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Captain America: Civil War (2016)
The Best Marvel Movie Yet
I'm not prone to hyperbole and I toss around perfect scores like they were lead balloons. But HOLY COW, THIS MOVIE IS AWESOME!!!! The action was great. The fight scene between the heroes that was teased in the trailers is so awesome. I wasn't in favor of the young Spider-Man because in the comic Civil War story line, he's the one who turns from one side to the other and I thought it would be less meaningful if it were a teenager who was manipulated, as opposed to a man in his 30s but considering everyone else is an adult, the young Spidey is a nice change. He has some really great dialogue with Tony Stark and Steve Rogers.
There's a twist at the end of this movie that maybe some people will see coming but I didn't. It had me whispering "Oh no, oh no, oh no" into my hands. As opposed to Batman V. Superman (you know the comparisons are inevitable) where it's not clear why the heroes hate each other and are fighting, what makes this movie almost tragic is that you know that they don't hate each (in fact, there's a lot of dialogue that states how little these friends want to be fighting each other) but you understand why each hero feels he or she has to.
Black Panther and Spider-Man are really awesome. I guess I could criticize how this movie really didn't set up how Black Panther is able to do what he does but on the other hand, BVS didn't set up Wonder Woman very well and she likewise was one of the best parts of that movie.
Overall, I hope this movie brings in more money then BVS because it is near flawless. This is how you do a team-up movie, D.C. You give us a chance to get to know your characters, little by little, have them grow to like each other and THEN break them apart. You tried to skip to the end, without laying the groundwork and that's one of the main reasons your movie is inferior. I wanted to love BVS but I'm sorry, this is just the better movie.
It's just okay. And for this movie, that's not okay. (major spoilers)
This is the big one. This is the match-up for which comic book fans have been waiting and waiting and waiting. Superman has had 6 movies prior to this (the 4 Christopher Reeve movies plus Superman Returns and Man of Steel) and Batman has had 7 (2 by Tim Burton, 2 by Joel Schumacher and the Nolan trilogy). Everyone wanted to see these 2 in movie together. Hell, it was teased in the Will Smith vehicle "I Am Legend". And what was the end result? "Meh". At best.
At worst, this movie is what people were beginning to worry about as rumors spread about all the various D.C. characters joining the cast. Nightwing (an early but ultimately false rumor). Wonder Woman. Flash. Cyborg. Aquaman. It was hard to keep up with all the names getting thrown out there. The fear became that D.C. was just desperately trying to play catch up to Marvel Studios and none of these characters would get adequate development time. Well, the "good" news is that we don't have a lot of characters running around without development. The bad news is ....what we do have, has a lot of problems.
One of the main problems with this movie, which a lot of people have pointed out, is just that Batman and Superman are portrayed as too similar of characters. Why are they fighting? Well, Batman's upset that Superman was careless with his fight with Zod, which resulted in the death of a lot of people and the fact that he has the power to end all human life on the planet as we know it and there is no power great enough to counter him. Okay, that's reasonable. Why does Superman want to fight Batman? ....Because he puts himself above the law and acts as a vigilante. ..... ....Are you like a vampire, Supes? When you look in a mirror, do you lack a reflection? Because, ummmm.......
There really doesn't seem to be a great reason driving these 2 to dislike each other. Batman has his reasons to mistrust Superman but it's not like Superman goes out of his way to kill people. He's reckless and probably could benefit from hearing Batman's side of the argument but the idea that Batman has reached the conclusion that "I have to kill Superman because he could kill everyone even though he only caused a lot of death once and that's when he was fighting another alien and there's no reason to suspect there's another one out there so it might not happen again and he's also tried to save people who were shipwrecked and lost in mines so clearly, his main objective is not just to kill all people of Earth"....it just doesn't seem to add up.
Let's move on to Lois Lane in this movie: POINTLESS. She has no real reason to be there other then "it's a Superman movie and she has to be". She is the classic, cliché damsel in distress in this movie. It's really obvious director Zack Snyder and writer David Goyer didn't know what to do with her. Plus, I'm more then a little upset that she just "happened" to know where Batman and Superman got to at the end of their fight and just "happened" to be able to get there, just in the nick of time to stop Batman from using the Kryptonite spear to kill Superman. Convenient timing much? And then in the final fight with Doomsday, how exactly is she able to come to realization that Doomsday is a creature made up of partially Kryptonian DNA and thus, the spear (which she threw away in a pool of water for no reason.... I mean, Superman wasn't in danger at that point...) was the only capable of killing him? Batman, the world's greatest detective, says it to Superman and Wonder Woman on the battlefield but Lois isn't there to hear that. How does she know?
On to the next point: Lex Luthor Jr. (destined to be one of the most despised casting choices in the history of comic book movies; seriously, I have not heard anyone try to defend Jesse Eisenberg's performance) and General Zodd both have their weaknesses as characters but they were both intelligent, reasonable "human" (Kryptonian, in Zodd's case) beings. So, how exactly does combining the DNA of 2 intelligent, sentient beings result in a mindless, mass of muscle aka Doomsday? Doomsday is just shoehorned in there, in the 11th hour, so there's someone there that Superman and Wonder Woman can hit with all their muscle. That's it. "Just give me a villain who can stand up to those 2 hitting him with all their might because we need an action sequence where all 3 heroes are united". Plus, what exactly was Lex's plan for dealing with Doomsday AFTER he killed Superman? He's unleashed this unstoppable monster on the world--how was he going to rein it in? Was he really willing to gamble that Batman and Wonder Woman would find a way to kill it, after it had killed Superman? That's quite a lot to assume, a heavy wager to possibly lose. If this was the Joker, who just worships death and chaos, maybe that might be possible but Lex Luthor is supposed to be a rationale, if corrupt, business man.
So what DID I like about this movie? Well, Ben Affleck as Batman, Jeremy Irons as Alfred and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. Those 3 are the strongest components of the movie. Well acted, very interesting characters. Wonder Woman's music theme is very good. Zack Snyder does know how to frame some nice comic-book-panel shots. There's some really good stuff in this movie but there's a lot of stuff that doesn't work. There are some good scenes but the movie is less then the some of its parts. It just wasn't the home run D.C. needed it to be.
The Perfect Man (2005)
Riddled with Clichés
I can't think of a more by-the-numbers cliché fest. In the early 2000s, Hillary Duff had a modicum of fame, as another Disney channel generated star, in the vein of Lindsay Lohan. To her immense credit, she didn't end up a similar train wreck. Still, her limited appeal as the "charming, good girl next door" is on full display in this calculated safe movie that takes no risks.
Holly Hamilton (Duff) is tired of her single mother (Heather Locklear)'s routine of dating, getting too involved, getting dumped and uprooting her and her sister constantly. So, through a variety of passing gifts and letters along, she creates a fictional secret admirer who fits her mother's standards of romantic perfection. What follows is the classic "liar revealed" story, as Holly gets in too deep and has to constantly tell lie after lie. As I said, all the clichés are here: the over-looked guy who is trying to win Holly's affections, the quirky best friend (played by Caroline Rhea, who had some success for a short time in this time of role following her tenure on "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch"), the flamboyant gay guy who is thrown in there for comic relief, the clueless klutz of a guy who provides a "competitor" for Holly's fictional boyfriend. Along with the characters, there's also the "girls just wanna have fun" far too choreographed dance sequence, the "liar revealed" scene where it looks like everything's ruined, the pop song sequence ("Collide" by Howie Day. In fairness, as far as corny early '00s pop goes, it's one of the better ones).
There's absolutely nothing "bad" about this movie. If you're looking for a safe teen romance, it's not bad. It just takes no risks and goes nowhere you don't see coming a million miles away.
Kung Fu Panda (2008)
A Cute Little Story
I had heard some good things about this movie but I kind of relegated it to "just a little kids film" for years in my mind. When I finally sat down and watched it....yeah, that's pretty much what it is. I'm not saying it's painful if you have to sit through it if you're an adult--it's absolutely not. But it's not quite on par with the Toy Story trilogy.
There are 2 elements about the movie that really stick out as excellent. Firstly, a lot of the scenes are extremely beautiful to look at. The shots like where Po is talking to the turtle teacher by the peach tree and you get an overhead view of the valley of peace are just gorgeous. The second element that is really great are the action shots: they're fast, they're fun, they're varied. The fight sequences are a joy to watch.
Other then those 2 elements, I don't know if anything really stuck out. The voice actors are all well-chosen and do good jobs and the jokes are pretty good but the story is pretty predictable. Like I said, it's pretty good but I wouldn't go as far as to say it's spectacular.
Dumb and Dumber To (2014)
Simply Made a Decade Too Late
I really enjoyed Dumb and Dumber when I saw it back in high school in the late 90s, early 2000s. Jim Carrey was in the midst of an incredible hot streak. Everything worked. I expected to like this film too.
So I sat in the (otherwise empty) theater and I'm getting exactly what I expected: Jim Carrey's funny faces? Check. Slightly perverted jokes? Check. Dumb statements made by Carrey and then instead of called stupid, praised by Daniels? Check. The poor schmuck who we know is really dangerous is tagging along with our main characters and they annoy the heck out of him? Check. Everything I thought I wanted to be there, was there.
And boy, was it boring.
Seriously, I don't know if I really laughed once. And I sat there asking myself, why? This was all the stuff that I loved back in high school. But I'm not in high school any more and this material simply wasn't new and fresh any more.
All comedy kind of requires a willingness on the part of the observer to go along with what the comic is trying to present as funny. That's why some people find comics like Dane Cook and Sarah Silverman funny and other people can't stand them--you have to be willing to go along with their sense of humor. Comedy also relies a bit on the unexpected--in the original, Lloyd said something completely mind-numbingly stupid and Harry's line was, "Y'know, just when I think you couldn't be any dumber, Lloyd, you go ahead and do something like this--AND TOTALLY REDEEM YOURSELF!!!" That's funny because the first time we saw it, it was the opposite of the response we were expecting. In this movie, though, it's EXACTLY what we're expecting. It's the same reason Adam Sandler and his friends bombed in this summer's movie "Pixels" or the reason Will Ferrell's movies and Mike Myers' movies started to decline in popularity--you can't just go to the same comedy well over and over and over again and expect to keep hitting gold. At some point, you've have to switch it up and try something new.
This movie was the equivalent of Michael Jordan coming out of retirement the final time and just not being that good--it's painful to watch because you know he used to be the best in the world at what he did and now you're just watching a pale reflection of his former greatness. We might have loved this movie if it had come out just 10 years ago but now, this style of humor is just painfully dated and has just been done too many times. Thankfully, it does not appear there is going to be a Dumb and Dumber 3.
Saving Mr. Banks (2013)
A Wonderful Film
With her book revenues drying up and in danger of losing her home, author P.L. Travers is forced to entertain the idea of selling the movie rights to her beloved novel Mary Poppins to Walt Disney, who has been pursuing them for 20 years, in order to keep a promise he made to his daughters. So eager to make the film, Disney makes Travers an unprecedented offer: final script approval. Essentially, nothing goes in the film without her say-so. The rest of the movie is based around Travers butting heads with director Don DaGradi and the film's composers, the Sherman brothers, to make the film. Travers, the purist who based the characters on people from her own childhood, wants to make the film exactly like the book and the creative team wants to (for lack of a better term) "disneyify" it.
And that's basically it. The premise of the film is very, very simple but a plot doesn't need to be complicated in order to be good. What makes the movie so incredibly good are the performances. Emma Thompson is the go-to British actress for "hard but with a touch of heart". Tom Hanks is brilliant as Disney, effortlessly transitioning from the light hearted, child loving, "everyone call me by my first name" type boss you wish you had to the shrewd, successful business man. He'll negotiate but in the end, he's going to get the deal he wants. Not to be overlooked are Colin Farrell, who delivers the finest performance of his recent career as Travers' father in flashback sequences, and Paul Giamatti, who is just lovable as Travers' chauffeur who tries to break through Travers' stony exterior of simply not wanting, in the slightest way, to be there. Bradley Whitford, B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman all knock it out of the park as well, as DaGradi and the Sherman brothers, respectively.
If I have to nit-pick to find a flaw with the film, it would be that the ending is a work of pure fiction. If you've read anything about the real story (and there is plenty of evidence because, as it's truly depicted in the movie, Travers insisted that all creative sessions be taped), Travers hated the final product, which she insisted upon calling "Walt Disney's Mary Poppins" to distinguish it from her own work and refused to work with the studio ever again. But, if you can get past that, it's an enjoyable film with strong performances that definitely makes for a worthwhile rental.
Heroes Syndrome--Great Season One Then Steadily Gets So Bad, The Cancellation was a Mercy Killing
If you weren't there, it's hard to describe how big Glee Season One was. It was everywhere. Just about everyone loved this show. Your Facebook mini-feed was dominated by conversations about the latest episode. The cast got invited to perform at the White House. After each new episode aired, the songs in that episode would account for 4-6 of the top downloaded songs on I-tunes by the following morning.
Why did Glee Season 1 work so well? The writers clearly had a well-thought out season arc. The 2 stories that stretched the length of the first 11 episodes (or whatever it was, up until the first break) were A) Terri Schuster fakes her pregnancy to keep her husband Will around and Will's anger when he finds out, B) head cheerleader Quinn gets pregnant by her boyfriend Finn's best friend Puck and leads Finn to believe he is actually the father and Finn's road to discovering the truth. It was carefully planned out, how much each episode would advance these 2 plots. Other stories, involving the other characters, would last for one episode each and were well-written and entertaining.
So where did it go wrong? You have to understand, a big part of this show's success surrounded selling compilation albums and, especially, Itunes downloads. So, after a short time, instead of writing a compelling story and then choosing songs that fit the story's needs, regardless of how current or dated they were, they started by looking at what was popular on the radio and on Pandora at the time and then trying to write an episode around them. In one particular episode, there was a truly horrendous plot thread that revolves around one of the characters seeing his class mates as puppets (literal puppets) just to lead up to the final scene containing the popular song "What the Fox Say". This hit song was written initially as a joke but Glee took it so seriously. Instead of setting trends, they started chasing them. Characters began to stray unrecognizably from their characters. Quinn, whose first line of dialogue ever was, "I almost got out of this town!", in a later episode told Rachel Berry in a hussy, "Here's how this works: you're going to go onto Broadway and Finn and I are going to stay here and be together." Matthew Morrison's character, Will Schuster, starts off as a seemingly competent Spanish teacher but then in somewhere about Season 3, there is an episode that writes him as understanding very little about the Spanish language or Latino culture. He apparently got the job because "he needed a teaching job and that's what was available at the time." THAT'S NOT HOW TEACHING WORKS!!!! YOU ACTUALLY NEED A BASIC UNDERSTANDING OF THE MATERIAL YOU ARE TEACHING!!!! It was downright insulting to Morrison's character, the show itself and pretty much, teachers, everywhere, many of whom put a lot of work into remaining up-to-date on the subject matters they teach. Ryan Murphy got overly preachy (ironic, from someone who clearly resents the church to a great deal, based on the episodes certain around talks of religion and the poor, ignorant writing of characters with a religious side) with his far left agenda.
In Season 5, when the show was clearly running on fumes, it was clear the writers had absolutely no new ideas so they began to reuse ideas for the third or fourth time. Sue plans to tear down the Glee club--again. A Puckerman impregnates a cheerleader (or believes himself to, for a short time, I think)--again. The writing and the music just became so awful that I can't bring myself to make it through the series. Season 5 is just unbearable, though, the decline could be seen as early as Season 2. Yeah, for something that was so trend-setting and revolutionary at its inception, almost no one noticed when it ended. It went from "must-watch" t.v. to the very bottom of the ratings. Good riddance.
Les Misérables (2012)
A Mixed Bag--Not as Good as What You Would See on Broadway
Les Mis is simply one of the greatest musicals ever put to stage. It's one of the longest running shows in Broadway history and is always getting revived on the Great White Way. This version.....ehhhhh
Okay, okay, the good: *Anne Hathaway's "I Dreamed a Dream" sequence. I'm sure you've heard about this: it's all done in one take, the shot is kept close and intimate and Hathaway's performance just knocks it out of the park.
*Samatha Barks--Her Eponine is pretty great. She has an amazing voice and you can see her theatrical training coming through.
The Okay: *Hugh Jackman. I may getting plenty of dislikes for this but here it is. I love Jackman, he's a terrific Wolverine, he's fun, he throws himself into whatever he's working on. But ...he's just not the right choice for Valjean, I'm sorry, he's not. Valjean is a part clearly written for a legit tenor and Jackman is a baritone. You can hear it on Valjean's most famous number, "Bring Him Home". Jackman hits the notes but it's clearly a stretch and not where his voice wants to naturally sit.
The Bad: *Russell Crowe. Yeah, you knew this was coming. Russell Crowe, Russell Crowe. What the HELL were you doing in this movie? To his credit, he is in tune and he does know how to sing a musical phrase. But his STYLE of singing is so incredibly wrong, he's been the butt of a million jokes ever since the movie came out. Yeah, this just has to be one of the worst casting decisions made in cinema history.
*Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne. This is another one I might catch flack for. So be it. Seyfried has an INCREDIBLY distracting vibrato and Redmayne sounds like Kermit the Frog. I'm sorry, he does. Plus, the latter's performance of "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables"...it just swings and misses. This is one of the big emotional moments of the show, Marius dealing with just this massive amount of survivor's guilt. In the show, I've seen actors tear at their clothes and hair and throw themselves down on their knees as they rage, "Oh my friends, my friends! Don't ask me what your sacrifice was for!!" And then as the music plays its last soulful notes, break down into open sobbing. Here, Redmayne just sits in a chair and looks pouty. It just doesn't serve the show well at all.
*The constant close-ups. In some scenes, like Hathaway's solo, they serve the movie well. But they are just way over used. The director looks very unimaginative in his choice of cinematography. The places you're taking us are fascinating--how about pulling the shot back so we can see some of them?
*Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonhem Carter. I'm sorry, I'm just tired of their....let's call it "Burton-ing". We seen it before, we'll see it again. They're not the worse part of the movie, by far (that's probably Crowe) but it's just so distracting.
So ....yeah, moments of the movie were good but as a whole, you can tell they just went with as many famous names as they could get and while some did an adequate job, you get the feeling there must have been better choices for a lot of the key roles (Javert, adult Cosette, Marius). If you get a chance to see it on Broadway, by all means, go and see it. You won't be disappointed. But this .....siiiiiggghhhh. You'll just have to take the good with the bad, I'm afraid.
Girl Meets World (2014)
New Generation, New World to be Met, Some of the Old Charm
As a member of Generation Y, the generation that grew up with Corey, Shawn and Topanga on Boy Meets World, I was happy when I heard they were spinning off one of my favorite shows but also a little apprehensive. Boy Meets World had its problems (wildly inconsistent writing, like Shawn and Topanga each having a sister for exactly one episode, the Eric character wildly changing from stupid funny one episode to smart and insightful the next) but it holds a very special place in my generation's hearts. Fortunately, the same creative team that captured something special with that show is back and working their magic again. No, it's exactly like Boy Meets World here but there is a lot to like, from Sabrina Carpenter's character Maya, who is the Shawn foil (broken, slightly troubled but never puts a toe too far out of line) to the funny Corey Fogelmanis, who cracks me up every time he throws his arms in the air saying "I am Farkle!" Even though it is the kids' show, Ben Savage and Danielle Fishel get plenty of chances to shine and it works so beautifully because for my generation, who grew up with their characters, we are now (very many of us) also young parents, trying to relate to our kids in a world that is much different from the one we grew up in. Rider Strong has guest starred several times in his old role of Shawn Hunter and I particularly enjoyed the episode where he is forced to confront his feelings of being left behind and out of the loop as his friends have become parents and he finds himself single and childless, finding it a little empty. It's extremely relate-able for anyone in their 30s in the same situation. Plus, you never know who might show up from the old series--so far, the guest star list includes Shawn, Corey's parents, Corey's little brother Joshua, older brother Eric (played again by the hilarious Will Friedle), Jack Hunter (Matthew Lawrence), Shawn's old flame Angela, Mr. Turner and of course, the much beloved Mr. Feeney(the incomparable William Daniels). I hope at some point we get an episode with Corey, Eric and Joshua and of course, there is still the character of Morgan, Corey's younger sister, who hasn't shown up yet but we'll see. Now sure, Boy Meets World was on ABC, which allowed it to tackle issues like teens getting drunk, helping a friend who is being physically abused by a parent and teens dealing with the temptation and peer pressure to have sex. Those are topics that Disney will never allow Girl Meets World to come any where near. But so far, Girl Meets World has tackled issues that are very relevant to this world like the need to turn away from smart phones and computers and communicate with people face-to-face, the importance of arts education in schools and dealing with family situations that aren't ideal. If you can separate it from the nostalgia-fueled view of Boy Meets World being perfect, and just appreciate this new show for what it is, you'll actually find a very fun, enjoyable new program. Check it out for yourself and enjoy this new world.
Dr. Seuss Would Be Out-Raged
Everything that is good, sweet and pure about the original is gone, replaced by a bloated, distorted and over-the-top mess. Jim Carrey does his usual schtick, mugging to the camera, acting so ridiculously over-the-top, he comes back around the other side and then over-the-top again. It's very reminiscent of his turn as the Riddler in Batman Forever. But Carrey is not the worst thing about this film. The entire film looks a little smug, like there was something on the camera lenses. All of Seuss' beautiful bright colors in the animated feature, gone. This movie has color but it's like viewing it through a dense smog. Because this is "full length" motion picture and the original animated film was only about an hour, we get an added hour consisting of why the Grinch came to hate Christmas and a Whoville Christmas Eve celebration that looks like something that came out of a nightmare. But the worst thing, the absolute worst abomination done to this generations-beloved story is the Who's themselves. They're materialistic and competitive extremists. What the heck? Seriously? These are the characters were supposed to feel sorry for as the Grinch steals their stuff? Plus, their characters are so over-the-top, it's almost like they're trying to compete with the Grinch character for the audience's attention. They're such awful people, I found myself rooting for the Grinch to take all of their stuff. Did the people who made this movie not get that the Grinch is supposed to be the villain of the piece? It's like they're all villains! Except for little Cindy Woo-Hoo. I get it, she's the innocent child who turns everybody else around, yada yada. But when the characters are so utterly detestable for the first hour and a half of the movie....uuuuhhh. In short, this film is....pretty awful. Yeah, once it ACTUALLY gets into the story we know, Carrey does a respectable job of playing the character we know and love. But why remake something that was so close to perfect in the first place? Do yourself a favor and sit down in front of the original: it's simple, to the point, has that great song--it should be a part of everyone's annual staple of holiday movies. This.....should just be forgotten about.