Category Archives: Just for Fun

The Snow White Wars, decided

It’s been a long time coming, but we’re finally ready to decide who really is the fairest of them all. In this corner, we have Snow White and the Huntsman (henceforward known as SW&TH), a dark and gritty retelling of the fairy tale. In the other, Mirror Mirror, full of saturated colors and quippy one-liners. Who will emerge victorious? Ready? En garde…FENCE.

Starring as Snow White…Lily Collins vs. Kristen Stewart
snows

First things first. There are those among you (Hi, Ben!) who will be disappointed to learn that there will be no K. Stew bashing here. SW&TH is actually the first thing in which I’ve seen the erstwhile Bella Swann, and I have to say that I enjoyed her performance. She wasn’t burning up the screen or anything, but I thought that her bewilderment (perhaps natural) suited the role and that ultimately, the flaws in the character were due to poor writing rather than poor acting. Her “rousing the troops” speech was quite good.

Lily Collins, on the other hand, had more to work with, and capitalized on a great deal of personal charm. Her Snow was spunky, kind-hearted, and mischievous, none of which require a great deal of acting, but which she conveyed well, nonetheless. Like Stewart, she did not employ a great deal of range, nor was much needed. Her chemistry with Armie Hammer was weak, but since their relationship was hardly dynamic, it didn’t matter.

Winner: Lily Collins. Overall, she did a better job of selling the role and carrying the action.

As the Evil Queen…Julia Roberts vs. Charlize Theron

evilqueens
I’m a Julia Roberts fan. I know she’s not the most amazing actor ever, but she’s generally enjoyable to watch, and her turn as the Wicked Stepmother was no exception. I thought she was hilarious. She was snarky and appropriately vain, and clearly not a nice person. Since this version of the Snow White story was obviously meant to be a comedy, I think Roberts was a great choice as an actress willing to laugh at herself.

Here’s something that you may not have known. Ready? Listen up. CHARLIZE THERON IS TERRIFYING. In Mirror, Mirror, Julia Roberts makes the claim early on that it is [her] story, and not Snow White’s. That proves to be false, but in the case of SW&TH, it is Theron’s movie from beginning to end. She is chewing up the scenery like there is no tomorrow. If Roberts was willing to laugh at herself, Theron was willing to go full-on psycho with crazy eyes and snarling delivery. Her Evil Queen was literally the stuff of nightmares.

Winner: Charlize Theron. Girlfriend deserved an award for that performance. Seriously.

The Love Interests…Sam Claflin/Chris Hemsworth
vs. Armie Hammer



When I first realized that SW&TH was including a “prince” (Claflin) in addition to the Huntsman (Hemsworth), I thought it was a ridiculous idea. But, it really worked within the framework of the story. I enjoyed Claflin’s role, William, more than I thought I would as well. Both he and Hemsworth had good chemistry with Stewart (no, really), and William actually was a more developed character in some ways than the other two leads. Hemsworth wasn’t given a lot to do besides grumble and look beefy, which he did perfectly well, although I wish they’d just let him keep his own accent. One of the biggest failings of the movie, for me, was that what he and Stewart had to work with was not great. Theron was given all the good dialogue, or something. Maybe they’ll fix that in the (sigh) sequel?

Armie Hammer’s Prince Alcott is the exact opposite of either William or The Huntsman. Oh, he’s still beefy and heroic, but he’s also really funny. Hammer gets full marks for the scenes in which he is under a “puppy love” spell. Beyond that, he was a competent swordsman and has a fabulous speaking voice, but (as previously mentioned) had next to no chemistry with his Princess.

Winner: TIE. I really wanted either Hemsworth or Hammer to sell me, and they didn’t. The addition of Claflin was more interesting than I’d bargained for, but still doesn’t sway the balance for SW&TH.

The Dwarves



Ah, the dwarves. A necessary part of the Snow White story, but in this case, something of a controversial topic, which I don’t really care to discuss in detail. Briefly, SW&TH chose to use actors of a “regular size” to play the dwarves, whereas Mirror Mirror utilized little people (please note that the Internet says this is the PC term. If that is incorrect, please let me know). I don’t wish to be offensive, but to my mind, the rationale has a lot to do with the role that the dwarves play within the two stories. In SW&TH, the dwarves are reasonably serious characters, very similar to those of Tolkien. They are a proud people who have been cast out, and so they join in Snow White’s fight to free themselves. The dwarves in Mirror Mirror have the same motivation, but it’s a comedy, so they’re mostly there to be funny, and, well, there are notably few “serious” actors of a smaller size. Having said that, both septets are effective and enjoyable to watch. In the case of SW&TH, sadly, they don’t quite live up to potential considering we’re talking actors like Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins*, and Toby Jones. Are you noticing a theme?

*This is Bob Hoskins’ final film, as he has now retired from acting due to a Parkinson’s diagnosis. Very, very sad news.

Winner: TIE. Even if the dwarves of SW&TH didn’t have enough to do, they actually provided a lot of the emotional punch of the film, so they even out with the more-present crew from Mirror Mirror.

Visual Effects



The director of Mirror Mirror, Tarsem Singh, is well-known for his use of super-saturated color to produce striking visuals (see: The Fall). However, I was actually somewhat disappointed by the visuals here. Snow White and the Queen stood out from their surroundings due to brightly colored clothing, but for the most part, color was not a major player. Additionally, special effects were kept to a minimum (which I always appreciate). The Queen’s use of the mirror and a surprisingly creepy fight scene were the only notable exceptions.

On the other hand, the visuals were SW&TH’s strongest point (Theron notwithstanding). Director Rupert Sanders did a fantastic job of creating stark and striking landscapes, and while there were plenty of effects, they were never overdone or obviously computer-generated, which is a pet peeve of mine. All of the effects combined to provide a cohesive vision, from the Forest to the Queen’s magic army, to the magical creatures encountered by Snow White on her journey.

Winner: SW&TH. Visual effects aren’t something that I normally notice (unless they’re bad), and I was really impressed with these. Don’t believe me? Both films were nominated for the Oscar for Costume Design, but Huntsman got the nod for Visual Effects as well.

Script



As has been previously mentioned, SW&TH was seriously lacking in the writing department. The story itself was a great idea, but it fell apart when the characters needed to talk to each other. Dialogue was primarily used for exposition as opposed to character development, and as a result some of the characters were fairly static. This is often the case with regard to heroes and heroines, but they can still be fully-fleshed-out characters, even if they’re a little single-minded.

Mirror Mirror’s dialogue, full of snappy one-liners, was quite entertaining. Having some seasoned professionals like Julia Roberts and Nathan Lane around doesn’t hurt, but everyone acquitted themselves well in this respect. The story itself was rather more straightforward, and I’m not saying that the characters were any more developed than in Huntsman, but it was just more fun to listen to them talk. In a full-on comedy, it’s a bit more palatable for the dwarves to also be funny, and Lily Collins displayed surprisingly effective timing.

Winner: Mirror Mirror. It’s not award-winning dialogue, but it was totally effective within the context of the film.

And the winner is…

If you tally up the categories, you’ll find the two movies have reached a tie. As far as it goes, I do think that they were reasonably equal in terms of “tangibles.” Both entertaining films, solid B pluses. However. Remember that theme I mentioned earlier? Time and again, SW&TH reached for something greater, and fell just a bit short. I have no complaints with the actors. The film was great to look at. The story, with all of its extra interpretation and exposition, was a really fantastic idea. Unfortunately, the script just couldn’t live up to the idea. Snow White and the Huntsman could have been a really great movie, but it misses out on its full potential.

Conversely, Mirror Mirror isn’t trying to do anything fancy. It’s a semi-modernized, light look at the fairy tale. Everyone performs adequately, and it’s a totally entertaining way to spend a couple of hours (give or take). While the visuals may have been a bit disappointing given the film’s director, they weren’t bad, and didn’t detract from anything overall. Lily Collins, despite being a newcomer, manages to carry the film admirably well, and if you’re not a Julia Roberts hater, I think you’ll find her an entertaining, not-too-villainous villain. And so, by the slightest of margins, I declare Mirror Mirror the official winner of the Snow White Wars. Both movies are totally worth watching for the popcorn factor, and have markedly different interpretations to offer, but the lost promise of Snow White and the Huntsman was a sad disappointment.

Musical Moment: Happy Birthday, Debbie Reynolds!

You know what’s coming, don’t you? I don’t need to bother with much introduction. Perfect for a Monday morning, too. Happy birthday, Ms. Reynolds!

The movie: Singin’ in the Rain (duh)
The song: Good Mornin’

Arbitrarily ranking the stars of He’s Just Not That Into You

I have to admit that He’s Just Not That Into You was not as bad as movie as I expected, especially not for a movie based on a self-help book. It’s not even quite as comedic as you might assume, either. The movie depicts several loosely-connected romantic relationships, good and bad, beginning and ending. It’s narrated by Gigi (Ginnifer Goodwin), who is unsuccessfully navigating the dating scene and trying to understand why we all say things we don’t really mean. I don’t have a lot more to say about the movie, though; I thought it would be more fun to rank the stars of the movie based upon my own arbitrary methods. All in good fun, folks, all in good fun. Let’s do it!

affleck1. Ben Affleck
C’mon, the guy just directed Best Picture and pretty much dominated awards season. Somehow he’s on the ascendant. Gotta put him first. Additionally, his character, Neil, is possibly the best one in the movie, even if he is involved with Jennifer Aniston.

2. Jennifer Connellyconnelly
I love Jennifer Connelly. I want to be her when I grow up. She’s the movie’s other Oscar winner, and she gives the best performance. Her character’s sympathetic but somewhat unlikeable. I sort of wished that she and Aniston had traded places, but my husband pointed out that Aniston probably couldn’t have played the more complex role as well.

barrymore3. Drew Barrymore
Drew Barrymore pretty much plays Drew Barrymore here, but I’m still a fan, as you may recall from this recent post. I enjoyed her character’s arc: she was trying to figure out how to meet people in the “digital” age, what with Myspace (dated), PDAs, email, and all.

4. Ginnifer Goodwingoodwin
I think this might be the first thing I’ve seen Goodwin in, and she was pretty charming. Her character, Gigi, was naive without being annoying, and even managed a few decent dramatic moments. She’s also my current celebrity doppelganger, so she gets some love.

long5. Justin Long
This is my first time seeing Justin Long as well (aside from the Mac vs. PC commercials), and I was actually pretty surprised. He also has one of the better characters in the movie, starting out as a bit of a player, but ultimately revealing himself as a good guy. I don’t think he was doing a whole lot of difficult acting, but that’s ok. He was fun to watch. In random trivia, he is the only main member of the cast whose name contains no double letters. Interesting!

5. Scarlett Johansson83rd Annual Academy Awards - Arrivals
Oh, Scar Jo. We all know she’s not that great an actress, but I do have to give her points for kicking some butt in The Avengers. She fits her role in He’s Just Not That Into You pretty well, too, although somehow I’m not sure I totally buy her as a yoga instructor.

connolly6. Kevin Connolly
I really no opinion on this guy. He reminds me of Sean Astin, a little bit, and he seems to largely be second-string in rom-coms (he was also in The Ugly Truth). His voice is kind of annoying, and his character was a little lame.

7. Jennifer Aniston85th Annual Academy Awards - Arrivals
Zzzzz. Sorry, but Aniston always just bores me to tears. She’s just so bland, although I do admit she’s generally good as the straight man (see: Friends). Her character is also kind of run-of-the-mill. I sort of wondered why Ben Affleck liked her so much.

cooper8. Bradley Cooper
Yuck. This is the first thing I’ve seen Mr. Cooper in, and he’s got the worst character, basically. This does, of course, mean that he did a good job, since I disliked him so much, but I just don’t get all the love. I find him extremely unattractive. He looks like an emu or a rodent, alternately. Maybe Silver Linings Playbook will change my mind?

Musical Moment: Happy birthday (RIP), Rex Harrison

Rex Harrison was an important actor for a long time, but today he’s probably best known for the classic musical, My Fair Lady. There’s tons of fun trivia about this movie: despite having performed the role of Eliza Doolittle on stage, Julie Andrews was passed over in favor of a better-known actress, Audrey Hepburn, who then had to have her singing numbers dubbed by Marni Nixon. Andrews would go on to beat Hepburn at the Oscars, winning Best Actress for Mary Poppins. Meanwhile, Harrison also won the Oscar, despite barely singing a note. The film won eight Oscars in all, including Best Picture and Best Director (George Cukor). I’ve always been a fan of My Fair Lady, and today we’ll celebrate the anniversary of Mr. Harrison’s birth with one of my favorite numbers.

The movie: My Fair Lady (1964)
The song: Just You Wait! (‘Enry ‘Iggins)

Happy Birthday: Five Drew Barrymore Favorites

everafter
Let’s talk about Drew Barrymore. She occupies kind of a strange place in filmdom: she’s pretty much Hollywood royalty, coming from a family of celebrated actors. She was a promising child actor, but then she through an extended wild (and troubled) period. She’s sort of A-list as an individual, but I guess I would say most of her movies fall into the B-list category. Still, she’s come a long way, and these days she’s something of a media mogul. She directs, produces, and is by all accounts an accomplished professional. Good for her, I say. I actually used to find her extremely irritating, but at some point I became an unabashed fan. She’s a powerful woman in a business largely overrun by men, and she’s always been herself. For that, I salute her and wish her a very happy birthday (we’re the same age!), and in her honor, I’d like to feature some of her movies that I really love. They’re not high drama or exemplary film-making, but they’re entertaining and enjoyable; the kinds of movies you’ll come back to again and again. Let’s have a little fun on a Friday morning, shall we?

The Wedding Singer (1998)
Remember when Adam Sandler was charming? If you’re having trouble, I’d recommend a viewing of this adorable rom-com. It’s got all the goofy earmarks of a Sandler production, but the story is sweet, and Sandler and Barrymore have good chemistry as a pair of good-hearted dreamers. Drew is at her quirky, adorable best here, and if the climactic scene on the airplane doesn’t get you all sniffly, you don’t have a soul.


Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1998)
I think this is the movie that made a fan out of me. Sure, her accent is terrible. But Drew’s version of Cinderella is a delightful tomboy, a reader and a thinker who captivates Prince Henry (Dougray Scott, SWOON) by being unlike every other girl out there. Plus, Angelica Huston and Megan Dodds are deliciously villainous as the evil stepmother and sister, and I just love Melanie Lynsky as the more sympathetic sister. Looking for excellent pick-up lines, guys? Take some notes: Dougray Scott is on fire here. Seriously, how can you not love a Cinderella who wields a sword?


Charlie’s Angels (2000)
A fun, silly action flick starring girls? Sign me up. Barrymore joins Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu for this romp of a reboot of the popular TV show. The long list of supporting players includes Sam Rockwell, Tim Curry, and Bill Murray as Bosley. There’s good action, lots of comedy, and some memorable scenes (Diaz dancing in her Underoos! Lucy Liu dominatrix-ing it up!), too. I hear the sequel is pretty bad, so let’s just stick with this one, eh?


Music and Lyrics (2007)
Barrymore’s up to her usual quirky tricks here, but Hugh Grant shines as a washed-up pop singer looking for a return to the big leagues in this romantic comedy. The plot is pretty straightforward, but Barrymore and Grant have a comfortable chemistry, and it’s well worth watching for the various references and jokes about pop music. Basically, you want to see this movie for the opening credits, but sticking around will be fun, too.


Whip It (2009)
Barrymore’s directorial debut stars Ellen Page as a young woman looking to escape a life of beauty pageants and provinciality who finds herself through roller derby. Barrymore also stars as one of Page’s team members. Whip It is based upon a book written by a derby skater, and although it’s a bit sensationalized at times, I think it captures the fun spirit and camaraderie of the sport (derby friends are welcome to disagree with me). Pretty standard coming-of-age stuff, but there are nice performances throughout, and once again, it’s really all about girl power. The soundtrack’s also pretty sweet.


I want to have a Drew Barrymore marathon right now. How about you? I realize that I haven’t seen some of her bigger movies (Scream springs to mind), so what favorites of yours did I leave off?

Halloween for cowards: Six favorite not-so-scary movies

I’m pretty positive I’m mentioned it here before, but I’m a chicken. I don’t like horror movies with lots of gore, and serious suspense just leaves me jumpy for days. Despite all that, there are some Halloween-related movies that I truly love, a few of which I regularly watch around October 31st. I thought I’d share my favorites with you, in case you’re on the lookout for something fun to watch this Halloween. There are even a couple that qualify as kind of scary, so don’t make too much fun of me.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Duh. This is one of my favorite movies ever. I know a lot of people who choose to watch it around Christmas time, but in my opinion, why limit yourself? It’s kind of spooky and dark and most of the characters are denizens of Halloweentown, so it totally qualifies. The story (written by Tim Burton, natch) is great, the voice talent is excellent, and the songs and score are some of Danny Elfman’s best work. I’m assuming most people reading this blog have already seen Nightmare multiple times, but just in case you’ve missed out, you owe it to yourself to see this movie. Go! Right now!

Hocus Pocus (1993)

Go ahead and scoff, but I love this one, too. Hocus Pocus definitely falls into the “silly” movie category, but I just think the performances of Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker (c’mon, who doesn’t toss out “amok amok amok!” from time to time?) remain enjoyable year after year. Bonus little tiny Thora Birch!

Blackbeard’s Ghost (1968)

Ok, so Blackbeard’s Ghost is kind of obscure. It’s a funny Disney movie about the ghost of Blackbeard the Pirate, who is forced to perform a kind deed or else his spirit will never be able to rest. It stars Peter Ustinov (the voice of Disney’s Prince John), chewing the scenery for all he’s worth, and it is hilarious. It also stars Dean Jones and Suzanne Pleshette, and is very Disney 60s-ish (think The Love Bug and That Darn Cat), but seriously, Peter Ustinov is worth every second.

The Crow

Ah ha! I included one that’s not for kids! While it’s not scary, necessarily, The Crow is dark and violent, but it’s also kind of beautiful. It’s such a cultural touchstone for Generation X (I think), and for me personally. Starring Brandon Lee, who died during filming, and the brilliant Michael Wincott, The Crow is, above all, a love story. I admit I haven’t seen it in a long while, but I think I might pull it off the shelf this year to see how it holds up. Note: the sequels are best avoided. Stick with the original.

Watcher in the Woods (1980)

More Disney, but this one is actually kind of scary! A young woman and her sister have strange experiences upon moving into a creepy old mansion which seem to be tied to the tragic disappearance of a girl who lived in the house many years before. Bette Davis plays the old woman who owns the house. This movie was very late in her career, and it was the first thing I’d ever seen her in, and she is super-spooky. I have watched this one recently, and it remains creepy and suspenseful. My husband even said so, and I’m pretty sure he wasn’t just humoring me.

Bell Book and Candle (1958)

You know I’ve got to sneak a classic in somewhere. Bell Book and Candle stars Kim Novak and Jimmy Stewart as a modern-day witch and the man she falls in love with. It actually takes place around Christmas, but it’s about witches, so it totally counts. The supporting cast includes Elsa Lanchester, Hermione Gingold, and a young and adorable Jack Lemmon. It’s really an odd little movie, but it’s very entertaining, if not particularly scary. It’s beautifully shot and has great costumes (at least Novak does). Upon first viewing it is a teenager, I thought it was weird and a little slow at point, but as an adult it’s come to be a favorite of mine. I’ll just leave you with this scene from the movie. It’s not a musical but a few scenes take place at a club, and this number is part of the entertainment. It’s apparently called “The Bored Assassin.”

Happy Halloween!

Small Roles, Big Performances: Gladiator


FlixChatter has invited movie bloggers to “shine a spotlight on the ‘unsung heroes’ if you will, the overlooked performers who add so much richness & entertainment value to the film no matter how brief their appearance is, but yet they don’t get the credit they so deserve.” Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re looking at the title up there, and you’re thinking “Gladiator? Unsung?? This is just another excuse for you to talk about Russell Crowe, isn’t it?” I will grant you that I’m breaking a little bit with the spirit of this blogathon, but when I started thinking about “small roles, big performances,” Gladiator sprang quickly to mind. In part, perhaps, because I’ve seen it a number of times, but also because I think it is a movie full of really great moments, and those moments are created by really talented actors who, despite the movie winning Best Picture, were perhaps not noticed individually as much as they might’ve been. I want to talk about two of the actors featured in Gladiator particularly. Both gave fine performances that added greatly to the film overall, and both were actors from an older generation, here shown late in their careers. Neither was a complete unknown, but nor were they ever true household names. In my opinion, part of what makes their roles in Gladiator so important is the fact that this is a film for which they will both be remembered, and perhaps it will serve as an introduction for modern audiences to their earlier work.

Richard Harris as Marcus Aurelius

Before he strode onscreen as Albus Dumbledore in the first Harry Potter film, Richard Harris made a big impression with new audiences as Rome’s “last good emperor,” the philosopher king, Marcus Aurelius. Harris fills the screen with his quiet dignity and whispered wisdom. Through his eyes, we see Crowe’s Maximus as more than just a good soldier; we see him as a loving and loyal man. Aurelius helps to shape the character of Maximus, and Harris imbues him with paternal pride, love, and the certain knowledge that those he loves are hopelessly flawed. Aurelius must make the difficult decision of either naming his son his successor, or choosing what is best for Rome, and returning her rule to a governmental body. In essence, he must choose between being an emperor and being a father, and Harris shows so clearly the heartbreak that Aurelius goes through in making that decision. Here we see him change between those two roles effortlessly; from the commanding emperor to a father at the end of his life, asking for forgiveness from the son he has disappointed.

Gladiator may have been the first film in which I saw Richard Harris, but his performance, brief yet lasting, has certainly assured that it will not be the last.

Oliver Reed as Proximo

Gladiator is, in fact, Reed’s final performance; he died before he had finished shooting all of his scenes in the movie. Special effects were used for those final appearances so that he wouldn’t be replaced. It is, in my opinion, the perfect tribute. Proximo, the slave owner who essentially kidnaps Maximus and transforms him into “The Spaniard,” is also a father figure, but one cut from an extremely different cloth than Aurelius. His business is the purchase and disposal of human beings, and most of his demeanor is accordingly blunt and disaffected. Still, in his later scenes with Maximus, we see the same paternal pride and even a measure of respect. He also conveys a great deal of intelligence and hard-fought wisdom. I like to think that this final role embodies much of what made Oliver Reed a great actor. He was rough-hewn but intelligent, full of bluster and heart. Like Harris’ Aurelius, Proximo adds layers of depth to the character of Maximus, and both Reed and Crowe portrayed their bond extremely well. Here, Proximo speaks to Maximus as an equal, showing his respect and pride.

In Maximus, Proximo finds someone to confide in; in a way, I think he also sees the younger man as someone who might succeed him. In the end, he chooses to embrace Maximus’ (and Aurelius’) dream of Rome’s restoration. Like Harris, Reed makes a transformation of sorts, from hard-bitten slave driver to a man willing to die for others’ freedom.

Gladiator was the biggest movie of the year. It won many, many awards, but neither Harris nor Reed were particularly recognized for their efforts (Reed was nominated for a BAFTA). And yet, without them, I don’t believe that Gladiator would be the film that it is. It is a testament to the abilities of all three men that we are able to see the extent to which both Aurelius and Proximo shape the character of Maximus and move him through his journey. In that way, I believe they truly exemplify the idea of “small roles, big performances.”