Category Archives: Reviews

Guardians of the Galaxy: So Nice, I Saw It Twice

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If you had told me a few years ago that one of my favorite movies would involve a talking raccoon and a sentient tree voiced by Vin Diesel, I might have shrugged. (I am, after all, a rather strange individual). However if you had told me it would have been my parents new favorite movie as well, I would have laughed and laughed.

Because that’s, well, about as ridiculous as a raccoon with a machine gun.

Here’s the thing: my dad enjoys superhero movies every once in a while, so long as they aren’t too ridiculous. My mom loves documentaries and occasionally war movies. Neither of them have been impressed with the Marvel stock after Avengers. Both were hesitant to see Guardians of the Galaxy.

And the movie impressed them so much, they not only watched it a second time in the theaters,  they also convinced their friends (who don’t care much for Marvel movies) to see it as well.

It wasn’t because of the plot; where GotG is concerned, most of the main points are strictly per Marvel formula: glowing object that will be important in Avengers 3 threatens the safety of the world galaxy, band of misfits must join together to stop it, etc. . .

The villain’s a cardboard cutout. There’s a severe lack of female or POC characters of any importance in the narrative. The action sequences are the weakest parts of the film.

Yet despite these flaws, the movie works. In fact, it works wonderfully, thanks to two factors which I like to call Likability and Genre Savvy writing.

Likability is just what it sounds like: the whole package of the movie along with many of its smaller parts are incredibly likable. The characters are fun to watch. The dialogue is interesting. The soundtrack is equal parts heartwarming and ridiculous on top of having its own plot point. That’s right, the music gets its own plot thread. And it works.

Genre Savvy writing fits in with this as well. While the characters in GotG might not know they’re in a Marvel Superhero movie, the writers certainly know it and aren’t afraid to exploit that fact.

Take for instance the first glimpse we see of main character Peter Quill finally grown-up and wandering around the galaxy. A strange, masked figure walking through the ruins of an alien city, billowing impressively through the doorway of one of the few buildings left standing. Dramatically, he removes his helmet and we see his face, pensive as he surveys the area.

Then he turns on his walkman and 80s-dances his way through the rest of the stone ruins (a-la Kevin Bacon) to “Come and Get Your Love.”

You can’t help but laugh.

The whole film is like this, filled with perfect setups for traditional, overly-dramatic superhero moments. . .that are immediately undercut by unexpected and unusually savvy dialogue.

The result is a seriously fun time and if you have the chance, I highly recommend you go see it.

Official rating: 9/10 bacons.

A Review of Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Photo credit (x)

Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson as Captain America and Black Widow. Photo credit: (x)

Captain America (Chris Evans) is back as the star-spangled man with a plan who doesn’t seem to know what to do with himself in this newfangled world.  He visits modern-day veterans, (well, one veteran that will be important to the plot later on) goes on missions (well, one mission that will be important to the plot later on) and tries to get some closure for his past (by visiting one person who says something that, you guessed it, will be important to the plot later on) and. . .that’s about it.

The plot, as far as I can tell, goes something like this: Nick Fury and Cap clash on ideals, there’s a mysterious assassin afoot, and of course a MacGuffin in the form of a USB drive which seems a little-high tech for our intrepid hero, but really, why nitpick when there are plot holes so large you could drive three S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarriers through them? Shadowy organizations are not to be trusted, Cap goes to unravel the mysteries of the MacGuffin, and suddenly everything is not as it seems, wheels within wheels, moves and countermoves. . .sorry, I got lost for a second in the plot of a much better movie. Where was I?

Ah yes, plot. Well, without getting too far into spoiler territory, it starts off excellently with a standard one man versus The Man and then. . .

I won’t go into the details of THE REVEAL here, but, it’s dumb. Really, really dumb. Shock you out of your movie watching experience dumb. Question the ten dollars you spent dumb.

Now the first half of the movie is, dare I say, quite brilliant. The actors are excellent. The setup is well done and engaging and the mysteries practically beg to be unraveled. There’s a lot of story-meat presented in the first half of the movie. Unfortunately, the second half does not handle it well, tossing filet mignon and bits of gristle alike into one big stew that tastes worse the longer you keep it in your mouth.

Anthony Mackie as Falcon. Photo credit (x).

Anthony Mackie as Falcon. Photo credit (x)

Intermixed throughout this bubonic broth are Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) both wonderful additions to the Captain’s straight-laced, straight-faced and sometimes straight-up boring presence. Johansson’s presence and surprising emotional weight cements her scenes as some of the most memorable in the film while Mackie’s quips, quotes and impressive action sequences as Cap’s literal wingman also capture (and hold) attention. Unfortunately, any character development or possible subplots for the two are buried beneath nonsensical twists and pseudo-drama that only serves to undermine their importance to the story, rather than heighten the overall tension as one imagines was the intended purpose.

The main villain, while not quite at the level of Izan (a Captain America foe whose name is literally Nazi backwards) gets dangerously close to such irrelevant silliness during the first half of the movie. In the second half, he abandons all pretense of salvageable sense and comes down with a raging case of Generic Villain Syndrome. Monologuing, insanity-from-nowhere, and a cache of unexplained, never-before-seen weaponry that lends him an edge (until our heroes get the drop on him at least).

Generic Villain Syndrome worked for Red Skull in the first Captain America movie because he was already silly, outlandish and insane. The Winter Soldier‘s main villain is none of these until the plot demands it, at which point it, (presumably having done its job by managing to drag the story’s shambling reanimated carcass to the climax) promptly falls to pieces in one of the silliest and stakeless (is that a word? I’m making it a word) fight scenes it has ever been my misfortune to watch. I’m talking Expendables 2 levels of pointlessness here.

And speaking of the titular Winter Soldier, Bucky has surprising little to do with either THE REVEAL or the main plot and, with the exception of a few scenes at the very end of the movie, serves mostly as a glorified henchman.

Photo credit (x).

Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes. Photo credit: (x)

Despite the needless drama, this movie did a lot of things right. The acting is excellent. (Side note: I would pay a great deal of money to see either a Black Widow or Falcon movie. Seriously, Hollywood, make this happen). The fighting is excellently choreographed (I was thinking Bourne all the way through) and characters constantly find themselves in nice clear areas with plenty room to show off their pointless, but pretty, gymnastic skills. The CGI is impressive, the shiny technology is. . .shiny, the computer-science-magic jargon is typical.

Ultimately, I think my dissatisfaction with this movie stems from the corniness of THE REVEAL. For whatever reason, it snapped my willing suspension of disbelief like the arm of a pre-super-serum Steve Rogers and tainted the entire rest of the movie with its ridiculousness.

SPOILER/EXAMPLE: (highlight to read) [The whiney senator from Iron Man 2 makes an appearance, awkwardly whispering “Hail Hydra” into a passing covert agent’s ear in one of the more ridiculous scenes. That is, of course, rated on a scale of ridiculous scenes in the second half of the movie which can be pulled from nearly ever scene in the second half of the movie.]

I will say, however, that while I did not care for the first Captain America movie when it came out, it did grow on me the more times I watched it. I have a sneaking suspicion The Winter Soldier is going to pull something similar, so this rating may go up after a while.

Final score: 6/10

Why I Decided to Go Ahead and Like John Carter

I was quite prepared to skip John Carter for a number of reasons:

1) I heard it tanked at the box office and that’s usually a good indicator of a movie’s potential awfulness.

2) It was the first non-animated movie that director Andrew Stanton (of Finding Nemo and Wall-e fame), had ever done AND he got full creative control, a move that, as we’ve seen from such gems as this, does not usually work out in the movie’s favor.

3) The trailers were confusing and told me almost nothing about the storyline.

4) It was based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ book A Princess of Mars, which is a cornerstone of the sci-fi genre, and living up to great books is usually difficult for a movie, no matter how good itis.

5) Due to  #4, I assumed it had something to do with Mars, which also didn’t bode well for the film.

A friend finally convinced me to at least give the movie a chance, so one 99c DVD rental later I was prepared for an eye-wateringly-awful showing.

After watching the movie, I wasn’t entirely sure what I thought.

It seemed interesting enough, having plenty of action to keep the barbarian in me sedated, and I had a sneaking suspicion that I liked it, but I wasn’t sure why.

It was as if it strived above all else to be… a faithful adaptation. Yes, it was made to make money, I’m not deluding myself in that area, but it seemed like the love of the story and of the original book came through on every level.

It could be just me, but I felt like there was more heart in the first five minutes of John Carter than in the entirety of another movie I saw recently, Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows.

While I thoroughly enjoyed Game of Shadows, I was mostly enthused about the fantastic use of bullet time and the quirky characters. If you took the ‘Sherlock Holmes’ title out, you’re left with just  another zany Robert Downey Jr. & friends adventure and the entire time I was watching the movie, I was painstakingly aware of how little the original Sir Arthur Connan Doyle Sherlock Holmes had in common with this work.

I think the difference between these two movies is the difference between ripping off a work and paying homage to it.

Ripping off is Game of Shadows, taking the names and a few plot points and cramming them into a familiar formula. Paying homage is carefully going through the source material, painstakingly taking out the essence of the story and characters and rearranging it in such a way that still tells the original story, just in a different medium.

I found John Carter to be a homage in almost every way.

The movie is full to overwhelming at times with respect for the great Barsoom series of Edgar Rice Burroughs that shaped many a sci-fi trope. Every scene, every line, every costume, right down the the confusing trailers and film posters, was filled with loyalty to the source. Andrew Stanton told the story the way he thought it should have been told with the greatest reverence for the source material. If we could ask Edgar Rice Burroughs and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle which movie (of John Carter or Game of Shadows) was made with the most love, I’m sure it wouldn’t be much of a contest.

Though I’m sure Disney feels differently, I’m glad John Carter was made. It’s not by any means a cinema masterpiece, but it does hold a place in my heart that  very few movies can claim: a movie that was made, not for one person’s ego, and not primarily for making a ton of cash, but to tell a great story in the way it deserved.

So thank you, Andrew Stanton. I applaud both your courage and your movie.

Max 7 Review: Angel

Book Cover

Finally, people we are at the end! (Metaphorically speaking of course, due to the 8th and final book having not yet been published). Well, hold on to the champagne and confetti for a moment, ’cause we still have one book left to slog through and trust me, it’s a doozy.

Try, if you will, to think of everything you loved about the first three Maximum Ride books.

The strong-willed sassy leader.

The action-packed plot line.

The mystery.

The suspense.

Now rip all those pieces (the heart of the story) out, pack the leftover hole with styrofoam and bandage the wounds with silly action sequences.

You get the book Angel by (supposedly) James Patterson.

What it DOES do for you:

Performs a spectacular character assassination by replacing our smart-mouthed heroine with an angsty love-struck teary-eyed damsel.

Replaces the adrenaline pumping escapes, witty one-liners and compelling characters with cheesy romantic dialogue, senseless plot lines and… WAIT FOR IT….

Recycling.

And now, I officially feel like the mystery and suspense has become SO mysterious and SO suspenseful, that I have no idea what is going on anymore, nor do I care.

One more left book to slog through, because (thanks to books 1-3) I HAVE to finish the series, but I’ll borrow it from a friend or get it from the library.

I concede the battle, James Patterson.

I can’t spend money on this anymore.

Max 6 Review: Fang

By James Patterson, though I’m starting to think it’s in name only.

Remember a few books ago when we were saving the world? (NOT from global warming, back before that). Well, who needs that exciting plot line when we can have one filled with *sigh* romance AND pointless drama! That’s right, Patterson (if he still is actually writing these things), took not just one but TWO proverbial dumps on the fan base in this book. And both were soul-wrenchingly terrible.

Why? (hang on to your hats/beanies, I’m going to try and narrow this down to just a few things)

1) There’s another foreign bad guy and intelligence-that-is-not-intelligent villain and an evil scientist, blah blah blah, wait? Haven’t I seen this before? Oh yeah, in: EVERY SINGLE OTHER BOOK IN THE SERIES!

2) All characters exist seemingly to make witty retorts and angst except for…

3) Dylan, (who reminds me scarily of Bella from Twilight), who exists to be pretty pretty and generate moolah from love-triangle fan-tweens.

4) So many “He looked at her. She looked at him. SPARKLE SPARKLE BUBBLY FEELINGS SPARKLE!!!” Yep, we gave up plot, for this.

5) A melodramatic lame ending

At least one of the characters appears to have some semblance of sense and attempts to flee the series permanently by the end of the book, BUT (due to#5) is unable to ensure his exit from the franchise meaning s/he is definitely going to pop back up again.

There are many, MANY more things but unfortunately this book isn’t good enough to deserve me going through all of them.

So after wandering through the tangled thorn bushes that make up the scenery, tripping over boulders of awkward romantic dialogue and falling through plot holes the size of the newly-revoked un-planet pluto, I have only one question:

If they’ve started naming books after characters now, when is GASMAN coming out?

Because it couldn’t possibly be more stenchful than this pile of poo.

Oooo, burn.

Max 5 Review: Max (now that’s redundant)

MAX: A Maximum Ride Novel

Compared to the last book, this is genius writing.

But that’s compared to the last book.

The story starts out with excitement (as is the ploy to get people hooked before the lameness rears its ugly head), then we meet another generic bad guy: the EEEEVIL foreigner. Someone gets kidnapped, the flock goes to save them, doot doo doo– Wait, what is this? A PLOT?! Oh the scandalousness.

There’s some more wuv, twu wuuuuv, some trademark kicking butt-cheeks scenes, and, (despite my best attempts) some parts that actually managed to make me laugh.

Overall, not terrible.

But (and you knew this was coming).

What was terrible:

The end.

Oh nar, look I’m sure some corporate executive somewhere thought that adding  “from global warming” to the end of the original “Save the world” tagline was a good idea, but it just…makes the plot line so dang boring.

I realize that this is an issue that people feel strongly about, and perhaps the author really wants to help raise awareness for it. But come on. This is a series about mutant bird kids, a goofy, sarcastic, entertaining read, not a public service announcement. It’s almost the equivalent of someone trying to insert a ‘moral value’ as controversial as, say, their view on abortion into a cheesysappy romance with sparkling vampires in it…

Oh snap.

Ok, so maybe it’s not THAT bad.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with fictional books that have powerful underlying moral themes. But they have to make a sensible tie-in (1+1=2) and be handled well.

This series has done neither.

The aftertaste of the last book in the series, The Final Warning, may be souring my judgement, so I will admit that I at least enjoyed reading this one. It was written comprehensively, actually had a plot and, at parts, gave us a glimpse of the Max adventures of old.

My biggest problem?

It’s not the adventures of old, it’s not even close. You take the “A Maximum Ride Novel” endorsement off the front cover and it’s another average action teen novel, albeit an enjoyable one.

Unfortunately, I fear that my last review’s doomsday prediction may be coming true right in front of my eyes.

Max 4 Review: The Final Warning

Cover of "The Final Warning (Maximum Ride...

Replace title with: "The Ultimate Letdown" and it's perfect.

The first book had me hooked.

The second book got me excited.

The third book took me to an all-out fan squee.

Then I was brutally crushed by the flying boulder that is known as The Final Warning by James Patterson, or, as I like to put it, Maximum Ride IV: We Fly Around Antarctica Because Global Warming is Bad.

I propose a slightly longer, but much more accurate title: Maximum Ride IV: “Abandon all hope ye who enter here”

It takes a lot of work to brutally throttle the life out of a thriving fan base, but this book did so seemingly without effort, AND seemed to enjoy it. I swear I heard a cackle of evil laughter when I finished the thing and a little part of me died.

Such a jumbled… hairball… nightmare…of putridity… *ghsleblah* [untranslatable]  T’would be my misfortune to accidentally step on this splattered chunk of roadkill while walking along the side of the road– how much more unfortunate then to pick it up and attempt a read?

The crumpled fragments of sanity that some editor hand-waved as a plot involves the Flock going to Antarctica where they whale-watch and try to save penguins…

I can’t do this. It’s seriously too bad to review.

The pessimist in me wants to make a prediction: that this book marks the downfall of what could have been a great series. That this series will never recover.

The optimist is hoping desperately that the next book will blast my previous theory out of the water.

Come on James Patterson, prove me wrong.

Please?

Max 3 Review: Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports

Maximum Ride: Saving the World and Other Extre...

Dun dun DUN!

Last time on Max & pals do stuff:

Some evil people did evil things.

Max discovered her clone named, aptly, Max II.

Stuff blew up.

Now we’re into the third book, where James Patterson appears to be running out of things for the Flock to beat up, so he’s inserting an evil____ (Choose here: scientist… mutant… FBI agent… robot… director… corporation… DING DING DING We have a winner folks!) corporation, by the name of Itex, which is the company behind the company they defeated in the last book. Confused? Just wait.

The bird-kids run, and jump, and gallivant, and kick-butt, and fly, and eat, and fly, and sight-see, and kick some more butt. Oh, and the world is ending, we’re just not sure how, like in the last two books. The Flock splits up as well as the chapters (every-other featuring the otro half of the group) and there’s not one, not two, but three, count ’em, THREE dramatic discoveries of Max’s parentage.

*whew*

I’m still a fan. However, my continuing fan-dom (read: not fan-dumb) is now reliant on one thing: there better be one heck of a reveal that ties all of this together. If JP can pull that off, it will be brilliant. BUT, the prolongation of the mystery and suspense in this series is getting a little strained and beginning to bring me to the breaking point of the willing suspension of disbelief and if it goes past…

Well, let’s just say I wouldn’t want to be around a certain fan-base when that happens.

Still recommending it for a fun, (if nonintellectual) read.

4 out of 5 stars.

Hark! How goes the Hunger Games?

Honestly? Ok.

It was good. Not eye-incineratingly awful, not the best thing since Inception. Not so bad it was laughable (like Twilight), not a movie for me to rave over. It was good enough for me to skip the sock-lint tenting and cancel my plane tickets to Mongolia though, so that’s a relief.

A few things kept it from living up to all the hype:

Read the rest of this entry

Max 2 Review: School’s Out Forever

Oooo, a dramatic/spinnoff title, haven’t seen that before.

Maximum Ride: School's Out Forever

So last time, the Super Friends Team Max flew off into the sunset to dramatic words. And they got a dog named Total. Who can talk. (Just go with it).

After the life-changing experience of the last book, the Flock now does what any self-respecting runaway squad would do, er… run (or technically fly) away. But, (this being written by James Patterson), naturally the bad guys show up to keep the slow scenes to a minimum. One of the Flock members almost dies, a romantic subplot is thrown in out of nowhere, and the kids are taken in by (I think) a female FBI agent/Commissioner Gordon named Anne Walker. Oh and they’re trying to find their parents.

And thus kicks off the second book in the Maximum Ride series which continues the adventure most superbly. Plot-wise this book is very much like the first with lots of action, mysteriously suspenseful mysteries, and plenty ‘O random tangents. If you liked the first book there is an excellent chance that you’ll enjoy this one as well.

4 out of 5 stars.