Mini-Monday: Thor: Ragnarok

I may have confessed this before but, at the risk of harming my geek cred, I’m not much into Marvel.  I watched the first movie of several of their franchises, and didn’t feel inclined to continue.  Although I make exceptions for Dr. Strange and Guardians of the Galaxy.  And now, as it turns out, Thor: Ragnarok.

I came late to this one, but I finally watched Ragnarok last month.  From the trailer and the reports of people I knew who watched it, this seemed to be a funnier Marvel one than most–and it was!  Which is a bit odd considering the titular event is the end of the world…  In brief, the goddess Hela is released on Asgard, the Norse gods’ home realm, and Thor and Loki have to work together to top her–but wind up exiled to a kind of cosmic junk heap in the process.  Where, oddly enough, they bump into the Incredible Hulk.  As one does.

I knew this was going to be a better movie as soon as it started demonstrating a willingness to poke fun at itself.  Early on Thor confronts a giant flame demon whose name I can’t remember, and tries to carry on a conversation while rotating around hanging from a chain.  Weird, I know.  But it’s really funny as flame demon tries to rant about his fiery vengeance and Thor keeps asking him to pause because he’s rotated around out of sight.  The movie kept up a similar kind of tongue-in-cheek humor, and Thor himself was a lot funnier than I remembered from previous encounters.

It also helped that we had a fairly small cast, with the action centering around Thor, Loki and the Hulk, with Hela (an unrecognizable Cate Blanchett!)  It gave a decent amount of time to showcase each character, their arc and their relationships with each other.  Much better than ensemble casts of a dozen where barely any character gets seen.

So, from a non-Marvel fan, Thor: Ragnarok gets my approval as a funny, entertaining superhero flick!

Movie Review: Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

I missed last year’s Murder on the Orient Express in theaters, so when I saw it at Redbox while waiting in a long line at the grocery store, the same day I was having a monthly movie night with friends–well, serendipity!  I’m glad to have seen it and I enjoyed watching it, and I’m glad I watched it with my friends.  Because I had some thoughts to discuss.

Based on the classic Agatha Christie novel, the story centers around a murder on a train, the titular Orient Express.  The train is trapped by an avalanche in the middle of nowhere, so when a body is found in a sleeping compartment in the morning, it appears the murderer must be one of the passengers.  Fortunately for the forces of truth, justice and mystery-writing, among the passengers is the famous Hercule Poirot, who sets out to get to the bottom of the mystery.

So much is true in the book, the recent movie, and the 1974 version (also enjoyable).  This one also brings star power equal to the old one, with Kenneth Branagh playing Poirot with truly remarkable mustaches (always plural with Poirot); Johnny Depp doing a rather sinister turn as the murder victim; and Judi Dench as Princess Dragomiroff (inevitable casting, as it felt strange in the older movie that the old British dame wasn’t Judi Dench).  Penelope Cruz, Michelle Pfeiffer and Daisy Ridley also appear.

Branagh played a more nuanced, less theatrical (barring the mustaches) Poirot, and I’m not sure how I feel about that.  This Poirot was exhausted by the horrors of the crime-solving life, had a secret love in his past, and was probably OCD.  Usually I’m in favor of more nuance and depth to characters…but Poirot’s theatricality and delight in his work is part of his charm!  If I can get over the “but that’s not right…” aspect of things, it was a very good character who was interesting to follow through the movie–though I will maintain that the secret past love seemed wildly unnecessary, and an example of the movie industry trying to horn romance in everywhere.  (I’m pro-romance!  I’m just also pro-the occasional character who doesn’t have that motivation.)

Likewise the movie made some different choices in the nuances.  There was some extra drama thrown-in, with an added stabbing and more dramatic confrontations.  Which were exciting–but I rather liked the cerebral quality of the original.  The motivations behind the murder also felt more intense, more emotion-driven than the considered justice of the original.  None of it was bad as it was in the new movie–or as it was in the original.  They’re just different.

I do prefer the way the modern movie opened compared to the earlier one (both add-ons that weren’t in the book).  The old one gives away much of the mystery in the first five minutes with a kind of prologue, while the new one lets us learn connections as Poirot makes them, which I greatly prefer.  The new movie instead opens with a small-scale mystery which Poirot solves within perhaps ten minutes, which provides a bit of early drama and, more importantly, effectively introduces us to the lead character in a vivid way.

So I guess the conclusion was that it was good–but different–but good.  And if you’ve never read the book or seen the previous movie, then it’s just good.  And contains a very clever twist on the murder that (I hope) hasn’t been spoiled for you yet!

Classic Review: The Princess Bride

Valentine’s Day was last week, so perhaps it’s an appropriate day to revisit a favorite movie with a lovely romance.  I just finished saying I don’t revise Classic Posts, but this one does require mentioning one changing view.  I think I was too hard on Buttercup–she has her moments of strength as a heroine.  She actually has two different problems–she’s oddly impassive in some key moments and, as Cary Elwes pointed out in his memoir, in a movie full of funny lines, Buttercup gets none of them.

I rewatched this movie just recently at a Fathom Events showing, and I really tried to have a different view of Buttercup.  It was maybe a little better?  But I still don’t love her.  Ah well.  It’s still a nearly perfect movie.

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I love fairy tales, and retold fairy tales, and fairy tale-inspired stories.  I have great success reading books like that, and sometimes I try a movie too.  More often those turn out to be very cheesy…but sometimes it works, as with one of my favorites, The Princess Bride.  It can be cheesy at times too, but in a good way, and all in all it’s a very nearly perfect movie.

There’s a book too, which I have read, and which is also truly excellent.  It’s been a long time since I read it, though, so that review will have to wait until I get a chance to re-read it.  In the meantime, let’s talk about the movie.  It’s at its twenty-fifth anniversary, so I’d like to assume everyone’s seen it…but I’ve learned not to assume that about any movie.  And I do have a friend who just saw it for the first time a month ago.

The Princess Bride starts with an adorable frame-story, about a grandfather reading the book The Princess Bride to his grandson, who had been ill.  The boy pretends indifference, but is drawn into the story.  It’s about the beautiful Buttercup, who is going to marry her beloved farmboy, Westley.  But Westley goes off to seek his fortune, is reportedly killed by the Dread Pirate Roberts, and Buttercup ends up unwillingly engaged to the nasty Prince Humperdinck.  She’s kidnapped shortly before her wedding, carried off by mastermind Vizzini, slow-witted and good-natured giant Fezzik, and brilliant swordsman Inigo Montoya.  They’re pursued by a mysterious man in black (whose identity will probably not turn out to be all that much of a shock). Continue reading “Classic Review: The Princess Bride”

Movie Review: Ghost

I’m reading a lot lately, but nothing I feel moved to review…so let’s do another movie this week!  I was a little late to Guardians of the Galaxy 2, but much later to Ghost…which came out in 1990 and I watched for the first time last week.  And I guess it’s appropriate for the day before Halloween!

The movie centers around Sam Wheat (Patrick Swayze), who dies early in the film.  But he stays around as the ghost of the title, watching his girlfriend Molly Jensen (Demi Moore) mourn for him–which is heartbreaking enough, but it all gets more serious when he realizes foul play is afoot and he needs to warn Molly.  He can’t make contact with anyone, until he encounters Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg), a con artist psychic who is shocked and displeased to make real contact with the spirit world.

In a very strange way, Ghost is two movies.  I liked both of them in very different ways, but they’re not the same movie.  You see, Demi Moore is acting in a heart-breaking tragedy, while Whoopi Goldberg is in a broad comedy.  Patrick Swayze plays off of both of them, adjusting as-needed.  Somehow it works–but it’s a slightly odd viewing experience.  I’ve seen this before, once.  In The Apartment, Jack Lemmon is in a comedy and Shirley MacLaine is in a heavy drama, sometimes literally in adjoining rooms. Continue reading “Movie Review: Ghost”

Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy 2

I have a confession.  Despite proudly claiming the geek label, I am not a Marvel movie fan.  I’ve tried–I’ve seen the first installment in most of their hero franchises, and…never gotten into them.  Except: I enjoyed Dr. Strange, and I enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy.  I still never got to theaters for Guardians 2, and only finally saw it very recently.  But it was fun when I finally got to it!

The Guardians franchise seems to be a collection of B or C-level superheroes, and that’s part of why it works.  The misfit group includes “Star Lord” Peter Quill, Samora (played by the reliably awesome Zoe Saldana, formerly Pirates’ Anamaria and Star Trek‘s Uhura), big muscly social-filterless Drax, (sort of) raccoon Rocket and (sort of) tree Baby Groot.  Peter, who had a human mother, has always wondered about his possibly-alien father.  Well, while the gang is trying to escape the creepy gold soldiers of the Sovereign race, the mysterious Ego shows up to rescue them.  He reveals himself as Peter’s father and brings them to his planet…where things are a little too good, while being a little creepy too.

I feel like that’s a muddled and incomplete plot description, but the movie wasn’t really about the plot.  And this is why I liked Guardians better than the rest: I like the characters and the way they interact.  They’re a deeply dysfunctional family who bicker all the time, and yet still are firmly tied to each other.  There’s a poignant moment near the end when this comes home to Rocket (and the fact that they got a poignant moment about the feelings of a trigger-happy raccoon?  That’s skill.) Continue reading “Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy 2”

Blog Hop: Scary on Screen

book-blogger-hop-finalToday’s Book Blogger Hop question is: Off the book topic – What is your favorite scary movie?

I would have to say Sweeney Todd, the Tim Burton film starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.  It’s the horror story of the demon barber of Fleet Street who murders his customers, who are then baked into meat pies by his landlord.  Sounds delightful, right?

It’s really a cathartic viewing experience–I feel everything.  It’s funny, romantic, horrifying, tragic, heart-breaking, terrible…and it’s all accompanied by a brilliant soundtrack.  As Andrew Lloyd Webber once said, musicals are for expressing emotions that are so intense that words are not enough–and so all those feelings in Sweeney Todd are more intense because of the music.

My other favorite scary movie is Secret Window, based on the Stephen King novella.  It has some of that creeping dread that I enjoy in Hitchcock movies, as events spiral more and more out of control, until a final climax that is even more horrifying for being psychological.  (Incidentally, it’s not a coincidence that my two favorite scary movies star Johnny Depp–I need a good incentive to watch a scary movie to begin with!)

Honorable mention to The Sixth Sense for being both brilliant and much scarier than either of the previous two, but not a favorite…because it’s so good at what it does that I will probably never watch it a second time!  Second honorable mention to the entire Hitchcock canon, with particular fondness for Rebbeca, Rope, Suspicion and Strangers on a Train.

What are your favorite scary movies?  Will you be watching any for Halloween?

Blog Hop: From Screen to Page

book-blogger-hop-finalToday’s Book Blogger Hop question is: Do you read tie-in novels to movies or television series? If so, which ones?

 

I have been known to read books based upon the universes of TV shows or movies–I put it that way deliberately, because I only read ones that are novels in their own right.  I’ve never been very interested in companion books that are only retelling or commenting upon the screen story.

I’ve read great swathes of books in the Star Trek universe (almost exclusively TOS) and the Star Wars Expanded Universe.  To large extent, my mental conception of those worlds and their major characters are actually shaped more by the books than by the screen versions.  Separated from the sometimes cheesy acting of the TV show, or the complete disruption of the recent movies, it’s the Captain Kirk of the books that I really love.  And I’m deeply invested in the romance of Leia and Han as portrayed in the Expanded Universe (stable and supportive), and particularly in the later lives of Leia (Jedi, diplomat, leader of the New Republic, wife, mother of three) and Luke (founder of the New Jedi Order).  The seeds are on the screen, but all this is so much more developed in the books.

This creates some complications, of course, when the powers that be go back to the screen and disregard the books.  This happened rather famously recently with Star Wars, but has happened with Star Trek too, contradicting specific books (like Federation and Prime Directive, both disrupted at one go through First Contact).  I’m very comfortable, however, keeping the book version in my head as the “proper” story (for me, at least) and the screen version as an alternate universe.

Outside of those two particularly vigorous book tie-in series, I’ve also read a few Doctor Who novels…but those tend to be a bit simpler than I want in books, so my preference here is very specific–audiobooks only, and only the ones about the 10th Doctor read by David Tennant.  Because…David Tennant!  Reading the Doctor!  It’s kind of halfway to a TV episode right there.

I’ve also held onto two Smallville novels from my high school fondness for the show, and I have the complete Hercules: The Legendary Journeys novel series…which is only four books–but they’re good ones.  I also read a lot of Sabrina: The Teenage Witch novels in high school.  I can’t claim those are mostly high quality (not bad for the target age, but not great literature) but though I’ve culled that collection dramatically over the years, I still have several on my shelf for sentimental fondness.

I think that covers it.  Star Trek and Star Wars are the big ones…but those are the big powerhouse fandoms, so it’s not too surprising!