Movie Review – Soul Surfer

Based on the inspiring TRUE story of 13 year old Bethany Hamilton, who survived a shark attack and the loss of an arm to become one of the top professional surfers in the world, this is a very well made and dare I say, inspirational story.

The cinematography is stunning (although  being from Hawaii, I can say there were a few liberties taken with some of the locations, but that’s nit-picking) and really showcase the beauty of the islands and ocean.  The directing by Sean McNamara is top notch.  Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid give solid performances as the parents, Kevin Sorbo is well cast as a friend of the family, and the other surfers come off like Disney tween show villains.  AnnaSophia Robb shines as Bethany, carrying the film one handed (no pun intended.)  The only down spot is Carrie Underwood, woefully miscast as a evangelical preacher, and her limited acting ability shows.

If the film falls down, it’s in the message portion.  I’m aware that I might receive some flack for this, but it is possible to do an uplifting inspiring movie that happens to put forth a religious agenda, without the agenda.  There were many scenes where we moved along nicely and suddenly we were thrown into a “come to Jesus” moment.  I don’t have anything against a spiritual slant to a film, but this one didn’t need it.  It was well evident from the way it was handled throughout that the family relied on their faith in God to see them through things, and when Bethany has a crisis of “why me” after the attack and her faith is shaken, it’s emotional enough without being hit over the head with the message.

Indeed, when the character goes on a mission trip to a country devastated by a hurricane, and sees first hand how in comparison she hasn’t lost everything, the moment would have been so much more powerful if we hadn’t just had twenty minutes of religion prior to it.  Without it, the movie would have been moving and spiritual.  With it, it feels like a calculated play for my soul, and while I don’t begrudge anyone for their beliefs (“Just go forward in all your beliefs, and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine” as the Doctor once said) I don’t want to be suckered into church during what was billed as entertainment.

But overall, a well made enjoyable family film.


Movie Review – Cars 2

Pixar can do no wrong.

With a string of outstanding hits that includes TOY STORY, MONSTERS INC, UP, and WALL-E, the studio has a long history of putting out films that involve great stories paired with great animation.

At least that’s what I used to think.

When I saw the preview for the first CARS, I remember thinking that it was going to be the studio’s first misstep.  I thought the animation looked subpar for them, and the concept left a lot to be desired.  But after watching the movie, I found (as with all Pixar films) a very touching and well written story of friendship, couched in a perfect piece of kid friendly animation.  Lets face it, kids love cars.  Talking cars just makes them cooler.

CARS 2 falls into the sequel trap that seems to plague most Disney productions.  Given a hit, Disney does what most studios do, commissions another one, thinking of the money that will come rolling in by returning to the familiar.  And plenty of sequels do that well. CARS 2 feels like a monetary decision from moment one.  It expands the universe away from the race tracks and Radiator Springs in the first film and goes for a James Bond world adventure with spies.  Ordinarily, no problem.  Except Pixar has already tackled this type of film (and much better) in the superhero themed THE INCREDIBLES, which when you get right down to it, IS a James Bond flick (The super villain has henchmen, a secret volcano lair, and a whole bunch of toys).  But while I’m sure they existed in the CARS universe, spies weren’t needed in the CARS universe.

I appreciate the effort that was made to shift the focus in the second film, but it doesn’t really work either.  TOY STORY, while a definite buddy flick, is really Buzz Lightyear’s story.  His path to acceptance that he is in fact, a toy.   TOY STORY 2 flipped the equation to Woody, allowing him to discover his “value” as a toy.  The same could be said for the live action OCEAN’S ELEVEN.  While given two equal characters in Danny and Rusty, the first film is Danny’s story and how he reunites with his love.  OCEAN’S TWELVE is Rusty’s story and how he reunites with his love.  So we know this formula does work.  BUT, we’re taking two equal characters in these other films.  No matter how you slice it in the first CARS movie, Matter is a side kick to Lightning McQueen.  Larry The Cable Guy is funny in small doses, and was perfect in the first film.  But by trying to shift that focus to Matter in this movie, they’ve elevated him beyond sidekick status and into leading man territory.  That means the cute fun Larry The Cable Guy becomes over the top, in your face for a full 2 hours Larry The Cable Guy, and it’s just a bit too much.  There is a surprisingly adult story at the heart of CARS 2 in the plot of old lemons like Gremlins and Etzels banding together to gain respect at last (or maybe that’s not surprising, this is Pixar, after all) but it feels secondary to the friendship and acceptance between McQueen and Matter.

Having said all that, CARS 2 is a cute film, and fun to watch.  Finn MacMissile is aptly voiced by Michael Caine, and is everything a suave British secret agent should be, and once again John Tutturo shows off with a odd little accent in a film and seems to have a lot of fun with it.  The locations are bright and colorful, and the supporting cast from Radiator Springs do make appearances, though truncated cameos.  I have to admit, I payed a lot of attention to the backgrounds during the London race, hoping for a glimpse of a Police Box somewhere in the background. I was rewarded when one character (strapped to a giant gear inside Big Ben) makes the comment, “trying to turn back time… if I can only reverse the polarity…” definitely a WHO fan somewhere at Pixar.

For all it’s flaws, CARS 2 is worth watching, but it does become the first Pixar film that I won’t own, and I think suffers primarily from being a sequel that didn’t need to be made.  (And the trend will continue, as Disney brings us PLANES, set in the same universe but without the Pixar touch. The trailer? Meh.)

CARS 2 – C

Movie Review – Unstoppable

For some strange reason, I always manage to miss Denzel Washington movies when they’re out, and don’t see them until they’ve been on DVD for months.  UNSTOPPABLE was no exception, but I’ve been playing catch up this week!  Chris Pine is the rookie rail worker paired with Denzel’s veteran.  They get on each others nerves at first, but soon bond.  No big surprises there.  But when a runaway train loaded with toxic chemicals threatens a Pennsylvania town, things get interesting.

This is director Tony Scott’s fourth film with Denzel Washington (following MAN ON FIRE, DEJA VU, and THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1 2 3) and you can almost feel the comfort level between the two.  Scott makes great action thrillers, and this one is no exception.  Nice to see Chris Pine again (although there were shades of troubled James Kirk in his performance) and the always lovely Rosario Dawson could bark orders at me through a headset anytime she wanted.  Of course the true stars of the film are the trains themselves–big, powerful, rolling steel engines of death–and Scott and his team film them beautifully.  A solid action movie, (and for some reason now I need to hunt up a copy of SILVER STREAK to watch, as Mel has never seen that one.) 🙂


Movie Review – Real Steel

Caught this one at the dollar theater last week, and I must say, wow.

No really, I must say it.  Wow.

Yes, I was one of those who scoffed initially at the trailer. “They’re making a Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots movie?” I asked incredulously.  “Gee, can’t wait to see Hungry Hungry Hippos.”  But I’ll admit I was curious.  Mel, more so than me, and she’s been pestering everyone to go see it while it was still in that so-affordable-you-cant-complain-if-it-does-suck price range.  So we went.

Admittedly, the story is very formula, about a dead beat dad who abandoned his son early on, and now only wishes to scrape enough money together to purchase a new fighting robot, by waiving his fatherly rights for a price.  Of course the kid has to spend the summer with him, and they take their budding relationship on the road, going from one robot boxing match to the next.  Mix the basic story of OVER THE TOP and ROCKY with the truck stop atmosphere of ANY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE and throw in generous helpings of robots mashing each other to a pulp and you get the basic idea here.

But the surprise factor is how good the film is.  Hugh Jackman is his usual self.  Good, but doesn’t act much. (Nearly an identical character to SWORDFISH with different motivation) but I have always liked Jackman and am willing to let that slide.  The film sports an impressive pedigree, based on the short story Steel by I AM LEGEND scribe Richard Matheson, which was previously adapted as an episode of “The Twilight Zone”.  The idea that in the near future human boxers are replaced with robots–which can take even more brutal poundings and thus create more spectacle–is an intriguing and believable one.  It seamlessly bridges the worlds of boxing and WWE and “Battle Bots”.  The film is executive produced by Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis, has a fantastic score by Danny Elfman (but doesn’t sound anything like Elfman), features boxing scenes supervised by Sugar Ray Leonard, and is aptly directed by NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM helmer Shawn Levy.

“Sometimes you go into a  movie with low expectations and are pleasantly surprised” wrote Roger Ebert about this one.  And he’s totally right.  REAL STEEL hits all the right moments to be effective, has just enough characterization to flesh these beings out into real people, and of course, impressive special effects and robots.  It succeeds as great family entertainment, and would be on my top films of 2011 list just for how enjoyable it was.

Got me all excited to see BATTLESHIP now. (not really, no.)


Movie Review – Transformers: Dark Of The Moon

I’m a little late on this one, as I didn’t watch it till it came out on BluRay.  Having said that, there may be some spoilery info here for the random few of you who haven’t seen it yet…

I like Michael Bay.  I really do.  I think he’s an immensely talented director who doesn’t deserve the tons of crap heaped upon him most of the time.  Let’s face it, if you want to film something explode–have it rise into the air and begin rotating on fire, in slow motion–then he’s the guy you call.  Period.  I’ve never been a huge Transformers fan though, (the show was to be avoided by me and my brother growing up in favor of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and G.I. Joe.  And don’t you DARE cross-pollinate my G.I. Joe with these giant robots.)  But the first film was an enjoyable fun romp.  The second one was an unmitigated disaster.  Anytime something was fighting or blowing up it was cool, but everything else just kinda sucked.

I’m sad to say the trend continues in the third installment.  It opens promisingly enough, with the exciting tidbit that much of history is in fact, a coverup for something else.  The Apollo landing on the moon was actually a secret mission to explore a crashed Transformer ship.  The Chernobyl explosion was actually a failed Russian experiment on a Transformer power source.  Okay, cool.  I like it when history is twisted to meet the needs of my Sci-Fi.  We meet Sentinel Prime, a brilliant scientist and leader of the Autobots in days long gone.  And of course, there’s LOTS of things exploding and rising into the air on fire in slow motion.  One of my favorite sequences involves special ops guys “squirrel flying” their way through the buildings of downtown Chicago)

But as with REVENGE OF THE FALLEN, anytime something isn’t exploding the film just drags.  We spend WAY too much time with Sam Witwicky (Shia Lebeouf becoming more whiny with each installment.  I like him as an actor, but think maybe he needs to pursue some different projects that actually require some acting.  Maybe re-invent himself like DeCaprio) and his EMPLOYMENT PROBLEMS?  Really?  We’re gonna focus on his attempts to get a JOB in a movie with GIANT ROBOTS?  Jon Turturro, star of a number of brilliant Cohen Brothers films like THE BIG LEBOWSKI (and one of my personal favorites, BRAIN DONERS) is back as a former special agent turned author, and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley made a fine replacement for Megan Fox, (and there’s Michael Bay’s Victoria’s Secret commercials coming into play).  She’s hot, and a better actress to boot, but really?  We’re gonna focus on Sam’s romantic issues in a movie with GIANT ROBOTS?  Other casting surprises include Firefly’s Alan Tudyk as a German… hitman?, John Malkovich, and Leonard Nimoy, but did we mention this movie has GIANT ROBOTS?!?

Okay, so the robots have problems too.  Optimus Prime is hands down, the baddest guy on the block.  The fact that they got Peter Cullen back to voice him front he cartoon speaks to his longevity.  But every movie they seem to remove Optimus from the proceedings for half an hour or more.  They give him the coolest toys, then take them away nearly as soon as they’ve introduced them.  Jet engines, wings, an axe and a REALLY big gun… just a few of the props that disappear on the way side.  Nimoy’s Sentinel Prime is a big problem, actually.  I love the fact that they got him, and I love the fact that they had a bit of fun with the idea of it being Nimoy.  BUT, since we’ve had multiple jokes to drive home the fact that STAR TREK exists in THIS universe as a TV show… (One of the Robots flips on the TV, sees Trek and comments “Oh, I’ve seen this, this is the one where Spock goes nuts” and multiple instances of Bumblebee communicating with Trek clips, “I have been, and always shall be, your friend…”) But then Sentinel is chastising Optimus and says, “You never understood that the needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few…”   REALLY?!?  You’ve crossed the line from homage to rip off now.

And then there’s the plot.  Or lack there of.  It’s a convoluted mess that involves a transmit teleport bridge that will bring an army of Decepticons to Earth… from the moon.  Where they’ve been hiding for the last millennium or so, waiting for the signal.  Apparently at NO point during that wait did it occur to them to just FLY to Earth and take over the planet before the technology existed to possibly defeat them.  And worse, Hugo Weaving (who is always good in EVERYTHING) as Megatron is given the line “the only way to revive him: we needed Prime and his matrix.”  …So, you planned to loose that fight in the first movie all along?  Seems like a lot of effort to have your ass kicked by Optimus Prime for two movies BEFORE you brought in the big guns, but what do I know?

TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON is a flashy spectacle with a lot of eye candy.  It’s also a perfect, shining example of what’s wrong with Hollywood, and gets my vote for worst film of the year…


Movie Review – Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows

* Spoiler Free Review

Sherlock Holmes is one of the great characters in literary history, and has been re-invisioned (or regenerated, if you like) seemingly as many times as the Doctor.  Guy Ritchie’s film franchise version has dusted off the formula and injected it full of adrenaline, playing up Holmes eccentricities, focusing on his bare knuckle boxing skills, an in general creating an enjoyable event film.  Not everyone enjoyed the re-imagining, but I did, reveling in the fun of the first film. (I also thoroughly enjoy Steven Moffat’s Sherlock, which is a completely different take on the character, and just as entertaining.)

With A GAME OF SHADOWS, the ante has been upped, (as indeed, it must with sequels).  Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law had fantastic chemistry in the first film as the title detective and Dr. John Watson, and I’m pleased that it carries through here, the verbal sparing and cheeky shenanigans only part of the chemistry these two have created.  They feel very much like brothers as well as best friends, and you get the sense that even if the plot was complete junk you’d enjoy hanging out with the pair of them for a few hours.  Downey’s Sherlock feels a bit more manic and unpredictable here (some instances work, others–like the scene where he’s drinking embalming fluid–feel a little forced, almost as if he had trouble finding his way back to the role after inhabiting Tony Stark for the upcoming THE AVENGERS.)  But Downey is a great actor, and soon finds his way back to Sherlock.  But this Sherlock is haunted by Professor Moriarity (a mesmerizing performance by Jarred Harris) both in word and deed.  The supporting cast is just as good, with special props for a surprise visit from Stephen Fry, who plays Sherlock’s brother Mycroft.

While not complete junk, the plot is overreaching, creating a global conspiracy that has our heroes traveling all over Europe.  While this definitely falls under “upping the ante” it detracts from the very cool London that housed the first film, and Sherlock feels a little bit out of his element in parts.  For all his schemes and wheels within wheels, Moriarity’s end game was telegraphed midway through the film, and felt recycled at that.  Not much surprise there.

A note of delight to the climax of the film, which literary buffs will recognize from Arthur Conan Doyle’s work, and the sheer genius of the ending.  Bravo!  Bravo! I say!

In short, I enjoyed A GAME OF SHADOWS, and had a great time at the theater.  I don’t believe it was quite as good as the first, but it’s still a solid film and well worth watching.  I just don’t know that it has the same re-watchability as the original SHERLOCK HOLMES.


Movie Review – The Muppets

In the better late than never category, here’s my review of one of the best films of the year:

Admittedly, I love the muppets.  I love the TV show, the movies, the characters, and the mythos.  And if there’s one thing this film does well, it preserves and enhances the mythos.  Jason Segel has done something incredible, which is to take these time-less characters down from the top shelf at Disney, dust them off and turn them loose for another romp through Hollywood.  And they do.  And they do it with the same style, flare and panache that you remember.  Kermit, Fozzie, Gonzo, Rolf, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, they’re all here, all handled with tender loving care.  Some of them even have surprisingly real character arcs, and it makes them all the more believable.  The newest addition to the gang, Walter, feels like he walked off the set of the Muppet Show in the 1970s, but has all the sensibilities of today’s world.  It works.

The humans are pretty good too, with both Segel and Chris Cooper (as a villainous oil baron) being outstanding.  Amy Adams–who should fit right in–is the only one that seems to come across a bit flat, but that may be more from her whining character’s personae.  (and in fairness, you do sympathize with her character.)  And it wouldn’t be a Muppet movie without a slew of celebrity cameos, some of which delighted, some of which surprised, and some of which felt like Disney exerting their influence.

One part musical comedy, one part loving tribute, THE MUPPETS is an amazing film.  I laughed, I cried, I spent two hours with good friends I hadn’t seen in a long while, and found that yes, we could fall back into the same conversations we remembered.  Some of the jokes are very “in universe” (and I was glad to have just recently gone back and watched THE MUPPET MOVIE, GREAT MUPPET CAPER, MUPPETS TAKE MANHATTAN and MUPPETS FROM SPACE–which are what I consider to be the four essentials–before seeing this one), some of the characters are “OMG I REMEMBER HIM!” and while the situations are standard Muppet fare (an evil plot to take over the studio must be foiled by midnight!) you really don’t care.

It’s time to play the music, it’s time to light the lights… The Muppets are back, ladies and gentlemen.  RUN to see this movie.


Movie Review – Immortals

IMMORTALS bills itself as a cross between CLASH OF THE TITANS and 300, and if that’s not enough to get you excited, you obviously don’t have a thing for sword and sorcery epics or muscled guys in short skirts. Unfortunately, the movie comes off as a pale imitator of both, and it’s CLASH OF THE TITANS feel is the dreadful remake, not the original classic.

Our story deals with young Theseus, a mortal man chosen by Zeus to lead the fight against King Hyperion (a magnificent performance by Mickey Rourke). Hyperion is moving across Greece to obtain a weapon that can destroy humanity by unleashing the Titans, the Epirus Bow.

Okay, good set up, BUT this is where the writer needs to step in and give some stage directions, right? Oh, you’re not going to do that? You’re just going to make some pretty, flashy movie and not worry about plot? Oh. Okay, I won’t talk about the fact that Zeus forbids the gods from interfearing UNLESS the Titans are in fact, released (at which point it would be too late to step in) yet manages to influence Theseus in his human guise of John Hurt. Nor will I talk about the virgin oracle who can foresee the future because of her purity, saves Theseus with a prophesy, then is promptly deflowered by our hero, rendering her a suddenly worthless character. Nor will I bring up the “surprise” of Hyperion’s barbarism, which was telegraphed the first time we see a certain statue. Nor will I discuss the complete lack of Greek drama and history this thing is supposed to be steeped in (on that front, even the remake of CLASH OF THE TITANS got something kinda right.) Nor will I discuss Hyperion’s supposed rampage across Greece, which did NOT have the same epic feel of 300 or TROY.  Not enough of them either.  This isn’t the hordes of Orks coming for the white city in RETURN OF THE KING, nor is it the massive Persian army from 300.  His army doesn’t really do much of anything, just shows up.  Boom.  There they are.   Nor will I discuss the mighty Epirus Bow, which kills four guys, is lost by the hero after having it all of five minutes, taken by Hyperion, used to blow a hole in a wall and free the titans, THEN NOT USED AGAIN. Seriously? THIS is the super weapon everyone was worried about? Bah.

I will talk about the pretty flashy movie with no plot, except that it’s really not even all that pretty. The very graphic approach to 300, with it’s saturated colors and brown/gold/earth tones just look bland and washed out here, kinda like that odd SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW look where everything was the same color. The fight sequences featured so prominently in the trailers are very flashy and cool, but there’s not nearly enough of them to justify the movie being called IMMORTALS, especially since the plan old mortals do most of the fighting. And I will mention the costume department, normally spot on in films like this. You guys made Hyperion a helmet that was (I’m sure) supposed to look frightening and awe-inspiring. Instead (as a friend of mine pointed out) he looks like the Killer Rabbit from MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL has latched onto him and is eating his head. Hard to take a man seriously with that image.

All in all, this isn’t a bad movie.  It’s a decent enough action flick.  I just wish we could get a really kick-ass Greek Gods movie.  So far, I keep waiting.  One additional note, I saw this one in plain old 2D, and while some of the fight scenes (especially toward the end) were very cool, I didn’t see anything that would have made an awe-inspringing transition to 3D.  Save your money.


Movie Review – Cowboys & Aliens

Having just got back from Fort Worth, TX you’d have thought we’d have been overloaded on Cowboys (and you’d be right) but apparently not overloaded enough to keep us from going to the cheap theatre here to catch up on one we missed in it’s initial release, “Cowboys & Aliens”.

Daniel Craig stars as the mystery man with, who may or may not be a bad guy, who awakens in the desert with no memory and a metal bracelet attached to his arm.  Harrison Ford is the powerful landowner bullying the town and accusing Craig of having stolen his gold in a stagecoach robbery.  But then Alien spaceships show up and kidnap a bunch of the town folk, and these two adversaries must temporarily set aside their differences to form a posse to track down the Aliens and rescue the town folk.

All the standard conventions of a typical western are present, and yet, so are all the standard conventions of a typical alien invasion flick.  It’s an interesting miss-mash of ideas, and while the concept is completely ridiculous, it’s a big, goofy, fun ridiculous.  Maybe it’s just me, but the idea of getting Indiana Jones and James Bond on screen together should have been more… epic?  That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the movie, I did, and there are some great performances here.  Daniel Craig is his usual stoic self, but Harrison Ford plays a slightly bent rancher who actually has a few extra levels of depth to him, and Ford explores that by not being completely likeable, but not exactly a villain either.  In great supporting roles are the always enjoyable Clancy Brown, Keith Carradine and Sam Rockwell.

Enjoyable if not exactly memorable, you could certainly do worse than to see this movie, but at the same time, I’m not complaining that we saw it at the discount theatre.


Shaun’s Best Sci-Fi Shows

A while back Mark asked what were some of our favorite sci-fi shows and movies.  Now that I have more than five minutes to rub together thought I’d expound on my thoughts a bit… Keep in mind this list is purely subjective, based on my own tastes, (and I’ll watch nearly anything) so don’t shoot the messenger.

These are in no certain order…
FIREFLY – space western.  Great cast chemistry, wonderful stories, well told.  Only 13 eps before FOX canceled it, so not much of a time investment, but worth every minute. Followed by the movie SERENITY, which helps finish the story.
COWBOY BEBOP – anime.  If you like FIREFLY, give this one a try.  It’s a Japanese animated series about a crew of misfit bounty hunters trying to make a living.  Well told, a lot of fun, and hands down the best anime out there.  I have friends that keep trying to get me into the genre, unfortunately I started with these two seasons, and everything else pales in comparison.
QUANTUM LEAP – time travel.  Already professed my love for this one, about a time traveling scientist who takes over peoples bodies in order to change history for the better.  Five seasons of amazing, feel-good storytelling.
STAR TREK – Obviously, this is the 800lb gorilla of sci-fi shows.  6 series, 11 movies, and 45 years worth of material, rivaled only by Doctor Who in it’s enormity.  Yes, well worth investing the time in, but be warned in advance, there’s a lot here.  Breaking it down, the 11 movies average out to be pretty good, with WRATH OF KHAN, SEARCH FOR SPOCK, VOYAGE HOME making a proper trilogy, UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY, FIRST CONTACT, NEMESIS and the new “reboot” STAR TREK being above board awesome.
Original Star Trek’s three seasons are dated, but such 60s fun.  So much of traditional sic-fi came from here.  Available on DVD in a “best of” format as well as series so you can sample before deciding to get into the show.  If you like it, don’t miss the 22 episodes of Star Trek: The Animated Series, just as well done as the live action.
Star Trek: The Next Generation moved forward 80 years into the future, and continued the awe-inpisring concepts with great storytelling.  Clunky first season followed by gold for six more.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine may be my favorite of all the shows.  It’s seven seasons were darker and edgier while still Trek, this storytelling just got more involved as the series went on, and then they threw a war!
Star Trek: Voyager a lost in space premise doesn’t diminish the storytelling, but IMO the franchise starts to feel a little worn at this point.  Still Trek, but becoming standard Trek.  It picks up in the fourth season of it’s seven.
Star Trek: Enterprise goes back to the beginning, set about 100 years before Kirk and Spock in the original series.  A fresh start with some intriguing stories, but they managed to standard it up before it was over four seasons later.  Too bad too, the show showed so much promise.  Again, not that any of these series are bad.
LEGEND – western.  A failed 13 episode experiment from UPN that brought Richard Dean Anderson (MacGyver) and John DeLancie (Next Generation, Miracle Day) together for inspired genius.  Tough to find, NOT on DVD or
NETFLIX, Anderson plays Earnest Pratt, a old west pulp novelist whom everyone thinks is really his fictional hero Legend.  DeLancie is a warped Hungarian, Tesla-inspired inventor who can build whatever Pratt can write about.  FUN.
STARGATE SG-1 – And speaking of Richard Dean Anderson, here he takes over for Kurt Russell from the movie STARGATE as Col. Jack O’Neal, leading a team of explorers through the stargate and fighting aliens.  Just recently watched all 10 seasons and found the show to be solid, week after week enjoyable.  Yes, it’s an investment, but a good one.  Followed by Stargate Atlantis (I’m in the middle of season 2 of 5) and Stargate Universe (2 seasons, haven’t watched yet).
THE X-FILES – So many imitators later, but this one is still the best.  Nine seasons of spooky goings on (with seven being really good).
DOLLHOUSE – After FOX canceled FIREFLY, Joss Wheadon created this show (which they canceled after two seasons) about mind wipes and implanted memories.  Amazingly deep.
The ALMOST greats…
BATTLESTAR GALACTICA – the original is cheesy fun, but that may be the fog of nostalgic memory.  The darker remake (BSG) started off soooo strong the first season and a half.  It wained in the third and fourth seasons, and ended with more of a whimper than a bang, but man it was good for a while.
THE FLASH – superhero.  Moments of inspired genius, mostly good fun, a few clunkers, the one season about DC’s speedster is dated by even the 90’s when it came out, but still good fun.
LOST – Keith would kill me if I didn’t mention this time traveling twist-a-plot, which was hands down phenomenal the first two seasons, then became a victim of it’s own warped plots and lost it’s way for a lackluster (and predictable) finale six seasons later.
Currently enjoying…
FALLING SKIES – invasion. There hasn’t been a show like Falling Skies on since V, but this tale of invaders taking over the planet has a unique twist.  The invasion has already happened, and we lost.  This is the story of the survivors trying to regroup and fight back.  Compelling so far.
I have hopes for TERRA NOVA… Maybe…
There are more of course, (and now that I’ve typed a book I think I’ll post this on the blog! lol) next time I’ll mention movies you must watch…

Movie Review – Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 2

I’ve been pretty vocal of last few Harry Potter movies, so I feel almost like I need a retraction to start this off.  I like Harry Potter.  I have read the books, and enjoyed them immensely, I admire J.K. Rawlings for creating such a vivid and interesting world, and am extremely jealous of her ability to take a seemingly cute and innocent “magic” moment and turn it into a major plot driver later in the story.  Polyjuice potion anyone?  So I’m no hater, but I’m not a Potter addict, or either.  No, I do not have a subscription to Pottermore, there’s only room for one scarf in my closet and its 16 feet long and not Gryffindor colored, and I don’t dance around my living room with a wand yelling “Expelliarmus!” (though I have been known to dance around my living room with a light saber.)  Nor am I simply jumping on the Potter bandwagon, I’ve been there since the beginning.

The movies started off fun and got darker as the series went on, (as they should) but I felt a good deal of the fun got left behind as they progressed.  The films were and up and down affair; “Sorcerer’s Stone” and “Chamber Of Secrets” were both great; “Prisoner Of Azkaban” was good but missed several key plot points in it’s storytelling that would have ramifications for down the road; with the exception of the last 20 minutes or so, “Goblet Of Fire” (despite the presence of David Tennant) didn’t advance the over all story; “Order Of The Phoenix” was fantastic and started bringing things back around; “Half-Blood Prince” while a great book felt very uninspired as a movie; and “Deathly Hallows Part 1” spent way too much of it’s time lost in the woods arguing.

All that changes with “Deathly Hallows Part 2”, which returns the films to great status.  Picking up immediately where part one left off, the pace is quicker, the editing tighter, the whole story moves better.  And it’s told so well, you forget you’re watching a movie at times and become reabsorbed in the world and it’s trappings.  Great performances all around but particularly the supporting cast, who were sorely missed in the first part.  The only downside I can think of is that you pretty much have to have seen the previous seven films in order to be able to make sense of this one, for by this point nearly ever revelation that comes is related in some way, shape or form to what has come before.

In addition to being among the best if not THE best of all the Harry Potter films, its an incredibly well made MOVIE and one of the best I’ve seen so far this year.  What’s most amazing is that for all the dark things happening around them, (Hogwarts attacked, friends die) Harry Potter actually feels fun again.  Kudos to a rousingly successful end to the franchise!


Movie Review – Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes

“The Planet Of The Apes” series has always been a wonderful mishmash of promise and failure, of genius and camp, and of fear and fun. The original film is of course, a classic, with a screenplay co-written by Rod Serling, an amazing anti-hero played by Charlton “Get your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!” Heston, and the immortal Roddy McDowell buried under fantastic makeup as Corneileous.

“Beneath The Planet Of The Apes” followed the same formula with mixed results, “Escape From The Planet Of The Apes” brought Cornelius and Zira back through the time warp to present day (well, the bellbottom clad seventies anyway), “Battle For The Planet Of The Apes” saw the beginnings of the intelligent apes and how they would take over, and with “Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes” the series comes full circle as the apes rule the Earth.

Individually these films are full of Saturday afternoon silliness, string them together and you get a surprisingly coherent narrative thread that links them all together. “The Planet Of The Apes” television series was more of the same silly, and the Tim Burton Remake of 2001, while visually impressive, failed to re-ignite the franchise.

Now comes “Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes”, a “Batman Begins”-esq… retelling of the story. Not a remake, sequel or prequel, the film is the first in what Fox hopes will become a new Apes franchise. Enter researcher Will Rodman (James Franco) who is searching for the cure to Alzheimer’s to help his ailing father (John Lithgow), but the experimental drug tested on chimps not only heals neural pathways, but increases intelligence, setting the stage for the apes to ultimately rise.

All the performances are good here, especially Lithgow, Brian Cox and Tom Felton, (and special shout out to David Hewitt, managing to be VERY Dr. McKay from Stargate: Atlantis, while not having a single line of technobabble,) but the star is Andy Serkis, (Gollum from “Lord Of The Rings” and the title character in Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” remake) in the role of Caesar, the chimp responsible for leading the eventual rebellion. Buried under not make up, but visual effects, Andy portrays more depth and emotion as Caesar than some of his human counterparts. If the academy chooses not to honor Serkis with a Oscar nod for best actor, it’s time to boycott.

The visual effects in this movie are amazing and the plot is solid and entertaining. It should appeal to die hard fans of the “hard” science fiction that was the first film, as well as folks who enjoy the goofy fun of the sequels. But what made the film for me were the constant in-jokes and references: At one point, a character is watching another Charlton Heston film, the space mission Icarus is name dropped, other apes are named Corneila, and Bright Eyes, Caesar holds a model of the statue of liberty, and late in the film, steals a mounted police man’s horse. When he emerges out of the fog on the Golden Gate Bridge on horseback, well my friends, THAT is what makes a Planet Of The Apes movie.

And of course, the line. No Apes film would be truly complete with out that line.

* Follow Up: Just re-watched the movie on Blu Ray, and I’m pleased that it holds up just as well on repeated viewings.  An INTELLIGENT science fiction film!


Movie Review – Paul

For day 2 of the great movie vacation, I watched a film that many couldn’t believe I waited so long to see, Paul.

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost reunite for this wonderful comedy. The Pair star as two sci-fi geeks who after visiting the Mecca of all geekdom – San Diego Comic Con, embark on a pilgrimage to America’s UFO heartland. While on their journey, the two meet an alien who takes them on an insane road trip that alters their lives forever.

Simon and Nick pretty much had me at hello. From their first big film, Shaun of the Dead, to the classic British television series, Spaced, the duo have brought us witty and clever entertainment with a very high geek value. Paul doesn’t disappoint in this field either.

Perhaps because the two are sci-fi geeks in real life, Simon and Nick are a convincing and endearing couple of friends, who I (as well as many of my friends) can relate to. In fact all of the actors in this movie are really good, including Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Blythe Danner and the surprise actress who turns up at the end of the film, but I won’t mention her name in case you haven’t seen it yet.

So, are you thinking I forgot one of the most important roles in the film? Nope, I’ve saved the best for last. I’ve never been much of a Seth Rogen fan, but in this film, his personality is the perfect fit for the wayward alien, Paul. Unlike many of Rogen’s other films though, the rude, college, stoner humor is appropriately used here, and Rogen also, at times, comes across as a heart warming alien who you genuinely believe cares for his new friends as well as old.

Overall, this is a great film, with (as with any other Simon Pegg film) is full of sci-fi geek references. It’s a fantastic, fun, and entertaining film for geeks and regular folks alike.

Movie Review – Tangled

Day 1 of the great movie vacation.

Twice a year, the home day care that my kids go to during the week closes down, so that the woman who runs it can have a bit of a break. So, that means, twice a year either I or my wife have to take a week off from work to stay home with the kids, particularly the youngest one who is not in school yet.

I usually elect to take the time off, since I have more vacation time available at my job, and I usually make a list of tasks or repairs that need to be done, and use the time off to accomplish those. However, this time we didn’t come up with as many things so I find myself with a vacation and little to do.

A revelation came to me the other night as I was talking with Shaun, discussing the several movies he has loaned me over the coarse of six months (and one I’ve had for nearly two years) that I just haven’t had the time to see. I decided this was a perfect opportunity to catch up on all the films I’ve been putting off, for too long.

First, is a film that wasn’t loaned to me, but one that I have been ashamed to admit, I hadn’t seen, especially if you know how much of a Disney fan I am.

Tangled is the story of a charming thief, Flynn, who while on the run hides out in a mysterious tower. Unknown to him, the beautiful Rapunzel, lives in the tower with her 70 feet of golden magic hair. Rapunzel is looking for a ticket out of her hostage-like life her mother has forced on her. So, she strikes a deal with Flynn, and the two set out on an adventure full of action and romance.

Tangled is the first Disney film in a long time that holds the spirit, and format of a true Disney classic. This film is a lot like The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, with lots of great comedy, drama, and most importantly, a good soundtrack.

The voice cast it superb with Mandy Moore, and Zachary Levi in the leads. It’s well acted and much of the supporting cast lend very well to the strong ensemble of quirky characters.

The only complaint I have with this one is that it is not the traditional 2-D animation style. I realize that 3-D is here to stay, thanks in part to the failure of last year’s The Princess and the Frog, but I hold a special place in my heart for the traditional style that I grew up watching all of my life. One thing I can say for the film is, the animations at least closely matches the traditional look of Disney characters and that is a huge plus.

Overall the film is fun, funny, romantic, and captures the true spirit of some of the best of the studio, from the modern classics all the way back to the golden age of Disney animation.

Movie Review – Captain America: The First Avenger

*Spoiler Fee (If you know anything about Captain America) Review*

The year is 1987, and NASA launches the last of America’s deep space probes. In a freak mishap, RANGER 3 and its pilot Captain William “Buck” Rogers are blown out of their trajectory into an orbit which freezes his life support systems, and returns Buck Rogers to Earth, 500 years later…

…what? Captain Steve Rogers? Are you sure? That’s not in my notes. He still gets frozen right?

At the height of WWII, Hydra, the Nazi weapons division uncovers the mystical power of Odin, giving its leader Red Skull unheard of power. In a desperate attempt to balance the scales, scrawny Steve Rogers is turned into a super soldier, becoming Captain America. That’s it in a nutshell, but the movie is so much more than its synopsis.

Joe Johnston has always been a competent Action director, making good if not outstanding films, but here he has crafted a fun, popcorn flick which in some ways is the strongest of the Marvel superhero films, possibly the best since the original “Iron Man”.  The movie feels a bit like Johnston’s other WWII effort, “The Rocketeer”, (another film I liked, BTW) and has dashes of G.I. Joe thrown in for good measure. Early in the pic, there’s even a nice “Raiders Of The Lost Ark” reference.  A nostalgia filled trip through World War II, the movie reflects what was very right with America at the time. (It’s very pro America, but given the time frame it’s set, that’s acceptable.)

For the hard core fan boys, yes there are some minor modifications to the Captain America lore, (which I will be honest and admit I know next to nothing about. I’m the guy that goes to see the comic book movies without much frame of reference, so I tend to be more lenient on them than some of my truly geek friends) but nothing to get riled about.

Chris Evans is totally the right choice to play Cap, balancing the hero aspects of Steve Rogers with the cartoony comic book Captain America ones, and doing a fine job coming up as both. The supporting cast is great from top to bottom, but particularly Tommy Lee Jones as Col. Chester Phillips. He steals every scene he’s in with wit and charm, and honestly, deserves an Academy Award nod for supporting actor. (He won’t get one of course, this is a comic book movie). Also enjoyable was Hugo Weaving as Red Skull, but Hugo is brilliant in everything he does, so my lavishing more praise on him is redundant.

As a stand alone adventure, the movie works, but of course the REAL reason to go see it is this is all set up for next years “The Avengers”. (Be SURE to stay after the credits, as with most Marvel movies, there is a sneak peak scene!)