Tag Archive for adaptation


The Bling Ring Review (Film, 2013)

The Bling Ring is a pervasive examination of the rise of instant celebrity through reality TV and paparazzi-captured scandal. Inspired by the real life Hollywood Hills burglaries, Sofia Coppola focuses her film about vapid teenagers robbing celebrity homes for status on Marc, a self-conscious gay teenager. He becomes best friends with Rebecca, a rebellious seasoned burglar, when he enrolls in a last chance high school. He’s inducted into the party life and is taught to fund it through theft. Rebecca starts him on unlocked cars and works him up to mansions belonging to Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Orlando Bloom. They sell whatever they don’t want to keep and snort whatever can be crushed into a powder.

theblingringglasses The Bling Ring Review (Film, 2013)Sofia Coppola has a wealth of shallow characters to work through in this film. Aside from paranoid Marc and sociopath Rebecca, she focuses a good chunk of the film on the delusional Nicki. Nicki (Emma Watson in a masterful comedic performance) is obsessed with celebrity. She’s home-schooled by her mom using the curriculum in The Secret and parties every night to try to grab the eye of just the right person to give her instant fame. Her mother hands her and her sisters Adderal like it’s Pez throughout the day. Nicki is a total mess and that makes her the most compelling character in The Bling Ring.

The Bling Ring commits hard to the instant fame/reality TV glam lifestyle of the characters, which can make it a trying experience. The characters are just so superficial and ignorant. For everything they do right (walking backwards towards houses so cameras can’t catch their faces), they do something really stupid (touch every shiny surface in every house they rob). Once the characters are all introduced, the story spins its wheels for the better part of an hour. You just can’t sustain momentum in a film about people so lacking in depth, famous only for their frivolous crime spree with no strategy involved beyond hitting empty houses.

Without a counterbalance of substance somewhere in this kind of story, it becomes an exercise in preaching what the audience already knows. The wannabe Marc, Rebecca, and Nickis of the world aren’t going to seek out a biting social critique of the reality TV generation, while the audience open to this kind of social critique is going to expect a much more nuanced take on the story.

Coppola intentionally spins The Bling Ring in place to point out how ridiculous the circumstances are. There’s at least a laugh in every scene and the transitional device of real paparazzi shots and tabloid stories about celebutantes behaving poorly raise the discourse just enough to call this satire. The Bling Ring, by intentional design choices, lacks the structure or variety of emotional or narrative content to fit together as a film.

Rating: 4/10

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Much Ado About Nothing Review (Film, 2013)

Much Ado About Nothing is one of Shakespeare’s wilder comedies. It does not have the fantasy of A Midsummer Night’s Dream or hinge its entire plot on double lives like Twelfth Night. It lives on a series of interwoven short stories about royalty celebrating a great military victory.

muchadoaboutnothingposter Much Ado About Nothing Review (Film, 2013)Leonato, the governor of Messina, allows Don Pedro’s men to stay in his home for a month after their victory. Claudio, a member of Don Pedro’s court, falls hopelessly in love with Leonato’s daughter Hero. Beatrice, Leonato’s niece, trades barbs with Benedick, a friend of Don Pedro. Meanwhile, Don John (Don Pedro’s brother) plots against the celebration to spite his brother’s victory. Also, a foolish police constable named Dogberry attempts to maintain order with the sudden influx of guests.

The tricky part of adapting Much Ado About Nothing is making sure all the players are clearly introduced in the story. Joss Whedon’s one stumbling point in this otherwise enjoyable adaptation is just that.

Benedick and Beatrice introduce themselves, as do Hero, Claudio, and Don John. Don Pedro assumes limited narrator duties and Leonato randomly interjects thoughts throughout the story. The gender is flipped on one of Don John’s men to give him a love interest–confusing a villain with Margaret, one of Hero’s ladies in waiting–and none of the police force is introduced by name, Dogberry included.

Lines are shuffled around and truncated to shift the focus to Benedick and Beatrice to the detriment of the other major stories. Don Pedro and Leonato barely exist outside of the context when their main role in the play (Don Pedro especially) is to establish that context. Whedon clearly wanted to keep the adaptation short and snappy, but it becomes difficult to parse out the first act of this adaptation.

That is not to say that Whedon’s approach is poor. This is actually one of the livelier adaptations of a Shakespearean comedy to come around in years. The setting is vaguely modern and fueled with alcohol. All of the “Oh, Lord”s are changed to expletive “Oh Lord!”s and every sexual innuendo is hit like a pick-up artist trying out every smooth line he has during last calls. There are pratfalls, joke fights, well-placed sight gags, and an able cast of actors that know the text well enough to sell the comedy in a believable way.

Much Ado About Nothing really comes alive where so many stage productions and adaptations before it fall apart. The turn in Act IV to tragic circumstances is so hard to get right. The first three acts are all about misdirection, mischief, and merriment. This makes the turn to tragedy in Act IV so much more powerful when it’s done right.

muchadoaboutnothingfeatured Much Ado About Nothing Review (Film, 2013)Whedon knows how to play up drama. The wedding (Act IV, Scene 1), my favorite scene in all of Shakespeare’s works, is shocking here. It took my breath away. I was crying in the theater, so engrossed in the moment that I forgot everything I knew about Shakespeare’s comedic form and the play itself. To see these characters so alive with alcohol and shenanigans fall apart to scandal and crime is heartwrenching. The pace grinds to a halt and freezes the moment so you’re forced to endure the full pain of Don John’s heinous scheme.

Much Ado About Nothing, like any of Shakespeare’s great comedies, is at its best when the turn to tragedy is unexpected and organic at the same time. Joss Whedon achieves that in this gorgeous black and white adaptation. Once the players settle in and establish themselves, it’s an engrossing ride.

Rating: 7/10

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Hedwig and the Angry Inch Finally Comes to Broadway

John Cameron Mitchell’s masterful rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch has had a long arc to a Broadway mounting. Since premiering in 1998 in a converted theater space off-Broadway, the show has been performed all over the world. Mitchell adapted, directed, and starred in the feature film adaptation in 2001 that received a Golden Globe nomination and critical acclaim. It helped launch Mitchell as a director capable of getting difficult projects to the screen–Shortbus and Academy Award-nominated Rabbit Hole included–and created demand for a Broadway mounting.

hedwigandtheangryinchfeatured Hedwig and the Angry Inch Finally Comes to BroadwaySoon, in 2014, we’re finally going to see Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Broadway. John Cameron Mitchell has been working on changes to the book for years to account for the different space and societal changes since the show debuted.

It’s not surprising that, 16 years later, Mitchell himself will not be playing the title role. That honor goes to Neil Patrick Harris. Harris has previously starred in the Broadway debut of Assassins in an excellent turn as the Balladeer, which is one of the trickier parts in the show. His Bobby in the NY Philharmonic production of Company was strong, as well. I love his work on the recording of the lesser-known Evening Primrose by Stephen Sondheim (TV musical special).

What Harris has is legitimate theater chops. He has a great stage presence. He moves well. And, most importantly, Hedwig is easily in his vocal range. I’m curious to see what Neil Patrick Harris brings to this role.

hedwigandtheangryinchsotry Hedwig and the Angry Inch Finally Comes to Broadway

Elaborate costumes and raw rock recount a sad story of abandonment

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is, undoubtedly, a strange show. It’s a musical about a young man so desperate to escape the oppression of the USSR’s stranglehold over East Berlin that he has an irreversible medical procedure to pose as a woman and flee as a war bride. As soon as he lands in America, the Berlin Wall falls. His lover leaves him for another man and he starts a rock band. It only gets stranger from there.

Part of the reason Hedwig and the Angry Inch has taken so long to get to Broadway is the rewrite. The current version of Hedwig is an immersive show. It’s a rock concert at a restaurant across the street from a much larger rock arena. Hedwig interacts with the audience, including the infamous car wash gag. There’s a set script with audience and band banter, but Hedwig has to sell it like it’s a brand new experience every night.

hedwigandtheangryinchoffbroadway Hedwig and the Angry Inch Finally Comes to Broadway

The original off-Broadway production of Hedwig was raw in the best way possible.

John Cameron Mitchell needed to find a way to translate this raw energy into the more formal setting of Broadway. Conceivably, the show could take a page from Roundabout’s Studio 54 and have cabaret style seating rather than a traditional orchestra. They could borrow from Murder Ballad or Spring Awakening (to name two) and have audience members sitting onstage or surrounding the actors, as well.

But I think Mitchell is more creative than that. I imagine the changes to the show make it a period piece rather than a contemporary story as it’s traditionally done. If he shifts the setting, they won’t need onstage seating or even direct interaction. With the right monologues, the spirit of Hedwig will live on Broadway.

That makes the first show I have to see next season. We’re only a few weeks out from the Tony Awards and I’m already looking forward to Spring 2014 shows.

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Coming Soon: The Last Five Years Film

thelastfiveyearscar Coming Soon: The Last Five Years Film

Set photos are running rampant

With all the set photos being released this week, it appears the producers of The Last Five Years film adaptation really want a big return on their investment. I suspected that when Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect) and Jeremy Jordan (Smash) were cast as Cathy and Jamie.

Or should I say Tony Award nominee Anna Kendrick (High Society) and Tony Award nominee Jeremy Jordan (Newsies) starring as Cathy and Jamie? That theater pedigree helps in a show that has such a theatrical conceit.

A quick refresher on The Last Five Years: Cathy and Jamie recount their five year relationship from opposite perspectives. Cathy starts at the end and goes back to the beginning, while Jamie starts at the beginning and works his way to the end. They only meet up once onstage to sing together–not counter melodies, but actual interaction.

The film is foregoing that conceit and it makes me so nervous. Cathy and Jamie are going to sing to each other. They’re planning on using all the songs and keeping the time jumps, but with the couple interacting I fear a muddy mess.

The score is confessional in nature. When Jamie sings about meeting a “Shiksa Goddess,” he would never dream of telling Cathy she’s some kind of conquest on his rise to the top. Likewise, when Cathy sings about “A Summer in Ohio,” she would never have complained that much about doing summer stock if Jamie was there in person.

thelastfiveyearsthewaterfront Coming Soon: The Last Five Years Film

Are Cathy and Jamie meeting at the pier?

Sure, there are songs that hinge on interaction. “See I’m Smiling” is all about Cathy’s surprise that Jamie has arrived after their relationship became strained. She sings about all the things she wants him to do and how hard she’s trying to save the relationship. She even references how they’re sitting, how he laughs, how he smiles, and how they’re interacting. I can see the scene on film: a lovely walk on the waterfront after meeting at the docks, perhaps a montage of Cathy’s memories to foreshadow some of the upcoming scenes.

It’s so early to try to put a judgment on the film. The talent is there. The music is there. My excitement level is far higher than I anticipated.

Yet I have to mention a personal bias here. This is an adaptation of a show about mid/late 20-somethings falling in and out of love. Jeremy Jordan and Anna Kendrick hit that perfectly–28 and 27, respectively. With the way they’re being dressed in the show and the subject matter, they’ll read the right age onscreen.

But I prefer actors aging down for the role. The Last Five Years has a really complex score filled with a lot of intricate character shifts. It has a very strong voice about relationships and love. Typically, onstage, the actors are a few years older than the characters in the script. It’s not an uncommon casting choice–how many twenty-somethings play teenagers?–but in this show it adds a level of nuance and maturity that only comes with more life experience. Sherie Rene Scott and Norbert Leo Butz were only a few years older than the characters when the show premiered in 2001 and their performances are why the show is so fondly remembered.

That bias is why I’m so drawn to a recently released video of Lea Salonga in rehearsal for a concert. Salonga (Tony Award winner for Miss Saigon and the singing voice of Jasmine and Mulan in the Disney pantheon) brings this beautifully nuanced sense of understanding and acceptance that I doubt a younger performer could pull off. With the right Jamie, Lea Salonga could easily pull off a production of The Last Five Years. It’s a total piece of fantasy anyway; if the actors read young, you’ll accept the reality of the show.

Just watch this performance of “I’m Still Hurting,” the opening song in The Last Five Years. I’ve watched it at least 20 times since it was uploaded last Friday and it brings me to tears every time. Bonus points duly awarded for doing the rhythms as written in the actual score (ahem).

Can Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan match that level of intensity or wisdom that sells the (let’s be frank) self-centered story of The Last Five Years? You need the audience to immediately understand from the first pair of songs that the show is all about diagnosing what went wrong over a big chunk of a shared lifetime. This isn’t the free-wheeling spirit of 500 Days of Summer that has the opportunity to wallow in self-indulgence and too clever scene juxtapositions to be a crowd-pleaser. This is a very low-key narrative that rests on a simple conceit and a fantastic score.

I want The Last Five Years to be a rousing success because I want musicals to be bankable again. If they earn money, studios will invest the time and energy needed to make more that don’t hinge on ridiculous close-ups of A-list actors shooting snot out of their noses for extra sincerity*. And if musicals are profitable again, maybe A-list actors won’t be required for EVERY leading role in a movie musical anymore.

We’ll see how The Last Five Years turns out eventually. At the very least, more people will learn about this wonderful little show. That’s a victory.

*Salonga played Eponine and Fantine professionally on Broadway and in anniversary concerts. She didn’t need blacked out teeth and 15 seconds pauses between words to sell “I Dreamed a Dream.” She didn’t even need the costume. She just needed a stage. Just saying.

This Is the End Review (Film, 2013)

Horror comedies, when done right, can provide all the visceral thrill of a great scary movie without any of the jump scares. Instead of flying for the ceiling, you start laughing at the huge horror set pieces because they’re intended to be completely absurd. It’s the joy of laughing at things that should scare the pants off you without having to shut off the good taste sensors and mock a terrible film.

thisistheendhollywood This Is the End Review (Film, 2013)

I was also shocked by how many celebrities showed up for this

This Is the End is horror comedy done right. Jay Baruchel has arrived in LA to spend the weekend with his old friend Seth Rogen. Jay’s not a big fan of the LA lifestyle but Seth insists on taking him to a wild party at James Franco’s new mansion. Everyone who’s anyone is there, downing alcohol and drugs and hiding in the corners for some intimate action. Jay and Seth make a quick run to the convenience store only to be confronted by the apocalypse. Armageddon is at hand and all the good people have been raptured. Naturally, Jay and Seth return to the party to see no one from Hollywood has disappeared in a funky blue light.

Seth Rogen, James Franco, and screenwriter Evan Goldberg have reunited for a spiritual sequel to Pineapple Express. This time, Rogen and Goldberg also take on directorial duties and created a really consistent tone and humor style that elevates This Is the End beyond mere self-parody.

Each major actor in the cast is playing a heightened version of themselves. James Franco and Seth Rogen are total potheads who want everyone to get along. Jay Baruchel is an almost unbearable cynic, reluctant to just go along with the distractions and jokes his fellow survivors use to cope with the end of the world. Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, and Craig Robinson round out the principal cast hiding out at the Franco mansion, protected only by duct tape and art ripped from the walls to block every door and window.

thisistheendemmawatson This Is the End Review (Film, 2013)

I guess the Harry Potter books really were evil. Poor Emma Watson.

This Is the End has a very broad sense of humor. It’s filled with jokes about drugs, sex, alcohol, the actors’ careers, and disaster movie cliches. Yet, the comedy net so widely cast lands in just the right place for this story. Your watching a film about a group of people too rotten to be saved from the torture of hell erupting on earth. Why wouldn’t they behave so poorly and be completely oblivious to their actions the whole way through?

The structure of the screenplay is sound. Little bits and pieces are laid out in the first 15 minutes that define the direction of the rest of the film. The cast picks them up one by one, extending them to plot threads that weave together to form a very cohesive horror comedy about the end of the world. There’s even a really nice moral tucked away in the final few scenes that never preaches at the audience or pulls away from the creepy and campy style of the film.

This Is the End succeeds at what it sets out to do. It’s a funny horror film about the end of the world where the actors mock their own public identities for just under two hours. The film looks great and features strong visual effects to set the Hollywood hills on fire and raise demons from the earth’s core. This is not a particularly ambitious film and it doesn’t have much to say about the genre, celebrity, or any grander theme. It’s just well-executed popcorn entertainment.

Rating: 7/10

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The Great Gatsby Review (Film, 2013)

The Great Gatsby is, for better or worse, a product of Modernism. For people who like Modernism with all the trimmings, that’s a great thing. The novel is heavily influenced by jazz culture (in setting and story structure). Everything and nothing happens as the plot very slowly unwinds. The focus is placed heavily on style and theme over character and story though, to be fair, The Great Gatsby has more plot than many other Modernist novels. For all the raucous bootleg liquor-fueled parties and general mayhem, the story is very quiet and small in its scope and ambitions.

thegreatgatsbyspectacle The Great Gatsby Review (Film, 2013)

You can’t call Baz Lurhmann a modest director in The Great Gatsby

Baz Lurhmann is the last man I expected to adapt this Jazz Age masterpiece of American Modernism for that very reason. Lurhmann is at his best with spectacle. Sure, the simple story and heavy romantic elements make The Great Gatsby a strong fit in his oeuvre–Romeo & Juliet and Moulin Rouge! aren’t exactly heavy on the narrative. It is the intimate and tender nature of the work that would most likely prove problematic; it did.

The Great Gatsby is adapted here as a quasi-memoir within a wannabe writer’s therapy sessions. Nick Carraway is a WWI veteran, a failed writer, and a new bonds trader living in a small cottage in an affluent area of Long Island. His neighbor is Jay Gatsby, a famous and wealthy man who no one ever sees even at the garish parties he throws every weekend. Nick’s cousin Daisy Buchanan married millionaire Tom Buchanan and also live in the same Long Island neighborhood. Jordan Baker, the most famous female golfer in America and a friend of Daisy’s, tells Nick all the gossip about town, including how Tom is cheating on Daisy with a mechanic’s wife. Everything changes in Nick’s life when he becomes the first person to ever receive a written invitation to one of Gatsby’s elaborate parties.

In some ways, Baz Lurhmann and Craig Pearce’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby is incredibly faithful. The scenes that move painfully slow in the book crawl onscreen. The shocking revelations and twisted series of secrets are as intriguing on film as they are on the page. Gatsby’s secret love is incredibly touching and Daisy’s life is tragic in spite of her own actions. The liberties that are taken have no bearing on the plot of the tiny thread Lurhmann and Pearce focus on.

thegreatgatsbystory The Great Gatsby Review (Film, 2013)

Jay Gatsby is not a subtle man by any means

However, in choosing not to pump up the story or trim away the meandering narration of this work of Modernism, Lurhmann and Pearce have crafted a screenplay that rejects the expected standards of cinema. The story moves in waves, ebbing and flowing in action and character development. Nothing will change for 30 minutes, then everything swings in a wildly different direction. It’s page-accurate to a fault.

A less extravagant director would have found a way to craft the intimacy and isolation necessary to take a literal approach to The Great Gatsby; not Baz Lurhmann. He provides spectacle in every scene even when it’s not needed. A string of pearls shoot out from the screen while Daisy recalls her wedding day with Tom. Cartoonish CGI automobiles fly down expressionist paintings of the fictional towns of East and West Egg and the valley of ashes. Every frame is so packed with details and anachronistic but thematically meaningful music that the story is never given room to breathe or even feel as hollow as it should.

thegreatgatsbyjordan The Great Gatsby Review (Film, 2013)

Jordan Baker is one of the more fascinating characters in the novel

While the film rightly puts focus on Leonardo DiCaprio’s masterful performance as Jay Gatsby, the next best performance is relegated to the sidelines to the determent of the adaptation. Elizabeth Debicki is stunning as Jordan Baker, the gossiping golfer and curiosity capturing America’s interest with her sporting achievements. Her physicality, her expression, and her conspiratorial whisper make every moment she has onscreen a treasure to behold.

In the novel, Jordan dates Nick Carroway for most of the story, adding a steady relationship to the potent mix of Daisy and Tom and the mistresses and fornicators. In Baz Lurhmann’s vision of the story, Jordan is discarded at the earliest possible moment with no fanfare or story of her own. It’s a big chunk of the thematic portrait of The Great Gatsby and one that is sorely missing in the over the top spectacle of mismatched partners.

The Great Gatsby is a really attractive film brought down by its own beauty and splendor. There can be an argument for the 3D spectacle of the film representing the rise and fall of Jay Gatsby, but there is nothing to indicate that in the screenplay or visual text of the film. What we’re left with is a pretty but hollow shell of an incredible novel that mimics but never fully realizes the great depth required to bring such shallow and petty characters to life.

Rating: 5/10

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The Iceman Review (Film, 2013)

The Iceman is inspired by the shocking true story of mob hitman Richard Kuklinski. Kuklinski began taking on any mob job that came his way after his longtime boss laid him off for letting a witness go. He developed a technique to kill anyone without suspicion, freeze their bodies to hide the time of death, then leave them to thaw where the coroner’s report would declare death by natural causes.

The greatest strength of The Iceman is the authenticity of the screenplay. The only thing more important in the suburbs than status is family. Screenwriter Morgan Land and writer/director Ariel Vromen make Kuklinski a family man above all else. His mob boss is a family man. The rival gang leader is a family man. His partner in the killer for hire business is a family man. They all lead perfectly normal lives except for when the illegal business is happening.

theicemanfamily The Iceman Review (Film, 2013)

Family trumps everything else in The Iceman

This does not mean that their neighbors, friends, and families are depicted as naive rubes, the standard trope for any mob story. Kuklinski’s wife begins to suspect something is wrong pretty early on. She chooses to ignore it so long as her family is safe.

The girlfriends and wives teach each other to maintain control of the house and make sure the family is properly provided for. The neighbors and friends do their best to stay on Kuklinski’s good side even when strange men in fancy cars start pulling him out of birthday parties and private dinners for quick meetings. They all know what Kuklinski is involved in; they’re just smart enough to keep their mouths shut and their noses clean.

The Iceman is a smart and engaging crime drama. Kuklinski’s story is sensational enough that the melodrama is kept to a minimum. Ariel Vromen aims for realism at every turn. The film begins with a recreated scene from the documentary The Iceman Tapes: Conversations with a Killer, where Kuklinski is asked if he has any regrets about his life of crime.

The story jumps back many years to when Kuklinski went on his first date with his future wife Deborah. We get to see the sparks fly that started a strong family before we see any illegal activity in the film. Shoot, Vromen opts to actually downplay the depravity of The Iceman to make the story more believable, only hinting at potential spousal abuse and Kuklinski’s own criminal history before getting tangled up in the mob.

theicemanbusiness The Iceman Review (Film, 2013)

Everyone in the area knows how the mob does business

The cast is more than up to this naturalistic approach. Michael Shannon once again proves he’s one of the greatest working actors with a totally transformative performance as the strong and silent Kuklinski. Winona Ryder gives her best performance in years as the increasingly put-upon Deborah, actually coming across as more cunning and calculating than the mob hitman.

Ray Liotta is in familiar territory as Kuklinski’s mob boss. However, the focus on family wherever you choose to form it gives him a much wider emotional range to explore than his typical tough guy roles. Chris Evans rounds out the main cast as a rival hitman who will do anything for money. The actors play so well off of each other that none of their scenes seemed forced or contrived.

Like the killer himself, The Iceman is a quiet film that carefully chooses when to let its voice be heard loud and clear. It’s brutally accurate to period–the high fashion looks of the wealthy suburbanites in 1970s Jersey are as terrible as you would imagine–and never insensitive to the lives of the victims or criminals involved in the story.

It’s very telling when a narrative film pulled straight from the headlines doesn’t brag about it being a true story in the opening credits; a true story doesn’t need to advertise its origins to be great.

Rating: 9/10

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Blast of Tempest: Shakespeare Unbound

When I’m not writing here or at my regular gigs (or ghostwriting/editing all over the place), I teach educational theater. One of my favorite subjects to study and explore with students is Shakespeare. There’s a beauty and magic to his work that predates the formal exploration of magical realism by centuries. The students, as a rule, really respond to the more fantastic works like Cymbeline, The Tempest, and Hamlet, though the right framing can even make the histories an exciting world for teenagers. Not that the histories aren’t exciting on their own; I love them.

Blast of Tempest is a Japanese manga turned anime from writer Kyo Shirodaira and illustrators Arihide Sano and Ren Saizaki. It is a contemporary story of magic and inter-family conflict heavily influenced by The Tempest and Hamlet. The series is a fascinating exercise in re-framing well-known narratives to create something new.

In Blast of Tempest, magic is real. Mages from feuding clans wander the earth doing everything they can to raise the magical tree from the ground that powers their family. Yoshino Takagawa stumbles into this world after his friend Mahiro Fuwa disappears from school. Mahiro, whose sister, mother, and father were killed under mysterious circumstances a year before the story takes place, obtains the powers of a mage by chance. He will do anything to find out who killed his family, even team up with Hakaze Kusaribe (the leader of another clan stranded on an island by her own followers) to fight in a war he’s not a part of.

blastoftempestmaharoyoshino Blast of Tempest: Shakespeare Unbound

Yohino (left) goes where Maharo goes in Blast of Tempest

The story uses flashbacks and magic to present an original murder mystery/thriller through the lens of two of Shakespeare’s most fantastic (as in, driven by unbelievable fantasy) works for a new audience. There are parallels to characters and plot points all over Blast of Tempest. It’s not even limited to just Hamlet and The Tempest; those are just the major influences.

The Tempest and Hamlet are on opposing sides of Shakespeare’s catalog. The former is a broad comedy all about spectacle, magic, and romance. The latter is a dark tragedy about murder, mayhem, and broken lives. Yet, both stories are linked by a major betrayal–Prospero and Miranda are abandoned on the island in The Tempest and Hamlet’s future throne is stolen by his uncle with murder most foul–and large otherworldly conceits–The Tempest has magic and fairies, Hamlet has ghosts and nightmares.

The difference between a tragedy and a comedy in Shakespeare’s work is whether it ends in a funeral or a wedding. The comedies can be very dark and foreboding and the tragedies can be quite light until the ending flips the tone for a happily or miserably ever after.

Each major character in Blast of Tempest has a direct connection to characters in Hamlet and The Tempest. It’s a great literary device that builds a huge amount of suspense very quickly. The comedy and the tragedy cannot exist simultaneously for long because, at some point, the audience needs to be instructed to laugh or cry.

Mahiro’s connections are the clearest. He is Hamlet himself on a quest for revenge against the person who killed his family. He behaves in reckless and erratic ways to gain an advantage and distract from his quest for revenge.

He is also Caliban from The Tempest. The one person he lived for, his sister Aika, is dead long before the story of Blast of Tempest begins. He relinquishes control of his life to the mage Hakaze for some chance at a greater purpose in life. He failed at protecting his sister and, for a year, failed at avenging her death. He does not like being under Hakaze’s control and constantly rebels, yet he cannot achieve his own goals without her influence.

blastoftempestaika Blast of Tempest: Shakespeare Unbound

Aika is the motivation and cause of Blast of Tempest

Aika actually has a larger presence in the story than you might imagine from a long-deceased character. Through flashbacks, she takes on a multitude of roles in the story. She is the ghost of Hamlet’s father, constantly whispering in Mahiro’s ear about the need for revenge. She is Ophelia to Mahiro’s Hamlet. Her death forces him to form a plan of action against whoever killed his family. Aika is also Sycorax from The Tempest, the long-dead sorceress who gave Mahiro’s Caliban a reason to live.

Yoshino probably covers more characters than anyone else in the series. In the present story, he voluntarily places himself as Horatio to Mahiro’s Hamlet. He is the foil for Mahiro’s revenge plan and a loyal friend to the family. He will do anything for Mahiro because he knows that, without his help, Mahiro will destroy his life by taking his aggression out on the wrong person.

Yoshino also acts as Alonso from The Tempest, falling in love with the beautiful Aika and dooming himself to suffer through the world of magic he never knew existed. His own relationship with Aika–against the wishes of Mahiro–makes Yoshino the Hamlet figure, as well. He does everything he can not to fall in love with Aika’s Ophelia and dooms them both to misery when she can’t let go of him. Blast of Tempest has this great tension with Yoshino always on the verge of becoming even more reckless than Mahiro because of his world being so radically changed.

Hakaze acts as a number of different characters, as well. Because she is banished to an island by her own followers, she is Prospero in The Tempest. The once great leader is betrayed by the man she trusted the most and forced to live out her days unable to return to the world she created.

blastoftempesthakaze300 Blast of Tempest: Shakespeare Unbound

Hakaze’s powers are wind and weather related, like Prospero in The Tempest

The physical separation also places her as the Ariel figure in The Tempest. She can have control over the world without being noticed but only if she’s directly following the orders from Mahiro on his quest for revenge. Mahiro only hears her voice, placing her as the ghost in Hamlet. She tells him who is responsible for the murder of his family and how to get revenge, but cannot physically be there to really get involved in that.

Blast of Tempest‘s connections to William Shakespeare go much deeper than this cursory analysis. The characters strategically quote and paraphrase Shakespeare throughout the series. Minor and supporting characters alike through multiple roles whenever it is convenient to the story (Fraulein Yamamoto is Laertes to Yoshino’s Hamlet until she learns the truth and becomes Horatio and Ariel in one). Imagery from The Tempest defines the visual style of the magic in the series and individual scenes are structured around the brooding two-person at a time conceit of Hamlet.

What Blast of Tempest offers is a highly literate gateway for theater fans to engage with anime and manga for the first time. This is not a Westernized series even if it heavily draws on the most influential playwright in all of Western theater. It is a tightly wound explosion of magical anime marketed at boys as young as 10 but probably better appreciated by a more mature audience.

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Silent Hill: Revelation Review (Film, 2012)

Silent Hill, the bizarre survival horror series from Konami, has a lot of great stories to tell. It’s this nebulous concept of a place that never appears the exact same way twice. The town of Silent Hill changes to reflect the needs of the visitor even if those changes contradict what you knew about the series before.

But the problem with Silent Hill, as a series, is that you can’t really explain it. The inconsistencies in internal logic and rules keep any consistent analysis of the facts of Silent Hill out of reach. The best you can do is give a general concept of the series and describe some of the monsters in it. It’s about the experience and mood more than the literal story.

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Vincent probably regrets pursuing Sharon when she drags him to Silent Hill. (click for full)

In Silent Hill: Revelation, Harry (Sean Bean returning from the original Silent Hill film) and daughter Sharon (Adelaide Clemens, taking over the role originated by Jodelle Ferland) have moved again in an effort to stay one step ahead of Silent Hill. The town claimed Harry’s wife Rose six years ago and now it wants Sharon back. Sharon is plagued by nightmares that beckon her to return. When her father is kidnapped by the cult that runs Silent Hill, Sharon has no choice but to bring new friend Vincent (Kit Harrington) with her to the town that has haunted her entire life.

Silent Hill: Revelation is one hour of a solid psychological horror film. For a change of pace, this is the last hour rather than first hour. Writer/director Michael J. Bassett and screen adapter Laurent Hadida waste a lot of time trying to open up the Silent Hill universe to a wider audience. Characters engage in clunky debates over the nature of nightmare, reality, and Silent Hill itself. 20 minutes of exposition could have been cut from the beginning of the film and it would have worked so much better. You’re bored senseless before you even really enter the town for the first time and that’s a bad thing.

Once the action gets rolling in the nightmare town, Silent Hill: Revelation is solid. It is the perfect adaptation of the video game series because it doesn’t directly adapt the winding narratives of the games. The locations, monsters, character design, and even motions (Sharon runs up stairs two at a time, just like the game characters) feel true to the style. It feels like Silent Hill and that’s a great thing.

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You should see her handle a gun and a flashlight at the same time (click for full)

Silent Hill: Revelation has this disturbing beauty and dark psychological pulse that draws you in. It’s all the more impressive for actually turning around the atrocious exposition from the first act into something thrilling and believable.

There are problems all over the place. The accents from Adelaide Clemens and Kit Harrington are terribly inconsistent. Harrington doesn’t even seem to be trying to stay with a consistent American accent even though the Silent Hill universe has always been based in the USA. Clemens is much better, but can’t quite get her mouth around an Americanized pronunciation of “Dad;” considering she spends the entire film crying out “Dayahead” every two minutes, that’s a problem. It hurts the style of the film since Bassett pushed for a really affected style from the whole cast. Clemens and Harrington break that illusion in every scene.

The CGI looks worse than the original Playstation release of Silent Hill back in 1999. The practical effects are really strong. The monsters–the nurses, Pyramid Head, various ghouls and tormented souls–look real and elevate the film. Then the screen is covered in blood that looks like orange soda as cartoonish limbs are destroyed in every scare scene. The CGI is so bad that it’s distracting.

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Silent Hill Revelation looks beautiful until it really, really doesn’t (click for full)

Yet when Silent Hill: Revelation works, it works. There are action/horror sequences in this film that filled me with genuine terror. The conceptual changes that help to bridge the gaps between all the various Silent Hill permutations are strong. Shoot, Bassett actually manages to fix some of the more glaring problems with the original film without ret-conning that story to oblivion.

There are things that will probably turn off the die-hard Silent Hill fans–Vincent is and isn’t the Vincent you think he should be based on his role, and other characters’ distinctive traits are thrown away for narrative reasons. Yet, taken for what it is, Silent Hill: Revelation should be at least a fun diversion for a series fan. Once the story hits Silent Hill, it really feels just like the best of the game series.

Everyone else, though, should watch at their own discretion. The first act is geared toward someone with no knowledge of the games; then the film abandons any efforts to keep you in the loop with all sorts of Easter eggs and Silent Hill shorthand.

Silent Hill: Revelation is simultaneously too open and too insular. It’s married too strongly to CGI but filled with incredible practical effects. It has a bizarre acting style that is consistent until it’s not. It is a horror film of contradictions that is still strangely watchable if you accept that Silent Hill means never having to explain why or how.

Rating: 5/10

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Iron Man 3 Review (Film, 2013)

ironman3poster Iron Man 3 Review (Film, 2013)Superhero films based on existing material have a hard road ahead of them at this point. With critical acclaim for a wide variety of stand alone stories (like The Avengers, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger), the writers of future superhero films have to balance the line between the well-read fans of the franchise and the new fans who only know the characters and worlds from the films. New concepts need to be introduced to keep the stories going, but they need to be explained in such a way that they make sense to the lay person and don’t bore the experienced fan.

Iron Man 3 sees Tony Stark dealing with the repercussions of The Avengers. He can’t sleep, he’s obsessed with improving the Iron Man suit, and he’s starting to have anxiety attacks. Pepper Potts is totally over his work obsession and has her own issues running Stark Enterprises, where scientist Aldrich Killian pitches a partnership over the ability of the brain to regenerate and reshape the body however you want. And then The Mandarin announces himself to the world as a terrorist punishing America for its crimes with mysterious bomb-less explosions.

If the plot summary doesn’t make it clear, screenwriter Drew Pearce and writer/director Shane Black put a lot of story in Iron Man 3. Arguably, they put too much story in the film. The plot points are not balanced at all and the main thrust of the story, the mystery of The Mandarin’s terrorist attacks, is severely under developed. If you’re not familiar with the briefly mentioned but never explained Extremis, you might get lost.

ironman3extremis Iron Man 3 Review (Film, 2013)

This is the Extremis suit, but you’d never know it from the film

The Extremis really is the cause of and solution to all the structural problems in the film. It is not the most well-known aspect of the Marvel universe. It was created for a limited-run six issue comic in 2005 and adapted for one episode of an animated Iron Man series. The Extremis is mentioned a handful of times in the film but no one ever says what, exactly, it is. They beat around the issue–bioengineering, injections, regenerative properties–but never really introduce it. That’s a problem.

To tie into The Avengers, Tony Stark is haunted by the battle in NYC. He also begins to write and see signs of Thanos everywhere he goes. Without a definite explanation of the Extremis or Thanos in the film, it starts to get muddled. Until I realized that the Thanos visions were totally unrelated to the main plot of the film, I thought the Extremis was some alien technology that got out of hand.

It would not have been hard to have included 20 seconds of exposition about the Extremis the same way that Iron Man 2 concisely explained how Ivan Vanko harnessed the arc reactor to make a weapon or even how Iron Man explained the arc reactor. You can have all the plot in the world and still be a total mess if you skip out on necessary exposition.

The mishandling of the Extremis is a shame because Iron Man 3 looks and plays great. The cast is on top of these roles. The introduction of new suit features and designs is explained perfectly. The visual representation of the Extremis is unnerving in the best way possible. The reveal of information in the final act is simultaneously hilarious and believable.

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Introspection drives the second act of Iron Man 3 (click for full)

Best of all is the choice to explore the relationship between Tony Stark and Iron Man. In the second film, the two become synonymous and continue that way through The Avengers. Now, it’s a source of fear and anxiety for Tony Stark. From the beginning of the film, he only feels safe if he’s constantly working on or inhabiting the suit. Anytime he’s forced to step away is a much-needed break from the fantasy of fame in Iron Man and an actual justification for continuing the series.

If the screenplay were just a little clearer, Iron Man 3 could arguably be the best of the Marvel superhero films. The screenplay is just too muddy and ill-defined to even be considered good. The film is enjoyable despite the poor writing, though it comes close to sinking the whole thing.

Rating: 5/10

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Oz: The Great and Powerful Review (Film, 2013)

I’m a big fan of L. Frank Baum’s Oz series. I’ve read all of the books multiple times and know the main stories and characters inside and out. There could be a dozen more great Oz films based on the books not even counting the extended universe. Oz: The Great and Powerful as it appears onscreen is not one of them.

In this tonally inconsistent, poorly structured, and horribly directed fairy tale, a traveling conman/magician gets chased out of a traveling circus before landing in Oz. A prophecy proclaims that he, Oz, must be a powerful wizard who will restore order to all of Oz. Theodora, a rage-filled witch, finds Oz and instantly falls in love for no reason. She brings Oz to her older sister Evanora, a wicked witch, who instantly feels threatened and torments her younger sister for no reason. Evanora sends Oz to kill a third witch to prove he is a wizard. Along the way, he befriends a flying monkey and a China Girl (sadly, the character’s actual name) and the trio venture through the Dark Forest to earn their destinies.

ozthegreatandpowerfullook Oz: The Great and Powerful Review (Film, 2013)

Don’t let its beauty fool you. Oz is a dull place.

It’s hard to pinpoint what the worst aspect of Oz, The Great and Powerful is. Is it the one-two punch of bad to terrible leading performances by Mila Kunis and James Franco? Is it the completely overworked design that distracts from any substance in the film at ever turn? Is it the wretched screenplay that reduces every character to a foil for the visual effects with no depth or semblance of logical behavior? Is it Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams fighting against the bloated epic by going far too naturalistic to be anything more than pretty window dressing? Or is it Sam Raimi’s complete inability to reign in anyone’s interpretation of the screenplay no matter how much the the actors’ choices are at odds with each other and the actual screenplay?

ozthegreatandpowerfulkunis Oz: The Great and Powerful Review (Film, 2013)

Bless her heart. Nothing about her character works.

Mila Kunis, bless her heart, does everything she can to bring Theodora to life. Theodora, however, is the single most pathetic excuse for a character I’ve ever encountered in a fantasy film. Damsels in distress who exist only to be kidnapped have more depth than Theodora. Her character, a grown woman, acts like a four year old meeting Santa Claus for an hour, then cries for a few minutes, then goes to storybook villain territory. Not one word she says has any depth or purpose beyond fluffing up the great wizard Oz. Kunis is not phoning it in or making any particularly bad choices; there is just no way any actress, no matter how good, could have salvaged that poorly developed character from the screenplay. Her first two scenes are very good, but the wide-eyed wonder with nothing else grows all the more insulting as the plot begins to twist and turn.

James Franco has no excuse. The only character with any actual backstory, depth, or drive in Oz: The Great and Powerful is Oz. Instead of playing that character, James Franco does his best impersonation of Roger Rabbit or The Mask (not Jim Carrey in The Mask but the cartoon Mask itself). He stretches his face in grotesque facsimiles of human emotion. You thought his Oscar hosting stint was uncomfortable to watch? Wait until you see Franco recreate all the infamous TrollFace comics on an endless loop for almost two hours.

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Franco switches from total disinterest to cartoonish face mugging with no logic

To say Franco did not care about anything other than a potential pay day is an insult to actors who take gigs so they can make rent or feed their families. Franco’s performance is a more bizarre experiment in the Alienation Effect that Joaquin Phoenix’s stunt documentary I’m Still Here. Every action onscreen is an insult to the craft of acting, the entire production team, and the audience.

There are those who will blame Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, and Michelle Williams for bad line readings. It is impossible as an actor to generate chemistry or a sense of believability when the other actor does not care and is just fooling around. You can’t edit around someone’s total disinterest, arguably disdain, in a project. Franco’s most insulting act in the entirety of the film is to bring down every single scene partner he has and manage to avoid any blame for being the anchor to their acting abilities.

Honestly, with a different actor as Oz, all the terrible structural problems in the screenplay and hokey dialogue might not have been as damaging. Look at Tim Burton’s Wonderland. That, too, was a revisionist prequel to a well-known story, loosely adapted from the other texts of the author. It had a style so over the top that it distracted from everything else. The story was silly with lots of illogical behavior. However, the cast was strong enough to give you something to latch onto. James Franco single-handedly prevents Oz: The Great and Powerful from rising above a bad screenplay into something even moderately amusing.

Rating: 3/10

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Quartet Review (Film, 2012)

A retirement home for professional musicians is in trouble. Almost all of the funds each year come from a huge benefit gala honoring Giuseppe Verdi’s birthday put on by the residents. However, the star performer is unable to perform this year and tickets have actually been returned. The only chance of keeping the retirement home alive is the arrival of the most famous musician to ever retire there. Her name alone could turn the gala into a success. However, she is an aggressive opera singer who has not performed in years and refuses to take an interest in the life of anyone else in the home.

quartetreview Quartet Review (Film, 2012)

There’s a gala to put on and no starring attraction

Quartet is a sweet little diversion about classical music, growing old, and learning to start over again. It’s packed full of cliches that should send the whole thing crumbling to the ground before the grand diva arrives onscreen. They probably work wonders onstage in the original play by Ronald Harwood, but they could easily turn into a huge distraction onscreen. Thanks to an excellent cast and good direction, the film overcomes all obstacles.

Maggie Smith leads the charge as Jean Horton, the most famous living soprano in the world. This is a very different character for Smith. She’s no stranger to playing a curmudgeon, but Jean Horton is a raw nerve ready to give up at the slightest adversity. Her life is full of regrets brought to the forefront by her tenure at the retirement home, especially her short-lived marriage to fellow musician Reginald Paget.

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Jean demands a warm welcome but refuses further contact

Paget is played by Tom Courtenay, who is the heart of the titular quartet. Together with Jean, Wilf Bond (an excellent and funny Billy Connolly), and Cissy Robson (Pauline Collins in a tricky role as an optimistic Alzheimer’s patient), they performed the most critically acclaimed production of Rigoletta in the history of England. Courtenay and Smith trade off as hero and villain, showing the end result of decades of adversity after their failed marriage. It’s a perfectly cast core group of characters that do the heavy lifting in the story.

However, the true stars of the film are the wonderful classical musicians who populate the retirement home. World-class opera singers, pianists, musical theater actors, and instrumentalists are constantly onscreen performing in Quartet. It’s a beautiful melange of art that creates a unique and believable world in the same way the explosion of color and light on the streets of India sell the conceit of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

All of the overlapping musical elements could serve to muddy the waters. Enter first time director Dustin Hoffman (yes, that Dustin Hoffman) proving his vast knowledge of cinema. Quartet is directed with a loving eye for film and classical music. Each scene is bursting with detail that never distracts from the story being told.

In one scene, a group of characters are rehearsing for the gala while Wilf and Reg have a discussion in the foreground. In the background, Cissy can be seen through large windows selecting flowers from a gardener to put a bouquet together. The head doctor of the facility also passes by and a few other recognizable characters are even further beyond the glass. Each of these actions pays off in the next few minutes in the film, but their appearance together creates a complete picture that doesn’t distract from the driving action of the scene.

Now repeat that method for 90 minutes onscreen. True, some scenes are more intimate, but most are brimming with life and energy provided by a very talented group of musical performers. Quartet may be the story of four retired performers trying to move on with their lives, but it is also the story of how music can have a transformative effect on any life.

Rating: 7/10

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The Paperboy Review (Film, 2012)

Director Lee Daniels follows up his Academy Award-nominated genre-fluid coming of age masterpiece Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire with the not-Academy Award-nominated genre-fluid pulpy noir psychedelic coming of age crime thriller The Paperboy.

The film opens with Anita Chester (an excellent Macy Gray) narrating the story of how the town’s sheriff came to be murdered a few summers ago. The film jumps back and forth from a grainy, saturated, almost Super 8 style to a stark, black and white, ultra-widescreen noir style, complete with floating text and a whole lot of mood. This is just the first three minutes of the film.

thepaperboy The Paperboy Review (Film, 2012)

The Paperboy himself and the woman who changes everything

From there, Anita narrates the story of how her former employer’s family came to investigate this murder after the killer was already sentenced to death. Jack Jensen (Zac Efron, never better), a disgraced collegiate swimmer and current paperboy, is hired by his Pulitzer Prize-winning brother Ward (Matthew McConaughey in his fourth brilliant performance from 2012) and his writing partner Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo, also strong) to be their driver. They’ve been contacted by Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman, also strong) to investigate the slapdash trial that resulted in her death row fiance Hilary Van Wetter (John Cusack, also strong) being convicted of the murder of the sheriff. Among other anomalies, any actual evidence connecting Hilary to the crime disappeared before the trial and the judge admitted the evidence on testimony alone.

thepaperboyfluidity The Paperboy Review (Film, 2012)

The story isn’t as important as the fluidity of tone and style

The Paperboy has a whole lot of exposition but Lee Daniels is in no hurry to let you know what’s happening. When a director is willing to use any genre trope or storytelling trick to bring a film to life, they’re probably willing to leave the audience in the dark as they establish tone and style. That is the crux of The Paperboy.

Any of the individual narratives in the film could be a compelling film. Jack Jensen is a compelling character, a fallen hero lost in the world and unwilling to do anything to change his status. The relationship between Ward and Yardley is also very engaging. Yardley is the brains behind the partnership, forced to rely on Ward in the tense immediate post-Civil Rights Era to even be let in to interview leads. Charlotte Bless also provides an intriguing and perverse love story with hints of psychosis, such as her belief that people forced to fall in love over great distance develop psychic abilities. And our humble narrator Anita is a strongly realized character, a fiercely independent housemaid who finally gets to embrace life because of the Civil Rights Act.

thepaperboynarrator The Paperboy Review (Film, 2012)

Everyone has a story to tell, even if it’s someone else’s story

The Paperboy is a brilliant visual experiment. Each character has their own style of cinematography following them around. The more they interact, the more the styles crossover. Charlotte has a psychedelic, flowing, super bright lighting scheme that defines Jack’s fantasies. Hilary lives in the shadows of the noir world, not fully within the clear morality of light and dark. Anita’s world is dull indoors but vibrant once she steps outside with a new wig on. Cinematographer Roberto Schaefer elevates the genre-jumping feature into something accessible and beautiful.

So much of Lee Daniels’ vision relies on the visual presentation of the film that the story does get lost from time to time. It took me far longer than I care to admit to realize that Hilary was on death row for the murder of the sheriff. That’s a problem in structure that somehow doesn’t fully apply as a criticism of The Paperboy. A film this experimental doesn’t exactly live in the world of mainstream cinema and does, to an extent, get to define its own standards of filmmaking. If you can accept the conceits, The Paperboy is a wild and unsettling ride.

Rating: 9/10

Thoughts on The Paperboy? Share them below. I was so blown away that I’m naming The Paperboy the Sketchy Details Movie of the Month.

Mama Review (Film, 2013)

Mama is hard to describe because the film itself doesn’t know what it wants to be. Is it a horror story about a ghostly presence taking over a young couple’s lives or a fantasy about defining family? Is it a subtle psychological feature with heavy research into real world concepts or a retread of every jump scare put on film since Halloween?

mamachild Mama Review (Film, 2013)

After living in the forest for five years by themselves, eight year old Victoria and six year old Lilly are found and brought under the care of a doctor. The doctor releases the two girls to their uncle Lucas and his girlfriend Annabel and strange things start happening. The young children believe they are protected by Mama but there is no evidence of anyone else living with them.

Mama is a mishmash of concepts that somehow comes really close to succeeding as a horror film. There is this odd detachment after a very well-directed and unexpected opening sequence that suggests a very different story. Unfortunately, that story is put on the back burner until the third act where things really become interesting again.

mamakids Mama Review (Film, 2013)

Othering the children is a bad call. They can’t be sympathetic and the bad guys.

The rest of the film really depends on how compelling you find Annabel and Lucas. Personally, I was really distracted by the “othering” of the two young girls. Writer/director Andrés Muschietti and writers Barbara Muschietti and Neil Cross clearly researched feral children and bring that concept to life in a very believable way. At the same time, they use a very serious linguistic phenomenon as a scapegoat for horror. We’re meant to fear the children who really need serious medical attention and therapy and that doesn’t sit right with me. As much as I liked Annabel and Lucas–no small part because Jessica Chastain and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau are very good in the film, the vilification of victims really turned me off.

Technically, Mama is very well made. The design of the film is excellent. The crayon drawings on the wall and look of all the living characters is strong. The Mama makeup is a bit overblown and mask-like to read as real as it should, but the movement and animation of the character covers for it. The effects are very believable and the unexpected stylish asides–black and white, sepia, over-saturated flashbacks–look good.

Muschietti just doesn’t know which way to go with the story. The most compelling narrative is the least horrific, but could have easily been a 90 minute slow burn horror in its own right. The predictable jump scares, the far too easily debunked red herrings, and the disjointed narrative bring everything down.

Rating: 5/10

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