Fitz’s New Rule of Thirds for Movie Reviews

Hey there…

Though I’ve seen a few films at the theater recently, I haven’t had much of an opportunity to write reviews of them. But one of the strangely consistent things I’ve found is that most of them aren’t complete. If there’s a weak beginning, middle, or end, I find myself not really loving a film.

Let’s take the last four films I’ve seen:

I’ll start with the one I saw today – Faster starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Billy Bob Thornton. After reading some of the great reviews, I was expecting to be blown away – and I was, for all but the last third. The beginning is amazing – setting the stage for Driver’s (Johnson) revenge road trip. After 10 years in prison, Driver is out to kill all of the people involved in the death of his brother after a heist. Even the middle is great as Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) gets involved and we start to learn more about the the heist. But somehow in the last third, Driver loses site of the prize and grows a heart. It took the wind out of the movie for me.

Let’s move to Tangled, the latest animated feature from Disney. From the trailers, I was actually looking forward to this one. In it, we see Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) who’s been locked in a tower for years by Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) so Gothel can stay forever young courtesy of Rapunzel’s magical hair. When Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) hides out in the tower after a theft, it opens a big can of worms as the damsel in distress wants to see the world… With this one it’s the beginning that bored me to tears along with the fact that Murphy tries to sound like Ursula (Pat Carroll) from The Little Mermaid. Gothel as a character made me cringe whenever she was on screen. Once she was mostly out of the picture, I enjoyed the interplay between Rapunzel and Flynn – even the music!

Then there was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1, which is the beginning of the end for the Harry Potter series. By far, this is one of the most action-packed of the series to date. The running and magical battles seemed to be non-stop… until we got to the last third of the film. I nearly fell asleep when Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson), and Ron (Rupert Grint) were hunting for the Horcruxes, teleporting from place to place and waiting for their magical batteries to recharge in-between. Though I understand that they’re teenagers and meant to wallow in self-pity or ego from time to time, I felt like I was watching any episode of Days of Our Lives or 90120… I suspect that the dip towards the end was due to the fact that they had to split the movie into two parts, but still – I was hoping for a little more excitement heading to the end of part 1 and didn’t get it.

Of all of these films, RED is the most complete. Though the beginning is a bit slow, it was a slow burn that led to a satisfactory middle and a fantastic end. I’ve heard from people who said they didn’t like it, but to me it was a perfect action movie with great characters and dialog that never went over the top.

So here’s my new rule… On a scale of one to four stars, I have to factor in the rule of thirds. If one third sucks, that’s a star right off the top. If the whole movie is horrible, that’s three stars off the top with one left for other things like the music, special effects, acting, and so on. But it’s not worth misleading anybody if one third or more of a given movie isn’t worth seeing.

Is this over the top? I don’t think so. Movies should be graded as a whole entity.

What do you think? Leave me some comments whether you agree or disagree…

–Fitz

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Critics’ Choice Mashup for the week of December 1, 2010

Hi all…

This is a new weekly web show from the Critics’ Choice group talking about the latest movies with brief interview clips of their stars. The first episode focuses on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1, Tangled, Love & Other Drugs, plus brief bits on Burlesque and Black Swan. Though it’s short, I think the show does a great job expressing an opinion with class and a bit of style, so check it out below!

These should be released every Wednesday for a while and you can see more on CriticsChoice.com.

Thanks for reading!

–Fitz

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DVD Review: The Tale of Despereaux

Hi all!

In 2008, we read The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo with our daughters as a bedtime story. In this fairy tale, Despereaux is a small mouse with big ears and a bigger heart who finds himself in the midst of an adventure involving a princess, a rat, and a kitchen girl. It was recommended to us after we read The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, also from DiCamillo.

The story wove a compelling tale of love and loss, family, honor, and betrayal. So when we heard that they were turning it into a movie, we were all very excited and wanted to see what they’d do with it. And when we saw The Tale of Despereaux at the theater, we loved it.

[rating: 4/4]

But here’s the thing about the movie. It’s not the book. Or rather, it’s the book with a more streamlined plot and changes here and there to make it more fitting for the screen. So if you’re expecting a page for page faithful adaptation of the book, you’ll be disappointed.

That said, it’s still a powerful movie about a small mouse with big ears and a bigger heart who finds adventure in the Castle of the Kingdom of Dor. And the DVD presents it beautifully. We were able to fall in love with Despereaux, Roscuro, and Miggery Sow all over again.

What caught me off guard the first time we saw the movie were the changes that made the various plots and characters fit seamlessly into a single thread. In the book, the story was segmented much more and you had to keep the three main plots straight. You were first introduced to the mouse Despereaux, and his family. Then you were introduced to Chiaroscuro (or simply Roscuro), the rat. And then you were introduced to Miggery Sow, the poor girl from the country of the Kingdom of Dor. Woven through these were the stories of the Princess and the King and Queen, and of how soup was outlawed in Dor after the Queen died of fright at the sight of the rat Roscuro.

I’m not knocking the book at all. We really enjoyed it. But it was meant to be read, not written directly for the screen. So when Gary Ross began to take the story and rework it for the film, it had to be streamlined a bit. And to make the transitions less clunky, we had the characters of Andre (the chef) and Boldo (the Spirit of the Soup) added, who were not in the book.

So the transition from novel to screen was interesting for me. As I said, we really enjoyed both techniques for telling the story as a book and as a film.

In addition, the voice cast for The Tale of Despereaux was fantastic. With Matthew Broderick as Despereaux, Dustin Hoffman as Princess Pea, and Tracey Ullman as Miggery Sow, they started with an amazing core of players. Then you add Emma Watson (Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter movies) as Princess Pea, Kevin Kline as Andre, and Stanley Tucci as Boldo as the next wave of voice actors. And then the list goes on… Robbie Coltrane as Gregory, Tony Hale as Furlough, Frank Langella as the Mayor, Christopher Lloyd, as Hovis, Bronson Pinchot as the Town Crier, and Sigourney Weaver as the Narrator… This was a dream cast.

Add to that the absolutely gorgeous artwork, both as backgrounds and set pieces as well as the gorgeous stylized 3D rendering of the characters and the world. And you have an animated feature that is almost as much art as the story. It was interesting to compare The Tale of Despereaux to some of the other features coming out last year. When you compared this movie to Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! or Kung Fu Panda or WALL*E, it stands out because of the way the artists chose to design everything. Whereas those others were done to be photo-realistic, or styled in a Dr. Seussian manner, etc., the feel of Despereaux harkens back to the early years of Disney features like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves or Sleeping Beauty merged with modern technology.

All of these elements came together to create a magnificent animated feature that will be played again and again at my house for the indefinite future.

In addition to the movie on the DVD, you also get a number of extra features.

We were amazed to see the more than 10 minute clip from Curious George 2: Follow That Monkey! among the bonus features. This was the longest sneak peek I’ve ever seen on a DVD, and definitely made my family add it to the list of movies to watch for on DVD this Fall. Like the first Curious George feature back in 2006, this one captures the spirit of that loveable monkey.

“The Tale of the Tale of Despereaux” allowed DiCamillo, the writers, designers, animators, and so on, a chance to talk about many of the different design choices made for the film. The most interesting of these for me was where they got the idea for the stylized drawing style of the characters and backgrounds. They used paintings from Vermeer, Brueghel, and Hieronymus Bosch to bring this fairy tale, medieval world to life. Also, it was great to see the voice actors playing together, especially Kline and Tucci as Andre and Boldo. They looked like they were having a grand time as those characters! The care that the actors, designers, and everyone else associated with the film approached the project was easily seen in the final product.

The “Interactive Map of the Kingdom of Dor” allows you to explore Dor with your DVD remote a bit. But the “Top Ten Uses for Oversized Ears” was a bit disappointing. I was hoping for a more lively feature and instead was presented with a static list with a picture for each item.

In addition, there were two DVD games aimed mostly at children – “Despereaux’s Quest Game” is a pattern matching game where you are presented with different parts of Despereaux’ escape from the dungeon to save the Princess Pea and have to match things up to the selected choices; and the “Build-a-Boldo Game” enables you to formulate the correct recipe to make Boldo, the Spirit of the Soup, rise out of the pot to help Andre.

Overall, The Tale of Despereaux was one of my favorite stories and movies of 2008 and one I think we’ll be enjoying at my house for many years to come. We give it a solid 4 out of 4 stars. I would highly recommend it to anyone with children (or adults) who appreciate a good fairy tale. Be sure to read the book as well!

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up The Tale of Despereaux on DVD starting April 7, and be sure to look for the book as well!

p.p.s. If you’re looking for another great book from DiCamillo, be sure to check out The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane!

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