after a while. Everyone else is flawless, except Mila’s character’s transformation is a bit abrupt (it’s clumsily done, though there is magic involved, but I don’t like thinking that magic can transform a person so completely).

My favorite thing is what some people don’t like: the story. I was afraid this would end up being like most Hollywood fair, overly complicated and exaggerated, with subplots of subplots, but they were smart and kept the story simple and elegant. That means it’s a little predictable, but I didn’t mind that a bit. The wonder comes from the exotic setting, the magic and special effects, fun characters, and the excellent direction. The story itself is bare bones and simple, a tale of a con artist who redeems himself. I’m sure kids will love it.

My favorite character is the little china girl with the broken legs who blatantly tugs the heartstrings throughout the film. (There’s wonderful echoes of her character with a girl in a wheelchair in Kansas at the carnival; both are performed by the same actress, though the doll is digital.) It might be obvious, but it’s well-done, and heart-warming, and helps make the film.

It’s hard to say how this ranks compared to the original. My feelings on that are very complicated. Part of that’s because I’m not sure if I’ve ever really seen it from start to finish. I know I have, but my memories are so mixed up with all the clips and excerpts I’ve seen on TV at various times that it’s hard to me to have a full and complete picture of the movie. I know I didn’t like various aspects of it (i.e. the musical aspects, some of the cheesy scenes, some of the actors, etc.), and I’d much rather see Oz again than see Wizard. But it’s hard to say if I’d still feel that way ten or twenty years from now. This could end up dated quickly.

But history aside, right now this is a thoroughly enjoyable and wonderful film. It’s fun, interesting, and utterly wholesome (except for a hint of sleazy innuendo by the con artist). I really enjoyed it.

Topic: [/movie]