Welcome to The Mundane Adventures of a Fangirl

I consider myself a Fangirl. What does that mean, you ask? A "fanboy" in the most common understanding is a hardcore fan of 'genre' based entertainment in particular. In my case - science-fiction and comic book based movies and television. Because I'm a chick - it's fangirl, not fanboy. There you have it! I am a big movie fan, however, not necessarily a 'film' fan. And now - I have the forum to present my opinions to the public! These will mainly be movie reviews -that will always be my opinion - repeat OPINION. Just what I think, and in no way do I present my opinion as fact. I hope you enjoy and maybe it will help you decide what to see at the movie theater this weekend!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Movie Review: The Hunger Games (PG13 - 142 minutes)

It is not uncommon to base a movie on a book.  What is uncommon is to make a better movie than the book.  The phrase, "the book was better" is so common you can buy it printed on a t-shirt:  http://www.thinkgeek.com/tshirts-apparel/unisex/generic/ea7c/?srp=1.  There are many examples of bad book-based movies:  Timeline (one of my favorite books, the movie missed way too much) is the one that comes to mind immediately.

Almost any of the Michael Crichton book/movies would fit that statement.  In the much more rare category of movies that are better than books, there are few examples, Chocolat is one I think of very quickly (Johnny Depp doing an Irish accent and a much happier ending than the book).  Die Hard is another (the book was by Roderick Thorpe and was called Nothing Lasts Forever - you didn't know that, did you?). 

In terms of recent teen writings translated to movies, the Harry Potter movies were all good, however they left a lot out, which is inevitable.  Twilight - ick - was relatively well translated.  I felt the movies were as equally as terrible as the books.  The new hotness in tween reading is the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins.  I have read the first two of the three book series.  In my opinion they are better written and more interesting than the Twilight books, in fact, there is almost no comparison.  The reason I mention them together is because they are mentioned together often in the media.  Really, the similarity ends in that they both have teen female leads.  Bella is a lovestruck teen who realizes that she cannot live without her sparkly (seriously? ugh.) vampire boyfriend.  Katniss Everdeen, the Hunger Games lead, is a teen who illegally hunts in the woods near her home to provide for her mother and younger sister, and then volunteers to participate in a tournament where kids fight each other to the death in order to save her sister: badass and awesome.

The movie is a faithful adaptation of the book, which I really enjoyed - it was a fast read, and really well done.  The movie is also really well done.  If you are not already aware of the plot - let me try to quickly summarize it.  Set in the future where North America has been divided into 12 districts, and ruled by a ruthless Capitol - each year two teens between 12 and 18 are selected from each of the districts to fight to the death in a televised event called the Hunger Games, which are used by the Capitol to remind the districts of their complete control.  Katniss, the heroine of the story - volunteers in place of her younger sister, and goes into the games.  That's a brief summary - the book (which I recommend) goes into more detail of the how and why and backstory. 
The movie is directed by Gary Ross, who had previously done mainly writing.  The problem with reading the book first is that you always have pre-pictured in your head how all the characters should look.  I have to say that transition was well done in this instance.  Jennifer Lawrence, who is already Oscar nominated for Winter's Bone, does an excellent job with Katniss.  She has to carry this movie, and be equal parts strong and vunerable, which she pulls off.  Much has been made of the 'love triangle' between Katniss and Gale, her hunting partner played by Liam Hemsworth, and Peeta, her co-tribute entry into the Hunger Games and played by Josh Hutcherson.  Hemsworth is decent, there's not enough of him in this movie to really judge what he's capable of, besides, the fact that he's dating Miley Cyrus makes me judge him poorly.  Hutcherson, who was just in Journey 2, does a decent job with Peeta.  Some of the other standouts are Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinkit (I keep being surprised by Banks in movies - she's always better than I expect), Woody Harrelson in a distractingly terrible wig as mentor Haymitch, the return of Wes Bently (American Beauty's plastic bag boy) as Seneca Crane, the fantastic Stanley Tucci as Ceaser Flickman (expanded in the movie?), and Donald Sutherland as Donald Sutherland...I mean, President Snow.
The movie is long, but you don't feel it.  It moves quickly and I felt instantly sucked into the action.  Lawrence does a great job of being instantly relatable, and conveying the strength of Katniss, as well as her worry.  The scenes in the Game area are really well done, and I have to say, less violent and gory than in the book.  Mainly because in the book everything has to be graphically described.  In the movie, most of the strongest violence and gore takes place just of screen and is hinted at, rather than shown.  There were a lot of kids in the theater when I saw it, and I'm not sure I would recommend it for anyone under 13.  There are some very intense moments, and even when I knew what was coming, I was still on the edge of my seat.  It was very enjoyable, for everyone - not just tweens, and not just fans of the books - everyone should give it a chance!
8 out of 10.
I'm taking points away for Wes Bently's facial hair....gaining points for the intense action...losing points for the marketing nonsense of pushing the 'love triangle' nonsense.  The story is much better than that!  Gaining points for making me think at the end, "wow, I want to see the second one right now."
Bonus Video:  a trailer for the Muppets spoofing the Hunger Games trailer!  (If you haven't seen it, you should- it's big time fun!)
Also - Lawrence stole some of the show in X-men First Class as young Mystique.  She was good, but would have been better in the white dress and skull headband...

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Movie Review: 21 Jump Street (109 minutes - R)

I was a huge fan of the original 21 Jump Street TV show.  It was part of the late genius Stephen J. Cannell created masterpieces, which also included: A-Team, Greatest American Hero, Hunter, Renegade, Marker, and Cobra.  I loved all of these!  All of his shows were great - and if you want to catch him in front of the camera - he did repeatedly play himself on a few Castle episodes right up until he died, and he did star in the truly magnificently terrible SyFy production Ice Spiders.
In any case - one of the brilliant things Cannell created was 21 Jump Street, which originally aired 1987 through 1991 and is the reason you know who Johnny Depp is.  Each of the Jump St. personnel was selected for their ability to pass for high school or college students, allowing them to operate undercover in areas where it is difficult for regular police officers to blend in unnoticed.  This special group was based out of an old church at 21 Jump Street.  The first season featured four cops (Depp, Peter DeLuise, Holly Robinson Peete (who sang the theme song) and Dustin Nguyen working under Sal Jenko as their captain (the reason Channing Tatum's character in the new one is called Jenko).  He lasted less than one season and was replaced by the awesome Steven Williams's Captain Fuller.  Over the seasons, other cops came and went - most notably Richard Greico's Booker.  As the story goes, Johnny Depp became upset that he was marketed as a 'teen heartthrob' and started sabotaging the show by showing up with marbles in his mouth - or routinely changing his lines.  He has recently said he regretted that behavior and recognizes the show for starting his career.  The show was groundbreaking and covered some serious issues for high schoolers that were not being dealt with on other shows at the time: drugs, interracial dating (gasp!), AIDS, and bullying. 
The new movie has a similar idea to the show - but that is almost where the similarities end.  The new movie is a straight up R-rated comedy.  Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum play young police officers who get assigned to the reinstated Jump Street program, where IceCube plays their 'angry black captain'.  They go undercover to break up a drug ring in a local high school led by Dave Franco - who is equally as odd and watchable as his older brother. 
I have to say - due to my love of the original, I fully expected to hate this movie.  However, I laughed harder watching it than I have laughed watching any movie since Bridesmaids.  It is really funny.  It is a very hard R in the language department.  I found this odd because it seems like a strange choice.  If the target audience was high schoolers - which it sometimes feels like it is, then tone down the language for a PG-13 rating so they can see it.  If the target audience is my age group - who were fans of the original - tone down the language and give us more from the original member cameos.  The movie did not benefit from the language and could easily have been a PG-13 without it, and been equally as funny.  That being said, I still enjoyed it. 
Something I found really funny was the discussion of how the perception of "being cool" in high school constantly changes.  When Hill and Tatum's characters were in high school together, dumb jocks were cool, science geeks were not.  Now when they head back, dumb jocks are not cool, and evironmentally conscious theater geeks are in.  Tatum does have a hilarious scene in which he blames "Glee" for the change.  The two work together, testing the limits of their friendship, to identify the drug dealers and go after the supplier - who they take down during prom (of course). 
Jonah Hill is funny - this is not a surprise to anyone, the surprise was how good he was in Moneyball - where he was not funny.  The surprise is Channing Tatum - who is hilarious!  If you caught his SNL appearance earlier this year, then you knew he had the potential to be funny, but he really delivers in this.  Franco the younger is good in the role he has - smarmy better-than-you hipster high schooler.  Rob Riggle shows up playing Rob Riggle the high school teacher, and Ellie Klemper and Chris Parnell also play teachers that require little stretching for them, but they are both so funny - you don't want to see them stretch, you just want them to be funny.  The buzz around this movie has always been that Johnny Depp might have a cameo!  So I'm not spoiling that for you, but Spoiler Alert!:  Each of the original four TV cops shows up - Peete, Depp and Deluise play the characters they played on the TV show, and Nugyen, who must not have been available (?) shows up on a TV screen.
All in all - if you are prepared for the language, and that type of thing doesn't bother you, and you're not looking for something that is anything like what the TV show used to be,  then you'll really enjoy this.  The action sequences are really well done - and the funny bits are genuinely funny. 
8 out of 10.
Lost points for the language - I must really be getting old!  Gained points for the cameos - genius.  Lost points for the video-game style description of the drug's effects, although it was effective.  Gained points for the interplay between Tatum and Hill - to be honest, the best part of the show was the interplay between DeLuise and Depp.
Here's your bonus video - clips from an old episode of Jump Street:

Also, thinking about how much I love Stephen J. Cannell shows made me want to put the themes from all of them here.  I loved the Lorenzo Lamas desert drama Renegade, if you've spent any time with me, I'm sure you've heard me quote the show opening a few times.  However, I decide to go with Cobra, which I belive I am the only person who watched the entire series.  Because I love Michael Dudikoff - he is the American Ninja, after all.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Movie Review: John Carter (PG-13 - 132 minutes)

Epic is a word that is often thrown around in regards to movies.  I have always assumed it to mean - at least in terms of movies - big; giant; overwhelming and mind-blowing; the old movies with huge sweeping location shots and giant fancy sets and that had to use thousands and thousands of extras because they couldn't CGI them yet.  The Ten Commandments and Gone with the Wind are the first two that come to mind.  They're also really really long - another key factor in an epic?  In the mid 1980s, there was a flurry of fantasy epics:  Willow, Legend, Ladyhawke, and Labyrinth (although thousands of Muppet extras may not count you in the epic category, so maybe Labyrinth doesn't count - but it is my favorite of those).
Fantasy epics are also very very easy to screw up - see any Uwe Boll movie.  Or better yet, don't.  I recommend them for only the most tolerant of movie goers like myself:  the ones who pay to see terrible movies because we enjoy that kind of thing.  If, like me, you enjoy that kind of thing, or if, like me, you have a love for SyFy's saturday night original movies, then by all means, Google Uwe Boll and watch some of his stuff.  You have been warned.
There is also the scifi fantasy epic - Avatar is the one that comes to mind.  I would place John Carter in this bracket.
You've been seeing trailers and previews for John Carter for the last year.  What you may not realize is that John Carter the character was originally created in 1911 by Edgar Rice Burroughs - before he created Tarzan.  He featured in many novels by Burroughs, and was then translated to various magazine serials, comics, and eventually graphic novels.  If you're curious, here's the Wikipedia link to answer all your John Carter questions:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Carter_(character). 
The new movie sticks very close to the original Burroughs storyline.  John Carter is a confederate soldier fed up with fighting who stumbles across a cave full of gold, and a passage to Mars.  On Mars, he finds himself at odds with the different gravity there, which, once he masters it, makes him seem stronger and able to travel the way the Hulk does (big, long bounces).  He runs into a tribe of primitive Martians who ask him to help them fight other tribes, then he runs into two warring factions of red-hued humanoids - who again ask him to fight.  He falls for a princess on the run from a forced marriage and finally finds a cause worth fighting for. 
Here's the thing - when you have low expectations of a movie - you can be pleasantly surprised.  When you have no expectations, or expect to be unhappy with a movie - your mind can be blown.  I loved this movie.  Surprised?  Because every review you've read has said it was terrible?  Here's the thing about movie critics - I find that I generally disagree with them and find them very snooty; they never seem to be willing to simply be entertained.  Guess what:  this movie is entertaining as hell.  Big, sweeping, tons of great effects, decent performances, and my favorite thing about good big budget pieces:  you can see every cent of the budget on the screen.  It's the perfect kick-off movie for the summer popcorn-flick blockbuster season.  Equal parts Utah desert and CGI make for beautiful martian landscapes.  The movie also manages a consistent tone - tough in a movie like this.  There's the funny fish-out-of-water beats, the fast actiony battle sequences, and the believable love story.  The cast is very good as well.
Taylor Kitsch of Friday Night Lights fame (I've been told repeatedly it's a good show) plays Carter in an acceptable stiff style.  It's been criticized as wooden, but I think it fits the character.  Kitsch is posed to have a big year between this and Battleship.  Maybe that would bring his Gambit from X-Men Orgins: Wolverine to the forefront of his own movie.  Come on, it would be awesome...set in Lousiana swampland in a war between the Assassins and Thieves Guilds.  Lynn Collins, who coincidentally played SilverFox in the Wolverine movie, does a really impressive job in this as the princess.  Collins is a martial artist (check out her abs in this flick) and wife to Stephen Strait who starred in the epically terrible 10,000BC.  She is also a Houston native who does an impressive british accent in this - perhaps because all the other actors playing Martians are UK folks.  Ciaran Hinds (most recently from Ghost Rider 2) plays her father, James Purefoy his second, Dominic West the forced husband-to-be.  Again, coincidentally - Hinds and Purefoy were both in the TV show Rome (rent it!).  Hinds was Julius Ceasar and Purefoy was Mark Antony.  Mark Strong plays the bad manipulative alien.  Thomas Hayden Church plays the tough-guy Martian who is looking to take over the tribe from Willem DaFoe's lead Martian.  Interestingly enough - DaFoe did his motion capture on stilts to bring him up to the 9 feet that his character would end up being.  How's that for method?
To make a long review short (too late!) I loved it.  I really did, and I was so surprised that I did.  Go see it - enjoy it - use it as an absolute escape - get the big popcorn.
9 out of 10.  
Gained points for the little dog pet alien, and for making me lose my cynicism just long enough to get really upset when it got threatened with harm.  Lost a point for using the Geonosis arena.  I swear - when they released the white ape, I just assumed it was going to be an Acklay. (big geek points for you if you understand that sentence).  Gained points for the amount of time Taylor spent shirtless.  Nothing wrong with that.  Someone make that Gambit movie.
Here's your bonus video - Gambit :)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Movie Review: This Means War (PG-13 - 97 minutes)

  • What makes a good Romantic Comedy?  In my opinion, predictability.  It is the only genre where you want it to always be the same:  the meet-cute, the dating hijinks, the trust-breaking big arguement that results in a breakup, and finally the big over-the-top gesture that results in the perfect happy ending.  There are several romcoms that have tried to switch things up - chances are you don't remember any of them.  What's my personal favorite romcom?  Tough call, I'm not a huge fan of them.  I find most of them to be a bit insulting. I suppose my favorite would be Return to Me:
  • Co-written and directed by the genius that is Bonnie Hunt, Return to Me is funny, sweet, touching, and hilarious.  It stars Minnie Driver and David Duchovny and if you've never seen it, you should.
  • This Means War is the latest offering in the romcom genre.  It's directed by McG (who did Charlie's Angles and the TV show Fastlane, which I loved).  It sets out to be an action romantic comedy - see, it brings something new to the same old same old!
  • Plot:  "Two top CIA operatives wage an epic battle against one another after they discover they are dating the same woman."  Chris Pine (new Kirk - like new Coke, but more palletable) and Tom Hardy (new Bane and Clone Picard) play the CIA agents who are best friends and partners.  They are in the midst of a big case in which they are going after generic European bad guy, german actor Til Schweiger.  They miss him, but they get his brother, giving him enough vengeance to stalk them the rest of the movie.  After their botched attempt, their boss, inexplicably played by Angel Bassett, benches them.  Meanwhile Reese (don't call me June Carter Cash) Witherspoon plays an uptight single lady who gets her profile loaded to a dating website by her married friend Chelsea Handler.  She preposterously ends up dating both guys, who find out about this fairly early on, and decide not to tell her they know each other, so that she can make the decision between them.  So of course, they use their spy skills and access to government weaponry and tools to try to outdo one another, because, why wouldn't they?
  • Everyone in the movie does a decent job - it's just that none of them are asked to do all that much, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  Pine is good and may have a future in romcoms - although I would rather see many more Star Trek movies keep him busy.  Hardy is fantastic and maybe a better actor than what he gets to show in this.  He does play a divorced dad and shows more depth than anyone else in the movie, but again, not a ton of stuff to do.  Once Batman comes out later this year - he's going to be the talk of the summer - even though he tried to achieve that after stealing most of Inception, that is, the parts JGL didn't already walk away with (not walk so much as scramble around a rotating hallway with...). He was amzing in Warrior - see that if you haven't already.  Also - he was one of the best parts of Star Trek: Nemesis (the only good part?).  Reese Witherspoon...it's almost not fair for me to have an opinion on her, because I really don't like her, and can't get past that.  I don't have a good reason, I just find her really really really annoying.  She's fine in this - and believable as a woman who loves her job and has no time to date...but honestly, I would have preferred someone funnier, Rashida Jones, Olivia Munn...although I suppose that's not the right tone.  So, don't trust my opinion on that one.  Cheslea Handler is just in the movie.  I can't even say that she's playing Cheslea Handler, although she wasn't drinking and cursing, so mabe she was playing a watered down version of herself.  Til Schweiger has played many generic European bad guys so he's pretty good at it by this point. Angela Bassett?  Why was she in this?  And honestly, she seemed really angry that she was in it. 
  • The action sequences were good - the scams the two spies run on each other to ruin their opponents dates are funny - but you saw all the really funny bits in the commercials.  The movie moves fairly quickly, but I did find some pieces dragged on a bit.  What I found interesting was the end...I won't ruin it for you (but would I really ruin it if I told you what happened?) Slight spoiler alert here...she does choose one of the guys and the movie ends happy.  I think a stronger end would have been her choosing to be alone as a strong independent woman, but those types of women don't exist in the RomComs universe.
  • 5 out of 10.
  • Gained points for Hardy - I seriously am a big fan of his.  Lost points for Witherspoon - lots of points.  Lost points for Handler - lost points for everyone in the movie having the bluest eyes ever (color corrected?) and lost big points for Angela Bassett not enjoying this role at all, sheesh - at least everyone else seemed to enjoy it.
  • Bonus video:  The hallway fight from Inception.  It has nothing to do with this review - but thinking about it made me remember how mind-blowing it was.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Movie Review: Wanderlust (R - 98 minutes)

Comedies are notoriously more difficult to put together than dramas.    My favorite comedy of all time?  Tough to say, but I've always been partial to ZAZ pieces, in particular, Top Secret and Hot Shots.  Also, Clerks and Mallrats make me laugh out loud.  But, to be honest, I've always preferred my comedy with something extra mixed in....action, sci-fi, etc.  For example, Ghostbusters, Evolution, Big Trouble in Little China, Bad Boys, Bend it Like Beckham, and Rush Hour.  Comedies with something extra.  What makes a good comedy?  In my opinion, the ability to make me laugh out loud, and then make me say to other people, "hey, you should see this - it's funny!"  Wanderlust made me giggle out loud, and made me say to people, "yeah, it was kinda funny - you might like it, but don't pay full price."
Wanderlust is the latest offering from director David Wain.  Wain also did Role Models, the Adult Swim show Children's Hospital, wrote for Mad TV, and was part of the comdey group "Stella".  Role Models, in case you forgot about it, was a really funny movie from 2008 starring Paul Rudd and Sean William Scott and two guys forced to participate in a "Big Brothers" style program.
It was equal parts hilarious and inappropriate.  Thus, hopes were high for Wanderlust...which I would say was also equal parts hilarious and inappropriate....
Plot:  A relatively uptight New York couple suddenly becomes unemployed and has to give up the apartment they just purchased.  Finding themselves out of money and out of home, they head down to live with his brother temporarily in Atlanta.  On the way - they stop at a "Bed and Breakfast" that actually turns out to be a free-love style farming commune.  Inspired by the simple way the hippies live, and horrified at his brother's life, they decide to give the commune a try.  Hijinks ensue.
The movie is populated with friends of Wain & Co.  Co-writer Ken Marino is cringe-worthy but good as the brother - in essentially the same role he played in Role Models - but hey, as a writer, you don't have to have a ton of acting range.  Michaela Watkins, formerly of SNL, plays his bitter and subliminally funny wife.  Paul Rudd makes everything he's in better (Role Models, I Love You Man, 40 Year Old Virgin, and he was the most watchable part of Knocked Up) and is really funny in this as well.  Jennifer Aniston - who, for the record, is good at comedy (if you haven't seen Horrible Bosses see it now, the only person funnier than Rudd is Jason Bateman).  In case you had forgotten, Jennifer Aniston starred in a comedy sketch show called The Edge back in 1992.
It was a predecessor to MadTV and was big time funny.  So I'm not surprised she's funny in this movie.  Her timing and reacting skills are great.  This was going to be the movie with her big topless scene, and it's pretty obvious in the movie where it would have been, but apparently she changed her mind and asked for it to be cut.  Justin Theroux, who was most recently seen on Parks and Rec and was the dude with the terrible Irish accent in Charlie's Angels 2 (oh, you didn't see that?  right, me neither...and I surely don't own it...) and who co-wrote Tropic Thunder, hams it up as the commune leader.  If you're interested in this type of nonsense - Aniston and Theroux are now dating after shooting this movie together.  Alan Alda plays himself, just older and forgettier, and on a scooter.  Jordan Peele (if you're not watching Key and Peele on Comedy Central Tuesday nights - immediately catch up on it. It is fantastic) steals a bunch of scenes as one of the commune members.  Everyone who makes up the commune is memorable and some are fairly notable from other things:  Kerri Kenney from Reno 911; Kathryn Hahn who you've seen a bunch of times, most recent on Parks and Rec; Malin Ackerman from Couples Retreat (don't see that), the Proposal (see that) and the nightmare that was Watchmen (that's three plus hours I'm never getting back), and Joe LoTruglio who was in Role Models and steals pieces of this movie as a happy go lucky nudist-author-winemaker, because why not?
The time spent at the commune is filled with pretty typical hippie-humor pieces:  guitar playing and singing, drug use, skinny dipping, home-births, free-love, and nature-communing.  However, the skill level of the comedic actors in this movie elevates the bits beyond their typical "yeah, that's kinda funny" to "hey! that's funny!".  Wain has also perfected the tatic of letting a joke go so long it goes from funny, to really awkward and running on too long, to back to funny.  This only works with actors who are willing to keep running with a joke way past funny, through awkward, until they hit funny again.  My favorite bit is after Rudd steals Marino's car, Marino runs after him up the street.  It's funny, then you're thinking, "wow, this is really going on for a while", then it keeps going and I found myself cracking up again as he continued running up the street.
The main drawback of a movie like this is that you'll notice I kept referring to the actors and not the names of the characters.  To be honest - I don't remember any of the characters names - it's almost not important.  The movie very much plays as a bunch of friends hanging out together and being funny.  Maybe that's not a drawback, maybe that's why I liked it.
7 out of 10.
Lost points for the birthing scene (really? did we need that?).  Gained points for the "cut to - in the pond" scene, still funny after being ruined in the previews.  Lost points for the movie Aniston attempts to sell to HBO - yikes, and for not using enough Keegan Key.  Gained points for letting Paul Rudd go in the mirror for far too long - til it became funny again.  Lost points from the slow motion running of a crowd of nudists...old nudists.  Gained points for all the books at the end - and for the secret to any movie - outtakes over the end credits.
Here's a bonus bit of Key and Peele being hilarious:

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Movie Review: Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (94 minutes PG)

  • I was once a big professional wrestling fan...or should I say sports entertainment (it's really a better description of what they do).  I watched WCW Monday Nitro and Thursday Thunder weekly.  I loved Booker T and Goldberg, and Sting (who actually has the trademark on the name, not the British troubador).  I really enjoyed all the lightweights that really only WCW had - insanely quick and tiny acrobatic fliers...the Filthy Animals, the Jung Dragons, and of course, 3 Count ("sooner or later, all the girls go down for the 3 count").  My absolute favorite was Sean O'Haire, mainly because he looked like the living incarnation of Eddie Brock - and we all know how I feel about Venom...but I digress.... I did go to two live shows - one WWE Monday Night Raw, and one house show (a house show is an untelevised event that they mainly use for practice for some of the younger talent).  What amazed me is the sheer organization of the event - essentially they have to have everything that a large live sporting event has, plus all the writers, coaches and shooting and lighting of a soap opera set. 
  • Why bring it up?  The amazing thing about sports entertainers is that, for the really good ones, the transition to acting in movies and TV is fairly easy.  Really good sports entertainers are able to immediately get the audience to react strongly to them (positively or negatively) and have incredible improv skills (everything they do is live) and know physically what reads well on camera.  There is no better example of this than Dwayne Johnson.  Who is no longer going by "the Rock", but have you stopped calling him that yet?  Nope? Me Neither.  The Rock has proven to be endlessly charismatic, entertaining, engaging, and believable.  One of my biggest surprises last year was the small movie Faster, which was the first time Rock carried something on his own.  It was a dark and fast action piece that I really really enjoyed.  He has proven to be fantastic at kids movies, where his over the top personality fits perfectly.  That would also be the case with Journey 2: the Mysterious Island:
  • A sequel to the 2008 Journey to the Center of the Earth in which Brendan Fraser and Josh Hutcherson go on an amazing 3D trip.  In this version - Hutcherson is back and this time going with his step-dad (Rock) to the Mysterious Island to find Michael Caine.  Honestly, I wouldn't go anywhere to find Michael Caine...I'll just wait for Batman this July...but apparently Hutcherson wanted to find him - he's the grandfather in this film, and there are some thinly veiled father abandonment issues that get thinly discussed and solved (?) in this movie.  If you see it - see it in the 3D - it's well worth it.  This is one of those 3D movies that goes back to the old, "look at this thing - it's coming right out at you!!!" as opposed to the newer, more subtle 3D that I love.  But, to be honest, this type of 3D fits this movie perfectly.  It's way over the top - and loud - and crazy fun. 
  • Plot:  Hutcherson receives a signal on a HAM Radio he believes to be from his missing grandfather.  With the help of his new stepfather, they set off on a trip to find Jules Verne's Mysterious Island.  See, he comes from a long line of Vernians (Is that a thing?  Really?  I guess I don't know much about Jules Verne).  The two enlist the help of a helicopter pilot (Luis Guzman) and his daughter (Disney product Vanessa Hudgens).  They crash on the Island - find the grandfather - and attempt to get home.
  • The movie is silly lighthearted fun.  Everyone is passable in their roles.  If you don't know Hutcherson yet, you will after March 9th when the Hunger Games comes out.  Luis Guzman plays Luis Guzman in a tropical shirt.  He is the movie's typical comic relief - and there are giant birds in the picture, so you know he's going to get giant bird poop on him, it is a kids' movie, after all.  I have not seen any of the High School Musicals, so I have no idea if she's better in this, worse in this, or if this is how she always is.  She, again, was certainly passable - not mind-blowing, but believable.  Michael Caine plays Michael Caine in a pith helmet.  And then there's the Rock.  Fantastic, fun, over the top, and exactly the perfect tone for the movie.  And bonus - plays the ukelele and sings.
  • All in all - if you don't want to think for an hour and a half, and want to enjoy some impressive 3D - even over the end credits - check this out.  It's harmless fun.
  • 6 out of 10.  Lost points for the giant bird poop - also for the non existent time frame in which they all learned to fly giant bees.  Gained points for the ukelele - and the "pec pop of love" from the commercials, which, guess what, was even more entertaining in the movie! Ha!
  • Here's your bonus...clips from the Rock's first SNL piece:

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Movie Review: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (PG-13, 95 mins)

Those who know me will not be the least bit surprised by the following statement.  I love 'bad' movies.  By 'bad' I mean the movies that are traditionally referred to as "B" movies - which are cheesy, average-ly acted, over-the-top movies generally in the action, science-fiction, or fantasy genre.  The ones I adore the most are the ones in which the actors seem to understand the movie is ridiculous, but they are having a really good time anyway.  The best example of this is the terrible Kull the Conqueror:  it's terrible, but really really fun.  If you haven't seen it, and you enjoy this type of nonsense - check it out.  Another prime example of this phenomenon is the Saturday night movies on the SyFy channel.  These original movies all fit into this category. 
Ghost Rider, the character, was originally a character in some of the early Western comic produced by Marvel Comics.  His current incarnation first appeared in 1972 in Marvel comics.  The short version is that Johnny Blaze was a motorcycle stunt rider in a traveling circus.  He sold his soul to a devil in order to save his stepfather, "Crash" Simpson, from cancer. Crash later dies in a motorcycle accident and the dealmaker, Mephisto, attempts to take Blaze's soul, only to be thwarted by Crash's daughter Roxanne, who had learned of the deal and had prepared a counter-spell based on selfless love. Since Roxanne interrupted in the middle of the pact, Mephisto could only bind half the soul of a demon with Blaze, making him transform into the flame-headed Ghost Rider and giving him powers to fight evil.

The original Ghost Rider movie, which came out in 2007, was terrible - but I loved it anyway.  The problem with it was that no one in the movie seemed to enjoy how terrible it was, they were all taking it far too seriously.  That does not seem to be an issue this time around.  Everyone - Nicolas Cage in particular - seems to really be having a good time.  Nicolas Cage is a self-professed comic geek.  His real last name is Coppola, he changed it to avoid constant comparison to his famous family.  He went with Cage as an homage to Luke Cage - another Marvel Comic hero.  He named his son Kal-El, after superman. There is a scene in the original Ghost Rider movie in which Cage is shirtless, and in order to do that scene, he had to have a large tattoo of Ghost Rider on his back covered.  He spends the majority of this movie going crazy - and loving every minute of it. 
Plot:  Blaze, a man who made a deal with the Devil (ho called himself Roarke at the time) is on the run trying to make sure noone is harmed by his alter ego, The Ghost Rider. He is approached by a Monk named Moreau who tells him that he can help be him free of the Rider, but first, he needs Johnny's help to protect a boy, whom Roarke has plans for.  He wants to put his spirit in the boy - to take human form...you know, like he's always trying to do...
Pretty simple right?  Now coat that in flashy special effects, cheesy acting, big 'splosions, and some music-video style directing and editing and you have a fun popcorn filled movie.  Cage - as mentioned before is pure cheesy goodness ("that's high praise!").  The ever-beautiful Idris Elba pops in as the french monk Moreau and does a decent job of a french accent.  Christopher Lambert (original Highlander and original movie Raiden, or Rayden?) comes back from whereever he has been hiding to breifly show up as another monk - leading a mysterious cult who say they can help the child and remove the Rider from Blaze.  Violante Placido is the girl.  Ciaran Hinds plays Roarke - or the devil depending on your interpretation and is really creepy and evil.  The big surprise is Johnny Whitworth - who is that one guy from that one thing? you know, with the stuff?  He's been in a ton of things and you've seen him many many times and I find that's always how I have described him in the past.  He steals a big part of this movie as the Henchman - the big villian in these movies always has a main Henchman.  He starts out as human, then gets the gift of decay, which is creepy - but kind of awesome at the same time. 
The movie is directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, who together directed Gamer, Crank and Crank2.  If you have seen any of those other movies you will completely understand what I mean when I say the style of this film is similar:  frenetic, slick, video-gamey, and music-videoy.  Like those others it is fast, colorful with lots of action and fun to watch.  Ghost Rider 2 is available in 3D - and was shot in 3D, as opposed to being converted to 3D after being shot.  It is worth it so see it in the 3D - the action and effects play well in the 3D.  I was impressed with all the fight sequences, but even more so with the detail work of the effects.  For example, every time the Rider's head is on fire, his leather coat bubbles and blisters around his neck - a very thought-out detail that provides that extra bit of cool.
So - in summary - as long as you are prepared ahead of time that this will not be a cinematic masterpiece, but you want to just have some fun in the theater with a non-serious,crazy movie - go see this...and see if you can get extra cheese on your popcorn.
8 out of 10.  Extra point for Christopher Lambert and whoever took the time to do his makeup, it was a lot of writing.  Extra point for Idris Elba - beautiful.  Points lost for not using Anthony Head enough.  We all miss our Giles.
As a bonus:  Here's the link for Nicolas Cage vs. Nicolas Cage on SNL.  Genius:  http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/weekend-update-get-in-the-cage/1384659