My Week With Kate and Spence

kate-and-spence              KHBlogathon2015-ST

This month has been a down sort of month. Finals are enough to choke every last bit of energy I have left. Life has become an overwhelming barrage of things, one right after the other. I’m out of time. I really don’t have time to be writing this blog post.

Oh well. I’ll make time.

For the past week or so, I have developed an extremely strong obsession with Katharine Hepburn – arguably the greatest actress to ever grace the American silver screen. Kate Hepburn has been like a friend to me in these difficult past few weeks, particularly because I’ve spent the past four or five days watching nine of her films. That’s right, nine of them.

Not just any nine, though. No, these particular nine were the films she did with Spencer Tracy, with whom she had a famous relationship, both on-screen and off. These nine films, most of which I had never seen before, are the best, clearest example we have of their sizzling chemistry and deeply complicated relationship.

Through the entire journey, I made sure to take plenty of gifs of Katharine’s best moments, because I love her so. And while I certainly can’t say I loved every film they did, I never didn’t love Katharine. She gave a fantastic performance every time. So did Tracy, whom I now have an immense respect for as a film actor.

So…let’s get started. This is my week with Kate and Spence.


Here be spoilers.


Woman of the Year (1942)

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Woman of the Year is by far the most romantic of Kate and Spence’s films. The film is all about finding new love, and boy do these two find it. If you watch it with the knowledge that the two actors got together sometime during or after the filming of this flick, it makes the experience of watching it even better. You can just see how deeply, genuinely intrigued they are by each other.

Why do I say it’s the most romantic? Well, it’s definitely the most physical. They have a total of – and I may be miscounting here – seven or eight full-on kisses, some of which barely get away with the 3-second rule (during the time this was filmed, kisses could be no more than 3 seconds long). And, well – I don’t know how else to say it, it’s just sexy. 

I have a major problem with this film, but I’m willing to postpone discussing it in order to gush about Katharine’s outfits. Can we just talk about this for a second?

WOMAN OF THE YEAR, Katharine Hepburn, 1942

I want this

Okay…done being distracted.

Apart from the last fifteen minutes of the movie, which is what I have a serious problem with, Woman of the Year is wonderful to watch, mostly for the scene at the bar/taxi/Tess’s apartment. It’s the most romantic part of the film, and it features the most kisses. One thing I really love doing when watching old movies is looking for implications of sex – not in a dirty or creepy way, but because I love seeing how much they try to imply without being totally out there because they can’t be totally out there.

In Woman of the Year, for instance, there’s a scene where Kate’s character Tess has Spencer’s character Sam take her home. They have a very romantic taxi ride and then they walk into her dark apartment, and the music swells very romantically but with a hint of foreboding. Watch the scene closely – he knows where this is going and she knows where this is going and it’s only because Sam’s “a bundle of nerves” that it doesn’t happen.

I think Woman of the Year is looked down upon in modern times, at least the last fifteen minutes are, because it’s the story of a remarkably strong and independent woman who feels guilty for being strong and independent and by the end resolves to quit her job so she can clean and cook for her husband. It was a different time, of course, but it still bothers me. This movie could have been very progressive and if I remember correctly, they changed the ending at the last minute because Tess Harding was just too powerful for a woman. This was apparently against Katharine’s wishes, though, so console yourselves with that.


Keeper of the Flame (1943)

Keeper Of the Flame poster

Keeper of the Flame is a strange one. I haven’t quite put my finger on how I feel about it yet. For one thing, it’s the only Tracy-Hepburn film that doesn’t feature a romance of some sort, and it’s a drama. It’s also incredibly slow. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s definitely more dialogue than action.

In Keeper of the Flame, Katharine Hepburn plays a recent widow of a man named Robert Forrest, who was a national hero to many people. In a lot of ways, the film is about Robert Forrest, or uncovering the man that was Robert Forrest, without actually showing Robert Forrest because well, he’s dead. It’s Spencer Tracy’s character’s job to write a bio on Forrest, and he meets with Forrest’s widow (or tries to) to gather information. Eventually he discovers that Robert Forrest was not a very good man at all but a member of some sort of fascist cult. He died by driving over a busted bridge – a bridge that his wife had seen and neglected to tell him about, because she hated the fact that he had betrayed his country but was too ashamed to ruin his public image.

Oh yeah, and she dies. It’s kind of gruesome, actually. I was not expecting that.

Keeper of the Flame is so radically different from, well, most of their other films (well, apart from The Sea of Grass but we’ll get to that one later), that, like I said, I’m honestly not sure how I feel about it. It certainly isn’t bad, but it is a little slow and I can definitely see a lot of people finding it quite boring. Spencer Tracy is the real star of the show here, playing what I must say is a really noble and genuine character. I felt that Robert Forrest’s secret was revealed much too late and all at once. I felt the movie would have benefitted from maybe fifteen or twenty more minutes of snooping around by Tracy’s character.


Without Love (1945)

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Without Love is my least favorite of their comedies. That being said, I still liked it very much. I suppose its crime is that it’s too predictable; we all know how it’s going to end the minute the formula is set in motion. Katharine plays a(nother) widow whose husband tragically died in a horseback riding accident. A strange scientist, played by Tracy, randomly moves into the basement of her house to work on a secret experiment for the military. They decide to team up and get married “without love” because of the benefits marriage offers – though in the process they end up falling in love anyway.

Without Love is definitely benefitted by the presence of Lucille Ball, who plays a terrific supporting character, and there’s some funny comedic moments between Kate and Spence as they get ready for bed (in separate rooms). There’s a hilarious scene where Tracy’s character sleepwalks and he gets into her bed by mistake. Katharine comes back and falls out of the bed in surprise when she realizes there’s someone there. Tracy’s dog – whom we now discover is a service dog supposed to prevent him from sleepwalking – rushes into the room, and Tracy delivers my favorite line of the entire film – “Where were you in my hour of need?”

Katharine sometimes gets accused of playing the same character over and over, but I don’t see how anyone can say that, at least not judging by these nine films. In Without Love her character has a subtle naivety that Tess Harding didn’t have and certainly wasn’t there in Keeper of the Flame. She’s smart, but she doesn’t really know a damn thing about, well, anybody. She’s constantly misjudging people and Kate pulls that off perfectly, as Kate often does. Not their best film, but still worth checking out.

Also it has probably the best implication of sex in the whole bunch:

Kate: Th- There… One thing though. I, um…

Spence: Madam, you would never have to give that a thought. 


The Sea of Grass (1947)

The-sea-of-grass-1947

It’s bizarre to think that The Sea of Grass did the most well commercially of any of their films because it is without doubt the worst of the bunch. It’s slow, cheesy, and melodramatic in the worst possible way. The director really wasn’t pleased with the final result, and as far as I can tell the film hasn’t really stood the test of time.

There’s one thing that saves the film, and that of course is Katharine Hepburn. Spencer Tracy is fantastic – I’m starting to think it was physically impossible for the man to give a bad performance – but it’s Katharine Hepburn who held my interest the most. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t enjoy it very much, because there’s a huge chunk of the film where she’s not there.

Katharine plays a woman in the late 1800’s who marries a cattle rancher, leaving the big city life she knows. She is constantly torn between wanting to be noticed, loved, and desired and her love for her husband, who spends more time thinking about his cattle ranch than he does about her. She eventually has a child with another man, causing Tracy to kick her out. Her son, the illegitimate child, grows up to be kind of a stinker and gets himself killed for it. Then she comes back and all is right with the world.

That’s a real bare-bones summary, and of course I’m leaving out a lot of subtleties and plot points. What I liked best about Kate’s performance was how naturally she pulled off a woman struggling in an environment practically alien to her. It almost reminded me of Emma Bovary (though she wasn’t nearly that despicable). And she looks gorgeous, so hey.

spencer-tracy-and-katharine-hepburn


State of the Union (1948)

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loved Katharine Hepburn’s character, Mary, in this movie. Again, she was the best part of the film. I find it difficult to discuss this one because I just want to go watch all of her best scenes. But there are SO MANY.

Spencer Tracy’s character, Grant Matthews, is an unfaithful turd (sorry, but he is), who has cheated on his wife Mary with Angela Lansbury. This is a point that is never expressly stated but everyone knows it, including Mary. And to get back at him, she makes him sleep on the floor. That doesn’t sound like much, but if you think about how powerless women were back then, at least in terms of doing anything about their husbands’ infidelity (especially if they had children), it’s great fun to see Mary do one for herself and make Grant get on the floor.

My favorite scene is when Mary is drunk. It’s reminiscent of Tracy Lord in The Philadelphia Story, and produces some wonderful dialogue. Much to my chagrin I couldn’t find the clip on YouTube. But here’s the tweet I made watching that scene.

[tweet https://twitter.com/knifeink/status/596153749015375872 ]

All Hail Katharine indeed. OH and also – here is the world’s greatest gif, courtesy of yours truly, Katharine, and this movie:

Katharine


Adam’s Rib (1949)

Poster - Adam's Rib (1949)_02

Ah, here’s their famous one. Most consider Adam’s Rib to be Hepburn and Tracy’s best film. I can definitely see why. Here their banter is sharpest and the premise is by far the smartest. Plus, let’s face it – they’re just adorable in this movie. When they look under the table at each other I found myself squealing out loud.

I’m going to leave the feminist analysis of this film for another day, but needless to say I loved seeing Katharine Hepburn take a stand for the woman. She does it hilariously and sincerely all at the same time. And I love (love) how they go at it in the courtroom but when they get home try and act perfectly married, like nothing has happened.

Poor Spencer Tracy. He really gets kicked in the pants in this one (literally). From dropping glasses to being lifted by strong women, you sort of wonder when he’s going to lose it. He kind of does twice, once when he slaps her and once when he threatens to shoot her with a licorice gun. What a lovable asshole.

What can I say about Adam’s Rib? It’s a classic in every sense of the word, and it couldn’t have been done by anyone else. I read somewhere online that they better not touch Adam’s Rib if they know what’s best for them, and I agree. I have to say it’s not my personal favorite of their set but I can definitely see the argument for it being the best. “Best” and “favorite” are not the same.


Pat and Mike (1952)

PatAndMikeHS

Move summary: Katharine Hepburn is a badass.

I mean, I already knew that, but I can’t tell you how many times I shouted “Yessss, girl!” while watching Pat and Mike. Here Kate gets to show off her athletic abilities, which she really and truly possessed. And she wears the cutest tennis outfit in the history of everything.

pat-and-mike-katharine-hepburn-playing-tennis-on-the-set-1952

What I liked best about Katharine’s performance in this one was her struggle between her own lack of confidence and her self-knowledge. Let me clarify. Pat, in this film, knows damn well that she’s an incredible athlete, but is constantly doubting herself, especially when her fiance (not Mike) watches her play. I know what it’s like to be nervous performing in front of people even though you know you have the ability. It’s incredibly frustrating, and Kate is incredibly frustrated in this one, even though she can swing a golf club like a pro.

This, thank heavens, was on YouTube, so enjoy and try not to watch it on loop for an hour.

“You know what you can do with your gluteal muscle? Give it away for Christmas!”

Oh, and let’s not forget the part where she saves poor Spencer Tracy from two guys, all on her own, without even swinging a punch or batting an eye.

That’s my girl.


Desk Set (1957)

DESK-SET

Of all these nine films, the biggest surprise was Desk Set. I absolutely LOVED this movie. It might be my favorite.

One of the things I loved most was seeing how much they could get away with in this film as opposed to the earlier ones. This film has the word “sexy” in it and no one bats an eye. Although I was extremely disappointed that we didn’t get to see Katharine in that green dress.

Katharine is older in this film but you don’t get the sense that she’s past her prime (when has anybody ever gotten that sense?) and she still looks stunning. I think what I love most about this movie is how much fun it is, and how much fun she is. Sure, she was fun in her other comedies, but comedy is tragedy, as you know, and most of her other movies have her go through a little bit of pain. There’s very little pain in Desk Set, it’s just one big fun romp. And Katharine – oh, Katharine my love. She…she has fun too. Here are some more gifs for you.

KatharineOOH

“OOH, they had a baby!”

KATHARINEWHYY

KatharinePerfection

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Somebody, thank the heavens, put the entire movie on YouTube, so if you just search “Desk Set 1957” you should find it (seriously, go watch before it gets taken down by the copyright gods).


Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)

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Their last film, and Spencer Tracy’s last film of his career. He died only a few weeks after it was finished filming.

This film is a lot more than Kate and Spence, but since this post is about them, I want to focus on one moment in the film. But first some background.

A lot has been speculated, and unfortunately never verified, about Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy’s romance. It was a 26-year long “affair,” but it was an unusual affair. Katharine was completely devoted to Spencer, and he didn’t always reciprocate. Spencer had serious drinking problems and was probably depressed. His failing health was due to his years of drinking and inner struggles.

Throughout the filming of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, the cast and crew knew that Spencer was dying. Kate knew it too. They had to be very careful not to put too much strain on him, only letting him film for about three hours each day.

And even though Katharine must have been scared and grieving the whole time during filming, she still manages to pull off what is, without a doubt, the single greatest verbal middle finger in the history of everything:

YESSS KATHARINE!

Katharine always said that Spencer was a locked door, and never really let on how he felt about anything. He was married and never got divorced from his wife Louise, though they were separated for many years, before Spencer even met Katharine. He had a deaf son, John, whom Louise was completely devoted to, and had always felt guilty about John and because of his Catholic faith that wouldn’t let him divorce his wife. Katharine never asked for marriage – she knew that living was painful for him. He was a brilliant actor, and could become anybody, but outside of the studio, he drank and needed constant care and attention, which only Kate would give him. And he wasn’t always nice to her. He had affairs on the side of his affair, and there have even been reports of him drunkenly striking her once (though I don’t think that’s ever been confirmed).

But Kate never left him. For the last six years of his life, she moved in with him to make him more comfortable. It was during this period that they filmed Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

Here’s what Kate said about Spence in her autobiography:

“I have no idea how Spence felt about me. I can only say I think that if he hadn’t liked me he wouldn’t have hung around. As simple as that. He wouldn’t talk about it and I didn’t talk about it. We just passed twenty-seven years together in what was to me absolute bliss.

It is called LOVE.”

Excerpt From: Katharine Hepburn. “Me.”

And, because I like to torture myself, I also watched this video, of Kate reading a letter she wrote to Spence years after he died.

Knowing all this, I went into Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner looking at every interaction they had as more than acting, because it is. Especially his last speech, when both their eyes get misty. Spencer wasn’t a crier, and guess what, I’m not either…

But I couldn’t fight back tears when I watched the scene in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner where Spencer says:

“And if it’s half of what we felt – that’s everything.”

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THE END


This post was made specially for Margaret Perry’s The Great Katharine Hepburn Blogathon, which I was thrilled to find out existed. Here’s a banner and a link to Margaret’s blog where you can read all the submissions. 

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Margaret Perry’s Blog

The Prince of Egypt – Movie Review

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My first exposure to DreamWorks Animation Studios was their 3D stuff, which is what they’re most well known for. Honestly, I remember enjoying most of it, but unfortunately for DreamWorks, they have long been overshadowed by the other 3D animation studio in existence, Pixar. And try as they might, DreamWorks’s movies, while often funny and somewhat clever, could never quite reach Pixar’s level of sophistication and creativity.

All that changed with How To Train Your Dragon and its sequel, but even with those movies in the mix, DreamWorks’s track record hasn’t been nearly as impressive as Pixar’s. And I know they’re separate animation studios under different leadership and it may not sound fair to compare them, but I’m sorry, comparison is inevitable. Especially since the scene seems to be changing for Pixar – but we’ll leave that for another post.

With that said, DreamWorks had another era in which it did make 2D animated movies. One of those movies was The Prince of Egypt, an animated version of the Biblical story of Moses. It has songs from the guy who did the music for Wicked, celebrity voice work from people like Ralph Fiennes and Sandra Bullock, and a truly epic score.

It is also quite possibly DreamWorks’s best film.

By “quite possibly” I really mean “probably,” and by “probably” I mean “without question,” and the only reason I neglect to say it directly is because of my love for How To Train Your Dragon 1 & 2, which are both really, really excellent films and also “quite possibly” could be DreamWorks’s best. DON’T MAKE ME CHOOSE!

Whether or not The Prince of Egypt is DreamWorks’s best film, it is certainly one of their best, and it really isn’t difficult to see why. The film has the absolute best use of CGI in 2D animation I have ever seen. Actually, all of the animation is some of the best that’s ever been put on film. Watching this film on mute would not be an unrewarding experience.

At the same time, watching this film without the animation would not be completely unrewarding either, because the score is one of those Holy Heavenly Guacamole Is This Score Fucking Amazing kind of film scores, blending Middle Eastern/Jewish themes with epic orchestration.

Put the two together, and you have some amazing, breathtaking moments. There are sequences where they have this amazing music playing over some gorgeously drawn desert landscapes, and I could be mistaken about this but I wouldn’t be surprised if they took a leaf from David Lean’s book. There are definitely some Lawrence of Arabia-esque moments in The Prince of Egypt. In fact – why don’t we do a little side-by-side, just to prove I’m not crazy.

There’s something there.

But of course what it all comes down to is the story and characters. The Prince of Egypt had the doubly tough task of taking an already well-known story that wasn’t just well known but also an important part of many people’s religious beliefs and turning it into a film for kids. They did a remarkable job.

If you’re going to adapt a story from the Bible, you might as well give the story an epicness of Biblical proportions. And with a story as famous and important as that of Moses, you have to be extra careful you do so. Otherwise it just comes across as looking like the creators didn’t care about the material at hand, which in this case would have been a problem to say the least. 

In The Prince of Egypt, every brush stroke, every line, every color is put in with the utmost care. Not one element of the animation is left untouched. It’s incredible, actually. You can really tell that a lot of time, effort, and care was put into this film, and it more than lives up to its Biblical origins.

Of course, the film’s for kids, so they had to put in a few more things to make it an extra special experience for kids and not just another film they show you during Sunday school. If they’d just left the story exactly as we’re all familiar with it, the film would have been good but not great. Instead they take the Pharaoh, Ramses, and give him a personal connection to Moses.

This was really the best part of the film – the story of the two brothers. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, good character studies are practically unbeatable. You can have a film with the most glorious animation or special effects or soundtrack or whatever but if the characters and story fall flat, then it just doesn’t work (Titanic, anyone?). In kids’ movies especially there is a tendency to put more focus into what the film looks and sounds like rather than characters or story because, well, kids are stupid, right? They’re not going to notice.

Kids aren’t stupid. They notice things and shoving mindless entertainment in front of them is going to affect to their developing brains. That’s why we need movies like The Prince of Egypt and How To Train Your Dragon; they can communicate with kids in an understandable and intelligent way. That’s why Pixar has been so successful for so many years. These are kids’ films that treat kids with respect.

I especially liked the part of the film where Ramses finally lets the Jews go, and there’s no huge celebration, no fanfare, no loud crashing music. Moses returns to his family and begins to walk out, and people join them as they go. This is the sequence for the film’s most famous song, “When You Believe,” which starts out quietly and then gradually gets more epic and grand as the Jews begin their journey. It’s a scene that slowly builds up its intensity, and it’s enormously effective.

The film is almost perfect. Alas, not quite. One of the songs, “Playing With the Big Boys,” does not need to be in this film and was only put in so the goofy sidekicks could get a musical number. It’s a real deviation from the tone of the rest of the film and the song itself kind of sucks, which is unfortunate because most of them are pretty good. It’s not a terribly long or important scene, however, and doesn’t affect the rest of the film much, so I can’t complain too much about it.

Whether you’re Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist, whateverist, all or none of the above, The Prince of Egypt is a film you definitely don’t want to miss. It doesn’t try and preach to you, it doesn’t try and convert you, it’s just a great movie with a great story and beautiful visuals. Give it a watch.

Announcement of New Series: Wachowski Month(s)

Right before my life gets crazy again, I’m going to try something equally crazy and review every single film the Wachowskis have made. This does not include films that the Wachowskis rewrote, had their script rewritten by someone else, or did not write at all. It does, however, include:

Bound (1996)

The Matrix Trilogy (1991, 2003 – God help me)

The Animatrix (2003)

V for Vendetta (2006)

Speed Racer (2008)

Cloud Atlas (2012)

Why am I doing this? Well, I’ve never been a fan of the Wachowskis’ directing, writing, or anything, but in truth I’ve only seen two of their films, The Matrix and Speed Racer. So I’m going to check out their other movies to see if they hold up, as well as write some hopefully very opinionated reviews.

I was going to call this Wachowski Month, but watching eight movies and writing reviews of them in a month is rather unrealistic, so I’m calling this Wachowski Month(s).

Get ready to dive into a world of just plain weird stuff.

Random Stuff – Legend of Korra Season 3, Other Random Musings, with Special Guest!

I’m excited to share with everyone a lovely conversation I had with a very good friend of mine. We discussed Legend of Korra Season 3 and other random things. I split our conversation into two videos, 1 about Korra, 2 not about Korra. If you haven’t seen Avatar: The Last Airbender or ANY season of Legend of Korra, do not watch the first video. And then go watch Avatar: The Last Airbender because it’ll change your life. 

Thanks to my friend for having this conversation with me, and hope everyone enjoys it!

Disclaimer: We were drinking tea during this recording so there is much scuffling, clanking, and general annoying-noise making. I apologize. One day I promise to record with something better than an iPhone. 

 

VIDEO 1: LEGEND OF KORRA SEASON 3

VIDEO 2: RANDOM MUSINGS (NOT KORRA)

The Fault In Our Stars Movie & How To Train Your Dragon 2 (VIDEO REVIEW!)

Here is my video review of the two new movies The Fault In Our Stars and How To Train Your Dragon 2, as well as some updates concerning the site and whatnot. As always, there will be spoilers, so don’t watch the review if you haven’t seen the movie. 

If you have not seen The Fault In Our Stars but have seen How To Train Your Dragon 2, the How To Train Your Dragon 2 review starts around 8:17.

Enjoy!

Movie Review – How To Train Your Dragon (2010)

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DreamWorks has never been a studio I’ve been particularly interested in. The only DreamWorks movies I’ve seen I’ve watched passively, almost out of a sense of obligation. I am of course referring to their computer animated movies and not The Prince of Egypt, which is fantastic.

The first DreamWorks movie I ever saw that I thought was really clever was Megamind. That movie provided an interesting twist on the hero vs. villain formula, and made for a very entertaining and enjoyable film. However, I’ve only seen Megamind once. It was good, but since I’ve seen it I haven’t had the urge to watch it again.

But I would watch How To Train Your Dragon over and over again, let me tell you. In fact, I think I’ll watch it after I’m done with this review. That’s how good it is.

This has got to be one of the most charming, good-natured, well done kids’ films I’ve seen in years. And yes, I realize that it came out in 2010 and that’s pretty much old news. Apparently I have been living under a rock.

This movie takes a formula that has been done over and over and over again and uses that formula to create an almost perfect film. It seems as the formula was made for this movie, and not the other way around. It is one of the only instances I’ve ever seen what most consider to be a tired formula that didn’t bother me. I liked every character in this movie. I liked that they added several complex emotional issues. I liked that they created the perfect balance between entertainment and true storytelling. I liked THAT DAMN DRAGON.

I almost hate Toothless because I have a feeling that if I was legitimately trying to be angry or serious about something, all anyone would have to do to turn me into a complete and total flailing mess is show me a picture of this thing. I mean, just look at him.

Toothless_picture

If you do not think Toothless is cute, you are not my friend. You also probably have fewer emotions than I do and are therefore most likely not human. This dragon could make Scrooge burst into fangirly giggles. He could make Voldemort go “AWWW.” He could make the Grinch give back Christmas before he even steals it.

I promise, though, that the reason this movie is good does not have to do with Toothless (at least, not entirely). Like I said, we have a very familiar story here – a character that feels like an outcast in his community befriends a special creature that is also an outcast in its community and the two form a bond and the character reconciles his/her differences with the community by either saving the day, demonstrating why differences are important, eliminating a prejudice, or in this movie’s case, all three. It’s a story you’ve seen a million times, but for some reason it feels so fresh and new here.

I think much of that has to do with just how likeable all the characters are, as well as how dimensional they are. Hiccup’s dad isn’t just an all-controlling father that is ashamed of his son. He loves his son, and legitimately tries to connect with him. Every time Hiccup does something his father doesn’t want him to do, you can see how much it hurts the father. This isn’t easy for him. He doesn’t want to have this kind of relationship, but he wants more from Hiccup than Hiccup is able to give. And Hiccup, for his part, isn’t just a misunderstood short kid. He has problems, too. He also wants to connect with his dad and other people, but lacks the confidence with which to do so. Hiccup gives up easily, and never really tries very hard. Until he meets Toothless.

When Hiccup meets Toothless, it seems at long last that he has something unique to look forward to – something he can change and influence and use. Helping the dragon, learning how to fly, creating the special bond with Toothless that he hasn’t created with anyone else – all this gives Hiccup a certain confidence that he’s never had before, and at long last he is able to stand up for himself and reveal the truth to his father.

Naturally, his father doesn’t take it very well – after all, Vikings and dragons are sworn enemies – but after a battle with a big dragon and a surprisingly touching scene in which Hiccup’s father thinks Hiccup has perished (even though the audience knows full well he hasn’t), all is well, and Vikings and dragons live in harmony, just as Hiccup is now at peace with his daddy.

What makes this effective is that even though we know all will be right in the end, the characters don’t know that. When Hiccup’s dad thinks his son is dead, he actually thinks his son is dead and you can see the pain and remorse he feels.

I’ve always said the best part to any story are the characters, and if you make the characters interesting, you can turn any story – no matter how overused and cliche it might be – and make it something worthwhile. How To Train Your Dragon might be the best example of this I have ever come across. If I ever doubted DreamWorks’ ability to make an excellent movie before, I certainly won’t now. This film is absolutely a must-see.

Book Review – The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers galore. Do not read this review if you haven’t read the book. And don’t see the movie before you’ve read it, either! That’s right, I read your mind.

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The Fault In Our Stars is a book I had mixed feelings about from the moment I read it. On the one hand, it is a cancer book, but on the other, it’s a love story. It’s a book with a teenage girl as a narrator, something that, needless to say, is not uncommon in this day and age, but a teenage girl with an unquestionably unique voice and personality. The story is laced with issues (particularly the end, as is typical of John Green), but is somehow compelling all the same. What is it with this book? More importantly, what is it with John Green?

I can successfully say that I have read every single one of John Green’s books, at least the ones that most people seem to have heard of, and find myself scratching my head every time. They are books that draw large audiences among the youth of this generation, and are generally marketed as such. It isn’t any sort of coincidence that the movie was set for release in June, when most young people are out of school. John Green’s books are for teenagers, or at the very least their loudest fans are definitely teenagers. But despite this, they are more than teenage novels – at least I think they are.

Take The Fault In Our Stars, for example. It doesn’t take a degree in English Literature to know good writing when you see it, and if you don’t think some of the passages in The Fault In Our Stars are well written, I would greatly beg to differ. Here are a few examples.

My response is being written with ink and paper in the glorious tradition of our ancestors and then transcribed by Ms. Vliegenthart into a series of 1s and 0s to travel through the insipid web which has lately ensnared our species, so I apologize for any errors or omissions which may result.

His every syllable flirted.

Much of my life had been devoted to trying not to cry in front of people who loved me, so I knew what Augustus was doing. You clench your teeth. You look up. You tell yourself that if they see you cry, it will hurt them, and you will be nothing but a Sadness in their lives, and you must not become a mere sadness, so you will not cry, and you say all of this to yourself while looking up at the ceiling, and then you swallow even though your throat does not want to close and you look at the person who loves you and smile.

And, my personal favorite, which technically even isn’t the part of the book:

This is not so much an author’s note as an author’s reminder of what was printed in small type a few pages ago: This book is a work of fiction. I made it up.
Neither novels or their readers benefit from attempts to divine whether any facts hide inside a story. Such efforts attack the very idea that made-up stories can matter, which is sort of the foundational assumption of our species.
I appreciate your cooperation in this matter.

 

In this sense, John Green has a very similar issue with that of Laini Taylor, whose book I criticized for being better written than it was an actual story. And by “written,” I mean that quite literally. The construction of sentences. The way words are put together. John Green is very good at that.

I’m not so sure how good at putting together a story John Green is, because every single time I’ve read one of his books, I have always preferred the characters over the story those characters are put in. The Fault In Our Stars is the same way. Hazel and Augustus are two very distinct people with two very distinct personalities, but their story, while it is meaningful, does not leave many impressions on you beyond the climactic plot points, like their first meeting or Augustus’s death. What I mostly remembered about this book after I read it was Hazel’s voice, not what happened to Hazel. I actually had to skim through it again just to remind myself what took place before writing this review.

Is that necessarily a bad thing? I don’t know. It’s not like the story was bad, far from it; it’s just that, by the end, which was much too abrupt, as most of his endings are, I felt that it hadn’t impacted me as much as it should have. Plot-wise, it didn’t take a lot of risks, and John Green was dropping hints from the beginning that Augustus was going to die, which most readers would probably have guessed anyway. I sure did. It’s incredibly difficult to kill off a first-person narrator. I’ve only read one book that even tried, and it was so unmemorable apart from its attempt that I don’t even remember what the title is.

I don’t read so-called “cancer books” that much; the only other one I’ve sat all the way through is My Sister’s Keeper, and goodness knows there were a slew of problems with that one. Even with that said, I think The Fault In Our Stars tries to be more than a cancer book and succeeds to a point – then it just stops. I’ve heard arguments from critics of the book that Augustus Waters loses all his charisma after he reveals he’s dying, and I’ve heard supporters of the book argue that was intentional, because that’s exactly what happens to people in real life. And while I agree with both opinions, I think it’s really the book that sputters and dies after that point. But is that a bad thing?

Another criticism I’ve heard is one I’ve often raged about: that The Fault In Our Stars is a gold mine for false profundity. But I’m not sure I agree. Here’s why. I’ve become practically allergic to statements of false profundity. If I come across one, I feel it. In my gut. But that didn’t happen this time around. Maybe that’s not a very trustworthy test, but at the same time I feel that The Fault In Our Stars is very genuine. I do.

There’s just a place I feel the story could have gone that it didn’t go, and although I’m not exactly sure what that place is, I can’t shake that impression all the same. Cancer is a very serious subject, and this book didn’t leave nearly as much of an emotional impact on me as it should have. I suppose it was just too predictable.

So, in conclusion after that incredibly scatterbrained review, is The Fault In Our Stars good? After much deliberation – yes. I think it is. Is it a great book? Of that I’m not so sure. But to call it another “teenage novel” or “cancer book,” I feel, is not right. It is more than both those things. But it is less than it could have been.

 

P.S. – Seeing the movie later today. Expect a review soon.

Movie Review – X-Men Days of Future Past & Series Wrap Up (VIDEO REVIEW!)

Thought I might try something different! This is my video review of Days of Future Past as well as the series as a whole. The audio is kind of bad, and I apologize for that.

This probably won’t be a regular thing, but I will try it from time to time just to shake things up a bit.

Oh, and one more thing I forgot to mention in the video: Yes, I’m fully aware that there are technically two more X-Men films that focus on Wolverine, and no, I’m not going to review them. Or watch them, for that matter. Sorry. I just don’t care enough.

Spoilers as always.

Movie Review – X-Men: First Class

This is a film. And I am going to spoil it. If you wish to see this film someday, I suggest you go no further.

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After the horror of X-Men 3, this film is very much a breath of fresh air. In fact, I think this might be the best X-Men film in terms of how it works as a film. Meaning, if I were to choose out of the X-Men films a representation of what good filmmaking can do, then I would pick this movie. But that’s only out of the X-Men films, which really doesn’t say much.

I feel that First Class would have been a better prequel if the characters in the original trilogy were more clearly defined. There’s not much of First Class’s Charles Xavier that I see in the original films’s Charles Xavier, and the same goes for Mystique and Beast. The only exception to that is Magneto, whose character traits I could recognize in both films, and he was by far the best character in First Class in terms of being a prequel character.

On their own, though, the characters are much better than the ones in the original movies, even if their superpowers aren’t quite as cool. Even though the movie was total shit I still enjoyed seeing Jean Grey wreak havoc on the world in The Last Stand, and Wolverine is always very much a badass, even if he is put in the spotlight too much. I’ll talk about the prequel cast vs. the original cast more in my next review, but the prequel cast is much more complex, even if the superpowers are kind of lame.

I especially like what they did with Mystique. I didn’t at first, but now I think it adds a very interesting dimension to her character, as well as makes The Last Stand all the more reprehensible. Seeing the relationship Mystique formed with both Charles and Magneto makes Magneto’s casual dismissal of her in The Last Stand even more terrible than it was on its own. But I digress.

The reason I didn’t like all this characterization for Mystique at first was because we don’t see enough of her personality in the original films to have any context with which to witness this character’s growth. But I realize now that may be the point. First Class does what the original X-Men films didn’t do – actual characterization. And, after seeing this movie, I love what they did with her character. Plus, Jennifer Lawrence = yes.

The casting is very good, too, especially in the case of Magneto. If I were to look at the old Magneto and wonder what he was like in his younger days, the Magneto in First Class would probably be very close. One thing I wish they had done more of, however, was establish a stronger friendship between Magneto and Charles. In the original films, it was hinted that the two had been great friends divided by opposing goals. I still felt a great divide between them in First Class, and I would have liked to see them closer. In addition, I would have liked to see Mystique establish a clearer, more defined relationship with Magneto.

First Class’s other problem is that besides Charles, Mystique, and Xavier, the other characters are rather boring. I wasn’t a fan of Emma Frost, and I can’t even remember anybody else’s name. Oh, Beast was fine. He was cool. But not as much as the first three I mentioned.

All in all, First Class is definitely the best movie in the franchise so far. But I do wish they hadn’t ruined the original cast’s chance at a good movie. Despite the lack of characterization, I do think the original cast has a lot of potential, in particular the whole Jean Grey/Phoenix thing, which they should have explored WAY more than they did (see Confused Matthew’s review for the reason why). But there’s no denying that this prequel film is by far the smoothest in the series.

Movie Review – X-Men 3: The Last Stand

This review WOULD have spoilers if the movie hadn’t spoiled the franchise.

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Oh, it hurts. It hurts so bad.

I was just starting to get into the franchise, and then they roll out a piece of shit like this.

God, where do I even start? There were so many problems – SO MANY FREAKING PROBLEMS. I can’t review this. I just can’t. I disliked this movie so much, I don’t even want to give this review any time. This movie is that worthless.

Fortunately, thanks to the internet, I don’t have to. Somebody else already did it for me.

If this is being lazy, then so be it, but I’m also doing this because I don’t want to be repetitive. There’s nothing I could possibly say about this movie that Confused Matthew, one of my favorite internet reviewers, already said in his review, which I watched shortly after seeing this piece of shit film. To review it now would honestly be repeating everything he said, because, honestly, he hit every problem with the film right on the money. So, I’m going to provide a link to his review and go suffer by myself in the corner. Oh, it hurts. It hurts so bad.

Watch Confused Matthew’s review here. This is everything I thought of the film and more.