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!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Movie Review: Bridge of Spies (PG13 – 142 minutes)

This is the beginning of my slow process to go through the Oscar movies and cross as many off my list as possible.  Here we have Bridge of Spies.  It’s another Steven Spielberg/Tom Hanks collaboration, it’s certainly interesting and exceptionally well crafted. 

The movie is based on a true situation, which was the negotiation by lawyer James Donovan to release US fighter pilot Francis Powers in trade for a suspected Russian spy.  It’s tailor made for both Hanks and Spielberg to show some of the things they are best at.  Keep your eyes peeled for some of Spielberg's trademark slow camera push-ins on characters while they say something key. 

In 1957 Brooklyn, Rudolf Abel was being watched as a possible Russian spy by the FBI.  He’s arrested, and in order to ensure that it looks like the US is giving all prisoners fair trials, insurance lawyer (with previous government experience) James Donovan is tasked with defending Abel – even though he is fully expected to fail. It kept reminding me of a really obscure reference; in the novelization of Star Trek 6 - it mentions how Lawyer Worf (the ancestor of the lieutenant Worf that we all know and love) was tasked with the despicable job of defending Kirk and McCoy, and did it honorably, even though every other Klingon there knew they were guilty and wanted them gone.  Basically that's what happens here with Donovan.  No one wants him to succeed, it's basically a show trial to prove we're diplomatic. Donovan does the best he can with the trial, coming to respect Abel.  However, due to the paranoia and fear in the area, he and his family are targeted with hate mail and threats. 

Abel is found guilty – but Donovan convinces the judge to give him life imprisonment instead of the death sentence, much to the dismay of the public.  Donovan argues that they might need him down the line to trade for an American prisoner. Meanwhile, student Frederic Pryor in East Germany gets arrested and stuck behind the newly rising Berlin Wall, and US Pilot Francis Gary Powers gets shot down over Russia while flying a brand-new spy plane.  Luckily – The US has Abel in holding – and tasks Donovan with going over to negotiate the release of Powers, since it was his idea, after all.  While there, he hears about Pryor, so he shifts the negotiations to include both Powers and Pryor for Abel, much to the dismay of the FBI – but eventually, he pulls it off. 

The movie is definitely an awards-type movie, it’s elegantly and simply directed by Spielberg.  I did find the shifting between Donovan's storyline and Pryor's storyline and Powers's storyline to be a little jarring, but in the end it makes sense as they are all interconnected - but they seem really disjointed early on.  Hanks was exceptional - but didn't really do anything you haven't seen him do before.  His quiet determination to do the best job possible, even in a terrible situation, is really fantastic.  It’s slow, and drags a bit here and there, and actually feels a bit like a play.  

  • As I said, Tom Hanks is perfect in this.  He’s such a good guy, it’s easy to believe him in this role, and feel empathy towards Donovan in his growing relationship with Abel.

  • I will say that Mark Rylance stole the movie for me.  His performance as Abel is so excellent.  He clearly is a spy – but is also a really nice older gentleman, who really seems more interested in painting and sketching than sending information back to Moscow. I loved his decision to wait on the bridge to make sure that Donovan got both Pryor and Powers, and his final gesture of sending a painting to Donovan was beautiful.

  • Amy Ryan plays Mary Donovan, and really gets to go from quietly surprised to quietly angry to quietly worried to quietly proud as Donovan takes on this mission.  Hey – it’s the 50s, what more are you expecting from a good housewife?

  • Alan Alda plays Tomas Watters Jr., Donovan’s boss, who gives him the job of defending Abel – who then has the nerve to get upset with Donovan when he does his job and tries to prevent Abel from getting the death penalty.

  • Austin Stowell plays Francis Gary Powers, and has almost nothing to do, just look stoic and patriotic while flying then crashing this new spyplane.

  • Will Rogers plays student-in-the-wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time Frederic Pryor.  I was mystified by how quickly that wall went up and how fast he was trapped on the wrong side.  Apparently that bit wasn’t entirely historically accurate, but it did provide some tense-ness to the movie.

The movie is elegant and interesting, and even though I fell asleep watching it (not really the movie’s fault, I was flying back from Paris and already exhausted), I enjoyed it.  Rylance is nominated for Best Support Actor at the Oscars, and I certainly think he was good enough in this movie to win.

6 out of 10, that's just my enjoyment level, but really - quality-wise, the movie is more of an 8 or 9.  Gained points for Rylance’s painting gift to Donovan at the end.  Lost points for everybody turning against Donovan when he did what they asked him to do!  Also – Lost points for the creepy side plot of Donovan’s kids learning about atomic bombs at school and thinking the Russians were going to attack at any moment.  The height of the cold war was a scary time!

Bonus Video - I was just trying to come up with my favorite Tom Hanks movie... and there have been so many good ones, but I really loved The Money Pit - if you haven't seen that in a while, go back and check it out!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Movie Review: Ride Along 2 (PG13 – 102 minutes)

The first Ride Along came out in 2014, and certainly delivered on exactly what it promised – Kevin Hart being loud and funny while Ice Cube is cold and stony.  Two years later – here we are with a sequel that promises more of the same, and again, delivers exactly what it promises.

In the first Ride Along, loudmouth Ben Barber was a security guard who wanted to become a cop – his girlfriend’s brother James is an Atlanta detective who takes the annoying Ben on a Ride Along to attempt to scare him away from both the job and his sister.

Along the way, Ben accidentally becomes useful, and he and James bond a bit.  Now, picking up where we left off, Ben has successfully become a cop, is about to marry Angela (James’s sister) - and seems to be backing up James and his partner, a Tyrese-type, while out on a drug bust. 

They try to track down the drugs so they can catch the supplier and quickly learn that the drugs are coming out of Miami.  At first, James does not want to take Ben along – but then seems to get the idea that taking him along may scare him out of either being a cop or marrying his sister?  It’s the same plan that did not work in the first movie, so I’m not sure why he thought it would work again.  In either case, Angela is happy to have Ben out of the house for a bit so that she can work with their wedding planner on the details for the big day.
While down in Miami, James and Ben get assistance from Maya (a no-nonsense Miami detective) and A.J., a hacker who seems to have details on the supplier, Antonio Pope.  Hijinks ensue, and inevitably, James and Ben bond a bit more while attempting to bring down Pope.

That’s about it, really – again, you’re not going to this movie for the plot, you’re going to see Kevin Hart make you laugh, and Ice Cube keep a straight face while he does it.  Director Tim Story (Think Like a Man Too, Ride Along, Think Like A Man, Hurricane Season, Fantastic 4 (both), Taxi Barbershop), gives you more of the same – and while it may not be original, it’s certainly sufficient.
  • Ice Cube plays Ice Cube as a police detective, and spends most of the movie annoyed at Kevin Hart, and slightly into Olivia Munn’s Maya.  You have to admire Ice Cube – he’s a man who knows his limited range, and stays comfortably inside of it. Perfect.

  • Kevin Hart is easily one of the funniest stand-ups working today and is completely hilarious.  He’s best when paired with a straight man, and Ice Cube stays completely straight-laced and aggressive against him, which allows him to go a little bit crazy.  Again – I wouldn’t mind if they had let him go a little bit more, but he’s still really funny.

  • Tika Sumpter plays Angela, and has even less to do in this movie than she did in the first movie.  She basically attempts to keep Ben and Sheri Sheppard’s wedding planner from tearing each other’s throats out.  Where did Ben and Angela get the money for the wedding this planner is suggesting?

  • Benjamin Bratt – the beautiful Benjamin Bratt – plays Antonio Pope, and does an excellent job of being a really slick ‘legitimate businessman’ while doing all kinds of Miami terrible-ness behind the scenes.

  • Olivia Munn plays Maya – and has the same Miami female detective tank-tops that Jaina Lee Ortiz does on Rosewood.  She’s mainly there to be hard-assed and yell at the guys, and she does that fine, but Munn is capable of so much more, comedy-wise – it’s a shame they didn’t use her more to her full potential.

  • Ken Jeong plays hacker A.J. – and while you can debate all you want about the casting there and whether or not that role was written for someone completely different – his comedy playing off Kevin Hart’s is certainly entertaining, especially in the back seat of the car during the stakeout.  I would like a buddy movie with the two of them.

  • Bruce McGill again plays their Atlanta boss, who is tired of their shenanigans!

Overall, it’s exactly what you think it is – nothing more, nothing less.  Yes, many of the jokes are in the commercials, but it’s still pretty funny.  Certainly perfect mindless entertainment for a gloomy winter day!

6 out of 10 – same score as the first one.  Gained points for the alligator scene, which should not have been funny – but was.  Lost points for not using Olivia Munn better.

Bonus Video – Can’t wait for this!
Bonus 2 - Any time Kevin and Cube hang out with Conan - it's hilarious.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Movie Review: Sisters (R – 118 minutes)

There are a few people/acting teams out there that I will see just about anything they release.  Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are probably the top of that list.  I find both of them incredibly hilarious on their own, and together, they’re even better.  They started together in the Second City Comedy Troupe out of Chicago, went to Saturday Night Live together, where Tina became the first female head writer of the show, and then on to each have their own incredibly successful TV shows.  You can Netflix both 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation now, and if you haven’t I strongly recommend that you do – they are both fantastic! 

They previously worked together on the movie Baby Mama, which had a fairly thin premise, but shone when the two of them were able to work off one another.

Sisters, written by their friend and co-improviser Paula Pell (she played Paula on 30 Rock) and Directed by Jason Moore again has a fairly thin premise, but allows the two to bounce funny off one another for two hours. 

Maura Ellis is slowly attempting to pull her life back together after a divorce two years ago.  She’s a nurse with a lot of rigid hobbies.  Her sister Kate, on the other hand, is a bit of a mess, can’t hold on to money (or a job) and is currently living with a friend of hers.  Her teenage daughter, Haley, is more practical and can’t deal with her mother’s loose cannon ways, and so is staying with a responsible friend, but not telling her mother who that friend is.

Maura gets a message from their parents, Bucky and Deanna, that they are selling the house the girls grew up in Orlando – they’re moving into a retirement community and the house is just too big for them at this point.  They ask the girls to come down and clean out their room.  Kate has a full-out tantrum at that idea, and they decide to host one more “Ellis Island” party – inviting all their friends from high school, with Kate acting as the ‘party mom’ so that Maura can cut loose. 

That’s pretty much it for the plot.  Essentially, it’s an excuse to fill a room with crazy 80s nostalgia, and let Amy and Tina play around in there for a montage.  Then, once the party gets going, it’s an excuse for them to do crazy party things with other comedians, almost like several short comedy sketches. They do run into the couple who is buying the house which makes them further convinced they can’t let go of the house.  They also encounter Brinda – Kate’s high-school nemesis, Dave, an old party buddy, Pazuzu – a local drug dealer, and James – the handsome guy up the street who Maura invites to the party. 

Of course, the party is a huge success, and results is basically destroying the house, which then the girls have to work to clean – as they learn the moral of the story – the house is just a building, but home is a feeling.

As I said, thin plot – but with this cast, you don’t need anything more:
  • Amy Poehler plays Maura, and in a flip from the personas they had in Baby Mama, she’s the straightlaced one.  She does a great job, and again – is best in scenes where she and Tina get to improv together.

  • Tina plays Kate, the party animal.  It was interesting to see Tina is this role, who is completely the opposite of her 30 Rock Liz Lemon persona.  She really brought a quiet panic to Kate, who knows things are falling apart around her, but doesn’t have the confidence that she can do anything about it.

  • Maya Rudolph plays Brinda – the nemesis.  She gets a few scenes to be really bitchy and fun while attempting to break into the party she has been banned from.

  • Ike Barinholtz plays James, and if you’re only familiar with him from MadTV and the Mindy Project, it was at first difficult to buy him as the ‘handsome boyfriend’ type, but he does a really good job and plays it very understated.  Who knew he was capable of that?!

  • James Brolin and Diane Wiest play the parents, Bucky and Deana – they are really excited to be moving on ward with their lives, and disappointed that their daughters are preventing that transition. They get a few scenes to be really funny as well - I especially love the scene where they are Skyping with Maura and pretend to be frozen to get out of the rest of the conversation.

  • John Leguizamo plays Dave, the local guy who seems to be in exactly the same spot he was in High school – he’s the dude who comes to the party with the hopes it will be exactly the same.

  • John Cena plays Pazuzu, and his scenes with Tina as she gradually hits on him were really fantastic.

  • Bobby Moynihan plays Alex, the weird guy from high school who is always making jokes, even though none of them are funny.  He does a great job at being really exhausting.

  • Greta Lee plays Hae-Won, the nail salon employee that Maura feels bad for, and so invites to the party.  She ends up bringing all her friends, and they help get the event going, not to mention create a foam party in the laundry room.

  • Rachel Dratch plays Kelly – the ladies really depressed friend – it’s almost her Debbie Downer character, just at a party.

Overall, the story is not that strong, but again – you’re not going to this movie for the story.  You’re going to see two great friends and comedians make you laugh – which they will!

7 out of 10, Gained points for John Cena – who between this and Trainwreck is starting to be a go to in R rated comedies. Lost points for the complete and utter destruction done to the house during the party.  I guess I’m way too much of an adult for all that, because I just keep thinking how they would never be able to get that cleaned up!

Bonus – Tina and Amy should host everything….

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Retro Movie Review: Labyrinth (1986 – PG - 101 minutes)

Seeing how Labyrinth is my all-time favorite movie that does not have Star or Wars in the title, I was crushed to hear of David Bowie’s passing Sunday.  He was an incredible musician and song-writer, a fashion icon, a brilliant man, a really fun guy, Iman's husband ("Listen to Iman!"), but also a talented actor.  Now, he’s been really, really great in a lot of movies – in particular, if you missed his turn as Tesla in the Prestige – be sure to watch it.  Come on - that entrance! 

However, Since I love Labyrinth so much, I decided to write a bit about this one in tribute to the legendary Mr. Bowie.

Labyrinth is essentially a non-Muppet Muppet Movie.  It’s produced by George Lucas, and written and directed by Jim Henson, starring all his regular performers, just none of the regular Muppets you are familiar with. But is really is a Bowie movie, from the opening credit sequence, the movie is all Bowie in the best way...

The story centers around Sarah – a young woman with a bit of an attitude about her father’s new wife and their new son.  Although, to be fair- it’s never really clear if that is her mother, or actually her step-mother.  Let’s go with step-mother for now. 

Sarah is a pretty typical teenager, full of herself, her room filled with toys and trinkets.  She’s really into fantasy items, and one day is practicing lines from a story she loves in the park, when she realizes she’s late to babysit.  She runs home with her dog in the rain to the first of many astounding David Bowie songs in the movie. 
Upon arriving at home, her parents chastise her a bit for being late, then head out for the evening.  She realizes one of her stuffed animals is missing, and that her baby brother took it into his room.  As she’s yelling at him (yes, she’s a bit of a dick in the beginning of the movie) he starts crying, so she begins to tell him a story about goblins…as she’s telling the story – we see Goblins react to it.  They are waiting for her to say the right words for them to come and take the baby away (if you're near my age, and you had younger siblings...I know you tried that at least once when you were little).

Well, she builds up to a huge statement, which turns out to be wrong.  She thinks nothing of it, but as she’s walking out of the room, she does accidentally say the right words, and her brother’s cries suddenly stop.  As she heads back into the room, he’s gone, and there are goblins hiding in the corners and a barn owl at the window.  The owl finally breaks in, and transforms into Jareth, the Goblin King – or, David Bowie in the most amazing costuming ever (and yes, those pants).
He tells her he’s done what she asked, and taken the baby.  She asks for him back, and since the Goblin King is so kind, considerate, and giving – he allows her 13 hours to solve his Labyrinth.  

If she can get to the castle at the center of the Labyrinth in 13 hours, she can have her brother – if not, the king keeps him and he becomes a goblin!

That’s about it for the plot.  Sarah has to negotiate the Labyrinth while meeting some really interesting characters.  

She has to negotiate the riddling door-knockers, helping hands, an obliet, the bog of eternal stench, the ‘cleaners’, phony warnings, Jareth’s glass ball twirling nonsense (incidentally, I was a little crushed to find out that’s not really Bowie twirling the glass balls – they hired a guy for that!), and a rotten peach to make her forget what she was there for in the first place!  Not to mention the super amazing fancy rock formations - that look like Bowie!

In the end, she realizes her own power, that she does need help from her friends, and the fact that it’s better to care more about others than yourself. 

Personally, I have to give Sarah credit - I'm not sure I would have been able to resist Jareth - especially after the ballroom sequence..that gown!  that song!  His outfit!  

The movie is filled with awesome visuals, awesome Muppets, awesome characters, awesome songs, and awesome costumes.  The movie is just straight up awesome.  It even has eyeball moss.  EYEBALL MOSS!

David Bowie’s performance as Jareth is legendary.  He also wrote the score/soundtrack for this, and it was one of the first soundtracks I owned.  I’m pretty sure I still have the cassette tape somewhere.  Bowie saunters through the movie equally seducing and terrifying Sarah while looking completely comfortable dancing and singing with insane puppets. He’s amazing, and the best reason to love this movie.

Jennifer Connelly – the future Mrs. Paul Bettany – plays Sarah, and rounds out the two humans in the movie.  She actually does a great job being really annoying in the beginning.  But then, as she works her way through the maze, she shifts to realizing how important her brother is – more so than all her toys and ‘things’. 

The rest of the movie is fantastic Muppets, portrayed by all the classic Muppet performers:
Shari Weiser performs the inside of Hoggle, while Brian Henson provided the voice.  Hoggle is a … well, I’m not sure what Hoggle is – a little dwarf-type troll thing?  He accompanies Sarah through the Labyrinth, even though he at times is secretly working for/with Jareth – sorry, spoiler alert on that!

Ron Mueck perfroms Ludo – the large, red, rock-controlling … okay, I’m not sure what Ludo is either, but hey – rocks are his friends, so it’s good to have him around!

Dave Goelz (Gonzo) performs Sir Didymus, the very brave dog knight who rides a more cowardly dog steed.  Trust me, it makes sense when you see it.

Karen Prell does the voice of the worm.  I am mentioning that because of how much I love that worm…”Come on in, meet the missus!”

This movie was one of the many outstanding 80s fantasy flicks that hold up today as remarkable fairy tales.  That also includes Legend, the Dark Crystal, Ladyhawke, the Princess Bride, Willow, and several others.  They are the perfect things to curl up with on a cold January evening – so do yourself a favor, pull out your copy of Labyrinth and sing along with the Goblin King one more time. "You remind me of the babe!"

Thank you, Mr. Bowie – you’ll be missed.
Bonus - my favorite song from the movie...