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  1. Okay, everybody sing the ! Aquaman, Aquaman, Does whatever a tuna can. Swims around, talks to fish When he walks, his feet squish Look out! Here's comes the Aquaman! Is he strong? Probably But he has to swim through fish pee Can he ride a seahorse? No he can't, they're too small. Hey there – There goes the Aquaman In the ocean deep If a boat is around When they fall overboard He'll make sure they don't drown Aquaman, Aquaman It's green-tights-wearing Aquaman Not first choice in a jam Unless your foe is clam Oh yeah - he has a magic spear, oh, You're favorite fourth-string hero Here comes the Aquaman! Pretty sure that's how it goes. A couple of weeks ago I went to see Aquaman. I didn't have a lot of interest in the movie when it was announced, because, well, DC films are usually pretty awful (except for Wonder Woman). But one of the few bright spots in Justice League was watching the fun Jason Momoa was clearly having as Aquaman. Rather than being the punching bag of Robot Chicken, (let's face it, the 70's animated Aquaman was the sea-themed TV superhero ever), this Aquaman was fast, powerful, funny, and kicked butt. But would that character translate to a solo feature film? After all, the CEO of Warner Bros. once said, "...the worlds of DC are very different... they're steeped in realism, and they're a little bit edgier than Marvel's movies." Yeah... like that worked. Well, if there's one thing that can be said about Aquaman, is that it's a movie not steeped in realism. Somewhere along the line, the filmmakers probably came to the conclusion that the idea of "realism" and "vast undersea empires that nobody on the surface has any idea they exist" probably didn't mesh all that well. Aquaman is a bonkers movie. It doesn't even pretend to be realistic. It's not so much that it doesn't care, but rather it goes out of its way to be ridiculous. This is fantasy. It's a comic book brought to life with no regard for realism at all because there's nothing realistic about the subject matter. Even for comic books the whole premise is silly. Early in the film Aquaman rescues a sinking sub by swimming under it, and pushing it up out of the water. Somehow. Nuclear subs displace on the order of 48,000 tons of water. But that's no problem for Aquaman - he just pushes on it, and up it goes. His hands should just punch through the hull. I don't even think he kicks his feet when he swims. Maybe he's psionically making the water around him do all the work. But it really doesn't matter how his powers work, because the movie just lays it out there, and expects you to accept it. If you're onboard with that, then you'll probably be onboard with the rest of the movie. After all, nobody asks how Superman flies. I should emphasize that this isn't a criticism of the film... it's merely a fact. That's what the film is. This is the universe it presents, and those are the rules that apply within it. Only the flimsiest of explanations are given for why things happen. Atlanteans can breath water, because a thing happened. Atlantis collapsed, because a thing happened. Aquaman has a magic trident, because it's a magic trident. In a way, this film is a bit like Thor in that we're given this preposterous world populated with preposterous beings, and that's just the way it is. And to the filmmakers' credit, once they establish how this world works, as wacky as it is, they're consistent with it. It's hard to break rules when you don't have any. Fortunately, Aquaman is so bonkers that it's an entertaining movie. Again, Jason Momoa is a lot of fun to watch. The visual effects are crazy. The sea creatures are insane. The scale of the battles is epic. The costumes are ridiculous. Amber Heard looks like Mrs. Ronald McDonald. The action scenes aren't just over the top, they're over over the top. It's funny, it's silly, it's ludicrous. But it's a fun ride. The story? Inconsequential. The villains? Forgettable. There is no logic to anything that happens in the film. But if you go into the theater with the attitude of just wanting to watch a movie for the sake of watching a movie, you'll do just fine. It unashamedly rips off more films than I was able to count: Star Wars (pick any of them), Tron, Close Encounters, 2001, Blade Runner, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jaws (all of them - or for that matter, any movie that's ever had a shark in it), probably every Marvel movie, and so many, many more. In a way, you're really getting your money's worth, because you get to see so many other films that they borrowed from. This is meant to be escapist entertainment, so don't expect anything particularly deep (pun intended ). Apart from pointing out how much humans pollute the oceans, there's little of substance here. Of course, rather than using their advanced technology to actually help humanity solve our problems, the Atlanteans stay hidden away in their vast, underwater cities complaining about it. Even at the end of the film, humans still don't believe Atlantis exists, despite everyone already having known about Aquaman because of the events in Justice League. None of it makes much sense, so just try not to think about it. Just enjoy the spectacle, because it has plenty of that. Aquaman is worth seeing in the theater, because of the scope and scale of everything. It's completely ridiculous. It doesn't make any sense. But that's okay, because it's a comic book movie, and it makes Aquaman a pretty cool character. Plus, based on the trailers, it's apparently setting us up for the new tone for the DC Universe: Wacky! Aquaman gets 7/10, because... why not? Now if they can just fix Batman and Superman. Does whatever a tuna can...get it? Tuna can! Sometimes, I crack me up.
  2. When I first heard Sony was making an animated Spider-Man film, my first thought was, "Ugh. Really? Have they learned nothing from their past failures with Spider-Man? Why can't they just leave creative control of the character to Marvel, and take whatever money Marvel gives them?" Then, when I heard it would feature the Miles Morales version of the character (from the Ultimate Universe), I was even less interested. Even though I knew people really liked that character, I had stopped reading comics some 20 years before the character was created, so I had no connection to him. Peter Parker, as far as I was concerned, was Spider-Man. Then, after the second or so trailer, I thought, "This has a pretty cool look to it." Better than the typical animated comic book fare. Early positive reviews, and the fact that one of the co-directors is an alumnus from where I work, sold me on the idea of seeing it. So while I was on vacation over our winter break, I did. Now, I almost saw it in 3D. But 99% of the time, 3D is less-than-impressive to me. So since there were more 2D showings nearby, we saw it in 2D. In hindsight, maybe I should've seen it in 3D. But either way, I'm glad I saw it. Because Sony Pictures Animation (not to be confused with their live-action arm who made their other Spider-Man films), absolutely knocked it out-of-the-park. Into the Spider-Verse is a lot of fun. It also has totally unique, and at times breathtaking animation. It's visual style is incredible. It probably looks great in 3D. It's probably one of the few films that really could. The animation is difficult to describe - it's mostly CG animation, but with some traditional animation, and unique texture mapping that gives it a very distinct, illustrative look. This doesn't look like your typical rubbery/plasticky CG animation. This embraces its medium of origin: comic books. Not just embraces, but relishes, basks in, and fully celebrates comic books, using textures reminiscent of Ben Day dots, but in a way that works in CG, rather than on a flat, printed page. Besides the visual look, the animation itself is stunning. There's probably some performance capture mixed in there, but everything is so nicely stylized it never intrudes. There's also just some straight-up cartoony animation as well, and somehow, everything merges together into a cohesive whole. It's unlike any other animated film (or film, for that matter) that I've seen. Visuals are all well and good, but what makes this movie work, or outright shine, are the characters. Marvel made its name because when Stan Lee created characters, he brought to life characters that were interesting as people. Not just as superheroes. The people behind the masks made the characters compelling and relatable, and that's what Sony Pictures Animation has captured here so well. The film centers around Miles Morales and his origin as (one) Spider-Man, and if this is how his character is in the comic books, then I can see why people like him so much. He's his own Spider-Man, with his own family, backstory, issues, and apart from a similar set of powers, isn't derivative of Peter Parker's Spider-Man. They're as different as two characters, or two people, can be. Bound by a common accident, but otherwise completely different. The basic story of Into the Spider-Verse centers around Miles, and other Spider-characters (including Peter Parker's Spider-Man) who are brought together to fight a common foe (of course). Without going into detail, suffice it to say they're all very different characters than the Spider-Man you're used to. Some are more serious, some are played more for laughs, but each are entertaining and engaging in their own way. Stylistically, they're all very different too, as if the movie knows they were all pulled out of different genres of comic books, and is perfectly okay with that. The animation styles for each matches who they are. Given how different they are, it probably shouldn't work. In a live-action film it would be a hard sell. But in an animated film, you can get away with it. Everything is blended perfectly. Cartoons are a wonderful thing. There's great action, great humor, and genuine heartfelt moments. Some of the Spider-characters have less to do than others, but that's okay. The filmmakers knew who to focus on, and when. There's nothing wrong with having some comedy relief, and it's far better when a film like this uses it appropriately - as a break in the action, to lighten a moment, or just for sheer entertainment value - rather than overdoing it and detracting from a main character. Or worse still, using a sidekick as a crutch when the main characters are weak (I'm looking at you - Aladdin, Lion King, Pocahontas, Hunchback of Notre Dame, A Bug's Life, and more other animated films than I can count). The voice casting and acting throughout is excellent. There's not a weak link in the bunch (and Nicolas Cage was a particularly inspired choice). And the post-credits scene is my favorite so far of any movie. Period. Top that, Avengers: Endgame. I don't want to go into any more detail about the movie, other than to say go see it. Set your expectations aside, and just go. It's fun. The animation is a rare, unique treat. The characters are compelling. I'd recommend seeing it in a theater, for the sheer visual experience of it. Maybe even in 3D - and I rarely recommend that. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse stands on its own, apart from any other superhero film, animated or otherwise. If you love comic books, see it. If you love animation, see it. If you just want to kill a couple of hours with a bucket of popcorn, see it. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse gets a 10/10.
  3. I'm not even sure Ralph Breaks the Internet is still in theaters. I saw this back in November, but only now have had the time to write up a short review for it. Actually, I've got three movies to write reviews for, hence the need to keep them all short. What do you mean, you'll "believe it when you see it"? I don't always write needlessly long-winded, rambling, circumlocutory reviews. And yes, I did look that last one up - I felt there would be additional humor if I made a counterpoint to my own statement within the statement itself. Padding the beginning of this out implies to the reader, "Here he goes again" when in fact, I do plan on making these three reviews more concise. Mostly because I don't feel like writing long reviews today. I'm afraid this newfound (and temporary) brevity has less to do with giving readers a break, and more to do with my own laziness. The point is... I'll be brief. Right. So on with the first one. I really loved the first Wreck-It Ralph movie. Mostly because it was a loving tribute to video games, and more importantly, video arcades, which are now all-but-gone, and were the places I hung out with my friends in high school and college. It was a great nostalgia trip, and a funny movie. I saw Ralph Breaks the Internet at work, which may seem odd if you haven't read some of my reviews before (I work here), but being closely tied to the animation industry, we get special screenings there from time to time in our theater. In this case, co-director and alumnus Rich Moore was there to do a Q&A and introduce the film. Seeing an animated film with 120+ animation students is the ideal audience, since if it's a good film, their reactions are going to be really strong because of their level of appreciation for the work. That was the case here. They cheered, laughed, applauded, and really seemed to love the movie (particularly Gal Gadot's character). Being in that room, it's hard for their enthusiasm to not be infectious. But while I liked much of the film, a lot of it just sort of fell flat for me. It's certainly got its funny moments (including some choice parodies of Disney itself), but I just didn't connect with it like I did the first film, or as much as the students did. The reason? Well, this film wasn't made for me. It's made for the current generation who have grown up on (and are immersed in) the internet and its culture. Even though I've been on the internet since 1994, I don't live there. I'm not into social media. I don't keep up on memes. I don't do online gaming. So while I understood the humor in the film - I didn't connect with it. The students loved it. But I think the real problem I had with the film goes deeper than being generational. Wreck-It Ralph was a movie about Ralph being on a journey of personal growth. He had a character arc where he significantly changed over the course of the film. He learned what his true worth was, and went from selfish to selfless. Other characters had arcs too - Felix became more understanding of Ralph's feelings, Vanellope learned her true potential and realized her dream of being a racer, the Nicelanders learned to be accepting of Ralph, Calhoun moved past the hurt of her previous relationship and found love with Felix. The movie was packed with character development. Not so much in the sequel though. The movie focused almost exclusively on Ralph and Vanellope and their quest to go find something on the internet. It wasn't driven by character development, but rather a MacGuffin. And even though there is some character development with Vanellope, it's all very superficial. As a character, she doesn't really change. She goes through a journey of discovery of sorts, but it pales in comparison to the one she already went through in the first film. Ralph is largely wasted in the sequel, as, if anything, his character actually regresses in order to have some sort of arc forced upon him in order to learn something by the end of the movie. For the most part, he's just used as a point of ridicule where he ends up involved in various internet memes to propel the main quest along. Felix and Calhoun are completely wasted, get very little screen time, and are given almost nothing to do. It's not that Ralph Breaks the Internet is a bad film... it does have some really funny moments, and is generally entertaining and visually impressive. The ending is, frankly, sappy and overly sentimental. Considering the effort that they put into the climax of the movie, I had hoped they'd find a more exciting way to resolve it than what they did. Ralph Breaks the Internet is, if anything, a missed opportunity. Or rather, several. One thing they really missed, was an opportunity to bring in Tron as a side character. After all, Disney owns Tron. The arcade game makes a brief cameo, and Tron himself is called out by name, but seriously - couldn't they get Bruce Boxleitner to come in and even read a few lines for the movie? How much fun would it have been for Tron to be the straight-man in this film, accompanying Ralph and Vanellope through the internet? Discovering that outside of his game, his light disc only has the properties of a Frisbee? It would be a great running joke as his useless Frisbee repeatedly, harmlessly bounced off things, and failed to get them out of several jams. Finally, Tron would get fed up, and bring something over from his game that really worked: a tank! "I fight for the USER!" Go get 'em, Tron! (sigh) But the biggest missed opportunity, in my opinion, was to make the move about Felix. From the very first time I saw Wreck-It Ralph, one line stood out in Ralph's opening monologue that immediately jumped out at me as a film that I wanted to see: "So yeah, naturally, the guy with the name Fix It Felix is the good guy. He's nice enough as good guys go - definitely fixes stuff really well. But uh, if you've got a magic hammer from your father, how hard can it be?" That's the story I wanted to see. How did that happen? What's Felix's relationship with his dad? Does a Fix It Felix Sr. game get rolled into the arcade? Was Fix-It Felix Jr. more popular? Was Sr.'s game a flop? Is Felix embarrassed about his dad? Is his dad resentful about his son's success? Or was Sr. the popular game, and Jr. was only popular at Litwak's? What is the quest that they need to go on? Are they mending their relationship? Or maybe the game arrives without Sr. in it, and they have to go on a quest to find him for the game to be restored. There are so many possibilities here for really good stories, and Felix's story is the one that needs to be told - everyone else had their backstory told in the first film. Then Ralph and Vanellope could be the ones going on the side quest this time. A huge, missed opportunity. All that said (and yes, this counts as a "short" review, relatively speaking), Ralph Breaks the Internet was a bit of a disappointment to me, despite the enthusiasm of the audience I was with. Wait for it to show up on Netflix. Or the Disney Channel. Or rent it. Maybe you'll like it more than me, if you're more immersed in the internet than I am. Ralph Breaks the Internet gets a 6/10.
  4. I needed some escapism the other night. I had already voted, so I was pretty-much done with the whole election thing at that point, and really didn't want to sit around and watch the returns on TV for the next several hours. So I decided to go out and see Doctor Strange. Even though I never followed the character back when I read comics, and really didn't care about the more mystical/fantastical aspects of the Marvel Universe, the trailers looked kind of cool. And Benedict Cumberbatch was quite good in The Imitation Game (not so much though in Star Trek Into Darkness). Plus, I thought it was really nice to see Gillian Anderson finding work again, and... What? Rachel McWho? Okay. Huh. Could've sworn they were the same person. Anyway... There weren't a whole lot of people at the theater. I should've expected that, really. So the audience reaction was more subdued than you get with a big crowd. I went to see it in a large Dolby Atmos equipped room, but in hindsight, I think I should've gone to see it in 3D. Generally, I don't like seeing 3D films (they're rarely worth the extra trouble of wearing another pair of glasses over my own), but some of the effects in this movie really cry out to be seen in 3D. And I think being in a smaller theater, sitting closer to the screen, would have made it a more immersive experience, which is what this film really needs. As it was, I often felt disconnected from the film, looking at it, thinking, "Hey... those effects look pretty cool!" rather than, "Wow! Take a look at the world we're in!" The film follows a brilliant surgeon - Stephen Strange - who loses his ability to operate, and goes on a quest to get his hands fixed. As he exhausts all possibilities, out of desperation, he finds himself in Kathmandu seeking the help of a mystic known only as The Ancient One. From there, he begins to discover how to tap into the energies of the multiverse to manipulate reality, cross into other dimensions, fight bad guys, and make tea. He also discovers that the Earth is under constant threat from other dimensions, and there's this secret group of protectors "The Sorcerer Superemes" who... no wait... I think that was the group Diana Ross was in. Maybe that should be "The Sorcerers Supreme"? Whatever. Anyway, they protect the Earth somehow from these cosmic baddies out there who want to steal our stuff and break our toys. So the film is about an arrogant, brilliant rich guy, who learns a valuable life lesson through a personal tragedy, gains fantastical new abilities, and becomes a selfless defender of those in need. And he has a goatee. Basically, Iron Man, with magic. Magic Man. But hey - if a formula works - why mess with success? Doctor Strange is an entertaining enough film. I went to escape for two hours, and for two hours I didn't think about the election once. So from that standpoint, it was a success. I enjoyed watching it - the acting performances were fine, and the special effects were really impressive... but I wouldn't call it a great film. For one thing, I never really empathized with the main character. In Iron Man, even though Tony Stark was a jerk, he was a charismatic, likable, entertaining jerk. And when he went through his tragedy - you were right there with him, and felt the loss and why it changed him. But Stephen Strange is just a little too... dull. And even his arrogance lacks substance, if that makes any sense. Yes, he's arrogant, but for the most part he seems like a nice guy, who is justifiably arrogant once in awhile because he's incredibly brilliant. You don't see a huge shift with him from being selfish to being selfless, because he's never really portrayed as all that selfish to begin with. Also, it's never really shown why he's so motivated to do what he does. Either as a surgeon, or afterwards. Yes, he wants to get his hands fixed - but his downfall and obsession with that was glossed over too quickly. There was some considerable amount of time that must have passed, but it all went by in a couple of quick scenes, and didn't have the sort of impact that it should have. We should have witnessed more of that part of the story, so we could empathize with him as his life was spiraling out of control, and journeyed with him, to see what he really lost. In one scene he was a wealthy, but broken surgeon still living in an upscale penthouse apartment, then a few scenes later he was walking the streets of Kathmandu looking like a homeless person. It all felt too rushed. Also, when he did begin learning magic, it was difficult to get a sense of how long he was actually at it. Weeks? Months? It didn't seem that long in the film, considering how fast he progressed. Again, a big chunk of his journey seemed to have been skipped over. His motivation for getting involved beyond his initial self-centered goals are never made clear either. Some of this is due to the time constraints of telling the obligatory "bad guys are coming to do bad things" story, but I think they could've made the film a bit longer to accommodate making his origin story more compelling. Or at least better understood. Speaking of bad guys, this is yet another Marvel film (to be fair though - it's not just Marvel) where the main bad guy (played by Mads Mikkelsen) is just there to forward the story, and isn't all that interesting. He's there, he does bad things, his motivation isn't all that clear, but they have to stop him, because someone has to be the bad guy this week, and it was his turn. Now, there's more to it than that, and there is a better payoff near the end of the film, but even then, we're really not told a whole lot about why this threat is, well... threatening us. Why Earth? Do we have a big target painted on us? It's pizza, right? We're the only planet in the universe to have created pizza, and now everyone wants some, but they don't want to have to tip the delivery guy to bring it all the way to another dimension. The rest of the supporting cast was pretty good - but not spectacular. Rachel McAdams was fine, but her character just seemed all-too ready to accept these bizarre things happening around her. Maybe after all of the other Marvel movie events (aliens attacking New York, etc), she's become a bit jaded to it all, but that's never alluded to in the movie. Tilda Swinton was okay as The Ancient One, but I felt her performance was a bit too flat at times, and that they probably could've gotten just about any other decent actor to play that role. Benedict Wong (as Wong, oddly enough) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (as Mordo) fared much better. Of the core characters, they were by far the most interesting. The real stars of this film though are the special effects. They're pretty impressive, and at times very unique. Unfortunately, most of the best ones were already spoiled in the trailers. But I guess that worked as intended, since that's why I went to see the movie. The problem with that though, was there really wasn't anything left to see. I was expecting more. I was expecting it to be a lot weirder than the trailers let on. And while there was a little more to discover in the movie, it was still a bit of a letdown. If you haven't seen many (or any) trailers for Doctor Strange - don't. Leave the good stuff for the theater. There are a couple of obligatory credits/post-credits scenes, so stick around for those. Plus, they get bonus points for using a harpsichord during the end credits music. Seemed appropriate. Overall, Doctor Strange isn't a bad film. It's a pretty-good one. It's certainly uneven in terms of the story and some of the characterizations, but there are some fun moments, some humor, and some pretty cool visual effects. It's also very clear this is opening up the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe to be much, much larger, and potentially much, much weirder. It's worth seeing, but I'd suggest seeing it in 3D. Doctor Who er... Strange gets a 7/10.
  5. Okay… here's the actual review for The Imitation Game. The Imitation Game is based on a book about the life of Alan Turing - one of the founders of computer science, and creator of the Turing Test (and if you don't know what that is, you need to turn in your nerd card). Given the somewhat obscure subject matter of the film, and the low-key advertising campaign, I was surprised to show up to a theater with a long line waiting to see it, and a packed house. The movie flips between three time periods - his youth at boarding school, his work during World War II, and a couple of years prior to his death. The film does a pretty good job of tying the three of them together thematically without getting confusing when jumping back and forth. The bulk of the movie takes place during the war, covering his work towards building a machine to break the codes of Germany's Enigma machine. Not being overly familiar with his biography, it's hard to say how much of the film is historically accurate, and how much has been altered to make it more entertaining to audiences. Certainly a great deal of history and details were glossed over, both for time constraints and more streamlined storytelling. However, it was a very well-acted film across the board, and the war-era parts of the story were particularly compelling. I was disappointed, however, that they never really got into the theories behind how his machine worked. One moment he's scribbling designs on sheets of paper, and a few scenes later, they're building the thing. And while I understand that most general audiences aren't going to be interested in technical details, the man's work was about those very details. So I guess I'll have to track down one of the other movies about him. At times the movie gets a bit heavy-handed and makes it seem like Turing single-handedly won the war. But the film isn't meant to be a critical appraisal of his life or work. Rather it tells Turing's story in a sympathetic light, tries to right some wrongs, and give him the kind of public acknowledgment that he never had. The Imitation Game is a solid, often compelling bio-pic, that sheds a little light not only on a critical time in our history, but also on the life of someone who never really got the sort of accolades he deserved. Not a perfect film, and certainly biased, but still a very good movie. The Imitation Game gets an 8/10 (which shouldn't come as any surprise, if you read yesterday's post ). (And in case you were wondering - yes… there is a 2600 version of the Enigma machine.)
  6. December 1st, 10:34 PM Well, since I didn't have any laundry to do tonight, I decided to go catch a late showing of Interstellar. So at the moment I'm sitting in an entirely empty IMAX theater, waiting for the 10:50 PM showing to start. And yes... I know I'm in for a three hour movie that I will keep me here until nearly 2 AM, but that's okay since my internal clock has been way off lately, and getting to sleep after 3 AM has become the norm. I'll admit to not having had much interest in seeing Interstellar, but I'm bored enough this evening to need some sort of entertainment, I've already seen Big Hero 6 (review coming soon), and I'm all caught up on anything of interest on my DVR. So here I am. Six minutes to go. I do have one observation before posting this and watching the film though - my iPhone 5S seems really tiny for typing on now. The new word-suggestion feature is really handy, but man, does it take up a lot of real estate. Apple needs to re-think some of their interface issues for those of us who don't own an iPhone 6 Jumbotron. Time to post this and shut off my phone for now - the lights are dimming (although I'm still the only one here). 3+ hours later... Another four people showed up during trailers - so we had a crowd! Woo hoo! The thing that puzzled me about Interstellar before seeing it, was the secrecy surrounding it. Whenever the cast showed up on talk shows or did media junkets, they weren't allowed to say anything about the film or show anything but the shortest (and vaguest) of clips. So naturally, I expected there to be some big, huge, amazing spoiler to the movie. You know... like Soylent Green being made of people, the Planet of the Apes actually being Earth, Darth Vader being Luke's father, that sort of thing. What? You didn't know any of that? Sorry... "Spoiler-free" only applies to movies that are reasonably current. Like within the last 30 years. On the one hand, I think the secrecy helped to build mystery about the movie and generate interest (although Interstellar had already been hyped for months), but on the other hand, since it doesn't really tell you anything about the movie - the tone of it, the characters, etc. - I found it difficult to really want to go see it, because I perceived it as being very-much like Gravity - an overly-serious, overly-long, overly-epic, better-see-it-in-IMAX-or-you'll-regret-it, self-proclaimed masterpiece of psuedo-realistic science fiction starring amicable but ultimately unbelievable-as-either-astronauts-or-scientists actors, that ultimately results in a visually impressive but flawed movie that doesn't make any sense once you think about it for more than a few minutes. At least, that was my assumption about Interstellar based on the trailers. But I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, since I don't drop $20 on a ticket and $13 on snacks just to go to a movie I don't think I have any chance of liking. If I wanted to waste that kind of money, there are plenty of other stupid things out there to buy. That said, Interstellar did turn out to be different - plot-wise - from Gravity. They are two completely different films. Gravity takes place (apparently) before the space shuttle program ended, while Interstellar takes place at some undetermined point in the near-ish future. Gravity, despite being completely preposterous, is more grounded in something resembling reality, while Interstellar embraces a much broader, fantastical approach to science fiction. More Space:1999 than Salvage 1, if you're looking for an obscure comparison. Yeah... I just equated Gravity with Salvage 1. Deal with it. Score: Andy Griffith 1, George Clooney 0. Anyway... Like its advertising campaign, Interstellar itself is often vague. It doesn't tell you when it's happening (you can infer that it's several decades from now), it doesn't tell you what exactly happened to Earth (there was a problem, and now everyone's in some sort of trouble), it implies that things are going to get worse for everyone on Earth really soon, but doesn't stick to that timeline or explain why, it never gives a clear background of the lead character and why he's uniquely suited to lead a mission into space (with apparently no training whatsoever), and it often either just broadly explains away major plot points or skips over them altogether, assuming the audience will somehow pick up on it. Generally, I was able to follow the movie okay, but there were a lot of missed opportunities to flesh-out some really interesting stories that would've only helped to make the movie and the plight of the people in it more compelling. As it was, with maybe the exception of Matthew McConaughey's character's daughter, I had a hard time connecting with, or caring about, anyone in the movie. Some of the characters were likable enough, but they all seemed very flat and one-dimensional. I had a really difficult time believing these were the brilliant scientists that they all supposedly were. Was that bad writing? Bad directing? Bad acting? I don't really know. Maybe there just wasn't enough setup in their backstories to make them seem believable. Especially when some of the most brilliant minds on the planet end up doing really stupid things. Certainly I didn't feel any real empathy for any of them, and when you couple that with the vagueness of the situation on Earth, it make it really difficult to become emotionally invested in what's going on. Predictability was another problem with the characters, and the film as well. You can see where certain parts of the film are going, just based on who was cast in which rolls, and what sort of music plays when they're on screen. Character moments that should be a surprise, aren't. Events are telegraphed way too far in advance, and I spent a lot of time just waiting for them to get around to the inevitable and hopefully move onto something else. Now then... about the science in the film. It felt like someone had been watching a few too many episodes of "Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman", without really paying attention. It's fine to throw around completely theoretical science concepts in a movie. Star Trek thrived off it. Star Wars never even bothered with it. But if you're going to attempt to ground a movie in something resembling reality, then you need to do a better job of explaining why things are happening that don't make any sense. Why transporters could never work doesn't matter in Star Trek - it's still explained well enough in the context of that world to be believable. It doesn't matter in Star Wars how hyperspace or lightsabers work - we just accept that they do because it fits that universe. But Interstellar establishes a particular level of scientific believability, and does a poor job of following through with it. The movie completely goes off the rails in the last act of the film, trying desperately to be something unique and thought-provoking, but only comes across as baffling and silly. Maybe the problem is that Interstellar has an identity crisis. It thinks it's trying to be original, but it's so completely derivative of so many other movies and science fiction stories, that it just can't. It's not a good enough movie to stand apart from everything it borrows shamelessly from: 2001, 2010, Contact, The Black Hole, Close Encounters, and more episodes of various TV series than I could ever hope to count. Maybe someone who had never seen any of those other films or episodes would have a completely different take on Interstellar. But for me, the comparisons were inevitable, and rarely favorable. From a production standpoint, it's a pretty amazing looking film. They certainly didn't cheap-out on the visual effects. There's one particular shot that really makes me wish someone would finally make a movie out of . Just not Christopher Nolan. As has been stated in other reviews, sound was another complaint I had about the film, too. There were some scenes where the sound effects were absolutely deafening, and others where dialog was completely drowned out by them. And yes - I understand that's more in keeping with reality. But here's the problem: it's a movie. If something pulls you out of the movie while you're watching it, and makes you think "That's too loud! I can't hear anything they're saying!" then it's failing as a movie, unless the the intent of the movie is to remind you that you're watching a movie. I don't think that was the idea behind Interstellar. There was one (and only one) shot in the movie where an abnormally loud sound was used effectively to have an impact on the audience, but the rest of the time just felt like the director was trying to be self-important and overwhelm the audience with the awesomeness of his own creation. Interstellar isn't what I'd call a boring film (and at nearly three hours, that's actually quite an accomplishment). But it isn't particularly engaging, either. I didn't really care what happened to anyone. To Earth. To the astronauts. The whole ending was silly, preposterous and pandering, and the movie felt like it was spending it's entire run time trying to be important. Like it wanted to grow up and be 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it never read the book. In the end, I guess my initial assumptions about the film were right. It is like Gravity. So, it gets the same score: 5/10
  7. I'll admit I didn't have much interest in seeing the latest X-Men film. While I thought X-Men: First Class was good, the rest of the films in the series were very hit-or-miss. X-Men Origins: Wolverine was pretty bad, X-Men: The Last Stand was awful, The Wolverine was kind-of boring, and even in the first two movies which overall were pretty good, I felt that some of the characters were never really captured very well (Cyclops, Kitty, Rogue, Nightcrawler). The actors or writing for them just missed the mark. Plus we never got to see the X-Men work out in the Danger Room. That should have been one of the first sequences we got to see, and was a missed opportunity to show to the audience who these characters are, how they interact, and what their powers can do. And I've never been that fond of the leather costumes. Too bland. Too similar looking. They needed some color in them. But the cast did have their strong points - Professor X, Magneto, Wolverine, Storm, Mystique were all pretty-much nailed, and the films did a pretty good job of touching on some of the "persecuted because they're different" themes that are prevalent in the X-Men comics. Besides, I was a huge X-Men fan back in my comic-collecting days, so when they decided to bring the Days of Future Past storyline to the movies, I pretty-much had to go. It had the potential to be either excellent, or catastrophically bad. As it turned out, it was excellent, but they had to make some changes to the story to make it more palatable to movie audiences. For example, with Hugh Jackman being the franchise star, he had to be the one to go back in time instead of Kitty XM:DOFP (really… they have got to start shortening these titles) manages to merge both the cast of The First Class and the previous movies into a cohesive unit. The time shifting works, and you really do get the sense that these two timelines and generations of characters are tied together (although I do wish they'd spent some more time in the future). Time travel is always a tricky subject, and can be confusing if not handled well, but it worked here. The goals and rules were established up front, and they (mostly) stuck to them. Keeping the audience on board with something potentially this complicated is challenging. Most people seeing this are certainly used to superhero movies by now, but that doesn't mean they know the back-catalog of X-Men comics. So there has to be a balance struck with keeping newbies on board with an understandable plot, and satisfying the comic-savvy viewers who are excepting more depth. Across the board all of the characters worked for me, and I'd say this is the first X-film to achieve that. They didn't attempt to bring everyone from both sets of the films' casts into this movie. It would have just become a cluttered mess. They chose key characters carefully, and gave them important roles. The standout new character for the film is Quicksilver. I had always considered him to be a minor Flash-knockoff in the comic books, but he has the best moment in the new film. His role in the film is limited, but it's one of the best things about it, and I think one of the best superhero movie moments ever. It fully captures everything about his abilities and personality, and gives the best - and most fun - glimpse we've ever had from a superhero's point-of-view. It's that good. I'm now really curious to see what they do with that character in Avengers 2. Even though it's a completely different world, character and actor, there are going to be inevitable comparisons, and frankly, Joss Whedon has his work cut out for him. One minor gripe - Beast is too light-blue. His fur should be a lot darker. It makes him look like a bad 70's shag carpet. The story works very well. It has the sort of weight and importance a superhero movie should. There's an urgency about it, and an uncertainty about the outcome until the final conflict plays out. One of the things I like best about it, is the scale of the threat. It's on a planetary scale, and it feels like it. Unlike Man Of Steel, where you only had a hole being drilled through Metropolis and just two super-guys punching each other in the face, or even The Avengers where such a small part of New York was being attacked that just six people could hold the aliens at bay, this feels much bigger, because we see the ultimate consequences of actions in the past that play out in the future. Good stuff. The filmmakers did a pretty-good job of setting the film in the 1970's. They must have raided every Goodwill store in the country to come up with that many fake leather jackets and bell-bottom pants. Some of the technology, however, looked a bit too modern. There's a mutant detector in particular that looked like something Apple would have designed just recently. It should have had chrome switches and fake woodgrain. The special effects and action sequences (again, Quicksilver being a standout) were all top-notch. The past's Sentinels worked very well, although I expected them to be much bigger, as they had been in the comic books. The future sentinels (based loosely on Nimrod) were also well done, although their design reminded me a bit too much of the Destroyer from Thor. Now then… a spoiler section. Since this is a spoiler-free review, I won't actually spoil anything specific. But still, if you haven't seen the movie yet, skip this part. Oh, and use Spoiler tags if commenting where appropriate. The next movie (X:Men Apocalypse) is rumored to follow up with the First Class cast in the 80's, which I suppose is fine (time to raid the Goodwills again for parachute pants and shoulder pads). After all, it'd be difficult to keep making movies with two different casts in two different time periods. But still, I hope we do get to see some of the original cast again. Anyway, X-Men: Days of Future Past is well-worth seeing on the big screen. Grab some popcorn and go! It gets an 8.5/10.
  8. Okay.... if you read my last review, I was pretty-much done with going to the movies. So, yeah. About that... After that final disappointing trip to the theater, I began to realize something: going to the movies had become a chore. And it had been for quite some time, too. Besides the two trips to see Age of Ultron, I'd been to a string of bad screenings. Dim projection, bad sound, dirty screens, and just really poorly run theaters. Snacks were marginal - flat, diluted soda, stale popcorn with rancid "buttery-flavored topping", distracting bright green LED aisle lights (during the movie), annoying commercials before a seemingly endless parade of trailers (I lost count at eight during Age of Ultron), and ushers walking around the theater with flashlights while the movies were running. That was all commonplace. And that doesn't even take into account having to deal with obnoxious patrons who text or don't shut their phones off, idiot "vapers" who think puffing on e-cigs is somehow acceptable in a movie theater, or just waiting in long lines on busy nights in the vain hope of getting a decent seat. No wonder it became a chore. Even for movies I wanted to go see, I can't recall the last time I actually liked going to the theater to see them. Maybe seeing Tron: Legacy at a dedicated IMAX theater was it. Going to a theater was something that I had to do to see a movie, not something I enjoyed. It would be like if the only place you could get a pizza was Chuck E. Cheese's. You'd probably stop getting pizza. I would. But not all movie theaters are like that. I know this because I work with people who actually go to movies and enjoy them. There are good theaters in the area. There kind-of have to be - I live not all that far from Hollywood, and that's the self-proclaimed movie capital of the world, right? The trick is, where is the nearest one, and is it worth the drive? The ones I'd heard the most consistent reports about were the ArcLight theaters. The nearest one to me being in Sherman Oaks - about 18 miles from here, along the 405, which is one of the worst stretches of freeway in L.A. But if I avoid typical rush hour traffic, it's only about a 1/2 hour drive. So I decided rather than let my enjoyment of movies get snuffed out without so much as a fight, I'd give it one more shot. I'm glad I did. You can check out their website for details, but let me give you a few highlights about what ArcLight does that's so different (but really should be standard practice). It's all about the movies. ​ArcLight makes sure their theaters exceed THX standards for sound and projection. They make sure everything is working properly - and even have someone come into the theater right before the lights dim to chat up the crowd and let everyone know that their goal is to ensure that everything is going to be presented the best that it can. And it was - the picture was razor-sharp and bright. The screen was flawlessly clean. The sound (Dolby Atmos for this screening) was perfect. They have a "black box" approach to their theaters. This means no distractions. They are there to present the movie - not commercials. None. And they run minimal trailers. Just three when I was there. And when the theater goes dark - it goes dark. Aisle lights are kept to a necessary, but still safe, minimum. [*]It's all about the enjoyment. No ushers walking around during the show. The one usher came in, introduced the show (and was very engaging while doing so), and I never saw another one during the movie. No texting or cellphones allowed during the movie. Sure, other movie theaters encourage that, but it's actually respected here. Wider seats with more legroom and wider armrests (you don't feel like you're stuffed into a coach airline seat). The theater was clean. Noticeably so. They had a big crew go in there to take care of it - not just one or two kids with trash bags. Fresh popcorn with real butter. Seriously - real butter. I can't begin to tell you what a difference this makes. And every size of their popcorn comes in tubs - not those horrible bags everyone else uses. Their "small" soda is actually a small soda. Not 32 oz. Thank you for understanding that not everyone wants to drink an entire bucket of soda. They even have a café in the lobby, so you can eat before or after the show. I'll have to check that out sometime. [*]It's all about the customers. Every employee I encountered there - repeat - every employee was courteous and friendly. Not disaffected and bored. The guy at the snack counter was actually enthusiastic. Infectiously so. My enjoyment of the movie started even before I'd set foot in the theater! To ensure a minimum of disruptions - after the movie starts, nobody gets in. You snooze, you lose. (Yes - you can step out to use the bathroom and get back in, but otherwise - no.) And since they start on time, that means you'd better get there on time. They validate your parking. Parking at the Galleria is not free - but you get four hours' worth if you go to the ArcLight. And here's the kicker - reserved seating. I bought my ticket Saturday for a Sunday show, online, and got a fantastic seat. This means no waiting in lines. Sure, I was early so I had to wait for the crew to clean up after the previous screening, but I didn't have to fight for, or worry about a decent seat. This needs to be standard operating procedure everywhere. This was, by far, the best movie-going experience I've had in years. Maybe decades. I want to go back. I want to watch movies again, because here - it was actually about movies! I'd almost forgotten what that was like. So, with the theater sorted out, what was the movie like? Well... I'll admit I had about zero interest in seeing Tomorrowland. The commercials and trailers didn't really tell enough about the movie for me to get excited about it. There's a fine line in trailers between piquing an audience's interest, and spoiling the best parts of the film. Tomorrowland never achieved the former. Another hang-up I had with it was that it had George Clooney in it. Generally, Clooney usually plays the same character in every film - the affable, snarky, smarmy goofball. Like in Ocean's 11. And Ocean's 12. And Ocean's 13. And Gravity. But that was before I saw the film. And I'll also admit that the only reason I saw the film was because it was directed by Brad Bird. Brad's an alum of the program where I work (the movie is listed as an "A113 Production" in the opening credits), as well as the director of Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille (two of Pixar's best films) and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (well, there's only so much you can do with Tom Cruise). Of course, just because someone is good at directing animation, doesn't mean they're bullet-proof when it comes to live action. So, let's get the 800-pound gorilla out of the way first. Or some such metaphor. George Clooney was not the problem here. He was fine. Or at least, not annoying. Let's just say he didn't stick out like a sore thumb and ruin the movie. In fact, the cast, across the board, was fine. Not special. Not great. But pretty good. The exception being Raffey Cassidy who, as the heart and soul of the film, was really a lot of fun to watch. Unfortunately, she wasn't really supposed to be the heart and soul of the film. Britt Robertson was. Although she too, was fine. Here's the problem with the film. And it comes from a line from within the film itself - where Robertson's character comes to a realization that she was promised one version of Tomorrowland, but that's not what she got. And it's not what we got either. I was actually enjoying the movie pretty well - until the characters got to Tomorrowland. Then it fell apart. The most interesting story about Tomorrowland is the one they didn't tell. We see glimpses of it, and hints of it, and what it was supposed to be. But we're not even sure if ever was that. We're told only the vaguest history of how it came to be, and what happened to it. Tomorrowland is what the movie trailers are about. It's the place the whole movie is supposed to be about. It builds to it... it teases it... then disappoints. To quote a line from a Peanuts strip, "the anticipation far exceeded the actual event". From that point on, the film degenerates rapidly into clichéd predictability. Everything is telegraphed so nothing is a surprise. Nobody's emotions really ring true. And frankly, the whole plot device that everything is hinging on and the solution for it could have been lifted from even the most pedestrian episodic sci-fi TV show or Saturday morning cartoon. The ending is completely unsatisfying because the threat of the movie never felt real. It was presented like, "for no apparent reason, all of this is going to happen". Well... there was a reason, actually. It was sledgehammered home in one hokey, overblown, self-righteous speech from the film's villain, in which humanity was deemed as a bunch of hateful, hopeless, war-mongering, environment-killing sadists, who deserved whatever their fate was. It was very haphazardly slapped into the movie, and just really didn't fit in with the tone of the rest of the film. And it's too bad, too. Because Tomorrowland looked like it could have been a fun place to explore and visit. But it didn't deliver that. In the end, Tomorrowland's biggest problem... was Tomorrowland. Maybe Brad should've taken Disney up on their offer to do that other film. Tomorrowland gets a 5/10, because half of the film was pretty good. But man... the theater was awesome. ArcLight gets a 9/10.
  9. So here we go again. This time I'm sitting in a properly huge IMAX theater, waiting for the latest James Bond epic to begin. No lack of a crowd this time - being a rainy Saturday night in Burbank. The movie kicks off in about 20 minutes, and as usual I'll be back with a review after I get home. Or maybe tomorrow. Either way, see you after the show. __________________ (15 hours later...) So, is Skyfall the "Best Bond Ever"? Well, no. That would be Goldfinger. But I'll get back to that. Skyfall is, however, the second best Bond film. And it's pretty close to being the best. Let's run down the list: Awesome pre-credits sequence? Check. Great title song? Check. Great title sequence? Check. Gadgets? Check. Guns? Check. Girls? Check! Car chases? Check. Action? Check. Stunts? Check. Humor? Check. Adversary worthy of James Bond? Check. And that last one is critical. Too many Bond films fall flat because the villains just aren't enough of a threat. They either aren't interesting, or menacing, or on equal (or superior) footing with Bond. The villain in this film is every bit Bond's equal, and then some. Plus he's got some classic Bond-film quirks that make him memorable - which is also very important. You have to enjoy the time the villain is onscreen. They have to be fun, in their own way, to watch. And they have to be credible. The Bond villain in this film makes sense within the current world. What he's after makes sense. His lair makes sense. It's not some giant orbiting platform or submersible city. He's not bent on some completely over-the-top world domination plot. As for Bond, Daniel Craig is at his best here, and at times he evokes some of the past Bonds in his actions and mannerisms, yet he's made the character his own. Bond starts off having a bad day, and the repercussions affect him throughout the film. We get a closer, more personal look at Bond than we have in a very long time (possibly since On Her Majesty's Secret Service). We feel like we're connecting with the man, not just a character or a facade (I'm looking at you, Pierce Brosnan). In some ways, Bond has a character arc here similar to Batman in The Dark Knight Rises. However, where that film did everything wrong, Skyfall does everything right. Bond's problems aren't solved in a montage of him doing sit-ups (he also doesn't waste several hours painting a giant bat on a bridge using gasoline in order to let the bad guy know he's coming ). There's a welcomed humanity brought to the character. The story is a good one, too. While Bond films generally aren't known for their depth, this one does a good job at keeping enough things under wraps long enough so that you're not continually just waiting for the next inevitable thing to happen (although some things are telegraphed in advance, the payoffs are worth it). There's just enough complexity to keep you involved without getting in the way of the action, as opposed to, say, Octopussy, which is so convoluted I've never been able to figure out what's going on in that movie. The action scenes are top-notch. Over-the-top, yet without the silliness of some previous Bond films. The opening chase scene is classic Bond. The fight scenes are all first-rate too, although they've yet to top the fight on the train in Thunderball. There's just a brutality to that which seems like it's two guys fighting for their lives, and they've never been able to recapture that. The fights still seem too choreographed, but they are really well choreographed, and fun to watch. Perhaps because this is the 50th anniversary of the Bond films, there are a lot of nods to previous films. How many of those are intentional, or just the inevitable result of there being so many films that comparisons are unavoidable, I don't know. But there are scenes, elements, shots, gadgets, characters, and so forth that evoke moments in other Bond films. Yet I didn't find them obtrusive. After all, when you're watching a Bond film, you're always aware you're watching a Bond film. So some self-reference is to be expected. If I had any complaint, it's that the film is pretty long, clocking in at nearly 2 1/2 hours. But it keeps moving at a brisk pace, and rarely lags. It didn't feel overly-long anyway. The film also does a nice job of setting us up for future Bond films. It starts off questioning the very relevance of James Bond, and by the end not only are we assured of his necessity, but we're also reassured that the franchise is safe and has a solid future ahead of it (something that was not at all certain with the bankruptcy of MGM). I thought Skyfall was awesome. It was a fun action film, but better still, it was a great Bond film. It hit all the right notes, and was well worth seeing on a big screen (even at $17.50!!! a ticket). Its an event, and that's what a Bond film should be. I'm looking forward to the next one. Skyfall gets a 9/10. Go see it. And now a short list of Bond's "Best and Worst": Best Bond: Sean Connery. He defined the role, although his run had low points as well, such as the cringeworthy sequence in You Only Live Twice where he's made up as a Japanese peasant, and pretty-much all of Diamonds Are Forever, which shamelessly paved the way for the campy 70's Bond films. Worst Bond: Timothy Dalton. He's just bland. He actually makes a better villain when he plays one. He's only marginally better than Pierce Brosnan, who always came across as a vapid pretty-boy. Even when Brosnan was dirtied-up, it never felt honest - just another layer of make-up. Best film: Goldfinger. This has the definitive Bond villain, the definitive Bond henchman (Odd Job), and the best plot of any Bond film. It's not about world domination, or starting World War III - it's about throwing the world's economy into chaos through an act of nuclear terrorism (and with that, I'd like to welcome the Department of Homeland Security to my blog - hope you enjoy the read!). There is no massive lair, or ridiculous doomsday machine. The final set piece at Fort Knox serves the same visual purpose/plot device as a lair, but it makes far more sense than somebody hollowing out a volcano or building an entire nuclear power plant on a private island. Although the film looks dated now, the story and characters could effectively be transplanted intact into a modern movie. Worst film: Octopussy. Some will put View To A Kill as the worst, but at least that film had Christopher Walken, who was fun to watch. Octopussy was an incomprehensible train-wreck. The plot involved stealing jewels for some reason, and a Soviet General trying to blow up a U.S. Army base in order to force the U.N. make the U.S. withdraw from Europe to umm... something... and then there was Maud Adams and her army of spandex-wearing circus acrobats... and James Bond in a clown suit... and a hot air balloon... and... uh... yeah. So... Octopussy. Worst Bond film ever. Best theme song: Live And Let Die. It rocks. It has french horn power chords. 'Nuff said. Worst theme song: Tomorrow Never Dies. While Madonna's Die Another Day is a terrible, unlistenable mess, Tomorrow Never Dies takes the prize because of Sheryl Crow's nasally voice. While her singing may be suitable for her pseudo-country-barroom folk ditties, it just doesn't suit a Bond film at all. She set the bar so low that Madonna cleared it, for crying out loud. They need to get great singers for their theme songs. Ann Wilson (Heart) or Annie Lennox would be awesome. Adele was an excellent choice for Skyfall. Tomorrow Never Dies also loses out for another reason - it's a stupid title. The original title was supposed to be Tomorrow Never Lies, which would have fit in with the theme of the movie, where a media mogul manipulates events in order to... uh... sell newspapers. The newspaper was named "Tomorrow". Right. Great plot there. Anyway, there was a typo in a fax to MGM which led to the film being renamed. So there you go. Worst Bond theme ever.
  10. So Disney bought Lucasfilm today for $4 billion. Lock, stock and Jar-Jar. I'll admit this took me by surprise, even though Disney and Lucas have teamed up in the past: Indiana Jones (the ride), Star Tours and all of its related merchandise, plus other more questionable crossovers like this: As a friend of mine who works for the Big D pointed out, Leia is now a "Disney Princess". (shudder) Anyway... the question is - is this acquisition a good thing or a bad thing? Well, let's take a look at the bad. Umm... Give me a minute here. Bad... uh... Well, I guess that the Star Wars and Indiana Jones properties are now owned by a massive, heartless, entertainment conglomerate that cares more for marketing than anything else could be considered a bad thing. Except for that fact that that really hasn't changed. I mean c'mon... Lucas. Am I right? The Phantom Menace? Attack of the Clones? Revenge of the Sith? Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Nuke-proof Refrigerators? A steadfast refusal to stop tinkering with beloved movies and release them in their original theatrical forms? Jar-Jar? Really... apart from The Clone Wars TV series, Lucasfilm isn't exactly batting a thousand lately. Or even crossing the Mendoza line. So would the properties that have already been (in some views) irreparably damaged fare any worse under Disney? I don't think so. In fact, I'm hopeful things might actually improve. Even though Lucas is going to hang around to give input to Kathleen Kennedy (who will be running the Lucasfilm branch of Disney), he isn't calling the shots anymore. And frankly, I think that's a good thing. I think George did great with Star Wars (the original film). But maybe he was more lucky than good. Empire was more Ivrin Kershner's film than George's. Return of the Jedi had more input from George, and look what happened to that big, Muppety Ewok-turd of a movie. And the prequels were, in my opinion, effectively a waste of six-plus hours of time. The Clone Wars TV series has, at times, been excellent, but those aren't directed by George. He's had input into them, but I think they've succeeded more because of other peoples' creative direction. Part of today's announcement was that there will be new Star Wars films, starting with Episode VII to be released possibly in 2015. Now, there's every chance that under Disney's guidance they could be just as big of stinkers as the last three Star Wars films were. But I don't think they could be any worse, and with George not directing them, I think that improves their chance of being better. (Not that Disney has any great track record in making films, mind you.) There are many, many things that could go wrong, of course, but I'm hoping they avoid enough of them to push the movie franchise in a positive direction for the first time since Empire. Had The Clone Wars series not reached some of its heights, I wouldn't be nearly as optimistic. Even then, it's a cautious optimism. As for any concerns that Lucasfilm is somehow "selling out", think about that for just a second. Star Wars has always sold out. From Darth Vader Underoos to C-3PO's breakfast cereal, the only franchise to shamelessly merchandise themselves as much as Disney - if not more - has been Lucasfilm. So I don't see much change there, except to see more merging of Disney and Star Wars characters. Nothing new there. Legos and Angry Birds have already been there, done that. George sold off Lucasfilm because he said he wants to see Star Wars continue on for future generations, and doesn't want to do it himself. Disney makes the most sense. They have the money, resources and marketing machine necessary to handle Star Wars. Nobody else does. Plus they had the money to buy him outright, so George can do whatever he wants to now for the rest of his life without worrying about any of it earning a dime or pleasing any fans. Before, he had to worry about Lucasfilm turning a profit, now he doesn't. Disney now owns Star Wars. All of it. All of the characters, licenses, movies, games, everything. Even the Star Wars Holiday Special. They also own Indiana Jones, Lucasarts, Skywalker Sound and ILM. Disney just bought themselves a big chunk of Hollywood. Frankly, I think $4 billion was a bargain. Disney owns The Muppets, Pixar and Marvel, and haven't made any major mis-steps with them. At least, no more than any other studio would have. (I'm looking at you John Carter and Cars 2.) They've had their fair share of hits and misses, but in the long run Disney is undeniably successful. Whether that comes with anything vaguely resembling artistic integrity or not is debatable. But again - Lucasfilm has done no better. If anything, they've had even more vehement vitriol heaped on them by their own fans over the years. Certainly, this all bodes extremely well for Disney. They've just added a huge new weapon to their already considerable marketing arsenal. I'm hopeful we might even see something fans have long-since written off as impossible: the original movies on Blu-ray. Unaltered. Disney has been doing this with their own theatrical shorts and films for years. This sort of thing is right up their alley. Besides, it'd be a great way for them to cash-in on their newly acquired intellectual property. Certainly, there are some concerns. Will they continue The Clone Wars on its current path, or try to make it more kid-friendly? When they took over Marvel, several ongoing TV series were canceled and rebooted, much to the consternation of fans. Although with Marvel, its various properties were scattered to the four winds and different production companies anyway. Disney has attempted to reconsolidate those properties under one roof. With Lucasfilm, everything has been under one roof the whole time. So we'll see if they stay the course. Hopefully, they'll leave The Clone Wars be. At the very least, I'm sure we'll see it move to Disney XD. There's also a concern about fandom. Lucasfilm is pretty lenient about letting fans make fan films about Star Wars. It's a very open universe, relatively speaking. Disney... not so much. So there could be a culture clash looming on the horizon. We'll see if Disney is smart enough to understand its newly inherited fan base and work with them, not against them. At any rate, it's all very interesting news. Fanboys are all at once rejoicing over the news of new movies, while at the same time lamenting the fact that Disney now owns everything. Others are glad that George is gone, and at the same time worried that Star Wars has lost its visionary. But was it really his vision anyway? Or has it actually belonged to the fans all along, and George was just along for the ride? Well, I guess we'll find out. Just please... no Ewok/Tinkerbell crossover direct-to-video movies. Because that would make me pretty-much throw up.
  11. So, here we go again. I'm killing time in a movie theater, waiting for a movie to start. However, there are only a couple of minutes to go, so I'm not going to get much typing done. I wasn't sure whether to go see The Amazing Spider-Man or not, since I can't say I was all that intrigued by the trailers. But I had a couple of hours to kill, and a free movie pass burning a hole in my pocket, so here I am. Well... time for the show. (One movie and a late dinner at Chick-Fil-A later...) (BTW - does anyone actually like their rubbery waffle fries? Their chicken nuggets are awesome - especially with the Buffalo sauce, but their fries... bleah.) Anyway.... I figured I should probably see Spider-Man now, because once The Dark Knight Rises hits later this week and takes over every single movie screen in the country, there won't be any place left to watch it, except the dollar theater next to the bowling alley. Yeah, you know the one. Spider-Man (The Amazing) is a pretty good superhero flick. Generally speaking, I liked it better than the first Spider-Man movie in the last series. I think the casting was better across the board - especially Emma Stone (as Gwen Stacy), and the villain (The Lizard) worked better too. But then, I never really found the Green Goblin to be all that credible as a movie villain. What works fine in a comic book, doesn't always (or sometimes ever) translate well to the big screen. I also liked the different take on Peter Parker (or more accurately, Peter Parkour) (Andrew Garfield), and Aunt May and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen), and was surprised how well Sally Field worked as Aunt May. For those of us who grew up on the ancient endlessly-in-peril version of Aunt May in the comics, it's nice to see a (slightly) younger, feistier version. The special effects were spot-on, but by this point, that should just be a given in a high-budget superhero film. Spidey's webs (which have thankfully returned to their proper place, coming from web shooters outside of his body) looked the best they ever have. There was a particular scene where Spider-Man webbed up a bad guy by eerily crawling around on him like a real spider would, which was pretty cool and something I hadn't seen before. Speaking of things I hadn't seen before... well, that was about it. The biggest drawback to The Amazing Spider-Man is that it's basically just another re-telling of Spider-Man's origin story, which probably every single person on the planet is already familiar with. So there weren't really any surprises in it, and some things were telegraphed so obviously and early they had little impact. "Oh right... this is where that thing is going to happen. Well, get on with it then." They tried to shake things up a little by incorporating Peter's parents into it (which I don't know if they ever covered in the comics or not), but while we find out a little bit more about them, we really don't find out what happened to them. I guess they're saving that for the sequel. But at least they expanded a little bit on what has come before. There were a few annoying things - like how incredibly convenient it was that someone was working at the very company Peter needed to sneak into; the ridiculously convenient (and improbable - even for a comic book movie) crane scene (you'll know it when you see it - or when you hear the overblown orchestral music that accompanies it); and two or three times they had a TV news anchor telling the movie audience, in the most painfully obvious way possible, what just happened. It's like, "Hey - we know some of you in the audience are really stupid, or three years old, so in case you missed it, Spider-Man just did this." That was completely unnecessary and really pulled me out of the movie. Show it. Don't narrate it. Speaking of being pulled out of the movie, I did not see it in 3-D, and I'm glad I didn't. There were several point-of-view shots with swirling camera moves that probably just would have made me ill. They were obviously thrown in for 3-D screenings (Bad filmmakers!! No biscuit!), but they're still just as obtrusive in 2-D. One, maybe two would have gotten the point-of-view of Spider-Man across well enough. Criticisms aside, I enjoyed the film for what it was - an above-average superhero film. The cast was best thing about it - the chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone was spot-on, and there really wasn't a weak player in the group. The action was good, the special effects were first rate, and overall, it was a fun film. But it's nothing you'd need to see in 3-D or even in a movie theater. It lacks the epic scale of something like The Avengers. That's not a bad thing - just a different thing. It's a smaller, more intimate film, which I think suits Spider-Man well. The biggest problem is that we've seen/read/heard this story before. But I am looking forward to the sequel, and seeing this cast in action again. Spider-Man (The Amazing) gets: 7.5/10
  12. In this film, an old, fat, bearded Jeff Bridges mumbles his way through a script that at times is largely incoherent. Oh wait... I think that was supposed to be part of my Tron: Legacy review. I went out and saw True Grit today. Being a fan of the original (with John Wayne) I half-expected to sit there through the whole film thinking, "That's not how John Wayne spoke that dialogue." And while such comparisons are inevitable, this new True Grit does stand on its own, and manages to carve out its own identity. In part, this is due to Jeff Bridges not trying to imitate John Wayne's take on the character of Rooster Cogburn. He brings his own take to the character, which is a bit more grounded and less caricatured than Wayne's. In fact, that pretty-much sums up the whole film. This version of True Grit seems to be less caricatured, and more grounded than the 1969 original. That should be expected though, since westerns of that era (and especially Wayne's) were more idealized "Hollywood" versions, where everything was cleaner than it should be, and the actors seemed more like they were playing characters in a story, than existing as real people living lives. That's not to say that this new film isn't peppered (pun intended) with its own odd assortment of distinct characters (read: weirdos), but they're played differently than in 1969. And while this version does maintain a lot of the flavor and charm (including the unique dialogue) of the original, and the plot and characters are nearly identical, the direction and acting give the remake a little bit harder of an edge, and leaves you uncertain as to how things are going to end up. (Although it's clear from the opening narration that at least one of the characters certainly survives, since they're narrating it after the fact. I think the film would have been a lot stronger without that at the opening.) What makes the film really work is Hailee Steinfeld's performance as Mattie Ross. While John Wayne's relationship with Kim Darby was the center of the 1969 version, Steinfeld is the heart and soul of this one, and she manages to pull off a character that's smart beyond her years, and makes it all seem quite natural. If anything, Bridges seems to step aside to a large degree, and lets her shine in her role. And while Bridges is certainly entertaining, this is more her film, than his. There are a few things "missing" from the new version, or at least things that I may not have caught - such as more of Ned Pepper's history with Cogburn, or more of Mattie's bonding with her horse. As such, some of the film doesn't pay off quite as well as the original did. One big improvement though is Matt Damon (who I had a hard time recognizing at first) as LaBoeuf, versus Glen Campbell from the original. Still, for sheer entertainment value, I prefer the original. Nothing beats John Wayne. I will say I was a little bit disappointed in the ending of the remake, Anyway, True Grit is worth checking out. It's an enjoyable, well-written and well-acted western. You don't get a whole lot of those anymore. It had some genuinely fun moments, solid performances, and some classic characters. It's a nice update to a classic - respectful to it without ruining what was so good about the original. And if you see it at 1:40 PM on a Monday afternoon, you'll have the theater pretty-much to yourself, too. And no funky 3-D glasses to wear. 8/10
  13. Yes, yes... another Tron-related blog entry. Ah... but this one is completely different! According to Tron-Sector, the original Tron is going to be screened in a number of theaters in special midnight showings around the U.S. in the coming months. Here's the current list: April 22 Nuart - Los Angeles April 30 Ken - San Diego May 6-7 Esquire - Denver May 13-14 Uptown - Minneapolis May 20-21 E Street - Washington D.C. May 27-29 Sunshine - New York June 10-11 Inwood - Dallas June 17-18 Egyptian - Seattle I may just be in Seattle around that time, too.
  14. Well, it took me awhile to see the new James Bond film - Quantum of Solace - but last week, see it I did. I thought Casino Royale was an excellent restart to the Bond franchise, which had really ground to a halt. As much as I thought Pierce Brosnan should've made a good James Bond, the films he was in just never distinguished themselves, and seemed to all sort of blur together. In Quantum of Solace, Daniel Craig firmly establishes himself in the role, much in the way Sean Connery did. The film is the first "real" sequel in the entire series (discounting the opening of Diamonds Are Forever), picking up immediately where Casino Royale left off. The storyline of the film is a continuation of that story as well, although it's not necessary to have seen Casino Royale in order to enjoy Quantum of Solace. Quantum of Solace feels very much like the early Sean Connery Bond films. Bond is rough around the edges, brutal when necessary, and relies more on his wits and skill than on gadgets and gimmicks. Also, the movie introduces Quantum, which is emerging to be the modern-day equivalent of SPECTRE, and will likely be the focus of the next couple of Bond films. This recalls the huge, evil organizations of the classic Bond films, and there's even the obligatory exploding villains' lair at the end of the film. (There's a funny bit of tongue-in-cheek dialog by one of the villains about the lair - comprised of hydrogen fuel cells - being potentially unstable, so you just know what's going to happen.) So, some welcomed elements from classic Bond films have returned, yet they aren't played so much for camp value, and are all updated nicely. There are some great chases, stunts and fights in the film, a solid (if a bit unconventional) villain, and the hint of much bigger things afoot with Quantum. The directing and editing is a bit jumbled at times, using too much "shaky-cam" footage and fast edits, and making action scenes a bit hard to follow. Quantum of Solace is still a more serious Bond film than most, but adds back in some more of the fun elements of the series, and even manages to add a little depth to the main character. All in all, a rock-solid effort. It's nice to see the 007 franchise back in good hands. 8/10
  15. Well, that was totally cool. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Hoozitwhatzit (the "Oscars" guys), held a screening Wednesday evening of a 70mm print of Tron at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, preceded by a panel discussion with director Steven Lisberger, VFX supervisor Richard Taylor, and animator Bill Kroyer. They went over the laborious process of making the film (including some info I'd never heard before), a few anecdotes about the production, and talked a little about Tron's legacy. The print was a little beat-up in spots, but for the most part it looked amazing. Despite the computer effects being 24 years old, they still work perfectly within the context of the film. You don't need complexity, if the visuals support the story. If the visuals overpower the story (cough... Star Wars Episodes I - III ...cough), it's time to go back and fix the story. One thing that's often overshadowed by Tron's effects, is the cinematography in the "real world". At times it's quite stunning, with some breathtaking lighting that adds great color and mood to some of the scenes, as well as hinting at the connection to the electronic world. The electronic world itself is rich with detail and depth that can't be appreciated on video. (Maybe a Blu-Ray disc will be able to handle it some day, but this is really a film that deserves to be seen in a theater, on a huge screen, if you ever get the chance.) The sound was absolutely first-rate (if not a little loud), and really made me appreciate all over again just how well designed every aspect of the film really is. Tron-Sector has a write-up on the evening as well. And I've got a full review of the Tron DVD on my website. I guess the next film I need to go see would be Cars. Still not sure how that one's going to work out, but the early reviews are more promising than I expected.
  16. So after the fatboy slim thread I've been wondering where else one might find reference to the Atari ST computers in popular culture? Were they in any movies or TV shows, mentioned in any song lyrics or books? I have been watching movies and shows lately (X files, Seinfeld) and really enjoy spotting the computers of the era on the shows. I NEVER saw Atari's growing up, just Mac's and Windows machines, (with the occasional Commodore or Amiga) so i'm curious if they were in front of me somewhere all along. Thanks and looking forward to seeing what comes up!
  17. If you go to the theater late enough at night... you can still get tickets to Avengers: Endgame. Which I did - going to a 10:45 PM showing last night. Mainly because I wanted to avoid spoilers, and the way articles and videos were popping up all over the internet about the movie, I figured time was running out. (I even ran across what turned out to be an incorrect spoiler watching a ZeroPage Twitch stream the other week. So nowhere is safe. Idiots who think they're funny or just want to ruin the film for others abound on the internet.) Also, my internal clock is all messed up from work, so being up until 3 AM is kind-of unavoidable at the moment. But that's another blog entry for another time. (But if you want a hint... it's this time of year again.) Anyway, onto the movie review. And just fair warning: there won't be much to it. Because while I'd like to describe it more, I don't want to risk giving anything away. Even minor things that might detract from some of the many fun, satisfying moments in this movie. It should come as no spoiler by now that Endgame is intended to be the conclusion to the storyline that has weaved through the MCU movies since the first Iron Man film, which kicked the whole thing off 11 years ago. And the only thing I could think of at first when writing this review was just to type "wow" over and over again. Because that was my response watching the movie. I'm glad I went in with no spoilers, because even though there are some sort-of vague hints that can be gleaned about what maybe the movie is about, I really had no idea where they were going with it, basically right from the first few minutes. And that kept up through the whole film, right through to the end. Even things I suspected might be coming, were so well done, that I was still fully swept up in it anyway. For me, this film hit all the right notes. Humor, emotion, action, and payoff. And the scale of it at times is... incredible. It makes Infinity War pale in comparison. This is a blockbuster, summer, popcorn movie, full stop. This is the popcorn movie. The Russo brothers were asked to describe it in one word, and they said, "cathartic". Yeah, that works. I'd go with "satisfying". If I were to sum it up in a sentence, it would be: What a journey. Now, did I like everything about it? Well, maybe not everything. And also there were some characters I'd like to have seen more of. But the core Avengers all got their moments to really shine here, and in that regards it was completely satisfying. If you've seen and liked any of the MCU movies, you need to go see this. Now, if you think too hard about some elements of the plot, your brain will probably break. But really, this is the kind of movie where you go and shut off the analytical part of your brain, and just go enjoy it. I'll give you one minor semi-spoiler of sorts, since it doesn't actually tell you anything about the movie itself: I really, thoroughly enjoyed this movie, on many levels. It's a love-letter to comic books, and superheroes, and everything that makes them amazing and wonderful. I haven't had a movie experience quite like this since Mad Max: Fury Road. So that being the case... Avengers: Endgame gets an 11/10. Go see it. Before someone spoils it for you. And since this seems an appropriate place for them, here are links to my previous MCU movie reviews. I've been at this for awhile now (I never did review Thor: The Dark World though): Summer Full 'o Movies pt. 2 - Iron Man Summer Full 'o Movies pt. 5 - The Incredible Hulk Summer Full o' Superheroes pt. 2 - Iron Man 2 Summer Full o' Superheroes pt. 3 - Thor Summer Full o' Superheroes pt. 6 - Captain America (Marvel's) The Avengers - Spoiler-free review (first Spoiler-free movie review!) Iron Man 3 - Spoiler-free review Captain America: The Winter Soldier - Spoiler-free review Guardians of the Galaxy - Spoiler-free review Avengers: Age of Ultron - Spoiler-free movie review (plus free bonus rant!) Ant-Man - Spoiler-free movie review Captain America: Civil War - Spoiler-free movie review Doctor Strange - Spoiler-free movie review Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 - Spoiler-free review Spider-Man: Homecoming - Spoiler-free review Thor: Ragnarok - Spoiler-free review Black Panther - Spoiler-free review Avengers: Infinity War - Spoiler-free review Ant-Man and The Wasp - Spoiler-free review Captain Marvel - Spoiler-free review
  18. Marvel has a knack for making superhero movies. And by knack, I mean they've pretty-much got it figured out. Of course, when you think about it, they probably should by now. But nothing is a given. I should note here I'm talking about the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movies, not Marvel movies made by Sony or 20th Century Fox. Those have been, at best, inconsistent. If you think about how many truly bad superhero movies there are out there, it's impressive that Marvel Studios really hasn't had any outright bombs. No Catwoman. No Elektra. No Batman and Robin. No Spider-Man 3. No Green Lantern. No Fantastic Four. No Fant4stic Four. They haven't had anything that I'd classify as "awful". For as many films as they've done, that's impressive. Sure, some have been just "meh" (Thor: The Dark World, I'm looking at you), and some may have not performed spectacularly at the box office (Ant-Man and a few others), but they've still all made money, and they all have one other thing in common: despite their flaws, they all have at least some compelling, likable characters in them. I think this is what separates Marvel's movies from DC's, and is what separated what Stan Lee did in the early 60's, from what other comic books were doing at the time. Make the characters behind the heroes compelling and interesting first, then what they do as a hero will follow suit. With the Aquaman and Wonder Woman movies, DC got it right. They made the characters interesting: who they were, their personalities, their stories. They got the casting right, and wrote the characters behind the superheroics in such a way that we could relate to them and like them. To some degree, they did this with the Flash in Justice League as well, but so far they've failed to make either Superman or Batman likable, because neither Clark Kent nor Bruce Wayne is particularly likable. That doesn't mean they have to be without flaws - Tony Stark is a very flawed character, but ultimately, Stark is redeemable, relatable, and chooses to be a hero for the right reasons. The fact that he's Iron Man is secondary to who he really is as Tony Stark. Where DC has gone wrong is that Batman is an unlikable jerk, because that's what Bruce Wayne is. Superman is distant, aloof and unrelatable because that's what Clark Kent is. It's how they're written, casted and acted. Oh yeah... and they kill people, too, which is counter to who they're supposed to be at their cores. Sure, it was cool watching Batman beat up a room full of henchmen in Batman vs. Superman, but one cool scene does not a good character make. In the comics, Batman is already a great character. So is Superman. They've been great onscreen at times, too. Batman: The Animated Series is still the high-water mark for Batman, and Christopher Reeves is still the definitive Superman. When it was recently (finally) announced that Ben Affleck was done as Batman, I was glad to hear it. Hopefully they can reboot the character and do it right this time. I'm hoping DC will recast Superman, too. DC has the ability to make great superhero films. They have the iconic characters to do it with. They just need to stop overthinking it, and go back to who the characters are, and why they're compelling and have been for some 80 years now. Stop trying to "make a blockbuster". Just tell good stories. The rest will follow. Right. So what does this have to do with Captain Marvel? Well, I didn't know much about the character going into the movie. I knew a little bit about her from when I collected comics, back when she was Ms. Marvel, and (a pre-X-Men) Rogue stole her powers and memories. At that point Carol Danvers became just sort of on the periphery of mainstream comics. She became Binary for awhile, with the powers apparently of 1's and 0's. Or a binary star. Something like that. Anyway, the name Captain Marvel belonged to a completely different character then. By the time Carol Danvers became Captain Marvel, I had long since stopped reading comics. I would suspect also, that outside of regular comic book readers, few people knew of her, even though she had become a very popular character in recent years. For me, the same had applied to a number of other Marvel characters. I had only passing familiarity with Dr. Strange, even less with Black Panther, and absolutely none with Guardians of the Galaxy. But all of those movies managed to draw me in, and made me interested in those characters. This is what Marvel has done so effectively since Iron Man. When the MCU started, those characters were the leftovers they had after selling off all of their most valuable characters to other studios. Hard to believe that now, given the success of the movies. Harder still to believe, is that there have been over 20 of these movies. So, as with other Marvel movies before it, last Monday I went to see Captain Marvel without any real expectations. Besides my unfamiliarity with the character, the trailers didn't really do much to convey her personality. It wasn't until I saw Brie Larson in several interviews that I got a sense of her own personality and humor, and began to see the potential in what her character might be. She was engaging, sincere, and genuinely funny. Especially when she teamed up with Samuel L. Jackson during their press junket. The two of them clearly have a lot of fun together. That relationship shows through brilliantly in the movie, too. They have a fun, natural chemistry together. It's almost a buddy movie when the two of them are onscreen. But make no mistake - this is Brie Larson's movie, and she's a, well... a Marvel. I really enjoyed watching Larson in this movie - a lot. Clearly, she had fun making it. But also, she clearly put an incredible amount of effort and dedication into the role. The emotional intensity she brings to the screen, the physicality, and the humanity all really make her character compelling (there's that word again), likable, and heroic. Marvel doing what Marvel does best: good characters, good casting, good acting and directing. And obviously, despite some trolling, audiences have caught on. Earning over $500,000,000 in less than one week, the score is: Captain Marvel 1, Internet Trolls 0. The rest of the cast is on point as well, but the standout is Jackson. He's playing a much younger Nick Fury here, early in his S.H.I.E.L.D. career (ca. 1995), less world-weary, and learning of all of this superhero and space alien stuff for the first time. It's a great, fresh take on a familiar character, and a lot of fun to watch. And this has to be said: the de-aging used on him in this film is seamless. I was going to use some other superlative like "incredible" or "astounding" but that makes it seem like it was something that was amazing to watch, and that's just the point - it wasn't. It was just... seamless. He never looked weird, or off-putting, or anything. He was just a younger Samuel L. Jackson. Now, admittedly, for someone in his 70's, he looks pretty ageless anyway, so I'm sure that helped. But in a film packed with all sorts of big-budget effects, the one that was just there and didn't draw any attention to itself was the most impressive. Another impressive effect were the Skrulls. Shape-shifters have been in science fiction for decades. But usually, that effect is done with a "morphing" effect, or something which doesn't really show how they actually change shapes. The closest to doing that is probably Mystique in the X-Men movies, but even that is a bit more sleight-of-hand. For the Skrulls though - when you see them shape-shifting close up, you can see them... well, sort of turning their skin inside-out. It looks like a biological (and not at all comfortable) process, and is the most effective way I've seen of doing this sort of thing. It's really cool, because it adds a new level of believability to an old trope. The effects throughout the film are excellent, which by now you almost just expect going into these films. There may have been one or two things which could've been done better, but nothing that was distracting, and no film is perfect anyway. Although one thing which has bugged me for years, and continues to bug me: colored contact lenses. Yeah... it makes someone look like an alien if they have yellow irises. But the problem is that a real iris is nearly flat and behind the cornea, and a contact lens is convex and sits on the surface of the cornea. The end result is that the eye never looks right - the iris and pupil sit on the surface of the eye, and light hits it completely wrong. It would look better to digitally recolor the irises instead. It'd be more expensive, but it would look more believable. There are some fun action sequences throughout the film - fights, chases, and a particularly excellent escape sequence where we get an early glimpse of how fierce and resourceful Captain Marvel can be. Throughout it all, there's just the right mix of humor, and the chemistry between Larson and Jackson is always fun to watch. Oh, and there's a cat in the movie, too. I understand that people like cats. The movie is replete with 90's references, and there are a lot of in-jokes, period music and details for audiences to appreciate (although it's weird to think of a movie set in the 90's as being a period piece...). There's a particularly moving tribute to Stan Lee as well. Excelsior, Stan! The overall plot of the movie probably isn't anything groundbreaking, although there are a few welcomed twists to it. But the real heart of the film is about Carol Danvers. Watching her story unfold, seeing her discover who she is, and who she becomes. Again, Marvel comics, and the best of their movies, are about the characters, and they really deliver here. I had fun watching this movie, and am considering seeing it again in the theaters (which I rarely do). Especially in contrast to some of the heavier Marvel films, it's nice to watch something that's fun and uplifting. Again, Marvel has a knack for these films, and a large part of that is how diverse they make them. From a World War II movie to an espionage thriller, from a science fiction romp to a heist comedy, from the craziness of Thor: Ragnarok to the drama of Avengers: Infinity War, and now a 90's-era alien invasion flick. Take notes, DC - I'm hoping the rumors are true, and the next Batman film will focus on him as the world's greatest detective. For now, I'm really looking forward to seeing Captain Marvel again in Avengers: Endgame. I really liked Captain Marvel. I got lost in the entertainment of it, and the strength and appeal of the lead characters proved Marvel hasn't lost its touch. Some elements of the story were a little predictable, but I still enjoyed watching it all unfold. There are a lot of people out there who are happy to see Captain Marvel because it's the first Marvel movie with a female superhero in the lead role; and given the wealth of strong female characters in Marvel's pantheon, it's certainly overdue. But I liked Captain Marvel because it was a fun movie with great characters. If that wasn't the case, it wouldn't be the success that it is. And as long as they keep churning these out, I'll go see 'em. Captain Marvel gets a 9/10. Get an extra-large popcorn. And be sure to stay through the end credits.
  19. Well, DC finally got one right! That's pretty-much all you wanted to know, right? We're done here? No? Okay. Fine... we'll do the review thing. By far, the best character in Batman v. Superman was Wonder Woman. She was the only one who looked like she was having any fun. Whether her limited screen time would translate well to a feature film was the big question. Fortunately, it did. Gal Gadot carries this movie. As she should, being Wonder Woman and all that. She does a great job in the film exuding strength, vulnerability, intelligence and naivety. Those sound like contradictions, but there's a definite fish-out-of-water element to the film. Fully in charge in her familiar surroundings, out of her element away from them. Her take on Wonder Woman is charming, funny, powerful, compassionate and optimistic. And pretty-much drop-dead gorgeous, too. But man... I would not want to get on her bad side. Ouch. Wonder Woman is what a comic book film should be - fun! Yes, there are definitely some serious moments (the film takes place during World War I, after all), but it never becomes morose or gloomy. In the midst of what was a horrible war, Wonder Woman literally shines as a beacon of hope. (Taking notes, Superman?) Chris Pine (as Steve Trevor) is much more likable here than in any of the Star Trek movies (perhaps because he only has to live up to Lyle Waggoner and not William Shatner), and does a good job for the most part, although at times his chemistry with Gadot is a little hit-and-miss. Generally though, he works well, and has several nice scenes in the film. Lucy Davis as his secretary Etta is a joy to watch, but is pretty under-utilized. But maybe that's for the best, given the film's 2 hour 21 minute run time. For what it's worth though, it didn't feel like a long film. The rest of the supporting cast are solid as well, with no real clinkers in the group, but no real show-stealers either. The villains don't shine as much as they should though, with very few scenery-chewing moments for them to relish. That seems to be par for the course with superhero films though (save for a few exceptions). Getting the right balance of charismatic and crazy is a tough challenge. The action scenes throughout the movie are first rate, although the final battle gets away from the more exciting close-quarters, hand-to-hand action of most of the film, and into more over-the-top superhero stuff. Yes Hollywood... we get that you can do destruction. For my money, the fights earlier in the film were much more engaging, because they were on a much more human scale. The movie does a great job visually of capturing the time and environment of WWI, as well as Wonder Woman's home of Themis... Themas... Paradise Island. The special effects are generally first rate, although there are some scenes involving vintage aircraft that look pretty bad for some reason. The period of the film does bring up gripe #1 though: Wonder Woman's theme music. Right at the outset of a terrific fight scene where she's kicking some serious butt (reminiscent of Batman's similar scene in BvS), her theme song - first heard in BvS - starts wailing away, on a blaring, electric guitar. This is supposed to be 1917. It immediately ripped me right out of the movie. The theme itself musically is fine, it was just the treatment of it that bothered me. They should have gone full-orchestra with it. It would have been just as (if not more) powerful, and would have fit within the movie much, much better. (Admittedly... would've been a whole lot more distracting. Gotta love those lyrics though. They should've at least put it in over the end credits...) My #2 gripe has to do with the ambiguity left at the end of the film. A lot of questions remain unanswered, although the most annoying for me was: just what are Wonder Woman's powers, anyway? They're ill-defined in the movie, and at times seem contradictory. I'm assuming we'll find out some of this in Justice League. Or the sequel. Or not. Also... just what had she been doing since WWI, anyway? That's never explained. Anyway.... The overall plot is pretty good. It's a comic book movie, and an origin story, so you're going to have to expect certain things to happen, and a lot of backstory to be covered. Fortunately, Wonder Woman's (Diana's) childhood scenes are really well done and the actress playing her as a kid (Lilly Aspell) is great fun to watch. That said, gripe #3 is that some of the film is a bit reminiscent of Captain America: The First Avenger. Being set during a World War, some of that may be unavoidable, but there are some parallels that are too similar. There's also a bit of the first Thor movie in there as well, although that's not as prevalent as I expected it to be. Still, my complaints are pretty minor, especially relative to the last several DC films, and some Marvel films as well. Wonder Woman is a great character who gets her due in this movie. Gal Gadot does her justice (pun not intended) in a terrific, well acted performance, and she's the very heart of a really good film. It's fun, entertaining, and best of all - hopeful. Well worth seeing. Check it out. Wonder Woman gets an 8.5/10. And you don't need to stay through the end credits... there are no extra scenes. But I did because I paid $15.75 to go see it, and I'm watching every frame I paid for.
  20. Even though it had... appeared? ...been released? ...shown up? ...landed? No... that's not the word I'm looking for... Anyway, even though Arrival first came out in movie theaters back in November, it took me until a little over a week ago to finally see it. Much to my surprise, there were still quite a few theaters (in the Seattle area) showing it, and there were actually more people in the theater seeing Arrival, than when I'd seen Passengers a few days before, despite Passengers being a much newer film. But after seeing both films, it was pretty clear why. Arrival is a really good science fiction film. Passengers was not. Arrival centers on (spoiler alert) - an arrival. I know... didn't see that coming, right? In this case, it's the arrival of a dozen huge alien spaceships that look kind of like coffee beans, that take position in a dozen seemingly random points around the Earth, and proceed to just sit there. That brings up the central question of the movie - what are they doing here? And to figure that out, they bring in linguistics expert Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams. As she begins to unravel the mystery of the aliens, more of her story is revealed, and... that's all I'm going to tell you. You know, "spoiler-free" and all that. Arrival is a different science fiction film than what I've seen in awhile. Much more thought provoking that the typical fare. No gratuitous action sequences. It's entirely Earth-bound. It takes place in the present time. We don't have any unbelievably advanced technology of our own, and the means through which we have to learn to communicate with the aliens in the film is refreshingly simple and grounded in reality. Amy Adams is outstanding in this film, and while I don't really know what constitutes an Oscar-worthy performance, she certainly should be getting some sort of accolades for this. The movie revolves around her story, and she makes the whole film work. The rest of the supporting cast is also very good, including Jeremy Renner as a scientist also trying to unravel the same puzzle, but really, Adams is the heart and soul of the film. Although it would've been interesting to hear the two of them talking behind the scenes about what it's like working on . "Yeah, and then, since I don't have any super-powers, someone had to step in and rescue me and keep me from dying." "Really? Me too. Happens all the time." Anyway... Even though Arrival isn't an action film, there's plenty of tension in the movie, and I was captivated by the film the whole way through. There are certainly some familiar elements from other films - Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Contact, 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it never feels derivative. The tone is very different from those other films, as is the approach to telling the story. You have to be paying attention, and in the end, figure some things out without being beaten over the head with the answers. Yep - you may have to do some thinking with this one. As for the trailers, I'd suggest you don't watch them. I hadn't seen any of the theatrical trailers until after seeing the movie, which is good because the trailers don't reflect the actual tone of the film at all. They're edited to make the movie seem faster and more action-y than it is (or should be), and the longer of the two trailers gives away a lot of the critical events of the film. The was all I had seen, and did a good job of interesting me enough in seeing the movie, without giving anything away. I suspect that Paramount didn't know how they were going to market this film, so they tried to make it seem more like Independence Day, and it certainly isn't that. If you can still find Arrival in the theaters, I'd highly recommend seeing it. It was a refreshing break from the typical loud, action-packed, special effects heavy, blockbuster sci-fi epics. There are certainly special effects in Arrival, and while they're excellent, they're understated. They aren't the focus of the film - they're there to support it. My only real complaint about the film is that there's some forced drama that's added to push the story along, and while it does add some additional tension, it was a little too ham-fisted in its execution. But that's a minor quibble. This story is about character, and communication, and I found the film to be engaging, entertaining, and highly compelling. As far as movies about aliens are concerned, this one has an incredible amount of humanity in it. Well worth seeing. Check it out if you can. Arrival gets an 8.5/10.
  21. I'm at the theater yet again, and I've only got a few minutes before the film starts, so there's just enough time to post a super-quick pre-movie entry. And that was it. See you in three hours! (Much, much later...) You know what? I think I'm going to type this up tomorrow instead. It's late. (The next day...) Well, that was a long movie. And if I had to choose one word to describe it, it would probably be "tedious". It takes forever to get going, takes forever to get anywhere, and you spend most of the film waiting for something to happen. When it does, it generally pays off, but the problem is waiting around for it. A bigger problem is that, while I tried to avoid spoilers, I found the whole film really predictable. For one thing, too many critical moments are shown in the trailers. You remember, "Oh - that hasn't happened yet, so therefore such-and-such has to happen first." Also, either they telegraphed what was coming really early on in the film, or set it up so that it was obviously the only way it could play out. Part of the problem is that if you look up the comic book history of the characters at all, then you know some of what is going to happen in the film. So, you just spend time, again - waiting for it. The characters added to this film - Selina Kyle (she's never actually called "Catwoman"), Bane, and a few others work very well. Bane (Thomas Hardy) is an interesting character - huge, menacing, violent, yet oddly calm and intelligent at the same time. Calm villains are always more threatening, because they can ramp up to a higher level as needed. They don't start off as psychotic and out of control. They're scarier because they know exactly what they're doing. An example of doing a villain the wrong way is the Emperor in Return of the Jedi. He was a cackling nincompoop (I call him Emperor ). But in the original version of The Empire Strikes Back, he was calm and cool - almost like an evil Obi-Wan Kenobi. Bane manages to pull off being a truly credible threat, although because he talks through a mask the whole time, a lot of his dialogue gets muffled and lost. Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) is a much better take on her character than what's been done in film the last couple of times, although frankly, that's not all that hard. Hathaway has fun with the character, and adds a playful touch to her, which fits in with what we know of her from the comics and other appearances. She also doesn't look bad wearing a skin-tight catsuit either. Somehow though, she's an expert in martial arts and riding the Bat-Motorcyle-Thing, so it makes you wonder where she got those skills from, when she's presented as basically being a down-and-out cat burglar. They spend so much time on Bane's backstory (it is a huge chunk of the film) a little more of her background wouldn't have hurt. Even just enough to imply that there's more mystery to her past than they hint at in the film. Where The Dark Knight Rises fails is that it spends forever telling (and re-telling) us about Bane's history. Yes, it ties into the main story of the film and the trilogy as a whole, but frankly, it wasn't necessary. The whole thing felt needlessly convoluted, especially some of the revelations at the end which felt very tacked-on. Sure, I suppose some people will appreciate how it all ties together, but it felt a little bit too much to me like, "Not only is Darth Vader Luke's father, and Leia's father, but he also built C-3PO!" A little too much out of left-field. But okay, whatever. I guess they had to have something in there to (not really) surprise the audience. Besides that, the rest of the film has plot holes big enough to drive a large truck through. And while that's to be expected in superhero films, here it just felt that the whole film got bigger than it should have. The scope of what was happening got to the point of "What is the point of Batman coming back now, when there's effectively nothing he can do by himself anyway?" It became more of a Superman-sized threat, than a Batman-sized one. Like the filmmakers were so focused on making it epic, that it really didn't matter how they were going to get out of it in the end. And in fact, most of the rest of the cast were more heavily involved in the story throughout the film than Batman was. He largely got lost in the shuffle. And that brings up the other problem with the film - Batman. Or more to the point, Christian Bale's version of him. What made the previous film so good when I saw it in the theater was Heath Ledger as The Joker. But as I watched it on TV several times since then, I realized that was the only thing that made the film so good. It was The Joker's film. Not Batman's. The Dark Knight Rises is Bane's film - not Batman's. Frankly, I'm tired of the "scrawny-guy-in-a-rubber-suit" movie version of Batman that started with Michael Keaton. When you watch Christian Bale - he's just not physically menacing. He doesn't have the screen presence to pull off Batman, and I still don't think they've ever gotten the look of the character right. He's okay if he's in motion - fighting, swinging, etc., but close-ups of his face just look a bit... silly. And the situation isn't helped by Christian Bale's acting range, which is approximately that of a tuna-fish sandwich. Despite what he goes through in this film, his emotions just never ring true. He has the same three or four expressions, which are all just slight variations of each other, and that's about it. And I'm really tired of the gravelly voice he uses as Batman. I understand it's part of his "disguise", but he just sounds tired all the time. And although there are a couple of fight scenes in this film, I've seen better. "Okay, first I'll hit you, then you hit me back. Ready? Go!" Maybe that's dictated by the rubber suit. But it's less fighting, than it is just hitting. And also in this film, he doesn't do much Batman-y stuff. In other words, stuff that only he could do. Looking back on the previous two films, Batman did more of what you expect Batman to do - haunt the night, fight criminals, and strike fear into their hearts. But even starting with the second film, I felt it was starting to become more about gadgets (especially gadgets that just happen to be the ones he needs most - like the flying Bat-thing in this film), and the villains. Yes, Bruce Wayne has to deal with some issues in this film, but it all felt rather superficial. Rather than being critical and life-changing for the character, it was just something that the filmmakers needed to do to get him back to where he should have been in the first place. Anyway, this is the end of Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan's run on Batman. I hope the studio completely reboots the series. I hope they strip it all the way back to its core. Make it about a big, menacing guy in a Batsuit (and not a rubber one with fake muscles), stalking criminals, solving crimes, and being the Dark Knight Detective. Not James Bond. Not Iron Man. Set it in the 40's or 50's even. Get away from all this ridiculous technology. Stop making him rely on other people and billions of dollars in gear to combat crime. Make him figure it out himself. Show him doing the work. Make Batman believable and human. Get an actor with presence. Think of how John Wayne or Sean Connery carried themselves onscreen. They were tough guys that you did not want to cross. Make him menacing and physically imposing. It's easy enough to explain away for Bruce Wayne - just say he played football in college. Boom. Done. Make Batman mysterious and terrifying to criminals. Batman: The Animated Series would be a good starting point to think about. All of this isn't to say that The Dark Knight Rises is a bad film. It's not. It's well-made. Good special effects. Solid cast (mostly). But it could have lost probably an hour out of its running time (and with it several needlessly convoluted plot points), and been a better film for it. And the predictability didn't help either. I felt like I was spending large chunks of the movie just waiting for what was inevitably going to happen. The biggest problem though was that I didn't find myself caring much about anyone in it. It didn't have the likability or fun-to-watch factor The Avengers had. Batman, even if the subject matter itself is dark, should still be fun. It's a comic book. They should get back to that. The Dark Knight Rises gets a 6.5/10. And as a final note, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention something about the tragedy in Colorado last week. I can't even pretend to imagine what the victims and their loved ones are going through - but they all have my deepest sympathies and heartfelt prayers. Watching The Dark Knight Rises, it's impossible (especially in a couple of scenes) not to be reminded of what happened. It was also a little eerie, but oddly reassuring, to see the ushers periodically checking the exit doors during the film to make sure they weren't propped open.
  22. When I first heard that they were making a Han Solo solo movie, my first thought was, "Why?" I already knew what I wanted to know about the character. I didn't care about unanswered questions from his past. Sometimes, a character is more interesting because you don't know everything about them. Take Darth Vader, for instance. He was a much more interesting character before the prequels revealed that he was an annoying, cherubic urchin, who grew up to be a spoiled, whining, obnoxious emo-brat. The fact that the first Solo directors were fired and Ron Howard had to be brought in to effectively reshoot the whole movie didn't help assuage my lack of enthusiasm for the project. It's not that I think Howard is a bad director, but whenever you have to switch directors mid-stream, it tends to mean the film is in a lot more trouble than reshoots are going to fix. See for example The Good Dinosaur or Justice League. I don't mean go see the films themselves... I just meant see them as object lessons. Fer cryin' out loud - don't see the actual films. They're stinkers. But because it's Star Wars, I decided to go see Solo anyway. Much like James Bond, Star Trek and Pixar films, I have a long-standing tradition of seeing them in theaters. Except I never did go see Spectre. Or Star Trek Beyond. Or Cars 3. Or Finding Dory... I may need to re-think my traditions. Anyway, I went to see Solo last week, and it was... okay. That's it. Just okay. Not awful. But not really worth seeing, either. Again, this boils down to answering questions that didn't need answering. It's much more interesting in Star Wars when Han says, "Kid, I've flown from one side of this galaxy to the other, and I've seen a lot of strange stuff..." and leave it at that. That's cool. That's mysterious. Instead, we're told where he grew up, how he got his name, how he met Chewbacca, how he met Lando, got his blaster, acquired the Millennium Falcon, developed trust issues, and a host of other things that frankly, do nothing to improve the stature or mystique of his character. Instead, what we learn only diminishes the legend. We're told about how he became an amazing pilot, but we never once actually get to see it. It happens offscreen, between two scenes that are apparently years apart. They completely skipped over it. That would've been interesting. Maybe even fun. And you know those dice he had hanging in the Millennium Falcon? Well, they're here in this movie too. Prominently. But we're never told how he got them or what significance they are to him. But we do get to see the infamous Kessel Run, and it's a massive let-down. I always assumed it was a race, or a smuggler's run that carried huge bragging rights with it, but it's not. It's hard to describe it without spoilers, but it's basically just a stupid way of trying to explain away George's "12 parsecs" scripting mistake, 41 years later. Look - whatever George claims now, it wasn't a navigation challenge. Because during the conversation, Han Solo was talking about speed. Not navigation. Fast enough. Case closed. If you want to make it canonical instead of an outright scripting mistake, you could just say that Han Solo was so full of himself when he was bragging, he made a mistake, which then makes it a character moment that doesn't need correcting anyway. However you look at it, it's a question we didn't need answered, because anything we imagined the Kessel Run might have been, was better. We also find out why the Millennium Falcon ends up looking... different in Star Wars, than it does at the beginning of this film. Another question that didn't need to be answered. But hey - let's shoehorn that one in here, too. And while we're at it - why not an unexpected, pointless, fan-service cameo? Sure. We'll throw that in, too. Now, I suppose that I wouldn't be so apathetic about the movie, had the story been better, or the answers more interesting. But the fact is, they weren't. At best, this is the kind of B-grade story that would have been filler material in the old Marvel Star Wars comic books from the 70's and 80's. Or maybe one of the early paperback novels that came out during the original trilogy. But it's not movie-quality stuff. It's not even Clone Wars or Rebels TV level stuff. That said, the movie is well-enough made for what it is. The actors are fine. The special effects are fine. It's not badly made. There are even some fun moments in it. It's just unnecessary. As for the characters in the film, Donald Glover does a very passable Lando Calrissian. He's suave and charming, and seems to be having the most fun. His co-pilot L3-37 continues the Rogue One tradition of making the Droids more interesting than the humans. Woody Harrelson is fine in his role as Han's mentor (or sorts), although I couldn't tell you his character's name without looking it up. Paul Bettany is an adequate generic villain, again - totally forgetting his name. And there's a love interest played by someone, who is okay, if not memorable (again). Oddly enough, Chewbacca actually had some of the best moments in the film. He's also the easiest to readily accept as a younger version of himself, probably because his character doesn't have to be played by any particular actor (no offense, Peter). Which brings us to the main focus of this movie... Solo himself. Alden Ehrenreich is probably a fine actor. He does pretty well in this film. But not once did I think of him as Han Solo. He just... isn't. He's not Harrison Ford's Han Solo, anymore than Chris Pine is William Shatner's Captain Kirk. You can name them the same characters, but they're not the same. You can claim they're part of the same continuity, but they're not. Roger Moore's James Bond isn't the same as Sean Connery's. They're different characters. Even though they're supposed to be the same. And I just couldn't get past that. I accepted the character he was playing for who he was in this film, but there's just too much of a disconnect to think of him as the same Han Solo I've been familiar with since 1977. So this might just as well have been someone else entirely, and they could have named the movie something else, and it wouldn't have made any difference. And I guess that's the biggest problem of all. This film just doesn't make any difference. We know that all of those things mentioned above are going to happen. There are no real stakes here. No real surprises about this character. Nothing that fundamentally changes or impacts him. It's all completely inconsequential. So while not a bad film, Solo was the Star Wars film that really didn't need to be made. Disney needs to do better. (Hint: we don't need Obi-Wan Kenobi or Boba Fett films, either.) Solo gets a 5.5/10.
  23. I finally got around to seeing Spider-Man: Homecoming a few days ago. I was debating whether or not to go see it because frankly, I'm a little tired of Spider-Man movies. Even though some of them had their moments, and Spider-Man himself was handled pretty well, it was Peter Parker who just never really clicked. For one thing, he was always way too old, and for another, he just wasn't very likable. Tobey Maguire played him like kind of an endlessly crying jerk, and Andrew Garfield was a tortured, twenty-something emo. So even though Marvel, and not Sony, handled the creative direction for Homecoming, and his cameo was well done in Captain America: Civil War, I was just kind of over the whole Spider-Man thing. But recently I had some time to kill, and a friend of mine hadn't seen it yet either, so we decided to check it out. And I'm glad I did - because this is how Spider-Man should've been done all along. Thomas Holland does a great job as Peter Parker, and this is really where the heart of the character has to be. That's what made him unique when Stan Lee created him - Spider-Man was a teenager first, and a superhero second, where previous teenage heroes were all just generic sidekicks. Peter has to figure it out and carry the burden by himself, and he's still just a kid. Holland comes across as not just a high schooler, but a young one at that. He doesn't know how to drive. He's awkward and uncertain. He makes mistakes that kids would make. Even as Spider-Man, he doesn't have things figured out yet. There's a great scene in the film where for the first time he has to get to the top of a very tall building. And it takes him a long time. It's difficult, tiring, and when he gets to the top, he's a bit freaked out because he's never been that high up before. He's not immediately swinging around effortlessly between skyscrapers. This is new for him, too. Homecoming does a great job of putting Peter Parker back in high school, and really developing him as the character behind Spider-Man, whereas in the previous movies it often felt like the two characters weren't always the same person. It's also refreshing to see Peter having to deal with high school stuff: making friends, sitting in classes, dealing with teachers, peer pressure, etc., all while trying to figure out who he is supposed to be as Spider-Man. He's not in college, trying to earn money from the Daily Bugle, or dating some overly-hot 20-something babe. This is a more naive, innocent Spider-Man, and while the movie is not an origin story (mercifully), we're still catching him very early on as he's making mistakes and dealing with the consequences of them. It's all good stuff, and it feels honest. It feels the way Spider-Man should. He doesn't always do the right thing, but he always wants to do the right thing. Now, one of the major weaknesses of recent superhero movies has been the villains. This is why Marvel keeps trotting Tom Hiddleston out as Loki over and over again, because he's so good at being bad. But Michael Keaton excels in this film. He's not out to rule the world, or destroy it, or be the baddest villain on the planet, or even be known as a villain. His motivations are much more grounded, believable, even understandable. His approach is smart. He doesn't make stupid mistakes, and doesn't tolerate them from subordinates. He fully believes he's doing the right thing, and has his own measure of honor. Yet he's incredibly menacing when he needs to be, and like many great movie villains, is so compelling you wouldn't mind rooting for him. He's easily one of the best superhero villains in many years, and gives me hope that Marvel is capable of reaching that level again in future films. The rest of the cast is excellent as well. Peter's high school friends (and rivals) are all very smartly cast, well acted, and nicely updated. And yes - they all seem like high school kids. Marisa Tomei does a great turn as Aunt May (and no - I don't miss the shriveled up octogenarian from the comics at all), and easily has the best line in the movie. Robert Downey Jr., is back as Tony Stark/Iron Man, but he doesn't dominate the movie or distract from Peter's story. He effectively serves as Peter's mentor, hoping to steer him along a better path than what he himself followed. His presence here makes sense, but anything more would be intrusive. Marvel seems to know this, as the next Spider-Man film reportedly won't have Iron Man in it. The writing throughout the film feels natural and honest to the characters. It doesn't seem too clever - Spider-Man can be funny at times, but he doesn't always have the perfect quip or witty retort. Holland at times reminded me of a young Michael J. Fox, which is a high compliment. There are some nice nods to Spider-Man's history too, including at least one pivotal scene lifted from a classic comic story. The tone of the film is incredibly well-balanced, but most importantly - it's fun. I really enjoyed watching the movie, but best of all, I cared about what happened to the characters. That said, it's not a perfect film as some of the special effects didn't fare too well. A number of the CG stunts felt decidedly fake, which is surprising considering how far that sort of technology has advanced. Also, the editing made it hard to follow some of the action during fight scenes. But for the most part, the action worked well, and again, it was still fun to watch. As an aside, it's a little difficult for me to separate out the movie from the theater that I saw it in. It's one of those theaters where you can order food while you watch the film, and while generally not a problem, near the end of the movie it became really annoying as the servers came around to hand out people's checks, and would inevitably disrupt the movie by either walking in front of you, or talking to you about your own bill. That sort of thing should wait until the end credits, or just be taken care of as people exit. But I still really enjoyed the movie anyway, so that speaks pretty highly of how good it was. Spider-Man is finally on track movie-wise. I'm really looking forward to his next solo films, provided Marvel can maintain control of them. The other Marvel films Sony is working on? Couldn't care less. Hopefully they'll learn they need Marvel's help to get these characters right. It worked here. Hopefully, they can make it work again. Spider-Man: Homecoming gets an 8.5/10
  24. Ant-Man? Really? I thought Marvel was scraping the bottom of a pretty low barrel when they dusted off Guardians of the Galaxy and turned that into a movie... but Ant-Man? Then again... Guardians of the Galaxy turned out pretty well. Oddly enough, so did Ant-Man. Better than Age of Ultron, certainly. And as far as Marvel solo movies go, I'd put this right up there after Iron Man and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The reason it works so well, simply put, are the characters. Paul Rudd hits all of the right notes as Scott Lang/Ant-Man. He brings heart and humor to the character, and is immediately likable and sympathetic. Michael Douglas anchors the film as Hank Pym, bringing a sense of gravitas (and humor as well) to the role, and Evangeline Lilly also does a great job in bringing a strong female presence to the film, and uh... well... she's pretty hot, too. Ahem. The only character that doesn't quite work so well is the main villain, until he goes full-tilt crazy during the big fight, but they could have put anyone in the same suit at that point, and it would have worked just as well. But he's less the point of the film, than the journey of Scott Lang, and how all of this fits into the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. And yes, this does fit very neatly into the rest of the MCU, from the opening segment that sets up the film, to the mid and post-credits easter eggs (yes, it's time to sit through the credits all the way through the end again - thanks for nothing, Age of Ultron). The movie has some great action sequences, and the usual slate of solid special effects, but what really won me over (and the audience I was with) was the humor. There are some genuinely funny moments throughout which keep the mood light, break the tension, and introduce us to some great supporting characters (Michael Peña nearly steals the film). Marvel still understands that, in the end, this is a comic book movie. Yes, comic books can tell serious, dark, dramatic stories, but I'd prefer to actually have fun when I go see a film about people running around in goofy-looking tights. Can't say I'm looking forward to Batman v Superman much, since Warner Bros. has flat-out stated their films are intentionally "edgier" and grounded in "reality". (Apparently, none of them actually saw Green Lantern ). Ant-Man surprised me by how much I enjoyed it. As a fan, it pushed all of the right buttons - had all of the right cameos, showed us all of the characters we needed to see, teased us about what was next; but it was also just a lot of fun. They managed to take a character that even had a comic book nerd like me scratching my head, and made him not only engaging and likable, but cool. They made his powers cool. They made the ants cool. And as long as you don't think about any of it too much, you'll likely have as much fun as I did. Marvel is at its best when it focuses on just a few characters at a time. In other words... in the end, Ant-Man succeeds because (and I really apologize for this)... it's a small film. Ant-Man gets an 8/10.
  25. Back on April 8, 2015, I posted a status update about the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice , and my impression at the time was, "Batman v. Superman sure looks... dreary." Monday night (admittedly, at an 11:15PM showing) I saw BvS in at the ArcLight theater in Sherman Oaks. This was in one of their biggest theaters, in an ATMOS-equipped room, and less than a week after the film opened. So even though it was a pretty late showing, and on a week night, you'd expect some kind of a crowd for an epic blockbuster-in-the-making that's been hyped for the past three years. At the very least, a modest smattering of people. Remember how Star Wars: The Force Awakens was completely sold out in some theaters for weeks? Yeah. Not so much here. I think there might have been 8 of us there. Hard to tell... only one person was seated in front of me. Can't say I'm surprised. The Rotten Tomatoes score for the film has been spiraling downward faster than the debris from a collapsing building in Metropolis. It's fascinating to watch and wonder where it will bottom out. It's around 28% now. I think it started in the mid-50's. I wasn't a big fan of Man of Steel, and thought the last Batman film was terrible. And actually, in hindsight, I would score them both considerably lower now. I tend to score films too high when I review them, because I'm coming from a theatrical experience - fresh off of seeing a new spectacle for the first time on a big screen. So my opinions tend to be colored by the immediacy of the visceral impact of the event - rather than being tempered by time and repeat viewings. The fact is, I wouldn't give either movie above a 3/10, now. All of that said - I went to see BvS, willing to give it a chance. If nothing else, it promised that aforementioned spectacle. Now, there were two big problems with the film: The first, was the This basically gave away the plot of the movie. Spoilers galore. The second, was that the first problem really didn't matter. The movie so heavy-handedly spoils everything that's going to happen anyway, spoilers wouldn't have really made any difference. It takes forever to get going, spends an agonizingly long time setting everything up, then the payoffs fall far short of delivering on the movie's promises. Just from the title, you'd expect the big, epic battle between Bats and Supes to take up a really significant part of the film, wouldn't you? It was sure hyped that way in the trailers. But that part of the film was actually pretty short, and the resolution of it was completely unsatisfying. Cheap. Even silly. And then there's a second big fight, but again, as with the first, it's something of a disappointment, and the ending of it is so ham-fistedly telegraphed, it shouldn't catch anyone but the most utterly clueless off-guard. It also doesn't help that a bunch of material is lifted from Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns". If you've read that (and if you're a Batman fan, you have), you're going to see a lot of stuff coming before it happens. I spent a lot of the film waiting. Waiting for the setups to pay off. Waiting for the inevitable to happen. Waiting for something, anything to happen that I wasn't expecting - that either wasn't spoiled in the trailers, or by the movie itself. Now, maybe all of that wouldn't have been a problem, if the film had been any fun. But apart from a few cool action sequences, it just wasn't. It was, as I mentioned before, dreary. I watched the film. But I wasn't into it. I would look at it thinking, "Okay, Ben Affleck is doing a pretty good job here", or "Gal Gadot was a good choice for Wonder Woman - can't wait to see her movie instead", or "Well, I can see where this is going next, can we please get this over with and move onto the next scene", or "Why are some of these shots so grainy", or even, "I bet they handle this a lot better in Captain America: Civil War." And so on. Rarely did I ever care about the people on screen, or what was going to happen to them. Metropolis is in danger again? So what else is new? Anyone still stupid enough to live in skyscrapers in that city should know better by now. And if Gotham City is plagued by crime, and it's just across the river from Metropolis... why didn't Superman go over there and bust some criminals once in awhile? Seems to me he could make some time for that. It's hard to care about a movie full of stupid people. And grumpy, stupid people, at that. I suppose then, the biggest single problem with this film is that I just didn't like the characters. They're all brooding, moody, mopey, self-absorbed, miserable nihilists. Now... doesn't that sound suspiciously like some other superhero movie? Oh, right... The Watchmen. But those movie characters were all spot-on adaptations from the comic book. They were all brooding, moody, mopey, self-absorbed, miserable nihilists. And they were all thoroughly unlikeable (except perhaps Rorschach - who at least had integrity). BvS is effectively a mirror of The Watchmen: Superman is Dr. Manhattan - the emotionless, disaffected, feared, hated, godlike being; Batman is a mix of Rorschach's paranoid, obsessive hatred of criminals and the Comedian's wanton disregard for life ; and Lex Luthor is Adrian Veldt - the world's most brilliant man (and apparently a better detective than Batman) and a quirky psychopath out to destroy what he perceives to be a threat to mankind, regardless of how many innocent lives are lost in the process. Oh that's right... Zack Snyder directed both films. And Man of Steel. So if you've seen The Watchmen and Man of Steel - mix those two together, and you have Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Everyone in this film, pretty much all the time, seems miserable. Even Superman. He's just one unhappy dude. And there's no sense of fun to Batman at all. He's just permanently mad, and so psychologically damaged it's amazing he can even function. Everyone else is upset or angry at someone or something all of the time too. And as for Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor... his motivations for being so completely hateful of Superman are never really explained. There's a backstory missing, somewhere. And Eisenberg plays him as such a completely unhinged nut-case, that it's hard to take him seriously (yes - his character is a danger by his actions, but it's hard to take him personally serious as a threat). There is, however, an exception to the misery. Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. She is the lone bright spark in an otherwise dismal world. There's a sly playfulness about her when she's Diana Prince, and when she gets involved in the big fight scene - she's the only one who looks like she's having fun. Hey DC - it's okay to have fun in a comic book movie! Just because you're trying to deal with a serious theme, doesn't mean everyone has to be completely miserable all of the time! Even though her screen time is severely limited, I'm looking forward to seeing her film. I wasn't before, but I am now. (She already even has her own theme song in the movie. Sadly... it's .) I can't say I'm looking forward to Justice League* though. That's Snyder's next superhero depression-fest on the docket. The teases in BvS did nothing to pique my interest. We caught some glimpses of the other future JL members, but the problem was - everyone already knew that was going to happen. That was widely announced months ago, with photos of Aquaman. There were no surprises here. And some of the glimpses went on far too long. They should be quick and mysterious, but as noted, they felt more like extras for a video release - as if Snyder was saying, "Hey look everyone - you've found our Easter Egg!" It grinds the movie to a halt. More is not always better. Is it unfair to judge Justice League when it hasn't even been shot yet? Well, the CEO of Warner Bros. said, "...the worlds of DC are very different... they're steeped in realism, and they're a little bit edgier than Marvel's movies." (I'm guessing he didn't actually see Green Lantern.) "Edgier" doesn't necessarily equate to being "good", and in the case of BvS, it doesn't equate to "fun" either. Hopefully, DC can figure out a balance. They don't have to be Marvel (and shouldn't). Even Marvel isn't always Marvel, as Fox has its own distinct feel for the X-Men movies. And DC seems to be "getting it" on TV (admittedly, I haven't watched any of their stuff, but the reviews have certainly been better than BvS). Maybe they should give a few more notes to Zack this time. If the scathing reviews for BvS keep pouring in, they probably will. Still, the movie's already made back its production budget, and as long as it doesn't totally tank, it should still turn a profit (after all of the marketing gets paid for). Box office notwithstanding, in the end, BvS just wasn't... fun. Superman was a mopey loser; Batman was a grumpy, violent sociopath; Lex Luthor was a babbling crackpot; and even the usually buoyant Amy Adams was wasted as Lois Lane was thrown back into being the old stereotypical nosey reporter who always gets in trouble. The film took forever to get going, spent way too long setting things up that never paid off or weren't important, had massive gaps in logic (even for a superhero film), and was way, way, way too long. They could have easily cut a half hour out of this movie. And they never knew when to end it either. It was like listening to someone who never knows when to stop talking even after they've completely run out of things to say (or like reading this blog, probably). And some things which should have had more time spent on them (Lex's hatred), were completely glossed over. Was it all bad? No. As I mentioned, Gal Gadot was a bright spot. I'm glad they didn't spend much time with her backstory either, because there's a whole movie's worth of origin story that needs to be told. Also, despite the morose version of the character he was saddled with by Snyder, I think Ben Affleck is the best Batman/Bruce Wayne since Adam West. (And yes - Adam West was a great Batman, because his version of Batman/Bruce Wayne was always true to the character within the milieu of that show and its world.) One of the highlights and true standout moments of BvS is a brawl where Batman takes out an entire room full of henchmen. In fact, you can see a better edit of that scene in , than what ended up in the final film. That is pretty-much the highlight of the movie. Watch it twice. There... I just saved you fourteen bucks. So is Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice a truly bad film? Well, it's certainly true to its vision. At times it lives up to being a visual spectacle. It's (generally) well-crafted, apart from CG creature effects that would have been right at home in 2008 (checks watch... nope, it's 2016). But even the spectacle value of it is mostly ground that's already been covered: we spend some of the movie re-watching Man of Steel. Batman's origin is re-told again. There are a lot key ideas taken straight from the comics, and much of the rest of it seems all-too-familiar. It's also too long, too self-absorbed, too dreary, too wordy, and unrelenting in its lack of fun. It may not be bad like Good Dinosaur is bad, or some other really awful superhero films are bad, but it's certainly not what it could have been. In a way, it's more like how Tomorrowland was bad, in that it doesn't live up to its own promises. Worse yet, it doesn't live up to the mythos of its characters, and treats them with disrespect, if not outright contempt. The handful of cool action scenes can't save it. Wonder Woman couldn't even save it. Save your money. Wait for it to show up on TV. You won't be missing anything. Batman v Superman: Yawn of Justice gets a 4/10. And at some point, I'll probably wish I'd scored this one lower, too. *(I am, however looking forward both to , and the episode for BvS.)
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