Friday, April 29, 2011

Movie Review- Water for Elephants

After going fast and furious style all the way to the theater when we decided to leave the restaurant 5 minutes after the start time of the movie, my friend and I were able to find a seat immediately following the last preview. Wow...that means there were 25 minutes of advertisements. Ridiculous! Anyways, I'm glad I didn't miss any of the film so it turned out okay. Unfortunately, seating was limited so I ended sitting next to a group to teenage girls. This was going to be an interesting experience.

So after more than a year of anticipation on my side, I finally got to see Water for Elephants! I always try not to get myself too excited over movie adaptions of books I loved because I know I'll most likely be setting myself up for disappointment. Maybe it was the fact that I read this novel three or four years ago, but the entire movie seemed pretty accurate to what I remembered. If you look at the post below, it's a synopsis and my review of the Water for Elephants book- so for the sake of not repeatingmyself, I'll just mention the big differences. Well the first big difference is the fact that the film combined the characters of August and Uncle Al. The film version featured August who is still married to Marlena, but instead of being the animal trainer, he's the owner of the Benzini Brothers. He takes on both August's paranoid schizophernia and Uncle Al's taste for violence, corruption, and enjoyment of red-lighting his employees. Basically he's an all around psychopath, but who better to play a part like that than Christoph Waltz?

Both Jacob's and Marlena's characters were also a little different. Jacob certainly was not the unattractive ginger he seemed like in the book, and Marlena wasn't the meek soft spoken girl the book featured. Everything else was pretty much there, except obviously they cut out all the small stuff (like all the flashbacks to the nursing home), changed around some events for the sake of pacing, and added a few things for a drama effect. Even with those changes, I still felt like the film had a bit of a pacing problem. Things were dragging a bit towards the late middle of the film. Too many scenes of August and Marlena having dinner and Jacob observing enviously; and events I thought they would take their time with flew by. If you didn't read the novel, you might not notice the pacing being on the slower side, unless you have a short attention span.

But let me talk about the actors a bit more. First off I thought both Christoph Waltz and Reese Witherspoon shined in their roles. Christoph Waltz does an amazing job playing a character that can be incredible charming one second, then suddenly turning a 180 and becoming a sadistic animal beater. In the beginning of the movie, the audience can easily see the charming man Marlena must have fallen for; then he progresses into a dangerous monster that is unleashed more and more as the film goes on. Reese really dazzles and steals the screen as an amazing circus performer, captivating both the on screen audience, and out of screen audience. She adds a great depth of life and character to Marlena that was absent in the book. Her affinity towards the animals is clear and she really captures the essence of a woman who is feels imprisoned. I also like how the film had her standing up again August more and also how she actually witness his murder. The fact that is was always a secret Jacob held from her in the novel really bugged me.

And of course, everyone is wondering about Robert Pattinson. I thought he did a fine job as Jacob, but was a bit overshadowed by Reese and Christoph. One big complaint however is the incredibly awkward chemistry between Robert and Reese. Robert is fine on screen, and Reese is fine on screen, but stick them together...ehhhh, you can just feel the stiff, dead air between them. No matter how hard both of the actors tried to make it look authentic, you could sense the mutual damp feeling they had towards each other. The last movie I saw Reese in was Walk the Line and she and Joaquin Phoenix blew up the screen with their together...not so much with Robert. It could just be a problem with Robert (does anyone actually think he and Kristen Stewart have any chemistry together?).

Other things I liked about the film was the gorgeous cinematography, the cool circus acts, and the costume and set designs. I also loved the elephant Rosie and thought the film was able to capture very human like emotions from her. Overall, I thought the film was a good adaption of the book and made good calls with the changes. The one unfortunate downfall was the forced romance between out two main characters. Unfortunately that causes a big loss in points on my side.

Final Score- 7/10

Side comment: I've decided that annoying teenage girls is another demographic that needs to be banned or segregated from the general movie viewing population. The group of girls I mentioned earlier that I got the privilege of sitting next to was chattering non-stop through the entire movie. Loud, mutual gasp the second Robert Pattinson walked on screen, and irritating sighing and squealing every other scene he was in. Additional stupid, shocked comments about every little thing and sounds of panic at every mildly violent or intense moment. That was my theater experience for the night. The stupidity of these obvious teenage Twihards made me lose a few IQ points I'm pretty sure.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Book Review- Water for Elephants

I wanted to get my review of the novel version of Water for Elephants out before I go see the film version of it tomorrow with my girl friends. I’ve actually been looking forward to this film for awhile because I absolutely adored the book. Most of my friends found it strange that I was looking forward to this movie because most of them think of me as an avid romance hating movie goer. Au contraire actually. I do love a good romance, but I just think the Hollywood industry gets it wrong 90% of the time. I read Water for Elephants back in 2008 when the Twilight craze hit. I was at school at the time so while all my friends were passing around their copies of Twilight, I was trying to pass them my copy of Water for Elephants as a good alternative for a quality romance novel. Most of my friends ended up loving it; some of them declared there wasn’t enough romance for them and too much Great Depression history mumbo jumbo. The marketing campaign actually made it seem like it was trying to draw the Twilight crowd by featuring Robert Pattinson, declaring it an obvious romance, and playing on the whole love triangle aspect. I actual don’t think this was a good move because I doubt most silly teenagers will be intrigued enough. I personally think it would have been smarter to aim towards a older, more mature audience, and by the results of this past weekend’s box office, I may have been right. Poor Robert Pattinson seems like he’ll never break out this sappy, romantic, pretty-boy image.

Let me give you a brief synopsis. Now again, I read this back in 2008 so my memory can be a bit shaky, so bear with me. Though this is categorized as a romance novel, I personally think it’s more of a historical fiction novel. The romance isn’t necessarily what the story revolves around, but more one of the aspects that play a part in the story. The author Sara Gruen obviously did an insane amount of research for this novel. The book is accompanied by neat, real-life Great Depression Circus photos every few chapters. You often learn about the Great Depression in school, mostly about the factory workers and such; who’d give a second thought about what it was like to work in a circus during that time? One would guess it would be a pretty fun gig when everyone else in the country was starving right? Not really. Life in the circus was rough and violent, and Water for Elephants draws it all out for you.

The book is told from a 90-some year old Jacob Jankowski who now lives in a nursing home. A circus is coming to town and the entire nursing home is in a fit of excitement. This begins to bring back Jacobs old memories from the time when he was twenty-three years old and attending veterinary school at Cornell. One the day of Jacob’s final exam, he finds out his parents died in a car crash and his father had incredible debt. Before finishing his exam and qualifying to be an official vet, Jacob runs away. He sneaks onto a moving train at night to find out it’s a circus train. The owner of the circus, Uncle Al, finds out about Jacobs vet training and hires him to take of the animals. Jacobs shares quarters with a Midget named Walter, whose relationship with Jacob starts off sour, but eventually leads them to become good friends. Soon afterwards, the two of them bring an immobilized man named Camel to share their living quarters. The two of them hide Camel there at the fear of him being red-lighted if discovered he can no longer move his arms or legs.

Jacob begins working with the animal trainer August and the two of them become semi-friends. Jacobs noticed something strange about August in his behavior in episodes where he seems to become a different person. August is a violent animal trainer, much to Jacob’s disgust. August soon introduces Jacob to his beautiful wide Marlena, and Jacob immediately becomes enamored with her. Looking at the other side of stuff, the circus attendance is dwindling and people don’t seem to respond to their performances. Uncle Al decides to buy an elephant named Rosie thinking she will bring up attendance; however, Rosie doesn’t seem to be able to perform any tricks and seems utterly useless. To Jacob however, Rosie is the second thing he falls in love with at the circus. August turns his violent nature onto Rosie and takes to beating her constantly. His violent behavior towards both Rosie and Marlena starts to draw some tension in his relationship with Jacob.

This book doesn’t shy away from the gritty stuff. The circus owner, Uncle Al, is a horribly corrupt and abusive man. He doesn’t often pay his workers on pay day, and is known to red-light workers he deems useless. The term “red-light” means to toss someone off the moving train in the dead of night. The workers that are red-lighted are either killed or horribly injured. There might be a teary moment in the book when some characters get red-lighted.

Overall the book is quite gripping and you won’t want to put it down the further in you read it. I think Jacob’s character was written and developed really well! I certainly hope Robert Pattinson can pull of his character- it’ll be a tough one. I certainly didn’t imagine anything even closely resembling Robert Pattinson to be Jacob, who if I recall correctly, is suppose to be an unattractive ginger. Another thing, I certainly respect Reese Witherspoon as an actress, but I definitely did not imagine her as Marlene. I think Reese Witherspoon is fully capable to stealing the screen and shining in her role, but that’s the exact opposite of what Marlena’s presence in the book was. Marlena was more of a quite, modest presence and seemed to speak to Jacob indirectly and subtly influence his character development. The book was all about Jacob really, and Jacob alone. I’m going to have to see how these two do on screen together tomorrow. Christoph Waltz on the other hand is peeeeerfect for August.

Final Score- 9/10

Monday, April 18, 2011

Misc Review- Game of Thrones

Okay, short review. I just wanted to address my initial thoughts on the premier episode of Game of Thrones from last night on HBO. I was pretty excited for this show even though I wasn't able to get into the book series. Part of the reason I didn't enjoy reading it so much was because I was getting the feeling that all the female roles were being played as backdrops to support the virtuous and triumphant men. Needless to say, I didn't finish the first book so this may not be true; I was hoping the TV adaption would prove my thought wrong. I also know HBO's track record tends to adapt overly sexed shows so I really wondered how this was going to play out. Prior to Sunday, New York Times released a pretty scathing review stating it was a "costume-drama sexual hopscotch" and "no woman alive would watch." Not a good sign, but I gave the show the benefit of the doubt and still went ahead and watched it.

So how was it? Well, it was about an hour of killing, sex, decapitating, sex, men with swords, dwarf sex, dire wolves, incest sex, monsters called the Others, pillaging sex, Dothraki horse warriors, and rape. Oh, and did I mention a ton of naked women? So here's the question everyone's been asking since the premier: Is Game of Thrones anti-feminist? I typically am pretty sensitive to the issue of the roles women play in films and novels, and to be perfectly honest, I didn't feel the show was anti-feminist. I think what this episode did was it established this sort of ruthless world that these women live in. Its obviously no country for women, but that only forces the female characters of the story to work and fight even harder to not fall into this desolate environment for women. Having not finished the book, I am particularly interested to find out what happens to Queen Stark and Daenerys. I will admit though, this show may appeal more to guys than you gals out there- unless you like watching tons of nakey women.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Movie Review- Hanna

Wow I've been spending all my free time reading lately with this Post Potter Reading Challenge that I haven't allowed myself to watch any movies! Well I made time this past weekend to see Hanna! I came to appreciate Joe Write when I saw Pride in Prejudice back in 2005 and fell in love with him when I saw Atonement. He has an incredible gift of making every shot look like a beautiful, serene photograph. I especially loved his recently released Coco Mademoieselle commercial starring Kiera Knightly; like all fragrance commercials, it plays on the beauty of women yet Joe was able to make it empowering at the same time. Hanna was definitely a stray away from his romantic period pieces. Upon first hearing the description of the film, I really wondered how it could possibly play out knowing Joe's style. Was this going to be some kind of Jason Bourne mixed with Hit Girl!? A lot of kick-ass girl type characters can turn out to be just horrible. Just looking at the previews of Sucker Punch, I can only see of overly sexualized vixens. I mean just look at the main character- she's got a doll face, is wearing a school girl outfits, and fighting giant robots!? Screams ultimate boy fetish movie. Hanna on the other hand isn't 90 minutes of pumping Jason Bourne bad ass-ery nor is it a hot chick wearing leathers fighting off gangs of men. The film is essentially a coming of age modern fairy tale and alludes to many of the classic Grimm tales throughout.

So what's this movie about? Well the plot is super basic. Basically an ex-CIA man, Erik, takes his daughter when she was a baby out to a secluded snowy forest in Finland. There, he raises to be the perfect assassin. He teaches her every tid bit fact in the world, every language ever developed in history, fighting and weaponry, and hunting and surviving. How is this possible for a teenage girl? Well, Hanna was part of a experiment conducted by the CIA back in the 90's. The CIA team carrying out this project, which was headed by Cate Blanchett's character Marissa, altered the DNA of embryos in pregnant women in an experiment to create the perfect soldiers. The project was shut down and Marissa destroyed all evidence. Hanna's mother and Erik run away with baby Hanna, but Marissa hunts them down and Hanna's mother gets killed. From there, it becomes a a plot for revenge on Erik's part. He trains Hanna ruthlessly until the day she is ready to take down Marissa.

Again, the plot is super basic. I know some viewers may be disappointed on that aspect, but a complicated intricate CIA cover up plot isn't what this movie is about. This movie is about Hanna and her journey into world. The story of Hanna is very much like the fairy tales the film refers to throughout. Common characteristics it has with many of the classic fairy tales includes the young girl protagonist, the mother dying when she was a baby, the kind father raising her, a whimsical mysterious character that helps the girl on her journey, and the evil witch/stepmother that's out to get the girl. Also like in many fairy tales, Hanna is out on a journey into a world completely different from her's and she discovers new and unusual things and picks up strange new friends.

I loved the creativity Joe used in this sense. The entire movie was shot in a way that made that world we know so well seem so unfamiliar and feel like a brand new experience. Hanna, though very primitive and wild, felt overwhelmed by this new world. The feeling that comes with each each scene shifts dramatically throughout the movie, kind of like when the hero/heroine in a fairy tale moves to the next stage of his/her journey. Hanna's escape from confinement is thrilling and pulsating, then her time in Morocco feels eye opening and jubilant, and the last scenes in Berlin are enchanting and mysterious. Unlike a typical Grimm fairy tale, there is no handsome prince in the formula at the end. Think more Hans Christen Andersen. In the end, she breaks away from the grip and control her father has had on her, her entire life.

The character Hanna was done pretty well I thought. It's not easy to do a coming of age story with a teenage girl. As we all know, the minds of teenage girls can be quite complicated and rebellious. Hanna is quite different from other girls her age which makes it that much more complicated. She is discovering what it means to have a friend her age, to dabble with boys, briefly feel what it may have been like to have normal parents, and experience the small joys of life such as music. On this note about Hanna, the actress that portrays her Saoirse Ronan is fantastic. I'm blown away by her performance with each movie she comes out with and her unique looks are growing on me more and more.

Other aspects of the film I like- the score. The score, composed by My Chemical Romance, complimented the film marvelously. I really like this modern twist on the scores that directors have recently been utilizing. Also the wonderful cinematography that comes with every Joe Write movie and the very interesting camera work that was used. Cate Blanchett's character was kind of a cra-cra biotch for no reason but whatev. I kind of wish the ending was a bit more satisfying, but I'll take it. One thing I'll point out though, I'll admit this might be more of a chick film. The guy next to me was sighing annoyingly and texting on his phone the entire time. When the credits rolled at the end, he proceeded to whine about how much the movie sucked. Guys, if you're looking for an action packed Jason Bourne movie, look elsewhere. If you want to watch a coming of age journey of a teenage girl raised who was raised in a highly unusual situation, then this is it.

Final Score- 9/10

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Book Review- Chronicles of Ancient Darkness

I'm sorry for not having update in awhile! I've been keeping myself busy with this Post Potter Reading Challenge I've inflicted on myself. It seems I'm not going to have as much time to read all the series as I had originally anticipated, but whatev. We'll see how far I can get down the list regardless. Well I've finished yet another one of the series (with seven more to go!) and this time around it was The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness. My dear old friend was a bit hesitant on reading this series along side with me because she found the name of the series to be incredibly nerdy sounding and she thought they looked too much like children's books. Well I'll admit that the books are pretty short with rather large font, but that doesn't decrease the quality of the stories non-the-less. So let me give you all a brief overview of the series.

So The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness is set of six fantasy children novels. The story is set back 6000 years ago during the Stone Age in some fictional forest (modeled after several forests in Europe, around Scandanavia. It amazed me how much research the author did for the series). The forest is surrounded by a snowy arctic to the north, the sea to the west, and some mountains kind of Northeast. The six books in the series revolves around a boy named Torak who is twelve at the beginning of the series. The series starts off with Torak and his father, Fa, who was attacked by a demon bear and lay dying. Torak's father tells him the impertinence of him making it to the Mountain of the World Spirit or to die trying. Once Fa dies, Torak is completely alone. All his life, his father moved him around, away from his clan, in order to keep him away from people. His fear was for others to discover a magical ability Torak has and exploit him for it. Torak, not knowing what his ability is, leaves his father's body and runs from the demon bear. Soon after wards, he discovers a lone wolf cub who's family perished in a flood. Torak is able to communicate with the wolf cub due to the fact he was nursed by a wolf mother when he was an infant because his real mother had passed away. From this point, the two orphans become pack brothers and they continue on their journey together.

While traveling through the forest, Torak and Wolf run into those from the Raven Clan, including a girl named Renn (who is also the niece of the clan leader Fin Kedinn). The Raven Clan starts off hostile towards Torak and attempt to hunt him down when they realize he is the one spoken of in their prophecy as the "listener" who can defeat the demon bear. Renn, though suspicious and unkind to Torak and Wolf, helps the two of the escape and continues on their journey with them to defeat the demon bear. Without saying what happens in between, Torak returns to live with the Raven Clan at the end of the book and the whereabouts of the demon bear are explained to him by Fin Kedinn. The demon bear was created by a group of evil clan mages called the Soul Eaters. The Soul Eaters seek to rule the forest and unleash demons as a means to achieve their goal. In total there were seven Soul Eaters, but after a great fire caused by Torak's father, they broke apart. The demon bear was sent by one of the Soul Eaters to kill Torak's father for betraying them, because he himself was one of the seven Soul Eaters.

The rest of the books revolve around Torak, Wolf and Renn and their journey to defeat the Soul Eaters. In book two, Torak's magical ability is discovered. Torak is what they call a Spirit Walker- someone who can place one of the three souls in the body of another creature and move about their body. This power is something all mages desire and spend their entire lives trying to achieve it. When the Soul Eaters discover Torak's power, they begin hunting him. Torak however hates this "gift" he's been given and doesn't want anything to do with the responsibility that has been laid out for him. The poor kid doesn't seem to be able to catch a break with each book, and the world and its odds seems to be against him all the time. In book three, two of the Soul Eaters force the mark of a Soul Eater on his chest, and though he received it against his will, Torak is outcasted by all clans and hunted down.

Torak's only light at the end of the tunnel seems to be Renn and Wolf. The two of them are incredible loyal to Torak and they'd do anything to protect him. Renn cares about Torak dearly and tries to help him carry his burden (though Torak often runs off in order to prevent her from getting involved, much to her annoyance). With each book, Torak often needs his butt to be saved by either one of them. It's very cute when Torak and Wolf talk to each other in wolf talk. Some of the diction is kind of funny when the book is being read from Wolf's perspective. For example, instead of "fire," in wolf talk it's "the Bright Beast that Bites Hot," and a river is "Fast Wet" and humans are "taillesses." Their relationship is very loving and goes beyond a boy's relationship with his pet dog.

This entire series made me feel like humanity has become very out of touch with nature and animals. Each clan is incredibly adaptive to living off the lands they were given. They highly respect their land along with its animals, especially their clan creature. I loved reading about the different clans as the series progressed. Each books is set in a different part of Torak's world and from that we get to see the different clans that live in that area and how they live differently. For example, Torak and Renn are part of the Open Forest being from the Wolf and Raven Clan. In the next book, we go out to Sea to the islands where we meet the Seal Clan. I particularly liked reading about the clans from the Far North (think snow and igloos) and the clans from the Deep Forest. Each book comes with a map of that had the lay of the land the story is set in, as well as where the clans are located. The cool thing is, the maps are updated with each new book, and we can see how all the clans migrate.

This next part is going to sound really cheesy, but I these novels really brought a sense of peace to me. It made me want to get closer to the natural world and go running with the wolves. I actually loved this book so much that I plan one getting a cave painting tattoo of Torak and Wolf on my back. Yes the books are on the short side and are technically children's books, but trust me, it's not just for children. A lot of the context is very chilling and haunting and I can't image how they're going to adapt it into a movie without making it super scary. The ending kind of left me with a dry feeling, but I'll take it. These books made me want to learn more about these incredible survivors of the Stone Age and makes me wonder if most of humanity has become out of touch. Well the next step for me is to go out and get a Husky and name it Wolf.

Final Score- 10/10