Thursday, December 22, 2016

Movie Monday: Leap of Faith Pays Off

I can't wait until Monday.

While the rest of the planet lined up at midnight to watch the latest installment in the Star Wars saga, I impatiently waited for the release of the first ever Assassin’sCreed movie. Even if I was more than a little anxious about it. The studio behind it has a track record of ruining our favorite things *cough* Firefly *cough* Fantastic Four. So yeah, I was apprehensive, if excited.

Wow. Way to knock it out the park folks!

This movie was one of the best game-to-big-screen adaptations I’ve ever seen. The success of this film has a lot to do with the team that made it. Justin Kurzel is the visionary director behind one of the most stunning imaginings of Shakespeare’s Macbeth that’s ever hit the screen. The producing team is made up some of the best producers of action in the business including Frank Marshall (seriously... he produced all of the Jason Bourne movies, all of the Indiana Jones movies, and all of the Back to the Future movies- dude knows his way around a movie set), Patrick Crowley (all of the Jason Bourne movies, Jurassic World) and Arnon Milchan (Fight Club, Gone Girl, 12 Years a Slave). Not to mention the dynamic re-pairing of  Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard.  

Suffice it to say they have a REAL A-Team. But we all know that the tech side alone does not a movie make. For Assassin’s Creed, there are two very different and difficult worlds that have to meld seamlessly. First, there is the world we live in today, our present reality for both view and gamer. Then there is the past, a world only accessible through a piece of technology that allows us to relive the lives of our ancestors through our DNA memory called the Animus. In a videogame, it is very simple to suspend disbelief and just go with the story no matter how crazy. But in a movie, you have to make the audience believe in the impossible.

They started with this incredible (real!) Leap of Faith, one of the most stunning visual points of the game. They used it well too, using it to transfer us from real world to the past and introduce us to the breathtaking horizons of ancient Spain. It also takes pains demonstrating how in world where you can’t regenerate if your game glitches, the leap of faith may actually kill you. One of the more difficult challenges would be to show an audience who has never played the game how the Animus actually changes the person and allows them to access skills of their ancestors by sinking them with the DNA memory. 

It was brilliantly done with a combination of ghosting visual effects and real-time interaction from Michael Fassbender, who was also a producer for the film. And, unlike many American made movies that take place in distant lands, when in 1492 Spain they speak only Spanish. Some folks may not appreciate that, but what I like about it is that it is exactly like the game. Ubisoft takes great pains to be as historically accurate as possible, and it shows in this movie. Oh! And keep an eye out for the zillion little Easter eggs that refer to other storylines in the actual game. I saw at least 10.

So while the hater-critis over on Rotten Tomatoes have given it an 18% as of this writing, the audience is rating it 74%. Listen to the real people, they know what’s up for this movie.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Movie Monday: Fly Like an Eagle

After watching Kingsman: the Secret Service, I knew that I needed to approach anything Mathew Vaughn does with cautious optimism.  I've been a fan of Layer Cake and Stardust for some time, so it only goes without saying that I was really excited to see Kingsman for the first time. It was a great movie with an all star cast lead by one new talent who proved he had some chops. The cinematography was brilliant, the editing was stellar and the story was incredible. But then came that last 5 minutes of the movie where Vaughn made a completely unnecessary sexual joke AND, of all things, he dedicated the movie to his mom. Right after the crude joke.

WHAT?!  Good job buddy.

It was a directors choice that lead to all kinds of controversy and left film fans like myself with a bitter taste in their mouth for his work. I wasn't sure I wanted to see the next movie he made. Then came a dull Saturday evening where my family was scrolling through the countless movies one can choose from on a zillion different platforms. My husband suggested a new movie that Vaughn has produced called Eddie the Eagle. Vaugh wasn’t the director this time and  Taron Egerton (Kingsmen) would take the title role with support from Hugh Jackman. And there would be a guest appearance from Christopher Walken. Alright, fine.

I’ll give it a chance.

It’s a pretty simple concept. A very non-athletic individual aspires to participate in the Olympics. Eddie Edwards spends his entire life training to be in the Olympics. Every time he gets close, something gets in his way. He even managed to almost make it onto the British Olympic ski squad before the committee told him he wasn’t, and never would be, Olympic material. Not one to give up, Eddie discovers there is another event he can compete in: Ski jumping. Which, of course, he has never done and never trained for. But by golly, he’s going to try.

Holy Moly! This movie is very well directed (thanks to Dexter Fletcher) and the acting was incredible. Edgerton, who was completely under utilized in Kingsman, really showed off his ability to transform into a role. He managed to give a nuanced delivery of mannerisms inspired by the real person he was portraying throughout the film, all while still managing to also deliver an authentic performance of a sincere and dedicated individual who was more than a little out of his league.

The director  also includes homages to other Olympic surprises from the1988 games that have already been turned into films of their own, and more than a few really clever transitions that make you feel nostalgic for how movies used to tell a story. 

I'm still nervous for Vaughn's upcoming sequel to Kingsman, but Eddie the Eagle delivers. In the true spirit of the games, this film reminds us all that giving your best is more important than gold. Don’t believe me that participation is as important as winning?

They made a movie about the guy who came in last.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Movie Monday: Mele Kalikimaka and Disney's Moana

Hawaii is not exactly the first thing I think of when I think of Christmas movies. But it’s that time of year when my family gets to tell Santa if we’ve been naughty or nice. Spokane has a terrific set up with Santa and one of the tallest tress around at River Park Square… that just happen to be downstairs from one of the most luxurious AMC theaters I’ve ever been too (reclining leather seats!) So I may have made a point of being there around the same time that Moana was playing.

I grew up in the time of musical Disney. I have vivid memory of correcting an adult on the lyrics to Part of Your World when I was about six years old. My dance teacher produced a ballet production of Disney’s Beauty & the Beast when I was ten. And I’m pretty sure I melted into a geeky puddle of childhood joy watching Julie Taymor’s production of The Lion King in London. 

What a fun movie. Moana is the story of a young girl in ancient Polynesia who feels the call of something more than her island. She is the daughter of the Chief which means she is next in line to lead her people. Though her heart longs for the ocean, she listens well to her father and does her best to be the sort of Chief he wants her to be. But after the natural resources of her home begin to run dry, she finds that the call of the ocean is not just a desire to explore but also her only hope to save her people.

The music from Tony award winning writer Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) teaming up with Mark Mancina (August Rush) and Opetaia Foa’i (Te Vaka) was just inspiring with songs like “How Far I’ll Go” and “You’re Welcome”. It's a journey of discovery in a way that only three other princesses embrace. From the very first song Moana is on a journey to discover who she truly is, even if that means challenging tradition and finding her own wind to sail.

What’s really nice about it is that it doesn’t have a huge cast of characters, most of which are played by a mix of Hawaiian, Filipino and Maori actors. And for newcomer Auli'i Cravalho, it represents the first time an age appropriate actress played the title role for a Disney Princess.

I enjoyed this film, my hyper critical husband enjoyed this film. And my three year old sat through the entire thing without a single bathroom or temper break. Not to mention it's killer opening weekend Box Office over Thanksgiving. This movie is a win in my book.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Movie Monday: Independence Day Regurgitation

Well that was lame sauce. 

Typically, Hollywood just remakes a movie if they wait longer than a year to make a sequel to a blockbuster. But there they went anways, making a sequel 20 years later. If you’re a whippersnapper like me, you may actually remember going to Independence Day with your parents in the theater. How incredible it was to see a global battle where aliens invaded the earth. How inspiring it was when we worked as one people to defend ourselves against extermination. The performances were phenomenal from a diversely talented cast that included Jeff Goldblum, Will Smith, Vivica A. Fox, Bill Pullman, Mary McDonnell and Harvey Fierstein. The special effects were mind-blowing for their time and the story offered us a new telling of the aliens invade trope with a great twist on how the world came together to fight a common enemy. 

That was the one thing they got right for Resurgence. A universal governing body where we are a world of people who work together to prepare ourselves for the next invasion. Because we know they will be back.  

Then the movie starts, and we are no longer impressed.

When there is a new Marvel movie every other month, a film needs to be more than just the visual effects and explosions. I suppose there was an epic water sequence with boats. But audiences have already seen some impressive water movies with Poseidon (2006), Day After Tomorrow (2004), 2012 (2009) and The Poseidon Adventure (1972) making a 15 top disaster movies list. They certainly went to great lengths to get most of the original cast- even if that was the (spoiler) lamest 10 minutes Vivica Fox has ever had in a movie and Will Smith was nowhere to be seen for some reason. To make up for Smith's absence, they created a plot device where Jessie T. Usher and Liam Hemsworth mirror the relationship between Smith and Harry Connick Jr. from the original film. Usher and Hemsworth are both talented gentleman who we’ve seen do well in their other work. This film gives them a combative relationship that is contrived and doesn’t give either actor the chance to be the hero in their own story. Really that’s the problem, more than anything else. 

The story.

In the first film, there were two writers. TWO. One of those writers was also the director, so his input was inevitable.  But two writers sat down and banged out a unique store for Independence Day (1996).  Five people worked on Independence Day: Resurgence (2016). Five people worked on the script. And that’s just the people we KNOW were credited.

It goes without saying that it takes a village to make a movie.  But maybe next time, take one writer and let them create the most imaginative tale possible Stop trying to shoehorn a blockbuster into a sequel that didn’t need to be made in the first place.