Quick Hit: Beautiful film work and realistic battles have some issues meshing with the expositional dump that occurs at points throughout the film.
David Mackenzie (Hell or High Water) is a terrific talent. He shows that immediately in Outlaw King by giving us an opening shot that never breaks and is (by my estimation) over ten minutes long. This is beautiful and goes a long way to setting the tone of the film, because eventually the film devolves, in a sense, into a battlefield mess. However, those scenes are just as technically wonderful – it’s almost as if Mackenzie purposely allows the juxtaposition between these two moments – one where the royalty and the shot is composed, and one where everything has literally gone deep in the mud.
Outlaw King works as a pseudo-sequel to Braveheart. Whereas the latter focused on William Wallace, here the film focuses on Robert the Bruce, who eventually became King of Scotland. The man himself is played by Chris Pine, who continues to make a name for himself. Here he plays a much more subdued character than say, Kirk from Star Trek or even Steve from Wonder Woman. It matches similarly to the cowboy he played in Hell or High Water, who was mainly softness with some moments of frightening violence. There same applies to Robert, who often leaves his actions to speak for him (at least in this cut – there were an additional 20 minutes that were cut from when it played on the festival circuit to when it hit Netflix. Pine is understatedly good, but you can’t help but want more from him. Bruce feels as if he should be more than he is here.
However, that allows for two things to occur – one a quiet romantic relationship develops between him and arranged wife Elizabeth de Burgh (Florench Pugh). This is one of the best parts of the movie that is slow and understated. It takes its time and doesn’t rush the romance, which is better. Pugh is very good here, slowly warming both the audience and Bruce to her without being forceful. The second is that it allows the world to see more of James mothereffing Douglas.
James Douglas stole this movie for me. Played with riotous glee by Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Nocturnal Animals, Avengers: Age of Ultron), he is consistently the craziest person on screen as well as the most entertaining. He literally goes into a church at his former castle, kills everyone, and then BURNS IT ALL DOWN. His screams reverberate in my head and won’t let me think of anything other than how awesome his performance is.
The downside to this film is probably the amount of exposition. It could be rather boring for some, particularly if you aren’t ready for occasionally poor Scottish accents. There’s a lot of introduction in that first scene, which explains a bit as to why Mackenzie may have felt it was important to make a splash with his camerawork. But even when circling around men that are having an impromptu sword fight, there seems to be exposition occurring. I’m all for giving some historical facts – particularly from people that thought Braveheart was accurate, but there’s got to be a better way to do this then just dumping it on everyone in the first half hour or so of the film.
Luckily, a lot of the battles make up for it. They’re thrilling, disgusting, with fantastic effects that reek of practicality. It’s another step towards what it really felt like in those battles. They weren’t glorious – they were freaking terrifying.
Overall, Outlaw King has a lot of strengths and only a few weaknesses. I’m giving it a “B”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: The late Anton Yelchin stars in this admittedly flawed adaptation of one of my favorite book series.
Odd Thomas. Little Ozzie. Stormy Llewelyn. Fungus Bob. These are all characters that make their big screen appearance in 2013’s Odd Thomas, which is based on the book series by Dean Koontz. Koontz is a prolific writer, having put out dozens and dozens of books, and the Odd Series is no different in that it features about six books. In the books, Odd is a beloved and strange character whose inner voice makes the books worth reading. The movie did its best to capture something like that, but there’s only so much you can do with a character whose best voice is inside their head.
Odd Thomas (Yelchin) is a young man that lives in the fictional town of Pico Mundo, California. There he works as a fry cook and oh by the way, he sees dead people. Forgive me the Shyamalan pun, but he can only see them because the dead don’t talk. He uses what they show him to help them move on, and sometimes bring justice to their killers. The film opens with a show stopper of a sequence that involves Odd chasing a killer after confronting him about the dried blood he keeps in his pocket from the latest victim. It may not be fully in keeping with how Odd is presented in the books – here he comes off more like a bruiser than I think he is – but it’s fun and Yelchin works it.
If there’s one thing I loved the most about the movie, it’s the actors’ performances. Yelchin is a wonderful Odd – bringing that slight zing to the delivery of his lines, particularly when he’s using voice over or talking to himself – that makes the overuse dialogue to give us Odd’s thoughts feel welcome. Addison Timlin, who plays Odd’s predestined girlfriend, Stormy, lands the right mix of sweet and saucy that Stormy should be. Her dialogue feels a bit off at times – but I think that lands more on the writing, which seems to force in lines from the book that feel natural (“Loop me in Odd one”) more often than they need to be. But Yelchin and Timlin have good chemistry, and this shows the best in the film’s climax. Willem Dafoe, always terrific, does a great job as a the police chief that keeps getting his date night interrupted.
I only have two complaints about the film, one small and one large, leading to its final grade. The minor one is the bodachs (for the uninitiated, bodachs are creatures that show up when large, flashy deaths are going to take place). I think director Stephen Sommers does a good job as presenting them as what they are – creeping, crawling creatures that surround and infect us with poor feelings, even if we aren’t sure why we are feeling icky. The complaint comes in over their usage, which eventually turns them into a piece of the background. They are a huge part of the books too, but when they keep popping up, the CGI eventually begins to blur a bit, and we start to see the flaws in the design of them – bug eyes and all.
The second, larger complaint, is the complete waste of Patton Oswalt as Little Ozzie. Appearing only briefly, there is no sense of the mentor relationship that kindles between Odd and Ozzie. Instead, he comes off only as a grumpy old man. Little Ozzie was a huge (pun intended) character in the comics, and there is no use for him here. It seemed like more of a slap in the face to include him at all. If I had not read the books, I would have just thought that Patton Oswalt liked the series and asked for a cameo.
All these things come together, and we’re left with an emotional climax. I know the first time I watched this movie, it hit me really hard. When I read the books, it hit me harder. And that’s what probably buoys up this movie for me – it does a great job at recreating the feelings I had reading the books. I’m giving it a “B+” despite the fact that it probably deserves lower. Critics are human too, ya know.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: Fun, with a bit too much fluff, not enough substance and far too abrupt an ending.
Sometimes movies have trouble figuring out who to market to. I think City of Ember (and probably the movie tanking at the box office right now, Mortal Engines) are examples of that. Both are filled with high science fiction or fantasy like ideas, but both have their edges dulled a bit to serve as family, or at least preteen films. They also feature younger characters as the leads. The issue is that a lot of the content is stuff that if done larger, would probably have adult themes. Anyway, I’ve digressed enough, you’ll understand more my faithful DFPers as I tell you about the movie.
City of Ember is based on a book by Jeanne Duprau. The story is about the City of Ember (surprised you there didn’t I?) – a town underground that is fill of people who have never seen the outside. This is only a bit of a problem, until the lights begin to fade as the generator that has served their town for so long starts to die.
Enter young heroes Lina Mayfleet (Saoirse Ronan) and Doon Harrow (Harry Treadaway). They discover a box that helps point them in the direction of Ember’s past – and allows them to start to piece together a story of the treachery that has become Ember’s leadership - namely, Mayor Cole (Bill Murray) and his lackey Barton Snode (Toby Jones). Some of what they uncover is pretty cliché, and a bit is unexplained as to why they have to resort to such things, but hey, it’s just a kids film right?
Wrong – the fact that this film doesn’t take the time to explain its reasoning for putting its characters in such spots without a way out, or even attempting to explain such things as giant moles is a tragedy, and goes back to what I started with. I think sometimes those that are in charge of adapting a screenplay from a book do the same thing – take the highlights, and assume you know the rest. But I don’t know the rest, and even a kid would question things like an extremely complicated exit ramp for those leaving Ember to eventually follow.
The acting is pretty good, with Murray giving another memorable performance and Toby Jones continuing to make you hate and worry about him popping up in another film. An extremely young Saoirse shows that she has acting chops here that probably led to her casting in subsequent films. But it just doesn’t have enough to it, despite the fun scenes involving job assignment, or Mayfleet running through the streets. There just isn’t a big enough adaptation for this really big story, and it’s sad, because it leaves you wanting.
Nowhere is this more evident than the end of the film, where just ends. A rock drops from the surface, and the movie ends. I get that there’s more to it, but shouldn’t you at least attempt to describe why or how? I don’t know, maybe I was just in a mood, but this really annoyed me. I couldn’t get past it, and that’s why I’m giving the film a “D+” despite creating an admittedly fascinating world.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"