Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Response to the movie Maleficent has been strikingly mixed. I’ve seen top reviews for it and ones that pan it. Even on Rotten Tomatoes, the Tomatometer rating is 49% and the Audience rating is 75%. Quite the variance.

Maleficent, if you don’t know already, is a very wide interpretation of the Sleeping Beauty story, -and I do mean very wide. The character, Maleficent, played brilliantly by Angelina Jolie, starts off as a very positive, good character. After experiencing a cruel betrayal, she casts a spell on the newborn daughter of the king, condemning her to eternal sleep on her 16th birthday. (I don’t think I’m writing any spoilers here, as the basic plot outline for Sleeping Beauty is common knowledge.) But at this point the plot diverges sharply. Suffice it to say that the rest of the movie has Maleficent regretting her curse.

At face value, the plot seems to be a simple fairy tale. The movie, acting and special effects are well done, with a good dose of surrealism to perpetuate the fairy tale atmosphere. But if you take a moment to reflect on the story, it takes on a depth which goes far beyond a simple fairy tale.

I was encouraged to see the movie after listening to a podcast by Jeff Salzman (Daily Evolver #93) where he talks about the post-modern and integral slant of the movie. Generally he says that, unlike classic fairy tales, there is no absolute good and evil in this story. There’s a transcendent quality in the reworking of this story that shows deeper perspectives behind good and evil, and how they need to be resolved in order to have a positive outcome. That’s a post-modern view of things.

He also briefly mentions Shadow Work, which is the interpretation that I found most striking in this film. If anything, this is a classic tale of Shadow Work in both the Jungian and Integral sense. It can be traced almost plot point by point, through the happiness at the beginning, the betrayal and the separation that occurs, even to the point of the building of a wall, to the acts of pure love and acceptance that diffuse the Shadow and lead to the ultimate outcome of resolution and happiness. I’ve simplified it here so as not to ruin the discovery process for someone watching the film, but even the final kiss to waken the sleeping beauty was delivered by the only person who could do so to fulfill the analogy of Shadow Work. I was so overjoyed that the writers got it right.

This may be why the film has such mixed reviews. If you are unaware of the deeper elements, or are just not really concerned with them, the story is your standard, run of the mill, fairy tale, -perhaps even a little cliché. However, if you are sensitive to the deeper currents in the film, whether you fully understand them or not, I think the film becomes a truly mythic tale with a deep moral. The fact that it can be interpreted on multiple levels makes it a successful Integral level film.

I would give this film an A-.

Is it possible to have a film with just too many explosions?  Transformers 4 answers that question with a resounding “YES!”.  Usually these kinds of films can make up for weak scripting and acting with some decent special effects, making them just fun, even if they are fluff.  However, after almost two and a half hours of non stop explosions, it just became tedious.  Towards the end I was actually looking at my watch and wishing it would just be over.  And I like these kinds of films.

No depth (which is no surprise).  Lots of credibility gaps.  The morphing scenes are neat, but fade in novelty quite quickly, as we’ve seen most of it before.  Cliche lines that made me cringe.

I would give this film a D.  It might have gotten a C if it had been half an hour shorter.

Years ago one of the few video games that successfully captured my interest was the original Max Payne.  I loved the fact that if you failed a mission or got killed you could reset it to a preset time and try over and over again until you got it right.  There was one point in the game where you were captured and held locked in a room, completely without any weapons.  I must have tried that escape fifty times, each time refining the method a little until it was finally successful.

That’s the premise behind Edge of Tomorrow.  The main character resets the day every time he gets killed, kind of like Ground Hog Day, but a lot bloodier.  The acting and setting are both very well done.  The beach landing rivals any other war scene that I can think of, including Saving Private Ryan.  The special and military tech are realistically grungy and quite interesting.

But the main attraction of the movie is that it is very engaging.  The idea of reliving the day and fine tuning your actions to try to achieve something specific makes you constantly think about what you would do in the same situation.  This could take all kinds of unrealistic twists, but in fact it doesn’t.  It is to the film’s credit that it can take such a far fetched premise and still remain fairly down to Earth.

I would give this film an A-.

 

The new X-Men movie fires on all cylinders.  The cast, acting, story line, special effects, action, depth …everything comes together to make a first class film.

Several days ago I was involved in a FB conversation about education and how it is failing boys.  I mentioned that I learned to read mostly from comic books.  Not just basic reading, but mostly reading for depth, character development and theme.  The Marvel comics of the late 60s and 70s were so far ahead of their time that they were often considered worthy of banning by those elements of society that always want to ban things.  They were considered too violent and too controversial.  And that was exactly their appeal.  At the same time, DC comics tried to remain more sedate in their approach.  Comparing the early X-Men comics to the Superman or Batman comics of the time is like comparing The Walking Dead to Little House on the Prairie.  And DC eventually got the message, ramping up their style in the 80s to try to remain competitive.  (Unfortunately, greed got the better of them all.  While there are still some good stories being told, the comic book industry took to producing so many cross-over stories in the 90s that I just stopped buying them.  It was clear that they were just trying to manipulate their customers, who were, all too often, kids.)

The point is that those early Marvel Comics had themes and story lines that were mature and relevant.  They were about conformity, fear of the different and alienation, when it came to X-MenSpiderman was about struggles with personal responsibility.  The Punisher was about the nature of vigilanteism.  Daredevil was about social conscience.  The Avengers was often about patriotism and loyalty.  While often mocked by my teachers, this reading material was full of well crafted characters and serious social themes, but presented in an accessible way.  I’m sure that it contributed not only to my reading comprehension, but also my eventual interest in psychology and philosophy.

I’ve often said to teachers that, for adolescent boys, reading needs to be regarded as a subversive activity.  That will engage them.

That was what I loved most about this new X-Men movie. It captures that depth that I recall in my old favorite comics.  It is a film of substance, not just super heroes smashing things up.  Well done.

I would give this movie an A.

 

If I read the book I generally see the movie, …sometimes regrettably.

The book, Divergent, is a YA book in the same vein as The Hunger Games. When I started the book I thought, “Oh, here we go again.” Teenage female heroine forced to fight against a corrupt government. However I was pleasantly surprised by the originality of Divergent, which presents a surprisingly mature examination of the theme of conformity. Also, the initiation into the exhilarating warrior class of her society, called the Dauntless, is exciting and really challenges a lot of traditional values. I enjoyed the book, although the two sequels tend to devolve into something resembling Twilight Teen Romance to a larger degree. (I’ve noticed that a lot in YA books. For example, the Mortal Instrument books start out strongly, but then shift to a more romantic theme in the later books. The Hunger Games books avoid that to a greater extent.)

The movie does a good job of following the book on a plot level, but the theme of conformity is less successfully communicated. It is there superficially, but the book, not surprisingly, does a far better job. It is not as hard hitting as it could be and as, for example, is more successfully achieved in the Catching Fire film. As I said, the plot of the film is mostly faithful to the novel, with the action scenes and those that reflect the mental fears, are well done. The acting is fair to good, – not amazing, but not distracting.

Read the book first. I would give the film a B.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a grand caricature of a movie.  It is entertaining.  It is funny in everything from a subtle to  a slapstick sort of way.  It has beautiful cinematography, like a gourmet meal.  And it has a cast that does a remarkable job.  The list of stars in the movie include Bill Murray, Ed Norton, Harvey Keitel, Jeff Goldblum and many others, although a lot of them are smaller parts.

Wes Anderson always has a way of sculpting a movie rather than filming it, and in this case it is obviously deliberately crafted and formed to match his wonderful vision.  That of a concierge and a lobby boy, and their adventures in a famous, lavish, European hotel, involving the theft of a priceless piece of art, a jail break and the romance of many elderly ladies.

I would give this movie a solid A.

OSCAR PREDICTIONS 2014

Posted: February 11, 2014 in Entertainment, Movies, Reviews

It’s a tough year for Oscar predictions as there have been a bumper crop of great films, coinciding with a bumper crop in music as well.  Having seen most of the films this year, here are my personal choices.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS  :  Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle.  Is there anything that Jennifer Lawrence can’t do?  This over the top portrayal goes beyond anything seen in any of the other nominees.

BEST ACTRESS :  This is a really hard one.  Sandra Bullock is a one woman show in Gravity, -a very difficult thing to pull off.  Meryl Streep’s character was an extreme dramatic role, but the film makes it almost melodramatic, overdone and ultimately boring in its craziness.  My choice would go to Cate Banchett in Blue Jasmine, a role also full of craziness but kept interesting by the subtlety of the character and the twists and turns of the plot

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR   :  It is amazing to see Jonah Hill in The Wolf of Wall Street.  He is such an unlikely choice for that character, and he totally owns it.

BEST ACTOR  :  It is a very difficult choice between Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave and Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club.  Also, the strength of their lead roles is a big part of what makes these two films neck and neck for best film.  Personally, I would give the edge to McConaughey because of the extent of the transformation necessary for him to play the part.

BEST SCREENPLAY  :  Best Adapted Screenplay should go to The Wolf of Wall Street.  Because the roller coaster IS fun.  For Original Screenplay, I would give the award to Blue Jasmine, although all of the nominees are pretty even, all excellent.  (I confess, I haven’t seen Nebraska.)

BEST DIRECTOR  :  While Scorsese’s rollercoaster ride in The Wolf of Wall Street deserves an honorable mention, I think that the most difficult film to direct had to be 12 Years a Slave, if only for the sheer scope of the movie.

BEST FILM  :  There are many excellent choices here, but I think it is a tossup between Dallas Buyers Club and 12 Years a Slave.  Of the two, I consider 12 Years a Slave to be the more difficult film to get right, and so that would be my choice.  But only by a hair.

I haven’t seen Nebraska, and, as of this writing, Philomena.  Honestly neither one of them really appeals to me enough to go see it, although that’s what I said about Captain Phillips, which I liked.

What strikes me this year is the number of films which are very self deprecating of American culture, even if some are a more historical treatment of that theme.  12 Years a Slave is the most damning and condemning of the slavery films I’ve seen, and takes special aim at the white mentality during that period.  The Wolf of Wall Street is a stark condemnation of American capitalism out of control and the culture of excess that goes with it.  Dallas Buyers Club is full of ignorant, bigoted people, with the principal character starting out as one of them.  I understand that Nebraska is a bit of a downer as well.  Although not nominated as best film, August: Osage County has a lot of attention in other categories and is the story of family dysfunction carried to its ultimate expression.  As a season, it is roundly a condemnation of the American way of life, crushing any inkling of exceptionalism.  It seems a very harsh look in the mirror for America.

As for Captain Philips, how is it that a huge cargo ship doesn’t have the means to repel an attack by half a dozen amateurs on a motorized rowboat?  One AK47 or grenade launcher would have solved the problem.