"Of all the arts, movies are the most powerful aid to empathy, and good ones make us better people."
-- Roger Ebert, The Great Movies

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Thomas Crown Affair


  • Title:  The Thomas Crown Affair
  • Director:  John McTiernan
  • Date:  1999
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Genre:  Romance, Action
  • Cast:  Pierce Brosnan, Rene Russo, Denis Leary, Faye Dunaway
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
"Regret is usually a waste of time. As is gloating. Have you figured out what you're gonna' say to your board when they learn that you paid me $30 Million more than others were offering?" - Thomas Crown

"It's obvious that you like men, but you never keep any of them around very long, either." - Thomas Crown
"Oh, well, men make women messy." - Catherine

"You really think there's happy ever after for people like us?" - Catherine

The Thomas Crown Affair is a fun, romantic, romp - in both senses of the world. Thomas Crown (Pierce Brosnan) is a very successful and rich businessman who has made his multi-billion dollar fortune by acquiring other businesses, then selling them off. The realities of such a source of income aren't explored - basically, he's rich, successful, lonely, and bored.

Catherine Banning (Rene Russo) is a highly successful insurance investigator and bounty hunter. She makes her considerable fortune collecting a portion of the recovery fee from high stakes art theft recovery.

Michael McCann (Denis Leary) is a cop, who - we find at the end of the film - would rather work homicides, or help abused women and kids then worry about a multi-million dollar art theft.

The film opens with Crown starring at a painting of haystacks in the Impressionist wing of a large unnamed art museum in New York. He apparently does this a lot, as one of the museum guards recognizes him and the two also make small talk. Meanwhile, the loading dock workers are surprised when a large crate is delivered. They are expecting an Egyptian sarcophagus, but instead a large Greek horse sculpture was delivered instead. Soon, a group of men break out of the horse and attempt to steal paintings from the museum. They are caught, but an investigation quickly indicates that a Monet, worth $100,000 million dollars is now missing from the museum. The Monet will be the McGuffin of the film - it also brings together the main characters.

Leary's Mike McCann, is a tough, wisecracking, swearing, New York City cop who would rather investigate a murder or do anything else other than investigate an art theft. But he's called in, and his initial sweep of the Impressionist wing, isn't successful - either in finding the missing Monet, nor in understanding how the crime occurred or what the thieves were trying to accomplish. But even Mike, appreciates the slightly twisted humor of the Trojan Horse being used to gain access to the museum.

During his initial investigation, Catherine arrives. Much more experienced in investigating art thefts - she corrects nearly every assumption Mike's made. They spark some. It's Catherine, who realizes that the showy and unsuccessful attempted theft was a distraction, so the Monet could be stolen by someone else - and she and Mike immediately suspect Crown.

The resulting cat-and-mouse game has Catherine and Mike attempting to catch Crown and get the Monet back. This is complicated by Crown's romantic pursuit of Catherine. Mike sees Crown's interest as a way for him to keep her off-balance so he doesn't get caught. Mike is also jealous of Crown - not necessarily simply his money and success, but he would like to become romantically involved with Catherine himself - though he knows she wouldn't be interested in a plain, blue-collar, cop like him, especially when she could easily have a rich, successful, businessman like Crown.

Crown romantically pursues Catherine - dancing with her in a club, taking her home for a steamy session of sex, taking her for a flying lesson in his glider, and then taking her away for a weekend to his Caribbean Island get away. Their romance is intercut with the investigation by both the police and Catherine of the art theft. On Crown's side, his romance is intercut with sessions with his psychologist, played by Faye Dunaway. She points out his deep distrust of women.

Trust will be a re-occurring theme of the film. Can two extremely rich people really trust someone new? Especially when that person may have a reason to not be trusted? Catherine has trouble trusting Crown because not only did he probably steal the Monet - but he may be only using her affection to get away with the crime. For his part, Thomas Crown has reason to not trust Catherine - after all, she could find evidence of his illegal activities - and have him arrested.

The Thomas Crown Affair  is stylish, smart, bold, romantic, and steamy. The music is wonderful, though my (very cheap) copy seems to be missing some of the music. Setting the story firmly in the art world gives it a gloss that a similar romantic film in another setting wouldn't have. There's some wonderful direction of the initial theft, and Crown's crazy plan to return the Monet - let's just say, The Purloined Letter, and leave it at that. Brosnan is sexy, and plays his smart, rags-to-riches character well. Russo is also sexy and smart.

I enjoyed seeing this film again. It's more of a romance than a caper film - the stolen Monet really is no more than a McGuffin. Russo has excellent chemistry with both Crown and Mike. And the film has the last minute twist-that-isn't-really-unexpected that works for this type of romantic film. Overall, it's a great role for Brosnan, and I wish he would make more of this type of romantic film.

The Thomas Crown Affair is a remake of the film of the same name from 1968 starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. In my opinion, and I'm sure a lot of people would disagree with me - the modern film is better. Personally, I really dislike Steve McQueen - he gives me the creeps, and he's so icy and cold. McQueen's the type of actor I constantly expect in his roles to turn out to be a serial killer or something, and I just cannot watch him. Dunaway is also a cold actress, and I just can't see her playing a romantic role well (though in the 1960s, icy blondes were popular in romantic and suspense films.) Brosnan is much better as a romantic hero - and he gives Crown the depth of someone who is emotionally closed off, and what that costs him. Russo is the exact opposite of cold. Leary adds to the plot, giving the 1999 film a much more modern feeling.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating: 3 out of 5 (Slightly predictable)
Next film:  The Three Musketeers (1993)

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Third Man


  • The Third Man
  • Director:  Carol Reed
  • Date:  1949
  • Studio:  London Films Productions (UK)
  • Genre:  Film Noir, Mystery, Drama
  • Cast:  Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard, Bernard Lee, Wilfrid Hyde-White
  • Format:  Black/White, Standard
  • DVD Format:  NTSC, R1 (Criterion Collection)
"Is that what you say to people after death? 'That's awkward.' " - Holly

"Death's at the bottom of everything, Martins.  Leave death to the professionals." - Major Calloway

"Look down there, would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you £20,000  [English Pounds Sterling] for every dot that you stopped - would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money? Or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spend?" - Harry Lime

Holly Martins (Cotten) is a down on his luck American writer who jumps at the chance when his old childhood friend, Harry Lime, offers him a job in post-World War II Vienna. He arrives in a city that's still literally digging out from the destruction and rubble of war, and a city that's split into British, American, Russian, and French zones (so having your passport handy is of vital importance), only to find that his friend, Harry Lime, is dead. The police believe it to be an accident. Holly has trouble believing his old friend is dead. He starts to investigate - at first, merely to learn what happened. He talks to various people, the porter at Harry's building who witnessed a few things about the time of the accident, Harry's girlfriend, Anna Schmidt, other friend's of Harry's, and becomes suspicious that not only was Harry's death not an accident - but that something odd is going on in Vienna.

Harry also has several encounters with Major Calloway (Trevor Howard) a member of the British police for the British sections, and his aide, Sgt. Paine (Bernard Lee). When he takes his suspicions to the police, he's told, not unkindly, that even if Lime was murdered, the police won't waste resources investigating - because the man was a racketeer, involved in the Black Market, and most importantly he was involved in a scheme to steal, cut, and re-sell penicillin to sick and injured men, women and children - that resulted in several deaths, and a number of children with meningitis. As first, Holly doesn't believe his old friend would be involved in such a scheme. Later in the film, Major Calloway shows him proof of Harry Lime's involvement, and Holly reluctantly believes it. Still later on - Calloway takes Holly to a hospital ward filled with children who were left mentally disabled because of the tainted medicine and the resulting meningitis. There is considerable restraint in the scene, the audience doesn't see the sick children - only doctors and nurses tending to them, some shadows and medical charts, and the reactions of Holly, Major Calloway, and Sgt. Paine.

Holly also spends time with Anna, Harry's girlfriend. He begins to develop feelings for her - and she seems to return those feelings, but it's not to be.

About halfway through the film, when Holly's considering leaving Vienna altogether, he actually meets Harry Lime, who isn't as dead as everyone thought.

The second half of the film turns into more of a moral dilemma for Holly. Harry wants him to join him in another scheme to make money, that would probably harm as many people as his last one if not more. Holly tries to get Anna to go with him - but she's still in love with Harry. Anna's been having her own problems - she's living with a false passport, perhaps even a false name - because, as a Czechoslovakian she would be sent to Russia. Anna's reactions throughout the film are influenced by her blaming Holly somewhat for getting her in trouble with the police and her undying and unexplained love for Harry Lime.

Meanwhile, Major Calloway holds his duty to turn Anna over to the Russians, because she's an illegal immigrant, and the carrot of arranging her freedom over Holly as well.

Holly agrees to set-up Harry after Major Calloway presents him with proof of Lime's involvement in the drug stealing and selling scheme. They also discover that the person buried in Harry's grave is the missing hospital porter Calloway's been looking for.

However, an encounter with Anna again shakes Holly's resolve, he meets with Harry Lime, who turns out to be a real sociopath. Harry does not take up Lime on his implied offer to go into illegal business together someplace outside of Vienna.

Holly goes back to Calloway - who this time shows him the children in the hospital. Holly resolves to set-up Lime to help the police, especially as Calloway let's him have Anna's passport back.

Anna - gets off the train (Calloway had also supplied a ticket out of Vienna), she sees Holly and blows up at him because she knows he's setting up Harry. She even rips up her forged passport.

The conclusion of the film is a chase in Vienna's sewers, as Holly, then the Major and his troops, then police from the other districts of Vienna all chase down Harry Lime.

The brilliance of this film isn't in the overall plot, though the dead man who isn't dead was probably somewhat novel at the time - the brilliance is in the details. The cinematography of this film is just incredible. Director Carol Reed uses all sorts of unusual, tilted, and strange camera angles, which alongside the strange score, act to put the audience at unease. This odd setting emphasizes for example, Holly's isolation and grasping need to trust somebody. It sets all the characters apart, especially Harry Lime who towers over the film, despite not really being in it all that much. Lime is the "Third Man" of the title - referring to a Third Man who witnessed Harry's death as described by a witness, whom everyone else involved denies was even there. The discovery of a "Third Man" is an early clue that Holly discovers and uses to try to find out who "killed" Harry Lime.

The setting of this film is also unusual. Vienna is literally pulling itself out of rubble. Piles of concrete, and stone dust, and bombed out buildings are in nearly every shot. Nothing looks new and almost nothing is whole. There is evidence of war in nearly every scene. Oddly enough, the sewers are the only structures that seem solid, not crumbling or broken - and they are far underground. But it isn't just the buildings that are destroyed - the faces of the people, all very old or very young (except the main leads who are all probably in their 30s) - are a visual hint that the able-bodied men are all gone - and good young women don't appear on the streets. Anna, who works in a theater singing comedy opera in German, isn't exactly what the times would have called a "good woman". The faces of the bit players, and the few people in the streets, have character - but they have also seen pain and destruction.

Overall, I would highly recommend watching The Third Man at least once. Visually it's a film not to be missed, despite the bleak setting. I'd say it really needs to be seen because of the bleak setting.

Recommendation:  See it
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Justice League: Throne of Atlantis (SPOILERS)


  • Title:  Justice League:  Throne of Atlantis
  • Director:  Ethan Spaulding
  • Voice Director:  Andrea Romano
  • Date:  2015
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre:  Animation, Action, Fantasy
  • Cast:  Matt Lanter, Sean Astin, Rosario Dawson, Nathan Fillion, Christopher Gorham, Shemar Moore, Jerry O'Connell, Jason O'Mara, Sumalee Montano, Sam Witwer, Sirena Irwin, Juliet Landau, George Newborn, Khary Payton
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  Blu-Ray
"Not all heroes wear capes." - Sub Captain

"Death by collateral damage in a surface war does not comfort me. They kill our race, they poison our oceans, they will destroy this planet and take Atlantis with it. We must protect our people and attack!" - Prince Orm (aka Ocean Master)

"You speak to me of betrayal - you who spilled Atlantean blood and blamed it on the surface world! I have eyes everywhere Orm and you will pay for your treachery!" - Queen Atlanna

"This coup is over!  I am Queen and war is not in my plans!" - Queen Atlanna

I really enjoyed this DC Animated Feature -- and it's the first time in several DC Animated films I've been able to whole-heartedly say that. Although technically a Justice League movie, Throne of Atlantis really concentrates on the character of Arthur Curry and his journey to becoming Aquaman, and part of the New 52 Justice League.

The teaser for the film has a sub near the Marianas Trench responding to an SOS call. The sub is attacked and all aboard are lost. Cyborg is called in to investigate, and he calls in the rest of the Justice League.

Meanwhile, a middle-aged man is in a seaside bar in Maine, getting drunk and sharing his troubles with a live lobster in a tank. The bartender cuts him off the booze. When the same bartender takes the lobster out of the tank to make it into someone's dinner - the man, Arthur Curry, gets in a fist-fight. He's very strong and a good fighter, despite being drunk. He rescues the lobster, keeps in in his vest, then escapes outside. Defeating several guys from the bar who attack him again, as well as one man armed with a knife, Arthur releases the rescued lobster, sans rubber bands on its claws, back into the ocean.

Cyborg holds a meeting of the entire Justice League, with Flash convincing everyone to show up, though it's Green Lantern who brings in Batman. Once everyone arrives he shows him the information about the attack on the sub. Wonder Woman recognizes the writing on the weapons as Atlantean. Shazam (Captain Marvel, Billy Batson) suggests contacting an expert in Atlantis and it's lore. Superman and Batman go to investigate.

Meanwhile, Arthur Curry is living in his father's lighthouse.

Prince Orm, in league with Black Manta, confronts Queen Atlanna, his mother, whom he blames for his father's death. His father, the king was warlike and was considering a war plan to "cleanse" the surface dwellers. Atlanna, by contrasts, wishes to abandon their isolationist practices and contact the surface to broker a peaceful co-existence. Atlanna sends Meara to find Arthur, her older son.

Black Manta talks to Dr. Shin, the expert on Atlantis, on the phone, then sends his troops after the scientist. Dr. Shin arrives at Arthur's door to give him some information about his father. Arthur is very hung-over and takes awhile to get to the door, he agrees to let Dr. Shin in, but when he closes the door to take the chain bolt off, Dr. Shin is attacked and killed by Manta's troops. At the same time, Black Manta's troops, under orders from Prince Orm, attack and kill Atlantean farmers.

Meara rescues Arthur from Manta's troops. She takes him to Atlantis and sees the dead villagers who have been attacked.

Superman and Batman investigate Dr. Shin's lab - but everything's been destroyed. They find enough to lead them to Arthur Curry.

Prince Orm uses the attack on the Atlantean villagers to stir up hatred and war. Queen Atlanna tries to arrange a meeting between herself and the Justice League. Meara explains to Aquaman that he is the son of Queen Atlanna and a human, his father, Thomas, this sequence uses flashbacks. Meara shows Arthur his armor. He wears the orange and green body suit but not the outer armor.

Meara and Arthur are attacked by Trenchers (sea creatures). The Flash arrives to help Arthur and Meara. A few minutes later, Green Lantern, then the rest of the Justice League arrive to help.

Prince Orm, who shares his dead father's hatred of the surface world, again confronts his mother, Queen Atlanna. However, she knows he was behind the attack on the farmers, and she insists they will not go to war. He kills her - then blames her death on a surface dweller. Orm and Manta will lead the Atlanteans to war.

Arthur and some Justice League members go to Atlantis. They meet an old woman who says the city is empty because Queen Atlanna is dead, at the hands of a surface dweller, and Atlantis prepares for war.

Arthur, Meara and the League investigate, and run into Orm in his Ocean Master uniform. He brags that he killed his mother, the Queen. He then uses the Trident, the symbol of royal power and a powerful weapon, to attack and imprison the League.

Meanwhile, Batman, the Flash, and Shazam who have stayed behind get an alert that a tidal wave is heading for coastal cities, including Metropolis.

Arthur uses his royal power to break out of the cocoon Orm trapped him in, then uses his telepathic power to call sea creatures to help. He gets the Leaguers free and defeats the sea monster guarding them. Arthur also rescues Meara.

A tidal wave heads for Metropolis, the National Guard arrives, and sirens go off in the city causing panic. An Army General orders the Atlanteans, led by "King" Orm to stand down. Orm orders his troops to attack. The army attacks back. The entire League joins the fray, both those who had gone to Atlantis, and those who had stayed on the surface, including Aquaman and Meara.

The League keep getting defeated in battle. Finally, Batman finds Cyborg and reboots his systems. He finds out from Cyborg that Orm killed Atlanna. Cyborg has computer recordings of this. He plays the recordings a couple of times to the Atlantean troops. When Orm claims it's a trick, Meara backs up the recording, swearing it's a true depiction of what happened. The Atlanteans lay down their arms and stop fighting.

Arthur makes a speech that he will guide his people. A little while later, Arthur is "knighted" as king, takes his place as ruler and king of Atlantis. The League meanwhile decide they need to meet on a regular basis, and Arthur is invited to join the League as Aquaman.

I really enjoyed this film. It's an origin story for Aquaman and explains how he became part of the Justice League. The film also had some great touches - the flashback scene of Arthur and his father when Arthur realises he can swim underwater without difficulty and he also sees his mother, the flashbacks explaining the ill-fated romance between the Atlantean Princess Atlanna and Thomas Curry, and my favorite - the scene at the beginning of the film of Arthur pouring out his heart and troubles to a lobster in a tank, then rescuing the lobster.

The Justice League are not the real stars of this film - it's Aquaman's movie. But they are all present, and they do have things to do. I also felt each character was in character and their individual tasks and actions suited their characters.

Overall the film was highly enjoyable and it's highly recommended.

Recommendation:  See It!
Rating:  4 out of 5 Stars
Next film:  The Third Man

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind


  • Title:  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • Director:  Michel Gondry
  • Date:  2004
  • Studio:  Focus Features
  • Genre:  Romance, SF, Drama
  • Cast:  Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst, Tom Wilkinson
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
"My embarrassing admission is that I really like that you're nice. Right now, I mean, I can't tell from one moment to the next what I'm going to like, but, right now, I'm glad you are." - Clementine

"Technically speaking, the procedure is brain damage, but its, its on a par with a night of heavy drinking." - Dr. Howard Mierzwiak 

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind  is not your typical romantic comedy - it isn't even a typical film in the rarer genre of romantic tragedy. The film starts with Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) waking up, heading off to work, then playing hooky and taking the train to a beachside community in the middle of Winter, to be precise, on Valentine's Day.  He runs into a strange girl with bright blue hair, named Clementine, and the two start to hit it off. However, the film then diverges off into unusual and different territory. Joel discovers that Clementine, his girlfriend of two years, had him erased from her memory. Joel, in a pique of anger then decides to erase her from his memory.

However, the film doesn't tell this story linearly. We see Joel going to the Lucuna Clinic to have Clementine erased. He explains why he wants to forget her. He looks at objects from their relationship (mementos, gifts, etc) and thinks about his memories of her while undergoing CAT Scans to map his memory. That night he takes a sleeping pill. Three people from the Lucuna Clinic arrive at his apartment to erase his memory - Stan, Patrick, and Mary. However, they do not act like medical professionals, but rather like irresponsible party guys (and gal). While Stan's laptop computer performs the procedure - they drink, and do drugs. Patrick leaves pretty quickly so he can see his girlfriend - Clementine. Stan and Mary get even more drunk and stoned, and before long Mary's dancing on Joel's bed in her underwear.  Eventually, both Stan and Mary are dancing in their underwear.

Meanwhile, in a series of flashbacks, as Joel is undergoing the procedure - he remembers the times, the moments, he's spent with Clementine. He eventually realizes just how good some of those moments were - and tries to keep them. But the procedure works too well, and the audience sees scenes disappear piece by piece, or fade out of existence, or break apart in a pixelated fashion, or turn dark as if the lights were being turned off. The unusual effects heighten the strangeness of the film, but they also visually express Joel losing his memories. As the memories disappear, and Joel gets to his good memories with Clem, he realizes he doesn't want to forget. He and Clem try to outsmart the procedure by hiding in Joel's childhood memories - including some of his earliest memories.

At this point, the film flashes back to Joel having the procedure done - where Stan freaks out because "he's off the map." Joel calls in Howard (Dr. Mierzwiak) who gets the procedure back on track. However, Mary - who's still stoned, hits on Howard and even kisses him. Outside, Howard's wife watches. Howard finds out about this - as Mary tries to explain it was meaningless - Howard's wife tells her that she and Howard did have an affair, but he performed the procedure on her to make her forget.

Eventually, all of Joel's memories of Clementine disappear - but as he gets to the memory of the first time they met, a time when Joel walked out, Clem suggests he change what happened and make a new memory. We then flash-forward to the beginning of the film and Joel's compulsion to go to the beach in the middle of Winter, on Valentine's Day - where he meets Clem.

But this is not the end of the story. Because as Clem heads into her apt to pick up her toothbrush so she can spend the night with Joel (whom she's "just met") she find a letter from Mary, with a copy of her file and a tape of her conversation with the Doctor about why she wants to forget Joel. She starts the tape playing in the cassette player of his car - and he freaks out, accusing her of messing with him. But when he gets home, he find another letter and cassette from Mary for him. He starts to listen to the tape - when Clem arrives. Clem gets so angry at the things he says, she leaves - but Joel pursues her. In the hallway, Clem says they should forget it - bringing up the reasons why their relationship won't work again. But Joel seems to think they should try anyway.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind  is a forerunner of films like Inception - especially in terms of the effects used to show Joel's memories being destroyed. It has a very non-linear style - I've re-organized the story more linearly in this review, but when you are watching the film it slips easily back and forth between the "present" as Stan, Patrick, Mary, and later Howard work on Joel in his bedroom - and Joel's scattered memories of his relationship with Clementine. The story is gradually built up in pieces until the audience understands exactly what it going on - it's a very intelligent film. It asks intelligent questions, If you could completely forget someone - wipe them from your mind, would you? And, there are implications too - What if such a procedure was done without your permission? (The film gets into that briefly - when it's made clear that although Howard pressured her into it - Mary did give verbal permission for the procedure.) But the film is also about the way relationships twist over time - although Joel's early (meaning late - or most recent) memories of Clem are of fights and disagreements - his late (meaning earliest) memories are sweet and lovely - and those memories he fights to keep but fails. There are other tiny bits as well - the woman in the clinic with a dog bowl, leash, and such for example. Mary arguing with a woman on the phone that she can't have the procedure done three times (in a short period is implied). And even the idea of destiny in a relationship.

Jim Carrey is very reserved and quiet as Joel. Even when he and Clem are fighting - he barely raises his voice. He's very closed off as well. It's an understated performance, the complete opposite of Carrey's normal comedic roles - and it shows what a truly great actor he is. Kate Winslet plays Clementine as a free spirit but a bit dumb. Elijah Wood as Patrick is slimy as one of the med techs working on Joel - he admits to Stan he fell in love with Clem when she he erased her mind - and he even stole her panties. Patrick also used Joel's journal and other mementos of his relationship with Clem (gifts, jewelry, etc) in an attempt to win her over.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind  is a excellent and original film and I recommend it.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Justice League:  Throne of Atlantis

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Memento


  • Title: Memento
  • Director:  Christopher Nolan
  • Date:  2000
  • Studio:  Newmarket Capital Group, Summit Entertainment, Columbia-Tristar (distributor)
  • Genre:  Thriller
  • Cast:  Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Callum Keith Rennie
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
"That must suck. It's all backwards. I mean, like, maybe you've got an idea about what you want to do next, but you can't remember what you just did." - Hotel Clerk

"I'm disciplined and organized. I use habit and routine to make my life possible." - Leonard

Memento is a remarkable movie, because it uses a structure that I don't think any other film has used. The film is told backwards. It's also unusual in that there are two films in one. The main story, in color, has each scene taking place immediately before the scene that precedes it. The backing story, in black and white, does move forward in time and is almost a commentary on the other scenes. It also serves to orient the viewer some in any areas that might be really confusing.

The first time I saw Memento, I knew going in that the film would be told backwards - it is what it's famous for. And even though the film is a little confusing at first, one quickly becomes used to the idea - and it really isn't as confusing as you might think. The structure forces the viewer to pay close attention to what is happening in the film. The structure also really, really puts an emphasis on editing. And as you watch the film, you end up mentally re-ordering the scenes to put them in context.

However, the structure also emphasizes the character and his point of view. The main character, Leonard (Guy Pearce), is suffering from retrograde amnesia. That is, due to a trauma (we're told) he can remember his life before the trauma, but he can't make new memories. Leonard's life exists in the brief span of a scene, the minute he loses focus, or falls asleep, he forgets everything that's happened to him. The highly unusual structure, of telling the story backwards, emphasizes this - if you haven't seen the movie before, you don't know what happened before either. Therefore when Leonard finds himself chasing a guy - or as he quickly realizes - being chased by a guy with a gun, the audience also has no idea why.

Upon viewing the film a second time, the structure still works. Because the film is told in reverse order, it's hard to remember individual scenes - so one is, for example, still confused as to why Leonard's being chased. I was surprised when I watched the film a second time, that the structure still worked and the film isn't a one hit wonder. I knew the big secret from the end of the film, of course, which I'm not going to reveal in this review. Memento still works as a film even on a second viewing.

Memento is also a film that has a timeless look to it. It's a story told in cheap hotels, dive bars, and abandoned buildings. Even the one home we see (Natalie's), although nice, is incredibly nondescript. The anonymous places accentuate Leonard's situation.

However, Memento is, at it's center a disturbing film - not because of it's unique structure, which the viewer quickly gets used to, but because of the Big Secret at the end of the film, The end, which is really the beginning when you think about it. I don't want to spoil that for movie viewers who haven't seen it, but once you know, it changes how you view the film. And probably not in the way you think.

Recommendation:  See it! I would especially recommend this movie to film students.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Inception


  • Title:  Inception
  • Director:  Christopher Nolan
  • Date:  2010
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers
  • Genre:  SF, Action, Thriller
  • Cast:  Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
"What is the most resilient parasite?  A bacteria, a virus, an intestinal worm? ... An idea. Resilient, highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold in the brain - it's almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed, fully understood, that sticks."  -- Cobb

"Do you want to take a leap of faith? Or become an old man - filled with regret, waiting to die alone?" - Saito

"It's the chance to build cathedrals, entire cities, things that never existed, things that couldn't exist in the real world." - Cobb

Inception is a film about dreams, but it is not the typical film about dreams - such as the person who dreams of being a famous musician then becomes one, or the young man who dreams of becoming a professional sports player - then makes his dream come true.  This film is literally about dreams, and as such, the entire film is a commentary on films themselves.  But for all the meta implications, it's not a nod-nod-wink-wink type of film that pokes fun at anything.  Rather it suggests a type of caper film, though the caper doesn't take place in the physical world at all.

Cobb (DiCaprio) and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are professional extractors - men who, for a price, will enter a person's dreams to steal information, often as a form of corporate espionage. However, in this case, when their plans don't quite work out, the man they are trying to steal from instead hires the two for Inception - the concept of planting an idea in someone's head, so that they themselves believe that they came up with the idea - themselves.  Like many other caper films, after some debate among themselves, Cobb and Arthur agree to perform the crime - Arthur, because he knows the corporation that hired them in the first place will kill them for being unsuccessful, and Cobb because he's a wanted man - and Saito has promised to make his charges go away so he can return home and to his own children, if he's successful.

Cobb and Arthur to find their crew for this special job:  a chemist - to create a special sedative to put the victim under during the crime, Eames - a spy and con-man - to gather information on the victim, an architect - to build the triple-layered dream world, Arthur, and Cobb.  Their architect is Ariadne, a young student of Miles - Cobb's old teacher, and the grandfather of his children - Phillipa and James.  Arthur and Cobb train Ariadne in shared dreaming.  Cobb finds the chemist and an old friend who becomes their spy and investigator.

The "heist" involves getting Fischer - the victim - on a ten hour flight, slipping him a mickey, then entering his dreams.  The dream will be three layers or levels deep, and at each stage, the crew - specifically Cobb and Arthur (with some assistance from Eames) work different angles into their con to convince Fischer Jr that he should break-up and sell his father's near monopoly energy company so he can become his own man by building something new.  In the end, Cobb and Ariadne end-up going to a fourth level - Limbo, or the subconscious - for two reasons, for Saito - who was shot in the first level of the dream, then died in the third level (normally dying in a dream would wake up the dreamer - but not when under sedation) and so Cobb can confront his dead wife, Mal - who's been haunting him throughout the film.  In fact, as the film goes on - it becomes less about the plot to convince Fischer Jr to break-up his father's company, and more about the question of Mal and Cobb and just what happened between them.

Inception is also circular in nature. The film opens with Cobb washed up on a beach, captured by Asian gunmen, and taken to a wealthy, older Asian man. We will learn this is Saito, who has lived for years in his subconscious world, because time moves differently in the dream world as to the real world. The film, at the end circles back to Cobb on the beach, and Cobb confronting the Asian man. But then the film adds a couple of scenes at the end that leave the film mysterious and open-ended.

The second major point about the film, Inception, and the reason I can watch it over and over again, is it is visually stunning.  Where else would you see roads folding in on themselves? An endless staircase? A freight train moving through a crowded downtown city street? Or the vanishing point of a set being revealed as a mirror, then being moved by a character to form an infinity box?  Yet these impossible scenes, rather than breaking the fourth wall in the traditional sense, are used to clearly show that a particular moment which seemed "real" is actually part of a dream - so they fit into the larger world of the film.  It is truly a visual masterpiece of film.

Recommendation:  Must see!
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Memento

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Prestige


  • Title:  The Prestige
  • Director:  Christopher Nolan
  • Date 2006
  • Studio:  Touchstone, Warner Brothers
  • Genres:  Drama, SF, Historical
  • Cast:  Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Piper Perabo, Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson, David Bowie, Andy Serkis, Mark Ryan, William Morgan Sheppard
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  Blu-Ray, R1
"But you wouldn't clap yet, because making something disappear isn't enough, you have to bring it back.  That's why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call... The Prestige." - Mr. Cutter, narrating

"I love you." - Alfred Borden
"Not today.  Well, some days it's not true, and today you don't mean it.  Maybe today you're more in love with magic than me.  I like being able to tell the difference, it makes the days it is true mean something." - Sarah Borden

"I don't want to kill doves." - Robert Angier
"Then stay off stage.  You're a magician not a wizard.  You gotta' get your hands dirty if you're going to achieve the impossible." - Mr. Cutter

"I can recognize an obsession, no good will come of it." - Nikola Tesla

"The truly extra-ordinary is not permitted in science and industry.  Perhaps, you'll find more luck in your field - where people are happy to be mystified." - Tesla

The Prestige is a film about envy, jealousy, and obsession. But rather than jealousy over someone else's relationship with a third person; or obsession with a person, The Prestige is about professional jealousy and obsession with an idea. Add to that it's unusual structure, and it's a fascinating film, that's intriguing to watch.

This is the story of two stage magicians in the 1890s. They start off as friends, working with an ingenue (or magic trick designer) and a female magician (Julia, played by Piper Perabo) who is married to one of them (Angiers, played by Hugh Jackman). Bordan (Bale) seems to be jealous of Angiers relationship with his wife, though this is not obviously stated. And when Julia dies performing a water-tank trick, after Bordan tied her hands - Angiers becomes angry and blames Bordan for the accident. However, this definitely doesn't become your cut-and-dried "you killed my wife - I'm going to get revenge" film. Even by the end of the film, we don't really know if Bordan deliberately tied the wrong knot or if it really was an accident. However, the death of Julia is the spark that turns a friendship into a rivalry - and then into professional jealousy, and finally into obsession. As the film unfolds Angiers and Bordan both one-up each other, and both simply do horrible things to each other - physically harming each other, undercutting each other's stage acts, and simply just not letting the rivalry rest but escalating it with each act of the film.

The structure of the film is also different.  It starts with the end, then tells the story through a series of interweaving flashbacks that tell the story in short scenes that not only move forward and back in time, but change point of view as well.  The film begins with Angiers dying in a stage magician's trick and Bordan being arrested and charged with his murder.  The flashbacks explain their history, their rivalry, and Angiers growing obsession with Bordan's trick:  The Transported Man. Angiers follows his obsession to Colorado where he meets Nikola Tesla (David Bowie) and his assistant Alley (Andy Serkis), whom he convinces to build a special machine for him. Angiers both gets what he wants and gets much more than he bargained for. But, as the story unfolds - and different parts of the story are told first from Angiers point of view and then from Bordan's, the audience learns more and more about these characters - the doomed characters.

Because the flashbacks are interweaving, as an audience member, not only is one forced to pay very close attention in order to follow the film - but one is also, constantly rearranging the scenes in one's head.  Especially the first time I watched this film, as I watched it, I found myself thinking, "OK, so this goes before that, and this goes before that, etc."  But unlike other films with a lot of editing and scenes that aren't presented in chronological order - with The Prestige, that the film's story is essentially presented in reverse order before returning to the present and then again turning on a dime, everything in the story is crystal clear.  You will not be confused by the story - at all, once you get used to the style and concentrate on the plot.

I'm determined to not spoil this excellent film, but it is also very dark and even somewhat disturbing. To explain just what is going on, and how, would destroy the experience of seeing this film.  It's excellent, with an excellent cast, incredible direction, and it's very thought-provoking. However, it is very, very dark.  I mean, I've seen film noir before, but the final implications of this film really push the envelope into disturbing territory. Oh, and by disturbing - I do not in any way mean "gross" or bloody, or any of the typical tropes of horror. I wouldn't even call this a horror film. Do not avoid this film simply because of a prejudice against horror - that is not what it is at all.

Recommendation:   See it
Rating:  5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Inception

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Justice League War

  • Title:  Justice League War 
  • Director:  Jay Oliva
  • Voice Director:  Andrea Romano
  • Date:  2014
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre(s):  Action, Fantasy, Animation
  • Cast:  Sean Astin, Christopher Gorham, Justin Kirk, Michelle Managhan, Shemar Moore, Jason O'Mara, Alan Tudyk, Ioan Gruffudd
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  Blu-Ray
"They don't like us much!" - Green Lantern (Hal Jordan)
"The world's afraid of us." - Batman
"You say that like its a good thing." - Green Lantern (Hal Jordan)
"It's necessary." - Batman

"Superman's close, I've been tracking his flight path." -Batman
"Pfft, on what?  Your own satellite?" - Green Lantern (Hal Jordan)
[pause, as Batman checks an electronic gadget]
"I was kidding.  You have a satellite?!" -  Green Lantern (Hal Jordan)

With Justice League War Warner Brothers Animation moves from creating animated DC Comics films based on classic Silver Age (and early modern age) DC Comics, to making films based on the New 52.  Justice League War is a perfect case in point, as it is based on the graphic novel Justice League Volume 1 Origin (which is, in turn, really just a compilation of issues 1-6), written by Geoff Johns, penciled by Jim Lee, and inked by Scott Williams.

The first time I watched War I was impressed, the animation is good, and I felt the story did what it needed to do - introduce a big enough threat to bring together all seven superheroes who, until that time, had only been working in their own respective cities. These heroes, including new hero, (Victor Stone) must over-come their distrust and fear of each other and learn to work together to overcome Darkseid, his Parademons, and his lieutenant, Desaad.

However, the second time I watched this, last night, I was considerably less impressed. Yes, the animation is gorgeous.  And it's nice to see older DC elements, like mother box and boom tubes, brought back.  And if one needs a really big threat, it doesn't get much bigger than Darkseid. Yes, this is essentially a re-boot.  And, DC Comics, has rebooted it's universe before.  They're somewhat famous for it, actually.  Personally, I actually started reading DC Comics when they re-booted the universe after Crisis on Infinite Earths.  That was a great time to start reading comics - everything was new, you didn't need to know the long complicated history, even the books started at number 1.  I imagine, now, there are people who did the same thing for New 52 - they started there, and don't know (or care) about the Silver Age and post-Crisis on Infinite Earths books I read and loved in college (just like when I started reading DC I didn't care if a story was set on Earth 16 or Earth 2 or whatever).  And that is perfectly OK.  I see no need to rain on their parade.

But, as a fan of the Post-Crisis on Infinite Earths era, I really don't like New 52.  There, I said it, I don't.  Justice League War, especially on repeat viewing, is a perfect example of why I don't like New 52.  War, is, as the title suggests - full of battles and wisecracks.  I've watched other DC animated films (Justice League:  Doom is a perfect example) where I also felt there was too much of an emphasis on fights and not enough on character - but at least in Doom, there is character.  And, it's the flaws in the characters that are exploited and must be overcome that are central to the plot.  That keeps me riveted to the screen.  But in Justice League War, not only is the majority of the film fight scene after fight scene, but the characters are pretty much stereotypes - not the DC characters we know and love.  Hal Jordan, rather than being a man who knows no fear (and intergalactic police officer for the Green Lantern Corps) is reduced to "the one with the funny quips and lines".  Barry Allen, the Flash, is "the one who's the nice guy next door".  Wonder Woman is the overly naïve "little girl" type.  Superman is "the angry one"; I mean, seriously - Was that even supposed to be Clark Kent?  Because he sounds like Young Justice's Conner Kent.  Billy Batson (Shazam), well, actually, he's got the same "little kid in a big body" quality he's always had - but then, that is what he's supposed to be.  Cyborg is"'the new guy".  And even Batman is "the only one who knows what's going on / the parent".  These aren't our much-loved characters - they are stereotypes. Even in the last line of the film, Wonder Woman describes her fellow heroes as iconotypes by comparing them to the Greek gods.  (Jung would call these archetypes and it is a fair and valid comparison.) But I found the lack of real character a major disappointment. Creating great characters, not only the major characters, but the minor characters, has always been a strength of DC Comics.  I feel New 52 falls short of the mark.  Though this is an origin film, and it's always possible that there will be improvement as the series develops.

Justice League War also cuts frequently from scene to scene as the various heroes fight Parademons in whatever city they happen to be in, before joining together to fight Darkseid, Desaad, and more Parademons.  And in fighting together, the seven Justice League (a term never used in the film) founders, do learn to work together.  They do learn that cooperation is very important, as is teamwork.  Perhaps the series will improve.

Recommendation:  See it, if you want to stay up to date with New 52
Rating:  3 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Prestige


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Superman Unbound


  • Title:  Superman Unbound
  • Director:  James Tucker
  • Date:  2013
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre:  Action, Animation
  • Cast:  Matt Bomer, John Noble, Stana Katic, Molly Quinn
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
"Must be awful being you.  Most powerful man in the world, and you still can't control the women in your life."  - Lois to Clark

"I am the knowledge and strength of 10,000 worlds, and flesh and machine.  I am becoming everything." - Brainiac

"I think it's a bug in his programming, that cyborg core inside him, it wants to know everything there is to know in the Galaxy."  - Jor-El
"So he said." - Superman
"But that's impossible, worlds are living things, their knowledge is always growing and changing.  So, he has to stop them, turn them into these fake versions instead.  You can't control a living thing without destroying what's alive about it." - Jor-El

The animation in Superman Unbound is of very high quality, especially in the space scenes, and it's much better than the poor animation in Justice League:  The Flashpoint Paradox. But I was very happy to see quality animation again, after the disappointing Flash film.  This film features Supergirl (Kara) Superman's cousin, as well as Superman, and the villian Brainiac, and is based on the graphic novel, Superman:  Brainiac, by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank.

The film's opening gambit has Supergirl and Superman rescuing Lois Lane from military kidnappers in black.  Lois complains that she has to keep her relationship with Clark Kent a secret.

Then a meteor falls towards Pheonix.  However, it isn't a meteor but a probe, occupied by a killer robot and with an transmitter.  Superman defeats the robot, and destroys the transmitter and probe - but brings the robot to his Fortress of Solitude to study. There he runs into Kara, his cousin, aka Supergirl, who is freaked out.  She recognizes the robot as having attacked her home city of Kandor on Krypton and causing the city to completely disappear.  She tells Superman the villain's name, Brainiac and that he will do the same to Metropolis on Earth.

Superman leaves Earth to deal with Brainiac before he gets to Earth, and Supergirl deals with issues on Earth, except in Metropolis.  Eventually, Lois uses Jimmy's emergency call watch, and Supergirl arrives.  Lois confronts her about avoiding Metropolis, to which Supergirl warns her to get out of the city, visit the Kent's farm in Smallville - go anywhere, just leave.  Lois gets Kara to open up and finds out she's afraid Brainiac will take Metropolis and destroy Earth, like he did Krypton.

Meanwhile, Superman listens to a recording of a Kryptonian science report on Brainiac and travels to another planet where he's attacking.  Superman helps destroy the robots on the alien planet.  However, the planet's sun explodes and Superman is stunned unconscious and taken aboard Brainiac's ship.  He awakens in a lab and destroys the robots analyzing him.  Superman discovers cities in bell jars and "specimens" stored on Brainiac's ship.  He discovers Kandor also in a bottle.  Superman runs into Brainiac, fights him, loses because he doesn't have as much strength away from a yellow sun, and is transported inside Kandor.  However, in his scan of Superman's thoughts, Brainiac learns of Earth and heads his ship (shaped like a giant, black metal skull) there.

Inside Kandor, the micro sized city hasn't changed in over thirty years, plus it has a red sun, so Superman's powers are limited.  But he discovers Kara's parents, who fill him in some on Brainiac.  He's a cyborg with cybernetic and computer parts.  But, Kor-El believes the system has a "bug" - because Brainiac want's to know everything - an impossible task in an ever-changing galaxy.  So, Brainiac has become an obsessive collector instead, stealing a world's knowledge, taking a city and it's inhabitants for his collection, then destroying the world so it cannot change.  The city becomes locked in a bell jar, like a preserved butterfly on a board.  Superman manages to escape Kandor, but promises to return and rescue the Kryptonian city.  Recharged by another yellow sun, Superman picks up the bottle Kandor, and starts destroying Brainiac's ship, before taking Kandor to his Fortress of Solitude.

Brianiac awakes and repairs his damaged ship.

Superman tells Kara her parents are alive inside Kandor, and he plans to take the city to a habitable planet with a red sun.

Brainiac and his robots attack Earth, and take Metropolis the way he had taken Kandor. Superman and Supergirl fight Brainiac and his robots. Superman defeats Brainiac by flooding him with sensations - sounds, smells, the feel of mud, et cetera.  Meanwhile, Supergirl stops the missile that Brainiac had fired from his ship at the sun.  Once Brainiac is defeated, Metropolis is returned to it's normal spot, as is Kandor.  Kara is reunited with her parents.  At the end, Clark proposes to Lois in the Daily Planet newsroom.

The animation in this film was excellent, and the voice cast did an excellent job.  I liked that Brainiac was more of a obsessive collector of cities, intelligent beings, and information, rather than simply knowledge and information.  And the plot made it clear, it wasn't gathering information that was an issue, but how Brainiac went about it.  Essentially, Brainiac was like a Victorian natural history student, cataloging, in this case, the galaxy. Though, that plot also reminded me, strongly, of the Doctor Who episode, "Ghost Light".   One thing that concerned me was that Superman seemed to have very little concern for all the other cities on Brainiac's ship - at one point he tries to destroy the ship, despite all the other cities with presumably living "specimens" inside.  Later, Superman mentions resettling all the other cities on habitable planets - but I wondered if he realized what a big job that would be - there were hundreds of bell jars, from hundreds of planets.  I wondered why Superman didn't call in the Green Lantern Corps to help - it's exactly the sort of thing they are trained for.  But still, overall, it's a good movie with a lot of action and battles.  Superman fans will probably really love it.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Friday, November 14, 2014

Justice League The Flashpoint Paradox


  • Title:  Justice League The Flashpoint Paradox
  • Director:  Jay Oliva
  • Voice Director:  Andrea Romano
  • Date:  2013
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre:  Animation, Action, Fantasy
  • Cast:  Justin Chambers, C. Thomas Howell, Michael B. Jordan, Kevin McKidd, Kevin Conroy, Sam Daly, Dana Delany, Cary Elwes, Nathan Fillion, Ron Perlman
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
"They're motivated by greed.  They lack the commitment, the absolute focus..." - Professor Zoom (Reverse Flash)
"...to kill me." - Flash
"To erase you." - Professor Zoom (Reverse Flash)

"Brake the sound barrier and there's a sonic boom.  You broke the time barrier, Flash, time boom.  Ripples of distortion out from the point of impact, shifting everything just a tiny bit - but enough.  Enough for events to happen slightly differently." -  Professor Zoom (Reverse Flash)

Justice League The Flashpoint Paradox starts with what we quickly realise is a flashback or memory. Young Barry Allen and his mother are stranded at the side of the road with a broken car.  Another car passes but fails to stop to help them.  Barry is incensed that the person in the car didn't care enough to do what's right and stop to help them.  Nora, Barry's mother, urges him to not worry about it - then spots a gas station close by, they decide to walk there to find a phone.

The next flashback finds Barry coming home from school - only to find that his mother has been killed.

In the present, Barry and his wife, Iris are putting flowers on his mother's grave.  Barry expresses his regret that he wasn't there to save his own mother.  He and Iris are interrupted when Barry gets an emergency call, there's been a break-in at the Central City Flash Museum.  As Flash, Barry arrives and confronts The Top, Mirror Master, and eventually Captain Cold, Captain Boomarang, and Heat Wave.  It soon becomes obvious that the person in charge of the break in is Eoband Thawne, aka Professor Zoom, aka the Reverse Flash.  He uses the distraction of the Rogues Gallery attack to place small but powerful bombs on each Rogue as well as on Flash.  He also traps Flash in a gooey substance he can't escape.  Flash manages to trap Professor Zoom, but he can't get free.  The Justice League arrives, and each takes a Rogue to get rid of the bombs, without hurting anyone.  The various plans that each Justice Leaguer uses, work and all the bombs are destroyed harmlessly and the Rogues sent back to prison.  Meanwhile, Flash is still trapped.  Professor Zoom taunts Flash, but Flash manages to disarm the explosives on himself and Thawne.

Next, Barry wakes at his desk.  He's a little confused by the news headline on his computer screen - and even more confused when he exits the building and meets his mother.  Things go from bad to worse, as Flash realises he's in an alternative world that never had a Flash.  A world that's in the midst of War.  Barry goes to the Wayne Mansion just outside Gotham City - but the place is a wreck.  He gets inside the Batcave and meets Batman - a very violent Batman, who uses guns, and has no problem with killing.  Barry quickly realises that this Batman is Thomas Wayne, and it was Bruce who died That Fateful Night.  To make matters worse, the death of her son, and seeing her husband become a violent vigilante has turned Mrs. Wayne into the Joker.  Though it takes some doing, Barry not only convinces Thomas that his world is "all wrong" - he convinces him they have to re-create the experiment that turned Barry into the Flash.  The resulting scene brings to mind various filmed versions of Frankenstein.  The first try fails, But, the second try works.  The Flash, however, is unable to get enough speed and theorizes there's another speedster out there also tapping into the "speed force".

Since using his own power won't work, Barry's next idea is to ask for Superman's help.  Batman tells him, though, this world has no Superman.  Barry, however, from his own nightmares of the divergent timelines, gets an idea.  Batman calls in Cyborg, who works directly for the US Government, and convinces him to hack every computer system he can, looking for information.  Eventually Thomas Wayne/Batman convinces Cyborg to hack government and military records.  This leads them to find a warehouse that holds the little baby rocket from Krypton.  Superman is locked-up, and very weak because he's been kept in a room with red light and hasn't experienced the Earth's yellow sun. Batman, Flash, and Cyborg break Superman out of the military cell.

In Europe, which has been flooded by Aquaman, then taken over by Queen Diana and the Amazons, Lois Lane is about to be killed by Amazons.  She's rescued by the Resistance, another group of Heroes, like Cyborg's group.  Lois swears she saw a yellow-clothed speedster, but the Resistance Group tells her that no speedster works with them.  When Batman sees the footage, he tells Flash, who realises it's Dr. Zoom.

Lex Luther, Deathstroke and Clayface work together on a US Military Carrier to attack Aquaman and attempt to find his doomsday weapon.  They fail.

The Military also find Hal Jordan and offer him the chance to fly a captured alien spaceship.  Hal jumps at the chance.  (The ship's pilot is dead and enclosed in a glass tube.)  The air force general tells Hal that when he died, a glowing green ring flew off his hand and into space.  Hal has trouble believing that part of the story.  However, Hal has no trouble flying the ship.  He too goes after Aquaman, specifically attacking a giant octopus-like creature.  Unfortunately, Hal and his ship are swallowed by the creature and Hal is presumed dead.

At that point, the President fires Cyborg, stating there's nothing left to be done.  Cyborg goes to Batman and the Shazam kids and tells them it's over.  Flash talks everyone into not giving up.  They all go to Europe.  In Europe, they meet Lois and the Resistance group.  However, Aquaman and Wonder Woman are in the midst of their final battle.  There's a huge fight, and one by one, most everyone is injured or killed.  Finally, Reverse Flash arrives and confronts Flash - explaining that everything that's happened is his fault, he changed things - and created the mess.

There's more destruction and heroes, Amazons, and Aquaman's troops dying.  Superman arrives, and cuts off Aquaman's arm to save Cyborg.  However, severely injured, Cyborg dies.  Diana goes to kill Aquaman, but he launches his doomsday weapon, Captain Atom.  Barry's absorbed the info from Professor Zoom.  Batman kills Zoom, and gives Barry a letter for Bruce.  Barry runs and runs, barely escaping the Doomsday weapon, and catches himself.  He prevents himself from changing the past.

Barry again wakes up at his office - and everything is back to normal.  He visits Bruce and gives him the letter.  Bruce recognizes his father's handwriting and is moved to tears by Thomas Wayne's letter.

The first time I watched this film, I really didn't like it.  It seemed so unfair to Barry that he'd have to sacrifice his mother and his happiness with Iris to save the world (in the alternate reality - she's married to someone else and has a child.)

Watching it a second time, I liked it slightly better, but the film still has some issues.  First, Barry, The Flash, is thrust into the altered reality suddenly, and with no explanation.  We don't see him time travel, or Professor Zoom trying something, or even a strange portal.  There's no visual or other indication that somehow time has changed.  So the audience is as much in the dark as Barry Allen. And, although in some films, that technique of utter confusion can work, because the audience has faith that All Will Be Explained, in a short, animated film, it becomes wearying to have no idea what is going on.  The film is full of action sequences, that sometimes make sense and other times don't - because so little is explained in the film.  And the only explanation is at the end, and from the villain - who places the blame squarely on Barry's head.  Really?  How did Zoom know?  If he was from the altered reality - he shouldn't know anything about Barry Allen, because Barry never became the Flash in that reality.  Not to mention, if Zoom tapped into the Speed Force by copying the accident that made Barry the Flash - how could he exist without an accident to copy?  (A non-invention paradox.) Meanwhile, Barry actually brings up the other problem - how could his interfering with his mother's death have affected events before that event?  Professor Zoom's explanation is inventive, but not quite convincing.  My guess is he actually lied to Barry - and it was Zoom who messed with things to create the Really Messed Up world then dumped Barry into it.  Or, caused a version of Barry to exist that never became Flash.  It certainly sounds more like a plot put together by a supervillain.

The other issue was the animation - which I thought was crude, and frankly, pretty bad.  The Justice League in the opening barely looked human - or, Kryption or whatever they may be.  And in some scenes, the animation was OK, in others, especially the opening flashbacks - it looked very much like Japanese anime, and it others the humans/heroes just didn't look right - at all.  (Diana / Wonder Woman looks awful in nearly every shot she's in.)  It really was quite messy - and there seemed no reason for it.

I will say, it was nice to see a story about Barry Allen, The Flash, but this particular story was dark, and the execution wasn't very successful.

Recommendation:  For die hard DC fans only, otherwise skip it.
Rating:  3 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  No idea - I have, The Prestige, Inception, Superman Unbound, Justice League War (New 52 Origins)", and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind on deck.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Ironman 3


  • Title:  Iron Man 3
  • Director:  Shane Black
  • Date:  2013
  • Studio:  Paramount, Marvel
  • Genre:  Action, Fantasy
  • Cast:  Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Guy Pearce, Don Cheadle, Jon Favreau, Rebecca Hall, Ben Kingsley, Paul Bettany
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  NTSC, R1
When I saw Iron Man 3 in the theater last summer I was somewhat disappointed.  I bought the DVD anyway, and having watched it a couple of times, I still think it wasn't as good as it could have been.  But I bought the film because I like Robert Downey Jr. and he does seem to be born to play the part of Tony Stark aka Iron Man.

The interesting part of the story is that Tony, after the events in New York, in The Avengers, is suffering from PTSD and panic attacks - not that he seems willing to deal with his trauma.  He and Pepper are living together, but arguing as ever.

The film uses a voice-over by Tony to try to connect and explain events.  In a tag during the credits, we'll learn he's talking to Dr. Bruce Banner.  However, even with the voice-over, this film is confusing and hard to follow.  And even after multiple viewings - that doesn't improve matters, at all.  And that remains one of the prime problems with the film - without a good story, a story that grabs you with it's characters - or an unique and meaningful plot, the best action sequences in the world can still seem boring.  So, the film doesn't really work because it's confusing, and the action sequences don't really work because they have little meaning.

The plot involves a series of "terrorist" bombings - bombings which eventually turn out not to be the result of terrorist bombs at all, but a new, experimental military technology called Extremis.  Extremis was invented by Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) a man Tony had met at a party before he became Iron Man.  Tony blew the guy off, causing him to obtain military contracts to develop Extremis - rather than using it as a genetic treatment for physical disabilities and medical illnesses.  Though, given the little we see of Killian's character, it's doubtful he would have used Extremis for purely "peaceful" means even if Stark Industries had backed his research.

The terrorist bombings, by a man called, The Mandarin, turn out to be a charade - The Mandarin is Trevor Slattery, a British actor, hired by Killian to put a false face on the bombings - which are actually a side effect of Extremis going wrong.  S.H.I.E.L.D., meanwhile, had tried to get Tony to work with them to stop The Mandarin - but he refuses as he thinks it's none of his business.  When Happy is injured in an random Mandarin attack, however, Tony takes it personally - and not only threatens the Mandarin but gives out his home address in a public press conference.

Tony's actions prove to be as dumb as that sounds - as the Mandarin attacks and destroys his Malibu home.  Tony, in escaping, ends-up in Tennessee, where he is given help by a young, geeky, know-it-all kid.  And yes, that part of the plot was extremely annoying. Pepper disappears for the vast majority of the plot - and Tony's running around with a kid.

Tony is in Tennessee for a reason, though - before the public threats of the Mandarin started, there was another explosion with the same heat signature.  Tony figures there's a connection, and in Tennessee - he finds it, thus leading him to Trevor, and then to Killian. But Killian meanwhile has taken Pepper and exposed her to Extremis.  Thus, Tony 's final battle is more about saving the woman he loves than about stopping Killian and Extremis. This should have made the film work better - however, not only is Tony helped by Rhody, not the "Iron Patriot" but about 30 remotely activated Iron Man suits join in the final battle. Therefore, in the final battle - it's very difficult to figure out who's who and what's going on (both Tony and Rhody get in and out of various suits throughout the battle).

Still, at the end, Pepper almost dies, but Extremis saves her.  Tony realises how much he loves Pepper, and even has the shrapnel and electromagnet removed from his chest, and one is left with the idea that he might, finally, become a better person without relying on his suit of iron.  Well, until the next Avengers film.

The problem with Iron Man 3 is twofold - it doesn't expand the universe at all, it simply introduces yet another villain, and this villain isn't even real - the Mandarin is a sham.  An Killian, though nasty, is somewhat finite as a villain - Extremis doesn't work.  It, temporarily, does as promised - even regrowing limbs, but eventually the patient blows-up.  Not exactly a medical miracle.  And secondly, it becomes just another chapter in an on-going story that never ends.  There's no beginning, middle, end structure to the Iron Man films - so there's no growth.  In the second film, I felt Tony had slid backwards to his original party self; in this one - Party Tony is in a flashback, but there's still no real growth or change.  And the end scenes, which do hint at change -- Tony realising his feelings for Pepper, Tony having the shrapnel and magnet removed, etc., all seem fake and short-lived.  We know Iron Man will be back, so what's the point?

I did like the scenes between Pepper and Tony at the beginning and end of the film, but overall, Gwyneth Paltrow is almost criminally under-used in this film.  She needed either her own storyline, or to be with Tony in Tennessee doing research - not simply arguing with Tony at the beginning, and being a victim at the end, until Tony tries to rescue her and she ends up rescuing herself instead.

Recommendation:  For die-hard Marvel fans Only
Rating:  3 Stars
Next Film:  Justice League:  Flashpoint Paradox

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug


  • Title:  The Hobbit:  The Desolation of Smaug
  • Director:  Peter Jackson
  • Date:  2013
  • Studio:  New Line, MGM
  • Genre:  Action, Fantasy
  • Cast:  Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Dean O'Gorman, Ken Stott, Aidan Turner, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sylvester McCoy, Luke Evans and Stephen Fry.
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
"You've changed, Bilbo Baggins, you're not the same Hobbit that left the Shire." - Gandalf

"I started this!  I cannot forsake them.  They are in grave danger."  -- Gandalf
"If what you say is true, the World is in grave danger." - Radagast

"What have we done?" - Bilbo

There is an innate problem with any trilogy, especially a trilogy of films - and that is, the film often has no beginning and no ending.  The beginning, background, and set-up is all in the first film.  The resolution will be in the final film.  And sometimes, the middle film is very hard to judge without seeing the final film.  This seems to be especially true with Peter Jackson's trilogies based on JRR Tolkien's works, because Jackson takes the approach they are three long chapters of a single work.  An approach that, in the end, especially when the extended editions are included, worked for Lord of the Rings.

However, for The Desolation of Smaug, I find it very difficult to review the film on it's own.  I suspect that the extended edition (to be released on Blu-ray next Tuesday 11/4/2014), may affect how I view the film, and the third film, The Hobbit:  The Battle of Five Armies, which is due in theaters in December 2014, will change my opinion further.  But I will say this - I didn't hate it.  Overall, I felt the theater-version of The Hobbit:  The Desolation of Smaug was "ok" to "good", but not terrible.

Whereas, The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey emphasized that the Dwarves Quest was to return to their home, which made the film more universal and made it easier to emphasize with the characters and the whole point of the exercise; The Desolation of Smaug, rather like the book, emphasizes both adventure and a Quest for gold.  Often, the Tolkien's works, Dwarves are seen as overly concerned with money:  gold, jewels, and treasures of the Earth.  This is certainly the case in The Desolation of Smaug, where Thorin seems to be not only motivated by returning to his ancestoral kingdom but by claiming the dragon's horde of treasure to be found there.

The Desolation of Smaug is very episodic as a film; and each section often involves a lot of action, fighting, and special effects.  However, there seems to be little characterization among all the action, which is a pity.  In terms of characters, new ones are introduced:  Tauriel, a female Elf, who is a good fighter and who has a passion for hunting down Orcs (and possibly a crush on Legolas); Bard, a bargeman who's raising three children on his own, and lives in Laketown (Esgaroth); The Master (played with relish by Stephen Fry) - the tyrannical dictator of Laketown.

The character of Tauriel, though completely non-canonical I actually liked, especially the second time I watched the film, and on DVD.  She brings a freshness to the film, and I hope we see more of her in the third film.

Bard seems much more distrustful of the Dwarves and even seems to dislike them, once he figures out who they are.  However, he's also interested in genuinely helping the people of Laketown, and seems to be the one in charge of attempting to rid the town of their rich and tyrannical Master.

Additions of new characters such as Tauriel, and the expansion of short sequences in the book into full-blown action scenes in the film, almost, at times, makes Peter Jackson's The Hobbit seem like Fan Fiction.  I don't mean that in a negative way.  But Tolkien created a very rich, and detailed world, and even, it's said, felt it was OK for others to "play in his sandbox" as it were.  But regardless as to whether or not the author would have approved of the films - they really do feel like an expansion of Tolkien's story and world.  This is especially true in the introduction of completely original characters, such as Tauriel, or the expansion of the roles of other characters, such as Legolas (who as the son of King Thranduil might be mentioned in The Hobbit novel, but he doesn't have a major role.)  I love Tolkien's books, especially The Lord of the Rings, so I don't really have a problem with Peter Jackson's additions.  I sometimes wonder what would have happened if Jackson had made The Hobbit first, and as a single film, prior to making Lord of the Rings, but how that might have gone, we will never know.

The other aspect of The Hobbit:  The Desolation of Smaug, that I found especially interesting - and I picked up on this more watching the DVD, than I had seeing the film in the theater a year ago, was the amount of foreshadowing of events in Lord of the Rings. Gandalf's mission with Radagast to discover what is going on, and who the Necromancer is, leads directly into The Lord of the Rings, as does the marching of the Orcs.  When Bilbo briefly drops The Ring in Mirkwood and fights off a spider to get it back, then says "Mine," as he grabs it - it is frightening because we know where that leads.  And even Bilbo, as he realizes what he's does, seems startled by his own actions.  The spiders, also reference the confrontation between Sam and Frodo and Shelob (which is in The Two Towers novel, but in the film of The Return of the King).

Overall, the film was good - I did buy the DVD, after all - and I intend on buying the Extended Edition Blu-Ray (or possibly DVD if there is one).  And I certainly want to see the final film.  But I felt the first film of Jackson's The Hobbit  trilogy was better.


Recommendation:  See It (for the spectacle at least).
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: The Prestige

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Oz The Great and Powerful


  • Title:  Oz The Great and Powerful
  • Director:  Sam Raimi
  • Date:  2013
  • Studio:  Disney
  • Genre:  Fantasy, Children
  • Cast:  James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, Joey King, Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • Blu-Ray Format:  NTSC

"You want me to lead an army that can't kill?" - Oz
"If this was easy, we wouldn't need a Wizard, would we?" - Glinda

"So you're not the wizard I was expecting. [pause] So you don't have the powers I thought you'd have. But you're here. There must be a reason. Maybe you're capable of more than you know." - Glinda

"Look, I know I'm not the Wizard you were expecting. But I might just be the wizard that you need." - Oz

Oz the Great and Powerful starts in black and white in 4 x 4 ratio (it should be 3X4 but the Blu-Ray has it boxed as an exact square). Oz is a magician and con-man in a small, and shabby travelling circus, and he's not even that good a magician. He's actually running away from his latest conquests boyfriend, when he leaps into a hot air balloon and is whooshed away in a tornado.

He crash-lands in the land of Oz, and when he does, not only does the film change from black and white to color - but the film literally opens up to wide-screen too. The image rolls to the side and up to fill the screen. It's both reminiscent of the famous 1939 film starring Judy Garland (which starts in black and white and becomes Technicolor in Oz), and an almost physical transportation into a new world. And what a colorful world it is. The colors are bright, and beautiful, and it really does look like technicolor. Especially in the opening, and early scenes, the scenes in Oz almost feel like animation - classic Disney animation at that and it's truly beautiful.

Oz crash-lands in a river, and meets Theadora, a woman dressed in red and black. When Oz introduces himself, she tells him of her father's the king's prophecy - that one day, a great Wizard, bearing the name of "our land", will come to save all the people, and become the new king. Oz gives Theadora one of his music boxes, as he has to many other women that he's been interested in, telling her the made-up story that it belonged to his late grandmother. He then dances with Theadora. She's smitten.

Theadora takes Oz to the Emerald City and introduces him to her sister, Evadora, the royal adviser. She also becomes instantly interested in Oz. She gives him a tour of the palace, shows him the royal treasury, then tells him he must save the Land of Oz by killing the Evil Witch. Oz isn't so sure about the whole "killing" thing, but when he learns that destroying the witch's wand will kill her, he agrees.

Oz, along with a highly amusing talking monkey in a bell-hop's uniform head out on their quest.  Along the way, they see smoke, and wander into the destroyed China Town.  There they meet and rescue the China Girl, and Oz repairs her legs with glue.  China Girl joins their quest.

They soon enter the Dark Forest. Oz has a plan to distract the Evil Witch and steal her wand. But when he meets Glinda - he learns she is a Good Witch, and it's Evadora who's wicked - and who killed her father.

Meanwhile, Evadora is laying plans, and manipulating her sister, Theadora.

Glinda convinces Oz to help her. Evanora's men and flying baboons attack. Glinda creates a ground fog for cover. Oz, China Girl, Finley, and Glinda end up on the edge of cliff, with a wind-swept tree in silhouette and a sunset behind them.  Yes, it looks like the famous scene in Gone with the Wind.  Glinda dives off the cliff, and they all travel by bubble to her castle in Quadling Country.  There, Oz meets the good people of Kansas, I mean, Oz - farmers, tinkers, seamstresses and tailors, and the Munchkins.  Oz doesn't really know what to do, especially to turn the people into an army to defeat two wicked witches.

Theadora, turned green and evil by her sister, arrives and threatens Oz - then leaves.

Oz is unsure of himself, and doesn't really know what to do.  But after Glinda tells him he might have more potential than he thinks he does, and after telling China Girl a bedtime story about the great wizard Thomas Edison, Oz gets an idea.

Oz puts the Quadling people to work, each to their own special ability. They work to his plan.

The next day, Oz orchestrates his plan. He even has some surprises for his own followers. The plan, which I don't want to spoil, is perfect, makes great sense for an idea that comes from con-man/magician from Kansas, and most importantly - it works. Which isn't really a spoiler, as this film is a pre-quel to The Wizard of Oz.

Overall, Oz the Great and Powerful, was just a beautiful film. It looks gorgeous. You really don't see a lot of movies that look so beautiful anymore. For once, CGI, that screams, "look at me - I'm pretty CGI," works, because it adds to the storybook feel of the film. And the colors are simply gorgeous, beautiful, incredible. At times, especially in the first few scenes in Oz, this film really looks like an animated feature. I'm assuming that was intentional. The animated look brings the Land of Oz to life - and sets it as a new world.

I also, really, really, really loved that this film opens in black and white.  The move from black and white to color, and from cropped 4x4 ratio to widescreen is handled very well.

James Franco does a great job playing Oz as a lovable rogue - who, at the start, in Kansas, has no moral scruples, really. But, in Oz, he comes into his own, and learns his own lessons. Oz is a fallible hero, and he learns how to be a leader, with Glinda's help (not to mention Finley and even China Girl), which makes for a good film.

Overall, this is a wonderful, feel-good movie, that is also great for children.

Recommendation:  See it, especially good for children.
Rating:  4 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Either The Hobbit the Desolation of Smaug or The Prestige.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Shall We Dance? (Japan, 1996)

  • Title:  Shall We Dance? (Japan, 1996)
  • Director:  Masayuki Suo
  • Date:  1996
  • Studio:  Miramax
  • Genre:  Drama, Musical
  • Cast:  Kôji Yakusho, Tamiyo Kusakari, Naoto Takenaka, Eri Watanaka, Hiromasa Taguchi
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen (In Japanese, with English Subtitles)
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
"...There is a secret wonder...about the joys that dance can bring." - Spoken introduction
"Dance is more than just the steps.  Feel the music and just dance for sheer joy." - Sensei Tanaka
Shall We Dance (1996) and Shall We Dance (2004) have the exact same plot, but it is the Richard Gere film that is a re-make and Americanization of this Japanese film.  I actually saw both in the movie theater, and enjoyed them both.
The Japanese film starts with a spoken introduction about the reserved nature of the Japanese people, a nature than sees ballroom dancing with suspicion.  In a land where married couples don't hold hands, much less kiss in public, and would seldom if ever express love with words even in private, the act of dancing with a stranger is seen, well, as something perverse. However, this film is about ballroom dancing in Japan and the world-wide competitive dance sport.
Sugiyama, is a successful accountant, who has just bought a house for his family.  He works long hours and commutes daily to his job.  He is satisfied, if not exactly happy with his life. But it would never occur to him to change anything.  On the commute, from his train window, he sees a beautiful young woman in a dance studio - who seems filled with melancholy.  It takes a few tries for Sugiyama to work up the courage, but he finally goes to the dance studio to sign up for lessons.
Upon learning that private lessons are very expensive, he signs up for group lessons instead. His tutor is Sensei (teacher) Tanaka, an older, experienced, and patient teacher. The other students in the class include a slightly overweight man who's taking dance lessons to lose weight and hopefully meet girls, and a know-it-all type who's taken one dance class before with his wife, and now thinks improving his dance skills will impress her.
Also at the studio is Mr. Aoki, who works with Sugiyama at his office, and is a competitive dance hopeful; and a second teacher (Toyoko) who also hopes to be more successful at competitive dance.  Mia, the young woman Sugiyama saw in the window, also works there, but only gives private lessons.  Unraveling her story is as much of the plot, as are Sugiyama's growing skills at dance.
Sensei Tanaka works with Sugiyama and his fellow students, teaching them basic steps, and the ten competitive dances as well as a few fun, social dances.
At home, Sugiyama's wife and daughter notice he now seems happier, but eventually, his wife grows suspicious and hires a private detective.  Upon learning his secret is that he's taking weekly dance lessons, and he's not having an affair, his wife accepts it, but is confused. Remember that, culturally, ballroom dance isn't accepted.
As the students improve, there are montages not only of the dance lessons, but of Sugiyama dancing on the train platform, in a park (including in the rain), and even moving his feet in time under his desk.  Meanwhile, Mr. Aoki, slides through corridors and rows of desks with precise movements - but cannot find a good partner for competitive dance.
The second half of the film involves an amateur ballroom dance competition.  Due to various events, Toyoko will dance two traditional dances (Waltz, and Quick Step) with Sugiyama and the Latin dances (Rumba, and Paso Double) with Mr. Aoki.  The Latin dances are first and Aoki starts off doing what he always does - overacting, using "jazz hands", and wearing a ridiculous wig and costume.  A competitor turns the wig, so for the second dance he removes it and dances far better than he ever has, because he's not trying to be someone he's not. During their dances, Sugiyama and Toyoko are doing brilliantly, until Sugiyama's distracted by his daughter rooting him on from the stands.  He manages to step on and tear off Toyoko's skirt.  Needless to say, Toyoko is forced to default.
Sugiyama is appalled by this.  He gives up dancing and goes back to his wife and daughter. He's invited to a fair-well party for Mia, who's decided to return to Blackpool (England) and competitive dancing. Finally, though, he shows up at the very end of her party and she dances her last dance with him.  As they dance, other couples join in on the dance floor.
The Japanese, original, film version of Shall We Dance? moves at a slower pace than the re-make with Richard Gere.  But at times, this makes for a better film.  It's filled with fascinating characters, all of whom have their own stories, and all of whom are looking for something.  That it isn't until the very end that we find out all of Mia's story, makes her story that much richer.  The music also, is mostly traditional ballroom dance music.  "Save the Last Dance for Me" is used for montages.  Mia's theme dance song is "Shall We Dance?" from Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I  (yes, the Yul Brenner musical).  "Shall We Dance?" fits, but it will stick in your head for days after seeing the film.
Recommended:  See it.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Oz the Great and Powerful