Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)

 

Released: February 5, 2016. Directed by: Burr Steers. Starring: Lily James, Sam Riley, Jack Huston. Runtime: 1hr, 48 min.

When pride met prejudice in the 1813 Jane Austen novel, there were most certainly no zombies. Fast forward to the zombie craze in cinema over 200 years later, and the storyline is full of ‘em. Hey, at least PPZ sounds cool.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies concerns the two primary characters Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam D’Arcy, who are essentially the same as the original novel, but they both have a penchant for killing zombies.

In the film, Bennett likes the look of D’Arcy, smiling at him and D’Arcy observes that she is muscular but “not so much to look unfeminine.”

What ensues is a hell of a lot of hate between the two that somehow boils into romance. And there’s a hell of a lot of zombies that seemed to come after the Black Plague and they threaten to take over England in the early 1800s.

This version is based on the novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith (co-written by Jane Austen, who I guess came back from the dead to help write it), and it’s as mediocre as you might expect.

It aspires to be harmless entertainment in the likes of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, but it really isn’t much fun.

The narratives are kind-of bland. Elizabeth still doesn’t like the idea of being pushed into a marriage without affection – but another reason is because she doesn’t want to trade a sword for a ring.

Women also can’t be well-trained and well-educated, it’s one or the other. Elizabeth also learned zombie attack training in China, instead of Japan where the higher social class studied their fighting skills.

The character sisters in this film, while they have a good chemistry, talk about their love lives over choreographed sword fights instead of just around a table – so that amps up the dialogue ever-so-slightly. The director, Burr Steers (who also penned the adapted screenplay) ensures to show a lot of skin and heaving bosoms of the lovely sisters.

It’s relatively new territory for Steers, but he does well with the fight scenes, but there still isn’t a lot of excitement in the big action set pieces. Still: It’s decent for a guy whose previous credits are directing Zac Efron in teen comedy 17 Again and the moody drama Charlie St. Cloud.

The dialogue is decidedly pretentious, trading something like, “Dude, the undead are rising,” to “the undead reach out from beneath the wet Earth.” Or something like that.

The costume, set and production designs are attractive, but usually come with the territory for period pieces.

Lena Headey has a turn as a sadistic Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who is a famed zombie slayer who sports an eye patch.

Her introduction is a brief, random 10-second thing of her screaming in victory on top of a pile of zombies with her eye newly missing. That is one way to assert that she is a dominant woman not to be crossed.

The exchanges between characters are forgettable and so is the chemistry between leads Lily James (Cinderella) and Sam Riley (Maleficent), even though they do fine separately.

The PG-13 zombie violence is a high point of the film – which isn’t saying much because it’s tame.

Many are coming for the zombies, but it’s very much a boring romance. It could be called a rom-zom, with the zom in zombies the only redeemer.

2 outta 5

Maleficent (2014)

Photo source: http://www.imdb.com/media/rm2488531712/tt1587310?ref_=tt_ov_i

Maleficent (Source: IMDb)

Released: May 30, 2014. Directed by: Richard Stromberg. Starring: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley. Runtime: 93 min.

In the fairy tale re-imagining sub-genre, this is the best addition yet, and it seems that first-time director Richard Stromberg learns from the mistakes of the the previous two films in the sub-genre.

“Oz the Great and Powerful” was too generic, and this has a great narrative. “Snow White and the Huntsman” was too morbidly dark tonally, but this is only dark when it has to be.

The story re-imagines Disney’s 1959 cartoon “Sleeping Beauty” from the perspective of the film’s titular protagonist, Maleficent; the original story’s villain. After experiencing the ugly greed of man, Maleficent seeks revenge on King Stefan (Sharlto Copley), and she takes her anger out on is his baby daughter, Aurora. Stefan learns that if you’re going to take a fairy’s wings, you should kill her instead. And not only because she could sue for airfare costs.

Aurora is cursed to enter a deep sleep on the sunset of her sixteenth birthday, and can only be awaken by true love’s kiss. The story is written intelligently by Linda Woolverton (“The Lion King” and 2010’s “Alice in Wonderland”). The film’s sweetness and sincerity is a pleasant surprise. The film’s human and raw cinematic storytelling is also impressive. One of the film’s most realistic aspects is a teaching that anger is a curved blade.

Great performances and characterization help add emotional depth. Angelina Jolie is deliciously evil as the titular Maleficent. She handles the cruel grace and pain of Maleficent so well in one of her strongest performances in recent memory. In one adorable scene, Jolie’s real-life daughter Vivienne, as Aurora (5 Years Old),  goes up to her and hugs her around the waist and pulls at the prosthetic horns. It’s impressive that Jolie doesn’t break character.

Elle Fanning also bring layers to the character of Aurora. Fanning captures the kindness of the character because her smile and gentleness is radiant. The loving curiosity of the character is also appealing. Fanning was cast for her physical likeness to Aurora and for her capacity as an actress; and the fact that she gets to sleep on the job is definitely a pro of the role. I learn cast members were also cast for their physical likeness to the original characters. Some unimpressive stars include Sharlto Copley as King Stefan; he captures the depression of the character, but he’s boring. Sam Riley as Diaval is also not compelling, but that could be because of the boring character. He’s a lot better as a crow, acting as Maleficent’s eye in the sky.

There are many strange creatures in the film, many of which reside in the Mores (which is kind-of cruel as I thought it was S’mores at first), the bordering forest Maleficent rules. The creatures range from weird swamp creatures with ant-eater like noses to something that looks like Groot of “Guardians of the Galaxy.” It gets so strange, that I wouldn’t have been surprised to see those stone giants from “Noah.” Nonetheless, the visuals are great.

There are visuals reminiscent of other films, notably flying scenes (reminiscent of “Avatar”) and the visuals in a war scene that bring to mind “Snow White and the Huntsman.” Most of the time, the visual effects team make the visuals their own, except there are occasions where the visuals also look like “Oz the Great and Powerful” (mostly the colourful Mores creatures). It also seems that it is more difficult to differentiate style for director Robert Stromberg, because he is production designer on both “Avatar” and “Oz.”

Too creepy for my liking. (Source) http://www.awn.com/sites/default/files/styles/original/public/image/attached/1016753-bc1020ddlv1142.1104r-1200.jpg?itok=5g0b58kq

Too creepy for my liking. (Source

The three fairies that care for Aurora – Flittle (Lesley Manville), Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton) and Thistlewit (Juno Temple) – get sidelined in this version of the fairy tale. Even though they do have sporadic, amusing banter, the three actresses aren’t used to their potential. They’re a funny trio with strong costume design, but their pixie selves are visually strange. This is the film’s only poor visual effect.

They’re often in human form to make sure people see them as three women raising their child in a humble cottage. The set design for that is fun. The film flows improves on exhausting and overlong runtimes of “Snow White” (2hr., 7 min.) and “Oz” (2hr., 10 min.) and ensures that this film runs at a strong pace. Surely, this breezes by at one hour and 37 minutes, a perfect run-time for this well-told fairy tale.

Score: 85/100

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

Box Office Predictions May 30-June 1: A Million Ways to Die in the West Gets a Little Maleficent

A Million Ways to Die in the WestMaleficentAs one of the two big films being released this weekend, Seth MacFarlane brings us his follow-up to 2012’s Ted, this time basing this film in 1882 Arizona. This one is called A Million Ways to Die in the West. MacFarlane has quite the fan-base because of his work in television as the creator of Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show. Since he still seems most comfortable with 22-minute slots, it would be nice to see his newest film not suffer the same pacing issues found in Ted. That film was a major hit at the U.S. Box office, making $54.4 million in its opening and grossing $218.5 million domestically, and going onto a $549.3 million worldwide total. 

I can’t see his latest being as successful, perhaps because of the negative reviews. Films similar to this open at $28.4 million. This might also not go as high as Ted because it’s a Western, and those don’t appeal nearly as much as vulgar teddy bears. This will mark MacFarlane’s first live-action leading role. Westerns still can be popular, if you’re Quentin Tarantino. Django Unchained had a $30 million debut back in 2012, so let’s see if MacFarlane can register numbers around there. I think he has a chance because the cast looks great for A Million Ways. It also includes Liam Neeson, Charlize Theron and Amanda Seyfried, to name a few stars. Anyway, I’m going to predict this film at $33.7 million, because the marketing campaign has been strong. Then again, people might just wait until 22 Jump Street – and since that comes out in just two weeks, it could really prevent this from hitting $100 million. 

The other film coming out this weekend is Maleficent, it stars Angelina Jolie as the titular character, and the film is the tale of Sleeping Beauty told from the villain’s perspective. How awesome does that sound? I for one am excited for it. Though, negative reviews have reduced my ‘very excited’ to a firm ‘excited’. Maybe that’s because it looks like it has a similar visual style to Snow White and the Huntsman, in some ways. I think it could be great. Films similar to this open at $63.6 million. Since this had such a strong advertising campaign, I think this will open between Snow White and the Huntsman ($56 million), and Oz the Great and Powerful ($79 million). This is being released a weekend earlier than SW&H was released two summers ago, and I see it surpassing it. I’m not sure if it has $70 million potential, so I’m going to predict this mildly close at $65.3 million.