Movie review: Beowulf

Caveat: I’m sure someone somewhere will disagree with me on this. This is just *my* feelings on this story/movie. It’s not meant to offend anyone.

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ImageThis is the 2007 animated version. You all remember the story from high school: a king awakens a monster who wreaks havoc on his mead hall. The king sends for a hero and Beowulf comes and saves the day. Kills the monster only to anger his mother who then attacks. And they all drink a lot of mead and boast.

Despite the fact that this is the best known and in some circles beloved story of all time (right up there with the Bible), strangely enough, it is possible to at once make it easier to swallow this Medieval fish tale—and ruin it.

Okay so the story goes as above. Grendel comes, destroys the mead hall, kills a bunch of people but oddly, won’t touch the king. Ashamed, when the word gets out of this strange occurrence the king calls for a hero.  Beowulf comes, screaming and full of himself from across the sea, eyes the queen with more than a little lust, drinks a lot, tells a lot of cockamamie stories (most of)  his listeners believe, and thrusts his sword (and damn near everything else) at the camera (did I mention the directors decided to buy into the 3-D gimmick?) and screams: “I am BEOWULF! I’ll kill your monster!” a lot, like that alone means victory. :p

Then he does just that to end up ticking off Grendel’s mother (whose grief is played way over the top). Turns out, maybe sorta kinda the king left one itty bitty detail out: He’s Grendel’s father and the mother? She’s an evil harpie. The king slaps Beowulf on the shoulder with a “good luck, my boy!” and sends him off to Grendel’s cave to face the mother, be raped by her (depending on your point of view) so she can later give birth to their next foe: a dragon. (The king gets a deformed wretch, Beowulf gets a beautiful dragon—do you see where the favor lies here?) Meanwhile, in a complete wtf moment I didn’t remember, the king throws himself from the battlements.

So, Beowulf takes over the kingdom, gets the queen he’s been lusting for and all the goodies that go with being a king, except he still can’t die, which apparently he wants to. Meanwhile somewhere out there the baby dragon grows up, and finally comes after the humans. Beowulf and he do battle, Beowulf rips out his heart, and falls to his death.

It’s an heroic story for sure, but… I’ve always wondered if the Medieval audience it was intended for even dismissed it as a little over the top. Because let’s face it, Beowulf talks a good game, but I always thought he was the kind of fella who was all talk, with nothing honorable about him (he steals the king’s wife, after all).

I was never a huge fan of the story and I had an instructor that flat out ruined any chance I might ever have to love it. But my hubby’s reading it right now so we gave the movie a shot. Storyline-wise the movie lives up more or less to its namesake, from what I recall.

Here comes where the whole thing, that could’ve been done well, utterly failed. Well, two bits. They could’ve done the whole thing by putting the, arguably otherwise great cast (Anthony Hopkins, Brendon Gleeson, Angelina Jolie, Ray Winstone, Robin Wright Penn) in period costume and shot it live action and only leave the CGI for Grendel and Mama’s harpie suit. But no. They decided to do the whole thing in 3-D. *headdesk repeatedly* Doing so caused it to feel like a video game, made all the characters look like creepy dolls, and let’s not forget the added touch of thrusting everything at the camera to play on the hot shit 3-D gimmick.

Listen, Hollyweird, 3-D died out a long time ago because it was so corny. Time and “upgrades” hasn’t made a difference. It’s still corny, and worse, like I said above, you still fail to get it right. All you end up with is a piece that feels and looks  like a video game, creepy dolls included—whose graphics will be passé and old fashioned in about two–five years. Sadly for them,Beowulf (the movie)’s  fame didn’t last that long.

And don’t get me started on Grendel. Personally, and my husband being the bigger fan of Beowulf right now said it first, Grendel is the big, fat FAIL of this movie, in our opinion (though friends of mine were more ticked by Grendel’s mother). Don’t get me wrong, Crispin Glover is good, he pulled off the motion cap as well as the other actors, (if you can call motion cap pulling off acting), but the decision—whoever’s it was, Gaiman’s or the director’s? Shame on you guys! Yes, the story was written 1200-nearly 1500 years ago (Crossely-Holland says we’re not sure which) for a barely literate audience who spoke a Middle English dialect.

But fellas, this ain’t 1300-1500 years ago!!!

I’d venture to guess that only maybe 1-5% of your audience (and I may be being generous saying that many) don’t understand Middle English. Don’t you think maybe it would’ve been a good idea, if you had to insist on making Glover wrap his tongue around the language, you could do him–and your viewers–the favor of, oh, I don’t know, captioning his speeches? For gods sake, man! He’s the most important character in the first half of the story, and no one can understand a word the poor thing mushmouths—er, grunts—er, says.

If the 2001-era movie lost an audience (and they got slew of  huge glaring FAIL reviews on this thing) that might’ve been the culprit. Yeesh! I don’t know how many ways to say this: it’s one of the things that drives me absolutely bonkers in literature and it didn’t fail to do so here, if your character needs to be understood DON’T PUT DIALECT IN HIS MOUTH!! It just doesn’t work!!!!

*puts hammer down*

Anyway, yeah. Love the actors and gods know they tried, and while  it sticks to the story from what I recall and I applaud them for that, it gets a big thumbs down for animation and gimmickery.

But I never cared for the loudmouth that is Beowulf. As Kevin Crossely-Holland says in his introduction to the translation of the poem:  “It is rude and rough… singularly cheap in construction… thin and cheap…’ And, yep, the movie isn’t much better. If you’re in the mood for creepy dolls, go for it. Otherwise you’re better off with the book.

Beowulf in print. Gutenberg Project.

Beowulf translated by Kevin Crossley-Holland.

Beowulf translated by Francis Barton Gunmere

Beowulf on Wikipedia

Beowulf on IMDB

Movie Monday–The Aviator

I thought for sure I had this review up here, but can’t find it. So I hope this isn’t repeating on this blog.

aviatordvdThe Aviator (2004). Ah, now here’s an interesting one. Leonardo DiCaprio stars in the life story of Howard Hughes. The young Howard inherits his father’s tool company and fortune and wants to use his riches to make movies. But he also has a passion for tinkering with things. So he starts building airplanes (with the help of some loyal, talented friends). He makes a couple of really bizarre movies, sleeps with almost every starlet of the 1940s (like Katherine Hepburn and Ava Gardner) and builds an aviation empire called TWA. He keeps experimenting with planes and makes several innovations, and gets a lucrative government contract. Unfortunately he builds this massive plane that , by the time it’s done, the government can’t use so he became a sort of joke. He was also what we’d now call obsessive-compulsive. Everyone thinks of Hughes as a madman, but this…this is interesting! If you haven’t seen this one, it’s one of those, “how creativity can drive you mad” movies (which, *cough I have no interest in whatsoever *cough*evidencedbymynovelTheArtist’sInheritance*CoughCOUGH*. hehe. So, yes, I think the movie is very, very good. 🙂 DiCaprio does a fine job here of acting Hughes exactly the way you’ve probably seen in the old videos of him; the actor even begins to look like the legendary money man in certain scenes. At any rate, it’s one of my favorite movies.

Here’s the trailer…

If you haven’t seen it, do. It’s available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Blockbuster, and Netflix.

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The Woman in Black

The Woman In Black (2012)

The movie opens on three little girls playing with their dolls. They hear a voice, and suddenly drop their dolls and walk to the windows, open them, and jump to their deaths.

Then we cut to a young man, our hero Arthur Kipps (played by Daniel Radcliffe), grieving over his dead wife. He hugs his son and goes off to work for a lawyer that tells him ‘buck up or you’re out on your ear. (because, he only lost his wife, for god sake nothing to cry over (freaking 19th Century alpha men, what are you going to do?).

Anyway, Arthur’s employer informs him he’s to oversee the probate of a deceased woman in Crythin Gifford (a village in England) and the selling of her home Eel Marsh House. Arthur leaves his four year old son behind and heads off a train for the town.During the trip he meets a nice, but somewhat ominous figure,  Daily (played by Ciarán Hinds). However, Daily seems personable enough and invites the lawyer to dinner. Arthur arrives the home of the family solicitor to find him not at all forthcoming. On the contrary, he wants Arthur out of his hair, and out of town as soon as possible. In fact,  everyone warns him not to get involved with the Eel Marsh house–including the innkeeper who doesn’t want to give him a room, until the wife offers him the attic. Yep. That attic, the one they little girls jumped from.

Stranger still, all this going on around him and no one will tell Arthur much; they just all want him gone.

Daily finally tells him the whole sad story: A family got stuck in the bog that stands between the town and the house, and a little boy died. The mother never got over the child’s loss, blamed the family, hung herself in the Eel Marsh house and cursed the whole town–supposedly.

Arthur shrugs off the spook story and heads to the police station to find out more. Two children rush in; the boy says “my sister drank poison.” And the little girl dies in Arthur’s arms. The grief-stricken family, and the gossips around town, blame “the woman in black.”

Arthur finds out at the promised dinner with his new friend Daily that even he has had a son that perished. And Daily’s wife (played by Janet McTeer), well, she still hasn’t quite gotten over it. Might be because she’s a wee bit psychic and seems to be in communication with the boy and several of the other dead children.

Still, Arthur’s not so sure the town is cursed. That’s silly, isn’t it?

He goes back to work in the house. Late that night, odd things start happening. He sees the shadow of a hand, on the window, hears whispering, a rocking chair starts creaking on its own. A dog barks frantically, and he hears someone crying but can find no evidence for anything causing all this. Bewildered, he takes the story of his night back to his friend. Then there’s a fire, and a little girl trapped inside the burning building. Arthur rushes into save her, just in time to see her light another lantern over her own head.

You can imagine what happens to her. And that’s when he sees a woman dressed all in black, yet he can’t get to her, and she won’t come to him.  Again, he goes to his friend, his wife goes into some sort of trance and warns him “Whenever she’s been seen, something horrible happens.”

So what does happens? You’ll have to see the movie to find out.

I found this version* of The Woman in Black quite entertaining. Maybe the fact that it’s a Hammer film had something to do with that, but that alone had me hooked from the beginning. Nice to see Hammer still out there. And for the movie itself, as I said, I enjoyed it. Radcliffe did a great job as the curious and brooding Arthur. While the movie does have its creepy moments, it’s not horror per se as we know it today (Freddie Krueger and Jason Voorhees this is not even though they share themes), nor does it have the gross factor that seems so bloody popular these days. There are some creepy “flash for startling effect” type scenes, but it’s more for those who enjoy Gothic horror like the stories of Poe or other such stories. As a fan of those types of stories, I found the story intriguing and enjoyed the film very much. I look forward to reading Susan Hill’s book someday.

Related links:

The Woman in Black official movie site.

The Woman In Black at IMDB.

The Woman in Black–Hammer Films site.

*I say this version because a quick check of Amazon and the web shows that there are several versions of the story out there, that are a bit more play within a play type stories.

Trailer

Movie Monday–The Hobbit

hobbitposterPeter Jackson’s latest installment in the Lord of the Rings movie franchise goes back to the beginning of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic saga. With the story of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, we learn Frodo’s uncle, Bilbo’s history. The movie (and the story) start out with a party, but—Jackson diverged a little from the text and started as he began The Fellowship of the Ring, with Bilbo’s 111 birthday party.

Bilbo spent, so says the opening of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the morning of the party beginning the famous book that we read in Tolkien’s classic novel The Hobbit.

Okay, that’s enough to irk certain fans I know, but after that the fun begins as we jump into Bilbo’s point of view (played by Martin Freeman) and back many decades to Gandalf (played again by the great Sir Ian McKellan) arriving on his doorstep and asking if he wishes to be part of a Grand Adventure.

But— “We have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!” says Bilbo.

Dismissed, but not deterred, Gandalf leaves a calling card, and Bilbo soon finds his home invaded by a pack of dwarves (Dwalin, Balin, Nori, Ori, Dori, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur and etc) and their king. Thorin Oakenshield (played by Richard Armitage), who inform him they wish him to join them on their quest to reclaim Lonely Mountain. Oh, yes, the reason they aren’t in possession of said-mountain? That’s just a trifle. A dragon ousted them, you see.

So you know the story, off they go. The narrative is broken up by other points of view showing something strange going on around Middle Earth. The wizard, Ratagast the Brown finds his forest dying (and a possible invasion by gigantic spiders (*shudder*) and runs to Gandalf with news of goings on at a cursed fortress; our traveling heroes run across several bands of orcs and goblins; Elrond and the Lady Galadriel say they’ve heard rumblings too. And poor Bilbo, well, he gets lost and meets this weird little fella named Gollum.

The movie goes on pretty much keeping faith with the book. Most of the movie will make you smile (or it did us) and I love that they included many of Tolkien’s songs.

The only qualm I have with it, besides that beginning prologue, is the character of Azog, who is only mentioned in the novel, and judging by what my resident Tolkien fan says, is totally unnecessary to the story. As if the group didn’t have enough trouble to get them through the movie. Well, I suppose Jackson had to do something to justify filling up six+ hours. But his part is the only part where the movie drags, in my opinion. On the whole the movie was great/adorable/fan-tastic. 🙂 While the newcomers to The Hobbit cast portrayed their roles wonderfully (I know lots of my Facebook friends seem to have crushes on the dwarves but Richard Armitage’s Thorin looks too much like my dad for me to share that crush for all that he’s incredibly cool as Thorin Oakenshield! ;)), and I love that many from the cast from LOTR returned too (Yea, Galadriel! Cate Blanchett is wonderful, as ever). So yes, it’s well worth the price of the DVD. If you haven’t seen The Hobbit: An Unexpected Adventure, do. It’s available at Amazon.

Why yes, I have watched it several times a week since we purchased it, what do you ask? 😉

Movie Monday–Crazy Heart

220px-Crazy_heart_posterCrazy Heart

(starring Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhall and Robert Duvall)

Released by Fox Searchlight

A washed-up country star “Bad” Blake (played by Jeff Bridges) meets a young reporter, Jean, to whom he grants an interview. He doesn’t tell her much at first but promises more after his gig. Later that night, they get together and spend the rest of the night talking. The next day, Bad takes her to lunch and they end up sleeping together. Bad gets a call from his manager offering him a huge opening act spot for another up and coming country star—one Bad’s not too keen about … to say the least. He drives off to Santa Fe, grumbles about everything from the sound check to the fact that he’s ordered to “sell his CDs” after the gig, and goes back to Texas—drunk.

But Bad has a little accident first and rolls his truck. Jean comes and gets him from the hospital, tends to him at home, where he bonds a little more with mother and son. That is, until Bad gets takes the boy to a bar, ends up drunk again and…

Well, the question is, is it ever too late for a second chance?

You’ll have to see it to find out. It reminded me a bit of the story of several different stars (Walk the Line, the biopic about Johnny Cash comes to mine, and the recent movie “Country Strong”). Though it’s not a genre movie as you might’ve come to expect from me, *g* I found it  interesting and the book seems so too. And Bridges’ singing isn’t half bad. So, if you’re in the mood for this kind of thing, check it out.
Here’s the trailer:

Here’s a little about it and where to get it, if you’re interested.

The novel, Crazy Heart by Thomas Cobb

Crazy Heart at Jeff Bridges.com

Crazy Heart Wikipedia

Crazy Heart on IMDb

The DVD is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Netflix.

The novel is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and from Alibris.