Aquaman – A DC Film Worth Seeing

Let me preface this by saying that I am not a big fan of DC movies. I’m more of a Marvel girl myself. Wonder Woman is the only one I absolutely love – I am obsessed with that particular cinematic masterpiece. The rest of DC’s attempts to mimic the success of the MCU have ranged from “meh, that was alright” to “ugh, that was horrendous” in my personal opinion. That being said, I just watched Aquaman and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I won’t say it’s as good as Wonder Woman but it is the first one to come close.

Aquaman gets two big things right that DC typically struggles with. First, this movie fully embraces the weirdness and impracticality of its source material. Is the concept believable? Hell no! but that’s the point. Superhero flicks aren’t supposed to be “realistic” and “gritty” – they’re supposed to be outlandish and fun and an escape from reality. Aquaman is escapist cinema at its finest, especially the underwater adventures. It’s also bright and colorful as opposed to drab and gray. The special effects are outstanding, of course; the world of Atlantis and the underwater creatures are breathtaking.

The second thing they got right with this movie is the casting. It felt as though each actor actually was their character. Nicole Kidman as Queen Atlanna and Dolph Lundgren as King Nereus are two of my favorites. It’s very clear that they both have been acting for a long time and each turned in a stellar performance. Temuera Morrison is not as famous as the other actors but his Tom Curry is outstanding. And the love story between Atlanna and Tom is epic. Amber Heard is of course both beautiful and badass as the leading lady Princess Mera. Which brings me to our leading man – Arthur Curry aka Aquaman, played of course by none other than Jason Momoa himself. Momoa perfectly inhabits his role and brings just the right amount of humor and attitude, not to mention badassery, to the character. Add his looks and charisma to the mix, and this man can do no wrong.

I’m not saying this movie was perfect – some of the characters felt a just bit one-dimensional and the plot drags a little in some spots – but it is far and away better than most of DC’s other movies and well worth a trip to the theater. Even if only to see a shirtless Jason Momoa kicking ass. What? I am a red-blooded woman after all. Happy viewing, y’all.

Mr. Peabody and Sherman

mr. peabody and sherman

Mr. Peabody and Sherman. Beloved 60’s cartoon characters, reinvented for a new generation. Their 2014 animated film is a total riot. I don’t know if it stays true to the spirit of the original, but both my parents loved it. And they grew up watching the original, so I’d say that’s a pretty good endorsement.

Mr. Peabody is a dog. He is also a genius, business titan, inventor, scientist, gourmand, two-time Olympic medalist, and Sherman’s adoptive father. If a boy can adopt a dog, why can’t a dog adopt a boy? Mr. Peabody does everything he can to make sure that Sherman has a proper upbringing, even inventing a WABAC machine to travel through time. Together, they visit all sorts of interesting places in the past and meet all sorts of fascinating people. They also create a rift in the space-time continuum, with dire consequences if they can’t get it repaired.

Mr. Peabody and Sherman’s adventure begins on Sherman’s first day of school. His already advanced education and slightly know-it-all attitude don’t win any friends. In fact, he makes an enemy: Penny Peterson, a bratty girl who viciously picks on him. She even puts Sherman in a headlock and he retaliates by biting her on the arm. This results in child services being called in – in the form of Ms. Grunion. Imposing and arrogant, she believes a dog has no business adopting a boy and is determined to see that the court takes Sherman away from Mr. Peabody. This is the beginning of a series of misadventures including, but not limited to, Mr. Peabody throwing a dinner party for Mr. and Mrs. Peterson; Sherman and Penny traveling through time – without Mr. Peabody; Sherman crashing Leonardo da Vinci’s flying machine; Mr. Peabody fighting – and dying – in the Trojan War; and the creation of a tear in the space-time continuum. Mr. Peabody and Sherman tumble in and out of scrapes so fast, it made my head spin. It’s a wild, chaotic, hilarious ride – one well worth tagging along for.

mr. peabody and sherman

The Legend of Tarzan

The Legend of Tarzan

The Legend of Tarzan, starring Alexander Skarsgård and Margot Robbie, is an updated take on the classic tale. Based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan novel series, this 2016 film adaptation is both true to the original and a fresh look at the legend of Tarzan. I went into this with perhaps less bias than most. Although I am an avid fan of the book series, I have never seen any of the many film versions of the Tarzan tale – not even the animated Disney version. So in my mind, I only had Burroughs’ novels as a point of comparison. In my opinion, this version took the mythical, legendary elements of the original epic and married them to a modern adventure-romance story for a movie that, like all great couples, is more than the sum of its parts.

The Legend of Tarzan

I really don’t know where to start – I love so many things about this movie. The visuals, for one, are absolutely stunning. The shots are gorgeous and the backgrounds are breathtaking. The cinematography of this movie is a work of art in and of itself. And the score! The music completely swept me off my feet. At times grand and sweeping, at times soft and tender, at times intense and dramatic, but always beautiful and compelling. And the incorporation of traditional music and singing was completely perfect. The opening music and vocals gives me chills every single time.

Then of course there is the story. The screenwriters seem to have drawn on elements from several of the original novels and on some actual events from Africa’s history, specifically the history of the Belgian Congo. The fantastical elements of the legend of Tarzan are grounded by the very real facts of African exploitation and enslavement. This creates a compelling narrative that is both thrilling and thought-provoking. I also love the way the story opens in England, nearly a decade after Tarzan and Jane have left Africa. Instead of with his feral upbringing, which is shown in flashbacks. Both the story and the characters are extremely well-crafted.

The Legend Of Tarzan

Speaking of characters, I now come to the casting. Spot on, in my book. Margot Robbie’s Jane Porter is everything we could ever want – beautiful, fierce, effervescent, strong, feminine, free-spirited. She is never the damsel in distress – she rescues Tarzan every bit as much as he rescues her. George Washington Williams, based on the American journalist who exposed much of the evil happening in the Belgian Congo, is of course brilliantly played by Samuel L. Jackson. Is he ever less than perfect in any of his roles? And of course I adore Chief Muviro (Yule Masiteng) and the rest of the Kuba tribe. And Wasimbu (Sidney Ralitsoele) is not only one of my favorite characters, he’s also perhaps the best-looking guy in the movie. Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) is one of our story’s 2 villains and eminently despicable. He is also based on a real person and it is saddening to think that humanity is capable of what he is and does. Which makes his ultimate defeat that much more satisfying. Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou) is a different breed of villain but his story arc is satisfying as well. And then of course we have our hero: Tarzan, John Clayton III, fifth Earl of Greystoke, son of John and Lady Alice Clayton. Alexander Skarsgård perfectly captures both sides of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ original hero: the polished aristocrat and the beast caged within. He makes it so easy to believe that he was indeed raised by the mangani (a fictional species of ape created by Burroughs). And of course, he is very easy on the eyes.

The Legend of Tarzan

In short, I love the Tarzan books and I love The Legend of Tarzan. Although I’ve not seen them, I do have a working knowledge of some of the other film adaptations and I believe this version to be the first to remain true to the spirit of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ original classic. The creators of this movie have brought to life a character and a legend that has had a special place in my heart for many years. I highly recommend The Legend of Tarzan to film-viewers everywhere.

The Croods – Not Just a Kids Movie

the croods

The Croods is easily one of the best animated films ever created. From the animation to the voice acting to the writing to the score, this movie has few if any equals. The opening breakfast sequence alone is pure cinematic gold. The Croods, a family of cavemen living in prehistoric times, survive by following the rules on the cave walls. Basically, anything new is bad, curiosity is bad, not being afraid is bad, etc. But when the end of the world comes, they are going to have to learn to adapt if they want to continue to survive. Forced to abandon the security of their cave and the mountainous desert that they know, they have to learn the new rules for the tropical jungle environment they now find themselves in. Here to help them, albeit unwillingly at first is “modern man” Guy.

the croods

There are so many things to love about this movie. The family dynamic is spot-on, especially during the “road trip” scene. Anyone who has ever had siblings or kids of their own will instantly relate. The blossoming romance between Eep (Emma Stone) and Guy (Ryan Reynolds) is too adorable for words. And over-protective dad Grug (Nicholas Cage) is absolutely hilarious. Grug’s interaction with his mother-in-law Gran (Cloris Leachman) also has me in stitches every single time. Mom Ugga (Catherine Keener), son Thunk (Clark Duke), and baby Sandy round out our family of cavemen and each brings their own contribution to the story.

the croods

I think what I love most about The Croods though, is the emphasis on healthy, loving family relationships. This family is vastly different from the dysfunctional type which is often portrayed in modern pop culture. Sure they don’t always get along nor are they perfect by any means, but they genuinely love each other. I am unashamed to admit that the “hug” scene makes me cry every single time. The Croods is a fun and funny, yet thoughtful and heartwarming film for the entire family.

RED – Retired, Extremely Dangerous

RED. A comedy/action flick starring the legendary Bruce Willis. Retired CIA agent Frank Moses (Willis) is drowning in the monotony of his daily life. His one bright spot is talking to his pension services representative. Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) finds her excitement in the pages of trashy romance novels and in her phone calls with Frank. When a team of mercenaries is sent to eliminate Moses, he sets off to find out why. A cross-country road trip, a kidnapping, and numerous killings/near-killings later, the stage is set for all-out war. War between Frank Moses’s reassembled team (Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Brian Cox) and William Cooper (Karl Urban), backed by the entire CIA.

One of this movie’s (many) strengths is its all-star cast. Marvin Boggs (Malkovich) is absolutely stupendous as the team crazy. He is just as funny the 15th time around as the first. Posh British assassin Victoria (Mirren) is uber-cool too, as is her Russian ex-lover Ivan (Cox). Their rekindled romance is just too adorable for words. And of course Morgan Freeman is always, always a treat. Cooper is a phenomenal villain, both formidable and likeable. Rounding it out, we have a cameo by Ernest Borgnine – RED is an exceptionally well-cast film.

The action is non-stop; so too is the humor. RED also manages to maintain a certain innocence and zest for life. A clearly-defined sense of right and wrong, good guys and bad guys, sets this show apart from the rest of the pack. But I think one of the coolest things about this movie is the age of its actors. Bruce Willis and his team are all too “old” to be playing action heroes or romantic figures. But that’s not stopping them. And their experience in the film industry has made them some of the best at what they do. Added together, all these things give RED a charming old-school vibe – like the Mission Impossible TV show from the 60’s. Action, intrigues, camaraderie, glitzy galas, shoot-outs in the woods, romance, and lots and lots of automatic weapons fire. An absolutely awesome show. One that I whole-heartedly recommend for viewers of all ages.

August Rush

August Rush, released in 2007 and starring the incredibly talented Freddie Highmore, has just become one of my favorite movies. It tells the heartwarming story of Evan Taylor (Highmore), an orphan growing up in a boys’ home who dreams of finding his parents. He hears music where no one else does – in the wind, in the rain, in the sounds of nature, in the sound of traffic, in the noise of the city – he hears music everywhere and in everything. It is his belief that if he could just learn to play the music he hears, that his parents would hear it and come find him.

His parents are classical cellist Lyla Novacek (Keri Russell) and rock ’n’ roll frontman Louis Connelly (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). They met on a magical night and felt an immediate connection. Come daylight and they are cruelly torn apart. Nine months later, Evan enters the picture. Due to complications, he doesn’t survive. At least that’s what Lyla’s father tells her. Between the heartbreak of leaving Louis and now the pain of losing their child, the grief is too much for her. She leaves New York and gives up on her music. Meanwhile, Louis is going through a similar struggle on the opposite end of the country. He ends up fighting with his bandmates and walking away.

Evan, convinced that his parents are out there and that they still want him, decides to take matters into his own hands. Numerous escapades ensue. Robin Williams enters the picture as ‘Wizard,’ a bizarre former street performer who takes Evan into his band of young street musicians. A police raid, an escape, finding shelter in a church,a stage name (August Rush) and a scholarship to Juilliard. These are just a few of Evan’s adventures in his quest to find his parents. How his quest ends – well, you’ll just have to watch August Rush and find out for yourself.

P.S. Watch for an appearance by Alex O’Loughlin, before his fame as Steve McGarrett of Hawaii Five-0.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

A classic golden-age musical, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is a rousing good time. Set in Oregon territory during pioneer days, it tells the story of the seven Pontipee brothers and their quest to find brides. They have to compete with the men in town for the few eligible young ladies; the remoteness of their mountain farm puts them at a disadvantage. Their rugged good looks and skill on the dance floor even the odds.

The adventure begins when oldest brother Adam (Howard Keel) goes into town on his yearly trading trip. Besides laying in a year’s worth of supplies, he intends to find a wife and take her back with him. To the horror of the married women and chagrin of the single men, he is successful. Young, strong, and beautiful to boot, Millie (Jane Powell) is just what he’s looking for. Little does she know what she’s letting herself in for.

Adam takes his bride home, her head full of sweet dreams of marital bliss. To her surprise and dismay, she discovers that the wife of Adam Pontipee is also expected to be a surrogate mother to his six scroungy siblings. Benjamin, Caleb, Daniel, Ephraim, Frank, and Gideon aren’t much to look at when she arrives and their manners are worse, but she rolls up her sleeves and goes to it with a will. Determined to clean up the place and the boys, she forces them to bathe, shave, and help her around the house. She also teaches them proper etiquette and sees to it that they attend the local social events like barn raisings.

It’s at their first barn raising that the fun really begins. The local girls evince an obvious preference for these beefy, handsome backwoodsmen. This pits the Pontipees against the young townsmen – first in a dance-off, then in an all-out brawl. This is probably the best scene in the whole movie and certainly the most fun. Battered but victorious, they return home, their loneliness matched only by the townsfolks’ dislike. In an attempt to lift his brothers’ spirits, Adam concocts a plan to reunite them with their lady loves. His harebrained scheme draws the proverbial line in the sand, pitting the townsfolk against the Pontipees, the girls against the boys, and Milly against Adam. How the final showdown plays out is both hilarious and sweetly romantic. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is a beloved classic musical for good reason.

The Mark of Zorro

The Mark of Zorro

Written in ink, etched in stone, or carved in a man’s flesh, the letter “Z” can mean only one thing: Zorro has struck again. Wonderfully portrayed by Tyrone Power in 1940’s black and white classic The Mark of Zorro, the Mexican vigilante is a hero for the ages. Playing the role of the fop, the fool, the coward, Diego Vega is never suspected of being the masked swordsman fighting for justice. Son of Alejandro Vega, former alcalde of the district of Los Angeles, Diego returns home after an extended stay in Spain to find his hometown greatly changed.

Forced out of office by the avaricious yet bumbling Luis Quintero and his dastardly henchman Capitan Esteban Pasquale, the elder Vega still refuses to lead a revolt against them. His son holds no such scruples. Dressed all in black, complete with black mask, he aids the weak and oppressed and opposes those who abuse their power. The weak and cowardly Quintero soon fears for his life and decides to flee the country. Pasquale, being made of firmer stuff, is determined to destroy Zorro.

The Mark of Zorro

Diego’s act fools his own parents and even Friar Felipe, his boyhood mentor. In between terrorizing Quintero and robbing the rich to aid the poor, he still finds time to romance the current alcalde’s wife Inez – with 2 ulterior motives. First, it allows him to dazzle her with stories of the Spanish court’s grandeur and she in turn begs her husband to take her away from this provincial life and back to civilization. Secondly, it brings him closer to the true object of his affections: Quintero’s niece Lolita. Lolita, being smitten with Zorro’s courage and heroism, has no time for the foppish Diego Vega. How he wins her heart, defeats the villainous tyrants, and proves himself to his father is classic Hollywood at its best. Filled with adventure, humor, and romance, and capped off with a rousing ending, The Mark of Zorro is a classic the whole family will enjoy.

(P. S. If you can find it, watch the colorized version. The color brings out details that are easy to miss in the black and white original.)

Jane Eyre 1983 Miniseries

One of literature’s great classic romances, Jane Eyre is beautifully captured on film in the 1983 BBC miniseries. Timothy Dalton (prior to his more famous role of James Bond) and Zelah Clark are exceptional together – one of the best Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester pairings I’ve seen. Zelah Clark, although she looks a good bit older than Jane’s 18, perfectly captures Jane’s spirit. Independence and intelligence, a sharp wit and a tongue to match, an iron will that borders on stubbornness, glimpses of a passionate nature, with just the right touch of whimsy and girlish innocence. Timothy Dalton’s Rochester, while still dark and brooding, is a bit more charming and funny than how he is traditionally portrayed on screen. Playing Edward Rochester is a balancing act; Dalton seems to have intuitively found the center of who Rochester is.

Despite a somewhat dated feel, this version of Jane Eyre is one of the best primarily because it stays true to the original material. The book is a long-standing classic for good reason, and the creators of this miniseries had sense enough not to deviate much from Charlotte Bronte’s masterpiece. All the points of the story remain the same, whole sections of dialogue are lifted straight from the book, and each actor completely inhabits his or her role. Perhaps the reason Jane Eyre has been translated into movies and TV series so many times is that, being primarily a dialogue-driven story, it lends itself well to the medium of film. Being a great story is another big reason of course.

The basic points of the story are well-known. Jane Eyre, a young orphan left to the care of an aunt, is cast off and sent to Lowood, a charity school. This venerable establishment is run by Mr. Brocklehurst, a grim, stern, disagreeable character who mistreats those unfortunate enough to come under his dangerously oppressive rule. After surviving 8 years at Lowood, our plucky heroine advertises, offering her services as a governess. Mrs. Fairfax, housekeeper at Thornfield, engages her to teach young Adele Varens, ward of Edward Rochester. Thus begins Jane’s life in the mysterious and sinister world of Thornfield. Jane and Rochester’s relationship slowly evolves from an uneasy trust, to respect and familiarity, to deep friendship, finally blossoming as true love. Torn apart by a cruel blow of fate, Jane leaves Thornfield, vowing never to return. How the story ends and what happens to Jane and Rochester – well, if you don’t already know, then I won’t give it away. Watch it for yourself; it will probably inspire you to read the book as well.

Real Steel, Heartwarming

Heartwarming. Not what you’d expect from a futuristic story about robot boxing. But that is exactly how I’d describe Real Steel. In the not-too-distant future, human boxers have been replaced by robotic counterparts. Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) is a former boxer who now promotes robot fights. Plagued by bad luck, he’s about ready to chuck it all when his “luck” changes. This good luck comes in the form of a son (Dakota Goyo) he hasn’t seen in years. When his ex-wife dies in a car accident, custody of their son Max falls to him. Charlie offers to relinquish his claim on the boy in exchange for a payout from his ex-sister-in-law and her wealthy husband. With visions of a new ’bot filling his head, he reluctantly agrees to take Max for one summer before turning him over to his aunt and uncle. He even tries to pawn Max off on a friend (Evangeline Lilly) while he takes his new robot on the fight circuit but Max is having none of it. Real stand-up guy, that Charlie.

Over the course of the summer, Max and Charlie fall out of one adventure and into the next. Charlie’s overconfidence and ego cost them their robot in its first fight; a harrowing night in the junkyard nearly kills them both; the antiquated ’bot Max stumbles across turns out to be something special; a showdown in the rough world of underground boxing shows Charlie that his son is made of tougher stuff than he realized; and slowly but surely, Charlie and Max develop the beginnings of a beautiful relationship. Max and his robot quickly go from little-known underdogs to the people’s champions but at the last minute, Charlie chucks the whole thing. Not for selfish reasons, as you would have expected at the beginning, but with the boy’s best interests at heart. This destroys their budding camaraderie and Max returns to his aunt and uncle with his faith in other people and Charlie in particular all but destroyed.

Charlie’s redemption, a rebuilt relationship, a touch of romance, and a dramatic final battle – this climax has it all. At its heart, this is an underdog story. Actually it’s a story of three underdogs: Charlie, a washed-up boxer; Atom, a discarded sparring ’bot; and Max, a scrawny, scrappy 11-year-old kid. Add in a redemption arc and the value of family and you would think this is your typical feel-good flick. At some level, I suppose that’s true. But on a deeper level, this is so much more than that. Real Steel is a moving, powerful story that deserves to be remembered for many years to come.