Saturday, January 13, 2018

Overdue film review: Star Wars Last of the Jedi (spoilers)

The word sequel in Hollywood is used mostly when they mean to say 'remake."

"Home Alone 2" wasn't the further adventures of Kevin McCallister, it was the exact same adventures of Kevin McCallister from the first "Home Alone."

"The Force Awakens" and "The Last Jedi" on the other hand aren't sequels to the Star Wars films, they're the exact same adventures but experienced by different characters.

The space battles, the long speeches about the Force, the captures and escapes, we've seen it all before. Sure they're entertaining and fun to watch, but ultimately the series ran out of plot five movies ago. The new characters are  just doing what the old characters did.

The only reason Luke refuses to aid in the rebellion is because otherwise, there'd be nothing for him to do. And really, he throws the light saber over his shoulder? Would you do that with a gun?

The Carrie Fisher scenes are curious, they could have easily killed her early on in the first explosion, but once she floats in space to the spaceship you start thinking, "she was dead when this scene was CGI'd in. Then she spends the middle third in a coma, and you have to wonder what she was supposed to be doing in the middle third had she lived. It's a pleasant surprise to see her return for the final third. I suspect they're sitting on more footage of her that will turn up in the third film.

It also seemed they set up mysteries in the first movie to totally forget about them for this film. Snoke? What's his backstory? Umm, I guess we'll never know. Rey? They spent a lot of time convincing us her backstory is a big deal and then they just sweep it off. R2D2's red arm, I think they totally forgot about that. George Lucas spent years just making it up as he went on, not really concerning himself with continuity or logic. I was hoping Disney would try to be a little more consistent.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

"Christmas Story" audience shaming

A lot has been written about the "Deck The Halls" finale of the live musical production of "A Christmas Story." The producers decided not to repeat the joke that the Chinese waiters mangle the song with "Fa Ra Ra." Instead they sing it with perfect diction. So they decided to kill a joke and replace it with ... not a joke.

Making it worse, the dad says, "That's not what I expected." And the restaurant owner says angrily, "What were you expecting?" He is scolding the dad, and by extension, the viewer, who was also expecting "Fa Ra Ra Ra."

So, they capped a delightful and fun musical with a scolding to the audience. I get it, the joke aged badly. So kill it! Don't draw attention to it and then shame the viewer for laughing at it in 1983.

The scene doesn't even need the caroling. The point of the scene was: the family's Christmas adventure had a happy ending at the only restaurant open on Christmas day in the small town they lived in.

The could have easily killed the caroling part of that scene.

One last note: The kid they got to play Ralphie was great.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Movie review: Thor: Ragnorak

Spoiler in the one-sheet

It's another winner from the Marvel factory. It basks in its own silliness without ever disrespecting the characters. (Maybe this is the problem with DC movies. Maybe DC's contempt for its characters is why the movies are so divisive.)

Thor must return to  Asgard when his sister, the God of Death, takes over. Before he can do this, he and Loki get sidetracked to a gladiator planet (this used to happen to Capt. Kirk a lot), where he's matched up against the Hulk. This was supposed to be a big surprise but since this scene was in every trailer and commercial it turns what should have been the biggest surprise in the film into the lamest.

Not a dramatic speech goes by without some heckling, and no heroic action takes place without some self-deprecation. In a funny set of sequences, Thor plays the Hulk and Bruce Banner against each other.

Tom Hiddleston again becomes the spotlight hog. Such a great character, sometimes good, mostly bad, but always captivating on screen. Why hasn't this guy been signed up to be the next James Bond?

Jeff Goldblum plays the most powerful nebbish in the galaxy. That his character has no closure might be the film's biggest flaw.

Minor quibbles:

This film and "Age of Ultron: both end with the heroes evacuating a city while fighting an army of drones.

The sequence with Doctor Strange is fun, but entirely gratuitous.

When Mark Ruffalo broke out in movies he was compared to a young Brando. Watch the scene where Thor debriefs Banner and you'll think, 'is he intentionally channeling Brando?"

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The problem with "Elf"

It's funny, it's beautiful, Will Farrell is hilarious; the scene with Peter Dinklage is well worth admission.
But, "Elf" has a problem.
There's no plot.
There's a premise, but that's not a plot.
They set up a premise, then there's 90 minutes of sight gags.
This is the state of cinema comedy today. There are no stories, just premises followed by gags.

What was the last comedy you saw with a plot? The two that come to mind for me are "The Producers," and "A Fish Called Wanda." The characters had a mission in each film, they had to go from point A to point B.

Will Ferrell just had to act silly.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Quick review: Mystic U #1

I walked in cold, I had no idea what it would be about. But, I'm a big Zatanna fan, so I was intrigued ... up until page 3 or 4 when I realized someone at DC said, "What if Zatanna went to Hogwarts?"and someone else said, "And what if she had misfit friends like "Monsters U?"

And they squandered all my intrigue.

After a half dozen Harry Potter books and a few seasons of "Witches of Waverly Place? haven't we had enough of sorcery schools?

It's beautifully drawn, and they're building up to a "big evil is coming" story line (where did we see that before?), but ... Zatanna is better than this. Read Paul Dini's Zatanna books, they're a revelation full of crazy new ideas. This is just a retread of books and movies we've seen before.

Maybe I'm looking at it all wrong, maybe Dini's Zatanna was aimed at older readers and this book is aimed at preteens? Even so, preteens deserve better.

I did enjoy the allusions to DC's early 70s horror lines, OK, they made an old coot like me happy, but even then, they were a little more than cameos.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Overdue film review: "Spectre"

Here's a good rule of thumb for the James Bond producers: If your tropes are parodied in "Austin Powers" movies, stop using the trope. Just stop.

This occurred to me during the scene where Spectre gets together around a big table, a member admits a failure and is promptly killed. And the viewer is not surprised at all.

I know, templates must be followed, but "Casino Royale" found new ways to tell an old story. "Spectre" finds old ways to tell an old story.

The pre-credits sequence features the same fight-in-a-helicopter scene we saw in "For You Eyes Only." Bond is beating on the pilot, why is he beating on the pilot of an airborne helicopter! This is the Indiana Jones problem of always having a fight in a moving vehicle. Why doesn't the driver just pull over and continue the fight?

Then after destroying Mexico City, Bond is called into the boss's office for the "The Prime Minister" wants my guts for garters," speech, which we've seen in the Daniel Craig Bond movies and every "Dirty Harry" movie.

No, no more!

Once again, this was parodied in the "Naked Gun" movies where Leslie Nielsen is dressed down for shooting up a Playhouse in the Park production of "West Side Story."

OK, Bond then gets a shot of technology so they can keep track of him. Umm, what happened to the chip he got in "Casino Royale" for the same reason?

Let's just ignore the making love to the widow of the man he just killed scene. We'll give them that.

Then he's using a biplane to chase the bad guys' cars, one of which has the kidnapped heroine. He destroys the cars randomly, fortunately, not the one with the damsel in it. But really, isn't using a biplane the worst way to chase cars in a mountainous forest?

Later we finally meet the villain. Hey everybody, MGM finally regained the rights to Spectre and Blofeld. Woo hoo. This is just like making a Star Trek movie with Khan because, um, you know, the fans will like it. Yeah, Bond and Star Trek have this in common: Recasting an old villain with a new actor with none of the charm of the original actor (or actors) doesn't mean it's going to be good, it just pretty much means you've run out of ideas.

The Daniel Craig films have two innovations for better or worse, they work as as running story arc, (a Bond girl gets killed and it still haunts him; she hasn't been forgotten, the stories kind of tie in together), and they're working to give Bond a backstory. Admirable, but unnecessary. It's like all fan fiction. The writer finds a single sentence from the original source material and thinks, "I can write an entire book (or make a movie) about this."

Remember that sentence from "Star Wars: A New Hope."? "Many rebels lost their lives to steal these plans." Ta-dah! We get "Rogue One." An entire movie based on one sentence.

They do the same thing here. In the novels, it's mentioned James Bond's parents were killed in a skiing accident. "Spectre" takes it from there. What if Blofeld's dad adopted James, so James and Blofeld were practically brothers?! Genius!, No, not really, first of all, they stole this from the Austin Powers movie that proposed that he and Dr. Evil were brothers. See my rule of thumb up top warning against stealing from your parody. Secondly, did I mention this is all unnecessary?

(There's also some bad photoshopping of young Daniel Craig and young Christopher Waltz).

There's also a scene where they're riding the Istanbul Express (or some kind of luxury train,) and she gets a evening gown from nowhere, and he gets a tuxedo from nowhere.

At the end of the movie, Blofeld is captured, but does not die a horrible death as all Bond villains do. I'm mixed about this. I've been faulting this movie for copying from all the others, so it would be wrong for me now to complain when they don't follow the template.

Also, after not killing Blofeld, we have M on one side of the bridge they're standing on, and the damsel on the other side, giving Bond a clear choice, the service, or the girl. He chooses the girl, but this rings hollow because by the next film, she'll be forgotten, or worse yet, they'll do like they did in the second Jason Bourne movie and just kill her in the first five minutes.

It would have meant something if this were Daniel Craig's last film as Bond, but it's already known he's coming back.

Also, M sends him a video from the grave to find a terrorist and kill him!? Why didn't she just ask him to do it while she was alive?

Bringing back Spectre was a terrible idea. They were never that good to begin with. Let's think about it, a super secret society of evil where all members get identifying rings (or tattoos), psss, if you want to keep your society secret, don't all wear matching rings.

It's so disappointing, Casino Royale was so good, the rest of the Daniel Craig films have been awful, and speaking of Daniel Craig, has he ever looked more bored in this film. He shows no emotion the entire film.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming

I liked it, my 10-year-old liked it, what more do you need in a summer blockbuster?

This is a dialed-back Marvel film, Spider-Man isn't saving the world, just catching a bad guy. Most importantly, even though it's a reboot, we skip the whole origin story. The radioactive spider is mentioned, but that's it. And not a word about Uncle Ben.

Thank you for skipping all that; no one needs it anymore. The only thing missing that's important to the canon is J. Jonah Jameson. But I didn't miss him until my 10 year old pointed out his absence after the film.

Tom Holland (another Brit to play the role) plays it as an awkward teenager very anxious to get in the game, but is told to "keep to the ground" by (on-loan-from-Disney) Tony Stark. You don't believe he's 15, but still, he is good enough to make you forget the other Spider-Men.

This is another winner for Michael Keaton, who is less a genius super villain, and more a mob guy who's just doing business. He's not trying to  conquer the world, he's just running a black market for weapons. They're alien-enhanced weapons, but hey, business is business.

A third-act twist turned this good movie into a really good movie. There's a scene where you watch the gears turn in Keaton's head as he figures out Spider-Man's secret identity that's just as suspenseful as anything you'd see in a Hitchcock film.

There's just enough Avengers crossover to keep things interesting in the Marvel Universe, without it overshadowing the main star. (There's a funny running gag about Captain America doing all-purpose PSA's for Peter Parker's high school).

Marisa Tomei is the hottest Aunt Mae ever, but I'm not complaining.