Monday, June 17, 2013

Many Movie Reviews III

In this round of concatenated movie reviews I'll be discussing the chamber play-like film, Arsenic and Old Lace. After that is Ballet Shoes, a BBC production of a popular story about three plucky orphans adopted by an old fossil collector. Next is The Black Stallion, which is about a young boy and his horse. The Bourne Legacy follows, which is kind of a "side-quel" to the Bourne trilogy. After that is Dinosaur Wars, a documentary about the so-called "Bone Wars" between the paleontologists Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope (and to a lesser extend Joseph Leidy).[1][2] Then I review Flawless, a 2007 thriller about a daring diamond heist concoted by a janitor and an underappreciated female executive. This is followed by I Am Number Four, a film about a refugee alien hiding on our planet. Strangely enough, the film rights were bought a year and a half before the source material (a book by "Pittacus Lore") was even published.[3] After that is Ink, an independently-produced fantasy film that actually became commercially succesful as a result of illegal sharing on peer-to-peer networks.[4] In succession I consider the merits of the time-travel romance Kate & Leopold. Next up is The Secret of NIMH, an animated feature that I was quite fond of as a child. Then we have Skyline, a low-budget rip-off of Battlefield: Los Angeles.[5] In fact, the guys that did the special effects for Battlefield: Los Angeles were the directors of this movie. And, taking a cue from The Asylum [6], they whipped out this 'mockbuster' four months before the release of Battlefield: Los Angeles. Next up is the comic book adaptation, Thor. This is followed by my thoughts on the  steampunk western action-comedy film, Wild Wild West. Last we have The Woman in Black, ostensibly a ghost story but really just an attempt by Daniel Radcliffe to escape his Harry Potter past.[7]

Warning: There are a lot of spoilers. Rather than hide them all, I'm warning you here. Proceed at your own discretion.

My verdict for Arsenic and Old Lace: This film is a lot of fun. For one thing, it's hilarious that they got Boris Karloff to play a character who has stitches all over his face and hates being compared to Boris Karloff. Equally satisfying was Peter Lorre's appearance as his protegé, Dr. Einstein, since I think Lorre would've made a perfect Igor. Cary Grant's comedic acting was rather melodramatic. He was funny, but I think he might've been funnier with a little more restraint. Priscilla Lane's character and the cabbie were too overblown to be funny. Perhaps they were taking cues from Grant? If you think about it, sending the old ladies off to the asylum (without notifying anyone of their murderous behavior) was a terrible idea as they were sure to find untold numbers of lonely old men. It would only be a matter of time until they found a new way to start killing.

My verdict for Ballet Shoes: The production value wasn't quite what it could be. I can't really say what was lacking or needed, only that everything—the acting, the costumes, the camerawork, etc.—seemed to be at 80% instead of 100%. But overall it was a pleasant film. The three girls encounter challenges, but only Pauline experienced any true character growth. Nonetheless this still makes a decent movie for children. Emma Watson was miscast in at least one regard: she was a full head taller than all the other girls supposedly her age. Gum (Great Uncle Matthew), the fossil collector who absent-mindedly collects them, too, serves more as a deus ex machina than a character. In general they did a good job choosing classical pieces for the soundtrack, but having The Nutcracker Suite at the beginning overwhelmed the scenes it was meant to accompany.

There is an easter egg of sorts: after Petrova and Pauline get the parts for A Midsummer Night's Dream (which seemed contrived), there is a girl who is the spitting image of the McKayla Maroney meme.[8]

My verdict for The Black Stallion: I watched this as a child, but the only thing I could remember from the movie was the moment when the horse jumps from the burning, sinking ship. For a large part of the movie there isn't much dialogue, which was kind of boring.[9] I can only imagine that it would be worse for children. There is some pretty impressive cinematography, however. The composer, Carmine Coppola (father of Francis Ford Coppola, who executive produced the film), produced some interesting musical themes, but they didn't work very well together which left the score feeling kind of disjointed. Andy Rooney's character was enjoyable and believable. On the other hand, it's rather unbelievable that a little boy could 1. survive a shipwreck; 2. survive alone on an unknown island (including making fire); 3. tame a wild Arabian stallion; and 4. race that horse against the top two racehorses in the country and beat them both—even though his horse has an injured leg.

My verdict for The Bourne Legacy: The Bourne series has become rather formulaic. Each one introduces a new secret government black op; the protagonist is being chased down by his own organization; there are rooftop chases; he usually saves a woman in distress; etc. This one doesn't even feature Jason Bourne; they just mention him every once in a while so they can justify this film's installment in the series. The main character seemed to lack personality (except in the flashbacks to he pre-'human machine' days). The molecular biology jargon was incomprehensible—and I'm trained in molecular biology! There was at least one aspect where this film was superior to its predecessors: I appreciated the steadier camerawork and the less-frenetic editing. However, this film was ultimately forgettable.

My verdict for Dinosaur Wars: The documentary was kind of amateurish in its delivery, but the content was well-presented and well-rounded. I learned a lot about the rivalry that I didn't know, including that Marsh conspired with John Wesley Powell, head of the U.S. Geological Survey, to require that all fossil specimens obtained using U.S. Government funds be sent to the Smithsonian. This was meant to destroy Cope's collection, but Cope had financed most of his digs himself. Instead, that regulation eventually plundered Marsh's own collection when he was required to abide by it. I also didn't know that Cope went prospecting in Montana just a few weeks after Custer's Last Stand.

My verdict for Flawless: Mr. Hobbs (the janitor, played by Michael Caine) and Laura Quinn (the female executive, played by Demi Moore) start out as intriguing characters. However, Mr. Hobbs' continuous recitation of proverbs flattened his character instead of rounding it out. Demi Moore looked weird and I think she was miscast. The mask she wore to make her look like an old lady at the end wasn't very believable. The music wasn't done very well—it often didn't jive with what was happening on-screen. The filmmakers did a good job of maintaining tension, but I felt like it petered out in the end. The final reveal about how Mr. Hobbs pulled off the heist was kind of a letdown and suffered from some conceptual flaws (yes, I intentionally used that word) [10]; the final reveal about how Laura Quinn spent the money was trite but at least showed good character.

My verdict for I Am Number Four: The film starts with an interesting and well-thought-out premise, but it slowly gets lost as things progress. For example, they make a big deal about the necklaces each of the Loric Guard wears, but then they don't really revisit the idea. They also don't address the fact that John Smith (the eponymous Number Four) is from a different planet so his biology is going to be significantly different from that of his Earth girlfriend, Sarah Hart. The acting was, for the most part, unimpressive except that Timothy Olyphant, who plays Number Four's guardian, did a pretty good job. Some of the action shots were obviously CG. The long pan shot at the beginning was cool but had obvious crossovers between actual camera shots and CG. The final fight with the Mogadorians was handled better. Overall the story had promise, but wasn't executed well. Perhaps I'll have to try reading the books.

My verdict for Ink: Because it was never distributed, this film never recieved an MPAA rating and is simplly listed as NR (not rated) or UR (unrated). I suspect that if the MPAA were to give it a rating, it would receive an R for its frequent use of strong profanity. For this reason alone I can't recommend you watch this film.[11] This would've been an amazing movie without the profanity and with a larger budget, but I'm still very impressed what they were able to do with what they had. At the beginning of the film there is a lot of experimental editing and camerawork, which came across as annoying rather than inventive. Thankfully, this went away as the film progressed. The 'Rube Goldberg machine' set off by the Pathfinder was well-edited and choreographed. The main actor was poorly cast. He just didn't fill most of the roles he was supposed to (businessman, reluctant father, etc.). His only scene that I thought he carried was the one where he had shaving cream on his face and he was chasing his girlfriend around trying to kiss her. The music was the best part of the movie and it really helped build up the plot to the finale. The end of the movie was predictable but still moving. Despite the other flaws in the film, it has an excellent message and emphasizes well the importance of that message.

My verdict for Kate & Leopold: The story itself is fun, but the romantic aspect isn't that impressive. Time travel [12] is just a MacGuffin for the romantic elements of the plot. The way it plays into the climax made for good dramatic tension, however, there is a plot hole: Kate doesn't show up in the past until Leopold is about to make his announcement—well after Stuart has fled back to the present. So there's no way he could've snapped a photo of her hanging around the ball. Liev Schreiber does a fantastic acting job, and Hugh Jackman's acting is fair. The rest of the cast…not so much. With respect to the love story, I can see why Kate falls for Leopold, but not why Leopold falls for Kate. There's nothing redeeming about her character. And the few things about her personality that would set her apart from the women of Leopold's day would all be smothered by her going back to that society.

My verdict for The Secret of NIMH: Some of the magic has been lost because I wasn't nearly as impressed with the film this time around. The rats are supposed to be more intelligent because of treatments they received at NIMH (National Institutes of Mental Health), but that doesn't explain why they have a magical amulet. Or why Nicodmus' and the Great Owl's eyes glow. Or how the Great Owl (who is inexplicably covered with cobwebs) became prophetic. They should've attempted sci-fi or fantasy, but not both. On top of that, Mrs. Brisby's voice (and the entire character of Jeremy, the crow) are a lot more annoying to me as an adult. The background animation is kind of dingy and disordered. It also often makes no sense—it's just after the last spring frost but there is already lush vegetation crowding the field, including flowers growing around the Brisby home. Then, the morning after the rats have moved the cinder block, there are new flowers growing on top of it and around it. Also, the rats' lair was so elaborate I can't believe they were able to destroy it so completely that there was no trace of their activities when NIMH showed up the next morning.

My verdict for Skyline: I expected this to be a lot worse than it actually was. The acting is rather bad and the character drama is cliché (though one point of character drama actually becomes a plot point, which I appreciated), there is way too much profanity, and some of the montages were dumb. But the score was actually pretty good. The aliens and their ships are inventive and well-animated and the filmmakers get one thing right: if aliens cross interstellar space to invade the earth, they will have vastly superior technology and we will lose to them terribly (unlike what is depicted in Independence Day, Signs, etc.). The film ends on an interesting cliffhanger.[13] I would actually be willing to watch a sequel based on the cliffhanger alone—even knowing how the other aspects of the film would fare at the hands of these directors.

My verdict for Thor: I was skeptical that they could successfully combine Norse mythology with modern comic book superheros, but with one exception [14] they did a pretty good job. In places Patrick Doyle's score reminded me of his earlier Harry Potter scores and Armageddon (which was written by Trevor Rabin). Most of the acting was functional. Natalie Portman's acting was rather wooden, but Chris Hemsworth did a pretty good job. His voice reminded me of Heath Ledger. Perhaps because they're both from Australia they both imitated an American accent the same way. With as advanced as their technology is, the Asgardians should be able to rebuild Bifröst (the wormhole) faster than Jane (Natalie Portman). And even if Jane figures out how to build a wormhole first, she'll still never find Thor since a. there are at least 100 billion stars in the galaxy and she doesn't know which one to aim at and b. it looked like Asgard wasn't even in this galaxy or else it is out by the rim—either way, Thor didn't tell that to Jane. By the way, watch for an extra scene at the end of the credits.

My verdict for Wild Wild West: Overall, I wasn't that impressed with this film. The main characters were annoying. It was the supporting cast that really shone. Salma Hayek's character was completely, enjoyably ridiculous. She could've had a more integral role—e.g. a Mexican agent also trying to infiltrate Dr. Loveless' gang—but that would've made her less interesting. And Kenneth Branagh was fabulous (if you didn't notice, his beard was supposed to look like a spider). Sometimes the humor was funny; sometimes it was just crude. Also, there are quite a few plot inconsistencies and set errors. For example, there is a modern map of the United States. And the Secret Service was created by President Lincoln, not President Grant. But given the steampunk aspects of the movie, we can allow them other historical inconsistencies.

My verdict for The Woman in Black: This movie had no point. There was an awful lot of pointless plot just to get to the events of the last two minutes. It wasn't worth it. Daniel Radcliffe was poorly cast on two accounts. First, he doesn't look old enough to have a four-year-old son or a law career. Second, acting is too understated for his character to ever really seem afraid of what's happening. But you'd have to be pretty emotionless to not be strongly affected by those things. When freaky things happen, his eyes get a little bigger, but that's usually the extent of his reaction. Even when his son is threatened, he manages to seem merely concerned, not frantic or terrified like a real parent would be. There were lots of jump scenes, but none of them really startled me. And I only felt anxiety for any of the characters once. However, they did do a few things right: the lighting, sets, and camerawork create an effective and appropriately sombre mood.


[1] See Wars.

[2] One of the more lamentable events during this competition was when Marsh put the wrong skull on an Apatosaurus and declared it a new genus, Brontosaurus. Unfortunately more people know the erroneous name (Brontosaurus) than know the correct name (Apatosaurus).

[3] See Am Number Four.

[4] See (film)#Distribution.

[5] Read my review here.

[6] See Asylum. Read my review of Asylum's Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus here.

[7] What I didn't get is why Harry couldn't understand the ghosts. I mean, they way they were talking was obviously Parseltongue, so why wouldn't he tell what they were saying? (Just kidding.)

[8] If you're not familiar with it, you can learn about the McKayla Maroney meme here.

[9] It's possible that this was because the main character had no acting training and was cast mainly for his ability to ride a horse.

[10] SPOILER: For example, I have trouble believing that sewer water just sits around (thus allowing the diamonds to stay put) rather than flowing to, say, a waste treatment plant.

[11] This would make an excellent candidate for a Moviesoap filter (see

[12] The real Prince Leopold had hemophilia and because of it died at a relatively young age. See Leopold, Duke of Albany.

[13] This was originally intended to have one or more sequels. See (film).

[14] The war Odin fights against the Frost Giants ends around the birth of Loki and (since Thor knows nothing of Loki's heritage) while Thor was very young. So neither of them visited Earth during the time the mythology was being formed. Yet Norse mythology describes both of them in great detail.

Image attributions:

Apatosaurus Skeleton is by FunkMonk, available at

Ballet Shoes is by Lambtron, available at

Lab Rat is in the public domain, available at rat.jpg.

Western Desert Tarantula is by Ondřej Řehák, available at

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