Justice League: Surprisingly Watchable

Justice LeagueMy brother dragged me to see Justice League, the new DC superhero movie, last Thursday for its early premiere. Technically, it’s the fifth movie in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), DC’s answer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Of course, Marvel has had 17 successful movies compared to DC’s five movies, which have been critically panned with the sole exception of Wonder Woman.

This review, by Paul Tassi, is about the most accurate I’ve seen. He does an excellent job of summarizing what was good and bad about the film.

My own brief summary:

  • The character interactions mostly feel right, and are primarily what makes the film work as well as it does. The humor is a huge plus for the film.
  • The villain is just a McGuffin for the team to fight. He’s even more one-dimensional than Marvel villains, which is an impressive feat, but not one that you should strive for.
  • The threat used to bring the team together seems a little sketchy. Basically, it’s just a plot device to get the team formed.
  • Aquaman was considerably more intriguing than I expected, despite the abbreviated introduction
  • Flash was hilarious. More, please.
  • The special effects weren’t quite up to the final climactic battle, but DC tried.
  • It’s got some plot holes you could drive a truck through. Try not to think about them too much.

Basically, it’s an enjoyable film. I liked it. I didn’t love it. On IMDB’s 10-star scale, I’d give it about 6 stars (considerably better than the 39% from Rotten Tomatoes).

All of the previous DC movies have been financially successful, despite any beatings they taken from audiences and critics. However, Wonder Woman is the only film that has emerged with acclaim from both fans and critics, as well as being a financial powerhouse. It remains to be seen how Justice League will fare. It debuted lower than expected, 96M in the US rather than 110M+ as was expected, which is the worst of all the DCEU films. And the word is that it’s basically got to cross 600M worldwide to make a profit.

It’s got some serious problems, but it’s the first film other than Wonder Woman where they successfully captured the essence of the DC superheroes.

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Film Review: Rogue One, Flawed But Spectacular

Star Wars: Rogue One

I had a chance to see Rogue One with my brother and niece at a matinee today. Overall, it was a great experience. The producers took the movie in a dark direction and, in my opinion, expanded the scope of what was possible for the Star Wars franchise. They also made a bold decision with regard to the ending, something I’ve never seen before in a blockbuster movie with this kind of budget behind it. You’ll know what I’m talking about when you see it.

Now, I can quibble about a bunch of things. The Rogue One team consists of six characters, most of whom could have used more screen time to really allow the audience to identify with them. The plot is a bit “by the numbers,” i.e. – go here to get this, then go there to get that, etc. Despite the flaws, it works reasonably well overall.

And, of course, the special effects are superb, as you’d expect for a Star Wars movie. The movie also benefits well from a second viewing; once you know who you should be watching, you’re free to pick up more nuances the second time around.

One of the best things about the movie is that you don’t have to wait at all for the sequel. It’s already out, and it’s called Stars Wars: A New Hope (now, anyway). All joking aside, the movie slots right into the start of the next movie. Some of my friends are reporting that watching Rogue One and then re-watching Star Wars actually amplifies their enjoyment of the original movie. Somewhat unprecedented, in my opinion.

The bottom line is that the film is well worth seeing. It’s not a perfect film, but its flaws won’t detract from the enjoyment for most people. In many ways, I liked it better than The Force Awakens because the reboot was less original in many ways.

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Severus Snape and the Marauders

This is a very cool fan film featuring Severus Snape in an altercation with Harry Potter’s father, James. To say more would be to spoil the fun. Just watch the video. You won’t regret it.

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2016 AMC Best Picture Showcase, Day 2

2016 AMC Best Picture Showcase, Day 2

This year is the 10th anniversary of AMC’s annual event, the AMC Best Picture Showcase. On two successive Saturdays, the theater chain runs all of the nominees for the Best Picture Oscar (at selected locations). With eight nominees this year, they’re running four movies on February 20th and the remaining four on the next Saturday, February 27th. The Oscars, of course, are on Sunday, February 28th.

So, what did I think of the movies that played on Day 2?

Brooklyn: Saoirse Ronan plays Eilis Lacey, an Irish girl who immigrates to America in the 1950’s and ends up in Brooklyn. Finding romance in America, she soon has to decide which world she really belongs to: her new life in Brooklyn or back in Ireland. A beautifully filmed character study of both a woman and an era.

Spotlight: A driving film about the journalist team that broke the Catholic molestation scandal as not just a couple of bad priests here and there, but rather as a systemic problem within the Church. A powerful film with a strong ensemble cast.

The Martian: When an accident occurs on the first manned Mars mission, the crew is forced to abandon their base and leave the planet. What they don’t know is that astronaut Mark Watney, presumed dead in the accident, is actually still alive and stranded on Mars. What ensues is a harrowing tale of survival on a hostile planet. An excellent, riveting movie with a good dose of humor. The screenwriters did an excellent job taking a scientifically dense novel and turning it into a terrific movie.

The Revenant:Leonardo Dicaprio plays Hugh Glass, a fur trapper in 1823. When he is mauled by a bear and left for dead by other members of his hunting party, he expends every effort to survive and gain revenge on those who wronged him. A little long, but very moving. Features some of the best outdoor cinematography ever seen in a film.

I liked all of these films. Each one is highly worthwhile in diverse ways. My pick for the day was The Martian, an uplifting film backed by real science.

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2016 AMC Best Picture Showcase, Day 1

2016 AMC Best Picture Showcase Day 1

This year is the 10th anniversary of AMC’s annual event, the AMC Best Picture Showcase. On two successive Saturdays, the theater chain runs all of the nominees for the Best Picture Oscar (at selected locations). With eight nominees this year, they’re running four movies on February 20th and the remaining four next Saturday, February 27th. The Oscars, of course, are on Sunday, February 28th.

So, what did I think of the movies that played on Day 1?

Bridge of Spies: A beautifully filmed Cold War story about spies from director Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks (in his fourth movie for the director). It’s a little slow-paced, with excellent cinematography and some nice touches of humor to leaven the seriousness of the topic. It’s a good film, but not really in the same class as such Spielberg films as Schindler’s List or even Saving Private Ryan.

Room: A young mother tries to build the best possible life for her five-year-old son, even though they’re trapped in a single, small room with no access to the outside world. Interestingly, the film is told from the viewpoint of Jack, the five-year-old. It’s a devastatingly powerful film, with riveting performances by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay (playing 5-year-old Jack in the film).

Mad Max: Fury Road: Action. Action. Action. With just enough plot to keep the action in a meaningful context. And with real stunts, not that CGI stuff. It’s an adrenaline rush, but not really an Oscar contender in my mind, despite the feminist thread that surprisingly runs through the film.

The Big Short: News flash. There are greedy people on Wall Street who will do anything to make money. It’s a good story about complex money matters, and the creators pull out every stop to make it as interesting as possible. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t love it. It made me mad at Wall Street, of course, but I’m already cynical enough to realize that the Wall Street money chase is a rigged game.

My pick for top movie of the day was Room.

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Deadpool! Your Valentine’s Day Rom-Com

I’d heard a lot of good things about the new X-Men movie, “Deadpool.” I’d also been impressed with the savvy, in-your-face marketing campaign for it. So I decided to go see it today.

Before I tell you what I thought about the movie, let’s look at some more of that marketing…

Deadpool on Valentine's Day

The first thing you need to know about “Deadpool” is that it’s R-rated. Very. And very violent. And it deliberately tries to break every rule going, from the crazy initial credits to breaking the fourth wall, to making fun of everything under the sun (including other X-Men movies, the poor performance of Ryan Reynold’s ill-fated movie, “The Green Lantern,” and its own budget limitations).

It’s crazy, with extreme attitude. It’s raunchy. It’s fun. It redefines what the Chinese Year of the Dog means (you’ll know what I mean when you see the appropriate scene in the film). But it’s also clever, which makes all of the difference. In short, it’s a surprisingly good movie…and it doesn’t even come close to having the sort of plot where the heroes are saving the world.

There’s something refreshing in seeing the filmmakers embrace the character, Deadpool, and all of the things that make him a favorite with fans. And rather than toning it down, or filing the edges off, they just go for it. Full speed ahead, damn the torpedoes. You have to respect the chances they took with the film, and the way they made it pay off.

We may be looking at the top-grossing film in the overall X-Men franchise, despite the fact that, as an R-rated film, its audience is more limited than most other PG-13 superhero films.

If you like superheroes, daring filmmaking, raunchy humor, over-the-top violence and an intelligent script…go see this film. Oh, at heart, it’s also a romantic comedy. Go figure.

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Reviewing “Other Space”

So, Yahoo has created a new scripted SF comedy series called “Other Space.” I thought I’d just try it out and see what it was like. OMG, it was awful.

No, beyond awful. It was worse than a simultaneous 24-hour, max-volume marathon of “Bonanza” and “Little House on the Prairie.” I’d rather have my nails pulled out than ever watch another one of their episodes. I’m even going to deviate from most reviews by not even telling you about the plot. It’s not even worth your time to know any more about this show than, well, just don’t waste your time on it.

And, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, will somebody please, please, please teach those morons in Hollywood what a parsec is. “Unidentified object coming toward us at 1000 parsecs…” And it’s VISIBLE on the bridge’s screen.

A parsec is 3.26 light years, so based on what they SAID in Episode 1, the object was 3260 light years away. Which is like, pffft, don’t even worry about it in your lifetime.

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Film Review: Thousand Pieces of Gold

Thousand Pieces of GoldMy friends and family know that I have a thing for indie films that pack an emotional wallop. Well, I came across another gem of a movie on Hulu. It’s called Thousand Pieces of Gold and it’s a low-budget indie film from 1991. In fact, the Internet Movie Database gives it 7.3 stars, which is an excellent crowd-sourced rating.

In China during the 1880’s, farmers and herders are facing poverty due to famine conditions and military conflict, exacerbated by the depredations of soldiers who might as well be bandits. Facing an inhospitable winter and likely starvation, Lalu’s father sells her into marriage. Instead of becoming a bride, though, she’s transported to America against her will and sold as an indentured servant.

Lalu ultimately ends up in an Idaho gold-mining town, the property of a Chinese saloon owner who wants to turn her into an exotic whore for the locals. However, he never counted on Lalu’s strong will, which foils him at every turn as she tries to make her own future in this strange new land.

The story does a great job of capturing the turmoil of frontier life in a gold mining town, the culture clash between the Chinese and American residents and the transition of Lalu (admirably played by Rosalind Chao) into a force to be reckoned with, all leavened with a dose of humor and a smidgin of romance (with her love interest played by the inimitable Chris Cooper). I also appreciated the nuanced characterizations, which allowed all of the characters to have shades of gray and white rather than slipping into easy stereotypes.

Even more interesting, the story is based on real life events and real people, as described in the 1981 book by Ruthanne Lum McCunn, Thousand Pieces of Gold, upon which the movie was based.

Not a perfect movie; the ending comes across as a little abrupt. Still, a very good movie and one well-worth your time. Check it out on Hulu or look for it elsewhere.

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Film Review: The Man in the Moon

The Man in the Moon I recently watched The Man in the Moon on Hulu (for free), a 1991 indie drama starring Sam Waterston (from Law and Order fame) and Reese Witherspoon in her first movie role (at about age 15).

It’s 1957 on the Louisiana farm owned by the Trant family. Young Dani Trant (Reese Witherspoon) is a 14-year-old carefree tomboy who looks up to her older sister, Maureen. Mother Abby is pregnant with her third child and father Matthew (Sam Waterston) is the strict, hard-working head of the household. Everything changes when the Fosters move into the farm next door, as both girls fall in love with Cort Foster, the 17-year-old eldest child and acting head of household since the untimely death of his father.

It’s a slowly unfolding coming-of-age story for both girls, with a biting left hook at the end that delivers all of the impact promised by its slow and steady build-up. I liked it a lot. It also featured impeccable acting from all of the principals, but especially from a very young Reese Witherspoon.

Now, this isn’t my usual type of story. I lean towards thrillers, action dramas, crime stories and science fiction. But I also like stories with realistic characters, stories that grab you by the heart and deliver a real emotional impact. The Man in the Moon does this, and it doesn’t have to rely on stunts, CGI, flashy editing or any of the usual tricks of today’s MTV-inspired movies.

Obviously, this movie isn’t going to resonate with all of my friends or readers. Still, if the description sounds at all interesting to you and you have a couple of free hours, there are far worse ways to spend your time (any Transformers movie would be just about the worst).

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Preparing for the 2015 AMC Marathon

The Oscar AwardI don’t know if some of you reading this blog are movie buffs the way I am, but the Oscar nominations for the 87th Academy Awards come out on Wednesday, Jan 14th. What that means is that AMC starts planning their annual AMC Oscar Best Picture Marathon.

Now, there’s only three AMC theaters in the area that do this…but they’ll run a special 2-day marathon (on consecutive Saturdays) where you get to see ALL of the Best Picture nominees for one low price (well, actually, one price for each Saturday). For example, last year I got see four nominees on one weekend, and the remaining five the next weekend. If interested, let me know…’cause I’m doing it again this year with a few of my friends. And tickets go FAST…

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