Sunday, November 30, 2014


I didn't like the 1959 animated film Sleeping Beauty.  In retrospect, my two star rating seems generous.  The 2014 remake, Maleficent, had some pretty cool trailers, but only garnered a 49% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which means that it got mixed reviews.  Richard Roeper, who I greatly respect, gave Maleficent only a "D".  So naturally my expectations for the movie were not very high.  However, one of my friends told me that he loved the movie, and imagine my surprise when I could not really find anything wrong with the film.  It doesn't feel like a great film, but not a bad one either.

This remake turns the original story on its head, which is a good thing because the 1959 animated film was a complete bore.  In the new version, Maleficent is just as much the heroine as she is the villain.  Actually, this seems to follow the Hollywood trend toward female empowerment.  It also follows the Hollywood trend of giving villains a backstory.  This leads to some great twists at the end, which compared to the previous version is quite refreshing.

Angelina Jolie has been praised for her performance as Maleficent.  This feels like a part that she was born to play. 

The movie was written by Linda Woolverton, who also wrote The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, and Alice in Wonderland.

I am going out on a limb here and giving the film an extra half star for originality and beauty.  Rating:  * * * 1/2.

Top 10 Wrong Movie Predictions About the Future

Star Wars Episode 7 The Force Awakens Trailer Review!

Star Wars Episode 7 The Force Awakens Trailer Review!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Godzilla (2014)

If we can get over the fact that skyscraper tall monsters are physically impossible, and the fact that no creature could possibly live off of nuclear radiation, and the fact if such creatures did exist we would have long since known about them, and maybe a few other details that don't quite make logical sense, then certainly we can enjoy Godzilla for the pretty good disaster/adventure movie that it is.  Movies like this are designed to be a grand spectacle, but unlike all its predecessors, it tells a good story with at least a couple of characters that we care about.

There is moment in Godzilla that had me saying, "Oh, come on!  This is ripping off 2001: A Space Odyssey!"  That moment is during the Parachute Scene.  Compare the music in this scene to the music in scenes 1 and 2 from 2001: A Space Odyssey.  It is the same music.  It turns out the music is Requiem  by Gyorgy Ligeti.  The music made me think of 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it is also eerily effective in this particular scene.  One gets a sense of diving into the unknown.  I wonder how many people who saw or will see Godzilla never saw the 46 year old 2001: A Space Odyssey, and therefor will never notice the connection between the two?

Rating:  * * *

Fake Star Wars Trailer is very convincing

Friday, November 28, 2014

Roeper Rundown: 2014 Holiday Movie Preview

Roeper Rundown: 2014 Holiday Movie Preview


If you were to combine the movies 2001: A Space Odyssey, Gravity, and Frequency, you would end up with something a lot like Interstellar.  I think that the film tries to be an epic that is a worthy successor to 2001: A Space Odyssey, but they are very different movies.  "2001" is not strong on plot, pacing, characters or drama, but the film is still a major artistic achievement because of its beautiful and grand optimistic vision of the future.  The film is more of a spectacle in the same way a fireworks show is a spectacle;  It is meant to be enjoyed for artistic pleasure, and everything else is secondary. 

On the other hand, Interstellar is strong on plot, pacing, characters and drama.  It makes for a great story about human struggle against adversity, bravery, and love.  It doesn't have the same level of artistic vision that "2001" has, but the story is well worth watching.

Interstellar is not an optimistic movie about the future because it portrays a future Earth in the process of environmental collapse.  It takes a force external to the human race to save us.  What the movie does well is put human faces on this tragedy.  Even the supporting characters are people we care about.

Matt Damon makes a short but very meaningful appearance in the middle of the movie.

There is a YouTube video about everything Interstellar got wrong which I don't want to watch.   I knew as I watched this film that some things aren't scientifically accurate, just like the movie Gravity isn't scientifically accurate either.   It doesn't matter since the movie is enjoyable as it is.

Rating:  * * * 1/2

Thursday, November 27, 2014


Hostage is a Bruce Willis suspense thriller with an overly convoluted plot and lots of violence and a 35% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  The story is one where a hostage negotiator must resolve a hostage crisis while his own family is also being held hostage because some clandestine organization has a vested interest in the situation.  It seems their bookkeeper is one of the hostages, and they desperately want the data he possesses.

Roger Ebert gave the movie three stars.  I have to agree.  The film kept me in suspense.  It is a thrilling and highly stylized movie.

The movie might invite comparison to Die Hard, but it also reminded me of Firewall.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Mr. Peabody and Sherman

Fans of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show from the early 1960's will probably enjoy Mr. Peabody and Sherman, which is the somewhat silly movie adaption of the silly 1960's television cartoon.  The movie is more geared to children, like the original, but also like the original it has a certain wittiness about it that will appeal to adults.  The 3D animation is far more gorgeous than a cartoon like this deserves, and there is plenty of action and barely enough plot to make me glad that I saw it.

I have only two complaints:  The original Sherman was portrayed as a smart nerd, but in this movie he is immature and always getting into trouble.  There is also just enough scatological humor to raise a few eyebrows, but I am sure that the kids will find it funny.

Some of the scenes are a little too silly for my tastes, but the story and the pacing are pretty good.

Rating:  * * * 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Star Trek - Insurrecton

I can remember every movie I ever saw in some detail.  Almost.  While thinking about the Star Trek films, it bothered me that I couldn't remember much about the 9nth film in the series.  This bothered me so much that I decided to watch it again.  Now I understand why I didn't remember much about this movie; The film is instantly forgettable, and is at best about the same quality as an average episode of the Star Trek The Next Generation series that the film is based on.  Overall, it feels like a half hearted effort, and I expect more from a major motion picture.

It is not that the film doesn't have its moments, but the movie alternates between interesting and dull.  It is not a bad movie, but it is not a particularly good one either.

The special effects aren't that special, but might have been O.K. for 1998.  

The story is one where Picard decides to go against orders to protect a small colony on a planet that is being forced to relocate because of their natural resources that could potentially lengthen the lives of billions of people.  Picard sides with the colonists, but I wonder about the moral question; Inconveniencing 600 people to help billions of other people doesn't seem like a very hard choice to make.

If you are curious, the trailer has most of the best parts of the film.  In fact, it pretty much gives away the whole story.

Jonathan Frakes, who plays William Riker in the TV series and the movie, directed the film and continues to work as a director.

Rating:  * *

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

How to Train Your Dragon I & II

How to Train Your Dragon starts with the character Hiccup saying that the island Viking village Berk is great place to live except for the "pests".  The pests that he is referring to are the dragons that his Viking clan are at war with.  Hiccup is the meek teenage son of the leader Stoick the Vast.  Stoick wants his son to become a mighty Viking warrior to fight the dragons, but Hiccup is more of an intellectual.  Stoick doesn't understand his son and is quite frustrated with him, and Hiccup is also very frustrated because his father doesn't appreciate who he is.  At the insistence of his father, Hiccup manages to shoot a dangerous type of dragon called a Night Fury, but not kill it.  Hiccup ventures out into the wilderness to find the dragon and finish it off, but when he comes across the injured animal he instead feels sympathy for it and nurses it back to health.  Hiccup and the dragon that he now calls "Toothless" form a bond, but together they must stop the escalating war between the Vikings and the dragons.  By the end Hiccup is able to broker a peace between the Viking village and the dragons and the two groups form a symbiotic relationship.  He concludes the movie by saying that best thing about the village Berk are their "pets", i.e. the dragons.

How to Train Your Dragon II takes place 5 years later.  Stoick wants his now adult son Hiccup to become the new village chief, but Hiccup doesn't feel that he is ready and also feels that he hasn't quite figured out who he is yet.  Hiccup has occupied his time by exploring lands beyond the village where he comes across a powerful and dangerous group of people who want to capture all the dragons and subjugate them for war.  He discovers a mysterious person who is trying to protect the dragons, who also turns out to be his long lost and presumed dead mother.  Hiccup, being the peacemaker, tries to negotiate a peace with the belicose clan.  When that fails, the situation becomes a battle of good versus evil and Hiccup has to rise to the challenge to protect both his people and the dragons.

Both movies are very good.  I was afraid that the second film would be a complete retread of the first, but instead it follows a different and darker direction.  Together the two films deal with moral ambiguities in an intelligent way that might normally be too subtle for animated movies.

How to Train Your Dragon has a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  How to Train Your Dragon II has a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  The good versus evil ending of the second film felt rushed to me and seemed kind of ordinary.  The rest of the movie is excellent and the film is still well worth watching.

I am not sure that the dollar theater that I saw the second film at quite does it justice.  The projected film image didn't seem as a sharp as it could be and I don't think that it is a problem with the movie but a problem with the theater.  I have noticed this kind of problem before at this same theater.


How to Train Your Dragon    * * * 1/2
How to Train Your Dragon II * * * 1/2

I think that the second film is slightly weaker than the first, but not by much.  It comes out on DVD today.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

You can read my original review here.

When the first Star Wars trilogy was released from 1977 to 1983, there was much that we learned about the back story from the movies and other sources.  We know that Obi-Wan Kenobi was a Jedi Master who had an apprentice named Darth Vader.  We know that Darth Vader betrayed the Jedi, which contributed to the fall of the Old Republic and helped give rise to the Galactic Empire, which maybe has some allusion to the history of the Roman Republic becoming the Roman Empire.  We know that Vader is a Sith Lord and was influenced by the Emperor.  We know that Obi-Wan injured Vader in such as way that Vader has to live in a life-support suit or else he will die.  We also know that Vader was once named Anakin Skywalker, is the father of Luke Skywalker and Princess Lea, and may have at one time been a good person before he turned to evil.  

So 22 years after Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, the sixth movie in the series, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, tells us a story that we have heard before.  The difference is that the prequel trilogy, consisting of episodes 1 through 3, fills in the details about how all these events came into being.  Unlike the original trilogy, we know how all the story is going to end.  It is like watching the movie Titanic; The ending is not a surprise because we already know that the ship is going to sink.  

So despite our familiarity with the story, is the prequel trilogy worth watching?  Most definitely.  This is story telling on a grand scale and a critical part of the most epic movie series made to date.

Unlike the other Star Wars movies, this film seems to be completely devoid of sentimentality, except maybe at the end when we see the fate of Luke and Lea.  This is probably the intent because the movie is a tragedy.  It is about a man's descent into hell.  Nevertheless, the movie's emphasis seems to be on action, which is quite spectacular, but left me feeling less emotionally connected to the movie.  What emotion I did feel came from the events of  the last third of the film, which are all very sad.  Near the end there is an incredible scene of Obi-Wan and Anakin Skywalker fighting, but what comes across most is that these two men, once allies and friends, are trying very hard to kill each other. 

The movie plays like a warning about how war, violence and evil can change a civilization and its people, and lead to their downfall.

I think that the plot has a few minor logical problems, like how easily and completely Anakin turns to the dark side of the force, why Obi-Wan didn't go with Yoda to fight Palpatine, and why Obi-Wan and Anakin didn't burn up while fighting each other on the volcanic world of Mustafar.

Rating:  * * * 1/2

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

In May 1983, The Return of Jedi came out in theaters, just 3 years after my favorite movie, The Empire Strikes Back.  It was the weakest of all 6 Star Wars movies, but still a satisfying finish to the original trilogy.  After years of not knowing if a reluctant George Lucas was going to make any more Star Wars movies, it was announced that a prequel trilogy would be made.  Sixteen years after the previous film, the movie going public went crazy in anticipation, forming lines going around the block twice just to buy tickets.

Watching the film for the first time, I expected the audience to go nuts when the words "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far way ..." appeared on the screen, and they did, but then they quickly settled down to take in what was happening on the screen.  What I initially saw didn't reassure me that this was going to be a great movie.  The film starts out talking about taxes on trade, trade blockades, and negotiations.  This wasn't exactly what I expected from a Star Wars movie, but every Star Wars film has been a little different from the others.  The first space ship on screen looked a little goofy to me, as did the first aliens, which made me uneasy because I  wasn't sure what direction the movie was going.  The next thing to bother me was that the two Jedi Knights get into an intense battle right away, whereas previous films would have much build up before we got into the action.  If this is suppose to be "Episode I" of a six film series, shouldn't we have some explanation before we see the Jedi Knights display their awesome and magical powers?

This movie received mixed reviews by audiences and critics alike.  There are many reasons, including that the movie didn't quite match people's expectations, but the main one seems to be an almost universal dislike for the comic foil of the movie, a Gungan named Jar Jar Binx.  Personally I like this character and I like the fact that there is a comical character in the movie.  But the reason why people are uncomfortable with this character has as much to do with language as anything else.  There are 4 different languages spoken in this movie, English, Huttese, Gungan, and Droidspeak.  When the Gungans try to speak English, especially when Jar Jar tries to speak English, it sounds a bit like gibberish and it takes some effort to understand what is being said.  Now I understood almost everything Jar Jar said, but many people didn't and this frustrated them.  It helps to watch the movie on disk with captioning turned on, but even that can be confusing with the subtitles displaying text like the following ...

"Ex-squeeze me, but de mostest safest place would be Gunga City."
"...terrible tings to me if me goen back dare."
"Wesa goen underwater, okeyday?"
"Gungans no liken outsiders, so don't spect a warm welcome." 
"Yousa cannot bees hair."
"Dis army of Mackineeds up dare is new weesong."
"Bad bombin."

I am still trying to figure out what "bombin" means.  In one context it seems to mean something bad, and in another it seems to mean "bomb."

If I understand most of what the Gungans say, that is good enough for me.  I am not too concerned if an occasional word goes by me because I understand the context and general meaning of what is being said.  Science fiction in general is full of odd speech, as some books show future societies speaking a slightly different English than what we use today.  Having slightly different speech gives the movie more texture, challenges the brain and makes it more interesting.

I am more than willing to forgive any minor problems that the film has, especially after multiple viewings because I know what to expect.  Do I like the movie?  Obviously.  The film rivals the best of the Star Wars movies.  It has a deep rich story with plenty of action and lots of strong emotional moments.  As much as I like Attack of the Clones, The Phantom Menace has a slightly better story, more intelligent dialog and more emotional moments.  

George Lucas knew how to make the best of special effects and computer technology of the time.  The film was made when most desktop computers were using just a 486 processor.  15 years later the special effects are still as good as the best special effects today.

Rating:  * * * *

With Disney having bought Lucas Film, a new trilogy is in the works, with more movies possible later.  Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens comes out on December 18, 2015.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

A Mississippi Burning

A Mississippi Burning is an award winning 1988 film about the 1964 murder of Mississippi civil rights workers.  It is a fictionalized version of actual events that maybe plays loose with the facts, but the film creates great drama and action.  The triumph of the film is in creating atmosphere.  The movie feels like it is transporting you to a different time and place  The attitudes and the fears of all involved come across and real and genuine.  The fact that such terrible things happened has great emotional impact.

When it comes to fictionalized dramas based on real events, I feel cheated in a way because I think that I would rather know the real story rather than one that was made up.

Rating:  * * * 1/2  

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones

You can read my original review here.  On my fourth (or fifth?) viewing I have a few additional observations.

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones is a transition story between episodes I and III about how the Galactic Republic became the Evil Empire and how the sweet little boy Anakin Skywalker grew up to become the evil Darth Vader.  In this film we see all the forces set into motion that will make this happen.

12 years after the movie opened, it is still visually stunning.  This is a work of art.  I agree with the late Roger Ebert that the dialog is often painfully simplistic, but even so, by the end of the film the emotion has a powerful effect on the audience.  This is a great drama about people swept up by an intense political struggle that they don't understand.

Rating:  * * * *