Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘movies’ Category

So if you’re a slightly insane Joss Whedon fan like I am, you might have heard that he recently wrote and produced an independent film called “In Your Eyes.” A few friends and I decided that, since we are total Whedonites, we had to check it out.

The premise of this film is a very different take on the “boy meets girl” story. For one, they don’t actually meet. They are merely connected by some freak psychological event – and when they’re connected, they can see through each others eyes, and they can talk to each other, though they can’t read each others’ thoughts.

Overall, I really enjoyed this movie. It was a good blend of drama and humor and supernatural weirdness – pretty much what you’d expect from a story written by Joss Whedon. I laughed, I wanted to cry, I gripped the edge of my seat, barely preventing myself from biting my nails when things got really tense. It was an emotional roller coaster, but in a very good way.

Personally, I didn’t have a problem with the casting. No one was terrible, and I thought the leads played their parts exceptionally well. And here ends my discussion of the acting, and begins my critique of the story.

We first meet Rebecca and Dylan as Rebecca is sledding for the first time, and crashes into a tree. This is the first time they see each others’ world. Flash forward twenty years, and Rebecca is unhappily married to a total douchebag who treats her like an incompetent child, living in a mansion as a housewife, and Dylan is a convicted felon on parol, living in a trailer in the middle of nowhere, working at a car wash. It’s pretty tragic. Naturally, once they see each others’ world, and discover they can communicate, they develop a pretty great friendship. As you might imagine, their constant talking to each other starts making them look like crazy people, and conflict and drama ensues. What I really liked seeing was how Rebecca changed from a timid, delicate flower with her husband, to a happy, laughing young woman when she spoke to Dylan. Dylan gave her a strength that she didn’t think she had, and a large part of the movie is about her discovering that, and coming to terms with the fact that she doesn’t owe her husband anything just because he stayed with her while she was in a mental institution. Dylan, on the other hand, struggles to get away from the guys whose influence got him locked up in the first place. Rebecca and Dylan’s friendship makes them want to be better people for themselves, and that was the focus more than the building romance, which was refreshing.

While I really enjoyed this movie, I do have a few problems with it. For one, they never actually explain how or why these two particular people are connected the way that they are, and that was disappointing. I mean, I understand that it wasn’t the focus of the story, but they didn’t offer any real explanation. It just sort of happened to them, starting when they were children, and then many times after that, and into adulthood. However, they did do a great job of explaining the rules of the supernatural stuff very quickly.

I also wish Rebecca had been a little stronger. It grated on my nerves every time she said she owed her husband for staying by her side while she was in a mental hospital. The guy is a doctor, and the fact that he’s a total douchebag should have been a huge hint that he was basically using her as a charity case/medical experiment. She was in serious denial, and it bothered me that she needed a random almost stranger to point it out to her. But to her credit, when it came time to need rescuing, she did play a large role in her escape, and her douchebag husband got what he deserved.

The other thing about the douchebag husband – he had no redeeming qualities. Normally the “bad guy” has a redeeming quality or two, but we didn’t see any of that, which meant she had no guilt over having a relationship with Dylan. Seems like a bit of a copout, but I wasn’t as annoyed by this as a few other things.

My favorite part of the humorous side of the story was the girl that Dylan fancies. This girl has zero sense of humor, and Dylan makes a bunch of jokes at her, and they just go straight over her head, which in itself was hilarious.

So, in short, I think In Your Eyes is very worth watching, it’s fun and exciting and tragic, but it is not a perfect story. I would give it four out of five starts, if I had a rating system.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

My roommate and I are fans of the young adult science fiction and urban fantasy genre, which means we share a lot of books and like to go to the same movies and watch the same TV shows. I think I have the best roommate ever. The most recent stories that fall into this category are Divergent, The 100, and Star-Crossed. I enjoy all of them for different reasons, but mostly I want to focus on the female protagonist/main character in each of these, because I’m starting to see a trend of strong, young, female leads that I like.

Divergent-movie-poster-4

I would just like to note how happy I am that I found a movie poster that didn’t do the stupid female pose that is so common with action movie posters. This one is much better.

Divergent was recently made famous by the new movie, starring Shailene Woodley and Theo James. It is based on the first book in a trilogy of the same name by Veronica Roth. My roommate read the books ages ago, and loved the movie. I loved the movie, and immediately started reading the books. I’m currently almost finished with Insurgent, the 2nd novel in the series. Divergent is in the same realm as The Hunger Games trilogy, as far as themes go. It’s set a little ways into the future, after the world has theoretically been destroyed by a crazy war. Details of this war have not been given, and the entire story (what I’ve read so far) takes place behind a giant fence that encloses what remains of Chicago. These days, everyone in the city is divided into 5 “factions”: Dauntless, Abnegation, Erudite, Candor, and Amity. Each has their own purpose, and the goal is the keep the peace. The cool thing is, everyone is allowed to choose their faction at age 16 – after they take an aptitude test. Most stay in the faction they were born in, but a significant number will transfer to a different one. Once they’re chosen a faction, they have to pass initiation in order to stay there. When they fail initiation, they become factionless. The factionless wander the seedier parts of town, relying on the goodwill of Abnegation to get food and clothing. They’re completely ignored by the rest of the factions. So we have Beatrice, born into Abnegation, and given “inconclusive” aptitude test results – she is Divergent. Being Divergent is a big scary thing, because it means you have a broader personality, you aren’t happy doing just one thing. Some people (the antagonists, in this case) think this is dangerous. So Beatrice chooses Dauntless, because it’s much more exciting – they jump off moving trains, zip line off the roofs of buildings, climb ferris wheels… I can see the appeal.

Now, I know there are some rumblings about having to be special in order to save the world and whatnot (seeing as the two main characters of this story are both Divergent), but I decided not to care about that, because I think the rest of the story is more interesting, and I am not really all that philosophical about this kind of thing. It’s a story. Stories are often not perfect. Moving on.

I find her a lot more interesting than Katniss because Tris (as she calls herself when she joins Dauntless) appears to have more of a personality. I always thought Katniss was a bit boring because she always just let things happen to her. She doesn’t try to lead a revolution, the people around her essentially make her do it (maybe it’s just me, but that’s how I felt about her). Tris, on the other hand, has some agency. Like the tagline says, she makes choices. She chooses Dauntless after being told she has aptitude for Abnegation, Dauntless, and Erudite. She’s the first one to jump down a big dark hole to enter the Dauntless compound. She works extremely hard to become strong enough to stay in the Dauntless faction. She makes it all the way through initiation, only to be thrown into a war with mind-control and crazy simulations.

A lot of really bad things happen when that war starts, and it results in some serious PTSD for Tris. She can’t even hold a gun, she has intense guilt, and no one acknowledges that she has PTSD. She can’t catch a break from the people who are supposed to care about her and be her friend, and she spirals. It takes capture and near-death at the hands of the antagonist faction (I’m trying to avoid major spoilers here) to snap her out of it, force her to start feeling like herself again.

In short, Tris is a very dynamic character, and I continue to watch her pull herself out of the chaos around her.

star-crossed-dl

At first glance, my roommate and I were extremely skeptical about Star-Crossed, one of the CW’s latest sci-fi creations. I mean, first of all, it comes from CW, which means it has to really impress me to get me to keep watching. Currently, we only watch Vampire Diaries and The Originals on that station. Granted, we were less than impressed with the first couple episodes of this show. It was hard to see where it was trying to go. But I kept at it (because I’m a sucker for sci-fi romance, ok? Deal with it), and I think it’s actually turned out pretty interesting. Before I go on, though, I’d like to point out that things are not looking good for a second season of Star-Crossed.

Once again, this show is set in the future, but only by ten years (it’s 2024). In 2014, a spaceship full of Atrians (humanoid aliens with random black “tattoos” all over the place) crashes into Earth. Battle ensues, and humanity locks them up in a sector, much like District 9, where houses are made of box cars.

My roommate and I think this intense segregation would not really be our first reaction to a bunch of humanoid aliens showing up. The Atrians crash landed – they weren’t intending to take over. But now that they’ve been segregated for ten years, some of them are a little pissed. Several of the leaders have their own agenda regarding humans, nevermind the fact that humans greatly outnumber them. But the story centers on two people – a human girl, Emery, and an Atrian guy, Roman – the origin of the name of the show. There’s a lot going on in this show at the point I’m at, but I want to focus on Emery.

At first she seemed like a delicate flower – in the hospital for most of her life because cancer (?), her first experience with public school is when she finally gets to leave the hospital and join the rest of society. But then she starts developing this relationship with Roman, and he pushes her away “to protect her” from the human-hating faction of Atrians, but he doesn’t properly explain himself. Eventually she comes out and says she doesn’t need protecting, it’s not what she wants out of a relationship. She shows time and time again that she’s brave enough to stand up for equality between Atrians and Humans, and yet he continues to try to keep her in the dark. To her credit, she tries to move on with someone else. Eventually, though, Roman gets the hint – she doesn’t need to be taken care of, she wants to be his equal. When he figures that out, they get to start again, and it’s a much healthier relationship than what they started with.

There are a lot of other things going on in this show that are beyond the scope of this post, but I just have to say I love all the interesting things they do with their native plants. The friendships that develop between these characters are really well done – things seem to progress naturally, and I really like how the younger generations especially are more open to friendships with the aliens. It’s not the best show ever, but I definitely like it. Also, Taylor is to Star-Crossed what Caroline is to Vampire Diaries. The popular girl doesn’t always have to be the stereotypical mean girl. Though it’s not focused on, it was implied at one point that the aliens are all bisexual, and the fact that most humans base their attraction on gender is laughable.


the-100-wondercon1

Yes, those are bodies falling out of the sky. The CW’s new show, The 100, is based on The Hundred by Kass Morgan. Sometime in the near future, humanity went through a nuclear war. A small fraction of humans survived on a space station, now called the Ark. 97 years later, the Ark is failing – there are too many humans to support. They made laws like only one child per family. If you were under 18 and broke any kind of law, you were locked up. If you were over 18 and broke a law – you got floated into the black.

The people in charge decide to send the 100 child prisoners to the ground, to see if they can survive. At first, it sound ridiculous – sending a bunch of teenagers to a radioactive-recovering Earth, and letting them fend for themselves. Honestly, I still struggle to get past the plausibility of that, mostly because what you’d expect really does happen. It’s chaotic. There are a few sensible people, and there are a few bull-headed assholes who just want control, and declare that there are no rules, which is rather contradictory. Six episodes in, they’ve started to rally together, and the intergroup chaos has died down a bit. But they’ve also encountered things like mutated deer, “grounders,” and glow-y things.

creepy mutated deer

Despite my problems with some of the decisions of the characters (if everyone on the space station is going to die anyway, why don’t they just send everyone to Earth to have a fighting chance at survival?), I find the premise pretty engaging. Like I said, I’m a sucker for sci-fi like this. But once again, I want to focus on Clarke, the main character. She hasn’t dazzled me with her personality yet, but she is the most mature person down on the ground, as far as I can tell. She starts a relationship with a boy on the ground, and when his girlfriend from the space station arrives, she steps back, completely understanding that he never expected to see his girlfriend again. Inevitably, the girlfriend finds out about them, and Clarke is very mature about what happened. Amazingly, they both move on (the boy is still hung up a bit on Clarke, so yes, there’s still drama, but the girls are ok). The problem I have with Clarke is that she almost seems too perfect. She’s always the voice of reason, she’s very mature for her age. In the last episode I saw, though, she finally had a mental breakdown, and it made her seem more like a real person. I’m surprised it took as long as it did – being stranded on a broken planet away from the only life you ever knew would be traumatizing. I have hope she’ll get more interesting. Granted, I haven’t read the books this show is based on, but that’s a project for this summer.

What I’m trying to get at with these three shows is that I’m seeing a more consistent trend of strong, mature young women emerge in popular culture. We’re catching on, especially on the CW, of all places. I’ve talked about this kind of thing in the context of the Vampire Diaries, which is full of strong female characters. These CW shows may not have the most coherent plots, but at least they’ve got female characters I can relate to. It’s a step in the right direction. Besides, Vampire Diaries turned out really well, I think. If you’ve got anything to add about these shows, or want to defend your favorite female heroes as well, feel free to do so in the comments!

More of this please!

Read Full Post »

At the end of January, I had the good fortune to spend a weekend in a real Cabin in the Woods. Several other geology graduate students and I thought it would be a brilliant way to spend our last weekend of winter break before Spring Semester classes started the following Monday.

The morning we were set to leave, one of my office mates pointed out that this forestry cabin we were all so excited about visiting was, in fact, a Cabin in the Woods. I suddenly had irrational fears that zombies would crawl out of the ground and try to kill us and that the world would end well before classes started on Monday morning. If you didn’t catch that reference, you have lived a sadly sheltered life.

cabin-in-the-woods-poster

As we drove for several hours to reach this magical cabin, I kept drawing parallels between Joss Whedon’s epic movie and our own adventure.

  • We had three guys and two girls.
  • We were going to a remote location without cell phone service.
  • It was indeed a Cabin in the Woods.
  • There was a creepy gas station along the way (unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately – we didn’t see this one until we were on the way home).

Yes, I admit, not really enough for a normal person to get too excited about, but I am a Whedonite, and the minor parallels amused me. It became a running joke the whole weekend, especially when someone pointed out that none of us had any intention of having sex, so we were probably all safe from a cliched horror movie fate.

Two of us arrived before the rest of our party, and we were thrilled to go inside after a long car ride.

But the cabin was ice-cold.

This place was pretty ancient, though it had recently been remodeled by the forest service, so – no electricity, but we did have a giant propane tank by the wood shed and a wood stove oven to warm it up. They just don’t tell you that it takes about 2 hours before it’s comfortably warm (this is a thing I didn’t realize until my friend was chopping wood and I was hovering by the stove, waiting for the magical fire to warm my frigid bones). What can I say? I’m a city girl, and my family never owned a vacation cabin.

So, with only two of us in the cabin for a couple hours, I started to think about why cabins are as creepy as we seem to think. This particular line of thought was spurred when I convinced myself I could see a trap door under the rug in the living room. There I was, minding my own business, grading some geology 101 lab exams, and I let my eyes focus on the rug. I sat there starting at it for a few long minutes, until I was sure there was a door under it. My friend actually offered to lift the rug up and check for me, because I was glued to my seat. But did I really want to know the answer? If I didn’t look, I could eventually convince myself that there was nothing there. But if we did look, and there WAS a trapdoor leading under the cabin, would we have to investigate? Would I lie awake at night imagining that something would find it’s way up from the cellar? In the end, I decided ignorance was bliss.

But why ARE cabins so creepy? Why are they featured so often in horror films?

I am no psychologist, but here’s what I came up with. Cabins (especially those out in the woods or the middle of nowhere) can produce internal and external fears in a person. The internal fear comes from the overwhelming solitude one might feel if one thinks about how remote their location is for long enough. The external fear comes from the unknown – outside the cabin (or under it, in some cases).

It starts to get dark outside, you realize you’re alone, you can’t see what’s outside when the lamps are on, cell phone service is MIA, you are miles away from any substantial amount of civilization. You really are off the radar, cut off from the rest of the world. For some people, this is relaxing. For many others, it’s terrifying. These are the reasons cabins make such great horror story settings.

After we survived the night and my rational brain had taken over, we spent the rest of the cabin trip plotting someone’s demise, smoking cigars, hiking on ice, watching moose meander down the creek, playing games, and cooking delicious meals. It was a spectacular two days, and I highly recommend going on a cabin adventure if you get the chance. Forestry cabins are pretty cheap (I ended up paying about $25 for the whole weekend).

Read Full Post »

Last week I reviewed the Oscar-nominated Live Action Shorts for 2014, and today I’m reviewing the Oscar-nominated Animated Shorts. These were much more fun to watch, and they included 3 runners-up. I also claimed last week that I would ignore the rest of the Oscars after this post, but that was before I found out Ellen is hosting! She’s hilarious, so I’ll probably watch it just for her. And the dresses. Because that’s really the most important part, right?

So, without further ado, I give you my reviews of the 5 Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts:

1. Feral – USA

feral

Children are terrifying enough without making them feral wolf-children. I wish that was all I had to say about this one, but I actually really liked the animation style. It looked like it may have been hand-drawn, and it was able to tell the story without any actual lines of dialogue. In this story, a city man finds a feral child in the woods, who appears to think it’s a wolf. The man takes the child back to the city, dresses him up like a child, and sends him to school. But children are cruel in the world of this story, and they pretty much just torture the feral child and laugh at him. The feral child runs away in fear, and then transforms into a series of different animals, which I think is the highlight of this short film. In conclusion, the artistic style was interesting and very well done, but the story was mostly just creepy, and didn’t have a whole lot of substance. But then, I’m not that into symbolism and things, so undoubtedly other people got more out of it than I did.

2. Get a Horse! – USA

Mickey+Mouse+Get+a+Horse

Not going to lie, I absolutely hated this one. Possibly this is colored by the fact that I was really excited to see Frozen the first time I saw this short film, and I therefore viewed it as a waste of my valuable time. It doesn’t help that the plot is incredibly boring and repetitive, and pretty much treats Minney as an object to be won. But, sexism and repetition aside, this film showed an interesting intermingling of several different animation styles, showing the evolution of Disney since it started a million years ago with Mickey Mouse. I don’t think it has a chance to win amidst the other animated shorts.

3. Mr. Hublot – Luxembourg/France

HUBLOT_2

Steampunk made it to the Oscars! (Forgive me if this happened a couple years ago, as I haven’t paid attention to them over the last few years.) Of the five nominees, this is the one I hope to win. Mr. Hublot is an extremely OCD mechanical man, living alone in his adorable little apartment. His dilemma begins when he hears a sad robot puppy out in the street, completely ignored by everyone passing by him. When the puppy is truly in danger, Mr. Hublot abandons his mundane daily tasks and rescues the robot puppy. The attention to detail in this animation, subtle handling of OCD, and its ability to tell the story without a bit of dialogue were brilliant. The story was clear, and leaves nothing unfinished. It really was the most creative and original of the bunch. I really want it to win, and I think it has great potential to do so.

4. Possessions – Japan

Possessions

This film is based on an old myth that tools will gain souls after 100 years, and begin to play tricks on their owners. A repair man traveling through a forest takes shelter from a storm inside a little shack that appears to be cluttered with a random assortment of abandoned things, like umbrellas and lengths of fabric. I haven’t seen very much anime, but this has the appearance and feel of all the ones I’ve seen, so I wouldn’t say its animation style is unique in that respect. The man goes through a couple hallucinations (?) with spirits and ghosts, in which he must repair a series of items in order to get out of the shack after the storm. It was pretty fun, especially when the tiny frog spirit appeared. The dragon made out of all the random odds and ends was pretty cool, too. I liked how the big, tall, muscular repair man had to solve all his problems by sewing and praying to the spirits in the shack. If Mr. Hublot doesn’t win, I’d bet on this one.

5. Room on the Broom – United Kingdom

Room-on-the-Broom

The claymation in this film was fun, but the plot was not very engaging. Room on the Broom is based on a children’s picture book, and it is quite obvious. The film is narrated by Simon Pegg, and it tells the story of a witch and her cat, who have a terrible habit of dropping their belongings and picking up new passengers on their broomstick. Oh, and there’s a dragon. This was very cute and sweet, and like I said, the claymation was very well done, including the landscape. I can see why children would enjoy it, but I found it terribly slow until the dragon catches up to them, and they must work together to save the witch from certain death. The new broom they have to make in the end was pretty sweet, too, with high-backed chairs and other entertainments for the passengers. That said, I don’t think this was the best adaptation of a children’s book to film. The pace for the first two thirds of the film was extremely slow, and it definitely could have been tighter. I don’t think this is Oscar-worthy.

And the Runners-up:

1. A la Francaise – France

À-la-Française

Chickens in Versailles. Need I say more? Ok, I will. This film depicted Versailles in its prime, with elaborate dance parties, games out on the grounds, and loads of gossip. But instead of people, all of the characters are chickens. I found this very short film highly engaging and entertaining. The chickens’ costumes, hair, and makeup were priceless. I honestly thought this one deserved an Oscar more than a few that were actually nominated. If you get a chance, it’s a fun watch.

2. The Missing Scarf – Ireland

george_takei_missing_scarf_film_animated_squirrel_poo

This one was my absolute favorite, and not just because it was narrated by George Takei. The animation style was very geometric, including an origami squirrel. This film starts out as an innocent story of a squirrel searching for his scarf. He runs into several of his forest animal friends, and helps them solve their own various fears (the owl is afraid of the dark, and the fox is afraid that none of the other foxes like him, etc.). The friend’s problem is solved, and the squirrel continues his hunt for his scarf. It seems an innocent children’s story, until the squirrel runs into his friend the bear, who fears the end of the world and the universe. It is all very dramatic and exciting, and narrated by George Takei, which makes it that much more crazy fun. The squirrel appears as though he’s just going to give up on this one, and then suddenly returns an equally robust argument about why the bear’s fear is absurd. While everyone else’s fears are resolved, the bear has only just begun to understand and move on from his fear. At this point, the squirrel decides he no longer needs his scarf, and then the world ACTUALLY STARTS ENDING. Complete with fireballs. Beware of showing this to your children, lest they end up like the bear. But really, I loved this animated short. I wish it had been nominated, not only for its style, but for the story as well.

3. The Blue Umbrella – USA

blue umbrella

Last but not least, we have The Blue Umbrella, which is a short romance between a blue umbrella and a red umbrella. The story was not that exciting (they meet, their humans start walking in opposite directions, the blue umbrella gets upset and allows himself to get carried away in the wind in a desperate attempt to find his red lady love), but the animation was astonishing. I’m still not quite convinced that it WAS animated, aside from the umbrellas. The streets and buildings and cars and everything look real. That alone should have gotten it a nomination, but I guess it was just too adorable for the academy.

Well, there you have it – my reviews of the Oscar-nominated animated shorts. I have reviewed the live action shorts here. If you’re headed to an Oscar party where predicting all the winners could earn you a jackpot of money, I hope this helps. I don’t pretend to be a connoisseur of high literature or film, but I know what I like, and I can make predictions of which films are “Academy Bait.” I look forward to watching the show on Sunday!

Read Full Post »

I gave up on the Oscars a couple years ago. It started because my schedule kept conflicting with their air time, and then I realized that the Academy is really too pretentious for my movie tastes. I really ought to get into the Golden Globes, since they have more categories and such. I mean, how can you compare a comedy and a drama for best picture? The truth of it is that the movies I want to win never do, and I never get around to seeing the rest. I have a rule for determining which movies I’ll go and see in the theater: the movie has to deserve a big screen. Movies that fall into that category for me are superhero/big action movies, movies based on books that I loved, and movies that for one reason or another I’ve been dying to see. So a mere Oscar nomination? Not going to get me into the theater.

However, a few of my friends always go see the Oscar-nominated live action and animated shorts. Small, funky local theaters always have showings of these, and you get to see all of them at once. I’ve never made it a point to watch any of the short films, and usually when Oscar time comes around, I’ve only seen one or two by accident.

So this year, I’m going to watch all of the live action and animated shorts nominated for Oscars, tell you what I think of them, and then probably completely ignore the rest of the Oscars. If you’re headed to an Oscar party, maybe this will help you vote!

1. Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me) – Spain

This short film tells the story of an African child soldier who is rescued by a Spanish woman. The rescue is entirely happenstance, as the woman and her husband are doctors trying to leave dangerous territory at the beginning of the film. This film was by far the darkest and grittiest of the lineup. While the cinematography was beautiful (despite the excess shaky camera), and the acting was brilliant, it didn’t have much of an impact on me psychologically, aside from the rape scene. The entire movie is a flashback, as told by the child soldier (though in the flashback we see the perspective of both the boy and the woman) to a university lecture class, yet it felt as thought we still knew nothing about him as a person by the end of the film. The woman, on the other hand, we know that she and her husband are happily in love, she is deeply affected by this traumatic experience, we can see her thoughts and feelings on her face when she doesn’t voice them aloud. But the boy? We have no idea how he became a child soldier, we don’t see him after he is “rescued,” except as he’s talking to the lecture hall. The title is a reference to a line the boy says to the class at one point: That wasn’t me. But we don’t know who he really is. The focus wasn’t on the boy, but on the woman who forced him to help her escape.

This story didn’t feel unique or fresh to me, and I found myself wanting to know more about the boy. I couldn’t have cared less about the woman who inadvertently saved him. I also really hate seeing rape scenes. There is no more invasive trauma a person can go through. That said, I would not be surprised if this one took the Oscar, based solely on its content.

2. Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything) – France

The plot for this film took a while to get going, but finally we learned it was about a woman taking her two children to run away from her abusive husband. Once the plot eventually made sense, the suspense built quickly. The woman takes her children to her workplace, where she puts her affairs in order (gets “fired” from her job, opens a new bank account, arranges for her sister to pick them up, etc.) with the aid of her coworkers, who seem quite fond of her. However, their fondness doesn’t seem genuine. I’m not sure if it was bad acting, or because they all thought she was crazy for not reporting her husband’s abuse (at one point we find out he aimed a gun at her in front of the children). The husband shows up at the store, and the woman must frantically put on her work uniform and face him, all the while hiding the fact that her sister could arrive at any moment and ruin everything. The lack of a musical score made the action that much more tense, and this was probably the most impressive aspect of this particular film, to me. Once again, this story as a whole did not feel fresh or unique. This story has been told countless times, and while it is definitely one worth telling (domestic abuse is a serious problem), the film didn’t strike me as deserving of an Oscar.

3. Helium – Denmark

“Helium” is a very sweet film about a child in a hospital who befriends the hospital’s janitor (who really wishes to be a storyteller). It doesn’t take long to realize that the child is very ill, and likely doesn’t have long to live. The child is very fond of hot-air balloons, which reminds the janitor of his brother who died when he was young. They bond over this, and the janitor then decides to tell the child about a magical realm called “Helium,” which is where all sick children go to regather their strength. The child’s demeanor goes from defeated to hopeful the more the janitor tells him about Helium. The cinematography of the world of “Helium” is gorgeous, too – the air sparkles, and houses sit on floating islands. The child’s illness takes a turn for the worse, and the janitor panics that he won’t be able to finish the story – the child is terrified he won’t be able to get to Helium without instructions from his friend. The friendly nurse helps the janitor into the critical care ward so he can finish his story, and ease the child’s fears.

As all movies about child illness seem to end, the child does pass away, but the film doesn’t portray it as such. Instead, the giant zeppelin from Helium comes to pick him up, following the signal of the red helium dog. He leaves this world with a smile on his face. He moved on to somewhere better, and it wasn’t heaven, which was very refreshing. I can see this one winning the Oscar.

4. Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?) – Finland

This was a cute film about an incredibly disorganized family that thought they were late for a wedding, only to arrive at the church and find they were a week early. This was the token Oscar-nominated short comedy film. It was really funny (my favorite part was when they found that the daughters’ dresses for the wedding were in the laundry, and the only thing they could find to wear instead were their Halloween costumes), but it didn’t stand out to me beyond that. It was cute, and the shortest of the short films, but I don’t think it will win an Oscar.

5. The Voorman Problem – United Kingdom

Of all these films, The Voorman Problem was the most interesting and original, in my opinion. Were the Oscars based on story alone, I bet this one would win, hands down. The story begins with a prison psychiatrist visiting an overflowing prison for the first time, do deal with a Mr. Voorman. This Voorman claims to be a god, and has been a god for nine days. He declares that the world is held together by his imagination, and he could change anything on a whim. The psychiatrist, played by the brilliant Martin Freeman, is quite perplexed, and of course doesn’t believe Mr. Voorman. Mr. Voorman then tell him he’ll prove it by making Belgium disappear, to which the psychiatrist scoffs and leaves for the day.

At home, he tells his wife about this troubling patient, including the bit about Belgium, which she then appears to have no knowledge of. Frantically, the psychiatrist pulls out a map and discovers that Belgium has, in fact, disappears, to be replaced by a large bay. He returns to the prison and Mr. Voorman the following day and they battle with words. The battle suddenly ends with the psychiatrist in Mr. Voorman’s place, wearing his straight jacket, while Mr. Voorman backs out of the room in the psychiatrist’s clothes, telling the poor psychiatrist that he’s going to go be him for a while.

I love psychological stories like these, and I loved that it was told in a short film. It leaves you wanting to know more of the story, but at the same time, it’s very appropriate that it ends so abruptly. Was Mr. Voorman really a god? Was the psychiatrist crazy and in prison the whole time? This was the only film of the bunch that left me thinking as I walked out of the theater, despite the fact that this was the first film I actually saw. I would love this one to win the Oscar, but the Academy and I very rarely have the same taste.

Next week I’ll review the Oscar-nominated animated shorts!

Read Full Post »

***This movie is now in theaters! Go see it! It’s excellent!***

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you probably know that Richelle Mead is my favorite author. She writes both YA and adult urban fantasy, most notably the Vampire Academy series and the Succubus Blues/Georgina Kincaid series. She crafts the perfect blend of fantastical plot, excellent characters, humor, and romance in all of her novels. Mead’s female leads are always strong, three-dimensional women. She also has a degree in comparative religion, so you can tell she did her homework in every novel she’s written.

But let’s talk about Vampire Academy, as it’s just been made into a movie by the guys who did Heathers and Mean Girls and came out on Friday!

Movie Poster

Vampire Academy is a 6-book series that centers around Rose Hathaway, a half-human, half-vampire (called a dhampir) and her best friend, Princess Lissa Dragomir. In this world there are two types of vampires: the Moroi (the “good” vampires with souls, who only drink blood to survive, use magic, and are not immortal) and the Strigoi (the “bad” vampires without souls, who drink to kill, can’t use magic, and are immortal). Strigoi like to eat Moroi, so Dhampirs, like Rose, are trained to be guardians for the Moroi, as using Moroi magic for defense is frowned upon by the upper classes. Moroi have one of 5 elemental magics – earth, water, fire, air, and one that I won’t mention because they don’t know about it until about halfway through the first book – so go see the movie if you want to find out what it is! Strigoi lack this magic. In the first book, Rose and Lissa have run away from their school – St. Vladimir’s Academy – because they have reason to believe that Lissa is in danger. The story begins with their recapture, and they must pick up in school where they left off. It soon becomes clear that Lissa is still not safe.

Vampire Academy came out around the same time the Twilight books did, but it’s about a million times better because the characters actually have personalities and act like real people. Plus, Rose Hathaway is a force to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, the media largely ignored this superior work (I’m not biased AT ALL), until now. I’m sure some of you think popular culture is a bit saturated with vampires at the moment, which is true. But isn’t it always? Dracula, Interview with the Vampire, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Twilight, True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, Vampire Academy… These franchises have spanned the last couple decades, and Dracula always seems to come back in one form or another. Why? People love vampires. There are multitudes of books written about this phenomenon.

So after I read Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series, I found myself reading a book about the history of vampire lore, and I discovered that the names she uses for the two types of vampires in her world (Moroi and Strigoi) are real. Not real in the sense that vampires exist, but this particular myth really did originate in Russia. See? She does her homework.

I could go on and on about this, but I want to talk about the Vampire Academy Movie. First, I’d like to point out that Richelle Mead loved the movie. Many people have expressed skepticism that she was essentially paid to say she liked it, but I’ve read a lot of her blog posts now, and I think she likes to be honest with her fans. She loved this movie, and so did I!

**EDIT: My review is more for an audience that has read the books. If you haven’t read the books, I suggest you check out this review instead.**

I used to be extremely skeptical about my favorite books being turned into movies. Many readers have this problem. But one thing I’ve come to understand over the last couple years is that movies and books are different mediums, so of course they can’t be exactly the same. Once you accept this, watching movies based on books you loved will be much more enjoyable. That said, it’s been several years since I read the Vampire Academy series, so I have to say that the storyline was coherent enough in the movie that I could follow it with extremely vague memories about what happened.

My favorite part of the movie was the cast, especially Zoey Deutch as Rose Hathaway. Everyone did a really good job, and I was really happy to see that Dimitri is played by a real Russian actor. But Zoey takes the cake for best performance. The entire time I was captivated by how perfectly she conveyed Rose’s sarcasm as well as how much she cares for her best friend Lissa. Zoey Deutch IS Rose Hathaway.

dimitri vs rose

The weakest link may have been headmistress Kirova, and that may just be because I remember her differently from how I saw her in the movie. First off, I thought Kirova was a dhampir, but in the movie she’s a Moroi. I also got the impression that she just really wanted to follow the rules of her institution, I didn’t think she was really that vindictive towards Rose. So, while she didn’t match the memory I had of her, the character in the movie was still really fun. Her costumes were quite elaborate (I mean really, check out those nails!).

While we’re on the subject of characters – there was great chemistry between all the major players: Dimitri, Rose, Lissa, Christian, and Mason. The romance between Dimitri and Rose comes to a slow boil, and it’s not the focus of the story, which was great (it’s not the focus of the book either). Plus, the last scene between the two of them was the most perfect thing I’ve ever seen. And I hate sappy romance. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but I’ll just say that Rose is an amazing character. I loved Christian Ozera in the books as well, and I was pleased to see that I was not disappointed. I wanted to give him a high five after this particular scene:

Lissa was just as I remembered her from the books – pretty timid, until she hatches her plan for school domination, and the crazy starts to happen. She and Rose compliment each other as characters, and I was pleased to see that translate over from the books. And Mason was, of course, his adorably sweet self. I have so many feels about Mason, but I won’t drop and spoilers for anyone.

Many people expressed fear that this movie was written as a comedy, based on the trailers. I’d like to reassure everyone who’s read the books (and I suppose those of you who haven’t and have no idea what this movie is) that it’s not a comedy, but like all of Richelle Mead’s books, it has a strong comedic element. Like I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Richelle Mead writes with the perfect blend of drama, humor, romance, and excellent characters. We are lucky that the screenwriters were able to translate that into film so brilliantly.

Now that I’ve talked about all the things I loved in this movie, I can say a few words about its flaws. The pacing seems a bit fast, but I suppose you’d always get that. They sort of skimmed over Rose’s arrangement with Dimitri for extra training lessons – she’s just suddenly having one with him. I think the level of weirdness associated with a Moroi who hasn’t claimed a magic type yet was played down. In the book it seemed like a really big deal, but in the movie they almost instantly realize that Ms. Karp and St. Vladimir had the same problem – and I’m certain this is all to do with pacing. The movie clocks in at 1 hour, 45 minutes, which says to me they had a little more time to slow things down. I can’t think of much more than that, and I’d probably have to go see it again with a critical eye. At first glance, I really enjoyed this movie, and I felt it stayed true to the book as much as a movie can.

So, without further ado, I give you the trailer! But you must ignore the 2/14 release date. They moved it up to 2/7, so it is out in theaters RIGHT NOW. I am praying to all the deities in Richelle Mead’s Age of X series to help this movie do well in its first weekend so we can have the green light to make the sequel! I have to see Adrian Ivashkov on the big screen. I really do.

Read Full Post »

“The book is always better.”

This is a phrase everyone is familiar with when it comes to movies and TV shows based on novels. We’ve all heard it before, and for a while it was “common knowledge.”

In recent years, I have come to realize that this is not actually always true, and it’s a lot more complicated than that opening phrase makes it seem. “The book is always better,” is a myth, and I’m going to crack it my way.

I choose to think of books vs. movies as two different art forms – two different ways to tell the same story. Then you have to consider who is behind the scenes. In the case of a book, it is mostly just one person letting their imagination run free, with some help from editors and beta readers. In the case of a movie, you have the writer, the director, the actors primarily, as well as an entire film crew that can vary in size. It is inevitable that these two groups will have the exact same ideas for how the story should be told. Very rarely does the original author get to write the script and be actively involved in the movie’s creation (whether or not those movies are better than other book adaptations is a debate for another time).

I am a huge fan of The Vampire Diaries. Don’t knock it ’til you try it. But after I finished the first season, the idea of waiting an entire summer for more of these characters sounded like torture. But hey, the series is based on a series of books, so they’re probably good, right?

Wrong. The Vampire Diaries novels were dreadful. I forced myself to read three of them before I had to give up before I tore them to shreds. They were terribly written. And apparently in the books, male vampires can’t get it up, so they just suck each other’s blood instead of have sex. Gross. Also, Damon is about 1,000 times more creepy in the books, and I am totally in love with that character in the show – so that was really unfortunate. I mean sure, he eventually redeems himself for a while, but the storyline goes to hell. Somewhat literally. For a while Elena becomes this weird, childlike, angel-creature, and abruptly loses all of her personality. Not that it was particularly great to begin with – she was more like Caroline was at the beginning of the show. Elena’s character in the show is brilliant – she has agency, right from the start you know that her greatest desire in life is to keep her loved ones safe, and everything she does reflects that (including all of her ill-fated and stupid decisions). In the books she’s a spoiled brat, the most obnoxious kind of stereotypical popular high school girl you could ever find. Julie Plec is a far better storyteller than L.J. Smith could ever hope to be.

Game of Thrones is my other favorite example of a show being better than the book it’s based on (I want to be clear that this is merely my opinion, but I know several people who share it). The benefit of the show is that you get to cut out all of Martin’s useless information that wasn’t edited out of his novels. Seriously, look at those things. They’re huge. The story flows much better on screen than it does in the books. But there are people who still like the books better. That’s fine. I don’t.

Another thing I have learned, related to this, is that if I read the book right before I see the movie, I end up hating the movie. But if I wait to read the book until after, or it’s been years since I read the book, the movie is brilliant and enjoyable. The Hunger Games is a great example of this. I thought it was an excellent film, and it told the story beautifully. Only later did I hear everyone complaining about it because certain things were changed or left out, but I still enjoyed the film. I might even go as far as saying I thought it was better than the book. When I went to see the 7th Harry Potter film right after I re-read the book for the umpteenth time (I think I literally finished it about three days before I went to the theater for a midnight showing), however, I thought it was terrible. Everything was wrong. But the friend I went with hadn’t read the book in ages, and she absolutely loved it.

MortalInstruments_c#41B39C3.JPG

Last week I went to see Mortal Instruments: City of Bones with my awesome roommate who likes the same TV shows and books as me. Though Clary seemed a bit passive in my opinion, I really enjoyed this movie. I have since started reading the book, and I’m enjoying that immensely as well. Is one of them better than the other? Sure, Clary is more active in the book (at least until Chapter 7, I haven’t gotten very far yet). But that’s not the only aspect that’s different. Personally, I thought many of the events in this story looked fantastic visually. Magic (though the Shadowhunters would take offense at that word) often does look really cool in movies. I had a similar experience with Beautiful Creatures, though I haven’t read the book yet.

So maybe the question is not whether or not the film is better than the book, but how we perceive the different mediums. I have stopped questioning which is better, and I look at them as separate entities. Both are telling stories, and some methods work better for one than the other. Don’t be so harsh to judge movies by their books. I think we should encourage book adaptation instead, because clearly Hollywood is running out of ideas when they just keep remaking what they’ve already done. There are billions of books to choose from, waiting to be told with a different tool.

This is why I am thrilled that one of Richelle Mead’s novels (Vampire Academy) is finally being adapted into film. Sure, the vast majority of the world’s movie-going population might be tired of vampires, but I never will be, and this is a brilliant story – FAR superior to that dreadful franchise featuring sparkling vampires. Ugh. Give me Rose Hathaway over Bella Swan ANY day!

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts