Maleficent (2014): An Indepth Review

Special props to Alamo Drafthouse for displaying a respect and love of movies I have seldom seen in other theaters. Please check them out and support their venues, if you can ūüôā

Before I get into the new movie, let me just say that the original voice actress, Eleanor Audley, really made the character of Maleficent for me.

She was smooth, cool, calculating, menacing, and she could turn to any emotion she needed on a dime. Her laugh was a chilling wonder to my ears. If I had to give a rough estimate, 40% of her is the character design, 20% is the music, and the remaining 40% was Audley.

Again, for me personally.

Ever since Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, whenever I’ve seen this delightful, demonic dame in anything else (predominantly Kingdom Hearts), all I’ve heard is people doing their best Audley impressions. And, while¬†Susanne Blakslee continues to do the best that she can, I¬†am never completely satisfied.¬†It’s one of the few times I’m hopelessly stubborn, and nothing will help fix it.

What Kingdom Hearts 2 did to¬†Maleficent’s dignity probably didn’t help, but I digress…

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So when I saw the casting choices for this movie, I got excited. I really wanted Angelina Jolie¬†to make the character her own, and not just do her best shot at copy-pasting the old identity. It wasn’t just Maleficent anymore, after all. It was her Wicked-esque counterpart, capable, perhaps,¬†of some level of good, and garnering some level of empathy from the audience. There was plenty of room for growth and character development, even for self-proclaimed “Mistress of All Evil.”

I had sort of high hopes for it, but went in as blind as I possibly could for the most natural reaction.

Having just returned from seeing the movie with my mom, still garbed in my Maleficent shirt (courtesy of Hot Topic),¬†I’m eager to talk about what I’ve seen.

*Warning: Spoilers below this point. Skip to the bottom for overall rating

Also, this is not a straight up comparison of the two stories. I’m treating¬†Maleficent¬†as a separate thing from¬†Sleeping Beauty,¬†because that’s how it’s supposed to be anyway. That way, I’ll be guaranteed to nitpick less than I did with Cinderella 3.

The Plot + First Impressions

The story begins by pitting two worlds against one another; the one of the fairies and magical creatures (The Moors), and that of the humans, which for the purposes of this movie we will regard as just¬†one kingdom. The humans don’t seem too concerned with the dealings of other humans anyway, but rather with the powerful and potentially dangerous fairy folk.

Maleficent, who I half expected would adopt the name later and begin with something more pleasant (because it sounds evil right from the start), is a young fairy with horns and big half-eagle, half-dragon wings. She is young, but appears to be the head of her realm, and, at least later, its primary protector.

One day, she finds a boy stealing a gem from a pool near the edge of the realm, and spares him. The two become fast friends and, as time goes on, “something more.”

Two things here:

1) The child actors for both young Maleficent and young Stephan aren’t anything special. I’m not sure if they just aren’t acting well, or if the script doesn’t give them much to work with. Their characters both have one note, which is to prepare the audience for the coming¬†tragedy where they will be forced to part and become enemies. There is nothing wrong with simplicity, but their story together was rushed, and suffered for it by being not very compelling or interesting.

2) Here is where I rolled my eyes in the theatre. Yet another “woman becomes evil because men” plot. Didn’t we see this already in¬†Oz the Great and Powerful¬†last year? And a bunch of other movies before? Do women ever do anything without being compelled to by a man or his actions towards them?

That said, it’s decently done, aside from the aforementioned rushed start.

Stephan burned her by accident during their first meeting. He wore a ring made of iron, which is the only thing that hurts fairies. Not quite sure how that works, but okay. Maleficent was very moved when she told him about it and he immediately threw the ring away, not wanting to hurt his new friend.

But Stephan stops coming around. Right after he sort of kissed her and claimed it was true love (it was kind of on screen, but dark enough to maybe qualify as offscreen too. Meh).

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Years later, Maleficent fends off an attack from the humans and their king, mortally wounding him in the process. She might have meant to kill him, but whether she did or not, a piece of iron on the king’s armor burned her, leading her to conclude that Stephan betrayed her and her kins’ only weakness to the other humans.

Back with said humans, King Henry is dying. He hesitates to name his successor, but angrily urges his men to avenge him.

Stephan, who has been swayed by greed and lust for power, goes back to Maleficent, seemingly trying to make peace with her. He essentially ruffies her so he can kill her easily, but in the midst of that¬†crucial moment, he just can’t do it. So he does the next best thing.

Maleficent wakes the next day to find that her wings have been cut off. Stephan takes them back to the king, claims that he killed Maleficent, and King Henry gives him his daughter and the kingdom on the spot.

Maleficent responds accordingly.

So the fairy kingdom has sort of become her “Forbidden Mountain” from the original movie. The menace of it is a bit underwhelming, but then, she does pretty much leave the rest of the fairies alone.

My question here is:¬†do they fear her because she’s making things all dark and scary? Or is it because all fairies have wings, and now that hers are gone, “shun the weirdo!”

Maleficent gets a sidekick in the form of a raven named Diaval, who she changes into a human to scare off the man who was about to beat him to death. He swears loyalty, to change as she requires and to be her “wings.”

Some time passes, and King Stephan and his still nameless queen (it was almost as laughable as her treatment in the original) have a baby. Three fairies, who hope to foster peace between their people and the humans, come to give the child magical blessings.

Maleficent comes in and screws things up for everyone.

Things to note here:

1) Being so wary and distrustful of magical creatures as he and his people are, I’m surprised Stephan let the fairies in at all.

2) How were the fairies planning to deal with Maleficent if Stephan accepted? She appears to be the only real thing standing between the peace of the two races…besides, you know, the insatiable greed and dominance of man.

3) What was the point of the third fairy’s gift being cut off in this version? Maleficent creates the condition by which the curse can be broken, though she does it with mocking irony, twisting in the knife that was the “lie” Stephan fed her as a girl. We never find out what the third gift was, and the fairy didn’t even use it to alleviate the spell afterward. So why?

4) Either Stephan had to do some serious trading and importing, or the kingdom must have undergone a serious shortage, with all those spinning wheels burned and locked away.

Anyway…

Maleficent quotes the dialogue from the original, almost word for word, until she’s almost finished casting the curse. Then she taunts King Stephan, making him beg in the sight of his entire kingdom, and curses Aurora anyway.

From here, the story takes an interesting turn.

The fairies, who are for some reason renamed despite almost all of the other major characters retaining their original names, take Aurora to the cottage in the forest. Where Maleficent finds them immediately.

picard-facepalm

The fairies, who were once inept at many things without the use of their magic (but at least didn’t neglect Aurora and almost let her kill herself), are horrible caretakers. Which makes sense, seeing as they’re now a size they aren’t used to, have never cared for infants before, and bicker just as much as their¬†Sleeping Beauty¬†counterparts.

This bickering was funny at times, but nowhere near as funny or endearing as Flora, Fauna, and Merriweather. These new fairies had a lot less personality; just plot props of basic idiocy, bumbling, and slapstick. Not necessarily a bad thing, though.

Maleficent and Diaval, instead of killing, tormenting, or even messing with Aurora, keep her safe and even play with her a little.

Huh…

I was expecting the good-girl-gone-bad backstory, but truthfully, I wasn’t sure how far it would extend into the rest of the movie.

Maleficent, while trying to remain snarky and detached, protects the girl, slowly growing affection for her as time goes on. She does mess with the fairies, though, which is funny. Especially since one of them is played by Dolores Umbridge.

Kill it with fire!
Kill it with fire!

While this happens, Maleficent builds a giant thorny wall (similar to the “forest of thorns” she sets against Philip in the original), keeping her realm separate from Stephan’s. The king, now going mad with fear and desperation, sets his iron workers to the task of building devices he can use to bring the wicked fairy down.

Aurora grows into a 15-year-old, as you do,¬†when Maleficent reveals herself. Maleficent takes her to the Moors, curious to see how she will react, and watches her mingle and play with the other fairy folk within. The two grow closer than ever, and Maleficent worries about the curse she placed, even going so far as to try to undo it one night while Aurora sleeps…

in time!

Sadly, the curse is stronger than her, and she can’t remove it.

Aurora asks to go and live with Maleficent forever in the Moors, and she happily accepts. On the way home, Aurora meets Prince Philip, from the Kingdom of Who Cares, who is off to see Stephan for I forget why (which is basically a footnote in the movie. Though it does have a reason). She asks to see him again sometime, and he says sure.

Could zis be love, perhaps?

Diaval mentions to Maleficent that this boy might be the key to freeing Aurora of the curse, but the fairy rebuffs him, saying that “true love’s kiss” does not exist.

When Aurora gets home, the useless fairies spill the beans. She quickly deduces who the caster of the curse is, and we have a classic 3rd act misunderstanding¬†that separates her from Maleficent. I hate that trope and how often it’s used, especially in kids’ movies, but it’s not too egregious here.

It’s short, but manages to keep some of its potency.

While Maleficent knocks Philip out and rides to the castle with him (rather than trying to explain why a suspicious lady with horns is being friendly with him), King Stephan is preparing for her coming. Aurora comes in, and Stephan barely acknowledges her with a kind word or two, before locking her in her room until everything is over. The spell then calls to Aurora, leading her to the room where the spinning wheels were burned and magicking up a brand new one for her convenience.

Maleficent feels it as the spell enacts, but she is more determined than ever to get Philip there so he can try his kiss on her.

Surprise, surprise. Philip’s kiss doesn’t work!

Again!
Again!

Oh, Disney. You and you’re predictable unpredictability…

In the same vein as¬†Frozen,¬†Disney is determined to teach the kiddies that true love isn’t just a spouse/significant other thing. If you detect some sarcasm here, it is not me saying that it’s a bad message in any way. Just a trend I predict will keep on happening in as many ways as Disney can figure out.

Maleficent developed a sort of motherly affection for Aurora throughout the years, and she realized that she was hurting an innocent person, when she had only intended to wound the man who had wounded her. Her rage and hatred clouded her judgment and took hold of her, but it could not change the person she really was.

Maleficent kisses Aurora (on the forehead, lest you think what I thought for a split second in the theatre), which wakes her. Together, they leave to live in the Moors together, Aurora feeling no connection to a home and a father she never knew anyway.

Stephan intervenes, trapping Maleficent in a net of iron. As she severely weakens from her burns, she set Diaval on the soldiers, turning her confidant into a dragon.

Yay! Kind of random and it felt last-minute, but I’ll take it! Fight!¬†Fight!¬†Fight!

Aurora escapes into another room to avoid the fire and carnage, and she comes across Maleficent’s old wings, strung up like a trophy on Stephan’s wall. She frees them, and they fuse back onto their owner, giving her back strength and power.

She and Stephan fight a bit before she subdues him, giving him the oft-used¬†“it’s over” line, before turning away.

Little did she know that the only way to stamp out a threat is to kill it. Don’t leave your enemies alive to plot and scheme or, worse, assume they’ll “reform.”

Stephan tries to kill her, they plummet to the ground together, and Maleficent throws him off at nearly the last second.

Yet another Disney villain(?) goes to gravity.

R.I.P.

Maleficent steps down as Queen of the Moors and hands that title over to Aurora, basically uniting the two lands and making things bright and sunshiny again. With her wings back, she is free to fly again too.

And the elderly narrator was Aurora.

The End!

Pros, Cons, and Other Details

Angelina Jolie plays Maleficent very well, neither trying to be exactly like the original character nor straying too far from what made her awesome to begin with…well, except when she’s being “good.”

She brought some charm and class with her accent alone, adding in some freaky-contact eye rolling, widening, and creepy smiles for extra fun. Her enjoyment of the role definitely shines through.

Really, my only complaints with the acting are with the children, minus Aurora because none of her actresses got enough lines to really emote or convey much besides child-like wonder and whimsy. Or, when she’s a baby, pooping and crying. I’m torn about whether it is the fault of the kids or the director, but kids have more of an excuse by the very nature of them being kids.

It wasn’t a terribly big deal, but it did make the already short backstory a lot less strong than it could have been.

Some plot elements are vague, but they aren’t too distracting most of the time.

The music is very nice; the score was done by James Newton Howard, who most recently gave us the score for¬†Hunger Games: Catching Fire.¬†It’s epic, whimsical, and fantastical, at times reminding me of the¬†Sleeping Beauty¬†score, particularly in “ooh, Maleficent’s evil” songs.

The album can be found on iTunes and other streaming places. I definitely recommend “Maleficent Suite” and “Maleficent Flies.”

The story feels very small, somehow even smaller than the original, but that isn’t bad or even an odd thing. The story is meant to be a reimagining with a specific POV on the villain, who is not really a villain but a victim of cruel fate and circumstance.¬†Wicked¬†has begun a trend of stories, most recently and notably¬†Frozen,¬†where the supposed villainess is not what she seems, and a bunch of coincidental misunderstandings put her at odds with the other good people.

Maleficent does become genuinely evil for a portion of this movie, as she does cruel and hurtful things to deserving and undeserving people, but it’s very short-lived. She’s only a villain for maybe five minutes, before receding back into more of an anti-hero role. She’s funny, and we cheered for her plenty of times, Mom and I. Some of that was the novelty of her playing sarcastic babysitter to Aurora, but she did get some funny lines, and seemed neither too crotchety nor too loose and whimsical.

She does have some reputation to uphold, you know.

We get to see some powers, which are totally awesome. But I get the feeling that people will call it fan-pandering. I didn’t mind so much because: hey, powers. This movie would have been just a lot of talking otherwise.

The effects are really good; well-blended. They look pretty standard decent CG. If you’ve seen any movie in the last few years, these effects are right on par. I’m curious to see how much further CG can go, because these days it feels like it’s just spinning its wheels (haha, pun), not getting much better but not worse either, unless it’s a crap movie.

I think it was a wise decision to not make Jolie’s skin green. As we saw in¬†Oz the Great and Powerful,¬†it might make you look more silly than threatening.

Some elements from the original story seemed to be tossed aside for no better reason than “we couldn’t find time/a way to work it in,” but that’s adaptation in a nutshell.

For Parents

You can bring your kids to this one; there were certainly kids in my theatre, oohing and awing at the effects. Be warned though: there is some nightmare fodder here. The main one that stood out to me was wolf Diaval, but just look at the star of the film. Maleficent. Mistress of All Evil.

Nuff said
Nuff said

You’ll definitely want to accompany your¬†younger, more easily spooked offspring. I wasn’t scared of Maleficent as a kid (barring that one scene ^), but I knew a lot of kids who were.

Just a suggestion.

Final Thoughts

As I left the theatre with my mom, we were discussing Angelina Jolie’s recent surgeries.

Upon discovering that she had a gene that would increase her odds of breast cancer, the very same cancer that her mother had died of, she decided to remove her breasts, and later her ovaries.

We wondered together whether or not agreeing to star in this movie was a sort of symbolic speech; if she sympathized with the characterization of Maleficent, whose wings (her initial source of power and identifying feature as one of the fairy folk) were taken from her. Could she be speaking¬†to¬†our American¬†culture on some level, (where big breasts, big hips, and fertility are still regarded by many as the defining characteristics of “womanhood,”) reclaiming and reaffirming her own identity?

In terms of this movie specifically, who knows?

As to my rating of the film overall, it was decent. I had much fun watching it.

I get the sense that plenty will call it underwhelming, an insult to the original character, yada yada yada. Others will say it was fan-pandering. “You want powers? Here! You want dragon? Here you go!”

It was a fun movie-going experience, and an interesting attempt to add a character outside of “mwahahahahahahahahahaha!”

To paraphrase the almighty Nostalgic Critic, new adaptations and reimaginings, however awful they might be, can’t take away value or hype from the original. Even if this new Maleficent isn’t as cool or wicked, it doesn’t change the fact that¬†Sleeping Beauty¬†made her one of the top Disney villains ever.

I’d say definitely check out Maleficent¬†(2014)¬†before you condemn it. It’s a nice mix of Disney, classic fairytale, and gritty reboot, all in one.

*Images/Video that do not belong to Disney are: Anchorman, M. Night Shyamalan, Harry Potter, Spongebob, and Star Trek. Nothing is mine, as usual, though I did take the picture of the movie poster ūüôā

Godzilla: An Honest Review

Directed By: Gareth Edwards

Written By: Max Borenstein.

Starring: Aaron Taylor Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn, and Bryan Cranston.

Godzilla is back! It has been a decade after the Japanese release of Toho’s Godzilla: Final Wars, and it has been 16 years since the last, god awful, American release, Godzilla by director Roland Emmerich.

southparklol

Now, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the Godzilla franchise, I‚Äôm going to run you through the basics. Godzilla, or ‚ÄúGojira‚ÄĚ in Japanese, is a giant dinosaur which rises from the ocean to fight other monsters. Within the Japanese films, Godzilla‚Äôs exact origins vary, but he is generally depicted as an enormous, violent, prehistoric sea monster, awakened and empowered by nuclear radiation.

His size (which changes from film to film for the sake of artistic license) is generally around, oh let’s say, 500 feet tall. Believable? Not really. But who cares! It’s giant monsters fighting each other!

Godzilla‚Äôs signature weapon is its ‚Äúatomic breath,‚ÄĚ which is a nuclear blast that it generates inside its body and unleashes from its jaws in the form of a blue radioactive heat ray.

After Legendary Pictures formally announced this project in March 2010, after the acquisition of the rights from Toho Studios, this legendary monster was put back in action; directed by Gareth Edward and is a co-production with Warner Bros.

This film had a lot of hype. I was very excited for Godzilla’s return to the big screen, definitely listing it as 1 of my top 10 most anticipated films this year. I wanted to see the king of monsters make an epic return and break into the mainstream for western audiences.

The trailers for the movie were awesome, they promised us action and an interesting story. So did it live up to the hype?

Yes and no.

*Spoilers ahead*

This article contains not just some spoilers, but all the spoilers. So if you haven’t seen the movie and you want to see it for yourself, stop reading here!

Opening Credits

In case you’re interested in something that’s usually so mundane and throw-away….

The film’s opening establishes the origin story of Godzilla, showing videos of the nuclear explosion that caused the radioactive exposure in the ocean and the covered-up redacted statements that wrapped around the credits.

The whole opening sequence is well made, but perhaps lost on new people who might not know or for the people, like me, who might not be paying attention THAT closely to the credits. Luckily, there is a transcription of the whole thing on Badassdigest.com.

Plot

In 1999, scientists Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) are called to a quarry in the Philippines where a colossal skeleton and two egg-shaped pods have been discovered. One of the pods was dormant and the other one, having hatched, has escaped to the sea.

The screen cuts focus to Janjira, Japan (just outside of Tokyo), the local giant nuclear plant starts experiencing seismic activity. Plant supervisor Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) sends his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) and a team into the core to look for damage.

As the team makes its inspection deep within the facility, an explosion occurs, threatening to release radiation to the outside. Joe goes down to manually ensure that the door stays open for Sandra and her team. However, the radiation was too quick for Sandra and the team, and Joe had no choice but to close the door, leaving the team unable to escape. The plant collapses into ruin, leaving Joe and Ford, his son, mother and wife-less all within the first few minutes of the film.

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The disaster, attributed to a catastrophic earthquake, results in the evacuation and quarantine of the Janjira area and the main cause for the events to follow.

Alright! The movie starts out with a good backstory. The monster that hatched was kept a mystery, adding suspense; Bryan Cranston had an absolutely brilliant performance; and the pacing of the plot was good. Oh, I am so ready for what comes next!

Fifteen years later, we jump POV focus from Joe Brody to his son Ford Brody(Aaron Taylor-Johnson)…

Oh god dammit… A POV switch?

Anyway, he is an¬†explosive ordnance disposal¬†officer (we all know that he’s going to have to stop a bomb later) in the¬†United States Navy, living in¬†San Francisco¬†with his wife, played by Elizabeth Olsen, and son.

His wife and son have no significance other than to add additional drama to the film. Just expressive plot props.

I can‚Äôt even remember their names without looking it up first (it’s Elle and Sam, by the way). It‚Äôs a real shame too, because Elizabeth Olsen‚Äôs talents are half-starved in this film.

Anyway, after the movie establishes that Ford has live bait for the monsters to later threaten, Ford finds out that Joe is arrested for trespassing in the quarantined area. Ford then travels to Japan to bail him out of jail. Joe, hell-bent on discovering the true cause of the catastrophe, convinces his son to accompany him to Janjira for his mother’s sake.

Once in the quarantined area, they discover no signs of radiation, despite the warning that authorities had claimed. They decide to visit their old home to retrieve¬†floppy disks¬†that would assist in Joe’s quest to expose the cover-up. They also notice the power plant in the distance with its lights on, believing that the plant is being rebuilt. Once they recover this information, they are promptly arrested by local security and are then taken to the facility within the power plant’s ruins, built to contain a massive chrysalis, which is being studied by Serizawa and Graham.

So let me get this straight. The first time Joe was in the quarantined area, he was arrested and put into prison. Second time…meh. It will give him a pass directly to where the next plot point will be.

The aforementioned chrysalis, which contains the monster that destroyed the plant, soon hatches and unleashes a colossal winged creature, named MUTO or Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism, which devastates the facility and flies off. Joe is critically wounded in the chaos, and eventually dies from his injuries.

Yeah, I know Bryan Cranston. I'm sad too.
Yeah, I know Bryan Cranston. I’m sad too…

Serizawa, Graham and Ford join a US Navy team to track the monster, using the¬†aircraft carrier USS Saratoga¬†(CVN-88) as a base of operations. As the earth’s radiation subsided, it moved underground and put itself in a¬†cryptobiotic state. Godzilla, a much larger animal that was awoken during a deep-sea expedition in 1954, in turn, is hunting it. Its existence has been continually covered up following numerous failures to kill it with nuclear weapons. Ford reveals that his father had tracked a form of¬†echolocation¬†from the Janjira area, which leads the team to believe the MUTO was communicating with something else. Something that wasn‚Äôt Godzilla.

A U.S. Army Special Forces team in Hawaii finds the wreckage of a Russian nuclear submarine in the forest northwest of Diamond Head, outside of Honolulu, and finds the MUTO feeding on its reactor. The military attacks the MUTO and a battle ensues at Honolulu International Airport. Godzilla arrives from the ocean, causing a catastrophic tsunami that devastates Waikiki. The MUTO later flees by air.

The second MUTO pod, which was brought from the¬†Philippines¬†to the¬†Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository,¬†then hatches. The much larger, wingless female destroys¬†Las Vegas¬†before heading west, and Serizawa concludes that the two creatures will meet to breed. There enters Godzilla’s main purpose as Alpha Predator…

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Let them fight

A train is loaded with two warheads to take to San Francisco, but it is intercepted and destroyed by the female MUTO, which eats one of the warheads. The other warhead is taken by helicopter to San Francisco, where it is put on a boat and armed. The MUTOs, however, steal the warhead and the female MUTO constructs a nest around it in downtown San Francisco, threatening the lives of millions.

Warhead

At this time, citizens in San Francisco are being evacuated on school buses. Elle leaves Sam with a trusted friend while she stays behind to help around in the hospital. The buses then make their way out of the city through the Golden Gate Bridge, where it is blocked off and is surrounded by the military. Godzilla resurfaces near the bridge.

Speaking of which, why did he spare the ship with Ishiro and the Admiral but plow over the other two ships?

The NAVY opens fire in an attempt to prevent him from entering the city, despite the protests of the soldiers on the bridge due to the presence of civilians. The commotion caused by both the military and Godzilla results in the destruction of the bridge.

OF COURSE!
OF COURSE!

And somehow Sam’s bus escapes the carnage….

Alright, so Godzilla is making his way toward the MUTO! Finally we get to see some monster fighting monster action that the franchise is-

A cut to the soldiers… *Sigh*

Well, while the MUTOs are distracted by Godzilla, Ford and a team of soldiers enter the nest via halo jump to try to disarm the warhead.

But hey, the MUTO uses EMP to disable electronics, right? With the MUTO right there, how the hell were the soldiers able to have a digital GPS guide them to where the nuke was hiding?

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All logic aside, they find the warhead and discover it has suffered significant damage, being that there is now a nest of MUTO eggs attached to the nuke and are unable to disarm it. So they plan to take it out to sea and let it detonate.

Ford decides to use a fuel truck to incinerate the nest, which distracts the female MUTO from the fight, leaving just the male to fight Godzilla. Godzilla then impales the male MUTO into a skyscraper, killing it, though the collapsing structure engulfs Godzilla as well. Ford arrives at the docks and manages to get to the warhead boat, with the enraged female MUTO in pursuit.

As the MUTO bears down on Ford, Godzilla attacks the female by firing his atomic breath down her throat, decapitating her. Ford then gets the boat out to sea and is saved by a rescue team just before the warhead detonates. Meanwhile, Godzilla collapses from exhaustion on the shoreline.

In the aftermath, Ford is reunited with his wife and son. Godzilla unexpectedly awakens and returns to the ocean, hailed as the “King of the Monsters” and “The City’s Saviour” by the media.

Overall

Gareth Edward‚Äôs “Godzilla”¬†(2014) is a¬†good movie, but it has some glaring flaws in it that drags the film down.

1. CGI and Design of Monsters

TNJAoIK
See the resemblance?

Okay, so sure, the monsters differ in color, head, there are two extra appendages and the MUTO has the power of flight. But where is the originality in this monster?

In the early to mid 1960’s Toho’s special effects team cranked out designs for Mothra (1961) , Godzilla in King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), Manda from Atragon (1963), Dagora (1964), Baragon (1965) from Frankenstein Conquers the World, Sanda and Gaira (1966) to name a few. And these weren’t even made on computers, rather they were rendered as pencil sketches by none other than Eiji Tsuburaya. His monsters were completely original and had character. You know, as much as a giant monster fighting other giant monsters can have character.

It just disappoints me that we have all this incredible technology that can produce and animate things quickly, and the best we can come up with is a rehash of the Cloverfield Monster. Oh please.

I mean sure, not every monster is going to have originality in design, and maybe not have original powers too. Some of Toho’s designs had outside influences.

But the difference is they created value by staying constistant and making it their own. Toho invented new and unique elements and ideas, and made it feel special throughout the entire film. In Godzilla 2014, the EMP blast could have been a unique idea if had it not have been comprised when the plot needed it to be.

Also, at times the CGI had to be in a dark backdrop in order to make the monsters seem more realistic, but this make the fight scenes a little bit hard to see.

2. Balance of Human Sentiment and Monster Action

The movie creates the just right amount of tension for their characters, but more often than not it focuses too much on details that are really not necessary to the plot of the movie. Human sentiments took up center stage, while news reports hardly ever focused on Godzilla’s massive save, even after he was proven innocent.

The whole segment with the Japanese child getting separated from his parents was unwanted and uninteresting. That time could have been devoted to better action sequences or Godzilla doing something other than swim next to the Navy. Was there not something more interesting he could do, rather than cruise with ships?

And for some very frustrating reason, the camera always cut away to some rather irrelevant human action after giving the audience a sneak peak of Godzilla. It‚Äôs understandable to introduce the monster in this way ‚Äď it is senseless, however, to continue in this pattern throughout the movie.

Also, for fans of the series, we all know what Godzilla looks like. Hell, even some non-fans do. There is a bit less suspense on a monster that has already been seen, even from adaptation to adaptation.

It also sends the audience into fits of frustration. The only question on my mind after an hour and a half of the movie, was: when the hell are we going to see Godzilla? This is supposed to be an action movie, right?

Godzilla’s two moments of glory were when he bit the face off the male MUTO and later ripped the female one apart. I wanted more of a fight between the creatures, as opposed to the prolonged military action we got to witness. It was all pretty standard stuff really.

Final Thoughts

For all my bitching about the flaws of this film, I don’t deny that there are good moments in the movie and some good potential for the franchise itself.

It made an estimated $93 million in the US and $103 million internationally during its debut, towering over Universal Pictures ‚ÄúNeighbors‚ÄĚ and taking its places in the No. 1 spot. And from this revenue and success in the first weekend of its release, Legendary Pictures and Universal Pictures have announced a sequel.

So, the film accomplished its main goal and that was to introduce this legendary beast to western audience allowing for potential growth. I will definitely be watching the new Godzilla sequel when it comes out.

7 out of 10

The Little Sequel that Could: Cinderella 3

Go Cindy, go!
Go Cindy, go!

Avid Disney fans of the 90’s and early 2000’s will¬†remember, and probably visibly cringe at, the sudden onslaught of direct-to-video sequels that Disney Toon Studios (once Disney Movietoons) unleashed upon the market. Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid, Fox and the Hound, Pocahontas; hell, even Bambi.

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And, as you’ve probably guessed, these were not made because the studio wanted to give thoughtful, interesting continuations of some of our favorite stories and characters, and certainly not to improve what had already worked for them.

No, these were made because:

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Quality is scarce in most of them. Voice actors change or sound like they’re phoning it in, the music is limited and half-hearted, the audio quality is bad or average, and the animation is less vibrant and lively, with more lines. Like a cartoon show you’d see on t.v.

All of these factors are, of course, in comparison to the original films.

Allow me to quote the notable critic and online personality, Nostalgia Chick, as I believe she put it best:

“…sometimes you have to ask yourself: why do these things exist? Are they the product of a creative spark somewhere? Or are they a studio mandate farmed out to a third-rate production house?”

“As they were made by television people with television¬†assets and budgets, they look like T.V. shows. They are paced like T.V. shows. They have the stakes of a T.V. episode.”

“…a quick cash-in made for stupid children who need to be babysat by Uncle Television for an hour…”

~Top Ten Worst Disney Sequels review

She goes on to outline the usual set up for a Disney sequel. It’s either a prequel, midquel, three-part obvious television show pilot, or sequel, and most of them involve the children of the main characters from the old movie learning the same lesson their parents did last time around, or someone “from movie 1 finding a love interest.” They are glorified fan fictions with budgets, except that these are written by the canon creators.

For those unfamiliar with the terms:

Canon is the material accepted as part of the story in an individual fictional universe.

Fanon, or Fandom, is what the fans come up with (their interpretations, theories, pairings, etc.)

As a child, I saw about half of these “films”. I was too young to understand why the overall quality was so bad, but old enough to be able to notice continuity errors, voice changes, and, in general, a lot less epicness all around. The only sequels I could stand to watch, for the longest time, were¬†Lion King 2¬†and¬†Pocahontas 2,¬†and while I have some fond memories of them and wouldn’t say they are “that bad,” I wouldn’t call them good, terribly memorable, or having any high aspirations either.

Cinderella 3: A Twist in Time, however…

On a friend’s recommendation, and the above mentioned critic’s follow-up review (Top Five Least Awful Disney Sequels, I sat down and watched this film the other day. I was surprised by its (relatively) decent quality, and it’s aspirations.

Yes. I would go so far as to say this movie aspires to do something useful, which is to give the bland-as-bread Cinderella and the other by-the-numbers good and evil characters some desperately needed development. Even Prince Charming!

Also, Cindy gets stuff to do, and has to work to keep her happily ever after, which is unique and refreshing to many, who regarded her as boring and passive in her original movie.

But how can that be, you ask?

*Warning: Spoilers Ahead*

Cinderella and Prince Whats-His-Name have been married a whole year, and have apparently never had a single argument the whole time, because everything is “perfectly perfect.”

No, I have not watched¬†Cinderella 2,¬†nor will I. From what I’ve heard, 3 doesn’t care much about the continuity of 2 anyway.

The fairy godmother (who’s back for some reason, bumming around the castle I guess) and mouse and bird friends are preparing a big anniversary dinner, while the stepmother still¬†lives in that dilapidated old manor. Lady Tremaine (yes, the stepmother has a name, but the prince doesn’t) now makes her daughters do the chores.

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That is, if Cinderella were a normal person and not a Christian archetype of goodness, kindness, and patience. I think after what she’s been through, she has a right to gloat a little. And after the events of this movie unfold, you’ll see the full extent of her unrealistic forgiveness.

The anniversary party is happening about a mile from Cindy’s old house, and Anastasia catches sight of the couple riding by and decides to follow them.

Two things to note here:

1) Anastasia is now a sweet, clumsy, quirky, misled girl, who is going to be unwittingly used by her mother to keep the plot going.

Cinderella III Anastasia and the slipper

I’m all for giving her a personality and not painting her as¬†“just evil,” as Disney has done with villains in the past, but this does create a humorous contrast to the chick in the first movie that was just as nasty as her sister, Drizella, and viciously abused Cinderella with her for many years. Need we forget that lovely dress-tearing scene?

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Maybe she was just sweetly misled there too. Who knows?

Nature vs. nurture again…

2) All of this opening and introduction of the characters is taking place via the most cheesy, ear-bleedingly awful musical number. I won’t say it’s the worst of the bunch (there are only about 3 songs, and the rest is background music), because that honor goes to “At the Ball,” sung later by the comic relief mice. I won’t subject you to that one.

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Mary Poppins can pull off “practically perfect in every way,” but on Cinderella, it’s just obnoxious.

The only mildly interesting part of the song is the contrast in score when Cindy and¬†the step sisters sing, but you’ll probably be distracted by the purposely awful singing of the latter. Anastasia sounds like she has a nice voice just itching to get out sometimes, but because she’s a villain-turned-anti-hero, I’m guessing the director told the voice actress to be less graceful and more comedic. Keep up that nasal, Tress!

Anyway…

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Shenanigans happen. The fairy godmother loses her wand, which conveniently lands in front of Anastasia after everything from the first movie was exposited to her, and it then ends up in the hands of Lady Tremaine. The fairy godmother is put out of commission, and the stepmother turns back time and alters things so that Anastasia is set to marry the prince. For extra insurance, she makes sure he’s totally cool with it.

Cinderella looks on like a kicked puppy (something she does on and off as she and her hopes ride the emotional roller coaster that is this movie’s plot), then sings a song that totally doesn’t rip¬†off the opening to¬†The Sound of Music and¬†“Belle”‘s reprise from Beauty and the Beast¬†at the end.

This is like if Belle, halfway through her song, did a complete 180.

“Do I want a man or adventure, or both? I’m so confused!”

But good for her, realizing that having dreams means you have to actually work for them. Take steps and all that jazz.

She marches off to the castle, sidekicks in tow, to defy fate and go get her man.

Yay Feminism!
Yay Feminism!

If I may pause here to mention some more things:

1) The comedy is all over the place. Sometimes it’s funny, with Drizella being the snarky bridge between the cold, quiet, poised stepmother and the clumsy, tactless, thoughtless¬†Anastasia, but most of the time the writers are trying way too hard. It feels heavy-handed and way too purposeful.

The scenes where the mice try to be funny are just painful. It’s colorful, shiny kid-pandering at its finest.

2) The continuity is all over the place, as you might have guessed, but to be fair, it probably¬†wouldn’t bother most people.

It bothers me because¬†Disney is trying to tell me this is Cinderella, but they don’t even remember their first film or care about the little details enough to try to convince me. They think that all I, or anyone, need to see is Cindy, and I’ll think, “Oh, it’s Cinderella. Okay!”

In the words of Nostalgia Chick yet again, “Brand. Name. Recognition!”

These things undermine some otherwise poignant, witty moments, like when the King is criticizing his son for how he’s chosen to determine his bride:

King: “Those aren’t reasons! Breeding, refinement! These are reasons to marry¬†someone! Not their choice in transparent footwear!…You think there’s only one woman in the whole kingdom who wears a size 4 and 1/2?”

Prince: “It’s all I have to go on, here.”

Now, this seems pretty funny. They’re poking fun at themselves and winking at the audience. Cool.

May I direct your attention to this little clip?:

Yeah…so…The king is getting all up in the prince’s business over a plan that he basically came up with. He used the prince’s wording to trap him into marrying¬†someone. Anyone.¬†“That’s his problem.”

The original king didn’t care about breeding and refinement. He just wanted grandkids before he croaked. And since “every eligible maiden (was) to attend,” class¬†must not have been that huge of a factor.¬†Or love, for that matter.

Incidentally, the king and grand duke are probably the funniest things about Cinderella.

Here are a few other nitpicks:

  • Lady Tremaine¬†doesn’t react when her cat is turned into a hybrid duck/cat thing by magic, but she does realize the potential of the wand when it turns the fairy godmother to stone. Delayed reaction maybe?

 

  • Anastasia is almost perfectly content trampling on Cinderella’s happiness from the get go, but only realizes later that she was hurting people, and herself, by trying to force the prince to love her. I know she is dense, but she must have her brain completely shut off if we’re supposed to believe she’s really a nice person. Even as she starts questioning herself and her choices later on.

 

  • Lady Tremaine takes them back in time to when the grand duke first arrived at the manor, then shows Cinderella locked in her room and the mice bringing her the key before the duke even comes inside. The mice only got the key in the original movie once the duke was there and his servant was reading off a ridiculously long proclamation. Also, Cindy is apparently so confused as the duke is wheeling away Anastasia, that she talks to the stepmother as though the woman hadn’t just figured out that she was the girl from the ball and purposefully locked her in her room. ¬†And Cinderella saw this.

 

  • Cinderella doesn’t sing like her 50’s voice actress at all. This is really petty and a personal problem, I know, but it’s my review. Cindy had a lovely voice and singing style before, and now she just sounds nice in a very generic sort of way.

 

Cinderella gets caught and¬†banished by the stepmother, but the prince, alerted by the mice and somewhat able to see past the spell by…having touched Cindy’s hand, goes after her.

More on the hand thing later.

Okay, that whole scene was pretty funny.

(Note: Sorry the clip is limited. The king thought he was crazy because the prince off-handedly mentioned talking mice and blue birds telling him he was marrying the wrong girl. Yet more chuckling at the first film’s ludicrous elements)

The prince saves Cindy just in the nick of time (proving to us and his horse that he is utterly suicidal). The stepmother and her daughters flee, the wedding is on with the right girl this time. Looks like things will go back to normal…

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Lady Tremaine appears again, this time magically disguising Anastasia as Cinderella. Anastasia seems more unsure than usual, but goes along with it because she’s cowed, desperate, and has no self-respect whatsoever.

in time!
in time!

That was delightfully creepy and ironic. I approve!

Note here that Cindy has been sent off to her death, and Anastasia has nothing to say on the matter at all. Her motivations and hatred or care for Cinderella are very vague.

In an even more ironic and satisfying twist, Cinderella essentially saves herself from certain death! You’ll have to see this one for yourself to believe it, but it’s true! One of Disney’s most passive princesses had a shining moment of awesome action!

…Okay, the mice do help her a bit. But they are in the same boat as she was (careening towards certain doom), and it is still an awesome scene that is worth the 5 or so minutes it would take you to check it out.

And hey, at least she didn’t need a¬†prince.

So Cindy goes back to stop the wedding, but not before Anastasia decides that she wants real love and stops it herself via the rarely played card, “I don’t.”

Huh. Usually, we get, “I object!”

I approve of this too. Shake up the old clichés a bit, I say!

The ending is a bit quick, anti-climactic, and repetitive (a spell bounces off a reflective surface for the third or fourth time, hitting the caster in the face), but Cinderella and Princey get married, too busy making googly eyes to notice the fairy godmother’s offer to return them to their full year of peace and marital bliss from the beginning of the film. I guess it doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things anyway, but I think it at least deserved a scrap of thought on their part.

GET A ROOM, YOU TWO!
GET A ROOM, YOU TWO!

Anastasia, who has been talking to the now true-lovey-dovey king on and off throughout the movie, decides to find her true love elsewhere, which is hastily pushed into the credits with broken continuity from Cinderella 2. 

Hooray for no loose ends
Hooray for no loose ends

Sometimes, I got the vibe that she would end up with the king in the end. Can’t imagine why.

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After all this nitpicking and grumbling about the flaws of the film, I still have plenty of respect for it. Unlike other Disney sequels, it wasn’t boring or terribly contrived. The stakes were high, I daresay even higher than the first film. The movie was decently enjoyable to watch, even with the (at times) cringe-inducing comedy.

Cinderella 3: A Twist in Time¬†was trying to give us a thoughtful¬†addition to the classic story, some self-referential humor and parody, and¬†Cindy and her man getting some personality, something to like about them besides just “they seem nice, I guess.” The writers made mistakes here and there, some glaring and some small, but they were clearly trying harder here than they had in some of the other sequels. I firmly believe that this deserved a theatrical release a lot more than¬†Peter Pan 2¬†did.

The biggest problems have to do with the jumbled messages. Love is something you have to find and work for, it’s one of the most powerful forces on earth. I agree, but the whole “when our hands touched, I knew” sentiment feels like just another “true love’s kiss.” They swapped one superficiality for another, and tried to call it deeper.

It undermines the message even more that the prince is never named once in this film, by Cindy or anyone else. And besides sword fighting and horse riding (if you stretch a little), does he have any hobbies?

I’m sure some people do feel “fireworks” during a first kiss, or feel that their partner’s “hand fits perfectly in theirs,” but Cindy and the prince still aren’t really getting to know each other. Even the king and his klutzy queen, who we never see and who also touched hands and knew it was meant to be from the start, feel like a stronger, more real couple than our two mains.

Yay Feminism!
Yay Feminism!

That said, I never really had a problem with Cinderella’s passivity. I like the look and sound and feel of¬†Cinderella¬†a lot more than I like the titular character or her husband-to-be. Also, Eleanor Audley voiced the original stepmother, making her sound despicable even when she wast doing much. I just brought it up because I know that a lot of people, particularly feminists, have a problem with her attitude (or lack thereof), and like to totally ignore the fact that this film came out in the 50’s. The 1950’s, which was totally the golden age of social progressive thinking.

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You will find yourself caring about Cindy in this movie, however interesting or deep you personally find her or her man. You know, in that kicked puppy sort of way. She’s always been a nice person, and her happily-ever-after after a life of chores and verbal abuse is snatched away from her.

It’s a little more earned than in¬†Cinderella,¬†and she’s fighting for what she wants the whole movie.

So Cinderella 3 is a mixed bag.

Is it great?

Not really.

Does it succeed at what it’s trying to do?

Again, not really.

Is it worth checking out?

Oh, definitely. Take what I’ve said and your own track record with Disney sequels with a grain of salt, and you might find a small, murky diamond in a sea of rough.

*As usual, no photos, gifs, or video clips belong to me! Disney’s Cinderella, her characters, and sequels belong to…well, Disney.¬†

Mary and Max: An Underrated Classic

This film stars Philip Seymour Hoffman as the second titular character. There. Semi-relevant!

Other fun fact: It also came out the same year as Coraline, at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.

Mary and Max¬†is the story of two people living on opposite ends of the world in the 1970’s, whose lives are confusing, bleak, and lonely.

Mary D. Dinkle is a little girl living with her family in Australia. Her mother is the local lush with a penchant for verbal abuse and kleptomania; her father seems passive, assembles tea bags and stuffs dead birds he finds on the freeway as a hobby; and Mary herself is constantly teased for her poo-shaped birthmark and her poor, trailer trash background.

Max J. Horowitz is an obese,¬†atheist¬†44-year-old¬†with Aspergers¬†Syndrome. He converted from Judaism, but still wears his yamaka¬†to keep his “brain warm,” and lives in an apartment in New York City with a plethora of different pets. He¬†finds most people confusing, from their facial expressions to their motives, and strives to keep his life simple and “symmetrical,” which keeps him calm and content. When his fellow New Yorkers don’t find something objectionable, threatening, or noteworthy¬†about him, they ignore him.

These two meet when Mary decides to pick an American penpal at random from the phonebook, and despite the distance and completely separate lives, they quickly bond over The Noblets, their favorite cartoon show; a love of chocolate; and the knowledge they are both social outcasts in desperate want of a friend.

Their differences in¬†ages, shapes, sizes,¬†genders, etc. don’t matter. They speak only via mail, and know only what the other person shares with them. But their friendship is just as close and nourishing as if they lived just up the street from one another.

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The thing that really stands out about the film is the use of claymation. Disregarding the very bleak and limited color scheme, you’d probably think this is a kids’ movie. It’s not, but feel free to think what you want.¬†It will take joy in¬†playing with your expectations.

The clay often gives the characters very over-exaggerated, ugly looks,

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with the exception of Mary (first pic of the bunch above, on the left), who, at worst, looks plump, nerdy, and shy. This effect leaves the world feeling gritty and pecessmistic; real, in a way,¬†alive but still obviously cartoony. Facial expressions are over-the-top, but tell the audience right away exactly what the character is feeling (even Max sometimes). It’s a very odd combination, but that’s one of the reasons I¬†love¬†the movie¬†so much.

Most of the film is done in mime, with narration and dialogue seeming separate from the characters. This reminds me most of Disney’s¬†Legend of Sleepy Hollow,¬†which also relied on cartoony expressions and antics to carry the story further. In that case, it was needed to break up some of the more “flowery,” straight-from-the-book narration for kids, and provide a humorous contrast. Here, it compliments the narration and goes beyond its limits to show more depth of character and emotion.

The story is downright unpleasant at times, as many realistic and depressing things happen to Mary, Max, and the important people in their lives. I won’t spoil them here, but if you are interested in this movie at all, be prepared for sensitive and unpleasant topics. And at no point does anyone step out into the land of Oz, changing the scenery¬†into glorious Technicolor. Get used to seeing¬†brown, grey, and red.

The movie has its moments of humor as well, mostly when the two main characters have childish ideas of, or nonchalant attitudes towards, something that is strange or horrible. Along those lines, Mary and Max will recite things that they have heard like small children whose parents or older siblings just swore in front of them for the first time.

These are the kind of laughs that get startled out of you. It’s black comedy, which is an acquired taste for some.

Despite its grim situations and attitudes, like the main characters, the movie often has a certain child-like optimism¬†to it as well. Themes of death, othering,¬†and bullying are accompanied by¬†themes of friendship, hope, and forgiveness, which can be just as strongly-felt.¬†The characters transcend beyond stereotypes like the “aspie” or the generic bullied kid with their unique hobbies, views, and reactions. There are many bullied little girls out there (I was one once), but I think you’ll find that¬†there is only one Mary Daisy Dinkle.

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The music is simple and minimalist, comprised of different pieces, such as: “Perpetuum Mobile” (Penguin Cafe Orchestra), “A Swinging Safari” (Bert Kaempfert), and “Russian Rag” (Elena Kats-Chernin). It’s repetitive, often functioning as leimotif for different moods, locations, and characters. I think it sets the mood, and even accents it, well at times.

One uber-specific¬†aspect of this film that¬†I’d like to praise is the symbolism of Max’s typewriter. He writes all of his letters with it, while Mary’s early notes are all hand-written and misspelled, and we can clearly see that the “m” key is smack-dab in the middle of his typewriter. In essence, Mary¬†quickly becomes¬†the center of¬†Max’s otherwise lonely world.

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When¬†a misunderstanding puts the two at odds, Max, in a fit of rage, rips out the “m” key and sends it to Mary in a parcel. This tells her that he doesn’t want to speak with her anymore, without any written words to literally spell it out. Later, Max tries to type a letter to the mayor, but he slowly realizes that, despite typing as he normally does, all of his “m’s” are missing. Then he runs out of ink completely. He purchases more, but that doesn’t change the fact that words containing “m” are out of his reach. He couldn’t even type his own name, unless he bought a new key, which he doesn’t.

Without the “m” key, he loses his very ability to communicate. With Mary, or anyone else. Friendship helped him cope with the confusion and stress of¬†life, and he realizes how much he needs it only when it’s gone. He concludes this all on his own, while Mary realizes that she also took their bond for granted, and feels exceedingly guilty.

Nothing is worth giving up your great, meaningful connections. At least, nothing trivial, or coming from unaddressed miscommunications.

Even disregarding the two distant, global settings, America and Australia, this film goes out of its way to give you a genuine, universal human experience. Mary and Max acknowledges that life is different for everybody; some people have it easier, and some have it harder. But whoever you are, you need at least one friend, and you need to come to grips with your own flaws and hiccups.

*Pictures and video are the property of Icon Entertainment International

 

 

Mother’s Day Special: Coraline

Happy Mother’s Day 2014, everyone!

Being a parent has got to be one of the most thankless jobs out there. For mothers especially. They carry a whole new life inside of them, bring it into the world through no shortage of blood, sweat, and tears, then set about preparing that child for the life ahead of them.

They don’t get paid in money. They get paid in tantrums, dirty diapers, teenage rebellion, and, later, abandonment.

Well, okay…not abandonment. Every kid has to leave at some point. If your kid is living in your basement at forty, it may be time to talk out some new arrangement.

But even after all the insanity mothers go through, they get a wonderful, yet bittersweet gift: the sight of a job well done (hopefully), and the realization that everything has changed. Their babies aren’t their babies anymore. They won’t need them like they used to.

Oh well. Kids are gone! Cruise time, baby! ūüôā

That isn’t to say that being a mother was all pain, but it’s no cakewalk, and we kids can be pretty forgetful sometimes. Not ungrateful, but spoiled. We see a very limited, one-sided view of things for a while. We butt heads; moms vs.¬†daughters, sons vs.¬†fathers. Switch it up from time to time, and there you go. That’s a family.

So for today, I’d like to talk about another movie I love. A movie for kids, with a kid protagonist, who learns to appreciate everything, and everyone, that she has. Especially her mother.

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*Note: No, I haven’t read the book yet, so this isn’t a comparison. Maybe someday.

The titular character, Coraline, is a kid from Michigan, whose parents, Charlie and Mel Jones, “write about plants, and (they) hate dirt.” Often busy with their deadlines, they¬†don’t have a lot of time for her, especially as they deal with moving into an old apartment building in Oregon. There’s a lot to get done, and only so much time to do it.

Unimpressed with the rundown apartment and the eccentric neighbors, Coraline grumbles to her parents repeatedly, who, in turn, tell her to go play elsewhere. A bit neglectful, maybe, but they’re doing the best that they can. Kids watching the film will probably miss that, at first, just like Coraline does.

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Mel is the sterner of the two, a woman with a very dry sense of humor, who¬†keeps the family on track with what needs to be done. Charlie is the goofy, inept, but lovable dad, when his face isn’t glued to the computer screen. For the minute or so of screen time that these two get per scene, they offset one another’s personalities very well.

But Mel is clearly the one playing the disciplinarian most often, as we see particularly in one early scene, where Coraline goes behind her back to try and get permission from Charlie so she can garden in the rain and mud.

“What’d the boss say?”

“DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT, CORALINE JONES!”

“Well then, you won’t need the tools.”

Kids these days, am I right?

Coraline is given a strange doll that bears her likeness, then discovers a small, locked door against the wall of the room.

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Coraline movie image

What looks to be a passage between the houses,¬†sealed up with bricks by day, is actually a doorway to a parallel world. A place where everything is more fantastical, colorful, and fun, with everything centered on keeping Coraline happy. She meets her “other” parents and neighbors, all with buttons for eyes, and despite being initially uneasy in their presence, thinking she’s in a dream, Coraline warms up to them quickly and realizes that the place is real. As she starts to seek the world out herself, rather than just be summoned to it, she complains more and more that this “other” life is better than her real one.

“But it’s all a trap.”

The world was constructed by a being known as the beldam, or the “other mother,” a witch with the power to transform herself and her world as she likes, ensnaring children so that she can feed and steal their souls. This she does by sewing buttons into the children’s eyes.

Are you having fun yet, kids?
Are you having fun yet, kids?

She’s kind and accommodating at first, telling Coraline that she could stay in this world forever, but only if she accepts the buttons. Coraline denies this and manages to escape, with the help of the spirits of previous trapped children,

More delightful nightmare fuel!
More delightful nightmare fuel!

but discovers that her real parents are gone, stolen away by the other mother. To save them, she returns to the world and challenges the other mother to a game that will save everyone. The ghost children, Mel and Charlie, and Coraline herself.

It’s a kids’ film, so I’m sure you can guess that it ends well, but it’s a very chilling tale nonetheless. I could do a whole other review of it when Halloween rolls around. It’s one of my personal favorites ever. ¬†ūüôā

But back to mothers.

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Coraline is repeatedly frustrated with her real mother, who in turn feels frustrated with her. Neither person is perfectly happy, and the other is barely helping them with that.

The other person, that is. Not the other mother.

The other mother uses the situation to her advantage, spying through doll eyes to find out what Coraline dislikes and what she can do to improve it. She gets Coraline to forget what she has, and in the end, Coraline realizes how lucky she is to just be alive and safe with her family.

Anything taken for granted will make you regretful¬†when it’s gone.

Coraline is unhappy, viewing¬†everything selfishly like the kid that she is. She’s forced to move away from friends, to a whole new place where everything is broken down and weird, and her parents are snappish and ignorant of her. She doesn’t see that things will get better, that she will adjust to new friends, a new school, and a new life.

At one point, she wants her real mother to buy her a pair of gloves that she takes a liking to, but¬†her mother says no. Coraline was thinking that the gloves would help her stand out in an otherwise boring school uniform, showing off just a little bit of her personality. She wants the gloves, thinking they’ll help ease her transition into a new school, and was¬†sure her mother would buy them for her. It’s gloves after all, not video games or a flat screen t.v.

Now, Mel probably decided to stick to her guns when Coraline was rude and didn’t take no for an answer, but we kids have all had those moments. You know, where parents say no for what seems like no real reason at all. It makes no sense and is so frustrating!

This doesn’t make her a bad person, just shortsighted and young. She doesn’t know all the things that her parents are going through, nor is much of it shown to us, the audience; all of the stress they’re facing, and how much harder she makes things by not cooperating. It doesn’t help that the other mother is spoiling her so she can eventually eat Coraline’s eye-soul.

One of the hardest lessons for a parent to learn is that sometimes, disciplining your children is more important than making them happy. Even if you love them and want to be their friend, you’re a parent first and foremost.

But none of the real members of the Jones family¬†are completely at fault. They’re just victims of the circumstances.

Among the other things that I love about this movie, I love the real feeling of the relationships, the initial (kind of) tragedy of Coraline’s one-sided point of view, and the growth of Coraline as a character, as she rises to the seemingly impossible challenges before her.

Coping with her loss, before she realizes where her parents are.
Coraline coping with her loss, before she finds out where her parents are.

She realizes why she loves and needs her parents (by facing a short time when they aren’t neglectful, but completely gone), feels genuine regret that she wanted to abandon them for a superficial unreality, and even ventures back into her nightmares in order to save them.

And in the end, her efforts are rewarded, but unacknowledged. Her parents don’t remember anything.

*cough cough* Spoliers….not really *cough cough*

Coraline is an inventive, stop-motion puppet horror flick, a cautionary modern fairytale that doubles as a great coming of age adventure. Even if some¬†kids watching the movie don’t see the real-life parallels with their parents, I certainly did. Maybe they are just to busy peeing their pants.

*Note, again: If you are a parent reading this and are trying to decide whether or not to let¬†your kids watch this movie, make sure they are mature enough to handle it. Not old enough, because age can very depending on the kid, but definitely mature enough. It can be plenty nightmarish for crybabies, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t ever be viewed.

If, somehow, I had traipsed off to some fantasy world where everything was sunshine, rainbows, and…buttons, I wouldn’t have grown up at all. And, you know, died.

Kids and adults alike can enjoy this movie, and take away their own unique messages if they pay close attention.¬†There’s a very real danger in shutting yourself out of the real world, staying a child inside for the rest of your life. Fantasies are fine, but not when they rule you.

As a wise wizard from another magical movie once said, “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”

So, yeah. Life isn’t always great, and situations aren’t always ideal. People you love will sometimes let you down. We’re all human beings; making mistakes is what we do. I’ll probably make a million with my kids one day.

But Coraline reminded me that bad times don’t last forever, that it’s good to be skeptical (“if it seems too good to be true, it probably is”), and that a life of balance is a happy, healthy one. Be a kid when you’re a kid, and an adult in the proper time.

And maaaaaaaybe my mom may have helped me see¬†that a little bit, too. Maybe even that goofy dad of mine. ūüôā Who knows?

All pictures come from the movie, which is owned by Laika, Pandemonium, and distributed by Focus Features and Universal Pictures.

Summer Wars Review

This time, let’s take a break from rants and trashing stuff.

This, in my opinion, isn’t a good movie. It’s a great one.

Don’t click away just yet! I know what you’re probably thinking, but stay! Prove me wrong and show me your attention span isn’t that tiny!

Oh, look! A butterfly!

No two Japanese anime shows or movies are alike, but a lot of them have similar elements. Most of them take place in Japan or mystical worlds based on Japan. They have a lot of cultural references and humor, the latter mostly composed of homonyms, puns, pain, and humiliation. They tend to focus on character growth and relationships (not always romantic), and often teach those characters, and by extension the audience, the importance of nature and humanity.

A lot of Americans in particular write Japanese animation off for being childish, perverted, silly, or just too foreign. Which is a shame.

That’s why you were going to leave this page, wasn’t it? Be honest.

Kevin Butler sees all, knows all....
Kevin Butler sees all, knows all….

Some anime are shallow or lack substance, certainly, but it’s hardly a genre-wide problem. As with other genres and styles, it’s all about knowing what you like, knowing where to look for it, and trying new things from time to time.

And if reading subtitles and listening to Japanese isn’t your thing, search or wait for the English language version, or dub. They’re out there, and thanks to anime’s ever-growing popularity outside of Japan, many are of as good, if not better, quality than the Japanese dubs.

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*sighs* I’d better turn in my geek card. I’m pretty sure I just committed heresy.

Anyways, Summer Wars takes place in Japan, but a good portion of the movie takes place on the world-wide web, and has stakes that are important to the rest of the world. The jokes are mostly based on the context of the situation, rather than obscure (to Americans) Japanese history and culture. The film has elements of culture that are not terribly distracting or confusing, give the movie a distinct flavor, and may in fact get a few more uninitiated viewers to do a little research post viewing.

As for the story itself, without giving out too many spoilers, think the family from¬†My Big Fat Greek Wedding¬†in Japan, discovering and fighting off a HAL-esque computer virus. A big family slice-of-life mixed in with a cautionary tale about heavy reliance on machines and automation. And it’s one of those rare instances where the film doesn’t push the opposite extreme as the solution.

The Characters:

kenji

Our main character is Kenji Koiso, a quiet, nerdy almost-mathlete who works as a moderator on OZ, a virtual reality/social networking/gaming site where anything and everything that you want to do is possible. People have accounts that are in charge of everything, from controlling water pipes and traffic lights to allowing people to play games and do their shopping.

NatsukiShinohara1

He gets roped in to a scheme by Natsuki Shinohara, the most popular girl in school, to come home with her and be her pretend boyfriend (for pay), so that she can assure her sick, aging great-grandmother that she’s fine, happy, and taking care of herself and her future. You know, in case the old lady, now pushing 90, passes away.

Then Kenji meets Natsuki’s family, all gathering in preparation of the great-grandmother’s birthday.

As you might imagine, hijinks ensue.

Kenji is, as I’ve mentioned, nerdy, shy, and well-meaning. He’s a great contrast to Natsuki, who is really upbeat and not afraid to come out and say what she wants. The two are charming and engaging enough, skirting the lines of their stereotypes a bit without coming across as boring and one-note. They are fine protagonists (although I wish Natsuki got a little more screen time, talking about what she’s going through. We do get thoughtful glances though).

The family really makes this movie for me.

SUMMER-WARS-screen-caps-09-520x346

Similar to The Hobbit films with their dwarves, or, as previously mentioned, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the Jinnouchi (Natsuki’s) family has a lot of characters and only so much time spent getting to know them. But the difference (from Hobbit¬†specifically)¬†is that their actions, however few and simplistic, let you know who these people are immediately.

F2934F357

Mansuke¬†is a hardy, stubborn, nostalgic fisherman who is really passionate about his job and doesn’t take nonsense.

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Kazuma is the bullied kid who shuts himself out of the real world and lives almost entirely through his computer, training in martial arts to deal with his anger and bully problems.

granny

The great-grandmother, ¬†Sakae, values family and communion more than anything, and she’s not afraid to fight (sometimes literally) for what is right and what needs to be done.

There are many others, like the aunts, daughters, and wives, who are all “take-charge” women.

summer_wars_3-300x167

Watching this family eat dinner, you will easily be reminded of people in your own family. The ones who butt into your business, for your sake or theirs, and gossip or try to “help” you; the crazy, bratty kids and cousins; the problem children, or black sheep; the apple of the family’s eye; etc. There’s something to like about everyone, even when they make mistakes.

The story is great as it is, but I would have enjoyed a movie just about these people, interacting and going about life. They are that compelling.

*Fun fact: the Jinnouchi family is based on a real family from Ueda, where most of the movie takes place.

Some of them might be stereotypes, but that’s not done for the sake of mean-spirited humor. It shows that the family is large and full of different people, but they are all willing to come together when any one member is threatened.

And, in its optimistic altruism, the film portrays the entire world this way.

The Animation:

This film came from well-known animation studio Madhouse, which gave the anime community such gems as Trigun and Death Note, and director Mamoru Hasoda (formerly with Madhouse, but who left two years after this film came out to found his own studio, Chizu), who gave said community The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Wolf Children. 

For people who grew out of anime, but watched the stuff as a kid, you may also recognize Hasoda from parts of Digimon: The Movie, as cobbled together by Fox Kids.

The movie is a blend of traditional and 3D CGI animation, with the latter looking like a pretty decent video game. Which it’s meant to, by the way; Hasoda said he based it off of Nintendo games, and the world of OZ itself has numerous virtual gaming areas. It’s bright and colorful, and the shapes and designs are nicely varied. Kenji’s avatar in OZ looks vastly different from that of his friend, which looks like a 2D, pixel sprite face.

The scenes out-of-OZ are gorgeously drawn, with softer colors and more visible, defining lines. The best way I can describe it is inviting. The movements of characters are, surprisingly at times, hyperbolic and goofy, but in a charming, engaging sort of way.

The two styles blend relatively well, with the popping CG and the more understated hand-drawn animation each showcasing action, drama, and suspense in their own ways. It’s quite a feast for the eyes.

The Music:

Not much to say here, other than it just fits.

Some songs are more memorable than others, such as the music in the opening when Kenji is meeting the family members step by step, and the ending theme, which is relaxed, happy, and very minimalist in terms of instrumentals. The rest is fitting, but blends together at times and is, at least to my mind, just okay. It works for what it is, but I wouldn’t necessarily buy the soundtrack.

The Acting:

Or, in this case, the voice acting!

I haven’t seen the Japanese version yet-

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*sighs*

I haven’t seen the Japanese language version, but I plan to soon. If you want the film in its “purest” form, with nothing altered or dumbed down at all, see the Japanese version. I’m sure the seiyu (Japanese voice actors) do a wonderful job; I haven’t heard otherwise, by myself or from others, yet.

The English dub was handled by Funimation, which has a veritable phonebook of great English voice talent. I won’t bother listing them all here, even the most notable of actors (because those of you who know, know, and those who don’t probably won’t care), but I will¬†say that they do a wonderful job creating “characters” for their characters and deserve a listen too. Or a watch, I suppose. ūüôā

Dubs vs. Subs (subtitled in English, but voiced in the original language) is a debate for another day. Lay off me, fanboys and girls!

What else is there to say, without spoiling the thing? It’s a good movie that is totally worth your time. Even if you don’t think so, it is. Sit through thirty minutes at least, then come back and comment to me if you aren’t even remotely interested. There might be something wrong with you, and I can surely help you contact someone to get it checked out right away.

Still…

No video or pictures belong to, or were made, by me. As usual. Support the official release of¬†Summer Wars¬†and at least¬†give anime a try once. You might decide you like it ūüôā

 

 

 

 

Katy Perry’s “Birthday”

I finally got around to doing a song review! Is it my birthday already?

I’d say it’s time to party, but Katy Perry has officially ruined parties from here on out.

That’s not to say it’s the worst thing I’ve ever heard…But it’s pretty bad. The way I see it, people are either thinking it’s so bad, it’s good; so bad, it’s horrible; or just feeling kind of indifferent to it.

For reference, this is the song and its accompanying “music video,” if you can even call it that. Given her usual level of silly, semi-sincere tastelessness, I was pretty underwhelmed by the visuals (I was expecting more of a ¬†“Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)¬†kind of skit), and her stand up routine at the beginning was downright painful.

To quote How I Met Your Mother, “Oh, honey…”

For those who have never heard of Katy Perry…well, you probably shouldn’t be reading this. But here are some things to know:

1. Her real name is Katheryn Hudson.

2. She used to sing for the Lord and her pastor parents before strapping whip cream cannons to her bra and dressing like a C+ Lady Gaga.

I can only assume her new status in pop music is constantly giving her family the finger unless they’re reeeeaaaallly relaxed.

3. She’s a pop diva with almost no identity.

Who but Perry can pull off a wild party machine of debauchery, then become the helpless break-up victim who “was so totally committed and faithful to you before you broke her heart, you evil villain!”, all with such detachment and spunk?

4. She’s all about the image, not the music.

I say¬†this¬†because Perry seems like she’s trying to be sexy and “out there;” has tons of writers that “cowrite” her songs with her; and she has an extraordinary, dedicated production team, that can autotune even her (at times) strangled cat voice into something pleasing to the ear.

A lot of fans will argue that last one, but if you’ve ever seen (or rather, heard) her live, you know what I mean. “Nerves and onstage performing and blah blah blah.” She can sing in the sense that she opens her mouth and makes sound come out. That doesn’t mean she’s great at it, or was trained. Her breathing is frequently off.

She is a studio gem that they continue to polish with every new song.¬†People love to praise her, but refuse to give the audio guys their due because they don’t know how concerts or audio in general work. Besides autotune, look up “pitch-shifting” and “compression.” Those tend to be used a bit.

Sorry. Just a little tangent there.

Now, I do enjoy some of her songs. There are a few guilty pleasures, even a couple I could say were actually “good.” Look at “Firework” and¬†“The One That Got Away”¬†(go acoustic for this one because it actually sounds sad and sincere) and you definitely see some potential there. And many¬†of her other songs are just fun when you switch your brain off (which is necessary for some of us).

But that said, I don’t think¬†she has much integrity as an artist. And if you too draw that conclusion here or at any point in the future, shhhhhhh! Be careful who you say that to!

Some of her fans make¬†it to be their mission to defend her to the death, even if you’re trying to honestly discuss her. Perry is a big girl, guys, I think she can handle a little criticism. Or if she can’t, she might want to consider a career change.

But on to “Birthday”!

Whether or not you choose to subject yourself to the video or pull this up on iTunes, here are the lyrics:

“I heard you’re feeling nothing’s going right
Why don’t you let me stop by?
The clock is ticking, running out of time
So we should party all night

So cover your eyes,
I have a surprise
I hope you got a healthy appetite
If you wanna dance,
If you want it all
You know that I’m the girl that you should call

Boy, when you’re with me
I’ll give you a taste
Make it like your birthday everyday
I know you like it sweet
So you can have your cake
Give you something good to celebrate

So make a wish
I’ll make it like your birthday everyday
I’ll be your gift
Give you something good to celebrate

Pop your confetti
Pop your Pérignon
So hot and heavy
‘Til dawn
I got you spinning
Like a disco ball
All night they’re playing
Your song

We’re living the life
We’re doing it right
You’re never gonna be unsatisfied
If you wanna dance
If you want it all
You know that I’m the girl that you should call

Boy, when you’re with me
I’ll give you a taste
Make it like your birthday everyday
I know you like it sweet
So you can have your cake
Give you something good to celebrate

So make a wish
I’ll make it like your birthday everyday
I’ll be your gift
Give you something good to celebrate

Happy birthday

So let me get you in your birthday suit
It’s time to bring out the big balloons
So let me get you in your birthday suit
It’s time to bring out the big, big, big, big, big, big balloons

Boy, when you’re with me
I’ll give you a taste
Make it like your birthday everyday
I know you like it sweet
So you can have your cake
Give you something good to celebrate

Boy, when you’re with me
I’ll give you a taste
Make it like your birthday everyday
I know you like it sweet
So you can have your cake
Give you something good to celebrate

So make a wish
I’ll make it like your birthday everyday
I’ll be your gift
Give you something good to celebrate

Happy birthday”

That speaks for itself, doesn’t it?

Musically, this song sounds like the not-so-loved-child of “California Girls” and “The One That Got Away.” This is confusing right off the bat because, despite the fact that both those songs have upbeat instrumentals, the former song is egotism personified while the latter is about regrets and love lost.

We’re off to a great start!

If there is one thing Perry and her handlers are fond of, it’s playing things up and making them stupid. Aggressively, knowingly, sometimes laughably stupid. This song is strung together with lame innuendos¬†and goofy little throw away lines.¬†I’m pretty sure no one except our grandparents has used the term¬†“birthday suit” in the last 30 years at least.

That’s the mark of bad writing right there: using things that no one says in real life, usually when the writer can’t think of a good rhyme. In this case, they used the term because: Birthdays! Get it?!

I love me some bad puns, but ugh! Even I have a limit!

How many people honestly proposition people with birthday innuendos? Who would say any of this stuff, even in jest? I can’t see it working.

…..

You know what? Never mind. I don’t want to know.

In the video, Perry is appearing at multiple birthday parties to varying people, but parts of the video and the tone of the song by itself feel very much like she’s singing to a little boy. And that disturbs me. A lot.

Maybe they intended it to be creepy. Congratulations! You’ve succeeded, team o’ Perry!

Sometimes, pop music makes me feel like I literally need a shower. This made me feel gross, but in a different way than usual…Yay?

It doesn’t help that the music and lyrics are so bouncy and juvenile. It¬†sounds like someone accidentally (or intentionally) hired a stripper for a kid’s birthday party.

Or that nurse from¬†Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

This song made me laugh at first. Now it makes me cringe. It’s obviously trying to be funny, in that “beat you over¬†the head with the obvious” sort of way, while somehow trying¬†to maintain a bit¬†of playful coyness. But “Birthday” also wants to be a decent party song at the same time. I do not think it accomplishes either.

At least “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” had a killer sax bridge.

It’s only funny because of how painfully unfunny and bad it is. Even as a joke song, it ranges from “meh” to pretty awful.¬†Most¬†people who have ridden in the car with me when this song came on looked aghast, thoroughly tormented by the time it ended, and those who laughed after one playing were irked by it the second time.

Also, it’s creepy.

Katy Perry is whatever and whoever she needs to be to get out her records. She might as well be a cardboard standee with a voice box attached to the back for all the intelligence, personality, wit, and actual musical talent she brings to the table. Ironically, she’d be perfect¬†to hire to entertain kids with her bright shiny colors and upbeat nonsense.

“Dark Horse” was a far better song, even if it sounded like “E.T.” and proved that Perry has no concept of metaphors.

Pop music seems very much like one big wish-fulfillment fantasy. The people listening aren’t partying as much as the singers, but they like to pretend they do. And there’s nothing really wrong with that, unless maybe it’s the only thing you listen to.

What kind of fantasy does this particular song sell? It’s not a personal song on Perry’s part, so it must be trying to sell…something…

I started this review thinking I had something to really say about this song. Sadly, by the end, I find nothing. Nothing really fun, meaningful, or different. Just another picture of the assembly-line, mass-produced, sugar high pulp that is unfortunately all too common in pop music. The least it could do is be fun or funnier.

Thankfully, “Birthday” is not an ear worm.

As usual, lyrics and other media present in this blog are not owned by me. 

P.S. If you like pop and are looking for someone who seems “genuine,” is fun to listen to, and can actually sing, check this chick out! She’s my favorite on the radio, just by sheer personality.¬†

Movies, media, and what makes them MASSIVE.