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Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
So many reasons
What's everyone raving about? It is clear as day to me that this is a satisfactory movie at best and a dull movie at worst. It is not a great movie or even a very good movie. I realize I'm in the minority, but this movie was basically a remake of Flash Gordon (1980) combined with the Power Rangers movie with a few added clichés from Star Wars. While they were playing those 70s hits, I kept hoping for Queen to sing "Flash! Agh! Savior of the universe!" That would have actually been funny.
It's a mess story-wise. It doesn't define it's world; if anything can happen for any reason (or no reason), then nothing's compelling or suspenseful. Action sequences are indecipherable in terms of cause and effect. I kept thinking I should be caring more. Like when the sisters were fighting. There seems to be some history there that made the fight meaningful, but it didn't register. The villain, a ripoff of the Emperor, Skeletor, and Ming, isn't interesting in the least. His motivations are never firmly established.
Big Bird in Japan (1988)
Homesickness for America
After Big Bird loses track of his Japanese tour group, he only has a short amount of time to find them somewhere in Japan so that he can get his ticket back home. Its strange that an educational television special to introduce American children to Japan would be structured around Big Bird's desire to return home to America. For much of the show, it appears Big Bird doesn't even enjoy Japan! Consider this song he sings early in the film:
"Why did I come to this far away place? Why oh why oh why oh? Where everyone speaks in Japanese, But they say they're from Ohio.
"I miss New York Where you eat with a fork And English comes in handy. Things were sweet On Sesame Street Where people understand me!"
In the end, Big Bird learns that Japan is an interesting place with an interesting language and culture, despite the fact that nobody speaks English. That might be the intended message, but the message I got was "There's no place like home."
Best Christmas Movie
I sent a version of this review to Salon critic Andrew O'Hehir after he neglected to mention Nightmare Before Christmas in his review of Christmas films:
Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas is my favorite Christmas movie of all time. If you're a pop culture junkie, I assume you've seen the film, and if you're a good film critic, I assume you agree that it contains the "meaning of Christmas" aspect of Its a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street plus the "dark twist" of Batman Returns (although Nightmare is a superior film and a more relevant film to Christmas). Unlike Home Alone (which was released around the same time), it is also a film that has aged incredibly well. Watch it today and it still holds up as the state of the art in animation and a dynamic story.
American Splendor (2003)
The movie has a knack of feeling incredibly simple, but is actually quite complex in its construction. For example, a lot has been said about Paul Giamatti's performance, and rightly so since it is at the heart of the film, but I'm convinced that those who call American Splendor a character study are doing so in error. It is really an ensemble piece crafted so well that it feels simpler than it actually is. Consider the contributions of Hope Davis and Judah Friedlander (both of whom give performances equal to Giamatti's), who disappear into their roles. The same can be said about the entire cast. Consider too the on screen presence of the real Harvey, Joyce, and Toby, without whom the film would have not had nearly the color and texture that it has.
The movie does another neat trick by being both faithful to the comics and being an uplifting and original biopic of its own. The screenplay, which weaves reality, fantasy, documentary, and animation is build on so many layers that in lesser hands, the film would feel disjointed and confusing, yet the writer/director team of Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini never confuse us.
Ben & Arthur (2002)
A contender for least favorite film
A good contender for my least favorite film would be Ben & Arthur; a film I would describe as less than amateurish. I saw it at the Silent Movie Theatre in West Hollywood with a bunch of hipsters who laughed, cracked jokes, and generally had a good time of "Mystery Science Theater-ing" the film. The movie is about two gay guys in Los Angeles who undergo all sorts of crazy obstacles to their relationship. The film has its heart in the right place (its kind of a weird plea for tolerance), but its so incompetently made and so wild and over the top in its plot and dialogue that it plays like a soap opera crossed with an after school special crossed with a West Hollywood camp.
Review of "The Complete Metropolis"
I just got back from seeing the new "Complete Metropolis" with the recently discovered footage edited into the film. It was playing at the Laemmle in Encino. I was once obsessed with seeing as many VHS versions of the movie as possible in order to get the whole story. I think during those days, the Giorgio Moroder version was the most complete even though the music was absurd. With this new version, I'm confident that I've seen as much of Metropolis as I could ever hope to see.
The complete restoration is coming out on DVD at the end 2010, but I highly recommend that you see it in theaters if possible. There are 25 minutes of new footage. About half of that footage is devoted to a subplot regarding the man that Freder trades identities with. The rest are added shots here and there and a greater emphasis on the contrast between Maria's virtue and the Robot's lack of virtue. Some of it is redundant or distracting from the main story, but much of it makes character motivations and the social critique clearer. I guess, like Blade Runner, each version of Metropolis will have its pluses and minuses and fans can argue forever about which is the "best."
Left me cold
I never read the comic so I went in completely cold. After seeing it, I have even less of a desire to read the comic than I did before I saw it.
None of the characters or plot lines engaged me on a human level in the way The Dark Knight, Sin City, or the Spider-Man films did. In fact, I actively disliked every character and had not a care in the world whatsoever if any of them lived, died, achieved their goals, failed to achieve their goals or anything else. I agree with Rorschach when he criticizes Dr. Manhattan for making the entire movie unnecessary. The film is also extremely violent, which I guess is part of the book, but I wasn't prepared for it. Conan is right when he says its closer to Saw than Spider-Man. The ads make it look like X-Men or something.
I didn't think Watchmen was particularly insightful when it came to matters spiritual or scientific. The two most philosophical conversations both take place on Mars; one is kind of an Ecclesiastes-lite and the other is a sort of post hoc ergo propter hoc explanation of what the film considers a "miracle."
On the other hand, the visuals are extremely impressive. I know some people didn't like the compositing and animation of Dr. Manhattan, but I couldn't disagree more. Overall, I'd give the movie a 10 out of 10 on the production level and a 4 out of 10 on a story level.
Vals Im Bashir (2008)
Great, personal film about the horrors of war
I saw this film at the AFI Film Festival a couple of months ago and it stayed with me since then. This is not your typical war movie, nor is it your typical animated film. I'd say its kind of a cross between Waking Life and Grave of the Fireflies.
The film takes place in the present. The film's director, Ari Folman, comes to the realization that he cannot remember anything from the time he served in the Israeli army during the 1982 Lebanon War. The bulk of the movie are his interviews with his old army friends where he asks them what they remember from that time. Folman tries to see in their memories something in himself that has been missing, deadened, or dulled. Like Waking Life, there is no "plot." The filmmaker prefers a more interview-based film. This is an "idea film," a poetic film, and traditional narrative style takes a back seat.
Like Grave of the Fireflies, the animation in Waltz With Bashir shows the horror of war and its effect on individuals in ways that a live action recreation could never replicate. The film's themes of human memory and its elasticity are served well by this technique. Rather than a soldier escaping death by hiding in the sea, we get the larger-than-life memory of a soldier escaping death that would look too "real" in a live action reenactment.
Tropic Thunder (2008)
Satire has little basis in reality
I'm gonna disagree with the majority and say that Tropic Thunder had a couple of chuckles, but was overall a rather dull comedy and a not very funny action film. I felt that the actors were mugging for the camera and the cheap shots at Hollywood were so far removed from reality that most of the satire fell flat.
Consider the Robert Downey Jr character. Downey did as good a job as anyone could in that role, but the role itself was not funny past the first second we see him. It was basically the same joke told throughout the film and it was only slightly amusing the first time. I'm not sure if African Americans were offended by the role, but I wouldn't be surprised because the character is not making any satirical comment that relates to anything in reality. Its just a white guy acting like a black guy. Ha ha ha, right? Not really. The treatment of retarded people was also offensive, in my opinion, as was the treatment of Vietnamese people.
Iron Man (2008)
A minority opinion
A lot of people have been said during the opening weekend of Iron Man that it ranks among the best comic book films of all time. I have to respectfully disagree and state that I am clearly in the minority of people who thought this movie was derivative, predictable, and didn't even involve me on an emotional level, except for in a couple of the flying scenes. I thought the best scene was when Iron Man was being shot by the two fighter planes. The whole Jeff Bridges subplot was the weakest part and by the time he put on his own metal suit and fought Iron Man in public, the movie lost me completely.
There was nothing wrong with it on a technical level. It is thrilling and awesome enough and all of that, but I think I've seen too many monsters/robots/superheroes fighting each other in public that it had better be shot differently or have different developments than the old "now we're in the lab -- now we're on the freeway -- now we're in the sky -- and back down on a roof" etc etc outline. Yawn. Nothing's at stake. That scene could have been as long or as short as the writers wanted it because its just a series of obstacles. What's the difference if the robots are fighting in 1 locations or 3 or 5 or 10 as long since each location has nothing to do with the previous or next one and eventually lead to the same conclusion anyway?