REVIEW: Something Borrowed (2011)

Summary: A girl whose best friend gets everything she wants is about to marry the guy she had a crush on. The girl ends up sleeping with the guy, now things are complicated. Should she make the guy dump her best friend? Who cares?

Thoughts: My wife had recently read the book by Emily Giffin, so she was very excited to see this. I was interested to see John Krasinski outside of “The Office”. Thankfully, John Krasinski is the only thing good about this movie. In fact in this review, if you see a “*”, go ahead and replace it with “except for John Krasinski, who is extraordinary.”

The plot is terrible. You don’t know who to root for*. The main character who is cheating with her best friend’s fiancée? The best friend who is kind of a not-nice-person? The fiancée, who refuses to make a choice? The random characters brought in for “comic relief”*? I couldn’t find myself wanting any of them to get a happily ever after*.

It seems like they took all of the original parts of the book and replaced them with RomCom cliches. Tearful breakup in the pouring rain while a crappy pop music plays as the main character has a flashback? Sure enough! Characters refusing to talk about things that could easily have solved their problems on day 1? In spades. John Krasinski, whose character is apparently hardly in the book, plays the part of the audience, sometimes literally saying what I was thinking. “You’re all so stupid!”, he yells at one point. “Make a decision!” His role was the only comedy in the Romantic Comedy. Thankfully, the movie shies away from physical humor (save for one scene), leaving most of the humor to come from Krasinki’s character making snarky comments about how dumb the whole thing is.

The main character is Hollywood Homely, ashamed to be hanging out with people she is much more attractive than. The fiancée looks EXACTLY like a young Tom Cruise; the scene with him wearing aviator sunglasses with his shirt open walking on the beach is pretty much the director admitting it.

Really, I can’t find much good to say*. It wasn’t completely awful like The Bounty Hunter, it just never gave you anyone to root for* because everyone was doing something dumb*.

Overall: I wouldn’t borrow it*. (terrible joke)

REVIEW: Thor (2011)

Summary: In this, the fourth movie in Marvel’s combined Movie Universe (preceded by Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and Iron Man 2), we meet Thor, a human-like alien who was worshiped as a god by the Norse tribes. We find him about to take the throne in Asgard, a realm far beyond ours. But after some immaturity, his father banishes him to Earth. However, Thor’s brother Loki isn’t to be trusted (as most “trickster gods” shouldn’t be).

Thoughts: Thor is definitely a different kind of superhero. Most of a first movie made of a superhero is him getting his powers or dealing with them. Thor is an immortal (we think, they don’t really say) from another dimension/realm, whose powers are just a part of who he is. The movie doesn’t dwell on his powers (or lack thereof when he is banished), its just the story of Thor and how he learns humility from humans.

Thor introduces a lot of new concepts to the Marvel Movie Universe. The first three movies were all humans who either through science or technology gain powers they wouldn’t normally have. In Thor we meet an entire race of beings who are even more powerful than the heroes we’ve already met (*see “The Avengers” Discussion below) who have had powers for thousands of years. They live on a far away planet, that even SHIELD, the group that seems to know everything about all of the superheroes so far, doesn’t seem to know anything about. It’s not bad that all this is introduced, its just a little disorienting to think “OK, while Thor is on this alien planet fighting these people with a magical hammer, Tony Stark is in a cave building an arc reactor from a box of scraps”. Both of which are equally unbelievable in their own way, its just a step in a different direction, a direction the comics took decades ago.

As for the movie itself, it was pretty good. I love the main characters. Thor, Loki, and Odin were great as they should be. Odin is played by Anthony Hopkins with an Eyepatch of Power. You cannot have a more badass character than that (unless it’s Samuel L Jackson with an Eyepatch of Power, which also happens). For being a trickster god, Loki is actually a villain with motivations other than just screwing everyone over. You kind of feel sorry for him. Thor’s friends from Asgard were a little too comic-relief-y and the humans were vague and not very interesting, though better at comic relief. Natalie Portman plays the love interest, a scientist whose studies somehow related to both astronomy and theoretical wormholes. It’s more of an Informed Ability than anything we actually see on screen. Also, the love story is kind of something we’re told about but not really shown either. In fact, most of the Earth stuff felt a little rushed. Thor’s banishment lasts maybe two days, but the stuff in Asgard looks like it lasts longer (maybe it does, different realm and all).

The direction was different. There were a lot of shots tilted to the side, maybe to emulate the comic book feel, I’m not sure. I had to look up the director, as I wasn’t familiar with his work; turns out that I was familiar with him as an actor, as he played Gilderoy Lockhart in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. The movie was not shot in 3D, but converted before release. If I hadn’t seen Avatar in 3D a couple times, I wouldn’t have noticed the “cutout” feel you get sometimes, but the CGI sequences were rendered in 3D so the backgrounds sometimes look better dimensionally than the characters.

I think that after seeing this movie, Thor is now one of my favorite superheroes. Something about the way he carries himself and manages to be funny and awesome at the same time. He’s not an ass like Tony Stark, he’s just Thor. Know him, fear him.

Overall: Thor overcomes it’s weaknesses to become a quite enjoyable movie.

“The Avengers” Discussion
Here we are, one movie away from The Avengers where all of the heroes get together. Let’s break down who we’ve met so far:

Iron Man (first appearance: Iron Man): Powered suit gives an ass the ability to fly and shoot lasers. Gets almost destroyed every time he fights, even after he upgrades his armor.
The Hulk (first appearance: The Incredible Hulk): Man who gets angry and grows into an unstoppable green monster.
Black Widow (first appearance: Iron Man 2): SHIELD Agent who fights people. No obvious powers.
Hawkeye (first appearance: Thor): SHIELD Agent who threatens to shoot people with arrows. No obvious powers.
Thor (first appearance: Thor): Thunder god.

We haven’t met Captain America yet as his movie comes out later this summer, but he’s a science experiment from the 40’s. The Hulk punched a guy once who had this same super-soldier serum: the guy broke every bone in his body.

The question my friend and I came up with after the movie is this: Why would Thor (or The Hulk) need to team up with anybody? I’m sure if anyone can make a believable scenario to make it necessary, its Joss Whedon, but it begs the question.

Also, as it stands currently, Iron Man is in the Avengers Initiative as of Iron Man 2 and we can assume Black Widow and Hawkeye are as well. But Hulk is on the run, Thor is stuck in Asgard, and I’m pretty sure the Cap will still be in the 1940’s at the end of his movie. How will The Avengers find time to get all of them in the same place at the same time and get them to unite as a fighting team without it all feeling rushed? I’m not worried, just very very curious.

REVIEW: The King’s Speech (2010)

Summary: This is the story of King George VI, the most recent King of England. His stutter never allowed him to have the confidence to be King, but after a series of events, he finds that he can be King and can inspire his people in a time of crisis.

Thoughts: The Academy Awards seem to be a fickle bunch. Sometimes they give the Best Picture to “Return of the King”, but most of the time it goes to movies I’d never heard of or movies I’d see but not be impressed with.

“The King’s Speech”, however, is deserving of “Best Picture”. It is perfectly shot, well edited, flawlessly acted, and even based on a true story. It is inspiring, funny, and true to life. I learned a lot about the recent British monarchy and was thoroughly entertained. Colin Firth dives into the role as the Duke of York/King of England. You can really see the pain of him struggling with his speech impediment. Geoffrey Rush was simply entertaining. Even Helena Bonham Carter proved that she can play normal people and not just crazed lunatics (even if she is one in real life). The rest of the cast of Harry Potter also played their parts well, as most of the cast are also in that film series. We actually had to pause the movie to take in the fact that Peter Pettigrew and Winston Churchill could be played by the same actor!

Overall: A great movie; inspiring, entertaining, and educational.

MINI REVIEWS: Leap Year, Eat Pray Love, Bubba Ho-Tep

Trying to catch up on my reviews. None of these movies really affected me, so here are some mini-reviews.

Leap Year (2010)
Summary:Amy Adams plays a career woman who longs to be married. When her boyfriend leaves for Ireland without proposing, she chases him down to ask him to marry her, on the one day she can according to Irish tradition. However, nothing goes right on the trip and she’s stuck with a miserable Irish man who doesn’t much care for her.

Thoughts: This movie has no idea what it wants to be. Is it a romantic comedy? Is it a travel comedy? All I know is that it failed at all of them. If you can’t tell that she was going to end up with the surly Irish guy, you haven’t seen many movies. 2/5

Eat Pray Love (2010)
Summary: A woman played by Julia Roberts leaves behind her perfectly fine life to “find herself”. She eats in Italy, prays in India, and finds love in Bali, while ignoring her husband and boyfriend back in the States.

Thoughts: What a throughly unpleasant movie. She leaves her husband, then her boyfriend, then flies around the world trying to make herself feel better. In the end, she does. It didn’t have anything to say to me, or I hope to anyone. 1/5

Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)
Summary: Bruce Campbell plays an Elvis impersonator in a retirement home who is convinced that he is Elvis and traded places with an impersonator when he got tired of being famous. No one believes him but another patient at the home, who is convinced that he is JFK dyed black as part of a cover-up. Together, they fight a mummy that is feasting on the souls of other patients.

Thoughts: With a plot like that, I expected more. I guess I shouldn’t have expected Bruce to kick butt like he did in the Evil Dead movies, but I did want a little more comedy and/or horror from this comedy-horror. As it is, I didn’t find it super entertaining. 2.5/5

REVIEW: Burlesque (2010)

Summary: A girl (Christina Aguilara) leaves her small town and moves to LA to make a life. She finds an out-of-the-way burlesque club whose owner (Cher) in trouble and about to lose the club. Of course, the girl is awesome and saves the day.

Thoughts: This movie was billed as musical, which I think is false advertising. To me, a musical is a story that is progressed by having the characters sing songs in odd places to express their feelings about matters. It is not, as this movie is, a story about people who sing random songs on a stage. “The Music Man” is a musical: characters sing and dance in situations that are not normal about their feelings or to stir people up. “Burlesque”, to me, is not a musical: the only original songs are about working at a Burlesque club, sung on stage to patrons (save for one song completely randomly sung by Cher, the song that won a Golden Globe, which was on stage). Heck, “Coyote Ugly” had the same plot and just as many songs, the characters just didn’t sing them.

Other than that, the plot was cliche and predictable. The acting was merely OK, with Stanley Tucci outshining the rest of the singers-turned-actresses by a huge margin. Seeing the guy who played James the Bad Vampire in Twilight in another movie was pretty funny, as he looked like he wanted to eat all of the other characters. Cher was Cher, take that however you’d like, and Christina Aguilara was a surprisingly decent actress. Not leading lady material, but serviceable.

Overall:  You’ve seen this movie several times already in other forms, and selling it this time as a musical doesn’t add anything.

GAME REVIEW: Portal 2 – Single Player (2011)

Summary: Portal was released in 2007 as part of The Orange Box, a group of games produced by Valve, the company which created Half-Life. While first only available in this boxed set, it grew wildly in popularity and even won several “Game of the Year” awards thanks to its unique gameplay and humorous content. However, it wasn’t much more than a tech demo of what could be done, so in 2011 they released Portal 2, a stand-alone full-fledged game. Both games star a silent protagonist who has a gun that can shoot portals that she can use to solve puzzles while trying to outwit an Artificial Intelligence that doesn’t like her very much.

Thoughts: The first game felt like a demo because of the numbered test chambers. You were dropped into a room and told to get to the exit, over and over with each room being harder to solve until you managed to break out and defeat the AI that was forcing you to go through the tests. The game proved to have a pretty good replay value because you were encouraged to find the best way to solve the puzzles in the least amount of time using the least amount of portals. Except for the last level, where you go behind the scenes and have to figure out where the game wants you to go without having giant destination points and not being able to tell what surface is portal-able: I didn’t enjoy that part very much and never really wanted to replay it.

Most of Portal 2 is like the last level of Portal 1. There are a few test chambers in the beginning, in the middle, and at the end, but I would say half if not more of the game is trying to figure out where the game wants you to go in vast environments with 95% of the surface not portal-able. The story is great (there is a story!), the dialog is entertaining, there are some great twists, it makes sense as to WHY you are in these areas outside of test chambers, but its just so hard to figure out WHERE you’re supposed to go, and not just HOW. Maybe that’s a purposeful addition to the challenge, but its just not the same. Also, it seems like most of the areas only have ONE way to solve the puzzle/get where you need to go, meaning that if you wanted to play through it again, you’d be doing the same thing but you’d probably be able to do it faster because you’ve eliminated the “where am I trying to go” factor.

I’ll play through it again because I missed some achievements and there is developer commentary on every level, but I really didn’t see much replayability in the single player game itself. I haven’t played co-op yet, I may review it separately. Honestly, all I really want is more test chambers where I try to figure out the best way to solve the puzzle, not the only way. The game can redeem itself for me by releasing more levels. I don’t need more plot, I just want more challenge.

Overall: They tried to make a full-game out of a tech demo, but it turns out I just want more tech demos.

REVIEW: Sex and the City 2 (2010)

Summary: A sequel to the 2008 film based on the HBO series, SATC2 finds the four friends finally maturing and getting bored with the happily ever afters they got in the first film. So they take a trip to Abu Dhabi, to get away from it all.

Thoughts: Dish Network users got free HBO this weekend, so I went through and recorded a bunch of movies. Combined with having all of the Starz channels free for a year, we have a lot of movies on our DVR. I decided to review each of them, instead of just the ones I see in theaters.

I watched most of the Sex and the City series with my wife a while back. I found most of it disturbing to my young mind, but the dialog was usually pretty clever. Then we watched the first movie as the series didn’t really end so much as just stop. The problem was the first movie was completely forgettable. I couldn’t tell you anything about what happened in the first movie.

The problem with the second movie is that not only is it forgettable, its boring. You really feel that the characters are bored with their lives because you, the viewer, are just as bored as they are. Even when they all ignore their problems to go to Abu Dhabi (funnily, the real Abu Dhabi wouldn’t let them film there), you’re bored watching them hang out at the hotel and ride camels. A lot of the movie is spent with the characters finally starting to mature. It’s been 12 years, it’s about time. The problem with watching characters spending a whole movie maturing is that it’s boring. The first movie was an OK coda to the series (that I remember), but this one just takes that coda and stretches it out.

It’s completely unnecessary, lacks any charm the series ever had (clever dialog is replaced by terrible puns like “It’s against the law: Jude Law!”), and I’m afraid to say it, kind of racist. The always-right Americans go to the Middle East, don’t respect any of the customs of the country, get arrested, and come out the heroes because the women of the Middle East really long to be consumers of terrible New York fashion like the girls. I’m not sure what message that is sending out, but I don’t think its the one they wanted.

Overall: Boring, uncomfortable, kind of ruins the pretty good series.

REVIEW: RiffTrax Live – Reefer Madness

Last night was the live event I’ve been waiting all year for: RiffTrax Live.  For those that don’t know RiffTrax is the next generation of the cult show, Mystery Science Theater 3000.  For those that don’t know MST3K, it was a show that was on Comedy Central and moved to Sci-Fi Channel about a man and some robots who were forced to watch bad movies and they made fun of them.  “Manos: The Hands of Fate”, “Mitchell”, “Space Mutiny”, “Prince of Space”, all terrible old movies, all movies riffed on by the show.  I grew up with the show and while I didn’t get all of the jokes, I loved every minute.

The show has been off the air for over ten years now, and four years ago several of the members got together and started riffing on more recent movies, which they called RiffTrax.  They release the riffs as MP3s that you sync up with your DVD of the movie and listen along.  It’s just as funny as the original show, but the movies are more familiar.  Bad movies like “The Happening”, mediocre movies like “Twilight”, and even good movies like “Casablanca”, anything is possible.  They’ve even gotten to the point where they can release Riffs the day before a movie comes out on DVD!

Last year they started something new: RiffTrax Live.  They perform their jokes during whatever movie to a live audience, which is then broadcast live to theaters around the country.  We went to the first one, “Plan 9 from Outer Space”, but somehow missed the Christmas Special (with special guest Weird Al).  I decided to make up for it by going to see the stoner classic “Reefer Madness.”

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REVIEW: Inception (2010)

What dreams are made of.

Summary: Dominic Cobb is an “extractor”, someone who is hired to commit corporate espionage by stealing information out of people’s minds in controlled dreams. When he is hired to do the opposite, he and his team have to go deeper into dreams than any before them, exposing more about themselves than the target.

Thoughts: Inception is a great movie. It has pretty much everything you could want out of a movie: great plot, great effects, great acting. It has enough twists to keep you on the edge of your seat, but not so many that its one of those movies that you leave not understanding what happened. It actually plays as more of a heist movie than I expected, which is great.

Unlike most heist movies the characters don’t know more than you, so the threats are more real because you know they don’t know how to get out of it. What I mean is that its not like Ocean’s 11, which is great but all of the threats were already foreseen by the characters, so its like the characters actually pulled a trick on you along with the target. In Inception, they tell you the plans, and everything has its own internal logic that you can understand, so when something is threatened in the movie, you understand it.

I also liked the internal logic of the movie. Nolan has created a dream-science that makes sense. The idea of being able to sneak into people’s dreams to get information they might know is really cool. I don’t want to go deeper into that, but you needn’t worry about things not being explained to you.

I really don’t know what else to say without spoiling most of the movie. I want to leave you with the basic ideas, but just know that it is worth seeing when you can. It might even change the way you think about reality…

Overall: Great movie with everything you’d want.

REVIEW: Empire Strikes Back Revisited: Rogue Workprint

Revisiting My Favorite Movies

A couple of years ago I was introduced to a fan-edit project called “Star Wars Revisited”.  This guy called Adywan was about to release an edit of the original Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope).  He attempted to fix most of the continuity errors, enhance the existing special effects, and remove a lot of the ill-advised CG additions Lucas made to the movie in 1997.  This involved color balancing the entire movie to fix something that had gone wrong on the DVD, re-rotoscoping every lightsaber and blaster bolt, and basically going over the movie with a fine-toothed comb to fix mistakes most people wouldn’t even realize were there.  While he was in there, he decided to further enhance the movie with new effects and almost a completely new sound mix, creating what most fans believe the Special Edition should have been.

Shortly after he released his version of A New Hope, he moved on to The Empire Strikes Back.  This made a lot of people worried.  Empire is widely regarded as a “perfect” movie by fans, so some have feared that Adywan’s enhancements will detract from the perfection, especially after Adywan started talking about how he was going to build physical models and create all new shots with them and even found a group of costumers in California to film some new shots of Rebel Troopers fleeing the Imperial Walkers to replace some bad mattes.

After several delays, pushing his release date from May 2010 (the 30th anniversary of Empire) to December 2010 to sometime in 2011, Adywan decided to encourage the costuming group (a.k.a. Rogue Squadron) by sending them a rough draft workprint of the work he had completed through June 2010.  He also sent one to me to get my opinion on what I thought of it so far.

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