Welcome to The Mundane Adventures of a Fangirl

I consider myself a Fangirl. What does that mean, you ask? A "fanboy" in the most common understanding is a hardcore fan of 'genre' based entertainment in particular. In my case - science-fiction and comic book based movies and television. Because I'm a chick - it's fangirl, not fanboy. There you have it! I am a big movie fan, however, not necessarily a 'film' fan. And now - I have the forum to present my opinions to the public! These will mainly be movie reviews -that will always be my opinion - repeat OPINION. Just what I think, and in no way do I present my opinion as fact. I hope you enjoy and maybe it will help you decide what to see at the movie theater this weekend!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Movie Review: Secret in Their Eyes (PG13 – 111 minutes)

When I first saw the trailer for this movie, there were two things that struck me:  the first was that the title was really clunky, so I wondered if it was a direct translation of a foreign movie, and was then a remake.  The second thought was that this looked like a acting-powerhouse movie, that was going to be very slow, but had the potential for a really interesting story.

First, yes, it absolutely is a remake of El Secreto de Sus Ojos, the 2009 Argentinian Academy Award winning movie.  In that movie, a retired lawyer writes a novel hoping to find closure for one of his past unresolved homicide cases and for his unrequited love with his superior – both of which haunt him decades later. 

Having not seen the original, I can’t tell you how close the new one is.  I can tell you that the lead was meant for a man, but has been rewritten by director/screenwriter Billy Ray to allow Julia Roberts to play  the lead, and she requested Nicole Kidman play the other female lead role. 

In this version, the movie jumps back and forth from 2002 to 2015, with only the hairstyles attempting to let you know what is a flashback and what is current – it’s a little confusing.  In 2002, an FBI agent (Ray Kasten) and a L.A. cop (Jess Cooper) are working in a counter-terrorism unit under the D.A.  They are basically sitting on a local mosque that is believed to be a hotbed of potential terrorism that closely after 9/11.  Kasten gets a little swoony over the new assistant D.A., Claire.  They get a call that there’s a body in a dumpster by the mosque, and upon arrival, they learn that it is Jess’s daughter, Carolyn.  

She’s been raped and murdered, and bleached so that no evidence was left behind.  They pull surveillance video, and strongly suspect “PacMan Marzin”, who unfortunately is also a major informant on the ongoings of the sleeper cell in the mosque.  This leads the D.A. to push their investigation away from Marzin, because it’s believed he will help them catch ‘bigger fish’, making him somewhat ‘untouchable’ for the time being.  After pulling him in, and learning he is guilty – Ray and Claire are forced to let him go, and Jess struggles to stay sane.  The storyline in 2015 picks up with Ray returning to L.A. – apparently after Marzin was let go, he went back to New York.  He tells Claire, who is now the D.A., and Jess that he has found Marzin again – and wants them to reopen the case.  I won’t go into any further details as to what happens, because it is very interesting and I will let you watch to find out. 

Director Billy Ray (Shattered Glass, Breach), gives the movie a very eerie and hopeless quality.  I’m not sure the jumping of time was clearly communicated, especially since only the hairstyles were the indication for the time difference (Dean Norris and Michael Kelly in wigs = 2002; Dean Norris and Michael Kelly bald = 2015).  It was cut together in a very jumpy style – but I found it to be effective.  You saw more of the story from 2002 as pieces fell together in 2015.  The movie was slow, with very little action, so be sure you’re not sleepy when you go see it.  The cast was exceptional.
  • Everyone knows how outstanding Chiwetel Ejiofor is by now.  He’s fantastic, and is truly amazing in this.  His reaction as he realizes who is in the dumpster was enough to bring me to tears and his solid dedication to finding out what happened to Carolyn over the years so that Jess can have some peace turns into a simmering obsession.  I will say that the romance that is hinted at between his character and Kidman’s never really develops.  It stays unrequited, with both of them acknowledging it, but neither doing anything.  Perhaps that was the point?  It did give him the confidence that he could go to Claire for assistance on his obsession with the case.

  • Nicole Kidman does a good job –especially in the sequence where she stops Ray from interrogating Marzin and shifts to interrogating him herself – she was so devious in that moment, it makes up for her wooden-ness throughout the rest of the movie. 

  • I have never seen Julia Roberts quite this good – and I am not a Julia Roberts fan, so if I'm telling you she's good - I mean it!  As Jess – the moment when she first learns of her daughter’s death, and then attempts to process that, is absolutely heartbreaking.  From that point forward, her slow decline into madness is interesting – but then the transition back from that madness in the 2015 sequence is also fascinating, as she seems to have made peace with everything, and almost gets upset with Ray for bringing a subject she has already attempted to assimilate.

  • Dean Norris from Breaking Bad and Under the Dome plays Bumpy Willis (yes, Bumpy).  He’s another cop that helps you tell the flashbacks by his hair.  He helps Ray chase down his suspect both in 2002 and 2015.

  • Alfred (“Throw me the idol, I’ll throw you the whip!”) Molina plays the D.A. in 2002 who is Claire’s supervisor.  He’s shady, but only because he thinks he’s doing the right thing for his job – but still – super shady.

  • Michael Kelly plays Reg Siefert, and is another actor you’ve seen everywhere.  Siefert is the cop who is getting information on the sleeper cell from Marzin, and is the one who most tries to derail Ray’s investigation.
  • Joe Cole plays Marzin and really is absolutely creepy as hell. 

Overall, the movie is very interesting, exceptionally well-acted, but very slow.  It’s the nature of the story and the craft.  It actually was shot as an R, but was edited to a PG13, based on Cole’s performance, and the disturbing images of the crime – I am grateful that they went with the PG13 cut – I think any more would have been way too much.

I will say that even after seeing the whole movie, instead of just the trailer, I still wanted it to be a little more action, less drama. I won’t tell you what does happen, but here’s what I wanted to happen:
It could have started the same way, with Ray and Jess finding her daughter’s body.  I would have removed the ‘sleeper cell’ subplot, and instead, would have simply had it that they did not have enough evidence to make a case, and Claire couldn’t help them without the evidence.  Then, Marzin goes off the grid, and Jess quits the force.  When we catch up to Ray in 2015, I would have him go back to Claire with files, explain how he’s been looking for Marzin for 13 years, and keeps finding dead rapists – every time he closes in on a possible suspect, he finds them executed.  
Eventually, he and Claire learn that Jess has been hunting Marzin as well, executing any rapist she comes across who has not been prosecuted due to a ‘lack of evidence’.  Throw in a couple of scenes of a badass vigilante Julia Roberts hunting and brutally killing these rapists. Then we would get a couple of awesome chase sequences as Claire and Ray try to get to Marzin before Jess, so that they can prosecute before she executes him.  There would be some sort of final climactic action sequence as Ray and Jess get to Marzin at the same time, and while they argue – Ray that he needs to be prosecuted, Jess that he needs to be killed – Ray decides he is going to let Jess kill Marzin, and then he would tell Claire that both Marzin and Jess are now dead, so that Jess can just disappear.  It would have just provided a little more action, and allowed Julia to stretch just a bit more.  Plus – nothing better than seeing the bad guys get it.

6 out of 10 – well executed, but a little slow.  Gained points for Chiwetel slowing descending into obsessive madness, lost points for the unrequited love between Ray and Claire, which again, could also be gained points as it was unusual to have that no go anywhere…usually in movies it does go somewhere.  Gained points for Roberts’s performance, and for Jess eventually getting justice.  Slight spoiler there.

Bonus Video 1: I tried to think of my favorite Julia Roberts movie…I’m not even sure I have one, I really don’t care for her – but I did like the Pelican Brief, so I’m going to count that one.

Bonus Video 2: Dead Calm – This is an old one where Billy Zane terrorizes Nicole Kidman and Sam Neill.

Bonus Video 3: Cast Interviews

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Retro Movie Review: The Mask Of Zorro (1998 – PG13 – 136 minutes)

I was planning on going to see The 33 this past weekend, but none of the show times lined up with my availability – so, next week for that one.  In the meantime, I attempted to stream Goldeneye, and instead came across The Mask of Zorro – starring The 33’s Antonion Banderas, and directed by Martin Campbell, who also directed GoldenEye.  Well, that seemed like entirely too much of a coincidence, so here’s a quick review of this 1998 charmer.

Zorro, the “fox”, has always been the secret identify of Don Diego de la Vega, a fictional character created in 1919 by writer Johnston McCulley.  De la Vega was a Californian nobleman of Spanish and native Californian descent, living in Los Angeles during the era of Mexican rule, between 1821 and 1846. The most common image is a dashing black-clad masked outlaw on his jet-black horse, Tornado, who uses fox-like cunning and great athletic skill and swordplay to “to avenge the helpless, to punish the cruel policticians, and to aid the oppressed”.  Diego pretends to be a passionless fop, so no one will know his secret except for Bernardo (a deaf-mute servant) and Friar Felipe as he uses a rapier to leave a "Z" mark to give the people hope.

Zorro first appeared on film when Douglas Fairbanks played him in 1920’s The Mark of Zorro, However, I first became familiar with Zorro in reruns of the black and white Disney TV show starring Guy Williams as Zorro and Gene Sheldon as the deaf-mute Bernardo.  It originally aired from 1957 – 1959.  The show was very much serial episodes, and chronicled Zorro’s adventures against the cruel local Commandante, Captain Monastario.  Not to mention, it had a really catchy theme song.  "Out of the night...when the full moon is bright..."

In 1998, the Mask of Zorro was released, and somehow managed to capture the fun, adventurous tone of the TV show while still updating it for a current audience. 

The story starts in 1821 as the Spanish Don Rafael Montero is leaving California for Spain while losing the war for the area to the Mexican General Santa Anna.  Don Diego De La Vega is fighting against the Spanish and defending the local peasants as Zorro.  Montero is about to have three random peasants killed (because he can - and to demonstrate to the audience how evil he is), but Zorro frees them, threatens Montero on his balcony to never return, and carves a small Z on his throat to remind him.  However, this proves to be a bad idea, as Rafael recognizes his eyes, and shows up at de La Vega’s house afterwards, arresting him, and causing the death of his wife.  He takes de la Vega’s infant daughter with him to Spain. 

We jump forward 20 years, and are introduced to Alejandro and Joaquin Murrieta, two thieves working with “three fingered” Jack.  They are hunted by Captain Harrison Love, who gets Joaquin killed.  Meanwhile, Don Rafael is returning to California with a plan and his now adult daughter – he checks the prisons to see if his old nemesis is around, but cannot find de La Vega – who escapes prison and encounters Alejandro, consumed with grief, at a bar.  He agrees to train Alejandro, who wants to kill Captain Love, who is working with Rafael, who is the focus of De La Vega’s revenge.  Everybody loves when revenge plans line up!

We get a few training sequences as Alejandro gets better and better with a blade, a whip, and general smarts.  He steals an all-black stallion from the local garrison as his first outing in the mask. Eventually he infiltrates Rafael’s party as a fancy nobleman with Diego disguised as his servant Bernardo, and gets a little too comfortable with his daughter, Elena – who mistakenly believes her mother was killed in childbirth.  

Alejandro learns that Rafael is planning on buying California from General Santa Anna with gold he has mined from Santa Anna’s own land, and that he has enslaved the locals to dig the gold for him.  After the Dons tour the mine, Love starts to suspect Alejandro, and invites him to his office, to attempt to determine if he is the other Murrieta brother (In fact, there was a real Mexican outlaw named Joaquin Murrieta, and he was killed by the California State Rangers, led by the real Harry Love.  Not only that, but in reality, the real Harry Love did keep Murrieta’s head in a jar in his office – weird).  To ensure that Santa Anna will not learn this of the gold switching, Rafael and Love decide to explode the mine, burying it and the workers.  Zorro steps in to save the people, and make sure that Rafael and Love both get their comeuppance.  Elena eventually learns the truth about Diego being her true father, and falls in love with Alejandro, as Alejandro carries on the mantle of Zorro.

The movie was mostly filmed as Estudios Churubusco in Mexican City.  It was originally going to be directed by Robert Rodriguez, right off his success with Desperado – which is why Antonio Banderas was cast as the lead, however, there were some budget disputes, and Rodriguez stepped out and Martin Campbell stepped in.  Parts of the movie are distinctively Campbell (No Esacpe, GoldenEye, Vertical Limit, Legend of Zorro, Casino Royale, Edge of Darkness)– big, sweeping locations that look beautiful on screen.  The action is incredible because it is all practical.  The fight scenes, the swordplay, and the general acrobatics of Zorro are magnificently brought to the forefront as he takes on and humiliates the soldiers.  The final action set piece at the mine where both Zorros finally get their revenge on the men they’ve spent most the movie hunting is incredible, because everything is stuntmen and practical effects.  Not to mention the explosion of the mine at the end – it’s one of those explosions that I’m sure they had 10 cameras on, because they were only going to get to do it once!
In terms of the cast, everyone is just fantastic;
  • While Desperado was the first breakout performance by Antonio Banderas, this is the movie that first really allowed him to shine.  The transformation from the dirty thief (he’s literally covered in dirt) with no skills to the very smooth and dapper Don is beautifully portrayed by Banderas, and yes, he’s very sexy. 

  • This was the first time I remember seeing Catherine Zeta Jones in anything, and for a Welsh woman, she portrays a fiesta Latina lady very well.  Her swordfight with Zorro in the stables is fantastic – and I remember it definitely being a big trailer moment for this movie.

  • Anthony Hopkins told people he was very excited about doing this movie because he wanted to be in an action flick!  He’s perfect as the aging Don Diego, and as he trains Alejandro as his replacement, he also conveys just a bit that he’s training him as a weapon to get his revenge.

  • Stuart Wilson plays Don Rafael, and what a great villain.  He’s so incredibly arrogant and vile, from stealing Deigo’s baby to wanting to bury the workers in the mine. 

  • Matt Letscher plays Captain Love, and I just saw him last season on the Flash as the reverse Flash – so it was fun to backtrack and see him again as this character.  His wig does half the work, but his snide personality does the other half – he’s great at being evil, and you just can’t wait for him to get what’s coming to him, especially after he tries to get a reaction out of Alejandro by producing his brother’s head in a jar.  Sick.

  • Speaking of, Victor Rivers plays Joaquin Murrieta, the short lived brother of Alejandro.

  • L.Q. Jones plays the famous outlaw – Three-Fingered Jack.

If you never saw this movie, or haven’t seen it in a long time, it’s streaming free on Amazon Prime, and available to rent on DVD/BluRay through Netflix.  It’s worth watching again – and because of the practical nature of the effects and fights, as well as the period-piece nature of the story, it absolutely holds up as a great adventure story.

9 out of 10 – I’m taking away one point for the head/hand in the jar bit.  A little too much for a family-friendly movie, and my guess is that the Governor watched it one too many times, leading him to think heads in jars was a good practice.
Bonus Video 1 – The opening to Desperado – if you haven’t seen this one either – do yourself a favor and watch it.

Bonus Video 2 – The Expendables 3, Antonio steals the middle of this movie.  Wesley Snipes steals the front, and Harrison Ford (yes, that Harrison Ford) steals the end, but it’s super fun the whole way through.

Bonus Video 3 – cast interviews

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Movie Review: Spectre (PG13 – 148 minutes)

This is the 24th James Bond movie.  Bond was the ultimate British Spy created by novelist Ian Fleming in 1953.  The first Bond movie was Dr. No in 1962 and he’s being going since then.  Chances are you have your favorite Bond, your favorite Bond film, and your favorite Bond song (they might not all be from the same movie).  For me, it’s Roger Moore (you tend to favor the first one you became familiar with, although I did enjoy Pierce Brosnan).  Live and Let Die for the movie (you can’t beat Yaphet Koto, TeeHee, Geoffrey Holder as Baron Samedi, plus a very young Jane Seymour!).  And for favorite song - Nobody Does it Better (and You Only Live Twice, and Diamonds are Forever, and the World is Not Enough, and …I like a lot of the songs).  

In case you are unfamiliar with the Bond movie formula, it begins with the graphic gun barrel shot over the Bond theme and Bond walking in from the right.  As he turns and shoots into the camera, blood drips down as you zoom out into the cold open.  You then get an action sequence that either will or will not play into the rest of the movie.  The credits sequence is next where the theme song plays while naked lady silhouettes dance (remember, these started in the 60s).  Usually, the main part of the movie starts with Bond walking into M’s office at MI6 to get his mission, he flirts a bit with MoneyPenny, M’s assistant, then M will ask him, “Bond, what do you know about so-and-so?” Bond will respond with some information, then M sends him to Q to get his gadgets before he heads off on a mission to stop some insane super-villain from taking over the world.  And while formulaic, that’s what I want from a Bond movie. 

The Spectre cold open takes place in Mexico where Bond is following a suspicious man through the Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico City.  His target, Sciarra spots him, setting off a bomb  in a hotel room, causing the hotel to collapse and Bond to have to chase Sciarra on foot through the parade and eventually battle him in a helicopter over the center of the city. Bond is finally throws Sciarra to his death while keeping his ring with a curious Octopus emblem on it.  Cue credits sequence over the new Sam Smith song, Writing’s on the Wall.

Back in London, Bond stops by M’s office to get lectured and taken off field duty.  M’s a bit upset because he’s in the midst of a power struggle with C, the new head of the Joint Intelligence Service, who is joining MI5 and MI6 as well as creating “Nine Eyes”, which will link the intelligence of multiple countries world-wide.  

Bond checks in with Q, steals the Astin Martin that was prepped for 009, and heads to Italy to attend Sciarra’s funeral where he makes eyes at the widow Sciarra. He follows her home, saves her from two hitmen, beds her, and learns from her this shady organization is meeting that very night in Rome.  

He uses the ring to gain entrance to the meeting, witnesses the step-up of Mr. Hinx to take on Sciarra’s assassin role, then gets made by Franz Obenhauser, who not only seems to be in charge, but Bond recognizes from his past.  Bond then car chases through Rome with Mr. Hinx.  He gets help from MoneyPenny to track down the elusive Mr. White – who is leftover from Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. 

White is already dying, but gives Bond some info on SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion. They first appeared in the novel Thunderball in 1961…and the movie Dr. No in 1962), and reveals that he has a daughter, Madeline Swann.  Sure enough, Bond finds her in Austria – just before she is kidnapped by Spectre agents, leading to Bond bringing a plane to a car chase through Austrian mountains.  Bond rescues her and Q helps them learn that Oberhauser seems to be the leader of this organization. Swann mentions the hotel L’Americain in Morocco, where her father did some business.  

Bond discovers that White had secret room of videotapes, charts, and photographs which leads them to a train for their next destination.  Hinx attacks on the train, but Bond throws him off the train.  Bond and Swann get it on just before arriving at what appears to be a secret crater base in the middle of in the desert.

Of course it belongs to Oberhauser, who explains that the base essentially collecting intelligence, and that he is working with C in London.  He straps Bond to a chair and talks a lot (a lot) about how he and Bond were sort-of step brothers, how he is about to drill holes in Bond’s head, and how he’s now going by the name Ernst Stavro Blofeld.  I’m not even going to say spoiler alert here.  If you know anything about Bond lore – you saw that coming miles away.  Bond uses the watch Q gave him to escape and grab Swann.   Don’t worry about how they got through the desert, apparently that’s not important. 

They get back to London (how?) and meet up with M, Tanner, Q, and Moneypenny.  M and crew go to get C, while Swann tells Bond she needs to leave, because she can’t ‘live this life anymore’ despite the fact that she loves him (what?).  She leaves, Bond heads back to the old MI6 building to have another confrontation with Blofeld, who has again kidnapped Swann.  Bond rescues her and then brings a boat to a helicopter chase. He eventually causes Blofeld’s helicopter to crash, and instead of shooting Blofeld – allows him to be taken into custody by M.  Swann, instead of walking away like she just said she was going to – waits around to walk off with Bond.

Just like Skyfall, this movie is directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition, Jarhead, Revolutionary Road, and Away We Go).  It is really beautiful.  Some of the scenes were just stunning, the entire opening sequence during the Dia De Los Muertos Celebration was gorgeous, and the shots of the train through the desert were amazing.  The direction and cinematography were fantastic.  I also love the worldliness of the movie.  It moves swiftly from Mexico to England to Italy to Austria to Morocco back to England.  It’s what a Bond movie should be, and it really helps the story to shoot in those amazing locations. The action sequences were also pretty great, especially the airplane/car chase through the Austrian mountains.  I liked the story – it was overly complicated at points, but I thought it was a good Bond story and really got back to the roots of the hero.  I was a little disappointed in general, but I think because my expectations were too high.

  • Beyond the cinematography, I was thrilled with the majority of the cast: Ralph Fiennes as M, Rory Kinnear as Tanner, Ben Whishaw as Q, Naomie Harris as Money Penny were all great, and it was really fun to see them all get some more action out of the office.  Especially M’s confrontation with C.

  • Along those lines, Andrew Scott (chillingly evil as Moriarity on Sherlock) was spectacularly slimy as C.  Of course, he’s so slimy that at no point do you trust him, so his ‘surprise’ reveal as a villain is no surprise, but he’s still pretty great.

  • Christoph Waltz is the ideal casting for Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the iconic head of Spectre and Bond’s main villain throughout the years.  He even has the cat!  I love that he did not get killed at the end of this so I fully expect that we will see him back soon.  Waltz is so great at villainy that he just seamlessly slid into the role.  I did find the whole “I was jealous of you when we were children” motivation a little ridiculous, but hey, he’s also interested in collecting the world’s intelligence.   And the scar at the end? Perfect!

  • Bringing Jesper Christensen as Mr. White back was fine, but really, I am ready for a stand-alone Bond movie.  I didn’t think it was necessary to interconnect these last four so much. And since they really seem to be building towards re-doing the storyline from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the next one will likely be interconnected as well.

  • I have no problem with Bond getting captured, but I’m tired of him getting tortured, especially uselessly.  Blofeld straps Bond to a chair and proceeds to talk at length about how he’s about to drill holes in his head, and one of them will make it so he won’t recognize Madeline, or any woman going forward. Honestly – that would have been interesting had it worked, and would play into Bond’s serial womanizing.  However, It doesn’t seem to work.  Bond gets drilled and seems to be just fine.  If the torture wasn’t going to do anything, why not just have him use the watch to escape prior to that?
  • I wish we had gotten to see Agent 009.  Bond steals the car that was prepped for 009, and the music kicks in that was prepped for 009.  I wish that had paid off in 009 showing up at the end and helping out with the final fight.  Some fun stunt casting could have been used there as well.  But no – it’s just mentioned a few times, then never brought up again.  

  • I was so excited when I found out that Monica Bellucci was going to be in this movie.  Nevermind that there was finally a Bond lady the same age as Bond (in fact, she’s three months older than Craig), she’s an incredible actress and one of the most beautiful women in the world – along the lines of other Italian screen sirens like Sophia Loren and Isabella Rosellini.  I am furious that she literally has two and a half scenes in this movie.  Bond harasses her at the funeral, follows her home, and leaves her for the meeting. She’s capable of so much more, and they just did not use her.  I would have loved for her to be revealed as a villain at the end, either pulling Blofeld’s strings or partnered with him. 

  • Lea Seydoux is fine as White’s daughter, but felt flat in most of the scenes.  Also – she tells Bond to stay away from her in one scene, then tells him she loves him in the next.  There’s about a 25 year age difference between her and Craig, which is off-putting.  She is first presented as a smart, capable doctor, but then quickly devolves into another weakly written Bond girl who constantly needs to be rescued.  I did like was when she told Bond she was done. However, she then promptly gets captured and needs rescuing.  After the rescuing, why did she not walk away? She already said goodbye!  It would have been far more powerful for her to leave at the end.

  • I am a huge fan of Dave Bautista, so I’m thrilled he’s in this.  Now – interesting henchmen with a ‘gimmick’ are traditional Bond, so I’m happy that he fit that mold.  Jaws had his teeth, OddJob had his hat…it would appear that Mr. Hinx has silver thumbnails that he uses to eye gouge.  At least, that’s what I thought – he uses it once, then it is NEVER MENTIONED AGAIN.  It’s such a cool henchman gimmick!  Why wouldn’t he be clawing everything and anything with those nails?  What a waste.  I’m actually fine with him not having any lines, that fits the ‘henchman’ motif, but in the version I saw, the one line he had as he’s being thrown from the train is clearly “shit!” and was poorly dubbed to “shoot!”. 

  • And finally, my biggest issue with this movie is Daniel Craig, which is a shame, because I was really in favor of his casting as Bond when it first happened.  I’m tired of him bashing Bond in interviews, and saying how he would rather ‘slit his wrists’ then play the character again.  Fine, we don’t want you there if you don’t want to be there.  In Skyfall, he at least seemed to be more comfortable with the character.  I was really hoping he would bring more fun to the role here. He is great in the action sequences, but I want to see that he’s enjoying the role, not that it’s a chore.  He’s got one more in his contract, but just let him out of that and let’s move on.  

My only requirement for the next Bond is that he be British.  Beyond that, I’d like him to be tough, gadget-smart, and suave-charming.  Craig is tough, not sure I buy him with the gadgets, and I don’t really get the suave from him – he’s more demanding with his ladies then charming.  My personal choice has been Idris Elba, but he’s getting older, and really focusing on his DJ side career (you heard me right).  If there’s one thing I learned from Man From U.N.C.L.E. this summer, it’s that Henry Cavill would also do an amazing job.  Hell – cast a young unknown who will be thrilled with the role and do a great job for years to come.  Here’s a random list of potentials with Jacob Anderson at the top.

Other suggestions: Nicholas Hoult, Theo James, Aml Ameen, Sam Clafin, Lucien Laviscount, Aaron Taylor Johnson, Daniel Kaluuya.  And finally, Jay Ryan – yes, he’s technically Australian, but so is George Lazenby…and if the next one is On Her Majesty’s Secret Service based…I’m just saying…

7 out of 10 – I liked it, I really did, but I didn’t love it, even though I wanted to.  It really needed to be shorter, you could have easily cut a half-hour from it and not lost anything.  Gained points for all the gorgeous globe-trotting scenes.  Lost points for not enough Monica Belluci and for Daniel Craig in general.
Bonus Video 1:  I always think of Craig as that dude with the terrible American accent from Tomb Raider.

Bonus Video 2:  My favorite Monica Bellucci movie – Brotherhood of the Wolf.

Bonus Video 3: Cast Interviews

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Movie Review: The Last Witch Hunter (PG13 – 106 minutes)

It’s a fairly well-known fact that Vin Diesel used to play a lot of Dungeons and Dragons, the role-playing game.  Diesel taught Judi Dench to play D&D on the set of the Chronicles of Riddick.  His old D&D character has been adapted here into the main character in this movie:  Kaulder, an immortal witch hunter.   

Fantasy movies can be hit or miss, and are usually more enjoyable if everyone in them appears to be having fun too (yes, I will tell you to go back and watch Kull the Conqueror again).  Vin Diesel is notorious for taking himself too seriously, but, on the flip side of that, he’s also notorious for really caring about giving his fans what they want.  He’s wanted to step into the purely fantasy realm for a while, and this movie is a decent try.

The Last Witch Hunter starts in what appears to be pre-medieval Europe as a group of … Vikings? Knights? Warriors? And a priest (Dolan) are heading towards a “plague tree”.  This is basically a tree the size of a mountain that the evil Witch Queen has used to help nurture and then spread the black plague.  It’s been wiping everyone out – including Kaulder’s wife and child, so he and the others are headed towards the tree to attempt to kill the Witch Queen. 

Once they arrive at the tree, they are attacked by the Queen’s followers – who seem to all be part tree.  When Kaulder finally encounters the Queen, he’s able to kill her by summoning ‘iron and fire’ with his special sword – and as she is dying, she curses him with immortality.  We cut to present day, and find Kaulder securing some runes on a flight and that he is still working with Dolan, but Dolan the 36th .  

He’s going on random missions for the “Axe and the Cross”, which appears to be a Catholic sect who are dedicated to fighting witches.  However, we soon learn that not all witches are bad and there is a truce between humankind and witchkind.  Dolan the 36th is retiring, and Kaulder gives him a gift and learns about his replacement, who will be Dolan the 37th.  Well, the 36th suddenly dies right after having that conversation, and as soon as the new Dolan is sworn in, the 37th and Kaulder learn that the 36th was murdered, and they set off to find his killer. 

At this point, there are a couple of red herrings, and a hidden warning from the 36th which leads Kaulder to realize that he needs to remember the details of his ‘death’ at the hands of the Witch Queen to learn who is behind this sudden conspiracy and rise of evil witches.  He heads to a local witch bar, and attempts to recruit Chole, a witch with special memory-oriented powers, just as her bar is attacked by Belial – a big time evil warlock who is trying to bring back the Queen.  

Eventually, with Chole’s help, Kaulder is able to learn a secret that helps him figure out what the bad guys are up to, but just after they do bring back the Queen, which leads to a big time final battle.
All that is a bit confusing, and that’s with me leaving out the bits about the witch council;  the witch prison; suppressing spells;  Kaulder’s own hesitation to continue his work; Dolan the 37th’s backstory; Chole’s garden and her friend’s garden; Chole’s secret power; Kaulder’s secret weapon stash; the weather runes; the witch fashion designer and models; and the weird warlock who is covered in butterflies, owns a cupcake shop, and seems to be baking maggots into the cupcakes…no, seriously – that’s a thing.

The movie is directed by Breck Eisner who previously did Recon, Thoughtcrimes, Sahara, and The Crazies.  I saw Sahara – it was the only attempt at a Clive Cussler Dirk Pitt movie – and was actually pretty good.  It also had some lovely set design and great action.  I think both of those are the strongest part of the Last Witch Hunter as well, amazing set design, and great action.
I enjoyed the movie, but I feel like it was the perfect setup to what would be an amazing SyFy TV series.  I would love to see Kaulder, Dolan, and Chole’s adventures for an hour a week as they hunt down bad witches.  They did a fair job of cramming a whole lot of story into the movie but that does also have a bad side of looking like they were trying way too hard to set up a franchise.  The look of the movie was great!  I loved the prosthetics on the Witch Queen.  The cast was actually very good – and all seemed to be equally fun and over the top (which is required for something like this), except for Vin, who took it very seriously.....

  • It is actually a little hard to not just see Dominic Torretto when looking at Vin Diesel at this point.  He did have a fancy car in this movie, and I kept expecting him to tell Chole that he lives his life a quarter mile at a time, and that family is the most important thing.  His portrayal of Kaulder is not new, not really anything you haven’t seen him do before, but - it works for the movie, and he’s certainly action capable.  And can I just say - excellent job on the wig!  There are so many terrible wigs in movies, and the wig/beard combo for medieval Vin looks great!

  • I thought Rose Leslie from Game of Thrones stole most of the movie.  She plays Chole, and she really seemed to be having a great time.  Essentially, she really is playing character similar to Ygritte on GOT, but at no point does she tell Kaulder that he knows nothing.  I loved the layout of the witch bar, and watching her serve ‘spells’ to patrons was really interesting.  I also loved the ‘wall garden’ in her apartment. 

  • Elijah Wood plays Dolan the 37th, and also seems to enjoy it.  He gets a couple moments of action while assisting Kaulder on some excursions/missions, and they seem to be working together well.  He does get the ‘comedy relief’ bit, and honestly, he does well with what he has, but I wanted a little more on the comedy side.

  • Olafur Darri Olafsson plays Belial – who is a giant dark warlock.  He’s a big, imposing actor, and really perfectly chews the scenery as this villain.

  • Julie Engelbrecht plays the Witch Queen, and I can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed her makeup and practical effects as the Queen.  She looks like she is mostly tree, and really pulls off being threatening plant life with a spinal column headdress.

  • Rena Owen plays Glaeser, the head of the witch council,  who is in charge of imprisoning witches who break the law – or you know, show magic in public.  She has an amazing outfit and a great witchy presence.

  • Michael Caine plays Dolan the 36th, and basically he’s just Michael Caine.  I suppose when you reach a certain point in a distinguished career, you don’t really have to stretch anymore.  He’s great at portraying the end of a long friendship with Kaulder.

  • Isaach De Bankole plays Max, the aforementioned butterfly-covered, maggot-cupcake bakery owning warlock.  He’s blind, creepy, and weird, and super perfect for this movie.

Overall, the movie was strange, but fun.  I liked all the effects, and found it to be a perfectly decent fantasy-action flick.  But honestly, if you can spin Legion into SyFy’s Dominion, then I would really like them to find a way to make this into a series.  I’m certain Diesel wants to franchise this, but I would recommend TV series.

6 out of 10; Gained points for the Witch Queen makeup and for Elijah Wood being a smartass.  Lost points for the maggots in the cupcakes – ick. 

Bonus Video 1: Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters.  I can’t really say if this was better or worse, what I can say is that I enjoyed it more.

Bonus Video 2: Season of the Witch – Nicholas Cage and Ron Perlman overact their way through this enjoyable pile of crazy.

Bonus Video 3: Cast Interviews;
Extra Bonus - just because: