Seventh Son ★★1/2

seventh_son_ver10Seventh Son has a story of epic proportions that is squeezed into a 102 minute movie. Had the narrative not been interesting, that running time would have be fine. But there is a backstory here that deserves to be developed for the screen.

The film is a medieval fantasy, not unlike The Lord of The Rings, because it takes place in a world of knights and dragons, witches and spells, monsters and demons. The evil that torments this unknown land is Mother Malkin, a witch whose intention seems to be forming evil alliances and destroying normal civilizations. But an elderly knight known as Master Gregory and better known as the Spook is informed of the blood moon, an event that occurs every ten years which strengthens Malkin’s powers, making her more dangerous than ever. Spook believes he can stop her but only with the help of a worthy apprentice who must be a seventh son of a seventh son.

The choice of apprentice is a young pig farmer named Tom, a gentleman who is good at throwing blades. It is revealed that his body contains magic which not only explains his skills, but also visions of future events, plus an ability to see ghosts. He is also handed a magic pendant of hidden meaning. This makes Tom an unusual medieval hero. He is gentle, skilled in throwing, possesses magic he doesn’t understand, and is confident in following the Spook, who is frequently drunk.

The films concern is for  the action sequences that are aided heavily by special effects and which are impressive. They earn some of the movies credits. Malkin and some of her allies can transform themselves into mid-size dragons which give them an advantage over any character in the film. There is also a Werebear that Tom and Spook do battle against although using an unclear tag-team strategy involving a cage. And a giant blind beast chases them over a cliff and into a river.

There are a number of deep and unusual relationships that help the movie, some of which are told as a backstory. Tom, being a hero, will naturally develop a love interest in a young and conflicted damsel. But the Spook has a couple of former lovers which, let’s just say, complicates the mission if not our thoughts about the mission.

Tom is played by Ben Barnes in a very straightforward manner, not solemn or grave, but rather inexperienced and chivalrous when necessary. Malkin is played by Julianne Moore who fits the part by her look alone. And the Spook is played by Jeff Bridges like an old drunkard practicing a foreign accent – his performance is mainly entertaining but precariously edging towards parody.

Seventh Son isn’t as bad as the impression created by negative critic reviews. The director is Sergei Bodrov, who directed Mongol (one of the great period epics about Genghis Khan). He knows how to  film medieval battles.  And if you’re still unsure, another measure is this:  If you like the 2010 version of Clash of the Titans, then you shouldn’t be disappointed with Seventh Son.

Inside Out ★★★★

inside_out_ver13Inside Out is probably Pixar’s most intelligent film, about an unusual adventure that takes place inside the mind of a girl. In doing so, it explores the functions of our different human emotions. Watching it is like attending an ingenious educational program for all ages. In this regard, the film impressively balances on a fine line between entertainment and informational.

The balance isn’t perfect. Some of the dialogue occasionally bends towards explanations that could be too mature for some children. Nevertheless, the story is still about a journey taken by a couple of colorful characters inside a marvelous place.

The girl is Riley, an only child whose parents have decided that they migrate to San Francisco. The transfer is naturally troublesome for Riley who goes through the expected struggles of starting over in a new environment. However the real story is in her mind, which begins from what appears to be a mental control tower. Manning the deck are a group of five emotions named accordingly – Joy, Sadness, Fear, Caution, and Anger. The most commonly in charge are Joy and Sadness while the other three watch over their shoulders, still ready for duty. Surrounding them is a lofty shelving system containing small orbs of memories which are transported via glass tubing that extend all the way to the five lands of Riley’s personality.

Adults will understand the relevance of memories to our current personalities, but Inside Out will demonstrate how complex that situation can get in the event of homesickness. Joy, pictured as a girl with bright skin and blue short hair, is the leader of the other four emotions and gets affected the most. Sadness, presented as a short blue mopey girl, is inclined to take over the controls but Joy desperately and kindly keeps her away from the controls. In their struggles, they accidentally get suctioned into a glass tube and find themselves taken to the far sides of the mind. And so begins their journey, through different pockets of the mind, to find their way back to the control tower.

Cleverness and wit are present throughout. One of the funniest scenes takes place at the dining table where Riley’s Mom and Dad try to comfort her sadness and as the emotions escalate, we get a glimpse of their own control towers which aren’t exactly in order.

The film is directed by Pete Doctor, who also directed ‘Up’. He also helped write the story and screenplay. Voice overs include those by Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Kaitlyn Dias, and Diane Lane. With Inside Out, and after films like Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Cars, and Up, Pixar films reveals to us more than ever the reason for their success. Their characters feelings are always palpable. And Inside Out not only touches us, but demonstrates Pixar’s depth of understanding of our basic human emotions.

Jurassic World ★★★★

jurassic_world_ver2It comes as a surprise that Jurassic World is able to accomplish two difficult feats: One, that it is just as entertaining as the original Jurassic Park. And two, that it is a more satisfying experience than the stunning, seemingly insurmountable, Mad Max: Fury Road. And what’s really remarkable is how it doesn’t seem to try so hard.

The definition of a blockbuster should not be complex and would probably involve the word formula. Originality would be cherished but if a classic drink tastes good, why not order it again? We still order Coca Cola right? This is the thinking that seems to have driven Jurassic World, a consumer film but delicious nevertheless.

How it works is conspicuous enough. It borrows the best ideas from the other movies to assemble the ultimate Jurassic episode. Let’s skim through some examples. Remember in the original movie, that ominous concrete enclosure where a cow is being lowered to feed a raptor? Well there is a similarly designed enclosure in Jurassic World, only ten times bigger and foreboding to escalate our fears. Or how about the theme park itself in Isla Nublar, being the same park from the original movie, it is now fully developed into a thriving commercial establishment filled with shops, restaurants, and accommodations. This brings to mind- the more innocent people equals a greater calamity. And how about the simple concept of an escaped Dinosaur due to human error. Man messes with nature and nature teaches man. The movie works on these used concepts and borrows the best of them- part Frankenstein, part natural disaster movie, part Spielbergian touch.

But repeated ideas are not enough. Jurassic World has an array of clearly defined characters with a shared fear and concern. One issue with the Lost World and Jurassic Part 3, is that there were too many individual interests. One guy is thinking about discovery, another about money, a third about children, and so on. Jurassic World has all those too but the central concern of the main characters is how to save the people in the park.

And they’re a colorful bunch of personalities. Chris Pratt, as a dinosaur trainer, reminds us of his buccaneering spirit in Guardians of the Galaxy having a good heart and a foolish sense of humor. It also comes as a plus that his performance is able to draw some sympathy and assent to his reasoning. Bryce Dallas Howard is a driven uptight career woman who overlooks the management of the park and the films ability to manipulate her personality for some action scenes is inspiring. But what about the best performance, which belongs to Irrfan Khan as the park owner whose outlook in life is to accept our lack of control and appreciate the challenges (which he does get tested on). But observe his look of anxiety upon first viewing the parks most lethal creation. His countenance alone at that moment elevates the film, which is directed by Colin Trevorrow.

What an enjoyment it is to get fully engaged with Science fiction, regardless of how little science is applied. Dinosaurs did exist so that’s a fact. Many were deduced to be carnivores with keen hunting senses, so that makes sense within the violent occurrences of the movie. Maybe resurrecting Dinosaurs with DNA is ridiculous. Maybe training them as if they were dogs is laughable. But here is some proof of Jurassic World’s effectiveness. There is a slow motion scene of Bryce Dallas Howard running in high heels. There is some unnecessary attention given to her shoes. Some of the audience in the theater chuckled but that faded fast. One guess would be because they were too concerned about her characters survival.

Tomorrowland ★★

tomorrowland_ver2Tomorrowland begins with pure wonder and then slowly settles into its true intention which is to deliver a message for us viewers. Nothing wrong with that we can suppose, but if a film is going to get us started on an adventure of discovery, please stay on that path.

The film is directed by Brad Bird, who is more associated with childrens animated movies like Ratatouille and The Incredibles, which explains the enthusiasm in making this film based on a theme park ride. Tomorrowland is an attraction in Disneyland that features probable inventions of the future. In this film, a girl finds a magic ring that transports her to this place that evokes a futuristic utopian living environment of devices and skyscrapers where everything is so polished and clean that janitors, vacuum cleaners, and flat irons would be rendered obsolete.

These kind of visions can get tiring after sometime if they don’t overlook an intriguing tale. The girl named Casey(Britt Robertson), is one of those inexorable determined types, so in love with NASA, science, and nature. She lives in those typical homes that embrace her presence, offering a terrace where a telescope can be ideally planted so she can observe the Universe. Wait, maybe that would be referring to Jodie Foster in Contact. But the point is that this film has an air of familiarity in that set up.

Now about the ring. It looks like a childrens ring, toyish and with a large letter T on it. But if any ring would exasperate a passionate user, this would be it. When Casey wears it, she is transported to Tomorrowland visually, not physically. Which is why in one scene, as she excitedly runs towards a monorail in Tomorrowland, she ends up trodding in the middle of a marsh land back in Florida. When she moves, she moves in her reality.

The best parts of the film doesn’t really help much because of its lack of development. They tease us with forebodings that don’t really lead to veritable thrills. One is a visit to a toy store where the owners gain a confounding interest on the ring. And another is the visit to a former resident of Tomorrowland, played by George Clooney who is so plain considering his part could relish some eccentricity. Oh and Casey Is given a bodyguard, a smaller girl, who somehow reminds us of the Terminator movies. You’ll understand if you do see her in action.

Tomorrowland is neither weird nor unique, two qualities that may have helped the story. Even the villains lack an impression, looking like human robots dressed in black and designed to show their white pearly teeth. The message of the movie is that optimism leads to a wonderful future and that our current state of accepting apocalyptic visions must change. It’s a valuable message but its how Tomorrowland spends much of it’s final act reiterating and explaining that to the point where the film balances between entertainment and propaganda.

Spy ★★★

spySpy is one of those action comedies where the story hardly matters and we go to see them because of the actors. The director is Paul Feig and after working with Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids and The Heat, and considering the success of those two films, we can surmise that he has found himself an actor that he understands and therefore may work with indefinitely.

Melissa McCarthy is not only a good comedian but also a gifted actress. Her style of comedy isn’t easy when given some thought. She creates a believable ordinary character first and then slowly draws comedy out of her. For example, while watching Spy, we believe her to be this insecure CIA analyst named Susan, trying to be amicable to everyone and there is nothing that funny about her. Then as she starts to get into tough situations it’s out of these moments that we watch McCarthy slowly execute her brilliance. Building-up and subtlety are two of her apparent strong suits in this film.

And the same can be said for the progress of the movie. There is hardly anything very funny about Spy at first. It uses the time-worn plot about agents trying to prevent the sale of a nuclear weapon to stereotypical villains. How tiresome are these plots that we hardly pay attention to them. It’s the performances that keep us watching. Not the action scenes, surprisingly brutal in this movie. Not the travelogue that takes us to different countries in Europe. And not even the Spycraft, which has been uninteresting in the movies for sometime, simply due to lack of a fresh motivation.

To digress a little bit, it is worth mentioning that the spy movie genre is so dead that the new Mission Impossible movie trailer reveals a story about spies who are being targeted for assassination. What ever happened to spies discovering elaborate schemes? Shocking revelations? It is of great irony that mystery and cunningness are no longer a strong quality in spy movies.

So we go back to Spy, a comedy that is part fish out of water, part slap stick, and a whole lot of Melissa McCarthy doing her own comedy of manners. She isn’t as uncultured as she was in The Heat, nor does she do anything gross in a bathroom. But she still converses with a bite that can sting and floor a listener.

Now here’s a bit of a surprise. Jason Statham and Miranda Hart are very funny and equally memorable for this film as McCarthy is. They play associates to Susan, Stratham obviously being the field agent while Hart another analyst in the office. But the ridiculous things that Statham is made to say, are just suitable for this Brits cold accent. Had another actor played the part, he may have not been nearly as funny. And Hart is delightfully hilarious as an office clerk-type who is thrown into physical duty and can hardly keep up with simple instructions.

To be seriously interested in the story is to be mistaken. Susan is assigned to be an undercover agent and to track down the buyer and seller of a bomb. That is all there is to it. Some twists maybe. But the bottom line is this. Do you like Melissa Mccarthy’s comedy? Do you want to see her race around on a Vespa? Do you want to see her mouth off at bad guys while trying to maintain some degree of professionalism? If yes, go see this picture and you will find plenty of laughs.

Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult ★★★

naked_gun_three_ver2Detective Frank Drebin has been retired for some time. He watches soap operas, bakes cupcakes, and wears fluffy slippers. But a visit from his former colleague is about to change that. He is needed for one more case, an undercover assignment.

The mission is to stop a known terrorist from carrying out his next plan. Frank is tempted back into duty. He remarks “I miss the cold steel of a revolver pressed up against my thighs”. So into a sperm bank he goes, undercover. The villain called Rocco (Fred Ward) has a girlfriend named Tanya who works there as a nurse and Frank goes in disguised as a patient. Naturally, being the oblivious Frank, he mistakes the clinic for a medical center and pretends to have a broken arm.

So here we go again, another dumb, hilarious undertaking by the famous detective. Naked Gun 33 1/3, directed by Peter Segal, is actually part three of the series and per the previous installments, the movie isn’t  about its story. It is about non-stop jokes based on slapstick and parody. One example is the film’s opening scene that is an exaggeration of the climactic shootout in The Untouchables, but instead of one baby carriage there are three. There is also a prison break scene that makes fun of the Great Escape. Drebin and Rocco dig a tunnel under their cell and hide the dirt in the baseball field- the mound of dirt is so high that it forms a hill under the batting plate.

The banter ranges from silly to rude but what makes it mostly work is the late Leslie Nielsen playing Frank. This actor had an authoritative voice that can deliver in deadpan style to make the corniest lines amusing. When Frank sweet talks his wife, he calls her “fluffy, bunny, sweet double butter cup”. The other actors deserve mention like Priscilla Presley as Jane, George Kennedy and O.J. Simpson as Drebin’s old friends Ed and Nordberg, and the late Anna Nicole Smith as Tanya. It’s not so much about performances as that they are fitting for their parts. Kathleen Freeman is a good sport to play Rocco’s aggressive mother.

The film’s last part takes place at the Academy Awards where a bomb trigger is planted in one of the nominees envelopes. The entire sequence of Drebin mistaken for Phil Donahue goes on for a bit too long, but it’s impressive how much of the attempted slapstick jokes succeed in that portion. When Drebin accidentally joins a Broadway dance number is one example.

Watching a Naked Gun movie is not dissimilar to witnessing a salesman make a hundred sales calls within a short period of time. The pitches are thrown in rapid pace, throwing every gag it can. Even in the background scenery, jokes are being attempted. They all work by the numbers – a lot of hits but also misses.

Mrs. Doubtfire ★★★1/2

mrs_doubtfire_ver1A court has decided that Daniel is an unfit father. Visits to his three lovely children will be restricted to once per week and this, he will not allow. So Daniel will attempt the impossible. Through heavy make-up, he will be disguised as an old woman, pretend to be a baby sitter, refine his manners, and make up a story that she is from England. Thus will begin the venture of Daniel as he attempts to get back into the lives of his children as their babysitter named Mrs. Doubtfire.

Mrs. Doubtfire is a mix of slapstick, screwball, and fish out of water humor although at its center, is a warm hearted comedy. Robin Williams(Rip) is the right man for this kind of role and it’s because of him that the movie entertains. As an expert in mimicking voices and behavior, Williams is able to transform his character into this old lady. But this is clearly not enough without a convincing disguise. The make-up artists do an amazing job with the prosthetics applying a cover up to the total façade of Williams that makes him indeed look female.

Reminiscent of an old delicate English lady, he tends to say “oh” before every sentence. Then off-course there are the witty, sarcastic one liners that follows. We must remember that the character of Daniel is under a lot of stress and anger. And so he channels it through Mrs. Doubtfire via soft sarcasm which Williams does very well.

The events are commonplace for the situation on hand – at first the children will be irate with the strict treatment of Mrs. Doubtfire, then there is some conflict with a male suitor (Pierce Brosnan) to Daniel’s ex-wife (Sally Field), and then a crazy finale where Daniel’s cover is exposed. This ending is a very clever sequence. Also, because the film is a warm hearted comedy, we predict a happy ending. Daniels maybe hiding under the guise of Mrs. Doubtfire, but he is also working indirectly on improving his fathering skills.

So the film is predictable and very entertaining. The children are performed by Lisa Jacub, Matthew Lawrence, and Mara Wilson who are given stereotype roles for their age. It’s also a pretty looking picture directed by Chris Columbus that takes place in a scenic side of San Francisco. The movie is  a great reminder of Robin Williams. He is simply a great actor that will be missed.

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