Film Review: Dumbo (dir by Tim Burton)


Tim Burton’s remake of Dumbo actually wasn’t that bad.

I know!  I’m as shocked as anyone.  Usually, I’m against remakes on general principle and I’m certainly not a fan of the current trend of doing live-action versions of classic animated films.  (There’s a reason why I haven’t seen the new The Lion King.)  Dumbo is one of my favorites of the old Disney films, one that’s always brought tears to my mismatched eyes so I was naturally predisposed to be critical of the remake.  Add to that, I’m not particularly a huge fan of Tim Burton, a director who too often seems to be coasting on his reputation for being a visionary as opposed to actually being one.

And yet, I have to admit that I enjoyed this new version of Dumbo.  To call it a remake is actually a mistake.  It’s a reimagining, as I suppose any live action remake of an animated film about a flying elephant, a talking mouse, and a group of sarcastic crows would have to be.  So, the crows are gone, which is understandable as I doubt you could get away with a bird named “Jim Crow” today.  And sadly, Timothy the Mouse is gone.  He’s been replaced by several human characters, including Colin Farrell as a one-armed, former equestrian, Eva Green as a French trapeze artist, and Danny DeVito as the rough-around-the-edges but good-hearted ringmaster.  However, Dumbo’s still present and he’s still got the big ears.  He can still fly, as long as he’s holding a feather.

Dumbo’s only a CGI elephant but he’s still adorable.  Of course, I should be honest that I’ve always loved elephants.  I even rode one at Scarborough Fair once!  It was like a totally bumpy and somewhat uncomfortable ride but, at the same time, it was also totally cool because I was on top of an elephant!  The other thing I love about elephants is that elephants form real families.  They love each other.  They look out for each other.  They mourn their dead, which is one of many reasons why ivory poachers are some of the worst people in the world.  Elephants may not fly but there’s a sweetness to them that makes the story of Dumbo and his mother extra poignant, regardless of whether it’s animated, CGI, or live-action.  Anyway, the remake’s version of Dumbo is absolutely lovable, from the minute he reveals his ears to the triumphant moment when he soars through the circus tent.

As a director, Tim Burton has always struggled with pacing.  Watching his films, you always dread the inevitable moment when he gets distracted by a red herring or a superfluous storyline because you know that, once it happens, the entire film is going to go off the rails.  Dumbo starts out slowly and it seems like forever before the baby elephant actually shows up.  Fortunately, once Dumbo does show up, Burton’s direction becomes much more focused.  The story stops meandering and, for once, Burton actually manages to maintain some sense of narrative momentum.

Visually, the film’s a feast for the eyes.  Even though it’s a live-action film, the sets and the costumes are all flamboyantly and colorfully over-the-top, giving the film the feeling of being a child’s imagination come to life.  I mean, when you’re making a film about a flying elephant, there’s no point in trying to go for gritty realism.  While the film does mention some real-world tragedies — Farrell lost his arm in World War I and his wife to Spanish Flu — Burton plays up the fantasy elements of the story.  He’s helped by Danny DeVito and Michael Keaton who both give cartoonishly broad performances.  Fortunately, they’re both good enough actors that they can get away with it.

So, the live-action reimagining of Dumbo is not that bad.  It has its slow spots and it really can’t match the emotional power of the original animated version.  But, with all that taken into consideration, it’s still an undeniably entertaining two hours.

Penny Dreadful Season 2 Trailer


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“When Lucifer fell, he did not fall alone.” — Vanessa Ives

It would be an understatement to say that Showtime’s Penny Dreadful was my favorite new show of 2014. I can honestly say that it was the best new show of 2014.

John Logan was able to create a show that probably sounded like a Victorian gothic version of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen on paper, but once seen ended up being both mesmerizing and hypnotic for those willing to travel down the dark, shadowy twists and turns the series took from beginning to end.

We now have the latest trailer and a release date for the second season premiere of Penny Dreadful and it looks like it’ll continue the storyline about Vanessa Ives’ past of demon-possession and exploring it’s ramifications further. We also get the return of a bit player from season 1, Madame Kali, returning to a much more expanded role and if the trailer was to suggest or hint at her role we might be seeing the series’ version of Countess Bathory (I pray to all the fallen angels that this becomes a reality).

If Penny Dreadful season 1 was just the opening appetizer course then here’s to hoping that season 2 will be a satisfying and meatier course.

Penny Dreadful season 2 will have it’s premiere on Showtime on April 26, 2015.

Scenes I Love: Penny Dreadful


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2014 has been a very good year in the realm of great television. We have the perennial stand-outs like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Justified and The Americans. Some shows that have been brought down a peg or two in seasons past made a resurgence in quality and consistency with The Walking Dead and Sons of Anarchy.

Yet, it is with the new kid on the block that I pick my latest “Scenes I Love” and probably the most memorable scene on TV all year. The scene I speak of is the “seance” scene of the second episode of Showtime’s gothic horror series Penny Dreadful. This scene wasn’t even the big reveal in the episode but it ultimately set the tone for what’s to come for the rest of the series’ inaugural season.

The scene focuses on Eva Green’s character, Vanessa Ives, as she attends and participates in a seance held by Madame Kali in the home of renowned Egyptologist Ferdinand Lyle. It’s a powerful performance from Eva Green who has become an actor with a penchant for pulling off bravura performances in the small and big screen.

Green’s Ives has several more performances such as these during the rest of the season, but they all didn’t come with that first shock and awe this scene gave the episode and the series. It’s actually a shame that Green’s work on Penny Dreadful hasn’t garnered as much, if any, year end accolades. Her work as Vanessa Ives was that good.

6 Late Film Reviews: 300: Rise of Empire, About Last Night, Adult World, Jersey Boys, Ride Along, and Trust Me


Well, the year is coming to a close and I’ve got close to 50 films that I still need to review before I get around to making out my “Best of 2014” list.  (That’s not even counting the films that I still have left to see.  December is going to be a busy month.)  With that in mind, here are late reviews of 6 films that I saw earlier this year and had yet to get around to reviewing.

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1) 300: Rise of an Empire (dir by Noam Munro)

Last night, I watched 300: Rise of an Empire for the second time and I still couldn’t figure out what exactly is going on for most of the film.  I know that there’s a lot of fighting and a lot of bare-chested men yelling and, whenever anyone swings a sword, they suddenly start moving in slow motion and dark blood spurts across the screen like Jackson Pollock decorating a previously blank canvas.  The style of 300 has been co-opted by so many other films that 300: Rise of an Empire feels more like an imitation than a continuation.

At the same time, I’m resisting the temptation to be too critical of 300: Rise of the Empire for two reasons.  First off, this movie wasn’t really made to appeal to me.  Instead, this is a total guy film and, much as I have every right to love Winter’s Tale, guys have every right to love their 300 movies.  Secondly, 300: Rise of an Empire features Eva Green as a warrior and she totally kicks ass.

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2) About Last Night (dir by Steve Pink)

Obviously, I made a big mistake this Valentine’s Day by insisting that my boyfriend take me to see Endless Love.  (I still stand by my desire to see Winter’s Tale.)  I say this because I recently watched this year’s other big Valentine’s Day release, About Last Night, and I discovered that it’s a funny and, in its way, rather sweet romantic comedy.

About Last Night tells the story of two couples, Danny (Michael Ealy) and Debbie (Joy Bryant) and Bernie (Kevin Hart) and Joan (Regina Hall).  All four of the actors have a very real chemistry, with Hart and Hall bringing the laughs and Ealy and Bryant bringing the tears.  The film itself is ultimately predictable but very likable.

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3) Adult World (dir by Scott Coffey)

In Adult World, Emma Roberts plays Amy Anderson, an aspiring author and recent college graduate.  Despite her own overwhelming faith in her own abilities, Amy struggles to find a job outside of college.  She is finally reduced to working at Adult World, a small adult bookstore.  Working at the store, she befriends the far more down-to-earth Alex (Evan Peters) and eventually discovers that one of her customers is also her idol, poet Rat Billings (John Cusack).  Amy proceeds to force her way into Rat’s life, volunteering to work as his assistant and declaring herself to be his protegé.  However, it turns out that Rat is far less altruistic than Amy originally thought (and with a name like Rat, are you surprised?).

Adult World is a flawed film but I still really enjoyed it.  The story has a few problems and the film never really takes full narrative advantage of Adult World as a setting but the entire film is so well-acted that you’re willing to forgive its flaws.  Cusack gives a surprisingly playful performance while Evan Peters is adorable in a Jesse Eisenberg-type of way.  Emma Roberts shows a lot of courage, playing a character who is both infuriating and relatable.

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4) Jersey Boys (dir by Clint Eastwood)

Clint Eastwood’s upcoming American Sniper has been getting so much attention as a potential Oscar contender that it’s easy to forget that, at the beginning of the year, everyone was expecting Jersey Boys to be Eastwood’s Oscar contender.  In fact, it’s easy to forget about Jersey Boys all together.  It’s just one of those films that, despite its best efforts, fails to make much of an impression.

Jersey Boys is based on one of the Broadway musicals that tourists always brag about seeing.  It tells the true story of how four kids from the “neighborhood” became the Four Seasons and recorded songs that have since gone on to appear on thousands of film soundtracks.  The period detail is a lot of fun, Christopher Walken, who has a small role as a local gangster, is always entertaining to watch, and the music sounds great but Eastwood’s direction is so old-fashioned and dramatically inert that you don’t really take much away from it.

Hopefully, American Sniper will be the work of the Eastwood who made Mystic River and not the Eastwood who did Jersey Boys.

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5) Ride Along (dir by Tim Story)

School security guard Ben Barber (Kevin Hart) wants to marry Angela (Tiki Sumpter) but Angela’s tough cop brother James (Ice Cube) doesn’t approve.  In order to prove himself worth, Ben goes on a ride along with James and the results are just as generic as you might expect.  Probably the only really funny part of the film was the way that Hart delivered the line, “You’re white!  You don’t fight!” but we all saw that in the commercial so who cares?

On the plus side, Ice Cube has a lot of screen presence and is well-cast as James.  As for Kevin Hart — well, he should probably be thankful that About Last Night came out a month after Ride Along.

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6) Trust Me (dir by Clark Gregg)

In Trust Me, Clark Gregg both directs and stars.  He plays Howard, a fast-talking but ultimately kind-hearted talent agent who mostly represents children.  After losing some of his most popular clients to rival agent Aldo (a hilariously sleazy Sam Rockwell), Howard meets Lydia (Saxon Sharbino), a 13 year-old actress.  Soon, Howard is representing Lydia and trying to land her a starring role in a major production.  Howard also finds the time to tentatively date his next door neighbor (Amanda Peet).  However, there’s more to Howard than meets the eye.  He is haunted by the death of one of his previous clients and his guilt leads him to become especially protective of Lydia.  When Howard concludes that Lydia is being sexually abused by her crude father (Paul Sparks), he attempts to protect her from both him and the Hollywood system that’s threatening to corrupt her.  It all leads to an oddly tragic conclusion…

I say “oddly tragic” because Trust Me is, in many ways, an odd film.  As a director, Gregg gets good performances from his cast but he never manages to find a consistent tone.  The film starts as a Hollywood satire and then it becomes a romantic comedy and then it turns into a legal drama before then becoming an all-0ut attack on the way the entertainment industry treats child actors and then finally, it settles on being a tragedy.  As a result, Trust Me is undeniably a bit of a mess.

And yet, it’s a compelling mess and the film itself is so heart-felt that you can’t help but forgive its flaws.  If nothing else, it proves that Clark Gregg is capable of more than just being Marvel’s Agent Coulson.

Trailer: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (Official Teaser)


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Hard to imagine it’s been 9 years since the original Sin City hit the big screen. It was a comic book adaptation that many thought wouldn’t work, especially how Rodriguez envisioned it to be slavishly loyal to not just Miller’s dialogue but also his unique art style.

The original film’s success quickly ramped up rumors that a sequel was already being planned using the second graphic novel in the Sin City series. Rodriguez himself stated he wanted Angelina Jolie for the role of Ava Lord, the titular “Dame to Kill For”, but after years and years of delay the role finally landed on Eva Green‘s lap (not a bad choice and one I fully support).

So, we’re now going back to Basin City for more tales of booze, broads and bullets in this hyper-noir film that should be loved or hated in equal measures by those who have followed Frank Miller’s career. Once again the directing duties have been split between Rodriguez and Miller. Here’s to hoping that Miller has learned how to be a much better directer after his last film, The Spirit, tanked.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is set for an August 22, 2014 release date.

Hottie of the Day: Eva Green


EVA GREEN

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This week saw the announcement from The Weinstein Company and Robert Rodriguez’s studio that the most important role in the upcoming sequel to 2005’s Sin City has been cast. The actress cast for the role of Ava Lord, the sequel’s “A Dame to Kill For”, wasn’t the expected Angelina Jolie who had been 0ft-rumored to be Rodriguez’s first choice as the femme fatale for the sequel. When Angelina Jolie’s name wasn’t announced and another was instead the reaction from fans of the original comic book source wasn’t one of disappointment. The reaction from fans at this certain performer’s name being called instead was one of near-universal approval.

Eva Green, she of Bertolucci’s The Dreamers, Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven, Campbell’s Casino Royale and Starz’s own Morgan Le Fay, was going to play Ava Lord and Sin City fandom mightily approved.

Her smoldering eyes and classic femme fatale looks makes her an almost perfect fit for the role of Ava Lord. Ms. Green is not new to the role of dangerous and darkly, beautiful women who uses their sexuality as weapon to attack and defend what they want and have. She easily encapsulates the notion the idea of why the femme fatale continues to be such a tempting role for actresses. It’s a role that demands from it’s performer that they be able to pull off being someone’s dream but also their nightmare in equal amounts. I think I’ve heard someone else very close by being called that.

This is why Eva Green is the latest Hottie of the Day. Like one a certain someone with mismatched eyes and hair to match her personality, Eva Green is easily a man’s dream…but also can be his nightmare.

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PAST HOTTIES

James Bond Review: Casino Royale


Welcome, one and all! Leading up to the North American release of the latest James Bond film, Skyfall, The Shattered Lens has taken on the task of reviewing each and every one of the twenty two James Bond films that precede it. Today’s is the penultimate review, Casino Royale, the first film of the series to star current-iteration Bond Daniel Craig. It serves as a reboot of the James Bond character, looking back to the beginning of his career, and entirely unconnected from all of the previous films in the series. The only returning actor is Dame Judi Dench, who reprises her role as M, in a more maternal overseer role looking out for a young Bond, despite his rash actions potentially causing trouble for MI6.

Our cold open this time has a black and white Bond confronting a crooked MI6 section chief – one who has been selling secrets to make money on the side. Bond kills both the section chief and his contact, which is enough to earn him his 00-status. The freshly minted 007 heads to Madagascar in pursuit of an international bomb maker. He attempts to find a way to apprehend the bomb maker alive, but is made, and is forced to pursue this man across the city. Bond eventually corners the bomb maker in an embassy building and kills him, blowing up part of the wall, and effecting his escape.

Back in England, M chides Bond for his itchy trigger finger, pointing out that while the world has one less small-time terrorist, they had hoped to get information which would let them fight international terrorism on the organisational level. Bond seems suitably chastened, but M goes further, asserting that she promoted Bond too early, that he is reckless, and a danger. Bond coldly replies that, since the 00-agent’s life is not typically a long one, she will not have to live with her mistake for long.

That’s the sort of Bond that we’re dealing with under the handling of Daniel Craig. While the character is still capable of being charming, he’s a very far cry from Sean Connery’s easy smile and one liners, or Pierce Brosnan’s especially terrible puns. This is sort of the crux of the movie; what controversy exists surrounding its qualities is heavily tied into how you respond to this new take on James Bond. Like all things 2000s, our hero is much grittier than before. Absent is all of Q’s high tech wizardry, and as I stated before, we are not even dealing with a seasoned killer in James Bond, but rather a freshly minted 00 agent. As a result of all these factors, this film has a distinctly different feel from every Bond produced before it. If you like the changes, everything is cool. If you don’t, you may still find yourself appreciating Casino Royale, which has a relatively simple plot, but spends quite a bit of effort on setting up and establishing its characters, including this new James Bond, for the audience.

The main plot of Casino Royale revolves around a high-stakes Texas Hold ‘Em tournament held at the titular casino, located in Montenegro. James Bond is assigned to win the tournament which is being staged by terrorist financier Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) to recoup the terrible losses he suffered when he used the money of his clients to short sell stock, predicting that a terrorist strike which he himself had planned would send prices into free fall. M hopes that by pushing Le Chiffre to the point of desperation, they can force him to cut a deal with MI6 – sanctuary in exchange for everything he knows about terrorists around the world. Bond is assisted in his goal by fellow MI6 agent Rene Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini) and Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), this iteration’s Bond girl, an agent from HM Treasury, who is assigned to manage Bond’s $10M buy-in, and to provide him with a $5M re-buy if she believes it would be a good investment. However, since a failure on Bond’s part would mean that Her Majesty’s Treasury was directly funding international terrorism, there is incentive to be cautious.

It takes us nearly an hour to begin to engage in the meat of the film, at the titular Casino Royale. Or, at least, this should be the meat of the film. However, the structure of Casino Royale is a little bit off. It feels like it has enough action, but it doesn’t feel properly paced, with the front half of the film (really just a series of subplots to get us to Montenegro) feels like classic “action Bond”. The scenes in the Casino could have been pulled (well, if Daniel Craig could smile, at any rate) from any other Bond film, as his history is littered with a rich litany of casino sequences. Before and after the casino sequences, however, are framing bits that involve idyllic locations, and if I may be so bold, it doesn’t exactly zoom along. The spacing between the casino sequences and the finale, in particular, made the final act feel very tacked on and a little out of place, even as deliberately intended setup for Quantum of Solace. This can also be off-putting, as it feels like there are two different movies going on here.

For the most part though, I think Casino Royale works. If you can live with a grimmer, grittier, low-talking James Bond, you may really appreciate this low-tech return to basics for our favourite 00-agent.

Tomorrow you’ll get a healthy dose of Quantum of Solace, but before I sign off, let me leave you with the theme from Casino Royale, one of the cooler James Bond themes in the franchise, performed by Chris Cornell.