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.

And the Nominees Are…Kind of a Surprise


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The nominees for the 87th Academy Awards were announced today. You can read the full list here. I have a few thoughts about this.

First, I’m quite pleasantly surprised that The Grand Budapest Hotel was given so many nominations. It was a really good movie, which is something I’m surprised to say given that I find Wes Anderson’s style to be generally grating. I’m also pleased that a movie that’s so “old” (having been released early last year), got the nominations it did, and is a front-runner for Best Picture.

As for the rest, Imitation Game was an excellent movie with terrible history. I doubt it’s going to win. The Theory of Everything wasn’t quite as good, but was solid, but, again, won’t win. I haven’t seen any of the other nominees. I’ve seen bits of Selma while working in it, but haven’t seen the full movie. Same with Boyhood, which I do really want to see, and Birdman. I suspect the Oscar race will come down to those two movies, with Grand Budapest as a possible dark horse if the other two split the vote.

I see several nice inclusions on the Best Actor list. Bradley Cooper is the only one that’s been there before, as far as I know. It’s good to see Steve Carell being nominated for his first major “serious” role, but it’s in a movie that most people seem to dislike. He won’t win. Cooper won’t, either, I suspect. I think it’s going to come down to Cumberbatch or Keaton. I also find it odd that Ellar Coltrane, who played the boy in Boyhood, didn’t get nominated, given that from what I understand, the movie’s success is largely due to him.

Over on the women’s side (and why are these still separated by gender?), I’m pleased to see Streep up, yet again, for Best Supporting Actress, and…that’s really the only thought I have about that list. Well, maybe that it’s nice to see the two main actresses from Wild nominated. Again, a film I haven’t seen except while working in it, but it looked quite good, and I do wonder about it being snubbed in the Best Picture category.

Speaking of snubs, shall we discuss the brick in the room? How is it that The Lego Movie failed to be nominated for Best Animated Picture? Big Hero 6 had kind of a mixed reception, and while How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Boxtrolls were better received, none of these were as highly regarded by the public and the critics as The Lego Movie. Very disappointed here. Everything is not awesome, though I do notice a certain song got nominated, so that’s something.

I have no real thoughts about the rest of the list. The sci-fi and fantasy genre is well-represented in the various technical awards, but not anywhere else, which is a shame. I’m also quite taken aback by the fact that Interstellar, a flawed, but visually fascinating, movie was shut out of the Best Cinematography category.

So what’s going to win? Beyond the predictions I’ve vaguely made here, I have no idea. But I do look forward to finding out!

When Bad Movies Happen to Good People


There is a movie out there with the “imaginative” and “clever” title, Movie 43. It’s become something of a critical darling in the last few days, by which I mean the critics are having a grand time destroying it. Consider this from Richard Roeper’s review:

As the ads for “Movie 43” promised (threatened?), you can’t un-see this thing, so please: Stay away. Even if you might think that sitting through “Movie 43” would be an adventure along the lines of experiencing “Showgirls” or “Howard the Duck,” you’ll be filled with regret five minutes into this atrocity. There’s camp-fun bad and interestingly horrible bad, and then there’s just awful.

“Movie 43” is the “Citizen Kane” of awful.

We’ve been hearing about this movie for some four years, as producer Peter Farrelly somehow coaxed more than a dozen A-list stars and talented character actors into appearing in a series of aggressively tasteless scenes loosely strung together as proposed elements of a movie that Dennis Quaid is pitching to Greg Kinnear. So whenever a Gerard Butler or a Johnny Knoxville or a Jason Sudeikis or an Uma Thurman became available and/or were blackmailed, Farrelly would bring in a director, and they’d shoot a scene. Unfortunately, the shooting was never fatal.

Why do bad movies, and TV shows, happen to good people? Often with some stars, I think it’s that they feel their star fading, and so do whatever they can to get back into the limelight. Others, especially British ones, seem to have the “work is work” attitude. Still others, perhaps, just can’t choose a good script to save their lives. I’m not sure what exactly happened with this movie, though the Guardian newspaper seems to have a theory.

I’ll admit that I’m merely baffled when I see these kinds of poor career choices. I am not sympathetic. I do not worry for those involved. All the major celebrities are still bankable personalities, and the minor actors are the sort one would expect to get roles in films like this. No one’s career will end because of this movie. That is, perhaps, something of a shame.

I have no real ending to this article, but I can offer you this much about it: like it or not, at least it took less time for you to read than it would for you to have seen Movie 43.

Movie Review – Les Miserables


Hide the razor blades, it's time for some Les Mis!

Hide the razor blades, it’s time for some Les Mis!

This is the first time I’ve ever seen the musical version of Les Miserables. This is something of a surprise, because around 21 years ago I listened to the full soundtrack. I just never had the chance to actually see a performance. During that time, for personal reasons, it became a very important story to me. Now I’ve finally had the chance to watch this movie. Was it worth the 21 year wait?

In a word, yes. This was absolutely everything that I’d hoped for in a movie version of the famed musical. Visually stunning, with such a memorable soundtrack and incredible performances, especially by Anne Hathaway who, goodness me, may well have sewn up an Oscar with her singing of “I Dreamed a Dream”, something that put even the Susan Boyle version to shame.

The story is by turns basic and complex. Hugh Jackman plays Jean Valjean, a man convicted and sentenced to five years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread. During that time, he tried to escape, but was caught, and ends up having fourteen years added to his sentence. Now after 19 years, he’s released on a parole, but, as many released from prison discover even now, he can’t find a job and can’t find a place to live. He’s taken in by a kindly bishop (Colm Wilkinson, who originated the Valjean role on stage), and then repays the bishop’s kindness by stealing silver plates and the like. When he’s caught, he claims the silver was a gift, and is astounded when the bishop not only backs him up, but offers him more. Valjean, who had been on the verge of turning into a villain, instead becomes a hero and sets out to return to being an honest man. Meantime, police inspector Javert (Russell Crowe, who really has an incredible singing voice), sets off in pursuit of Valjean, while around them France seethes with revolutionary fervor.

That is, mind you, just scratching the surface. It doesn’t touch on the romance, the comedy relief, the violence, the death, the other death, the many, many, many deaths. Some of these deaths are truly heart-wrenching, and I’m only half joking when I comment about hiding the razors before watching.

The music is everything I’d expected and the sets are wonderful. But the real gem here are the performances. Jackman, Crowe, Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bohnam Carter are all exceptionally good in their roles, but it is Hathaway who walks off with the best performance on film. If you can sit through her final song and not want to start crying like a child, you might well need to have emotions.exe installed. In fact the only complaint I have about casting is that of Eddie Redmayne, a normally fine actor, but someone with a singing voice that sounds like what someone who wanted to parody a stage singing voice would sound like. It’s not bad, really, but very stylized and odd.

While I don’t think this movie will or should win Best Picture at the Oscars, it still has a great deal to recommend it. I highly recommend it, the highlight soundtrack, currently available for fifteen bucks from Amazon, and even, if you feel brave enough, reading the original book. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in any of the above.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – My Impressions


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Well, that was a thing. At two hours and 50 minutes, it was a very big thing (that’s what she said!). Was it a good thing?

It was. I was quite pleased by just about every aspect, though it was a shame the Goblin King wasn’t voiced by David Bowie. The movie didn’t blow me away quite like the first Lord of the Rings film did, but that’s probably at least in part due to the fact that now I’m used to the idea that fantasy films can be well-done and taken seriously.

As a Doctor Who fan I must also say that I was very much impressed by Sylvester McCoy who, as Radagast, really stole the show every time he was on screen. He had about 15 minutes in the movie, and really made the most of it. I hope this is a good boost to his career!

And that’s…really about it. The movie was good. I am looking forward to part two. End of line.

Movie Review – The Dark Knight Rises


Well, here’s what I’m going to say at the outset: this isn’t a perfect film. It has a few flaws and a few plot elements that don’t make much sense. But while it isn’t a perfect film, it is, in fact, a perfect ending to the Chris Nolan Batman film series.

The movie also does an excellent job of avoiding the three film problem that many super-hero film series seem to have. I’m thinking of works of “art” like X-Men 3, Superman III, Spider-Man 3 and, of course, Batman Forever.

The movie shows us a version of Bruce Wayne who has holed up in his mansion, unseen by the public. Life in Gotham has moved on, and Harvey Dent is held up as a paragon of virtue to the people of Gotham (something that greatly troubles Commissioner Gordon). Aside from a cat burglar named Selina Kyle, all appears to be reasonably well.

And then Bane arrives.

What to say about Bane? His master plan is…well, something I can’t reveal here, as it would really spoil things. It makes sense for him, his past and his character, at least as established in the movie. What follows once his plan starts is a series of crushing defeats for Batman, the city of Gotham under siege and a great many twists and turns that I didn’t even remotely expect. I also didn’t expect that the movie is really more of a sequel to Batman Begins than to The Dark Knight.

Tom Hardy gives an excellent performance as the man with the plan. Also excellent are the returning cast of Christian Bale, Michael Cain and Morgan Freeman, as well as newcomers to the series Joseph Gordon-Leavitt and Marion Cotillard. Nolan does his usual excellent job as a director, and despite some minor plot holes, I really did enjoy this film. I wish that I had more to say about it, but it’s hard to do so without venturing into spoiler territory. So I will simply say that if you liked the previous movies, you’ll probably like this one, and if you didn’t, you’re not really in the target audience anyhow.

Essential Movies – 1940 – 1949


So here’s another one of my fine essential guides! This time, we’re going to cover the movies of the 1940s.

This is another one of those lists where you’re going to know most of the films on it. This was the last decade before television started to cut seriously into the movie industry revenues and it’s also the decade of World War II and the start of the Cold War. It’s a decade that contains some of the best films in movie history! And as always, just because a movie isn’t on here, or a year is left blank, that doesn’t mean the movie was bad or that there wasn’t anything worthwhile that year. It just means I haven’t seen every great movie yet!

1940

Fantasia – For reasons unclear to me, this movie has never been as popular as it should be, even with the animation crowd. It’s a beautiful, amazing movie with some of the most incredible animation ever captured on film. If you haven’t seen it, you really should. Just check out this clip from below, which is easily the best in the movie, and remind yourself that it was all done by hand over 70 years ago.

The Grapes of Wrath – What do you get when you take a novel written as a socialist screed by an author who was basically socialist and give it to a filmmaker who was decidedly conservative? You get one of the best films of all time. Shamelessly manipulative? Oh, yes. Propaganda for the New Deal? That, too. But it’s also an incredible movie.

The Great Dictator – Flat-out simply Chaplin’s best film, and probably the best of 1940. With wonderful acting, pointed satire and some of the most hilarious scenes I’ve ever seen in a live-action film, this one isn’t just essential viewing, it’s also very enjoyable viewing. Somewhat dragged down by the last two minutes, but, really, how else was the film going to end?

The Mark of Zorro – One of those great swashbuckler films from back in the day! This one features Tyrone Power as the title character with, yes, Basil Rathbone as the bad guy. It’s one of the last of the great swashbuckler films and is very much worth seeing.

1941

Citizen Kane – You knew this was going to be on here, and well it should be. Generally regarded as the best film ever made, it is also one of the most culturally important. As I said in a review I wrote back in the day, watching it for the first time is kind of like watching it again, since if you’ve seen enough TV and movies, you’ve seen elements of this film used, reused and spoofed. But never is it so interesting as it is in the movie itself.

The Maltese Falcon – A great example of nearly film noir, and hugely enjoyable. Humphrey Bogart gives one of the best performances of his career, as do both Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet. Truly a great piece of film.

1942

Casablanca – Again, a predictable entry. Yeah, there’s parts of it that don’t make sense (letters of transit signed by who, exactly?), but the overall story is beautiful, and everyone in the cast is really at the top of their game. A classic that truly does not disappoint.

The Pride of the Yankees – Arguably Babe Ruth’s finest acting role. Oh, also, Gary Cooper is in it. The story itself (the rise and death of a great baseball player), is simple enough, but the execution is what matters, and that at least is great!

1943

The Ox-Bow Incident – I’m not generally into Westerns. I find them to be overly simplistic and rather silly. That said, this is one of the best, most amazing Westerns out there, and it’s at least in part because it ignores much of the conventions of the genre. Rather than clear good and evil roles, you have a lot of grey, and a great movie!

1944

Arsenic & Old Lace – To describe the plot of this film would be to spoil a whole series of surprises. If you haven’t seen it, you need to. It’s dark, it’s hilarious and it’s a great film!

1947

Gentleman’s Agreement – Ah, the joys of antisemitism. You’d think that having fought a war against a nation which existed to basically murder Jews, we would have learned our lessons about hatred and intolerance. Nope, not so much.

1948

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre – Another one of those films that proves that Humphrey Bogart really was a hell of an actor. It looks like and feels like a Western, but it’s not. Instead it’s a deeply psychological movie about greed and betrayal. A really excellent film.

1949

The Third Man – The 1940s were, in many ways, bracketed by two great Orson Welles films, though one could also argue them as two great Joseph Cotton films. Regardless, this movie, while not quite as good as Citizen Kane is a fascinating, cynical, really exceptional film.

Up next, the essential movies of the 1950s!