Movies: Robot and Frank

June 22, 2014

I was waiting in line to check out books at the library when I noticed Robot and Frank on a nearby rack displaying a dozen or so DVDs. I’m not sure if their placement there means they’re popular, or recommended, or what. I often recognize the titles but rarely see any I want to watch.

As this was one I hadn’t heard of and it involved a robot, I was interested enough to pick up the box and read the description on the back. If it had been a book, that would have been enough for me to take it home to read. But since a movie would be for the whole family to watch, I first wanted to read some reviews.

The reviews were all positive, but the next time I went to the library it was checked out. I suppose it must be relatively popular, because it was weeks before I managed to find it again (back in the regular movie stacks but set apart on a display shelf).

It’s hard to sum up briefly, which is probably a large part of what I like about it. It doesn’t fit the usual categories of Hollywood movies (not surprising since it was an indie film, distributed by studios after it won a prize at the Sundance festival).

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Movies: Odd Thomas

June 11, 2014

Dean Koontz is one of my favorite authors, and Odd Thomas is one of my favorite books by Koontz. I was surprised, however, to discover that it had been made into a movie. Part of what appeals to me so much about the character of Odd Thomas is his “voice” – the way he tells his story and how he talks about himself and about life. That didn’t seem like it would translate well onto the screen.

But it does, surprisingly well, because the movie allows Odd to narrate the story, rather than just trying to display it through images and action. It’s not the same as the book, of course – a movie adaptation always has to pick and choose and leave out a great deal. But on the whole I think it is very faithful to the book – and I ended up choked up at the end of the movie just as I did at the end of the book.

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Movies: Ender’s Game

November 10, 2013

The problem with going to a movie made from a great book is that you know the movie will inevitably fall short, but you still want to see the story played out on the big screen. Because the author of Ender’s Game (the book) was one of the producers of Ender’s Game (the movie), I knew the movie would get the key things right. But I still had to keep reminding myself that the movie is a separate work, and that it can be good in different ways from the book, even while lacking so much that made the book great.

The first thing that surprised me was that the movie started with Ender as a preteen rather than a 6-year-old. To see a boy of around twelve use the violence necessary to keep a bully from ever attacking him again just does not have the same impact as seeing that happen with a mere 6-year-old. Still, it makes its point, while bowing to the reality that finding a much younger boy with the ability to play this role convincingly would be as hard as finding a real-life Ender Wiggin.

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Just my type?

September 18, 2013

As a fan of the Harry Potter books (and movies), when I saw this on facebook I was naturally curious to see which character in the series has the same Myers-Briggs personality type as I do. I was not exactly thrilled to see that – at least according to whoever put the chart together – I share the ISTJ type with Severus Snape.

OK, so the description matches: “… Somewhat reserved and prefer to work alone … Deeply value traditions and loyalty and often put duty before pleasure.” Yes, that sounds like me. But … Snape?

My husband, an EFNJ (yes, opposites do attract), is more like Dumbledore, “the Teacher.” I have always admired Teachers (who often are in fact teachers), and wanted to be like them. I’m sure that’s why I became a Spanish teacher. I suppose there are ISTJ teachers who are much more approachable than Snape. But I decided that my ISTJ personality belonged to a computer room more than a classroom.

I discovered that people have tried to identify the Myers-Briggs personality type of a lot of characters in books and movies. This article only identifies one book for each type. I apparently share the ISTJ type with Inspector Javert in Les Misérables; not exactly the most favorable comparison either.

So I found this page, which identifies a great many characters for each type. It also lists Inspector Javert, as well as Spock from Star Trek, Agent K from Men in Black, Susan Calvin from Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, and a lot of characters I’ve never heard of. I don’t know how accurate the identifications are, though – Hermione Granger is listed here as ISTJ, while the chart I looked at first classed her as INTP. This page doesn’t list her there, but it does have Agent K in that category as well as in ISTJ. Hmmmm.


Movies: Iron Man 3

May 10, 2013

If you like nonstop action and lots of thing blowing up, you’ll probably enjoy Iron Man 3. If you’re looking for originality, character development, and a chance to give your adrenaline glands a rest – well, you probably wouldn’t be in the theater watching it. Unless, like me, you wanted to do something together with your comic-book-action-hero-loving husband and sons.

One viewer at imdb.com calls it an average movie and says that he (I’m guessing, but could be she) was hoping for a darker story. It was plenty dark enough for me, thank you, and so filled with violence that after a while I started letting my eyes glaze over a bit. I just don’t get what’s entertaining about explosions.

Special effects are impressive, I suppose, if you like special effects. Personally I don’t like watching people’s bodies look like they’re turning into molten metal.

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Movies: The Pirates! Band of Misfits

March 12, 2013

I wouldn’t want to have spent money in order to see this movie, but as a free checkout from the library, The Pirates! Band of Misfits not a bad family movie. The story is kind of wacky (actually the whole movie is kind of wacky), but there is a lot of humor, and a message about being true to your friends and to who you are (though even this last bit is saved from undue moralizing by its humorous context).

Pirates aren’t usually role models for the values of friendship and personal integrity, but these aren’t exactly your typical bloodthirsty pirates. The Pirate Captain (that is his name, not just his title) claims to enjoy running people through, but his motivation for attacking other ships is to collect enough loot to win the Pirate of the Year award.

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Movies: The League of Incredible Vegetables

December 30, 2012

Our family watches a lot of superhero movies. We recently reorganized the DVDs, setting aside a rack just for superhero movies. And we like Veggie Tales. So when a new Veggie Tales movie came out with the title The League of Incredible Vegetables, well, of course we had to buy it.

Since my boys are far past the age of the target audience, it’s hard to say just how effective the video is in getting its message across. But it’s fun to watch, even for teens and adults, and of course no one is too old to need the lessons taught by Big Idea’s colorful vegetables.

The subject of dealing with fear is one Veggie Tales has addressed before. Their very first video, Where’s God When I’m S-Scared?, is still one of their best, even if the animation isn’t as good as those produced using today’s computers and software.

Both videos teach that God is bigger than the things that make us afraid. The earlier video addressed Junior Asparagus’s fear of monsters in the closet, a fear that is very real for young children even if the monsters are not. The fears cited in this new video seem a bit odd, in comparison.

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Movies: Brave

December 29, 2012

The best review I’ve seen of Brave is by Frederica Mathewes-Green, so I won’t attempt to add much to her excellent comments. I read her review months before buying the DVD (as usual, we skipped seeing it in the theater), and I had by then forgotten what she had said about it except that it has more depth than she had expected based on the trailer. I wondered how I could have forgotten the surprising twist that is central to the story – and then I reread her review and saw that she had complied with a request not to give away the plot.

So, for the benefit of anyone who hasn’t yet seen Brave or heard much about it, I will likewise limit myself to generalities. What is disappointing about the movie is that it could have been much better. We expect a lot out of a Pixar movie because most of their movies have been so good. From what I have read in other reviews, Brave‘s shortcomings have a lot to do with a change in directors during production, and with Disney involvement. Unfortunately, we’ll never know what the movie would have been like if it had been completed by the director whose vision formed its core.

There are a lot of movies that deal with conflicts between parents and teenagers. I’m not sure how many focus on the mother-daughter relationship – perhaps there is a fear that they will be seen as “girls” stories if they do. Though, as Mathewes-Green points out, there’s not a whole lot that is distinctively “girl” about Merida – the whole point is that she is such a tomboy and doesn’t want to act like a girl. What is perhaps distinctive is the character of her mother, Elinor. As some reviews I read point out, Elinor is the true heroine of the movie, not Merida.

The movie ends with Merida saying, “Some say fate is beyond our command, but I know better. Our destiny is within us. You just have to be brave enough to see it.” But it’s unclear just what Merida has done that is brave, other than apologize for making such a mess of trying to change her destiny. While Elinor tells Merida that they have both changed, the changes in Elinor are more evident than those in Merida. Merida does learn to see and follow wisdom in her mother’s words, which is certainly good – but I’m not sure how brave it is.

I am disappointed also by the fact that all the men seem to be such buffoons. (The three younger brothers, meanwhile, seem to play the role often taken by cute animal characters in Disney movies.) I suppose it may be effective for Elinor’s strength and wisdom to be seen against a backdrop of men acting like overgrown children, but I thought that was carried a bit too far.

The biggest problem, I think, as Mathewes-Green and other reviews point out, is that neither Elinor nor Merida is really developed well as a character. Elinor emphasizes the values of duty and responsibility, while Merida displays unrestrained desire to “do her own thing.” Those are ways to sum up their characters – yet that is all they are, a summing up with nothing much else underneath.

Still, as Mathewes-Green concludes, “If Brave has flaws, it’s still better than almost any non-Pixar kids’ movie you can name.” While Brave may fall far short of what it could have accomplished, if it gets people thinking about the importance of responsibility, the meaning of destiny, or even what a really good tomboy character would be like, it has accomplished something worthwhile.


Movies: Puss in Boots

November 22, 2012

I noticed the DVD of Puss in Boots as I was about to check out books from the library last weekend, and grabbed it. I remembered having heard very positive things about it when it came out last year, and figured it would be a fun way to spend some family time together today.

It’s an enjoyable movie, but not a great one. I am somewhat surprised at the number of user reviews at imdb.com that give it really high marks, especially for humor. Some reviews mention that it was originally intended to be direct-to-video, and the finished product does seem more the sort you expect from direct-to-video than a true feature film.

As with the Shrek movies (to which this is apparently supposed to be a prequel), there are characters from a variety of fairy tales and nursery rhymes, though they bear little resemblance to the originals. Puss in Boots has not only the title character, but also Humpty Dumpty, Jack (of beanstalk fame), Jack and Jill (here appearing as husband and wife), the magic beans and the beanstalk, a goose that lays golden eggs (actually it’s a gosling, and I don’t think goslings lay eggs, but this film is hardly going for realism), Mother Goose, and even a brief, strange appearance of Little Boy Blue. I’m not sure quite how the giant could have been killed previously by Jack, since Jack doesn’t seem to have ever managed to plant his beans, but again, who’s expecting accuracy here?

Themes touched on include friendship, betrayal, and reconciliation, as well as loyalty and honor. But there’s little depth to its treatment of these themes, and no great emotional involvement for the viewer. Shrek was memorable not just for its humor but for its deft handling of issues related to outer vs true beauty and what it means for dreams to come true. Sure, there are lots of enjoyable animated films that have little depth, but others like Toy Story and Finding Nemo prove that it can be done.


Movies: John Carter

November 4, 2012

My husband had heard a very positive review of this movie from a friend. He also had enjoyed reading the books by Edgar Rice Burroughs when he was a boy. He thought it was the kind of movie we might want to end up getting on DVD – but we wanted to see it first, so we rented it yesterday.

I had read none of the books by Burroughs – and hadn’t even heard of his books about John Carter on Mars. So I had no particular opinion about it ahead of time – other than that the title sounded pretty lackluster.

For the first half of the movie, I found it more confusing than anything else. I couldn’t keep track of who the different groups of Martians were, and which ones were fighting over what.

It got better once I managed to figure out more of the plot and the different characters’ motivations. I’m not sure I would care about seeing it again, but it was reasonably enjoyable.

What was interesting was reading various reviews of it at imdb.com afterward. Some reviews are so over-the-top in praise of the movie’s greatness that one comment suggested that they were planted there by the studio to make the movie look good. Others complained it was boring, with one-dimensional characters and stilted dialogue.

As usual, I think the reality is somewhere in the middle. There may be details that I missed that I would catch on a subsequent viewing, that would make some aspects of it clearer or give greater depth to its story and characters. But not enough, I think, that I have any great interest in watching it again, at least not anytime soon.

I don’t feel particularly motivated, either, to read the books, though I would be more inclined to do that than watch the movie over. The action is apparently not nearly as compressed as in the movie, giving far more time for Carter to adapt to the strange new world he finds himself on. I have always been interested in stories examining different cultures, so that aspect I would find interesting.

There are movies that have successfully put more focus on that aspect of travel between worlds, but I imagine it is harder to pull off than a film where the viewer’s attention is riveted on the action. John Carter isn’t bad at all. It just isn’t great.


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