Archive for November, 2013


The Lego Movie folks have had a very busy week dropping neat character posters and a pretty nifty final poster.

The abundant use of comic book superheroes who come together and need to be saved by a common ordinary extremely optimistic nobody make this the Justice League movie our guilty pleasure seeking hearts want to see first.  Appearing are Wonder Woman (Cobey Smulders, apparently on loan from the Marvel universe), Superman (Chaning Tatum), Green Lantern (Jonah Hill), and Batman (Will Arnett).

Phil Lord and Chris Miller direct all the interconnecting blocks into endless flights of Lego-mation and fits of funny stuff.  No actual Lego blocks were used or harmed in any way during the making of the film.  The Lego world has never been rendered in such minute detail, spectacle and awesome bravery.  

10X the funny, 2x the action at -10X the cost = well, you tell me. Either way I am seeing it.   The Lego movie assembles nationwide 7 days before Valentine’s Day and 7 days after the end of January 2014.


lego-movie-poster-charlie-day-benny-411x600 lego-movie-poster-morgan-freeman-vitruvius-411x600lego_movie_ver7lego_movie_ver5lego_movie_ver6lego_movie_ver8


The newest Divergent posters highlight the body art of the Dauntless faction, a group know for their fearlessness and teamwork.  They are intense, bold risk takers and believe that conquering your fears is essential to the Dauntless way of life.   The tattoos are a representation of how each member has overcome adversity.

Divergent author Veronica Roth notes “Most Dauntless get tattoos as a reminder of the past, a mark of progress. There’s also the relationship to pain (a true Dauntless doesn’t mind the pain!), but mostly tattoos are a sign of overcoming obstacles, for them, a way of marking struggle and progress on the body”.


Miles Teller’s cinema history with Shailene Woodley started with The Magnificent Now, a nice coming of age romance that managed to successfully break the rules.

Teller has this to say about playing the brutal Peter ““I’ve always played very likeable characters, so for me, it’s tough to make a guy who stabs somebody in the eye likeable. So that was the challenge with it,” he said. “I grew up with two older sisters who used to pick on me all the time and I feel like that’s kind of the relationship I have with Tris a little bit and that I pick on her – I bully on her.”



Jai Courtney play Eric, the leader of the Dauntless faction.  Roth notes that “Eric is a brutal force with a damaged moral compass. His cruel training methods and ruthless leadership make him a quick adversary to Tris, the Abnegation transfer and protagonist of the story.”

Eric’s tattoos echo the chain link around the city of Chicago, the maze inside with hints of the Dauntless own fiery faction symbol.



Zoe Kravitz plays Christina.  Roth notes “Christina transferred to Dauntless from Candor, and was Tris Prior’s first and best friend during her initiation into Dauntless. She was first introduced when she helped Tris onto the Train after the Choosing Ceremony. Christina befriends Tris and becomes a vital part in the beginning of Tris’ new life in Dauntless.”


Maggie Q as Tori emits a bad ass vibe with her Girl With a Dragon Tattoo inspired body art.  Tori, a member of the Dauntless faction who administers Tris’ (Shailene Woodley) aptitude test and first discovers that Tris is Divergent. As she continues to provide Tris with advice, the two establish a bond that helps Tris throughout her journey.

Tori in the novel notes this about her tattoo, “In some parts of the ancient world, the hawk symbolized the sun. Back when I got this, I figured if I always had the sun on me, I wouldn’t be afraid of the dark. . . . Now it reminds me of the fear I’ve overcome.”


Mekhi  Phifer plays Max another one of the leaders of the Dauntless faction.   Phifer in a comic-con interview notes “I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with him in ‘Insurgent,’ because after talking to my director Neil [Burger], he’s telling me, ‘We have got some great stuff that Max does as the leader.’ I’m looking forward to that. I mean, I do some cool stuff, but not at the magnitude of what Theo [James] and obviously Shailene [Woodley] had to do.”

“Without spoiling too much, there’s a little bit of a fight scene that we have, guns and things like that. I got to make some cool speeches and do some fun stuff, but like I said I think we’re going to hold off on Max a little bit until two,” he says, adding of “Divergent’s” exciting elements, “The dynamic of the cast, what Neil’s vision was, all of the great CGI stuff and the wonderful production values of the sets and just the magnitude of the film. I think that people are going to be really receptive.”


The first poster for Noah, the Darren Aronofsky retelling of the Biblical story lets loose the Flood waters. If there is a quibble about the backside view presented, it’s that Russell Crowe looks to Gladiatorial and not wizened and saintly enough.

Russell Crowe might be a tad  to young for the Biblical purist since Noah was 600  years, 2 months and 17 days old (Genesis 7:6) when The Flood occurred.  But if you take into account Crowe’s timeless, rugged, manly qualities, then he’s a perfect fit.  Besides Noah action hero works right into Millennials, Gen XYZ’s raised on comic books and superhero movies.

Director Aronofsky has gone the CGI route for most of the animal and water imagery involved.  Technicians involved with the shoot say that the effects are the most complicated, elaborate and costly ever done.

Appropriately the production hasn’t  been all smooth sailing and calm waters.   Early test screenings have the suits at Paramount Pictures worried that there might not be enough of public spectacle to counter the Aronofosky vision.  The spat has played out in trade related bad press and public and private sparring for a few months now.

The two 7 second teasers show fire and brimstone, ominous pontification from Crowe and some green and happy walking hand in hand moments interspersed with rain drops and rivulets of water cascading towards the camera.  No animals, no big flood shots.

Noah also stars Emma Watson, Jennifer Connelly, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth, Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Kevin Durand, Martin Csokas, and Mark Margolis.  Noah opens March 28, 2014.


The first poster and trailer for Disney‘s Maleficent, a retelling of Sleeping Beauty from the villains point of view has been released.  

The poster is a wave of awesome black glamor punctuated by the essential purity colors of the story: white, red and green, respectively flesh, blood and nature; innocence, life and natural being almost totally enveloped in shades of darkness.   Add the horns and the evil becomes visible.  Remove them and it could be a very nice fashion or perfume ad.   

The trailer stars Elle Fanning looking very Alice in Wonderland like, not surprising considering the director Robert Stromberg was also the Production Designer for the Tim Burton directed Alice.  And if Maleficent’s world has a touch of Pandora scenery in it, Robert Stromberg did Avatar too.  

Angelina Jolie‘s  full Maleficent reveal at the end coupled with her uttering “Then you’ll be afraid”, is sheer cinema magnificence.  The slightly cartoon look of some of the special effects will be cleaned up by release time.  If not, don’t be surprised if someone down the line says there an homage to the animated 1959 Disney original.  


Alfonso Cuaron‘s 1998 modern adaptation of Dickens Great Expectation was the last time the big screen took a chance on the Dickens classic.  Except for a famous poster featuring Gwyneth Paltrow nude and in repose it is not fondly remembered and not often viewed.  Every decade usually sees a television mini-series treatment.  Still, the only version with any juice to it has been the great 1946 David Lean directed one.

Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, Donnie Brasco) has assembled a great cast featuring Jeremy Irvine (War Horse), Helen Bonham-Carter, Ralph Fiennes and Holliday Grainger to take another classic shot at it.

In an interview with Empire Newell explains his approach to the novel:

‘I guess the way you go about making it fresh is that you have some big version of the story that you think hadn’t quite been told before. There have only been two movies of this (maybe you could count three), but I felt that this was very contemporary, because it was a great big passionate and very sexy love story. Not like the John Mills love story at all, which was very ‘British’ and stiff-upper-lipped, and so on. This was about obsession, about a guy who was driven crazy by love and who betrayed everyone about him to get where he needs to be for the girl. But it’s also about money, and how money steers you wrong if you’re not careful.

So Pip begins to think that he IS a gentleman, just because he has money – and, well, he isn’t. He gets to discover that it’s a delusion, and he gets to discover that he screws himself up and everyone around him through that delusion. I think it’s Dickens; it’s Dickens writing about himself. I think that’s what he’s doing. You know, Dickens had fantastic success, audiences with the Queen, and all the time he’s saying: “You’re a fake, you’re a fake”. And he dumps his wife and 12 children, and runs off with a 20 year-old actress.”


Jeremy Irvine plays Pip.  The War Horse actor is a work horse when it comes to creating his on-screen characters.  In an interview with ETonline he had this to say about his role:

” I’d seen a lot of wide-eyed, innocent versions of Pip and I didn’t like that. This is someone who has been abused physically and mentally every day of his life and I thought that would make for a tough character because he does survive. So when you first meet him, he’s almost a Neanderthal and I wanted to have that transition to a gentleman. Also, this ambition of becoming a gentleman becomes an obsession because he starts to see it as his way out of this life of violence and abuse. But every day that goes by, that obsession becomes more toxic and poisonous to the point where it ends up eating him alive from the inside. It’s a lot darker, and it’s the only way to justify and understand why he’s such a terrible person. I mean, Pip is not a good guy; he’s quick to discard the people that love him if they’re in the way.”


Holliday Grainger who plays Estella, noted in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, that her character ” ”She’s the emotional version of Frankenstein’s monster”.  “Estella is the subject of a kind of experiment by Miss Havisham, the wealthy recluse who adopted her and shaped her from her earliest years, ”and she is very damaged, a victim of emotional abuse – even though I don’t think that was Miss Havisham’s intention”.  Estella she notes, ”has a lot of anger and resentment inside her, I think, but she is also passive, and probably has very little confidence in herself, which is why she always reverts to the facade.” In a scene in which she is offered the chance to leave Miss Havisham, ”It’s a lot easier for her to stay. If she left she would have to unlearn all the self-restraint she has spent her whole life developing.”


Ralph Fiennes who plays Magwitch has his own deep involvement with Dickens.  Fiennes stars and directs The Invisible Woman about the true story of Charles Dickens and the much younger woman, Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones) who became his secret lover until his death.  It is based on the biography of the affair by Claire Tomalin. 

In an interview with The Observer, Fiennes notes “He was 45 … she was only 18. And this man, this force that came at her, happened to be someone called Charles Dickens. And he came with his alpha-male charisma and imagination, and she had to weather it. And that was the story of her heart.” He adds in a quieter tone: “And that made me want to do it.”


Helena Bonham-Carter plays Miss Havisham.    It is funny how fate has her voicing a Corpse Bride to playing the original. 

In an interview with The Observer, Director Mike Newell says that he was keen to show how Miss Havisham’s own expectations have damaged her life. “Her character is made by the moment at which time stopped,” says Mike Newell.  “She is dumped at twenty to nine in the morning as she is dressing for her marriage, as the story boldly states, and time stops and she is living in a time warp from then on.”

“It is then a case of what that warp does to her,” the director adds. “It is how the warp warps her and it is all done because of this huge expectation that she had of life – that she was in love and that she would have a future in front of her but that is all chopped back and what happens to her character is what happens to a person who is chopped down in that brutal fashion but does not die of it.”

Bonham-Carter notes in an Observer interview, “It’s funny,” she adds, “when Mike Newell  made the offer, it was quickly followed by him saying, ‘Don’t worry, if you look at the book she’s not actually 78 years old!’ She’s probably only 37 when Pip meets her.”

“She is fascinating, this woman,” the actress says. “Take away the age thing and there’s still a lot going on with her. She’s very, very ill, mentally, for a start.”

“Miss Havisham has been inside for 15 years, so she would have had no vitamin D in her body,” she notes, “and she’d have a had a failing eyesight. She is always asking Pip to come closer. “

“I like all the illness, because when you play characters who are so damaged you really wonder what made them get to this point, what made them such a weirdo. Often if someone is truly damaged or hurt they have a bit of OCD, because they think that if everything is fine and they control their exterior then they’ll never be hurt again.”

“There are so many interesting sides to this character,” Helena Bonham Carter concludes. “She is pathologically grief-struck, but is totally narcissistic. It’s all about her – people do get their hearts broken and most people survive.”


Imagine what movie would have happened if this actual bit of casting had come true- if Tom Hiddleston had gotten the part of Thor and not Chris Hemsworth?   Hiddelston got Loki as the consolation prize and the Marvel movie universe is better for it.   Now as far as Thor goes, well without Loki to goad him into some righteous edge the God of Thunder would be a total bore.   Why did the producers wait until almost the end of principal photography was over to realize that Loki was the whole show- and that more scenes featuring Hiddleston would be worth an extended shooting schedule?  

My ideal Thor movie would have Thor and Loki as warring identical twins– and Hiddleston playing both parts! One can dream.  

Thor: The Dark World has twice the action and twice the characters and ends up being twice the mess.  

Director Alan Taylor handles the Game of Thrones elements fairly well.  He should,  because he directed a bunch of GOT.   The plot elements that require subtitles, malevolent stares and sotto voce dialogue are GOT-ty , gnarly and exude Westeros and Esso flare.   The 20 minutes were Thor and Loki bicker, fight and attempt to sort out their complicated sibling rivalry are The Dark World’s highlight.  And Taylor leaves Hiddleston alone to play Loki in the only way he can play him. Taylor knows not to mess with something that doesn’t need fixing.  The problem: Loki gets only 30 minutes of screen time and is cut out of the action when Thor 2 can use his mischievous evil bounce the most.   

Unfortunately it’s the special effects and sci-fi elements that cause Taylor to stumble.   The retro-flying boats and the red and golden clouds that swirl, the Aether-zation of Asgard as a whole has a anesthetic effect that just produce golden slumbers because they are so under done.   It is like watching a good GOT episode spoiled by inserted highlights from a bad Flash Gordon serial.   

The final epic battles were worlds collide or more like inter-collide into portals has a jarring Loony Tunes effect.   Just let them fight.  Thor and Malekith don’t need portals and laser blasts, just their two fists and some serious earth shattering.    And the main villain is seriously undercut in the evil department when he looks like a pissed off Ben Stiller with a dirty face.   Promising an army of evil elves and delivering a bare dozen scrunched up garden gnomes in hockey masks doesn’t even scare Jason.  

With twice the characters comes considerable role shortening.  Sif, she of the hot armor body gets very little screen time as do the Warriors ThreeJane Foster and the other earthlings get too much in moments that are just marking time until the next action scene. Taylor and company blew their opportunity to have Sif and Jane have the cat fight of the ages.  

Sure it is nice too see the two main contenders (Jamie Alexander and Kat Dennings) for the next wonder woman in the same movie, but real fan boys want and deserve to see a smack down between the two to settle who really is the worthy Diana.  

Thor: The Dark World gets a B- from me.  



Ender’s Game tries to cloak the obsession of playing video games into a larger obsession of what role should a military play in a world filled with a very real sense of imminent invasion paranoia.   Ender Wiggins (Asa Butterfield of Hugo) is proclaimed by the defense powers that be the savior of the human race from the insect looking Formic horde because of his ability to not only play war simulations but master them with the out of the box strategy of a chess grandmaster.

Director Gavin Hood breaks Orson Scott Card’s novel into a story of synthesizing the violent and peace loving part of humanity into not only an effective fighting weapon but a perfect person that knows when to give war and peace their proper due and moment.   The tragedy of the novel and the movie is believing to much in the fear of the warmongers and not enough in the hope, faith and inherent goodness common to all higher intelligent beings whether human or extraterrestrial.

Card and Hood breaks the two parts into four characters.

The war mongering side has his bullying older brother (Jimmy Pinchak) and the commander of the war academy (Harrison Ford).  The brother got drummed out because his violent temperament could not see strategies based on knowing his enemy.  The commander is a bully because he knows the stakes are high, but he also knows when to show kindness and when to discipline and when to apply them to get the proper results.   His heart and soul live in the blinders that encompass combat veterans and allow them to do their necessary and difficult job.

The peace loving side is embodied by his overly compassionate and empathetic sister aptly named Valentine (Abigail Breslin) and the touchy-feel Academy psychologist (Viola Davis) concerned with keeping the last of  Ender’s childhood intact and his psyche on an even moral balance.  The Academy struggle between warrior and diplomat reflect Ender’s inner struggle between bad brother and good sister.  Ender’s struggle and synthesis is both the failure and hope of mankind.   It wouldn’t be giving away too much to note that failure is needed to produce the sequels that will seek a diplomatic hope and a loving truth.

Ender’s Game is thankfully free of both the political and moral posturing that has gotten Scott Card in trouble with elements of the left and politically correct– and I am not a big fan of Scott Card’s opinion on gay rights and the current POTUS.  Scott Card sold the movie rights to Ender’s Game a long time ago and will not see a penny of profits from it, so a boycott of the movie would not hurt Card financially one bit.  The movie is an honest encapsulation of what many forget is an anti-war, anti-military depiction of our future, written long before Card had a change of heart and decided to become the poster boy for the politically incorrect cause of the moment.   If you want to hurt Scott Card, stop buying his books.  

Ender’s Game to use the smashup language of movie pitches is a Hunger Games set in a Hogswarthian dystopia with a slight Matrix religious allegory embedded in its spine.  All were written after Ender’s Game and in some cases may be slightly inspired by it.   The movie works because Asa Butterfield as Ender balances off gangly awkwardness with a tough psychological and intellectual interior that slowly leaks out the revelations until his character is the full realization of the story’s theme.    Gavin Hood makes Ender’s Game a sneak attack on the heart in between video game level jumps.   

Ender’s Game gets a B from me.