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  1. 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
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  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. 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.
  8. 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
  9. 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
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. 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
  18. 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!
  19. 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.)
  20. Because there apparently aren't enough animated dinosaur movies out there already, and because Disney didn't learn their lesson from the last one of these that they made, we have Pixar's The Good Dinosaur. We had a screening of it at work the other week, and while none of the creative team were there to present it, the reps from Disney and Pixar who were there, felt under some obligation to tell us how "close to the heart" this film was for all of them, and how this movie was all about the "power of family". Now, when someone feels obligated to tell you what the underlying theme is for the movie you're about to see, you know you're in trouble. But then, The Good dinosaur has had nothing but trouble since its inception. It was pushed back from its original release date twice, had the original director and producer fired from the project, and with less than six months to go before its release, had nearly the entire voice cast replaced. I'm sure there must be some point at which movie studios see a train-wreck like this coming and it's still possible to stop it. But The Good Dinosaur passed that point, and kept on a-rollin'. Presumably, they got to some point where they'd spent so much money on it, that it made more sense to just try and shove it out the door in whatever state it was in and try to recoup some money from it, than ashcan it completely and try to write off the whole thing. You might have guessed by now that this isn't going to exactly be a positive review. The funny thing is, if you read many of the reviews for this film on Rotten Tomatoes, they all start off about the same way... "This isn't a bad film, but it's not one of Pixar's best," and then the reviewers inevitably find something about the film to praise (typically the visuals or animation), and end up giving it a begrudgingly positive review, as if the fact that it's a Pixar film somehow earns it a free pass. Consequently, the film has ended up with a much higher average score than it really deserves. Well, I'm not giving Pixar a free pass. The Good Dinosaur is, in fact, a bad film. It's borderline terrible. If not for Cars 2 (which will likely, and hopefully, stand forever as Pixar's worst film) this would be right at the bottom. It's so bad, it's really difficult to stick to my spoiler-free policy to accurately describe why it's so bad. While I still hate the idea of spoiling any films for anyone, the simple fact is, there's nothing in this film that's worth seeing in the first place. But I'll use Spoiler tags where necessary. First, let's get the one positive thing out of the way - the backgrounds in this film are astonishing. Even for Pixar, these are breathtaking visuals. They're hyper-realistic, to the point where you'd almost swear you were looking at a pristine, idealized natural environment. It's really next-level stuff, but it's sadly wasted here. I would have rather spent 90 minutes just watching the backgrounds, frankly. So, onto the movie. The premise for the film is that the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs missed, and they continued developing into marginally more intelligent versions of themselves. The movie takes place when cavemen have appeared, so it's basically like a prequel to The Flintstones, except before the humans took over and enslaved the dinosaurs. The film centers around a family of agrarian dinosaurs whose farm is in jeopardy, because a caveman child keeps stealing all of their corn. Now, I'm not sure how a 50 pound kid is eating enough corn to risk starving out five dinosaurs, but there you go. The youngest dinosaur - Arlo, who was born the runt of the litter (see also: Finding Nemo) - is tasked with stopping the kid. Of course things go wrong and the two of them end up lost, and have to rely on each other to find their way home. Now, by this point the movie has already degenerated into a series of predictable clichés, and never manages to find a direction. It's a scattered mess as it jumps between being a family drama, a comedy, a coming-of-age story, an adventure, a buddy film, a western (I am not kidding - there are cowboy dinosaurs in this mess), a kid's movie, and pretty-much anything else you could think of to borrow from other, much better films. None of it is done well, either, as everything comes off as trite and half-hearted, and the characters are generally unlikable or at best unsympathetic. The only character that's remotely appealing is the caveboy (only ever refereed to as "Spot"), and he isn't even the titular character. This is supposed to be Arlo's journey, but as so often happens in animated films, the sidekick ends up being far more interesting than the lead, and this sidekick doesn't even talk. Besides the jumbled, random mess of a plot, I had a real issue with how Arlo's story is resolved. He's effectively bounced along from point to point by circumstance, and by the end hasn't really learned anything. At the end of the film, The ending doesn't get any better from there, either. But then again, by that point I really didn't care. Maybe apathy killed the dinosaurs. So the story is a disjointed mess, the characters are unlikable, and the writing is terrible. The few times the audience laughed at the film were due to it being embarrassingly bad (cowboy dinosaurs) or wildly inappropriate Finally, is the look of the film itself. Yes, the backgrounds were stunning in their beauty and realism. But the character designs had nothing to do with their environment, nor each other. The main dinosaur family looked like Gummi candy. The villains were ugly and indistinguishable from each other, the cowboy dinosaurs were heavily caricatured, and the humans looked like they were thrown together almost as an afterthought. The Good Dinosaur is an eye-roller. There's not a genuine moment in the entire film. It's movie making by committee at its worst, and a huge stumble for Pixar. They refused to let die an idea that nobody thought was working, yet nobody had the courage to just walk away from. Perhaps the biggest puzzler in all is this: why is this movie about dinosaurs? There's no reason for it. The fact that they're dinosaurs contributes nothing to the story. They could have been replaced by almost any other characters, and the movie would have been exactly the same. Maybe for the original concept it made sense, but there was never any payoff here. Maybe they figured they could still sell some cute dinosaur toys. The "Good" Dinosaur, isn't. It gets a 2/10. Go see The Peanuts Movie instead. Or a documentary on Wyoming. Sanjay's Super Team, the latest Pixar short, precedes the movie. It's an admirable and obviously heartfelt effort, but being such a personal film for the director (about being raised as a boy in America with a traditional Hindu upbringing), it felt more to me like a student film or an independent project, than a studio short subject. That's not necessarily a bad thing, and the film was certainly well produced, but for most of it, I just couldn't find a connection with it. Up next... a little science fiction film that some people have been talking about.
  21. 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.
  22. Okay... let's try this again. After my last attempt to see Avengers: Age of Ultron, I was so fed-up with going to the movies, I really had no interest in trying again. But here I am, in a different multiplex, ten minutes away from my second attempt. I'm not holding out much hope, since I've since read several articles that state that movie theater chains intentionally tell their employees not to correctly change over their projectors from 3D to 2D, since it costs time and money and they don't want to train people to do it right. I guess I'll find out soon enough. When I update this entry after the movie, I'll post some info about the other theater's response, and my response to them. Time now to post this and shut off my iPhone. Wish me luck! (One movie later...) If you recall from last time, I stopped short of reviewing Avengers: Age of Ultron because the projection was so dim, I literally couldn't see a lot of what was going on. I was distracted through the whole movie by how dark the picture was, as well as how low the volume was (I couldn't hear a lot of the dialog). I wrote a complaint to the movie chain, who e-mailed an apology and offered free passes, and then put the theater manager in touch with me, who also apologized and similarly offered me free passes. I turned them both down. My response to them was that I wasn't interested in free passes, but rather some assurance that I was going to be able to see movies presented properly. I (admittedly sarcastically) asked Regal if they could recommend another theater, to which they replied to me to type in my zip code on Regal's website, which would find the next nearest Regal theater. Not helpful. The theater manager said that their technical support people would be investigating what had happened, and I responded that I'd like to hear the results of that investigation. However, I already knew the issue. I linked to a couple of articles last time, but this one is better still - from the Boston Globe. This succinctly describes the problem with theater chains using Sony 4K digital projectors for both 3D and 2D screenings, without changing the setup between the two. It diminishes the brightness of 2D screenings by half, or worse. According to the Globe (and other articles), some theater chains are intentionally choosing not to change out their lenses, despite knowing the negative effect this is going to have on the projection. And yes - they do know. It would be impossible to be even remotely associated with running a movie theater (much less a chain of them) without understanding the technology behind them. They're just choosing to ignore it, because in the end, they simply don't care. And apparently, neither do audiences. If the audiences complained enough, or stopped going, things would have to change. But most audiences don't notice, because they don't know what they're looking at. They're there to watch a movie - not critically analyze it. If it's dark, they probably just chalk it up to "being at the movies", as opposed to say, watching the movie on Netflix on an iPad. By going to a different theater (although unfortunately, still part of the Regal monopoly) and choosing a screen that had been running 2D all day, I had hoped that maybe I'd luck out and get a properly set up projector. No such luck. They were still running it with the 3D lens in place. How do I know? Well, from the Boston Globe article, "If you see two beams of light, one stacked on top of the other, thats a Sony with the 3-D lens still in place." In fact, I could clearly see the 3D lens on the projector after the lights came up after the movie. It's pretty unmistakable. The 3D lens looks nothing like the 2D lens. So... how hard is it to change the lenses? Well, take a look for yourself. It takes about 6 1/2 minutes. And this is something that - at most - might have to be done once per day. And that's pretty unlikely since most theaters aren't going to be changing between 2D and 3D screenings during the day. Maybe on the weekend when a big movie is opening. It's not rocket science. But theater chains don't want to do it. They deem it unnecessary, because people aren't complaining. But look at it this way - if the concession stand employees were spitting in everyone's Cokes, but nobody complained because they didn't know, would that make it okay? (For all I know, maybe that's a policy of the Regal chain, too.) I will say this - the projection was marginally better than the other theater. Was it good? No. But it was at least tolerable. However, the incessant buzzing in the sound system was not. So I'll be writing Regal again. And unless I find another theater to go to, this will be my last movie review. I'm done. I was planning to see quite a few movies this year, too. Here are the ones I won't be seeing now: Mad Max: Fury Road Tomorrowland Jurassic Park Terminator Genisys Inside Out (we had a sneak preview of this at work - but I was too wiped out from our end-of-year crunch to go, now I wish I had) Ant Man Fantastic Four (admittedly - I probably would've skipped this one anyway) Spectre The Good Dinosaur Star Wars: The Force Awakens Too bad. I bet at least two or three of those would have been pretty good. But man... I'm going to be saving a truckload of money! So then... onto the review itself. And I will endeavor to separate my viewing experience, from the movie itself. From the opening action sequence of the film, Age of Ultron seemed muddled. Over-busy. Jumbled. The whole opening was full of quick quips and all-too-fast cuts, with nobody getting any real focus. And really this sums up a lot of the movie for me as well. It's unfocused. The first Avengers movie worked well because there were effectively only five Avengers: Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk and the Black Widow. Hawkeye spent most of the film as a brainwashed baddie. There was enough screen time to go around, and give everyone their own moments to shine. Now though, you have all five of those Avengers, plus Hawkeye, plus Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, plus the Vision, plus various other characters (several villains besides Ultron, and a few other superhero cameos) and suddenly the movie is incredibly crowded. And all of the character moments seemed forced, too. A sort-of romance blooming out of nowhere, backstory/flashback/nightmare dream sequences that are so shallow as to give us no insight into any of the characters, a hidden double-life, the sudden (and completely inexplicable) re-emergence of a significant plot element, the sudden (and completely inexplicable) change of characters from vengeful villains to selfless heroes, forced bickering and conflicts, out-of-character behavior, and so forth. It all seemed very artificial, and did nothing to endear these characters to me. I had a hard time really caring about them, or what happened to them. And these are all characters that, in other films, I really like. I should point out that it's not that they're particularly unlikeable, but Age of Ultron does nothing to help these characters grow. Even the worst of the Iron Man films at least moved Tony Stark forward in some way. And for my money, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is now the gold standard for what a character-driven superhero movie should be. Age of Ultron is a step backwards. They gave Hawkeye some better scenes this time around, but they almost seemed to be there to make up for him being a zombie for most of the previous movie. Then, there's the villain. Marvel paid for James Spader, so they wanted to use James Spader. I guess they wanted Ultron to be conflicted, emotional, flawed and human. But he was too human. He was too... odd. Too funny. His face was too expressive. So expressive, it became distracting. Let me spell this out for you Marvel: Ultron is a ROBOT. For comparison, how much personality does C-3PO manage to convey without being able to even blink? Ultron's voice, at times, just wasn't robotic enough. Or angry enough. There was no menace to it. It should have sounded more like a malfunctioning computer... metallic dementia tinged with rage, like in . Now that was a scary computer. Also, I had trouble buying into Ultron's motivation, anger, or ultimate plan (which was patently ridiculous - something which may work in a comic book, but not in a comic book movie). And speaking of the movie feeling crowded... how did Ultron (or his creators) ever find enough time to make so many copies of him? I suppose maybe his copies were making copies, but it would have been nice if it were better explained. Frankly, there are plot holes big enough to drive a truck through. Massive, gaping plot holes. The first Avengers movie isn't exactly a pantheon of logic, but at least Loki's motives were clear, and he was incredibly entertaining to watch. Here, Ultron is just a big, goofy disappointment. And one that is apparently very easy to repeatedly destroy, regardless of whatever super powers (or mildly enhanced abilities) you happen to have. Seriously... how does Quicksilver manage to destroy big, metal robots just by punching them, without seriously hurting himself? There was one character who came out of the movie working very well indeed - and that was the Vision. He's kind of a weird character in the comics, and one which I wasn't sure would work in a movie, but he worked incredibly well. He had some of the better moments in the film, although his powers were largely skimmed over, so if you blinked, you wouldn't really know what he was really capable of doing. They also glossed over the Scarlet Witch's abilities, just chalking them up to being "weird". I guess a picture is supposed to be worth a thousand words, but a few more words wouldn't have hurt. Better still, a few less characters wouldn't have hurt. I suppose some people are lamenting over Joss Whedon being done with making Avengers movies now, but I'm not. Frankly, I think he bit off more than he could chew with this one. Too many characters, and not enough time spent to really develop them. The major threat was hokey, the film was cluttered, the action sequences were noisy and unfocused... it just wasn't up to the standard the first film set. By the time the next Avengers films come out, I wonder if the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be so cluttered that this will become the norm? I'm already worried that Captain America: Civil War may tread that ground, since reportedly there will be quite a few characters appearing in that film. If the last Cap film proved anything, it's that sometimes smaller is better. (Smaller in terms of the character focus - the plot ramifications of course were huge.) That said, there were some great moments in the film. The Hulk vs. Hulkbuster fight was particularly fun (despite most of it being spoiled in trailers and commercials), although it was apparently shot for a different aspect ratio than what I saw it in, because the action was cropped in so tight, it made it difficult to see what was happening at times. This happened throughout the film, too. Maybe the IMAX release was better. Can't blame the theater for that one though... that's just bad . In the end, Avengers: Age of Ultron just can't live up to its predecessor. Or really, most of its predecessors. It's not that it's bad, but it's not on the same level as Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Or Guardians of the Galaxy. Or The Avengers. Or Iron Man. With this one, Marvel stumbles a bit. But with $1.2 billion in box office revenue, they probably don't care. And at least it's not a DC movie. Avengers: Age of Ultron gets a 7.2/10. (But only because I gave Man of Steel a 7, otherwise it'd be closer to a 6.)
  23. To recap the first film: http://youtu.be/OTfBH-XFdSc Okay, so with that out of the way, yet again I find myself sitting in a theater, waiting for a movie to start. In this case Star Trek Into Darkness, which I guess is supposed to be read as a sentence. So we're trekking, into darkness. Or something. Anyway, since I effectively "trekked" to the theater, and am sitting in relative darkness, the title seems somewhat apropos. Unlike Iron Man 3, where we were hustled into the theater mere moments from the start of the movie trailers, I've got a good 20 minutes to kill. Certainly, this is due to not being here on the movie's opening night. I decided after going through that once this summer, not to do it again. At the moment, there are only a few people in here, no doubt due in large part to Fast & Furious 6 opening tonight in pretty-much every other screen here, and mercifully keeping most of that particular age demographic occupied elsewhere. It's all about planning ahead. 10 minutes to go. They're running commercials and behind-the-scenes featurettes for things I have no interest in. Speaking of things I have no interest in, I was debating seeing STID in the first place, since I don't really consider this (or the previous film) to be true Star Trek. It's more like a really high budget fan film. Lots of effort put into sets, costumes and effects, but none of it looks quite right, and none of the people dressed up in the costumes know how to act. The whole time, you're conciously aware you're not watching William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, but pale, annoying imitations aimed solely at trying to draw in new audiences who have the attention span of a gnat and and are solely interested in loud noises and flashing lights, and not in characters or story. Anyway, time for the trailers. (One movie later...) The theater filled out nicely for the movie. Not overcrowded, but not so empty that it felt like I was watching the film by myself. Unfortunately, there were a few idiots "vaping" down front. Newsflash for the brilliant people who think this is okay in a movie theater: it may not stink like cigarette smoke, but it still rises up into the air and makes for a really annoying visual distraction. Leave your huffing at home. Incidentally... does anyone else think this guy is the biggest poseur on the entire planet? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xi0bYeFbN4E I mean c'mon... between the slow-motion and his scraggily Shaggy beard? (Look... either grow a real one out, or shave the stupid thing off.) Sorry. Easily distracted. Right, so onto the movie itself. Now, I detest spoilers, so I try to avoid reading them, and try to avoid writing them. I should warn you though, that spoilers for this film are ridiculously easy to run across. I found one on a movie trailer site that simply listed the cast. So if you're planning on seeing this, and don't want it spoiled, just avoid everything. Writing a review of this movie is going to be hard to do without invoking spoilers. But I'll give you my overall impressions of it, and see how it goes. First, this is a better movie than the last Star Trek. Much better. It seems more cohesive, the cast seems to be more comfortable with their characters (less forced), and it doesn't have a completely ridiculous plot or anything as ludicrously stupid as the red gravity goo. And there are fewer lens flares, too. A lot fewer. But they're still there. They just seemed to be used at more strategic moments, rather than in every single shot. But still, when they do show up, they're annoying. Memo to J.J.: try leaving them out of your next film entirely. Just to see if you can do it. It's like farting in an elevator. You don't really have to, right? I mean, you can exercise some self-control, and people around you will be happier for it. Zachary Quinto is doing a better job as Spock. Respectable even. And the guy playing McCoy has a few moments, although he's still largely a caricature of DeForest Kelley. And the guy playing Scotty does a little better, but he's still too much comic relief for my tastes, as is the guy playing Chwyekyoyv (aka "No One's Favorite" in the above trailer). As an aside - in the original Star Trek, Walter Koenig was hired as a counterpoint to the Monkees' Davy Jones, so shouldn't J.J. have hired a Justin Bieber lookalike to play this Chekov? Just wondering. The main problem with the cast is that Chris Pine is just not a very likable Kirk. He simply lacks charisma. He has a few decent moments in the film, but mostly it just comes off really flat and superficial. And his eyebrows are way too distracting. Dude... pluck those suckers. It looks like you're wearing a couple of cats up there or something. That aside, I just had a hard time believing anybody else in the movie really liked him, or that he was actually competent at what he was doing. I don't know what percentage of that is bad writing, bad casting, bad acting, or bad directing. Now then, onto the villain. The basic premise is there's a bad guy, who does bad things, and Kirk and crew have to go and get him. So a ruckus ensues. And the guy playing the villain does a passable job at it. Unfortunately, by and large, he is also doing a passive job at it. There's a pretty good chunk of the film where he's just... sitting. When he does act, he's formidable. But there is a problem with him, and it's the main problem with this movie, and the rebooted series in general. Inevitable comparisons. Consider this - this version of Star Trek still takes place in the same universe as the original series. And timeline-wise, just before it (look it up). Kirk, the Enterprise, the crew - all still at the start of their careers. The events in the previous movie have altered the timeline somewhat, but it's still the same universe. So some of the other things that existed in the other timeline would, logically, be here as well. Romulans, as we saw in the last movie, for example. It's not a completely different universe. So comparisons are inevitable. Especially with this movie, because it's completely derivative. And for those of us knowing what it's derivative of, we can't help but think, "This is pretty good, but it was so much better in the original." Yes, I'm well aware that this movie is targeted to people who may have never seen Star Trek, or certainly aren't as steeped in it as my generation. I heard people in the theater (and afterwards) talking about this very thing, as it relates to this film. Or more to the point, what it's derivative of. Does it make sense that they're effectively covering existing ground in an altered way? Of course. And the movie works, and is entertaining in its own right, if you can divorce yourself from any pre-existing biases of Star Trek you may have. But if you can't, and there were numerous points where for me it was impossible, it's all-too-self-conscious and self-referential. Which is too bad. Because there's some good action to be had in the film. Taken entirely on its own, it's not a bad story either. It's a pretty entertaining romp. But we've been here before, and when I'm pulled out of the movie to think about something else because of the movie, then I don't think that's good movie making. Also, it's not hard at all to predict where they're going in the movie. They telegraph some stuff way in advance, and you're just basically waiting for them to get on with it. There are also some less significant issues I have with the movie, that are basically leftover from the previous movie. First of all - apparently nobody in Star Fleet really cares who is in command of what, or who sneaks on board a ship and is suddenly given credibility and authority without so much as raising an eyebrow over it (get it?). It's a very poorly run organization, with impossibly bad security, really stupid policies, and zero accountability. Second - there are just too many easy outs. Convenient events that propel the story where you already know it needs to go. Don't treat the audience like we're that stupid, okay? If someone needs to be somewhere, the whole "oh we're sending them somewhere else... now we're not!" fake-out is really amateurish. Come up with something better. Finally - just how big is the Enterprise now, anyway? The interiors seem impossibly huge. Tardis-huge. Has anyone mapped out a cutaway of that thing yet? All of that may sound as if I didn't like it, but I enjoyed it enough to justify having gone to see it. It was a fair-enough summer popcorn movie. For the series, it's a step in the right direction, but they really, really need to carve out their own path from here on out. Don't go back over old ground anymore. Take ownership of the series if you're going to continue with it. And Chris... tweezers. Look into it. Star Trek Into Darkness gets a 6.5/10.
  24. So I went to see Frozen a few days ago. Opening week, Black Friday, afternoon matinee, packed house, tons of kids. Now I've been in movie theaters before with lots of kids, and if the movie doesn't completely hold their attention, it's a miserable place to be. They get restless and bored, never sit still, and never stop talking. If a movie is too complex for them to follow, they never stop asking questions. If it's too scary for real little kids (and the parents too irresponsible to recognize that their kids shouldn't be there in the first place) they scream and cry. For a film to be successful in that setting, it has to strike a tricky balance. That doesn't mean the movie has to be dumbed-down to the point of being agonizing for adults to sit through though (despite what movie studios generally think). Kids are a lot smarter than studios give them credit for. A movie should be able to entertain both kids and adults alike - just on different levels. The basic qualities of a good story and compelling characters should be able to entertain kids, and if the writing is smart enough, have enough additional layers to keep adults engaged as well. Going into Frozen, I can't say I was expecting much. It's had a rough life in production. After Disney's The Princess and the Frog failed to be the hit they were hoping for, Disney assumed people were done with princess movies, so they cancelled the ones that were in-progress, including an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen. The film Rapunzel was too near completion to outright cancel, and went through a lot of changes before finally being retitled and released as Tangled. When that turned out to be a hit, suddenly princess films were back in, and Disney revived The Snow Queen - following Tangled's lead with a new title - Frozen - and trying to give it the same updated vibe. (I suppose Pinocchio would be re-titled Wooden, Snow White would become Poisoned, and Pocahontas would be… well, it would still just be Boring ). Anyway, Frozen was rushed headlong into production and I wasn't hearing very many positive things about it. Usually if a film is going to be good (like Wreck-It Ralph) there's some advance buzz about it ahead of time. Plus, the early trailers for Frozen - featuring an incredibly annoying and bugg-utly snowman sidekick - left me cold (sorry… ). All that said, I was pleasantly surprised by Frozen. I think this is as close as Disney has gotten to a "classic" Disney fairy tale since Beauty and the Beast. It's not as good as that film, but it has that sort of feel to it, as if they're on the right track. The movie has basically nothing to do with the original Hans Christian Andersen story, so this is very much a Disney story, and as such it comes with the usual Disney baggage - wacky sidekicks, predictable story elements, cookie-cutter characters, forgettable musical numbers, and plot-holes big enough to drive a sleigh through. The point of a Disney film like this isn't so much does it break any new ground, but is it competently entertaining enough for what it is? You know what you're in for when you walk into the theater, just as you already know what you're in for when you wait in line for any ride at Disneyland. So the question is - do you still enjoy the ride? For Frozen, I enjoyed the ride for what it was. They mixed up the formulas enough to make the film interesting, and the wintery setting makes it visually stand on its own (at least as far as Disney films are concerned). One gripe - they didn't do a very good job of establishing that it was warm summer day when the city of Arendelle got frozen. It wasn't until well afterwards that I caught onto that. For all I knew, it was a cold climate to begin with and could have been mid-November already. In many ways, the character of the Snow Queen is treated similarly to the Beast from Beauty and the Beast. The Beast wasn't so much a villain, as he was misunderstood. Here, the Snow Queen isn't so much evil as she is a tragic figure, which leaves her ultimate fate in question (and helps keep some tension in the film). Unfortunately, the film didn't spend nearly as much time with her as it should have. I wanted to see more of the story from her perspective, especially early on. The other characters are likable enough, but most don't really offer anything new. Just the same clichéd Disney characters, with perhaps a little more 'tude. The ice trader Kristoff has some fun moments with his reindeer Sven early on, where since Sven (mercifully) doesn't talk, Kristoff does both sides of their conversations. But it's only used a couple of times, then sadly abandoned in favor of the ugly little talking snowman for comedy relief and plot exposition. The animation is as good as I've seen from Disney in recent years. There's one snow monster which is particularly fun to watch. The problem is - most of it is all so much more of the same. It's competent, solid character animation, but it's not groundbreaking. Disney should be the studio making breakthroughs in CG animation that everyone else is compared against, rather than merely rising to an acceptable level of competency. Part of that is their generic approach to character design. You could interchange Frozen's characters with those from Tangled, and never notice the difference. I keep hoping Disney will cut loose and design something really amazing for a change. Fantasia-level amazing. Disney changed styles radically from Snow White to Sleeping Beauty. There's nothing keeping them from doing the same thing with CG animation, other than the willingness to do so (see also: Pixar, before they became a sequel machine). The songs were okay, but for the life of me I can't recall a single one of them now. Again, they felt like they could have been lifted from any one of a number of other Disney films. The one that the audience responded to the most was a throw-away comedy number where the little snowman sings about longing to enjoy the days of summer. The rest of the songs could best be described as dramatic musical filler. Well crafted, but not critical to the story. Plus, the mix on a couple of songs made it really difficult to discern what the lyrics were. Still though, despite its flaws, Frozen is a very good Disney fairy tale. It certainly "feels" like a classic Disney fairy tale. But perhaps because of that, and the sameness of it all, it never really emotionally resonated with me. But in a theater packed with kids on a busy Black Friday afternoon in Orange, CA, it managed to keep everyone entertained, enough to feel it was worth a matinee ticket and a bag of popcorn. Frozen gets a 6.6/10. (Addendum: I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that Frozen was mercifully free of poop and fart jokes. A definite point in its favor.)
  25. From the trailers, Gravity looked sort-of interesting. In the way that Moon looked sort-of interesting. I went and saw Moon, and really liked it. A lot of people have been seeing Gravity, and according to Rotten Tomatoes anyway, they've really liked it. So I ponied up twenty bucks, and saw it in IMAX 3D. I figured that way I'd get the best experience out of it. Am I missing something? Okay... the movie looks amazing. Really amazing. The 3D works as well as I've ever seen in a feature film. Sandra Bullock gave an outstanding performance. So much so that I kept forgetting it was Sandra Bullock. That's a good thing. I'm sure she'll win a Golden Globe or something. But I just never really got into the film. I always felt I was watching a film... not taking part in the story. Like those early IMAX films from the 70's. Remember those? Where the sole purpose was to wow you with IMAX? Yeah. That's what I felt Gravity was like. Part of the problem was George Clooney. They should have put someone, anyone else in that role. Because the problem with George Clooney is he's always George Clooney. And that's fine, for fluff like Ocean's 11 (I'll admit... I'll usually watch it or one of its sequels when they're on TV, and frankly, I wouldn't mind seeing them do an Ocean's 14), but for something like this, you want an actor who will disappear into the role. Not call attention to himself. It felt like stunt casting. Putting someone in there to be a box office draw - not because he was a good fit for the role. But Clooney was actually only a small part of the problem I had with the film. The main problem I had with it, was that it was completely ridiculous. Now, it's set up in such a way that you expect it to be somewhat realistic. And they do a pretty good job of making you believe they're in space and zero gravity. Mostly. There are some parts of the film where it doesn't quite work or make sense, but that didn't bother me as much as it has some people (mostly astrophysicists, it would seem). No, it wasn't the physics, but just the absolute preposterousness of the situations in the film, that just build and build past the point of belief. At some point, as Sandra's character was getting bounced around from one precarious situation to another, I started thinking to myself, "Okay... they did that. What's next?" Gravity really felt like a director had discovered a way to make space look really neat, and decided to take elements from 2001: A Space Odyssey and Apollo 13 (both far superior films), and make a demo reel out of it. I just couldn't get into it. Despite the really incredible effects, the effective use of 3D, and Sandra Bullock's performance, the story was just, to put it bluntly, silly. And I got to a certain point in the film, where it didn't matter anymore if she got out of her situation or not, because I was just tired of being spoon-fed yet-another ridiculous, impossible situation, or getting whipped around by the endlessly spinning camera shots. (Or having my eardrums assaulted by the soundtrack. Considering Gravity starts off by pointing out you can't hear anything in space, this is one loud movie.) I would have liked to have liked the film more. I certainly was impressed with how it looked (although the screen in the theater I was at was dirty, so any brightly-lit scenes showed dirt on them as well... I hate movie theaters). And I really liked what Sandra Bullock was able to do with what she was given. But what she was given, was dropped into the middle of a story that just didn't work. I was expecting better. Something with a more engaging, engrossing story. Something more believable. Or at least less ridiculous. This seemed more like a video game. Lara Croft in outer space. Or maybe Indiana Jones and the Nuke-proof-fridge. Gravity gets a 5/10. But it looked great. P.S.
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