Monday, March 4, 2013

Jack and the Beanstalk

'Jack and the Beanstalk' is the latest children's folktale adapted to the big screen in Bryan Singer's highly anticipated fantasy epic 'Jack the Giant Slayer.'  Following the footsteps of recent big budget fantasy extravaganzas such as 'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,' 'Alice in Wonderland' and 'Snow White and the Huntsman'  with a reported budget of over $190 million, JTGS is the latest example of a recent trend in Hollywood of taking risks that may or may not pay off.  After all, for every 'Alice in Wonderland' there is a 'John Carter.'
Regardless of whether it recoups its investments or not, JTGS is a CGI-heavy, fun-filled feast for the eyes for the entire family, a rollicking medieval fantasy adventure combining the sweeping scale of 'The Lord of the Rings' trilogy with the lighthearted humor and romance of old favorites like 'Willow' and 'The Princess Bride.'   Without the gratuitous blood and splatter of 'Hansel & Gretel:Witch Hunters,' the kid-friendly PG13-rated JTGS is a genuine crowd-pleaser with something for everyone.
Nicholas Hoult is the perfect fit for Jack, an unassuming everyman thrust into the role of our titular hero.  Other notable roles include Ian McShane as the noble King Brahmwell, Stanley Tucci as the scheming Roderick, Ewan Bremner as Roderick's weasly sidekick Wicke, Ewan McGregor as the daring Captain of the Guard Elmont, and British thespian Eddie Marsan as his lieutenant Crawe, who seems perpetually doomed (literally) to be typecast into such roles.  While the ensemble cast performed admirably, the strength of JTGS undoubtedly lies in its setting, a medieval fantasy realm of giants and men. The stunning imagery, the bright costumes, the colorful regalia and beautiful landscape of JTGS are simply breathtaking to behold and truly bring life to one of our most beloved childhood bedtime stories.
Grade: B+
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Sunday, March 3, 2013

The last voyage of K-129, a submarine yawn

Ever since Wolfgang Peterson's seminal deep sea World War II masterpiece 'Das Boot,' I've been drawn to movies set in submarines at war.  The claustrophobic confines of a sub is conducive to high tension and suspense, a place where our deepest fears and paranoia are truly made manifest.  The idea of being crushed to death in a tin can miles below the ocean surface can do that to you.
'Phantom' (not to be confused with the 1999 Korean movie 'Phantom: The Submarine') follows the same formula as recent submarine yarns like 'The Hunt for Red October,' 'U-571,' 'K19:Widowmaker' and 'Crimson Tide.'  Loosely based on the true story of the disappearance of the Soviet ballistic missile submarine K-129 in the Pacific in March of 1968, the movie postulates a scenario of what might have caused the submarine's mysterious sinking at the height of the Cold War, drawing from a 'what if?' supposition that would make even the most jaded conspiracy theorists salivate.  Ed Harris and David Duchovny portrayed their roles as boat's captain and KGB officer with aplomb, but their acting skills were never really put to the test.  Harris's self-loathing, over-the-hill captain who drinks and is haunted by the past is somewhat clich├ęd, and Duchovny seems a bit uncomfortable in the role of a villain. 
The movie is hampered by a tepid pace that drained any suspense it could have had.  Even at 90 minutes, the movie seemed overly long and unsure of itself.  At times during the movie, I got a sense of deja vu because the scenes looked familiar and been-there-done-that.  It seemed like 'Phantom' borrowed scenes from 'Das Boot,' 'The Hunt from Red October,' 'K-19' and 'Crimson Tide,' and just put different characters and nuances in them.  Then again, maybe I've just seen too many submarine movies.

Grade: C+

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