It’s been a couple months since the year ended and I’ve finally caught up with most of my movie-watching. Save for a few Oscar-bait films here and there, I’ve pretty much watched all the major buzz films. And I’m happy to report that this year’s list isn’t swimming in sequels like previous lists. So what made my favorite film picks? Here’s my top “five” along with a few honorary mentions.
There’s not much left to say about “Gravity” that people haven’t already said, so I’m just going to pitch my sequel idea: “Gravity 2: The Quest for Clooney”. It’s like the first movie, but backwards. Sandra Bullock needs to go back into space to rescue George Clooney, but her rocket explodes mid-flight and she has to parachute down onto a passing plane. But the plane explodes, so she has to hop onto a passing balloon. But the balloon explodes, so she has tie a bunch of eagles together. The whole movie is just her in the sky breaking all our nice sky things.
4. Thor: The Dark World + Star Trek Into Darkness
I was trying to decided which of these I liked better, and then realized they’re basically the same movie. Both are fan-service-packed sequels to films I’ve previously favorited, both are packed with goofy sidekicks, both involve flying through space, both involve sticking the villain in a prison cell for a short time before needing to let him out, and both involve a spaceship wrecking a city shortly following an inevitable betrayal. Basically, this is the “Save the Cat” category.
LET IT GO, LET IT GOOOOO, FLIP THE TABLE AND SCREW YOU ALLLLLLLLL, I DON’T CARE IF I HEAR THIS NINE TIMES A DAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYY, PUT THE SONG ON LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOP – Hakuna Matata, biznitches! I still can’t figure out how it took Disney two decades to write a soundtrack this good. Sure, “Hunchback” and “Goofy Movie” have their moments, but it’s like between now and “The Lion King”, nobody at Disney had any idea what qualified as a good musical. Even the deleted songs from “Frozen” are pretty dang good.
2. Pacific Rim
Once upon a time, Zack Snyder made a dismal, mean-spirited and unnecessarily dramatic Superman movie that made me ashamed to enjoy mass destruction in movies. Then Guillermo Del Toro came along and reminded me that destroying cities can still be fun. The movie’s not without its problems: the Russian and Chinese Jaegers deserved more screen-time, the story over-complicates itself, and there’s a full 40 minutes between giant robot fights that I’ve been skipping through on airplane flights. But in the end, it’s still a wonderful smash-up movie with a theme song I can wake up to.
1. This is the End + The World’s End
This was the year we got two great movies about drinking and the apocalypse. Both were loveable and surreal for very different reasons. One explored a real-world setting with the actors playing themselves in the middle of the Rapture, and the other was about a guy dragging his friends through a pub crawl while being attacked by aliens. No matter what the heroes were aiming for, I found myself equally invested in their attempts to escape the apocalypse while they came to terms with their insecurities. As a personal pick, I’d lean more towards “The World’s End” just because I like seeing Nick Frost playing the furious ass-kicker for a change.
Favorite Underdog: The Lone Ranger
In the vein of “John Carter”, Disney clearly spent way too much money on this 150-minute cowboy comedy based on a radio show without any solid marketing strategy. But that aside, it’s a good goofy romp with carnivorous rabbits, a magical tree-climbing horse, a mentally deranged Tonto, and all the LSD-inspired fun you can have with a western without resorting to giant spider robots.
Favorite Oscar Bait Film: Her
While I’m sure most people would love to have Scarlet Johansson seductively whispering in their ear all day, I think I’d rather have that video game Joaquin Phoenix plays where you just sit around yelling at that trash-talking alien.
Favorite “Almost Had It” Movie: A Haunted House
This movie was actually way better whenever it wasn’t trying to milk terrible jokes or be a parody of “Paranormal Activity”. If you just drop the ghost angle entirely, you’re left with a decent satire about a young couple moving in together and learning to put up with each other’s bed farts and PMS.
Best Movie in Theory: Sharknado
We live in a strange world where a movie about filling a tornado with sharks somehow falls disappointly short of being “so bad, it’s good”. Still, I feel we need to preserve the idea of this film for future generations, so that in 20-30 years, we finally get the tornado-filled-with-sharks movie we deserve.
With “Man of Steel” coming out this weekend, I’ve been revisiting the old Richard Donner-style Superman films and even rewatched “Returns”. I haven’t seen some of these in years, and often never in their entirety, so it’s been an interesting ride. It got even more interesting once Richard Lester started directing, but we’ll get to that shortly. For now, here’s my Superman review blog thingy.
Superman: The First Movie
This was one I hadn’t seen in one sitting, and I’m honestly hesitant to call it a superhero movie. Sure, it’s about a “super” person who has “super” powers and happens to be called “Super”-man, but the overall pacing and atmosphere has more in common with a dream or fairy tale. I’m not actually saying this is a bad thing. It’s a very good approach for the movie; it’s very similar to the book “Where the Wild Things Are”. You have a simple set-up that leads into an experience with no discernible goals, and then Superman travels back in time and it’s over. Otherwise, it’s just a super-guy performing super-acts of kindness, treating his girlfriend nicely, and not hitting people. The end result is a very positive and charming movie, which could double as an orientation video in case one of us ever gets super-powers. But with all the Batman lovers out there, you just know our first superhero is going to be some guy who hides in the shadows and punches people.
Superman II: The One with Zod
Unlike the first movie, this one actually has the comic book/superhero vibe to it. Superman’s got a character arc, he’s got villains to punch, and buildings to punch them into. This is probably why fans regarded this as the best in the series. This time around, Superman’s showing us that he can do more than move our furniture. I loved this one when I was younger (partly because we got it from a pawn shop, and the previous owner had taped over some of it with lesbian porn), but when I watch them in order, it suddenly feels like a step back from the first one. Maybe that was because Richard Lester took over Richard Donner’s directing job at some point and invented several stupid powers for Superman to use. Or maybe it’s because Superman is suddenly a lot more violent. It especially bothered me how after defeating Zod and his generals, his first order of business was going back to a diner and killing a trucker. I’d argue that Superman works best as a non-violent superhero, but then there’s programs like “Justice League” that have to go and prove me wrong.
Superman III: The One with Richard Pryor
I actually don’t mind Richard Pryor in this movie. I don’t know his work outside the film, so he’s just a typical comic relief to me. And on the whole, the film could have been great with a different director. You’ve got Superman fighting the internet, a dark version of himself, and he gets to nail the bad guy’s girlfriend (and possibly his future mom if you’re familiar with “Smallville”.) The main drawback to the film is how completely retarded it is. It might have made more sense if Mxyzptlk were the villain. If that were the case, you could explain away all the weird slapstick and sight gags. Instead we get a Lex Luthor knock-off for a bad guy. Why a knock-off instead of actually Luthor? I don’t know. Meh, just watch it for scene where Superman literally beats himself up.
Superman IV: The One with The Quest for Peace and Throwing Nukes into the Sun and Solar Fetuses and Superman’s Fix-The-Great-Wall-Of-China Vision
Five words: Go home, Superman; you’re drunk.
Several years later, Bryan Singer decides to continue Richard Donner’s legacy. The verdict? Ehhhh, on the whole, it’s a watchable movie. Superman’s back to being the boy scout and a good role model… unless you count the whole illegitimate father thing. Otherwise, they put more care into letting Superman battle physics rather than battle people. Most of the time. The plane sequence is a great example of how Superman can run into problems without dumbing down his character. But then you have that weird bit where he’s throwing the kryptonite island and… doesn’t that go against the whole point of kryptonite? This movie is very vague on how kryptonite even affects him. Is it an allergy? Is it psychosomatic? Is it poisonous? And why does Lex think anybody would want to buy land on an unstable, jagged piece of radioactive rock? Otherwise, the movie is more of a love letter to Richard Donner than it is to Superman.
And that’s that. The last film acted like a closing chapter for the Richard Donner series, so we’ll have to see where Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel” takes us. In the meantime, this is me, signing out and wishing I had some clever closing catchphrase I could put at the end of my reviews.
UPDATE: Man of Steel
My brain hurts when I try to write about this movie, so I’m just going to liken it to “9/11 meets Jackass” and leave a flaming bag of poop on Zack Snyder’s doorstep.
Here we go again. Another year, another bunch of movies. Oddly enough, most of my favorite films this year all came out between now and the last batch of reviews. So I’ll just skip the regular reviews and jump straight into my year’s top favorites.
Honorable Nods: “Rise of the Guardians” (Russian Santa!), “Ted”, “21 Jump Street”, and “Boats vs. Aliens”
5. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
I’m still miffed about one book becoming a trilogy, but I’ll let it slide for now. Part one of “The Hobbit”, in spite of the padding, was still thoroughly entertaining and had one amazing scene after another. The dwarf choreography alone looked amazing during the comedy and action sequences. “Hey! Let’s have thirteen dwarves and a wizard dangle from a swinging platform while battling goblins and still make it look logical!” I’m impressed that they even managed to work in a couple songs from the book without turning it into a musical. And the “Riddles in the Dark” segment boasts one of Andy Serkis’ best performances as Gollum. And did I mention Martin Freeman is an awesome Bilbo? Because he is.
What throws me for a loop is all the new content. Apparently they’re combining 3-4 books together to formulate a new side-story for the trilogy, but it does wreak havoc on my knowledge of the book itself. I spent forever wondering “aren’t they supposed to be at the trolls by now?” while some weird dude with a rabbit bob-sled played nurse-maid to some sick hedgehogs. Don’t get me wrong – I do enjoy those scenes, but they’re aren’t integrated seamlessly. You can see the stitches for whenever creative liberties are taken. But that criticism aside, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is still a very enjoyable film, and the beards alone are worth the price of a ticket. This should have been a Movember release.
4. Resident Evil: Retribution
When asked which celebrity I most have a crush on, my top pick is always a tie between Mila Jovovich and Anne Hathaway. Then I decide that the tie can only be broken if both ladies come my place and wrestle in Jell-O for my affections. Then I put my money on Mila because she’s already survived five zombie movies without the help of Batman. Kicking Anne Hathaway’s ass would be a cake-walk for her. So Mila wins.
Of course, when Jell-O wrestling is a thing, everyone wins.
My celebrity crushes aside, god, I love this movie. I love how over-the-top and ridiculous these “Resident Evil” movies are getting. In the first movie, it was just a zombie outbreak that they were trying to contain. Now we have infected scientists unleashing giant nail-head hammer-monsters into simulations to study the commercial aspects of a super-virus that has already destroyed the planet. The scientists even dressed up their zombies as Russian communists! Russian communist zombies! Also, Mila Jovovich surfs a car down an escalator! And Michelle Rodriguez is alive again and again! And why would scientists be trying to sell a virus when they’d make a lot more money selling Mila Jovovich clones? I’d buy one! Hell, I’d buy six! Umbrella Corporation is marketing to the wrong target audience! This movie doesn’t make sense, yet I want a sequel! Right now!
3. Wreck-It Ralph
So, fun fact: this movie does not feature Sonic the Hedgehog as a main character, nor is he in the film for more than ten seconds. Another fun fact: over half the film takes place in a candy video game, with little to no game-jumping happening. Accept that Disney’s marketing team has exaggerated the truth like crazy just to get the film this far, and you otherwise have the best video game movie since “Scott Pilgrim”.
For what it is, “Ralph” is just great to watch. The variety of characters, cameos, and set designs look amazing, and story’s just what you expect: fun, clever, and family-friendly. The cameos and in-jokes work well too, and I would’ve liked to see more. In fact, my biggest criticism is that the core cast of characters is too minimal. I see the potential here for a “Toy Story”-sized supporting cast where Zangief and Q*bert should be right there in Sugar Rush helping Ralph and his friends. But alas, cameos will have to do for now. At least we finally have a Disney movie where Pac-Man can be seen chomping down a line of martinis.
2. The Avengers’ Cabin in the Woods
The short version: it’s been a good year for Joss Whedon fans.
The longer version: I happen to like both of these movies for the same reasons. They take well-known subject matter and flip it on its side. They show us a new take on something we’ve been watching for years. “Cabin in the Woods” is basically “Evil Dead” meets “The Truman Show” as it reveals the truth behind every horror movie ever made. Then “Avengers” comes along and actually makes a comic book movie that completely lives up to comic book standards (how have other film-makers been failing this?) Best of all, both movies feature climatic battle sequences that combine so many different elements together in the most fist-pumping ways possible. “Cabin in the Woods” was basically the dark precursor to “The Avengers” as far as experiments in kick-assery go.
I’m so glad I caught this over the holidays. Laika (aka “like Pixar, but with Stop-Motion”) has had a great streak with their films. I liked “Corpse Bride” and loved “Coraline”, but I feel this one is their best effort. A young boy who can speak to the dead has to save the town after a witch’s curse raises the dead. Sounds like a fun Halloween flick, but what sold me on the film was everything else. It’s just a damn good movie. Okay, the animation – this stuff is all stop-motion and yet it looks on-par with most CG efforts. Even the character design looks great. Just check out the enormous ass on Norman’s sister – that is an epic ass. They’ve created a Reverse-Jessica Rabbit. The performances are great. Each character is a delight to watch for their own personality and quirks. This is that expanded supporting cast I was talking about for “Wreck-It Ralph”. “ParaNorman” got it right.
And on the whole, I really love what they did with the story. They take some chances, they play with the genre, and they add some unique twists to it. Do they defeat the witch? Does Norman stand up to the bully? Does the boy get the girl? The story is good at pulling surprises. The movie can be very funny when it wants to be, but it can also be deep and sincere when it needs to. On the whole, if you were to take the best of “The Sixth Sense” and cook it up with the best of “The Goonies”, “Evil Dead”, and “Casper”, you’d probably discover a recipe for “ParaNorman”.
The Frankenstein films have always been an overlooked part of my childhood. I’d remember catching glimpses of them on television or snippets in other media, but until recently, it hadn’t occurred to me to actually watch any of them. For its time, Universal pictures put out monster movies at the same alarming rate we see superhero movies now. And much like today, they even got into the trend of performing cross-overs in their “monster rally” films (just the like “The Avengers”, but with more strangling). So for October, I’ve chosen to review ye olde Frankenstein movies. There have been dozens of them, so I’ll only cover the more well-known ones from Universal Pictures.
This is the one we’re familiar with to some extent. Black and white, Igor, lightning, castle, villagers with torches + Boris Karloff = “It’s alive!” Almost every part of this movie is scattered throughout pop culture, and if you’ve ever seen Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein”, it’s really not too different (just replace all the comedy with strangling.) As far as the films go, it’s really the most “essential” of the bunch and you can easily ignore its sequels if you’re refreshing yourself on classic movies. Although the sequel did hold some surprises.
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
At this point, I was ready to accept that the rest of the films were going to be bad knock-offs from this point on, but “Bride of Frankenstein” is one of those rare “better than the original” sequels. Naturally, the monster survives the first movie, so the second one sees him going on a soul-searching journey as he tries to figure out where he belongs in this world. I rather like this one because it reveals the monster as human, and that we ourselves create the monster by treating him like one. You can only push a nice guy so far before he starts strangling again. This movie also shares a lot of common elements with the original novel, so it’s a good supplement to the first film.
Son of Frankenstein (1939)
This is a good time to bring up the monster’s name since this is the first film that acknowledges it: the monster’s name IS Frankenstein. We’ve all heard ourselves correct each other that Frankenstein is the doctor’s name, but guess what? The doctor’s name is also VICTOR. Frankenstein is a surname he got from his father, and the villagers in this third movie make the same association with the monster. So as of the third movie, the monster is technically Frankenstein. As far as the movie goes, somehow Victor’s son shows up and decided to carry on his father’s work and bring it back to life. Meanwhile, Igor starts being an evil mastermind. We don’t even see the monster until the end – and then it falls into molten sulfur. But he’ll be back.
The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)
This one was kind of amusing. The villagers get fed up with this crap and actually blow up the castle. But then Frankenstein crawls out of the dried-up sulfur pit, joins Igor and they go pester another town instead. Once again, Franky’s treated like crap and starts strangling again. Meanwhile, Igor finds Victor’s relative Ludwig and convinces him to swap out the monster’s brain with someone else’s (there’s a lot of brain surgeons in this family.) Long story short: torches and pitchforks.
Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man (1943)
That last one ended all continuity with the films. Here, the monster rallies began, and what a disappointment they were. If I were a kid in the forties, I’d be psyched to see Frankenstein battle the Wolf Man. And yet these two titans never meet until the very last minute of the movie – and then they both die. The rest was all villagers with pitchforks complaining about how mad scientists (or men with werewolf curses) shouldn’t bring back the dead.
House of Frankenstein (1944)
“So here’s my pitch: Frankenstein, Dracula, AND the Wolf Man – all in the same movie! People are going to love it! But then we throw in a twist: none of these monsters ever meet or fight each other! We kill off Dracula halfway through the film, kill off the Wolf Man before Frankenstein wakes up, and then kill off Frankenstein! And none of it happens in Frankenstein’s house! Frankenstein doesn’t even have a house!”
Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein (1948)
Not gonna lie: turns out this is the best movie of the bunch. This continues the trend of the monster rallies where Frankenstein, Dracula, and Wolf Man come together, but unlike the last two films, people actually got their money’s worth with this one. Abbott and Costello play two baggage-clerks who find out that Dracula is smuggling a monster into the country and the Wolf Man is trying to stop him. The rest is pretty much the precursor to “Scooby Doo”. Monsters come, we scream, Abbott and Costello run, we laugh. And I repeat that: they run. In all these Frankenstein movies, nobody has ever run from the monster. He just slowly shambles up to people and starts strangling them. So in a franchise about brain surgery, the most intelligent people thus far have been these two guys. I’d even say this movie inspired “Van Helsing” since this is the first instance of Frankenstein working for Dracula and the Wolf Man being Dracula’s enemy. The monsters actually get into some decent fights this time around. Overall, I think it’s a great monster-comedy with a lot of good laughs.
Let’s end this off with the trailer for the film which stars “a couple of luscious females” (1940’s sexism never fails to amuse me.)
Snow White and the Huntsman What is it?: A modernized re-telling of the Snow White story for girls aged 14-15. Actually, it wouldn’t be half-bad if Snow White had been re-cast. A lot of things were very well done, but the skinny shadow of Kristin Stewart’s presence seems to loom over everything. It’s like she’s trapped in an episode of “Quantum Leap” where she’s an outsider trapped in a fairy tale and the only way to leap back home is to stand around until the end credits. Maybe she’s confusing staging for acting? Guess how this movie ends?: With Kristin Stewart failing to smile. I kid you not, the second-to-last shot in the movie is a close-up of her face as she slowly raises the corners of her mouth, quivers a little, and then gives up. I wish I was making this up. Actually, wait – no. I don’t. It hammers home the point so perfectly. Quantum Leap Movie?: Want!!!
Ted What is it?: It’s “Family Guy” as a live-action movie, cut-away gags and all. Pretty damn good too. I had reservations about Seth MacFarlane doing anything else ever after the fourth season of Family Guy (along with his innumerable spin-off shows), but I’ve somehow wound up seeing this movie in theaters twice already and enjoyed it just as much the second time. The scenes with the hooker poop never cease to make me laugh. Should Seth MacFarlane continue making movies?: Ha ha ha! Absolutely not! I saw what happens when you give this guy too much power. Bring him back for “Hellboy 3″, but otherwise, this is one of those “make him quit while he’s ahead” things. (Seriously! Do not let him sign any more contracts!)
The Dark Knight Rises Auuugggghhhhh…: I was not looking forward to reviewing this one. Over-Hyped?: A little. But it’s really the film’s vibe that didn’t hook me. It doesn’t feel like a Batman movie. Batman is very out-of-character and wastes way too much time in self-doubt. In all fairness, I was more invested in Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character Blake throughout the film. Here he is, a renegade cop running around trying to bring order to chaos in a city under siege. It’s like a “Die Hard” movie with a side-plot about Batman being sad. Blake on his own could have carried the whole movie without it needing the Batman brand. Where it loses me: It’s too much of an adult movie. There’s no fist-pump “Go Batman!” moments. No cinematic magic that really brings out the inner child. It’s more about politics, society and symbolism – you know, the kind of stuff children love being taken to the movies for. This is a rare instance where instead of raping my childhood, Hollywood is instead kicking my childhood out of the house and telling it to grow up and get a job.
Prometheus What is it?: Another movie that should have been GREAT. Visually, it looks amazing, and I was hooked on learning what all the universe’s big mysteries were from the way the film sets itself up. And then at the end… it’s like they switched over to the alternate ending. In regards to the ending: I’d like to see a sci-fi movie like this where they talk to the alien, and then the alien talks back. The last twenty minutes of the film suddenly turn into “Cowboys and Aliens” where the stakes unnecessarily sky-rocket for the sake of having an explosive climax. This is sad, because everything before that point was engaging enough without resorting to a “save the world” scenario. It’s like “I Am Legend” all over again where the better ending is probably going to turn up on the Blu-Ray release.
The Amazing Spider-Man What is it?: It’s the same movie as the first. Only with a different cast, non-organic web-slingers, and a different villain. Totally worth rebooting the franchise for. Although I’m sure anyone unfamiliar with the comics will be left scratching their heads as to why Peter is now dating the blonde from the third movie instead of the redhead. Is it a dark, realistic reboot?: No. It isn’t. In fact, if anything, this movie shows us how right Sam Raimi’s version was to begin with. When they try to remove the cartoony moments, they only end up coming up with new cartoony moments. The hammy dialogue has been replaced with more hammy dialogue. They even remembered to bring back Emo Spider-Man from the third movie. The only thing they really force down our throats is the family drama, and you can imagine how well that goes. So if it’s the same, you like it then?: Nope. I don’t think anybody in the production did. Just looking at the actors perform, you can tell the kid playing Spidey keeps trying to push Tobey Maguire out of his mind. The whole cast looks to be carrying that same burden. They know it’s too soon for a reboot, yet here they are pretending the corpse isn’t still warm. And ultimately, this reboot adds nothing to the franchise. We’re back to square one until the next reboot.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel What is it?: Old British people in India! Hijinks ahoy! Independent dramatic comedy! Professor McGonagall as an old racist lady! Hurray! This isn’t your normal kind of movie…: It is when I’m trying to impress a girl. With big boobies. Who only watches independent movies. And spends more time tweeting than looking me in the eye when we’re chatting over dinner. Needless to say, I was unimpressed. With the movie?: What? – No! The movie was great. A feel-good film and so on. But yeah, I think I’m going to make it a point not to date anyone who refuses to see “The Avengers”.
So I gave the rental system on my PS3 a test-run and this was my first film digitally rented. It took about four hours to download, meaning I couldn’t even stream it as I watched, so I’ll have to plan ahead next time I want to rent anything. But it’s actually a decent action-adventure. I recommend it as a some good pulp sci-fi. They’re definitely trying to bank on Avatar with it, so take that with a grain of salt.
The Hunger Games
My second digital rental! Pretty much “Battle Royale” meets “The Running Man” with a light dash of “Twilight”. It’s actually really good. “Twilight” is so much better when it’s about televising young children slaughtering each other.
I’ve had this kicking around on the back-burner for a while. See, in the last couple months of developing SQInc, I felt oddly compelled to put on really bad movies as background noise – and this led to me watching every single one of Disney’s straight-to-video sequels out of morbid curiosity. I mean, after “Return of Jafar”, how much worse could they get?
As it turns out, the Nostalgia Chick from TGWTG.com had the same idea and ended up releasing two videos detailing the best and worst out of the movies at the same time I was writing this. Basically, her lists and my lists were almost 100% identical, so I kicked this article aside until I could retool it. So now instead of a best/worst list, I decided to just pick apart the five movies that defied the most logic.
The Fox and the Hound 2 What is it?: Okay, so I might rip off this one from NChick’s “worst” list, but the strangeness of it is bewildering. Apparently, the story of Todd and Copper (a fox and a hound who grew up best friends and raised to be mortal enemies) actually had a deleted scene where Copper runs away from home to become a famous country singer. Todd’s his manager, Copper gets high on fame – becomes a jerk, of course – and then there’s that whole “friendship” theme that comes back to bite him in the ass. Baffling Because…?: Are you kidding? Clearly, someone thought “The Fox and the Hound” wasn’t “Hannah Montana” enough. And if that’s the case, I don’t think “Hannah Montana” is “Fox and the Hound” enough yet. Not until they make a sequel where Hannah chases her best friends around with a shotgun.
Atlantis 2: Milo’s Return What is it?: This is one of those sequels where instead of writing one plot, they just staple three episodes of a failed TV series together (they did the same thing for “Cinderella 2″ and “Tarzan and Jane”.) In three completely separate stories, Milo and his friends go defeat a Kraken, travel to the desert and fight dust coyotes, and then, in the last twenty minutes, travel to Asgard and battle the Nordic gods in the epic battle of Ragnarok. Baffling Because…?: Let me repeat that last one: Disney takes on Ragnarok. The fabled Death of the Gods, End of the World scenario. Now hear me out, because that not only ties into the mythology set by the first Atlantis movie, but it already sounds like a plot for the most epic, bad-ass sequel Disney could have ever made for anything. This begs me to ask: why wasn’t the whole movie about THAT? Why was the best story idea mashed into the last twenty minutes of a bargain bin movie? I don’t know about anyone else, but I want a remake. I would watch the crap out of a theatrical “Atlantis 2: Ragnarok Boogaloo”.
Mulan II What is it?: Mulan is hired to escort three princesses to a neighboring country so they be wed to three princes and prevent a war. Along the way, the princesses fall in love with Mulan’s sidekicks, and Mulan teaches everybody a lesson about the evils of arranged marriage. Baffling Because…?: …I don’t think Disney is qualified to preach about arranged political marriages in times of war. That makes about as much sense as “Twilight” preaching about abortion. In fact, this is one movie where “follow your heart” can literally get people killed. And it almost does. People are constantly yelling at Mulan to just let the “arranged marriage” thing slide because thousands of lives are at stake. But here’s what gets me: the moral of the story is that Mulan is wrong. When she finally convinces the princesses to give up the arranged marriage, guess what happens? WAR BREAKS OUT. And how do they resolve it?: Mushu impersonates the Great Dragon and scares the crap out of China’s leaders until they agree to peace. That’s right: they had to pull a “Watchmen” just to fix Mulan’s mistake.
The Lion King 1 1/2 What is it?: It’s “The Lion King” from Timon and Pumbaa’s point-of-view, revealing to us how they were actually present in every scene of the first movie. Baffling Because…?: It’s very surreal watching Disney doing a parody of its own movie. This is not like “Enchanted” where they’re spoofing a formula. Here’s a movie where Elton John’s “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” gets remixed with the Blue Brothers theme song, and every sincere moment from the original “Lion King” is caused by Pumbaa farting. Not to mention the chronology is all over the place. It shows us Simba being born, and then the Wildebeest Stampede happens the next day. Then Simba spends months in the desert before Timon and Pumbaa find him.
“Cinderella 2: Dreams Come True” AND “Cinderella 3: A Twist in Time” Why two at once?: It’s just the Cinderella thing, you know? The movie’s over 60 years old and it defined “Happily Ever After” – was anybody EVER asking for a sequel, let alone two? Not to mention one of them involves time travel. Before watching these, I made damn sure to watch at least 2 minutes of “Finding Nemo” to put myself in a good mood because I knew I was going to need it. In the end, I couldn’t summarize the logic behind either of these movies. They’re just so completely random. So I’m just going to post my notes and let you guess what thing I found most baffling about them:
So “Cinderella 2″ is one of those “three episodes of a failed TV series stapled together” movies…
The first 20 minutes of the movie is a vignette about how hard it is for Cinderella to be a princess. Riveting. Also, the talking mice should not pronounce “horse.” Especially when they want to ride one.
The next 20 minutes are about the time one of the mice gets turned into a human, hits on Cinderella, and then drives an elephant into a ferris wheel. I rather liked this story.
And the last twenty minutes involve Cinderella giving her stepsister a make-over. The mice try to pronounce “horse” some more.
“Cinderella 3″ opens on the Evil Stepmother tearing open a hole in the space-time continuum with the fairy godmother’s wand and erasing “Cinderella 2″ from existence.
So now Cinderella is a time-traveler stuck in 1955 (1855?) and the only way she can get back to the future is if she can get the Prince to kiss her at the ball.
It contains Cinderella clones, the Pumpkin Coach ride from Hell, and tons of self-referential humor. This movie actually has a lot more in common with a Doctor Who episode. It’s surprisingly watchable.
But the thing that baffles me most…: They were making a Cinderella TV series?!
Honorable Mention: The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning Baffling Because: Ariel’s mom looks just like Ariel. This means that if you’re watching this movie with the sound off (or not paying attention) and don’t know who this woman is… then King Triton is going around dating his own daughter. I know he’s a pimp and all, but DUDE – the first couple minutes of this movie were freaking me out before I put one and one together.
Been really slacking on these, so here’s me trying to catch up.
One of the reasons I’ve been hesitant to write about movies is simply because I’m trying to land work in the film industry right now and I don’t want to come across as a critic. But upon digging through my past reviews, I found I normally don’t bash on movies anyway. I just like to pick them apart and see how they work. But I will be approaching these from a more positive light now.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Why it took me so long to get around to watching it: Because every time I looked up a review or film synopsis, all I saw was the word “rape” everywhere. I really didn’t want to see a movie about rape. Why I bothered watching it in spite of that: Because that catchy Led Zepplin remix kept coming on the radio. That marketing strategy REALLY works well for them. What it was really about: It turned out to be a murder mystery! It was pretty good. Had a few disturbing scenes in it, but the overall theme felt very “Shutter Island” meets “The Da Vinci Code”, minus the insane asylum and religious conspiracies. And I like the character of Lizbeth Salander. I’d watch a sequel.
Chronicle What it is?: Three teens get super-powers! One of them films everything! Stuff hits the fan! Akira happens! Akira?: Yeah, it pretty much turns into Akira at some point. It works very well for the film, actually, but it only makes me feel worse for the actual live-action Akira movie being developed. There’s going to be so many comparisons drawn between both stories, and in all fairness, “Chronicle” got finished first (not counting the actual finished Japanese anime, but American audiences won’t count that one). Personally, now I’m hoping the new Americanized Akira changes the whole story and becomes ultra-hip and happenin’. But it’s still good?: Oh, yes. The battle sequences are especially snazzy. To Akira’s credit, Chronicle doesn’t contain any amazing motorcycle chases. Maybe we’ll see what happens in the sequel, though.
21 Jump Street What is it?: A perfect 1:1 remake of the 80’s cop-drama. Really?: Nah. The guys who made “Clone High” and “Cloudy with the Chance of Meatballs” decided to re-invent the cop-drama as an R-rated buddy comedy. Also, it’s already one of the year’s best films. Not lying here – I was laughing from beginning to end. I haven’t seen anything this funny since “Anchorman”. What’s “Clone High”?: Gah, really? Seriously – go watch it. It’s the best cartoon ever made. Watching “Jump Street”, I could spot all the typical “Clone High” trademarks in every other scene. I’m so happy they even managed to work in the double-docks (re-created as double-benches for this movie) and cram their multi-color disco ball in here. I love how these movies are like scavenger hunts for the fans. Phil Lord and Chris Miller are geniuses.
Wrath of the Titans Not gonna lie here: I really dug this movie. Like, ten times more than the original. The sets were huge, the monsters were huge, the action was huge – some parts felt like a “God of War” movie come to life. I especially like how they handled places like the labyrinth and Tartarus. There was definitely more of a Greek myth vibe to this one than the last movie. God of War?: Yup. I actually like the trend of Hollywood making their own video game-inspired movies instead of licensing and potentially ruining established game franchises. Let the game industry have their “God of War”, and let the film industry have their “Titans” movies. Just like how “Act of Valor” is the film knock-off of “Call of Duty”. Even the “Prometheus” trailer looks like “Mass Effect” to some extent. It’s cost-efficient in terms of rights, it’s non-alienating, and Hollywood doesn’t have to worry about rabid fans when they do it this way. That being said, I still want to see a Brutal Legend movie. “But who will we cast as Jack Black’s character?” Pft. Taylor Lautner – d’uh.
Cabin in the Woods What is it?: It’s “Evil Dead” meets “The Truman Show”. That description alone should have made this the highest-grossing film of all time, but clearly, some people need to loosen up and let more awesomeness into their lives. So horny teens getting slashed?: And more so. In the last half-hour of the movie, the story ramps up into some of the most epic scenes ever put into a horror film (or horror-comedy? I’m not sure how to classify a horror movie that scares me, makes me laugh, and then totally blows me away with one of the greatest finales I’ve ever seen.) You’re just another Joss Whedon fan!: Uh-huh. Yeah. There’s good reason. Joss’ stories always take established cliches and pull twists on them at the best of times. But, yeah – Whedon fans will have to dig this, if not for the whole “try and spot the cameo actor from one of his shows” game. To be fair, I have a huge crush on Amy Acker, and I approve of anything that puts her on the big-screen. Just look at her adorable face. Now imagine that beautiful Texan visage, but two stories high. This is why I like going to theaters.
The Avengers AWESOME MOVIE!: WHOOOOOO!!!! How many times do you see it?: Only twice. ONLY TWICE?!: I know. I’m horrible. Dr. Horrible?: ha ha. In all seriousness: To follow up from above, again, I am STOKED that I not only saw two Joss Whedon movies at the theater in a row, but that the second one is also the best movie I’ve seen since Jurassic Park, and is on route to toppling James Cameron’s Kitty-Smurf Pocahontas. What have fans been yelling all these years? “BRING BACK FIREFLY!” No, the other thing. “GIVE JOSS WHEDON A REAL BUDGET.” This is what he does with it. We knew it years before. He’s never skimped on the action sequences, even when he had no budget to work with. And now we’ve got “The Avengers”, a movie that shows us what “Transformers 3″ would have been like in the hands of a competent director. I can’t even name a favorite part – every scene just hooks me. The humor is great, the back-and-forth dialogue is great, the story arcs are great, the performances are great, the action is AMAZING. And it could even double as a “Hawkeye” movie considering his character arc is already more gripping than most superheros get in a trilogy. In fact, it’s great just to see each character sit and chat with each other. The film explores every character’s relationship with the other characters, and then shows us what happens when you mix and match them against different opponents or try out different combinations of their powers. Always something going on! Joss Whedon Fan Gushing Alert!: This movie contains every reason that Joss Whedon fans are so rabid. Every time I spotted a trademark, the audience would follow-up with laughter or applause. And the way the characters all mingle together is very much like the Scooby Gang from “Buffy”. In fact, the whole movie’s pretty much a two and a half hour Buffy episode on steroids. Hawkeye’s Xander, Thor’s Buffy, Iron Man’s Spike, Loki’s Angelus, Fury’s Giles, Captain America’s Riley (likewise, he really does get the short straw in this movie), Black Widow’s Anya – maybe Tara, and Hulk’s Willow. I’d pick Oz for Hulk, but I think Willow’s transformations in seasons 6 and 7 are a little more hardcore and respectively appropriate to the transformations in this movie. That would also include her persona in the Season 8 comics. Oz would be more of an Edward Norton Hulk – er, well, Season 4/Episode 6 Oz, that is. Although Bruce Banner himself could easily be a Xander. Either way – Willow’s alter ego is definitely more Hulk. “Bored now.” SMASH! Hulk?: KEEP MARK RUFFALO. I LIKE MARK RUFFALO. Look at him – audiences love the Hulk now! The Hulk isn’t some big scary monster – he’s an actual superhero now! All his best parts aren’t even in the trailer! Want more Hulk!
Boats vs. Aliens Is that a real movie?: Of course of it. It’s about a bunch of boats and they’re fighting aliens. I’m sure that’s Battleship: Based on the board game? Naaah. The board game was about people shooting plastic pegs at each other’s holes. This movie is about boats, and what happens when those boats meet aliens (spoiler: explosions happen.) And how is Boats vs. Aliens?: I really, really enjoyed it. I liked the parts with the boats. And the aliens were all like “we’re gonna shoot you! But maybe we’re not! We don’t know our motivation, but we do know we hate boats!” I think the aliens were good guys – I’m not sure. But I do know that boats are really awesome. Especially the battleship boats that come with AC/DC music. Also, the girl in this movie looks great in a bikini. *runs off to google her* Bah! What do you mean “boats vs. aliens” isn’t a movie?! Curse you, Google! *googles Amy Acker instead* For additional fun:Here’s every line of dialogue Rihanna says in the movie.
Here we are again! I didn’t have a lot of high hopes for movies this year as it opened with one underwhelming teaser trailer after another. It almost felt like 2011 would be the year of the bargain bin movie. But then summer rolled around and a lot of movies turned out surprisingly good. “Tintin” was amazing, “Goonies 2″ was sheer nostalgia, the fourth “Pirates” movie was watchable, “Captain America” was epic, “Fast Five” actually had a plot, “X-Men” was a quality reboot, “Holmes” easily had one of the best climatic scenes, “Potter” had a better ending than the book, “Transformers 3″ over-shot its own mark, and “Green Lantern” was… well… I liked “The Green Hornet”.
But now it comes time to narrow down the list. My top five picks of the year:
5. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
I’m putting this one here partly because I had the lowest expectations for this, but mainly because of Andy Serkis’ performance as Caesar. Most movies I can sit and listen to, but much like Wall-E, this film has a performance that needs to be seen to appreciate. The eyes have it, the face has it – even the ape’s acrobatics deliver more feeling than a hundred Old Yellers getting shot. The bonus features on the Blu-Ray are especially awesome since they let you see Andy Serkis perform without the CGI monkey make-up on – and it’s no less impressive.
I’d also like to throw out a nod to this film for that “Damn Dirty Ape” scene. One second, the whole audience is laughing at the reference to the original film, the next second, everyone’s gone silent and there’s confused whispers going on everywhere. Two opposite audience reactions in five seconds – I don’t think that’s been done this effectively since “Jaws”.
4. Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol
I expected something awesome from Brad Bird, and he did deliver – but I think this is one of those movies that’s surprisingly more… “feel-good” for me than I would expect from a “Mission: Impossible” movie. I mentioned before how it’s no longer “The Tom Cruise Show” and how the story really is about the team. I like seeing a spy flick where everybody just does their job. There’s no secret agendas among them, no love triangles to screw things up – it’s really just them figuring out how to complete a mission where their gadgets keep breaking and their intel is wrong.
The story even has me invested in what’s an otherwise run-of-the-mill “someone’s going to set off a nuke” plot. In any other movie *cough*X-Men*cough* I would be begging for the bomb to go off – but this movie does a very good job getting me to root for the heroes. The film is very well-balanced and finds new ways of going around all the stuff that normally annoys me about spy movies – as does this following film…
3. Cars 2
I’ll continue to defend my “Cars 2″ bunker on the grounds that after multiple viewings, it still doesn’t cease to amaze me. The sets, the timing, the details, the dialogue, the cinematography, the story, the animation, the action, the voice performances – compared to all the other animated films this year, this one looks, feels, and sounds more polished than the others. And after having seen Larry the Cable Guy perform live last year, I have all the more respect for his performance as Mater who covers more range as a tow truck than anything he’s done on stage.
So why all the bad buzz? Far be it for me to say. This movie was getting negative reviews before anyone even saw it, and criticism is infectious. Even by Pixar standards, this isn’t their “worst” film. In fact, I still enjoy it far more than “Toy Story 3″. This movie is exactly what I look for in a sequel – to be able to stand on its own legs and still take things to the next level. Maybe that was just too much awesome for people to handle? Seeing the Cars universe go from a small-town romp into a globe-trotting adventure is the kind of surreal ambition I like watching in films. In fact, I want to see them top this level of craziness. If there’s a “Cars 3″, I want to see these characters travel through time and space with a Delorean voiced by Christopher Lloyd. Otherwise, I consider this no-less of “Pixar at its finest” than any of their other films.
After seeing “Captain America”, I right then and there decided that was going to be my top pick for the year. And then I watched it again later and it was still good. And it was still good after that. And that might be where it lost me – it just didn’t get better in the viewings to follow. “Thor” on the other hand… has actually been getting better on second viewings. Whatever I considered to be bad the first time I watched it eventually settled into a nice mediocre groove that I could chill to. Even the love story was just Thor and Natalie Portman going “Nudge Nudge Wink Wink” at each other.
Film director Howard Hawks once defined a good movie as something with “three great scenes, no bad ones” and Thor’s pretty much the best example of that for me. No scene in this movie pisses me off, and I always remember three great scenes from the movie whenever someone brings it up. There’s the battle against the ice giants, that funny moment with the coffee cup, and personally, I LOVE watching the closing credits where we’re flying through space and seeing the universe take on the shape of the Nordic tree of life. Seeing that part in 3D felt like a Turbo-Ride from the 90’s. Overall, this is a splendidly mediocre movie.
1. The Muppets
For me, almost every scene in this movie is golden. For a film where the main characters aren’t even the original Muppets, this is already the best Muppet movie since “The Great Muppet Caper.” Walter’s a fantastic character, and Jason Segel really manages to bring back the old Muppet charm without making it seem dated. And this is one of those “theatrical experience” movies where you need to be surrounded by people to really feel the love. When the Muppets put on their show, the movie creates a connection that you’re sitting in the Muppet Theater laughing with the same audience who’s laughing on-screen.
And then there’s the soundtrack: the movie’s music is fantastic. I mean, I’ve seen a lot of attempted musicals over the years and it’s really hard to nail an original AND memorable song. The movie’s opener “Life’s a Happy Song” is probably the best opening number since the one from “Beauty and Beast”, and “Man or Muppet” just gets better with each listen. There’s a certain quality about the songs which reminds me of Joss Whedon musicals, where comedy and clever metaphors go hand-in-hand. And even the non-original songs are excellent – a Barbershop version of “Smells like Teen Spirit”? Chickens singing Cee-Lo Green? And more “Rainbow Connection” fan-service for dessert? It’s a Swedish smorgasbord for the ears.
All in all, I can’t imagine why Jim Henson wouldn’t be proud. One of the most commonly explored themes in his universe has been making the most out of hard times, and this film continues that tradition. The Muppets sing and dance, but they don’t live the carefree Mickey Mouse lifestyle. They deal with depression, failure, stress – and yet they keep finding the strength to bounce back and fire Gonzo out of a cannon. “The Muppets” is a romp through my childhood, yet it’s cleverly built for the next generation. 20 years from now, today’s kids will fondly remember this movie and be taking their own kids to see “Muppets 2032: Unemployed Again” where the circle will begin anew.
Mission: Impossible 4 First Impressions: I’ve been looking forward to seeing this one ever since I heard that animation director Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille) would be directing. It’s a geek thing for me; I like seeing animators carry their skills over into different mediums (much like Tim Burton did years ago, and we know how that turned out.) The Actual Movie: Really good. There’s no question that this is already my favorite M:I movie. I like the story, I like the characters, I like the gadgets, I like the action… I REALLY like the team. This is one M:I movie where it isn’t all “The Tom Cruise Show.” In fact, this is the only movie in the franchise where I even remember who the team is. They all get their respective spotlights. One guy even goes through the motions of having to jump down a ventilation shaft for the first time. I thought that was a clever way of showing us what every movie spy probably goes through early in their career. There’s also a lot of a slowed-down and very tense sequences, especially in one scene near the beginning where two guys are trying to sneak up on a guard while hidden in plain sight. The Action: If I were still doing the Smashies, M:I-4 would get a good nod here. There’s some great stunts, and I like it when action sequences are properly staged like this. There’s no shakey-cam, all the beat changes are there, and unlike M:I-2, Tom Cruise actually looks like he’s in considerable pain after falling off a building. It’s a movie I’ll have to watch again to see if it still holds up well after the first good impression.
The Muppets MUPPETS!: Yes, Muppets. Where to start? Good movie?: Excellent movie. Normally, I’ve been growing to hate this recurring trend with using nostalgia to rope audiences in (please don’t mention my games) but The Muppets… let’s just say they hit me harder than “Toy Story 3″ hit other people. And that’s saying a lot since I was too young to remember watching the actual “Muppet Show.” They nail the humor, the songs are catchy, and the show at the end feels like I’m actually right there in the Muppets’ theater. I think this effect would be lost on video because to see the Muppets performing their theme song on the big-screen is a very surreal (almost religious) experience for me. And…: Leave this for now. I’ll sum this up in a later blog post.
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn Anticipation?: Yes, this was my most anticipated movie of the year. I grew up reading the Tintin books and watching the TV shows, so this was huge for me. And on top of that: Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, Andy Serkis, Steven Moffatt, and Edgar Wright were making it. Throw in Joss Whedon and Neil Patrick Harris and you’d have the ultimate dream team of awesomeness (I’d include Christopher Walken, but then the universe would probably implode.) The Turn-Out: Great movie. Definitely more “Indiana Jones” than the last Indiana Jones movie. There’s some solid action sequences, some great performances, and lots of humor. It all follows a Belgian reporter’s quest to uncover the story behind an ancient model ship and the people who’ll kill to get their hands on it. As a fan, I’m impressed to see at least four mostly unrelated books in the series all mixed in together to form a cohesive story. One Gripe: Call it me setting too high a standard for this movie, but in spite of how good it is… something keeps nagging at me: the one-take motorcycle chase. It’s the coolest part of the movie, yes, but it feels wrong to see it shot in one take. There’s so many things going on that to properly register the whole sequence, it needs to be cut and edited from different angles so that the comic timing works better. I had the same problem with another mo-cap movie – Zemeckis’ “A Christmas Carol” – where all the one-take scenes feel like I’m on a Turbo Ride. Besides, I think doing action sequences in one take has long since worn out its novelty since video games have been doing it for years (re: Uncharted, God of War, Call of Duty, etc.) Maybe that’s the style they were going for, or maybe I’m just getting old – but I still think some classic editing would have improved the most exciting part of the movie tenfold. One More Gripe: The opening credits needed this music.
Puss-in-Boots Bad kitty?: You will hear that SO many times in this movie. General Impressions: Actually, I like the idea of centering a movie around Puss-in-Boots. Much like Jack Sparrow, he’s a side-character who can carry his own franchise. As usual, the animation is top-notch, and the cat jokes alone make this a perfect movie for any cat lover. Also, props to Dreamworks for creating a Shrek spin-off that doesn’t contain any pop culture jokes whatsoever (not including the Lady Gaga song during the credits.) What didn’t click with me: I don’t think this needed to be a fairy tale mash-up. Even if it takes place in Shrek’s universe, this movie could have held its own ground by using original characters and settings more appropriate to Puss’ story. It didn’t need Jack & Jill, it didn’t need the beanstalk, it didn’t need the golden goose, and it especially didn’t need Humpty-Dumpty who seems to take up more screen-time than the title character. The cat stuff alone was hilarious – so what’s wrong with simply making a movie about swashbuckling cats?
Immortals Main Impression: This is not a good date movie. Why not?: It’s 300 meets “torture porn.” With a lot of gory blood-splatter thrown in. Don’t even bring your grandmother to this. Good movie otherwise?: Not really, no. If you know anything about mythology, it gets everything wrong. If you know anything about screen-writing, it gets everything wrong. But if you enjoy movies that have the occasional “cool shot” that tries to make up for the long boring talking and torture parts, then this movie gets everything right. A Helpful Suggestion: Can somebody in Hollywood please play “God of War” already? That game set the standard for how awesome and epic the Greek Gods and Titans can be. In “God of War,” the Titans are mountain-sized cosmos-controlling colossi. In “Immortals,” they’re just a bunch of dumb-ass zombies in a box. It’s sad when after all these recent Greek myth movies, Disney’s “Hercules” is still the closest we have to an actual “God of War” movie.
The Smurfs Why did you watch this?!: This movie keeps coming on Veetle at school, and while I do have the option to switch it off and watch something else, part of me felt compelled to just see the disaster for myself. So on a day when I was alone in the lab, I checked it out so no one would see me watching it. Worst movie ever?: Ehhhh… not really, no. People have been scratching their eyes out over this movie, but as far as badness goes, it’s really no more average than the Chipmunk movies. Better than Garfield, that’s for sure. It has its moments. Some bad, some okay… I’ll admit, I laughed during most the cat scenes. Seriously – there’s a part where Gargamel sucks his cat up into a vacuum cleaner, and because they make the cat look photo-realistic, the scene becomes just a hundred times funnier. In fact, the cat and Gargamel are the only reasons to watch this movie. There’s one part where it’s implied that Neil Patrick Harris is on his way to beat Gargamel to death with a crowbar. We never see the beating, but the abstract suggestion alone is too awesome not to mention. Some concern: The Smurfs hole themselves up in an apartment and live with a pregnant woman… and then they run amuck, causing her to chase after them and clean up their messes. You know someone’s doing a Smurf movie wrong when I’m spending too much time worrying about the Smurfs causing a miscarriage.