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My Reviewer's Philosophy: I believe that every film has its audience. One man’s Citizen Kane is another man’s Texas Chain Saw Massacre. My purpose is to help you spend your entertainment dollars wisely. A bad review never kept me from going to a film I wanted to see, but a good review will sometimes get me to a film I never considered. As a movie lover I want you to go to the movies. When more people go to the movies, the more movies get made. But, I also believe that if you enjoy the films you see, you naturally will be inclined to go more often. So join me in supporting our film industry by going to a movie today. Hopefully I can steer you towards a good one. See you at the movies. Melanie Wilson

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate

The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate is the first Chinese film made in IMAX 3D. Borrowing experts from James Cameron’s Avatar to learn the technique, this action packed martial arts film was a tremendous hit in China becoming the 12th highest grossing film of all time in that country. As an IMAX title, it has the distinction of being the 4th largest grossing IMAX film and now this highly lauded feature is coming to the United States.

The film opens with the viewer soaring over a busy harbor in the time of the Ming Dynasty. In the IMAX format, I had the sensation of being a bird or a hang-glider as we swooped over the boats and surveyed the myriad ships under different stages of construction. I tried to think back to a comparable experience in my life and the only thing that came close was flying in a glider. I was really enjoying the lush, intricate scenery and then the subtitles started.

I cannot talk about this film without discussing the technology involved. The two are intertwined. I am not new to subtitles, my first foreign film was Yojimbo way back in the eighties. But seeing subtitles in IMAX 3D is a very overwhelming experience. Imagine watching a scene through a window pane wearing glasses. It was like the subtitles were being written across my lenses while the actors were being projected on the window’s glass. Meanwhile the background scenery was through the window just beyond. My eyes were constantly adapting to the various focal lengths scrambling to glean as much information as I could. I regretted that the film wasn’t in my language and I longed for the days when they used to dub martial arts films. Even when it was done badly, at least it allowed you the luxury to relax and focus on all the action.

The costumes and scenery were tremendous, but I couldn’t enjoy them because I was too busy reading. For a time I thought about not reading the subtitles at all, but there were so many characters that I needed the information to follow along. It was difficult watching the actor’s expressions because there was a lot of dialogue in the film. I was really working hard just to keep up.

Now that I’m done carping about the subtitles let me refocus on the story. The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate is full of intrigue and is as complicated as a Shakespearean drama. We have women masquerading as men, look-alikes being mistaken for each other, and plenty of treachery and political greed. Our characters include eunuchs, fugitives, concubines, palace officials, Tartan warriors as well as assassins, rebels and thieves. There were so many characters that I was forced to read the subtitles just to keep everyone straight.

The culmination of the story takes place in a remote desert location where the ruins of an inn remain. It is said that a fierce black storm will soon arrive, as it does every sixty years. Beneath the sands lies a golden palace with untold riches that was buried by a previous sandstorm in ancient times. Fortune hunters of all kinds have arrived at this fabled spot in hopes of unearthing the legendary treasure.

The story, no matter how intricate or complex, is still just an excuse for very cool fights and this film has them aplenty. Jet Li has the opportunity to show off his advanced sword skills and there are all kinds of displays of various knife-throwing techniques. Personally, I am not a fan of wire work, I prefer my martial arts less super-human, but you’ll see warriors flying everywhere. I was particularly fascinated by the director’s use of hands. He often gave them close-ups and the way that they were displayed told you everything about the warrior.

I wish I could give you more details, but to be honest while reading subtitles I missed a lot. Tsui Hark, as a director, is new to me and Jet Li is the only actor I was familiar with. As the film ended the general consensus was that it was too long. But at 121 minutes I think it just felt that way. I, myself, was worn out with all that reading and my neck was stiff from holding my head still. I found that if I moved or tilted my head the words would become blurred and I couldn’t read them. This film may have been wildly popular in China, but then they didn’t have to read the subtitles. I just hope that our younger generation is more talented at watching 3D than I am because they grew up with it. For me, it is still just a novelty and I prefer my films in two dimensions.

Rating: First Run Only available in IMAX 3D



Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Hope Springs

A few weeks ago I went to a movie theater and two ladies sitting behind me were talking about their experiences computer dating. One of them said, “Oh no, I never put my correct age, I always put at least five years younger.” I resisted the urge to turn around but a couple of minutes later I practically spit out my soda when it was revealed that she was seventy-two. I thought to myself, I’ve seen the future and it’s very dark.

Hope Springs starring Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones demonstrates, like my illustration, that no matter how old we get, we never lose the desire to be wanted, admired and loved. Our bodies may wrinkle, crinkle and age, but inside our hearts remain young and hopeful.

In Hope Springs, Meryl Streep plays Kay, a housewife married to Arnold, played by Tommy Lee Jones. As a couple they have just celebrated their 31st wedding anniversary but Kay has become discontent. Her husband Arnold hasn’t touched her in years and sleeps in a separate bedroom. She is so unhappy that she is willing to risk it all. So, in a last ditch effort, she cashes in a CD and enrolls them in a couples counseling program. She realizes that with her children grown and out of the home there is nothing left to look forward to. All life’s milestones are behind her and all she has left is her marriage. If she can’t have the marriage she wants, she just as soon be alone.

Tommy Lee Jones, on the other hand, plays Arnold as a man who has carved himself a routine. He may have dreamed of more as a young man, but he has learned to be content with what he has. His demands are few and he is grateful for his lot. It’s a good life, but underneath he is afraid to desire more. Only the thought of losing what he has can spur the man to action.

There is a lot of humor in Hope Springs, but it comes from a delicate place. I really wouldn’t call it a comedy although it is being billed that way. This story is about two people who are in pain and it shows. When you see Meryl Streep as Kay look into a mirror you can imagine the young girl she once was. Now in the mirror she sees a woman who is lonely, disillusioned, and in need of being desired. All she wants is the marriage she once had.

Tommy Lee Jones as Arnold has become a man on auto-pilot. It is hard to know what he feels underneath that craggily face. His eyes are dead and he moves like a man on a track. One gentle bump and he would become derailed. No wonder Kay feels like she is not being seen.

Steve Carrell, who portrays Dr. Feld, plays his role completely straight and as he listens to these two miserable people who have grown so far apart, his face and demeanor shows so much empathy and compassion. This is not your typical Rom-com with a quick, pat solution that leads to a happy ending; it is a slow evolving character study about two people in love who have forgotten how to show it. I, myself became impatient just wanting their pain to be over.

As I was watching Hope Springs I couldn’t imagine anyone under thirty really enjoying this film. But anyone over fifty, especially those who are married, will recognize themselves completely. There is something transforming when you reach that age when your body starts to betray you. Meryl, who is one of our greatest actresses has the ability to appear young in spirit as we gaze at her sixty year old body. And Tommy, with his hang-dog eyes, will break your heart when he finally reveals what he carries inside. There is a symmetry here between these two fine actors. And Steve Carrell is the perfect counterpoint.

I’m afraid that the movie is being mis-marketed as a comedy and that people will go expecting something broad. It has its moments, but don’t expect it to be very light. Hope Springs will touch you, move you and weigh on your heart. No matter how old we get we never outgrow the need to be loved and hope does spring eternal.

Rating: Bargain Matinee Movie and lunch, keep away for the kiddies

Friday, June 1, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman

Revisiting fairy tales and super heros seems to be very popular in our culture today, and in most cases I enjoy the fresh perspectives. But when watching Snow White and the Huntsman, there was one nagging question forefront in my mind, “Where is this film taking me?” To begin with, there were little details that bothered me to no end until I finally had to say to myself, “Let it go, it’s magic! Get over it.” In a world where fully formed fruit hangs on a tree in complete blossom and roses bloom in the snow I had to turn off my sense of logic and row with the flow. If you are a nit-picker, you are going to hate this film.

Once I switched off my voice of reason and allowed myself to be carried away I recognized visual influences from Joan of Arc, Braveheart, The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe and even Avatar. This confused me immensely but it intrigued me as well. Like a child playing Blind Man’s Bluff I allowed myself to be led, but inside I was crying out, “Where are you taking me? What does this mean?”

If Mirror, Mirror focuses on the magic, color and light of Snow White, Snow White and the Huntsman focuses on the dark, evil and tragic side. This Snow White was kept in a dungeon. These seven dwarfs were economical victims forced out of their jobs. And our Huntsman is a widower drowning his grief with alcohol. But what I found most interesting in this film is that the evil queen was given a back story, not to mention a creepy brother. This film tries to humanize her as well as make her into a fully developed woman. I’m still mulling over the impact of this decision. Do we really what to care about her, or is she more effective as a two-dimensional baddie? Whatever the result, Charlize Theron commits to her portrayal fully. Her queen is evil, jealous and lusts for money and power, but we also see her as a victim, vulnerable and insecure. Her interpretation is no Disney evil step-mother. This woman has issues!

When it comes to the character of Snow White, I really had a problem with the casting of Kristen Stewart. As seen as a child she is freckled, brown haired and a bit of a tomboy but when we see her again, imprisoned for at least a decade, she is now dark haired, freckle free and strong enough to run through a forest. But in neither variation does she have lips as red as blood or skin as white as snow. Is Snow White still Snow White without these important details? It didn’t help that Kristen Stewart was channeling Joan of Arc. It is hard to believe her as a princess beloved by all when she is wearing her perpetual scowl. I think that Kristen is an excellent actress, just not a Snow White. I didn’t find her right for this iconic role.

Who I did like in this movie was Chris Evans as the Huntsman. This character is seldom developed in most interpretations, but in this film he begins as a drunken wastrel and evolves into a devoted servant. Chris gives his huntsman a real emotional arc and I loved watching his face as he struggled with his moral choices. For me, his was the most satisfying character in the film. Unfortunately his build up puts Prince Charming in a smaller role. Poor Sam Claflin was barely given anything to do.

I really loved the visuals in Snow White, even when they didn’t make sense to me like the Avatar inspired forest with its strange moss covered creatures. The seven dwarfs had a Celtic vibe going for them and their interesting costumes had touches of Braveheart plaid and warrior hair-dos. But the most effective wardrobe belonged to the evil queen. Her costumes had a carrion feel with beaks, bones and winged structures. Everything about her had a sense of foreboding. She was beautiful, statuesque, but underneath was a sense of dread.

In addition to the excellent costumes and scenery, there are some very exciting battle sequences. We are treated to a full mounted attack as well as the storming of a castle. Dressed in shining armor, Kristen Stewart’s Snow White is found leading her people in revolt against an evil and tyrannical queen. But this is not how I remember Snow White. The Snow White of my generation was a sweet delicate girl who was an excellent housekeeper and had no problem caring for seven sloppy men. We’ve come a long way baby, even if I don’t know how we got here. This is a Snow White for a whole new generation.

Rating: First Run Not your mother’s Snow White

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Dear Readers

Please know that I have not stopped blogging. I have been really ill and ended up in the hospital and I am now home, getting stronger in anticipation of surgery in April. I will slowly start reviewing films again until I'm back at full speed. There are some good ones out there and luckily I've been able to watch a lot of video. I hope I was missed. I certainly missed writing for you. Keep the moving going experience alive.

Sincerely,

Melanie Wilson

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Secret World of Arrietty

 I remember in elementary school making a diorama for little people. A wooden thread spool became a table and a large match box became a bed. The fancy of recycling found objects for a scaled down world intrigued me and captured my imagination. The Secret World of Arrietty has done the same thing. With its lovely animation and heartfelt story telling I was completely lost in their world and thoroughly enjoyed the journey.
 
At the top of our story, Arrietty (Bridgit Mendler) is going on her first borrowing mission with her father (Will Arnett). She is brave, cocky and full of anticipation. After venturing beyond the house on her own and securing some bay leaves for her mother as a gift, she is confident of her abilities and is ready for action. But once inside the secret passage ways with her father, she soon discovers how dangerous borrowing truly is.
 
The house that the Borrowers live within belongs to an old lady and is run by her housekeeper Hara (Carol Burnett). On the day of Arrietty’s first mission a new resident arrives (David Henrie). Shawn is very sick and has come to his grandmother’s house to rest. He has a bad heart and is due for an operation. He is sad, quiet and expecting to die. But when he unexpectedly spots Arrietty the excitement gives him something to occupy his mind. He starts to think beyond his circumstances and begins to imagine how tough life would be for a little person.
 
Through his investigation, Shawn learns that his parents believed in the little people so much so that they built a customized doll house for them. But the code of the Borrowers kept them away and his parents eventually stopped believing. According to the Borrowers they only take what they need and only things that would not be missed. Taking anything for the doll house would be too noticeable.
 
After Arrietty’s and Shawn’s encounter they become friends against the advice of her parents. Her mother (Amy Poehler) is a chronic worrier and in this case she is right. Shawn’s interest piques the curiosity of the maid and she in turn hires some pest control. This puts the Borrower family in peril and Shawn, with his illness, is not in too much of a position to help.
 
What I loved the most about this film were the details in the artwork. Everywhere you looked you would see texture, nuance and lovely delicate flourishes. Whether it was the flowers in the garden or the engraving on a tea cup, every frame was imagined and complete with exacting detail. I also liked the heart in this film. You could really feel the relationships between the characters and I especially liked the relationship between Arrietty and her father. Will Arnett’s voice has a quiet authority and even though he says little, you could tell how much he admires his daughter. He protects her, but he also wants her to be independent and free. He truly loves his daughter.
 
This film, coming from Japan, is not your typical American animated film. There are no jokes, silly songs, cute little characters or merchandising ploys. What you get is a lovely fully-realized film with heart and breath-taking animation. Small children may get squirmy but everyone else will love this film. Carol Burnet is funny as the menacing housekeeper and there is a fat cat that provides some lighter moments. But The Secret World of Arrietty is a serious tale with life and death issues. It is a film to be appreciated and enjoyed by all. 

Rating: First Run A lovely animated tale
 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Thin Ice

In Thin Ice it is said, “Never believe what you hear and only believe half of what you see.” This is the philosophy of Mickey Prohaska. Mickey also believes that there is no such thing as being over-insured and he has no problem mixing his business finances with his personal ones. This strategy has not served Mickey well and at the present time his life is a mess. He has just won a prestigious award for being a model salesman and he should be proud of his achievement, but his wife has kicked him out of the house, he took his son’s college fund to pay off a gambling debt, his business is floundering and his constant lying is catching up with him.

Greg Kinnear as Mickey Prohaska lives his life in shades of grey. He is a likable fellow, charming, fun to be around, but he is always on the make and trying to round up the next client. At an insurance convention he steals away a new hire from his competitor just because he can. And when that new hire turns out to be a honest, hardworking, genial salesman with the client’s best interest at heart. Mickey feels that he must step in and teach this guy a lesson.

David Harbour plays Bob Egan and he is the kind of insurance salesman you wish you had, kind, thoughtful, caring and looking to save you money and get you the best deal. But Mickey is looking for big sales so he steps in and takes over one of Bob’s clients. The client, an old, senile farmer by the name of Gorvy Hauer (Alan Arkin) has lots of money and no family to speak of. Mickey gets him to invest to the hilt, but the man is temperamental. Mickey has to work to keep the fish on the hook. Especially when he discovers that the man is in possession of a expensive rare violin.

This is where Randy Kinney (Billy Crudup) comes in. He has just installed an alarm system at the Hauer house and Mickey has a great idea. Gorvy Hauer is going out of town to visit his ailing sister and Mickey is slipping some money to Randy to turn off the alarm so Mickey can “get some important papers”. But what Mickey really does is switch the expensive violin for a reasonable copy with plans to sell it and keep the cash. This caper goes horribly wrong and Mickey is now officially on thin ice.

Thin Ice, shot on location in the mid-west, has that trapped winter feel. As Mickey dreams of a tropical retreat he becomes increasingly frustrated with his wintery home. Everything is a hazard, death trap or accident waiting to happen. It has gotten so bad that Mickey is believing his own lies. Mickey’s last minute accomplice turns out to be a really bad idea because the man is unstable and also has a record. As the two try to untangle themselves from a crime of opportunity their biggest threat is each other. This film is about bad choices, bad decisions and bad luck. It’s also about insurance, sometimes you are better off accepting your losses.

Rating: First Run A film about bad decisions

The Woman in Black

Mood, atmosphere, shadow, The Woman in Black is a classic ghost story and Daniel Radcliffe proves that he can carry a film other than Harry Potter. As Arthur Kipps he portrays a widower whose beautiful wife dies during childbirth. Barely hanging on for the last four years he has been given a last chance by his law firm to redeem himself and save his job. He has been tasked to travel to a small remote village and take over the details of an estate left by a strange mysterious woman. Lost in his own grief he barely registers the resentment and fear that greets him there. But soon the town loses all pretense and Arthur Kipps becomes fully conscious that his presence is completely unwanted.

The house on Eel Marsh is a solitary one. During high tide the road is completely immersed and you may only access the house during low tide. Why anyone would build such a house is a puzzle, but the family and those who lived and worked there are even a greater mystery. There is death and tragedy at Eel Marsh and Arthur must sort through all the household papers and discover the secrets behind them. Mr. Daily assures Mr. Kipps that if you sell the house it won’t be a local. Ciaran Hinds as Mr. Daily is the only voice of reason in town.

Mr. Daily abhors all the superstition and only wants to get past his own child’s death. His wife (Janet McTeer) has not gotten past it and she believes that her son is trying to speak through her. Their home is like a memorial to their late son with paintings and keepsakes all around. But their son is not the only death. Dozen of children have died tragic and brutal deaths. According to legend, whenever someone sees the woman in black a child will soon die. And now they have Arthur Kipps poking around in their business. It is no wonder that the town hates him. In their eyes he is responsible for the deaths.

It has been a long time since I’ve seen a film of this type and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. This film operates on mood and shadow and is much more reliant on psychology than monsters, ghouls and demons. But it does have its ghosts and I can’t tell you how creepy Victorian wind-up toys can be. I can honestly say that after this film I will probably never sleep in the same room as one. I mean we had spooky wind-up toys in The Poltergeist when I was a kid, and that was bad enough. But these toys are disturbing even when they aren’t moving. Thanks to this film I have a new phobia.

Daniel Radcliffe does an excellent job in The Woman in Black. He displays a maturity that he hasn’t been able to show before and I found him quite convincing as the melancholy young father. Being immersed in someone else’s grief forces him to wake up and come out of his own. I thought that his transition from a moor less man into a man of resolve was well done. I have great hopes for the future of this young actor and I really liked this film.

Rating: First Run A classic ghost story that will thrill