Like my book reviews site, these are movie reviews I write for entertainment purposes only. These are just my reviews and my opinions. They are not endorsed by Blogger or any movie studios or anyone else. So there. I borrowed my scoring system from the Metacritic site, which does not imply an endorsement from them, although I think they do have a very nice website. I convert the 1-100 scores into 1-4 stars, essentially it works like this:

1 star = 25 points
2 stars = 50 points
3 stars = 75 points
4 stars = 100 points

And then if something falls about halfway between, then I'll give it an added half-star.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (With "Spoilers")

Like with "The Avengers" I'm reviewing this after almost everyone I know has already watched it, so I really don't feel I need to describe the plot in-depth and I can go into "spoilers" because again most anyone who reads this will probably have already seen the movie and thus it's not spoiling it for them.  But by all means if you haven't watched the movie yet, please watch out for the spoilers.

So after about 33 years (almost my whole life!) we finally get a sequel to the original Star Wars trilogy.  It only took $4 billion to buy George Lucas out and make this happen.  Small price to pay, right?  With so much at stake and so much hype, I was skeptical if the movie could really live up to it, but for the most part it does.

It seemed to me that what writers Michael Arndt, Lawrence Kasdan, and JJ Abrams (plus all the producers and such) did was to analyze the original trilogy and prequels and come up with the things fans liked and didn't like, which again they had 33 years of data for that.  So we have a desert planet (not Tattooine, thank goodness) and a droid everyone is looking for because it contains valuable data.  And that droid is found by a person who has never left the desert and dreams of great things.  In this case it's a girl named Rey who scavenges wrecked Star Destroyers and Alliance ships for parts to sell for food and water rations.  (Kind of wonder if those old ships wouldn't have some MRE-type things around even after 30-ish years but whatever.)  And then we have the Millennium Falcon and Han Solo and Chewie showing up and the whole crew going to a seedy space port bar with cheesy music playing, only this one is run by a wise midget alien who is a thousand years old, sort of a yellow Yoda.  And we have a lot of family drama, only this time it's mostly the Solos.  And there's a super-weapon that blows up planets, though it's actually a planet itself.  And the Rebels, er, Resistance has to launch a desperate raid to stop the super-weapon before it can blow up their base.  (Like A New Hope, why don't they just get on their ships and run away?  I mean you'd lose some stuff obviously but why stand around while the superweapon is bearing down on you?)  Like Return of the Jedi, stopping the weapon involves disabling something on the ground.  There's also breaking into the superweapon complex to stage a daring prison break.  And a sage old character dies.

What you won't see are cutesy teddy bears, annoying little kids, and offensive racist stereotypes.  Or pointless pod races for that matter.  Or really awkward love scenes.  Characters are mostly allowed to have emotions, though it seems Carrie Fisher took too much Botox or something for her face or voice to emote much except weariness.  (Why did they keep her and not Han?)

Anyway, while everyone was wondering, "Where's Luke Skywalker," which is actually a plot central to the story, JJ Abrams and company managed to pull the wool over most of our eyes.  Because Finn was shown with the blue lightsaber in all the trailers and posters, it was assumed he was the one who would become a Jedi.  Nooope.  Instead it's Rey, which makes sense since she has the Luke Skywalker backstory.  And is she Luke's daughter?  It seems very, very likely to me.  I mean besides the backstory, she can call his lightsaber to her hand and use it like it was meant to her.  She hasn't been off-world before and can almost instantly fly the Falcon and instinctively knows how to repair it--like her probably grandpa Anakin Skywalker.  When you get down to it, though, it wouldn't make sense for her to be Leia's kid.  Why would Han and Leia dump their daughter on Jakku and forget about her?  I can see Luke doing that after his Jedi Academy got fucked up.  With what happened to him, it might have seemed like a good idea to him to leave her on some backwater desert planet while he went off to search for the First Jedi Temple or whatever bullshit.  Sure Jedi aren't supposed to get married or have kids, but that didn't stop Luke and Leia's daddy did it?

Of course part of this is wishful thinking on my part.  One of my favorite characters of the "Expanded Universe" (the books and comics that came after the movies) was Mara Jade, a former apprentice of the Emperor who ended up with Luke's lightsaber and then eventually marrying him, having a son, and ultimately dying.  It'd be nice to work at least a little of that into the "new" movie universe.

My favorite part of the movie was when Rey calls the lightsaber to her hand and ignites it, thereby officially embracing her destiny--especially when she kicked Kylo Ren's ass.  Ren is one of the few things they got wrong.  He was too much of a whiny brat, like Anakin in Episode II.  We were all hankering for a badass Vader-type villain, but he doesn't really cut it.  Maybe as he "completes his training" he'll be more badass.  It does seem they're building towards a final clash between Rey and Ren, one embracing the light and the other embracing the dark.  How much you wanna bet that Ren will kill Luke in Episode VIII?  That would set up the stakes for Episode IX and that whole "balance of the Force" thing.

The only other major problem is they didn't really clarify the whole landscape.  Who's the First Order?  And the Republic?  And the Resistance?  From what I gathered it seems like the Republic would be the US and the Resistance is like when we armed the mujaheddin in Afghanistan or the Contras in Nicaragua; basically some ragtag group we prop up to do the dirty work for us.

Anyway, The movie succeeds in the most important aspects:  1) Wiping the bad taste of the prequels from our mouths and 2) Hook viewers for future installments.  It was easily the best time I had at the movies all year.

(4/5 stars)

Tuesday, April 30, 2013


This movie reminded me a lot of "Catch .44" which also co-starred Forest Whitaker and took place largely at a diner and that I also got through Amazon to preview. This movie doesn't self-consciously try to ape Quentin Tarantino like that one, but overall it isn't much better. It's a muddled robbery/hostage story that on the whole isn't that great.

Like many of these movies nowadays the timeline is all jumbled up to try to make it seem more like a puzzle. Basically a guy named Nick gets out of jail and ends up at this diner owned by the Russian mob on the night that a crew of Brits led by Michael Chiklis (who incidentally is not British) rob the place. But things go wrong and soon it turns into a hostage situation.

The movie left me with several questions. Such as: the Russian mob is in Hartford? And why is a crew of British guys hanging around there? If you wanted British robbers why did you hire Michael Chiklis? Are British actors too busy playing American superheroes for a project like this? Why is the Russian gangster always wearing that ascot? Does he have a horrible scar or tattoo under there? Could they find a worse rapper-actor than Common to play the negotiator? What was the point of Ray Liotta's "Man in the Suit" character? What's with Forest Whitaker's left eye? Has he had a stroke recently?

I could go on, but I think I'll just go watch "The Negotiator" for the thousandth time instead.

That is all.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man

Overall, I can say I was anything but amazed by "The Amazing Spider-Man."  Mostly I was bored.  I kept thinking to myself, wait, didn't I see this movie already?  Because like the superspiders in OsCorp's lab this one seems to combine a lot of DNA with the 2002 version.

That's apparent right from the title card, which was done pretty much the same way as the 2002 movie.  The only difference is they don't run through the whole credits.  Instead, it borrows from Christopher Nolan's Batman movies and runs all the credits through at the end.

The big difference is that we see Peter Parker's parents.  Their house is ransacked by parties unknown and Peter is taken to his aunt and uncle's house.  Then something happens to his parents and they wind up dead.  Or something.  The movie didn't make that point all too clear.

Anyway, about 10 years later Peter is a student in high school and like the Tobey Maguire version he pines after the unattainable girl involved with the high school jock Flash, only this time it's Gwen Stacey instead of Mary-Jane Watson, which falls in line with the original comics I guess.  This Peter is more of a smart-ass (with a skateboard even!) but still a science nerd who also has an interest in photography.  Neither version of the movie ever seems to forge any sort of connection between these hobbies.  For instance, I got into nature photography because I wrote a story about a nature photographer.  Peter does not have a motivation like that.  Maybe the next reboot will explain that?

You pretty much should know how the rest of the story plays out.  Peter goes to a lab and gets bitten by a spider and gains spider-like powers.  His uncle is killed and he decides he's going to go out in spandex and fight crime.

There's also a genius scientist run amok, just like in the 2002 movie and the 2004 sequel.  Why are so many Spidey bad guys mad scientists?  This one is the Lizard because he takes a serum that makes him a giant lizard.  Clever!  The Lizard decides it'd be cool to make everyone else in the city lizards too.  If you pay attention then you'll know how he's going to do this long before it actually happens.  I mean it's pretty obvious.

Anyway, a lot of people gushed how much better this was than the 2002 version.  I don't really agree.  Stylistically they're pretty much the same.  Some points of the movie actually seemed lamer than the 2002 version.  The way Uncle Ben dies was pretty stupid this time around.  And how he gets bitten by the spider was kind of dumb too.  What kind of giant pharmaceutical company employs high school interns?  And how could Gwen be a big wheel there while only being a senior in high school?  I mean sure I had a co-op job in high school, but I don't think they would have put me in charge of a bunch of other people or let me in on all sorts of sensitive stuff.  The way the Lizard deduces Spider's identity is stupid.  He puts a camera in the sewer (why?) and then leaves a label with his name on it?  I thought he was supposed to be smart.

Unfortunately we also get another "I [Heart] New York" moment like the Raimi films.  In this case construction workers band together to help Spider-Man.  Why was that necessary?  This Spider-Man is also as dumb as the other one in terms of protecting his secret identity.  At the end we even get the same gratuitous montage of Spider-Man swinging around.  Though in this case it's positioned to look really cool in 3D, if you were watching it in 3D, which I wasn't.

The biggest improvement is that the girl gets to do something in this movie.  It borrows from "Batman Begins" where Gwen has to help distribute an antidote to the Lizard's formula.  That was at least better than her serving as a hostage for the bad guy as happened in all three Raimi movies.  She was less whiny too, so that was a bonus.

Anyway, I just didn't see this as a huge step forward for the franchise.  It was mostly a step sideways.  I'd say a step sideways off the side of a tall building, but that's mostly just me.  I did probably get my $1.27 out of it from Redbox.

My score:  2 stars (50/100)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Catch .44

(2.5/4 stars)

It's pretty obvious during the five minute conversation between the wanna-be Charlie's Angels (Tes, Kyla, and Dawn) that this movie desperately wants to be a Quentin Tarantino film. Which was bad news for me because I don't really like Tarantino's films. "Reservoir Dogs" is pretty good. That's what this seems to aspire to, though it doesn't quite make it.

This is the kind of movie where a lot of it is told in flashback, but I'll give it to you in chronological order, without trying to spoil too many surprises. As I said at the outset there are three young women Tes, Kyla, and Dawn. The latter two we can forget about because they die in the first ten minutes of the movie. Tes (Malin Ackerman) is a former strip club waitress/pickpocket who works for crime boss Mel (Bruce Willis) around the New Orleans area. She and her crew are assigned to go to a diner in the middle of nowhere to intercept a drug shipment (or something). The drugs/cash are the film's MacGuffin, the thing everyone is fighting over and yet they don't really matter.

But as we see early on things go wrong and Tes's underlings are killed. There's a double-cross and then another double-cross and then another double-cross. It'd take too long and spoil too much to say who all is double-crossing who.

Anyway, like the earlier "Smokin' Aces" this is a film by a Tarantino disciple that tries to mimic the master's work, but never quite gets there. It's got a lot of the same pieces, but feels too derivative. (Which is maybe why I never heard of it before it showed up on the Vine newsletter and was released on DVD.) If you're a fan of double-crosses and gore then this is a good rental, but I wouldn't buy it.

BTW, like the earlier "13" I got from Vine the DVD includes no extras. I don't know if the actual sale version does or not. If it does I can't evaluate them since I couldn't see them.

That is all.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Our Idiot Brother

There are nice guys and then there's Ned.  Maybe the screenwriters named him Ned because he's like Ned Flanders on "The Simpsons" only without the religion.  He's so nice when a cop comes up to his fruit & vegetable stand asking for some pot because he's having a bad day, Ned agrees to give him a bag.  He reluctantly takes $20 for it and then finds himself sent up the river on a drug pedaling charge.

Ned (Paul Rudd) gets out 8 months later and is no longer welcome at the farm where he used to work.  At first then he stays with his mom.  When he feels smothered, he goes to stay with his sister Liz (Emily Mortimer) and her husband (Steve Coogan) and their young son River.  Liz and her husband are the type of parents who don't want their kid to eat sugar and make him play some weird musical instrument so he can get into a fancy school.  Ned upsets that by teaching River about karate and stuff.

Soon he ends up with his other sister Miranda (Elizabeth Banks)--I have no idea which sister is the oldest or youngest.  She works for Vanity Fair and is trying to break a big story about Lady Arabella, who was involved in some scandal.  Ned's honesty screws that up too.

He ends up sleeping in a raft at the apartment of his other sister Natalie (Zooey Deschanel).  She's supposedly a lesbian, but has been sleeping around with a guy.  Ned's honesty ruins things for her too.

It's all a little too obvious that the real "idiots" are the sisters, not Ned.  As screwed up as his life is, theirs aren't much better, just they refuse to admit it.  You might be able to figure out where everything is going. 

But overall this was a fun, lighthearted film.  Ned's good-natured blundering is funny and makes him a likable character.  He's not exactly in the same mold as Forrest Gump (because he's not that dumb) but he is someone you root for despite the dumb things he does.

This is a good movie for adult couples who want something light and fun.  There's really too much sex talk (and an unfortunate shot of Steve Coogan's naughty parts) for this to be a family film.

The extras on the DVD I received are three deleted/extended scenes (one is real short) and an alternate ending.  Unlike some movies that claim to have an alternate ending but end up having one or two lines changed, this one really is a largely different ending.  I think the original works better, but the alternate ending gives more closure about the characters.

That is all.

(3/4 stars)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


I guess since this was about Russian roulette and listed Jason Statham as one of the stars I expected it to be more exciting. I was definitely not on the edge of my seat, even when guys had guns to each other's heads.

Another complaint I have is I didn't really feel I knew much about most of the characters. In many cases I didn't even know their names. It took a little straining to remember the "hero" is named Vince, in large part because for 2/3 of the movie he's referred to as "Number 13."

The reason for this is that Vince finds an invitation to a Russian roulette tournament. The mechanics of this are a little hazy to me. I think Vince is working at renovating this guy's house. The guy overdoses on morphine after he gets the invitation. Vince finds it and since he needs money for an operation for his dad (I think), he goes to New York to take the other guy's place.

The tournament is held in a mansion (or something) out in the middle of nowhere. I don't know how far you have to get from New York City for that. There are at least 17 players. Each one has essentially a sponsor. I'm not really sure who Vince's was. At the house we meet some of the other participants. There's #17 (Mickey Rourke) who was in a Mexican prison before being smuggled into the US for the tournament. He keeps telling his handler (50 Cent) that he knows where there's a large stash of money. 17 and his money really have no bearing on the overall plot.

Vince's main rival is #6 Robert Lynn (Ray Winstone) who was in a mental institution until his brother Jasper (Jason Statham) signs him out to be in the tourney. #6 has won the tourney a few times before. For some reason, Jasper borrows 2 million from someone to gamble in the tourney on his brother.

I think part of the reason I was never too excited is besides being located in a mansion--and not somewhere seedy like a back alley--is there are so many rules. For the first two rounds everyone stands in a circle. They're given a gun and one bullet. They put the guns in the air and spin the chamber around at the behest of the referee who sits in a chair like a tennis umpire. Then each player puts his gun at the head of the guy in front of him. (They are all guys.) When a light with spiders on it (why spiders? I don't know) goes on, they fire. Some people die and others live. For the next round, there are two bullets in the guns. The final round features two players chosen at random to "duel." They get three bullets in their guns. If you can't guess who is chosen to duel they show you A) on the DVD back cover and B)A few minutes into the film. So I guess that's another strike as it spoils a little of the drama.

Anyway, with so many rules and everything so well-mannered (they even let the "survivors" go free!) it felt more like watching tennis than Russian roulette. That and I didn't really know much about the important characters and a lot of characters weren't that important anyway, like #17.

So this definitely could have been a better movie. Maybe the original version was better; I might have to go look for it on Netflix or something.

BTW, there were no extras on the copy I was given from the Vine newsletter. I don't know if the copy for purchase has any extras or what they might be.

That is all.
(2/4 stars)

Thursday, August 11, 2011


I wasn't all that keen on seeing this movie, but one of my Gather "friends" recommended it.  Also, it drove me up the wall that Netflix wouldn't have it available for a full month AFTER you could buy the DVD, which is also a full month after Blockbuster and On Demand had it.  So once I signed back up with Blockbuster I put that near the top of my queue and here we are.

The basic premise of the movie is:  what if you could take a pill that would speed up your IQ past those of history's greatest geniuses?  Eddie (Bradley Cooper) faces this conundrum.  When the movie begins he's a socially-awkward writer suffering from writer's block, living in a messy apartment, and being dumped by his girlfriend.

(On a side note, only in the movies does a writer get a book contract without having written anything and without being famous.  That almost never happens in the real world, especially with fiction.  So suspend a little disbelief there.)

Then his ex-wife's brother runs into him on the street and offers him an experimental pill called NZT-48.  Eddie decides to take it and instantly his writer's block is gone, he's learning new languages at the drop of a hat, and winning back his girlfriend.  There's just a couple of little problems.  One is that the pill only lasts 24 hours.  After it's gone, he goes to the former brother-in-law's place only to discover that the brother-in-law has been killed by some nasty people looking for the pills.

They don't find the stash but Eddie does, along with some cash.  He uses the pills and bills to begin amassing a fortune.  First he tries counting cards and doing some day trading.  When that's too slow, he seeks out corporate titan Carl Atwood (Robert DeNiro) and goes to work helping to broker a huge merger that will net him $40 million.

But there are still the problems of the pills and the people who want the pills.
Overall I enjoyed the movie.  The scenario might be implausible, but it's a fun what-if fantasy.  Cooper gives a solid performance as Eddie and is fairly convincing as both mousy pre-NZT Eddie and suave post-NZT Eddie.  

It probably could have been 15 minutes shorter.  It drags a little in the middle.  Some of this drag is from a scenario I find puzzling.  Eddie reaches into his stash jar for a pill but seems to be out.  So he goes to a meeting with Atwood off the pill, which doesn't go well.  But then it turns out he has a stash hidden away somewhere.  So why didn't he just go get the stash before the meeting?  I mean if he's so smart on the pills how could he be so stupid as to run out before the meeting?

Other than that hiccup it's a perfectly good movie.  A solid night's entertainment.

That is all.

My score:  75/100 (3 stars)

Metacritic score:  59-100 (2 stars)