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Entries Tagged 'Fantasy Adventure' ↓

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant

Apparently this is the first movie in a gothic book series for teens called “Cirque du Freak.”  The series has its fans but I can’t imagine it being very popular since I never even heard of it before.  I’m not sure if the book jumped on the vampire bandwagon or it preceded it, but the movie clearly was made to strike while the fanged-iron is hot.  The story is about a young boy who becomes (you guessed it) assistant to a vampire who travels with a Freak Show after he reluctantly sucked (ha) into a world of feuding ghouls.  Imagine “Harry Potter” meets “Twilight” only with a lot more silliness.  Acting veteran John C. Reilly stars as the vampire Larten Crepsley.  I love Reilly and think he never gets the credit he deserves.  He’s proved his dramatic chops (“The Hours”), his comedic chops (“Walk Hard”) and even his musical ones (“Chicago”) but never gets the accolades.  In “The Vampire’s Assistant” he doesn’t get to use much of any of those chops though.  This film has such a horrible script that it doesn’t give the actors a chance to do much of anything with it; even with great performers peppered in like Salma Hayek, Willem Dafoe, and Ken Watanabe.  But even if the script was penned by Shakespeare himself, the star of the film who’s a newcomer named Chris Massoglia, would still find a way to make it look like high school theater.  I’m not sure who’s nephew, son or friend’s cousin he is, but how he landed this gig is a mystery to me.  He is absolutely terrible!  He plays through the different scenes that involve action, comedy, horror, drama and suspense with the same dumbfounded, wallpaper face that makes you think you’re being punked by sitting through a movie with him as the star.  But I did think the same thing of Daniel Radcliffe when I saw him in the first “Harry Potter” movie though and he got better.  I do hope that this movie does well enough to earn the sequels it has planned.  The story and characters are engaging, dark, funny and odd.  It’s the kind of movie that I would’ve loved as a 13-year-old.  I’m interested in what comes next and I want to see how it all plays out.  This first film in the episodic story is all set up and no conclusion, but is different enough to at least keep me watching to see where it goes from here.  (Of course I could read the books, but who wants to do that.)  It intrigues with questions but doesn’t answer any.  In a way I’m glad that it’s not super great or ultra compelling because that would just be torture to have to wait for the next one.  So in that respect I’m thankful, but taking what I imagine is a very engrossing, fun gothic teen tale and watering it down to this, I am not.
Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: C+

Where the Wild Things Are

Director Spike Jonze is a really weird guy.  He’s done movies like “Being John Malkovich” and music videos for Weezer, Beastie Boys and Fatboy Slim.  His latest is “Where the Wild Things Are” and has been struggling to get this movie made for years.  He was a huge fan of the Maurice Sendak children’s story, as was I.  He wanted to make sure this beloved story was done justice and done right.  I’m really sorry to say that if he thinks it was done justice and right then I wish the project was never made.  One of the biggest fears that I have when I hear a children’s book is being made into a feature film is that they’re going to add so much to the story that what you loved as a kid is merely a shell of what it’s become.  Not only did that happen here, but what I loved as a kid was recognizable ONLY by the visuals on the screen.  Jonze and co-writer, David Eggers, managed to take a children’s story and craft a deeply confusing and manically emotional story out of what was originally an 8 sentence storybook.  Now I don’t think that that’s a bad idea, but boy did they miss the mark.  I saw this with my fiance who has a Masters in analyzing literature and extracting meaning from stories and she didn’t get it.  I didn’t get it either.  And boy will your kids not get it.  It’s rated “PG” but don’t let that fool you – this is not a kid’s movie.  Not because it’s too scary or violent (which it actually might be for some) but because it’s dull, slow and WAY over the heads of kids.  And that’s fine with me, but it’s way over the heads of adults too.  There’s no resolution, nothing is learned and characters have no arcs or motives.  So disappointing since I really wanted to like this movie.  Not just because I loved the book as a kid, but also because the trailers released for it almost brought me to tears.  The only positive thing I can say about the movie is that Jonze’s ability to translate his imagination to things you can actually see is amazing.  The sets are incredible and the use of such diverse landscapes of nature and phases of the sun gave the movie a real organic feel that helped you buy into the fantasy.  But the costumes are the crown jewel.  Newcomer Max Records (who plays “Max”) is acting beyond his years and to do it to 12′ high, fuzzy costumes with CGI faces is even more impressive.  The voice work of Paul Dano (“There Will Be Blood”), Catherine O’Hara (“Orange County”) and James Gandolfini (“The Sopranos”) is so convincing, you’d think it was them in make-up (even though Gandolfini just plays the bipolar Tony Soprano all over again, only this time he’s fuzzy and adorable.)  However those are the only positive things I can say about this boring, plodding movie that is too childish for adults, too adult for children and too odd for everyone.  But oh well, at least I tried to end on a happy note, which is more than I can say for the film.
Where the Wild Things Are (Rated PG)
Gavin Grade: C

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

This was the first “Potter” movie I saw where I had the entire book read before I saw the movie.  That makes my enjoyment of the Harry Potter world much more enjoyable but it does make it harder to watch the movies from a critical view.  I really will attempt to review this movie as JUST A MOVIE and not based off of my captivation of the books.  The director of this one (the last one, and the last two also) is David Yates.  I was not a fan of his, but anyone who comes after accomplished director of the 3rd one, Alfonso Cuaron, must understand that it’s not easy to improve on his work.  However, he does a wonderful job of directing this one.  It gives me hope for the last two (the last book is split into two movies).  He has really made a worthy effort to keep the angles and shots in this movie complex and dazzling, while also matching the colors and editing with the bleak story and maturity of the characters.  Speaking of the characters, the entire cast returns for this one with the addition of Jim Broadbent, who is brilliant as Prof. Slughorne, and Jessie Cave as the lovestruck, Lavender Brown.  They blend right in with the rest of the cast as if they’ve been there all along, but both easily steal the show with their brand of humor, which there was plenty of!  This might be the first “Potter” film that made me laugh out loud at genuinely funny performances.  But I wonder if trying to put too much of that into the movie made them take their eye off the ball by focusing on more of the character-driven adolescent nuances than the mystery and adventure surrounding the ending of the film.  That’s my only complaint with this movie.  They took out, what I consider to be, key scenes that explain Harry and Dumbledore’s quest.  Those scenes would have kept the movie darker and mysterious, while satisfying fans’ thirst for glimpses into Voldemort’s past.  Damnit!  I couldn’t do it.  I tried not to, but I’m reviewing it as a movie from a book instead of JUST A MOVIE.  Ignorance might be bliss when seeing these because if you don’t know a scene exists, you’ll never miss it when it’s taken out.  As a fan of JUST THE MOVIE, it is the best in what is arguably shaping up to be one of the greatest movie series of all time.  As a fan of the movies based on books that I love, it’s a wonderful and heartbreaking setup to what I hope will be the climax ending we all hope it should be…it just could’ve had a little more.
Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince (Rated PG)

Gavin Grade: A