Wednesday, September 24, 2014

2014 Fall TV Preview


Once Upon A Time

Madam Secretary
The Good Wife

The Simpsons
Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Family Guy

Sunday Night Football


I like the move of Brooklyn Nine-Nine to Sundays, a quality show hammocked between two ratings-getters. ABC and CBS have some nice counter-programming offerings for those who don't watch football or just watched six hours and could watch something else.

Do people still watch live TV that isn't a sporting event or awards show?

New Shows:

MADAM SECRETARY - Tea Leoni gets to play the Secretary of State, the powerful Cabinet post more often held by women than men as of late. It's getting good reviews and it has a plumb spot between Emmy magnets 60 Minutes and The Good Wife. Co-stars Tim Daly, Zeljko Ivanec and Bebe Neuwirth.

MULANEY - Comedian John Mulaney tries the Seinfeld thing, playing a thinly-veiled version of himself, with wacky co-stars like Martin Short, Nasim Pedrad and Elliott Gould. My prediction is it loses too big a percentage of the Family Guy audience and doesn't get a season 2.


Dancing with the Stars

The Big Bang Theory
NCIS: Los Angeles

Sleepy Hollow

The Voice
The Blacklist
State of Affairs

The Originals
Jane the Virgin


Big Bang Theory moves back to Mondays to reanchor things there. Interesting that BBT and Mom are the only CBS sitcoms on the schedule in September, but 2 Broke Girls, The Millers, and Mike & Molly will premiere down the road, as will new show The McCarthys.

Gotham has its work cut out for it, but then, no one thought Sleepy Hollow could succeed here last year.

New Shows:

SCORPION - Based on the life of Walter O'Brien, the child genius who hacked into NASA and grew up to help the FBI catch the Boston bombers, this series features a rag-tag group of prodigies and whiz-kids whose brains solve crimes that regular agents can't figure out. Robert Patrick presides as their handler. Decent premise.

GOTHAM - This Batman prequel has set itself up for the long-haul, since Bruce Wayne's a young boy. Ben McKenzie (The O.C.) stars as Jim Gordon, young detective working with the more corrupt Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue). The show promises to show Gotham City's slow descent into madness and villainy that eventually requires a Caped Crusader to come clean things up, and in the first season we see younger versions of the people who will eventually become the Penguin, the Riddler, Catwoman and Poison Ivy.

STATE OF AFFAIRS - Katherine Heigl returns to TV as a CIA analyst for the first female US president (Alfre Woodard). I hear it's a watered-down version of Homeland and that it's terrible.

JANE THE VIRGIN - Based on a Venezuelan hit, this is about a young woman accidentally inseminated during an ob-gyn check-up. Hijinks ensue.  It'll be a hit (by CW standards).


Manhattan Love Story
Marvel's Agents of SHIELD

NCIS: New Orleans
Person of Interest

New Girl
The Mindy Project

The Voice (results)
Marry Me
About A Boy
Chicago Fire

The Flash


More new shows are debuting on Tuesday than any other night, so everything's up in the air. I think CBS will continue to rule the total viwers, while 18-49 demo is anyone's game.

New Shows:

SELFIE - Karen Gillan and John Cho come together for this My Fair Lady-like update. (Her name is Eliza Dooley and his name is Henry, if the plot's not obvious enough.) Henry tries to help Eliza remake herself and rebrand her image. I like Gillan, but not sure about the premise.

MANHATTAN LOVE STORY - Boy meets girl, audience hears everything boy and girl are thinking. Sounds like it'd get old really fast.

FOREVER - Ioan Gruffudd (Fantastic Four) plays a detective who happens to be 200-years-old and cannot die.

NCIS: NEW ORLEANS - Guaranteed hit. Scott Bakula's the lead, and the most dependable franchise on TV until Walking Dead: West Coast debuts.

UTOPIA - Reality show with a cross-section of people building their own civilization. Ratings are already low. This experiment won't get a second season.

MARRY ME - Casey Wilson (Happy Endings) and Ken Marino (Party Down) do the Mike & Molly thing.

THE FLASH - Based on the DC hero.


The Middle
The Goldbergs
Modern Family

Criminal Minds

Hell's Kitchen
Red Band Society

The Mysteries of Laura
Law & Order: SVU
Chicago P.D.

The 100


I think Survivor will appreciate the lack of good competition.

New Shows:

BLACK-ISH - Anthony Anderson, king of the one-season series, gets another chance as the head of an affluent African-American family who's worried the rest of his clan aren't in touch enough with their roots. It gets the coveted post-Modern Family slot, but that doesn't always guarantee ratings.

STALKER - Dylan McDermott would like us to forget Hostages and focus onthis new series, about stalkers and the police who try to stop them before they do something really dangerous. Maggie Q (Nikita) co-stars. I don't have much faith in it, but maybe Criminal Minds fans will give it a shot.

THE MYSTERIES OF LAURA - Debra Messing (Will & Grace) balances motherhood and her job as a police detective, and reviews have been atrocious.


Grey's Anatomy
How to Get Away with Murder

Thursday Night Football


The Biggest Loser
Bad Judge
A to Z

The Vampire Diaries


Football will rule, but then what? Either Big Bang moves back here, or CBS puts some of its other sitcoms that are on hold here. (Mike & Molly, 2 Broke Girls, the new McCarthys etc.) I like ABC's lineup as the most solid counter-programming.

New Shows:

HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER - Viola Davis (The Help) is a criminalogy professor, where she and her students get involved in a murder mystery. Sounds like the perfect soapy whodunit show to follow Scandal.

GRACEPOINT - This remake of Broadchurch makes David Tennant use an American accent, and it's supposed to follow the UK version closely, although producers have hinted that the killer is going to be someone different. Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad) co-stars.

BAD JUDGE - Bad Teacher flopped so now they're trying Bad Judge. Kate Walsh (Fargo) stars.

A TO Z - Rom-com.


Last Man Standing
Shark Tank

The Amazing Race
Hawaii Five-0
Blue Bloods

MasterChef Junior
Gotham (reruns)

Dateline NBC

New Shows:

CRISTELA - Sitcom centered around a Latino family. It follows Tim Allen's Last Man Standing, and how many people are aware that's still on the air? Or that it ever happened?

CONSTANTINE - Based on the comic book (you might remember a Keanu Reeves movie). It should do a little better than Dracula, but not much.

Last year, there were 25 new shows. 10 of them are back for a second season.
This year, there are 23 new shows. I'm going to say 9 of them get a season two. (Gotham, Jane the Virgin, The Flash, Madame Secretary, Cristela, Gracepoint, How to Get Away with Murder, Red Band Society, NCIS: New Orleans).

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Maleficent - Movie Review

My review at FlickSided.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 - Movie Review

My review from FlickSided.

Neighbors - Movie Review

My review at Flicksided.

Godzilla - Movie Review

Starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elisabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston, Sally Hawkins, Juliette Binoche, David Straithairn, Richard T. Jones and Victor Rasuk.
Directed by Gareth Edwards.


Tone is an important element in a movie that introduces fantastical elements. This film wisely eschews the campy dumb fun the 1998 movie tried to have and plays it straight and serious. I liked that, and if anything it would have helped this movie to have a moment or two of levity.

Normally I wouldn't mind that it takes a while for Godzilla to show up. It gives us a chance to get to know the human characters and raise the stakes when people start dying and cities start getting destroyed. Unfortunately I didn't care about most of the characters.

The marketing campaign makes it look like Bryan Cranston is going to be one of the central characters, so I don't think I'm giving away too much by saying the movies should have focussed more on him and less on his soldier son played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Anna Karenina, Kick-Ass).  Johnson's a blank slate, and it just felt like another big-budget action movie putting Generic Young Guy as the hero. Was Taylor Kitsch too busy?

I know. You don't go to a Godzilla movie for good acting. But you do hope it'll be there.

You also go to a Godzilla movie for thrilling visuals, and on that front, the movie delivers. I felt that little-kid surge of excitement when halfway through the movie, we see that first sign of a giant monster on the loose. ("Mayhem's about to start!")  Godzilla isn't in the movie as much as you'd think, but I liked his design, I liked the effects, I just liked the character. If a sequel is greenlit, I'll be excited for him to return, even if (or especially if) a whole different cast is assembled to watch stuff get smashed.

Don't get me wrong. All of these actors have been excellent in something else, but Watanabe spends the whole movie slack-jawed, Straithairn carries the air of authority while the script makes him a woefully inept leader, and Olsen is there to be the wife that Taylor-Johnson calls from time to time.

It's much better than the 1998 film. The ride of the second half is quite fun.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Rio 2 - Movie Review

My FlickSided review.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier - Movie Review

Starring Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Hayley Atwell and Toby Jones.
Directed by Joe & Anthony Russo.
I'm continually impressed with the Marvel universe and how they're able to get it right, at least for those characters owned by Disney. I long for the Spider-Man and X-Men rights to eventually join their comrades under one studio banner. Even then, most of those movies were good too.
I'm particularly enjoying what they're doing with Captain America. He's a potentially boring goody two-shoes character, but thanks to Chris Evans and the writers, they're getting him exactly right. They are managing to pull off what Superman hasn't been able to do since Christopher Reeve's heyday.
Cap is still in present day, and the after-effects of The Avengers still ripples through his story. He's getting more and more concerned with Nick Fury and SHIELD, and how they operate. SHIELD has unlimited resources and weapons to battle terrorism, but are they getting too big?
He uncovers a conspiracy within SHIELD, but that makes him a fugitive from them. He gets some help from Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and new friend the Falcon (Anthony Mackie), but he also has to face a new enemy - the Winter Soldier, who looks like he went through the same transformation Steve Rogers did.
You veteran-actor villain is Sen. Alexander Pierce, played by Robert Redford. He was actually the weakest part of the movie, and if Redford's the weakest part of your movie, you're doing something right.
Disney's positioned Captain America 3 to open the first weekend of May in 2016, opposite Batman v. Superman. One of them has to blink, but based the reception of Man of Steel, and the fact that Zack Snyder's directing again, I think the DC crew should be the ones who find a new date.

Inside Llewyn Davis - DVD Review

Starring Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, F. Murray Abraham, Adam Driver, Ethan Phillips, Robin Bartlett and Max Casella.
Directed by Joel & Ethan Coen.


The Coen brothers can go big or small, farcical or serious, Oscar-winning or Ladykillers, but every movie they've made has had that distinct Coen flavor, one of my favorites. This one reminded me most of A Serious Man.

Oscar Isaac plays Llewyn Davis, a folk singer in the early 60's who keeps barely missing success. He's not really a nice man or a sympathetic man. Whatever talent he has can't seem to overcome his ego. It has an addicting soundtrack. There was a lot to admire about the movie, I respect the movie, I could recommend it to others, but I can't say I liked it. Most Coen flicks I can watch every few years and be happy. (Arizona, Miller's, Fargo, O Brother, No Country, etc.) But this one won't enter that eschelon.

It's most notable now for containing two future cast-members of Star Wars Episode VII.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Summer 2014 Box-Office Predictions

This summer will be a test on how many superheroes one season can handle. (First posted this here.)

1. HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 (6/13) - $310 million - The sequel to one of DreamWorks Animation's best movies should be the runaway hit of summer. It's also the only major animated release, as Disney moved its live-action Maleficent to summer after The Good Dinosaur was delayed.

2. X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (5/23) - $285 million - Marvel's all the rage, and the chance to see Hugh Jackman walk between the old and new generations looks irresistible. Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Fassbender have since had their stars shine brighter.

3. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (5/2) - $275 million - I don't think this will be the unstoppable juggernaut Iron Man 3 was in this slot last year. Early word's been mostly positive, but it looks awfully crowded with three villains.

4. TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION (6/27) - $250 million - Out: Shia LaBeouf. In: Mark Wahlberg. Wise choice by Michael Bay.

5. GODZILLA (5/16) - $220 million - This reboot looks like it takes it seriously, and it's in prime release position to make a big splash upon arrival.

6. DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (7/11) - $205 million - The quality looks like it'll still be there, and Caesar (Andy Serkis) is still the main character. This is a good thing.

7. MALEFICENT (5/30) - $195 million - These reboot/reimaginings have been fairly successful, and I don't think this'll be much different.

8. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (8/1) - $180 million - Really hope the movie is as fun as the trailer hints. It's the biggest gamble Marvel's taken since the original Iron Man.

9. 22 JUMP STREET (6/13) - $145 million - Two-time Academy-Award nominee Jonah Hill lets Channing Tatum tag along for another go-around. If they can just be as funny as the first one, then this should be a hit.

10. TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (8/8) - $135 million - I think this'll be the last blockbuster opening of summer, and then it'll coast while lesser titles open throughout the month.

11. HERCULES (7/25) - $130 million - I could just as easily see this bombing, but it does have the slot where The Wolverine found success last year.

12. NEIGHBORS (5/9) - $128 million - The Seth Rogen/Zac Efron banter looks funny, and early word-of-mouth has been positive.

13. TAMMY (7/2) - $115 million - Melissa McCarthy finally gets top billing after delivering hits with co-stars like Kristen Wiig, Sandra Bullock and Jason Bateman. Susan Sarandon's been aged up to play her grandmother. I'm going to assume marketing doesn't screw this up.

14. A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST (5/30) - $105 million - Ted was a big hit, but now let's see if people can stand Seth MacFarland's face for a whole movie. It helps that he's recruited actors like Charlize Theron and Liam Neeson to be around.

15. THINK LIKE A MAN TOO (6/20) - $100 million - Kevin Hart is now a star, so he should boost this ensemble comedy.

16. EDGE OF TOMORROW (6/6) - $95 million - Tom Cruise's star is fading, and the final trailer didn't quite have that hook that will launch it to a smash, but it's really made more for the overseas audiences.

17. GET ON UP (8/1) - $90 million - Chadwick Boseman (42) in another bio-pic, this one of music icon James Brown, and I think this'll be the long-legged success story of August.

18. THE FAULT IN OUR STARS (6/6) - $85 million - Based on the best-selling book, buzz seems to be growing for this as it gets closer. It'll be a test if Shailene Woodley can parlay her Divergent success into legitimate stardom.

19. BLENDED (8/15) - $84 million - Adam Sandler made Grown Ups 2 a hit, so as long as it's not rated R (looking at you, That's My Boy), it'll crack the top 20 of summer, even if it sucks.

20. JUPITER ASCENDING (7/18) - $82 million - I love the risks the Wachowskis took with Cloud Atlas, but it bombed. Here comes another wholly original-looking tale, but I don't know how much of a chance audiences are willing to give it. Channing Tatum's been made up to look like Dominic Monaghan, so this could be a John Carter-sized bomb.

The next ten, probably in the $50-$80 million range:

LUCY (8/8)
THE GIVER (8/15)

Other wide releases:

SEX TAPE (7/25)
LET'S BE COPS (8/15)
IF I STAY (8/22)
THE LOFT (8/29)

Notable limited releases:

BELLE (5/2)
CHEF (5/9)
LULLABY (6/13)
THE ROVER (6/13)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Noah - Movie Review

Starring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Anthony Hopkins, Ray Winstone, Logan Lerman and Douglas Booth. Directed by Darren Aronofsky.


My first impressions were what they were, but I was inspired to do a little more research into the story of Noah. I've always known the Bible's version, but I also read the Torah and Midrash, which has subtle differences and theories.

Noah is a hybrid tale. It has some adventure and some thrills and some psychosexual drama that you'd expect from the director of Black Swan.

Did he take artistic liberties? Sure. Which ones are the most egregious?

I don't have a problem with the rock monsters. The Bible refers to "giants" walking the land in those days, and the Torah and Midrash refer to the Nephilim - fallen angels - and combine these two, so sure, now the Nephilim are giants, encased in rock bodies unable to return to heaven. I'll give it that.

I don't have a problem with Noah's environmentalism, which he takes a weird extreme. But I can also see why there would be confusion. In this story, mankind's only been on the Earth a handful of generations, and after the fall of Adam and Eve, and the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, man's figuring out how to make it on his own in this dreary world. Noah still sees tending the Earth, respecting the plants and animals, as part of his righteous duty.

God (almost always referred to as The Creator here) doesn't speak to Noah so much as send him visions. Noah then interprets these visions as to what he must do. And the visions aren't vague. Noah sees the evil of mankind in the way they... eat animals and mine for minerals.  (Not so much the robbery, rape and murder.) In this respect, the Creator/Noah motives reminded me too much of Keanu Reeves in that lame Day the Earth Stood Still remake.

I didn't even mind the villainous Tubal-cain secretly stowing away on the ark.

My biggest problem was Noah's insistance that Ham and Japeth don't get wives. The Bible's pretty clear that all three sons had wives. When the rains started coming, and only Shem has a wife, and Noah's not collecting any women for his other two sons... um, wait a minute. It's a pretty big part of the story that Earth was populated through the generations of Noah's three sons.

Noah believes part of The Creator's plan is for mankind to go extinct. He thinks the Creator called him to save the plants and animals, and then he, his wife, Shem and his wife, and Ham and Japeth will be the last humans on Earth.

Now in the Midrash it says that Noah and his sons entered separately from Noah's wife and his sons' wives, and there's a theory that the animals were separated by gender, and there was therefore no sex by anyone/anything on the ark until after the flood.

In the end, the very very end, Noah does the right thing, and it's implied the Earth will get repopulated when Shem's daughters are old enough for Ham and Japeth to marry, but that whole second half of the movie, I just couldn't get past that change.  Rock monsters? Fine. Stowaway? Fine. Noah wants to make mankind go extinct? No.

Side-notes of praise: The entire flood sequence was great. Aronofsky has proven he can handle a budget. And the acting is great. Crowe, Connelly, Watson, Hopkins, Winstone, even Lerman as Ham. Poor lonely horny Ham.

Monday, March 31, 2014

My Flicksided Updates

Walking Dead's Norman Reedus has joined the cast of Triple Nine, the new movie from John Hillcoat, who also directed the post-apocalyptic drama The Road. I'm saying Reedus and Hillcoat will have notes to compare.

My weekend box-office report is here.

My review of Sabotage is here.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Mr. Peabody & Sherman - Movie Review

Starring the voices of Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Ariel Winter, Stephen Colbert, Leslie Mann, Stanley Tucci, Allison Janney and Patrick Warburton.
Directed by Rob Minkoff.


I watched Rocky & Bullwinkle as a kid, so I remember the other Jay Ward characters that would parade through - Dudley Do-Right, Commander McBragg, Aesop & Son, and of course Mr. Peabody & Sherman.

This update didn't quite hit the mark for me. For one thing, there was a distracting amount of potty humor. When your main character is a very intelligent dog with a weakness for puns, it just seems like potty humor would be beneath him. But this is DreamWorks, and because Shrek was a hit, I guess they figure they have to have potty humor in everything. In fact, the poster's slogan is "He's leaving his mark on history." How do dogs mark things? See what I mean?

Also, as someone who's about to adopt kids, it gives an alarming protrayal of just how easily kids can be ripped from their home. When Sherman gets in trouble at school, a social worker who is a cross between Dolores Umbridge and the Queen of Hearts arrives, ready to find the slightest excuse to yank him away from Peabody.

The animation is quality, and it's not the worst movie from DreamWorks Animation, but there's a reason they don't have the reputation of Pixar to be consistently good.

The Good Wife - TV Review

Sometimes a show will advertise something shocking will happen. I get numb to those ads. I'm glad I do. For instance, the season 4 finale of Dexter they kept advertising something shocking at the end, so well before it happened, I could guess what it was. (Still impactful, but I wish I didn't have that pounded in my head leading up to it.)  This episode, I'd seen a couple ads mention but I didn't really anticipate just how shocking the event would be that happens. Not only did I not see it coming, but it's one of those twists that will send reverberations through the rest of the series run, in a way bigger than when Alicia and Cary decided to leave Lockhart/Gardner and start their own firm.

The series kept its track record alive for the Best Guest Stars on television. It never feels stunty, and you know no matter how big or small the name, they'll fit right into this universe. Not only are we treated to Eric Bogosian in a recurring role as an investigator trying to nail Gov. Peter Florick for election fraud, but this week we got Matthew Goode (Watchmen, Stoker) as the prosecutor combatting against Will Gardner.

Part of the genius of The Good Wife is that each episode has ongoing plotlines, but there's also usually a case-of-the-week that tends to get introduced and wrap up. Occasionally that case-of-the-week by come back, but by and large, they're contained.

What keeps me hooked on The Good Wife is the ongoing stories. I am well past being able to watch a show where every episode is self-contained.

Top 10 Worst Written Female Characters in Film History

This doesn't necessarily mean worst acted. Sofia Coppola was terrible in The Godfather Part III, for example, but had the original actress - Winona Ryder - not dropped out, that part wouldn't seem so bad. Some very good actresses made the list (in fact four of them are Oscar winners), but their characters deserve dubious distinction.

*Dishonorable mentions to half the female parts from the Twilight Saga and any movie that starred Elvis Presley or Freddie Prinze Jr.

*Also, Demi Moore's Hester from THE SCARLET LETTER. Completely changed the ending and therefore the point of the story.

10. Bronte (Andie MacDowell), GREEN CARD - An uptight woman really, really wants her greenhouse. And at the last second, for no reason, she says "I don't care about the greenhouse" because she's fallen for the cave troll played by Gerard Depardieu. Probably the least convincing "okay they really love each other" moment in rom-com history.

9. Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet/Gloria Stuart), TITANIC - Kate's a great actress. She and Leo and most of the rest of the cast really had to work to make James Cameron's one-dimensional characters come to life. Rose is a spoiled rich girl engaged to a cartoon villain, but she falls for the lower-class dude on the ship. All of that's fine. But when the ship starts sinking, does she stay on her lifeboat? No! She gets back on the sinking ship. If she'd stayed in her lifeboat, Jack would've been alone on the driftwood and would have lived! Then eighty-five years later, old Rose reveals to the audience that she had this giant expensive jewel in her possession which could have made her kids' and grandkids' lives easier, but instead she just throws it in the ocean. Boooo!

8. Lucy (Emily Browning), SLEEPING BEAUTY - Nothing much to a character who makes her living by taking knockout drugs and letting creepy rich men do whatever they want to her body while she's out cold.

7. Mrs. Cooper (Mercedes Reuhl), LEADER OF THE BAND - This was a "star" vehicle for Barney Miller's Steve Landesberg, and all there was to Reuhl's character is that she had extreme lust for him the second she laid eyes on him.

6. Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth), SUPERMAN RETURNS - They destroyed Lois by making her a mopey single mom who acts like a corporate lawyer at work.

5. Jennifer (Camille Keaton), I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE - The ultimate exploitation film (which inexplicably got a remake) about a woman who gets raped by a group of young men, and then raped again, and then again, and then it tries to redeem itself by her getting bloody revenge at the end.

4. Abby (Katherine Heigl), THE UGLY TRUTH - Maybe Heigl thought she was going to get some Apatow karma in this "farce" on romance. In truth, no actress could have made this work, paired opposite a chauvanistic Gerard Butler making her go through a series of humiliating romantic "tests."

3. Amidala/Padme (Natalie Portman), STAR WARS I-III - So let me get this straight. She lives in a society where they elect 14-year-olds to be queen, and those queens have actual power. Ah, but when her term is up, she later gets elected to the more responsible role of senator, but she's too busy going on picnics to fulfill most of her duties, so she lets the single stupidest creature in the galaxy vote on her behalf. Then when she gives birth to her twins, instead of having mama-bear maternal instinct kick in, she dies "of a broken heart."

2. Kate (Eva Longoria), OVER HER DEAD BODY - A woman dies on her wedding day before she can actually exchange vows. She follows her mopey fiance Henry around until he consults a medium named Ashley. Ashley is a fraud, except she can actually see and hear Kate. Ah, but when Ashley starts to fall for Henry, Kate does whatever she can to sabotage it. Like making giant fart noises. She has no curiosity about anything else in the universe or eternity, and no actress on Earth could have saved it.

1. Miranda Hillard (Sally Field), MRS. DOUBTFIRE - This movie needed a situation where a loving father resorts to a drag disguise to be near his kids, but in order to set that up, that had to split up the parents. Robin Williams' Daniel Hillard is obviously a loving father; maybe he could make safer career choices, but his shrewish wife decides she wants a divorce after Daniel throws a party that's too big. She isn't exactly honest in court at the beginning, but then at the end, she lets the judge get everything wrong when he decides Daniel only gets supervised visitation. This movie had its laughs but it was a terrible message to kids. Divorce is really, really easy, and it's all Mom's fault.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Divergent wins box-office weekend

After the flops of Beautiful Creatures, The Mortal Instruments, and Vampire Academy, it looked like Hollywood was having a tough time finding the next YA franchise in the wake of Twilight and The Hunger Games. The next hit is here in Divergent. Based on the first book in a trilogy by Veronica Roth, it's about a dystopian future where citizens must choose a faction to side with, and Shailene Woodley (The Descendents, The Spectacular Now) is the young women who doesn't quite fit in with any, making her a Divergent.  I wonder if the makers of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 are going to quickly find a way to edit her as Mary Jane Watson back into their movie. Maybe a cameo? (She'll be prominent in Spidey 3.)

Muppets Most Wanted wasn't a flop, but you couldn't call it a hit either. Modest budgets are the way to proceed with this group.

The indie film God's Not Dead struck a chord with viewers of faith. Maybe Hollywood's going to be warmer to the idea of main characters having religion (and maybe get bigger stars than Kevin Sorbo and Dean Cain to play them). The big budgets given to Darren Aronofksy's Noah (opening Friday) and Ridley Scott's Exodus (opening in December) are a good sign they already have. (Let's see what the Wachowskis or Mel Gibson would do with Joseph in Egypt. Who's with me?)

Mr. Peabody & Sherman has made $100 million overseas, and Fox will need that overseas money to make a profit, as the domestic well looks like it'll be drying soon.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is still a juggernaut on the small screen. Veronica Mars fell 75% in its second week. Fans of the cult show saw the movie, and no one else.  Bad Words, the directorial debut of Jason Bateman, is losing momentum and probably won't open as wide as intended a couple weeks ago.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Much Ado About Nothing - DVD Review

Starring Amy Acker, Alex Denisof, Clark Gregg, Reed Diamond, Nathan Fillion, Fran Kranz, Sean Maher and Spencer Treat Clark.
Directed by Joss Whedon.


This was filmed over 12 days at Whedon's house. He's gathered his friends from his TV shows and turned Shakespeare's play into one long dinner party.  The performances are light and fun, and while it won't make you forget Kenneth Branagh's version anytime soon, it has its own rewards.

My central issue with it was giving the role of Benedick to Denisof. He speeds through his lines without much thought, leaving him an unworthy verbal sparring partner for Amy Acker's cynical Beatrice. But Reed Diamond's light on his toes and with his tongue as Don Pedro, Sean Maher outglowers Keanu Reeves as Don John, and Nathan Fillion steals the show as the constable Dogberry.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

After Earth - DVD Review

Starring Jaden Smith and Will Smith.
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan.


M. Night Shyamalan has had a baffling career. If we pretend The Sixth Sense was his debut, then every movie he's made has been a little bit worse than the one before, until we get to the twin terribles of The Happening and The Last Airbender. While The Happening was silly, and The Last Airbender derivative, After Earth is just dull.  There's no sense of wonder involved. It feels more like Obstacle #3 before you can meet Lord Xenu.

Will & Jaden Smith play father and son Cypher and Kitai Rage, the former being a world-famous ranger, the younger living in his shadow. They are sent on a mission to Earth, a planet humans abandoned 1000 years ago. Their ship crashes, and Cypher's legs are broken, so Kitai must travel from point A to point B to retrieve a beacon so they can be rescued.

Some animals have evolved over those thousand years. They're more predatory. Most of the movie is Jaden Smith running through the jungle avoiding such animals. It made me think of the superior jungle scenes in Avatar or Apocalypto, movies made by much better directors than Shyamalan.

The film's central theme is about overcoming fear. Danger is real but fear is a choice. It leads to a fairly anticlimactic conclusion.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Walking Dead - "The Grove" - TV Review

Some of the one-plot episodes work better than others, and this is one of the ones that worked better than others. We have six different satellite groups now. There's the Grimes group of Rick, Carl and Michonne; the Maggie group of Maggie, Sasha and Bob; the Glenn group of Glenn, Tara and the Abraham 3; Daryl & the Bad Guys; Beth in the trunk of a car; and the Carol Bunch, with Carol, Tyreese, and three little girls.

This episode was 100% dedicated to the Carol Bunch, with the omipresent tension of "Will Tyreese find out that Carol killed Karen?" But we're further off-kilter by Lizzie. We know she likes to kill varmints and rodents, and we know she likes to treat walkers like pets, but we also know she almost suffocated baby Judith, so even though everyone knows she's a little off, they don't realize just how off she is.

Carol's concerned the girls are still too soft, especially Mika. She knows Lizzie has something killer about her, but she's trying to make sure they're equipped to survive. (Such a mournfully good performance by Melissa McBride this week as Carol.)  When they find a house with a propane tank and a deep well, they decide to stay for a while. Tyreese sits back in a chair in a living room for the first time in forever, and you can see the relief on his face, the pocket of normalcy they allow themselves.

But all can't stay well, and Lizzie decides to prove a point with Carol by killing Mika, to show that she'll turn into a walker but it'll still be her. Carol and Tyreese see the hard-wiring in Lizzie is beyond fixing, and they do the only thing they can do in that situation. #OfMiceAndMen

Once that nasty deed is done, Carol gives Tyreese a gun and then confesses, ending with "Do what you gotta do." Tyreese goes through the avalanche of emotions, and it's mostly through Chad Coleman's face and body language, but he comes to a believable conclusion. He forgives her, and the three of them abandon the house and get back on the road to Terminus.

(Those who've read the comics figured this time would come, though in the comics, it's two boys, and a younger Carl is the one who steps up and kills the "Lizzie" boy.)

Only two episodes left. Are any of these groups going to converge? Are we going to find out what happened to Beth?

300: Rise of an Empire - Movie Review

Starring Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey, Rodrigo Santoro, Hans Matheson, David Wenham and Callan Mulvey.
Directed by Noam Murro.


This is a prequel and sequel all in one. In fact the majority of the action takes place during the same time as the events in the first 300 movie. We get a couple shots of Gerard Butler's face but otherwise the movie dances around not having their main star from Part 1.

Part 2 revolves around Themistocles, an Athenian who wants to unite Greece against the Persian invasion. He's played by Sullivan Stapleton, an Australian actor best known (if he's known at all) as one of the leads on Cinemax's series Strike Back. He doesn't have the same wattage as Butler.

Rodrigo Santoro is back as the 8-foot-tall god-king Xerxes, but since he has to be gone most of this movie dealing with the events of the other one, his army is led by Artemisia, played with unbridled gusto by Eva Green (Dark Shadows). Indeed, this movie would have been much harder to sit through if it wasn't for her.

The "story" is slimmer this time around, the gore just as splashy and cartoonish, the substance is at zero. There are a couple points where Themistocles gives a troops-rousing speech and I felt a little embarrassed. How many troops-rousing speeches have been committed to film over the years? Hundreds, and most of them were better than these.

I hope the eventual 300: Fall of an Empire is a musical.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Last Vegas - DVD Review

Starring Michael Douglas, Robert DeNiro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline, Mary Steenbergen, Romany Malco, Jerry Ferrara, Roger Bart, Joanna Gleason and Michael Ealy.
Directed by Jon Turteltaub.


A movie with this cast would have been the must-see movie of 1989. Nowadays we know what we're going to get. Its humor is broad and safe. It reminded me of when Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas had their one last hurrah in 1986's Tough Guys. Nothing too demanding, and a lot of that may be because Hollywood has no idea how to write good parts for older people unless it involves dying.

So these four Academy-Award winners play four old friends who reunite for a bachelor party when the one of them who's never been married is finally getting married. Douglas is the lifelong playboy marrying a woman half his age; DeNiro is the widower who's closed himself off from life; Freeman's the bored grandpa who's tired of taking it easy after his stroke; and Kline is the persnickety one whose wife tells him he can have a freebie if he wants (as long as he doesn't tell her about it.)

So they party, they get drunk, they each have their epiphany, and we probably would have been more entertained listening to the four of them swap movie-making stories for two hours.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

300 is #1, Mr. Peabody is #2 at Box Office

300: Rise of an Empire came seven years later, without the original star (Gerard Butler) or director (Zack Snyder), and while it didn't open at near the level of its predecessor, Warner Bros. has to be thrilled with a $45 million domestic opening. In fact, its worldwide gross is already at $132 million.

DreamWorks Animation partnered with Fox to distribute Mr. Peabody & Sherman. It was a risky venture, taking a 50-year-old cartoon. It wasn't even its own cartoon; it was part of the Rocky & Bullwinkle Show. I'm surprised the budget went as high as $145 million on it, but like 300, it should do well overseas.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

300: Rise of an Empire #1 on Friday

I have TornBySports and TaxiSquadShow for my sports stuff, UtahPoliticoHub for my political stuff, and now I have FlickSided where I'll be putting some of my movie stuff.

300: Rise of an Empire was #1 this weekend. I expect that even though Mr. Peabody will get a big Saturday boost, it won't  be enough to take the #1 spot away from 300, which showed wisdom beyonds its years moving from Summer 2013 to this weekend.

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Good Day to Die Hard - DVD Review

Starring Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Cole Hauser.
Directed by John Moore.

The script is so bad, I'm surprised no one ever yells, "Look's like today's a good day to die hard!" before chomping a cigar and giving a thumbs-up to the camera.

The directing is so bad, there isn't a single interesting action sequence. It's all buried in this dark-blue sheen that John Moore (Max Payne) seems to relish.

There is no chemistry between Bruce Willis and Jai Courtney as father and son.

I could go on. Don't mind if I do.

John McClane is going on vacation to visit his estranged son. Turns out his son is a spy and is in the middle of staging a prison-break with a high-profile political prisoner. McClane takes it in stride, stealing a truck and crashing through traffic, trying to talk to his kid. "Hey! What's going on!"

This isn't a Die Hard movie.  This is a generic, brainless, action superhero movie where the bad guys can't shoot but the good guys can. This might as well have starred Dolph Lundgren.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

House of Cards Season 2 - Netflix Review

With Breaking Bad out of the way, it may be time for Kevin Spacey to get an Emmy for his role as the conniving Vice-President Francis Underwood.  I watched all of season 2, and it's darker and sudsier than season 1. We knew Frank was evil last season when he murdered his "friend" Peter Russo, but in the first episode of season 2, we see just how far his evil will go.  We also know his wife (Robin Wright) is Lady Macbeth, and in season 2, we see just how hand-in-hand she is with Frank's schemes. They're a model marriage. They tell each other everything.

Stand-outs this year include Molly Parker as an Iraq War vet and the new Majority Whip of the House, Jimmi Simpson as a hacker caught in his own web, and Gerald McRaney as the increasingly dangerous billionaire Raymond Tusk who always has the President's ear. And while Underwood is evil, I can see why he's so admired in Washington in a guilty pleasure way.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug - Movie Review

Starring Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Evangeline Lilly, James Nesbitt, Aidan Turner, Lee Pace, Orlando Bloom, Ken Stott, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, Jed Brophy and Benedict Cumberbatch.
Directed by Peter Jackson.


Caught this at the discount theater.

This trilogy, even though it has the same budget and running time, feels like Lord of the Rings Lite. And it is. The Hobbit was a one-volume kids book, and now it's been blown up into an eight-hour three-movie event. And while the sets are as daunting, the battles as decapitating, and the special-effects as all-consuming, it's still just an excuse to hang out in Middle Earth for another round. Fine by me.

When we last left Bilbo, Gandalf, Thorin and twelve other dwarves we can't tell apart (I wish I'd reviewed this slideshow before going in) had flown on giant eagles to a safe spot away from the orc army but still a few days' journey away from the Lonely Mountain. The orc army catches up rather quickly, so they have to make haste and go through a haunted forest. Now Gandalf gets some news, so he says he has to leave them for a time, but he'll meet them at the Mountain.

Why the dwarves couldn't just stick with Gandalf? It apparently would take the same amount of time. No matter. They make their way through the wood and encounter giant spiders, and the adventure continues from there.  Now somewhere in there the dwarves come across two Elves - Legolas (Orlando Bloom, coming full circle) and an actual female named Tauriel (Lost's Evangeline Lilly), and there's actually some flirting between her and the cutest dwarf Kili (i.e. the one with the least amount of makeup).

The third act was my favorite part, when we finally meet Smaug the dragon (voiced with delicious villainy by Benedict Cumberbatch). (Hey, I just realized the dragon and the hobbit were Sherlock and Dr. Watson talking.)

It ends about as abruptly as a 2-hour 40-minute movie can, so I imagine the third one will be about as long, fleshed out nicely. And I will see that on the big screen too. I like hanging out in Middle Earth.

Monday, March 3, 2014

DVD Roundup - All Is Lost, The Spectacular Now, The Hunt

Starring Robert Redford. Directed by J.C. Chandor.

This bare-bones tale of survival never gets dull, even with very little dialogue and only one actor. Redford could be playing himself, but in this stripped down atmosphere, he's good enough. He's a man at sea when his boat springs a leak. For the next 80 minutes, it's just him trying to survive, trying to find a way to get another boat's attention before his own sinks.


Starring Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kyle Chandler and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Directed by James Ponsoldt.

It's one of those high school movies that actually has a brain and heart behind what it's doing. It's about a popular but listless bad boy named Sutter (Miles Teller), who falls for an unconventional nice girl (Shailene Woodley) who starts to be the better influence on him than he is a bad influence on her.


THE HUNT (★★½)
Starring Mads Mikkelsen. Directed by Thomas Vinterberg.

This was a difficult movie to sit through, to the point that my wife quit watching and when I told her the rest of the movie, she said she has no regrets. This Danish film is about a good guy who volunteers at the kindergarten who is then accused of molesting one of the kids. We know right off the bat he is innocent, and so the increased tension from his home-town who start to view him as a monster... well, it's excruciating. Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale, NBC's Hannibal) is very good as the wronged man, and it seems intended to remind of the cases of the McMartins, Friedmans, or West Memphis Three, where a Salem-esque hysteria surrounded the accused. It gets a little too manipulative in this vein, but Mikkelsen saves it.

The 2013 Academy Awards - TV Review

Ellen DeGeneres brought some friendly, safe blandness back to the Oscars after last year's misogynist show with Seth MacFarlane. It wasn't that funny or exciting but it had its own pleasures.

- The actual speeches. My favorites were Lupita Nyong'o, Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, and the Lopezes.
- The Best Selfie Ever.
- In Memorium. Tastefully done.
- The running pizza gag.
- The Best Song nominees. All four were actually good songs (the fifth would have been too if the Academy didn't decide to later disqualify it.)
- Bill Murray's quick tribute to Harold Ramis.
- Pharrell getting Meryl and Amy Adams to dance.
- The surprise come-from-behind Best Picture win for 12 Years A Slave.

- Montage tributes to "animation" and "heroes." Why?
- Bette Midler's "Wing Beneath My Wings."
- Ellen walking through the crowd with comments that didn't lead anywhere.
- Not seeing more of the award ceremony that gave Oscars to Angela Lansbury, Steve Martin and Angelina Jolie. Would much rather have watched that than Midler and montages.
- John Travolta's silly hairpiece and pronouncing "Idina Menzel" as "Adele Dazim."

Looking forward to what Tina Fey & Amy Poehler do with it next year.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

2013 Academy Award Winners

BEST PICTURE - 12 Years a Slave
BEST DIRECTOR - Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
BEST ACTOR - Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
BEST ACTRESS - Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR - Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS - Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY - John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave
BEST DOCUMENTARY FILM - 20 Feet from Stardom
BEST ORIGINAL SONG - "Let It Go", Frozen
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE - Steven Price, Gravity
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT - The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life

Total Wins:
Gravity - 7
12 Years a Slave - 3
Dallas Buyers Club - 3
The Great Gatsby - 2
Frozen - 2

Saturday, March 1, 2014

My Academy Award Predictions

First and second place guesses on who I think will win.

12 Years a Slave

BEST ACTOR - Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street

BEST ACTRESS - Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Amy Adams, American Hustle

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR - Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS - Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle

BEST DIRECTOR - Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave

The Wind Rises


COSTUME DESIGN - American Hustle
The Great Gatsby

20 Feet from Stardom

Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall

Captain Phillips

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM - The Great Beauty, Italy
Omar, Palestine

The Lone Ranger

ORIGINAL SCORE - Gravity, Steven Price
Her, William Butler & Owen Pallett

"The Moon Song" from HER


Mr. Hublot

LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM - The Voorman Problem
Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything)

Lone Survivor

Inside Llewyn Davis

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY - 12 Years a Slave, John Ridley
The Wolf of Wall Street, Terence Winter

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY - American Hustle, Eric Warren Singer & David O. Russell
Her, Spike Jonze

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Walking Dead "Chained" - TV Review

It's not Carl's fault there's no one his age in the whole world.
A show's plot should always feel organic. These events lead to these events, which lead to these events... The best shows never feel like they're forcing something to happen just so they can get to this next plot point, which is the one they really believe in. Unfortunately, that happened in this episode.

We only follow two groups in this episode - the Rick & Carl show with Deadly Aunt Michonne, and then Glenn & the Newbies.  Michonne and Carl go on a supply run while Rick stays home to recouperate from his wounds. Timeline-wise, it's still only been 2-3 days since the Governor's final attack. The bonding time between Carl and his new mother figure (big sister figure?) reveals more about Michonne than we've been allowed to learn in three seasons. Back at home, though, Rick has to avoid a band of armed brothers who've picked his house - of all houses! - to poke around and take naps.

I find it interesting that Jeff Kober played the leader. We barely see him, which makes me believe his crew's going to meet up with Rick down the road.

The other storyline was the most problematic one. Abraham, Rosita and Eugene are here. Now what? It just had this lurching quality to it. Glenn wakes up. He freaks out and gets Abraham to stop the truck. Glenn and Abraham fight long enough for Eugene to grab a machine gun and shoot everything including the truck's gas tank when no one else is noticing the approaching walkers. Eugene says he knows how to fix the zombie crisis but won't give anyone the details because it's "classified." And no one presses him on this.

So their tale ends with the five of them (Tara's here too!) walking south to find Maggie and the bus, and we know that it's about 150 miles south of where they are now.

I don't know why they dyed Michael Cudlitz's hair red when his mustache is staying blond. I just hope they make better use of them in future episodes so their presence and actions don't feel so forced.

I also think from now on, as long as they're separated, I'm going to refer to each group Game of Thrones style.  Today we followed House Rick and House Glenn. Hopefully next week we'll see where House Daryl, House Tyreese, and House Maggie are doing. I like Jim Gaffigan's suggestion at changing the opening credits to show us who is where at the beginning of each episode.

Jackass Presents Bad Grandpa - DVD Review

Starring Johnny Knoxville and Jackson Nicoll.
Directed by Jeff Tremaine.


I confess I have never seen a Jackass movie. I've seen an episode or two of Johnny Knoxville and his merry crew back in their MTV days. This movie is odd because it fits a narrative around a series of stunts, so that the grandfather and grandson are actual characters.

A movie like this though lives or dies on how many laughs it can illicit, and this one just isn't that funny. In fact, the part that made me smile most was the closing credits when they show the reactions of people who learn the crazy stuff they just witnessed was part of a Johnny Knoxville movie.

The most memorable stunt is when they have a guy playing the abusive father to the grandson in a bar, surrounded by BACA - Bikers Against Child Abuse. That's when you feel the tension rise and worry for the safety of the pranksters. Most of the time though, you just see passersby act surprised at something they just saw, then move on. It's like they can sense there's a camera hidden somewhere.

But hey, it's nominated for Best Makeup this year, so I can cross another Academy-Award nominee off my list!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Lego Movie #1 again

For the weekend of February 21-23, 2014, The LEGO Movie once again reigned supreme. Neither of the new offerings tempted viewers much, but Kevin Costner's 3 Days to Kill fared a little better than the much more expensive Pompeii.  In fact, 3DTK's opening wasn't that far behind that of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit from last month.

The biggest surprise to me was how steep a drop the three date movies took in their second week. I don't think I've ever seen a week where three of the four wide releases all drop 70% in their second week. So by that measure, RoboCop has to be feeling lucky.

I'm still baffled that someone actually gave $100 million to a Paul WS Anderson movie. It doesn't matter what the material is. He has never made a movie that grossed over $100 million. He's had some that could have, if he wasn't such a bad director.  People moan about Michael Bay or Brett Ratner, but I'd take 3-5 films each from them before anything from Anderson.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The LEGO Movie - Movie Review

Starring the voices of Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, Will Arnett, Liam Neeson, Nick Offerman, Alison Brie, Charlie Day, Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill.
Directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller.


Everything is awesome about this movie on so many levels. The message, the humor, the subtext, the characters, the creativity... All of it works.

Chris Pratt, who plays the guileless Andy on NBC's Parks & Recreation, brings that same dim-bulb wonderment to the voice of Emmet, a construction worker in Legoland. Emmet is chirpy, positive, and part of a team, a team that Reads The Instructions and builds buildings. The movie has this shrewd animation style that looks like it's a combo of stop-motion and CGI (I'm guessing it's more CGI than stop-motion).

This Lego universe is run by President Business (Will Ferrell), head of the government and most coroporations. Behind closed doors, he's Lord Business! (Think Chancellor Palpatine and Darth Sidious). Lord Business is determined to control everything, and he has a doomsday device called the Kragle which will allow him to usurp freedom forever. Ah, but there's this prophecy that someone called the Special will come forth with a Piece of Resistance and stop Lord Business.

Emmet accidentally stumbles upon the Piece of Resistance, and he becomes the unwitting fulfiller of prophecy. An underground resistance movement hails him as the Special, even though he's not smart or unique in any discernible way.

This movie isn't left- or right-wing, it's probably the most centrist pro-liberty movie ever made. It celebrates community not conformity, knowing when to break out and when to be safe, respect for yourself and others, and above all, it's good to let your imagination run wild.

Part of the freedom of this movie is how much it's able to borrow from others to create something new.  Characters from Star Wars and Harry Potter pop up, and one of the main supporting characters is Batman. The evil micro-managers that serve Lord Business look and behave an awful lot like the squid-robots from The Matrix. (Micro-managers! Ha! Surprised there weren't two henchmen named Sarbanes and Oxley).

It truly is a "whole family" movie. Plenty of laughs for kids and adults. Surely the front-runner for Best Animated Film of 2014, the other candidates sight unseen.

Monday, February 17, 2014

About Last Night - Movie Review

Starring Kevin Hart, Michael Ealy, Regina Hall, Joy Bryant, Christopher McDonald, Joe La Truglio, Adam Rodriguez and Paula Patton.
Directed by Steve Pink.


I never saw the original movie with Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, James Belushi and Elizabeth Perkins. I do remember reading some of David Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago, the original play on which it's based, but that was over 20 years ago, so I still went in not knowing much more than the average ticket-buyer would.

It starts out fine, where we meet Bernie (Kevin Hart) and Danny (Michael Ealy) talking about Bernie's recent sexual conquest, and we also hear the other side from Joan (Regina Hall) telling Debbie (Joy Bryant) her side of the story. It looks like we're going to build on the he-said, she-said aspect of hook-ups. That gets abandoned as the story shifts more into the relationship between Danny and Debbie, the bland couple. Bernie and Joan become the peripheral, off-again/on-again, more entertaining couple.

I'm glad I'm not single. Is this really the order people go in nowadays?
1. Have sex.
2. Move in together.
3. Say "I love you."
4. Kids and/or marriage are still years away.

There are plenty of laughs in the movie, mostly thanks to Bernie and Joan. I wish the ups and downs of Danny and Debbie's relationship didn't feel so forced. And there's something funny going on with movies these days where they're leaving out key pieces of character development. The Monuments Men was a good example of that, and now here's this movie. About a third through, we learn Danny hates his job and wants to pursue his dream. But he never says what that dream is. We see him getting turned down at some job interviews, but we have no idea what kind of job he's applying for. What's his dream? The movie never says, as he later finds a new source of happiness.

I don't mind that I saw it, but it's probably more of a Redbox movie than a pay-full-price affair.

AMC's The Walking Dead - "Inmates" - TV Review

Spoilers ahead.

So we know Rick, Carl, and Michonne survived the prison showdown but how did everyone else do? Everyone's splintered into groups, which is just fine with me. I hope they don't find each other two quickly. I don't need a "they never see each other again" separation like the Stark kids in Game of Thrones, but it'd be cool if they stretch this out a few episodes.

Group #1 - Daryl and Beth - These are two characters who haven't interacted much, so it's interesting to see how they'll play off each other. Beth's been the younger, slightly more immature sister to Maggie, and now she's with the Coolest Man Left on the Planet, she finds she's the more optimistic one of the duo. She's still reeling from her father's death, but this is a world where everyone is constantly reeling from loved ones' deaths. A narrative choice I really liked about this one is we see them following someone else's tracks and we don't know whose they are or what exactly happened. We see rabbit carcass and smashed grapes but what do they mean? They find some walkers eating the last of some human survivors and Beth has a breakdown. Is Daryl going to harden himself up again, or will he continue to grow as he makes himself Beth's rock.  But then we jump to...

Group #2 - Tyreese, Lizzie, Mika, Judith - We have our answer. Baby Judith is alive, and somehow Tyreese is in charge of all the surviving girls. They are the ones Daryl and Beth are tracking, and we have our mystery confirmation that Lizzie was the one who was mangling the rats at the prison, as she secretly cuts up a rabbit while the others aren't looking. (Dang, that would have been some protein.) There's also a chilling moment when Tyreese runs off to help someone, and Lizzie decides to shush crying Judith by suffocating her. Fortunately some intruding walkers disrupt Lizzie's murder attempt, but no one else noticed that's what she was doing. Lizzie's going to be trouble in the near future. Like serial-killer trouble.

Tyreese comes upon the humans that we know from earlier will all die, and to help him out, Carol shows up!  Hooray for Carol, the mama figure that Lizzie and Mika need.  Tyreese doesn't know Carol had been banished by Rick, and more importantly the why (she killed Karen), so now they're in tow as father-figure, mother-figure and three girls. It's Little House on the Zombie Prairie. And for the first time, we get a glimpse of hope, as they find a map that'll take them to place called Terminus, a train station where apparently other survivors have gathered. Hopefully it's real, although it's more likely it'll wind up being another trap, another Woodbury. And one final note, their group is walking the opposite direction down the tracks as Daryl and Beth.

Group #3 - Maggie, Sasha, Bob - Beth's sister, Tyreese's sister, and... Bob... are trying to figure out what to do next. Sasha thinks they should make camp, but Maggie wants to walk after the bus that held Glenn, whether they split up doing so or not. Bob knows what happens to black people in horror movies, so they all stick together. The bus isn't that far away, and this was an ingenius way of the writers to get rid of all of the extras. Remember in the final episode of season 3, when they took in the poor, the huddled masses, the leftovers from Woodbury? Between the virus and the prison shootout, most of them are dead. The bus is how the rest of them were wiped out. The bus is full of walkers, and Maggie needs to know Glenn is one of them. He isn't, and if they got to know any of the other characters from the bus, they don't show it beyond Bob's one-word eulogy: "These were good people."

Group #4 - Glenn, Tara - Glenn, it turns out, doubled back to the prison to try to find survivors. I guess he and Michonne just missed each other.  He loads up his backpack and puts on some riot gear, but then he sees Tara, who's locked herself in a cage. I was bummed her sister Lilly, the one who actually put the bullet in the Governor's brain, got an off-screen death (or maybe that means Lilly is still alive) but I like that Tara is still alive, still around to deal with the consequences of her actions and put a new flavor into the group dynamics.

And just when Glenn and Tara finish dealing with some walkers, we meet three new characters, who pose almost motif-style to end the episode. My wife didn't like their introduction. I've read the comics, so I was delighted to see them. Abraham, Rosita and Eugene should be around for a while, although the TV show has shown plenty of willingness to stray from the comics, so who knows what their presence will really mean.

So for our final six episodes of the season, we have a nice road-map. More than one group, I imagine, will find their way to Terminus, and the show should be able to hop around and keep the action moving. Rick, Carl and Michonne are our Group #5, so they can pick and choose air-time easily. For my money, Steven Yuen and Laurie Cohan are getting better and better as Glenn and Maggie. The show started off not great with its female characters, but Maggie, Michonne and Carol are all interesting, and Sasha, Tara and Beth can still turn out that way.

I like the comic-book way how characters rarely change clothes or even hairstyles. Sometimes, just once, I'd like Daryl to slick his hair back.

It remains like Lost to me. Not the best show on TV, but still one of the most must-see addicting.

Dirty Wars - DVD Review

Starring Jeremy Scahill.
Directed by Rick Rowley.


This is one of the five nominees for Best Documentary Feature of 2013. It has important subject matter. It also can't get out of its own way to tell the story.

This is about the endlessly expanding Global War on Terror. Or it's about heroic journalist Jeremy Scahill stopping at nothing to find the truth. (Cue patriotic music as Cahill stares chin-first into the sunrise.)

There's plenty of good material here, the most important question raised being: why does the "Kill List" get longer and longer? At the beginning of the Iraq War, there are a deck of cards. Now there are thousands of names on that list. Why?

Scahill is a journalist for the left-leaning The Nation, so you can imagine he was never a fan of Bush, but he also shows how in some ways, Obama is worse when it comes to the War on Terror. Why is it okay to assassinate US citizens? How did we get to this point?

Scahill narrates, and director Rick Rowley is just as enamored with showing Scahill push a pin through a newspaper clipping as he is interviewing Afghan children who survive a bombing.

So I would recommend this movie in spite of itself. It shed new light on JSOC, and it could help raise awareness to how our military-industrial complex will only keep growing. But at the same time, if it actually wins Best Documentary, I'd be upset.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Weekend Box Office - Feb 14-16, 2014

Once again, The LEGO Movie ruled all at the box office, but that didn't mean other titles couldn't find some breathing room.

The three 1980's remakes had varying levels of success. Sony tried for counter-programming by opening RoboCop on the weekend of Valentine's Day, to middling success. Fortunately it's one of those movies made for its foreign appeal. It's already made $69 million overseas.

The much cheaper About Last Night remake (that turned Jim Belushi into Kevin Hart) further cemented the idea that Hart is a star. Endless Love had a big Friday but dropped off drastically on Saturday.

Winter's Tale had a confusing trailer and received terrible reviews, and there's no such thing as a successful live-action movie where Colin Farrell gets top billing (his biggest hit was Total Recall's $58 million, which had a $125 million budget).

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone - DVD Review

Starring Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Jim Carrey, Olivia Wilde, James Gandolfini, Alan Arkin, Jay Mohr, Brad Garrett, Gillian Jacobs and Zachary Gordon.  Directed by Don Scardino.


Seemed like a clever trick to cast Diary of a Wimpy Kid's Zachary Gordon as a bully right off the bat.

This is a talented cast that should have yielded funnier results. Every few years we get a Death to Smoochy disaster, and this was 2013's.

Steve Carell stars as Burt, a once-popular Vegas magician who refuses to alter his act with his partner Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi). He's become jaded, but worse he's a selfish, vain jerk. It seems like they're going for a Ron Burgundy style humor, but Burt is so unlikeable, we're rooting for his downfall.  It eventually comes, as his ego costs him his job, and a new magician Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) is rising in popularity near him. Gray is a Criss Angel-type mentalist, and he's the best part of the movie.

Meanwhile we watch actors like Buscemi, Wilde and Gandolfini go to waste. Director Don Scardino has a lot of experience with TV comedy (30 Rock, 2 Broke Girls), but it just doesn't translate to the big-screen.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

AMC's The Walking Dead - "After" - TV Review

I bought the Walking Dead Compendium Volume 1 after Season 3, and there are lots of differences between the comics and the TV show. Up to this point in the comics, for instance, Dale and Andrea are still alive, and Merle & Daryl Dixon were creations solely for the TV show. Volume 1 ends right at Season 4's midseason finale, so when I bought Volume 2, I didn't have any idea where it was going to go.

This week's episode was very faithful to the comics, and as such, I really enjoyed it, and I'm excited for where the TV show's going to go from here. Carl's younger in the comics, and Chandler Riggs is obviously aging faster than the timeline for the show (we're about two years in, timeline-wise).  The character of Carl has evolved and I'm really enjoying it. I've seen a lot of Carl hate online, especially for his bratty behavior this week, but it makes sense for me. Carl's pissed, and teenage boys who are pissed lash out. I like butt-kicking zombie-shooting Carl. He's in a world where a normal childhood will never happen. The boy shot his mother in the head, for crying out loud.

By the end, Carl realized that he's not as tough as he thinks he is and he still needs his dad, and it ended on a hopeful note not only for Carl and Rick discovering they're not alone, but for Michonne to realize she's not going to go back to her unfeeling Season 2 self.

The Walking Dead's never been a perfect series. Season 2 required some endurance, but it all paid off in Season 3, and now I'm excited for where the rest of Season 4 is going to go.

In other TV viewing of mine:

Syfy's HELIX - I've watched the first episode, and I liked it enough to keep watching. It's further down my queue for priority, but I'm intrigued enough to see where it goes. The series takes place in a disease-research facility in Antarctica, where a new, deadly contagion may be on the loose. Billy Campbell (The Killing) stars.

Starz's BLACK SAILS - This felt like Deadwood at Sea more than anything. I like the idea of a young John Silver as part of the crew, and I imagine his path will eventually become the front-front of the series, but this show belongs to Toby Stephens (Die Another Day) as Captain Flint.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Weekend Box Office - 2/9/14

The LEGO Movie is the first big hit of 2014. Phil Lord & Christopher Miller had previous success with Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street, and now this. This should make them 3 for 3 in getting sequels made to their movies.

The Monuments Men did okay, considering it opened opposite a juggernaut.  Vampire Academy had bad reviews and poor visibility.  Next week there's Winter's Tale and three 1980's remakes (RoboCop, Endless Love, About Last Night).

It's going to be another good year for animation. Three of the top eight are animation.  (Has to hurt for Jack Ryan to get out-grossed by a throwaway flick like The Nut Job.) Frozen has passed $900 million worldwide.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Monuments Men - Movie Review

Starring George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville, Bob Balaban and Dimitri Leonidas.
Directed by George Clooney.


This is an odd movie. All the ingredients are there to make a classic, a WWII heist thriller, a race-against-time, Over the Hill Gang type yarn. It just felt like key developmental elements were missing.

The Monuments Men was a real group but it was much larger than what the movie portrays. I understand narrative purposes for narrowing it down to eight conglomerate characters, but somewhere in there, director and co-writer Clooney forgot to make most of them characters.  Sure, Bill Murray, John Goodman and Jean Dujardin are good actors, but it's as though those men were told to just show up and "act" without anything to work with.

"George, what's my motivation?"
"Be more Bill Murray-ish."
"Thanks. Thanks for that note."

The opening scenes play like a "We're getting the band back together" montage like this is a sequel to something. Things like this made me wish someone besides Clooney had directed it, someone who could have stepped back and noticed these little problems.

The actual quest of the men is something we grow to care about.  Watching Nazis set fire to art brings the same visceral reaction of the books burning in The Name of the Rose, or the scrolls burning in Agora. Some much history lost.

The actors that come off best, mostly because they have something to work with, are Cate Blanchett as a French secretary working for the Nazis but really helping the underground resistance, and Downton Abbey's Hugh Bonneville as a recovering alcoholic who sees this mission as a redemptive chance to do something with his life. Kind of cool to see Lord Grantham hanging out with two of the Ocean's 11.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit - Movie Review

Starring Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh, Keira Knightley and Colm Feore.
Directed by Kenneth Branagh.


This is the epitome of the standard, competent spy thriller. Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) is a Cold War hero moved to the 21st century, where Russians are still the main bad guys. This doesn't reignite the franchise any more than the Ben Affleck-led Sum of All Fears in 2001.

But it is in the hands of director Kenneth Branagh, who has shown he knows how to add a little fun to tentpoles. Ryan's origin, recruitment and training are all handled efficiently. When we get to the main case, when a lot of the suspense is happening on computer screens and thumb-drives, the pacing and direction are still tight. Branagh's got that Putin dead-eye stare down, and Costner's a fine mentor for Pine.  I didn't have a problem with Keira Knightley's acting but her character didn't feel consistent.

Pine's good, and I wouldn't mind seeing another installment, but based on the box office, I think that might not happen. It needed to gross $170 million worldwide to justify a sequel and today is when it passes $100 million.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Place Beyond the Pines - DVD Review

Starring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Dane Dehaan, Emory Cohen, Bruce Greenwood, Mahershala Ali, Harris Yulin, Ben Mendelsohn and Robert Clohessy. Directed by Derek Cianfrance.


Ryan Gosling's been playing a lot of screwed-up guys lately. It must feed some need inside him. I picture him with a summer cabin with a torture room in the basement.

Here he plays a desperate father who turns to bank robbery to provide for his son.  His path will eventually cross with Bradley Cooper, a cop with a young son of his own.  We see their story for the first two-thirds of the movie, and I enjoyed every aspect of that.

Then it flash-forwards sixteen years to follow the sons, and we see how the choices of the fathers have affected their sons, and here's where the movie went a little sideways for me. It puts together some events that felt too contrived, and it took me out of the movie. There's a real cinema-verite vibe going on with it, and overall I liked it. I just thought the last third weakened the power from the first two acts.