Jack the Giant Slayer

Image_square_webby Susan

2013 Nicholas Hoult, Stanley Tucci, Ewan McGregor. Screenplay by Dareen Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie, and Dan Studney. Directed by Bryan Singer.

Following in the footsteps of other recent big screen treatments of classic fairy tales, Jack the Giant Slayer has a lot going for it – Ewan McGregor for one. Then there’s the kid in the title role of Jack, Nicholas Hoult of Warm Bodies, who is now definitely on my list of Young Upcoming Actors to Keep An Eye On. He was fantastic as the not-quite-undead teen zombie who managed to hang on to his last vestiges of humanity with a lot of help from a pretty teen girl. Think Romeo and Juliet with a happy ending for fans of comedy horror, specifically the zombie sub-genre. The movie is better than those last two sentences would have you believe – trust me.

And now back to the current review…

Everyone knows the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. E V E R Y O N E. So how do you turn such a well-known fable into an exciting, visually rich movie experience? Simple: lots and lots and lots of CG. (For you non-geeks, that’s computer graphics, digital special effects. Movies are full of ’em these days.) It was done so well, the CG giants in this film are the real stars. They are numerous, hideous, menacing, murderous, and they have well-developed individual personalities. There’s one that even has double the personality of the rest. (Don’t worry, you’ll know what I mean when you see the film.)

The human actors did a very nice job, too. Considering that this version is extremely kid-friendly, each of the actors gave a spot-on performance for the target audience. Hoult’s Jack is a sweet, earnest farm boy, McGregor’s Sir Elmont is a handsome, courageous, selfless knight, Tucci’s villainous Roderick was humorously cunning and foul, Ian McShane’s thoughtful king was appropriately consumed with concern for his only daughter the Princess. Together they make a nice cast performing slightly stereotypical fairy tale roles, but that’s okay. This is, after all, a fairy tale.

Jack-The-Giant-Slayer

With all of the daring escapes, villainous plotting, swordplay, double-crosses, and battle scenes, there is plenty of action to keep the young ones on the edge of their seats. My quibble is that I didn’t find it as engaging for adults as some animated films such as Cars, How to Train Your Dragon, or Wreck-It Ralph. Frankly, the giants were more interesting characters than the actual humans. I don’t know if my reaction is due to seeing live humans acting as cartoon characters or if this movie was never meant to appeal to adults. As a modern cinematic treatment of an ageless fable, Jack the Giant Slayer has more in common with Mirror, Mirror than Snow White and the Huntsman.  It’s light and a little fluffy, quite funny in places, but not nearly as frightening as the original tale. Those old fairy tales were stories meant to scare the bejeezus out of children so they would behave and not wander far from home. Jack the Giant Slayer probably won’t have any lasting impact on anyone.

Two boxes of popcornRating: Double Serving with a big bag of M&Ms accompanied by a child 

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Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Image_square_webby Susan

 2012, Emily Blunt, Ewan McGregor, Amr Waked. Directed by Lasse Hallstrom.

Had I read this synopsis of the movie before seeing a trailer for it, I probably would have dismissed it as something terribly boring and never given it a second thought: “A fisheries expert is approached by a consultant to help realize a sheik’s vision of bringing the sport of fly-fishing to the desert and embarks on an upstream journey of faith and fish to prove the impossible possible.”

Huh? Fly-fishing? In the Middle Eastern desert? Government bureaucracy? Faith and fish? What a preposterous combination! As luck would have it, though, I saw a trailer for it quite some time ago and decided to look for it in my local theater. Okay, to be honest, the only thing I remembered about the trailer was that Ewan McGregor was in it. Sometimes that’s enough reason to see a movie; young Obi-Wan Kenobi is in my list of top five to seven favorite actors. (Spots two through seven are apt to shuffle about on any given day; only the number one spot is carved in stone.)

This one looked like it might be a nice respite from CGI-heavy, complicated epics oozing unreality as well as the standard and, quite frankly, these days just plain lame romantic comedies. I couldn’t recall from the trailer if it was supposed to be a comedy or a fantasy; I just knew it looked interesting, it didn’t appear to be a heavy drama, and Mr. McGregor was starring in it. I think I had the vague impression that it was a British movie as well; I was right.

The story goes like this: A hopelessly average, boring (and bored) bureaucrat (Ewan McGregor) in the Department of Fisheries who happens to also be the world’s leading expert on salmon, and by extension fly-fishing, is contacted by a consultant (Emily Blunt) to an incredibly wealthy (stinking rich, actually) Middle-Eastern sheik (Amr Waked) to help him bring the sport of fly-fishing to a dry and barren place. The sheik wants to improve the lives of the locals with public works projects that will help create a more stable economy. Said consultant is a nice-looking young woman who has just experienced the first sparks of romance with a new boyfriend. Said boyfriend is deployed on a secret mission to – guess where? – the Middle East, where he promptly joins the ranks of the missing in action. As the bored bureaucrat/expert insists that the project is doomed to failure before it starts due to numerous ridiculously impossible hurdles to overcome, the government is looking for some kind, any kind, of news in the Middle East that they can spin into a positive story. Bingo! A wealthy sheik who has fallen in love with fly-fishing in the U.K. wants to work with the British government to bring salmon to the Yemen after he has constructed a massive dam that will create a cool, refreshing river in the hot, dry desert. Yes, ma’am, that’s the kind of story the government is looking for and plans are made to create many positive-spinning photo ops.

The sheik is already trying to go against the grain (swim upstream, if you like) with his grandiose ideas of transforming the desert. Can the bureaucrat and the consultant find the courage to do the same? With many ridiculously impossible hurdles that must be overcome in their personal lives, will they be doomed to failure or will hope and faith triumph in the end?

This was a very pleasant little movie with fine performances from the entire cast. Kristen Scott Thomas as Patricia Maxwell, the government PR dragon, provided just the right dash of comedy. When the sheik explained his philosophy of life to the two leads, I had a momentary epiphany in which I actually understood the lure of fly-fishing and why some fishermen become obsessed with it. (That’s saying a lot for someone who would pretty much rather spend a day cleaning toilets than go anywhere near a fishing pole. Okay, just one toilet, but you get my drift – I don’t like to fish.) If you missed it in theaters, it will lose none of its charm if you view it at home on your television. And neither will Ewan McGregor’s Scottish accent.

Two boxes of popcornRating: Double Serving with a box of Milk Duds