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Possibly the best Star Wars film since Return of the Jedi
28 December 2018
It's a shame this one failed at the Box Office because it's a really good film. I think the failure really did come down to bad timing. Coming out so shortly after the bomb that was TLJ, many Star Wars fans were just so soured by another Disney cash grab that diluted the once good name of Star Wars.

But those who missed it should give this one a chance. Ron Howard is a much more capable director than Ryan Johnson and the script for this film was also quite good. I must admit that I am enjoying these side stories in the Star Wars universe much more than the actual mainline sequel episodes. Rogue One I enjoyed more than TFA, and Solo was way better than TLJ. Indeed I think I enjoyed it more than all of the recent Star Wars movies I've seen, and that includes the prequels ... although perhaps not episode III.

There were a lot of things about this film that made me feel like I was watching a classic Original Trilogy Star Wars film for the first time. Probably the biggest is that the characters in this movie were, for the most part, all very like-able. There were a few, like Lando's droid, who was a little annoying at times, but her arc was interesting and she was definitely a memorable character.

Woody Harrelson's character was probably my favorite of the bunch. It's been a long time since we got a character this charismatic and well portrayed in a Star Wars film and it was refreshing. It may seem odd to say, but he was sort of the "Han Solo" character of this film, whereas Han himself was the more innocent Luke-type protagonist. You can see how Han adopted the more cynical bad boy attitude after the experiences he went through in this film.

The actor who played the young Han, Alden Ehrenreich, did a fine job, but he's no Harrison Ford. That was probably the only real problem I had with this film. but honestly I can't blame him or anyone involved for that. I probably would have liked it less if he attempted to do an exact impression of Ford's Han Solo. He did it his own way, which was admirable ... but still will never be able to compare to the original I grew up with. Donald Glover played a young Lando Calrissian, and his impression was more spot on to the way Billy Dee Williams originally portrayed it. I think a closer impression worked better for Lando, a supporting character, because he had less screen time.

So good characters, good script, great action and special effects means you should definitely check this one out. I know a lot of people were complaining about the lighting in this film, but I saw it on bluray and didn't see any problems with it. It could be that they fixed it for the bluray release ... or maybe I just don't notice those things. I wouldn't be surprised if that's the case.

Regardless, definitely give this one a shot, and I hope the low box office numbers doesn't discourage Disney from making more Star Wars side stories like this. TBH I don't really care too much about the Episode VII and VIII setting. But stories that take place in the Prequel or Original Trilogy setting still do interest me and would love to see more of them.
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Such high hopes ...
18 June 2016
This was the X-Men movie I was waiting for. Apocalypse has always been my favorite X-Men villain. I've been waiting to see them do one with this Xavier and Magneto, but introducing the real X-Men team (namely Cyclops, Jean Grey, Storm, Nightcrawler, Archangel and Psyclocke among others). This one looked epic. Xavier with his signature bald head, a real powerful villain like Apocalypse. They had rebooted the time-line so they could really do it right. It looked like everything was falling into place for the perfect X-Men movie. So where did it all go wrong?

Was it just that Apocalypse makes a bad cinematic villain? He was always my favorite ever since I was 8 years old and I first started reading X-Men comics. Maybe he just doesn't fit into the Singer universe. I admit he may be the most "cartoon evil" of the x-men villains. And some argue he's way too overpowered. But he's also really interesting. Being the first mutant, he's very old. His Darwinist philosophy takes Magneto's Malcolm Xish ultra leftism to such an extreme that it becomes ultra right. This is why you would never see Magneto join with Apocalypse. It's horseshoe theory at its finest. Singer missed an opportunity with that. I don't think he really understood Apocalypse. As soon as he learned all there was about modern humanity by touching the TV I knew I was in for a rough two hours.

But I don't think Apocalypse was the primary problem. There were many issues I had with this film. It really seemed like they tried to squeeze too much in to please everyone. Too many characters especially. The sad thing was that these were the characters I was waiting for. Cyclops was always a favorite of mine and none of the films (or cartoons for that matter) had done his character justice. I was really hoping that maybe this time they'd finally get him right. And while I admit they did do a better job with him than before, he's still not the Cyclops I know and love from the comics. Making him the younger brother of Alex was their first mistake. And making it that his powers originated one day in high school and not in a plane crash was their second. Cyclops is a mutant born of tragedy. There's a reason he's so haunted.

Psylocke was the worst of all. She looked good, but she was basically just a costume with a psychic sword. No character to her at all. And what was with Archangel? I don't know who that metalhead was, but that was not Warren Worthington III. It's as if Singer didn't know the characters' histories, just how they looked on the covers to the comics.

The other characters weren't as bad, but still off. Storm was acted well but seemed way out of character. Nightcrawler was overpowered, but okay. And I don't want to get into too much detail without spoiling anything, but suffice it to say if they're going to retry the Phoenix saga and this time get it right, I think they already messed it up in this film because, once again, Brian Singer doesn't understand where the Phoenix power comes from.

But I can forgive them for changing the characters as long as they manage to still make a good film. But I still can't get behind it. Why? Well one more thing that bothered me was how no one aged in the 20 years since First Class. They could have at least put some gray in their hair. They could have had Professor X go bald naturally. Instead he goes bald because of some weird scifi reason that's never explained or even acknowledged. It just seemed like a very minimal amount of effort was put into details like that. Jennifer Lawrence rarely wore her blue skin. Beast rarely ever was Beast. It just felt like they didn't care all that much. Things like that I can't forgive.

All the negativity aside, there were some good moments to this film. I really liked the Quicksilver scene. Fassbender and McAvoy had great performances as usual, even given the weak script. There were also some great scenes with the younger X-Men. It reminded me how great it would be to have an X-Men TV show centered around the school. And Apocalypse, though they didn't get him right, still makes for a cool villain regardless. I enjoyed parts of this film. But overall ... not good. I think the main reason was stated in my first paragraph. The bar was set way too high. First Class and Days of Future Passed were great movies and they were setting us up for the X-Men film we all were waiting for. And ultimately, they couldn't deliver it. It was a huge letdown.

With the right planning, an Apocalypse film could have worked. Marvel Studios could have pulled it off. But Marvel Studios knows their heroes. They may take liberties with the plot, but they stay true to the characters. A villain like Apocalypse is something you build up to. And a team like the X-Men has as rich a history as the Avengers and requires just as much build up and planning. This is why the Deadpool film was so good. It focused on one character while introducing only a few other X-Men. You can't introduce too many new X-Men at once. You need to introduce them slowly in separate films, THEN bring them together in one big one. Marvel Studios knows how to make a superhero team movie, Brian Singer, take note. If you try to throw it all at us at once, you get a film like this, or like X-Men United.

The best line in the film was one Jean Grey said while the younger X-Men were walking out of Return of the Jedi "The third one's always the worst". How sad but true.
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You'll like it if you're already familiar with the Lore
17 June 2016
Movies based on video games tend to not be so good, Warcraft might be an exception. Nevertheless it seems to have gotten a lot of bad press. I noticed that most of the critics who gave the film negative reviews were people who have never played, or were were not familiar with the games.

I've been a long-time fan of the Warcraft series since the second game came out in 1996. Since then I've played through all of the Warcraft RTS games, and was a World of Warcraft subscriber for several years. I was one of the few WoW players to earn the achievement "lore master" for completing all of the quests in the primary zones vanilla WoW (and the first few expansions). So I'm pretty well versed on the story.

I did get kind of burned out on World of Warcraft after Wrath of the Lich King. I canceled my subscription soon after reaching the level cap. I would resubscribe for brief periods here and there just to see what's going on, but for the most part I was done with WoW. Still, I'm a fan of the game and lore, so I guess I'm probably the target demographic for this film.

The film was pretty faithful to the lore of the games (and the lore of the games has, itself changed over time since the original warcraft ms-dos that came out in 1994). The film is basically about the first war from that first game Warcraft: Orcs and Humans, focusing on the characters from the first game: Garona, Lothar (probably the main characters), Medhiv, King Llane, and Blackhand. Now if they limited themselves to focusing on just these characters and limited themselves to sticking to just the story of the first game, the film, while being pretty simple, would have probably worked better for those new to the story of warcraft. There would have been fewer characters. Fewer simultaneous plots, and they would have been able to focus on developing the stories and characters and easing people into the fantasy via more relatable protagonists.

But there's one major problem with doing it this way. The story of the first game was very human-centric. The POV of the orcs was told entirely from the half-orc, Garona in the instruction booklet that came with the first game, and it didn't portray the orcs in a very good light at all. On the contrary, it portrayed the orcs as evil warlike savages with almost no redeeming qualities. You actually don't get a deeper understanding of the orcs until Warcraft 2 when we are introduced Gul'Dan, Ogrim Doomhammer and Kil'Jaeden. And it's not until Warcraft 3 that we actually start to view the orcs in a more sympathetic light with the introduction of the orcs Gromm Hellscream and, of course, the warchief Thrall, son of Durotan, a character who was not introduced until World of Warcraft (and plays a major role in the most recent expansion). In the film, Durotan is, in fact, one of the main protagonists.

So, to make a long story short, the problem with this film is exactly that, they're trying to make a long, complicated and lore rich story with a lot of characters, into a short two hour film. Perhaps if it was split into two films, one that told the story from the humans POV, and another that told the story from the Orcs POV it would have worked better, after all that's how the story was told in the original game. It split the story up into two separate narratives. And, in the end, isn't that always what war comes down to? Two opposing narratives competing for dominance. This movie tries to to be sympathetic to both sides of the conflict at the same time. And as result the audience can't get as invested in any of the characters or the conflicts they are engaged in. It loses the sense of urgency and drama. When you try to please everyone, you please no one.

Well ... that's not true. The film did please me. I enjoyed seeing the lore I've grown up with over the passed 20 years come to life on the screen. I did enjoy the spectacle and the special effects as well. It was a cool movie all things considered. But I understand why people who weren't familiar with the games walked away from this one disappointed.
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Sons of Anarchy (2008–2014)
Starts off good but outstays its welcome
15 November 2015
I just finished watching SoA and I've come to the conclusion that most of these serial shows on TV should not be serial shows ... or if they are they should end much sooner than they're meant to. I got into SoA from the beginning. Having already watched The Shield, I had high hopes for this show. I would watch it every week, and, for the most part, found it to be a pretty awesome show on par with The Shield if not a little unrealistic (but then so was The Shield). But the story seemed to drag in the third season and I stopped watching it on a week to week basis. It wasn't until the recently that I decided to plow through it on netflix to see how the story ended. Nowadays, I usually don't binge watch TV unless I'm home sick and have a large block of time with nothing better to do. Well, I've been sick lately, so I figured "why not finish watching SoA?". Well there are plenty of reasons why not to, but I don't entirely regret it. I did seasons 3-5 last year, and seasons 6-7 this month. Overall, I think the show had its moments, but man the show went way off the rails with how ridiculous it got. It was downright stupid in certain parts.

SoA isn't the only serial show guilty of going off the rails because they overstayed their welcome. I guess not every show can be Breaking Bad. Some shows hold it together really well until their final seasons. Lost, Babylon 5 and Battlestar Galactica come to mind. But Babylon 5 at least pulled everything together for the second half of their final season. Some go off the rails much sooner than that. Heroes fell apart after the first season. Bates Motel seemed to outstay its premise after only a few episodes. And even The Shield felt like it was getting a little too crazy with what Vic Mackey could get away with towards the end. But SoA was particularly bad in this regard.

I feel like the whole Jax story would have been better served if it ended much sooner than it did. It was a great premise, but it was, at best, a four season storyline. Stretching it to seven seasons really killed it. The first two seasons were good because the story was still fresh and the writers didn't feel the need to fill it with ridiculous shock value that add little to the story. When you watch these serial shows, especially one right after the other (like many people do nowadays with netflix and on demand) each season is like a long movie. But if there's not enough meat to the story the writers tend to pad it out with convoluted BS and it often requires the characters to make really stupid decisions just to create drama and a means to carry out the episode's quota for sex, action and violence. It just gets exhausting after awhile, especially while binge watching. So perhaps, binge watching is the wrong way to go about watching this show ... but like I said earlier, I found the story to move along way too slowly for me to care enough to commit to watching on a week to week basis. SoA doesn't seem to work in either case. That being said, it was entertaining enough for me to binge watch it to the end, but I do wish it didn't require as much of my time as it did to get there.
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The Unfinished Edition
4 January 2015
It's funny, because each year that there's a Peter Jackson Middle Earth film released, I find myself less excited by the new December theatrical release, and more excited by the November Extended Edition release. That has never more been the case with these new Hobbit films. The second film, The Desolation of Smaug, while enjoyable in theaters, felt like tiresome action schlock that cut out some of the best parts of the book in favor of exhausting nonstop action. The extended edition bluray released last November rectified and fixed pretty much every major issue I had with the theatrical version of the film.

So, when the less than stellar reviews for The third and final installment of The Hobbit came out, a part of me wondered if it was even worth seeing it in theaters at all. Should I just wait for the extended edition next November? Well, curiosity got the better of me and I went out and saw it and ... yeah you're probably better off waiting for the extended edition. Let's just call this the Unfinished Edition.

It's no secret that there was a lot difficulty getting these Hobbit films made. First there was all the difficulty getting the rights to the film, then there was the New Zealand actors strike, then Del Toro's departure during pre-production leaving Peter Jackson holding the boat, and lastly, there was the last minute decision to turn this from a duology into a trilogy. Keep in mind also Peter Jackson had 3 years of pre-production time on the original Lord of the Rings Trilogy. On The Hobbit, he had less than one year. When you watch all the behind the scenes footage on the appendices of the Extended Editions, you can see that they really are working themselves to the nub right up until the very last minute to get everything done in time for release.

As a result, The Hobbit movies just don't measure up in comparison to the Lord of the Rings movies. They look and feel rushed. They rely a lot more on CGI, and just don't have that polished finish. I think the decision to go 3D was a mistake too, because it forced Peter Jackson to abandon a lot of his practical effects techniques to get his forced perspective shots since he had to use two cameras in all scenes. This resulted in green screens in nearly every scene.

The Battle of Five Armies, in particular, feels the most like a CGI cartoon or video game cutscene. Billy Connolly's character, Dain Ironfoot, looks entirely CGI in some scenes. Maybe he wasn't available for reshoots or something. Again, more evidence that the film was rushed.

But the biggest problem with the film was in what was left out. They focused on the battle, which is actually just one chapter in the book, but left out pretty much all of the aftermath of the battle, which is actually a pretty large chunk of the book. I was surprised by this because I thought that if they were going to devote a whole movie on the last quarter of the book, you'd think they devote more time to more than just a couple of chapters. I suppose Peter Jackson didn't want people complaining about "too many endings" like they did in Return of the King. But without those resolutions, the movie really feels incomplete, and truly does feel unfinished. There are too many loose ends.

All that negativity aside, I actually do think this is a really good movie and I did enjoy it quite a bit. There were a lot of great moments. When Peter Jackson stayed true to the source material, he nailed it. There were some great duels in the battle itself, some of the action sequences were stunning, although I could have done with a few less Alfrid hijinks and a bit more Master of Laketown's hijinks (he was a better character and his character's hijinks actually WERE in the book, whereas Alfrid was made up for the film).

I also am happy he adapted parts of the appendices of Lord of the Rings for these movies. The Dol Goldur scenes were a welcome addition and I was really happy to see them. It was great seeing Saruman (Christopher Lee) in action with the White Council.

Overall, yeah, I enjoyed it, but there were a lot of things that bugged me. I'm holding out hope that the Extended Edition will fix a lot of the problems I had with it. Since they have 11 months to tinker with the film before it comes out, maybe they'll have time to properly finish it.
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Great adaptation of the first act
4 January 2015
I've seen the stage production of this play, and it's one of the most cleverly written musicals of all time. This film adaptation is very true to the source material and has some of the best performances I've ever seen. It is an excellent production definitely worth seeing at least once. Disney adapted the first act of the play pretty much perfectly ... and it's not your standard Disney movie.

Sure there were cuts, and they simplified things, in particular they cut out all of the breaking of the fourth wall gags, and narrator's role in the story was almost completely removed, but it's surprising how close they stuck to the original musical, and weren't afraid to shy away from the play's darker elements. Still, this isn't a bad play to take your kids too, there are mature themes, but the lessons are important ones that kids should learn as a part of growing up.

That being said, the adaptation started to lose it's way towards the end when it got to the second act of the play, which occurred about an hour and a half into the movie. They were running out of time and they had the whole second half of the play to go so they basically did a hatchet job to the second act and squeezed it into the remaining 30 minutes. This was unfortunate, because the second act of the play is probably the most brilliant part of the musical, but the movie had to cut huge chunks of it out due to time constraints. As a result, a lot of characters just disappear from the story without any explanation and the movie leaves a lot of loose ends unresolved. It all feels quite a bit messy, and I can see people feeling unsatisfied with the ending if they haven't seen the play.

It's films like these that make me think we need to bring back the intermission. Back in the day you could see a four hour film like Gone With the Wind because there was a nice 15 minute intermission in the middle. People could get up, go the bathroom, buy some snacks, and then come back to see the second act. This film would have been perfect for that sort of structure, because it was exactly how the original musical was structured. But no, they had to awkwardly compress it to two hours. Oh well. I still enjoyed it.
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The best since the original Muppet Movie
26 October 2014
It's really hard to compare these new muppet movies to the original "classic 3" of the early 80s since they've become so iconic in our memories, but I really found no fault in this film and found myself laughing pretty much constantly throughout.

While the previous effort felt too human-centric, this one finally brought more focus back to the muppets. Yes Ricky Gervais and some of the other human stars got a lot of screen-time, but it didn't feel like they were the stars like the last one did. It was pretty clear that this was a Muppet Movie and the Muppets were the stars.

The plot drew interesting parallels with The Great Muppet Caper, a favorite of mine from the original 3, and also the funniest of those three. That too was based around a heist. The difference was in this film, the Muppets were being used as a front for a series of museum heists. As usual with the muppets, there are a lot of fourth wall jokes right from the start (the opening "sequel" song sets the tone right away), but the plot of this film is actually quite strong in comparison to other muppet films, and you soon forget that it's all them just "putting on a show". I would go so far as to say this film may have the strongest original plot of all the muppet films save for maybe the original.

As great as this one was. I wouldn't say it was as good as the original 1979 Muppet Movie. While the original muppet movie was very funny, it also had a heart to it that this one lacked. Don't get me wrong, there was definitely a lot of heart to this movie. But, it was a lighter film in tone and focused more on laughs, like Caper was in the original trilogy. Whereas The Muppets Take Manhattan maybe had a bit too much heart and not enough laughs. The original Muppet Movie had the perfect balance. I wonder if that was purposeful, and if they're going to do one more closer in tone to Muppets Take Manhattan.

I highly recommend this one, even if you aren't a big fan of the muppets. It's just a really funny movie and it's filled with great songs. There are no bad moments in it. Just constant laughs throughout and fun for all ages.
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The X-Men movie franchise is still alive, and better than ever
5 June 2014
It's very rare that you get to see a film franchise make it to its seventh installment and still have the ability to impress fans and critics alike. But never before has a film franchise made it to its seventh installment and actually topped all of its previous efforts.

However, when I say seventh installment, I suppose I should include an asterisk. First this includes the two Wolverine films, the second of which didn't even have X-Men in the title. And secondly, The X-Men movie series, like the comics, is a bit of a convoluted mess, and it's sometimes difficult to figure which films are part of the "official canon" and which aren't. The comics have the excuse of being around for over 50 years with dozens of spin-offs and thousands of comics/graphic novels between them. That's a lot of story continuity, so it's understandable that things will become convoluted after awhile.

The movies don't have that excuse, and the cracks in continuity began to show as early as the fourth film, X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Indeed, some would argue that the previous film, X-Men: The Last Stand, was the beginning of the end. Those two films, though entertaining, were definitely a dark period for the X-Men films, and many of us were beginning to think the franchise would end with the disappointing fourth installment.

But if Fox failed to make another X-Men movie in a timely manner, they would lose the rights to the franchise and Marvel Studios would take the reigns. For awhile I was hoping this would happen. X-Men would then be able to exist in the same universe as the Avengers, a team that has close ties with X-Men in the comics, and has shared more than a few members (one of whom, Quicksilver, actually does appear in both this X-Men movie and the upcoming Avengers film).

But then fox released X-Men: First Class. At first I thought it was a reboot since it seemed to ignore most of the continuity of the last four films. But no, it turns out it was a prequel, and a fantastic one at that. It's very rare that prequels turn out to be better than the originals they are meant to precede, but First Class managed to do this, and it even managed to do it without the star character, Wolverine, who only made a brief cameo appearance.

It seemed that the writers had learned that the key to a good X- Men movie wasn't Wolverine, it wasn't the action or even the mutant powers. It's the deeper competing philosophies that X-Men puts forward as exhibited by the two most important characters: Professor X and Magneto. The originals had these two amazing characters portrayed by Shakespearean stage play veterans Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan. But it was fascinating seeing their younger selves as portrayed by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. Both pairs nailed their respective parts to perfection.

This film, using one of my favorite science fiction plot devices: time travel, manages to bring both pairs together in the same film to brilliant effect. It's wonderful seeing the older and wiser Prof X and Magneto contrasted with their younger, more passionate selves. Peter Dinklage, playing the fanatical Bolivar Trask, manages to paint a sympathetic picture of the villain. If one thing X-Men does right, it's in its portrayals of villains. Very few of them are actually "comic book evil". They're just people, usually with deep convictions, who believe they are doing the right thing. The deeper themes of fanaticism, the horrors of war and genocide and how the road to hell is paved with good intentions is brilliantly adapted from the source material.

I remember reading the "Days of Future Passed" comic book double issue as a teenager and it had a deep impression on me. Many people have accused this film of ripping off The Terminator, but what they probably don't realize is that the original story-line was written in 1981 by Chris Claremont. If anything, The Terminator ripped off Days of Future Passed.

That being said, aside from the premise, this film is quite different from the original 1981 comic book story arc. But those changes were necessary since the movie franchise exists in a very different universe than the comic book franchise. Still, major themes and the heart of the story is preserved, and that's really all that matters.

So did this movie "fix" the plot-holes and continuity issues of the previous six installments? Well, it's hard to say. Once you introduce multiple time-lines into the equation, I guess any plot-hole or inconsistency can be explained away simply by saying "this movie exists on a different time-line where things happened differently". It doesn't exactly explain why Professor X is suddenly alive again at the beginning of this film, but I guess it doesn't require an explanation either. It's not perfect, but I try not to let it bother me. At the end of the day the film stands on its own as an excellent bit of cinema. If you're looking for plot-holes, you're going to find them. But fortunately, the movie is so good that you forget to look for them.
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Game of Thrones (2011–2019)
Incredible show ... a little to fast paced though
30 March 2014
I had heard about George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire book series for years but never got around to reading it. When they announced the HBO show I was excited because I had a lot of friends who read the books.

But when I actually started watching the show, I actually found it frustrating to watch. There were too many characters with too much backstory that seemed to go unexplained. I felt like the show was moving at a breakneck pace and wasn't catering to the non-book readers at all. By the end of the fourth episode, I gave up. It was too confusing. I couldn't keep track of it all and I felt like the show was moving too fast.

Sometime later, a friend urged me to give it another chance. He lent me the blu-ray of season one and told me to watch the special features that went into the background of the show. After watching that, it clicked with me. I re-watched the first four episodes and loved them a lot more. After that I was hooked. I quickly got caught up with the series and found myself eagerly awaiting season 3.

I started reading the books around that time and only just recently finished book 5. I have to say that the books are even better than the show! While the show is great for its fast paced plot, great acting and stunning visuals, the books take a little more time to flesh out the characters, go into the backstory, and spend a little more time with exposition.

The main problem I have with the show is that it's too fast paced. You have to really pay close attention because if you miss one line of dialog, it's easy to get lost. This was why I gave up when I initially watched it. The show would benefit from the use of flashbacks and a longer season (13 episodes seems perfect). Or maybe just take a bit more time for character dialog to allow for more exposition. I know some people might complain that there's "too much talking" already, but I'm not one of those people who needs action all the time in my shows and movies.

That being said, once you understand what's going on, the show is excellent and highly addictive. It's the best ongoing show on television right now. Definitely watch it, and if you get lost, take a break, watch some of the History of Westeros featurettes from the blu-ray (also on youtube) and try again. It's definitely worth it.
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Peter, Fran and Philippa's formula for adapting Tolkien's books
13 December 2013
I saw the Hobbit DoS last night. Incredible movie! Very fast paced and action heavy, as I've come to expect.

If I have one gripe it'd be that the action in the two latest hobbit films are too over the top crazy and unrealistic. The action in LOTR was grittier and felt more real, even though it was still fantasy. You actually felt like the characters could die or get seriously wounded in the fights. But in The Hobbit, everyone's just either super lucky or just god mode powerful. Someone mentioned it's like playing a video game on easy mode. LOTR is hard mode. I agree with that assessment. Still, the films are great fun and I found them very entertaining.

Peter, Fran and Philippa tend to follow a predictable formula when adapting Tolkien's books:

1. Cut out as much exposition as possible, and for the exposition that is necessary, tell it through flashbacks if time allows for it. Some Examples: -the intros to the movies are always flashbacks, and there are several flashbacks within the story. -the council of elrond is greatly shortened -lines of dialogue are always a lot more brief in the films than they are in the books: "I am no man" vs. "But no mortal man am I, for you look upon a woman ..."

2. If there are quiet moments in the book, cut it out, or greatly shorten it. Some Examples: -a lot of the down time at lake town, the elven king's halls, and Rivendell is shortened to the point where they seem more like very brief stays, rather than the weeks that were spent there in the books. -Nearly 20 years pass between Frodo receiving the ring from Bilbo, and him finally setting out on his journey in the books. In the film, it seems like it's the next day. -The scenes with Radagast, Gandalf and the white council investigating the necromancer of Dol Guldur, and the corruption of mirkwood occurs over the course of thousands of years in the books. In the film, it all seems to happen within the same week. -The time spent worrying about how much food they have, or how tired and hungry they are on the journey. Worrying about where they're going to sleep, and other serious problems that one would run into while going on a long journey. Bad guys trying to kill you aren't the only thing the dwarfs and bilbo had to worry about on their quest. -Journeys last months in the books, in the movies it feels like only a couple of weeks. -Moments of rest and peace, minor conversations, and minor character moments.

3. Cut out anything that may seem a bit too goofy. Keep children storybook humor and whimsy to a minimum. Some Examples: -Tom Bombadil -The wacky way Gandalf introduces the dwarfs to Beorn -The anthropomorphic dogs and many of the talking animals (and wallets) -Many of the songs are cut.

4. Greatly expand on any and all action that's presented in the book, even if it's just one sentence. Some Examples: -The sentence, "They ran down the stairs and across the bridge." is adapted to a major 15 minute action scene in FOTR when they're running from the Balrog -The expansion of Azog's role in the story (keeping him alive after Moria), as well as expanding Bolg's role. The orcs attack them much more often in the films than they do in the books. -They added a lot more action to the barrel riding scene than was in the books. -The confrontation of Thorin and the dwarfs against Smaug on the Lonely Mountain was a very brief passage in the book. In the film, it's nearly 45 minutes.

5. Expand the roles of the female characters. -Arwen's role is much bigger in LOTR and she even replaces Glorfindel in her introduction. -Galadriel gets more screen time than she gets in the books, though her role in the story is true to the way Tolkien wrote it. -The Elf King's chief prison guard in The Hobbit was a nameless elf with a very small role, but in the film she's a female Sylvan Elf named Tauriel who has a much bigger role and even a romance subplot.

The Extended cuts are paced more slowly, and are closer in feel to the books. A lot of the exposition and quiet character moments are put back in, as well as some of goofy humor and whimsical moments that may have been cut. The extended editions are how the films should truly be seen, IMO.
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Why don't they just adapt the other books?
25 July 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Baum wrote 14 Oz books, and there were dozens of good ones written by other authors after he died, and yet the only adaptations you ever see are the first, second, and maybe a cartoon version of one of the others.

What's the point of writing a completely unrelated prequel that contradicts a lot of what was written in the official canon? I can understand doing this if you have a good story to tell, but this story really wasn't that good. No, I take that back. The story isn't bad, in fact in the right hands it could be great. But it just didn't seem to work and it's hard to pin down why.

The first problem is the Oz character himself (played by James Franco). He's just a very unlike- able protagonist. I know they were kind of going for a Han Solo/Jack Sparrow sort of scoundrel with a heart of gold, but he really didn't have any of the charm or humor that a character like that needs to have. Those types of characters are rarely used as protagonists, so maybe it wasn't all Franco's fault. But his performance is quite awkward at times which didn't help much.

Probably the most interesting character was Theodora (played by Mila Kunis). Theodora's tragic character arc may have sounded great when it was pitched, but it wasn't exactly executed well. Mila Kunis is beautiful and youthful which does help in winning over sympathy from the audience. But, like James Franco, she seems a little awkward in this role. There's a major turning point for this character that just seems off and doesn't seem to work. I'll come right out and spoil it, basically she gets tricked into becoming the wicked witch of the west. I can see what they were going for, and again, in the right hands it could have been brilliant. But it felt rushed, poorly written, and the acting was mixed. Mila Kunis can act and had some great moments, but also some very bad moments in this film.

Also her story is so tragic that I wonder if it's too hard a pill to swallow for young kids. Especially if they see the 1939 film after this one. In fact, it really puts a damper on the happy ending of the 1939 Wizard of Oz and really makes Oz look like a villain. If you remember, Oz sends Dorothy to kill The wicked witch of the west, and Dorothy pretty much does it without question. The witch never gets the chance to redeem herself and be restored to her former beauty. It makes Dorothy's quest look a lot less heroic and a lot more tragic. Did the writers of this movie intend this? At least Darth Vader had a redemption before he died. The poor witch was under an evil spell the whole time and had no control over her actions or fate for the decades between the events of this film and the 1939 film.

Then you have Evanora, the other wicked witch, who seems to be just evil for evil's sake. She also doesn't wear the silver shoes (or ruby slippers if going by movie canon), which I felt was a missed opportunity. Instead she carries a locket which seems to keep her young and beautiful, although it's never really explained (nor is Theodora's sudden awful reaction to contact with water).

The rest of the characters are okay. Glinda the good witch is pretty, kind and good natured if not somewhat boring, but it kind of fits her character so I can't complain. You have the flying monkey who's the cute comic relief, but he's really not that funny. The China Girl is also cute and precious and nicely animated. But there's no one here that's really all that memorable.

It's a film that seems like it could have been good with a better script and better performances. Everything seems so serious, which is a little awkward considering the over the top fantasy world the characters inhabit. There's some humor, but a lot of it falls flat, and it's not enough to really make it entertaining or make the characters memorable. With the dull performances it would have been nice to have a song here and there like the 1939 film to liven the mood. But nope. No songs, except for one munchkin sung theme that was cut short.

Honestly they could have done much better if they borrowed some of the imaginative plots from the later Oz books. Unlike the books there's little to no social commentary. The fantasy world relies more on nostalgic references to the 1939 film than to any of the thoughtful allegory or economic / political commentary that made the books so culturally relevant.

That being said, the visuals were fantastic and the final battle at the end is fun to watch. It had potential, but ultimately didn't deliver anything great. 6/10
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Cloud Atlas (2012)
A Potentially Great Film Ruined By Poor Structure
18 May 2013
I never read the book, but was intrigued by this movie because I had heard the book was very good. I don't have as much time to read as I used to, so I watched it, sort of liked it but found it kind of tedious to get through due to all the jumping around from story to story. Seeing the different actors as different characters was more distracting than anything, and the film was paced too quickly allow the average viewer to pick up all the complexities and themes the author was likely trying to convey.

In the end, I found that it had a couple of good and original story- lines (particularly the Escape from the Nursing home plot, and the gay composer plot was good) but I found the other stories to be of the mostly bland and formulaic sort we've seen many times before (ie. guy finds out slavery is bad, investigative reporter uncovers a plot by an evil corporation, bladerunner/soilent green hybrid plot, and a fairly standard post-apocalyptic adventure story plot). While all of the story lines were entertaining, you never have enough time to become invested in each story or characters because the movie constantly jumped around between the six different plots. Yes, there are six different plots in this two and half hour movie, and therein lies there problem.

After having watched the movie, I looked up the plot of the book because I was curious to see how the author handled the story. According to Wikipedia, In the book:

"Each tale is revealed to be a story that is read (or observed) by the main character in the next. The first five stories are interrupted at a key moment. After the sixth story, the other five stories are returned to and closed, in reverse chronological order, and each ends with the main character reading or observing the chronologically previous work in the chain. Eventually, readers end where they started, with Adam Ewing in the nineteenth century South Pacific. Each story contains a document, movie or tradition that also appears in a previous story. It shows how history not only repeats itself, but also connects to people in all time periods and places."

For the life of me, I can't figure out why the directors didn't structure the movie this way. It would have worked far better. The audience would have been able to become more immersed in each story- line, and the connections between each plot would have been more apparent. As it stands, upon one viewing, it seems more like a mess that tries too hard to be clever. So then you might say "you have to watch it more than once to 'get it'". I don't want to have to watch a film more than once "get it". I paid close attention the first time. I'd rather spend my time doing something other than watching an average movie more than once. It's a sign of poor story telling if you make it so that you have to watch a film more than once in order to "get it".

This film could have been so much better if it was structured like the book and took its time to actually tell the stories and develop the characters. Instead it was paced like an action movie. I felt like I was watching Inception at times (another annoying film that you "had to watch more than once in order to 'get it'"). Perhaps it was structured this way due to a limited running time. But why even attempt to merge six completely different stories into a single movie in the first place? It would lend itself much better to a mini-series. Game of Thrones is the perfect example of a book adaptation that proved to be an immense success when told at a television show's pace. I feel like this movie would have benefited greatly if it was separated episodically like that.

Before you respond to this with elitist statements like: "I got it first watch, you're just too dumb to understand catch all the intricacies," or "the average viewer is a moron, that's why they need all the themes and messages spoon fed to them. This film treats the audience like it has intelligence and allows to viewer to draw their own conclusions." I just want to pre-emptively say "no you're wrong". The reason I think this film was a disappointment was precisely because it treated the audience like morons who just wanted to see fast paced action with no deep exploration of the themes or characters. It didn't give the audience a chance to think about any of the themes because it was too busy rapidly jumping between story-lines focusing more on action scenes rather than any sort character development. Supposedly the Tom Hanks soul goes through a whole redemption arc that I never caught because the film never actually focused on it. I haven't even read the book, yet, on first viewing, it felt like none of the major themes of the book were explored with any sort of depth. It's a shame because it seems like the book is a good one worth reading. I'm probably not going to read it now though since the movie spoiled the plots for me.

That being said, I would say this film is worth a redbox rental at least. It has some good acting and some nice cinematography and special effects. It looks very pretty. The action is also quite good, although I wish there was a little less focus on the action, and more of a focus on the philosophical themes and characters.
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Prometheus (I) (2012)
Great 3D experience
8 June 2012
Prometheus is an entertaining and thrilling Ridley Scott feature in the vein of Alien (1979). Indeed, it's so similar to Alien that it may or may not serve as a prequel. It's not sold as a prequel, though, since the film is good enough to stand on its own, and serves more as an updated retelling of the 1979 thriller with a few new twists and superb CG special effects. The 3D trend in recent years has been met with mixed reactions. In some films it works well, in others not so much. This film definitely lies in the former category. The 3D effects are excellent, and at least on par with 2010's Avatar.

But, ignoring the effects, how is the movie itself? Honestly there is nothing bad I can say about this movie except that a lot of it you've probably seen before. It follows the same formula as past Alien films. A ship full of people wake up from stasis, arrive on a planet, explore a bit too deeply, and wake up a sleeping monster that picks them off one at a time. Unlike Alien (1979), it's pretty easy to predict who will be the last one standing. It's not completely predictable though. There are a few surprises here and there, particularly towards the end, that will stand out in your mind. There are also some very memorable and tense scenes that you haven't seen anything like before. There's one claustrophobic scene, in particular, that really stands out as tense and horrifically cringe inducing, particularly if you've had surgery before. This scene is probably the best part of the movie, as I don't think anything like it has been done before. At least not done this well.

The film is more or less well written and well acted. The characters aren't particularly great, but they aren't bad either. The overall premise isn't particularly original, but there's enough new elements to keep it interesting. It's a competent film, but the biggest problem with it is that the story really didn't go far enough. While there weren't any noticeable plot-holes, I still felt that some things were missing. Perhaps they had planned more that never made it to the final cut. For example, Guy Pearce's character is a very old man. While the make-up job is good, It's not too difficult to tell that it's a young man in old man make-up. I had thought, the whole time, that we'd eventually see him as a young man at some point. We didn't, which led me to question the reason why they didn't just hire an old actor. Still, the ending left room for a sequel, so perhaps there's more to that story to come.

But the idea of the sequel brings up another point. If this is a prequel, than wouldn't the original Alien film already be a sequel. Is this film a prequel, reboot or standalone film? The answer is yes. It is all of those things. A standalone prequel may sound like an oxymoron but all it means is that it works as both a standalone movie and a prequel to the original 1979 film. This seems to be the trend in recent years. Instead of making full-on prequels like Star Wars, filmmakers prefer to avoid the baggage and go halfway between prequel/reboot or completely standalone movie. X-Men First Class, Star Trek and Rise of the Planet of the Apes are examples of this. This trend started with video games, in particular the constant string Zelda prequels/reboots dating back to 1991's A Link to the Past. It allows the writers to expand a franchise without having to be limited by the continuity of that franchise. They also have the benefit of drawing in fans of the franchise and attracting a new audience that may or may not have seen the older films. In essence, it's like having your cake and eating it too. The downside to this approach is that it makes the actual canon of the franchise very subjective and ambiguous and causes all sorts of exhausting internet arguments among the continuity nerds.

Overall I give it an 7/10 and recommend it to people who are fans of the horror/thriller/slasher/science fiction genres. It's got a good amount of gore, so don't take small children. And, if you like 3D, see it in 3D, this one's worth the extra few bucks. Just don't expect anything ground breaking.
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Great show for kids
6 June 2012
I remember first seeing this when I was 6 or 7 years old and LOVED this show. I was a bit confused, because I was familiar with the 1984 movie, but found it much too scary at the time. This show was much better for a kid of my age. It wasn't as scary, and the slapstick humor was right up my ally. I laughed every time they had to go through the "suit up" scene. I probably would have liked the original 1975 live action show this was based off of had I known about it.

I was a big fan of this cartoon before I even knew about DiC's "The Real Ghostbusters", which didn't come on TV until several months after this show first aired. I liked "The Real Ghostbusters", but preferred this cartoon for some time. I remember I loved the toys. My cousin had the car. It was really cool because the wheels would raise up and would transform into the flying form and the submarine form.

As I got older I grew to like "The Real Ghostbusters" more and eventually, this show disappeared and "The Real Ghostbusters" was all that was left on TV. As I got older, I realized that the "The Real Ghostbusters" was the smarter show, but I maintained a lot of nostalgia for the original Filmation's "Ghostbusters". I think this show is much better for younger kids, while "The Real Ghostbusters" is better for older kids. Both good shows though.
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The Muppets (2011)
A heartfelt and hilarious tribute to The Muppets
9 December 2011
This was the best Muppet Movie since 1981's The Great Muppet Caper, which is saying a lot, because I hold that film in very high regard.

The Muppets have been rather hit and miss since Jim Henson passed away. The Muppet Show was originally started by Henson and Oz as a more adult oriented, yet still family friendly comedy variety show as an outlet for gags and bits that wouldn't work on Sesame Street. It worked too, both kids and adults loved the show, and the first three films are classics in their own right. But, sometime in the 80s, The Muppets started to cater more towards Kids rather than adults. The Muppet Babies were first introduced in the third feature film which eventually spawned its own series. Henson then sold the franchise to Disney and sadly died shortly thereafter. It seems that, after the success of Muppet Babies, Disney decided to continue to move The Muppets in a more kid oriented direction ... one with a decidedly Disney flavor to it. This didn't really help the Muppets legacy in the long term. Kids grow up, and eventually grow out of kid shows and movies. And with very little, if any, appeal to adult audiences, The Muppets were soon forgotten by the generation who grew up in the 90s and 2000s.

But the generation that that grew up in the 70s and 80s had not forgotten the old Muppets, in fact they missed them dearly. Jason Segel is one of those people, and it is clear from this film that his enduring love of The Muppets and the influence they had on him as a child, was the driving force behind this movie.

This is a comeback movie. The Muppets start off in a bad way. People have forgotten them, their abandoned studio is about to be torn down, and they just aren't popular anymore. This is reflecting the actual situation The Muppets franchise was in at the time they were making the movie. And thus the plot lends itself to fourth wall jokes that were so prevalent in the early films.

It is, for the most part, a return to form. This is old school muppet humor at its best. You have the silly and catchy musical numbers, mixed in with a bit of sincere songs, celebrity cameos, fourth wall jokes, pop culture humor, a self aware plot that frequently pokes fun at itself, Fozzie's bad jokes, Statler and Waldorf's heckling, a Kermit and Miss Piggy romance plot, and just general wackiness and slapstick.

Still, as similar as it is to the old Muppet formula, it's also quite different. After Disney took over, human characters often played larger roles in the Muppet films. That is the case with this one. In fact, much of the plot and humor in this film is not centered around the muppets at all, but are centered around the two human characters and the new muppet. While some may be disappointed by this change, I have to disagree and say that, for this film, it works and works quite well. Still, it's clear that Disney doesn't have much confidence in The Muppets holding the film together on their own, like they did in the original (and best) Muppet Movie.

As a result there are times where the movie feels less like a Muppet Movie and more like a tribute to the Muppets. In some ways this is the film's strength, in other cases it is a weakness. Also, some of the bits in the second half seem a bit awkward and fall flat, often on purpose, but usually it isn't worth the payoff. Nevertheless, this film hits on an emotional and nostalgic level, especially for those who grew up with The Muppets. There were times when I actually felt a tear come to my eye. It's that moving.

The film's success so far has been warranted, and I'm hopeful that Disney will do the right thing and green light "The Cheapest Muppet Movie Ever Made", a project Henson and Oz had been pushing for since 1985. There were even plans to make it in 2009, but the project was set aside for this film instead. Hopefully, this last idea by Jim Henson will be the next sequel, the premise certainly looks like it has potential.
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Great execution, but we've seen this movie before
3 September 2011
I just saw this movie today and I have to say that it was quite good, but not great. It's basically a retelling of 1972's "Conquest of the Planet of the Apes", but whereas "Conquest of" had an great premise with a weak execution, this movie has excellent execution with a bland and overdone premise. The premise was nothing new or original so it didn't leave an impression on me like that those original five movies did.

Still, the execution was superb. Andy Serkis's CGI Caesar in particular was impressive and even outdid even Roddy McDowell's excellent performance as Caesar in "Conquest of". The plot was also more plausible. In "Conquest of" we're expected to believe that Apes evolved into their human-like form in less than 20 years. I'm forgiving of the older film because they didn't have the budget or technology to make the Apes more realistic back in 1972, but still, their appearance could have been explained by the arrival of the Apes who traveled back in time in the previous movie, "Escape From the Planet of the Apes".

In terms of execution, this film was miles ahead of the older films. It also had some great emotional moments, in particular when Caesar is imprisoned and has to endure abuse by his keepers and his fellow chimps. I also liked the Alzheimer's plot, which was heart wrenching and well executed. It managed to capture both the bleak atmosphere of "Conquest of" while still retaining the hopeful spirit of "Battle For The Planet of the Apes". The only moment I felt taken out of this movie was when Caesar said "No" for the first time. It just seemed a little forced and out of place. Obviously it was done as a nod to the older films. "No" is the word that humans are forbidden to speak, and also the first word Caesar is heard saying when he starts his rebellion in "Conquest". Nevertheless, I felt that when he spoke for the first time, the movie had jumped the shark, but it got good again really quick.

The biggest weakness of this film was its bland premise. Scientists try to play god and Evil corporation gets to greedy and we all pay the price. Meanwhile a subjugated group rebels and overcomes its oppressors. Don't interfere with nature ... Blah Blah Blah. It was basically retelling of the "Conquest of the Planet of the Apes" movie without the whole "self fulfilling prophecy" angle that made those earlier films so interesting. In a way, one could view this as a prequel to the first two films as long as they act as though the backward time traveling events in "Escape From" never happened. This is how things could have happened had Cornelius and Zira not gone back in time and changed the course of history. So this resides on a different time-line, or is completely removed from the events of those last three sequels. And though it borrows from the ideas and main premise of "Conquest Of", it's more or less a retelling of that story but has no connection to the actual events of that story.

Either way, it could serve as both a reboot, or a prequel to the first two films since it doesn't contradict anything in 1968's "Planet of the Apes" or 1970's "Beneath the Planet of the Apes". I'm sure, however, if they continue with sequels, it will eventually forge its own plot to replace these as well. But, at this point, one could still interpret this as a prequel. It's kind of reminiscent of X-Men First Class, which could work as a prequel to the first two X-Men films, but, depending on the direction they go with the sequels, could also be used as a reboot. It's actually quite smart to do this, and viewing this film as an alternate time-line is thought provoking in itself. Of course, this theme is never explored in the movie, so it's kind of a moot point. Without offering anything new or original to the premise, the film lacks the impression that the original five movies made when they first hit theaters and suffers as a result. B
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Really Good, but please make up your mind about the movie continuity, Marvel
10 June 2011
This might have been the best X-Men movie yet. I say might, because there are some serious problems with the continuity of this movie series that has been bothering me since X-Men Origins:Wolverine came out.

It seems that Marvel can't make up its mind whether it wants to reboot the franchise, or establish an episodic series of movies with their prequels (a la Star Wars). I can see why they're struggling with this decision, because there are benefits and drawbacks to both. The benefit to a true prequel, is that the narrative of the story remains intact across all movies, and you could watch them in order and experience a complete story. Comic book fans love this type of story telling, and for X-Men, which is, first and foremost, a comic book series with a rich history going all the way back to 1963, this is the most obvious and sensible way to tell the story.

But prequels are very difficult to pull off successfully. Unless the whole storyline is pre-written before anything gets released, it's very difficult to retro-actively tell a backstory without running into continuity errors. Since the ending of the story is already written in stone, you are writing yourself into a corner every time you try to tell a prequel story. And since films are limited by a number of other factors (running time, budget, actor availability, etc.), the difficulty of pulling this off increases. Often the quality of the story is sacrificed in the name of continuity, which can lead to some very convoluted story lines that would turn off any new viewer immediately.

Because of these difficulties, a reboot is often preferred when doing a movie that's supposed to take place before the events in the already established series. Batman Begins did this and they had a lot of success with it. The writer and director has a lot more freedom with a reboot, and can tell the story they want to tell without being constrained by what was already released.

But Marvel can't seem to make up its mind whether it wants to reboot their franchises or tell a true prequel. I first had inklings of this when they released the Incredible Hulk in 2008, which seemed to ignore the previous 2005 Hulk movie, yet at the same time sort of continued the story. Then in 2009 with X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which was supposed to be a prequel, it was clear they were ignoring some aspects of the original X-Men films. One particular inconsitency was Tyler Maine's Sabretooth, who never recognized Wolverine in X-Men 1 (2000), but with X-Men Origins:Wolverine we're supposed to believe that Lieve Schreiber's Sabretooth was Wolverine's brother and closest friend for nearly 100 years. So was it a reboot? Or was it just a mistake? Most likely it was neither. They wanted to tell the story they wanted to tell and purposely ignored the fact that it conflicted with what was established before so they simply retconned some aspects. It's the middle ground approach, and comic book fans know that it's sloppy storytelling.

Without spoiling anything I'll just say that X-Men:First Class has similar problems with it's continuity with the other films. You're never sure if it's supposed to be a reboot or a prequel. It's a retcon, pure and simple. Now, the anal retentive aspect of my nature is infuriated by this. With comic books that have been going on for decades, like the X-Men, some retcons are forgiven. They're necessary evils when you have hundreds of issues or episodes to keep track of. But I'm less forgiving with this movie series. There have only been four movies before this one. It's not like the X-Men movie series is so vast that they need to retcon it as much as they do. They were already retconning after the third film. It's lazy, and the inconsistencies are so obvious that you don't have to be a fan to notice it. Just watch each of the movies one time and you'll spot them.

But, at the same time, the less anal half of my nature is more forgiving of X-Men: First Class. Why? Because it was actually a really good movie. Honestly, the story was excellent and entertaining and the characters well portrayed. I was loving James McAvoy's portrayal of Xavier in particular. And, most of all, it was true to the heart and soul of X-Men, a comic book series I have fond memories of reading as a kid. I was less forgiving of the Wolverine movie, since it was not as good and had just as many continuity problems.

X-Men:First Class was really good. But it could have been great. If they had done a true reboot they could have made a better film. For one, they could have used the original X-Men team (Cyclops, Angel, Beast, Iceman, Marvel Girl). Cyclops, in particular, I felt should have been one of the first students. In the comics, his role is iconic as the leader and most loyal and longstanding member of the X-Men. I don't feel any of the films did his character justice. Instead with the exception of Beast, we got a bunch of minor X-Men characters, many of whom were never actually X-Men members (some were villains) to represent the first X-Men team. A few of them I didn't even recognize as ever having been in the comics. It still works, but for fans of X-Men, it just seems ... off. And since they pretty much rewrote the history they established in the other movies with all of the retconning they did, it simply wasn't necessary. It could have been a great reboot. But as it stands it's just a really good film.
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Brilliant premise, somewhat mixed execution
27 December 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Let me preface this by saying I have not read the book but I definitely want to after seeing this very thought provoking film.

Like many of you, I first heard about this movie from Metallica's video of their song, One. It's essentially the story of a young WWI soldier, Joe, who loses his limbs, his face, and all of his senses except for touch. But his mind is completely intact, yet trapped in his completely broken body. When I first heard about the movie, it seemed incredibly disturbing, and it definitely peaked my interest in seeing the film. But I never got around to actually seeing it until recently. And now that I've seen it, I'm very glad I have.

The movie wasn't as disturbing as I thought it would be. Perhaps, had I seen this when I was younger, and more fearful of the losses he had suffered, I would have been horrified. But, as we age and are increasingly exposed to such tragedies and losses, our sensibilities numb somewhat, and we become more accepting of our own mortality and frailty. This movie is also somewhat comforting in that it makes ones own problems seem trivial by comparison. We often forget that things could always be worse. And Joe's situation seems to be about as bad as it good get. Nevertheless, he does his best to deal with it as best he can, which is also strangely comforting.

Another reason why this movie didn't feel as depressing or disturbing as I thought was because the acting wasn't that great. There were times when I literally laughed out loud during some of the more emotional scenes simply because the delivery was off. The movie felt quite amateurish at times. There were also times when the film got a little too preachy. It often tries to force its pacifist views on the viewer a little too obviously, particularly in the way it portrays the military commanders as heartless buffoons with no redeeming qualities. Still, the movie did seem to get better as it went on and there were enough great moments in this movie to make it worthwhile.

Probably my favorite aspect of the film was in the way it explored the themes of reality vs. dreaming. Because Joe is unable to communicate for much of the film, he creates a world for himself, mostly of memories, and of dreams, and of strange moments that have stuck with him. In his head, he often converses with his old girlfriend, a somewhat incompetent Jesus, and his father in order to get advice on how to deal with his situation. None are able to really provide good advice, reinforcing the fact that his situation is truly hopeless, but the things they talk about are often very thought provoking and deep on an almost existentialist level.

Jesus, in particular, helps him to see that he is perhaps better off living for his dreams rather than for his real life, since his real life is more like a nightmare, and his dreams often give him hope and comfort. In a memorable conversation with his girlfriend, he questions what is real, and what time is. Since all he has is his memories and is no longer able to experience anything worthy of memory, does he really age? Will he ever forget anything since there are very few new memories to replace the old? In a way, he's frozen in time, and keeping track of time becomes one of his goals early on.

All in all, this leads me to believe that the source material from which this film was made is probably much better than the film, and probably much deeper than just a simple pacifist's message. Check this film out if you get the opportunity, it will certainly make you think, and it's actually not as morbidly depressing and disturbing as you might think.
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A great musical for kids
7 October 2010
I have very fond memories of this TV movie. I remember seeing it as a small child on VHS and loving it. I just saw it again recently, and it still holds up well, even as an adult. It's a stage play adaptation of Lewis Carroll's famous sequel to "Alice in Wonderland". But the focus is more on the songs than it is on the adaptation. This is a good thing, because the songs are quite good and very catchy. It's also wonderfully performed by a cast who you could tell had a lot of fun making it.

A word of caution, the stage play feel of this movie is quite apparent. It was made for TV, so don't expect high production values. In fact, it feels more like a variety show than a movie. Nevertheless, the sets and costumes are quite imaginative, and little kids will be drawn in by the children show look of the movie.

The best part of this movie are the songs themselves. They are very memorable and some are classics in their own right. Decades after seeing it for the first time I could still sing along to many of the songs. You could tell they were influenced by 1939's "The Wizard of Oz", because the songs, pacing, and overall feel is very similar to that movie, albeit on a smaller scale. There are several cameos by prominent performers (Jimmy Durante, the Smothers Brothers, Ricardo Montalbon, Jack Palance and Roy Castle among others). The performances are very upbeat and delightful ... another reason why little kids will love this movie.

The most important role is, of course, Alice herself. Alice is portrayed by the adorable Judi Rolin. Judi Rolin was 20 when they filmed this, so Alice is a bit older than she was in the book, but they definitely made a wise choice in casting her. Judi Rolin's beautiful smile, childlike innocence, energy, and gleeful singing definitely make this movie. Had it not been for Rolin, I'm not sure this film would have worked at all. It's a shame she wasn't cast in more roles after this.

All of that being said, this film is not for everybody. I admit that I am viewing it with rose tinted glasses as I did love the movie as a kid. It strays very far from the source text, and, in a way, is almost a whole new story. At its worst, it can be quite corny, and the almost overly optimistic atmosphere, low budget costumes, scenery and camera tricks will probably make more than a few people roll their eyes. But most kids will not care. They will love the songs and the happy atmosphere. And those of us who are not yet completely jaded in our adulthood will still enjoy it.
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Watchmen (2009)
The Ultimate Edition is A Lot Better
20 August 2010
I first reviewed this movie after having seen it in theaters in March of 2009 when it was first released. I had a mixed reaction to it. On the one hand, I loved how faithful Snyder was to the source material. But on the other, in trying to squeeze all 12 issues of the comic book series into a single movie, the film felt strangely paced, and seemed to lose a lot of viewers who weren't already familiar with the source material.

Since that time, three different versions of this film have been released on DVD and Bluray. The theatrical cut, which is the shortest version, and by shortest I mean 2 hours and 40 minutes. This is the version shown in theaters, and the version most people reviewed. At the same time, they also released a 3 hour long Director's Cut. The Director's Cut added a few nice scenes that improve the movie somewhat, but don't really improve the pacing, which still has the problem of feeling like an episodic story told awkwardly as a single film.

Several months later, however, a third cut of the film was released. This one, called the Ultimate Cut, is over 3 and a half hours long and includes an animated version of the graphic novel's comic within a comic "Tales of the Black Freighter", a pirate comic that mirrors the struggle of the main characters of The Watchmen. Ironically the addition of these animated segments, that periodically interrupt the flow of the main storyline, actually improve the pacing the film.

Whereas the previous cuts felt more like slow plodding action movies that often lost itself in its exposition, the Ultimate cut doesn't feel like an action movie at all, and instead feels more like a philosophical deconstruction of our own moralities and commonly held beliefs. This is closer to what Alan Moore had in mind when he wrote the series, and the Ultimate Cut captures this essence, where the original theatrical version and Director's Cut fell short.

The movie is brilliant, mainly because the graphic novel is brilliant. Moore's writing, influenced by Nietzsche's ideas of existentialism, is beautifully worded, and Snyder was wise to stay as close to the source material as he did. There are a few minor flaws, mainly the scenes with the Silk Spectre, whose acting was good, but did not measure up to the task. Also, I didn't like the vomiting scene cutting into the beautiful "Sound of Silence" funeral procession. But these are minor nitpicks that are more than made up for by a brilliantly crafted and well paced film.

I have to give this a 10/10, a great improvement over my initial reaction to the theatrical cut. It's too bad this wasn't the version released in theaters, it may have gotten a better critical reception. But then again, I'm not sure many would have been able to sit through a 3 and a half hour movie.
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A Great TV Pilot Movie, A Not So Great Cinematic Film
14 August 2010
There is a bit of a double standard when it comes to television movies verses theatrically released films. TV movies get a lot less flak, because expectations are generally lower, people aren't spending money right out of their pocket to see it (generally), and the purpose is usually to set up the premise for a new TV series.

In this aspect, The Clone Wars makes an excellent television pilot. It has a good story, it introduces a likable set of characters, the premise is sound, and the animation is top notch (at least for TV). But the problem is, this movie was not initially shown on TV, it was released in theaters. And when you release a movie in theaters, especially a Star Wars movie, expectations are higher. This movie failed to meet these expectations because it was, essentially, a kids cartoon television pilot movie. People were expecting a Star Wars movie. Of course it's going to get slammed.

This movie takes place between episode II and III, during, you guessed it, The Clone Wars. The plot is rather simple, as television cartoon shows for kids often are. Jedi Knight, Anakin Skywalker, has reluctantly taken on a new Padawan learner, a rather young girl named Ahsoka Tano. Their mission is to rescue Jabba the Hutt's infant son so that they can count on his support against the Seperatists. Yes, as ridiculous as it sounds, that's the plot. But it works. It's easy to follow, it introduces the characters, and it sets up the TV show perfectly.

The acting is good, the dialog is simple, but not as bad as some of the dialog in the prequels, and the characters are quite likable. Introducing Ahsoka was a smart move. Ahsoka has great chemistry with Anakin. In fact, she and Anakin have better chemistry than the film version of Anakin did with his wife Padme. Her character humanizes Anakin a bit and makes him seem a bit more likable than he was in the films.

Also interesting was the characterizations of the Clone Troopers. In the movies, we didn't really get to know much about them, and didn't see them as anything more than mindless clones. Aside from Commander Cody, we didn't know any of them by name, and didn't really care much about them. This movie goes a little deeper into the personality of the clones, how they differed from each other, and what they believe. It's a nice touch, and one that will definitely enrich the series if they explore it more thoroughly.

I liked this movie, but then, I didn't spend 10 dollars to see it in a movie theater. I got it on netflix. It's an enjoyable cartoon definitely geared more towards kids, but adults will find things to enjoy as well. I would have definitely been disappointed had I seen this in theaters though.
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The Best of the Prequels
14 August 2010
Warning: Spoilers
It's not perfect, but it's a really good film. By the time this movie was released, Star Wars fans were so divided that it was hard to get a level headed review out of anyone. When I initially reviewed this, I gave it a perfect 10. This film does not deserve a perfect 10, but you have to understand, I had just come off from seeing it and was so excited that I had overlooked the flaws and only reported the things I loved about this movie.

And there is plenty to love. This is the prequel we had all been waiting for. It is the movie that depicts the fall of Anakin Skywalker as he succumbs to the Dark Side. Long time fans of Star Wars had speculated the details of the plot for 25 years before this film was even released, but now we were actually going to see it. Could it possibly live up to our own theories and speculation?

For many, it didn't. A lot of Star Wars fans would have preferred a more gradual decline to the dark side, one that took place across all three films, and one that showed him hunting down and destroying the Jedi over a longer period of time. This is how many fans pictured it in their heads. But Lucas had messed things up by starting episode I with Anakin as a little kid. Now he only had one more film to show his transformation to Darth Varder. How was Lucas going to do this in one movie?

The simple answer is that he didn't. Anakin's fall was actually, in many ways, anti-climactic, as was the destruction of the Jedi. This further divided the already divided fans, with many crying foul and calling this the final nail in the Star Wars coffin. And while I sympathize with their frustration, I found this unexpected final twist to be quite compelling.

Anakin's fall was more of an emotional one. He did not gradually become the unstoppable battle hardened monster after years of fighting in the Clone Wars. He was a troubled, sensitive, fearful, and somewhat whiny young man who simply was afraid to lose the people and things he loved. And in his desperate attempt to hold on, he lost everything. Anakin weeps, he whines, he moans. Yes, he is a powerful Jedi, he is a great warrior, he is brave on the battlefield. But he is also a pathetic man, a fearful man. He is unable to let go. He is emotionally weak. And this is what leads him to the Dark Side. This is what brings about his downfall.

Also interesting is the downfall of the Jedi Order itself. The Jedi Order is as much to blame for their downfall as Anakin is. They had grown complacent, arrogant, and insensitive to the needs of the more troubled members of their order, like Anakin. They had the opportunity to save Anakin's mother in the ten years after bringing him into their order, yet they did nothing. Their rules on forbidding attachment are also questionable, and may have led to more problems than it was meant to prevent.

All of these themes were compelling and helped deepen and enrich the story. There were many great emotional moments in this movie that almost brought me to tears. And, of course, the action, visuals, and score are top notch and truly Star Wars in quality. This is, by far, the best of the prequels, and it almost lives up to the quality of the original trilogy.

Still there are some flaws that I cannot look passed. The biggest is the dialog. While some of it is good, there are a lot of really awkward and downright bad lines in this movie. Star Wars was never known for its great dialog, but it was rarely as embarrassing as some of the lines in this movie. Often, a good actor can make a bad line sound good. Alec Guinness and Harrison Ford could pull this off in the old movies, but, unfortunately, Hayden Christenson and Natalie Portman are not their equals. I do have to say, though, that Ewan McGreggor was excellent in his portrayal of young Obi Wan Kenobi, and he was probably the only one of the protagonists that could make bad lines sound good. And then you had veterans like Ian McDiarmid and Christopher Lee, who always pull off a great performance. McDiarmid in particular was great in this in his role as Chancellor Palpatine.

This is the most action heavy Star Wars movie ever made, and it gets exhausting. There's a lightsaber dual on a Volcanic planet near then end that goes on for five minutes too long and loses the audience at certain times. A lot of the cgi seems superfluous, and it detaches the audience from the action. Unfortunately a lot of action movies have since had the same problem and it's a trend that I hope will reverse itself soon. Mindless action that goes on for twenty minutes does not make a film more exciting.

This is also the darkest of the Star Wars movies, which is not a bad thing. I'm glad that Lucas wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty and even allowed this film to get a PG-13 rating, the only Star Wars movie to have such a rating. There are some very violent scenes in this movie, and it's not recommended that young children see this. Wait until they're 11 or 12. Kids will love this movie regardless though.

Overall, this is a great movie that has its flaws, but is definitely worth seeing. The flaws do kind of stick out the more you see it, but I actually don't mind re-watching it as much as I do the other two prequels. It still doesn't quite hold up as well as the originals, but then, very few movies do.
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A Mixed Bag, But Mostly Good
13 August 2010
The Star Wars Prequels are an interesting phenomenon. Never before has an expansion to a franchise divided fans so intensely. Fans started to become disenfranchised with 1999's Episode I - The Phantom Menace (although some would argue it started earlier, with the special editions, or even with the appearance of the first Ewok in Return of the Jedi). But I think it was this movie that truly made the rift irreparable.

On the one hand, you had the Prequel Zealots, or Lucas Apologists, those who loved anything with the title "Star Wars". They would not dare give this film anything less than a 10. On the other hand, you had the Prequel Haters, or Lucas Bashers, who felt that the prequels were abominations and tainted the sacredness of the holy trilogy. The civil war between these Star Wars fans has been ongoing ever since, with flame wars still popping up on internet forums to this day. It's comical how easy it is to compare this Star Wars fan civil war to the Galactic Civil War portrayed in the films.

My stance has always been somewhere in the middle, but I think I leaned more towards the Lucas Apologists' side. I enjoyed the prequels for what they were. I initially reviewed this film when it came out, and my rating was a 9, much higher than the film deserves. But at the time, I had just come off from seeing it for the first time, and I was still on my Star Wars high. Seeing a Star Wars movie for the first time is always very exciting, especially for a fan, and it's easy to overlook a film's flaws while on such a high. But after seeing this film again recently, I've noticed that it hasn't held up as well as I remembered, and I think it deserves a more level headed review.

The biggest problem with this movie is the dialog. Sometimes it's good, but often it's atrocious. There are scenes where it's difficult not to cringe. One of the central themes to this film is the love story between Anakin (played by Hayden Christenson) and Padme (played by the beautiful Natalie Portman). There really is no chemistry between these two characters during most of these scenes. The dialog is cringe-worthy at times and really brings the film to a screeching halt.

Intercut with these scenes is Obi Wan's plot, which is much more interesting, and Star Wars fans will be given plenty of fan service as he tries to solve the mystery of the Queen's attempted assassin. Ewan McGreggor does an amazing job portraying a young Obi Wan Kenobi, and it's clear that has fit himself into the role nicely since The Phantom Menace. Christopher Lee also does a nice job portraying the mysterious Count Dooku and his scenes with McGreggor are a treat.

The film gets better and better as it progresses, and even Anakin's and Padme's scenes start to become much more interesting. There is one scene with Anakin and Padme on Tatooine that is very emotionally powerful and nearly makes up for the previous weak scenes between them. This scene redeemed Christenson for me, who, until that point, I felt was not well suited for the role.

All of this eventually culminates to a giant battle at the end that probably is a little bit too giant for its own good. It goes on a little too long, and involves too much special effects and cgi that kind of detaches the audience a little bit. Still, it looks quite impressive (especially at the time it was released), and it is cool to see a large scale war in Star Wars once again.

This movie's a little darker than the other Star Wars movies and there are some scenes of violence that may not be good for kids. I would wait until they're a little older to show them this, maybe 8 or 9. Also, the love story may be hard for them to stomach, but then, it was pretty hard for me to stomach as an adult as well.

Overall, there's good and there's bad in this movie, but mostly, I enjoyed it. And I still enjoy it, but, like Episode I and unlike the original trilogy, it doesn't hold up as well on repeated viewings.
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A Good Film that Fails to Meet Expectations
13 August 2010
The title to this review may be the understatement of the century, but it's truer than what many other reviewers will tell you. When I first reviewed this film, I gave it a 9 out of 10. I recognized the film had some flaws, but I loved it so much that I overlooked them and focused on what I loved about the movie and Star Wars in general. But, watching the movie now, as an adult, it's clear that it hasn't held up that well. My mind is not as clouded by my love of all things Star Wars, and I think I'm able to give it a more level headed review.

I grew up in the 80s, and like many boys my age, I lived and breathed Star Wars. For me and many like me, this was the most anticipated movie of my life. I was only 3 when Return of Jedi came out, and didn't get the opportunity to see it in theaters, so for me, this movie was a very big deal in 1999. And it was very exciting. I loved it, it was probably the only time I clapped or cheered in a movie theater. It was a great experience. I actually saw the film a few times afterwords, but unlike the older Star Wars movies, I started to like it less and less each time I saw it. I still loved it, but it didn't have the same greatness the older ones had.

Part of the problem was the messy plot. It's difficult to tell what exactly is at stake for our protagonists in this movie, because you're not sure what the bad guys' plans are, and exactly what or why they're doing what they're doing. There are many plodding moments in this movie in which the plot seems to lose focus. It seems to go off on tangents that, at times, get rather dull. The dialog and acting is weak at times and the weaker moments stick out more upon repeated viewings.

Also, the characterization is a little weak. There's no clear protagonist that the viewer can relate to. You have the Jedi, Obi Wan and Qui Gon, who seem to know a lot more than the audience and so make poor protagonists. Then there's Queen Amidala and her handmaiden, whose identities are often confusing and it's not clear what the audience is supposed to know about their relationship to each other. There's also Jar Jar Binks the alien quirky comic relief. As ridiculous as he is, he's probably the easiest to relate to because he's the most clueless one of them all. A lot of people hated Jar Jar because of his quirky way of speaking and cartoony design. Personally, I didn't mind him and found him quite funny at times. But I can see why people were annoyed by him, since he, the quirky comic relief, was the only one the audience could relate to early on and he therefore seemed to get a lot of screen time.

Finally there's Anakin, who is the closest thing to a main protagonist we get. But he's not introduced until 45 minutes into the movie. Perhaps this is not such a bad thing as his acting is quite weak, but he's a 9 year old kid so he gets a little leeway. This is probably the most kid friendly of the Star Wars movies. Although there is some mild violence, it is definitely less intense than some of the other movies. Plus the young character of Anakin is someone that a child can relate to. Jar Jar is also quite popular with kids, as his slapstick brand of humor is something that I found got them laughing pretty hard in the theater. But just because it is kid friendly doesn't mean that there isn't something for adults to enjoy as well.

There are enough great moments in this movie to make it worth watching at least once. The visuals and action are spectacular and the John Williams Score is fantastic as always. There are some really strong emotional moments too, especially with Anakin's mother, and between Obi Wan and Qui Gon towards the end. Many believe that this film is a waste because there's no point in seeing Anakin as a kid. While I can see their point, I have to disagree. Seeing Anakin as an innocent kind hearted boy makes his overall character arc later in the saga all the more tragic. In this aspect this film accomplishes what it needs to accomplish. It sets the stage for the Star Wars Saga and introduces Anakin, the Saga's main character, as he was before he became a Jedi and before he lost his innocence.

Though probably the weakest film in the saga, it's still a very good one to see. But it doesn't hold up too well on repeated viewings. If I were to introduce Star Wars to someone I probably would not start with this film, unless they were a child. Start them with the original 1977 film, Episode IV: A New Hope. This is the classic that started it all, and it still holds up as a great film. The characters are much stronger and the protagonists are easier for older audiences to relate to. This makes it the best way to be introduced to the world of Star Wars.

If they like the original Star Wars movie (and who wouldn't), show them Episode V, 1980's Empire Strikes Back, arguably the best of the films. After that, show them this film. After seeing Empire they will have a deeper understanding of the world of Star Wars going in and will appreciate the back-story more. Plus, it's only natural that, due to the loose ends left open at the end, someone who has just seen Empire Strikes Back will have a million questions about the back-story and will want to see the prequels at that point.
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A Really Good Show
13 August 2010
I've been a Star Wars fan since I was a kid, but I have to admit that I had been getting kind of sick of Star Wars in the past decade. Though good movies for the most part, I was kind of disappointed by the prequel trilogy, and felt that there were too many games, books, and other EU things out there to keep me as engaged in the universe as I used to be when I was a kid. The story, I felt, had become too convoluted, and I didn't feel like I was a "fan" of star wars anymore. Maybe I grew out of it.

Nevertheless, I decided to netflix the clone wars movie and subsequent TV series to give star wars another shot since I enjoyed the original 2003 clone wars cartoons. I have to admit, the show is really growing on me. I wasn't too hot on the clone wars movie, but the show is actually really good. The characters are likable, and the story lines are entertaining. Anakin is actually really cool in this, more likable than he is in the films, and I like Ahsoka and even Jar Jar comes off a lot better in this (although I never really had a problem with him to begin with). The only problem I have with it is Obi Wan. He comes off as way too smug, I think, I really don't like his voice. McGreggor pulled it off his personality much better in the movies. Still, it's not a major complaint, especially since it kind of makes Anakin more likable, since they're always arguing, but it does get kind of annoying.

I've just finished the first season and I'm looking forward to grabbing the second when it becomes available on netflix, but I'm wondering, can I start watching the third season without seeing the second? Or will too much get spoiled.
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