Jack the Giant Slayer: Review

Jack-the-Giant-Slayer-Poster-439x650There’s no magic in this beanstalk, and viewers foolish enough to spend money on tickets are likely to feel as cheated as Jack when told he’s been swindled out of a horse and cart for a few worthless beans. The root of the problem lies in a fatal uncertainty about exactly what JACK THE GIANT SLAYER is supposed to be: a grim fairy tale, a light-hearted adventured, or an epic LORD OF THE RINGS knock-off. Whatever the intent, with its British flavor and oddball mix of humor and horror applied to a fanciful childhood tale, the film recalls JABBERWOCKY (1977). The misbegotten result would seem to suggest that only Terry Gilliam should direct Terry Gilliam films. (After all, if he couldn’t get it right, why should we expect anyone else to?)
The jumbled screenplay (credited to four different writers) mixes in bits of “Jack the Giant Killer,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” and the “King Incognito” plot device (in which a royal personage takes on the guise of a peasant in order to get a street-level view of the kingdom). There is also a love story and a villain plotting to overthrow a kingdom, and needless to say, there is a third-act ogre battle.
If this sounds like more than enough to fill up an entertaining movie, then I am not doing my job, because JACK THE GIANT SLAYER feels empty – of warmth, romance, humor, and most especially wonder. The exposition plods; the jokes fall flat; the adventure stalls; and the love story withers on the … beanstalk, I guess.
Director Bryan Singer is undoubtedly talented, but he does not have the required deft touch for this sort of thing, nor does his frequent collaborator, screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie. The opening prologue is a cut-rate version of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS, telling us what we need to know without making us care. The “clever” cross cutting between Isabelle the Princess and Jack the farm boy foreshadows their eventual union, but the parallels are ridiculously exact and leave the end result in absolutely no doubt, so that the love story feels over before it begins.

Two heads are not better than one for this giant
Two heads are not better than one for this giant

Unable to install a Sense of Wonder into the proceedings, Singer and McQuarrie eventually resort to visceral  shocks. Giants (whose visages are impressively detailed if not cleverly designed or particularly expressive) munch and crunch their victims, both animal and human, which seems a bit daring (though not explicit, thanks to the PG-13 rating), but in the end it amounts to little more than gratuitous titillation, something seen and then forgotten in time for the happy ending.
In a way, this points up the difficult of transferring fairy tales to the screen. The strength of the original lies in its simplicity and in its literary form: terrible things happen – as when, for example, the Big Bad Wolf devours the first two of the Three Little Pigs – but those deaths are abstract and symbolic on the page, a warning that bad behavior leads to bad ends, while the audience identification figure survives by doing the right thing. The characters are archetypal, without distinguishing details to bring them to life in a way that would make them mourn their demise. Children can enjoy these stories without being traumatized, enjoying the thrill of fear and the cathartic satisfaction when their hero triumphs, often by exactly a grizzly retribution on the villain – a safe, simple morality tale that works precisely because there is no gray area to cloud the issue. Movies, which usually at least attempt to create individual characters have it a lot tougher; the visceral impact is stronger, eclipsing the moral point, which in any case is usually not profound enough to warrant being expanded beyond a few pages.
JACK THE GIANT SLAYER certainly has little to say that would suffice to justify the running time. Unless you think it is profound wisdom to opine people of lowly station may aspire to something bigger. Or that a princess should get to know her kingdom. Or that her father shouldn’t marry her off to a scoundrel. Strangely, for all its attempts to build Eleanor up as a strong female lead, her role remains that of a damsel in distress; her appearance in armor is just another form of bling, not indicating that she is actually going to do anything.
Ewan McGregor
Ewan McGregor

But wait, not all is lost. Although romantic leads Nicholas Hoult and Eleanor Tomlinson are undermined by the script insistence on keeping them bland (Hoult made a much better lover when he was a zombie in WARM BODIES), the supporting cast shine through. Ewan McGregor is dashing as the princess guard, Elmont; his confident smile hits just the right tone – almost tongue-in-cheek, but not quite. Ian McShane is an impressive king. Bill Nighy provides an intimidating voice for the lead giant, General Fallon.
Best of all is Stanley Tucci as the scheming Roderick. In fact, he is too good. He makes you hate him so much you want to see him dispatched with – well – dispatch, but if and when that happens, what else has the movie got?
Stanely Tucci steals the giant's throne - and the movie.
Stanely Tucci steals the giant's throne - and the movie.

Well, the film does have that colossal confrontation toward the conclusion, when the giants rain down on humanity like organic meteors. The siege is reasonably well done because it relies not only on visual flair (giants hurling burning trees over the castle walls) but also on at least halfway believable depictions of how a human army might attempt to hold off a horde of giants. Truthfully, a bit more could have been done with this (showcasing – for example – how leverage might be applied by a smaller adversary to topple a larger foe), but at least the screenplay pulls off an interesting variation on “Chekov’s Gun” (you know, the one that’s loaded in the first act and therefore must be fired in the third) – in this case, a leftover magic bean that Jack puts to good use at a crucial moment.
As is almost obligatory these days, JACK THE GIANT SLAYER is being presented in 3D engagements. Although officially not a post-production conversion, the film often looks like one. The early quiet scenes (of our lead characters as children, listening to bedtime stories) do provide a nice sense of depth, as the production design offers a genuine fairy tale ambiance. But once Jack and the Princess grow to young adulthood, and the action-adventure elements take over, Singer opts for camera angles and lens choices that create a resolutely flat look, with only a mild separation between the characters and the backgrounds. In a few cases, when we see human from the POV of giants looking down, the results are noticeably bizarre, with the human form stretched to ridiculous proportions, suggesting Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four.
Nicholas Hoult rides the beanstalk
Nicholas Hoult rides the beanstalk

JACK THE GIANT SLAYER is another sad example of a big-budget movie with all the production value Hollywood can offer (including a fine score by John Ottman) but little in the way of inspiration. If not for the spark of life provided by the cast, the film would be dead as a diver after leaping off the rocky cliffs of the giant’s land in the clouds. In striving to be big in execution, the film feels small in imagination – a fact strangely underlined in Singer’s occasional choice of downward camera angles that lend a diminutive-looking stature to the giants. Taking something meant to be large and making it look small is no great accomplishment. If, instead, Singer had taken Warwick Davis (who shows up in a bit part) and cast him as a giant – now, that would have shown at least a touch of wit.
[rating=2]
JACK THE GIANT SLAYER (2013). Directed by Bryan Singer. Screenplay by Darren Lemke and Christopher McQuarrie and Dan Studney; story by Darren Lemke & David Dobkin. A production by Warner Brothers Pictures, New Line Entertainment, Legendary Pictures. Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Eddie Marsan, Ewen Bremner, Ian McShane, Warwick Davis, Bill Nighy.

Texas Chainsaw 3D: January 4

The buzz is back – this time in 3D, and we bet you can’t wait to see the titular tool comin’ at ya out of the big screen. Lionsgate opens TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D on Friday, January 4, 2013. Although the trailer presents the film as a follow-up to the 1974 original, we imagine that the distributor has “SAW”-ed the film, to make it more like their infamous bread-winner.
The script seems to have gone through at least a few drafts, with five credited writers: Adam Marcus & Debra Sullivan and Kirsten Elms for screenplay; Marcus & Sullivan and Stephen Susco for story. (Susco wrote the American versions of THE GRUDGE; Marcus wrote and directed JASON GOES TO HELL.) In the director’s chair is John Luessenhop (whose only previous feature film directing credit is the prison melodrama LOCKDOWN).
The cast includes Alexandra Daddrio, Dan Yeager, Trey Songz, Scott Eastwood, Tania Raymonde, Shaun Sipos, Keram Malicki-Sanchez, James MacDonald, Thom Barry, Paul Rae, Richard Riehle. Beill Moseley (THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2) shows up, as do several alumni of the original: Gunnar Hansen, Marilyn Burns, and John Dugan.
Release Date: Friday, January 4, 2013.

Rise of the Guardians capsule review

DreamWorks-Rise-Of-The-GuardiansDreamWorks Animation – which minted a fortune by making animated fantasies that spoof and/or ridicule the traditional fairy tale foundation of the form – finally embrace its inner child, and the result is the company’s greatest film to date, even surpassing the virtues of KUNG FU PANDA and PUSS IN BOOTS. The 3-D animation is beautiful – no surprise there, the company has always had a handle on the technical stuff – what is surprising is that the story (which could have come across like THE AVENGERS – LITE) reaches deep into our collective unconscious to render an archetypal battle between the forces of Light and Darkness that is accessible to young viewers while still resonating with adults. On the simple plot level, RISE OF THE GUARDIANS is about a group of superheroes banding together to fight the bad guy, but the film works on a far more sophisticated level than Joss Whedon’s tongue-in-cheek ode to geekdom: RISE OF THE GUARDIANS is really about protecting our childhood Sense of Wonder; fending off nightmares; resisting fear; nurturing simple joys, and embracing the call to a vocation.

Rise of the Guardians: November 21

Just in time for Thanksgiving, DreamWorks Animation releases this 3-D computer-animated fantasy film, in which the guardians of seasons and holidays (Santa, Easter Bunny, Jack Frost, Tooth Fairy) band together to defeat an ominous threat. Director: Peter Ramsey. Screenplay: David Lindsay-Abaire, based on the book “The Guardians of Childhood” by William Joyce. Voices: Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Hugh Jackman, Isla Fisher, Jude Law, Dakota Goyo. Rated PG. 97 minutes.
U.S Release Date: November 21, 2012
IMDB: Click here
DreamWorks-Rise-Of-The-Guardians

Jurassic Park in IMAX 3-D: April 5, 2013

On the April 5, 2013, Universal Pictures re-releases the blockbuster JURASSIC PARK – this time converted to 3-D and IMAX. Back in 1993, when it was originally released, this film was a quantum leap in the craft of computer-generated special effects, which not only replaced the old-school stop-motion process but also allowed for smoother integration of live-action and special effects. Some critics carp over the alleged dearth of character development, but JURASSIC PARK displays a true sense of wonder in its depiction of amazing prehistoric creatures brought back to life.
Directed by Steve Spielberg. Screenlay by Michael Crichton and David Koepp, based on Chricthon’s novel. Cast: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Bob Peck, Martin Ferrero, Joseph Mazzello, Ariana RIchards, Samuel L. Jackson, BD Wong, Wayne Knight, Gerald R. Molen, Miguel Sandoval. 127 minutes. Rated PG-13.

THE FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE in Imax 3D

Indomina Releasing partners with IMAX Theatres to provide limited exclusive IMAX 3-D engagements of this Fant-Asia fantasy film from producer-director Tsui Hark, the man behind A CHINESE GHOST STORY and so many other Asian fantasy epics. One of China’s biggest box office hits, THE FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE is a first for that country, in terms of its IMAX 3-D format, with a big chunk of change coming from the specialty theatres. The plot, based on a classic story that has already been filmed twice, has a band of marauders posing as ordinary citizens while seeking treasure in the Dragon Inn, which according to legend was built on the site of a lost city. Cast: Jet Li, Xun Zhou, Kun Chen, Lunmei Kwai, Huchun Li, Mavis Fan, Siu-Wong Fan, Chia Hui Liu.
Theatrical Release Date: Friday, August 31, 2012
Rated R for some Violence
Running time: 121 minutes
Theatres:

  • Boston: AMC Loews Boston Common 19
  • Skokie (near Chicago): AMC Showplace Village Crossing 18
  • Dallas: AMC Northpark 15
  • Houston: AMC Gulf Pointe 30
  • Arcadia: AMC Santa Anita 16
  • Burbank: AMC Burbank 16
  • Torrance: AMC Del Amo 18
  • New York: AMC Loews 34th Street 14
  • Paramus: AMC Garden State 16
  • San Diego: AMC Mission Valley 20
  • Emeryville: AMC Bay Street 16
  • Santa Clara: AMC Mercado 20
  • Seattle: Pacific Science Center
  • Tukwila: AMC Southcenter 16
  • McLean (near Washington DC): AMC Tysons Corner 16

Frankenweenie in theatres October 5

Walt Disney Pictures releases this stop-motion family-friendly horror-fantasy from the Tim Burton Animation Company. Based on Burton’s 1984 live-action short subject, FRANKENWEENIE tells the story of a young boy who brings his beloved pet Sparky back to life after a car accident. When the neighbors find out, they fear that the resurrected pooch is a zombie dog from hell. However, it turns out there may be scarier creatures afoot than Sparky…
Directed by Tim Burton. Screenplay by John August,from a story by Burton & Leonard Ripps, based on Burton’s characters. Voices: Martin Landau, Christopher Lee, Martin Short, Robert Capron, Conchata Ferrell, Catherine O’Hara, Winona Ryder.
Theatrical Release date: October 5, 2012.

Hotel Transylvania opens September 28

Columbia Pictures releases this 3-D effort from Sony Pictures Animation. Welcome to the Hotel Transylvania, Dracula’s (Adam Sandler) lavish five-stake resort, where monsters and their families can live it up, free to be the monsters they are without humans to bother them. On one special weekend, Dracula has invited some of the world’s most famous monsters – Frankenstein and his bride, the Mummy, the Invisible Man, a family of werewolves, and more – to celebrate his daughter Mavis’s 118th birthday. For Drac, catering to all of these legendary monsters is no problem – but his world could come crashing down when one ordinary guy stumbles on the hotel and takes a shine to Mavis.
Director: Genndy Tartokovsky. Written by Robert Smigel, David I. Stern; story by Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman. Voices: Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Steve Buscemi, Andy Samberg, Kevin James, David Spade, Fran Drescher, Jon Lovitz, Molly Shannon.
Release Date: September 28, 2012