Tag Archives: film review

July Bonus Review: The Twelve Chairs

The Twelve Chairs is a 1970 American comedy film written and directed by Mel Brooks. It was the second film he wrote and directed. So, this was early in his career. It’s based off of the 1928 Russian novel of the same name by llya llf & Yevgeni Petrov.

Twelve Chairs

Story:

Our tale takes place in the Soviet Union. A former aristocrat is on her deathbed. She sends for her son in law to tell him about a treasure trove of jewels that she hid in one of the chairs at her home before the revolution. Naturally, this sends him on an avarice-fueled quest to find the chairs and the treasure. Fortunately, he manages to partner up with a skilled con artist. Unfortunately, the priest who performed the last rites is also hunting for the chairs. Having abandoned the church for profit. Which is number eight in the top ten reasons to leave the church. Right after humanitarianism.

The comedy is well done, subtle and uses a lot of strong visual elements. It doesn’t have the big, quotable moments that a lot of Brooks’ films do but it is consistently entertaining and funny. The narrative arc works well for comedic purposes. There are a lot of strong opportunities for different gags. Which Brooks is good at monopolising on.

Characters:

The characters aren’t very complex. What they do deliver on are strong comedic interactions. They’re also a surprisingly likable group, for a pack of scoundrels.

Cinematography, Visuals and Effects:

As a whole, the film is well shot. Brooks is very good at framing and blocking. The visual gags also work well. About the only real criticism I have is that the chase sequences can be a bit awkward. There are times when they seem to almost want to do the Benny Hill thing but don’t fully commit.

Acting and Music:

Our three main actors are Frank Langella, Ron Moody and Dom DeLuise. All of them give strong performances. Mel Brooks also appears as a supporting character. Which isn’t a surprise. He always appears in the films he writes and directs. One thing that is a little off about the acting is that some of the actors put on Russian accents but most of them just don’t bother. Which is the same thing Brooks did with English accents in Men in Tights. The music does its job capably.

Final Thoughts:

The Twelve Chairs is a strong take on adapting the novel. Brooks does do a good job of preserving the satire but also in putting his own spin on it and injecting his own brand of humour into it. It’s not the strongest Mel Brooks film out there, but it does keep you entertained and make you laugh. My final rating on it is going to be a solid 7/10.

May Bonus Review: Song of the South

It’s a well known fact that old Disney films have a casual racism problem. Whether it’s the crows in Dumbo, the portrayal of native peoples in Peter Pan or the notorious centaur scene in Fantasia. One film that gets mentioned a lot in this context is 1946’s Song of the South. So, why am I reviewing it? Because it’s one of the common choices for their worst films. So, let’s see if it’s as bad or worse than The Little Mermaid.

Song-Of-The-South

Story:

Our tale takes place on a Plantation during the American Reconstruction. A family takes their young son there due to some kind of issue the father’s involved in. He leaves his wife and son behind while he goes to sort the situation. His son meets a friendly story teller named Uncle Remus who helps him come to terms with the problems he’s encountering by telling him stories of the Brer Rabbit.

So, the film has some stereotyping but it’s honestly nowhere near as racist as I expected from hearing people talk about it. Certainly not as bad as two of the films I mentioned in the opening. Honestly, I suspect its reputation comes not from the actual content of the film, but from the fact that it’s banal. All the characters are living very mundane, mostly happy lives. The whole plot is basically this boring ass kid getting attached to a kindly old man and his mother not approving. Not because Remus is black, but because she thinks his stories are a bad influence. The whole thing is very safe and not compelling. In contrast, Peter Pan and Dumbo both have a lot of elements people really like. Which means that most people are going to excuse their casual racism more.

The best part of this film is the animated segments. And those come across as cheap, knock offs of Warner Brothers cartoons. With Brer Rabbit being a significantly less entertaining and endearing version of Bugs Bunny. And yes, I know that the folk tale version of the Brer Rabbit is much older than Bugs. I’m just making a statement on the quality of the animated shorts.

Characters:

The characters in this are dull as dirt. Uncle Remus is the cloying, kindly old man. Cloying to the point where he gets unreasonably upset at the prospect that he could be causing problems with his stories. The kids are just slightly obnoxious kids. The parents and grandmother are basically nothing characters who just advance the plot by doing parent/ grandparent things.

Art, Cinematography, Visuals & Effects:

The artwork in the animated segments is certainly dated by today’s standards. For 1946, however, it’s pretty well done. And the blending of cartoons and live action, while very awkward by today’s standards, was impressive for that time period.

Acting & Music:

The best actor in this film, by far, is James Baskett. He just has a strong delivery and seems to be having a grand old time during the happy segments. Most of the adult actors just don’t seem to give a shit. You’d swear they were only in this film because they really needed the money or possibly because Disney kidnapped them and forced them to do it. The child actors are pretty bad. Their performances are just awkward. Harve Foster directed the live action segments, but doesn’t seem to have done a good job. The music is just mediocre. The most memorable song is Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah, which isn’t a particularly good song. It’s just kind of catchy.

Final Thoughts:

Honestly, I was going to do my usual “Areas of Improvement” segment, but a lot of this film’s biggest problems are it showing its age and it seems a bit fruitless to point them out especially given how obvious they are. So, is this film really all that bad? Not really. It’s banal. It’s trying very hard to be as safe as possible. And that makes it boring. If not for the old-fashioned, casual Disney racism, I’d call this a 5/10. As is, I’ll give it a 4/10. It’s probably not an old Disney film you’d want to track down, but they’ve definitely made worse.

February Bonus Review: The Summer of Sangailé

The Summer of Sangailé is a Lithuanian drama film written and directed by Alanté Kavaité. It came out in ’15 and has the distinction of being one of those rare lesbian films written and directed by a woman. Like Saving Face. Which I reviewed just last year. 

Summer of Sangaile

Story:

Sangailé is an older teenager suffering from some serious melancholy. She loves planes and wants nothing more than to fly but she’s given up her dream for lost on account of her problems with vertigo. She’s watching a stunt plane show when she meets Austé. An artistic young lady who likes designing clothes and photography. Their relationship quickly progresses to what an American dubbing company would refer to as “cousins.”

This film deals with a lot of serious issues like depression, self harm and struggling to find comfort in your own skin. And it deals with all of it within a romance narrative about love helping this young woman find her strength and live up to her name.

The only real issue I have with the film is that some of its moments stretch out beyond what we need for the narrative. One example is the photography scene where Sangailé poses in various outfits for Austé. Yes, there are moments that are very plot important during some of the shoots but you could also cut the amount of time spent in the montage in half and not really lose anything. Except some cute and kind of funny bits. Another example is towards the end when Sangailé starts really working towards overcoming her vertigo. There’s a really long, drug out scene where she’s just climbing ladders. I get that the whole purpose is to try and convey how difficult of an ordeal it is for her, but it’s also not the optimal way to do it.

To its credit, the film does address its various themes very well. That prior example aside. it illustrates the difficulties Sangailé faces very effectively. While also showing just how her relationship with Austé is instrumental in her journey. It’s also good at sprinkling in some lighter moments that are light enough to make for a welcome change but not so light that they detract from the gravity of the situation.

Characters:

I actually really appreciate that the relationship betwixt our leads feels like a real relationship with its ups and downs. The film is also very good about illustrating that there’s some sexual tension between them long before they actually start getting physical. And the way Austé helps Sangailé cope with her issues demonstrates that she really understands her and it’s not pushy, more of a gentle nudge. And it’s a good thing their dynamic is so strong since the focus is on pair of them.

We also get to see the way both girls interact with their mothers. Briefly, but enough to give us a good idea of what their home lives are like. 

Cinematography, Visuals & Effects:

The film is well shot. You can definitely tell that Kavaité had a very clear vision and knew exactly how to effectively convey it. I have to give her credit there. I’ll also give her credit for incorporating sex scenes but keeping them tasteful. It’s not something you see in many films. 

Acting & Music:

Both Julija Steponaityte & Aisté Dirziute turn in strong performances. They capture the chemistry of their characters perfectly. The subtlety involved in their performances is also commendable. There are quite a few moments with little or no dialogue where their movements and expressions just convey exactly what they need to perfectly. The ending scene where they’re looking at the photographs and they get to a particular one is a shining example. Austé’s reaction when she finds out her lady love is cutting gives you another. Although that one involves more dialogue and the movements and expression are more demonstrating what’s going on in her head. The music is very atmospheric, adding a nice touch to the scenes.

Final Thoughts:

This is, honestly, the best Lithuanian film I’ve ever seen. Not that that’s a great accomplishment since I haven’t seen many. But even putting that aside, it is legitimately a great film. I’m giving it a solid 8/10. I’d definitely suggest it if the premise behind it sounds interesting to you. 

December Bonus Reviews #4: The Hogfather

The late Sir Terry Pratchett crafted an amazing, highly witty world with his Discworld novels. In 2006, there was a two part TV film adaptation of his 20th Discworld novel, The Hogfather. It was produced by The Mob, a British production company and Sir Terry Pratchett himself makes an appearance in a very minor role. Let’s take a look.

Hogfather1.png

Story:

The Hogfather is Discworld’s version of Father Christmas or Santa if you prefer. All around Discworld, people are settling in to celebrate another Hogswatch. What the denizens of Discworld don’t know is that the Auditors of reality have approached the Ankh-Morpork Assassin’s guild with a simple contract. Eliminate the Hogfather. The guild sends Mr. Teatime, an assassin with a reputation for coming up with creative solutions. Meanwhile, Death notices the Hogfather’s time running out and decides to take his place in order to strengthen belief in him. His granddaughter, Susan encounters him in the costume and decides to go investigate what’s happening for herself.

Now, since the film’s only three hours long there are bits cut from the book. The Cheerful Fairy. Most of the kids Death encounters in the department store. The Death of Rats goes from frequent appearances to a brief segment and there are other bits cut for time. That being said, they did an excellent job of keeping everything they needed to preserve the integrity of the narrative while also shortening it and making it more stand alone. Since the original has quite a few segments with the wizards that do work best when you’re already familiar with the wizards.

Yeah, there are quite a few funny lines and sequences that aren’t in the film but none of them are absolutely essential for the plot.

The story is very clever. One of the strengths of the Discworld series is that there’s a strange, easily picked up on internal logic to everything, including the magical and other fantastic elements. And that is very much on display. Another strength is that the humour is just incredibly clever with a lot of strong dialogue. Which we also see on full display.

Characters:

The Discworld novels are full of excellently written, memorable characters. Arguably two of the best are Death and Susan, who are the main protagonists in this story. Which does make it a fantastic choice for Discworld’s first live action.

A big part of why their dynamic works so well is that Death doesn’t quite grasp human customs but knows the theory behind them whereas Susan has a better grasp on the world Death inhabits than most humans but has an imperfect comprehension since she’s spent so long trying to be more or less normal. Yet they are family so they do try to connect in spite of the gap. This leads to a lot of scenes that are really funny but also, in a strange way, quite heartfelt.

I also do really like Teatime as a villain. He’s the type of awkward character who could easily be played up as charming in that awkwardness but that’s coupled with a deep-rooted sociopathy which makes him very dangerous.

Cinematography, Visuals & Effects:

This is a very good looking film. The CG scenery is very clearly CG but it’s very good CG. The backgrounds look fantastic. The effects used for the magical elements are largely pretty subtle and work nicely. The shots are all set up very well.

Acting and Music:

The acting is phenomenal. Marc Warren pulls off Teatime perfectly. Mchelle Dockery is fantastic as Susan. Ian Richardson delivers Death’s lines very powerfully. Marnix Van Den Broeke also deserves credit. His movements as the body of Death are very deliberate and work perfectly for the scenes. Every single casting choice is just immaculately thought out and Vadim Jean’s directing is spot on. The music is superb. Paul Francis and David Hughes deserve a lot of credit.

Final Thoughts:

This is pretty much the perfect film adaptation. The cuts it does make are the ones it can afford. The quality is stellar in terms of acting, visuals and music. It’s difficult to imagine how they could have done it better without making it nearly twice as long and just including everything. Which just isn’t a realistic expectation. So, I’m going to give it a 10/10. It’s pretty much the definitive source on how to bring the Discworld into live action. I would suggest reading the book as well since it does have a lot of funny scenes that are cut for time but definitely watch this if you’re a fan of Sir Terry Pratchett’s.

December Bonus Review #2: Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

Agatha Christie’s 1934 story Murder on the Orient Express may be her best known Poirot story. This was its first film adaptation directed by Sidney Lumet. When it came out, it was a critical and commercial success and was the first film based off of her work that Agatha Christie wasn’t disappointed with.

Orient Express.png

Story:

The narrative is an account of the fictional murder of a Mister Ratchett aboard the very real Orient Express. They find his body stabbed twelve times, some thrusts powerful and others quite weak. Luckily for those aboard the train, the brilliant Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is aboard. He has twelve potential suspects/witnesses and a limited time to interrogate all of them before the train arrives at its destination. Poirot quickly discovers the motive. Mister Ratchett was actually Lanfranco Cassetti, a man who masterminded the kidnapping and murder of the infant Daisy Armstrong five years prior.

Let me start with my few criticisms of the way the narrative is presented. The film spends too much time on scenes of the train just moving across scenery or trying to push through snow. Yes, scenes like this can work and help build atmosphere. But they just go overboard with them. The film also does almost inundate you with interviews. It could have used some more time between them so that we, as the audience could think about the evidence a little more before being presented with more.

That being said, the mystery elements are really well handled. Showing the Armstrong case with brief glimpses of events enhanced with paper clippings effectively paints the idea of what happened in the audiences’ minds so that we have that mental image with us when it becomes relevant to the case. Seeing Poirot question the other passengers is highly compelling and it does provide some very crucial, pretty subtle clues for the mystery. The ending is very well constructed too.

Characters:

The cast in this is characterised very densely. What I mean by that is that your time spent with any of the given suspect characters is relatively short, but you get so much personality from them that they come across as nicely complex characters full of personality.

The only relatively weak character is Dr. Constantine. He comes across as more of a literary device to provide information about the murder and for Poirot to bounce ideas off of than a fleshed out character.

Cinematography, Visuals & Effects:

The shots in this are set up brilliantly. Geoffrey Unsworth did a fantastic job of setting up each and every shot. Even the overly long train shots do, at least, look nice. I also have to credit the film for never going sensationalised with the violence. Even the sequence that shows what happened does more to give you the idea and less in terms of actually showing bloody violence.

I know there’s no valid reason to make it a huge, bloody spectacle. But I’ve also seen enough Hollywood films to know how they’d usually handle something like this. Then again, this was made before I was born. Maybe films of the 70s were better about that.

Acting & Music:

The film really got a star-studded cast. Albert Finney plays Poirot. Sean Connery, Anthony Perkins, Ingrid Bergman, Lauren Bacall, Michael York, Wendy Hiller and John Gielgud are just some of the bigger names who appear as major characters. And they all do really well. I can see why Bergman won awards for her performance in spite of acting as one of the more minor characters in the story. Her big scene is phenomenal.

Richard Rodney Bennett took charge of the music for this film. And he did a great job with it.

Areas of Improvement:

  1. Shorten the train shots. If you want something quiet to help build the atmosphere, I get that. But there’s no reason for them to be as long as they are.
  2. Let The Doctor have some semblance of a personality.
  3. Space out the interviews a bit.

Final Thoughts:

This is honestly a great film. It may be the strongest adaptation of this story out there. It’s certainly superior to the 2017 film. If you’re a fan of Agatha Christie’s work or you’re not really familiar with her but you like mysteries, I’d recommend it. I’m going to give it a solid 8/10.

November Bonus Review: Event Horizon

This November, we’re going to look at a film that bombed. But, we’ve looked at other films that didn’t do well when they came out. The brilliant John Carpenter film The Thing didn’t make much of a profit and the Black Cauldron lost a lot of money but was pretty solid. Maybe this one also has a good amount of merit in spite of flopping harder than a sumo wrestler in a diving competition.

Event Horizon.png

Story:

Our narrative begins with a bunch of background text before moving into a rescue mission. The titular Event Horizon went missing seven years ago during a test of an experimental drive that allows it to circumvent light speed. Now, it’s reappeared. The rescue vessel Lewis and Clark, is sent along with the scientist who created the drive to save the crew and bring the ship back.

To the film’s credit, it starts out pretty well. There’s a compelling mystery of what happened aboard the Horizon and with the hallucinations. The issue of having a limited time to get off the Horizon provides some strong tension. And the lack of any defined monster or slasher killer and having very little in terms of blood or gore makes for a nice change.

Unfortunately, the last third of the film happens. This is where it succumbs to bad Hollywood horror clichés. This is where we get the absurd, over the top gore that’s not scary in the slightest, just kind of gross. This is where we get a big, bad antagonist who wants to murder everyone. And this is where the mystery of the Horizon is answered in the dumbest way possible. In fact, I’m going to spoil it because I have ranting to do about this. So, if you don’t want spoilers, now is the time to stop reading.

Now, there are lots of explanations that could have been used for what happened with the Horizon. Some kind of psychic entity integrated with the ship and wants to goad the crew of the Clark into getting killed to absorb their neural energy. There’s an unknown pathogen that’s caused all the side effects they’ve experienced. The Horizon’s computer fused with the mind of a member of its crew and the chimera is subconsciously trying to repel the Clark’s crew like they were a virus. But no, one of those could be unique and interesting if well execute.

No, the true explanation is that the Horizon quite literally went to hell and now the ship has a demon in it that wants to bring yet more people back to hell for torture. It’s like the plot you’d get in one of those old, deliberately schlocky B-films. And there’s no potential for anything interesting since it’s just a force of pure evil.

Characters:

The most interesting part of the characterisation is Captain Miller butting heads with Doctor Weir. Which does lead to some interesting moments. Unfortunately, most of the crew aren’t all that interesting. You’ve got the mother, the young innocent, the more hard-nosed one and a bunch of other stereotypes.

Cinematography, Visual Effects:

The first two thirds start out pretty promising. The effects look pretty damn good for the late 90s. The futuristic technology provides a neat little spectacle. The barren, dingy atmosphere aboard the Horizon makes for a strong horror backdrop. Then the last third devolves into absurd, over the top gore. The eyes sewn shut thing especially just looks silly.

Acting and Music:

You can’t really fault the actors in this. Laurence Fishburne and Sam Neill in particular deliver some strong performances. Even the more underwritten characters are pretty well performed. Michael Kamen’s soundtrack is pretty nicely composed as well.

Areas of Improvement:

  1. A better solution to the mystery. Seriously, in a situation where you had hundreds of more interesting possible solutions, you chose to just go with hell.
  2. Give the characters a bit more depth. If that means you have to have one or two fewer characters, it’s worth it.
  3. Leave out or minimise the gore effects. This is a case where having less makes what you do have so much more effective.

Final Thoughts:

This one had potential, but the final third just dived straight into bad trope territory. I’ll credit the film with subverting some clichés, having some strong elements to its build up and some other fairly impressive elements. Such as the music and the acting. Unfortunately, Phillip Eisner’s writing just couldn’t sustain it in the end. So, I’m giving it a 4/10.

April Bonus Review: Journey to Dinosaur Island

Journey to Dinosaur Island is a 2014 British-Australian film spear-headed by Australian film maker, Matt Drummond and distributed by Arclight. I’m always up for a film about dinosaurs, so let’s get into it.

Dinosaur Island.png

Story:

We open with our hero, Lucas, in his science class. His teacher gets annoyed by him talking to a friend and calls upon him to give the lesson. Which Lucas is able to do, coming from a Science family and knowing a great deal about Geology. This does not please his teacher, who expected him to fail so he could castigate him for wasting time in front of the entire class. Because that’s the sign of a great teacher, wanting your students to be ignorant. We cut to Lucas visiting his grandmother’s old house with his mum. There, he finds a strange crystal. Which he decides to take with him on a plane trip. There’s some turbulence. The crystal glows. The next thing Lucas knows, he’s on a strange island full of relics from other times, including real live dinosaurs.

In terms of the narrative, the biggest issue is that the plot meanders a bit once it gets going. It moves from one point to the next to the next and so on without always giving the current plot time to breathe and develop. Which makes the pacing feel a bit rushed.

I do appreciate the premise. The idea of objects, people and animals getting displaced in time and all ending up in the same spot is great. I also like the twist. It is kind of obvious, but this is also a family film and it’s really well handled. The ending is great and there are a lot of good scenes.

Characters:

For most of the film, the only three characters are Lucas, Kate and Mimos. Kate is a highly intelligent young woman from the past who’s been on the island for a while. Mimos is her pet Sinornithosaurus. She named him that due to his uncanny ability to mimic sounds he’s heard. I’ll give the film credit here, Lucas and Kate have a really strong dynamic. They’re also both pretty well fleshed out characters. I will also say that Mimos is fantastic just in general. He’s so bloody adorable. The film is also very good at using Mimos strategically. They don’t just throw him into every scene. They use him at just the right moments to make him a lovable mascot without making him over-used.

The rest of the characters, not so much. The side characters in general have very specific purposes that they do and not much personality aside from that. Which is fine. They don’t exactly get much screen time and we don’t need to hear their life stories.

Cinematography, Visuals & Effects:

I’ve heard a lot of people bitch and moan because scientists have talked about dinosaurs having feathers and “they just don’t look as good like that.” And for those people, I would recommend this film. It has some of the best designed dinosaurs I’ve seen in any film and the majority of them are feathered. The T-rex, the raptors, Mimos, they all look fantastic. Obviously, it’s all done with CG but it’s very good looking CG. I also have to give Drummond credit, his shots are on point and the interactions with the CG creatures are pretty believable.

Dinosaur island1.png

Acting & Music:

The acting is well done. It’s not easy to persuasively interact with something that’s not actually there but both Darius Williams & Kate Rasmussen pull it off really well. They also really sell the dynamic between their characters. Chris Wright’s soundtrack is a bit standard but it’s fine. It works well enough.

Areas of Improvement:

  1. Spend more time with some of the scenes. This might necessitate a longer film but I think it would really help flesh things out better.
  2. Flesh out Ernest’s character a bit. Overwhelmingly, the supporting characters don’t need more fleshing out. Ernest is an exception. Our heroes encounter him when they’re taken prisoner. He tells Lucas how to escape the island. Then they escape and leave him behind. Which really bothers me. First off, why would he just share that information? He doesn’t really gain anything from it. Secondly, why don’t they help him escape too? And what happens to him afterwards?
  3. Maybe a bit more interaction with Lucas and his dad. We see what things are like with Lucas and his mum because they go to is grandma’s house together. We only see his dad for a minute at the very end.

Final Thoughts:

For a family friendly film involving dinosaurs, there aren’t many better than this. It’s a strong adventure with some well written characters and amazing effects. Yes, there are some things that could be done better but I’m also saying that as a cynical adult. If I’d first watched this as a kid, I probably would have been re-watching it constantly like I did with both Rescuers films, The Land Before Time & Flipper. I’ll give it a solid 8/10. If you’re looking for a dinosaur film for yourself, a young relative or both I’d recommend it.

March Bonus Review: The Little Mermaid

Before I begin, let me explain what happened last week. I had some PC problems and I basically ended up without a working one from early Tuesday until early Saturday. Which basically translated to me missing all my usual update times. So, this week I’ll put up two anime reviews with the extra probably going up on Saturday. Now, with the elephant properly addressed, let’s move on.

Little Mermaid.png

When I reviewed The Black Cauldron a couple months back, one of the things I noted was that, unlike this film, it’s not one of Disney’s atrocious offerings. Well, I knew I’d have to extrapolate on that eventually. And today, is that day.

Story:

So, we know the basic story. A mermaid falls for a human, trades her voice and possibly her freedom for legs & a cloaca in order to woo him. That’s right, Ursula doesn’t give her a proper human body. That’s canon.

So, what exactly makes this film so bad? Well, let’s start by talking about the motivation problem. Say what you want about Disney’s early heroines like Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora or Maid Marian. Say they’re boring damsels with nothing better to do than wait for their respective Princes to come to their rescue. But, one thing all of them have over Ariel, is that they’re in bad situations through no fault of their own. They get cursed, kidnapped or forced to do nothing but chores by their wicked stepmother.

Ariel, in contrast, lives a charmed life. She’s a princess in a great undersea kingdom. She has family and friends who love her. Her dad even lets her go to Hominid-con with her weird fake legs provided she follows some fair boundaries. But she feels unsatisfied because she wants to go up to dry land and have free reign of thirty percent of the planet instead of seventy. Plus her dad has rules and she’s sixteen so she considers that totally bogus. Basically, she has the same issues as Blanda in the second series of SAO.

The second problem, which ties into the first, is that Ariel directly causes all of her own misfortunes. The first thing we see her do is shirk off an obligation in order to almost get eaten by a shark. After that she decides she’s totally in love with a human she spied on for five minutes and actually interacted with for thirty seconds. And by interacted with, I mean she pulled him ashore so he wouldn’t drown. And in order to chase after that human dick she’s been craving, she basically puts herself in a hugely perilous situation by taking a contract from the sea witch who everyone with multiple brain cells should know isn’t trustworthy. Ursula even gives her an advantage by taking away her voice so her stupid, vapid mouth noises won’t immediately ruin her chances. That’s sporting of her.

Then there’s the third major narrative problem. The romance is shite. Yeah, there’s not much romance for Snow White, Aurora or Cinderella either since they basically marry the boring dudes who rescue them from their lousy situations but at least these guys do something for them. Ariel just sees her boring prince and decides she’s sick of the Mermen at Hominid-con with their fake human bits, she wants a real human dick. You could seriously replace Prince Whatever Who Cares with any decent looking dude and it would all be the same. Princess Vapid would probably still totally fall for them too because this has as much in common with a love story as the Star Trek/ X-men crossover has in common with a psychological horror.

Another thing I have to bring up is messaging. Most media for children is trying to convey some kinds of messages for the audience. Usually, I don’t talk about it because it’s basic stuff like “follow your dreams” or “even if you seem small, you can make a difference if you try.” In this case, I’ll make an exception because any possible message you can take from this film is horrible when you think about it for five seconds. Is the message “When you’re a teenager you know what’s best and your parents need to acknowledge it?” Maybe it’s “If you get yourself in a serious mess, Daddy will bail you out. Don’t worry about it.” Perhaps the message is “That attractive person you’ve never spoken to but you’ve been stalking totally wants you. You just need to get close to them and make it happen.” Or how about “Shady contracts always work out for the person who signs them because if someone’s trying to trick you, they’ll get their comeuppance.”

Characters:

Here’s another major issue with this film. The most likeable character, is the villain. Which shouldn’t happen since Disney villains tend to be very much evil for the evils. Then we notice who she’s up against. Ariel is a useless vapid cunt. Flounder is the obnoxious sidekick character. Although he’s probably delicious with some butter, a little lemon and pepper. Sebastian is the over-indulgent nursemaid. King Triton would be a decent enough character, since he’s just a dad trying to do what’s best for his daughter but they fuck it up at the end where he decides that he’s had enough of her shit and he just lets her go off to make the boring Prince’s life miserable.

Art & Visuals:

I do have to give the film credit in this regard. They did a good job of designing a magical underwater kingdom and a lot of the undersea scenes where they’re just showing the ocean life swimming around look good. The only serious problem with the art is that the final action sequence is pretty anti-climactic.

Acting & Music:

As a whole, the acting is basically competent. Jason Marin’s performance is annoying but that’s also a product of his character being that type. Jodi Benson is also pretty obnoxious to listen to, but that’s not so much her acting as it is the fact that every stupid thing that comes out of Ariel’s mouth makes you want to punch her. I don’t condone beating sixteen year old girls, but if I had to deal with her for an extended period of time I would be sorely tempted.

Some of the music is pretty catchy with the obvious examples being Under the Sea & Part of Your World. That being said, they are not good songs. Part of your World, in particular, has some stupid lyrics. Take this part:

Bet they don’t reprimand their daughters

Bright young women

sick of swimmin’

Ready to stand

First off, you sometimes have to reprimand your child. Even when they’re a teenager because teenagers think they know more than they actually do. Secondly, you are not bright, Ariel. Every single thing you say and do indicates that you would lose a battle of wits to a toothbrush. You’re the type of person you could keep occupied for days by handing a slip of paper with “turn over” written on both sides. Third, these last couple lines make no sense. It would be like me saying I’m sick of walking and ready to hover.

Areas of Improvement:

  1. Give Ariel and Prince Whatever a developed relationship. Instead of her falling for him after stalking his ship for five minutes, have them actually sneak out to meet one another as an ongoing thing. You can fix the whole Ursula thing by having Ariel trade her appearance and voice. You can even still make her pretty. You can make the impetus him saying that he has to find a bride within a short frame of time. That gives more motivation behind why Ariel would risk so much for him. And by more, I mean any.
  2. Make Ariel older. Seriously, a lot of Triton’s perfectly reasonable boundaries become less reasonable if she’s, say, nineteen and an actual adult. Which makes for a more interesting, nuanced discussion.
  3. Have Ariel display actual intelligence and gratitude for what she has. That would go a long way in making her not a horrible character.

Final Thoughts:

So, that’s why The Little Mermaid is a rubbish film. It may actually be Disney’s worst big budget animated feature. If it’s not, I either haven’t seen the film that is or I can’t remember it. I’ll give it some credit for the competent acting and for having some nice visuals, but I’m not going to give it a whole lot given how egregiously terrible the writing is. I’m giving it a 2/10.

February Bonus Review: Saving Face

Saving Face is an American romantic comedy from 2004. It was written and directed by Alice Wu. It was produced by Destination, which was also one of the producers for D.E.B.S. So, that’s probably a good sign. Let’s take a look.

Saving Face.png

Story:

Wilhelmina Pang has a promising career as a surgeon and a fairly close relationship with her mother and grandparents. There’s just one problem, her mum keeps trying to push her together with random dudes and she’s gay. Don’t you hate it when your parents try to set you up with people you have no interest in? My mum used to try that on me all the time with girls from her church. Things become more difficult for Wil when her mother unexpectedly gets pregnant and gets kicked out of her grandparent’s house. After all, her husband’s been dead for years and no one knows who the baby’s father might be. The scandal. Naturally, her mum’s only recourse is to come live with her. And just when Wil is falling for the beautiful dancer Vivian Shing.

The story is basically about different kinds of cultural taboos and finding acceptance for who you are. Both Wil and her mum are experiencing different sets of problems. Wil is trying to hide who she is from the Chinese-American community around her out of fear of becoming an outcast while her mum is learning what it’s like to be an outcast and trying to recover from her own scandal.

One thing I appreciate about the film is that there is a lot of nuance surrounding the community and their reactions. Wil has a male friend who knows she’s gay and actively helps her avoid the guys her mum is trying to hoist on her. Vivian’s parents know that she’s gay and they’re very supportive of her, especially her mother. Wil has more difficulty because her family is more traditional. The only relative we see of hers who I suspect would just accept her is her grandmother.

I also like the sense of humour the film has. Wil’s mum goes to a video rental place to try to find Chinese films and gets directed to pornography in one really funny scene. There’s another where Wil’s neighbour, Jay, comes over to eat and her mum hilariously misunderstands basic knowledge of melanin. Jay is just an amusing character in general. He’s quirky, but in a more realistic, under-stated way as opposed to the more overblown “comedic sidekick” way. The ultimate reveal of who the father of Hwei-lang Gao’s baby actually is is nicely done. It’s one of those reveals you don’t really see coming but it makes perfect sense in hindsight. The romance betwixt Wil & Vivian is really well handled and the obstacles they face have a strong relatability to them. I also appreciate that Wil trying to keep things from her family is not the biggest problem they have. The ending is superb too.

The one criticism I have with the film’s writing is that things might go a little too easily for Wil after her coming out scene. That scene itself is really phenomenal and the mum’s reaction is pretty heart-breaking but, after that, things just kind of wind up going a bit too easy considering.

Characters:

The characters in this are spectacular. Wil & Vivian are amazing. Their interactions and the tension between them are excellent. Hwei-lang Gao, Wil’s mum, is a great character. I freaking love Jay.

Probably the biggest thing that makes the cast in general phenomenal is that every character has very human faults but they’re also all portrayed in a fairly positive, generous light. Even the scenes where a character is at their worst still let you see their vulnerable, human side. For example, Wai Po comes across as a little cruel when he kicks his daughter out of his home for becoming pregnant without a husband, but it’s also clear that he’s worried about losing the esteem of his community and he sees what she’s done as a disgrace both to her and to him.

Cinematography, Visuals & Effects

The film is superbly directed. The scenes are shot just perfectly in order to gain maximum impact. Especially the early scenes with Wil & Vivian where they’re conveying attraction between the two in spite of them having not really talked or having barely talked. I also appreciate that Wil and Vivian’s love making scenes are tastefully done. Good on Alice Wu.

Acting & Music:

The acting is top-notch. Lynn Chen & Michelle Krusiec are perfect as the leads. Ato Essandoh, Brian Yang, Guang Lan Koh, Jin Wang & Joan Chen are all great. The musical score is really well done too.

Areas of Improvement:

Honestly, it’s tough to come up with three things because the film is so good. So, a lot of these will be very minor.

  1. Have more build up for Hwei-lang Gao’s change of heart. Like I said, she changes her mind and comes around too easily.
  2. Maybe have some more Jay scenes. Since he is great.
  3. Maybe a little more courtship between Wil & Vivian. Since their relationship does move a bit fast.

Final Thoughts:

Saving Face may be the best romantic comedy film I’ve ever seen. Not just because of the relationship, but because of how it engages with its culture, incorporates the writer/director’s own experiences and provides very strong characters. Ultimately, my one real complaint with it isn’t even that major. So, I’ll give it a 10/10.

December Bonus Review #3: The Black Cauldron

Disney may be one of the world’s most famous studios but it’s not one I’ve looked at all that much, unless you want to count all the Marvel reviews I’ve done. It’s pretty much been The Rescuers. So, let’s look at another Disney feature. The Black Cauldron was released in 1985 and it was a huge commercial failure and it’s probably the film Disney likes to acknowledge the least. Yes, even less than Song of the South. Now, I never saw this film as a kid. I wasn’t born yet when it came out and its flop status basically meant that it wasn’t one of those “classics” that was released a thousand times and made available everywhere. So, let’s take a look at the film and ask two questions. First, does it deserve its negative reputation? Second, why did it bomb so badly?

Black Cauldron.png

Story:

We open with an explanation of what the titular Black Cauldron is. It’s a seal for an evil being who was feared even by the Gods. And those with wicked intentions seek to use its power for their own ends. We cut to a small farm where an elderly man and his assistant look after a pig. The assistant, Taran, wants to go out into the world as a soldier and stop the Horned King but is quickly reminded of his place. He’s washing the pig, Hen Wen, when she suddenly becomes agitated. It turns out she has the power of prophesy. The old man uses her power and becomes worried that the Horned King will find out. As such, he sends Taran off to hide with her and keep her safe. He’d go but he’s very old.

This results in Taran coming up against the Horned King and embarking on a quest to find the Black Cauldron to keep it out of wicked hands.

The biggest general issue with the story is the pacing. It never gives you time to sit with the main characters and get to know them. You pretty much go from one big event to the next pretty rapidly. If the film were even twenty minutes longer and had some time to breathe, it could have been legitimately an excellent film.

The film does provide you with an adventure. Even if it is hectically paced. There’s consistently something interesting happening. It also does a good job with tone. The film is considerably darker than other Disney films of the time but it’s never over done or poorly done. I quite appreciate the sacrifice scene towards the end as well. It has some power to it. I also like the way it works to give all its major characters a place in the party and moments to shine. In terms of fantasy films for a younger audience, this is up there.

Characters:

One side issue with the overly rapid pacing is that the characters don’t get as much development as I would like. That being said, they aren’t bad compared to a lot of the Disney films from that time. They’re at about the same level of complexity as Disney’s Robin Hood. 

One thing I will credit the film with is having the best Disney Princess of its time. Seriously, when this came out the Disney Princess formula was basically taking a helpless damsel, putting her into trouble outside of her control and letting the hero come to her rescue. See Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty & Maid Marian from Robin Hood. Princess Eilonwy, in contrast, takes an active role in the adventure and she meets Taran when she comes to his rescue. She’s portrayed as an equal partner in the adventure. Even if you compare her to all Disney heroines that existed at the time, Miss Bianca and Alice are the only two better characters and being number three is pretty respectable.

Art & Visuals

Here’s another area where you have to give this film credit. It looks stunning. The art direction is very impressive. The movements are smooth. The backgrounds look great. The Horned King is intimidating and his Cauldron born are pretty damn creepy for the five minutes they’re on screen.

Acting & Music:

Most of the acting is decent enough. The positive exceptions to that are John Hurt, who is excellent as the villain and Susan Sheridan who gives a strong performance as Eilonwy. The big exception in a negative sense is, unfortunately, Grant Bardsley as Taran. His lines just come across as awkward and stilted half the time. It’s like he wasn’t sure whether or not to exaggerate for the film and he kind of starts to only to pull it back. And all without much of that troublesome emoting. Elmer Bernstein’s musical score is pretty fantastic.

Areas of Improvement:

  1. Take some more time to develop the characters and their relationships. If there’s one thing that could have benefited this film more than any other, it’s more relaxed pacing. Like I said, I’d give it an extra twenty minutes of run time.
  2. A different lead to play Taran. I’m sorry, but Bardsley sucked.
  3. Explain about the magical tools a bit. Of our main characters, three either have or acquire magical implements and there’s not really an explanation for, say, what Eilonwy’s glowing bauble actually does. Or why the bard carries a magic harp that snaps its strings when he lies.

Final Thoughts:

Is this one of Disney’s worst films? Personally, I’d say it isn’t. Honestly, I thought it was pretty solid. It has some notable flaws, certainly, but it also has quite a few factors going for it. I’d certainly put it far above Disney’s shit films like The Little Mermaid. I’d also put it higher than the more mediocre films like The Aristocats. So, why didn’t it do well? I think the fact that it is darker than Disney’s other films of the time was a factor. It’s tough to pull off a departure like that. I would also say Bardsley’s performance was a part of it. It’s not easy to sell audiences on a character who sounds like that. The hectic pacing and the film’s high budget were probably also contributing factors. Still, I’d go so far as to give this one a 7/10. It’s not one of Disney’s best, but it’s pretty good. If you haven’t seen it and you like fantasy, give it a try.