Movie Review – Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders


When I was just a wee little lad, full of health and joy, I had a habit of watching the old 1960s Batman TV series. It was silly, and campy, and kind of hilarious, especially for a kid like me.

Of course, as I aged, the series came to be viewed as passe, and we had to make room for Tim Burton’s interesting, if unsatisfying, take on Batman. Things went from there. But I’ve always had  a fondness for the old series. And now we get what amounts to a new episode of it.

Yep, that’s Adam West, Burt Ward, and Julie Newmar back as Batman, Robin, and Catwoman in this fun little animated feature. It also features various other actors playing characters like the Commissioner, O’Hara, Aunt Harriet, Alfred, the Joker, the Riddler, and the Penguin.

The movie is full of lots of fun little sight gags, and more than a few swipes at the darker, more serious take on Batman that we’ve had over the last several decades. It’s really a fun trip down Nostalgia Street.

Now that said, the movie has its flaws. The last third or so really drags, and isn’t as interesting as the rest. It’s like someone created a premise that had a good 45 minutes in it, but stretched it to 75. Eh, it happens, but it’s a bit frustrating given how good the first part is.

Still, it’s worth checking out, and hopefully we’ll get more.

Movie Review – Rogue One


So the short and sweet here: much, much better than The Force Awakens, and easily the best of the bunch since Empire.

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Everyone involved in this movie faced a very difficult task: how do make interesting a story that everyone knows the ending to? We all know that the rebels got the Death Star plans and used them to find a weakness in the design that enabled them to blow it up.We know there’s a backstory there, but is it enough to base a whole movie on?

Well, it is if you do it right, and the people involved here certainly did.

The movie tells the story of a young girl, made effectively orphan when her father, who had a hand in the first designs of the Death Star, is captured by the Imperials and sent to finish the job. The girl eventually gets dragged into the fight against the Empire, meets up with several other people, and goes off to try and find her father.

It’s a pretty basic story, but it works well. It’s nice to have proper Imperial villains to sneer at once more, like Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin (even if the CGI on him isn’t quite there just yet), and it’s fun seeing old heroes, like Mon Mothma and Bail Organa. One gets a whole lot of other wonderful cameos, and little Easter eggs referring to the larger universe.

But at its heart, the movie is about our heroes and their efforts to stop the Death Star, and I have to say that the movie did a great job of making me actually care about all of them, even the droid, and what many people are speculating might be a gay couple.I felt genuinely invested in these characters in a way that I haven’t since the original trilogy.

The movie isn’t perfect. The CGI Tarkin probably should have only been used very sparingly, James Earl Jones sounds a bit “off” as Vader, and the music, except where it harkens back to the original score, was very forgettable. But otherwise, if this is a sign of things to come with the Star Wars universe, than I am very happy indeed. The “main” story may have gone off the rails since 1983, but at least the sub-stories can be great.

Movie Review – Ghostbusters


Saw the new movie today. I wasn’t very impressed. It was poorly written, to the extent that it was written at all, and while the leads were fairly engaging, nothing about it really popped, it was full of pointless cameos from basically every TV show that NBC airs, and it all felt like it was very much by-the-numbers.

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Numbers like 2 out of 5, for example.

But what I’d like to discuss today is something regarding the movie. Not the quality, but the casting.

I don’t care, honestly, that the leads were all female. Why should I care? It’s 2016. Who gives a fuck?

But I very much cared that the black woman was, in almost every way, shape, and form, just a stereotypical black female character. You know, the kind who will, at some point, say, “Oh, hell no!”

I mean, why? As I said, it’s 2016. Why couldn’t one of the white women play the street-wise, lower-class character, and the black woman be one of the scientists? Melissa McCarthy could have done well playing such a character.

I know, I know. We’re copying the beats from the original movie’s casting, etc. Well, fuck that noise. If you’re going to change-up the movie by casting all women in the lead roles, you can change the color of those women around as well.

This felt, overall, like a terrible missed opportunity.

And on a final note, this movie very much commits one of the greatest sins of any comedy: it isn’t funny. Avoid.

Movie Reviews – Absolutely Fabulous and Star Trek Beyond


Today I went to see two movies. They were very good, both of them, and I was very happy to see them. Let’s start with the first!

I loved Absolutely Fabulous back in the day when it first began to air. Of course I did; I’m not straight so I had to love it.

It’s hard to say why it appeals to me so much. I’m not actually gay, and find most of the gay lifestyle to be a little silly and twee. But Patsy and Eddie are just fantastic. I love everything about them.

And thankfully, what I love about them returns in this movie.

In the film, our ageing stars find themselves on in the run in the south of France after Eddie inadvertently knocks Kate Moss into the Thames. The usual levels of hilarity ensue, with Saffie, Saffie’s daughter, Lola, and Eddie’s mom winding up in the south of France as well.

There are plenty of wonderful celebrity cameos, and appearances by pretty much every character who has ever been on the series. If you’re a fan of the show, you’ll likely love this movie, and if you haven’t ever seen it before…hard to say. I liked it quite a bit, though.

As for the other movie…I liked the first Abrams Trek movie back a few years ago. It wasn’t great, but it was decent. Into Darkness was, however, deeply disappointing, so I went into this one with great trepidation.

Again, I was very pleased. It was surprisingly good; I liked it more than the other two movies, and liked it more than Ab Fab.

The set up is pretty basic. Kirk and company are on the far reaches of the Federation, visiting a truly impressive starbase called Yorktown. Seriously, the visuals on this are astoundingly good. I was quite pleased with the ambition on the screen, especially as I’ve been very disappointed in that sort of thing in many other sci-fi franchises.

Pretty soon the Enterprise is destroyed, the crew are separated on an alien planet, and a struggle for survival is on.

There’s almost nothing wrong with this movie, which is a pleasant surprise. All the characters have something to do, especially McCoy, which is fantastic given how neglected he’s been in the other movies.

The story flows nicely, and works in some wonderful tributes to the original Trek, a tribute to Nimoy and Yelchin, and, surprisingly, a lengthy tribute to, of all things, Enterprise. That last part really kind of pleased me, which means it’s been long enough for me to escape the pain of that series.

So, really, two excellent films, and I was pleased to watch them, and will happily recommend.

Some Thoughts on The Force Awakens


I said the basic thrust of this on Facebook, but I’m going to go into more spoilery depth here. This picture, though, generally sums up my opinion.

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SPOILERS from here on out.

So the first time I watched it, on release day, I came in expecting to be wowed. I wanted to be blown away, and to be so very impressed. I expected I wasn’t going to be, but I wanted to be.

I wasn’t.

The first screening, I give a B-. It was a good movie, but not a great movie. Decent, not bad, but merely ok. Neither The Phantom Menace nor Empire Stikes Back, but rather some very basic place right in the middle.

Upon the second viewing, I dropped the film down to a C. Frankly, I was bored. Repeat viewings did not do this movie any favors, though to be fair, even the first viewing felt like a repeat, since it was basically a warmed-over version of A New Hope.

There were plenty of things that I liked. I liked Rey quite a bit, and I was very pleased that the two main characters were played by a black man and a woman. I also liked BB-8 quite a bit more than I expected to, and the idea of the new Big Bad being a whiny emo brat worked far better than I had expected, too.

But really, that’s about it. The story is so much like the first movie that it isn’t even funny, and I’m confused about some of the choices they made with it. Ok, give Rey a little quest and stuff, but why did she have to be on yet another desert planet? And why not, if you’re already going to do that, just make that planet Tatooine? That would have made basically zero sense, but doing it this way in the first place makes so little sense that it wouldn’t have hurt the credibility any.

I was also very disappointed in the ultimate fate of one of the characters who, yes, died for all the right reasons, but had clearly never seen a movie or a TV show, or read a book, since that death was so telegraphed, it might as well have been delivered by Western Union.

I was further disappointed in the fact that the movie went an extra several minutes past where it should have ended. There was a very clear end point to the movie (it was staged exactly like the final scenes in all the other films), and yet they decided to continue past that point to something that should have been a post-credits sequence. Yes, this series has never done that before, but I would have accepted it here.

JJ Abrams is, at his most basic, a decent director. Nothing he’s ever made has been truly amazing, though little of it has been bad (Star Trek Into Darkness being a notable exception). I’m frankly not sure why he doesn’t get more flack from movie fans, because he’s really not all that great, and he showed that here. He remade the first Star Wars movie, made it a bit “eh”, showed us nothing that was really new or amazing, and really wasted an opportunity to make a game-changer of a film. You know, like what George Lucas did in 1977.

This isn’t a bad movie at all, but it wasn’t great. I don’t regret seeing it, and I’m looking forward to the next one, but…I really wanted more and I just didn’t get it.

Movie Review – Mad Max: Fury Road


One of the movies I was most looking forward to this year was Avengers: Age of Ultron. It was a decent movie. A solid B. A better film than the first one, but less entertaining.

The other big summer blockbuster I was looking forward to was Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s odd, because I have never seen the original movies (despite growing up in the 1980s), and it didn’t seem like one of those sorts of films that I’d be at all interested in. Then I saw the trailer.

After seeing that, I thought, “This looks likely to be stupid as fuck, but entertaining as hell,” and I made plans to see it at some point.

Then, on Friday, it was released, and the reviews began to come in. Four stars on Roger Ebert’s website (out of four). A great review on Slate. 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s an insanely high-level rating. By contrast, Birdman, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 2014 has “only” a 93% rating. For a “genre” film to get that kind of high rating is almost without precedent.

And so I went to see it yesterday (and yes, that was partly to annoy certain men’s rights assholes out there), and I was impressed. So very impressed. It’s entertaining as hell, yes, but also, surprisingly, very intelligent, has a good, strong plot, interesting characters, and strong messages about gender and religion.

The story concerns Max who, at the beginning of the film, is captured by the bad guys (lead by a religious leader who controls all the local water supply), who plan to use him as a mobile blood bank. He’s glomed-onto by a “warboy”, one of the religiously-minded soldiers his captor keeps around, who attaches himself to Max’s blood supply. This get interesting when a woman named Furiosa (love it), steals a large semi that’s been outfitted as a battle platform. Inside? Several women who are basically the cult leader’s sex slaves. Their goal is to make it to an idyllic “green place”. The warboy goes in chase, dragging along Max (and everyone else, including a mobile heavy metal rock platform), and the movie kicks into high gear.

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I really cannot overstate how much I liked this movie. It’s easily the best movie this year, and one of the best new movies I’ve seen in quite sometime. Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron turn in the best performances of their careers (which in her case especially is really saying something), and Nicholas Hoult still manages to somehow bring the sexy, despite being covered with way too many scars and what is possibly the worst case of chapped lips in all of human history.

The pacing is excellent, despite being basically nothing but a giant chase for most of the film. Also, unlike many films of this type, the action is very well-executed, excellently filmed and easy to follow. At no point does one experience a real sense of spatial disorentation, as can happen with even a lot of the best films (I’m looking at you, The Dark Knight

If you’re looking for an enjoyable, escapist film that you can have a great time watching while eating popcorn, this is that movie. But, surprisingly, if you want an intelligent, interesting film that’s also great popcorn entertainment, well…this movie is that, too. An astounding feat.

One last note; the 3D is well done, but not really required. If you see it in 2D, you’l be fine.

Movie Review – Into the Woods


I’ve never seen Into the Woods on stage. I was lucky enough to see a PBS broadcast of it many, many years ago, and liked it quite a bit. So I was very much looking forward to this movie. Did it deliver?

Well, sort of. The first two acts, wherein our heroes meet up, deliver goodies to grandma, climb beanstalks, and deal with a wicked witch, are quite great. The songs are wonderful, and the casting is excellent. The story is light and enjoyable and flows along at a good pace.

Then comes the third act.

If you’ve seen the musical you know about what happens after “happily ever after”. Now I have no problem with dark and Grimm (as it were), and I’m ok with the concept of the movie darkening up quite a bit. I’m sure it works out wonderfully on the stage.

But this version of it, at least, draaaaagged. The pacing was terrible, and the third act just went on and on and on. It was also quite a bit lighter than the stage version of the third act, and that is not to its benefit. It’s very much like Disney wanted to have their cake and eat it, too, and instead we just get something vaguely warmed-over and not that appealing.

I will say the movie is great for those first two acts, and if you leave at the right point, you’ll probably leave happy. Of course doing so means you’ve basically seen the children’s version, but frankly, that’s better than staying for the last part.