Winter’s Tale (2014) Review

Winter's TaleReleased: February 14, 2014. Directed by: Akiva Goldsman. Starring: Colin Farrell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Russell Crowe. Runtime: 118 min.

“Winter’s Tale” is a story about destiny. It also has spirit guides in the form of flying white horses. That’s the first hint that it has a larger focus on the fantasy aspect of it, and it’s almost like a fairy tale with all of its themes. There’s an idea proposed that when people die, they don’t go up to Heaven per sé but they go up into a place in the sky, where their souls become the stars that we see at night. The film also proposes the idea that everyone has one miracle within them to give to someone else. This is the story of Peter Lake’s miracle.

Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) is an ordinary thief who is running from a mob of fancily dressed folks at the beginning of the film, led by Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe). He escapes them by hopping on a flying white horse and proceeds to wander the streets until his fancy horse stops in front of a big house. He decides to go into the house with intentions to rob the house, but instead falls in love with a young dying heiress who lives there, named Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay). He loves her deeply and when he learns he has the gift of reincarnation, he sets out to save her.

The film also expresses the idea that light connects everything. The dying heiress Beverly in one scene is talking about this in what at first seems like a crazy daze, that the sicker she gets she sees that light connects everything. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, is why some might ask “What are you going on about?” The villain of the film also likes light, a master thief who really likes pebbles and fancy stones. It’s because when he puts the dish full of pebbles against the window it makes a funny holographic psychic shape… Or something like that? Anyway, some might legitimately think he’s a tall leprechaun because of his fascination with all the valuables, and since there are flying horses, it wouldn’t be far-fetched for him to ride a horse to the end of the rainbow.

Pretty colours! Pretty colours!

Pretty colours! Pretty colours!

Well, he’s not a leprechaun but he’s a demonic evil boss that you certainly wouldn’t want. The higher power he works for is played by a surprise actor one wouldn’t expect in the role, but do yourselves a favor, and if you wanted to be surprised, don’t browse beyond principal cast of the film on websites. Pearly leads his large group of other fancily dressed thieves who wear suits and those black bowl hats, the ones that Charlie Chaplin would wear. He’s a god-awful villain who has been “blackening souls and crushing miracles” for as long as he remembers. Crowe is a really good actor who makes do with the laughably bad dialogue he’s given; and he deserves praise for delivering some of his lines with a straight face. But I do wonder why he didn’t question the silliness of head-butting Farrell repeatedly in the face. He’s in this sorta bounty hunting business again after his turn in “Les Miserables,” but at least he didn’t have an awful accent in that one, but we should be thankful he’s not singing his stupid lines in this one. Why these folks want to crush miracles and have such a problem with goodness happening isn’t really explained. But all we have to know is this guy is evil and he has a bone to pick with Peter Lake.

They might intend to capture our hero, but don't they look dapper?!

To capture an enemy, you must dress well.

The way it shows good vs. evil is through, at least one way that I picked up on, the different colours of horses. Peter rides a white one, Pearly has a black one. Anyway, the romance between Peter and Beverly is heartwarming; but it’s elevated to another greater level by the performances given by Farrell and Findlay. The disease Bev has is consumption; and she can never let her body heat get too high. It’s a bit of a pity that their romance is great and that the story in general can be so laughably awful. I found myself laughing in scenes that were supposed to be serious, but it’s so poorly written many can’t take it seriously at all. This is one of the most unintentionally funny films I’ve seen in the past few years; so if you want to see it for a laugh, give it a shot. There are five occasions where, even though it’s not a comedy, I was laughing my ass off – and I mean, when it’s laughably bad, it’s hilarious. There are some profoundly heart-warming scenes, but so much of this is profoundly stupid. I mean there’s some CGI effects that make people’s faces all evil-like and there’s one character who, when he’s finished talking, viciously turns off the light above his head. How silly. I think this is my early favourite for the “so bad it’s almost good” movie of 2014.

The idea that everything is connected by light is just too uninspired for me, and Pearly’s motivations to get rid of Lake are stupid and uninspired, too. There are some good aspects. I like the performances by Colin Farrell and Jessica Brown Findlay; I think their chemistry is electric. The cinematography for this part period-piece is quite great; but it seems like the authour Mark Helprin intended this to be a mythical New York, and it looks pretty ordinary to me. It seems like that is writer/director’s Akiva Goldsmith’s fault with that aspect. (I might give the book a shot, this seems like it’d be good in different hands.) The third act is heartwarming, and the film’s finest stretch.

This is where Jennifer Connelly’s character is introduced late in the film. The film starts in 1914, but Lake meets her in the year 2014 making the fantastical flick span a whole century. What Lake did for those one hundred years with no memory is what I’d like to know. Job interviewers would say: “What’s your name? Do you have any references?” He’d answer “I don’t know” to both, and never get hired. And what I’d like to know is if Lake is human or if he’s a supernatural being? And why does Lake have an Irish accent if he was raised in Brooklyn? Pearly’s accent surely couldn’t be influential if it’s so awful, right? These are things that would be simple to explain, but we never get that convenience.

Score50/100

Advertisements

The Great Gatsby (2013)

The Great GatsbyThe Great Gatsby

Release Date: May 10, 2013

Director: Baz Luhrmann

Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joel Edgerton, Tobey Maguire

Runtime: 143 min

An astounding adaptation of a novel is rare. Some notable greats include The Silence of the Lambs, Fight Club, and recently, Life of Pi. There are bad ones, like every other Stephen King adaptation (that isn’t handled by acclaimed directors or starring great actors). The newest book-to-movie adaptation is of The Great Gatsby, where Baz Luhrmann decides to stay faithful to the source material, and this turns out to be a great adaptation of a highly-acclaimed book.

Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) is a Midwestern war veteran who moves to Long Island, and he soon becomes attracted to the past and lifestyle of his millionaire neighbour, Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio).

Luhrmann takes a unique stylish approach to the source material, and there’s enough substance to keep movie-goers satisfied. The odd scene feels empty and rings dull. This is most notably the interaction at the barbershop between Wolfsheim, Gatsby and Carraway. The audience does the feel the emotions they’re supposed to feel, and they become invested in the few characters (Gatsby, Carraway) that are actually likeable.  The symbols of the Green Light and the Eyes of of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg are significant enough to the story, that they begin to become characters in themselves; and they begin to feel more likeable than some of the characters. Luhrmann achieves his fantastic vision, while still keeping Fitzgerald’s classic themes – love, hope, dreams, the past, wealth, prosperity, the American dream – intact.

Simultaneously, he achieves the Fitzgerald-like vision, and I think F. Scott Fitzgerald would approve of this if he were alive. I like to think I comprehend the cultural significance of the source novel, even if it is a boring book. I’d rather re-visit this movie and not the book, and that might be because I think listening to big words is easier than reading them. The movie is just as slow as the book itself, but if it were any quicker, it would feel rushed. A rushed movie wouldn’t leave such a lasting impression. It’s a great adaptation because the viewer feels the same way as if they were actually reading the novel. The thought-provoking feature is handled so well and it is very well-made. It’s always intelligent and rarely boring. If one reads the novel, there’s no way they could imagine set pieces so lavish and magnificent as this. I think this is quite the great achievement.

The extravagant set pieces, production design and costume design truly capture the essence of the 1920’s. This movie will make you fall in love with the time period all over again. The contemporary music surprisingly fits the amazing parties that are thrown, as well as the movie’s style. The contrast between the rich lifestyle of Long Island and the slum-like lifestyle of the Valley of Ashes is fascinating.

The introduction of each character is refreshing, and each star captures the significance and mystery of each character. The cast is a great ensemble. Joel Edgerton brings some fine intensity and spot-on arrogance to the despicable Tom Buchanan. If there’s any role to make Edgerton a household name, it’s this one. Jason Clarke and Isla Fisher are the right choices to capture the poor, paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle of the 1920s, as George and Myrtle Wilson, respectively. Elizabeth Debicki rocks her big feature film debut as Jordan Baker. Carey Mulligan (who is almost always fantastic) is delicate and stunning as the irritating Daisy Buchanan, but she really embraces the foolishness of the character, and she performs superbly.

Tobey Maguire is adequate as Nick Carraway. He’s the character that has to keep everyone’s secrets. Maguire’s range of emotions isn’t wide. There’s some obvious emotions of regret, contempt and anxiety when he’s writing about Gatsby; and he always seems intrigued and in awe in Gatsby’s presence. He’s a better presence when he is narrating. The pairing of Maguire and Leonardo DiCaprio reminds me of the Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman pair of The Shawshank Redemption. Everyone will praise the latter, and the former will get the shorter end of the stick. Every person who walks out of the theatre will be discussing the latter performer first.

DiCaprio truly captures the essence of Gatsby, a man of hope, of mystery, and delicacy, a man who rose from ashes to be, like Jack Dawson of Titanic, “king of the world”. He is an intriguing character, it just feels right to hear DiCaprio say “old sport” so much in one movie. After watching this great man portray Gatsby, it’s hard to imagine anyone other actor in the role. He gives one hell of a performance, and he is one of the best things about the film. He draws the viewers into the picture more; and the movie truly takes flight right when the essential introduction of the mystery host comes about. It’s really a refreshing introduction to an intriguing character.

Luhrmann surprisingly stays faithful to the novel. He maintains the intelligent themes, takes some really boring material out, and throws some fresh material in. The movie is long and it feels that way, but everything unfolds in a visually compelling way. It’s rarely boring, and Luhrmann truly makes classic literature feel sexy. The utilization of 3D makes the sets even cooler, and it feels like it adds a whole new layer. This is a very good adaptation of a novel hailed as one of literature’s greatest books and tragedies; but sadly, and unsurprisingly, it doesn’t translate into one of cinema’s greatest films.

82/100

The Hunger Games (2012)

The Hunger Games

Release Date: March 23, 2012

Director: Gary Ross

Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth

Runtime: 143 min

Tagline: The World Will Be Watching.

 

I favor the book.

The film is set in an America which, after a war, has been renamed Panem in the future.  As a cruel reminder to the people of Panem for a past rebellion, two representatives from each district, one male and one female, are chosen to for an annual lottery (where no one in the lower districts will want to win) called the Hunger Games. The Games are a fight to the death, where twenty-three of the twenty-four young teens die, with one lone victor. The Hunger Games is an annual propaganda-based reality TV show favourite, for the people of the Capitol at least. This 74th Annual Hunger Games marks history for District 12, as it got its first volunteer, Katniss Everdeen. Katniss took her sister’s place and it was a noble act, indeed. She must use her hunting skills/wilderness experience and sense of direction to stand a fighting chance to survive.

It’s a really interesting film that uses propaganda as a main theme, and just shows how corrupt the government has really gotten. For the young adult audience, it’s a very fresh idea; but I have heard that this film feels like a big rip-off of the Japanese film that was released in 2000, Battle Royale. I haven’t seen that one, so it won’t taint my view of this film at all, so it felt like a fresh experience.

A lot of it feels like just a youth spin of Gladiator (which I still have to find the time to watch), and the film sort of reminded me of an old Roman thing, bread and circus. The bread means food which the emperor would give to the people of Rome, and the circus meant entertainment.

In this case, the President would give food the people, and that’s what going on here, as the tributes have the option to put their name in numerous times in the raffle as a way to get more food (even though they should be getting more food in the first place, as it is revealed in the second book [I don’t think it’s a really large spoiler] that the people of the Capitol drink this fluid that makes them vomit, so they can stuff their faces even more). The entertainment is most obviously the Hunger Games, which is a reality television show put on for the people of the Capitol, which is really a heinous occurrence which would be pretty bad if it happened in this day and age (granted, it does make for a pretty interesting film [or book] idea).

The film really is quite entertaining and an interesting experience and has a really great ensemble, with a few great characters (that the writers actually want you to connect in any way with) and very intense sequences. There’s some really memorable action sequences, but don’t expect a full-throttle action thriller. Expect a nice adventure flick with a great heroine (push over, Bella!) with some solid action sequences, and lots of adventure and a bit of dramatic science fiction futuristic material.

Okay, some stuff I didn’t like about it. The first is a spoiler and the second is pretty spoiler, but expected.

                                        *SORT OF SPOILER ALERT*         

I didn’t feel there was enough bonding time with Rue to be shared here. Not solid enough character development for her, as in the book.

I don’t see why Collins, like Stephenie Meyer, just had to add in a love triangle. It seems to be that it can’t be a young adult phenomenon without it. It’s very expected, so I didn’t really care for it; but at the same time is effective.

*END OF SPOILERS*

Okay guys, it’s pretty safe to read here. Some other stuff I didn’t dig about the film is that some of the material is a little unclear for those audience members who haven’t read the book, and I didn’t like that aspect of it. I would have thought that the loose ends of the background information would have been better connected with the actual author of the book (Suzanne Collins) having a writing credit for the film.

I feel that the film just needed a bit more violence to be better appreciated; readers could easily handle the violence portrayed in the book, so why couldn’t there be a lot more of it in the actual film? Sometimes young adult’s imaginations can be even more violent than what is portrayed on film, so I just didn’t care for it in that aspect. It couldn’t have even gone for a 14A rating? Or like a really strong 14A rating that could have been secured without going too far as to get an 18A rating? I know it’s a young adult audience, but seriously; more than half of the tributes were killed off screen.

In some ways it’s not an incredible adaptation, it isn’t quite on the same great caliber as Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings but outshines (or should I say… out-sparkles? I’m calling you out, Edward) Twilight by great lengths.

I guess this film review, that’s turning into a bit of an essay, should reach its conclusion soon.

It’s a film with a great heroine, great performances (by Jennifer Lawrence especially, who I wish the Academy will be so bold to nominate her for Best Actress; which I doubt will happen), great action/adventure sequences, and a story that offers a fresh enough cinematic experience. The film is a bit lengthy (with the Games starting about 65 minutes into the film), but of course there must be some background  information to be shared here, which could have been better-developed at that. For Oscars, I think the film should get Academy recognition (or at least large award recognition) for its Costume Design, Make-Up jobs especially, and its Cinematography, and even maybe a Best Picture nomination.

The film has a dynamite cast with Jennifer Lawrence in the lead spot, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Stanley Tucci, Wes Bentley, Willow Shields, Elizabeth Banks (nearly recognizable, except for her voice, as Effie), Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Toby Jones, Lenny Kravitz, Amandla Stenberg (Rue), Alexander Ludwig (Cato) and Isabelle Fuhrman (Clove; whom I know as the little psychopath from Orphan).

It’s a film with slow pacing at the beginning but gets great when it heats up, has many entertaining sequences, and could have been a better adaptation, as there’s a lot of room for improvement, but is a great experience for both young adults and even some adults can enjoy; and should be enjoyed by those who are willing to accept it for the quite unique adapted experience it offers.

80/100