Movie Review ~ The King’s Daughter

The Facts:

Synopsis: King Louis XIV’s quest for immortality leads him to capture and steal a mermaid’s life force, a move that is further complicated by his illegitimate daughter’s discovery of the creature.

Stars: Pierce Brosnan, Kaya Scodelario, Benjamin Walker, Rachel Griffiths, Fan Bingbing, William Hurt, Julie Andrews, Pablo Schreiber, Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Crystal Clarke

Director: Sean McNamara

Rated: PG

Running Length: 97 minutes

TMMM Score: (4.5/10)

Review: It’s always a question for me of how much I want to research a movie I’m reviewing before I screen in because once you’ve learned a factoid or read about some behind-the-scenes drama, you can’t unknow it. I’ve been good lately at going in sight unseen to most of the films I’m fortunate enough to see, and that was the case with The King’s Daughter – which turned out to be a perfect thing. Only after it ended, and I began to get this write-up pulled together, did I start to find out more about just how old the movie was and the troubled traveling it had to do to be released at all. In some ways, it helps explain a few of the fantasy flick’s more…unique quirks. Still, in others, it just confirms that perhaps, like the well-worn, gilded storybook that opens at the beginning of the film for an Oscar-winner to narrate, this may have sat on the shelf too long and expired before audiences could enjoy it.

Based on The Moon and the Sun, a 1997 novel by Vonda N McIntyre, the film was completed way back in 2014, almost a decade ago now, and has been bounced around release schedules and studios ever since. Featuring a not-unimpressive cast filming on location at the Palace of Versailles and Australia and eventually re-titled The King’s Daughter, director Sean McNamara has managed to direct a whopping twelve movies since wrapping the picture. Heck, it wasn’t until mid-June 2020 that Julie Andrews (Aquaman) was announced as the film’s narrator, hinting it was more than just completion of the special effects that delayed the movie all this time. Once you see the finished film, the end product of much-suspected tinkering and long hours of labor in the editing bay, you’ll agree.

It’s hard to argue with any entertainment that opens with Andrews’s melodic voice narrating the history of the cast of characters populating our story. While it sounds like Andrews may have recorded this during a lunch break from recording her audiobook, her brief presence gives the film the necessary opening energy to help it start on the right foot. Pretty soon, the tale of a vain King (Pierce Brosnan, Cinderella) injured in battle who approves his physician (Pablo Schrieber, The Devil Has a Name) to locate a mermaid from Atlantis and perform an ancient ceremony, involving vivisection of the mythical creature, gets dragged down by overdramatic performances and bewildering thematic tone shifts. Added into the mix is the King’s illegitimate daughter (Kaya Scodelario, Crawl), who has been brought to court but not told who her father is. Wouldn’t you know, she finds a friend in the mermaid and doesn’t like it when the King she’s grown to respect turns out to be less than noble when it comes to her new fishy pal.

Halfway through the movie, I was in deep despair because the acting was all over the map, and some terrific actors were delivering (more like hurling at the screen) performances that make you wonder if the job was taken as broad acting experience more than anything. Even the usually dry William Hurt (Winter’s Tale), as a priest and confidant to the raucous King, comes off as downright boisterous. It was at the middle mark when I realized that The King’s Daughter wasn’t for most audiences at all; it was for younger kids wanting to bridge the gap between animated films and more mature PG-13 content. Arriving in safe PG territory, the movie is ‘just so’ about everything, with nothing too extreme (aside from the overly zealous performances and Brosnan’s unruly wig), so parents could easily treat this one as a special event for their growing youngster. 

Aside from that, I’m not sure how many adults would go for this often ludicrous fantasy which is filmed and costumed to look like an Estée Lauder ad from 1996. Nothing about it seems quite fitting, much less the way the elite would have been adorned at court in Versailles. We all know the palace in France was the place to see and be seen, but the attire on display here is a trivial interpretation that often comes off as laughable. Take Scodelario’s big reveal dress, for instance. She’s meant to be wearing a gorgeous gown everyone is drooling over, but it looks like a frock you’d find the night before prom…and don’t even get me started on the shoes. Thankfully, Scodelario is acting the hell out of the role and bringing alone husband Benjamin Walker (The Choice, a dead-ringer for Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace). The chemistry they have is, understandably, believable. Though the effects often hide her, Fan Bingbing (The 355) manages to get some emotion through as the mermaid everyone is out to either save or, gulp, eat.

I’m sure many people involved with The King’s Daughter are just glad it’s finally surfacing after all this time. Fans of the book may not be thrilled because it sounds like the film diverts quite significantly from the original text, but the adaptation from Barry Berman and James Schamus makes it far more family-friendly. That’s what this one is targeted to and should be marketed for, anyway. If you meet the demographic that would enjoy this sometimes sloppy, often soggy fairytale, then I would say giving it a shot might be worth your time. Swim right by if the material doesn’t speak to you from the advertising alone. There’s plenty of fish in the sea.

Movie Review ~ Star Wars: The Force Awakens

1

star_wars_episode_vii__the_force_awakens_ver3

The Facts:

Synopsis: A continuation of the saga created by George Lucas and set thirty years after Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi.

Stars: Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, Max von Sydow, Adam Driver, Domhnall Gleeson, Gwendoline Christie, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, Crystal Clarke, Pip Anderson, Christina Chong, Miltos Yerolemou

Director: J.J. Abrams

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 135 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: Hey all you spoiler-phobic Star Wars fans…you’ve come to the right place!  Have no fear, I’m not going to reveal any major plot points or ruin any of the surprises that director J.J. Abrams (Star Trek, Star Trek: Into Darkness) has in store for you.  So I’m going to give you two reviews…one that is as spoiler-free as can be and another that will be slightly more descriptive (but still without any key points you aren’t already aware of).  Are you ready?  OK!

Totally spoiler-free review:

The wait was worth it and Star Wars fans finally have the sequel they’ve been waiting for since 1983’s Return of the Jedi.  The effects are marvelous, the script tight, and the score by John Williams returns the sound of the series back to its grandly epic origins.  In short, it’s a film that knows where it came from and has a vision for the future.

Now…for some more descriptive musings on Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

There’s a moment in the silent moments before Star Wars: The Force Awakens begins when my heart started to beat a little faster, my breath started catching a bit.  After all this time, a direct sequel to the original trilogy of the operatic space odyssey created by George Lucas was waiting mere frames away.  The time to hold grudges against the weak prequels vanished when those familiar words came up on screen… “A long time ago in a galaxy far far away…” and then…the logo, the music, the opening crawl that lays out what’s been going on since we last saw Luke, Leia, Han Solo, and other creatures great, small, or mechanical.  I gotta admit, I had goosebumps from the tips of my toes to the top of my head.

With the Sith destroyed and the Empire fallen, a new enemy has surfaced that threatens the peace the Resistance has tried to bring to the galaxy.  The First Order has risen from the ashes of the Empire with a new leader (Supreme Leader Snoke, Andy Serkis, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), a new General (Hux, Domhnall Gleeson, About Time), and a new commander (Kylo Ren, Adam Driver, Frances Ha) strong with the force with ties to Darth Vader.  The First Order is searching for a warrior gone missing, tracking an ace pilot for the Resistance (Oscar Isaac, A Most Violent Year) to a planet where he’s meeting with an elder (Max Von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredible Close) who holds a key to the warrior’s whereabouts.

In a nice tip of the hat to the original Star Wars, this important piece of information is hidden within a droid and soon finds itself in the hands of Rey (newcomer Daisy Ridley), an otherwise ordinary civilian that must travel from her planet via a familiar ship long since left for junk.  Accompanied by defecting Storm Trooper Finn (John Boyega) before being joined by Han Solo (Harrison Ford, The Expendables 3) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), all are thrust into an adventure that hops planets and light years.

When Disney bought Lucasfilm Ltd (thereby acquiring the rights to the Star Wars franchise) for a cool $4 billion there was a general discomfort that the House of Mouse wouldn’t do right by the characters.  But Disney has delivered, and delivered in a big way.  The $200-million-dollar film looks amazing with top-notch special effects seamlessly blending with live action to create 135 minutes of thrilling sequence after thrilling sequence.  Not all thrills come from special effects though; just try to stave off the chills of hearing John Williams stirring score or deflect the rousing excitement of Han Solo reuniting with Princess (now General) Leia (a marvelously sanguine Carrie Fisher).  When Ford and Fisher are on screen together the decades absolutely melt away and screenwriters Lawrence Kasdan, Michael Arndt, and J.J. Abrams have wisely kept their banter appropriately campy and fun.  Ford in particular looks like he’s having more fun on screen then he’s had in years, reminding us why he’s a movie star.

Speaking of stars, Abrams has impeccably cast the film’s two leads with Ridley being the clear stand-out.  Reminding me of a younger Keira Knightly, Ridley ably handles the range of her arc which puts her in numerous precarious situations.  Boyega, too, is a welcome presence and while early on the actor tries a bit too hard, he’s redeemed by the end once he relaxes into the role.  Both actors bring an energetic vibrancy to the screen, we’ve just met them yet we’re on their side from the beginning.  They mesh nicely with the returning cast members and other new faces (including 12 Years a Slave Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o as a kind of next-gen Yoda), making this an easily accessible film for longtime fans or those new to the franchise.

If I had one gripe, it’s a small-ish one and it has to do with the Serkis’ realization of Snoke.  The one effect that comes off as too CGI, I wished that the larger than life baddie was introduced on a more practical level instead of being motion-captured to the high heavens into a shadowy evil from the Dark Side.  Still, it’s a small complaint for a film that’s overwhelmingly enjoyable.

Before seeing this seventh episode of the Star Wars saga, I was planning on re-watching all of the films (which I hadn’t seen in, gulp, nearly a decade) to bone up on the story up until this point.  Time constraints made that impossible and in a way I’m glad that I hadn’t inundated myself with previous installments because it helped me take in The Force Awakens for what it was, the beginning of the next chapter of Star Wars.  And what an impressive beginning it is.

The Silver Bullet ~ Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens

1

5d6c9f39173c18acd79dc0d5ca5c216151cc1e21

Synopsis: A continuation of the saga created by George Lucas set thirty years after The Return of the Jedi.

Release Date:  December 18, 2015

Thoughts: If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time you’ll know that I love a good, old-fashioned teaser trailer.  Lately, a “teaser trailer” has been more along the lines of a 2:30 (or longer) appetizer to share rather than the kind of amuse-bouche executed so skillfully during the late 80s/early 90s.
Blessedly, our first look at the hotly anticipated next chapter in the Star Wars franchise harkens back to those fondly remembered days of yore when brief glimpses whet the whistle of movie audiences everywhere.

Directed by J.J. Abrams (who successfully rebooted another Star franchise with Star Trek and Star Trek: Into Darkness) and co-written by Lawrence Kasdan (continuing his long history with the franchise after scripting The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi) it’s an understatement to say that whatever countdown fans have had for a new outer space adventure has officially started now that this satisfying peak has been released.  My only concern as of now is that with Abrams on board it will look similar to the Star Trek films and rely too much on the director’s flare for the, well, solar flare camera work he’s become infamous for.

Grumble grumble quibble quibble…right?  When all is said this, along with Jurassic World, are two of my most anticipated films of 2015.