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Journey Back to Oz (1974)
Long story short, it doesn't work
I'd wanted to see this for years because I heard it was the official sequel to Wizard and finally got my chance the other day. It did not meet my already low expectations.
Ignoring the poor quality of the animation (which actually was better than expected from Filmation), the story flat-out fails. The only reason this manages to be feature-length is because of the repetitive sequences of Dorothy and co. going to characters from the first film for help, but being told the character is either unwilling or unable to do so. Admittedly, this does give rise to a funny moment from the new character Woodenhead Stallion III who comments, "Ah, great. I wonder who he's gonna send us to." The songs range from awful to fun, if not that clever. The best songs are, of course, the ones sung by Ethel Merman (surely the reason she was cast). All the others are completely forgettable. I only remember the songs by Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion because they, like their first film counterparts, were all built around the respective character's trait they had been seeking previously (and are now demonstrated to not truly have).
The voice acting is all right. Liza Minelli sounds exactly like her mother at that age, which neatly helps bridge the films. The only other returning actor is Margaret Hamilton (the Wicked Witch) now playing Auntie Em of all people! She does okay, but she doesn't capture the spirit of the character; most notably she overdoes a thick Southern accent which is distracting, since they're in Kansas.
To top it off, the moral is contrived and forced. I won't give spoilers, but they fall prey to a common kid's film problem by just sweeping any and all dilemmas the characters may suffer as a result of doing the right thing under the rug in a deus ex machina. And that's to say nothing of the song which just out-of-the-blue starts talking about God, despite nothing being about him up until that point or afterward.
If you're still curious to see the official sequel or just want something colorful to keep your kids occupied for a while, watch it. If not, a much better treatment of a very similar story is Return to Oz. Thank you.
This movie didn't need a big budget. It had a lot of heart and it shows. I normally don't like particularly sappy depictions of Jesus (Jesus Christ Superstar is admittedly one of my favourite film versions) but this was different.
Jesus was portrayed as very human in the midst of his divinity. Some of the best scenes are of him goofing around with his disciples (a side of the group not normally imagined). It might have been a tad cheesy, but I also appreciated the scene where he plays with children on the beach. But this Jesus isn't simply nice; he angrily calls out the hypocrites in the Temple multiple times. He also beautifully captures mourning for John the Baptist, praying for strength and courage to face his upcoming demise, and being bitterly rejected by Jerusalem.
June Carter's Mary Magdalene is also quite good. She puts a lot of passion into the role. My only complaint with her is that she doesn't do much. She's around for maybe four scenes, two in the middle and then two in the end.
Johnny Cash's narration sounds nice. It does often get repetitive. The most notable example is when Jesus heals a blind man and Cash sings, "I see men walking like trees" around six times before saying anything else. It is also rather off-putting to have the narration do almost all of the talking, especially for the protagonist. In fact, the only people who talk at all in the movie besides Johnny are Mary Magdalene and Nicodemus. However it is a style to which one adapts as the movie continues.
This film might not have the best sets or the best wardrobe or even a very full cast, but what it has is gold. Check it out.
Mulan II (2004)
*smacks movie on nose with newspaper* No! Bad!
Mulan I was a good movie. Mulan II is not. I'll sum up the various reasons this installment was not good.
1) The heavy-handed dialog. There's no room for subtlety in this film, unlike the last one. Everything is spelled out and parsed down, treating the audience like idiots.
2) Shang's death that wasn't. The scene where Shang falls down a ravine in the line of duty, having been involved in a fight with his fiancée Mulan and his last words are, "I'm sorry," followed by Mulan's mourning was easily the best part of the movie. Unfortunately, all meaning was thrown out the window moments later when it is revealed that he actually improbably survived his fall. This turned a potentially really interesting plot point into an excuse for the next course of action.
3) Ridiculous character vs. society setup. Mulan in the first film was against her society simply because she didn't fit into it. Mulan of this film is portrayed as a modern-day American woman dropped into this society, because not only does she disregard its rules, she doesn't even know them.
4) The blatant ethnocentrism. Hearkening back to #3, this film imposes very American, very modern ideas and customs and presenting them as superior to what it assumes are the customs of the day. This is made most obvious when the princesses sing about being "like other girls," when what they are describing is being like American girls.
5) The secondary characters. Remember those three soldiers Mulan befriended? They're back and now they have a clichéd love story. I would write more, but there's really nothing more to say about that.
6) The blatant misunderstanding of how relationships work. Long story short: Mushu wants to break up Mulan and Shang so he sparks an argument between them over a legitimate issue. It works and he feels guilty so he confesses to Mulan. She is understandably angry, but then states that all of her disagreement with Shang was entirely Mushu's fault. What?! They had an actual fight and genuinely disagreed about something. Just because Mushu was the catalyst for this particular situation doesn't mean you can gloss over that.
What did I think? It was... an interesting experience.
I am a theologically conservative Christian. However, unlike many of my like-minded comrades, I am very interested in the humanity of Jesus. I've seen (and nearly memorized admittedly) Jesus Christ Superstar among other similar productions. This film, however, made me raise an eyebrow and wonder if it had gone too far.
As a film, it's quite good. The acting (with possible exception of Judas) was superb, as long as one is able to accept the unorthodox choice of accents. I particularly enjoyed Willam Defoe as Jesus (though I had to force myself not to think of him as the Green Goblin). The storyline was well-written and really gave outstanding weight to his last words, "It is accomplished." Theologically, a number of things rubbed me the wrong way. You're free to take this or leave this, but I have to say it to give an honest review. Jesus spends the first portion of the movie tortured by voices in his head and is unsure if it is God or Satan. I don't remember if it was ever stated who it was, so I inferred that it was the devil. However, merely showing Jesus blaming God for it was treading dangerously close for me.
Early on, he is also convinced that he is guilty of a great many sins for which he seeks forgiveness. While it is conceivable that, while being sinless, he could believe he had sinned, this was taking it too far.
I was initially off-put by the overtly sexual content but, now that I've thought about it, I wouldn't list it as a criticism. I would, however, strongly warn anybody wanting to view this about it and the discomfort it can easily cause.
The scene in which Jesus meets Paul (in the last temptation, of course) went on unnecessarily long, diving into some weird concepts about how Paul created the image of Jesus as resurrected Lord because it's what people need. In addition to my own preconceptions running counter to this, I simply did not understand what sense it made to portray Paul like this *in the same film where all the things he claims to have invented are true*! For some concluding thoughts, the portrayal of Judas' betrayal as reluctantly following Jesus' orders struck me as blatantly inaccurate, the murder of Lazarus (shortly after his resurrection) was unnecessary, and the baptism scene looked like a rave.
All-in-all, an interesting film and I certainly don't regret watching it. However, I would certainly never recommend it to another theologically conservative Christian (unless they were really open-minded) though, for everyone else, I'd say go for it, as long as you understand that it doesn't capture the biblical Jesus.
A fun ending to the series, albeit somewhat flawed
As a longtime fan of The Fairly OddParents, I was excited to see the advertisements for this movie which would end the series (though there always seem to be ways around this).
On the whole, the movie was a worthwhile finale and general tribute to the cartoon. I was entertained the whole way through. That being said, however, there were some very specific points that irked me. I have taken the liberty of arranging them into a top-five list for you.
5) A point is made in this movie about Poof's first words. Yet this was (to my recollection) never a running gag in the series. A much more interesting idea would've been to finally reveal Mr. and Mrs. Turner's first names which had been a constant teasing gag for years in the cartoon. Additionally, when Poof does say his first words, he is speaking like a thirty-year-old thug. Does that not feel like a gag that would be more at home in a stupid 90's film?
4) At one point, Cosmo and Wanda pose as normal human adults. However, they are portrayed by entirely different actors. While I am always entertained by Jason Alexander, these portrayals of the couple felt like pale imitations. Furthermore, this is nothing like an earlier time they had done this same thing. In that episode, they simply grew taller and their wands, wings, and floaty-crowny things disappeared.
3) I bought all of the characters as either just the live-action version of their cartoon counterparts or the original character just 13 years later, except Vicky. Cartoon Vicky seemed to pulsate with pure, unadulterated evil. Live-action Vicky seemed more like a generally sweet girl going as the Wicked Witch of the West for Halloween. Additionally (and this is more of a nitpick) but did you ever notice that Vicky's breasts were unnaturally pointy in the cartoon? Well, those get carried over here. Why? None of the other ridiculous physical traits get transferred. Jorgen's chin isn't a foot long, Timmy doesn't have huge buck-teeth, and Crocker has only a slight hunch and his ears are on his head rather than his neck. Why should this of all things make it through?
2) Mr. Crocker is, as always, a delight. However, he is almost entirely overshadowed by new villain Hugh J. Magnate, Jr., a corporate tycoon who wants to build a hotel/oil rig in Dimmsdale. In my opinion, this fails in several ways. For one, Magnate is a very stereotypical villain. Mind you, in watching a live-action cartoon, I'm not expecting The Godfather, but Fairly OddParents would at least have original characters who may or may not have had much depth. Plus, much like Poof talking, this is something that would be more at home in a stupid 90's film. Furthermore, Crocker was way too entertaining, memorable, and interesting character to get the shaft by a guy created for the movie. In fact, nothing in their scheme that Magnate did couldn't have been done by Crocker. Now it could be argued that we've already seen what Crocker does with magic (Jimmy-Timmy Power Hour 1, Abra-Catastrophe) so if he had been in on this by himself we'd just be retreading old territory. That's fair, which brings me to my next point: Crocker was never intended to be Timmy's archenemy; Vicky was. She was the reason he got fairy godparents, so it would've been some very nice irony if she was the one responsible for him losing them. Not to mention the fact that she is, in fact, Tootie's sister, which goes unmentioned.
1) Timmy accepts responsibility, grows up, and gives up his fairy godparents. The series gets the resolution that we all knew was coming and Timmy goes through some very nice character development. All is right...until Jorgen shows up and declares that Timmy is now exempt from losing his fairy godparents. Bullcrap! While it is explained that this is in reward for all the times he saved Fairy World (which makes sense), this was never foreshadowed and Jorgen actually spent the entire movie up until that point trying to ensure that Timmy did grow up and lose Cosmo and Wanda. Plus, this creates some notable problems with the other time we'd seen Timmy's future: Channel Chasers. In the end of that movie, we see Timmy as a thirty-year-old man (a mere seven years after this), married, with two children, and having forgotten all about his fairy godparents (save for some residual memories) who are now assigned to his children. While not necessarily a contradiction, it certainly appears that whoever wrote this installment neglected to research established parts of the show's history. Finally, this raises significant problems for Timmy's development because it undercuts his accepting of the fact that he has to give them up. Mind you, he still does grow as a person, promising to only make unselfish wishes, falling in love, and being a responsible member of society, but this does make me question how much the writers actually cared about such things.
King of Kings (1961)
I'm not sure I've ever seen a movie so unfocused
I watched this movie just last night. I can honestly say that it was not what I expected.
Before I get into this, let me say that there were plenty of good things about this movie. Almost the entire cast was, well, well-cast. The cinematography is also quite good. Furthermore, while it was not used very often, the symbolism employed was quite interesting.
The primary failing point of this movie, for me anyway, was the fact that it's so much more about the political context of Jesus than about Jesus. This might have been more at home in one of those older Jesus films where he was almost entirely unseen, but Jeffrey Hunter was very much a presence in this one.
Additionally, the character of Lucius (who, in line with my above criticism, was more of a character than Jesus was) was the product of so many contrivances to ensure that he was wherever the plot needed him at that particular time. The movie couldn't decide whether he worked under Herod or Pilate, so he was constantly bouncing back and forth between the two.
On a lesser note, the actor portraying John the Baptist was not very good. John should be wild and kind of crazy. This guy was incredibly calm. I had a very hard time believing that Barabbas would think he would be of assistance in revolution or that Pilate and Herod felt threatened by him.
All-in-all, it's an okay movie. It just suffers from a huge lack of focus and some pretty big contrivances.
The title is accurate; this special is a trap.
The very first Family Guy Star Wars spoof (Blue Harvest) was hilarious because one could tell that the writers put a lot of thought into it. "Something, Something, Something Dark Side" had a few good laughs, but was definitely not worth sitting through for those few. When they reached "It's A Trap!" however, almost anything resembling humour was completely gone. I was actually planning to completely avoid it until it just happened to be on TV and nothing else was on.
Seth Macfarlane acknowledges the fact that he is phoning in this last special in the opening crawl. He blatantly states that he knows it is not very funny. The way I figure it, given Macfarlane's past few years of television, if he knows something is unfunny, it really must be.
I was keeping careful count of the things I considered funny. I counted four things: an Ewok eating the limbs of another Ewok who had fallen in battle, Han making Imperial troops dig their own graves (although this joke went on too long, so it was only partially funny), the ghost of Darth Vader blaming Luke for killing him, and Meg being the Sarlaac.
There were at least six things which were hypothetically funny, but the execution ruined them. Most of the special was just plain insipid and had no respect for its audience's potential intelligence (I say potential because, given the fact that Seth Macfarlane's new stuff is still popular, intelligence might not be entirely applicable).
This is all to say that the scene at the end where all of the Griffins who are not played by Macfarlane wind up completely ripping on him was not very inaccurate. I like to think that it's Macfarlane's subconscious acceptance of the fact that he is no longer funny.
After viewing this special, I can now say that I have officially given up on MacFarlane's animation. He has nothing more to offer. All of his new stuff is devoid of humour and I've already seen the old, good stuff enough times that I'd rather preserve my good memories of them than continue to taint the experience by remembering what Family Guy would become in years to come.
Don't listen to the handful of naysayers. Listen to the..."Yay"sayers?
Considering this was only the pilot for a series that will never be, it was fantastic.
I fail to comprehend what those people who are giving it really low ratings on this site are thinking. Nearly everything they said was inaccurate. The acting was good. The dialogue was acceptable. The special effects (for a TV budget) were quite good. The story was awesome. It set up a lot of potential story lines for the aforementioned series which will never be (and I mean a lot).
Since the comparison is inevitable, I may as well make it. This was created by the same fellows that created Smallville. Now, I think that Smallville was okay. The first season was really dragged down by repetitive plot lines that never added up to much and then the show (while still watchable after this point) had no real excuse to continue after season 4.
As for Aquaman/Mercy Reef, since it never got past the pilot, none of those criticisms could apply here. However, just comparing the pilots of both shows, I can already see that Aquaman has the upper hand. A significant part of Smallville's pilot was taken up by the monster-of-the-week subplot which did not affect Clark's story significantly that was so incredibly prevalent in the first season. Aquaman had a villain who was killed in the end, so this might indicate that it would have suffered a similar problem. However the difference is that Aquaman's villain was intricately tied to his journey to becoming a hero because she was part of the Atlantean war that would have been a big part of the series. Smallville's weekly villains were connected only in the fact that their powers came from the Kryptonite which fell to Earth with Clark. This villain, in addition to being the monster that had killed A.C.'s mother, was also just the first step in much bigger villainous events that would have taken place.
All-in-all, this is a television pilot that is worth your while. I know I will be saying what many others are saying, but I believe it is true: this really should have been picked up for a series.
Quite possibly the best part about this adaption is that I used to be in the camp that saw Aquaman as a relatively useless superhero. Thanks to this pilot, I have changed my mind about him.
The Last Airbender (2010)
While Avatar: The Last Airbender was on the air, I watched it quite sporadically. That obviously meant that I didn't follow the story very well, but I could tell this was a show worth watching, with an engaging and complex story, well-developed and enjoyable characters, and a creative premise. This movie is not that.
One of the first problems I noticed upon watching this was that the acting ranged from sub-par to downright atrocious. The most notable offender is the protagonist. From the very first line he delivered to the end, I never believed a word he said.
The pace of the movie is also very out of line. This is what happens when you try to directly convert a whole year's worth of a television show into a movie which is not at least two and a half hours. Not only was the story moving at breakneck speed, but almost all character development for anybody other than Aang or Zuko was excised. As a result, Sokka does nothing for more than the first half of the movie and then suddenly has a subplot in which he finds love. This takes a dramatic turn when another suddenly introduced subplot intervenes.
Further, the exposition is among the worst I have ever heard. There is a scene early on in which Admiral Zhao blatantly and unnaturally tells most of Zuko's back-story felt more like a fake scene that somebody would film for a screen writing class as an exaggerated example of bad exposition. There are more examples (including the largely unneeded narration), but that was the worst.
I will, however, give the film credit on very few points. There is a scene in the big fight scene in which Aang must confront his own internal conflict that is quite well-done. That scene deserved to be in a much better movie. The fight scenes were good, as were the special effects.
At least two of the people with whom I watched this movie declared it a good movie (albeit one amended his commendation to say that the acting was not very good). This movie is a good example of a theory I am developing which I call, "If it feels good, it is good," (the name needs work). Basically, back in the day, there was a certain "feel" to good movies. It was much easier to tell good movies from bad ones because the bad ones tended to have much lower budgets and thus felt different. However, in recent years, more and more bad movie ideas are getting the same studio backing as good ones and those lines become heavily blurred. As a result, there are plenty of just plain terrible movies that are being touted as works of cinematic genius.
Terminator Salvation (2009)
It has some problems, but it's not bad.
I enjoy the Terminator franchise. I like T1. I really like T2. To a lesser degree, I like T3 and TS, but I still like them. Before anyone asks, I haven't actually watched a full episode of the Sarah Conner Chronicles, so I don't have an opinion.
I don't fully understand why this movie got the negative press that it did. I was entertained.
First, let me discuss what didn't quite add up. The biggest problem for me is actually one that I haven't heard very much. A plot point of the story is that Kyle Reese has been targeted by Skynet, which of course spells trouble for John Conner since he has to send Kyle back in time or he won't exist. The problem: no explanation is given for Skynet to want Kyle terminated. In fact, the story would have worked better if he just happened to be captured by Skynet and John set out to rescue him because it would answer why Skynet doesn't actually kill him.
The movie has no real focus until the third act. There are several story lines going on, but none of them emerges as the main conflict until the final part when they all unify. This is more of a minor thing, but it annoyed me nonetheless.
This adds very little to the story arc of the franchise. Again, I haven't heard this one very often. Think about it. How much is actually accomplished in this story that affects the rest of the series? John meets Kyle (but not until the end), John gets more pull in the Resistance (which wasn't even a concept until this movie, so it just created its own problem for John to overcome), and John's attitude towards machines lightens up (admittedly, this is cool because it sets up for his reprogramming of the T-800 from his youth). That's it. That's not enough for a movie of this length.
A better situation would have been for the base at the end be the mainframe that John destroyed in the future which was so pivotal in the war and caused Skynet to want to terminate him. By simply doing this, the entire story is building up to that and thus has purpose in the overall series.
Huh. Anyway, this actually wasn't a bad movie. The acting was good, the story (beyond the weak points I noted) was good, and the special effects were good (though I really don't care). I would recommend that you check it out for yourself if you haven't seen it and don't listen to the naysayers.