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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Cinder (Book One in the Lunar Chronicles)

Cover image

By Marissa Meyer

I just finished Cinder and so if this review is a little exuberant, it is because I am fresh off the new-book-high. When I read advance praise for the novel, I was immediately intrigued. A cyborg Cinderella story? A future infected with the blue plague? Lunar mutants? Sign me up! I enjoyed this fun read by a new author.

As soon as my copy arrived to my library, I checked it out, proud to be first in the system-wide holds queue. I have to say, two days later, that I was not disappointed. In fact, I am eager to read Book Two in the Chronicles. Admittedly, I am a sucker for fractured fairy tales and fairy tales retold. However, I found Meyer’s universe to be creatively imagined, with a slightly familiar culture changed by the ravages of war, plague and increasing threats from a powerful and terrifying Lunar Queen.

Cinder is a teenage girl, like many others. Except she is 33% cyborg. Nearly killed in a childhood accident, she has been fitted with an artificial hand, foot and internal computer that controls some aspects of her biology. For instance, due to controls that keep her from overheating, she cannot blush. She cannot shed tears. Cinder cannot remember anything of her life before the accident and she cannot escape the cruel treatment of her legal guardian (the wicked step-mother figure) or society as a whole. As a cyborg, she is denied any recognition of humanity. She is a second class citizen, a slave to her guardian’s whims and unable to gain any kind of legal independence.

Relegated to working in a tiny shop in New Beijing as a mechanic, her earnings deposited into her stepmother’s account, she dreams of freedom. Her only constant companion is an outdated but endearing android, Iko. Her step-sister, Linh Peony is kind, but too soon tragedy strikes and she is sent to quarantine. A plague outbreak strikes the boisterous marketplace, prompting confinement of those affected and the destruction of infected booths. This takes place after the Crown Prince visits her booth upon hearing of her skills with his personal android that has mysteriously become inoperable. Assuring the Prince that it will be ready before the Ball to commemorate the anniversary of the end of the Fourth World War, she steals away from the panicked market square with Iko and the android in tow. When Peony takes ill, her stepmother blames Cinder and punishes her most cruelly. Determined to seize her freedom, Cinder defies logic when she escapes not only the ravages of the plague but manages to capture the Prince’s affections.

Her world is unraveled when secrets held deep within the Prince’s android come to light, and she must defy not only her society, but her entire planet, and the Lunar Queen.

This is Meyer’s debut novel.

MP 1/18/12

Puss In Boots

by CosmicTwin3

 

2011, Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, and Zach Galifianakis. Directed by Chris Miller.

The latest animated action adventure tale from the Shrek franchise is a real gem. This time we are treated to more skewered fairy tales as we learn Puss’ back story. He grew up in an orphanage, was a high-spirited, reckless youth falsely accused of a crime, and has lived by his wits and superior sword-fighting skills ever since. Now, an opportunity to obtain the legendary magic beans that can provide access to riches beyond imagination introduces Puss to Kitty Softpaws, reunites him with his childhood friend Humpty Dumpty, and takes them on a wild adventure that may or may not clear his good name once and for all.

One of my favorites, the “dance-fight” between Puss and Kitty is just one of many priceless scenes that is not only amazing in its execution but so hilarious you can’t help but laugh out loud. The dialog is sharp and witty and the action is non-stop. With its spectacular animation, hilarious situations, and loveable characters, adults can enjoy this film just as much as children.  

By the way, let’s hear it for the modern era of high-quality animation that grown-ups can relish with guilt-free pleasure! Disney has been doing it forever, but back in the day those beautiful animated features were considered too juvenile for adults. Or perhaps those of us who grew up loving those old cartoon movies discovered that we still loved them as adults when we took our kids to see them. Initially it was the magnificent music of Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), and The Lion King (1994) in addition to the big name stars providing character voices that provided a reasonable excuse for viewing them more than once. For me personally, they were just great movies. Then came Toy Story in 1995 and the audience for family-friendly animation would never be narrowed to just children again.

A good movie is a good movie, whether it is live-action or animated. Puss in Boots is really good.

Three boxes of popcornCosmic Twins rating: Triple Serving