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Entries in Amanda Seyfried (6)

Friday
May242013

Epic

It’s really hard to hate animated movies, even bad ones. If nothing else, animated movies are typically filled with lush visuals and virtuous messages that children need to hear, even if they are a little too simple for adults. Such is the case with the inappropriately titled “Epic.” It’s certainly not an example of a good animated film, and considering that it’s coming from Blue Sky Studios whose best film is the mostly bland “Ice Age,” that’s no surprise, but it’s hardly a disaster and it sports some imaginative visuals, despite a story you can’t say the same for.

The film starts with Mary Katherine, who prefers to go by M.K. (Amanda Seyfried), a teenage girl whose father (Jason Sudeikis) hasn’t always been around for her. Despite this, she is making an attempt to connect with him and goes to visit him in his cabin in the woods. For years, he has been obsessed with a population of tiny creatures he believes to be living in the forest. Most people, including M.K., think he’s crazy, but little do they know he’s actually right. He just hasn’t found the proof yet. M.K. is about to realize this firsthand when she finds herself shrunk down to their size right after the queen of the forest, Queen Tara (Beyonce Knowles), gives her the chosen forest pod, which will save the forest from Mandrake (Christoph Waltz) and the Boggans, the evil little creatures who want the forest to decay. That little pod is going to sprout that night and along with the Leafmen, the guardians of the forest led by rookie Nod (Josh Hutcherson) and Ronin (Colin Farrell), it’s up to her to ensure it sprouts in light and keeps the life of the forest intact.

As one might expect, the story is inconsequential and filled with messages about saving our forests and preserving the delicate ecosystem of life on our planet. It’s certainly a good message and it doesn’t beat you over the head with it like last year’s “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax,” but the problem comes when the question is inevitably asked: why save the forest? The answer boils down to an unconvincing “because it’s pretty.” The Boggans, as far as the movie explains, don’t want to destroy the forest because they hate the forest’s inhabitants, but rather because they enjoy living in rot. To them, it’s simply a matter of beauty vs. decay and they prefer decay. The battle to save the forest becomes one of aesthetic purposes rather than one of nobility. Although the decay of the forest would obviously lead to the destruction of its ecosystem, such a point is never made. There are plenty of reasons to save our forests and respect the life in it, but kids watching won’t walk away with that understanding due to a narrow thematic focus.

One must admit, however, that the visuals do indeed paint a forest that looks exquisite and feels alive, so perhaps the narrow focus will benefit those watching. Due to our advanced technology, it’s difficult to make a movie with a presumably large budget like this look bad, but that no less diminishes its beauty. The characters are also animated well and move gracefully through the forest, even during the surprisingly taut action scenes. Watching the film move is a real joy, even if where it’s moving to isn’t particularly interesting.

The story itself is emotionally distant and the characters are flatly written, usually succumbing to the archetypes modern moviegoers expect. Nod is the reckless free spirit with untapped potential while Ronin is the hardened general whose duties to the Queen and the forest are his only priorities. Naturally, Ronin cares for Nod and believes in him, despite his recklessness, and it’s a safe bet to assume that Nod will make him proud by the end of the movie. And you can’t have a movie with characters of the opposite sex without sparking a romance, this time between Nod and M.K., a romance that is never truly built or felt and is largely forgotten by the end, given that M.K. has to return to normal size while Nod must remain in his diminutive state.

“Epic” is nothing but underdeveloped stories that are masked by high flying action and solid voice performances from a talented cast (aside from Aziz Ansari as Mub the slug, who proves he can be just as annoying without having to look at him). It’s sure to delight children, though it won’t leave a lasting impression and the chance to provide them with some meaning is unfortunately passed by for simplicity’s sake. For similar concepts told in vastly different ways, you’re better off checking out Studio Ghibli’s wonderful “The Secret World of Arrietty,” which is far more interesting, beautiful and profound than anything shown here. “Epic” is anything but.

Epic receives 1.5/5

Wednesday
Dec192012

Les Misérables

The worst type of movie is the one that fails to live up to expectations. Usually when this happens, the movie itself is far below what it could and should have been. Usually, the standalone trailer is astonishing, managing to hit a range of emotions in a short two minutes, while the movie itself, when fleshed out to feature length, completely misses the mark. Rarely, however, does a movie fail to live up to expectations and is still as good as Les Misérables. It would be somewhat of a stretch to call it one of the greatest musicals ever made—it’s not even one of the best movies of this year—but its narrative grandiosity, lush visuals, assured direction and phenomenal performances from a terrific ensemble cast make it more than your ordinary film musical. Les Misérables deftly crafts unparalleled moments of beauty and awe, conveying true emotion around themes of love, loss and hardship that will cause all but the most hardened viewers to sympathize with, and maybe even cry for, those fighting onscreen.

Based on the Victor Hugo novel from 1862 (and adapted into a stage musical in 1980), Les Misérables follows Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a Frenchman who has spent many years as a prisoner and slave for stealing bread, overseen by policeman Javert (Russell Crowe). When the film begins, he is finally released from his imprisonment, but is put on parole for the rest of his life. If he breaks it, he will be hunted down and captured. Rather than heed that warning, he breaks parole anyway and starts a new life as a wealthy factory owner and mayor of the town he has chosen to settle in. One day, he runs into Fantine (Anne Hathaway), an ex-employee of his who was fired from his factory and is now selling herself to make ends meet and support her young daughter, Cosette (Isabelle Allen). After tragedy strikes Fantine, Jean decides to adopt Cosette and raise her as his own, all while he hides from Javert’s relentless pursuit. Many years pass and Cosette (now played by Amanda Seyfried), is all grown up and they’re about to find themselves in the middle of a revolution.

Les Misérables isn’t like your typical musical. It’s not full of flamboyant choreography or energetic numbers that are cut to resemble a music video. Instead, it’s very reserved. The camera more often than not settles on close-ups and rolls without cutting, the performers singing their numbers in one take. This lends terrific weight to a film that relies almost entirely on the emotional fragility of its viewers. When the actors sing these songs, pouring their hearts and souls into them, and you are so close that you see every twitch in their skin and tear forming in their eyes, it’s impossible not to feel something. In particular, Anne Hathaway’s rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” is heartbreaking and, perhaps due to this single moment in a nearly three hour long film, likely to win her an Oscar.

Much of the emotional impact comes from the fact that, unlike most movie musicals that pre-record their songs before shooting, the actors are singing the songs in real time, much like Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady. There’s no lip-synching present here and the turmoil of the characters comes through tenfold because they’re singing in character, not in some studio behind a microphone. It’s a tactic that is brilliantly used by director Tom Hooper, who, if 2010’s remarkable The King’s Speech is any indication, knows how to maximize the effect his movies have on an audience.

Despite the tragic story that unfolds and the many deaths that accompany it, Les Misérables has some lighthearted moments that come mostly from Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as Thénardier and Madame Thénardier. Their presence is ever welcome in the sea of sadness, but there’s too little of them and they end up overshadowing some of the other, bleaker moments, if for no other reason than because they’re more upbeat. This discrepancy between these two different styles is indicative of the film as a whole, in that certain sections aren’t as interesting as others. Very few movies of this length have the ability to maintain viewer attention and with a gap of songs that range from breathtaking to flat out boring, Les Misérables doesn’t pull it off.

It’s still a wonder to behold, though, and its final scene, despite some lags in the narrative, packs a punch that wasn’t paralleled in any other movie this year. There has been a lot of hyperbole when expressing opinions of it in recent months, however. Some are saying it’s one of the best musicals (or even crazier, one of the best movies) ever while others are saying it’s overwrought, overlong and manipulative. Neither of those extremes are accurate. Les Misérables is neither great nor terrible, but it’s effective and rousing and, provided you can sit still for almost three hours, absolutely worth a watch.

Les Misérables receives 4/5

Friday
Oct282011

In Time

Now here’s something the cinema world is lacking: an exciting science fiction movie with an original premise, an emotional story and a point to make. For what it’s worth, In Time is simply phenomenal. Its trailers make it out to be a simple story full of the same mindless action we’ve come to expect, but it turns out to be so much more. It’s an allegorical statement on modern times. It’s a political calling. It’s about a corrupt system that feeds off the misery of the poor while the rich reap the benefits. It’s about challenging that system and doing what’s right even if what’s right goes against the established way of living. This movie, though presumably set in the future, is timely and relevant to today. It questions the way things are run and feeds off the anger many are feeling towards those who caused the current recession. In Time is not simply sci-fi fodder. It’s as intelligent and thought provoking a movie that has come out all year.

In the film’s universe, people have been genetically engineered to stop aging at the age of 25, but once they reach that age, they are given one more year to live. A clock that is wired in their arm begins to count down and once it reaches zero, they’re dead. Because of this, time is the new currency. To buy a coffee, you don’t pay with cash. You pay with minutes. Through this system, the rich are able to live forever while the poor struggle day by day to get by. Will (Justin Timberlake) is one of those poor people. Every day he wakes up and has mere hours to live, so he toils at his job at the factory and is given more time. One day, however, he is given over 100 years by a rich man who has had it with life and is ready to die. Unfortunately, the police force, called Timekeepers, led by Raymond (Cillian Murphy), thinks he stole the time and killed the man. So the chase is on, but not before he enlists the help of wealthy socialite, Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried).

The rich prosper while the poor struggle day by day to get by. Sound familiar? If there’s one movie this year that nails the financial crisis we are currently in, it’s this one. It expresses its disgust by the greed of a select few while millions suffer daily. It asks why, when there are more than enough resources for all to live on, we allow such suffering to take place. It takes the notion of social Darwinism (called “Darwinian capitalism” in the movie) and explores it thoroughly, applying the phrase “survival of the fittest” not simply to physical strength or evolutionary superiority, but to riches and status. And it does it all within its own futuristic world; it never sacrifices its story to make a point. Instead, it coalesces the two, creating something that works by itself, but has significance to the real world.

Even if you took away all of that commentary, In Time would still be something worth watching. It takes a downright brilliant concept and runs with it, tapping into a fear we all have: our impending deaths. We all know that one day, we’re going to die, but it’s the not knowing when that makes it easy to live. If we knew precisely how much time we had left, everything would be different, but that’s something these characters have to deal with and you fear for them just as they fear for themselves. Every tick of the clock weighs heavy on your emotions and that combined with the mesmerizingly beautiful score manage to create feeling in a movie that would be easy to assume had none.

Is In Time perfect? No, of course not. No movie is. Some of the cutesy humor doesn’t work and feels out of place in a story where the characters face such dire situations, some of the dialogue is taken out of the handbook of action movie clichés and certain motivations don’t necessarily make sense (“No one should be immortal if even one person has to die” is flawed logic), but otherwise, In Time is tight, well crafted, poignant, refined and uncommonly intelligent. It couldn’t come at a better time, when Americans are lining up to protest Wall Street for screwing them over with corrupt business practices, and it dares to say something about the unfairness of the system we live in. This may be a work of fiction, but take away the futuristic element and it’s a based-on-a-true-story drama of modern times.

In Time receives 4.5/5

Friday
Mar112011

Red Riding Hood

From the director of Twilight, the writer of Orphan and the actress from Letters to Juliet and Dear John comes Red Riding Hood, a disaster that somehow manages to be worse than all of those movies. It’s like the most mediocre talent in Hollywood got together one day and said, “Let’s make something awful, something that is far worse than anything we’ve ever been involved in.” How else could you explain its final outcome?

Red Riding Hood is a retelling of the classic fairy tale about a little girl who ventures through the woods to deliver food to her sick grandmother. Except it’s nothing like that. Instead, it’s an adult take on the story (“adult” in the sense that there are adults in it, not that it is in any way mature or interesting to those who aren’t 13 year old girls).

It takes place in an ambiguous time period where arranged marriages still exist and bars are still called “taverns,” except all the characters use modern grammar and speak in modern dialects, which totally makes sense. Amanda Seyfried plays Valerie, a young adult who is in love with Peter, played by Shiloh Fernandez. Ever since they were little children, they’ve had an affinity for each other, but now that they are older, they are being torn apart because Valerie’s parents have arranged for her to marry Henry, played by Max Irons. Meanwhile (and more importantly), a werewolf has been terrorizing their little village, so they have summoned Father Solomon, played by Gary Oldman, to find it and kill it. But as they soon learn, the werewolf is someone who lives among them.

Red Riding Hood does nearly everything wrong. From the smallest problems to the biggest, one can’t help but stare at the screen in awe, strangely intrigued by just how unbelievably terrible the movie is. You watch it the same way you would watch a burning building. It’s a terrible sight, but morbid curiosity makes it so hard to look away. Essentially, the film revolves around a love triangle and a werewolf, familiar territory for anyone who has ever experienced Twilight, which this movie closely resembles, minus the vampires. There are longing stares, awkward love scenes and cliché dialogue that consists of gems like, “If you love her, you’ll let her go.”

While it sometimes feels like the story of the werewolf ripping people to shreds takes a back seat to the uninteresting romance, the film never misses the opportunity to throw out in-your-face clues to the werewolf’s identity, all of which are meant to throw you off track. Aside from the quick cuts to close-up shots of characters looking suspicious whenever the werewolf is mentioned, the film uses none-too-subtle dialogue like “I could eat you up” that is so brazenly obvious it actually comes off as kind of desperate. By the time they have Seyfried recite the classic “what big [blank] you have” lines, you’ll be clutching your sides, unable to breath from hysterical fits of laughter.

Despite all that, one can’t help but feel bad for Gary Oldman, who is forced to recite some of the stupidest lines of his career. With such an impressive filmography, he deserves better, though you do get the feeling that he’s enjoying hamming it up onscreen, which makes his scenes a little easier to watch than the rest of the film. In a way, they work similar to the “ugly girl” effect. When they’re surrounded by garbage, they look pretty good in comparison.

Red Riding Hood receives 1/5

Friday
May142010

Letters to Juliet

I don’t have any statistics to back me up, but I’m fairly certain the most abundant genre of film is the romantic comedy. It seems every couple of weeks I’m sitting through one. I also (again with no statistics) believe it fares the poorest. No other genre manages to be as tired as the traditional rom-com. Most merely come up with some far fetched, arbitrary scenario that set it up as unique, but the stories always follow suit. Letters to Juliet is the latest of these examples.

It’s the story of a girl named Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) who is on her way to Italy with her chef fiancé, but once there, his passion for cooking overtakes him and they end up spending their visit apart. While he is off learning the secrets of Italian cuisine, she makes her way to a courtyard where people seek love advice through writing letters to Juliet, one half of the fictional duo Romeo & Juliet. She becomes intrigued by the thought and eventually joins up with a local group of gals who write back, dubbed the “secretaries” of Juliet. But when she returns a letter written 50 years ago, she finds herself face to face with the writer, Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) and her less enthusiastic grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan) and embarks on a journey with her to find her one true love.

Really, Letters to Juliet is two stories in one. One is really terrific and the other is painful. Claire’s story of everlasting love, even after being apart for 50 years, is a wonder to behold and Redgrave gives a performance that will instantly consume you. She’s radiant in the role. The other story—the oh so obvious “will she or won’t she fall in love with the handsome grandson?”—is a disaster of proportions I haven’t seen in quite some time. Unfortunately, it’s the centerpiece of the film.

Outside of the unbelievable lack of chemistry between the two stars, the love that develops between Sophie and Charlie feels inauthentic and forced. Charlie, for starters, is a maniacal, self absorbed jerk. The venomous words he spews at Sophie upon first meeting are things you wouldn’t hear life long enemies say to each other. He has become so upset that she wrote back to his grandmother that he holds her in contempt, constantly using his uppity British persona to degrade her at every chance he gets. He’s one of the most unpleasant leading characters I’ve ever seen in a romantic comedy.

Yet she falls for him. If there was ever an argument that girls are into jerks (which you’ll hear occasionally from so called “nice guys”), this is it. Naturally, he changes his tune once he realizes he loves her back, but the flip is sudden with no hint at previous interest. It happened as quickly as a snap of the finger and we’re supposed to buy it. I don’t think so.

It’s really a shame because the underlying story of Claire truly is charming. Had the stories been flipped, Claire’s being the more prominent, I would most likely be giving out a recommendation. But if that story were taken away, you’d be stuck with a handful of decent chuckles and little else.

It’s an odd concoction, a marvelous tale that celebrates love mixed with an abomination that bastardizes it, but there’s simply no other way to describe Letters to Juliet.

Letters to Juliet receives 2/5