The Giver (2014)

The GiverReleased: August 15, 2014. Directed by: Phillip Noyce. Starring: Brenton Thwaites, Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep. Runtime: 97 min.

Note: Sorry for the font inconsistencies – I really couldn’t figure out how to fix it. 

The Giver starts out exactly like Divergent; with a basic review of what this futuristic community is like, followed by a ceremony where occupations are chosen for each citizen at their 18th birthday (where those in the premise of Divergent were put into different groups of basic personality traits). The second similarity is a love story – which is interesting to think this was a thing in Young Adult literature circa 1993, so not much has changed – but it’s essential to the narrative. These similarities are where they begin and end.

This is a unique young adult novel adaptation because it depicts a perfect world (a utopia, rather than a dreary dystopia in The Hunger Games), one with no violence, pain, suffering, differences or choice. A young man, Jonas (Brenton Thwaites in his first big starring role), is chosen as the Receiver, a position chosen every ten years or so – and it is a position in which he will become the future Giver – to assist the elders with making decisions for the community. You see, the Giver (a mesmerizing Jeff Bridges) has the most knowledge and experience in the whole community, because he holds all of the memories of the old world. The one with hideous violence, but also wondrous beauty.

I think Brenton Thwaites’ (OculusMaleficent) performance is actually memorable because he is different from his peers and not absolutely robotic. He brings some humour to his character, and hope to his peers. Jeff Bridges as The Giver is great because of his love of life and his need to get beauty back to the community. He also brought a welcome amount of humour to his character, though I am almost convinced he’s still stuck in the voice he used for Rooster Cogburn in True Grit. A charming young Israeli actress Odeya Rush (The Odd Life of Timothy Green) portrays Fiona, and is also notable for how well she captures her character’s fear and natural curiosity for change. Taylor Swift portrays one of those characters who play a crucial role in a character’s development but only show up for five minutes. A scene she shares with Bridges and a piano is just lovely.

I think these performers set themselves apart from the rest because everyone else just feels so plain. Especially Cameron Monaghan and Katie Holmes who are both quite boring. Alexander Skarsgård is still boring, but less so than the others. These characters, and every other cookie-cutter citizen, are all about never lying and using the precision of language – so for example, if you want to ask someone if they love you, you must ask instead if they “enjoy” you. At times I wondered if this is what the modern grammar Nazi sounds like.

One enjoyable technical aspect is the utilization of black and white film – which is about half of the runtime, but the other half is in colour. You might notice as the film progresses that B&W and colour are used more and more as a storytelling device to set the film’s tone. Black and white scenes are more robotic and plain, while scenes in colour are usually captivating and intriguing. The more it got into the heart of the film, the more I found myself enjoying it – after a very boring first twenty minutes (though the final minutes left me dissatisfied). One more comment on the technical aspect – the cinematography is absolutely stunning, in both B&W and colour. The Giver is filmed in South Africa, where the settings and nature complement the film’s quality and beauty.

It’s an ugly truth in this premise that in order to have no violence, one also has to surrender race, religion, uniqueness, decision-making, and emotions, among other things. This community is created by characters who focus on the hideousness of the old world, and want to shelter the citizens from it. This character – mostly the Chief Elder – is portrayed by an adequate Meryl Streep. However, the citizens are also being sheltered from the beauty of the world – namely colours, sunsets, and double rainbows. Robin Williams as John Keating in Dead Poets Society said, “…The human race is filled with passion… Poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” That quote does not describe The Giver‘s community, even though it is considered a “perfect” community. Even though our world has violence, one can escape in the beauty of everything around you. It has poetry, romance, love, beauty – but most of all – creativity, and that sounds like the true perfection to me.

Score67/100

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22 Jump Street (2014)

22 Jump StreetReleased: June 13, 2014. Directed by: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube. Runtime: 112 min.

After seeing 21 Jump Street, a reboot of an 80s cop show featuring Johnny Depp, about seven times – it’s safe to say that I was quite excited for 22 Jump Street. Blending enough old and enough new to keep everyone satisfied, this is a great sequel, a satisfying film and just a great time at the movies. This starts out with Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) going undercover at a local college to disrupt the widespread distribution of a new drug called WHYPHY. This stands for Work Hard, Yes; Play Hard, Yes. It gives users the ability to become super focused for four hours – perhaps to help them study – and then they party hard.

Like the first one, they are tasked with finding the dealer and then finding the supplier. There are constant jokes that this investigation is exactly the same thing as the last one. They just have to do the same thing to bust the case wide open, and this cleverly sets our expectations from the get-go. Sometimes the exact same thing bit gets a bit tiresome by the cast mentioning it a bit too much, but it’s all very meta and it has the same clever, self-aware humour that the original possessed. And it also has some funny jokes about sequels this time around. It’s a great formula, too, because the first one was such a success because no one expected that much from it – but directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller jumped on the map (after dabbling with animation, first with Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and then The LEGO Movie earlier this year) and surprised everyone.

The film finds a great pace and comedic momentum to match that of the first. However, the sub-plots are a bit off. Jenko and Schmidt have a role reversal this time around, and a funny, textbook “bromance” is put in place, and it even has little aspects that mirror romantic movies, and it changes this to a bro-mantic movie. Anyway, about the sub-plots. In the first film, when Jenko was being left out of things, and Schmidt was in the heart of the investigation, the film still managed to make both partners’ different social groups have great chemistry with each other and get a few good laughs. This time, Schmidt’s social group, the more artsy poetic types, are mildly funny, but there’s not as much of a focus on them this time around. Instead, the focus is more on the social group that Jenko begins to hang out with: the dumb jocks, featuring a boring Wyatt Russell portraying a guy named Zook. There’s a big bromance focus between Jenko and him, and the character’s just not that great. This sub-plot doesn’t get a ton of laughs, and it makes the film have unfortunate derivative stretches, where Lord and Miller show that the only type of film they shouldn’t direct is a football movie.

Another minor issue: There’s a tiring joke where people still comment on how old Hill and Tatum’s characters look. It’s funny when a pair of twins comment that Hill and Tatum have “crow’s feet,” because the twins actually look young. But when the actress whose schtick is saying that Hill looks like he’s 30 in a lot of different, sometimes funny one-liners, looks to be in her late-20’s herself, it just doesn’t have the same believable effect. In fact, the actress, Jillian Bell, is also thirty years old in real life, the same age as Hill’s character. That part of the humour just doesn’t work. There’s only one other occasion where my suspension of disbelief was stretched. It’s easier to forgive in dumb comedies, but with smart ones like this one, I can’t let it slide as easily.

Don’t get me wrong, the film still truly works. It has dynamite stretches of hilarity, and a great comedic momentum. Hill and Tatum also have a stunning chemistry. It’s also enjoyable that Ice Cube gets deeper into the story, instead of being a bit too sidelined like the first one. The actor’s intense shtick works for the character, a lot more so than it did for his character in Ride Along. I loved this film because it let me leave satisfied, and it’s even greater to know that there are enough movie ideas to make this last longer than the Marvel franchise.

Score: 85/100

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Hemlock Grove, Episode 3, “The Order of the Dragon”

Hemlock GrovePeter and Roman team up to catch the killer who is doing the crimes, and they think it’s a werewolf. Peter (a gypsy/werewolf – whose turning is like a snake that sheds its skin in its entirety, so perhaps that explains the show’s obsession with serpents) is somehow connected to the bad werewolf in dreams. We learn that it’s a vargulf, which is a mentally insane werewolf who kills people for the thrill; while a largulf, like Peter, who never goes out on a full moon on an empty stomach, only kills someone if provoked or attacked. Those terms are only what I think I heard, certain actors have awful pronunciation at times (at one point, when they say upyr, I heard elber). It makes sense why Peter wants to hunt for the killer, because he wants to clear his name as a rumoured suspect, but it’s never clear why Roman wants to help. It seems he’s angry, for some reason? Or maybe just bored? I can’t tell with his acting.

 

He’s a weird character; at one point, when his sister is being interrogated by a pair of idiots who are asking why she killed the girls, he makes the two guys kiss each other. He likes to humiliate people; he’s just weird. Roman and Peter also share a dream, which doesn’t make sense, where Roman shouts at birds and they all fall down at the same time. (Birds wobble and sometimes they do fall down.) It feels insignificant at this point in time. They go to Peter’s cousin Destiny (a lovely Kaniehtiio Horn) for insight. With the average customer, she’s a gypsy con artist – and uses fake magic.

 

There’s a pointless scene where a brother of a worker at the Godfrey Institute is angry that he lost his brother because of it. It adds some danger conspiracy to the Godfrey Institute, and it tries to show that Olivia (Famke Janssen) is feared by all. I don’t buy it. It’s such a weird scene. Anyway, a new character, Clementine, has been introduced. She’s a wildlife worker and she’s been brought into the local investigation of the murders. Christina describes her as a “Hannibal Lecter for animals.” Speaking of Christina; at the beginning of the episode, she discovers the body of a young woman in the middle of the woods. Despite all of the ongoing murders, she assumes it’s a prank corpse torn in half – so she imitates the Red Riding Hood fairy tale, and says “What pretty lips you have!” She kisses the corpse, maybe for the experience? “I kissed a corpse, just to try it!” Tina’s usually smart and observant, but not at this moment.

Since Peter is somehow a prime suspect, Clem also pays him a visit – and calls him a hirsute (very hairy) young man, even though he’s not very hairy beard down. Apparently, a lot of hair is reason to believe that he’s a werewolf. Great logic. This meeting shows that Landon Liboiron (as Peter) is just awful when he’s being overly polite. This mildly boring show hasn’t amounted to much, there’s just a “That’s it?” feeling after every episode.

 

Score: 50/100

 

 

 

 

 

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Hemlock Grove: Episode 2, “The Angel”

Hemlock Grove2This show keeps turning into more and more of a horror soap opera. It’s very moody, and everyone has a lot of secrets. Though, it does have great music and a strong score. In this episode, Peter’s kindness to Roman’s sister Shelley gives the two a reason to bond. They also meet each other after the previous episode’s cliff-hanger ending. They bond by smoking and driving around, but their chemistry is pretty good. It’s an unlikely little friendship. They even pass notes in class like eighth graders.

 

We learn that the Godfrey’s have made a name for themselves in experimentation, and making people as normal as they could be. Roman’s cousin Letha (Penelope Mitchell) gets a lot of development this time around, as she believes she is impregnated by, get this, an angel! This show just gets crazier and crazier! Sounds like this episode should be titled Touched by an Angel. This also exposes a further obsession of serpents.

Throughout the episode Roman looks for a guy to interrogate to ask if he slept with his cousin. Roman gets some new abilities and Peter also shows a new side to himself. It’s a show that, essentially, seems to be about the darkness in everyone and that many people wear masks, and one’s true monster is in their eyes. But we have Dexter for that already, so we do we need this? It just adds a horror aspect to it all. And one part is equal parts bat-shit crazy and disturbing.

 

Christina gets further development, and she’s shaping to be one of my favourite characters. Freya Tingley is a 19-year-old portraying a 14-year-old, which isn’t so believable, but with the character’s maturity I would have initially had put her at sixteen or seventeen years old. Either way, I think she’s quite lovely. One thing that indicates her bookworm-like features is the fact that she knows the symbol of evolution (in episode 3) but does not know the quote “You don’t put baby in the corner.” The show is a bit boring so Tina is a welcome addition.

Score50/100

 

 

 

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Hemlock Grove, Episodes 1, Season 1

Hemlock GroveI thought I’d try my hand at reviewing TV shows. I’m starting off with the first season of Hemlock Grove. I reviewed the first two episodes in a more traditional way, but the rest will be my more uncensored commentary because this show really peeved me off in points (it is SO weird). Some of my commentary/recaps are pretty funny. Anyway, here’s the first review! Mild spoilers follow, and big spoilers and more laughs will come with the upcoming episode recaps.

Episode 1, “Jellyfish in the Sky”

Hemlock Grove starts as a “Whodunnit?” after the murder of a young woman (Brooke Bluebell). It’s a bit different, though; it has loads of gore, werewolves (so it’s great for fans of those two things), gypsies, guys obsessed with blood, bad dialogue (A main character at one point says “This is a strange town, you can feel it in your balls,”) and bad British accents. It also has people staring intently while holding an ice cream cone. (Oh, and this first episode is directed by Eli Roth, so that’s pretty sweet.) It starts promisingly enough and gets into it within the first ten minutes. Soon enough, there’s even a rumoured suspect: Peter Rumancek (Landon Liboiron). He’s a gypsy who is new to town. His uncle Vince must have not been very popular with the townspeople. Peter isn’t a bad character, he just gets some awful dialogue in the first episode. 

The first person he meets in town is a young girl named Christina Wendall, a curious girl and one that seems to be a symbol of innocence. Her curiosity stems from being an aspiring novelist and it’s important for her to understand people’s motivations (as she reminds us repeatedly throughout the season). It seems that she reads a lot because she notices that Peter’s middle and index fingers are the same length, which is an indication of being a lycanthrope in mythology. I think her curiosity is funny. The chemistry between Liboiron and Freya Tingley (the actress portraying Tina) is strong, if off-kilter when in public. Perhaps that’s because he’s suspected in the murder case, and Tina just feels awkward being seen with him. (He’s only suspected by some, because there’s actually no physical evidence to make him a strong suspect yet.) Liboiron is an okay actor, and he’s only noticeably bad when he’s being overly polite. The only other thing about Peter’s arc in this episode is that the storytelling is so poor that we’re just supposed to know what a Upyr is when characters mention it. 

Also in the town of Hemlock Grove, Pennsylvania, is a rich family named the Godfrey’s, who run the Godfrey Institute (which seems like a major medical building), which has basically put the town on the map. The son is named Roman (portrayed by Bill Skarsgård) who doesn’t do too much in this episode, and one thing that isn’t so clear if it’s a part of the character or not is that sometimes Skar has a hint of a Swedish accent. Famke Janssen plays the matriarch, Olivia, with an intensely annoying fake British accent (to complement the fact that she is one of the most fake characters you’ll ever see) that I can’t decide if it’s more like the one she used in Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters or if it’s the one Will Smith and son used in After Earth. Her husband, JR, killed himself in a weird flashback scene to add some back-story. The husband thought he’d off himself before she destroyed his family any further. At the time his brother was also having an affair with his wife. Olivia’s daughter, and Roman’s brother, Shelley, is also revealed to be a deformed sort-of cyborg with a mechanic whose head literally lights up like a night light. It seems like she’s going to receive a Frankenstein arc. She has a decent chemistry with her brother even though she doesn’t do much at all.

Norman is JR’s brother, and he’s a clinical psychiatrist who has a bone to pick with this creepy and ingenuine doctor named Pryce who is a leading specialist at the Godfrey institute. He has robotic mannerisms and half the things he says doesn’t make much sense. This show feels contrived and one can tell that the narrative is trying to form a creepy atmosphere, but it’s hit and miss, because it’s usually either creepy or moody. It’s a type of show that you keep watching to find out what happens, no matter how weird it is, because it’s a decent set-up for the series and it ends on a strong enough cliff-hanger.

Score: 60/100

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Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

Transformers 3Released: June 27, 2014. Directed by: Michael Bay. Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor. Runtime: 165 min.

In an attempt to freshen up the Transformers franchise, director Michael Bay brings in a brand new cast and characters. The first mistake was trying to re-invent the franchise, when it should have just ended. Cade Yaeger (Mark Wahlberg) and his family are thrown into the Autobots’ war when Cade finds a trashed up truck (Optimus Prime from all of his battle wounds from something called the Battle of Chicago) on one of his rides looking for things to fix and sell. He’s a mechanic fixing stuff for friends, and doing what he can do to make ends meet.

It isn’t exactly enough to put his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) through college. So when the truck reveals himself as Optimus Prime – the leader of the Autobots – Cade thinks about turning him in to get money to be a successful inventor, and put his daughter through college. When he has a change of heart of turning him in, it doesn’t really matter, because his assistant Lucas (an only mildly funny T.J. Miller) only sees dollar signs, which gets the government, and a lackluster bounty hunter from another world, on their tail. 

He’s a lackluster follow-up to Megatron, who got old after being the main villain after three films. His name’s not even worthy enough to remember. The main human villain (including a forgettable Kelsey Grammer) of the film is mainly the government, as there’s a company trying to wipe out the Autobots for whatever reason. It’s all in the aspiration of America to make everything better than it is already. Since this is mostly just a narrative sparked by human ignorance, it’s not compelling in the slightest, and it all lacks logic. Sure, it would be clever if this film was meta in the way that human ignorance might be the cause of humans’ eventual extinction, but this never feels to be the case.

Most of the characters are fine, if a bit boring to a fault. The most amusing characters are Bumble Bee (he and Optimus are the only returning characters) and Stanley Tucci as his character Josh Joyce. Joyce is an owner of a robotics company, and he gets more to do as the film moves along. I like Mark Wahlberg as the new main character, even though the character himself isn’t great. He’s over-protective of his daughter to a point of annoyance. He’s like a big kid so the daughter, Tessa, has to take care of him a bit. Nicola Peltz (TV’s Bates Motel) is pretty good as Tessa. 

It’s refreshing that she gets more to do than Megan Fox as Mikayla in the first two films, and she’s in the action more, even though she doesn’t do much to get herself out of stupid situations, just like Fox. Tessa adds some appeal to female audiences because she’s more of a character that’s easy for girls with overprotective fathers to relate to, than the sex appeal Fox or Rosie Huntington-Whitely were in their films. The father-daughter relationship gives the film some bland heart. Also in the Yeager group is Tessa’s extremely boring racer boyfriend Shane. He’s portrayed by Irishman Jack Reynor, who doesn’t seem boring in his own right.

Two of the new Autobots are memorable. One is named Drift, voiced by Ken Watanabe, and he’s a samurai Autobot – and it’s definitely a character to complement the portion of the film taking place in China. John Goodman is also enjoyable as an autobot named Hound, who mostly seems like a replacement for the quick-to-violence Ironhyde. This film is just forgettable, with only a few noteworthy action sequences and some awesome dino-bots. Their presence gets no explanation at all, so they’re random, but they’re no less fun in an otherwise exhausting experience. Everyone going in knows this won’t be a smart blockbuster, so why does it have to be the length of an LOTR movie? The story never finds much coherence in the first place, and when a new artifact gets introduced, Bay goes back to the “Find the artifact before the Decepticons” roots of the franchise. Skip this one, because it still feels familiar. 

Score: 40/100

 

 

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Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

Transformers 3Released: June 29, 2011. Directed by: Michael Bay. Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whitely, Tyrese Gibson. Runtime: 154 min. 

A fault for me for the Transformers films is the fact that they can work as stand-alone films because Optimus Prime gives a little narration at the beginning of each film, which also introduces a new artifact where the Autobots will have to find this thing before the Decepticons do. Essentially, these films are exactly the same. But some of them are kind-of fun. This one improves on the first sequel by giving a stronger narrative, but its length is still exhausting. The Autobots, this time around, have to find the pillars that was on a spacecraft piloted by Centennial Prime that crash-landed on the moon (a creative spin for the reason the members of Apollo 11 went to the moon) in the war of Cybotron. The Autobots have to get there before the Decepticons to save the world. They harbour a powerful enough energy to cause that Chernobyl mishap, which is a kind-of creative reason to describe it, too. I like those blockbuster twists on past events to add alternative causes. 

Shia LaBeouf is back as Sam Witwicky, who gets a bit of an annoying characterization since he wants to matter again, and he flaunts his Hero’s Medal to anyone he meets. It’s a a funny difference from his reluctance to initially help in the previous film. He really wants recognition and it gets to the point of being whiny. The only one who hasn’t been too impressed by the medal was Megan Fox’s Mikayla, because now Sam has a new hottie named Carly (a meh Rosie Huntington-Whitely, a super model turned actress), who is a personal assistant to a billionaire, Dylan, portrayed by Patrick Dempsey. (He must be some sort-of entrepreneur because he collects a lot of cars.) The chemistry shared between LaBeouf and Huntington-Whitely is nothing special. Ms. H-Whitely doesn’t do much, except just look dirty and somehow manages to survive during action sequences. The ending of the finale is a bit lazy, and if it were any other movie I’d be mad at its laziness, but since it drags on so long it was welcome. Villains who still opt to help the Decepticons when they don’t really have to anymore is uninspired and it just prolongs the flick. 

In terms of ambition, some action sequences are pretty spectacular, but too long, and they’re reminiscent of several other sequences we’ve seen so far in the franchise. There a few characters who make this something fun. Tom Kenny is still very funny as Wheely, a Decepticon turned Autobot. John Malkovich shows up as Witwicky’s boss in a funny role. John Turturro is also good, but he gets outshone this time around by his sidekick Dutch, who is portrayed by a very funny Alan Tudyk. They are some redeeming aspects of an otherwise stupid film where there’s a Decepticon that reminded me of the huge worm from Men in Black 3, and where a character quotes Spock as a reason for attempting to take over the world.

Score: 50/100

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