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!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Moview Review: Step Up 4 Revolution! (PG13 - 99 minutes)

I do love a cheesy dance movie.
I have always loved dance, but since I began performing bellydance professionally as a part of Tamarind Tribal Bellydance (http://www.tamarindtribalbellydance.com), my love and appreciation for all styles of dance has really increased.  I have always loved ballroom - and thus love Dancing with the Stars.  I really enjoy So You Think You Can Dance as well - and I believe the talent on that show has really increased each season it continues, and I'm thrilled that it is getting younger kids interested in dance as an activity and art form.  Alums from SYTYCD consistently appear in the Step Up movies, as the movies progress more towards "less plot - more highly choreographed group dance numbers", which I will never argue with. 
The first Step Up, from 2006, started as an actual movie, with a plot and everything.  Bad boy Tyler, from the wrong side of the tracks, is only interested in hanging out and hip hop dancing with his friends.  He gets sentenced to community service at the ultra-elite Maryland School of the Arts after committing vandalism.  While there, he meets prissy ballerina Nora, whose partner for her upcoming dance has just gotten injured.  She sees Tyler dancing with his friends and asks him to help her rehearse.  Sparks fly, hijinks ensue, and after some drama (drama?  in a cheesy dance movie?  of course!), they realize they complete each other, on and off the dance floor.
It was Channing Tatum's first major role, and after filming the movie, he married his costar, Jenna Dewan.  Sparks really did fly, I guess, and they really do complete each other!
This led to the inevitable Step Up 2: The Streets! in 2008.  Tatum shows up briefly at the beginning of the movie to inspire his neighboorhood friend Andie, who is aimlessly floating through life, to try out for the Maryland School for the Arts, since it had such a positive effect on his life.  Andie would rather dance with her 'street' dance crew.
This movie shows the shift towards more group choreographed dance sequences and also introduces what I would describe as the face of the Step Up franchise - Adam G. Sevani as "Moose".  He's the best danciest nerd ever.  This movie reflects the popularity of dance shows, as SYTYCD alums start to show up, as well as some crews from America's Best Dance Crew - most notably the Jabbawockeez.
Step Up 3D came out in 2010, and was the first one with no Tatum, as well as the first one in 3D.  Moose graduates high school and attempts to 'grow-up' by going to college in New York.  Andie is there too, but I'm less sure why.  He promptly runs into some battling street dance crews (of course, why wouldn't he?) and through the course of the movie - realizes that he can both grow up, and live his love of dance.
This movie reunites Sevani with his costar of many years, Alyson Stoner (she's the little dancer from the Missy Elliot video), they had done a Disney dance show and several commercials together.  There's a plot with Andie and the male lead battling another crew, but really who cares?  This one has some amazing dancing and even more SYTYCD alums - including Stephen tWitch Boss - who is fantastic, as well as LXD's Madd Chadd - or, you know, the robot guy, and Joshua from SYTYCD, or you know, the dude who beat tWitch (yes, I know that looks crazy, but that's how he writes it, so I'll honor it).

That brings us right up to Step Up Revolution!  Or, Step Up 4. 
Starring SYTYCD comtemporary dancer Kathryn McCormick (she finished 3rd in season 6, and came back as an 'all star' for season 7), and hip hop dancer Ryan Guzman as the pretty rich girl and streetwise dancer with a heart of gold respectively, this one has a little plot - but even more great dance sequences set against the really colorful background of Miami.  McCormick plays Emily, Peter Gallagher's daughter (how did they get him in this movie?), who wants to join the very prestigious Winwood Contemporary dance company.  She gets the audition, but is encouraged by the owner (choreographer Mia Michaels in a fun cameo) to 'feel' the dance more.  She falls for Sean (Guzman), a waiter at a hotel her dad owns.  He is part of "the Mob", a group of street performing flash-mob dancers that are attempting to break a YouTube hit contest to win some money.  They begin dancing together (familar, yes?) when her father's new development begins to threaten the 'slum' where the dancers live.  She helps the Mob turn their "performance art" into "protest art", gets found out for who she is, drama ensues, then more dancing, then happy resolution.  Oooh, sorry, spoiler alert, the movie has a happy ending!
Directed by Scott Speer - his first entrance into the series (1 was by Anne Fletcher who had also done The Proposal, and 27 Dresses - probably why that one feels different from the others and a little more rom-com-y.  2 and 3 were by Jon M. Chu, music video and LXD video veteran, probably why those feel more music-videoy), the movie spends some time on the plot, but more time on the dancing, which is what anyone going to this movie is looking for anyway.  The cast is okay, they are casting dancers instead of actors, so the acting is very average.  But, smart move hiring dancers!
  • McCormick is an amazing dancer, and will proabably become a decent actress.  She's passable here.
  • Guzman is a younger Channing Tatum, but again, Tatum has really stepped up (pun intended) his acting game of late, so maybe Guzman has some interesting things in the future.
  • tWitch is back - with an expanded role this time around, and also to tie this movie in some small way to the previous one.  I love watching him dance, he was one of my favorites on SYTYCD (he finished 2nd in season 4, and has been back multiple times as an 'all star'.
  • Misha Gabriel plays Sean's best friend and Mob co-founder.  Gabriel has been dancing since the age of 2, and has been a backup dancer for both Janet and Michael Jackson.
  • Cleopatra Coleman plays Penelope, the group's DJ.
  • Megan Boone plays Claire, Sean's sister, who is there to have the important, "you should grow up and get a real job" attitude that someone in these movies has to have.
  • Phillip Chbeeb, who is another SYTYCD alum (season 5), is in the movie and has some great sequences that show off his unique style.
  • I hope I'm not spoiling anything here either, but Sevani's Moose does cameo at the end, as well as Madd Chadd's robot dancer. 

The movie is ridiculous, completely over the top, and unrealistic.  For one, the Mob kids live in the nicest "slum" I've ever seen.  Also, for a ragtag group of street dancers, their performances are unbelievably well choreographed and organized (incidentally, the choreography in the movie includes work by Jamal Sims, Christopher Scott, Chuck Maldonado, and Travis Wall - all names you know if you watch SYTYCD).  Where are they getting the money for practice space, tech, and costumes, if they are so desperate to win this YouTube contest to win money?  Who knows, it's probably best not to ask too many questions.  Just go - see it in 3D, enjoy...just don't expect too much!
6 out of 10.  Gained points for Moose showing up - I love that kid!  Lost points for the whole, "this is our tech guy, this is our DJ, this is our Hacker, these are our Parkour guys" speech...yes, but which one is your tailor, and which one is the money?  Gained points for the bungee cord dancing - it's going to be tougher and tougher to come up with unique sequences for these movies...I liked this one a lot!  Lost points for Mia Michaels seeming to be high.  Although, every time I see her, she seems to be high, so maybe that's not a surprise...
Bonus Video 1:  Kathryn McCormick's piece with Legacy from season 6 - choreographed by Stacey Tookie

Bonus Videos 2:  tWitch and Katee - the door number, by Mia Michaels, I think.
tWitch and Sasha - the breakfast table number, by Christopher Scott.

Bonus Video 3:  Jabbawockeez - my favorite crew. Who knew you could have a favorite dance crew?  If you haven't seen their Vegas show, see it the next time you're in Vegas.
Bonus Video 4: Cast Interviews!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Movie Review: the Dark Knight Rises (PG13 - 164 minutes)

*Thoughts and prayers to the families who lost loved ones in the Colorado movie theater tradgedy.*

As stated in my previous post (because Batman is so awesome he needed two!) - Batman, the character, was created in 1939 by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. 

The short version of the Batman backstory is:  Bruce Wayne was orphaned at 8 when a random mugger shot his parents, and he vowed to spend the rest of his life fighting crime in his beloved home of Gotham City.  He has no natural superpowers, just amazing intelligence and dedication, and limitless funds.  He used the mantle of Batman to cause fear into the criminals, and vowed to never use a gun or kill as he became the world's greatest detective. The long version of his backstory involves villians, sidekicks, psychological profiling...you name it!  If you're curious, here's his wiki link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batman

Tim Burton's trademark gothic insanity brought Batman to the screen in 1989 and again in 1992 with  Batman Returns.  Joel Schumacher took over (and ruined the series - just my opinion) with Batman Forever in 1995 and the epic-ly terrible Batman and Robin in 1997.  That particular movie left a sour taste in everyone's mouth, and no one was clamouring for a new Batman.  In case you had blocked that badness from your memory:
In 2005, after many people had kicked around the idea of bringing back the Bat, in various incarnations, Christopher Nolan gave us the mythic orgin story Batman Begins. 
He used many of the influences from Batman:  Year One, which was written by Frank Miller and covered the orgin story of Batman paralleling the story of the newly arrived Lt. Jim Gordon.  This story has recently been made into one of DC's amazing animated movies that essentially follows the graphic novel scene for scene, and is worth watching if you haven't seen it. 

Nolan's Batman Begins is beautifully dark and stunning.  It made everyone realize that by casting really good actors and writing a really good story - comic book/superhero movies good be taken seriously as amazing films. 
His 2008 follow-up, The Dark Knight, continued this trend, and Heath Ledger's amazing turn as the Joker won him a posthumous Oscar and also redefined acting skill in a comic/superhero movie.
Because the first two movies in this series were so amazing, I will admit that my expectations were very very high for this most recent entry.  Especially since I did have the opportunity to read the Batman: Knightfall graphic novel collection from 1993 that introduces Bane, his backstory, and includes many of the pieces that worked their way into Nolan's movie.
Once again, Nolan, writing with his brother Jonathan with some help from David Goyer, has pulled together amazing actors in a good story with fantastic action that elevates this 'comic book' movie into a work of art. 
The plot is fairly simple, but with very complicated execution - if that makes any sense! Batman/Bruce Wayne has been somewhat of a recluse after volunteering to take the blame for Harvey "two-face" Dent's murderous spree at the end of Dark Knight.  For the past 8 years, he's been holed up in his mansion, limping around on his cane, and brooding over the loss of his love, Rachel Dawes.  Gotham has begun to heal itself on Dent's false legacy.  Meanwhile, Bane, a large mercenary who may or may not have been born in a hellish prison (location not specified) breaks a doctor out of government captivity on an airplane and comes to Gotham, to rule it (or to just destroy it).  Wayne gets moving again, with some influence from the ever-present and faithful Alfred, gadget-maker Lucius Fox, his buddy Commissioner Gordon, new cop John Blake, business (and pleaure) partner Miranda Tate, and slinky jewel theif Selena Kyle.  Batman battles Bane, loses bad - the scene on the cover of the graphic novel pictured above is mimicked in the movie.  Bane takes over Gotham for about 3 months, Batman heals, comes back, and takes back the city.  And that's the simple version - how all of this goes down is very complicated.
The story is good - but, really complicated and over the top.  The acting, amazing...
  • Christian Bale is back to complete his trilogy under the cowl.  Yes, the growl is still there when he's the bat, but he does a fantastic job, particularly at the beginning of the movie, when Wayne is still miserable around the house.  There is a scene where he catches Anne Hathaway's Kyle pilfering from him, and she kicks the cane out from under him as she escapes.  I assumed he was going to pop back up and kick her ass, but no, he continued to lay there, presumably until Alfred shows up to ask why he fell again.  Bale feels completely comfortable in the role now, and gets to bring the character full circle, and to a satisfying and justified close.  No spoiler there, everyone involved has been very up-front about this being the end of this particular series.  Bale has always been an amazing actor.  My favorite movie of his is Equilibrium.  He's notoriously dedicated and method, and he does get a few powerhouse scenes in this movie.  It might not be enough to get an Oscar nom, but he deserves it.

  • Hathaway is fine as Catwoman, who can be a difficult character to play.  She's good, and slinky, and believable, I think I wanted more from the character, but that might not be her fault.  She's tough and ballsy, takes what she wants and never pretends to be completely good, she's really only out for herself. 
  • Morgan Freeman is very good as Lucius Fox, who gives Batman at least one very cool new toy for this movie.  He alwasy seems to be having a very good time in these movies, and for the first time in this one, got a little action scene of his own!
  • Gary Oldman is wonderful again as Commissioner Gordon, exactly the way you think he should be.  He is paired against Matthew Modine as the captain of police who doesn't want to go the extra step to combat Bane's takeover of the city.  Both are good, and their confrontation scenes are fun.
  • Marion Cotillard plays Miranda Tate, and she's fine in the role, she and Hathaway are really the only two women in the movie - so I think I needed them to be more powerful, instead they were simply both capable - not bad, just not exceptional, which (sorry to say) is what I was expecting.
  • Michael Caine, however, is exceptional as Alfred.  I was handling the emotion of the movie just fine until he started crying, then I lost it.  If there are any acting awards that go out for this film, he should get nominated for supporting actor.  Alfred has always been Batman's heart and soul, and Caine's portrayal of that is fantastic.
  • Cillian Murphy is back for his third showing as the Scarecrow in a really fun cameo shot.
  • Nestor (I'm not wearing eyeliner) Carbonell shows up briefly as the mayor again, and he has about the same amount of screen time as Heinz Ward (what?). 
  • Tom Hardy's take on Bane is, well, Tom Hardy's take on Bane.  Yes, the mask is difficult to understand him through, and if this is the adjusted version, sheesh, I would hate to have heard it before.  He does wear it the entire time (there's one shot in the movie of him without it) and I did find myself straining to understand him from time to time.  Aside from that, he is very large, very intimidating and he does a really good job.  When he and Batman do encounter each other, he definitely is a match for him...more than a match, really.  I think Hardy is excellent all the time, if you didn't catch last year's Warrior, rent it now.  He was fabulous in Inception, which is doubtlessly how he got this job, my only issues with him are not really with him, they're with this portrayal of Bane (I liked the one on the animated series!)
  • That brings us to the shining star of this movie - Joseph Gordon Levitt as John Blake.  He is (as he is in everything) very engaging, very watchable.  His young cop figures out who Batman is and seeks him out for help.  He's dedicated to the job, but becoming disgusted with the corruption, and the rules.  He uses his gun once, then throws it away, repulsed.  He asks Batman questions about how and why, and receives guidance on why the mask is important (to protect the ones you care about, and to be a symbol, more than a man).  See where this is going?  It's pretty clear that his character is heading for something special throughout the film, the more you get to know his character, and quite honestly, I think his character has more screen time than any of the others!  He demonstrates to Batman his dedication to the city and to justice, and is rewarded for it by the end of the film.
The movie ends cleanly and ties directly into the first in the trilogy more so than the second.  I think this is smart, and lets Ledger's performance stand untouched.  I liked this movie, I liked it a lot.  I didn't love it, but I think it may improve in my mind the more times I see it.  It is a work of amazing quality, and it is a fantastic final piece in an amazing story.  I am sad to see this crew call it quits, but I am excited for the opening they left - yes, there's a twist at the end, and yes, there is the option for a new cast and crew to take over and create something amazing.  It's not out in 3D, but it was shot in IMAX, so see it as big as you can.

9 out of 10 (might have gotten higher in a year that didn't have the Avengers in it). 
Lost points for the length.  At two hours and 45 minutes...come on, a little editing wouldn't have lost anything.  Gained points for the Scarecrow cameo - love him!  Lost points for the unrealistic way Batman recovers from a broken back.  "What's up - my back was totally broken, totally did a bunch of push-ups, I'm fine now, let's go."  Gained points for Bale, Freeman, Caine, Oldman, and especially Levitt - all amazing!  Simultaneously lost and gained points for Hardy.  Why not South American with no luchadore mask?  But on the other hand, really big, and probably a more realistic portrayal!
Bonus Video 1:  1966 Batman: the Movie! trailer - so ridiculous - it's hilarous!

Bonus Video 2: The Batman Animated Series "Almost Got Him" episode. The best one. This is just part one, but the other parts are all available on YouTube.

Bonus Video 3:  Cast and Crew Interviews...

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Retro Movie Review: Batman (1989, PG13 - 126 minutes)

Earlier this year, Marvel and Joss Whedon did the unthinkable and made what seems to me to be the perfect Comic Book movie.  With amazing effects, great characters, good acting, great story, and the very difficult to achieve wide-ranging appeal, The Avengers may go down in history as the best 'superhero movie' of all time.

This coming friday Christopher Nolan and WB will attempt to top it with the long awaited conclusion to his Dark Knight trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises.  So, next week, I'll blog my review of Dark Knight Rises.  Since I was busy dancing at Bastille Days this past weekend (http://www.tamarindtribalbellydance.com), I didn't get to the theater (what?!?).  I figured it would be appropriate to think about the first major Batman appearance on the big screen.  1989's Batman by Tim Burton, starring Michael Keaton.
In my mind, it feels like it came out recently, but it is officially 23 years old now (what?!?!).

Batman was created in 1939 by Bob Kane and Bill Finger.  He swiftly became one of the two most iconic comic characters in DC comics history (Superman is the other one, but you should not have needed me to tell you that). 
Batman's orgins have never changed over the long history of the character.  Bruce Wayne was 8 years old when his parents were gunned down in front of him by a mugger.  This caused him to dedicate his life to fighting crime so that the citizens of Gotham City could walk without fear through their city.  Being the heir to an incredible fortune, Bruce was able to study all varieties of martial arts and detective skills while traveling the world.  On his return to Gotham to take over running Wayne Industries, a bat flies into Wayne Manor, giving Bruce the inspiration to strike fear into the hearts of Gotham's criminals by using the persona of "the Batman." 

Batman is instantly the most relatable of the comic book heroes due to his lack of superpowers.  Everything he has he gets through his brain, training, hard work and determination (and oh yeah, the limitless Wayne fortune, which may or may not count as a superpower).  Plus there's the fact that no one, NO ONE has anywhere near the cool gadgets that Batman does.  Beginning with the batsuit and going through the utility belt (in which he always keeps a piece of kryptonite - just in case!), batarangs, grappling gun, and going all the way through the batmobile and batcave.  Batman's assortment of gadgets and toys makes him the envy of every superhero, and some villians.

Tim Burton was given the job to direct Batman after the success of 1985's PeeWee's Big Adventure and his 1988 movie Beetlejuice, starring Michael Keaton.  Burton was excited about the idea after reading The Dark Knight Returns and The Killing Joke, both considered to bring a dark grittiness back to Batman. 
Many top stars were considered for Batman including Mel Gibson, Kevin Costner, Charlie Sheen, Perce Brosnan, Tom Selleck, and Bill Murray of all people.  Burton was pressured to cast an established 'action' star, but after having just worked with Keaton in Beetlejuice, he felt he had a dark, edgy quality that would suit Bruce Wayne.  This just proves my point that comedians have an easier time doing drama than vice versa.  There were 50,000 protest letters sent to WB by Batman fans who were not convinced the casting was correct.  Most of those protesters were won over in the end by Keaton's understated and powerful performance. 
Tim Curry, Willem Dafoe, David Bowie, and James Woods were considered for the Joker, however Robin Williams was the person who campaigned the hardest for it.  Jack Nicholson got the role after making several odd demands including having his contract specify the number of hours he was entitled to have off each day, as well as being off for Lakers home games, and receiving a percentage of the box office gross.  There are several actors/roles in cinematic history that I would consider to define the phrase "Chewing the Scenery".  I use the phrase to mean anytime an actor is overacting to the point of being campy - and yet, for some reason, it still works for the film.  Lawrence Olivier in the original Clash of the Titans, Marlon Brando in Superman, Brian Cox in Troy (although - almost anything he's in would count), Charlize Theron in the recent Snow White and the Huntsman, and Jack Nicholson in Batman.  His over the top Joker is fantastic, and was so good that there was a general outcry when Nolan stated he was going to re-do the Joker.  Nicholson was amazing - why would you re-do it?  I was one of those people, right up until I saw Heath Ledger's performance.  That shut me (and everyone else) right up. 
Kim Basinger stepped into the role of Vikki Vale after Sean Young was injured and Michael Keaton suggested not Michelle Pfeiffer (Burton's choice) due to the fact that he and Pfeiffer were together in real life (at the time) and thought it would be awkward to work together.
Michael Gough became the stalwart bat-butler Alfred, and Robert Wuhl (remember Arli$$?) was Allie Knox.  Billy Dee Williams was Gotham D.A. Harvey Dent and Jack "one armed push-ups" Palance was crime boss Carl Grissom.  Nicholson's read life friend Tracey Walter played Bob, the Joker's number one henchman. 

Burton's dark and gothic look for Gotham City was epic and trendsetting.  The story was interesting in that it wasn't an orgin story.  We stepped directly into Batman as Batman and were told the orgin story through flashbacks.  Jack Napier is a low level crime boss in Carl Grissom's crew, in a battle with Batman, he falls into a vat of chemicals, creating the bizzare face and mental dysfunction that becomes the iconic Batman villian of the Joker.  The Joker then sets out to poison Gotham by inserting half a chemical compound in everyday items, and pump out the other half from giant balloons during a parade.  Bruce Wayne is battling crime in the city by night and faking being a drunken useless playboy during the day when he falls for photographer Vikki Vale.  The Joker kidnaps Vikki, leading to a climatic battle on top of Gotham Cathedral, from which the Joker falls to his death.  Oh - spoiler alert, the Joker falls to his death. 
The movie was groundbreaking, and set up the idea that 'comic book' movies could appeal to a wide audience, not just fanboys. Keaton's performance was unexpected and very good.  His Bruce Wayne is tortured and determined, his Batman is strong and clear.  Plus there is that one scene wear he hangs upside down in the gravity boots - clever!  Basinger was a little dumb-blonde for my taste, but that worked fine for the role.  Nicholson was impressive, just plain impressive.  The suit was beautiful, black and rubbery, staying away from the spandex that the original Christopher Reeve Superman suit went with.  Of course, Superman being invunerable and all - he can get away with wearing only spandex.  The movie was criticized for being "too dark", but I felt that it was the perfect tone, bringing a grittiness to the story and making you completely understand why this man would dress like a bat to go after criminals.  And, what do the people who thought that 1989 Batman was "too dark" say about Batman Begins? 
The music, scorewise, was Danny Elfman's best work, and was later used for the (in my opinion!) best version of Batman, the Animated Series (1994).  The songs were by Prince and were fantastic.  That casette tape became my family's roadtrip tape for years.  I still love Batdance!
The movie did win an Oscar for Best Art Direction, which was well deserved. There were three sequels, and I'm sure you have your own opinion about those (2 - not good, 3 - not terrible, 4 awful, just awful).  Burton's orginal Batman ended up grossing just shy of $412 million worldwide, and I know I helped add to that total.  If you haven't seen it in a while - check it out before you go see the new one this weekend!
8 out of 10 - Gained points for Keaton and Nicholson, lost points for the Batmobile, while it looked cool - it actually didn't drive much and had to be pushed around - lame.  Gained points for the design and art of the city and movie in general.  Lost points for Basinger, sorry, she's just not that great.  Check out Cool World if you don't believe me.  Oh no, wait, don't - it's terrible!
Bonus Video 1:  The original 1978 Superman, comparable in that it was the best 'superhero/comic' movie up to that point.  Also comparable in that it had one of the best scores ever, created by John Williams.
Bonus Video 2:  Some Batman, the Animated Series, still my favorite Batman. And also - Mark Hamill - best Joker ever?  2nd best Joker ever?  debatable, I suppose.

Bonus Video 3:  Batman cast and crew interviews - ha!  Look how crazy the fashion was in 1989! Geez I'm getting old:

Monday, July 9, 2012

Movie Review: Amazing Spiderman (PG13 - 136 minutes)

Spider-man was originally created in 1962 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.  He first appeared in Amazing Fantasy #15, and swiftly became Marvel Comics most popular and flagship character.  He was something new in the comics universe:  a teenage superhero at a time when most teenagers were stuck with being sidekicks.  Stan Lee realized that teenageers were the main readers of comics, and that they would relate to a hero like themselves.  Peter Parker has always been described as a "wallflower" or shy, quiet, science nerd.  He struggles with fitting in, with making money, and caring for his elderly aunt and uncle.  Getting bitten by a radioactive spider while watching a science experiement gives him extraordinary powers.  He at first uses them to make money in an amateur wrestling circuit, where he fails to stop a robber, claiming it's not his responsibilty.  He learns later, when that same robber murders his Uncle Ben, "with great power, there must also come great responsibility!"   Here's the wiki link if you want to learn more about Spiderman, he has a very interesting history!  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiderman  Incidentally, the comic pictured below goes for around $120,000.00.
Spiderman has been on TV on and off since 1967.  Most fun was during the Electric Company, which was usually narrated by Morgan Freeman, before he got famous for narrating things.  In the below clip, he's not narrating, he's playing a police officer - too awesome.
My favorite Spiderman TV version is the 1994 Fox animated series, it essentially pulled all of it's stories direct from the comics, and was really well done.
Inevitably, Spiderman was destined to come to the big screen, and first made it there in 2002 in Sam Raimi's SpiderMan, starring Tobey McGuire, Kirstin Dunst, Willem Dafoe, and James Franco.
It was exceptional - the best comic movie up to that point, maintaining the tone and feel of Spiderman from the original comics with fantastic performances from everyone involved.  It was followed by Spiderman 2, featuring Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus, which was equally as good if not slightly better than the first one.  Those two successes were followed by the abyssmal SpiderMan 3.  Thomas Hayden Church was fantastic as Sandman, and had the movie stuck with only using Sandman as a villian, it may have been much better.  However, Raimi, caving to fan demand, also attempted to enter Venom, Spiderman's most popular villian (and my single favorite Marvel character), into the movie.  Venom is tricky to do under the best circumstances, and attempting to shove him into a movie with too many other characters doesn't really work.
That was such a disappoinment, no one was clamouring for another Spiderman movie.  However, because Columbia/Sony had the rights to Spiderman, and were about to lose them to Marvel - a concern now that Marvel had become a legitimate movie studio through the careful Avengers release plan (I criticized the plan when they first announced it, how wrong was I?) - Comlumbia/Sony asked Raimi/McGuire for another Spiderman.  They agreed, but didn't want to do it in the timeframe necessary to maintain rights.  So, here we are, a scant five years after the last Spiderman, with a reboot.
This reboot is a slight re-imagining of the Spiderman orgin story, which, in the 2002 movie, was almost shot for shot the same as it was in the comics.  This movie is directed by Mark Webb, who has previously only done the quirkly love story 500 Days of Summer, starring the amazing Joseph Gordon Levitt and the annoying Zooey Deschanel.  It's a great movie, and if you haven't seen it, you should Netflix it now.  He seems like an odd choice for this movie, but if you remember that Spiderman is all about teen romatic drama, it is a fitting choice. 
It terms of plot, Andrew Garfield plays Peter Parker, an awkward teen who lost his parents and lives with his aunt and uncle and attempts to romance his high school crush Gwen Stacey.  He gets bitten by a radioactive spider, creates web-shooters, looses his uncle in a random murder that he could have stopped, and has to do battle with the Lizard, who is actually a scientist friend of his who transformed into the Lizard after injecting reptile DNA into himself in an attempt to regrow his lost arm: you know, standard spiderman-type stuff.  Webb directs it with a surprising amount of naturalness and ease, and the effects look crisp and believable, especially in the 3D version.
In terms of cast, I felt like everything was just about perfect here.
  • Andrew Garfield, the young british actor best known for the Social Network, is an admitted Spiderman fan from the age of 3 and was thrilled to get the chance to star as Spiderman.  He has said that the first time he put on the suit - he broke down in tears!  That is the level of appreciation I want from a superhero movie start - not someone like McGuire, who badmouthed Spiderman from time to time.  Garfield is fantastic in this, equal parts socially awkward as Peter and joyfully exuberant as Spiderman.  He plays the role like he has always wanted to.  Also - his leaner, lither physique fits the web-swinging well.
  • The fantastic Emma Stone plays Gwen Stacy: smart, sassy and attracted to Peter because of his brains, exactly as she was in the comics, where she debuted in 1965.  Their chemistry is natural and fun.  If you haven't seen her in EasyA, Netflix it now.
  • Rhys Ifans plays Dr. Curt Conners, who will become the lizard.  The Lizard was first introduced in 1963.  Ifans is good, but always comes off a little reptilian, even when not the Lizard.  It's an odd choice, because Conners has traditionally been a friend to Peter, a likeable guy.  I can't tell if it's Ifans himself, or the choice he made to play him that way, but he comes off as really creepy.
  • Denis Leary shows up as Captain Stacy.  Leary excels at playing New York anything, he was amazing on Rescue Me, and is very good in this.  The last scene between he and Garfield was incredible. 
  • Marin Sheen is as good as he normally is, playing Uncle Ben.  He never quite utters the famous line, but he gets close.   He is genuine and believable, his dentures on the other hand...
  • Sally Field is a good choice as Aunt May - bringing back some of her Steel Magnolias parental concern.
  • Irrfan Khan, an well known actor in India, brings in the Pete Postlewaite Kobyashi (Usual Suspects) effect as Norman Osborn's mouthpiece here.  He's slimy and malicious, and could be quite the villian on his own. 
  • Chris Zylka takes over Flash Thompson from Joe Maganiello and is passable as a high school bully/jock. 
  • C.Thomas Howell shows up as a man who's son Spiderman saves, and a crane operator that becomes key in a climatic, and very touching, final sequence.
All in all, I really enjoyed this movie.  I was surprised by how well done it was, how great the effects were, and how much I suddenly found myself looking forward to the next one!  This is a great foundation, and as much as I love Emma Stone, I am just a bit excited for who they will bring in as Mary Jane, and if she will get to say her famous line correctly. 
Go see this, you'll enjoy it - the 3D is great for the web-swinging, but not necessary -you could see it regular and still be entertained.
8 out of 10!  Hooray for another great Spidey!  Lost points for the spider bite scene, hundreds of them rain on him, gives me chills just thinking about it.  Gained points for the Stan Lee cameo - awesome.  Lost points for the Lizard not wearing his lab coat all the time, like he is supposed to!  Gained points for the incredibly awkward exchange when Peter sort of asks Gwen out.  It's so cute!
Bonus Video 1:  Marc Webb's 500 Days of Summer dance sequence, the best part of that movie:
Bonus Video 2:  Venom in the 1994 animated series...oh we can hope that he'll get another chance on the big screen!
Bonus Video 3:  More Electric Company - yay!
Bonus Video 4:  Cast and Crew Interviews!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Movie Review: Magic Mike (R - 110 minutes)

There are many movie that heavily feature female strippers.  I'm not going to bother mentioning them, I'm sure you've already named a few in your head (Showgirls, Striptease, etc.)  As a straight female movie fan, I'm subjected to all of these with very few male stripper movies.  Up to this point, the only other male stripper-focused movie I can think of is The Full Monty, which was British and charming and fun. 

It did not feature the full monty, which seems to be a trend in male stripper movies (all two of them), because in Magic Mike, there is no full monty either.  There are more tits than dicks in Magic Mike, which seems unfair.  There is plenty of beautiful man candy to oogle, and I suppose that will do. 
Steven Soderbergh's last team-up with Channing Tatum was Haywire, from earlier this year.  It featured real-life MMA star Gina Carano, and while her acting was suspect, the action was not, and the movie was very good.  If you haven't seen it, check it out - it will be available to rent soon.
Haywire, while an impressive action movie, was also very much a Steven Soderbergh movie.  It's most similar to one of his other features, Out of Sight.  He features very stylized scenes, interesting score choices, and the use of color as a storytelling device.  This was most evident in his movie Traffic, which used different shades of color to show where each scene was taking place.  It's also very good, and I recommend that as well.  Soderbergh is perhaps best known for the Ocean's movies (11,12, and 13), which up to this point, had been his most fun;  not anymore.  Magic Mike is officially the most over the top fun Soderbergh movie, while still remaining a Soderbergh movie.
Magic Mike is written by Reid Carolin (who shows up in the movie as Tall Paul) who had previously worked with Channing Tatum on the MTV produced Stop/Loss.  Channing had been a male stripper earlier in his life and had been very vocal about wanting to do a movie loosely based on his experiences.  He was vocal enough on the Haywire set that Soderbergh decided to do it. 
While I am the target audience for this movie, and I was lucky enough to see it in a theater that was completely full of screaming women (made it so much fun!), it actually will appeal to a much wider audience.  There is a storyline, and it is predictible, but well done. 
Tatum's character is a hustler - working three jobs to save up enough money to get his custom-made furniture business up and running.  He meets a youngster on his construction job who is in need of money and guidance.  Mike takes him to the strip club, and due to one of the other dancers passing out - throws the kid on stage, where he quickly becomes hooked on the lifestyle.  Mike looks to begin a romance with the kid's older sister, who brings some reality into his life and makes him question his life choices.  Things start off good, then they get great - then there's some serious drama and things get terrible, then they get okay again by the end, and everyone learns a little something.  Predictable - but okay.
As far as casting goes, I was pretty pleased with almost everyone in the movie. 
  • I have always disliked Matthew McConaughey, and while he's really good as sleezy club owner Dalls, I would have prefered Idris Elba in that role...but then again, I'd prefer him in almost anything.  There is an amusing sequence in which McConaughey does play the bongos.
  • Channing Tatum is very good in this.  Just like he was in Haywire, and 21 Jump Street, and the Vow.  Welcome to the year of the Tatum.  I should at some point, stop being surprised that he's a decent actor.  He's very natural and believable on screen, and the dancing?  Amazing.  He choreographed most of the numbers with some help from Luke Broadlick, who also worked on the StepUp films.
  • Olivia Munn shows up and is actually pretty good in this - she's most well known for her work on G4, and she does steal a couple of scenes in this.  Oh - and if you're a dude, she's topless within the first 4 minutes, so there's that. 
  • Alex Pettyfer plays the young wide-eyed kid, in a bit of a departure from what we've seen him do in I Am Number 4, Beastly, and In Time.  I liked him the best in In Time, where he got to speak with his own british accent and be a little villiany - which I think he might be better at.  His american accent is not great and slips a couple of times, but he looks good during the dance numbers.
  • Speaking of looking good during the dance numbers, the rest of the male revue is Joe Magnaniello (True Blood, Spider Man), Matt Bomer (White Collar), Alex Rodriguez (CSI Miami), and Kevin "Big Sexy" Nash (what?  second movie in a month he's popped up in).  I know Nash's knees are shot from the years of wrestling, but it is very obvious that he is not doing any of the dance sequences!  Also - he's been gray for the last 10 years, are we supposed to buy that dye job?  Aside from that, he was fun and natural in the part.  Bomer is super pretty and a decent dancer, but Rodriguez suprised me the most on the dancing - he was pretty good!  Joe Magnaniello plays "Big Dick Ritchie" and is really good looking and a decent dancer.  All the guys were underdeveloped as characters, but they weren't really important, so I suppose that's okay.
  • Stand-up comedian Gabriel Iglesias pops up as the DJ/promoter for the club and is actually pretty good.  His specials are streaming on Netflix, and if you haven't seen his stand-up, check it out, he's hilarious! 
  • Cody Horn plays the love interest and is passable.  She's the daughter of WB CEO Alan Horn, so whether or not she got into the business on merit is debatable, but she's believable as Pettyfer's older sister, who is into Mike, but wants him to be realistic about himself with his decisions and lifestyle choices.
  • Riley Keough has maybe two scenes and is forgettable - I'm only mentioning her because she's Elvis's granddaughter.
The movie is very entertaining, the dance sequences are great - especially Channing's individual moments.  The story is good, if predictable, and everyone performs well.  Stylistically, it is very much a Soderbergh piece: scenes that are not in the club are washed out color-wise, and dramatic scenes are very static.
All in all - see it, you'll be pleasantly surprised! 
7 out of 10:  lost points for all the tits - I'm tired of seeing tits!  It's a movie about male strippers!  Why were there more tits than dicks in it?  Gained points for the dance sequences - yay!  Lost points for the odd choice of camera angles during the hard partying - weird.  Gained points for Manganiello, ahem, 'prepping' to go onstage - hilarious!
Bonus Video 1:  Channing in Step Up - he's quite a dancer - also - married his costar from that movie.
Step Up 2:
Bonus Video 2:  Ricky Martin's "She Bangs"  Channing is the shirtless bartender:
Bonus Video 3:  Cast and Crew Interviews!