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 Review – Captain America: Winter Soldier


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Well, here we have the sequel I wasn’t really looking forward to and wasn’t especially interested in. I liked the first movie well enough, but the idea of another movie didn’t interest me all that much. I’m just not that into Captain America as a character.

But I must say, whatever expectations I had were shattered. This movie was excellent. It was nicely-paced and struck a good balance between humor and drama; something that isn’t always easy to do. All the major characters worked well, even the Black Widow, who I normally just roll eyes at and quickly lose interest in. I will say that the titular Winter Soldier was a bit undeserved. He didn’t really do much, other than look vaguely menacing and incredibly hot (note to self: watch for guys cosplaying as him when Comicon rolls around). I also like that Nick Fury was actually given a larger role, which is a nice change of pace from his normal habit of popping up, making a couple of quips and leaving again.

The movie itself did indeed live up to the notion, as its directors said it would, of feeling like a 1970s political thriller (complete with Robert Redford), with a bit of action thrown in; and the action was, for the most part, in service to the plot. That’s something fairly rare in many movies now (I’m looking at you, Michael Bay). It was also nice to see some discussion about the ethics of SHIELD and the way they behave, though I wish it had been more than a surface discussion. I also really enjoyed seeing Captain America get a lot more characterization than he had in his previous two major appearances.

The one minor complaint that I have about the movie is that it was a bit crowded with main characters. We had Captain America, Falcon, Nick Fury and Black Widow, in addition to several different villains. I like a good ensemble cast, but there is a limit. Seeing the Winter Soldier get a bit more development would have been nice, too, but mostly I just spent time looking at him and thinking, “Giggity!” a lot.

As a final word on this movie, be aware that there are two credits teasers. One, that actually matters, happens in the middle of the credits. The other, which doesn’t, really, happens at the end. Stay for both, unless you’re at the theater I work at, in which case get out quickly! We have a mess to clean up.

Movie Review – The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug


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If I’ve learned nothing else from the two most recent movies in the Tolkien series, I’ve at least learned how to pronounce “Smaug”. When I was a wee lad in high school we read The Hobbit for a sci-fi/fantasy class I was taking, and myself, as well as everyone else including the teacher, pronounced the name as “Smog”. Now I know better.

It was thoughts like that that kept me going throughout this movie’s 161 minute run-time. Now normally I’m the last person to complain about a movie being long. As Roger Ebert once noted, no good movie is too long and no bad movie is too short. He didn’t have a lot to say about middle-of-the-road movies and length, but he really should have.

I really enjoyed the various Lord of the Rings movies, and the first movie in this series. But, alas, it must be said that this movie is decidedly middle-of-the-road. It is quite dull in several stretches, and it makes you feel every single one of those 161 minutes. The entirety of act 2, especially, drags and drags.

But let’s discuss some of the good. The acting was great, as expected, and the dialogue was well-written and entertaining. I particularly enjoyed the scenes between Bilbo and Smaug, which were crisp, enjoyable and entertaining. Some of the new characters, like Stephen Fry’s pompous mayor, were thoroughly enjoyable as well. And of course it was lovely to see Gandalf, Radaghast, Bilbo, and the various dwarfs. It was even, yes, quite nice to see Legolas who is still pretty easy on the eyes, even if he doesn’t exactly need to be in the movie. I will also say that while I know he was’t in the story, it would have been nice to see Gollum again.

And of course one needs to take a moment to appreciate the sheer beauty of the world presented on the screen. The lakeside town, with its bridges and canals, the inside of the dwarf kingdom, the interior of the elven kingdom (though, oddly, no one in Middle Earth seems to have invented the handrail), and the regular New Zealand scenery are all put to excellent use.

Now on to the rest of the movie. The pacing was absolutely terrible. There were huge stretches of the movie where there was nothing but dialogue. Well-written, well-delivered dialogue, to be sure, but there was just so much of it! Add to that the fact that several of the action scenes, while certainly reasonably entertaining, went on and and on and on. There was no need, for example, for the barrel sequence to be as long as it was, and don’t even get me started on how stupid it is to have someone body-surfing down a river of molten metal without getting his beard singed. There’s also the matter of the cliffhanger ending, which occurs exactly where you’d expect.

I’m really not sure where Jackson and company went wrong here. They can and have made excellent movies before, but this time it just felt terribly off. It wasn’t at all a bad movie, and I’m not disappointed that I saw it. But I can say that I won’t see it in theaters again and I don’t see myself feeling the desire to watch it when it comes out on blu-ray, and that’s really quite a shame.

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.