Lucy movie Scarlet Johanssan

Who’s Lucy?

Don’t know.

Scarlet Johansson pretended to be Lucy. Perhaps pretending is too strong a word.

No big diff. Scarlet cruised to an easy paycheck doing her usual thing.

Really nice special effects, though. Don’t know why gaining an extra 5% brain power (at the beginning of her transformation) caused Scarlet to defy the laws of gravity like that and squirm all over the ceiling. Hmm.

(You already know, I suspect, that the idea that we only use 10% of our brain is bushwa. Google it for loads of interesting articles saying it’s all a crock, or check this one from Scientific America.)

Stupidest Yakuza Ever Bonus. This imaginative crime lord, “Mr. Jang,” thinks the best way to export his newest street drug is to use surgery to implant packets of the drug into unwilling drug mules.

That’s probably because he can’t figure any other way to get the drug out of Japan. Poor guy. He needs a hit of his own product.

(Why export the drug at all? Why not sell it in Japan, for starters?)

The problem I foresee: surgery isn’t scalable.

Say the drug is a big hit and Mr. Jang needs to export tons of it. That’s a lot of surgeries to schedule, a lot of unwilling mules to coerce. Would the stupidest yakuza ever be up to the task? Naw.

Speaking of Neo and The Matrix, it’s instructive to note that The Matrix was a mere 47 minutes longer than Lucy, and yet what an infinitely more intriguing, exciting, provacative movie The Matrix turned out to be. Think of all the cool stuff that happened in The Matrix. Now, think about what happened in Lucy. It doesn’t take a super genius to see that Lucy coulda been better.

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Predestination movie young Jane

Right after Jane’s visit to the hospital (after the doctors reveal to her what surgical procedure they took liberties with— that’s what malpractice insurance is for!), I had the entire rest of the show figured out, that is, all of the big twists.

Maybe that’s because this movie is based on Robert Heinlein’s short story “All You Zombies.” In my youth, I read all of Heinlein’s available work. Good job, O my subconscious mind, yanking that one back across the memory event horizon. Someone ought to give me a prize for that.

Ethan Hawke is the putative star of this show, but it’s Sarah Snook who captures our attention and brings it to heel.

This is mostly a puzzle-movie where you try to forecast the plot before it’s revealed to you. Even if you figure it out in the early-going, you’ll have fun watching the movie-makers prove you right.

Skillful as the movie-makers were in presenting us with this tantalizer, they don’t really make it personal. I would have liked to feel more of what Jane was feeling so that I could root for her because I liked her, not just because she was the deserving but mistreated underdog.

More Jane, less of Ethan Hawke’s character, that’s how it coulda been better.

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live die repeat

Claudia Azula Altucher called it “A cross between Aliens and Groundhog Day.”

I’ve never seen an action movie I admired more than Aliens— it gave me actual nightmares all night long (which has happened only one other time after John Carpenter’s The Thing)— and you can read what I thought about Groundhog Day here— so I wholeheartedly approve of Claudia’s comparisons.

Although this movie doesn’t reach the rarefied climes of excellence those other two movies do, it is definitely a good time and had us cheering.

Our first it coulda been betterThe movie’s title, known to most people (I suspect) by its tagline:

Live. Die. Repeat.

Even the name of the light novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka from which the screenplay was adapted has a better name:

All You Need Is Kill. 

Awesome!

But Wikipedia tells us that “Warner Bros. president Sue Kroll said the title was changed partly due to “negative chatter” about the word “kill” in the title.”

Inconceivable.

Second, and this is a bigger point, we needed to spend more quality time with the members of J Squad.

Hillbilly Girl reminded me vaguely of Vasquez from Aliens, 

"Vasquez, you're such a bad-ass."

“Vasquez, you’re such a bad-ass.”

and Aussie-Prick showed some potential for being interesting,

and there was Fat Guy Squish, but we just didn’t get enough of them to really care.

In contrast, I’ll bet it would be easy for you to remember the faces of the second tier characters from Aliens: Lt. Gorman (who snuffs it with Vasquez), Pvt. Spunkmeyer (blond guy with the shotgun), Bishop, and, of course, Hudson/Bill Paxton (“We’re in some real pretty shit now, man!”), appearing in this movie in diminished capacity as Master Sergeant Farell.

Third, and this is a minor point, when Tom Cruise meets Mad-Eye Moody/General What’s His Name for the first time, I would expect the supreme leader of the human armies to be surrounded by aides and lots of other officials round the clock, especially 24 hours before D-Day. It’s a small oversight like that that throws me off and that interferes with the movie’s verisimilitude.

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gone girl movie rosamund pike drowned underwater

Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl (the novel) sounds quite a bit more interesting than the cinematic adaptation turned out to be— wish I had time to read it. Not that the movie failed to entertain, but it coulda been better.

Amy Dunne should have been more like Amazing Amy, her childhood literary alter-ego. Amazing Amy had it going on. Adult Amy, in contrast, was beat-down, out-competed by her literary albatross, and generally wordless and blah.

Imagine, if you will, that you are meeting Adult Amy at Starbucks for a chat. Do you have any inkling, after watching the movie, the sort of things that might come out of her mouth as the two of you sit there making conversation?

“So, Adult Amy, I guess you were pretty sore with Nick when you caught him cheating, huh? Must have been hard, at that point, to ignore that the marriage wasn’t working out. I’m curious how you arrived at the adult conclusion that your best response would be to frame him for your murder, then, to  guarantee he wouldn’t wiggle out of your trap, commit suicide? Very subtle, very indirect. When you slashed open Neil Patrick Harris’ throat, I never suspected you could be such a get-to-the-point kinda girl. Nice to see you changing up your coping strategies.”

Aside from his two-stepping ways, Nick/Ben Affleck was too nice a guy. If, when Adult Amy told Nick that he could only be happy with a complicated woman like her, a woman who had killed for him, it could have been better if Nick had gotten turned on by that.

Two dark souls conspiring to up the stakes from public sex to something vastly more. . . complicated: marriage counseling via human sacrifice.  That would have been more interesting that the boring martyrdom of Nick as he soldiers through a victim-filled marriage for the sake of his soon-to-be born child.

Cry me a river, Nick. Here’s a tear to get you started.

Oops. It’s gone.

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grand budapest hotel

M. Gustave:  [to Mme. D’s corpse]

You’re looking so well, darling, you really are… they’ve done a marvelous job. I don’t know what sort of cream they’ve put on you down at the morgue, but I want some.

grand-budapest-hotel-shows-tilda-swinton-in-casket

If you didn’t like Moonrise Kingdomthen don’t see this one.

For all others, give it a gander. I loved it. Ralph Fiennes—there’s nothing he can’t do.

Could it have been better?

Only if M. Gustave hadn’t died.grand budapest hotel

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divergent movie poster

Tris: They’re gonna kill me.

Four: I’m not gonna let that happen.

Stupid in so many ways.

So, so many.

Chicago after the war: bad city to live in if you’re “divergent,” which means “they” can’t “control” you

—except by controlling you in all of the normal ways, like laws, police, credit card debt.

It’s really hard to tell if someone is “divergent” because nothing a “divergent” person does in his or her everyday life will give it away—unless they are subjected to really invasive tests.

A difference that makes no difference is no difference.

Good thing Tris became a Dauntless, otherwise she never would have had those tests and no one ever would have known.

It’s not like being divergent gives you superpowers—except the ability to resist mind-control drugs. How did anyone know that when those newly invented mind-control drugs were brought into use for the first time by the evil scientists way near the end of the final reel?

Stupidity Gold Medal Winner: So many contenders, but the gold has to go to the so-called fighting style.

Send in the side-kicks, please.

divergent-fighting style

How it coulda been better: After overcoming bad-girl Kate Winslet, Tris should have tapped a couple of rounds into her head. After all, up to that point Tris shot to death plenty of non-marquee characters. All of Winslet’s goons are still in control of the “government.” As it now stands, once Winslet is refreshed and bandaged up, she can get right back to her power-grab shenanigans. What’s stopping her?

If Tris had only taken care of business instead of going all Harry-Potter-don’t-hurt-anyone-ever-no-matter-what, we wouldn’t be getting the three sequels headed our way: Insurgent, and Allegiant Parts I & II. 

I guess Tris and gang are going back to Chicago to do the hard way what would have been so easy to do when they had Winslet at their mercy.

Awesome.

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GI-Joe-Retaliation-after-credits-large-v3I came to see Bruce Willis (“My cholesterol’s a little high”), stayed for Dwayne Johnson, but saw the show stolen by Jonathan Pryce (Elizabeth Swann’s father in Pirates of the Caribbean).

Overall, a movie that rises to an acceptable level of mediocrity. Plus, now we know why they’re called “Joes,” and it’s because of Bruce’s character—right on.

Sad, though, for those Cobra operatives who must have trained for years and years to hone their marital and acrobatic skills to the point they unhesitatingly jumped off a thousand-foot high bridge only to miss hooking onto a cable or smashing into a protruding rock.

Of course, even if they had survived those hazards, they were doomed to be slaughtered. Being the second-best ninja in the world isn’t any better, it turns out, than being number 52. What a waste of humanity.

Ya gotta wonder: There’s got to be a better way to keep the world safe from really dangerous people like Cobra Commander. Why not serve him up the same treatment Osama bin Laden got? No more trouble from that guy.

Let’s geek-out some more. Forget about the guy who leaves the swords lying around in the prisoner room—too obviously stupid. If you’re going to run a prison to contain three guys, why not separate them, purely in the interests of making it harder to escape?

And if you’re going to chemically paralyze people and suspend them in tubes of liquid, is there any moral difference between that and simply severing crucial nerve connections / ligaments, at far lesser maintenance expense?

Big problem for Cobra Commander after being busted out of his glass tube—forgetting, of course, as the movie-makers want us to forget, that Cobra Commander is pumped full of a drug that paralyzes his body and ought not to magically disappear from his body just because someone is trying to rescue him.

Here’s the Problem: they don’t un-paralyze you and haul you out of the tube every time you need to use the toilet.

Soooo, maybe all of Cobra Commander’s internal tubing and catheters ripped themselves free when he came crashing down, or maybe he had to remove them himself. Either way, I doubt he actually would have been leading the pack on their sprint to freedom.

By the way, what do you suppose would be the result  to the environment if all of the world’s nuclear weapons were detonated in the air? I’m thinking that would be a bad thing.

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The Raven MovieDidn’t everybody know this one was going to be a stinker based on John Cusack being Edgar Allan Poe? $26M budget; $16M box-office gross—horrifying.

The trailer looked mildly interesting, as in: What’s all this malarkey going to add up to?

Ewan McGregor and Jeremy Renner were originally attached to this film as Poe and the Inspector. Could they have brought this  clunker to life? Doubtful.

Stupidity Bonus: A guy rides a horse into the middle of a masquerade ball, because, um, the rider was told it was, like, an early form of singing telegram, I guess. Image how stupid the guy would have to be to go along with that.

But that’s not the stupid part: the village idiot had direct contact with the killer—he could have been interrogated. Does that happen? Heck no.

portrait_d_edgar_allan_poe_reference

The real deal. Goatee-free.

But that’s not the really, offensively stupid part.

The objectionably stupid part was damsel Emily being right next to Poe when the rider broke into the ball, and then Emily being whisked away by the villain, no problem at all. Poe knew what was at stake, and yet, and yet . . . forget it.

One almost good part was that, rather than being a typical, passive damsel in distress, Emily took steps to free herself from her captivity.

Expect that it was all bunk because she got captured immediately after her almost-escape. Bleech.

Oh, yeah, and I might as well throw this one in: the culprit (who shows up out of nowhere—we don’t even remember meeting this insignificant villain prior to the big-reveal) kept his captive Emily under the floor of a busy newspaper room, under a table bolted to the floor that covers the secret door that lies buried beneath nailed-down floor boards, and yet Mr. Johnny-On-The-Spot is always on hand whenever Emily makes headway trying to escape. Fantastic timing that guy has.

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the worlds end movie

I have no objectivity when it comes to Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (other than their work together in Paul, which did not thrill me).

I love Shaun of the Dead best, then Hot Fuzz, and last The World’s End.

But, hey, I’ve only seen The World’s End one time, so there’s hope that it may tie with HF—though it can never hope to match or exceed Shaun.

So what if this one’s slow getting started, or too frenetic once the action does get going?

Sure, it coulda been better, but I’m just too overjoyed to see Simon and Nick working together, again, to say anything clever or even anything constructive.

Whoo-hoo!

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x-men days of future past movie

Dear Movie-makers, you were too timid. You should have made this one into a 4 or 6 hour movie—I didn’t ever want it to end.

More time spent with the about-to-get-creamed mutants would have been awesome. And all of those mutant characters who were left out of the script—they should have been at the party.

A Big How It Coulda Been Better: When old Magneto gives his dying handshake to Xavier, he really should have taken off his glove. Common courtesy. Showing him making the effort woulda meant so much more than mere symbolism. Skin on skin: Make it personal, guys, like it means something, like you might be friends and it’s a sad moment because you’re all going to die.

Funny how little Wolverine meant to this story, yeah? I mean, after he delivered his message to young Xavier, he was generally useless.

I saw The Wolverine after  I saw Days Of Future Past, which meant I hadn’t got the explanation in the ending credits scene of The Wolverine for how Professor X came back to life.

Explanation: He’s not dead!

Good one.

X-Men 3 =  abomination. Let’s all agree to forget about it.

It was nearly half as bad as the unspeakably vile Aliens 3.

It never happened.

Aliens 3—I cringe to type the name. 

Hey, hey! All that exciting, heroic, scary shit we went through in Aliens was meaningless because Newt is killed in the spaceship by an alien that somebody overlooked.”

What. The. Fuck.

It never happened. The last, true Alien movie in that series was Aliens.

Peter Dinklage as Trask.

What wouldn’t have happened back in the 70’s was that a dwarf could walk into a room and no one bats an eye or passes a comment. That anyone even took him seriously—ala 1970—deserved some kind of explanation.

Instead, everyone reacted as if Tyrion, our favorite character from Game of Thrones, graced us with his presence. He’s so cool. Still, a smidgen of unpleasant realism might have contributed to explaining why Trask was such an angry elf (an Elf reference, not a slur).

Professor X: Tougher than you thought. You probably would have bet that a guy in a wheelchair whose only power is useless against robots without minds wouldn’t be one of the people who makes it to the final battle, right?

Stupidity Bonus: I’ll suspend my disbelief that Magneto can affect the path of lead bullets (because lead is not affected by magnetism), but what I don’t accept is that he can tag a fleeing Mystique who has crossed the room and jumped down two stories and completely left his field of vision.

Also, how fast does his brain have to calculate in order to aim a moving bullet? He’s not Quicksilver, you know.

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500px-Oberyn-Martell-family-tree

While I appreciate that anyone could get the ax at any time—oh, the suspense—Episode 38, The Mountain and the Viper, seemed contrary purely for the sake of contrariness. Oh, swell, they broke the rules yet again by confounding our expectations.  By all that’s right and good in the universe, the Viper should have killed the Mountain and survived.

I liked that guy. Now, I’m sad.

Jeez, what a nihilistic show this is. It’s like the forces of goodness never get a break; in fact, they don’t seem to exist. Maybe that’s just because of the gritty realism.

game of thrones a rya and hound togetherBut a big problem with GoT is that there aren’t enough characters to root for. With Viper-dude gone, all I’ve got left is Tyrion, Arya, and the Hound. Everything is so bleak you gotta wonder why the entire population doesn’t up and walk into the ocean and end it all. Take away the sex, and it’s a sure bet they would.

If next episode they kill off Peter Dinklage’s character Tyrion, then what? Who wants to hang around King’s Landing with Cersei, Jaime, and Papa Lannister? Snore-fest. The bald eunuch guy is cool, but what does he really do? He talks, but what does he do? 

hound-fried-chicken-shirt-hfcMinus Tyrion, that would leave just Arya and the Hound to care about. Maybe Jon Snow. Unfortunately, in the interests of grit-crunchy realism, I don’t expect the Hound will be with us much longer, what with the exorbitant bounty on his head.

I’d like to see Arya reunite with the face-changing super assassin, but at the usual pace events unfold, that could take several more years. Oh, Arya, why didn’t you sign up for super-assassin training school when you had the chance?

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frozen movie posterFrozen looked way great.

It had lovable characters, like Anna and Olaf the happy snowman (who reminded me favorably of B.E.N. from Treasure Planet).

It was witty, and charming, and had a message about love and relationships subversive to most of the Disney canon. Viva la revolucion. 

It was jam-packed with songs that never seemed to end.

Millions of little girls and millions of grownup girls helped to make this the highest grossing animated movie of all time.

Higher grossing than The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Monsters, Inc., Ratatouille. Higher than the almighty The Lion King, or any of the Shreks or Toy Story‘s.

That’s commerce for you. The dollar has spoken. How could a feat like that be improved upon?

I dunno. I just know that Frozen entertained and occasionally tickled me, but I’m not putting it in my personal hall of favorites. I’d rather rewatch Cars before I’d rewatch Frozen. 

(Cars 2, on the other hand. . .

I’m glad you liked it. The world, no doubt, is a better place because of it. Take out the singing and I’d love it, too.

Rant Bonus: If you don’t mind adult language, check out one of my favorite funny wise-persons Jenna Marbles for her take on Frozen and more.

 

 

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47 ronin movie poster47 Ronin is a fantastically great-looking movie without a compelling story.

I wanted to love it, but the movie-makers made loving it too difficult. Who was there for us to care about in this story? Nobody.

As problematic as Kenu Reeves is to me as an actor, his was a character whose story should have been delved into. A “half-breed” raised by forest demons, he is taught magic he has taken an oath not to use. Why the frick doesn’t he use his super-cool magic? Seems kinda stupid and unbelievable for him not to.

Given a promising backstory like that, you’d think the movie-makers would have wanted to exploit it.

About the only other character with potential to save this story was the character listed in the credits simply as “witch,” whose lack of a proper name is telling because it represents the short-shrift she got throughout the movie. She’s a white dragon imitating a human in order to help another human gain political power. Holy shih tzu, why would any movie-maker want to treat a glorious character like that as a second-rate plot device?

I’m in favor of redoing the movie entirely from the witch’s point of view. What a kick in the head that would be.

Too many samurai. We had the fat samurai, the boss samurai, and the samurai who was supposed to serve as a foil to Reeves (the one Reeves saves from the giant antlered monster at the beginning of the show) but who faded into the background and never amounted to anything.

Oh, and there was that samurai with a mustache. And some other dudes.

If only they had had personalities to help tell them apart.

How it coulda been better:  rewrite the script with the witch, the half-breed and the fat samurai as a team. I don’t care what their mission is; maybe it could be to kill off all the other boring character in this story. That would keep them busy for awhile.

Most Lackluster Schmaltz: Reeves tells his unrequited love-object that he will search for her through a thousand worlds and ten-thousand lifetimes. Ten thousand lifetimes of being the guy who never has a girlfriend? Then thousand lifetimes of being a virgin? What are we talking about, here?

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BeastsoftheSouthernWild

If you stop and count them, BOTSW has a lot of animals in it: chickens, alligators, pigs, things that look like dogs, a dead cow, aurochs. But I get the feeling that what’s meant by beasts aren’t the animals but the people.

Not that these people are bestial in a pejorative sense, but in the sense that they are wild and living in a society of their own making. It’s fair to describe them as primitive, but only because they choose to be.

Wild equates to independence. They don’t live in a wilderness, not exactly, but perhaps we could say they use the chaos of poverty to build a protective hedge of wilderness around them, a place where those not of their tribe do not care to venture.

Their poverty is extreme but does not define them, nor does it seem to cause them to suffer. Rather, their poverty represents their freedom from the desires of wanting and getting. In a way, their poverty is what makes their community possible. They are not noble despite their poverty because they are not particularly noble, at least, no more noble than other people are.

How it coulda been better? I dunno.

I do wonder about the hollowed-out alligator that was used (with dynamite and jugs of gasoline) to blow a hole in the levee. Why the alligator? Was it merely a convenient way of holding the explosives together? Was it meant to deceive anyone? If so, then whom, and how, with the culprits in a boat just a few hundred feet away? “It wasn’t us did it—it was that damn gator. Dint you see it messing around over there?”

Or was it just a symbol thrown in by the movie-makers?

I’m guessing it was the last one—arbitrary, but I like it. It has the logic of myth, the flavor of beastliness.

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Amistad ship

Once again, I have to complain about the presence of Morgan Freedman in this film, that film, every other film, which is rather unfair given that in 1997 he had not yet reached the point of supersaturation and cloying ubiquity.

In 2009, Bono was selected by Time magazine as Person Of The Year. In a Rolling Stone interview (2005)m  Bono said of himself and of his omnipresence in the media that year: “Even I’m sick of Bono, and I am Bono.” Bono, we need more class acts like you.

What coulda made it better? More Anthony Hopkins, preferably going Hannibal on President Martin Van Buren, schmuck that he was.

Most affecting scene in the movie: seeing the excess slaves being disposed of daisy-chain-style off the side of the ship. As a form of efficient murder, it is impressive, and, I suppose, not more brutal than throwing them over one by one. And yet, it appalls me deeply.

 

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Brosnana Russo in The Thomas Crowne Affair movie 1999

What I didn’t like: Rene Russo’s first appearance. 

Denis Leary is squatting on the floor when Russo sashays up, stops inches from his face with her leg protruding from the high slit in her skirt, the top of her sexy stocking showing.

What better way for Russo to say “take me seriously” than that?

Unless, of course, she was just being an obnoxious flirt.

I accept that Thomas Crowne can run rings around everyone else. As smart as he is, however, there’s no explanation even remotely offered for how he was able to steal the second painting “Banks of the Seine at Argenteuil” (Edouard Manet). The movie-makers might as well have said, “And he waved his magic wand and it was his,” if they hadn’t been so busy moving us along hoping we wouldn’t notice.

I liked everything else well enough, but I especially liked this concluding bit between Leary and Russo after it is clear Brosnan/Crowne has outfoxed them.

Russo: Obviously you’ll have to pursue it.
Leary:  I don’t really give a shit.
Russo: You don’t care if you catch him?
Leary: I do what they tell me to do.
Russo: Did you ever care?
Leary: Yeah. He pissed me off. But, look, the week before I met you I nailed two crooked real estate agents and a guy who was beating his kids to death. So, if some Houdini wants to snatch a couple swirls of paint that are really only important to some very silly rich people, I don’t really give a damn.

 
Russo can have Brosnan, but I’d rather hoist a beer with Leary.

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hile I enjoyed Kal-el's  cataclysmic fisticuffs with his fellow Kryptonites (wMan of Steel went splat with the critics (56% Rottentomatoes.com), but three-quarters of regular viewers liked it. Put me on the side of the 75%

As a kid, I was a “Make Mine Marvel” kind of comic book reader. When I did cross over to DC it was for Batman. Batman was easy to understand. His villains were epic; his fashion sense, classic.

And Superman? What was Superman about?

Hard to say. With Richard Donner’s/ Christopher Reeve’s 1978 Superman, we get the story of a bottom-of-the-totem-pole guy trying to find his way in the world and hopefully snag a girlfriend; his life is brought into focus by saving people from accidents and by thwarting crimes against property. The story is a lighthearted clash of personalities as we skip by the expected accoutrements of the Superman mythos: phone booths, Lois Lane, x-ray vision, Lex Luthor, kryptonite. It’s a fun time—well, except for that Marlon Brando blather.

According to David S. Goyer, [Man of Steel‘s] major theme is first contact: “We approached Superman as if it weren’t a comic book movie, as if it were real. He’s an alien. If the world found out he existed, it would be the biggest thing that ever happened in human history. Just his existence would change the face of the Earth forever.”  —-IMDB.com

Kudos to the movie-makers. I would have been happy to explore even more the ramifications of Clark’s coming to terms with his godlike nature. After all, what is it in his character that makes him a force for morality—or, as they used to say, truth, justice, and the American Way?

When I re-watched the movie immediately after seeing it the first time, I skipped some talky parts but I never skipped the battle scenes. Awesome stuff. But while I enjoyed Kal-el’s  cataclysmic fisticuffs with his fellow Kryptonites, I didn’t yearn to see more such scenes. If a movie like this were all about the action, it could too easily devolve into another Matrix: Reloaded. More action is not necessarily better. Remember how Neo had to use every  sword, spear, hatchet, machete, mace, chain, chopstick, or Q-tip  on the wall before his enemies collapsed in defeat and we could get the hell out of that excruciating, will-it-ever-end scene?

Or: it’s time to finish Agent Smith. How many times does Neo have to punch him before it’s over? Too, too many.

Wachowski Brothers: how many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?

One. . . Two. . . Three. Just three.

How It Coulda Been Better:

Costner’s Jonathan Kent. Specifically, when Jonathan tells Clark he probably should have let his classmates drown.

WTF? This is an example of moral instruction? Again, WTF?

Aside from everything morally wrong with Jonathan’s opinion, Jonathan apparently has no inkling what it would have done, psychologically, to his son to have listened to and seen all of those children drowning to death, knowing that he was responsible for their deaths through an act of omission.  Clark’s guilt would have tormented him and warped him the rest of his life.

Good thing Clark isn’t overly controlled by his father—the man is a mental troglodyte. Father Doesn’t Know Best.

In fact, Clark keeps his secret too well, wandering around until he is thirty-three years old, using his gifts haphazardly, almost aimlessly. What better way to help the most people possible then by hitching a ride on a small fishing boat into the middle of the ocean. Right.

Clark should have gone to college and taken a political science class and gotten a clue. Or watched the news.

Back to Pa Kent. This intellectual giant risks his life to save the family dog rather than letting his invulnerable son save the dog.

Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Definitely a stupid thing.

And when there was a chance of Clark saving his father and (possibly) revealing his “secret” (one more time), does Pa Kent think he ought to? No. It’s not time. Or not a good enough reason? I suspect Ma Kent would have appreciated the effort to save her husband.

Did the movie-makers expect us to feel emotional loss at Kevin Costner ascending into the skies, Christ-like? Good-bye Bull Durham; good-bye Field of Dreams and Dances with Wolves and those other movies that made us care about Kevin Costner, but not this movie, let-the-children-drown, I’m-not-worth-saving-I’m-just-your-Dad putz that he was.

Bonus Gripe:

What the frack is the Codex? Why was it a crumbly, old skull? If it was so important, why weren’t there backups? Why not just use the genetic codes in other Kryptonites if you need DNA to make copies?

If  the Codex was so important, how is it that Russel Crowe can simply swim his way in to steal it? How could the rest of the movie be so sensible and this part be so fracking stupid?

Super-scientific civilizations: so dumb they deserve to blow up.

Also:

How do the other Kryptonites become as strong as our guy when he’s been soaking up our yellow sunlight almost his entire life but they are entirely enclosed and shielded  in body armor? All it takes is a few slanting rays on one’s face? Good thing that face visor isn’t UV-protected.

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movie safety not guaranteed posterIf you don’t spend the last minute of this movie with your fist raised in the air, you should probably check the condition of your soul.

RottenTomatoes: 91% critic freshness.

The conceit: “Wanted: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.”

Some things coulda been better, but, uncharacteristically, I’m not going to tell you about them because if you haven’t seen this movie yet I don’t want to give anything away.

Keep in mind that this is a movie that was made on a budget of $750,000. It earned five times that amount at the box-office. Chalk one up for the good guys.

Big Bonus: the song “Big Machine” by actor and cast member Mark Duplass. I’m listening to it right now.

Enjoy this one. Be a freakin’ storm trooper.

Trivia Bonus: “The original classified ad upon which the film is based first appeared in Backwoods Home Magazine in 1997. It was written as last-minute filler by John Silveira, an employee of the magazine, who is credited in the film as “Time Travel Consultant” and who also has a cameo. The ad was later featured on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (1992) in the “Headlines” segment, and eventually turned into an Internet meme before being developed into a screenplay.” —IMDB.com

 

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The-Mortal-Instruments_-City-of-Bones-Original-Motion-Picture-Soundtrack-1200x1200The first time I tried reading the novel City Of Bones I got up to the point where the super-trained, magically-enhanced, bad-assed demon killer has his only weapon casually knocked out of his hand by—how did it all go down? I want to say that our heroine startled the really serious demon-killer and he had such a big flinch that that was what caused his knife to fly out of his hand. Hard to believe, I know.

Obviously, that was the point I stopped reading. My suspicion was that the author, Cassandra Clare, didn’t know much about combat or killing demons, in fact, had probably not so much as looked sternly at another person in her life, not quite the person who should be writing a story about a protagonist on deck to become the next Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

And the movie? It tried so hard to be another Twilight that it made me want to cry—tears of anguish, that is.

If you watched Twilight but didn’t like Kristen Stewart, my bet is that you’d be happy to pass her an Oscar after you see Lily Collins trying to pull off essentially the same role in Bones. Collins makes acting look hard. Regardless of what was wrong with the script or her acting of it, Collins does not have star power, that quality that makes the viewer interested (even a little bit) in what she is saying or doing.

Such a strong flavor of amateurishness pervades this cafeteria-level movie that it is impossible to notice any other nuance. Nuance is too good a word. Nuance implies there are ingredients involved beyond rank movie-making clumsiness poured over a festering heap of wanting to make as much money as possible.

Praise the Father of All Demons that Bones took in box-office receipts at only half what was spent to make the movie itself. We can all sleep more soundly with the thought that this hell-spawn of a movie will never again rise from the Pit to weary the mortal world.

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Elf-Wallpaper-elf-298872_800_600

Elf is a family holiday movie favored more by the rest of the family than by me.

After repeated viewings, I am beginning to see its virtues. This time around, I was largely focused on the acting job James Caan pulls off. He’s supposed to be a jerk and the kind of guy who earned a place on Santa’s “naughty list,” but how bad can he really be if sweetie-pie Mary Steenburgen is willing to continue being married to him?

Caan is reluctant about bringing a thirty-six year old stranger to live with him, and who can blame him? He may be cranky and stressed, but the bigger fact is that he does the right thing by his son.

We could have had more drama around Caan rejecting Ferrell/ Buddy from his life, but, hey, it’s a Christmas comedy.

How it coulda been better, minor point: those illustrations that appear at the end of the movie that tell Buddy’s story—get a better artist.

[For those of the younger generation who don’t know why Bob Newhart is considered a funny-man, you won’t be able to discover the answer in a movie like this. I don’t think The Bob Newhart Show is going to be much help, either. Check out his early comedy album The Buttoned-Down Mind of Bob Newhart. “A 1960 Grammy winner a #1 smash (the first comedy LP ever to top the Billboard charts) the breakthrough that lifted Bob from nightclub act to star.”  Not everyone’s cup of tea, but I liked it.]

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Filmmakers Lee Unkrich and Judd Apatow have cited it as one of their favorite films.[6][7] Actor Bill Nighy has stated that this is his favourite film.[8]Writer and director Paul Thomas Anderson: I loved his Magnolia, really loved Boogie Nights. I’d gladly watch either of those movies again.

Would I watch Punch-Drunk Love again?

I don’t think so, even though it’s listed in Wikipedia as a cult movie, even though “filmmakers Lee Unkrich and Judd Apatow have cited it as one of their favorite films. Actor Bill Nighy has stated that this is his favorite film.” 

More Philip Seymour Hoffman coulda made it better, even if he was a raging a-hole in this movie. I wanted Sandler’s character to put some hurt on Hoffman, teach him a lesson, or at least make him take a step back. Nope. Not that kinda movie.

What did I really like about the show? I liked that Emily Watson calls Sandler back to her apartment and he gets lost going back.

I liked that he flew to Hawaii to pursue her.

I especially liked the cool, professional, contained demeanor of the restaurant manager who interrogated Sandler about his destroyed restroom. You can keep all of that harmonium blather, but I’ll keep that scene.

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bandits-poster-great 001“Bandits” is a movie so determined to be clever and whimsical that it neglects to be anything else. —Roger Ebert

Cleverness and whimsy are enough for me. This is a quiet movie, but I think you’ll like it. Willis is like Clooney, impossible not to be affected by his charm. Thorton steals the show, with help from Blanchett.  Blanchett in her red hair is more fetching than I’ve ever seen her. Again, her ability to do accents is impeccable, in this case a plain American accent.

But the guy who was the host of the “Criminals At Large” TV show, his voice is like a hunk of chalk being dragged over a cheese grater. I had a hard time listening to it; I doubt he could be the constant narrator of a TV series without driving his viewers bugshit crazy. Maybe this movie needed a bit of grit like that among the smooth blend of Willis/ Thorton/ Blanchett, but I thought it coulda been better without it.

The movie stubs its toe when Blanchett’s character comes out in favor of being the girlfriend of both Willis and Thorton. It was a reasonable and fun twist, but thank goodness we got through it with speed. Paint My Wagon did a hilarious and bold, for the times, treatment of the subject of a threesome, but I didn’t want to get into all of that in this movie. If they could have shortened that part I would have been happier.

If the surprise ending actually surprised you, I would be surprised.

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Captain-America-The-First-Avenger

With the Batman movies we get a little bit of an origin story—happy trio leaving the theater, crook appearing, parents shot, pearl necklace broken, sadness all around. Spider-Man: gets bitten by radioactive spider, makes adjustments. With the original Superman movie there’s more of an origin story, and with Iron Man there’s about half a movie’s worth of origin.

But Captain America is really one long origin story.

The really interesting part of Iron Man was when Stark was in the cave making his first suit, but then there’s that whole other part with him fighting the big machine guy/ bastard of a traitor, which, of course, all adds up to a blockbuster movie event.

For Captain America, the tangle he had with his level boss (Red Skull) was brief and thoroughly uninteresting.  More interesting to me was Cap’t having to say good-bye to his sweetheart after having kissed her just one time and then taking a suicide dive. When he wakes up 70 years later, that is the end of his origin story (and the end of the movie proper).

Hey, I liked it because I like Steve Rogers/ Chris Evans so well. He came off as a top-notch guy; humble. I appreciated the cleverness the writers put into the story to make it seem that this is the way it might have actually gone down.

With the  origin preliminaries out of the way, that means Captain America: Winter Soldier will be all that much more fun.

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not-fade-away movie poster“A music-driven coming-of-age story.”

Yeah. About halfway through, I started feeling a sense of being honored and privileged to be watching this story. Not only is every scene beautiful, like a lovingly crafted cuisine, but every scene rings with truth.

In the background, a TV screen shows scenes three weeks after the assassination of President Kennedy as a room full of teenagers dance and laugh to the strains of “Wait A Minute Mr. Postman.” Truth in that. What does youth care for national calamities while there’s life to be lived, sex to be had, memories to be made? That’s as it should be.

No doubt this movie could launch a thousand thesis papers—there’s a lot going on, here.

Haircuts changed relationships. What I learned.

Something this movie made clear, in an understated way, were some of the reasons the Establishment pushed back so vigorously against the Counter Culture of the 1960’s. From parents’ points of view, the new music meant more than just sounds that were unfamiliar and uncomfortable to them; the new music was the agent of change that threatened to turn their children into strangers. How important is it to parents to protect their relationships with their children? Pretty important, even when the actions parents take to sustain the status quo sometimes demolish the status quo.

How much of a autobiographical journey into the life of David Chase is this film? Whatever parts aren’t his life, they belong to somebody’s life. Amazing stuff.

Recently, I commented on the judicious use of the f-word. Chase is a master of the form. Although the word only appears in the opening lines of dialogue (that I noticed), he uses the word with precise effect.

“Those Black Diamond Rogers are cooler than shit.”

“This fucking guy I know goes to Hancock Regional has a 61-18.”

“That’s where I fucking go.”

“I fucking go to Barton Academy. Fucking eat shit, I’m fucking transferring to Hancock senior year.”

At times, this is exactly the way guys talk to each other. Why did Chase start out his movie with these words? I believe it is because he wanted us on notice that what was to follow was true, as true as it fucking gets.

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the dictator fan art  poster

Sacha Baron Cohen. Borat, Bruno, and now The Dictator. At the end of each of these films you come away knowing you have just seen something you won’t see anywhere else.

Should you watch it? Yeah. Will you probably be offended? Yeah, but in a funny way.

How it coulda been better? The three-day window for Aladeen’s transformation felt unnecessarily rushed. Surely, there must have been some way to squeeze more laughs out of this setup.

In many ways, this felt like watching a long version of the movie trailer. The trailer promised so much—we needed more of what the trailer promised us.

Perfect trailer; imperfect movie.

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Daniel_Craig_in_Quantum_of_Solace_Wallpaper_3_1280Quantum Of Solace is no doubt the least of Daniel Craig’s fine and satisfying performances as 007.

I like it perhaps because it doesn’t try to be bigger than anything that came before it but instead just gets on with telling its story.

This isn’t a saving the world kind of story, which is good because it allows the movie-makers to spend time dealing with Bond’s personal life: the repercussions of Vesper’s death (from Casino Royale) and Bond’s efforts to seek revenge, the loss of his friend Mathis, his relationship with M, his confrontation with the consequences of who he is, as when he encounters the ruined corpse of Strawberry Fields and M remarks:

“Look how well your charm works, James—they’ll do anything for you, won’t they?” 

My god, that’s good.

What this movie doesn’t have are a lot of quips every time Bond kills someone, not even one. I don’t miss them.

Bond doesn’t even sleep with his leading lady in this one, as is entirely appropriate because she is too much a kindred soul, too much like himself. Miracle of miracles, somebody responsible for making this movie had a spine.

This is a small movie that feels more like what Bond’s job is like when he isn’t saving the world. It’s more for those who want to get to know the Daniel Craig Bond better. I’ve got my hand raised.

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movies-the-hobbit-desolation-of-smaug-posterSomething about this movie just doesn’t thrill. It looks good but it feels empty.

We were looking forward to spending time with Beorn, but he came and went so fast it was like he was never there. Groovy eyebrows, but for a guy who was supposed to be a big, bear-like dude, he needed to hit the gym and pump iron—those arms of his did not impress, rather the opposite.

Why was Bilbo so reluctant to be invisible around giant spiders and a fire breathing dragon? In the book, Bilbo kept his ring on and stayed invisible at all of the sensible times. In the movie, not so much. I feel I should care about that, but why care about anything that happens in this movie?

The-Hobbit-The-Desolation-of-Smaug serious eyebrow on  wood elf king

Serious eyebrows on the douche elf king.

Benedict Cumberbatch was the perfect, heavily synthesized voice of Smaug (unlike the voice of the first movie’s Goblin King), and Smaug looked impressive enough, but what a pansy he was when it came to killing dwarves. He never even laid a finger on them. His vast ineptitude was a disappointment.

Who really delivered in this movie? The bad-ass Orcs. These were the ninja troops. An army worth of them march up to the Eyebrow King’s front door and he isn’t even aware of it until it is too late. Well done, Orcies!

[Does it make sense to you that the dwarves can stand next to any volume of roaring fire without being burned as long as the flames don’t actually touch them, or that Thorin could float atop a stream of molten metal in a thin, metal wheelbarrow without ill-effect? When stupid things like that happen, it just lowers the stakes even more because no one can be really hurt no matter what ridiculous stunts take place.]

[My older son was not as enthusiastic about this Hobbit as he was about the first.]

 

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zack and miri make a porno posterZack And Miri Make A Porno has about 20% of the cast you loved from The 40-Year Old Virgin but with only about 10% of the fun.

It coulda been better by shortening up a lot of the banter between Zack and Miri during the first 20-30 minutes and spending that time developing the supporting characters who showed signs of being interesting.

And as much as I love the word fuck, it’s repetition in this movie became plain tiresome. It’s meant to be a spice that adds flavor, not the entire fucking entree.

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twixt movie poster“There’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip.”

Naw, you’re probably not going to want to see this one. What hooked me was the name Francis Ford Coppola. 

Then the movie starts with narration by Tom Waits and I was even more intrigued.

And then The Fat Val Kilmer shows up. Do with me what you will, Francis.

I just wish you would have speeded up the action by several orders of magnitude. The famous Coppola “beautiful cinematography” only showed up a few times, so I didn’t need all that time for ogling what wasn’t there.

What coulda been better is if Coppola had taken his own advice, spoken by character Edgar Allan Poe, and started with the ending already figured out. That might have avoided the “made it up as we went along” feeling this movie gives.

Did Val become a vampire? Probably not, but who cares, either way?

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Lair_of_the_white_wormCurrently available on Netflix, Lair Of The White Worm (based on a story by Bram Stoker, author of Dracula) has been a long-time favorite of mine. It’s not easy to come by, so check it out if you haven’t already.

Don’t expect a lot of thrills and chills, but if you are in the mood for a humorous story with plenty of in-jokes that anyone can get, this should suit you. Think snakes. You’ll even notice allusions in the “skins” that a certain character wears. (And, at the end, a final twist of the tail.)

Best part: Amanda Donohoe as the serpentine and Kali-esque Lady Sylvia Marsh. This is the way villains should be done. And that strap-on of hers: ouch.

lair of the white worm slyvia fangs

Wicked fangs. Hard to open her mouth wide enough to clear the lower teeth, but watch out when she does.

Nice touch: the butler Peters. Creepy, but fun as heck.

If what happens to P.C. Erny (the policeman) doesn’t make you laugh and then shudder, nothing can.

What you get here that you don’t get with other movies:

Hugh Grant as Lord James D’Ampton is the obvious hero of the piece—or so you’d think.

He has his action scene and he is important for his role of being smarter than everyone else when it comes to figuring out the monster (which makes him a Van Helsing stand-in), but when the showdown comes it is the lowborn Scottish lad (Peter Capaldi, recently seen in World War Z) who does all the heavy lifting (and deep slashing) and who takes the tough knocks, turning our expectations on their heads. Brilliant.

You also get a dose of Ken Russell’s hallucinogenic freak-out imagery. I think it coulda been done better, but perhaps my slightly unsettled sense of dissatisfaction is part of the effect itself—after all, it’s meant to be disturbing in more ways than one, esthetic considerations included. All of those fake flames and see-through body parts: not my cup of tea.

lair of the white worm shot of slyvia freak out hallucination

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RESIDENT-EVIL-APOCALYPSE-2This is one of those movies you wish you could watch at double speed. I admit I only watched it so I could say something snarky about how dumb it was, but I fear I won’t be able to manage even that. It wasn’t a movie worth getting worked up about even to the point of disgust.

Let me just say that on two occasions our heroine needed only to take a step forward and break the neck of the villain by twisting his head, as she had shown us she could do to any number of zombies. Why didn’t she do this obvious thing? Because she had to let him survive long enough to suffer a more painful death, later. I’m all in favor of bad guys getting their just deserts but not if it means our heroine must act as if she lost the power to think.

Stupidity bonus: Umbrella Corporation is investigating their contaminated underground laboratory. They open the sealed door and send in a team of investigators to make sure there are no zombies. Of course, there are zombies galore. Do they close the door after the investigators go in? Why would they? Closing the door might prevent zombies from dispersing into the general population. Do they even bring along guys with weapons to repeal the zombies? You know the answer to that one.

People are dumb, but only people who make movies are a dumb as that.

[One can only hope that if any nation’s military is pursuing these lines of research that they will conduct their experiments somewhere on an island thousands of miles from any continent. Or does that make too much sense?]

[How does the Umbrella Corporation get access to an atomic bomb to drop on Raccoon City? I’m sorry—I forget that this is a video game.]

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john-dies-at-the-end-movie-wallpaper

John Dies At The End is full of actors you probably think you’ve seen somewhere else but probably haven’t. That’s a good thing.

Only $141,000 for opening weekend. Where are the rest of the zeros behind those numbers?

(I found the trailer to be irresistible. It was one of those “We’re there, dude” moments.)

Not to worry; cult status is virtually guaranteed.

Watching JDATE, I was reminded of Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn, a favorite—similar wacky sense of humor and zaniness but with  marginally more characters.

What coulda been better? More of the Rastafari-guy. More wackiness. More of a female presence. I wanted Bark Lee to have a bigger role.

Bring on the sequel.

 

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immortals-movie-film-poster-flames-helmet-hd-desktop

And then they discovered the gods could be killed.

(But we’re gonna stick with the title Immortals because. . . because. . . it just makes sense.)

Immortals: the only Mickey Rourke movie where I didn’t give a rat’s ass about his performance. I suspect he felt the same way, and I don’t blame him.

What I liked were the scenes of the gods kicking ass with them speeded up and their enemies in slo-mo. Those scenes, I’ve read, were filmed at 1000 frames per second.

immortals movie Athena with crown

Goddess-worthy and shiny and very Greek looking.

Likewise, it was awesome seeing Athena stomp her foot through a Titan’s ribcage and similar scenes of carnage during the big final battle. Oh, the power.

It was touching to think  that Ares cared so much about us humans that he gave his life for us. Despite the extensive character development spent on Ares, I never even saw it coming.

Titan prisoner cage: in reality, a disguised clown-car with the ability to disgorge an infinite number of Titans, way more than than the twelve or sixteen we are shown standing inside it. Those sneaky bastards.

The Olympic gold medal for fastest long-distance runner goes to: the Warg that ran all the way over from one of The Lord Of The Rings movies to snatch up the magic bow and carry it to Mickey Rourke before riders on two goddess-given horses could catch up.

Thanks, Athena, for those really fast horses. By the way, if you aid the humans, Zeus won’t hold it against you or kill you for it the way he did Ares.

Which is more stupid?

Mickey_Rourke_immortals stupid helmet

If there ever was a sillier helmet than this, I haven’t seen it.

A.) Zeus imprisons the Titans instead of killing them;

B.) Zeus creates (or allows to exist) a key (the bow) that frees the Titans;

C.) Zeus won’t interfere in the affairs of humans until the moment the Titans are freed and his problems are thereby exponentially multiplied;

D.) Zeus collapses the mountain to stop the Titans not as a first resort but only after most of his fellow gods are dead.***

***Imagine a S.W.A.T team that has a bunch of terrorists holed up in an isolated building and it is imperative to stop the terrorists at any cost.

“We could drop a bomb on them and wipe them out—”

“Or we could enter the building and take them on at close-quarters. They outnumber us twenty to one, but if they kill too many of us, we’ll retreat and then we’ll blow them up. Cool?”

Cool as Hades.

Rock bottom: no male teenager I know liked this movie. That’s more than the kiss of death—that’s making it all the way around the bases for a home run.

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transformer mess“But at least it looked good.”

I’m not sure even that paltry praise applies to this movie. Model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley looked exceedingly good. Shia LaBeouf looked bizarrely narrow-shouldered. But the rest of the show looked the typical, ho-hum Transformers mess. How they can make so much money with junk like this is beyond me.

Two sublimely stupid events occurred in this movie, and that’s some kind of consolation, but for the longest time I couldn’t remember even one of them. Something about this movie resists being imprinted on brain cells, which is no doubt a healthy thing.

And then one of them came to me: Shia LaBeouf trying to escape from the bad guy by driving away in what everyone in the world except Shia LaBeouf (and possibly zombies, because they’re essentially mindless) absolutely, positively knew was a Decepticon. Beautiful.

This next example doesn’t qualify as being stupid (compared to the really stupid stuff), but did you notice how by the end of the movie Victoria Secret and LaBeouf go through pretty much the same ordeal and she comes out the other end with nary her makeup smudged but he looks like a typically banged around and scuffed up hero-man? Sweet.

Tudyk_TD270248_150x200

Seek him out.

How it coulda been better? Make the movie about actor Alan Tudyk, the guy who played Dutch.

We love, love, love this guy. Everything he’s been in, even as just a voice actor (Wreck-It Ralph; I, Robot), he has lent special magic to.

Best part in the movie, by a light-year, went to Tudyk when he said, after turning into a commando bad-ass then repenting and laying down his weapons: “I’m so sorry. That is the old me.”

That’s the one part of this movie it’s easy to remember.

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World War Z movie posterI read somewhere that making World War Z was a big risk for producer and actor Brad Pitt. Although the box office paid off, I’m gonna say the risk didn’t pan out.

My concern for anyone in the movie: zero percent.

What slim chance could a movie like this have of being better?

Replace Shaggy Brad with Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) for a start.

On the aircraft carrier when the powers-that-be asked Brad’s character to help out with saving the world and he responded with: Gosh, no can do, that’s just not the direction I want my life to be going—that’s when we needed Jack Bauer to walk on scene and kick Brad in the balls. (Not that Jack would do that to a non-terrorist, but metaphorically speaking.) We hardly needed to be told that if Brad didn’t play nice with the military that his family wasn’t going to be allowed to hunker down on the aircraft carrier for free. Brad not too bright.

Stupidest part in the movie: Brad had to get into a sealed lab by pressing numbers on a keypad. To do his best thinking, Brad needed both hands free in order to press the numbers with his one finger, so he put down his only weapon, his crow-bar (viva la Half-Life), and then left it behind because, hey, it’s difficult to remember to carry your weapon with you when there are so many zombies around causing so many distractions.

Tie for stupidest part in the movie: Improbably, Israel has built a wall around Jerusalem that, temporarily, protects it from the zombie hordes outside. The Israelis are so happy to be zombie-free that they can’t resist singing over the PA system, which they ought to know pisses off the zombies. Unbelievably, ridiculously, no one is watching from the tops of the wall to make sure everything is kosher. Even the “patrolling” helicopters fail to notice the heap of zombies climbing the wall. You’d expect Israelis to have a higher survival quotient than that.

World_War_Z_Blurppy_1_1_22_13From IMDB.com I learn that: “A storyline that was deleted featured Gerry’s wife having an affair with the para jumper from the helicopter from the rescue scene earlier in the film.” My god, could you imagine what the movie-makers would have had to do to get us to believe something like that? It would have taken half the movie to set up and justify.

Also from IMDB.com: “Originally, the film had a different ending: the plane lands in Moscow rather than crashing in Wales. The passengers are rounded up, and the elderly and sick are executed. Gerry is drafted into the Russian army. An unknown period of time passes, and we see Gerry fighting the zombies. He realizes the zombies are weak in the cold. The film ended with him getting back to the USA and leading a D-Day like invasion against the undead on the Oregon coast. The ending that was used instead made the movie less brutal and ended it with a glimpse of hope.”

I will say the zombies looked gruesome and eerie. Looks like a lot of CGI went into them, particularly when the zombie hordes surged through the streets like tsunamis—very hydraulic, very overwhelming. I wish it had all added up to a better movie.

 

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the-internship-movie-poster-1If you liked The Wedding Crashers, you’ll like The Internship, though you probably won’t like it as much.

This is a cute little movie with zero surprises that gives us everything we were hoping for but just not enough of it.

As RottenTomatoes.com put it: “The Internship weighs down Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson’s comic charisma with a formulaic script and padded running time that leans heavily on its stars’ easygoing interplay.”

The stakes weren’t high enough, the villain wasn’t despicable enough, the conflicts were anemic, and that romance between Wilson and Bryne—what was the point other than simply going through the motions but without a narrative payback? So, Wilson managed to find someone to go to bed with, so what?

Still, seeing Vaughn in action was worthwhile, and I did cheer out loud at some point.

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White-House-Down-HD-WallpapersAfter the appalling Olympus Has FallenI figured White House Down had to be better. I was wrong. It wasn’t nearly as stupid as OHF, but it wasn’t any better. I did my share of yelling.

I can only imagine the shock and consternation in the minds of the actual men and women responsible for the security of the President and of NORAD.

Phone call sent from theater lobby:

“I’m watching it right now.

It’s bad, Joe, much worse than we ever imagined.

How come we never thought of this?

We gotta move fast if we’re gonna save this country.

We don’t have much time. I’m calling Carol and having her drive the kids to Winnipeg.

Get NORAD on the horn and have them send their investigators to the nearest cineplex. Tell ’em to double up on their Depends because they’re gonna need ’em.

I only pray it’s not too late.”

Oh, yes, WHD had it’s special moments of brilliant stupidity:

Special Moment #1: The Presidential Bunker and emergency nerve center of the entire nation:

Protected by and run by just two guys. And great big bunker doors to go in and out of conveniently, because you get a lot of foot-traffic during a bunker-worthy emergency. Great big doors, unfortunately, make it easier for the two guys ostensibly protecting the place to get shot down during a take-over, but whaddaya gonna do?

Special Moment #2: Channing being shot at by a bunch of guys crowded into a narrow corridor:

Wouldn’t this be the perfect time to start lobbing one or two of those grenades he’s carrying around? Didn’t this guy ever play video games? (But, no. If he did use his grenades at the obvious time to solve his problem in the obvious manner, then he might not have a whole belt-full to wrap around the neck of his nemesis at the end for the obligatory big-villain sendoff.)

Special Moment #3: They got rocket launchers on the roof:

If only we had some way of stopping the men with the rocket launchers. If only we had snipers in position to shoot them. Oh, boo-hoo-hoo. How sad that we don’t have any snipers to shoot the bad guys.

Special Moment #4: Do you have the pocket watch I gave you? 

maggie-gyllenhaal-just-jared-white-house-down-screening-02

Not as traditional as a Bible, but, come on, didn’t you know from the instant the pocket watch was mentioned that it’s sole function in the movie was to stop a bullet later on?

What coulda made this better: No Maggie Gyllenhaal. I have never forgiven her for being Batman so-called love interest. Her looks just don’t work for me; they’re kinda like anti-matter. I know that’s an unfair criticism to level at an actor, and I apologize for that. Any actor could have carried off her nothing-to-it role. Even though Gyllenhaal is just three years older than Channing, I find it unbelievable that the two of them could have been romantically linked. On a bad night at the club, Gyllenhall would not have made it onto Magic Mike’s top ten list.

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Devil movie posterM. Night Shyamalan produced this movie and wrote the story the script was based on, but even he couldn’t bring himself to direct this stinker.

But, hey, it made back all of its budget and then some, so it did what its financial investors meant it to do. With a premise of five people stuck in an elevator and one of them is the devil, the movie was going to attract a guaranteed percentage of teenagers no matter what.

I admit when I saw the preview I thought, “Wow, how is he going to pull this off?” I imagined all sorts of psychological tension and suspense. That didn’t happen.

count_choculaThe Enigmatic One insisted on watching this movie, absolutely insisted. I knew we were in the hand basket going to (cinematic) hell about the time our presumptive hero first came on screen (Detective Bowden) with a haircut he stole from Count Chocula, which, now that I think about it, was probably the scariest thing in the movie.

Back up. The movie started out badly with the voice over. To paraphrase, “My Mama used to tell me an old wive’s tale about the Devil that, funny enough, is exactly like the movie you’re about to see.” What a freaking coincidence.

The Devil does his work according to certain rules, naturally. The last one to die must have his demise witnessed by the one he loves most. Pretty unlikely rule, right? So, if the guy’s fiancé hadn’t wandered in at the last second, do you think the Devil would have had to wait for her to show up? Maybe read some magazines or caught up on texting?

Another rule: the Devil is free to kill as many bystanders as get in his way, or even those who don’t (remember the security guy in the basement who just had to get the sparking electrical cable out of the water so that, so that, so that he could get himself electrocuted? Hanging that cable up on the wall wasn’t going to make the elevator start working again and mess up the Devil’s big plan. But then, maybe the Devil didn’t kill the guy. Maybe plain old stupidity did.)

But if the Devil’s main target, the one he came all the way from hell to get, the one he really, really wants, repents at the last instant and says he’s sorry, the Devil is stumped and has to take his ball and go home, game over. Keep that in mind the next time the Devil comes gunning for you.

(Note to Devil: Stop monologuing. Just kill the guy. You didn’t explain anything to the other people you killed, so why change a winning game plan?)

(Note to Detective Bowden: Saying “I’m so sorry” actually does get you something. Gets you out of going to hell.)

So, these people the Devil comes to earth to torment and kill (because waiting for them to die of natural causes so that they can then spend an eternity in hell just isn’t long enough, the Devil wants to start early, eternity plus fifteen years), well, you gotta figure these are some pretty rotten people, right?

Who are we talking about?

The whores, the liars, the cheaters, the deserters.

The deserters?

The deserters? 

And why weren’t the serial killers and child-rapists and one or two politicians on the list?

You gotta be shitting me, the deserters.

Cheaters. When you were seven years old, you thought that keeping your sister’s 500 dollar Monopoly bill when it sorta creeped over to your side of the board wasn’t a sin? See you in hell, buddy.

Whores? That’s just not right. First, you can’t have a whore without a minimum of two consenting adults. Second, whores provide a much needed service. I’d rather get into an elevator with the devil than someone who hasn’t had sex for two or more years—it might be catching.

Even Jesus palled around with whores. He went so far as to defend them, adulterers included.

If Jesus can’t keep  whores off the list, there’s something seriously wrong with the list.

And the Devil doesn’t even mention a category for the black guy who beats people up—but, hey, angry, violent people like that, it goes without saying.

I didn’t yell at this movie the way I did Olympus Has Fallen, but just to prove it can be every bit as stupid, consider this:

The deserter phones in his confession of wrongdoing and his sincere repentance on a magically-appearing walkie-talkie.

Remember how there wasn’t a walkie-talkie in the elevator, how the security guy made a point of telling us there wasn’t a walkie-talkie? The nearest walkie-talkie was on the body of the dead maintenance genius blocking the escape hatch on top of the elevator. At no time did a walkie-talkie make its way into the elevator except when the movie-makers needed one for the plot to work.

Cheesy Bonus: “My mother’s story would always begin the same way, with a suicide paving the way for the Devil’s arrival.” Because that’s another one of those rules. The guy who jumped and landed on the van, causing the van to roll a city block or more on level ground, he was the guy who wrote in his farewell note something along the lines of, “I can hear the Devil’s footsteps getting closer.”

Hmm. Try to imagine that. The footsteps of the Devil. How do you know it’s the Devil? Squeaky shoes? Jingly spurs? What if it’s just the cleanup lady? Four people in an elevator couldn’t tell who the Devil was, but this guy figured it out from the sound of footsteps alone?

But the movie poster is pretty cool.

[How to make it better: rather than Bowden forgiving the jerk who killed his wife and son, when he was driving him to the police station he should have turned around and put a few bullets through his head. “The Devil let you live, but I won’t.” Kind of a fun narrative take-away, right? If it was my son lying dead in a ditch, you bet I’d blow him away. But—-the movie-makers wanted this movie to have an uplifting “message.” Feel better?]

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The Enigmatic One found this movie cute. Okay, so it was cute. It had the makings of becoming a really funny movie, but, alas, that never happened.

After Zombieland and The Grand,  I’ve come  to look forward to movies with Woody Harrelson in them. Here, Woody’s loser FBI agent character is cute, but mostly wasted potential. The budding relationship between Woody and Pierce Brosnan’s characters needed an infusion of Miracle-Gro.

Who knew diamond heists were so easy to set up?, that all you need is a one-time walk-through of your heist location, some easily acquired blueprints of the target cruise liner (you can probably download those from the Internet, right?), goggles that make invisible lasers beams turn bright red, a retractable fishing rod, and an absolutely crucial device that squirts acid and makes it possible for  you to steal the diamond.

If you forgot to pack any of those with your luggage, stock up at the hotel commissary or check the local bait shop.

But then, Brosnan’s quick and dirty scheming nearly got him shot in the ventilation shaft, so maybe he should have spent more time planning.

Also, Brosnan shouldn’t have left incriminating evidence behind, such as his scuba communication headgear.

There are a few puzzling moments. Why does Salma Hayek repeatedly importune Brosnan to write wedding vows when it isn’t until the end of the movie that she receives an actual proposal of marriage?

And why do the four FBI guys who are sent to check on the activities of the suspended Woody clandestinely follow him and Brosnan on their ocean fishing trip, somehow take photographs of them without their presence being noticed, then wait a couple of days before breaking into his hotel room and demanding: “Hey, what’s going on?”

When, at the beginning of the movie, Brosnan puts Woody up in the Bridge Suite of the Atlantis Hotel, I hoped it wasn’t just to advertise the Atlantis. I was wrong. How much better if Brosnan had had the intention of swaying his old adversary to his point of view, of trying to get him to switch sides by exposing Woody to Brosnan’s bon vivant appreciation of the good life. “See what you’ve been missing? See why it’s better to be me than you? Come join the winning side.”

If there had been tension between Woody’s attraction to the spoils of the criminal lifestyle and his presumed ethics as a lawman, then Woody’s moral reversal at the end would have been a lot less cute and perhaps more surprising and satisfying, and clever.

After The Sunset movie

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IMDB.com pisses me off. Now we have to watch commercials in order to watch commercials (trailers).

I swear I will never use ZzzQuil because of  the ad they forced on me over and over ad nauseam.

Now comes this peculiar IAMS spot.

Iams woman with dog lying on top of herDoes this look entirely kosher to you? That’s a woman on the bottom, a soldier returning home, and, we are told, a male dog (“He will always love you”) on top of her in a rather suggestive position.

They could have used any sized dog for this ad, but they chose a male dog that would cover her from crotch to mouth. Why?

After the picture above, these next ones don’t look so innocent and sweet, either.

woman and dog kissing

Screen Shot 2013-11-17 at 9.34.55 AM

 

This is what they have to do to sell dog food?

 

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509461-Flight-1361284366-676-640x480After my grumpy comments on the preposterous, pathetic Olympus Has FallenI am happy to offer Flight as one of those movies it’s hard to make better.

Notwithstanding, the Enigmatic One offered the comment that she wanted Denzel Washington to stop sucking in his lip as if he were working on a Life-Saver. I didn’t notice it, but apparently he does it quite a lot. I’m happier not having noticed.

“…The dramatic fictional crash depicted in Flight was “loosely inspired” by the 2000 crash of Alaska Airlines Flight 261, which was caused by a broken jackscrew and in which the pilots briefly attempted to recover from catastrophic loss of control by flying the aircraft upside down. That crash had no survivors.” —Wikipedia

From the trailer, I was under the impression that this was a true-life story beginning to end. Not so.

It’s reassuring to believe that the deaths of six people could lead to the possible bankrupting of an entire airline, in the sense that the lives of us little people actually mean that much in the calculations of faceless corporations. If true, then it means corporations have serious financial motivations to keep us safe.

Airline co-pilot and contributor at Daily Beast Patrick Smith also commented that “a real-life Whitaker wouldn’t survive two minutes at an airline, and all commercial pilots—including, if not especially, those who’ve dealt with drug or alcohol addiction—should feel slandered by his ugly caricature.” (If you want to know more about the movie’s technical accuracy (inaccuracy) click here for Mr. Smith’s excellent essay.)

I suppose the only reason for having Kelly Reilly in the picture, other than her agreeable good-looks, was to give Denzel someone to talk to. We wouldn’t want to see him simply stumbling around and self-destructing in a room all alone. Reilly was just sorta a backboard for bouncing scenes off—that is, she really didn’t matter to the story.

What I did really like was the three-way in the stairwell with Denzel, Kelly, and the chemo-head listed in the cast credits as “gaunt young man.” You know who I’m talking about. At that point in the story, I would have been completely happy to follow the gaunt young man back downstairs and spend the rest of the movie with him.

flight vodka bottle posterWhen does Denzel’s Whip become a true hero? In the plane crash, he was doing what he needed to do to survive, which isn’t legitimately heroic in my book. During the hearing when he gets to his “last lie” and refuses to slander his dead lover/ co-worker, that’s when he does something truly heroic. He faces up to the consequences he could have side-slipped. He does what’s right even though it costs him his freedom.

If you were pulling for him to dodge the prison rap then you were chasing the wrong rabbit. Think about what would have become of Whip if he’d gone free. Not only would he have remained a miserable drunk but no doubt with the guilt he was feeling he would have got a lot worse. His life was effectively over, he might as well have jumped out of his hotel window—but he changed it all around with his act of atonement.

The only way this guy would ever stop drinking and avoid an early grave was to be locked up in prison, the healthiest solution for him.

Thanks, Hollywood, for occasionally giving us a movie like Flight which tells us that winning (beating the rap) is not always the best thing we can do.

 

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Olympus-Has-Fallen_0I like Gerard Butler and Aaron Eckhart. What a shame this movie turned out to be.

The all-too-much-with-us Morgan Freeman redeems himself (surrealistically) by giving us what must surely be his most ridiculous and pathetic role.

I’m afraid I did a lot of shouting during this movie. Perhaps I shouldn’t be writing this immediately after seeing it, but I feel I have to purge myself.

The story went south fast  about the time the two interceptor planes were shot down so easily (which would not have happened in real life since interceptors would not fly side by side—one would have stayed behind the target, just as you would expect intelligently trained pilots to do).

Since only two planes were dispatched to deal with the intruder and no others could be spared, it was a good thing the White House had its own anti-aircraft defenses: two missiles.

Juuuust two.

Just two missiles except for the Hydra 6, a super-weapon kept safely in the basement that no one thought to use—no one except the terrorists, of course. I kept shouting at Gerard Butler to shoot up the Hydra’s control panel, break it good in order to stop the Hydra from operating once the terrorists had control of it, but now I’m sorta glad he didn’t. Doing so might have detracted from this movie’s sublime stupidity.

Who is the unknown terrorist leader? It takes the combined military intelligence of the United States fifteen minutes to figure out he is the world’s most wanted terrorist.

Well, I’m glad he was such an exalted terrorist because it almost made him seem vaguely interesting. No, I take it back.

The plot hinges on three passwords that make nuclear weapons blow up, whether the weapons are being deployed or are sitting in their silos. Juuuust three, no matter what the nuclear weapons are doing or not doing.

And the passwords: a combo of six letters and numbers, not case sensitive. You couldn’t have that kind of simplistic password for your bank account because your bank wouldn’t allow it.

Three of them together makes a total of an 18 character password, no doubt well within the ability of software you can download from the Internet to crack in the time it takes you to leave the TV room and vomit in the toilet.

But, at the last, what made the entire movie worthwhile, in a masochistic way, is Gerard Butler standing with the gut-shot President at the door of the ruined White House and asking if he is ready to step outside to the cameras of the assembled media.

olympus-has-fallen-gerard-butler-aaron-eckhartNo, I think I’ll stand here and bleed out my last pints of blood, you fewking idiot.

And then, and then, the President is surrounded by a crowd of soldiers, none of whom thought to bring a stretcher. They looked like they just wanted to shake  his hand.

“Just another 500 feet to the ambulance, Mr. President. Keep on walking. Keep on walking.”

When the wounded President finally stumbles to the ambulance, the EMT guys don’t have the stretcher out of the ambulance, maybe just in case he wasn’t going to make it. Hey, what’s the hurry? “At the rate he’s moving, Joe, we got time for another cigarette.”

I see, now, how perfect stupidity is its own kind of beauty.

I am at peace.

(As Two-Face would say: How perfectly perfect.)

 

 

 

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24-jack-bauer-001After watching most of five seasons of 24, these are the patterns I have noticed:

Kim Bauer: When it really counts, she will almost always do what is wrong or what is most stupid. She seems to possess an anti-survival instinct. When I couldn’t stand another example of her doing the wrong thing, I prayed for her demise, as when she goes back to the home of the homicidal maniac still on the loose in order to collect a suitcase of her really valuable laundry. Everybody except Kim knew the murderer was going to show up to menace her. In a Darwinian sense, she deserves extinction.

Set Up A Perimeter: What’s the point? They always get away. When the kid who could contaminate and kill off all of North America made it out of the mall, even though all exits were covered, I stopped believing in “perimeters.”

Initiate Lockdown: Lockdowns, as worthless as perimeters.

Presidential Immunity: Easier to get than hailing a taxi in NYC.

Bring Him In: In every season, Jack Bauer will be put into custody or be arrested an average of three times, purely for the injustice of it.

It’s The Wrong Move: Only Jack, minus backup, is capable of apprehending suspects. Anything else is the wrong move because the baddies will see it coming.

As Dangerous As Being A Redshirt: If you are a high-value suspect, chances are nearly 100%  that before revealing your secrets you will be killed by either a vengeful lover/ sex-slave, a trigger-happy SWAT guy, an undercover killer, an asthma attack, an infected pimple, who knows? Draw up a will beforehand.

Sleep Is Not An Issue: After season one, nobody makes an issue about being without sleep for 24 hours or more.

Just Two Switches: Jack speaks either in a husky whisper, or he shouts. I prefer the shouting.

Not Shot In Real-Time: After the first season, the idea that the various story threads are occurring simultaneously is set aside. For example, President Logan has an entire speech written up from scratch during the four-minute commercial break. People move around Los Angeles as if everything were just around the corner—-everyone, that is, except the Chemical Response Team, or backup, or helicopters (“We’re still fifteen minutes out!”).

Torture Isn’t That Bad: Jack returns to action pretty quickly after being tortured and having his guts yanked out and burned. I can accept that because Jack is a bad-ass. What I can’t accept is the Henderson character/ Peter Weller/ Robocop  being tortured within an inch of his life multiple times and still being able to fight Tony Almeida to the death from a lying down position. Why wasn’t he strapped to the gurney? Does it make sense to you that you should restrain or handcuff your most valuable lead, especially while torturing him? Seems to me that during torture people tend to flinch. But wait, he seems to be comatose—naw, don’t bother with the restraints. If he leaps up suddenly and tries to kill us, then we’ll restrain him.

Politeness Counts: It just does.

What Do You Have To Do Around Here? No matter how many times Jack saves millions or hundreds of thousands of lives, he is never going to get proper recognition for it. Five seasons so far and no one seems to notice how Jack is the only guy who keeps the ball rolling and saves the day. Don’t give him a medal—put him in custody.

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iron-man-3-poster_optWhich Iron Man movie is  best?

By almost every measure, Iron Man (the first) comes out on top according to Metacritic.com reviews, RottenTomato reviews from both critics and audiences, and ratings at IMDB.com.

Only in box office receipts does Iron Man 3  pull ahead with $400M (versus $315M for the first).

In many ways, I liked Iron Man 3 best. Why? The dialogue was ingenious without being forced, so charming it was thrilling.

Setting aside the need for the element that explains Iron Man’s origins (which , of course we get with Number 1 but nowhere else), could we have started the series with Number 3?

Ty Simpkins with real hair

Ty Simpkins with real hair.

I don’t believe so. Number 3 doesn’t have a Franchise-Launching, Big Movie kind of feel. Number 3 is more relaxed, more intimate. It’s not so much about trying to impress its audience as it is about seeing if the movie-makers could make an interesting movie about Iron Man with a minimal amount of suit.

After all, a guy in an armored suit pounding and blasting things, it  entertains for just so long. If you’re a rabid fan of the Transformer movies with all of those CGI robots smashing around, maybe you felt gypped, but I was okay with it.

But, hey, if you want suits, Number 3 has got more than you can easily keep track of, so many they are expendable, really expendable, as in let’s use them as the most expensive fireworks imaginable.

I don’t know which bits of dialogue I liked best, the ones with Tony and Pepper, Tony and bad-guys, Tony and Trevor, Tony and the kid-factor, or Tony and the guy in the TV van (awesome).

Or possibly, as first place winner, Tony and Jarvis, just because they seem to have the most real relationship.

Jarvis, a character we never see, who’s only a voice, and yet think  how much his performance adds to the story. Of course, we never believed for an instant that Jarvis was permanently out of commission/ dead/ wouldn’t be coming back, but how could you not have felt a happy little feeling when he returned?

anakin skywalker boy haircut

The Force is weak with this one.

Kid-factor. The most egregious, unforgivable, ruined-the-movie example of gratuitous kid-factor I have ever experienced occurred in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. You know what I’m talking about. I have only watched that particular installment once because I just couldn’t stand that kid.

Ty Simpkins as the kid-factor does a good job. (Though, when Tony drove away from him, Tony should have had the final word, not Simpkins with his lame “It was worth a try.” ICBB.)

But the kid has the wrong look, meaning he has that all too typical helmet-shaped-with-bangs haircut (that I despise so much). It seems that ever since the 70s, boy actors sport all the same haircut. Do you hear me, Anakin Skywalker?

There are so, so many examples of kid-factor helmet hair, but let me include just one more.

The Shining movie, kid factor

The Shining, 1980, so that makes it quasi-legit.

A bedrock principle of action/ hero movies is that a great hero movie must have a great villain. Darth Vader. Voldemort. Hannibal Lecter. If not a great villain, then a compelling circumstance that stands in as a great villain. Guy Pearce didn’t cut it.

What was this guy’s motivation for being a baddie? Just like Syndrome in The Incredibles, he wants to create his own source of threat (terrorism) so that he can sell the solution. So, he’s in it for the money?

That can’t be true. The Pearce character shows up to a meeting with Pepper Potts— to do what, ask for funding?—and nonchalantly places a piece of technology smaller than a Fitbit behind his ear that creates a real-time, three-dimensional scan of his brain of apparently infinite resolution. Wow. If he put that gizmo on the market, in a very short time he would be raking in billions of dollars.

Or how about the fact he has a technology for not only regenerating amputated limbs but also turning people into super powerful entities? There’s got to be a way to turn a profit from that.

Disappointment: Did it strike you as sad that the fire-people who were presumably ex-US military personnel so willingly became terrorists? In the finale showdown when they poured out of the woodwork, they seemed so damn happy to defeat Iron Man and kill the president.

Disappointment: I was disappointed how easily the Iron Man suits could be melted by the fire-people.

Disappointment: Why did “fixing” Pepper Potts mean turning her back to normal? Why not let her keep her incredibly useful superpowers and instead fix the threat of her blowing up?

Disappointment: Tony Stark destroying his fleet of suits. We were told that Tony was obsessed and panicked about another invasion by aliens. So, why blow up all of those suits and leave himself more defenseless than before? Because this is Robert Downing Jr.’s last appearance in the franchise? It doesn’t make sense.

Stand By Me movie poster

Stand By Me: Great movie; 100% kid-factor, 0% helmet hair.

Astro_boy_flying through clouds

Even this is better than helmet hair.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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now-you-see-me-now-you-see-me-34798393-1600-1200NYSM: a good-looking, fast-moving movie that gave me that entertained feeling.

But afterward, it gave me that “wait a minute, what really happened, here?” feeling.

Let’s start with the characters. If you got rid of  Jesse Eisenberg’s character, could you produce essentially the same story?

Yes.

How about if you got rid of Isla Fisher? Dave Franco?

Yes. They’re not needed. Take them out of the picture and nothing changes. Instead of splitting the dialogue among four people, you consolidate it in one role. The only thing that changes is that your number of stars drops from four to one.

The only person among the corps of magicians who is really needed is Woody Harrelson’s character, and that is only because he has special powers of hypnosis that are necessary for the plot to work.

The actor I would most like not to have seen in this movie was Morgan Freeman, surely the workingest man in Hollywood. It isn’t because I dislike Morgan’s skills as a thespian; the problem is he’s become ubiquitous. How many times have you found yourself saying: OMG, another movie with Morgan Freeman in it? I have the same complaint about Samuel Jackson. Less is sometimes more.

The movie is in itself a feat of misdirection and chicanery. Let’s start with a small example. Eisenberg’s character may be a wonderful lock-pick and amazingly adept at flinging handcuffs so that they lock onto another person’s wrists (if that is even possible), but there is no explanation short of supernatural magic that explains how a key for the handcuffs could have appeared in a can of unopened soda. The movie-makers are betting we’ve forgotten about that.

The movie doesn’t explain how Franco could leap into a curtain closely pursued by Ruffalo and disappear, not unless we are meant to believe that supernatural magic exists and is being employed by the characters. But that’s not the case.

Big example: remember how the rabbit was hidden inside a box behind a mirror angled at forty-five degrees? Later in the movie, the magicians use the same principle of an angled mirror to hide the giant safe. If you stood in front of a mirror as large as a big room, do you think you could figure out that what you were looking at was a mirror? The only chance you would have of not knowing it was a mirror was if you stood exactly in front of it and at a far distance. You couldn’t walk into the space where the safe was and not see yourself reflected in the mirror. The movie-makers plain cheated on that one.

Back to Franco being pursued by Ruffalo. The entire point of that scene was to pass the next clue to Ruffalo, but it could have, should have, been passed off simply by leaving the piece of paper with the clue on it lying on a table. Instead, Franco is made to escape with the clue and fake his death. Why would the master-schemer have devised such a plan? There were a million chances for the car Franco is escaping in to be struck by other cars, and then the whole plan would have been kaput. Any number of innocent people could have been hurt or killed during the setup to Franco’s fake death.

Not that it was important to the plot that Franco appeared to have died.

(This isn’t a smart movie like The Sting—where the fake deaths of the protagonists in that movie are important to the plot—NYSM just tries to cheat it’s way into seeming to be smart.)

Lots of other dumb and inexplicable things happen, such as the magicians’ second show selling out in mere seconds exclusively to victims of insurance malfeasance. I don’t know which is more difficult to believe, that, or our heroes being able to discover the passwords on the bank accounts of the hundreds, maybe thousands, of people in the audience. After all, look what pains they had to take to discover the passwords of Michael Caine’s character so that they could rob him.

In such a stupid world, I’m sure the audience would be allowed to keep all of that stolen money.

In such a world, Morgan Freeman could be put in prison for what reason I’m not exactly sure. Oh, yeah: because someone stuffed a lot of money in his SUV, making it appear that he planned to drive around town with millions of dollars bursting out the doors. How he could have fit in the driver’s seat, I don’t know—there was too much money in the way. I guess part of the revenge plan required all defense lawyers to disappear. Now you see them . . .

And this last entertaining but ridiculous conceit: the grand finale concludes with special effects that could only be created in a movie, certainly not by magicians with less of a bankroll than Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark. I’m talking about the thee-dimensional, holographic projectors that seem to transform the outside of a large building. Where did our master-schemer get the financial resources or the technological know-how to pull that rabbit out of his hat? FBI agents just don’t command that kind of salary.

The Closer You Look, The Less You’ll See.

Very true, unfortunately.

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after-earth-new-trailer-gets-emotionally-unpredictableThis movie sucked.

You know what else sucks? Apple. Apple doesn’t allow screen shots to be taken from movies, perhaps because “piracy is not a victimless crime.” My workaround was to use my ScreenFlow program to record parts of a movie, then screen capture from that recording. After upgrading to the newest Apple OS X software, nothing works.

axe body spray

Fear it.

I wanted to show you frame by frame how the Will Smith character is able to make his weapon appear out of CGI nothingness, a feat even Yoda couldn’t do. Even after Yoda became pure CGI himself, he still had to pull his light saber off his belt, as if the light saber actually existed. Not Will Smith. As he’s striding cooly towards a rampaging, elephant-sized monster, he doesn’t unsling or unholster anything—the weapon simply grows into existence in the palm of his hand. The movie-makers obviously didn’t care if we noticed, seeing as how this movie is so supremely stupid that a flaw like that is hardly worth fixing.

Movie premise: aliens have created special monsters to kill humans.

It’s not as bad as you’d think: the aliens forgot to give the monsters eyesight.

With aliens this brilliant, what’s the problem? We send them free tickets to Las Vegas and by next Tuesday their entire alien economy is ours.

(The monsters smell us, but only if we’re afraid. It’s about pheromones, even though  there is no such thing as a fear pheromone. There is such a thing as an alarm pheromone, but only insects (like ants) have them, to let other insects know its time to hustle.)

So, the monsters “literally smell our fear.”

I have a solution: Axe Body Spray, the fragranced aerosol deodorant so beloved of teenagers. A  spritz of that and those alien monsters will truly understand the smell of fear.

Riding bicycles by smell alone, like so many other useful activities: can’t do it. I feel sorry for the poor eyeless bastards, trying to cross the street, trying not to bump into things.

And what if the wind is blowing the wrong direction? What’s to keep humans from sneaking up and laying waste to them?

Nothing at all.

But we human beings would never take advantage of monsters so poorly designed for their task of killing us. We’re better than that. In M. Night Shyamalan’s stupid future world, humans don’t even use firearms or other modern weapons that keep combatants safely outside monster smelling-range. That wouldn’t be fair to the monsters.

It’s not just the monsters that are stupid.

Jade Smith is saved from a  monster attack inside his home by hiding inside a terrarium (so the monsters can’t smell him). So why wouldn’t every home have a terrarium for every family member—or the equivalent of astronaut suits—or, at a minimum, giant ziplock baggies?

Well, if everyone did the obvious thing and made it so the monsters couldn’t smell them, then the  monsters would be so easy to kill, even without firearms, that they would just seem . . . stupid.

A few other stupid items: where does the general  (Will Smith) and his son sit when traveling in a spaceship? In a corridor that looks very much like a subway car. No arm rests, no head rests—real swank. What do you have to do to ride first-class?

And three-point seat-belts: okay for automobiles that are likely to be hit from the front or back, but useful in a spaceship? Give me four-points, and a head rest.

The spaceship: run by a crew of two, if you don’t count the general, who is a passenger, but who shows up to tell the pilots how to do their jobs, which is a good thing, because they are too stupid to understand the ramifications of the ship they are piloting. What Will Smith understands that they never learned in pilot school is that flying a ship through an asteroid field, well, it’s not a good idea.

From my years of watching Star Trek, I know for sure that ships are commanded by captains. (Unless, of course, there is an a-hole admiral around who pulls rank and messes everything up, just to complicate the plot.) This ship doesn’t seem to have a captain. Even so,  ships are not commanded by generals, especially ones flying coach.

M. Night Shyamalan, throw your hands in the air like you just don’t care.

(He doesn’t care.)

What could have made this piece of crap better?

I pine for the days when Will Smith gratuitously took off his shirt to to show us his huge pecs and exquisitely chiseled abdomen (see I, Robot, and I Am Legend.) There wasn’t ever any reason for him to do so except to prove he’d been keeping himself in shape. Hey, that kind of a physique isn’t easy to come by. Kudos to you, Will.

That didn’t happen in this movie. Instead, Will Smith poses for us looking decidedly narrow shouldered. An elite combat veteran? Sad to say, but it looked like he’d have a hard time making the cut for Dancing With The Stars, for lack of physical stamina. Where’s the eye-candy? I thought it was a Will Smith trademark. Don’t let it slip away, Will. Fight for your right to flaunt, fight like it was Independence Day.

Stupidity bonus: on After Earth, all life has evolved in a very short time to especially kill humans, Will tells his son—-even though humans haven’t been on earth for the time the animals were specially evolving to kill humans. How’d they do that?

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Gravity movie George Clooney in space suit close up of faceWe saw Gravity in its 3D version. Here in New Jersey, they have many, many more showings of the 3D version than they do of the 2D. Us cheap sums-a-bitches who prefer  2D are being squeezed out.

I suspect Gravity benefited  from the 3D presentation–except for the pull-focus shot of the floating water drop: that is never going to work on a TV screen, and it didn’t really work in the theater. But with 3D, everything seemed much more defined and crisp. The refections on the helmet faceplates made the faceplates look really, really clean, as if we the audience had some kind of super-vision. The views of Earth looked exactly what it must look like to be there.

Better than being there. In her first few lines, Sandra Bullock’s character complains of constant nausea from the feeling of being in a plunging roller-coaster that never stops falling. That’s what free-fall does for you, puts you on the edge of wanting to throw up, a bad thing to do inside a sealed helmet.

Sure, the stars might shine brighter from outer space, and there can be no exact replica for the experience of actually being up there that we can get here on earth, but this movie moves us pretty darn close.

Not only do you get the experience of being in space  without the  space-sickness or the need for months of astronaut training, but from the the vantage point of your theater seat you won’t be menaced by satellite debris whizzing past or through you at approximately 17,000 miles per hour. (Equatorial distance around the earth at ground level: approx. 25,000 miles, divided by 90 minutes per rotation, times 60 to get 16,666 mph. At the height of the Hubble telescope, the circumference around the earth would be greater than at the equator and, thus, the speed of the debris even faster, so I rounded up to 17,000. But then, if the Hubble’s orbit isn’t around the equator, the circumference might be smaller rather than larger; it’s complicated.)

Gravity movie Sandra Bullock separating from her tetherSpeaking of roller-coaster rides, that’s what this movie is. It has a breathless quality to it that, when you get to the end of it, makes it seem like a very short movie. Ninety-one minutes long? Hardly seems it.

How to make it better? More Clooney. I appreciate that Clooney’s character was the consummate professional and always kept his cool, which I have read astronauts are really like, but it might have been interesting to see him lose his steely non-chalance once or twice.

Do you think the Clooney character had time to fall into the atmosphere and burn up before his oxygen ran out? If he was faced with burning up in the atmosphere, would he have bled out his oxygen beforehand to spare himself the agony, or would he have gone down alive?

What would you do? We only get one death per lifetime, but if we get to talk about it afterward, going out in a blaze would make one hell of a story.

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hit_girl_kick_ass_2_movie-wideThe difference at Rottentomatoes.com between Kick-Ass and Kick-Ass 2 is 77% of critics liked the first movie but only 30% liked the second.

That’s critics for you.

Eighty percent of fans liked the first movie, and 67% liked the second. That’s fewer likes for the second movie, but, hey, the first movie had  big boots to fill that didn’t quite get filled.

Still, put me on the side of those who liked both films.

What I didn’t like is that after an entire first movie of being a street-fighting man, and after being extensively trained by Hit Girl, Kick-Ass  can’t hold his own against a measly two guys.  Against the five guys in the alley, okay, if we’re going to get all realistic about things, I can accept that he might have needed help (though I expected better of him). But not being able to take out one guy quickly, then his friend, without the aid of Dr. Gravity? He did a better job solo against three guys on his first outing in the first movie.

I could have done with more time spent with Hit Girl and Kick-Ass as a team. Once they go their separate ways, a lot of potential drains away. The mean-girl high school nemesis of Mindy McCready, while providing some worthwhile scenes, just wasn’t cruel enough, smart enough, or interesting enough to be an effective foil. Mindy became less interesting because her nemesis was unworthy of her.

Did Mindy  even the score with her traitorous date, the guy who set her up and ditched her in the woods? I don’t remember for sure, but I think that got skipped. Why she didn’t beat the guy up on the spot and steal his truck makes no sense, unless it was that Mindy had moved so far from her Hit Girl identity that her hurt feelings overcame her years of training. Yeah, it’s tough growing up, even if you are a super badass.

Where the movie  most egregiously leaves the path of true righteousness is in Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s character. In the first movie he might have had no qualms about shooting Hit Girl, but he did feel sorry about Kick-Ass falling victim to his father’s schemes, and that made him a somewhat sympathetic character.

In  KA2, Dimico/Motherfucker/formerly-Red Mist is not so much comical as he is ridiculous. In one scene he is reveling in his fetish gear and anal beads when everything up to that point led us to believe he had never kissed a girl. Or boy—or whatever he’s into. From the sexual innocent we supposed him to be he steps forward as something completely unrelated to anything we’ve learned about him in the first movie. Instead of building the character up into someone more interesting, it reduced him to a series of cheap gags. Some of the gags were funny, but the character was diminished in the process.

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savages movie -banner-poster

We’ve lost the remote controller for the Blue-Ray player, which means it wasn’t possible to switch from the Theatrical version to the Unrated version of the dvd.

Unacceptable.

I will always opt for an Unrated or Director’s Cut before anything else. In this case, the Unrated version included an additional eleven minutes.

So, I watched this one by myself on my computer. The Enigmatic One wanted to know if she would like it. “You wouldn’t like the gore, and probably not the suspense, but with a story this compelling, how could you not like it, overall?”

Forty-nine percent of critics at Rotten Tomatoes found reasons not to like it. Ah, me. That statistic confounds me. I dunno; maybe they needed to watch the Unrated version.

The torch has been passed from the Vietnam vet to the Afghanistan-Iraqi vet as moviedom’s most convenient and credible badass. Perhaps that torch changed hands a long time ago, but with this movie, the new generation of badass comes into its own.

Until all was explained at the very end—which, uncharacteristically, I won’t reveal, here, in case you haven’t seen the movie, yet—I did think it was unlikely that snipers would behave the way they did, that is, incompetently. It seems to me that as soon as your targets are acquired, just get on with pulling your triggers. There’s no need for dialogue to reach a climactic moment before doing the job you came to do.

Similarly, I couldn’t understand how a character could be shot four or five times, then catch another bullet from point blank range, and still have the wherewithal to spin around and shoot his attacker before the attacker had squeezed his own trigger several more times. But, again, all of that is explained, in the end.

Did you think it was incredibly naive of our heroes to frame one of the bad guys, then turn him in? One thing I learned from watching I, Claudius is that you should never be the bearer of ill-tidings, especially if you are the author of those ill-tidings. When Livia (from I, Claudius) wants to discredit her step-daughter by exposing the step-daughter’s many sexual misadventures, she complies a list but finds someone else to hand it over to the Emperor.

Even Livia’s precaution wouldn’t have protected her in the world of the Sopranos, where people are much more suspicious than Emperors and the trail of misdirection would have had to be several step removed. Our guys should have known they could never pull off the frame-up the way they planned it. If Lado hadn’t had his own reasons for eliminating the framed guy, our guys would have been in serious soup.

Really, though, I can’t find fault with this movie. I enjoyed every Unrated minute of it. At most, I would have asked to see more of the personal life of Lado, not to pile on the examples of him being an a-hole or a badass, but so as to get a better idea of what was going on inside his head. And, I would have made O a smarter cookie. She could have been more intentional in trying to form a relationship with Elena rather than blundering into one because she was so pathetically needy and Elena just happened to be vulnerable.

Thanks, Oliver Stone, for a great movie.

P.S. Check me on this, but I thought the name on Ophelia’s credit card read “Olivia.”

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There were things I liked about Hunger Games, Jennifer Lawrence being chief among them, but the movie didn’t do anything to thrill me, or challenge me, or give me a reason to really give a darn. It entertained, sure, but in the same way junk food satisfies—it just doesn’t stick with you.

This isn’t so much an “it coulda been better” as it is a “you gotta be kidding me.”

When you’ve got a knife like this at someone’s throat

Hunger Games Katniss with knife at throat

then you don’t need one of these cute, little letter openers. Knife Girl, 20 seconds ago you were trying with all your might to chop the big knife through Katniss’ face—if the big knife was good enough to do the job 20 seconds ago, it’s still good enough.

second knife

In fact, when you’ve got your opponent in a pickle like this,

Hunger Games Katniss with knife at throat

 

you’ve got to try really hard not to accidentally slice anything important.

 

And what’s this bushwa?

violin grip on knife hunger games Katniss with knife at throat

But, Knife Girl, impressive as your skills may be, when you get all snarky and start monologuing, and forget what you’re supposed to be doing, and especially when you do the douchy head tilt maneuver

hunger games knife girl head tilts

then random black guy/ deus ex machina is gonna slam you so hard that this is what happens:

this is what you get hunger games dead knife girl

 

 

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rumpelstiltskin from Once Upon a Time, close up with crazed expression“Let’s make a deal, dearie.”

You lend me the emotional strength to continue to watch this mediocre and timid show, and I will make believe it’s worth watching. What it was that got me though the cringe-inducing first season can’t be explained by the rules of our logical universe—maybe it was magic.

In any case,  watch it I did, while complaining much of the time, to the irritation of my fellow viewers.

Perhaps the story has gotten better in the subsequent seasons, and, if so, hooray for that. When those seasons become available on Netflix, I will return to Storybrooke to discover the truth for myself. After all, I’m interested in seeing Rumpelstiltskin get his revenge on the Evil Queen. Bring it on, dearie.

Among the many things that coulda been better about this series, I want to focus on the first season’s finale.

Was it any surprise to you that Emma Swan would kiss her stricken son Henry and bring him back to life, in the process shattering the evil curse?

Surprised? Not a chance. You could have seen that one coming passed out drunk at the bottom of a coal shaft without a flashlight. With a bag over your head. And your eyes taped shut.

Imagine this: what if Emma Swan hadn’t kissed Henry with the kiss of True Love? What if, instead, she had encountered her dead son and stood by, incapacitated with grief?

What if Regina, Evil Queen and Henry’s adopted mother, had kissed him with True Love and broken the curse?

Whoa. Not only would that have been deliciously ironic—the Evil Queen breaking her own curse—but it might have surprised us. It would have forced us to look at Regina in a different light.

“What? That evil bee-atch actually loves her adopted son? It cannot be. She’s controlling and overprotective; she’s emotionally unavailable. She likes to have sex, for gosh sakes, and that can’t be compatible with decent motherhood, can it? And, the clincher, she’s not his biological mother. Hey, this may be a fairytale, but I can’t swallow something like Regina genuinely loving her adopted son. That just can’t happen.”

But what if it had happened?

Sure, I know the Evil Queen has only about two dimensions to her character—being patronizing and being prone to certain pronounced sociopathic tendencies (plucking out her father’s heart, for one)—but what if she had more depth to her? What if the experience of her living in our world for the past 20+ years, being a mayor, and raising a son actually had an effect on her, that is, caused her to change, as 20+ years of living certainly would change any real person?

If that had happened, we would have had the makings of a much more complex, profound, and interesting story.

 

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before-the-devil-knows-you're dead movieWatching Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead, I was reminded of Fargo, in the sense that once again we encounter someone who opens the metaphorical bottle that unleashes the imp of violence onto the last people in the world he should be involving in his shenanigans.

They’re nowhere near as clever as they think they are, those bottle-openers.

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character is vile and only gets viler. Ethan Hawke’s character is stupid and never gets any smarter. In the end, he escapes, but I’d give him ten blocks or fifteen minutes, whichever comes first, before he is captured or killed.

Marisa Tomei’s character plays a vapid housewife whose most interesting moment is when she is telling Hoffman she has slept with his brother, and could she please have money for taxi fare as she is leaving him. She gets interesting only in her final scene. What a waste.

How to make it better? More Marisa Tomei doing interesting things, sooner.

 

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Django unchained movie 2012Django Unchained: I didn’t like anything about it–well, except for the funny bit with the Klan arguing about their inappropriate head coverings.

I couldn’t see this as anything but silly wish-fulfillment similar to the moment in Inglorious Basterds when Hitler is machine-gunned in the face ad nauseam.

What I really, really didn’t like was Samuel Jackson’s language. No, not the n-word—that use was historically appropriate.

Rather, the f-word.

I’m not southern, so others may know better than I do, but I would bet a dollar that no one, neither slave nor white man, would be allowed to swear the way Jackson’s character does in the presence of ladies, especially not the lady of the house. It was all too ridiculous.

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bernie-movie-Jack Black 2012I’m not a Jack Black fan, but I liked him well enough in Bernie. This story knows what it wants to say and doesn’t waste any time talking off-topic.

I particularly liked the interviews with the town folk who knew Bernie and who tell us about the actual Bernie.

But when Bernie shoots Marjorie Nugent in the back four times, I didn’t feel the pressure had built up enough.

Perhaps that’s the way it really happened, just a lot of underground currents coming to a head in a way that surprised everyone, Bernie, Marjorie, and us.

Director Richard Linklater gave us all of the evidence for figuring out why the murder happened and without laying it on too thick. Sometimes I like it thick. But Mrs. Nugent was a real person. It wouldn’t have been fair to her memory, such as it was, to pile on.

Matthew McConaughey’s Danny Buck became the second villain of the piece, after Mrs. Nugent, when he seemed to subvert the forces of right by getting a change of venue for the trial once he accurately perceived that Bernie would be acquitted by the towns folk of  Carthage.

The jury was full of very fat people, and we are told by the Carthage interviewees that the jury members were troglodytes who were against Bernie because they resented his cultured tastes.

Sure, they were really fat, but I don’t think that made them incapable of recognizing the obvious and giving the only sensible verdict: guilty.

Just because Bernie Tiede was a nice guy doesn’t excuse him from having murdered someone.

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Iron Sky movie 2012Nazis on the dark side of the moon: who could resist a premise like that? Not me.

But a lot of other people could. This film flopped hard. From a budget of 7.5  million euros, IMDB.com shows a box office gross of less than 3 million. That’s gotta hurt.

As an old-time reader of Heavy Metal magazine, I got to the end of this film feeling that I had seen it before. I was surprised to find it had no connection to Heavy Metal magazine. Iron Sky would have excelled gloriously as a series illustrated by Jean Giraud  (Moebius).

As silly as this movie was, I believe it needed to be more silly, more over the top, sexier, more insulting.

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the-queen-of-versailles movie posterWherein we learn that you can be a billionaire but have the carpets of your home overrun by doggie do-do.

Wherein we also learn you can be smart enough to make a billionaire dollars but not be smart enough to save a college fund of your kids.

David Siegel was smart about building time-share resorts, and about building a sales machine that sold them. He could do what bankers and financiers couldn’t do: he could take money and make it into more money.

What made him a billionaire wasn’t his own money but the bankers’ money. When the economy went south and David couldn’t meet his loan obligations, he discovered he wasn’t a billionaire at all. What he owed was more than he was taking in.

This was good news for the bankers. David’s Las Vegas resort was set to revert to them, meaning they would get to keep the $450 million David had put into it.  Funny how the world works. David managed to stop that from happening, but it was a close shave.

Watching the film, I didn’t experience any schadenfreude, that feeling of pleasure at the misfortune of others. I imagined I saw in David the remorse he felt at having to fire so many people from their jobs. It weighed on him, ground him down. Throughout a terrible time in his life, he remained polite at all times. In my estimation, that’s worth a nod of admiration.

 

 

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360 movie posterCritics hated this film. It got a measly 21% rating at RottenTomatoes.com. I’m almost ashamed to have enjoyed it to the degree I did, which wasn’t a great deal, but it was worth the time spent watching it.

How to make it better? I dunno. Director Fernando Meirelles had very definite ideas about the story he had to tell, and I wouldn’t care to mess around with the integrity of his vision.

Well, maybe one thing: have someone hit Jude Law’s character upside the head and yell in his ear: You’re married to Rachel Weiss, dummy! Learn to appreciate it!

 

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Ed Harris in Enemy At The Gates 2001As much as I like Ed Harris, he really needed to speak his part in a German accent. So what if every other actor was speaking in his or her native accent? Germans just have to sound like Germans, and it’s such an easy accent to do. Everyone has a Colonel Klink lurking somewhere in their larynx. “Hogan!”

When Ed Harris comes in as Major Konig and speaks with an American accent, my mind says: that’s Ed Harris, not a German. Why couldn’t he have learned the accent? It’s what actors are supposed to do. It’s their job. Cate Blanchet is amazing at it (Dick Van Dyke was not). Remember Ian McKellen’s German accent in Apt Pupil? It was perfection.

Ed coulda been better.

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the-expendables-2-last-supper-posterExpendables 2 I watched the first time through with the director’s commentary turned on. Although it looked loads better than the first Expendables, I knew I wouldn’t care about it, didn’t care about Chuck Norris or Jean-Claude Van Damme, or how many weapons they fired or how many things they blew up.

But hearing director Simon West talk about his creation was worth it.

In some ways, I found the bonus features more interesting than the movie itself—for example, GODS OF WAR: Assembling Earth’s Mightiest Anti-Heroes, and, especially, BIG GUNS, BIGGER HEROES: The 1980s and the Rise of the Action Film. Big action movies were not always around, strange to realize; they were born in the 1980s, and Sylvester Stallone had a whole lot to do with that.

Stallone is living the Rocky legend he created: against all odds, he keeps getting up and coming back, again and again. He gives people the movies they want to pay money for.

In a way, it’s worth the price of admission just to see Stallone back on his feet and beating the odds, beating them  with a  lead pipe.

the-expendables-2-last-supper-poster

It’s cool cuz it looks like The Last Supper.

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the-hobbit movieIt’s good to be back in Middle-earth, and it’s especially good to have Peter Jackson as our tour guide.

My older son saw The Hobbit before I did, and he gave it a rave review. His biggest endorsement was that he immediately wanted to see the movie again. I know that feeling; it is a sure sign of an exciting movie.

The Enigmatic One sat this one out, and well that she did. She is not a fan of The Lord Of The Rings. Those movies were too much “boy” movies for her tastes, perfect for boys, but not so enchanting to grown women of her particular ilk. She would have, no doubt, found the nearly incessant marching along, abundance of monsters, and frenetic banging around with various cutlery tedious, the very things that make The Hobbit meat and potatoes to the soul of a boy.

Please understand, I am speaking from my personal experience, having been, at one time, a boy myself. I surely don’t mean to exclude girls or women from The Hobbits’ adventure-y attractions. I appreciate that a person’s sex is not a determinant in these matters, and, if left to my clueless ways, I would assume that all people naturally agree that fighting and monsters and cutlery are cinematic fantasy tropes to be adored. The more of them, the better.

Perhaps, in this case, more is not better. I found the dwarves’ (and Gandalf’s) escape from the goblin mountain somewhat farfetched, such as the dwarf who whirls his staff around like the blades of a fan, knocking aside dozens of goblins as if they were made of paper, or as if they were made of CGI; the simplistic dispatch of the Goblin King—feh; the dwarves riding the broken section of bridge down the crevasse with not so much as a splinter to show for it, then having the Goblin King, who must have weighted as much as a small elephant, that is, many tons, fall on them from a great height without causing them injury—a bit too cute for my liking.

On the ride home from the theater, opinions were divided equally among the three boys and myself about the appropriateness of the Goblin King’s voice. The instant the Goblin King spoke, I thought: He doesn’t sound right, at all. He’s way, way off.

But, half the van thought he did sound just right.

Aside from what I mentioned above, I don’t know what could have made this movie better: it’s an excellent and satisfying romp in the right direction.

I do, however, wish something had been done to make me care more for the characters, at the very least, to care more for Bilbo.

I liked Martin Freeman as Bilbo well enough. He transformed the domestic and somewhat silly Bilbo of the book into a serious force to be reckoned with from his very first scene with Gandalf, which, in the book, ended with Bilbo exiting discombobulated  and apologetic, inviting Gandalf to tea merely for the sake of form. Freeman’s Bilbo is confident and not so easily flustered, and I liked him for that.

But I wasn’t given any reason to actually care about him, or anyone else. There isn’t one thing I’m curious to know something more about.

I’ll still see the sequels whether I care or not, for the spectacle, for the experience of it, but I sure wish I had reason to care about someone in this movie.

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The Grifters movieWhat I didn’t understand about Angelica Huston’s Lily is her job. She worked for a big-time bookie and placed bets in order to lower the odds on the long shots as a kind of insurance policy for the bookie, pulling the outliers toward the center of the bell-shaped curve and ensuring that no one had the chance to upset the law of averages by walking away with a killing. She was spending many thousands of dollars to do this, maybe even tens of thousands of dollars. Could it really have been worth it to the bookie?

And how does this make Lily a hardbitten, street-smart, high-survival operator so much beyond the experience level of someone like her son, Roy (John Cusack), who is perfectly content running the short con? She claims she is wiser and wilier than Roy, and that he wouldn’t make it in her world, but what does she need to do her job beyond a basic organizational ability? Doing what she does, placing bets, isn’t illegal, as far as we are  told. She shows up, skews the odds, somehow collects money on long-shots that hardly ever pay out (that’s why they’re long-shots), and skims the proceeds.

For all of her high opinion of her own savvy, we’d suppose she would be too cagey to park her car in a way that leads to the discovery of her most dangerous secret. She only needed to park her car facing the opposite direction. You’d think it would be a habit she’d acquired.

What doesn’t make sense to me are the actions of Annette Bening’s Myra when she blabbed about Lily’s cash stash to Lily’s boss. Myra couldn’t have foreseen that Lily would be tipped off about being busted in time to make an escape. The logical outcome of Myra’s squealing would have been for Lily to be killed and the money pot to be taken away. “Getting her on the run” could not have been the goal.

But, against the odds, Lily does lam it. Myra follows. Myra knows where the money is kept. Why doesn’t she simply steal the money? Why does she try to strangle Lily to death? She certainly doesn’t need to in order to get the money. It was a stupid risk that ended badly for her.

It isn’t as if Myra getting Lily out of the picture will help change Roy’s mind about joining Myra in the long con. Myra’s moves can only be about the money.

So, if they are only about the money, why do they become all about murder? It doesn’t make sense.

The movie-makers prove that a clothed woman can be much, much sexier than a buck naked woman. Annette Bening without her clothes: no, thank you. It felt like the movie-makers were exploiting what must have been a then-new capacity to show as much nudity as they wanted. But these days, when we are used to movie nudity, we can clearly see that decision was too much of the wrong thing. They seriously overplayed their hand when they had the staff person in the coroner’s office pull back the sheet on the naked corpse all the way to her ankles. Who would do that, really? The guy is there it identify his mother, for Pete’s sake.

It would have been better if we had been spared the movie-makers indulgences as far as the unsexy and unnecessary nudity were concerned.

Stephen-Tobolowsky

Because we love this guy.

Hey, Stephen Tobolowsky is in this movie, briefly. Any movie with Stephen Tobolowsky in it is automatically a better movie. What a wonderful treat it was to see him pop up. (See Groundhog Day for more about Stephen.)

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Thief-movie 1981My older son is a film maker in the sense that a 13 year old can be a film maker. His first big endeavor was a “noire” short (19 minutes) that involved detectives, murder, drugs, corrupt cops, and violence. Scorcese’s Good Fellas was a big influence on him.

Wanting more of the Good Fellas experience, he  delved into other gangster movies. Unfortunately, he finds The Godfather just too slow-moving and, therefore, too boring to finish. I figure he’ll come around.

So, do I refer him to Thief for an example of early (1981) advancements in the gangster genre? Is there enough there to make it worth his time? Probably not.

I remember liking this movie when it first came out. A friend who had military training was suitably impressed with the way James Caan’s Frank used his gun when casing out his victim’s home: two hands on the gun, straight arms, a fast sweep of the area. It may not be the first movie to attain verisimilitude in this way, but I take it as a notable marker. For that reason, and perhaps others, Thief offers a certain historical interest.

The ruthless attitudes and harsh words of Robert Prosky’s mob boss were also signs of the direction the genre was moving in. I have a feeling that, in 1981, the threatening speech Prosky gives Caan was considered pretty impressive. I guess it’s still impressive. If anyone talked to me like that, I’m sure I would be extremely uncomfortable.

But is there anything in this movie we haven’t seen done a million times better in The Sopranos? No.

Is there a lineage between Thief and The Sopranos, and gangster movies subsequent to Thief, worth examining? Maybe.

What doesn’t make a lot of sense in this movie is what happens after Caan sends Tuesday Weld packing: he blows up his house, blows up his bar and grill, and sets most of the cars at his car dealership aflame.

Let’s pretend that bombs are easy to come by, that Caan had a couple of them just lying around—because you never know when you might need them to blow up all of your stuff—and let’s pretend that he could have stood by the side of a busy roadway splashing gasoline around for a long time and setting parked cars afire without attracting the attention of the police: why does he do all of that?

I understand that he is making a break with his dreams, but that’s a lot of effort and a lot of symbolism for our guy to be spending his time on. It seemed out of place and, frankly, silly.

 

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extremely-loud incredibly close movieOnly the lure of Tom Hanks could tempt me to take home a 9/11 movie. For whatever reasons, 9/11 was a national tragedy that told me everything I needed to know when I saw the towers come down the first time. I wasn’t interested in shifting through the rubble.

Similarly, recent news reports tell the story of 27 people killed in a Connecticut elementary school during the Christmas season, 20 of them children. Beyond the headline, I don’t need to go. I don’t need to bring into finer focus the handiworks of evil. I understand evil as well as I want to.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is about human tragedy at the individual, rather than the national, level. Once the story got well underway, the Enigmatic One was a wreck of tears.

But, I misspoke; this wasn’t so much a movie about 9/11 as it was about insupportable individual loss, a mere bit-sized portion, but gristly and full of flavor. 9/11 was the set-up, but 9/11 wasn’t the subject.

Thomas Horn as Oskar Schell is a kid who doesn’t exactly have Aspberger’s, but for our easy understanding of his social difficulties, his brilliance, and his emotional peculiarities we may as well think of him as having Aspberger’s syndrome.

Thomas Horn is somewhat reminiscent of Haley Joel Osment, who, as a young boy, amazed us with his acting abilities in Forsest Gump, The Sixth Sense, Pay It Forward, and A.I. Artificial Intelligence. The difference between them is that Horn is flawless. Watching Osment, my reactions were occasionally to be reminded of how well this kid was acting his part; with Horn, I found no seams, no overreaching, no nothing out of place. Once or twice it came as a mild but pleasant shock to remember that, hey, this actor is doing a fantastic job, because it didn’t feel like a job; it felt like the complete truth, like an experience that transcended acting. Powerful stuff.

I thought Max von Sydow as The Renter might be a wrong casting choice, but once Sydow got going, he swept me along. He was an old familiar face, more familiar than I initially would have liked, but he brought a new character to the screen I wanted to see more of.

Sandra Bullock’s role was, thankfully, understated. She took us through the necessary motions painlessly and brilliantly.

The single wrong note in this movie was John Goodman as the doorman. “Hey, it’s John Goodman.” Perhaps it was best that he had such a tiny role, but, to me, his being there created an unwelcomed dissonance. John Goodman is too wonderful an actor to be relegated to a speck of a role. His being there was a distraction. I wondered: Is he going to turn into a meaningful character?

No, he didn’t, and that was, perhaps, a good thing. But because he never had a chance to turn into a character who wasn’t John Goodman, the way Max von Sydow turned into someone who wasn’t Max von Sydow, Goodman remained out of place, a hangnail on a sore thumb that,  every time  it was touched upon, drew the wrong kind of attention to itself.

My thanks to the movie-makers for Oskar showing the Renter (von Sydow) the image of the man falling from the tower, and Oskar thinking it might be his father but being wise enough to know that plenty of other children like him probably thought the same thing about their fathers. For me, this was one of the profound insights of the movie because of what is says about our shared human experience.

It also gave me the thought that if I ever find myself falling to my death from a high height, I am going to assume a swan dive position, arms spread, ankles together. It’s one of those decisions you have to make ahead of time because it’s no doubt hard to think of it when you find yourself in the moment. If nothing else, after this post, my kids will know, should the situation occur, that that guy was their Papa, for certain.

extremely-loud-and-incredibly-close-movie Sydow & Horn

 

Roger Ebert in his review says “The events of 9/11 have left indelible scars. They cannot be healed in such a simplistic way.” He has set a task for this movie that the movie itself has not, then finds fault when the movie doesn’t live up to  his expectations. This movie is doing a lot more than Mr. Ebert gives it credit for. It certainly isn’t about “healing” 9/11.

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ChanningTatum Magic Mike movieI didn’t accept Channing Tatum’s character Mike being impressed with Cody Horn’s Brooke.

What’s the attraction? Any night of the week, Brooke probably wouldn’t make it into the top ten most attractive women at the club.

Of course, looks aren’t everything, but after that, what’s left for Brooke to offer?

Her super-power seems to be that she can look like she’s pouting and slightly disapproving  in any circumstance, even when reading a book.

There is a point on the sandbar when Brooke laughs overly much at Mike’s jokes. This is a basis for infatuation?

Riddle me this: if Brooke is Mike’s destined romantic interest, then why is it he only turns to Brooke after his attempts to lock in with the far more intriguing woman, Joanna, go south? Brook is, at best, a consolation prize.

Perhaps Mike was only wanting a reason, however slim, to start a new life away from stripping. In that case, Brooke is as good a reason for moving on as anything else.

Aside from the dancing, what was this movie about, really? Um, let’s see. . .um. . .

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paper moon movie Addie in carI was having a conversation with my younger son, age 10, who confessed his mind had wandered away from the thread of my pontifications and onto recollections of last night’s movie, Paper Moon. I said it was a sure sign of a good movie when we can’t help but think about it afterward.

“What part did you like best?”

“I liked their business deals.” That is, the flimflams and low-stakes swindles.

So spoke the future billionaire, a boy perpetually on the lookout to maximize his resources.

Yeah, I liked the Bible selling flimflam, too. It was psychologically masterful.

I found a lot to like about this movie. My favorite part must have been when Trixie Delight gives her pitch to convince ornery Addie to join them in the car so they can be on their way. Again, another psychologically masterful speech in large part because of the razor sharp self-insight Trixie delivers. I am almost always on the side of the person who chooses bald truth as the most effective persuader, as Trixie does, especially when it requires a slice of vulnerability.

What was unacceptably stupid about this movie? Moses Prayer should never have gone to St. Joe when he knew the sheriff knew that’s where he was headed.

It was such an abysmally stupid act that Mos deserved to be beaten and have all his money taken.

Other slightly less stupid acts: Mos waltzing through the hotel door without first peeping through the glass to see who might be waiting for him outside, Mos jumping into a cul-de-sac when he was trying to escape.

He’s a nice guy, but when the heat is on, he crumbles.

 

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Invictus movieIt wasn’t easy for the Enigmatic One to stay awake for this movie. I understood her difficulty.

Invitcus is a view of Nelson Mandel’s first year as president of South Africa as seen exclusively through the lens of the national rugby team, the Springboks. Morgan Freeman plays Mandela; Matt Damon plays the captain of the rugby team.

I’ll keep this short because there is something about this movie that makes me want to tick it off my list then forget about it.

I love that Clint Eastwood made this movie. The movie memorializes a great period of human history where the bitter rift between blacks and whites in post-apartheid South Africa was, in part, mended by the efforts of two wise men. We are all of us a little bit better because of their personal greatness.

Also, it was a movie that instructs us that rugby is a game for really tough fellas. Eastwood did a good job keeping the excitement on the rugby field going.

But as for the suspense of a possible assassination attempt, the movie tried but failed to alarm us. Tensions that might have surfaced from racial counter-currents were nearly invisible, which, in a way, was a relief. Bigoted people seeing the error of their ways and coming to appreciate the humanity of those they had formerly despised is an lesson we’ve been shown many times before.

The emotional stakes in this story are low to non-existent. We are witnesses to history, but what is there for us to care about as far as the drama is concerned? Sure, we want the Springboks to win, but even if they don’t, we know that Mandela and South Africa came out the other side okay.

Winning or losing the rugby World Cup was, in the end, immaterial. Drawing blacks and whites  toward reconciliation had already taken place at the start of game-day no matter the outcome of the match.

This movie felt more like a privileged documentary than a drama—a very, very good documentary, but not a movie to get excited about.

***The poem “Invictus” was written by William Ernst Henley when he was 25 years old and sitting in hospital bed after having his leg amputated below the knee. To me, knowing that makes the poem a lot more meaningful.

 

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savages movie -banner-posterWe’ve lost the remote controller for the Blue-Ray player, which means it wasn’t possible to switch from the Theatrical version to the Unrated version of the dvd.

Unacceptable.

I will always opt for an Unrated or Director’s Cut before anything else. In this case, the Unrated version included an additional eleven minutes.

So, I watched this one by myself on my computer. The Enigmatic One wanted to know if she would like it. “You wouldn’t like the gore, and probably not the suspense, but with a story this compelling, how could you not like it, overall?”

Forty-nine percent of critics at Rotten Tomatoes found reasons not to like it. Ah, me. That statistic confounds me. I dunno; maybe they needed to watch the Unrated version.

The torch has been passed from the Vietnam vet to the Afghanistan-Iraqi vet as moviedom’s most convenient and credible badass. Perhaps that torch changed hands a long time ago, but with this movie, the new generation of badass comes into its own.

Until all was explained at the very end—which, uncharacteristically, I won’t reveal, here, in case you haven’t seen the movie, yet—I did think it was unlikely that snipers would behave the way they did, that is, incompetently. It seems to me that as soon as your targets are acquired, just get on with pulling your triggers. There’s no need for dialogue to reach a climactic moment before doing the job you came to do.

Similarly, I couldn’t understand how a character could be shot four or five times, then catch another bullet from point blank range, and still have the wherewithal to spin around and shoot his attacker before the attacker had squeezed his own trigger several more times. But, again, all of that is explained, in the end.

Did you think it was incredibly naive of our heroes to frame one of the bad guys, then turn him in? One thing I learned from watching I, Claudius is that you should never be the bearer of ill-tidings, especially if you are the author of those ill-tidings. When Livia (from I, Claudius) wants to discredit her step-daughter by exposing the step-daughter’s many sexual misadventures, she complies a list but finds someone else to hand it over to the Emperor.

Even Livia’s precaution wouldn’t have protected her in the world of the Sopranos, where people are much more suspicious than Emperors and the trail of misdirection would have had to be several step removed. Our guys should have known they could never pull off the frame-up the way they planned it. If Lado hadn’t had his own reasons for eliminating the framed guy, our guys would have been in serious soup.

Really, though, I can’t find fault with this movie. I enjoyed every Unrated minute of it. At most, I would have asked to see more of the personal life of Lado, not to pile on the examples of him being an a-hole or a badass, but so as to get a better idea of what was going on inside his head. And, I would have made O a smarter cookie. She could have been more intentional in trying to form a relationship with Elena rather than blundering into one because she was so pathetically needy and Elena just happened to be vulnerable.

Thanks, Oliver Stone, for a great movie.

P.S. Check me on this, but I thought the name on Ophelia’s credit card read “Olivia.”

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wreck-it-ralph movie

I heard nothing but great things about Wreck-It Ralph. The first time I tried to see it, the showing was sold out. No doubt, Wreck-It Ralph plays perfectly well for its target audience.

I liked Wreck-It Ralph, but not nearly as much as I would have if I were six or eight years old.

I appreciated the cleverly constructed plot devices the characters were caught in, I really did—there wasn’t a minute when the writing wasn’t top-notch—but somehow I didn’t feel the emotions I knew I should have been feeling, that I wanted to be feeling.

For example, when Ralph is talking his way into the Nicelanders’ anniversary party, I clearly recognized the message Felix was sending Ralph that he was unwanted and would Ralph just please go away. It looked exactly like an extremely uncomfortable moment, but it didn’t feel uncomfortable.

How to change that and get my heart in the game? I’m not sure. I suspect it might have to do with making life harder for Ralph and the other characters.

Perhaps, to please me, Ralph needed to be more clueless about his own situation, more capable of painful self-delusion, more like the self-centered, tantrum-prone post-toddler he symbolized.

Perhaps after nigh thirty years of group therapy sessions, Ralph was too self-aware to be the vulnerable character he needed to be to trigger an adult’s sympathy.

Ralph’s big heroic act—pounding down the Mentos, which would have resulted in his death if he hadn’t been rescued—was all wastefully rushed, as many other elements of this otherwise great story seemed rushed.

That is, rushed from my point of view, but maybe just the right timing and perfect level of detail for the movie’s target audience, which wasn’t me.

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Queen of the Damned movieWe watched two vampire movies back to back. Was Queen Of The Damned the right choice for following From Dusk Till Dawn?

Queen definitely took itself more seriously.

What’s it about? As IMDB.com succinctly put it: The vampire Lestat becomes a rock star whose music wakes up the queen of all vampires.

Some other stuff happens, too, but you may have a hard time following along or filling in the gaps if you didn’t read the Anne Rice book the movie derives from.

What I remember from Rice’s book is that the main characters had long and interesting personal histories that went on and on for chapters. In the movie, all but a fraction of that is scrapped away, along with the thick layer of homoeroticism.

If homoeroticism is not your cup of tea, you should be prepared for a thin layer of homoeroticism. There is only so much the movie-makers could do to straighten a story about guys in red velvet frock coats who put their mouths on each other and shudder a lot.

I found myself pleasantly carried along by the visual presentation. It was a movie given birth by a music video, or so it seemed. I was kept busy reconstructing what the story was hinting at based on my vague memories of the book, and by the end, I felt I had liked it more than it had bored me.

But Roger Ebert’s review brought me to my senses when he wrote: “The key to a movie like this is to ask yourself, if these characters were not vampires, what would be interesting about them?”

The answer: not much at all.

How to make it better? Be brave and be true to the source material, the way the Twilight saga has been. Queen should have been a movie strictly for its fans, lengthy, involved, and unapologetic, back when it had fans.

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From Dusk Till DawnIt had been years since I last saw this movie. I remembered it being more interesting the first time around.

I wanted my older son to see it because, since his seeing Inglorious Basterds and Kill Bill, he has had a keen interest in Quentin Tarintino’s work. I (mis)remembered this movie as being a QT movie, perhaps because it is presented by QT, stars QT, and the screenplay was written by QT.

QT shares writing credits with Robert Kurtzman, who paid QT $1500 to write the screenplay based on an action-vampire story of Kurtzman’s own.

FDTD is notable for being George Clooney’s big screen debut. Even though Clooney is playing a bad guy, his seemingly irrepressible charm asserts itself as we quickly determine that between the two bad guys (Clooney and QT), Clooney is by far the more likable and honorable character. He talks tough, but we sense that he’s only doing that so that he gets his way, and if he gets his way, no one will be unnecessarily hurt.

The driving suspense of the first part of the movie comes from making a bet with yourself about what will be the ultimate fate of the hostages. We’re sure that QT will try to kill them,  and the big question, the reason for our suspense, is wondering if Clooney will prevent that from happening.

Cheech Marin has a memorable bit as a raconteur outside the Tittie-Twister roadhouse just before the movie takes a turn for the phantasmagorical. “If we don’t have it, you don’t want it.”

How to make this two-headed freak of a movie better? Take out the vampires? It seems the obvious choice, except that the vampires are so much fun. On the other hand, they are so, so silly.

The second part of the movie had the feel of an imaginary game put together by ten year old boys on a somewhat-inspired Saturday afternoon led by an enthusiastic ringleader who had recently seen a much scarier zombie movie but was switching it up to vampires.

The Enigmatic One curled her toes at the suspenseful moments during the motorhome border crossing, a sure sign of effective movie-making. But once the vampires started prancing, her emotions were akin to those of someone who has just got a cream pie smashed in her face. “Are you kidding me?”

I would have preferred to stick with the original suspenseful movie and left that vampire-romp, fun as it was, for another time.

Still, I can’t help admire how anything QT touches takes a turn for the weird.

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First Position movieFirst Position is a documentary that “follows six talented young dancers (ages 9-19) from five continents as they prepare for a worldwide ballet competition that could transform their lives. . . ”*

First Position grossed less than a million dollars, so maybe you didn’t hear about it. I stumbled across it on Netflix.

When the Enigmatic One joined us in front of the T.V., she said, “I didn’t know you liked ballet.”

“How could I not like ballet? It’s one of humanity’s greatest achievements.” It’s the product of extraordinary and sustained effort, and a privilege just to witness its existence.

Director Bess Kragman in her debut does everything right. She might have gone into more depth with the characters—that would have been appreciated—but with what she gave us, we derive many of the subtler messages.

For example, it is easy for us to tell, without being a ballet aficionado, whose talents and skills exceed those of others. The teacher of the first student we meet, Aran, says that a teacher is lucky to have even one student like Aran in a lifetime. We sense that he is telling the truth. Our belief is borne out every time Aran is on screen.

More than that, this opening comment by a teacher sets us up to notice the ways teachers of the other students talk about them or interact with them. We come to assess the quality of the teacher based on their foreign accents, or lack of them (implying that some teachers were harder to come by than others and that some parents probably tried harder). For those teachers who are shown less frequently, we suspect that, based on limited information, they may be of a lesser caliber, and that their students may also be of a lesser quality—as they turn out to be.

(It should be emphasized that, here, even a lesser quality represents a very high achievement level.)

Similarly, there is something about the behavior of the parents that gives us a clue as to how their children will ultimately fare in the Youth America Grand Prix. The parents of the beautiful, Barbie Doll-like Rebecca talk about the mercenary elements of their daughter’s involvement in ballet, about the kind of financial investment it means. What they don’t talk about is conspicuous by its absence.

Joan hears much the same drill from his parents, who are Columbian, as Rebecca hears from hers. From Joan’s mother we hear her concerns and we understand the pressure she is loading on him to do his best at all times. She is keeping the stakes high because she wants the best for her son. When Joan’s father talks to him, it is all about Joan’s possible financial future. We can see that Joan (at least in the conversation we are shown), is more dutiful and noticeably less affectionate toward his father than he is toward his mother. Joan must shoulder not only his own fate, but the honor and hopes of his family and, perhaps, even the honor of his culture, in a backward sort of way. “There is nothing for you here in Columbia,” his father tells him. Joan has no place in Columbian culture, at least not being the person he most authentically is. The only way for him to be accepted by his culture is for him to gain success in another culture. He is rejected as a ballet dancer, but he would be accepted back in as a rich ballet dancer.

We wonder if it will be too great a burden for him to bear. Later, when contrasting the difference between Joan and Rebecca, who undergoes similar pressures, we question if perhaps Rebecca may have done better under the kinds of forces that shaped Joan, a case of more pressure (of the right kind) being the desired course. Based on the information we are given in this 90 minute documentary, there is no way to tell. Making this documentary better would have involved giving us more insights and more time spent getting to know our people.

I found it interesting to watch the difference between the students’ personas on stage and immediately after stepping into the wings, the way they went from an ideal of grace, control and kinetic perfection to the body language of a normal human being. All of that physical idealism remains alive inside them (as long as they keep practicing), but, surely, it can’t help but show itself in everyday activities. (How odd it would be to see them continue their routine lives with the kind of motions and grace they have when performing.)

For example, when Aran is walking down a narrow hallway holding a top hat and he passes another student, it is the same act of casual avoidance any one of us would employ. We are all coordinated enough and practiced enough to successfully negotiate such encounters, though sometimes we flub it. Given who Aran is, would it ever be possible for him to misstep the avoidance maneuver? Well-trained jugglers have reflexes that make it possible for them to catch uncooked eggs thrown at them like baseballs and not crack them. I’d expect someone with Aran’s reflexes would be capable of similar feats and be incapable of flubs.

First position movie with Rebecca

Rebecca

Overall, if you appreciate beautiful things, you can’t go wrong watching a film like this because you will see acts of beauty that are impossible to experience any other way.

*IMDB.com

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A Good Woman movieNot until the ending credits did I discover that A Good Woman is an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s four act play Lady Windemere’s Fan. 

So, I thought, that explains the cleverness and wit. Too bad it was wasted in a movie like this.

I don’t know if it could have saved the day, but having someone other than Helen Hunt play Mrs. Erlynne would undoubtedly have made it better. Hunt’s delivery of her lines was off-putting. Perhaps her odd, rising inflections were meant to be intriguing.

Although Hunt is playing the part of a long-time and highly successful gold-digger, her presence here makes us think, repeatedly, that she is too old for this part, that, over and over again, she isn’t pulling it off—look at that grooved face, look at that stringy neck. Her figure is in great shape, but her face could never do what it is supposed to do, which is to entrance. Sorry to be harsh, but she didn’t fit the part.

Granted, physical appearance is just one factor in being charming, and perhaps it is the most overrated factor. I was completely open to being charmed in other than a visual way, but, again, Ms. Hunt couldn’t pull it off. If she had, much else would have been forgiven.

Many parts of the movie are ridiculous. Lady Windemere, after accepting on meager testimony that her husband is not carrying on an affair but is in fact being blackmailed, doesn’t bother to ask anything about the blackmail. Estranged husband and wife are reconciled as if by fairy dust.

Mrs. Erlynne, the blackmailer, has received half a dozen or more checks, plus cash payments (who knew blackmailers worked on installment plans?). Yet in the end, she shows a change of heart (she really didn’t mean to blackmail anyone) by handing back just one of the checks. Isn’t she a good woman? But what about the rest of the money?

The reason for the blackmail is that Mrs. Erlynne is the mother of the respectable Mrs. Windemere, though Mrs. Windemere doesn’t know it and would practically die from humiliation if ever she found out her mother was a “bad woman”. This motivation may have worked in the 1890s when Wilde wrote the play, but forty years later when the movie takes place, it doesn’t seem likely. Worse, to a modern audience, the idea that the poor Lady Windermere’s fragile ego can’t handle knowing the truth and must be deceived at all costs, well, it’s an unwelcome anachronism.

Equally ridiculous is Mrs. Erlynne’s reluctance to accept a proposal of marriage—even better, from her point of view, a marriage of convenience—from a wealthy man her own age. They are a good match for one another. Tuppy sees her as she is; he is thoroughly simpatico with her reputation, maybe even turned on by it, and he is eager to marry her. He is the sugar-daddy of her dreams who, if she keeps from queering the deal, will set her  up for life.

So, why doesn’t she leap at the chance? At first, I thought: she’s playing hard to get.  She knows her job, which is seducing men. This is the guy she wants to be serious with, so she’s treating him differently, taking it slow, playing hard to get. Good for her.

But, it was not to be. She nobly “sacrifices” her chances with Tuppy (even though we are given no evidence that she actually wants Tuppy—we the audience are rooting for Tuppy, but Erlynne’s demurrals seem authentic). She “sacrifices” her chances for marriage in order to cover up the truth of her daughter’s behavior and spare her daughter supposedly harsh consequences. What a great mom. Because of it, things go badly with Tuppy. A simple explanation would have set the whole thing straight, but for some unbelievable reason that option doesn’t occur to Erlynne.

Tom Wilkinson playing Tuppy is a treat. Seeing him exchange lines with Hunt, one hardly notices his impeccable acting power, it’s so natural, except in contrast with Hunt, who, in that setting, seems like nothing more than a promising actor in a small high school production. Sorry, but this just wasn’t the right role for her.

 

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Seeking-a-Friend-for-the-End-of-the-World-UK-PosterIt was a choice between this movie and Savages. The womenfolk opted for what promised to be a comedy, but Seeking A Friend  is no comedy, and, boy, did the ladies howl at the end. I howled silently. If you want comedy, watch the trailer and leave it at that; the trailer is a roundup of all the forced comedic moments. It’s as if those moments were created just for the trailer and just so you’d buy a ticket for a completely different movie. That’s called bait-and-switch.

Seeking A Friend had an opening weekend of $3.8 million, then added a whopping $2.8 million from all of the people who didn’t tell their friends to go see it, or, more likely, told them to run away. It isn’t as if Carrell doesn’t have drawing power. Worldwide box-office for Get Smart (2008) $230M; Date Night (2010) $152M; Stupid, Crazy, Love (2011) $142M. Granted, these figures show a downward slant, but Seeking A Friend went over the edge strapped to a piano.

Carrell’s usual buttoned-down emotions were so understated in this movie as to be virtually undetectable except by implication. Hello? When is Steve Carrell going to show up for his role? There were scenes between Knightley and Carrell with the camera switching back and forth between them, and with Knightley we got a display of acting going on; with Carrell, we got him holding his face as still and as blank as possible.

Love conquers all? That’s fine for them that has it. What, exactly, does it conquer? Loneliness? Existential vacuity? Either way, in this movie, it is a short-lived victory.

Imagine if the final white-out had ended with a scream, as it so easily might have. What would a scream have done to whatever shreds of sweetness the viewer may have been clinging to? One shudders to imagine it. Instead, this is the way the world ends, not with a bang, not even with a whimper, but with numbed, desperate silence. I know it was supposed to be the wordless epiphany of love transcendent, but it didn’t feel like that.

In previous posts, I have bemoaned the lack of backbone in movie-makers who want the frisson of emotional loss but are unwilling to risk keeping a character dead for fear of what it will do to box-office returns. Here is a movie proving that taking the cheap way out is financially the right thing to do.

As for my esthetic sensibilities, was I satisfied that everyone snuffed it and snuffed it hard? Nope. But you can’t tell a story about the end of the world if the world doesn’t end, can you? Doesn’t my rejection of actual apocalypse make me hypocritical?

I plead that Emersonian chestnut: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Apocalypse as a metaphor for the human condition, that is, that we all come to our end of days, is one thing, but the loss of all human achievement—art, Shakespeare, architecture, music, literature, our cuisines, our memories, anything and everything—and the loss of all future generations, that’s a bit much to swallow. The meager lessons we learn along the way—that people will perpetuate the seemingly meaningless routines that give their lives comfort or definition, such as flossing, mowing the lawn, going to work, enforcing laws that have become pointless—well, those lessons weren’t worth the price of admission.

No doubt, there were other lessons to be gleaned, but they were tepid and thin on the ground. In the movie, one thing that happens when people begin acting the way they really want to is that they have a lot more sex, but this, according to the movie-makers, only serves to make humans more ridiculous. Right. Nowhere do we see anyone reacting to their situation with noticeable nobility, except for Carrell’s act of putting Knightley on a homebound plane.

(Is it possible for a Piper Cub, or whatever two-seater airplane Martin Sheen was piloting, to make a transatlantic crossing? Hopping the Big Pond was no walk in the park for Charles Lindbergh.)

Perhaps the ending would have seemed more “right,” and only marginally more depressing, if Knightley had not returned, leaving Carrell to go gently into that good night by himself. Would we have known his love was reciprocated if Knightley had not returned? Hard to say for sure. We could assume she loved him, or was really fond of him, but I tend to think she would have been better off  spending her last hours with her family.

What was the quality of Carrell and Knightley’s brief relationship? She might have had enough love for Carrell in the short-term, but would it have lasted over the long haul? I’m guessing no. Not that briefness can’t make for a wonderful relationship, but it isn’t much to hang a movie on.

For me, a more interesting story would have been what happens to people and to society when people wake up the day after the world was supposed to end.

 

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paul-movie“Here’s a movie that teeters on the edge of being really pretty good and loses its way. I’m not sure quite what goes wrong, but you can see that it might have gone right. Maybe Paul, its alien hero, should have been sent back to the shop for a rewrite. He isn’t merely voiced by Seth Rogen, he is Seth Rogen, if Seth Rogen looked like your usual bulb-headed, big-eyed being from outer space.” —Roger Ebert

There isn’t much I can add to Ebert’s opinion. For me, Seth Rogen was the wrong voice for Paul. Not because he didn’t do a good job with his lines, but because looking and hearing Paul all I could imagine was the real Seth standing behind a microphone in a recording studio.

seth-rogenAs much as I adored Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz, here was only a whiff of the great chemistry they usually cook up. I wanted them to be better than they were, but it just didn’t work that way. Perhaps Paul got in the way—two’s company, three’s a crowd.

The most gratifying character for me was Ruth and her attempts to curse effectively. Like everything in this movie, it didn’t quite come across as well as I felt it should have, but I rounded it up.

 

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Leonard-Nimoy-in-Star-Trek-2009-Movie-ImageI was a fan of Star Trek back when it was running in syndication during the 70s. It was a bit of a wrench, for me, getting used to the new actors in the reboot, but every repeated viewing of the Star Trek movie (three times, so far) makes the update more congenial. Rotten Tomatoes records an impressive 95% freshness rating.

While I liked the movie most of the time, here are my beefs: if Vulcans can’t defend their planet any better than they did, which was not at all, then I don’t suppose they deserved to have a planet. A mere F-16 could have taken out the space drill.

Whatever the dangerous “red matter” that creates black holes may be, let’s assume it requires pressure to activate it, such as the pressure found at the center of a planet. (I was about to say “requires gravity to activate it” until I remembered that the gravity at the center of a planet is zero, seeing as how the mass of the surrounding planet, and it’s gravitational force, are distributed equally around a central point, thus counterbalancing and canceling out what we would call gravity.)

Let’s assume it isn’t enough to simply splash a scoosh of red matter on a planet’s surface; in order to go from red matter to black hole, you need tremendous pressure. Bring forth the drill and the tunnel to the center of the earth.

Have you ever tried digging a hole in beach-sand too close to the waterline? What happens? It caves in, right? Let’s say your big laser does drill a hole to the center of a planet: how do you stop the hole from caving in, especially when it is under fantastic pressure and the mantle and core are like hot plastic? You can’t.

But, wait. When Spock’s ship kamikazes into the mining ship, the red matter turns to a black hole without benefit of planetary forces. So, it looks like the whole drill to the center of the world schtick was bunk. The Romulans could have sprinkled a dram of red matter anywhere they wanted and achieved the same effect. So what was all that drilling malarkey about?

If it takes but a drop of red matter to produce a planet-consuming black hole, doesn’t it make you wonder what Spock was doing packing 97 gallons of the stuff?

Why didn’t the starship that George Kirk crashed into the mining ship wipe it out? Does all that dilithium fuel in the gas tank only explode when you tell it to? Why didn’t they tell it to?

When we see the ship crash, George Kirk is thrown out of his chair and into the viewing screen, as if the ship had come to a full stop and momentum just kept moving him along. My belief is that when the ship experienced impact, at a speed of what we can assume was several tens of thousands of miles per hour (it is, after all, a starship), the front of the ship would have hit Kirk so fast he never would have seen it coming anymore than he could have seen a high-velocity bullet headed his way. He wouldn’t have had time to go to it—from his point of view, it would have come to him. We wouldn’t have seen him thrown out of his chair and into the proverbial windshield.

Allow me to further geek-out on the ridiculous science. I’m not nitpicking—these are major absurdities.

Spock’s mission: vacuum up an exploding star that threatens to destroy the galaxy. Destroy the galaxy? Spock should never have said that because it is preposterous. Supernovae occur in our Milky Way galaxy about every 50 years. There’s no imaginable supernova that could remotely threaten a galaxy.

(Also, seeing as how Spock failed in his mission, was our galaxy destroyed? I don’t think so.)

It takes billions of years for stars to reach the point of going supernova (another 5 billion years or so for our sun), which is to say that the Romulans on Romulus had plenty of advanced warning—as if the original Vulcans who colonized Romulus would set down roots next door to an incipient supernova. If the closest star to us, Proxima Centauri (in the solar system Alpha Centauri) exploded, and we on earth knew about it at the time of explosion, we would have a full 4.2 years to crank up the air-conditioning and slather on the sunblock. No matter how big a star is when it blows up, the energy and debris doesn’t have mythical warp drive and so they have to obey the laws of physics, that is, no traveling faster than the speed of light.

That means the only possible scenario where the Romulans could get caught with their pants down would be if it were their own sun that went supernova.

Even if, unbelievably, their sun getting ready to blow up all came as a great surprise, Romulans still had enough warning that Spock heard the news, formulated a plan, collected much more red matter than he needed, obtained the galaxy’s fastest ship, and rode to the almost-rescue. Even the bad guy somewhere far from home heard about Spock’s plan. We’re supposed to believe that in the meantime Romulans simply waited at home for him to save the day?

Say that Spock had gotten there in time to save Romulus. Next day, instead of a sunrise, Romulans would have looked into the sky to (not) see a black hole where their sun used to be getting a little bit closer. They were going to have to relocate no matter what, so why not do it as soon as possible, just in case the rescue attempt didn’t work?

Exploding the Warp Core. Here on earth, cinematic explosion goes boom, we see our heroes tossed high and far, always miraculously unhurt, as if being caught in an explosion is a carnival ride. The reason our heroes get tossed is because of an expanding wave of compressed air.

In outer space, there is no atmosphere and no compression wave. When the warp core explodes and frees the Enterprise, what they really would have gotten was a tush-full of radiant energy, x-rays, gamma rays, maybe even cosmic rays. Rather than a bump in the right direction, it would have been like turning up the temperature 27 million degrees, or like stepping into the center of the sun, possibly hotter. Their little wagon wouldn’t have received a helpful push: they would have vaporized.

Polar bears are white because then they blend into their surroundings and can sneak up on prey more effectively. Why in the world is the bigger monster that chases after Kirk on the winter planet bright red? For that matter, it just tossed aside a piece of meat bigger than an elephant—why would it waste energy pursuing minuscule Kirk, and then be scared off by a torch-waving Spock? The torch must have looked as small as a matchstick to the creature, if, on its ice-bound planet, it had any experience of fire or reason to fear it.

Speaking of the winter planet, it was within viewing distance of Vulcan, which makes it either a moon of Vulcan, or a double planet, if that is even possible. Either way, now that Vulcan has been replaced by a black hole, the winter planet is in serious trouble. Good thing, in the end, old Spock and the rocky-faced dwarf made it out of there.

But Star Trek wouldn’t be genuinely Star Trek if we didn’t have stupid mistakes to complain about.

 

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Rise of the Guardians movieA fun show, a good-looking show that inspires a genuine sense of wonder. The two teenagers I saw it with enjoyed it very much, which is a high bar to clear. The large family of kids behind us squealed and exclaimed at all the right parts. I admit to experiencing an ache in the throat at one particular moment, a rare event, for me.

Spoiler Alert.

I didn’t notice in the ending credits any mention of Terry Pratchett or his novel Hogfather. Anyone familiar with that story knows just how much this movie borrows from it. Hogfather (1996) precedes the Guardian series by fifteen years.

Points of duplication: the Tooth-fairy and the power of children’s teeth; the power of children’s beliefs; the centrality of Santa Claus/the Hogfather; characters standing in for the disabled Hogfather, or, in this case, the Tooth-fairy; even the Boogie-man makes an appearance in Hogfather. Sounds to me like solid grounds for a copyright infringement lawsuit. I’m glad they made the movie, but Pratchett deserves his due. (Pratchett is a modern Charles Dickens. If you like ROTG, check out Hogfather.)

Things to make it better: slow down the hyperkinetic action sequences. There’s a lot of beautiful stuff happened during those blurred moments that I would have liked a tenth-second more to register on my brain cells. I get the idea that things are moving fast, but what’s actually happening? Perhaps in 3D it looks better.

I thought the way Jack got out of his South Pole hole was too convenient. But then, did we really want to see him struggle and atone for his mistakes? Probably not. The young kids behind me in the theater no doubt appreciated the quick fix and speedy return to action.

A glitch in the plot: if teeth the Tooth-fairy collects contain our childhood memories, I’d assume that once the teeth were out of our mouths they would stop recording the lives they came from. It’s magic, so maybe the rules are different, but if one tooth can record all of an individual’s childhood, why collect all of the teeth when just one gets the job done? Jack is drowned without contributing any teeth that would “remember” what his death had been like. At the point of his death, too, he was more a young man than a child. Jack should not have been able to remember his own death.

Also, all children begin losing belief in the Tooth-fairy when only some children wake up to find their teeth still under their pillows. Less than 1% of children (that is, those children who had lost a tooth the day before) would have been disillusioned . Clearly, sub-1% would not have been enough of a dramatic effect, so the movie-makers cheated.

Overall, ROTG is a movie I would see again.

 

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PUSS IN BOOTS MOVIEWhat an amazing story this movie had! That’s the proper way to write a story.

Spoiler alert (but then, all of these posts assume you’ve seen the movies they refer to, so they’re all spoilers):

How unexpected to see Dumpty snuff it and then not be put together again. Mother Goose carried him off to heaven, or, if you prefer, to the Giant’s castle where he had said he was always meant to be (was that a bit of foreshadowing?). Gutsy move on the part of the movie-makers. The actual, sustained death of a main character isn’t something you see very often, do you, Ted?

The one thing I felt came off as misguided was the big reveal showing that Jack and Jill were in on the revenge plan. I watched the movie twice, and when I saw their actions in a context of them faking it, they just didn’t make sense. Their being in on the scheme in no way heightened the sense of betrayal Puss experienced, so there was no pay-off from that angle. They should have been left as they seemed.

If you watch this movie twice, take note of the aliases Puss ascribes to himself in his opening scene, then keep alert for the moments during the movie when he is called those names.

 

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shrek-forever-after movie

This makes for a film that turns out to be pretty bland. It’s not bad, it just seems that the filmmakers ran out of ideas and jokes. Gone are the multiple pop culture references that were omnipresent in the other films. Instead, it seems like they tried to continually remind the audience of the previous films by alluding to them over and over again. —Jeff Beck, Examiner.com

I enjoyed Shrek Forever After, but then, I didn’t pay big money to see it in a theater when it was new. It surprises me to see all of the critics who have such harsh opinions not just of this movie, but of all the Shrek sequels, including the original movie. The leading quote above from Jeff Beck is on the milder side. Heck, I just like seeing cartoon fairy tale characters running around, maybe because it looks like Halloween. I’m easy to please like that.

This movie did have its high points: time spent with Rumpelstiltskin, for example. But the movie had a tunnel-vision feel to it that focused excessively on Shrek. The supporting cast of lovable characters—feisty Ginger, Pinocchio, the three pigs, even Wolfie—all got their walk-ons, but then they were gone, uninvolved in the storyline, mere story decorations. Everything had a rushed feeling as we shot down the plot chute as quickly as possible.

On the minor side of how it coulda been better, get rid of the teeth on the pet goose. Goosey was scary enough on its own and the out of place teeth were nothing but overkill.

Would I like to see another Shrek installment? Yeah. Why not? Whatever else it may or may not be, it’s always fun and a lot better than what used to be called Saturday morning cartoons.

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The Expendables Movie

It’s cool because the wings are made of weapons.

Wherein we learn that Bruce Willis can whip up a pleasing trifle out of next to nothing; that it’s fun watching sixty-two year old Rocky try to run fast; that everyone in this movie is a better actor than Arnold Schwarzenegger—except for Randy Couture. Sorry, champ.

What didn’t work:

The Fight Scenes—-like fireworks exploding in a bowl of spaghetti. I did notice some extras getting their heads and half their bodies blown off, but as for being able to detect  a sequence of events or figure out who was doing what to whom, it was all a fast-moving, visual mess.

The Big Meanie—sneering superiority and ridiculous alpha-male posturing does not an interesting villain make. Whoever you were, ex-CIA guy, yours was a tale of wake me up when it’s over.

The Mission—the CIA wants their old agent who’s gone over to the dark side dead. So, they hire outsiders (the Expendables) to assassinate the man standing next to the person they actually want dead, hoping for enough collateral damage to chalk up a two-for-one. If only the Expendables had employed a sniper to take out the generalissimo, then the CIA would have had to hire them all over again to kill the guy they just spent five million dollars not killing.

The MacGuffin—Stallone is running after the generalissimo’s daughter, the movie’s MacGuffin. The ex-CIA guy has already shot her father so she isn’t useful as a hostage, she isn’t important to the plot (other than as something for Stallone to chase after), and she seriously slows down ex-CIA guy’s chances of making a quick and effective escape, so why is he dragging her by the hand everywhere he goes? It’s a bit more than stupid. Perhaps it’s an ironic homage, a concession to those viewers who wouldn’t want their action movie served up any other way than campy.

What did work:

Stallone—he hasn’t made it this far on his looks.

The Non-Romance—just an avuncular hug at the end between Stallone and the MacGuffin instead of sweaty fornication or an apple-chomping kiss. Such restraint, such noble intentions; what a breath of fresh air. Yo-Adrian would be proud.

The Wish-Fulfillment—-Jason Statham pounding the daylights out of his girlfriend’s ex and all of his basketball buddies—they’ll be going home with more than a sprained ankle. Statham couldn’t legitimately beat up just the ex-boyfriend without looking like a bully, but I felt the basketball buddies got more than they deserved. “You mean I’m gonna get sent to the chiropractor, maybe the dentist, maybe physical rehabilitation, for this woman-battering jerk-off? Not only did I not  ask him to play, but he’s not even on my team!”

Mickey Rourke—his two minute story about how he lost his soul is worth the price of admission to see a performance on a level like that. It didn’t affect me emotionally, but by God Rourke can make you think he’s telling you a fact about his personal life and make you feel you’re close enough to smell him. It pulls your attention in so strongly that it warps the fabric of reality such that for a few blessed moments you dwell in a different dimension, a dimension where the movie you are now watching is exponentially superior to the one you just left and are doomed to return to. It was a ray from thespian heaven shining into the gloom of everyday, dependable, action-movie mediocrity.

 

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Prometheus_2012

I just watched Prometheus for the second time, this time on dvd. The experience was pretty much the same as the first go-round.

As much as I loved the visual feast, my complaint is that there was only one interesting character in the bunch. Theron/Vickers was a waste of time—a bossy executive-type with no obvious motivation for being alive, much less for being on Prometheus, a character who didn’t care about anyone and wanted her father dead. She doesn’t care? I don’t care.

You saw it coming from their first scene together, I’m sure: the team-up between laid-back Millburn “Funky Glasses” and cantankerous Fifield “I’m not here to be your friend; I’m here to make money.” As they plodded though the odd-couple tango, I wondered why it wasn’t working. I think I made the mistake of confusing Alien with Aliens and supposed that James Cameron (rather than Ridley Scott) was at the helm and that these characters sketches would, at some point, flower into full-fledged characters. No such luck.

Captain Janek waited in the wings for his dramatic moment, but when it came time for him and his navigators to act the heroes, instead of poignancy and regret all I felt for their self-sacrifice was exactly nothing at all. Janek’s sacrifice might not have been so meaningful if he had been about to commit suicide ten minutes before and instead waited ten minutes later when it amounted to something. For all we know, that’s what was on his mind—not likely, but, hey, fill in the blank with anything you fancy because a blank was all we were given. His sacrifice could have been a lot more meaningful if we had known he had a family back home he was devoted to, loved ones he would never see again but whose lives he was protecting with the loss of his own. Details like that could have put some skin in the game.

As for his two loyal crew members who popped out of nowhere at the last minute to share in his sacrifice, it would have been nice to have known something about them so that their final fists-in-the-air banzai moment felt like something real. Maybe the actual reason they didn’t head for the escape pods and save themselves was because then they would have been left alive for the final scenes where the movie-makers didn’t want them to be.

In any case, there was no time for making their lives or deaths meaningful because the camera spent so much time focusing on humdrum ciphers like Vickers.

Charlie Holloway. I get that he’s the prick of the movie, calling David “boy” every chance he got. But, why? To serve as a foil for David?

One thing Holloway couldn’t do was convince me he gave a rat’s ass about the deeper meanings of life. When David asks him why his people made him, Holloway answers, “We made you ‘casue we could.” Smirk, smirk.

Not for one moment did I believe Holloway was capable of making it through graduate school, much less becoming the co-leader of a trillion dollar expedition.

Three-quarters of the way through the film, Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw tumbled out of the narrative shadows and into the spotlight. She tugged at the hem of Ellen Ripley’s mantle, but she merely aped the necessary motions of action-herione with none of the emotional stakes Ellen Ripley brought to the Alien franchise. From the operation/abortion onward, hers was a commendable effort, but it was a case of too little and far too late.

For me, Michael Fassbender’s synthetic life-form David was the only character of interest—bonus points for channeling Peter O’Toole’s Laurence of Arabia. Negative points for being scripted as a prequel foreshadow of Ash from Alien. Because we know what happened with Ash, we assume we can’t trust David, and, therefore, the movie-makers wasted time whipping up suspicion.

prometheus-movie-2012-dr-elizabeth-shawBut David is much more than a sneaky android. Consider his surveillance of Shaw and her dreams while she’s in cryo-sleep. Why was he so particularly interested in her? What’s the attraction? When he slips Holloway the blob, is he raining vengeance on an unpleasant jerk, or conveniently removing a romantic rival—or both?

David gives Holloway the option of sidestepping the mysterious but likely to be painful fate he has in store for him by asking what price Holloway would be willing to pay for answers. “How far would you go to get what you came all this way for, your anwers? What would you be willing to do?”

David knowing Holloway as he did could predict the answer Holloway gave. “Anything and everything.” Right. One biological weapon coming up. Hubris has a price, too.

Did David in any way respect Holloway for the strength of his professed convictions, I wonder? Probably not. But, he had to give the blob to somebody, so why not the guy who sorta, kinda volunteered?

David must obey instruction from his controller, Peter Weyland, competently and without resentment; thus, he cannot participate in moral or ethical decisions. Because he has no moral agency, he is incapable of committing acts of good or evil. Although others may perpetrate sins through him, he remains blameless and without sin. Curious stuff.

When Peter Weyland utters his final words, summarizing his disappointing encounter with the Engineer, saying, “There are no answers,” and David answers, “I understand, Mr. Weyland,” David is expressing more than sympathy. He knows there are no answers because he knows his own human creators have no answers for him. He has lived his entire existence in the place Weyland finds himself, now, at death’s door.

But once Peter Weyland is dead, what then? David acts to warn Elizabeth to beware the Engineer. Among his first words to her, post Peter Weyland, are: “I was afraid you were dead.” Was he afraid because then there would be no one to help him? Or was there another reason? I like to think there was another reason.

After all, he did bring along Elizabeth’s necklace in his pouch, either planning to return it to her or perhaps wanting to keep it close for himself.

Exceedingly polite androids: they’re charming.

Holloway: Sounds like they’re making you [androids] pretty close [to human].

David: Not too close, I hope.

Prometheus-2012-Movie-03

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2012_snow_white_and_the_huntsman_movieI know that no one except a Twilight fan is supposed to like Kristen Stewart, but she does what she’s supposed to do in Snow White And The Huntsman as well as anyone could.

Like a genuine fairy tale told to a child, wonderment in this story remains at a high level, moving us from scene to scene painlessly. So much attention went into the visual display of Snow White that it’s easy for viewers to overlook the drawbacks of the story. So be it. This is a movie more for eyeballs than brain.

My quick swipes for making it better begin with the king marrying Ravenna at first sight.

What an impressionable guy. He returns from the battlefield, sends out invitations, hires a florist, decks out the banquet hall, sticks his bride-to-be in a spectacular bridal gown that just happens to be lying around and  fitted for Charlize Theron, sprints down the aisle, and hops into bed just in time for Ravenna’s secret army to sneak attack the castle. Marry in haste with not much time to repent at leisure.

Throw us some bone of a reason for the big rush. Did Ravenna put a spell on the king? Obvious explanation, right?

But, no. The narrator tells us it was all because the king had never seen anyone more beautiful. I guess that makes him the kingdom’s biggest horn-dog who couldn’t wait even twenty-four hours before jumping between the sheets.  It’s all rather at odds with his image as Number One Dad. I could understand Uther Pendragon from Excalibur acting that way, lusty and impulsive type that he was, but the husband of the meek and mild Snow White’s mom? Doesn’t fit.

Like Mama told me,

“Son, take time to know her
Love’s not an overnight thing
Take time to know her
Please, don’t rush into this thing.”

Shoulda listened to Mama, fool.

Brilliant job re-imagining the magic mirror as a shiny bowl that looked like it might have been around since before the Greeks, but I could have done without the molten goo guy. We’ve already seen that special effect way back in Terminator 2—that was in 1991, for gosh sakes.

If the movie-makers had been more keen on story, they might have used the magic mirror character for more than a ho-hum effect. For example, was the magic mirror a free and cooperative agent in Ravenna’s schemes? They had presumably known each other for some time. Were they friends? Was the mirror a slave? Whose side was he rooting for? Was he merely a magical barometer Ravenna used for checking the daily “fairest” conditions? Is there something Ravenna could have talked to him about, along the lines of carrying on an actual conversation? Her social circle didn’t stretch beyond her brother; no doubt, she could have used the company.

Magic mirrors: surely, they have more than a single use. Remember the milage the magic mirror in Shrek got just with its facial expressions? Unfortunately, not in this movie.

Snow White’s rusty spike weapon: I thought it should have ended up in the brother’s temple, or eyeball, or ear. She could have put the banged-one down for the  count rather than merely scratching his face and pissing him off.

But then, I suppose the point was that Snow White was too sweet of a girl to be lashing out with death strikes. The movie-makers should have remembered that and given us some doubt about whether Snow White was up to doing what it took to dispatch the queen—doing so might has caused something like suspense to occur.

Chris Hemsworth: for an Australian lad, he sure had his Scottish accent down pat. It sounded thick as peanut butter, like an impression of Gerard Butler cutting loose. I love a Scottish burr.

But when he said, “Do me the favor [of killing me], I beg you”—come on. He’s an actor. He’s been trained to handle actual lines of actual dialogue. So, give him something to say that doesn’t make us wince.

(As the first huntsman hunting down Snow White, Hemsworth’s character did a competent enough job finding her, considering she was only a skip and a hop past the bog, but you’ve got to admire the second huntsman who caught up with them: bringing horses through the bog, tracking the fugitives over water and through fairy land, and closing the gap, twice—he must have been part Apache. Yeah, he was a little too enthusiastic, what with shooting the Lord of the Forest of no good reason and forgetting the entire point of his mission by sending an arrow straight for Snow White’s heart. Good thing there was a dwarf around to save the day and make us sad by dying. I wasn’t sad, but I’m sure somebody was.)

Note to those defending a castle from attack: lock the door to the room that controls the front gate.

Note to attacking army: a portcullis presents problems for pedestrians, but if you come packing a battering ram, you’re in like Flynn.

 

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Dying James Kirk Star Trek Generations movieIn addition to the last Harry Potter movie, the other seminal cinematic moment that gave rise to It Coulda Been Better was the send-off for Captain Kirk. It turns out that Malcolm McDowell, the actor who did the dirty deed, felt the same way I did.

“Pose this one for me (to the powers that be): If you have—which they had—this icon of American television, why the hell didn’t they give him a spectacular death? Why did they give him such a really paltry death? Me shooting the bridge out or some B.S .whatever it was? They should have sent him off in a glorious fashion, and they didn’t. They missed an opportunity. . .

“I don’t care whose fault it was. Whoever came up with his death at the end, I thought it was really cheesy. I just think the man, whether you like him or not, should have been given a blazing death.”  Malcolm McDowell, quoted from Trekmovie.com

And Kirk’s final words as he stared into eternity? “Oh, my!”

Oh, my? You gotta be kidding me.

I would have liked it better if he had called out “Spock!” or, of course, “Scotty, beam me up!” I’m sure there are better last words he could have uttered.

Kirk got a raw deal all around. He gets inside the Nexus where he has the powers of God, and even though he was swept up seventy-eight years prior to the arrival of Capt. Picard, Kirk has only just arrived. Convenient for Picard, sucky for Kirk.

We are led to believe that Kirk wouldn’t have enjoyed himself in a world where he controlled the show to the extent that fear did not exist for him, as when he jumped his horse over a normally dangerous gap but felt unafraid. That shows a serious lack of imagination on Kirk’s part. If nothing else, having the powers of God, he could make his life as fraught with peril as he wanted: just make his reality follow the rules of physics. He could fall go boom all he wanted to. Do broken bones make life worth living, or would the instant healing powers of Wolverine make life just too boring to keep breathing? If so, then he could have made it so his bones healed slowly and painfully, and no Dr. McCoy with a spritzing injector to take the edge off.

Picard, too, dropped the ball. I think he must have been afraid of losing himself to the extent he would forget about wanting to leave the Nexus. He should have taken the risk—set an alarm clock to go off in thirty thousand years, and then do the same time-slip shuffle to affect a rescue. When someone tells you that time has no meaning in the Nexus, you should get a clue that it’s time to stop and carefully think through your options. There really  isn’t any need to rush off.

Ah, well. The Star Trek franchise was never afraid to turn its back on interesting implications. Besides, going down that path isn’t something you can wrap up in 118 minutes.

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Daniel-Craig-Judi-Dench-Skyfall movie“In Skyfall, Mendes easily provides one of the more inspired James Bond installments to date, painfully digging into the backstories of both 007 and M (Judi Dench) in an attempt to say something meaningful about fallible people instead of simply showcasing iconic characters in motion.” Ben Kendrick, SceenRant.com

. . .Showcasing iconic characters in motion—what a wonderful phrase.

I agree with those who think that this is the best Bond movie of them all. My opinion is no doubt shaped by the fact Daniel Craig is my favorite Bond. I even liked Quantum Of Solace.

It isn’t easy to find something to make better in this movie. What I would ask for is more time spent with Bond and M. Their conversation in M’s home could have gone further. Their trip to Scotland would have been the perfect time for a chat, in addition to the few moments pictured above.

I suppose they knew each other so well that there wasn’t much they needed to say to one another. Still, the movie-makers might have indulged us with foreshadowing, or might have squeezed a few drops more juice from generous fruit.

In his review, Ben Kendrick goes on to say “It isn’t until Bond sees the flaming image of MI6 headquarters that he decides to put aside his grievances and get back to work.”

I think we can add that Silva got it wrong when he surmised that Bond had returned to protect his nation in time of peril. By the end of the movie, we see that the most important reason he had for coming back was not to protect England, but to protect M. M stands for mother.

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albert_nobbs movie poster 2011

Albert Nobbs brought in slightly more than $3M at the box office, so don’t expect to be treated to the usual blockbuster fare in this tale of a desperate and unloved male impersonator.

Glenn Close as the eponymous Albert Nobbs won an Obie Award in 1982  (Best Actress in a Play – The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs.) From that time on, Close strove to bring the story to film, which she did in 2011 in what Peter DeBruge of Variety called “A career-crowning role for Glenn Close.”

I was drawn to this film by the promising premise of a woman, apparently for economic reasons, passing as a man in late 19th century, pre-automobile Ireland. With a setup like that, one sits back with the sure expectation of a display of phenomenal acting. I was not disappointed on that count.

Nobbs’ unhappy life takes a turn for the worse when he is stirred to the possibilities for domestic union. It is painful to watch him go so wrong right up to the point it does him in.

The problem with watching Albert Nobbs in action is that he is a repressed individual who operates along a very narrow groove. When his dreams of a better life bump him out of that groove, we find him unequal to the task of understanding or coping with the new world he has landed in.

Character Hubert Page is more interesting and impressive in every way. Page has successfully navigated a complicated compromise with life and earned his share of happiness. Nobbs might have learned from Page’s example, and, indeed, is inspired by it, but, ultimately, that inspiration is the impetus of Nobbs’ destruction.

I was rooting for Nobbs to smarten up and get his own slice of the happiness pie. I would have preferred him to triumph rather than succumb, but it wasn’t that kind of story. Too bad about Albert Nobbs.

 

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Babel movie posterThey warned me I was going to hate the part of the movie coming up. They were right.

Babel is a fascinating, worth-while movie, although the first time I tried watching it I didn’t get very far. I’m glad I came back.

But the Mexican woman in red: sweet Jesus.

She was stupid to try to return her white charges, a boy and girl, to the United States in the wee hours of the morning after a very tiring day, even more stupid to rely on her drunk nephew to do the driving, and supremely stupid to abandon the car somewhere in the dessert, with her charges in tow, just because her nephew told her to in order that he might make a more desperate escape from the pursuing forces of the border patrol.

But her act of absolutely unforgivable, inexplicable stupidity was her inability to find the main road after an SUV drives past, in plain sight, not more than three hundred feet from her location. Instead of heading for the road three hundred feet away, she ends up traipsing through the desert in the opposite direction.

By the time she decides to abandon the two kids to lighten her load, our outrage has been used up.

babel movie woman and children in desertFunny enough, ditching the kids works out for her. Not as well as walking over to the road might have worked, but, hey, can you imagine how hot asphalt gets in the desert sun? If you’re ever lost in the desert, stay away from those dangerous roads.

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brad pitt as benjamin button on motorcylceBenjamin Button is aging backwards. He has a newborn daughter while in his thirties, or maybe his twenties. Rather than hanging around and being a father to his daughter, he leaves home never to return. Why? In order to spare his daughter having to see him grow progressively younger.

What kind of reason is that? Why should this fact be so upsetting to a daughter who might have grown up with it? Everyone else Benjamin Button was involved with got used to his peculiarity. Regular children have to see their parents grow old, and sometimes senile. What’s the big deal?

It was cruel and out of character for Benjamin to deny his daughter time together based on a ridiculous hypothesis about how she might not be able to cope. Feh.

More likely, the movie-makers wanted to wrap things up on a relative high note, while Benjamin is young Brad Pitt, free and flying along on his motorcycle. No one really wanted to see this thing through soup to nuts, but did they have to take it out on such a discordant note?

(Who is going to take care of this idiot when he’s a toddler and an infant? Aw, forget it.)

 

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Ralph Fiennes Voldemort & Coriolanus

Here’s another movie it is difficult to improve. If you can’t bear Shakespeare and hate hearing the English language spoken in a way you can’t always understand, you will want to skip this one.

Still, Ralph Fiennes’ performance in Coriolanus is worth the effort; his knife fights alone are worth it.

In a wager about who could pulverize the other, Coriolanus or Voldemort (also played by Fiennes), you will want to place your money on Coriolanus. A guy who can single-handedly wipe out a building full of enemy forces would have no problem sidestepping an avada kadavra spell, and then Voldemort would be toast. Bloody toast.

Just seeing Coriolanus walk across a room, or even stand still, should be enough to persuade you of his bad-assery. However, if you need more proof, I refer you to his final scene. They say Jim Carrey’s face is malleable? Check out Fiennes’ face transformations while he is giving his “boy” speech. Voldemort would wee in his robes if faced with that kind of fury.

 

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Time_to_kill_poster“One wonders why more screen time wasn’t found for black characters like Hailey’s wife. Maybe the answer is that the movie is interested in the white characters as people and the black characters (apart from Carl Lee Hailey) as atmosphere. My advice to the filmmakers about the black people in town: Try imagining they’re white.” —-Roger Ebert

Agreed. We got to see plenty about the difficult time Ku Klux Klan memebers had processing their feelings. Why not show us the black community’s reactions?

My main gripe concerns the underlying morals. We are led to believe that the two rapists are better off disposed of. The director and screenwriter withhold the full gruesome details of the attack on the ten year old girl until the defense attorney’s closing statement so that we the audience are pushed over the emotional edge, just as the jury is. Even the mother of one of the rapists seems persuaded. It would be a deplorable lack of human decency if the father of the raped girl had not killed the two rapists. Scum like that deserved to be eradicated.

The moral of the movie isn’t about being overcome with rage for an heinous act to the point of being driven temporarily insane. This isn’t an examination of the insanity plea. Carl Lee Hailey establishes the premeditated nature of his intended crimes when he announces  his plans to his future defense lawyer.

The moral of the story seems to be that if anyone commits a heinous enough crime, and the injured parties are worked up enough, then those parties are excused from taking the law into their own hands even to the point of committing murder and blowing off innocent people’s legs. That’s a slippery slope.

How aggrieved or pissed off do you have to be to get away with murder? It doesn’t matter, as long as a jury agrees you had sufficient cause.

That doesn’t sound like justice.

BarettaIn the words of the Baretta theme song (Keep Your Eye On The Sparrow):

Don’t do the crime if you can’t do time.

Don’t do it.

Don’t roll the dice if you can’t pay the price.

I understand that some crimes call out for blood to wash them away. Under similar circumstances, I’d probably be loading up my rifle, too.

But revenge has a price. It is one thing for Carl Lee Hailey to circumvent the law and commit murder for understandable reasons, but for him to think he can do so and that there are no consequences to be reckoned, that he is entitled to a  “shoot two guys dead, blow off an innocent bystander’s knee/leg, endanger other innocents and get out of jail free” card, is cockamamie.

That we the audience are expected to cheer for such an outcome is wrong.

 

 

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Viggo Mortensen from Eastern PromisesThis isn’t the sort of movie that can be made better. The only element I begin to question is the kiss between Mortensen and Watts’ characters. This is no movie for a romance. Thankfully, director David Cronenberg left it at a simple kiss without it leading to fornication. In an understated way, the kiss was a deft indicator of Nikolai’s carefully hidden compassion.

The bonus feature of the dvd reveals that Mortensen traveled on his own to the region of the Ukraine where his character came from. There, Mortensen spent time in the company of real Russian Mafia. Those who know what the Russian Mafia are like say that Mortensen’s actions, attitude, posture, head movements—the whole package—are utterly authentic. Knowing that makes me want to watch it all over again for that reason alone.

Another reason to re-watch Eastern Promises is for the performance of Armin Mueller-Stahl as the mafia kingpin. The only other movie I have seen him in must have been The Game. What his role in that movie was I don’t recall, but his presence is unforgettable.

In my research for this post I came across this user opinion at Metacritic: “Do not believe the hype for this movie. It is crap. A rip off of The Godfather in every way.” A rip off of The Godfather? I’ve been doing my best to figure out how anyone could arrive at so preposterous a conclusion, but I am stumped.

A connection I did make between this movie and the cinematic mafia canon is with “The Sopranos” during restaurant scenes showing (non-criminal) family bonhomie. I found the attractiveness of Russian families putting on the feedbag somehow not as inviting or as warm as those depicted by their Italian counterparts. Perhaps that is because I am part Italian myself. That and the Russian accordion player—not my kind of music. Perhaps that’s just the way the Russians like to roll, but I think more could have been done by the movie-makers to put across the feeling of family togetherness. Either way, a rewarding movie.

 

 

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ted-movie

Of course I liked Ted. Who wouldn’t?

But, come on, Ted died. Kinda stupidly, but died nonetheless. He should have stayed dead.

Why? Not because I didn’t like Ted. It was great having him back again, knowing that life would continue pretty much as it had when the movie started.

The difference between the beginning of the movie and the end? John and Lori are married. Big whoop, as if their lives are changed by a marriage license. What would have really changed their lives would be if they had had to carry on their relationship without Ted.

Cat_scratch_fever_cover Ted Nugent

Wrong Ted.

Why do movie-makers pretend to create dramatic effect only to undo it a moment later? (Answer: they’re protecting box-office returns.) All of that “just kidding!” amounts to nothing more than cheap manipulation. Why bother? Why waste time with empty pretending when screen time is better spent on more gags?

Why go through the motions of raising fake emotions when we all know that we will never have to pay a price for them? We don’t even begin to feel sad because, hey, we have all seen E.T. The Extraterrestrial.

We know these movie-makers haven’t got the stones to surprise us.

 

 

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brave-chinese-bannerBrave? Was there anything our heroine was ever afraid of? How can one be brave without being, at some point, afraid?

This wasn’t a story about bravery; it was more a story about getting your own way, then dealing with the consequences of getting your own way.

But I liked this movie. So what if it wasn’t Finding Nemo or Toy Story 2? It was well worth the time I spent watching it.

What it needed to make it better was a compelling villain. The witch of this story was kind-hearted and comical when what she needed to be was more like Ursula, the octopus bee-atch from The Little Mermaid. Now, there was a witch with ambition and strategy skills. Ursula is sinister and effective, takes on the god of sea and steals his powers. If only she hadn’t let it go to her head and made herself an easy target, she would have gotten away with it.

In contrast, the Brave witch doesn’t even have a name. She doesn’t deserve one, unless it’s along the lines of Cutsie-Poo.

Mor'du bear from movie BraveYou might argue that the killer bear Mor’du stands in as the villain. However, Mor’du comes too little too late to be anything other than a convenient boogie-man (rather than a devious force to be reckoned with). He has to be reckoned with, true, but only to the extent of running away from him or, in the end, fighting him (the big, bad level boss). There’s not much about him that is interesting, although he had the potential to be interesting if only he had become a character of substance rather than one of mere menace.

For a while, I had a notion about a Beauty and the Beast-type redemption between Mor’du and Princess Merida, with the two rebels eventually hitching up. But, no, Mor’du is a stone-cold bad boy.

Besides, this is not a story about resolving the dilemma Merida finds herself in of making a political marriage. Apparently, the necessity for a political marriage turned out to be a mere “foolish consistency”, an easily set-aside tradition. The resolution of the movie’s motivating plot element (the need for Merida to get married) was just a matter of getting stuffy adults to let youth have its way. Wake up, it was all a dream. Wake up, the problem you thought was a problem isn’t a problem, that is, it isn’t  if you are going to change your mother into a bear and carry on like that. Why did we think you needed to be married in the first place? Please, don’t have another tantrum.

(I’m not arguing that Merida shouldn’t have the freedom to marry whomever she wishes. I’m saying that the motivating logic of the story takes a powder just to ensure a happy ending. Sheesh.)

Another way to have made this movie better would have been to include more of the triplets—Tom Sawyer x3 living in a hyper-caffeinated world. I’m surprised they didn’t convert Mor’du into a rug all by themselves—I think they might have managed it.

Triplets movie Brave 2012

 

 

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Moonrise Kingdom posterI love this movie. If you’ve seen it, you know why.

In an odd way, our hero Sam reminded me of what Harry Potter could have been–if Harry had half a nut in his sack. Maybe it was the glasses that invited the comparison. (What a story “Sam Potter” might have been.)

Harry Potter was a boy who lived full-time around adults who had known his dead parents, and yet does Harry ask any one of them anything about his parents? Gosh, no. You’d wish the kid would have had a shred of curiosity, or the gumption to ask questions, or an imagination. But then, Harry only seemed to take action when he was pushed into it by the necessity of the plot, or by Hermione.

Sam from Moonrise KingdomSam, on the other hand, hits back against adversity. He has the cojones to run away, to kiss a girl, to suck down a bolt of lightning and keep on fighting.

As surrealistic as the getting hit by lightning scene was, I accepted it, whereas I felt unacceptably irritated by the lightning-struck steeple that left Sam, Suzy and Captain Sharp dangling from a rope and each other’s hands. You try suspending yourself by one hand, even if you weigh a hundred pounds, even without other people clinging onto you, and see how long you last. For heavier people, three seconds would be a commendable length of time; thirty seconds would be a miracle. Try it; you’ll see what I mean.

For me, seeing our gang suspended so high above the ground so precariously without an immediate escape to safety came across as: doom. They will fall to their deaths in the next few moments, well before a ladder truck could make it to the scene, no matter how desperately they cling to each other.

It was a dramatic ending, but pure bullshit. Surely, Wes Andersen could have come up with something equally as dramatic but within the realms of believability.

 

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Kill Bill animeQuentin Tarantino  movies are always full of surprises; you’ve sort’ve  got to expect them. When re-watching this movie, I had forgotten all about the animation, so it came as a surprise all over again. That’s what makes QT movies what they are. QT is going to make the movie he wants to make. That’s a good thing.

I can’t say I was in love with the animated segment showing O-Ren’s origin story.

Production I.G. studios spent a year fulfilling QT’s exact animation vision. As Morishita of Production I.G. says, “Those 4 sequences would’ve been extremely difficult to make in live action. Even if it had been possible, it would’ve taken tremendous amount of budget and work.” (quoted from cgsociety.org)

It’s hard to dispute the expediency of whatever fits into the budget.

But there was something about the animation that intruded on my experience of the live-action part of the movie. Maybe it was the fountains of blood?

Also, when the young O-Ren is sticking her sword in the body of her ultimate foe, he just lies there for several moments with his hands doing nothing. Why would he not lash out, strike back, defend himself? Who is going to just lie there while someone sticks a sword into them? Bleah.

O-Ren's revenge sword in stomachKill Bill animeKill Bill animeKill Bill animeKill Bill anime

Even if the sword had penetrated his spinal column thus paralyzing his body below the incision, the nerves to the arms would have been intact and capable of swatting a 70 pound girl.

This was a guy in so much pain that he clenched his teeth hard enough that they exploded—ridiculous. I’d believe the fire-hydrants of blood before I’d believe exploding teeth. You’d think his instinct would have been to flail his arms around in an effort to stop the pain.

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Homles and Moriarty plunging into Reichenbach FallsThis is where the movie Sherlock Holmes A Game Of Shadows should have ended with Holmes and Moriarty plunging to their deaths into Reichenbach Falls.

Holmes has just been informed by Moriarty that he plans to kill Watson and his bride. Holmes reasons that the only way to prevent this from happening is to kill Moriarty. However, the only way for Holmes to kill Moriarty at that time would be for Holmes to sacrifice himself. (That is, based on Holmes’ calculations before Watson steps through the door. You’d think that after Watson showed up two against one might have changed the projected outcome).

We are presented with a poignant scene where a character, Holmes, gives up his life in order to save the life of his greatest friend. As Holmes falls into the abyss below, his antagonist’s face frozen in a mask of rage and hatred, his own face an edifice of acceptance and calm, we are touched by the moment. This is not a predicament Holmes can think his way out of.

All too rare in cinema, we are given a genuine act of heroism.

Unfortunately, it is wasted. The powers that control the Hollywood money weren’t about to let their investment be jeopardized by the death of their cash cow. What a bummer that would be to box office receipts.

I’m not saying that I am in favor of extinguishing the Sherlock Holmes franchise. I liked this edition better than the first, and I am happy to look forward to more.

The movie-makers should have left us guessing. They should have left us sad and regretful for more than three minutes.

But, it seems, Holmes’ sacrifice was a sham. He had an ace in the hole: a small supply of oxygen fortuitously injected into the storyline for no other purpose than to explain his escape from near-certain death.

You’d think that Holmes’ biggest challenge to survival would have been the impact of falling what looks like more than a thousand feet (height of the actual Reichenbach Falls: 820 feet). Perhaps the breathing apparatus supplying Holmes with canned oxygen also came with a special springy force-field.

The End ? from the movie Sherlock Holmes A Game of Shadows

Not by a long shot.

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The Grey movie posterSpoiler alert. In fact, it’s all a spoiler.

This movie is a tragedy in the old fashioned Shakespearean sense where everybody of significance snuffs it in the end.

I think it’s an advantage to know that going into the movie.  That way when Liam Neeson says that the thing to do is to kill off one by one the wolf pack that is threatening them, you won’t be left hanging around waiting for that to happen. As fun as all of that might have been, that isn’t the movie you are being presented.

Organized resistance to the wolf pack never happens. This isn’t like The Edge (1997) where Anthony Hopkins in similar circumstances makes a plan to kill a Kodiak bear. “I’m-a-gonna-kill the mutha fucka.” And he does.

I’ve never had to defend myself against wolves, but I’d much rather fight a wolf than a bear.

The men in the movie all possess knives. With knives, they could have made themselves long pointy sticks and then stood back to back to repel any attack. They could have survived the wolves.

What could have made this movie better was knowing sooner that the reason Neeson’s movie-wife was no longer in his life was because she had died of a disease. In the beginning, Neeson writes his wife a letter and we are misled into believing that she is alive and, presumably, has left him for reasons that, with luck, might contribute to the larger story. There was no payoff in tricking us about the reason for her absense.

For me, this was a story about how men face their deaths. We should have been given more material to see it that way earlier on rather than in the last half hour.

We don’t get to see Neeson’s final battle with the big black alpha wolf. I wonder about those viewers who were disappointed about that lack. Did they really think through how uninteresting such a scene would be? Wolves are animals with a limited number of fighting tricks in their bag. The alpha wolf would have jumped for Neeson’s throat. If it reached its target, it would be only a question of how much damage Neeson could inflict before his plunging blood pressure (from a severed carotid or jugular) left him unconscious and doomed.

Apparently, at the very end of the credits we are given a scene of Neeson collapsed over the middle of the alpha wolf with no way of telling who the victor might be.

You know what? If the old alpha is dead, there will be a new alpha automatically ready to take over and finish the job, as well as the rest of the pack to contend with. This isn’t a movie about our hero beating the odds.

My girlfriend believes that Neeson defeated the alpha wolf, and then the pack became Neeson’s slaves and benefactors, bringing him food to eat, nursing him back to health, keeping him warm with their furry bodies.

That’s an option.

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Angry mermaid from Pirates Of The Carribean On Stranger TidesPirates Of The Caribbean On Stranger Tides: not my favorite in the series. Making it better would take a lot more than I am prepared to put forward, here.

I’ll confine my remarks to a small point: the pseudo-scary mermaids. Elongated canines are supposed to scare us?

In the first episode of True Blood, a good-old boy bares his vampire fangs in a bid to chastise and threaten an obnoxious store clerk. It works, but only because the script says it does.

These mermaids needed something along the lines of piranha teeth or shark teeth to do them justice. Talk to Bruce about scary teeth.

Bruce the shark from Finding Nemo

 

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Killer Elite (2011) movie posterWhoa! Most critics (75%) did not like this movie.

I like Jason Statham. I’ve liked him ever since I saw him as Handsome Rob in The Italian Job. Later, I picked up a double dvd of The Transporter specially marked down at Target. After Snatch and the other Guy Ritchie movies featuring Statham, I’d say I am a fan.

This movie seemed to have all the right ingredients the formula required, but, meh, it just didn’t excite.

How to make it better?

Adewale Akinnuoye-AgbajeAdewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as the Agent who is the middleman between the elite killers and their employers showed potential for becoming interesting when he talked about his parasitic dependence on contract killers. That’s a point of view that rarely gets explored, and I would have liked to see more of it. What’s it like being the go-between guy?

As blase as the movie turned out, in the end it might all have been worth it just to hear these following lines:

Commander B: Who are you?
MI6 Man: I’m the one they let fly around in an unmarked chopper with a gun in my pocket. You can call me MFWIC.
Commander B: “MFWIC”?
MI6 Man: Motherfucker what’s in charge!

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Davy Jones PIrates of the Caribbean At World's End

When Davy Jones dies and falls over the rail into the maelstrom below, he falls and falls and then disappears too soon.

The scene cuts away before we’ve had time to bow our heads in acknowledgment of the passing of a memorable villain.

All the scene needed was an extra beat or two, just enough to see him entirely disappear, hold, then cut away. I’m only talking about an extra beat or two.

The passing of  a villain as interesting as Davy Jones deserved a respectful extra second.

Davy Jones Falling Into Maelstrom Pirates Of The Caribbean At World's End

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Chronicle not all heroes are super“Steve! Stop! Stop being so predictable!”

Power is like a magnifying glass. If you’re a troubled person, your problems get magnified.

I understand why Andrew, the a-hole, turned out the way he did.

But did Steve, the interesting black guy who got killed in the lightning storm, have to act so stupidly?

When Andrew was flying around in the lightning storm, clearly he wanted some alone-time.

Steve butted in and all he could do was repeat: “Andrew! Stop! Andrew! Stop!”

Characters like Steve, with his inability to judge another person’s emotional temperature, are doomed.

But that is only because the script writer made Steve ridiculously stupid so that Andrew got pushed over his emotional edge and lashed out, and we all got the heavy-handed message that Andrew was not such a nice guy.Steve from Chronicle

If Steve had lived, what kind of story would we have ended up with?

Something tells me it would have been more interesting than the one we got.

Chronicle was good enough to justify time spent watching it, but, really, was there any doubt about where the story was going and what was ahead? Predictability did not help this story. Not killing Steve would have demanded the predictable plot to do something different and, one hopes, more remarkable.

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Michael Caine as Alfred Pennworth The Dark Knight RisesKill the final appearance of Bruce and Selena at the outdoor cafe.

That is, keep the scene, but eliminate Bruce and Selena.

The Dark Knight Rises was a good enough movie, overall. It does everything we wanted a movie like this to do.

What I would have changed is this: at the end, when Alfred is sitting down at the al fresco cafe, there was no need for the movie-makers to show us Bruce and Selena a few tables away.

So much better if the movie-makers had simply shown us Alfred’s reaction. Michael Caine is a good enough actor to pull it off. We could have read everything we needed to know from his face and choice of actions, whether to fold up his paper and leave, as he did in the actual movie, or lift his drink in salute, or if he had simply smiled, or whatever else Michael Caine might have come up with.

That sort of treatment would have touched my heart, as it would have focused the moment on Alfred being granted his fondest wish.

We the audience did not need the the predictable and empty disclosure of: here’s Bruce and Selena. Yup, he’s not dead. Now you can be completely happy.

If the movie-makers felt strongly that they couldn’t rely on the audience understanding what they were implying without showing Bruce, then they could have added Selena Kyle approaching and passing Alfred’s table, out of focus but recognizable. I think it would have been too much, but it would have been a better compromise than what they gave us.

There was more than enough room for a hint of mystery. Too bad the movie-makers didn’t give it to us.

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Training Day movie posterTraining Day doesn’t hold any surprises, but it kept my interest throughout. The bravura performance by Denzel Washington mesmerizes and gets us to overlook how things could have been better.

How It Coulda Been Better: Ethan Hawke as Jake Hoyt should have put up more of a moral fight against Washington’s Alonzo Harris. Hoyt’s struggle, at the end, was as much a struggle to extricate himself from the trap Harris landed him in as it was a desire on Hoyt’s part to see justice triumph.

What would have made the movie better is if Hoyt had been more powerful in his convictions and ideals. We see some of his idealism when he rescues a girl from rape and other times when it is convenient to the plot.

However, Hoyt’s heroism in defense of his ideals should have been at work from the moment Harris handed him the pot pipe laced with PCP. Hoyt should have thrown it out the car window.

Hoyt would have taken a moral stance on which the rest of the movie would have had to take account in terms of one character versus another, rather than Harris leading Hoyt by the nose through a series of misadventures.

I know that the pipe scene ties in with Harris’ trap, later on, but David Ayer, the writer, could have come up with something different.

I appreciate that Hoyt started the day starry-eyed and overawed by his training partner, but he didn’t have to remain innocent for as long as he did.

Early on it would have been more interesting to have the two narcs battling it out over their differences of moral principles. It would have been better if Hoyt had not been an obliging pawn of circumstance. There are times when Hoyt voices objections to what’s happening, but his objections are weak. If they had been strong objections, the story about have been stronger, too.

Next time, Hoyt, throw the pipe out the window and show us the reasons you are the man you are; show us why you can’t be corrupted, rather than mechanically playing the role of the Good Cop.

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21 Grams movie posterThe fractured timeline presentation of 21 Grams is puzzling and intriguing, up to a point, but give me a break. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu had critical and commercial success with complicated timelines in his 2000 Amores Perros, so perhaps he didn’t want to let a good thing go.

But does the jumbled timeline help? Does it cause us to understand, feel or appreciate what is before us more keenly?

I don’t think so, except to the extent it makes us focus more by wondering “what the frack is going on in this scene?”

An interesting though tormented movie that coulda been better with less fanciful editing and a more straightforward presentation—-that’s my 21 grams worth.

From Wikipedia: “The title refers to a belief propagated by the 1907 research of physician Dr. Duncan MacDougall which purported to show scientific proof of the existence of the immortal human soul by recording a small loss of body weight (representing the departure of the soul) immediately following death. The research did not follow the scientific method, showed wide variance in results (21 grams is an arbitrary figure; MacDougall’s actual results showed no reliable mean), and were widely dismissed by the scientific community, even at the time. No attempts to duplicate MacDougall’s findings have been successful. The film presents MacDougall’s findings as accepted scientific fact as a form of dramatic license.”

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Van Helsing movie posterFor what it tries to be, VH is a classic of its kind, and a lot of fun.

But it irks me that Van Helsing’s first name was changed from Abraham to Gabriel. To further make the point, Dracula calls Van Helsing “The left hand of God,” making it clear that he is referring to the archangel Gabriel. So, if VH is the archangel Gabriel, then why monkey around with stakes and pistols and circular saws when he ought to be able to level the neighborhood with a flaming sword? He can’t do it because he has amnesia? I don’t believe it.

It irks me even more that the werewolf-capturing-party headed by Valcon Valerious sets off into the woods without anyone loading their guns with silver bullets. You gotta be kidding me. How stupid are these people?

Stupid enough to shoot harmless lead bullets enough times to free their captured werewolf, that’s how stupid. No wonder Dracula has been winning for the past nine generations.

It irks me that great-great-grandpa Valerius can make a vow that prevents the souls of his descendants from entering heaven. Where does he get the authority to do that?

I liked Dracula’s choice of brides, but hated their fashion senselessness. (Except for Mirishka—she pulled it off with her belly-dancer’s gear.)

Kate Beckinsale looked great as a gypsy queen slut, but, come on, could she really kick ass in high-heeled boots like those?Kate Beckinsale in Van Helsing

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Julie & Julia movie posterMeryl Streep as Julia Childs was so interesting that it was a jolt to switch back to the life of Amy Adams’ Julie Powell. So, more Meryl, less Amy, would have made the movie even better.

At the end, Julie tries to arrange a first meeting with Julia Childs and is not successful. Maybe she was rebuffed, and maybe not. I think it would have been more fair to the image of Julia Childs portrayed in the film to offer some kind of explanation to the audience.

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The Town movie posterI think it would have been better if, at the end, Ben Affleck’s  character got together with his almost-girlfriend down in Florida.

Not really. That’s what my girlfriend thinks would have made the show better.

Listen, it wasn’t one of those relationships that was meant to last.

It was nice to see that the almost-girlfriend didn’t give the money up but kept it. No sense all of those people getting killed just so the insurance companies don’t have to pay out for the stolen loot.

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The Descendants movie posterMore Sid would have made this movie better. It was nice the scene at night when George Clooney’s character can’t sleep and he has a talk with Sid and learns that Sid is a lot more than we had been shown up to that point.

Sid tells us some interesting things about his life, but the name of the game is Show, not Tell.

After we learn that Sid has a lot more depth to him than we suspected, then we should have swum around in those depths, cinematically speaking.

True, the movie moved us along to all the places we needed to go to get to the end, but it should have indulged us a bit  rather than being relentlessly focused on George the entire movie.

Sid from The Descendants movie

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Underworld Awakening movie posterThey call this Awakening? This movie was more like 30 mgs of Ambien.

In the first three films, we got a lot of storyline—a lot of stuff happens. In this one, Underworld Awakening, Selene wakes up from cryogenic sleep, unites with her daughter, fights some lycans at a woefully under-defended coven, fights some more lycans while rescuing her daughter, and that’s a wrap—-just a hop and a skip from beginning to end.

It sure seems that writer Danny McBride was the guy with all the plot ideas, and when they left him out of the fourth movie, all they could manage was a thin potato chip of a story.

What was this movie all about? It gave us Kate Beckingsale modeling her leather-spandex suit; we got a Bernie Wrightson-like giant gorilla-werewolf. Back in the 90’s, a special effect like the big werewolf would have made it worth the price of admission in order to see something we had never seen before. But these days? It just doesn’t cut it. It doesn’t even come close.

If this film had wanted to have an actual story (rather than a fragment of a story outline), the writers might have looked to giving Selene’s daughter, Eve, some character, as well as Eve’s de facto mother, the woman who (presumably) raised her for ten years.

For starters, we could have been given the story of the de facto mother breaking the daughter out and insisting that she take Selene as a protector. Eve could have been ignorant of the fact Selene was her actual mother, until  later when certain obvious facts were pieced together. Granted, any undertaking as complicated as thinking  would have required a lot of effort on Selene’s part, given her vacuous presence during most of the movie. From that  point, we could have had Eve insist on returning to Anti-Gen to rescue her de facto mother once it is learned that all of the MEN at Anti-Gen are lycans.

How hard could it have been to make Awakening even a bit interesting? Not that hard, really.

Big werewolf from Underworld Awakening

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Alexander movie posterI liked this movie for showing me a historical vision that I could not have imagined for myself. The scenes of battle were particularly savage.

Being, as I am, a fan of I,Claudius, I couldn’t help notice the opportunities being squandered for intrigue and plots. Angelina Jolie as Queen Olympias is no Livia.There is one scene when Alexander receives a letter of advice from Olympias, but he seems scornful of it. Was her advice accurate, or was Alexander correct in scorning it? We never find out.

The various commanders that Alexander assassinates or causes to be executed: who were they? What was their significance? Unless you’re a historian, who can tell?

In the end, we see that Alexander drove his men a long distance. How did he manage it? What made him great? We are never shown.

An awesome spectacle. But, it coulda been better.

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The Woman In Black movie posterSusan Hill wrote the novel this film was based on. One assumes there was more to the book than was revealed in the movie.

I’d like to know who gave this woman in black the power in her afterlife to compel a dozen or more children to kill themselves. And, to what end? With Freddy Krueger of A Nightmare On Elm Street, at least he was “avenging” himself on the children of the parents who brought him to his demise. It doesn’t explain how he got the power to do what he does, but his choice of victims makes logical sense, that coupled with him being a child-killer.

Was the woman in black killing children so that her own dead son would have playmates? No. Was she killing the children of parents who had offended her in any way? No. Why was she killing children? Because her own child died? Does that make sense to you?

Daniel Radcliffe’s character, Arthur Kipps, figures that if he digs up the body of the WIB’s son and puts the body in the vicinity of WIB’s likely whereabouts, then the two “lost” souls will be reunited and all will be well. We, the audience, figure that sounds about right.

Why the boy, who rises from the marsh, wiggles the door handle, and traipses mud through the house, can’t find his mummy for himself, is a mystery.

At the end, Arthur Kipps lets go of his own four-year old son’s hand while they are waiting on a train platform and a train is approaching. Even if the WIB hadn’t been controlling the child and leading him in front of the train, what is wrong with Kipps that he would let go of his son’s hand and not check on him sooner, under those circumstances, particularly when the man who is talking to him has nothing important to say? For that matter, why didn’t Mr. Daily, who had the boy in his visual field up until the point the child jumped onto the tracks, not notice something amiss? None of it is believable.

After Kipps and his son are killed by the train and they reunite with his dead wife in the afterlife, it would have been a satisfying thing if Kipps had taken a moment, before walking into heaven, and marched up to the WIB and f*cked her up. He might say: “What the hell? I got your kid’s body back for you—why did you have to pull a punk move like that?” before kicking his ectoplasmic boot up her ass.

And if not Kipps evening the score, then how about the dozen or more dead children that surround the WIB? Some of them have been living their dead existences for twenty years or more, long enough for them to get a clue. How about some Children of the Corn action, some group coordination where everyone grabs hold of one of WIB’s toes or fingers or nostrils and pulls and pulls until they come loose? Why wouldn’t they? What have they got to lose?

The Woman In Black movie poster

The Woman In Black

Boot her in the scoon, Dan!

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Jonah Hex movie poster featuring Megan FoxThere’s only way this movie could have been made better was to get rid of everyone except Megan Fox and make a movie about something other than Jonah Hex. Feh.

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John Carter movie poster

 

When I was a boy, Edgar Rice Burroughs was my favorite author. My favorite ERB hero was John Carter, the greatest swordsman of two worlds, Warlord of Mars, and husband to the incomparable Deja Thoris.

If movie makers could have made a movie like John Carter back in my early days, I suspect I would have been blown away. And yet, I wouldn’t have. The story of John Carter was one I felt I had a proprietary stake in. Without it being exactly like the novel, I doubt any movie could have satisfied me.

I believe Andrew Stanton, screenwriter and director of John Carter, felt much the same way. That’s why it’s a mystery to me that this movie wasn’t better.

Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris was overdressed. If I remember correctly, Dejah Thoris of the novel spent most of her time naked except for jewelry and a harness for holding weapons. If this had not been a Disney movie, perhaps we would have seen Dejah Thoris more as she should have been.

Collins’ Dejah Thoris, I will admit, is more interesting than the original Dejah Thoris ever was. (The original Dejah Thoris had one or two good speeches, but mostly she was the McGuffin John Carter spent all of his time chasing and very little time actually being together with.)

Making this movie better would have involved giving Collins more screen time. And yet, here we are presented with the “Regent of the Academies of Science” for her entire nation-state, presumably an intelligent woman, yet after it is definitely established that John Carter is from another planet, Dejah Thoris hasn’t got a single question to ask him about the fact he’s from a different planet? I don’t think you believe any more than I do that even a very stupid person could exercise so little curiosity, let alone a scientist at the top of her field.

Though the movie was more than two hours long, it felt rushed—-breathless to get to action scenes. We could have spent a lot longer with John Carter as he got used to Martian culture. For example, in the novel, JC’s becoming accepted into the Tharkian tribe happened only after he had fought and killed another member of the tribe. There should have been more time to get to know Sola, and, for that matter, Woola, both of whom were charming additions to the original story but in the movie were treated like props.

A movie like this cannot succeed without a great villain, and the Therns were not great villains. They were too all-powerful. Worse, they were inscrutable. What was the point of their presence? They wanted one guy to marry the princess so that they could attack the city? Why? The Therns had enough power to do whatever it is they wanted to do without all of the rigamarole, and without the help of stooges. What was it they wanted? Who knows? It remains a “mystery” of poor story-telling.

I can’t blame audiences for not being enthralled by this movie. The movie-makers didn’t do their job of giving us a story we could care about. That’s a shame. There was a lot more this movie could have accomplished if it had been truer to its source material. Then, too, releasing the movie during March was a death sentence. I have read that this had to do with politics at Disney. What a shame.

John Carter movie poster

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The Jackal movie posterI liked The Jackal well enough. It does everything an action movie of this kind is supposed to do, and it does it competently and entertainingly.

It’s only later, when you stop to think about it, that the Jackal character seems less like a criminal genius and more like a plonker.

Did he need a automatic cannon that could take out a tank, a weapon that could be traced? No. All he needed was a rifle with a scope. He could have set up the same deal with a simple rifle.

And it’s a good thing Bruce’s character voluntarily gave away a decisive clue (“Tell him he can’t protect his women”) otherwise the good guys wouldn’t have known what to do next. Is that how a criminal genius behaves? I doubt it.

There’s a point in the movie when three characters are trying to hijack Bruce’s automatic cannon, which resides in Bruce’s van. Bruce disposes of the hijackers by spraying contact poison on his van’s trunk handle. When a would-be hijacker touches it, he quickly falls dead beside the van. Having a corpse lying next to the van with your automatic cannon in it is not a good way of remaining inconspicuous.

What happens to the other two hijackers? The movie-makers neglect to tell us. They just skip over that part, as if we won’t notice. The funny thing is, we mostly don’t notice.

Oh, and what was the point of Bruce making the acquaintance of the gay guy, and then killing him in his home? No point at all, unless you just had to see Bruce Willis deep kiss a man.

There are lots of things we don’t notice about this movie, until we do, and then we have to ask ourselves: is this really as good a movie as I thought it was?

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The Iron Lady movie poster“. . . stupefyingly naïve fascism apologia. . .”

It seems some people had definite ideas about how Margaret Thatcher should be portrayed. When this movie failed to support those ideas, they didn’t like it.

What I saw in the movie was a story about an important woman coming to the end of her life and making her compromises with that fact.

The movie promo says “Never Compromise,” and that may have been Thatcher’s stance as a politician, but, as we see, even an iron lady  must compromise with time and loss.

If we had had more time, I would have been happy to see more of how the young Thatcher moved her way up the ranks of power, and what her motives were for doing it.

As it was, I was fascinated with her long good-bye to her memories and to life as it had been.

I was sad to see her delusions of her dead husband Dennis go. Why not keep him around for the company? I suppose because sane people aren’t allowed to carry on conversations with people no one else can see. It is, indeed, an uncompromising view, but not one, I think, that offers the most happiness.

 

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Fright Night 2011 movie posterA fun movie. What could have made it better was more of Christopher Mintz-Plasse. He gets  taken out far too early. He was much too smart to be knocked out the way he was.

For that matter, Sandra Vergara, who played Ginger, Peter Vincent’s girlfriend/stage helper, should have survived, too, saucy minx that she was. Killing her was the easy thing to do. Better if she had lived. Ginger and Peter Vincent working together to slay vampires would have been hilarious. So much potential wasted in a knee-jerk genuflection to formulaic scripting.

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Groundhog Day movie posterI find Groundhog Day a movie difficult to improve, other than, perhaps, Bill Murray’s character Phil allowing the kid who falls out of the tree to hit the pavement every once in a while rather than always catching him.

What if Phil never got back to real-time? At first, Phil thought he was trapped in hell. By the end of the movie, he has made a very comfortable heaven for himself.

Although the world around him changes very little and always reverts to its original settings next day, Phil himself changes. When he has changed enough, he is allowed back into real-time. What seemed like hell was actually Purgatory, a place of redemption.

Would Phil want to come back to the real world? After all, in his Groundhog Day time-loop, he is immortal and always the same age. By the end of his time in the time-loop, he has become an amazing musician. What if after a few decades or centuries of trying, he had memorized all the books in the public library? That is to say, what if he had absorbed a superhuman amount of knowledge? Could he have become a doctor, a surgeon, a philosopher, an inventor?  What would he have changed into in that case?

William Blake wrote: “To see a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour.” One wonders if the environment Phil found himself in, small town Punxsutawney, or similar, would be enough to sustain a person’s mind and soul for decades or centuries. Can one encompass infinity within one’s figurative palm?

Would Phil have continued to grow and evolve and improve, or would he have settled into a comfortable routine, as he seems to have done, and become nothing more than a cog in the clockwork, a nicer cog than when he started, but ultimately just another cog?

The movie isn’t about exploring these questions. However, it does raise them, then leaves it to us to wonder. That is a sign of a great movie.

If this movie could be made better, it would be in pursuing some of these ideas. Forget about Phil’s love interest in Andie MacDowell’s Rita, as Phil eventual does. Who cares? There are more interesting things to think about.

From Wikipedia: “Roger Ebert acknowledged in his “Great Movies” essay that, like many viewers, he had initially underestimated the film’s many virtues and only came to truly appreciate it through repeated viewings.”

Stephen Tobolowsky from Groundhog DayStephen Tobolowsky: because we love this guy.

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Voldemort's final moments in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2I am a fan of Harry Potter. Not a slavish fan, but a fan who wants the best for the story, and, at times, one who wants better than the author, or the movie-makers, gave us.

In the final shootout between Voldemort and Harry (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2), it comes to a point where Voldemort’s wand turns against him. Realization dawns on Voldemort that he is doomed.

Voldemort stares disbelievingly at his wand and at the events occurring at the end of his hand, until he disintegrates into a swirl of ashy flakes.

This is how It Coulda Been Better:

At the moment that Voldemort realizes that he has lost, yet again, and that this time it means his death, the thing he fears most, it would have been perfect for him to have reached for Harry with his eyes, made contact with the single human being in the entire world he has any sort of intimate association with, and have whispered: “Harry. . . .”

As if to say, in disbelief and regret, “Harry, I’m dying.”

It would have been particularly poignant to have him turn to Harry in his final moment for undeserved sympathy.

And, it would have given a much needed human nuance to an otherwise single dimensioned villain.

This isn’t about trying to rehabilitate Voldemort into a character worthy of our pity. He doesn’t deserve such merciful considerations. But playing Voldemort’s final moment this way would have demonstrated to us that even in the worst of characters we share a common bond: the regret for our own deaths.

In the end, the monster was human, after all.

Voldemort’s reaching out to his mortal enemy with his final breath, that coulda been the perfect ending of an epic villain.

I had to tell you about it.

So, I build ICBB partly for that purpose.

Davy Jones Falling Into Maelstrom Pirates Of The Caribbean At World's End

Don’t get that stuff in your mouth! It’s bad for you!

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