I'm way behind on this, due to medical and internet problems--this movie did so poorly at the box office that I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't showing any more.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is living proof that just being fun won't save a movie. And VatCofTP (say, let's just call it Valerian) really is fun, as well as being visually stunning. Unfortunately, that just makes its faults more obvious when compared to the moviemaker's previous fun and visual flick, The Fifth Element, which benefits from better casting decisions.

Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) is a special operative, basically a combination secret agent/Navy SEAL. He and his partner, Sgt. Laureline (Cara Delevingne) drop their spaceship into problem areas James Bond style, and in this case they're assigned to investigate Alpha, a mysterious cancer that's spreading through a remarkable space-borne city in which species from across the galaxy learn from each other, exchange cultures, and party.

Gee, we only see a hundred planets.

Then things get confusing. Well, okay, they're already confusing, starting with an opening segment on a world so peaceful and beautiful you just know it's about to be demolished. We cut from there to Valerian and Laureline, who are arguing about getting married while landing on a planet bare of anything, unless you put on virtual reality visors and go on a huge shopping spree.

Soon they're neck deep in an effort to retrieve ... well, what they retrieve is related to the earlier planetary paradise, as is the rest of the movie, although how they're related doesn't become clear until toward the end. For some viewers, it doesn't become clear at all.

Some people were apparently never able to figure out what was going on. I was, eventually, but a large part of the movie is more about seeing neat things than about the actual plot. I'm okay with that in theory; still, a little consistency and logic are also nice, and Valerian tends to be weak in those areas.

But my biggest problem was the casting. Major Valerian plays like a much older character, and apparently was, in the comics; DeHaan comes off as a lightweight, and just can't make us believe he's an experienced, senior ranked operative in a galaxy-wide security service. Worse, he has little chemistry with Delevingne, who I found much more believably bad-ass. The movie slows to a crawl whenever their romance comes up, and one has to wonder why she hasn't already requested a different partner. I'd be happy to see her play the same part again, and some of my favorite moments of the movie were when she worked solo. Him, not so much.

I suppose the original characters would be too old, now.

Otherwise Valerian provided in spades what we've come to expect from movie space opera: great effects and action sequences, weird aliens, last minute saves, and bad guys doing things that don't always make sense. But in a way that was the problem: Everything got thrown at the screen, losing the story and characters in the process.

My score:
entertainment value: 3 M&Ms out of 4 ... and remember, I'm easily entertained.
Oscar potential: 1 M&M out of 4. Not that it couldn't get nominations for something like effects or makeup, but overall VatCofTP is as overly complicated as trying to shorten the title.
Sooner or later, Marvel has to screw up. In recent years even their bad movies have been good (depending on who you ask), and that just can't last forever—at some point one of their big budget superhero movies has got to be an Ishtar-level bust.
But not Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Just to remind us how great these movies can be, we open right after the events of The Avengers, when Peter Parker would have been—what—in kindergarten? Michael Keaton is New York businessman Adrian Toomes, who’s just landed the contract to clean up the mess made during the Battle of New York. He’s invested a lot of money into the venture, but to his shock the cleanup is taken over by a government initiative led by Tony Stark. Toomes, looking at financial ruin, is ordered to turn in any alien technology or scrap he’s collected, shutter his operation, and go home.
He does none of those thing. Do you get the feeling we’ll be seeing both Toomes and that alien tech again? Me, too.
We then get a fun look at the events of Captain America: Civil War as seen through the eyes of teenager Peter Parker, who’s having the time of his life as Spider-Man. When the battle ends he’s sent back home, with the assurances that the Avengers will call when he’s needed.
So Peter waits. And waits, putting off his personal life, convinced he’ll be called back into action at any moment. Meanwhile, someone seems to be selling weapons made with alien tech around Peter’s neighborhood. Even more frightening, he has to survive being a high school sophomore.
One of the smart things Spider-Man: Homecoming does is send Peter back to high school, as an overeager fifteen year old who means well, but tends toward rash actions and under-thought decisions. In other words, he’s a typical teenager, except for being a scientific genius and, you know, sneaking into his house by crawling across the ceilings. It’s the typical superhero challenge of keeping two lives separate, done with spirit and a fresh face in young Tom Holland.
Michael Keaton is, of course, great as Toomes, maintaining his intensity but staying away from being too Batman. He acts with a casual normalcy, making the audience like him even as he, like Peter, makes wrong decisions.
The rest of the cast tends to be overshadowed by a handful of small appearances, especially Robert Downy Jr. as father figure Tony Stark, in turn exasperated and proud of his web-slinging protégé. He hands babysitting duties over to his former driver Happy Hogan, and Jon Favreau is fun to watch as his frustration builds. As usual, the adults just don’t quite understand the kids, not even Aunt May (Marisa Tomei, loving but concerned as May always is). Speaking of kids, the rest of the high school students (who I assume are all older than they play) do a serviceable job on that side of Peter’s life.
Overall the movie is just … fun. And spectacular, often at the same time, although Peter's private life shares equal time with the fight scenes. There’s one huge twist that I should have seen coming. It was pretty obvious in retrospect, and it's been done before ... but it puts a lot of what’s going on in a new perspective. The effects and action sequences are exactly as top notch as you’d expect from a Marvel movie, and the plot’s straight forward and not too terribly full of holes. Then there’s the end of credits scene, which contains no huge twists or plot details—but if you have the patience to wait for it, it’s one of the best after-credits scenes I’ve ever … seen.
My score:
Entertainment Value: 4 out of 4 M&Ms, the good brown ones. With an extra helping, and some stored away for later.
Oscar Potential: 2 out of 4 M&Ms, although still the brown ones. If there was an Oscar for best action movie, we’d have a nominee here.
Okay, let's get this out of the way: I don't care if Wonder Woman, the character, is a feminist icon. Nor do I care if Wonder Woman, the movie, is flying an invisible plane through the glass ceiling, or breaking any ground whatsoever. I just want to watch a good movie.

(Although she is, and it does. And I did.)

Honestly I'm starting to wonder--you might brace yourself for this--if the day will come when the physically strong, kick-ass woman character will become a tired, cliched trope that makes people yawn. Hasn't happened to me yet. But my daughter watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the generation before me had Emma Peel, and I watched, well, Wonder Woman, who hit TV in her own series when I was thirteen. You bet I watched that show. I mean, as a comic book fan.

(Now that I think about it, my first literary hero was Dorothy Gale, Princess of Oz, who could be something of an action hero herself.)

Still, to paraphrase Buffy creator Joss Whedon, I suppose the reason we keep getting awesome female heroes is because people are still asking why we don't have them. And that ties right in with why I go to the movies, because Wonder Woman, while not the overwhelmingly perfect superhero movie some claim, is indeed awesome--largely because of one particular Gal.

The various incarnation of Princess Diana.
Gal Gardot is Diana, Princess of--you know, come to think of it, she's never called Wonder Woman at any point in the movie. The flick starts with Diana in modern times, receiving (by courier from Wayne Enterprises) a photo that sends her mind back to her childhood among the Amazons, on an island with no men. Sure, when you're a kid having no one of the opposite sex around is a paradise ...

Diana's mother, Queen Hippolyta, doesn't want her to train to be a warrior, as every other woman there does. She thinks something very bad will happen if the island's only child develops her ability. Sure enough, just when the grown up Diana has reached the peak of her training, an airplane falls out of the sky and delivers *gasp* a man to the island.

Luckily Diana somehow knows what a man is--that saved some awkward exposition.

The pilot is America spy Steve Trevor, (Chris Pine), who's being pursued by German soldiers. Turns out the rest of the world is mired in World War I, and Steve holds intel on a new German weapon that might cost tens of thousands more lives. Diana is convinced the war is the work of Ares, the god of war, who the Amazons have been training all along to someday face. Clearly, all the world is waiting for her.

Wonder Woman originated during World War II, and setting the movie further back in time was the first smart idea of the filmmakers. Let's see: A red, white, and blue costumed hero, rather naive but eager and determined, gathering a band of misfit commandos to take on a German army with secret weapons during the second World War? Surely no one would draw any comparisons to Captain America.

Their next bright idea was the cast.

What a Gal!

With Batman vs. Superman, the naysayers were already out, complaining Gal Gadot was too scrawny to be a proper Wonder Woman. Did they learn nothing from the anti-Michael Keaton outcry with Batman? No? Oh. Well, just as Christopher Reeve owned Superman, Gal Gadot has now taken over from Lynda Carter as the perfect Wonder Woman. Sorry, it's true, and I love Lynda Carter.

Chris Pine is his usual charming action hero self, often reduced to stupified stammering by this innocent warrior who doesn't seem to understand the whole traditional woman thing. The rest of the cast is first rate, especially Connie Nielsen as the Amazon Queen who just doesn't want to give her daughter over to the world. I especially liked the band of misfits Steve assembled for their behind the lines mission. Also of note is David Thewlis (currently menacing everyone on Fargo) as a British military leader trying to broker a peace treaty between the warring nations.

 While this doesn't rank as my favorite superhero movie (although it's well into my top ten), Wonder Woman is a great movie period--of any genre, or at least of any kind of action flick. The stakes are high, the emotions are great, the effects first rate. Really the only complaint I have is that if the next Wonder Woman movie is set in the present, we won't be able to see any of the sparkling supporting cast (who would be well into their second century by now). Maybe we should have them all frozen at the North Pole for several decades? That's never been done.

My score:

Entertainment Value: 4 M&M's, the good brown ones. I'm getting a little worried about this series of first rate movies I've been seeing the past couple of years. Granted that Wonder Woman is even more first rate than many of the others, but sooner or later I'll get hit with a disappointment.

Oscar Potential: 3 M&M's. It's worthy of a best picture nomination but, being based on a comic book, it'll be a supporting characters cold day in the North Pole before it gets one.
How the heck did I manage to not find out Sylvester Stallone was in this movie?

Anyway ...

It says something about Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 that the opening fight scene is incredibly fun--and yet largely unseen by the audience.

Which has been done before, but in this case the focus is on a tiny little shrub that's just trying to get his groove on.

Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel, apparently after inhaling helium) is one of the Guardians of the Galaxy, a motley crew that, at the end of the last movie, decided to hang around together mostly because they didn't have anything else to do. Now they're working as a team, and they're also family--which means they fight and often don't like each other (that they'll admit), but stick around anyway.

They're busy making enemies of just about everyone when a guy shows up who calls himself Ego (Kurt Russell, and he's perfect). He announces he's the father of the Guardians' leader and only human, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, who gets to show some beyond-the-wisecracking layers). Ego's also a god. ("Small 'g'.")

Poor Peter's pretty puzzled.

Things move quickly after that, as some of the team accompany Ego to Ego's planet, which apparently is Ego. It's entire population consists of Ego and an innocent alien named Mantis, an empath who Ego apparently keeps around just to help him sleep.

Meanwhile Groot and Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper's voice, and a character that would also be cute if he wasn't busy killing people) stay behind to repair their damaged ship along with a wanted captive, Nebula (Karen Gillan, in an epic sibling rivalry with Zoe Saldana's Gamora). They manage to get into quite a bit of trouble of their own when an army or two of bounty hunters show up.

Along the way old enemies and friends arrive, including Yondu, played by Michael Rooker as a blue-skinned version of his Merle character from The Walking Dead (that's a compliment). We find out Stan Lee is a Watcher (from the comics, not from Buffy), and--hey, is that Sylvester Stallone playing the leader of the bad guy guild, which kicked Peter's adoptive daddy out of the group for trafficking in child slaves--including Peter?

Now that I think of it, it says something about the quality of the writing that I didn't have trouble keeping track of the zig-zagging story line, or of the Galaxy-spanning cast.

Part of the fun of Guardians, if you're any kind of a nerd, is keeping track of actor connections to other shows and movies. Yep, there's The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, Star Trek,  Jurassic World, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Stargate, and even the DC Comics universe. Is that Castle's Molly Quinn in a cameo with the worst intergalactic date ever? I hope at least he paid the bill.

And Stan Lee, of course. I don't care what anyone says: Stan's cameos are awesome.

Among the other major stars Dave Bautista is still solid and hilarious as Drax, and Pom Klementieff--I suspect that's not her stage name--makes a great entrance as the winsome Mantis. Rocket and especially Groot tend to steal any scene they're in, which says something about the quality of digital effects, that a raccoon and a tree shoot give worthy performances. Oh, and stay for the during and post credit scenes ... all of them.

Okay, so it has a fun story, great cast, and amazing special effects ... but is it a good movie?

Well, yeah. And if you say otherwise, Rocket might come for you.

My score:
Entertainment value: 4 out of 4 M&M's. The good green ones.
Oscar Potential: 2 1/2 out of 4 M&M's. Just because movies like this don't get major Oscar nods.
If you’ve gone to the movies this century, you know that you never, never say yes to a mission on a remote island, especially if you’re going with a mix of scientists and soldiers.
But in 1973 nobody knew that, at least not if they didn’t watch Godzilla movies, so Samuel L. Jackson can be forgiven if it takes half of Kong: Skull Island before he says “I’m getting’ sick and tired of these mother frakking monkeys on this mother frakking island!” (Kidding. But if he did say that, I’d be paraphrasing.)
Jackson is Colonel Packard, who commands the military part of the expedition, and for him it’s perfect timing: the Vietnam War has just ended, leaving Packard out of sorts and looking for a fight he’ll be allowed to win. He doesn’t hesitate to join up with a British survival guide (Tom Hiddleston), a war photographer (Brie Larson), and members of the mysterious Project Monarch, including Bill Randa (John Goodman), who knows more than he’s letting on about a strange island surrounded by perpetual storms.
Spoiler alert: There’s a giant ape stomping around on the island.
In fairly short order the humans manage to piss off the ape, who in even shorter order makes (sometimes literally) mincemeat out of them. The saner characters want to get the heck out, but Packard has lost men and goes full on Captain Ahab with this hairy Moby Dick. This even after a stranded World War II airman (John C. Reilly) tries to explain Kong is protecting a tribe on the island—and maybe all humanity—from even more violent beasts, which we learn are called Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms.
By this time many moviegoers are scratching their heads over a strange feeling of deja vus. “Wait—haven’t we heard of M.U.T.O. and Project Monarch before?
Yes, we have: In 2014’s Godzilla, which is why monster movie buffs are in such a tizzy. One of the first movies I remember was Godzilla vs. King Kong, which was released the year I was born (ahem--I saw it later), and now we’re being set up for a rematch.
But back to Kong: Skull Island, which stands up very well on its own, thank you. The cast is first rate, and you’d be hard pressed to tell where the digital effects began, although I’m betting they didn’t have a hundred foot tall animatronic ape on set. The movie was filmed around the world, and some of the scenery is breathtaking, as are the action sequences. Oh, and there’s also a plot, which in general amounts to “How do we get off this island?” and “which monster’s side are we on?” The characters face the possibility that killing Kong might release the island’s other monsters onto the world, but that if they don’t Kong might, you know, kill them.
One warning: The movie’s rated PG13, but it should be R. The violence is pretty intense and sometimes graphic and, naturally, lots of people die. Also, there’s a giant spider. Eek!
If you’re any kind of a monster movie fan, stay for the post-credits scene.
My rating:
Entertainment value: 4 M&M’s. The movie was so fast-paced and action-packed that even the little kid two rows back who would NOT. STOP. TALKING. didn’t ruin the experience.
Oscar potential: 4 M&M’s. Not for actors, cause’ hey—genre movie. But there needs to be some Academy love for effects, cinematography … I don’t know … Kong’s makeup?
ozma914: mustache Firefly (mustache)
( Mar. 12th, 2017 10:46 am)
First off, a warning: "Logan", while technically part of the X-Men franchise, is not what most people would consider a comic book movie, and is not, not, NOT for kids. Of course, there are plenty of movies based on comic books and graphic novels that can be enjoyed by both kids and adults. This, in what's probably a coming trend thanks to "Deadpool", is not one of them.

And that's about the only thing "Logan" has in common with "Deadpool". In fact, "Logan" sometimes seems a lot like "The Walking Dead": It's locale appears dystopian, upbeat moments are few and far between, and you get the sense that anyone--or everyone--could end up dead. Also, a lot of people tend to die with things stuck in their heads.

Logan is, of course, former X-Man Wolverine, played with intense weariness by Hugh Jackman and why the hell do people never get Oscar nominations in movies like this? The Academy Awards are pointless if Jackman and Patrick Stewart (as Charles Xavier) don't get nominations. It's 2029, and as far as he knows Logan, Charles, and their helper/babysitter Caliban are the only mutants left in the world. From their Mexican hiding place Charles keeps talking about communicating with someone, but his formidable brain is failing from a degenerative brain disease and he rarely makes sense at all.

It's a wonderful performance from all three of them, and when Jackman and Stewart share the screen it's--well--uncanny.

Logan is now a chauffeur, when he's not bargaining for medications to tamp down Charles' mind-seizures. It's hinted that those seizures, which send his telepathic abilities lethally out of control, may have killed some of the X-Men, while Caliban has his own guilty secret along those lines. As if that wasn't enough, Logan's healing powers are starting to desert him, and he's feeling very much his 200 or so years.

This was all covered in the first twenty minutes. Then the trio's "idyllic" life is interrupted by an eleven year old kid and the private army that wants her, dead or alive. They take Caliban hostage and send Logan, Charles, and little Laura on a Hope and Crosby type road trip, assuming Hope is a ninety year old degenerating telepath, Crosby an ailing alcoholic, and Dorothy Lamour a psycho kid mutant.

Yes, of course Laura's a mutant. And, although Logan spends most of the movie trying to avoid it, she both needs his help and shares a direct connection with him that's pretty obvious early on. Together they cut a swathe from Mexico to Canada, headed for a place Logan's certain is literally a comic book creation.

Okay, but is "Logan" any good?

Yeah. It's one of the best movies I've seen in years--maybe the best, in terms of story and acting. In addition to the actors, the movie should get an Oscar. It won't.

Stewart is emotional and heartbreaking. Jackman is intense in his final pass as Logan, a man who's deteriorating rapidly but still has promises to keep. He's the old Western gunslinger and the movie's a western, and just in case you don't get that, two of the actors actually sit and watch the movie "Shane", which gets a callback at the end. The casting is great overall, the action sequences sometimes a bit long but impressive, the (fairly limited) digital effects seamless, and the cinematography wonderful.

Special notice should go to Dafne Keene, in her first movie role as Laura. At first the kid is mute and mostly glares, something I figured just about any kid could manage. But then ... wow. She waxes eloquently in two languages, holds her own in action sequences and with impressive older actors, and towards the end has a few moments that are just heartrending. If she doesn't crash and burn early, Keene will be an acting force to be reckoned with. (Hey, I was right about that kid from "The Professional".)

You'll want to sit through the end credits (although there's no after-credit sequence), both to collect yourself and for the spot-on Johnny Cash song.

My rating:

Entertainment Value: 4 M&M's. I don't usually prefer such relentlessly dark movies, but wow.

Oscar Potential: 4 M&M's--the good brown ones. No, it won't get many nominations, which is just a sign of how out of touch the Hollywood ivory tower people are. It would be nice to be wrong.
            I love a good comic book movie. I also love a bad comic book movie—that’s why I’d never make it as a movie critic.
Luckily, Suicide Squad is a good comic book movie—but not great. Character motivations and plot can be murky, and as usual there are logic questions.
So why did I like it so much? My usual reasons: Characters and humor.
Rumor has it the movie was originally a lot darker, which to me is the kiss of death for a summer-type popcorn flick. It’s people in costumes breaking things; if you’re not having fun, what’s the point? But in the finished product, the humor works for the characters.
And what characters they are, as DC puts together major and minor villains, with hardly a hero in sight. (Batman has a glorified cameo, while a few future Justice League members are glimpsed.) There is Katana, but she’s not your grandpa’s hero: She’s female, not American, and seems to take some delight in killing people with her soul-stealing sword.
On a related note, Katana didn’t get enough screen time. I’d dearly like her to headline her own movie—or at least get an expanded role with a future team.
The setup: A group of villains is assembled for wet work—to go in where the heroes can’t and do bad things the heroes won’t. If it turn out badly? Hey, they’re villains, and over there is a bus to throw them under. (I thought about that when a bus actually appeared in the movie.) In the end the group bonds—more quickly than makes sense—as they face a world-ending threat from one of their own.
When team movies first became a thing, I wondered how so many characters would be handled in the space of one motion picture. The answer is, either well—as with The Avengers—or badly. Suicide Squad is about halfway there, and would have been better had they limited the numbers a little. Katana’s not the only one who got shorted: It would have been nice to see more background on Croc, Joker, and a character who begged for more spotlight, Diablo.
In the end, three characters pretty much stole the show:
The Joker started out a little weak, but got better. Jarod Leto’s version isn’t up to Nicholson or Ledger (or Mark Hamill), but he does well with a small role, and hints of things to come.
Will Smith has had more hits than misses as an actor, and shows why as the hired assassin Deadshot. Although well aware he’s a bad guy, Deadshot has his own brand of honor and his own source of humanity, and Smith gives him depth. This team effort might even be thought of as a Will Smith movie, if not for …
Harley Quinn. The bad guys might be weak and their motivations confusing, the cast overpopulated, and where the heck were the heroes during the final fight? There were at least four future Justice Leaguers running around, somewhere. Was the Batmobile stuck in traffic?
But the price of admission was worth it, just to see Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. (Okay, it was stimulus Tuesday, but still.) Harley tears up the screen with a sexy insanity that really has to be seen to be believed: laughing at the world, gleefully violent, grieving, pulling herself together, sometimes all at the same time. Boy, does she ever deserve her own movie, with or without Joker.
Most of the pro reviewers made good points, enough that I lowered my score half a point. Yes, there are major problems with Suicide Squad. And yet, to coin a phrase, why so serious? Just let your twelve year old self out, and enjoy.
My score:
Entertainment value: 3 M&M’s. Just suspend your disbelief and go for it. It’s a superhero movie, for crying out loud.
Oscar Potential: 1 M&M. And not even a good one – it’s like a peanut butter M&M. Truth is, many of the performances were very good—but it’s a superhero movie, and the Academy doesn’t do superhero movies.
ozma914: mustache Firefly (mustache)
( Jul. 26th, 2016 10:12 pm)

We got to see two movies on my vacation, and both are from reboots of established franchises:


Emily and I both came in to Ghostbusters with mixed feeling, considering all the negative feedback that's been going on. Some of it was from people who had not yet seen the movie, and I automatically disregard that. Some of it was from people who thought the new movie was a feminist propaganda piece, and who knows? Maybe it was meant that way. But if I stayed away from every movie pushing a left wing agenda, I'd sure have a lot more time to read.



No, I go to movies to be entertained, and in that Ghostbusters delivered in spades. It was certainly the second best of the three movies (sorry, you just can't beat the original), and while there are logical inconsistencies here and there, hey--it's a movie about ghosts. I wasn't looking for logic.


My only real problem is that I see no reason why it had to be a reboot, instead of a sequel. While the story could have been better, and for me the fight scene at the end seemed a bit too much, the movie was saved by its actors. The four lady Ghostbusters were great, but two people stole every scene they were in: Kate McKinnon's a riot as a nuclear engineer who seems to have spent too much time in her devices energy fields, and Chris Hemsworth ... well, he plays a dumb blonde who's hired as a secretary just for his looks, and you can see how that raised some conservation. But he's so friggin' hilarious in every single scene that I just don't care.


My score: Entertainment value, 4 M&Ms out of 4. The good brown ones, that make you think they're more chocolatey than they are.

Oscar potential: 2 M&Ms out of 4. Maybe for some kind of effects or something ... the Oscars aren't kind to comedies, anyway.



Then there's Star Trek Beyond, the third Star Trek movie since the reboot in which Star Trek and Star Wars had a baby. In this edition the Enterprise is attacked by a cloud of TIE fighter and the crew is stranded on the surface of Endor ...


Actually, this time around, for the first time since the reboot, the movie makers seem to have figured something out: Even though Spock would be super-cool with a lightsaber, Star Trek is supposed to be a bit more cerebral and a bit less ... laser blasters. It's more Star Trekkie, although it would be nice if the editors would cut way down on fast cuts. Am I getting older? Yes.




But there are two ways to judge a Star Trek movie: as a movie, or as Star Trek. You have to remember that this started out as a TV series, and it's not so easy going from the small to the big screen. Some of the worst of the series' movies may have, with some cutting, made much better episodes. As Star Trek this was better, complete with nice character moments and shout-outs to the universe's past, but there are plenty of things for hard core fans to not like. (starships on a planetary surface, for instance.) So from a standpoint of the franchise, Beyond was good, but not great.


As a space opera movie, it was great--a slam-bam mix of speed, phaser blasts, and stuff exploding. Oh, and there's some deep thinky stuff too, which actually brings us back to it being Star Trekkie again. The acting and effects were great, and while I'd prefer at least a bit more attempt to match the established science of the original shows, hey--sometimes the original shows didn't, either.


My score: Entertainment value, 4 M&Ms out of 4. Maybe not the brown ones, but still. With Ghostbusters I went in with low expectations, while with Star Trek I'd heard nothing but great things, so that may have painted my reaction.

Oscar potential: 2 M&Ms out of 4. Oscar doesn't like SF much, either.


Warning: a gently spoilery for Batman vs. Superman. Also, you should be warned if you’re one of those automatic haters: I liked it.

Okay, I didn’t love it, and as we all know I’m easily entertained. Still, I don’t get the extreme hatred being doled out with a scoop shovel. The dislike, that I do understand.

The plot was “huh?” inducing. Basically Lex Luthor, for some reason long-haired and apparently a scientific genius who got all his dough from a not-nice dad, decides he has to destroy Superman. Why? My best guess is that Luthor is up to something down the road, and knows Superman will try to stop him.

Meanwhile, Grandpa Batman is still Dark Knighting away, as brooding as ever but even more violent. Evidence suggests he’s darker than ever partially because Joker killed Robin. In addition, the knockdown-dragout in Metropolis during Man of Steel led to the deaths and injuries of Bruce Wayne’s friends and destruction of his property. Bruce blames Superman for this, because, after all, Batman never caused injury or property destruction while fighting off villains.

So Luthor tricks Superman and Batman into slugging it out, while also quite literally raising his own supervillain, who DC fans will be chilled to know is Doomsday.

There’s more to it than that, of course. Like, two and a half hours more to it.

So, the dislikes? Okay, what is Luthor’s actual endgame? I don’t think even he knows what he’s trying to do. Kill Superman, yes—or at least get rid of Batman in the attempt—but then? What does he think Doomsday’s going to do after the big battle? Go raise chickens? Also, Luthor discovers an even Bigger Bad is on the way, a dark presence that always sides with evil, and he has to know that only superheroes might be able to fight it off. So … why is he intent on killing off the superheroes? (For you non-DC fans, the oncoming storm is one of the biggest of the DC bads.)

If it sounds like I’m saying the foundation of the plot makes no sense, that’s what I’m saying. The rest is mostly about Superman and Batman being emo, and generally with good reason, although at least Sups is getting laid.

Other problems:

Seriously D.C.: just a little humor? It doesn’t have to be Tony Stark funny all the time, but could we lighten up just a bit? It’s a comic book movie, for crying out loud.

I’m still not entirely sure how everyone figured out who everyone else secretly is.

How did Alfred, the butler, get such mad technical skills? Who’s dusting the furniture?

Lex Luthor isn’t Lex Luthor. It’s as if Luthor is doing his best impression of Joker, or maybe Joker disguised himself as Luthor to hide from an increasingly homicidal Batman. It’s a fun performance, but it’s not Lex Luthor.

Was it really necessary to pad an already padded movie with another look at the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents? Haven’t we pretty much got that down by now?

They should have waited to throw the rest of the Justice League in—it made the movie too long and added too much unnecessary stuff. I say this despite the fact that Gal Gadot stole the show as the unnamed Wonder Woman.

Which brings me to the things I did like:

See this movie on the biggest screen you can possibly find: It’s visually stunning. We watched it in 3D, and I jumped back more than once.

In your face, Ben Affleck haters! I held judgment, remembering how much everyone hated Michael Keaton as Batman—until the movie came out and he silenced the critics. As Grandpa Batman, Affleck does the same.

In fact, the cast as a whole was outstanding. That includes Jesse Eisenberg, playing some Bizaro version of Lex Luthor with Joker DNA in him. Holly Hunter was especially great, and it was nice to see a cameo by someone we thought dead.

For you Walking Dead fans, here’s a head-exploding cameo: Bruce Wayne’s parents are played by Maggie and Negan. *boom* That means Bruce’s dad is also the father of the Winchester brothers on Supernatural, where he also died while they were young. No wonder the guy got targeted, leading a double life like that.

There are nice shout-outs to the comic book fans, which don’t interfere with non-comic fans enjoying the flick.

Hans Zimmer’s music: Loved it. I have no idea how much Junkie XL contributed to the score, but he needs to slap his parents for giving him that name.

My wife swore she saw Chris Pine in a briefly glimpsed 1914 photo. She was right.

So, overall, yes—worth seeing. One of my major problems with Man of Steel was the huge amount of collateral damage, and I’m glad that was addressed in Batman vs. Superman. I just hope they put some script doctors to work on Justice League.



Well, he said he’d be back.

Terminator Genisys brings back “Ahnald” Schwarzenegger as a Terminator, who is continually sent back in time to kill someone who will eventually defeat a machine revolution, or to defend that person from another Terminator who’s sent back to kill … it gets very confusing.

Even more so in this movie, in which resistance leader John Conner sends his second in command Kyle Reese to 1984 to protect Sarah Conner, John’s future mom, in the past. It’s exactly what happened in the first movie. But this time, instead of getting there just after the original Terminator does, Reese arrives to discover that Terminator has been around for many years—and instead of killing her, it’s been protecting Sarah the whole time.

Then it gets complicated.

Reese, like the audience, flails around, trying to figure out what’s going on. Why can’t he can’t just blow away this oddly aged Terminator and get it on with Sarah? Turns out he’s John Conner’s father (Reese, not the Terminator), which comes as something of a shock to him. The timeline is fractured as the movie, and sometimes the characters, jump back and forth in time, blowing things up and generally causing chaos.

Just sit back and you may find, to your surprise, that it is enjoyable. Yes, there are logic problems along the way and moments that stretch credibility, but think of it this way: You’re watching a movie about time traveling robots. How much credibility do you really have the right to demand?

(Having said that, it’s never explained just who messed with the original timeline.)

Terminator Genisys is probably the third best of the Terminator movies, which according to some isn’t saying much. The cast and effects are first rate, and as popcorn movies go it’s one of the better ones. Emilia Clarke holds her own against the strong Sarah Conner actors who came before her, and look for J.K. Simmons as an older cop still reeling from a decades old involvement in a Terminator battle.

Best of all: Matt Smith, in a small role that made me smile like a loon every time he appeared. Casting a guy who played the eleventh time-traveling Doctor Who in a time travel movie was inspired, even if he didn’t get all that much to do. It makes me want to go write a fanfiction crossover.


ozma914: mustache Firefly (mustache)
( Aug. 10th, 2015 04:21 pm)

It was movie franchise marathon night when Emily and I decided to go to the drive-in. Although it’s a little late now, I thought I’d give my thoughts on two summer flicks that might cleanse your palate if you mistakenly stumbled into a showing of Fantastic Four.

Whether a movie is good is both personal and relative, of course. I’m easily entertained and, at least when it comes to Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation, had low expectations. Truth is, I considered skipping the latest Tom Cruise charm-fest, having mistakenly thought it was the second feature. It wasn’t.

I’d seen only the first Mission: Impossible movie, along with bits and pieces of the second one. Honestly, I remember it as being very loud, with more scene cuts than an MTV video directed by a coke addict. In the early James Bond movies, it took five minutes for a car to go down the road (but with that great guitar riff!) These days, in that same five minutes Tom Cruise kills off an army, takes down a third world government, gets the girl, and still has time for three breaks with his hair stylist.

None of that changes with Rogue Nation, so maybe I’m just getting used to it—because I really enjoyed this movie. It had a great cast and action sequences, and lots of humor, which can make or break a movie for me (and in this case certainly made it). The plot? Um … something to do with Ethan Hunt and his Impossible Missions Force taking on one of those evil organizations bent on controlling the world. And there’s a woman.

Many people refuse to watch a movie starring the not-always-there Cruise. Me, I despise Alec Baldwin, who plays the Director of the CIA here. But I can separate my feelings about a person from their product, and that’s good, because there are plenty of reprehensible people in Hollywood. Overall I liked this movie, and I have to add: Cruise hanging on the side of an aircraft 5,000 feet in the air, without a stunt double, may prove he’s crazy—but it was still cool.

Still, you have to wonder how Ethan Hunt’s team would handle contact with a Terminator … subject of drive-in night part 2.



We saw a movie in 3-D today, by accident.

I can take or leave 3-D, and since it costs more I usually leave it. But we’d misread the schedule, and rather than wait around another half hour we chose to watch Ant-Man in three dimensions. It was in a theater which just replaced its seats with power recliners, which makes it a far cry from the movie-going experiences of my youth. I can take or leave the recliners, too. It’s nice to not worry about a tall guy sitting in front of you, though.

Happily, in this case the movie uses 3-D without relying on it. Sometimes moviemakers overthink the format, throwing everything from arrows to crashing vehicles at the viewer in the hopes of setting a new audience jump record. I wonder if the same thing happened with the first talkies, or the color films? Probably early movies in those formats threw their newfangled tricks at viewers, just as the early 3-D movies did.

But the day will come when 3-D will be just another part of every movie experience, regardless of how much some hate it now. Having things jump off the screen at you will be no more remarkable than hearing Johnny Depp’s newest accent, or seeing the primary colors of a superhero’s costume. I’ll probably choose 2-D for some time to come … just as people chose the less garish black and white movies decades ago. But I can go either way.

As for the movie itself? Ant-Man was great fun, and I highly recommend it in the dimension of your choice.



            Am I so much of a geek that I care when actors from some of my favorite shows come together in one movie?


            Yes. Still, this movie doesn’t need the help.


The consensus was that Guardians of the Galaxy, based on a comic book that most people who don’t read comics have never heard of, would be blockbuster or complete bust. Chris Pratt, the guy from “Parks and Recreation”, as a leading man action hero? Marvel going into space? A raccoon with a gun? Disaster looms.


            But this is Marvel. And yes, Marvel is bound to have another huge dud sooner or later … but not this time.


            Despite being known for its humor, the movie actually starts out with a tear jerking scene in which a little boy named Peter Quill sees his mother die of cancer—then, immediately after, he’s abducted by a UFO. Fast forward 26 years, and we find the adult Quill dancing—literally—into what looks like an Indiana Jones set on an alien planet.


            There Quill finds a strange orb that you just know everybody’s going to want. He’s ambushed by a bad guy who also wants the orb, and from then on it’s a slam-bang series of fights and flights as just about everyone in the galaxy battles for the power that resides inside the artifact.


            One of the most fun fights is also where most of the fellow guardians gather for the first time, all intent on taking the orb. Zoe Saldana’s performance as Gamora is killer—literally. But even she loses the screen when Rocket and Groot—an engineered Raccoon and a walking, talking (a little) tree—show up.


            Rocket Raccoon should have been ridiculous. Instead, the sarcastic rodent, voiced by Bradley Cooper, makes everyone else step up their game just to keep up. Later we meet the last member, Drax, played by a pro wrestler—apparently wrestling really is fake, ‘cause the guy can act.


            All the GotG members are damaged anti-heroes, who reluctantly decide to protect the orb from various bad guys. (Their motivation? For one thing, they do live in the galaxy, after all.) You have to pay attention as characters come and go, motivations are revealed, and wises are cracked. Luckily, paying attention is fun.


            Guardians is certainly the best I’ve seen this year, and I’ve seen some pretty darned good movies. Why? It’s a good story, and funny, and naturally the special effects are amazing. I’m fairly convinced at this point that they really did find an intelligent, if mean, raccoon and a slightly less intelligent moving tree to play Rocket and Groot.


But in the end it’s the cast that makes the movie. Chris Pratt is a revelation as Quill, fighting and cracking wise with equal skill. Saldana is amazing, and we get great performances from actors such as John C. Riley and Glenn Close, among others. I take it Close thought she was slumming for this roll, but she gives it her skill and it shows.


On a note relating to my earlier comments, it was great fun seeing Michael Rooker, playing an intergalactic version of his redneck bad boy character from “The Walking Dead”, and Karen Gillan, playing someone just as tough but way more evil than her “Doctor Who” role.


Oh, two more things: First, Peter Quill’s oddly timed abduction as a child does make sense. Second, there is indeed an extra scene at the end of the credits, which I suspect will leave many younger movie goers scratching their heads.



            Entertainment Value: 5 out of 4 M&M’s. My review, my rules.


            Oscar Potential: 3 out of 4 M&M’s. Hollywood muckity-mucks hate SF, especially funny SF, although they don’t hesitate to take the money. Just the same, it would be a shame if Guardians of the Galaxy doesn’t get nominated for something, even if it’s a technical Oscar.



            Side Note:  If Guardians is sold out, check out Lucy or Planes: Fire and Rescue. One is thrilling and mind blowing, the other truly fun family fare. On a personal note, whoever scripted the Planes movie took the time to research firefighting, which I appreciate.

They look a little different in the movie ...



            I love a good time travel movie.


            Wait, didn’t I already say that in a previous review?


            “Edge Of Tomorrow” sounds like a daytime soap opera, but it’s actually a rollicking fun science fiction about a cowardly military officer (Tom Cruise, at his better), who’s forced to participate in a battle against aliens taking over Europe. After saying the wrong thing to a general, Major Cage finds himself a private in a techno battle suit, crossing the English Channel to invade, yes, Normandy.


            (The movie was released on the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy during World War II. Coincidence? Duh.)


            Soldiers expecting a cakewalk instead are ambushed and massacred, in a thankfully not too gory but plenty scary scene. Cage has just enough time to glimpse a female soldier wielding a huge sword before a spinning, tentacle alien … kills him.


            Wait … huge sword? Techno battle suits? Yep, “Edge Of Tomorrow” is based on a Japanese manga, with Normandy filling in for Tokyo. (“All You Need Is Kill”, by Hiroshi Sakarazaka.)


            But a last second encounter gives Cage a do-over—I did mention this was SF, right? He wakes up the previous morning, and finds himself going through the same crap all over again, with the same outcome. Then he wakes up again. And again.


            After a while, he gets better at fighting through sheer repetition. Then he discovers exactly one other person who believes his story, because it happened to her—and she just happens to carry a big honkin’ sword. Now all they have to do is make it a little further off the beach, time after time, until they track down the Big Bad alien and kill it before the human race is wiped out. No pressure.


            Time travel’s hard to pull off well, and it’s especially hard not to bore the audience to death with “Groundhog Day” style repetition. Taking a cue from the Bill Murray, this warlike version plays funny, or as funny as it can considering Cage only resets when he dies. Cage is at first confused and terrified, then messes with people, then gives in to despair before his increased skill and caring for the warrior Rita (Emily Blunt) leads to determination.


            Blunt, by the way, gets to shoot Tom Cruise in the head repeatedly, and who hasn’t wanted to do that?


            Despite its subject matter—it’s basically another movie about the apocalypse—“Edge Of Tomorrow” is great fun and certainly action packed. Cruise, who I’m no fan of, is perfect for the role and proves he really can act. Of course, you’d act scared too, if you knew you were about to die—again. Blunt does well, the effects are great, and I loved the supporting cast—especially Bill Paxton, who I actually didn’t recognize. He’s a tough and sometimes befuddled Master Sergeant who delivers one of my favorite lines … although maybe you have to be from the Bluegrass State to truly appreciate it.



            Entertainment Value: 3 ¾ out of 4 M&M’s. Being too easily entertained, I’m trying to avoid giving out too many perfect ratings.



            Oscar Potential: 2 out of 4 M&M’s. It could pick up a nomination in the effects area, or something along those lines. The acting is pretty good, but would have to be better than perfect for an SF film to get a nomination.



            Hollywood takes great pride and joy in “pushing the envelope”. So much so that you’re not likely to get as much critical acclaim if your TV show or movie doesn’t try something over the top: Just a little more nudity, cursing, violence, or general grossness than has been generally allowed in the past.


            Two of my favorite shows are “The Walking Dead” and “Fargo”, both of which would have been R rated and never allowed near TV when I was a kid. However, let me suggest something that today’s Hollywood creators would find shocking:


            Just because you can push the envelope doesn’t mean you have to push the envelope.


            And so we come to “A Million Ways To Die In The West”. This picture was made by Seth MacFarlane, who’s well known for being as offensive as possible in his very funny show, “Family Guy”. What I did not expect—and this doesn’t spoil the plot—was to actually see a sheep penis, and to actually get a good look at a hat full of diarrhea.


            Was it shocking? Yes, just as the F-bomb used to be shocking before it became boring in its overuse. Was it gross? Well, yeah. Was it funny? Did it add anything to the movie? Just the opposite. The same goes in other areas: For instance, a scene involving a huge ice block was funny, until we see blood and gore splatter. Then—not so much.


            Sometimes the envelope is there for a reason.


            MacFarlane plays a sheep farmer named Albert who falls for a mysterious newcomer in town, played by the scene-stealing Charlize Theron. Unfortunately for him, the woman’s boyfriend is Clinch, the deadliest gunslinger in the West (Liam Neeson, who sadly has little to do.)  Albert must find his courage and get over his ex-girlfriend even as townspeople fall like dominos around him because there are, after all, a million ways to die in the West.


            The cast is overall wonderful, especially Theron and Neil Patrick Harris, and we get some great cameos along the way (the best of which is spoiled in some trailers.) While some viewers didn’t like MacFarlane in his role, I thought he did well playing the straight man as the smart but naïve Albert.


            As for the plot, I got a little whiplash: Part was a pure parody, but in the other parts MacFarlane plays it serious. Sometimes we’re looking at amazing Western scenery, other times a hooker’s telling her virginal boyfriend exactly what she’s doing to earn extra money. Much as MacFarlane enjoys his drug jokes and potty humor, I think he’s also sentimental at heart.


            So, would I recommend “A Million Ways To Die In The West”? Yep: It’s mostly fun and funny—if you can stomach it.


            Entertainment Value: 3 out of 4 M&M’s, but not the brown ones. I won’t be eating the brown ones for a while.


            Oscar Potential: 1 out of 4 M&M’s. There’s always cinematography or music.


Finally, a movie that appreciates a good mustache.


            Time travel, yay! I love a great time travel movie. Heck, I love a bad time travel movie.

            Good news: X-Men: Days of Future Past is a great travel movie.

            The movie, which has a title so long it exhausts me to say it, is about mutants in our future who send one of their own back to our past to prevent a war that destroys our present. Can I just say X-Men? Assume I’m not talking about one of the previous ones.

            More specifically, a small group of characters from the comics have been surviving ongoing attacks from Sentinels by detecting when the mutant hunting robots are approaching, then psychically going back a few days in time to warn themselves to flee. In other words, they’ve been time traveling constantly, which can take quite a toll on a person.

            The solution, naturally, is to go back in time half a century or so and stop the murder that eventually leads to the government funding the Sentinel Program, and doesn’t the government always end up behind these things? Unfortunately, the person who committed that murder is one of their own: Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), and why has no one noticed that she runs around totally naked for half this movie? Oh, sure, she has weird blue skin that looks like rubber gloves, but still …

            Anyway, the only person who can survive a trip that far back is Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), whose mind heals as quickly as his unaging body does. Kitty Pryde (my favorite mutant from the comic books) is given specific instructions: Send Wolverine back to a moment where he’s in bed with a lover, so he’ll get up and treat the audience to full (if not frontal) nudity.

            I didn’t care all that much myself, but my eardrums popped from the simultaneous intake of air among all the females in the movie theater.

            And then we’re in the 70’s, where Wolverine realizes all the mutant powers in the world can’t protect him from polyester.

            I’m so glad we aren’t in the 70’s anymore.

            This is one of the best of the X-Men movies, and one of the best of the superhero movies, too. It’s true that you should be a fan of the comic books to get all the little winks, and this is one time when seeing the other movies is a prerequisite. On the other hand, the moviemakers have done a fantastic job of jumping back and forth in time without confusing the audience, and that’s an amazing accomplishment.

            The story’s great, the acting strong, the special effects (of course) mind blowing, and X-Men fans get at least a cameo from almost all of their favorites. Also, as with Star Trek, this story has the advantage of erasing almost all the canon that canon’d before this, giving them a clean slate for the next movie.

            I’m left with just one question: If Halle Berry once received a half-million bucks to drop her top in a movie, how much did Hugh Jackman get for baring his bottom?


Entertainment Value: 4 out of 4 M&M’s. That’s two wins out of two trips to the theater.

Oscar Potential: 4 M&M’s for something, even if it’s special effects


ozma914: new novel cover art by Kelly Martin (Default)


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