Monthly Archives: April 2015
“Superman: The Movie” is considered by many to be one of the greatest comic book adaptions of all time. A man that can fly and posses super powers beyond any normal man has been such an iconic staple in American culture, it makes you wonder how he is so well embedded. At the time, superhero movies were considered a huge risk seeing they existed in 1950s serials and TV shows but no one attempted a full-length feature film. Well, they gave it a good shot and sure enough, “Superman” was a huge hit. Since then, others have tried to copy its formula of what makes it work while others succeeded in keeping with the spirit of the film. By sticking close to the source of the comic and using the current technology at the to bring the original vision to life. It wasn’t easy and I’m sure there were some difficult liberties but the final result is a film that makes you “believe a man can fly.” However, this was back in 1978. A time when the blockbuster was starting to become a mainstream regular. Considering how times have changed, does it make this movie dated?
To be fair, it really goes all the way in delivering a superhero movie that is true to the original story while also timeless. We are treated to the origin of Kal-El who escapes the destruction of his home planet Krypton that becomes an asteroid field thanks to its sun exploding on them. The baby makes its way to Earth under the care of an elderly folk where he grows up to find out his true birth right. Knowing this information, he discovers from pre-recorded messages from his dad (played by Marlon Brando) that he posses greater power than any usual mortal and dedicates his life to being a savior of the planet.
Christopher Reeve takes the role of the super powered being who is faster than a speeding bullet and able to fly around the world in a mere hour. Thankfully, he really does a great job at not just a heroic savior but also the bumbling alter-ego Clark Kent. Its the typical awkward nerd trope that is used in countless superhero movies when a powerful being needs a disguise but for the time, its enjoyable and doesn’t get any degrading. The reason I can think of that Clark has someone to play off his bumbling self; that being his love interest Lois Lane (Margot Kidder.) Remember when I mentioned one of my main problems of the Amazing Spider-Man movies was how the love interest was played up to be typical awkward teen love and had that constant on and off again situation where they teased about them being together? Well, here is where it all started and I think its done better here; that is till Superman II perfecting it.
When Reeve and Kidder are on screen, you don’t see two actors making googly eyes and reading from the script. There is good chemistry between them as Clark knows when to be subtle on the geek moments and Lois just takes it as a typical quirk. But when Clark is Superman and doing things like flying with Lois or saving her from danger, we get this sense of care that isn’t phoned in. The two really act like a great pair as Lois teases with Clark while Superman does the same to Lois. Its funny seeing it comes off as a strange love triangle as one makes subtle winks to another but its all around cute.
But what is a superhero movie without a villain? Midway, we get introduced to Lex Luthor performed by Gene Hackman who clearly shows he’s having a good time mucking it up as the bad guy. From his underground layer in the subway to one fake hair piece after another, he plans to convert the California state in Luthor owned property by means of two hijacked missiles planted at the San Andrea Fault. Again, this is something all superhero movies would carry with the criminal mastermind that has an impossible plan but “Superman” at least makes it work to an extant. There’s only so much of our suspension of disbelief we can carry at times but the villainous plan gets a pass because of its execution. Compared to the later movies where it would get sillier and sillier, Luthor’s plot is played to be more of a tycoon that sees every step doesn’t get pigeonholed or brought down by the smallest of things. And again, you can tell Gene Hackman is having a blast playing this villain from his over the top anger to his cocky attitude that makes him look like he was too good for Wall Street.
As much what works well for this movie, there are some elements that don’t hold up as much in my opinion. On first watch, the pacing of “Superman” can feel slow and that’s because there’s so much material it has to set up like the origin story and Superman trying to prove he is a hero. With so much at bay, you wonder what is the true narrative or motivation. I’d argue its Kal-El struggling to make something of himself but then you have to be introduced to the villain Luthor and his “master plan” doesn’t go into action till the last 30 minutes of the movie. Newcomers who are expecting a mesh between origin tale and solid story might be disappointed or find the pacing a little uneven as the “Man of Steel” himself establishes his part to Metropolis for the first half of movie while the final half leans more towards a good vs. evil story. Its passable but I would have liked to see a way of how to insect the two.
Also, while some of the characters are memorable, there are a select few that don’t hold up as well. Ned Beatty and Valerie Perrine play two accomplices of Lex Luthor that tend to feel more like goofy stock characters than three dimensional beings. Valerie as Lex’s girlfriend is a small exception seeing she has a bit of redemption at the end but Ned Beatty’s Otis is just unforgiving. Its the stereotypical bumbling henchman that goofs up just to make the kids laugh. There are a few times when his character can be funny but other times it can get groan inducing with his tough speech impediment-like accent and meat headed personality. Thankfully, it doesn’t diminish the enjoyment of the movie too much.
Now something I should address is that there exists three different versions of this movie. And if you are to start with a certain cut, I’d say possibly the original theatrical cut or the 2000 extended edition would be fine. This third version is known by fans as the “Salkind International Extended Cut” which is far longer clocking in at 3 hours and 8 minutes. Back then, ABC offered to air “Superman: The Movie” as a “pay per minute” deal. Thus, the two producers compiled a version of the movie that had over 40 minutes of deleted scenes that expanded on certain scenes like the destruction of Krypton, added moments like Lois interviewing an Indian chief or Lex Luthor prepping his car crash distraction and even restored some John Williams score that was trimmed in the theatrical cut. As a whole, its interesting to see tons of added footage but it sort of hampers with the narrative a bit slowing the pace even more. If you can find it, its a nice little gem but I wouldn’t recommend it for first time viewers.
The 2000 extended edition, however, is a cut that was supervised by director Richard Donner along with film editor Michael Thau and has a few select scenes from the longer television edit. The reason not all the footage was added was due to poor visual effects and this version was more of a “professional edit” than rather a syndicated pick-up for television. While the film was restored, the audio elements were punched up a bit with some extra sound effects in spots where the original audio was deemed “unusable.” In terms of the added scenes, its very much like the Director’s Cut to “Wrath of Khan.” They are subtle and interesting while they don’t alter the narrative flow too much. Highlights include Kal-El talking to his father more in the Fortress of Solitude, a young Lois Lane seeing Clark run pass the train she is on and a whole sequence where Lex Luthor tires to fire bullets, burn and freeze Superman as the caped wonder makes his way to Luthor’s layer. As stated, these additions are fine alone so either version can be viewed on its own.
“Superman: The Movie” shouldn’t be forgotten as another “run of the mill” comic book movie. Without it, where would we be with today’s noble work like “Guardians of the Galaxy” or Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy. Clearly they owe a lot to this movie because no one even attempted a superhero film on this scale. It proved that viewers can see pass the wires and marvel at Christopher Reeve flying in the air because of how much life he brings to the character alone. Even the special effects still hold up well enough as we see Superman fly into the air and even a great magnitude of practical effects to hide the illusion. We know its rear projection and wires but there’s such a great blend to the point we don’t care and marvel at the effort. And that’s the keyword; effort. For the first superhero movie of its time, everyone was doing their part to bring a blockbuster epic that no one has attempted. So, if you want to see where the comic book movie craze all begin, the consider this one a decent recommendation. While its dated in spots and at times goes for a more artistic stride in sets and special effects, you just can’t help but believe that a Superman can fly…
I think we can all agree that we grew up with Peter Pan in our childhood. The idea of a kid that never grew up, lives in a world far beyond the stars, has a group of friends at his aid and fights pirates surprisingly never got old. J. M. Barrie unleashed an amazing world of fairies and cut throat pirates while bringing in a group of interesting characters. But as far as film versions go, there’s always two I tend to look at; The animated Disney version from 1951 and Steven Spielberg’s “possible sequel” Hook. I watched these movies a lot as a kid admiring the child spirit of the animated version while Hook acted more like lost “fatherhood” than a search for childhood. With these two embedded in my mind, there was practically no other take I can think of that really stood out and said “this is Pan in his finest hour.” I’m also aware of the Fox animated series “Peter Pan and the Pirates” which sadly I never saw at the time. But I will say thanks to the Internet, I can mark it off as a good twist on the classic tale.
Now, jump to the holiday season of 2003 which I will always regard as the dark period of my theater going experiences. There was a great amount of family movies that came out at the time that rarely became a box-office hit. Sure there was Elf and the last Lord of the Rings movie, but with so much competition at stake, I felt everyone had no idea which was a safe choice to watch with their kids or just by themselves. Brother Bear and Looney Tunes: Back in Action failed to make a big splash at the box office while The Cat in the Hat and The Haunted Mansion were failures with critics and viewers for taking cherished nostalgia into pure crap. With many mainstream movies geared for the adult audience like Honey and Bad Santa, it was a tough act to find a film that was for the younger crowd while also good at the same time. The only two I can think of that were true hits were Elf and the remake Cheaper by the Dozen. With so many different films to choose from and compete against, it was a tough market to be in let alone for a movie about a boy who could fly and never get old. And for these reasons alone, that is why I think P. J. Hogan’s “Peter Pan” wasn’t a box office success.
Needless to say, I never saw this adaption in theaters but wanted to. It looked darker and felt like an edgier take. But once 2004 kicked in, those memories of seeing trailers and TV spots while getting hyped faded away. It wouldn’t be long til I finally saw it (or at least some) when I was in 8th grade. It was a basic situation where a movie would play while one would work to arts and crafts to pass the time. And unfortunately, that is how I best remember my “fond” memories. I knew the technology was finally updated to the point where CGI could be a lending hand but something about it kept me from seeing the special effects as unique. It was action-packed and went into grim territory when needed but I always kept thinking back to Harry Potter when it came to family films that had a balance between light and edge. The cast and its performances were good but there was not much I could remember that really stuck out to me. Well, after finally revisiting “Peter Pan” I can finally say that I don’t think its necessarily a bad movie but there was room for improvement that just didn’t meet my expectations.
The story about a kid that “never grew up” is there and the entire cast again is not bad. Jeremy Sumpter plays the Pan in grass clothing and all while promsing Wendy (Rachel Hurd-Wood) that a world lies beyond the stars where she can remain young forever and never get old. Seeing her parents are pressuring her into adulthood, she accepts while tagging her brothers John and Micheal who relish in the thought of adventure as much as they do. The kid acting is fine even among the Lost Boys who don’t feel dull or generic. Again, I can’t think of a bad performance as we started to get into that age where child acting really got up to speed and showed that a ten year old can really carry emotion.
Jason Isaacs is devious as Captain Hook while also stern and awkward as Mr. Darling. In keeping with stage play tradition, the actor who plays Hook also has the role of the father of the Darling family. But what feels missing is the same amount of menace that Mr. Darling had to make that connection between reality and fantasy. Instead, Mr. Darling is depicted as a bumbling klutz than the usual “nose to the grindstone” father that is usually seen. I guess this was done to lighten him up seeing Hook is fierce in comparison but I can see the idea of Darling being equally menacing as the infamous pirate. Even the Disney version knew when to limit that by showing he wasn’t a bad father but frustrated while trying to stick to his beliefs of what makes in his opinion a good family. Instead, the 2003 version has him trying to overcome social awkward tropes while also played as the comic foil.
When Jason Isaacs plays Hook, however, its the total opposite. He really chews out the scenery in being a memorable Hook. He sets his sights on revenge without stop, he is a cunning planner, lays his crew to waste when he’s frustrated or angry, and even proves to be a huge threat for our heroes. I should say this is hands down a good take on the character but something feels missing. With Has Conried, he was devious while still a campy yet funny version. And Dustin Hoffman delivered a more psychological variation that is played for laughs and dug into the character’s mindset. Its not that Isaacs is not doing a bad job as this is the Hook we all wanted, but there’s not much fun to his character. He’s used as a straight up villain which is not bad but I wish there was more humor to his take.
On top of that, there are some elements in this version that feel really uncomfortable. I don’t know if its the source or how the film is delivered but there is a lot of romantic tension that come off as feeling awkward. I guess it didn’t bother me too much as a teenager because I didn’t pick it up on first watch, but it feels like there’s a lot of “sexual tension” between Peter Pan and Wendy most of the time. The dialogue when they talk for the first time is executed in a manner that feels like something adults would say and there’s all these close ups of Peter getting excited that are really tight and enclosed that ruin the whim of the moment. Wendy should be amazed by the idea of a kid that can fly and remain his age. Not all these metaphors about martial parenting and teenage love. It almost comes off as creepy. And it doesn’t help either when later on Hook seduces her with piano and a lobster dinner that feels near pedophilia when he talks about having her join her crew of adult pirates, tell stories and there are these moments where Hook acts like a lady charmer in subtle expressions. It just feels weird and unsettling. Maybe I’m looking at this too much seeing it is a fantasy for the younger crowd but it just comes off as out of date in either the context its delivered in or just suffers from being seen in a new vision.
It also doesn’t help the special effects haven’t held up here. Don’t get me wrong. Some things like the sets and Ludivine Sagnier’s tiny appearance as Tinkerbell do work. But from time to time, you can tell when something is CGI and when something is being blue screened to the point you don’t feel like kids are flying in the air or that a crocodile is really chasing after Hook. Its surprisingly how another pirate movie (Pirates of the Caribbean) at the time used CGI and practical to a degree where they blend seamlessly where else here it just feels like a video game crafted for the PS2. A good example is when the Darling kids fly for the first time as they jump off a bed. Its clearly established its such a small room where else when they jump into the air, the ceiling above them looks huge out of the Sistine Chapel. With many inconsistencies and effects that range from cartoony to an obviously computer crafted crocodile, they took me out of the moment where I felt like I was watching a movie and not so much fully convinced Neverland.
So your probably thinking I really dislike this adaption? Well, its more half and half. As a kid, I would have enjoy seeing this version but at the time, Harry Potter was on the scene and really pushed the boundaries for young fantasy. I feel with Hogwarts on the big screen and enchanting audiences ages 8 to 52, there wasn’t much to offer here aside from trying to be this edgier take. There’s even elements that I felt could have been better expanded on like the Native Americans and mermaids we see for one scene or even how the logic of Neverland works. To be fair, it does start off clever as Pan’s emotions sort of control the island as his absence creates winter but yet his existence on Neverland creates spring. But then there are things like when he is sad it becomes winter again or when he’s happy it becomes bright and sunny. Whatever its trying to say in this metaphoric view, it just comes off as a nice idea but weird in execution.
Maybe if this “Pan” found a balance between light and dark while placing a bit more effort into its effects while being fun and light yet unique adaption, I wouldn’t feel so underwhelmed. In a way, I expected a lot more from this version but it felt like it was playing itself too safe in spots when it tried to be dark and lost in trying to be acceptable for mainstream audiences. The final result is not a bad movie but it feels near forgettable. My personal take is that after showing how much fantasy can do with Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, it became a tough act to follow while opening a new door. Now you can make characters with depth while meshing them with amazing worlds that are digital but feel grand. “Peter Pan” feels more like a wannabe Harry Potter and less like an adaption that does its own thing. Once in a while you get a good moment and a nice visual but its bogged down by how the source is being presented or some strange directing choices that I tend to question or wish why it exists. I wouldn’t say its a movie I wouldn’t let kids watch as I can’t think of any bad morels or anything that I felt was awful. Its harmless enough on its own to watch. But with a new “Pan” on the horizon that is taking the origin route (much like “Maleficent” or “Oz, the Great and Powerful”), I am starting to wonder if there is hope for that second star to the right…
For the longest time, I never understood why “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” never got the talk it deserved. It was a hit at the box-office and paved the way for the Next Generation films while showing the Star Trek franchise still had legs. Fans tend to look at films Khan, Spock and Voyage Home as a defining trilogy and I can see why. My argument is why not end it all with “Undiscovered Country?” It ends a lot of character arcs with Captain Kirk, takes a lot of dark risks and even explorers more boundaries with the characters we know and love. Well, after watching it a few times, I sort of understand why some would tend to overlook it but I still see no excuse to skip it.
When a Klingon moon explodes, its revealed that a good bulk of the ozone layer on the Klingon’s homeworld is depleted and a lack of energy throws them into turmoil to the point they can’t control themselves. The solution; seek peace with the Federation who happen to be a long time enemy. How they choose to talk about their terms however is where it gets interesting. They decide to have an ambassador sent and let an escort accompany them to Earth. This of course has Kirk in the mix when him and his crew are chosen to be the escort despite the captain’s anger for the alien race after killing his son. But problems arise when when the Chancelor is assassinated under the Enterprise’s watch and leaves Kirk for the blame to the point him and McCoy get sent to court for their crimes while Spock and the crew try to piece together this intense mystery.
What works the most about “Undiscovered Country” is how it keeps your guessing. There’s so many open possibilities and it takes advantage of every single one. The idea that anyone on the crew is a suspect, Kirk trying to learn to deal with his bigotry and even the material with the Klingons hold up well too. They are alien beings that are trapped between making peace with a long time enemy or creating a new war. They play off of it so much it makes you wonder just how many are willing to put down their weapons and just get along. Even the Federation is unsure yet willing to try out making negotiations hoping this will lead to a positive outcome.
While that is a strength of a movie, it also comes as a weakness. A lot of Klingon elements are used as a tour de force metaphor for the Cold War when America and Russia went head to head in the nuclear arms race. Unlike most movies like Superman IV or Red Dawn where they use the time period as a plot device, Star Trek VI serves as more of an afterthought which is not a bad idea but the symbolism and metaphors come off as obvious and might date this entry a little. Crew members resort to racist Klingon slang as even talks of advanced weaponry get tossed in the mix. They even go as far to have Kirk and McCoy imprisoned on a snowy planet that looks remonstrant of a Gulag. On first watch, its kind cool seeing all the different alien species mining for minerals and mingling but in hindsight, it pushes the Russian connections a bit too much.
What that said, I feel the rest of the movie holds up enough on its own. Its nice to see the original cast back together one last time, the action scenes are intense while providing plenty of flare and the performances are good too. Highlights include David Warner getting a small but big role as the Klingon Chancellor and Christopher Plummer as the Klingon General Chang really soaks in his role of war crazed persona. Its funny how these two contrast from each other as Warner goes for a softer approach while Plummer really goes all out. Its fun seeing him watch in delight as he tries to outwit Captain Kirk and see that his motives succeed. The action scenes are well done and very intense for a Star Trek movie. The Klingon assassination scene is a huge highlight with Dutch angles and tight close-ups used to a good degree. The special effects hold up well enough but again there is that looming Cold War metaphor as starships move about like war submarines when in confrontation. On the other hand, its nice to see some model work before the switch over to CGI.
Fans might also be curious to check out the Director’s Cut which you can find on certain DVD releases and VHS tapes. The one that seems to be more recommendable and available is the Special Collector’s Edition cut. Much like with “Wrath of Khan,” (ironic as Nicholas Meyer returns to direct), the additions are small and subtle but enhance the narrative without grand damage. There’s only a couple of shots changed around like when Scotty examines some blueprints of the Enterprise but then there’s whole sequences that are restored like a group proposing to save Kirk and McCoy and Spock inspecting the torpedoes while the Scotsman alludes to his Klingon bigotry. But then, there’s some that sort of work like this extra twist to an assassination near the end when the assassin turns out to be someone else. Without spoiling anything, its a neat idea but lacks the proper build up.
Overall, “Undiscovered Country” is a fitting end to such an amazing franchise. Sure the original Star Trek movies had some bumps along the way, but this entry really ties the knot together. I’m pleased to see they decided they stopped here and didn’t continue as clearly the cast was already aging. In a way, this acts like a reunion film and its nice to see the old crew back together one last time. In today’s cinema, this considered a taboo move as films like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull feel pointless knowing the original franchise was fine without a new entry. This sequel doesn’t fall into that trap but nearly does considering the cast is well aware there’s no point for a six one but at least have fun with it. By the time the end credits came and showed the signatures of everyone from William Shatner to Leonard Nemoy, I couldn’t help but feel a sign of accomplishment. These people went to explore the most amazing parts of the galaxy and truly went where no one had gone before. This was this curtain call and it was a nice end to their experience to such a well remembered franchise.
Christopher Nolan is a man that can transport people to interesting worlds wither it be inside out mind but space might not be one of them. “Interstellar” is a film that clearly has effort behind it and tries so hard to be a serious science fiction film but has so much that either rides against it or contradicts what its doing. For the most part, it does try to make the science elements of traveling through a worm hole appear plausible but at the same time falls into the pits of trying to be a mainstream blockbuster that everyone can accept and understand. And that’s the key phrase, “everyone can accept and understand.” I do admire the concept and some ideas but again the set ups and directions it goes in are not only unoriginal but also feel wasted.
Matthew McConaughey is an everyday farmer named Cooper who gets a series of signs in her daughter’s room that somehow manage him to get access to a NASA site and get involved in a secret mission. Apparently, the world is suffering from a crop blight meaning all vegetation will collapse thanks to a deadly organism. Well, it just so happens Cooper originally worked for NASA and is volunteered to travel into a wormhole to scout for any signs of life.
Sound complex already? Well, they also establish that time is different in space travel as a mere hour turns out to be seven Earth years. And it doesn’t help either when one trip to a planet equals 23 years as the world gets worse and it agricultural society starts to burn away. If that wasn’t enough, we have to deal with a lost crew that went into the wormhole before Cooper’s venture and this one astronaut played by Matt Damon has been waiting to escape back to Earth. And then, Cooper’s daughter getting all grown-up and loosing faith in her father’s return while trying to figure out a way to save the Earth. And while that goes on, I kept looking at the time wondering just how conclude or at least what could have been cut out to make it more effective.
The main problem I constantly had with “Interstellar” is just how clunky and slow the pacing is. For a movie that has so many ideas, it carries too much plot. The conflict between Copper and his daughter was fine enough but then you have to throw in the travel time and progress between the two. I’d be fine with it being a focus of the story that is if it wasn’t buried under so much stuff. I remember reading up that Earth in the movie was set in a future were crops were dependent on the planet’s survival. Without the proper set-up of what time frame, one can easily mistake this as being set in present times. Or at least the movie world of present times where fantasy and science are unlimited.
There is a story there but the movie feels more like it wants to be a visual wonder than a strong story. And in fact, I do like the effort in these strange new worlds and a lot of the special effects. Some concepts like a fifth dimension where one item is used for communication is clever while planets made of elements feel almost uninspired and generic. The crew finds themselves walking on planets of water, ice and at one point desert without any visual flare or spectacle. They treat these new worlds like mundane places rather than look at it with a powerful presence.
The performances do hold up considering the cast of great actors they obtained from Michael Caine to Anne Hathaway. I can’t think of anyone I was really disappointed with as they really try to make this world believable as possible. McConaughey’s character has some depth as a single father that is trying to hold on to hope through her daughter’s promise. Its the usual father and daughter stuff but it can be nice at times to watch. Despite the fact when Cooper’s daughter grows older, we start to question the dynamic between the two as she looses faith in the return of her dad and Cooper is stuck between saving humanity or trying to rekindle her daughter’s spirit.
Perhaps what made me feel so underwhelmed about “Interstellar” lies in the script itself. If there was another re-write, I’m positive elements like a robot with a sassy attitude and aspect of its time frame would have been smoothed out. For a movie that is trying to be a grand experience film like 2001 or Close Encounters of the Third Kind, it really sags. We doing even venture into the wormhole until the one hour mark and this movie is already a near 3 hours long. Perhaps if the focus was more on the voyage to the wormhole and less on doomed Earth, the overall experience would have been ok. But something like 2001 differs because the experience was on a thesis; the evolution of humanity and technology. Instead, “Interstellar” pods along with science talk that back fires by the end with one of the most strangest resolutions to saving the Earth I have ever seen in my life. Its a concept so bizarre that I almost laughed at how “topsy-curvy” it appeared.
Another thing I should address is that movie was shot in such a strange way that it must be addressed. Like most of Nolan’s films, it was shot with IMAX cameras giving deeper depth and quality. However, unlike most IMAX releases like Tron Legacy where select scenes are in this huge format, Interstellar jumps frequently from its normal 2:35:1 aspect ratio to its IMAX 1:90:1 ratio. This happens a lot throughout the whole movie as it can cut from an IMAX scene in space to a scene in the normal widescreen ratio. And its not just select sequences but even a single shot that lasts between 10 to 25 seconds and then it will cut automatically to its normal widescreen ratio. This choice really bugs me as it could have been put to better use like have the scenes in space be IMAX but the moments on Earth in a normal ratio. It worked for the Grand Budapest Hotel to present different decades but it doesn’t work when your trying to tell a coherent narrative or at least one that isn’t all over the star chart.
As I was looking through the usual rack of DVDs, what did my eye catch but another home video cash cow that is on par with DVD reissues. Universal Studios has released a selection of family films dubbed the “Happy Faces” version. No doubt a means to break in on the Easter holiday. Some of the choices I can see being fine with like The Little Rascals and Beethoven (not seen in the pic above) but then you have some that deserve questioning. Why Barney’s Great Adventure for its pandering to the younger demographic making it a headache to the older generation? Why Casper and Coaraline when both are more suited for a Halloween release? And of all the titles in the batch, who would be so cruel to let The Cat in the Hat be given this treatment?
Is this how low we have gotten for home video entertainment around the Easter holiday? Well this serves as not only a list of recommendations but also a letter to the studios out there in Hollywood trying to think of a way to “get in” on the holiday. From reissuing classics or making a film for the season, there are better movies to view around a time when kids hunt for Easter eggs while older folks respect the religious origins. So for those who are looking to entertain their children and those looking for something to watch in celebration of the bright and colorful season, look no further. And I can guarantee you, these are far better substitutes than something dull and uninspired as Hop.
Here Comes Peter Cottontail – This 1971 Rankin Bass classic deals with the Easter Bunny mythos in a more clever way than the 90 minute CGI-hybrid romp. Casey Kasem of Scooby Doo fame voices Peter as he picked to be the next Easter Bunny but soon all that changes when he’s challenged by a nasty rabbit named Irontail to an egg delivering contest. As you might guess, Peter looses but then a strange man helps him travel back in time to make amends for his actions. Not strange enough? How about having Irontail sabotage the machine so he can go to any holiday but Easter leaving Peter in a quest to find a suitable holiday for his eggs?
The main problem is that for a Rankin Bass special, its the weirdest one when you read it on paper. But what matters is the execution. Despite being dated and a tad psychedelic in spots, there are a lot of elements that do hold up. The message of perseverance and trying to deal with your failures is not easy to come across for a kid audience but somehow it holds everything together. On top of that, hearing the voice of Shaggy from Peter Cottontail gives some nostalgic vibes for older audiences but I feel it will be seen more for the voice performance of Vincent Price as Irontail. Anything Vincent is in will always shine no matter how bad or weird it will be. I remember watching this fondly as a kid and looking back on it, its probably my favorite Rankin Bass special next to The Stingiest Man in Town. But if this stop-motion affair isn’t your cup of tea, then look to the next choice…
The Ten Commandments (1956) – Its funny how Cecil B. DeMille’s biblical epic has held up over the years. Ever since 1973, this grand telling of the Moses story has become a huge staple for ABC and rarely has been retired from the airwaves. Some might consider this corny by today’s standards but the performance of Charlton Heston and its visual look make up for it. This was made in a time before digital effects were known so elements like tons of slaves pulling a block of stone look more effective than it would today.
Even strange is how there was never an attempt to cut down its massive near 4 hour running time for a general release. This is up there with Gone with the Wind and Ben-Hur as movies that don’t need a massive trimming to make it better. Older viewers will enjoy it for the sheer nostalgia and its subtle performances (despite some melodrama from time to time) and I feel younger viewers will be amazed by the scope and scale it brings. They will marvel at the building of Egypt while gaze in wonder when the Red Sea is parted.
The Prince of Egypt – If you feel kids can’t handle a long epic, there’s also this alternative which is effective too. To think an animated musical of a Biblical tale can bring the same depth as the 1956 film while still be compelling and dynamic in new ways. Val Kilmer dons the voice of Moses as he goes for a more human approach in comparison to Heston’s theatrical take but I’m sure Ralph Fiennes shouldn’t go ignored as the brother Ramesses II. Ralph’s chilling performance matches such lush animation as we see not a cold being but someone who wants to keep a connection with his adopted sibling while still follow in his father’s footsteps.
Simon Wells directed this flick and its probably the only movie aside from Balto I can easily recommend for a family audience. There’s a decent balance between dark and light that almost challenges the films of Don Bluth in perfecting a good movie for kids without going too dark or too light. The only drawback is that the comedic moments can feel really tacky and obviously set for the younger crowd but the more dramatic second half makes up for it. And you can’t complain when your movie is being scored by Hans Zimmer with delightful tunes by Stephen Schwartz.
The Last Temptation of Christ – This is easily a hard movie to recommend because it depends on the kind of person you are towards religion. Are you one that believes in the faith or accepts some ideas? Can you be open to different interpretations or is there a fine line between artistic expression and blasphemy? Well, Martin Scorsese really pushed the limits and brought us a movie that was not only breathtaking but really questioned the faith.
William Dafoe takes the role of Jesus but in a more humanitarian view as opposed to a benevolent take we all know. Instead, it makes us wonder what it would be like if he had a thought process like our own. Even more ambitious is the final moments where we see what it would be like he was human. Would he regret not having the ability to sacrifice his life for others or appreciate life? These elements really caused a stir and its probably why Hollywood tries to please the masses with religious films that play it safe as opposed to really question the what if factor. If you have an open mind and understand its just fiction and nothing more, you’ll be safe and enjoy a movie that artistically powerful as is its script. Everyone else……Ten Commandments?
Critters 2: The Main Course – While I do prefer the first movie, its obvious from the start its not meant to be taken seriously. I remember watching this on first viewing and while I didn’t hate it, still feel it doesn’t hold a candle to the first one. But looking back on its zany and out of control tone, I will say it did expand on a lot and didn’t fail to deliver. There’s higher risks as the little alien porcupines munch about the town in many ways that are clever and too good not to spoil. Its obviously going for a “tongue in cheek” approach but sadly lacks the horror angle from the first movie. A lot of the Critters were obscure in the night time where else in the sequel, they look like daylight Muppets that keep munching and munching. They had distinctive personalities in the first film while the sequel has them multiply into havoc raking monsters.
With that said, it does expand on a few things like the alien bounty hunters and uses their changing abilities to clever moments like one looking like a Playboy centerfold to another moment when one of the hunters becomes so broken he literally erases his human identity thus forming into his normal form. Critters 2 was never meant to be a good movie and it obviously shows. Its a mindless affair that lets your leave your brain at the door and enjoy the crazy on the screen. And if your wonder what it has to do with Easter, I’ll leave it like this. You won’t think of Easter egg hunts the same way again after this one. Until I do a proper revisit and go in-depth, I still say its worth watching at least for “that” kind of crowd.
Monty Python’s The Life of Brain – It can’t be Easter without this movie! While Holy Grail is my favorite of the Python gang’s filmography, I do admire the ambition and wit behind this one. Instead of poking fun at a religious figure, they more or less ask what would happen if someone else wound up in the same situation but wasn’t benevolent like Jesus. Mistaken as the Messiah when he’s just a regular person. Well, somehow the Python’s succeeded with this one. Just when you think a gut busting moment is done, you get another one right around the corner. The jokes and sketches they incorporate into the narrative are all hit making at fun at not just the topical theme of religion but even going as far to really bash Roman lifestyle. Its funny how this movie was considered blasphemous upon its release but during a reissue when The Passion of the Christ came about, viewers started to get the message better that it wasn’t about mocking Jesus but more on the New Testament era itself. I can’t recommend this comedy enough but if you offended…well…
This review opens up with a viewer beware because there is no other “holiday” movie I can think of aside from “The Nutcracker Prince” or “Valentine’s Day” that feels like a complete cash cow. Even Christmas movies have more dignity with nice pretty lights and try to maintain a message even when its bogged down by cliches and boring characters. So imagine how unsurprising I felt when I decided to examine “Hop” after four years of avoiding it like the plague. This little relic comes from a time when film makers were desperate to find a childhood icon like the Tooth Fairy and make a movie out of it. A simple fantasy icon that would get bloated into a slew and slay of pop culture jokes and pandering to the younger crowd. I want to say there is something worse than this movie in terms of what it does, but frankly I can’t think of one on the spot.
Easter gets the “Santa Clause” treatment here as the Easter Bunny (voiced by Hugh Laurie) hides away on Easter Island where under all those Moai statues is a bright and colorful factor that looks like it was taken from a commercial for Wonka Candy products. I want to say its cleverly designed but I keep thinking to all the Hershey and Cadbury chocolates that get crafted in front of our eyes. The “Santa” treatment is pushed further with baby chicks for elves who make the candies along with the cute little hares that help out to even the iconic Bunny riding around in a makeshift sled pulled by a team of baby chicks. The “Santa Factor” is so forced that it feels unoriginal. Ever more confusing is a teleporter device that is introduced later proving the sled useless when you can just jump from Easter Island to California and even China in just a mil-second.
But all is not well as his son E. B. (voiced by Russell Brand) has dreams of being a core drummer than travel around the world and give out candy baskets. In pursuit of his dream, he goes to Hollywood to see his talent get known. Personally, I had mixed feelings in regards to Russell Brand’s performance. I don’t think he’s a bad actor considering he can do different voices but unfortunately, the only movie I can think of where he did this was for the mad scientist Dr. Nefario in Despicable Me. Next to the Minions, this old-bumbling scientist is one of my favorite characters from that movie and for a while, I didn’t think for once he was voiced by Brand. So there is proof he can be funny and do different characters but the same can’t be said as E. B. Throughout the whole movie, I keep hearing this over-aged rocker personality in a character that would have been more suited if it was voiced by someone younger say 13 or 14. The design of the character is better fitted that way and it feels weird to have Brand’s voice come out of his mouth considering he doesn’t do anything to fit the character aside from giving his own personality which doesn’t do much.
Quiet conveniently, he gets hit in a car accident by Fred O’Hare (James Marsden) who gives into his fake injury and takes the blame. As you can imagine, they both have a common trait as they constantly get viewed by their family as the lower berth and asked to get a real job. It also doesn’t help that Fred keeps on blowing every job opportunity just because the script says he needs to. I found no sympathy for this character and what form they tried to inject into doesn’t work. To describe the relationship between E. B. and Fred is akin to the manic ventures of Alivn and Dave from Alivin and the Chipmunks. Which is ironic seeing Tim Hill lends a direction and it shows with the typical staple of pop culture jokes and buffet of low-brow toilet humor just to keep the kids awake.
What form of conflict they have here doesn’t feel fleshed out. Hank Azaria feels added on as a last minute villain with the role of Carlos, a Hispanic accented Chick who is tired of being second banana and plans to take over the Easter holiday. With so much time devoted to E. B. roaming Hollywood, we care little of what happens as the evil spring chick plans to replace Easter goodies with worms and bird seed. But even then we don’t care what happens because of how lazy the script feels and how uninspired everything is. Carlos only exists because “Hop” needs a climax when it still builds to an unsatisfactory conclusion that feels scaled back and anti-climatic as a transformed Carlos tries to fly off but the action plays safe by having it take place in the factory than do an actual risk.
And that’s the key phrase here, “playing it safe.” This movie doesn’t offer much new outside of being two cliched films for the price of one. By combining all three “Santa Clause” movies and fusing them with the tropes of an Adam Sandler movie, the end result is something that looks nice from time to time but the whole story and batch of characters we get are dull, cliched and feel more like cardboard cut-outs than dimensional characters. Its a shame because there are some unique ideas that could have lived up to potential like a ninja-like group the Easter Bunny has called the Pink Berets which are female bunnies with pink berets. There is an open possibility for making funny characters but all they do is act menacing and grunt a lot. There’s only four animated characters that talk while every other CGI being just resorts to cheeps and noises. Again, so much room to make characters for but instead feel like moving scenery than living things. Most of the time they feel more like Minion clones than actual animals.
I feel bad because the animation was done by Illumination Entertainment and their craft really shows here from the feather and fur textures to the composition of these fictional characters into live-action footage. However, the effect wears its welcome as we can tell James Marsden is not in a real set but blue-screened into a CGI background and most of the climax feels like a video game level than an adrenaline pumping finale. To say “Hop” is the next holiday classic for the Easter season is an insult to the eyes and ears of those who wish for something magical and astounding. I’d go as far to say its on par with the 2003 adaption of “The Cat in the Hat” where only the visuals look good but can’t support an under-cooked script. I want to say its a harmless feature but when the only image to take away is an Easter bunny defecating jelly beans to prove he’s magic, there’s really nothing else to say here except there are better alternatives than a soulless picture like this one. Keep this one out of the Easter basket and join me in the next blog post for some “better” alternatives. Trust me, they are far more unique than the pain that unfortunately exists here. And oddly enough, when “Hop” was released to home video, it came out one whole year after its theatrical debut to obviously tie in with the Easter holiday. In that time span, many forgot about it and claimed it to be a lost film. Personally, I feel its better that way.