Thursday, March 24, 2016

Movie Review: "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"

I'm gonna get straight to the point here, because all you really wanna know is if Batman v Superman is a movie worthy of its titular characters, and in my opinion, it totally is.  While some might be thrown off by the notion of Batman and Superman fighting one another the first time they're actually in a movie together, director Zack Snyder and writers David Goyer and Chris Terrio, make it believable.

The whole notion of this series of DC Comics movies is that these are what-ifs.  What if these superheroes actually existed in our real world?  In this movie, Superman has to deal with the political ramifications of his actions in a way that is not too dissimilar than the political debates we find in our day-to-day.  Superman can't win for losing and Batman's distrust of him only exacerbates the problem.  Of course what makes this movie such a joy is not the depth of the material, but it's seeing these classic characters -- Batman, Superman, and yes, Wonder Woman -- fighting alongside one another for the very first time in live action.

If you were like me and did not like Man of Steel as much as you wanted to, this movie might rectify a lot of the issues you had with that movie.  With that said, this movie certainly wont please everyone.  I can already tell you Batman v Superman is going to go down as one of those love it or hate it movies with very little in-betweeners.  The movie often has a slower pace than most will be expecting, and it also doesn't like to always spell everything out for the audience.  Every now and then a scene transpires and it's not till after its completion do you even know what the scene was.  There are a fair few dream sequences in this movie, almost all of them belonging to Bruce Wayne's nightmares and are setting up future sequels.  Sure, the movie could have done with a little less teasing of the upcoming Justice League movie and been a tighter affair because of it, but the movie that exists is a good one that I found myself invested in, both emotionally and cerebrally.

The action sequences are top notch and exciting, and the drama, in particular the finale, is executed very powerfully.  While I know there will be other fan boys complaining about Batman or Superman doing this or that that they never did in the comic books, both of these characters go on a journey in this movie, and if you hang with it, you'll see the two of them evolve into their traditional comic book counterparts by the time the credits roll.  And rest assured, Ben Affleck is really, really good as Batman, while Henry Cavill continues to prove his chops as Superman.  As for Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, she certainly holds her own alongside the other two and left me wanting more.  All in all, I just wish the Justice League was already out so I can see what happens next!  Yeah, I liked this one that much.

I give Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice an 8 out of 10!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Batman v Superman: Who's King of the Movies?

There have been many theatrically released Batman and Superman movies, with Batman having nine so far and Superman having seven (excluding the two movie serials for both), that is more movies than any other superhero.  While folks like Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and Spider-Man, are coming close to matching those totals, simply put, Batman and Superman are the two oldest superheroes ever and that will always give them a special place in the pantheon of superhero movies.  Batman and Superman were the first two superheroes to find mainstream success on movie screens, paving the way for the past decade and a half of Marvel dominance in theaters.  Finally, with this week's release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the two heavyweights are going to be sharing the big screen for the very first time and vie for the Marvel crown, so I thought it would be fun to review and rank all of the Batman and Superman movies that have ever been theatrically released (because there have been a ton of straight to video animated movies for both) and see which hero comes out on top.  This list is purely subjective and I am sure a lot of you wont agree with me, so take to the comments section after reading the list to share your own favorites.  With all that said, on with the list!


16.  Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
Okay, if you've never seen this one, do yourself a favor and don't.  It's not that this movie's heart isn't in the right place with Superman spearheading a worldwide endeavor for nuclear disarmament, it's that the movie just isn't good, as a matter of fact it's almost incomprehensible.  There are a ton of plot holes in this movie and for this to be the final hoorah for Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, and Gene Hackman, it's a crying shame.  Superman deserves better than this, with this movie playing more as a quick cash grab for the producers than anything else.  It's a shame honestly, because Christopher Reeve still gives it his all, but his all can't make the story better.
Rating:  2 out of 10

15.  Superman III
Superman III is ever so slightly better than Superman IV, but only by a few charming and enjoyable moments.  The biggest issue I've always had with this movie is not the fact that someone thought it would be a good idea for Richard Pryor to be an unwitting bad guy, no it's the fact that the moviemakers sidelined Margot Kidder's Lois Lane for the whole movie in favor of Annette O'Toole's Lana Lang.  Here's the thing, the whole story line of Clark returning to Smallville and reconnecting with Lana at a high school reunion is sweet and brings many of the best moments of the movie alive, but after two whole movies investing in the Lois and Clark relationship, it's just annoying.  At least this movie has a pretty good fight scene in it between Good Superman and Bad Superman after the two sides of Superman are literally split apart.  Ultimately, Superman III is watchable, which is something I can't say for Superman IV, but it's not a whole lot of fun either.
Rating:  5 out of 10

14.  Batman Returns
Alright, the quality of the movies are improving ever so little, but at least they are improving.  With Batman Returns, director Tim Burton was sort of given free reign by Warner Bros. after the success of 1989's Batman, and it really shows here.  This is flat out the weirdest, darkest movie to have ever been sponsored by Happy Meal toys, and I wouldn't have a huge problem with that if the movie didn't try to fool you into thinking it's a Batman movie.  Here's how Batman Returns goes, we spend three-fourths of the movie with a really creepy Penguin (Danny DeVito), a deranged Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer), and a Christopher Walken playing some character created just for this movie, and occasionally we see Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne or Batman to remind the audience that, "Hey, this is a Batman movie and we've gotta have him in here somewhere."  Sure, there are some really fun moments in here, notably the opening action sequence and the final scene at the abandoned zoo, but I agree with what Jett on Batman-on-Film has always said about this one, and I paraphrase, "This is a Batman movie in name only."
Rating:  6 out of 10

13.  Superman and the Mole-Men
Finally, this is where the Batman/Superman movies start to actually be good.  Compared to all of the other movies on this list, Superman and the Mole-Men is rather lackluster in terms of scope and scale, but it wins points for essentially being the unofficial pilot for The Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves.  This was the first time Reeves donned the Superman tights and he really knocks the character out of the park.  Sure, the plot of the movie is standard Fifties' B-movie fare, with misunderstood mole-men from underground surfacing and causing a panic that only Superman can resolve, but the movie is just fun.  Even to this day, the movie plays well because it's just a simple sci-fi movie that happens to star Superman.
Rating:  7 out of 10

12.  Batman & Robin
Yes, I don't think this was the weakest link in the Burton/Schumacher series of Batman movies from the late Eighties and Nineties, but while it's ranked higher than Batman Returns, that's not me saying this is the greatest Batman movie ever made, it's just a surprisingly fun one that if you get off your pretentious high horse, you can enjoy it for what it is.  Batman & Robin is essentially a throwback to the campiness of the Sixties' Batman TV show, and when you view it that way, all of the puns from Arnold Schwarzenegger's Mr. Freeze and Uma Thurman's Poison Ivy are actually quite funny.  Plus, the movie actually has some really meaty material buried underneath with the sick Alfred subplot and the tension between George Clooney's Bruce and Chris O'Donnell's Dick really making the movie a surprisingly emotional experience if you can not look at everything through hate.  Sure, Alicia Silverstone was not my preferred Batgirl, but I'm still a huge fan of O'Donnell's Robin, and hey, Clooney wasn't awful as Batman, he just wasn't Christian Bale.  In short, fans wanted what they eventually got with Batman Begins with this movie, and now that they have had multiple dark Batman movies, maybe it's time to stop ragging so much on this movie and just enjoy it.
Rating:  7 out of 10

11.  The Dark Knight Rises
Some might be wondering how I could possibly put one of the movies from The Dark Knight trilogy this low, but you've gotta face it, The Dark Knight Rises isn't as good as the first two movies in the series.  Now with all that said, that does not mean Rises is a bad movie without awesome moments, it's just a movie that fails to match its predecessors, and a large part of this was director Christopher Nolan being so dead set on this being a definitive ending to his Batman.  Throughout the whole movie, Christian Bale's Batman is a shell of his former self, never kicking as much butt as he did in the previous two movies, and more often than not, getting his butt handed to him by the likes of Bane.  When Catwoman, and even random cops like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, kick more butt than Batman, you know the moviemakers have gone a little too far with this out-of-shape Batman idea.  Still, the first time Batman reappears in nearly a decade is one of the finer moments of the whole trilogy, and the ending is emotionally stirring, even if I'll never forgive Nolan for that stupid Robin reveal at the end of the movie.  All-in-all, The Dark Knight Rises is an imperfect epic, but one that is well worth watching.
Rating:  8 out of 10

10.  Man of Steel
This was a movie that I initially did not like upon seeing it, and as a matter of fact it took me multiple viewings to finally warm up to what director Zack Snyder accomplished with the movie.  Here's the thing, like The Dark Knight Rises, I think Man of Steel is an imperfect epic, a movie with many great elements that come together to make a movie that is stirring and action packed but lacking in something indefinable.  Ultimately, I still think this movie took itself a tad too seriously for a Superman tale, even still, Henry Cavill does the Man of Steel justice.  There is just an innate likability to Cavill that makes you want to root for him, on top of all that, this is the first Superman movie to actually interpret a post-Infinite Crisis Superman (when Superman was rebooted in the comics in the mid-80s to be more current), so this is the only Superman movie to this point to do a Modern Age Superman story as opposed to a Golden or Silver Age story like all the other Superman movies.  Now three years removed from the movie, I still believe Man of Steel could have been better and embraced more of a warmer feel to reflect a character who is all about hope, but the movie that does exist is a pretty good one if you can put aside your expectations and accept it for what it was.
Rating:  8 out of 10

9.  Batman: The Movie
Oh Adam West and Burt Ward, how I love your Batman and Robin.  Here's the thing, Batman: The Movie is essentially a feature length episode of the TV show in terms of production values and whatnot, but it's a really fun movie that rivals any of the better episodes of the series.  Not only that, this movie unites four of Batman's greatest villains in one movie for the first, and still, only time in movie history.  With Batman and Robin combatting the likes of Joker, Penguin, Catwoman, and the Riddler, all at once, the stakes feel rather urgent for the Dynamic Duo.  The funny thing about the Sixties TV show in general, is that a lot of modern day fans make fun of it and see it as an awful representation of the character, but at the time, this was the same Batman that was frequenting the pages of the comic books.  Also, this Batman actually does as much detective work, if not more, than just about most other Batmen there have ever been on the big or small screen, so how can anyone say that this is a bad interpretation of the character?  The show, and this movie, were intentionally campy, and that allows you to laugh alongside with the adventure instead of at it.  The moment when Batman tries to get rid of the bomb and nuns are one way and a baby in a stroller are in another, is comedic gold.  "Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb."
Rating:  9 out of 10

8.  Superman II
Here's what I've always loved about Superman II -- it's the fact that this is the one with all of the action.  From the opening sequence on the Eiffel Tower, to the arrival of General Zod on Earth, all the way to the climactic battles in Metropolis and the Fortress of Solitude, this movie had the best fight sequences of any Superman movie till Man of Steel.  While a lot of the special effects are heavily dated now, that does not lessen the awesomeness on display here.  Add on to everything a moving story about Superman giving up his powers to be with Lois, as well as a phenomenal performance from Terrence Stamp as the villainous Zod, and you have a sequel worthy of its original.  Plus, there is no better moment in the Chris Reeve movies than the ending of this one with the ace line, "Funny, I've never seen garbage eat garbage before," just before Clark sends the bully sliding down the diner's counter and into the pinball machine.
Rating:  9 out of 10

7.  Superman Returns
This is easily one of the more divisive movies on this entire list, but I've always been a fan of Superman Returns.  Always meant as a loose sequel to Superman II with Christopher Reeve, the movie has received a lot of unnecessary flack over the years for that reason.  It was intentional that this movie was very similar to the first two Christopher Reeve movies, because it follows up on the storyline of Lois and Clark's one night in the Fortress of Solitude and their resulting son that Clark never knew about.  For that reason alone, this is one of the more unique Superman stories that have ever been told, but on top of that it's also a story about Superman returning to an Earth, after spending five years in space, and discovering that humans didn't really miss him all that much.  The world kept on spinning without Superman and everything was okay, so he has to rediscover his place once more in a very poignant and emotional way.  On top of all that, Kevin Spacey was genius casting as Lex Luthor and Brandon Routh is still only second behind Christopher Reeve on my list of favorite Supermen.  So what if the movie was not what fans wanted?  So what if Superman never got in a superpowered fist fight?  Who cares?  We got that with Man of Steel, it's time to value Superman Returns for what it is, a superhero drama that has spurts of action, but is more interested in examining the characters and what is going on inside of them more than anything else.  Plus, the sequence where Superman catches the falling plane is still one of the finer sequences ever made for a superhero movie.
Rating:  9 out of 10

6.  The Dark Knight 
There will be a great many people that think I've gone off my rocker not giving The Dark Knight my number one spot, but while The Dark Knight is a great movie, there are other Batman movies that I personally like more.  Look, Heath Ledger as the Joker was iconic, that final monologue from Gordon is still spine tinglingly awesome, and the epic nature of this movie has never quite been matched by any other superhero movie ever made, but it's just such a dark movie it's tough to rewatch.  Simply put, that is why it is number six on this list.  There is very little about The Dark Knight that is really fun.  The sense of fun that Batman Begins had was overtaken by even more seriousness and less comic bookishness (if that's even a word).  This is not me knocking The Dark Knight as a movie, because as a movie it is a tense parable that reflects the state of our real world, but it is not an easy movie to rewatch and it's a movie that over time I have discovered plot holes that never were explained (the most glaring is how Gordon fooled everyone into thinking he was dead only to surprisingly return to apprehend the Joker).  In summation, The Dark Knight is an imperfect masterpiece, and yes, I think there can be such a thing.  What director Christopher Nolan pulled off with this movie was special and will always be special, with this movie having changed the superhero movie landscape forever.
Rating:  9 out of 10

5.  Batman
The first Tim Burton Batman movie is still one of the most faithful incarnations of the character captured on the big screen.  This movie just looks like the comic books, and that is why Batman has always seemed a head above most of the rest in the superhero movie genre.  To this day, it almost seems strange seeing Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne and Batman, and yet when you watch the movie, it feels just right.  Keaton plays both Bruce and Batman as slightly unhinged due to his emotional scars.  This is the most psychologically unstable superhero performance I think there's ever been, and in a way, you gotta think a man who dresses up like a bat is almost as certifiably crazy as the criminals he fights.  In a great many ways, I think that was the whole idea that Tim Burton tried to tackle with his two Batman movies and I think Batman does a better job with that idea than Batman Returns, mainly because it's just a much more fun movie to watch.  Sure, Jack Nicholson as the Joker is basically Jack Nicholson with a case of the giggles, but he does it with so much relish and oomph that you've gotta love that Joker (if you've seen the movie as much as I have, you'll get that reference).  Plus, the romance between Kim Basinger's Vicki Vale and Bruce Wayne is perhaps the best romantic subplot in any of the live action Batman movies (hint, I said live action).
Rating:  10 out of 10

4.  Batman Forever
Alright, the people that thought I was off my rocker for putting The Dark Knight at six, are seriously beginning to question my tastes now, and I am perfectly fine with that, because Batman Forever brings a smile to my face each time I watch it.  This movie is just fun, I mean, do I really have to justify myself?  Jim Carrey as the Riddler is just a blast to watch, and I have been a huge fan of Chris O'Donnell's Robin ever since I saw this movie as a kid.  On top of all that, Batman is heroic and noble for a change, while still being a dark character on the inside, plagued by the tragedy that made him.  It's a tough balancing act of how tortured you should make superheroes versus how light they should be, and I think director Joel Schumacher and actor Val Kilmer found a nice balance with Bruce Wayne in this movie.  Not to mention, Batman Forever has Nicole Kidman as the criminal psychologist in love with both Bruce Wayne and Batman, not knowing they're one and the same.  I've long wanted to see Kidman's Dr. Chase Meridian in the comic books, but considering how a lot of fanboy's think of this movie, that will probably never happen.  But I can dream, can't I?
Rating:  10 out of 10

3.  Superman: The Movie
From the opening title sequence with John Williams' heroic fanfare blaring, to the emotional finale where Superman turns back time itself to bring Lois back to life, this is the Golden Age Superman at his Americana finest.  Director Richard Donner once said that Superman is about as American as apple pie, and I agree with that statement wholeheartedly, which is why I love the moral and patriotic honesty of Christopher Reeve as Superman.  There is a nobility to Reeve that no other actor playing a superhero has ever managed to bring to their role, and it's a nobility that I think rested within Reeve himself, as is evidenced by his immense real-life bravery following his accident to not give in to his situation and make the best of it.  I've always admired Christopher Reeve and while there will be many more actors to play Superman, and a few who will even be amazing at it, there will never be another quite like him.  Reeve is the sole reason Superman: The Movie works as well as it does, and it's why it's a genuine movie classic (of course Ned Beatty's hilarious turn as Lex Luthor's henchman, Otis, definitely helps on that score too).
Rating:  10 out of 10

2.  Batman Begins
Batman Begins very nearly secured the number one spot, but number two is not a mere consolation prize, it just speaks volumes about how many great Batman and Superman movies there have been, and there's only one that I like more than Batman Begins (I wont even deign to say better because that's an apples and oranges argument).  Batman Begins is the Batman movie that Batman fans always wanted, simply put.  Till this point, fans had never had the definitive origin story of Batman done in a movie, and that is what Batman Begins is.  It's a movie that examines the how and why Bruce Wayne becomes Batman in intricate, thorough detail, while at the same time honoring its comic book roots with the most comic bookish feel of any movie in The Dark Knight trilogy, lending itself to the finest action sequences in the whole trilogy as well.  Christian Bale was the picture perfect Bruce Wayne and Batman, and I can't say enough about Gary Oldman as the future Commissioner Gordon and Michael Caine as Alfred.  Director Christopher Nolan just got everything right with this movie, and more importantly, he made this movie fun and heroic.  There is a nobility to Christian Bale's Batman in Begins that doesn't feel quite as self-interested as his character got in the later sequels when he wallowed in self pity.  Hey,  I love The Dark Knight trilogy as it is, but I still think, had the sequels followed more closely to the tone and style of Batman Begins, the trilogy as a whole would have been even greater than it already is.  There, I said it.  Scrutinize me if you want, but that's just how I feel.

1.  Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was originally meant just to be a straight-to-video release, a feature length film in the same universe as Batman: The Animated Series from the early Nineties, however after seeing it's promise during production, Warner Bros. decided to release it theatrically and here we are.  Mask of the Phantasm is one of the lesser known Batman movies by most in the general public, and there are many that would scoff at it because it's an animated movie, but if you can put aside any animation prejudices you may have, you'll discover the most heartfelt and original Batman movie that's ever been made.  This movie tears you up on the inside, it tells the tragic love story between Bruce Wayne and Andrea Beaumont, a woman of wealth who, like Bruce, suffered the loss of her family to criminals.  It is Bruce and Andrea's romance that gives this movie its heart, and ultimately seals it's number one ranking.  This is the most I've ever cared about Batman in a movie, the most I wanted to see him succeed, and not in just stopping the bad guy, but in getting back the woman he loves, even though he's Batman, we know that can't happen.  On top of that, this movie features one of the greatest Batman villains ever in the Phantasm, a grim reaperish vigilante who kills criminals out of hatred and revenge, and whose identity will genuinely shock you (I wont spoil it if you haven't seen it).  As well, Mark Hamill voices the Joker once again in this movie and is as brilliant as he ever has been in the role.  Then there is the heartstopping sequence where Batman, having been framed for the murders committed by the Phantasm, is chased by the police to a construction site in one of the best realized action sequences in any Batman movie, period.  Still, at the end of the day it is the heart of this movie that makes it my favorite Batman movie ever made, and it's why it tops this list.


So overall, while Batman claimed the top two spots, Superman ranked pretty high having four movies in the top 10, while Batman had six.  Can I really say who truly is the king of the movies?   I don't think I can.  Both heroes have had good movies and not so good movies, so it's really just a personal preference thing when it gets right down to it.  Sure, I do like more Batman movies than Superman movies, but that is because there have been more Batman movies made.  Honestly, I'd call it a draw, but if this were like a boxing match and after fifteen rounds both fighters were still standing, Batman would win on points, purely because he's had more hits.  Still, I think Superman would win nine times out of ten in an actual fight.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Movie Review: "Midnight Special"

Man, this is a tough movie to review.  Midnight Special is the new movie from writer/director Jeff Nichols, who wowed with Take Shelter and Mud.  Nichols' favorite muse, Michael Shannon, stars yet again as a father who is trying to protect his dying son from a religious cult and the government.  They are traveling across the Southeastern United States in an effort to reach a location where Shannon believes something will happen that will save his son.  Of course I failed to mention that his son has special powers.  His eyes often glow, he can hear radio frequencies, and he can even glimpse other dimensions.  All of this sounds cool, but the movie never quite takes lift off.

We are about an hour into the movie before any of it makes any sense.  I know Nichols was inspired by movies from the Seventies and Eighties like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Starman, but Midnight Special could have used a little more traditional exposition.  While the way the movie unfolds was clearly an artistic choice, it was one that did not jive with me.  On top of it all, the movie never has any fun with its premise.  The aforementioned movies that Nichols was trying to emulate all had flashes of humor here and there to keep the movies engaging, and this is, for the most part, a deadly serious affair.  Now this is not to say that I hated Midnight Special, I just wanted to like it a whole lot more.

Every element of Midnight Special is well done.  The cinematography, the music, the visual effects, the acting, it's all top notch, even the story keeps you wanting to know more even in its more languid stretches.  Jeff Nichols truly is one of the more fascinating writer/directors currently working in the movie industry, and he continues to prove it here.  While I had my issues with the movie, I did enjoy it, just not enough to want to see it again or to really even recommend it to a whole lot of people.

As I said at the start, this is a tough movie to review, and I truly mean that.  Midnight Special is the kind of movie that tries to be both art and entertainment, and I think it only succeeds on one of those levels (three guesses which one).  This is not a movie that is for the casual moviegoer, but if you're a fan of arthouse movies, and in particular, if you're a fan of Nichols' previous work, you will find enough in Midnight Special to justify seeing it.

I give Midnight Special a 7 out of 10!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Movie Review: "10 Cloverfield Lane"

Don't get confused and think that 10 Cloverfield Lane is a sequel to 2008's found footage monster movie, Cloverfield.  While both movies have Cloverfield in the title, these really are more like sister stories produced by the same production company.

The movie kicks off with Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) getting into a car crash.  When she awakes she finds herself in a fallout shelter belonging to survivalist Howard (John Goodman), who claims that there was an attack that left the world outside irradiated.  Everything beyond the basic set up is best left to discover on your own, because this movie truly is an edge of your seat popcorn movie.

The whole movie has this sense of paranoia that really oozes off of the screen and infects you as you watch it.  Is Howard telling the truth?  If there was a cataclysmic attack, who did it?  And even if both of these things are true, is Howard an evil man?  I remember reading that J.J. Abrams likened these two Cloverfield movies to The Twilight Zone, and 10 Cloverfield Lane does feel very much like a more intense, modernized Twilight Zone episode.  There are enough twists and turns here that keep you riveted till the credits roll, with a lot of the credit belonging to the slew of writers and first-time feature director, Dan Trachtenberg.

Almost all of the movie takes place in Howard's fallout shelter, which for a ninety plus minute movie, is a writer and director's nightmare.  It would have been very easy for the movie to have grown stale and boring, but the writers and Trachtenberg manage to keep the tension up, and Trachtenberg continues to find interesting camera angles.  As well, the movie has occasional fits of humor amidst the darkness to alleviate the tension, which is where having a talent like John Goodman makes the movie work in a way it wouldn't otherwise.  John Goodman is better here than I've seen him in years, and that's all I'll say about his performance, cause you need to see it for yourself.

All in all, while I admit this movie may not be for everyone, if you like suspenseful sci-fi movies, this really is a no-brainer must see.  10 Cloverfield Lane is a unique and intense movie that answers just enough to be satisfying, but leaves enough questions hanging to have you theorizing long after the movie is over.

I give 10 Cloverfield Lane a 9 out of 10!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Movie Review: "Zootopia"

Disney has a long history of talking animal movies, and with their latest animated movie, Zootopia, they manage to go beyond the usual trappings of almost every other talking animal movie to make the strongest movie Disney Animation has put out since the Nineties.  Now I know that's a bold claim, considering in just the past three to four years alone we've had the likes of Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, and Big Hero 6, but there is something special about Zootopia that makes it such a strong entry in the Disney canon.

The titular Zootopia is an animal metropolis in a world where all animals have evolved to become anthropomorphic beings who dress, act, and live like the humans of our world.  Our heroine is Judy Hopps, the first rabbit cop Zootopia has ever seen.  Judy is belittled by her superiors and only has 48 hours to prove herself by solving a missing animals case or else she'll have to turn in her badge.  With the help of a con artist fox named Nick Wilde, Judy just might be able to do just that.  What follows is a story that is as warm and fuzzy as anything that Disney has ever done, but with more shades of our real world sewn thematically throughout the narrative.

The whole of Zootopia is about the concept of prejudice against others, or more particularly, our stereotyping people and wanting to put them in a box, saying they cannot go beyond those limitations.  We see that everyday in our real world and it's heady stuff for an animated Disney movie, which is why it is great that the movie is as funny as it is.  Seriously, this is one of the funniest movies I've seen in a while, animated or live action, which allows the larger ideas at work in the story to never feel preachy.  The greatest feat of this movie is how gracefully it skirts around its real meaning without feeling as if the moviemakers are pushing their own personal agendas.  The movie is made in such a way that moviegoers can graft their own experiences onto these characters because we've all felt the ways that these characters have felt at one point or another -- bullied, underestimated, and misunderstood.  In doing this, Zootopia becomes something special, that rare breed of movie that makes you think, feel, and have fun, all in equal measure, with a lot of the fun part coming thanks to the sheer originality at every turn.

Zootopia is one of the most original movies Disney has made in a long while, with the city of Zootopia being such a unique creation.  All of the different ecosystems in Zootopia are a joy to see, from a rainforest area, to a tundra area, all the way to Little Rodentia, where the mice live in miniaturized skyscrapers, the animators, led by directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore, really capture the essence of both city life and the animal kingdom, in a perfect design meld.  Then there are the countless jokes that play off of all the unique traits that each animal species is known for, such as bunnies being good at multiplication or there being only sloths working at the DMV.  You can't help but laugh and be amazed at every turn at how nimbly the movie keeps clipping along.  Then there's the fact that Zootopia is also a mystery yarn, with the movie often mimicking old detective flicks in the way that Judy and Nick try to solve their case, adding elements of suspense to an otherwise traditional animated movie.

So if you can't tell, I loved Zootopia and thought it was a real joy from start to finish.  From top to bottom, this is just a well made movie, featuring exceptional writing, directing, voice acting, animation, and music, with Michael Giacchino's musical score infusing lots of tribal African instrumentation to create a score that is different and engaging.  While the movie is a little rougher than most parents might expect, due to some frightening moments involving bullies and some rabid animals, kids about seven and up should have a blast with it.  I know this big kid did.

I give Zootopia a 10 out of 10!

Friday, March 4, 2016

Movie Review: "London Has Fallen"

2013's Olympus Has Fallen was a surprisingly tense and entertaining action movie, and now three years later we have a sequel.  London Has Fallen features the return of Aaron Eckhart's President, as well as his favorite secret service agent, portrayed with the right amount of grit and charm by Gerard Butler.  When the Prime Minister of England dies, all of the world's greatest leaders assemble in London for the funeral, of course that is when terrorists decide to attack and take the whole city hostage.  As you can expect, Gerard Butler kicks a lot of butt, and yes that makes this movie awesome.  On top of that, the movie actually has a good story with lots of twists and turns.  While everything is not always plausible, it's always a whole lot of fun.

I give London Has Fallen an 8 out of 10!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Movies of 1991!

Continuing my new series where I am looking back at my favorite movies from every year since my birth, I have arrived at 1991, which was a much better year for movies than 1990.  This was the year that Beauty and the Beast proved that The Little Mermaid was no fluke and that a new Disney Golden Age was beginning, while movies like The Silence of the Lambs scared people crazy to the point that it won the five biggest Oscars (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay) for only the third time in Academy history.  On top of that was Arnie's Terminator becoming a hero in Terminator 2, Robin Williams knocking an adult Peter Pan out of the park in Hook, and Kevin Costner still marvelous (sans the British accent) in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.  All in all, 1991 was the first year to really solidify all of the trends of Nineties movies, with special effects driven blockbusters reigning at the box office alongside romantic comedies and some of the finest animated movies ever made.  So with all that said, let's take a look back at my favorite things about the movies from 1991!


Best Song - "Beauty and the Beast" from Beauty and the Beast 
For me this was a no-brainer choice.  Alan Menken and Tim Rice's songs for Beauty and the Beast are still some of the most catchy Disney tunes ever penned, and the title song is pure Disney movie magic.
2.) "Ninja Rap" from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze
3.) "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You" from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
4.) "Be Our Guest" from Beauty and the Beast
5.) "Gaston" from Beauty and the Beast

Best Score - Beauty and the Beast
As I said above, the music for Beauty and the Beast is just top notch, with Alan Menken's score utilizing all of the themes introduced in the hummable songs in such an emotionally resonant way, that listening to the score alone tells the whole story of the movie.
2.) Hook
3.) Father of the Bride
4.) Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
5.) The Rocketeer

Best Make-up and Hair - Hook
The transformations of Bob Hoskins into Smee and Dustin Hoffman into Captain Hook are two of the most remarkable actor transformations I've ever seen done by make-up work, but it's the work done to age Maggie Smith into Granny Wendy that is the true standout work from Hook.
2.) The Silence of the Lambs
3.) Robin Hood: The Prince of Thieves
4.) Cape Fear
5.) The Rocketeer

Best Costumes - Beauty and the Beast
There is a bias with the Oscars only honoring live action movies in pretty much every category, but even though the costumes designed in Beauty and the Beast are not real, that does not mean that their designs are any less stunning.  The costumes in this movie are iconic, with Belle's ball gown being the most breathtaking accomplishment.
2.) Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
3.) The Rocketeer
4.) Hook
5.) The Silence of the Lambs

Best Sound - Terminator 2: Judgment Day
On the technical side of things, Terminator 2 was a huge step forward in creating the modern blockbuster as we now know it.  The sound work is really effective here with the sounds of the transformations for Robert Patrick's T-1000 being appropriately organic and mechanic at the same time.
2.) The Silence of the Lambs
3.) Beauty and the Beast
4.) Backdraft
5.) The Rocketeer

Best Special Effects - Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Hands down, Terminator 2 was such a huge leap forward in the art of special effects that there was no contest here.  The CGI work done on the T-1000 still holds up to this day and paved the way for the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park just two years later.
2.) Backdraft
3.) The Rocketeer
4.) Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
5.) Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Best Production Design - Beauty and the Beast
Similar to what I said about costumes, just because this movie is animated does not mean the production design is less astonishing.  The look of the Beast's castle is very unique, and yet classic all at once.
2.) Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
3.) The Rocketeer
4.) Terminator 2: Judgment Day
5.) Hook

Best Editing - Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Terminator 2 is just a juggernaut of a movie, it is quite possibly the biggest and most explosive chase movie ever made, and keeping that propulsive energy going for two and a half hours is no small feat.  Thankfully, the editors here managed to do just that.
2.) The Silence of the Lambs
3.) Cape Fear
4.) Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
5.) The Rocketeer

Best Cinematography - The Silence of the Lambs
This movie is all sorts of creepy and a lot of that is due to the dread that is created by the images.  Add on top of that the well realized finale utilizing nightvision in Buffalo Bill's lair, and you have a masterfully shot thriller.
2.) Cape Fear
3.) Father of the Bride
4.) Only the Lonely
5.) Regarding Henry

Best Supporting Actress - Maureen O'Hara, Only the Lonely
In one of her finest, and yet lesser seen performances of her storied career, Maureen O'Hara shines as the doting Irish Catholic mother of John Candy in Only the Lonely.  She is absolutely the funniest aspect of the whole movie, always upstaging Candy himself with her staunch manner.
2.) Geraldine McEwan, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
3.) Angela Lansbury, Beauty and the Beast
4.) Maggie Smith, Hook
5.) Kimberly Williams, Father of the Bride

Best Supporting Actor - Alan Rickman, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
There do not seem to be enough words in the English language to describe how great of an actor Alan Rickman was.  He will always be one of the greatest chameleons to grace the silver screen, and as the Sherif of Nottingham he managed to make a devilish character charming and funny.  That is a near impossible feat, even for the best actors, and Alan Rickman proved here that he was better than all the rest.
2.) Ted Levine, The Silence of the Lambs
3.) Martin Short, Father of the Bride
4.) Dustin Hoffman, Hook
5.) Bill Nunn, Regarding Henry

Best Actress - Jodie Foster, The Silence of the Lambs
As Clarice Starling, Jodie Foster manages to be both strong and naive at the same time.  It is through her eyes that The Silence of the Lambs plays out, and she is the main reason this movie works.  When she is frightened, you feel it.  When she is grossed out, so are you.  It takes some genuine talent to be able to do that with a role, and she's got it.
2.) Annette Bening, Regarding Henry
3.) Linda Hamilton, Terminator 2: Judgment Day
4.) Diane Keaton, Father of the Bride
5.) Paige O'Hara, Beauty and the Beast

Best Actor - Harrison Ford, Regarding Henry
From Anthony Hopkins (who actually won the Oscar for his creepified role as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs), to the surprisingly soulful performance by John Candy as a man trying to break out from under his doting mother's thumb in Only the Lonely, all the way to Steve Martin being the perfect personification of fathers everywhere in Father of the Bride, 1991 was such a great year for actors, however only one performance can be my favorite and that one is Harrison Ford in Regarding Henry.  Ford has never been more vulnerable in a role, with the titular part of Henry he goes from being a suave businessman to essentially being like a child after a shot in the head.  There is a playfulness that Ford brings to the part that I have never seen from him in any other movie, and I would argue this is one of his finest acting performances he's ever given.
2.) Anthony Hopkins, The Silence of the Lambs
3.) John Candy, Only the Lonely
4.) Steve Martin, Father of the Bride
5.) Arnold Schwarzenegger, Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Best Ensemble - Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
Kevin Costner's non-British accent aside, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves had the best cast from 1991.  Costner was as likable as ever as Robin Hood, while Alan Rickman was devious and delightful as the Sherif of Nottingham, and Morgan Freeman had all of the best lines as Azeem.  From top to bottom, you can't beat this cast.
2.) The Silence of the Lambs
3.) Father of the Bride
4.) Regarding Henry
5.) Only the Lonely

Best Movie Moment - Sean Connery's Cameo, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
My parents have always told me the story of seeing this movie in the theaters and how everyone was just shocked, I mean literally shocked, when Sean Connery showed up as King Richard at the end.  He was not credited in the movie and his cameo was not publicized before release, so this is one of those rare instances in movie history where a surprise managed to go unspoiled.  What makes this cameo all the more awesome is the fact that Connery had played Robin Hood in the movie Robin & Marian, making it a funny, full circle kind of thing.  Bottom line though is that this would not, and probably could not, happen today, thanks to the internet, making it all the more memorable of a movie moment.
2.) The Ninja Rap, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze
3.) Nightvision Hunt, The Silence of the Lambs
4.) Belle and Beast Dance, Beauty and the Beast
5.) The Terminator Sacrifices Himself, Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Best Screenplay - Only the Lonely
Writer Chris Columbus (who also directed the movie) wrote a marvelously funny script that weaves in great one-liners with some genuine heart.  The greatest thing about Only the Lonely is the fact that it is not a farce, like so many of John Candy's other movies, it is a genuinely touching story about one lonely man's romantic woes and his doting mother trying to intervene.  While the movie is chock full of funny moments, it's in the more serious moments where the movie touches your heart, and it is bar none the best written movie from 1991 for that reason.
2.) The Silence of the Lambs
3.) Regarding Henry
4.) Terminator 2: Judgment Day
5.) Father of the Bride

Best Director - James Cameron, Terminator 2: Judgment Day
You really have to give it to James Cameron for this one.  With Terminator 2 he created one of the most propulsive chase movies ever made, managing to also create an emotional bond between the audience and Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator that wasn't there in the first movie because he was the bad guy, not the hero.  The fact that Cameron was able to make the audience actually care about a hunk of metal, proves why his work on Terminator 2 was the best directing from 1991.
2.) Jonathan Demme, The Silence of the Lambs
3.) Joe Johnston, The Rocketeer
4.) Chris Columbus, Only the Lonely
5.) Steven Spielberg, Hook

Best Movie
- Terminator 2: Judgment Day
1991 was full of great movies, with the adventurous likes of The Rocketeer and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves nearly claiming my number one spot, but I have to give it to Terminator 2: Judgment Day instead.  There was no other movie from 1991 that was as awesome as Terminator 2, hands down that is the only reason I feel I need to give.  Terminator 2: Judgment Day still is one of the finest action movies ever made, and no matter how many great action movies come in the future, this will be one that will always be referenced and fondly remembered.
2.) The Rocketeer
3.) Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
4.) The Silence of the Lambs
5.) Father of the Bride
6.) Only the Lonely
7.) Regarding Henry
8.) Beauty and the Beast
9.) Hook
10.) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Reactions to the 2016 Oscars!

So I'm a day late here, but that's because I was still having fun with my brother and sister-in-law all Monday morning and then had to drive back home from Nashville to Birmingham that afternoon.  All of that to say, I just didn't get around to writing out my reactions to the 88th Academy Awards till now.  So what did I think?  Well, it was a better show than I thought it would be.

I think Chris Rock handled the controversy as well as any host could, and I was genuinely surprised at how he didn't point fingers or turn it into a massive soap box, everyone got ripped at some point throughout the night (and it definitely helped that a lot of the jokes were genuinely humorous).  While I do feel they should have just gone to business as usual after the opening monologue, instead of constantly dredging the controversy back up with more gags and bits, it's all water under the bridge now and hopefully next year can just be about the movies and nothing else.  For me personally, my favorite bit of the whole night was Chris Rock's girl scout cookies' bit.  It was the only non-controversy gag done the entire night, and I found it a refreshing breather that was just sweet, funny, and reminiscent of Ellen Degeneres ordering the pizzas a couple of years ago.  All in all, this year's Oscars were enjoyable with far less controversy and animosity than I expected, though I do have to call out the Academy for one of their choices in producing the show.

Every single year all of the Best Original Song nominees sing their songs on the show before the award is given out.  Well, this year the producers cut two of the five songs from the program, citing they didn't have time in the show for them, but that seems to be a silly excuse to me.  They could have cut the funny, but time consuming bit where Chris Rock went and interviewed people in Compton about the nominated movies, or the bit about Black History Month being about Jack Black.  Sure, those were both enjoyable, but to not perform two of the nominated songs was just a slap in the face to the people who made them.  One reason why so many people are refusing to buy the Academy's story that they simply didn't have time for them, is mainly because they did and they chose to only have the three songs performed by the more well known artists on the show.  While I have never heard of Sumi Jo and Anohni, the two artists who didn't get to perform their songs at the Oscars, everyone has heard of Lady Gaga, The Weekend, and Sam Smith.  There's something wrong with that picture and I think the Academy should be ashamed of themselves for basically playing favorites for ratings.  Alright, now that I am done with my soapbox, how did I fare in my predictions?

Overall I went 19 of 24 in my predictions.  That's a respectable number, but three shy of my personal best from two years ago.  My thought that The Big Short's PGA win would hold more clout than Spotlight's SAG Ensemble win, was really a coin toss kind of thought process.  I seriously almost changed my prediction to Spotlight before I posted, but I stayed with The Big Short because the PGA has the exact same balloting system as the Academy, choosing to let that be more telling than the fact that actors make up majority of the Academy.  In truth, the only real surprises of the night for me were Sam Smith trumping Lady Gaga for Original Song and Ex Machina deservedly winning Best Visual Effects.

While Sam Smith was the only other person I thought stood a chance of winning Original Song, I really thought Gaga had it sewn up, and clearly everyone else did too, considering how many people were shocked by it.  As for Ex Machina, no one in a million years thought this small, British sci-fi Indie could topple four blockbusters to win for Visual Effects, and yet it did.  I read somewhere that Vegas had it at an 80-1 odd, that's really quite impressive that it managed to win.  As for other perceived surprises in the media -- Spotlight's win, Mark Rylance trumping Stallone, or Mad Max dominating The Revenant in the tech categories -- I was not surprised by any of them.

Rylance was super deserving of his win, being the best part of Bridge of Spies, a movie the Academy loved a whole lot, as is evidenced by its many nominations.  While I would have loved to see Stallone win, Rylance is a hard-working character actor who did a phenomenal job in the movie that he was in, so to say he didn't deserve it and Stallone did is just petty.  It's an apples and oranges argument, pure and simple.  Speaking to the other perceived surprises, Mad Max winning the most Oscars of the night with 6 total did not surprise me in the slightest.  It won everywhere I thought it would, save for Visual Effects.  It had just dominated too much in all of the precursor awards leading up to Sunday night that there was no way it was going to be toppled by another movie.  And what about Spotlight coming out on top?  Well a lot of people were hedging all of their bets on The Revenant to win Best Picture because it had the most nominations and Spotlight ultimately won only one other award for Original Screenplay (which is rare in-and-of itself), but those people weren't looking at the fact that it's clearly been a critical and industry favorite all season long.  Spotlight was never snubbed by any of the award shows in regards to nominations and triumphed with the Best Ensemble award at the SAG Awards, speaking to genuine love and support from the largest branch of the Academy.  Simply put, Spotlight was a quiet frontrunner that people weren't paying any mind because of its unshowy manner, which is what probably got it the win, because it was a movie that relied solely on its script, its acting, and a deft directorial hand to keep the movie from being stale.  So that's that for this year's Oscar.

Sitting here at the end of this year's Oscar race, I am personally glad for the first time ever that an awards season is all over.  All of the controversy around this year's awards season, and in particular the Oscars, really detracted from a lot of the joy for me.  Add on top of that a bunch of movies that I am sure were well made, but just did not appeal to me enough to warrant shelling out $10 and the gas money to drive to the other side of town to see, just kept me from being as excited as usual.  I hope next year's crop of movies will be more appealing to me, and I hope like always that more blockbusters will be recognized by the Academy.  Just because something is popular doesn't mean that it's bad, typically that means it's good and to snub every superhero movie or whatnot is rather ridiculous in this fanboy's mind.  Of course, if it were up to me, just about every movie nominated would have some sci-fi or fantasy element to it, so I am biased, but hey...  A fanboy can dream, can't he?