Archives for posts with tag: adventure

Grade A

The Disney hit machine is in full effect with a live action remake of “Beauty And The Beast” starring Emma Watson as Belle and Dan Stevens as the Beast.

For those rare few who are unfamiliar with the story, Stevens is an unkind, selfish prince who angered a witch who cursed him to live out his days as a hideous beast unless he falls in love with someone who also falls in love with him.  Stevens’ palace staff were also cursed, turning into clocks, dressers, candelabras, etc.  Enter Watson’s father, who picks a flower from Stevens’ palace grounds to give as a gift to Watson; and Stevens imprisons him for theft!  Watson, being the loving daughter, takes her father’s place as a prisoner.  What follows is a very rocky start, to say the least, to an unlikely romance between a beautiful, young lady and a monstrous-looking creature who has much love and kindness hidden deep in his soul, just waiting to be drawn out by the right woman.

But Stevens is on the clock: the witch has given him a rose, and when the last petal falls and Stevens has not met anyone who he has fallen in love with and loves him in return, Stevens and his staff will remain as they are forever.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Beauty And The Beast” is the scene when Watson and Stevens, all dressed up, dance together for the first time, and the song with the same title as the movie is sung by a tea kettle.

It’s been over a decade since I watched the animated version, so I was able to judge this iteration without being prejudiced by its predecessor.  The acting was good, the sets (practical and CGI) were lavish and bright to give hints as to its animated lineage, many characters were memorable and larger than life, and the musical numbers were simply amazing…I felt like I was watching an opera, that’s how intricate and beautiful many of the grander, musical pieces were.  This movie is a must-see for any Disney movie fan.

— M

Grade B

Ellen DeGeneres reprises her role as Dory in “Finding Dory,” the sequel to “Finding Nemo.”  DeGeneres has flashbacks of being a young fish and having parents, so she decides to find her parents based on the miniscule clues that her limited memory gives.  With the help of little Nemo and Marlin from the previous movie, Degeneres starts a long, dangerous, crazy and fun adventure that may give her closure, or may find her lost forever.

My most memorable, movie moment is the scene when we first see Hank, the octopus (voiced by Ed O’Neill) do his trick of blending in to the environment.  The character easily steals the show in this movie, being the most interesting and most fun to watch with his stealthy, ninja/secret agent moves and tricks.

I found “Finding Dory” to be almost as good as “Finding Nemo,” with Hank the octopus being the most interesting, animated character I have seen in years.  As usual, Pixar has hit another home run, albeit this one doesn’t go as far as some of their other movies have.

— M

Grade A –

Mostly taking place days before “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope,” “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” puts us at the tip of the spear of the Rebel Alliance.  Said tip is headed by two rebels (played by Felicity Jones and Diego Luna) who volunteer to infiltrate a heavily defended, Imperial base to steal the plans to the Empire’s dreaded, new weapon, the Death Star.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is the scene when Darth Vader boards a Rebel ship.  Invisible within the dark hallway, his breathing can be heard…then the red light saber ignites.  Vader straight up murders dozens of rebel soldiers within a span twenty seconds, an unstoppable, evil force moving forward as he kills.  It is Darth Vader’s most terrifying moment in all of the “Star Wars” movies.

What makes “Rogue One” more satisfying than the last four “Star Wars” movies (Episodes I, II, III, and VII) is mostly due to a tight screenplay that does not contain many head-scratching moments that put off “SW” fans; and a more brutal depiction of combat where characters that you grow to like may not survive.  The “dogfights” are also faster paced, have better dialogue, and have great choreography.  And last but definitely not least: the numerous characters from Episode IV that are brought back, either through CGI or from unused film footage from the 1977 movie.

My ticket to “Rogue One” was money well spent, and this title will be part of my Blu-Ray library in the near future.

— M

B+

From the mind of J.K. Rowling comes “Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them,” an amazing tale of the adventures of a young wizard (perfectly played by Eddie Redmayne) who goes to NYC in the 1920s in order to retrieve and find homes for fantastic, magical beasts that would otherwise be destroyed by the wizarding community.

Redmayne will face many serious hurdles during his mission: not knowing how to navigate NYC (specifically Manhattan); being unfamiliar with the rules of the wizard community in NY; both wizards and non-wizards fearing the fantastic beasts and wanting them destroyed; and the wizarding community not sanctioning his search, capture, and release (into safe zones) of the beasts.

A larger threat is a powerful force that wreaks destruction and death in NYC, threatening to unveil the wizarding world to the normal humans.  A fantastic, magical beast is blamed; and Redmayne has little time left to prove to the wizards that the cause of the mayhem is some other, supernatural force.  If Redmayne fails at what he must do, a war between normal humans and wizards may erupt; and all the fantastic beasts in Redmayne’s care will be destroyed.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them” is the scene when **SPOILER ALERT** Redmayne and his wizard friend/love interest are sentenced to death, and we see the manner in which the execution is carried out.  The executioners mention that it won’t hurt, but I think it will!

“FBAWTFT” was much better than I anticipated, and it is a very good companion piece to the “Harry Potter” movies.  But it does suffer from two huge plot holes — or shenanigans, as I like to call it — that cannot be easily dismissed.  The wizards have the power to reverse any damage to property, and remove memories of magical experiences by normal humans.  In addition, the wizards can wreak such havoc upon the world and there is very little that the normal humans can do about it.  One wizard can probably destroy a small country in a day.  So why do the wizards fear having their existence revealed, and some possible war against the normal humans happening?

— M

Grade C+

After the mysterious and gruesome death of his beloved grandfather, Asa Butterfield (playing the lead role) discovers that his grandfather’s tales of children with super powers and the monsters that seek to kill them are all true.

What begins as spiritual healing for Butterfield ends as a wondrous adventure that is also terrifying as he is introduced to Eva Green (who plays the title role) and her home for peculiar children.  Each visit strengthens his bond with Green and her charges, especially for a floating, teen girl.  Happiness that has eluded Butterfield in his own world is finally found in “Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children,” but one mistake will jeopardize not only his own life, but the lives of all his new friends and love interest.  Butterfield and the peculiar children must learn to be brave and fight the monsters that have come to kill them.

My most memorable, movie moment of “M.P.H.F.P.C.” is the scene that shows how the monsters came to be, and why they need to kill peculiar children.  It may be a bit too much for little kiddies, so parents beware.

“M.P.H.F.P.C.” gets a mediocre grade because it has too many shenanigans.  Some of the peculiar children have powers that can devastate an enemy quickly, yet they don’t take advantage of them or they wait until the last minute to use them.  Granted, some are little kids and have never been in combat, but the older children could have easily instructed the little ones on how and when to use their deadly powers.  **SPOILER ALERT** One older child (I’m being nice here, because she looks like she is 25-years-old) has the power to generate so much oxygen from her body that she can float a sunken ship, yet she can only put out about 20 seconds of air to pin the lead monster against a wall, after which the monster is free to do more damage?  Get the hell out.

I found the first two acts of this movie to be entertaining, but the last act — where most of the shenanigans take place — left me questioning what the hell the filmmakers were thinking.

— M

Grade B

Director Antoine Fuqua teams up again with Denzel Washington to remake “The Magnificent Seven,” a story of farmers and miners who are being forced out by a rich, vicious gold miner (played by Peter Sarsgaard).  Those who take Sarsgaard’s deal are given the short end of the stick; those who refuse the deal will wish they had taken the deal.   But a handful take an alternative route: hire their own gunmen to fight Sarsgaard and his henchmen.

The townspeople end up with seven hired men: a peace officer extremely fast with a pistol; a sneaky gambler who likes to use magic to get the upper hand on his enemies; a notorious killer; a sharpshooter; an Asian who is fast with guns and knives; a legendary tracker; and a Native American deadly with a longbow.  Seven against a hundred.  But the seven have an edge…they have time to fortify the town and set up their defenses; and they have dozens of civilians at their disposal to train and help in the upcoming fight.  The good guys are confident of their chances to win; unfortunately, Sarsgaard has his own surprise for the seven and the rest of the townsfolk.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Magnificent Seven” is the scene when Sargaard brings out a Gatling Gun (an early machine-gun) to bring hell to those who dared oppose him.  This scene gives a major wow factor, and it also gives its biggest shenanigan.  Why did Sarsgaard wait until his men were getting their asses kicked to bring out his special weapon?  Also, at the range the Gatling Gun was used for in this movie, I wonder how effective the bullets would have been once they reach the town.

The Western movie, as far as I know, is an art form originally created in America.  As long as entertaining movies such as “The Magnificent Seven” keep getting made every few years, this American art form will never die.

— M

Grade A

Disney has produced another hit with “Moana.”  Playing the title role, Auli’i Cravalho is a princess of a South Pacific island.  Kind, intelligent, brave and adventurous, her desire to see what is beyond her island home is impeded by her father’s warnings of the dangers that are out in the deep ocean and Cravalho’s duty to stay home and learn how to be the next chief of the people.   She reluctantly gives up her dream of sailing into the ocean far from home…until the plant and fish that Cravalho’s people depend on to survive either die off or disappear.

Learning of an ancient tale of a demigod named Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson) who stole a precious stone that provided life to the ocean and islands, Cravalho goes on a treacherous journey to find Johnson and force him to put the stone back; and hope that would bring balance, peace, and life back to her world.  There will be many challenges for the young princess: she lacks knowledge of deep ocean sailing; she has a mentally challenged chicken as a stowaway; Johnson does not share Cravalho’s eagerness to return the stone back to where it belongs; a swarm of tiny, coconut-headed pirates roam the ocean; Johnson’s magic hook must be taken from a giant crab who will not give it up so easily; and a fearsome god made of lava guards the entrance to where the stone must be returned.  Yup, it’s going to take a team of brilliant writers to get her through all this!

My most memorable, movie moment of “Moana” is the scene when the princess gets a visit from her grandmother at a time when the princess is at her lowest, ready to give up and go home.  It is a touching scene, especially to viewers who have lost a loved one and believe that our spirits go on, and one day we will see them again.

Fully realized, likeable characters; a great story; positive messages; amazing animation; scenes that are very funny and scenes that put a lump in your throat; catchy songs…these are all present in “Moana.”  Bottom line, it’s a great movie that adults will enjoy with their children because, like most Disney movies, it just makes you feel better about life.

— M

Grade A

Manny’s Movie Musings: the theatrical cut has already been reviewed by me, so this is just a supplementary.  The Ultimate Edition of “B v S” adds over 30 minutes of footage to the theatrical cut, giving the movie more depth and answering some questions which many viewers had the first time around.  Questions such as why did the black villager blame Superman for the dozens of deaths in her village in Africa; and why Superman couldn’t see the bomb that was hidden in the motorized wheelchair.  Bottom line, a movie which I thought was good has become better with Snyder’s cut; and it’s good enough for me to buy it on Blu-ray disc when the price is right.

— M

Grade A

Outrageous!  Ridiculous!  Hilarious!  Highly entertaining!

Ryan Reynolds stars as a hired thug with a heart of gold.  His life of being a poor man’s “Equalizer” is turned upside down (for the better) when he falls in love with a woman (played by Morena Baccarin) who is in every way his soulmate.  Of course, life hits Reynolds in the groin when he is at his happiest moment: he is diagnosed with cancer.

The normally fast-talking, smart-ass Reynolds is devastated, mostly because of his fear of losing Baccarin and what his condition will do to her.  Then one night, a creepy looking man tells Reynolds that he can be part of an experimental program that will cure his cancer.  Desperate, Reynolds agrees.  Taken to a dungeon-like environment and strapped down, Reynolds understands too late what he is in for.  He is injected with chemicals that will try to unlock his latent mutant genes — assuming he has any — and then he’ll be subjected to non-stop torture in order for the stress to trigger his mutation.

The long, painful experiment is a success…so to speak.  Reynolds does become a mutant with powers to regenerate damaged tissue; but his skin has turned into something that resembles third degree burns. He is also a prisoner, and is threatened with having his mind altered so he can be controlled and sold as a slave to the highest bidder.

Torture and slavery not being part of his life goals, Reynolds escapes, puts on a suit to hide his identity and hideous face, takes on the name of “Deadpool,” and goes on a savage hunt to find those responsible for his freakish transformation.  But his ultimate goal is to force the bad guys to turn him back into a regular human so he can continue his life with Baccarin.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Deadpool” is the scene when Reynolds fights Colossus, an X-Men member with the power to turn his body into metal.  Reynolds hits Colossus with one hand and he breaks his hand!  He hits Colossus with his other hand and breaks that too!  Then Reynolds kicks Colossus and…yup, you guessed it: he breaks his foot!  Hopping around in pain with both hands and one foot broken, Reynolds kicks Colossus with his good foot and breaks that one too!  As I was trying to catch my breath while laughing my ass off, I wondered what the hell was wrong with Reynolds!  Then I figured it out: Reynolds just does not give up.

Parents: be warned, “Deadpool” deserves its R rating.  There is a lot of cursing and sex in this movie.  Oh, and lots of bloody violence.  Keep the kiddies away from this one.  For the adults: if you enjoyed “Ant-Man” and “Zack And Miri Make A Porno,” you’ll love “Deadpool” as it has many elements of those two movies.  The writers of “Deadpool” took a big chance on having Reynolds talk to the audience and make lots of movie references and insider jokes about filmmaking and celebrity; but the gamble paid off.  Instead of taking me out of the movie, I got more involved with it (I’m old enough to know all of Reynolds’ movie reference jokes) and it endeared me toward the Deadpool character — I wanted this guy to win; and judging by the box office receipts, so did many people.

Yes, Maximus, I was very much entertained.  I will see this movie again; but not yet…not yet.

— M

Grade A

When the Avengers accidentally kill civilians during one of their battles in Africa, the U.N. puts limitations on the superheroes’ actions, dictating when, where and how they are to fight the enemy.   One half of the Avengers are on Team Captain America (played by Chris Evans), believing that they should not surrender their autonomy to the committees of the United Nations.  The other half of the Avengers are on Team Iron Man (played by Robert Downey Jr.), believing that even superheroes should be held accountable, and it’s better to accept the U.N.’s rules now, rather than be forced into it at a future date when more draconian measures may be used against the Avengers.

Further complicating matters is a terrorist attack that is being blamed on The Winter Soldier (played by Sebastian Stan).  Stan, a former spy/assassin/brainwashed, all around bad guy with superpowers, is on the run from every law enforcement group, including Downey and his group of Avengers.  Evans, best friend of Stan, will do everything in his power to find Stan first and shield him from those who would want to kill him and/or put him in prison for life.

Downey warns Evans and his group to stand down, and if Evans does not comply, Evans will be seen as a criminal and will be treated as such.  And thus, the civil war between the Avengers starts.  On this corner, we have Captain America, Falcon, Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye, The Winter Soldier, and Ant-Man!  On that corner, we have Iron Man, War Machine, Vision, Black Widow, Black Panther and…Spider-Man!  May the best team win!

One of my memorable moments of this movie is the scene when we first meet a very young Peter Parker/Spider-Man (amazingly played by Tom Holland).  I thought Andrew Garfield was great at playing Peter Parker; but Holland kills it, playing the role so perfectly that he stole the whole show.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Captain America: Civil War” of course goes to the battle sequence between Team Evans against Team Downey.  This is absolute heaven to every reader of Marvel comic books.  It’s like eating the most indulgent dessert wrapped up in layers of more dessert, and then getting seconds and thirds!

“…Civil War” isn’t just a feast for the eyes and ears, it’s also a commentary on the legalities, complication, and ramifications of certain countries doing military ops in other countries, whether sanctioned or not.  Read between the lines and one can see a critique of America’s military actions on foreign soil.  For those who are just looking for entertainment, this third Captain America delivers, and then some.  The things we love in previous Marvel Cinematic Universe movies are found here: action, adventure, witty banter, strong social commentary, buff guys and gals in tight outfits, heart, soul, and first rate special effects.

— M

Grade B +

After finding the scepter of Loki, The Avengers decide to give Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo (playing Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, respectively) a few days to analyze the object.  The two Avengers’ meddling leads to the release of an artificial intelligence named Ultron who wants to destroy the planet.  With the ability to hack into mainframes, Ultron creates a robot body for himself that can match Downey’s Iron Man suit; and by stealing money from various accounts, Ultron gains the resources to create an army of robots that will help him kill all the Avengers and the entire human race.

“Avengers: Age Of Ultron” ushers in two superhuman siblings called Quicksilver and The Scarlett Witch who ally themselves with Ultron in order to get revenge against The Avengers.  Time is running out quickly for Earth’s superheroes, who have been dealt a near-crippling defeat by their new foes.  Ultron grows stronger each hour, and The Avengers must find a way to stay united if they are to have any hope of saving the planet.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Avengers: Age Of Ultron” takes place during the opening battle sequence.  There is a slow-motion shot that shows all six Avengers (The Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, and Hawkeye) on screen attacking the enemy.  It is something that will never be forgotten by all Marvel Comics fans.   My compliments to director Joss Whedon.

At second place for my memorable moment of this movie is the scene when the commander of the HYDRA base that is under attack by The Avengers asks his men if the superheroes can be held back.  One soldier meekly says, “They’re The Avengers.”

One small weakness of “Age Of Ultron” is that there is too much comedy in it.  Even Ultron cracks one-liners almost every time he is onscreen.  It also doesn’t help that half of the jokes don’t really work.  Despite this flaw, this Avengers movie is highly entertaining, more so for comic book fans.  The action sequences are amazing and the pacing is mostly fast, making the 2 hour 21 minute running time of the movie feel shorter than it is.

Forget Ultron, this is the age of comic book geeks like me who are gorging on one superhero movie after another.

— M

Grade B

In the realm of comic book characters, no match-up is more famous and argued over than Batman versus Superman.  Director Zack Snyder’s interpretation of this fight between two of the most famous comic book heroes is…good.  That’s a compliment, right?  Sort of.  For a movie that costs about $250 million (plus the cost of film prints and the shipping of these prints, and advertising expenses), this had better be a great movie.  So in one sense, it is a success because it made a lot of money — and will continue to do so — but in another sense it is a failure because it didn’t live up to its hype nor potential.

With a running time of about 2 1/2 hours, much is crammed into this movie — way too much, actually.  I’ll give you a quick rundown on this bloated movie.  The “introduction” of Superman (played by Henry Cavill) is a rehash of the ending of “Man Of Steel,” where Metropolis undergoes a severe renovation thanks to Cavill’s fight with General Zod and his henchmen and one henchwoman.  Of course, mere mortals die by the thousands.  Ben Affleck, who plays Batman, sees the destruction and deaths firsthand; and from that moment on, he sees Cavill as an alien who is too powerful and cannot be trusted to use his powers always for good.   Thus starts Affleck’s plan to fight and kill Cavill before Cavill has the chance to destroy Earth should he have a bad day.  Oh, and there’s the story about Wonderwoman, a weird version of Lex Luthor which was like a mix of The Joker/The Riddler, a mutant abomination called Doomsday, etc., etc.  As I said, bloated.

But “Batman v Superman” does deliver on the goods, which is the fight between these heroes.  Loosely adapted from the mini-series comic books “The Dark Knight Returns,” the fight between Affleck and Cavill is amazing, and will surely have every comic book fan of Batman and Superman salivating and grinning.  It’s the rest of the movie that has audiences sharply divided: half say it was boring and nonsensical, the other half say it was good, albeit far from perfect.

What do I say?  Yes, many parts of this movie was slow, but I never found it boring.  They were needed to tell the story, to build up the characters and their motivations.  In fact, scenes that showed Affleck’s and Cavill’s human side (the best and worst parts of us) were some of my favorite scenes.  It’s how “B v S” made me feel that was the most important to me; and this movie made me feel the anger, sadness, jealousy, rage, confusion, fear, love, friendship, trust, and hope that the characters in “B v S” felt.  This is the true appeal of this movie, because without it, we just have two guys hitting each other while wearing outfits that would look fabulous in a gay pride parade.

Third place for my memorable moments category of this movie is the scene when Wonderwoman (played by Gal Gadot) looks at files of “metahumans” and sees Aquaman, The Flash, and Cyborg.  Justice League, here we come!

Second place for my memorable moments of this movie is the scene when Cavill and Affleck finally start their fight with each other.  Unfortunately, it starts off comically as Cavill taps Affleck and Affleck gets thrown like a beetle getting flicked by someone’s finger.

First place for my memorable, movie moments of “Batman v Superman” is **SPOILER ALERT** the scene when Batman is about to kill Superman with a kryptonite pointed spear.  Superman, barely able to talk, begs Batman to save Martha, Martha being Superman’s mother.  Batman thinks Superman is referring to Martha Wayne, who is Batman’s dead mother.  When Batman finally realizes whom Superman is speaking of, he sees the human side of Superman.  Instead of viewing him as a dangerous alien, Batman now sees Superman as a good son desperate to save his mom, the way Batman always wished he could save his mom — and dad — from that tragic night when he was a boy.  And just like that, the Dawn of Justice begins.

“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” has its flaws, yes; but the emotional points of the movie hit hard and true.  And the fight between Batman and Superman…that glorious fight that comic book fans have only seen in cartoons and comics…it is a dream come true.

— M

Grade A

An allegory about human prejudice, xenophobia, and making our hopes and dreams come true so we can be more than what we are, “Zootopia” is a city in a world where animals have evolved to live in peace with each other.  Predator or prey, large or small, animals no longer have to live their lives based on what they are.   Anyone can be anything as long as they work hard…or at least that’s what the ideals are.  What we see is a bit more…complicated.

“Zootopia” stars Ginnifer Goodwin as the voice of a female, rabbit, police officer who searches for a missing otter.  Difficulties abound in her search because no one takes her seriously.  Her fellow cops believe she is a joke — after all, how can a small rabbit, and a female rabbit at that — effectively do a dangerous, physical job of law enforcement?  But what the other animals don’t see and recognize are Goodwin’s intelligence, never give up attitude, and courage that would put a lion to shame.  With only a sly, hustling fox (voiced by Jason Bateman) as her ally, they search for the missing otter and discover a conspiracy that seeks to destroy the peace between predator and prey animals.

One of my memorable moments of this movie is the scene when Goodwin, still a bunny, stands up to a bully who happens to be a fox.  The scene may be too intense for very little kids, but it’s a great set up to show the audience what Goodwin is made of.

Another memorable moment of “Zootopia” is the scene when Goodwin tells reporters that some predator animals in the city are becoming feral probably because it is in their nature to be that way.  They can’t help it, they are just born that way.  What a great scene.  Here is a character who has faced prejudice all her life, and now she’s spewing out the same, hurtful things, not realizing that she also harbors some of the ignorant views that she has seen in so many others.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Zootopia” is the scene at the Department of Motor Vehicles, where all the workers are Sloths!  Funny and brilliant!

Once again, Disney has hit a home run, giving us a very entertaining movie (with a lead character that is the cutest Disney had created in decades) that the entire family can enjoy, with the adults probably appreciating the more serious aspects of the movie.

— M

Grade B

Taking place in the mid-1800s in Feudal Japan, “13 Assassins” is the story of 13 men (12 samurai and 1 very strange man) who are tasked with assassinating a cruel, evil Lord (played by Goro Inagaki) to prevent him from attaining more power and wreak havoc throughout the entire country.

In charge of the assassins is a skilled samurai played by Koji Yakusho.  He hears and sees firsthand the evidence of Inagaki’s barbarism one night, and he gladly accepts his mission.  To finally go to combat after years of peace, and to kill possibly the most hated person in Japan…it makes Yakusho so giddy that his hands are shaking from the excitement!  But his happiness is tempered by the knowledge that Inagaki is protected by a samurai who is an old friend of Yakusho.  To kill the target, Yakusho will have to fight and kill his friend.

My most memorable, movie moment of “13 Assassins” is the scene when a girl who was tortured by Inagaki is brought to Yakusho.  Her clothes are removed, revealing limbs that were cut off by Inagaki — what was once a beautiful, young woman is now a pitiful, ghastly sight to behold.  Yakusho asks the girl a question, but she cannot speak because Inagaki has also cut off her tongue!

“13 Assassins” gives us a villain whom the audience will want to see suffer and die; unfortunately Inagaki’s character is so one-dimensional that he’s a caricature.  If he was replaced by a clay-motion figure, I don’t think it would matter.  Thankfully this movie also gives us many other characters that are multi-dimensional, especially that of the head samurai who protects Inagaki, even though he knows his Lord is a monster.  His bushido/samurai code forces him to stay loyal and protect his Lord/master no matter what.

Movies of this genre tend to have amazing cinematography, and “13 Assassins” doesn’t deviate from this.  The quiet moments usually have no movement from the camera, which I welcome after seeing so many Hollywood movies that look as if the cameraman suffered some type of palsy.  As for the action sequences…well, it has the typical shenanigan of one good fighter holding off and killing dozens of enemies.  In the case of this movie, 13 men fight hundreds.  Time and again, we see one or two of the good guys surrounded by dozens of their enemy, but manage to kill the bad guys because, well, the bad guys like to hang back and flinch as they attack one by one.  It’s not all b.s., as early in the final battle the assassins find ingenious ways to trap and whittle down the numbers of their enemy.  But once it’s katana against katana, prepare to suspend your disbelief.

— M

Grade A

When I first heard about the movie “Ant-Man,” I thought “You got to be kidding.  Ant-Man!  Of all the Marvel superheroes to make a movie about, you do Ant-Man!”  Well, I’m glad Hollywood made this movie, because it’s one of the best superhero movies ever made.

Paul Rudd plays an ex-con who is trying to live a straight life and provide for his daughter, who is living with her mom and her mom’s boyfriend.   Redemption comes in the form of Michael Douglas, who plays a former superhero and creator of the Ant-Man suit that allows the wearer to shrink to the size of an ant.   Douglas tasks Rudd with donning the Ant-Man suit so that he could infiltrate a highly secured building and steal a weapon prototype so that it could not be sold to the bad guys.  Rudd has but a few days to train, and his chances of coming out of this mission alive is slim…but he has high hopes!

One of my memorable moments of this flick is the scene when Ant-Man is fighting Yellowjacket — both hero and villain are in their tiny mode — within a toy, train set.  From the perspective of Yellowjacket, we see this enormous, noisy train bearing down on him, an impact sure to cause major catastrophe.  In the next shot, from the perspective of humans, we see the toy train simply and quietly fall off the tracks.  It was hilarious!  This is genius filmmaking!

My most memorable, movie moment of “Ant-Man” is the scene when Rudd accepts Douglas’ offer of redemption.  Rudd tells Douglas that he wants to do what’s right, and he has given up his criminal ways of breaking into places and stealing s@#t.   He asks what Douglas wants him to do.  Douglas says he wants Rudd to break into a place and steal s@#t.  Ha ha!

“Ant-Man” is a well-written (it better be with four screenwriters!) action/comedy that is matched with talented actors and a very good director.  Rudd plays an extremely likeable character that the audience will root for from the first minute that we see him.  There are many funny moments and the jokes are delivered with expert timing.  If you loved “Guardians Of The Galaxy,” you’ll love “Ant-Man.”

Yes, Maximus, I was very entertained to the point that I didn’t mind you throwing your swords at me.

— M

Grade A

Adapted from the legendary, comic book, mini-series of the same name written by Frank Miller, “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” is a tale of a middle-aged Bruce Wayne/Batman (voiced by Peter Weller) who has been out of the crime-fighting scene for a decade.  Gotham City has become what NYC was in the 1970s: a dirty, crime infested city where people were terrorized by packs of gangs.  Superheroes are banned — except for Superman, who is the U.S. government’s enforcer — and America is on the brink of a nuclear war against the U.S.S.R.

Everywhere he turns, Wayne is reminded of what a cesspool G.C. has become; and how even the good people have turned a blind eye to all the crime around them, afraid to do anything.  But most of all, Wayne is reminded of how his parents were killed…and what he became so that decent people would not be afraid to walk the streets.   The voice in his head…the visions…the anger…it all becomes too much to bear.  One stormy night, the Dark Knight returns, and criminals will have much to fear.

Many challenges and threats await Batman: his old age; the giant leader of the largest gang in G.C.; a girl who puts on a Robin costume to fight crime by herself, but ends up fighting alongside Batman and taking over as the new Robin; a new, police commissioner who sees Batman as a vigilante who must be arrested; an escaped Joker, revitalized by Batman’s appearance; and Superman, sent by the President to stop Batman’s crusade by any means necessary.

One of my memorable, movie moments of “TDKR” is the scene when Wayne stares at Robin’s costume on display in the Batcave.  Where is Robin?  What happened to him?  Many guesses have been made, with many thinking Robin was killed in the past.  A few years after the comic books of “TDKR” were written, the Batman comics had a storyline where the second Robin (Jason Todd) was killed by the Joker.  Many Batman fans link these two stories together.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Dark Knight Returns” is **SPOILER ALERT** the scene when Batman has beaten Superman — Batman did cheat on many occasions, but considering his opponent, it’s understandable — and Batman tells Superman “In all the years to come, in your most private moments, I want you to remember the one man who beat you.”  Oh, snap!

“TDKR” has many shenanigans…come on, it’s an animated movie based on a comic book!  But those shenanigans were found in the comics also.  This is a story where you have to let a lot of things go.  It is also a story that one can spend many, many hours analyzing, e.g., the justification Batman makes to allow a girl dressed as Robin (voiced by Ariel Winter) to join his extremely dangerous, possibly suicidal crusade against crime.  Also, Peter Weller’s acting leaves much to be desired — he mostly sounds like he’s doing his lines while still in bed and barely awake.  Overall, this is a faithful adaptation of a beloved comic book mini-series that crushes any of the Michael Keaton/Val Kilmer/George Clooney Batman movies, and is as good as the Christian Bale Batman movies.

“Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” parts one and two is a must see for any Batman fan!

— M

 

 

Grade B

You’ve heard of the saying “truth is stranger than fiction?”  In general, that’s a load of b.s.  What truth can compare with “Star Wars” or “The Lord Of The Rings?”  But in the case of “Moby Dick” and the true story from which Herman Melville based his novel on, the truth was much stranger — and horrifying — than fiction.

“In The Heart Of The Sea” tells the harrowing, true tale of the sailors of the Essex, a whaling ship from Massachusetts that was hit and sunk by a Sperm Whale.  The crew to was forced to use their small, whaling boats as lifeboats; and they crammed as much supplies as they could salvage from the sinking Essex.   Hundreds of miles from the nearest mainland, their supplies didn’t last long; and, ironically, fish was not readily available in the part of the ocean that they were in.  Thirst and hunger would turn the survivors to the only food source available: each other.

One of my memorable, movie moments is the scene when the crew of the Essex hunts its first whale.  Chris Hemsworth, playing the First Mate, harpoons the giant creature and takes Hemsworth and his men on a “Nantucket sleigh ride.”  The whale swims deep into the sea, desperate to escape the men who are trying to kill it.  Running out of oxygen, wounded from the harpoon, and tired from the struggle, the whale surfaces and Hemsworth makes the killing blow.  The whale spouts up blood and soon dies.  The men rejoice at their first kill…but Hemsworth isn’t so pleased with having to kill this majestic creature.  It’s his job, yes, and he needs the money to take care of his family (a wife and baby on the way); but he knows what he does isn’t completely justified.

My most memorable, movie moment of “In The Heart Of The Sea” is the scene when Hemsworth’s whaling boat has its first casualty: a sailor who has died from exposure, starvation, and thirst.  The other survivors are about to throw the body into the ocean; but Hemsworth has other ideas.  He tells his men that “No right-minded sailor discards what might yet save him.”

At first the sailors only eat the ones who have died.  But when the bodies have been consumed and the survivors were still out in the ocean, they begin to draw lots to decide who would be killed so that the others may live.  “ITHOTS” doesn’t delve too deeply into the cannibalism parts of the movie, rather it concentrates on the relationships of the sailors among themselves and their general fight for survival; and in the capable hands of director Ron Howard, it does that very well.

One bit of fact about the true story of the men of the Essex that I don’t recall was put into the movie: after the ship was sunk, the captain wanted to head for some islands that he knew they could get to before their provisions ran out; but his men scared him off with tales of cannibals in those islands.

— M

Grade B+

Six adventure seeking, female friends explore a cave in the Appalachian Mountains for fun and as a way to strengthen the bond among them.  Shauna Macdonald and Natalie Mendoza play the lead roles, the former having lost her husband and young daughter to a car accident, the latter being the natural leader of the group and wanting Macdonald to move on and heal from the tragic accident that occurred one year earlier.

What starts out as a fun adventure will soon become a nightmare as the entrance caves in and the women are trapped in a cave that Mendoza reveals to her friends to be one that has never been explored before, and that no one knows that the women went into this cave.  It is up to them to find a way out…if there is one.   As the women crawl and climb their way throughout the cave, flesh-eating, humanoid creatures are stalking them.  Making matters worse is a secret that Mendoza hides that can tear her friendship with Macdonald apart and reduce their chances for survival.

One of my memorable moments of this movie is the scene when one of the women falls and breaks her leg, and a bone is protruding from her flesh.  Another woman — a doctor — presses the bone back in so that she could put on a splint for the injured woman.   This was the most cringe-inducing scene of the movie.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Descent” is the scene **SPOILER ALERT** when Mendoza, in a fit of rage and terror as she fights the monsters, hears footsteps behind her and she swings blindly with her climbing axe and hits the neck of one of her friends!  The victim (played by Alex Reid) happens to be my favorite of the group, so yeah, this wasn’t a happy time for me.

The title of this movie can lead audiences to conclude that this is a descent into madness for Macdonald, who never got over the death of her child.  **SPOILER ALERT** This conclusion is reinforced in the unrated version’s ending of Macdonald’s escape out of the mountain to be a dream, and she wakes up still inside the mountain and seeing a vision of her dead daughter.  Macdonald smiles, the camera pulls back, and we see Macdonald alone with no way out, and we hear the monsters closing in.   Were the monsters all in her head and she killed her friends, or were the monsters real and Macdonald’s mind has fallen apart at the end?  I happen to think it’s the latter.  Of course, there is a sequel that answers the real or imaginary question.

“The Descent” is a very good horror movie that not only gives good scares, it has a virtually all female cast that shows women as being physically and mentally strong.  Name one other movie that has these features…I can’t.  I would have given “The Descent” a “Grade A,” but there was a shenanigan I couldn’t let go: the creatures hunt only by sound, and they could not smell their victims — the women — even though they were inches away from them.   A creature that lives in total darkness would have all its other senses heightened, and that would include the sense of smell.

— M

Revenant: one who returns after a long absence, or after death; a ghost.   Leonardo DiCaprio plays the title role in “The Revenant,” a scout/hunter in the early 1800s in the American wilderness who is badly injured in a Grizzly Bear attack.  Deep in hostile, Native American territory, DiCaprio’s hunting party decides to leave him and go on to the safety of the nearest fort.   Three men are left with Dicaprio (one of whom is the son of DiCaprio’s character, and another who is a hunter played by Tom Hardy) so that they may take care of the injured man and, if and when DiCaprio dies, give him a burial.  Days pass and DiCaprio manages to hang on, much to the disappointment of Hardy, who only thinks of himself and his need to escape the precarious situation he volunteered for.   Hardy decides to put DiCaprio out of his misery but DiCaprio’s son intervenes; Hardy kills the young man, then takes off with the other hunter under false pretenses of an impending attack by hostile, native tribes.

With the mantra of “as long as you keep breathing, you fight,” that is what DiCaprio does.   Slowly, very painfully, DiCaprio pulls himself out of the shallow grave that Hardy put him in.  What follows is a savage fight for survival against hunger, the freezing cold, and a war party of natives looking for a kidnapped daughter.    Each step, each breath takes DiCaprio closer to the man who killed his son.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Revenant” is the long, agonizing, cringe-inducing bear attack that DiCaprio endures.  Words cannot do justice to this scene…you just have to watch it.

Another memorable moment of this movie is the long, beautifully choreographed and directed scene of DiCaprio’s hunting party being attacked by an Arikara war party.  The camera goes into the heart of the fight, moving in all directions, going from one character to another, showing the brutality up close and from a distance, making the audience really feel as if we are in the middle of this barbaric struggle.

Of course, I have to mention the scene that had DiCaprio disemboweling a dead horse so he can go inside the body and keep himself warm during a snowstorm.  This memorable, movie moment reminds me of a scene in “Empire Strikes Back” that any “Star Wars” fan should be familiar with.

“The Revenant” has recently won many awards at the Golden Globes, and has received many nominations for the Academy Awards.  All the accolades this movie has garnered is not from hype.  This is a great movie about revenge and the will to survive, not just for DiCaprio, but also for Hardy.  To a lesser extent it is also about the destruction of Native American life and culture by the European settlers.   “The Revenant” is destined to be a classic.

— M

Matt Damon plays an astronaut.  Again.  He is on another planet.  Again.  He is stranded.  Again.  He needs to be rescued.  Again.  Only this time, in “The Martian,” Damon isn’t a jerk.  Quite the opposite, Damon plays an extremely likeable scientist/botanist who is left behind Mars by his team of astronauts when a sandstorm strikes and Damon’s team believed that he was dead.  With a temporary base camp for shelter and about one month of food, Damon has to use every resource he has available — including his sense of humor and a never give up attitude — to survive long enough for NASA to send help.

Damon’s character is so intelligent and resourceful that I mistook him for MacGyver a few times.  Make no mistake, 99.999% of us wouldn’t make it past day 10.  Does that make this movie highly unrealistic?  Of course not, because there are thousands of highly intelligent people out there; and NASA doesn’t send idiots out into space.  Plus “The Martian” is considered sci-fi, so a bit of shenanigans are allowed.

One of my memorable moments of this movie is the scene when Damon’s team (you know, the ones who scurried off the planet and left Damon for dead) are on their spaceship and close to Earth, and they are given the news that Damon and NASA have suffered several setbacks and Damon will most likely die on Mars.  But…there is a small chance he could be rescued if Damon’s team slingshots around Earth, picks up supplies provided by the Chinese, and heads back to Mars to prepare a James Bond-style pickup while in space (you’ll see what I mean if you watch a lot of James Bond movies).   It is a risky plan that jeopardizes the lives of 5 more astronauts/scientists and adds many more months of space travel, and the team takes a vote on whether they go home or go back for Damon.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Martian” is the scene when Damon figures out how he can create more food and oxygen and water to wait out the rescue that he hopes will come.  The ingenuity of this guy is amazing, and it is at this point that I was really rooting for this guy to make it.  I think most of the success of this movie is owed to Damon’s character connecting with the audience — we care about this guy, we feel great when he figures out a problem and are saddened to see a failure.  For two hours and twenty-four minutes, Damon is our friend who we want to see come home safely.

Yes, Maximus, I was entertained…but also confused regarding some of the science stuff that just went over my head.

— M

“Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” takes place about three decades after “Return Of The Jedi.”  A new threat to freedom and the Republic has risen: The First Order, led by Dark Side of The Force practitioner Snoke and his right hand man, Kylo Ren (played by Adam Driver).  A weapon more powerful than the Death Star has been created that can destroy multiple planets at the same time from a great distance; and The First Order is on the verge of using this weapon to wipe out the Senate and the Republic, as well as the Resistance which is lead by Leia Organa (played by Carrie Fisher).  Luke Skywalker (played by Mark Hamill), last of the Jedi Knights, is nowhere to be found; and the hopes of the Resistance and the Republic lie within BB-8, a droid that hides a map that can lead the Resistance to the whereabouts of Hamill.

Unfortunately for the Resistance, BB-8’s owner has been captured by TFO, and the droid is forced to fend for itself on a desert planet.  It wanders the sand dunes until it is rescued by a young woman named Rey (played by Daisy Ridley) who, with the help of John Boyega (playing the ex-Stormtrooper character of Finn), makes the dangerous journey to bring BB-8 and it’s precious cargo to the Resistance fighters.

Second place for my memorable moments of this movie is **SPOILER ALERT HERE** the revelation of who Kylo Ren is: the son of Han Solo.

Top honors for my most memorable, movie moment of “The Force Awakens” is **SPOILER ALERT HERE** the scene when Harrison Ford (playing Han Solo) confronts Driver to bring his son home and into the Light Side of The Force.  Driver confesses to Ford that he is torn between the Light Side and the Dark Side, and he needs Ford’s help.  Driver presents his lightsaber to Ford, who holds it along with his son.  Driver suddenly activates his lightsaber, and the blade goes through Ford’s body, killing him.  What no bounty hunter, gangster, or Stormtrooper could do, the son of Han Solo has done.  I can’t say I was shocked as I kind of saw the set-up for it, but…it was hard to accept that the cocky pilot, hero, pirate and rebel is gone.

Other Episode VII movie moments that deserve honorable mentions are: 1) the introduction of the Millennium Falcon by Ridley, who calls the ship garbage; 2) a Stormtrooper wielding a baton that can parry a lightsaber; and 3) the appearance of a female Stormtrooper — no, not Captain Phasma, but a low-ranking Stormtrooper (the voice is clearly that of a woman).

Writer/director J.J. Abrams and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan have brought their talent and love to the third set of “Star Wars” movies, finally freeing “Star Wars” fans from the shadows of Lucas’ failures.  But before you start raising your Force FX Lightsabers into the air in triumph, “Empire Strikes Back” is still the best “Star Wars” movie so far; and “The Force Awakens” does stumble a few times.  Boyega’s Finn is too often the clown, ruining a great character (a soldier with PTSD seeking redemption and peace).  Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber (the one he lost when his father cut off his hand in “Empire…”) is in a chest owned by a character with small eyes and big glasses — what the hell!  Boyega’s lightsaber duel with Driver, and Ridley’s lightsaber duel with Driver produces so many unanswered questions that fans were forced to seek answers elsewhere (such as comic books or the novels) — hey, if I have to go online for answers, then the filmmakers didn’t do their jobs.  And some of the questions are still unanswered because some of the “answers” are just guesses.  Then you have rookie mistakes by Abrams in showing the face of Kylo Ren too early in the movie (which ruins the mystery of what is behind the mask) and an ending which belongs in a television series instead of the movies.  Oy!

Have we “Star Wars” fans been freed from the vile clutches of Lucas only to fall into hands of The First Order led by J.J. Abrams?  Difficult to see, always in motion is the future.

— M

Of the “Star Wars” prequel trilogy, “Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith” is the best movie.  Is this a glowing recommendation from yours truly?  Surely, you jest; and yes, I am calling you Surely.  “Episode III” is, after all, written and directed by George Lucas.  I could end my review with that previous sentence; but since I gave another two hours and twenty minutes of my life to another Lucas movie that did not live up to my expectations — or to anybody’s, as far as I know — I will give more details as to what I think of this movie.

“Revenge Of The Sith” focuses on the fall of Anakin Skywalker (played by Hayden Christensen) from being a Jedi knight to becoming the Sith Lord, Darth Vader.  Christensen’s fear of losing his wife (played by Natalie Portman), his ever growing ambitions, and his anger at the Jedi Council for the perceived slights against him make Christensen an easy target to be taken over by the Dark Side of The Force.

It is indeed a dark time for the Republic: total war has spread throughout most of the solar systems; Jedi Knights struggle to bring order to the galaxy; and the Republic’s Chancellor is at the heart of this turmoil, fueling the war so that he would be given more emergency powers that would eventually make him Emperor — and not one Jedi foresaw this until the end.  This giant flaw in the story is something I wrote about in “Episode II.”  Here we go again.

How can one Sith Lord turn every Jedi into a blind idiot?  Yes, the would-be Emperor is very powerful, but Yoda almost beat this guy in a fight!  And Yoda would’ve finished the job if Yoda hadn’t fallen a great distance and the Emperor’s reinforcements didn’t show up.  And Samuel L. Jackson (playing Jedi Mace Windu) actually beat the Chancellor in a fight!  Obviously the Chancellor wasn’t that powerful.  Remember in “Empire Strikes Back” when Mark Hamill (playing Luke Skywalker) asked Yoda if the Dark Side was more powerful?  Yoda quickly said no; but the Dark Side was more seductive.  So tell me exactly how the Chancellor was able to keep secret from every Jedi Knight all his plots and schemes for several decades?  Bottom line, that’s what George Lucas wanted, and instead of giving us a plausible reason as to how things played out, he got lazy with his screenwriting and gave us flimsy explanations.

Enough of my rants…for now.  There are many bright spots to “Revenge Of The Sith.”  We get to see Chewbacca for the first time in this trilogy!  And yes, he is once again played by Peter Mayhew.  We see the birth of Luke and Leia; we are treated to the early versions of the X-Wing fighter, Imperial Shuttle, TIE fighter, and the All Terrain Scout Transport (“chicken Walker”); Princess Leia’s Blockade Runner ship makes several appearances late into the movie; and we get glimpses of a younger Grand Moff Tarkin and Captain Antilles.

Lucas’ third part of his “Star Wars” saga has many flaws, but the good more than outweighs the bad.  And here are my top three memorable, movie moments of “Revenge Of The Sith”: #1) the last two minutes of Christensen’s duel against Ewan McGregor (playing Ben Kenobi), where Christensen forces a move based on his bravado and anger, and suffers greatly for it; #2) the first 30 seconds of the movie — we get a flash of storytelling genius from George Lucas here; and #3) the montage of Portman sitting quietly in her home and Christensen in the Jedi Council chamber, his mind racing and soul struggling to decide whether he should save the Chancellor — and thereby save his chance to possibly learn how to cheat death and save Portman — or let him be arrested by the Jedi.  #3 deserves to be watched multiple times by any filmmaker or writer, because it shows how much emotion and information can be conveyed without dialogue.

What we have here is Ferrari with a body that is perfect and immaculate; but the owner never spent the money to change the fouled spark plugs or change the rusted exhaust system or replace the brake pads that have worn down to their last millimeter.  The result is a car that looks like a million bucks but runs like a $1500 beater.

— M

“I’ve been dying a little bit each day since you came back to my life.”  “I truly, deeply love you.”  “…being around her is intoxicating.”   If you’re like me, you’ll find these lines in “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack Of The Clones” nauseating.  This is dialogue I expect from a first time screenwriter who is still in Junior High School.

Co-wrote another mediocre screenplay, George Lucas has.   One of my greatest fears is that Lucas writes or co-writes another “Star Wars” screenplay; and my fears came true again with this movie.  Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.  And so, my fellow “Star Wars” fans, we again suffer through another Episode that had so much promise that went unfulfilled.

Ten years have passed in the “Star Wars” universe since Episode I.  Thousands of solar systems have left the Republic (the Separatist Movement); intergalactic war is imminent.   Hayden Christensen (playing a teen-aged Anakin Skywalker) is now a powerful, Jedi apprentice, learning from Ewan McGregor (playing Obi Wan Kenobi).  Both are tasked with unraveling a mystery as to who is trying to kill Natalie Portman (playing Senator Amidala).  This leads to an awkward, ten year reunion between Christensen and Portman, leading to awkward banter, leading to awkward flirting, leading to a cringeworthy romance.  Let’s get this straight: Christensen and Portman are good actors; but no matter how good your actors are, if they are given a s*#t script, you will get a s*#t performance.   It’s like giving a Ferrari low-grade fuel that’s been sitting around for 5 years.

Anyway, as Portman and Christensen are making kissy faces at each other, McGregor investigates a bounty hunter involved in Portman’s assassination attempt.  This leads him to a planet where a clone army (clearly, the predecessor of Stormtroopers) has been ordered by a Jedi Knight for the use of The Republic.  Who exactly ordered this army, and why?  The overall plot of “Attack Of The Clones” is a good one, with a bit of mystery and a few plot twists; but most of all it contains the evolving relationship between Portman and Christensen, and Christensen’s slow descent into the Dark Side of The Force .  In the hands of a skilled screenwriter, this movie would have soared to new heights that would have approached the level of “The Empire Strikes Back.”  Instead we got Stevie Wonder behind the wheels of a Lamborghini.

Please give me a few moments to suffer in silence as I ponder on what could have been…

Okay.  On to Manny’s memorable, movie moments.  One such moment is the scene when we see jet packs come out of R2-D2’s legs and he starts flying!  That was super cool!  I’m sure we were all geeking out with that scene!

And for my most memorable, movie moment of “Attack Of The Clones”…Yoda’s lightsaber duel with Count Dooku!  I think every “Star Wars” fan yelled out “holy s*@t” when the little dude lit up his green saber and went off on Dooku!  In “Empire Strikes Back” Yoda said “Judge me by my size, do you?  And well you should not.  For my ally is The Force, and a powerful ally, it is.”  He was not kidding.

Nitpicking time.  Wasn’t it nice for the insect army of Geonosis to let Portman keep her utility belt during the execution scene so she could slip out a pin to remove her shackles and escape?  Didn’t you find it odd that McGregor didn’t bother to help out Yoda during his fight with Dooku?  Yes, McGregor was wounded, but he could still wave his hand and move things around.  What about Portman’s decoy (played by Rose Byrne) who was a few feet away from a huge explosion that destroyed a large ship?  A few minutes later into the movie, she’s right as rain.  Yoda mentions early in the movie that it is impossible to see the future.  WTF, George!  In “Empire…” Yoda and Luke saw the future (Han and Chewbacca being tortured in a city in the clouds, Leia being the other hope)!  George Lucas had Yoda say this to cover his ass re: why none of the Jedi Knights — none, none, all these years — foresaw Anakin becoming Darth Vader!  And one doesn’t have to be clairvoyant to see that Anakin Skywalker is a bad egg — just look at his face, his attitude, the things he says, his reckless actions, his disregard for authority.  What about…never mind.   I should know better than to ask when dealing with a writer/director who spends hours finding the right pattern on a piece of clothing for a character that shows up for only two seconds, yet does not put in the time necessary to turn in a script absent silly lines of dialogue and plot holes.

Yes, Maximus, I was entertained, but equally disappointed.  A movie this important to “Star Wars” fans, with a gigantic budget and thousands of people working in it should be as close to perfect as possible.  No excuses are acceptable.  So here are your grades, George Lucas: Special Effects — A; Sound Effects — A; Costumes — A; Sets — A; Direction — B; Screenplay — F-.

Now go home and get your shine box!

— M

 

 

Written and directed by George Lucas — six of the most fearsome words to movie fans, these are.

“The Phantom Menace” is the first part of the prequel trilogy to the “Star Wars” movies.  Lucas goes way back here…before Luke Skywalker was born, before Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader, before the dark times, before the Empire.

Senator Palpatine (who would become the Emperor) has created a false threat — a phantom menace — about a growing conflict involving taxation of trade routes and embargos and invasion and war, all to set in motion events that will allow him to rise in power as he promises to bring order throughout the galaxy.   Put into this turmoil are two Jedi Knights — Liam Neeson and his apprentice, Ewan Mcgregor (playing a young, Ben Kenobi) — who, throughout their mission, encounter the droids R2-D2 and C3PO, a young Anakin, and Anakin’s future wife (played by Natalie Portman).

One of my memorable moments of this movie is the scene when we are first introduced to R2-D2.  Portman’s ship is under attack, and her deflector shield has been damaged.  Four Astromech droids are sent outside to mend the broken parts, and three are quickly destroyed by enemy laser beams.  R2-D2 is the last droid standing, and it manages to bypass the thingamajig’s energy particle dilithium crystal thingies to repair the damage.  R2 saves the day, setting a precedent that will last all six episodes.

As most “Star Wars” fans may have guessed, my most memorable, movie moment of “The Phantom Menace” is the lightsaber duel between McGregor and Ray Park (playing Darth Maul).   Whatever problems the movie had — and it had plenty of them — they all went away when Darth Maul emerged and his light staff lit up to fight  Neeson and McGregor.  Unfortunately, when the duel was over, we were again in the world of Lucas’ shortcomings.

I want to be fair to Lucas.  I believe the man is a genius when it comes to filmmaking.  It’s not that he lost that ability, it’s that he lost his focus: instead of focusing on the story and characters, he started focusing on the costumes and special effects and sound effects and action sequences.   There are parts in “Episode 1” that shows his talents: the droid army entering Naboo’s capital is similar to the Nazis entering Paris during WW II; the duel between the Jedi Knights and Darth Maul; and Lucas’ great use of the subject of a government creating threats to instill fear in those they govern, in hopes the people will give the government more power to supposedly provide greater protection for the people.

All of the good things above are crushed by the following: Jar Jar Binks (and his way of talking that sounds like a black buffoon of early movies); horrible dialogue throughout the movie (“Are you an angel?” — I almost throw up every time I hear that line); the Trade Federation who sound like stereotypical, old Jewish men; the character Watto who sounds like a stereotypical Arab man; enemy droids who talk like idiots (“roger roger”); the lack of emotion on Anakin’s mother when Anakin leaves her (was she not capable of acting like a distraught mother who may never see her young son again — in which case it’s Lucas’ fault for not casting someone who was capable of doing so — or did she have the talent to do so but Lucas didn’t see a need for all that drama, in which case it’s Lucas’ fault for lacking the vision to know that the separation scene should have been more emotionally devastating).   Okay, I’ll stop beating a dead horse.

“The Phantom Menace” is light years away from being in the same league as “The Empire Strikes Back,” but it still has to be seen by every “Star Wars” fan because it’s part of the story, whether you like it or not.  We’re stuck with that movie…search your feelings, you know it to be true.

— M

 

 

More secretive than the CIA or MI6 or the Mossad or the He-Men Women Hater’s Club, I give you “Kingsman: The Secret Service.”  Led by Michael Caine (manning a desk) and Colin Firth (as lead Kingsman field operative), the spy organization keeps an eye on world threats and puts an end to them in a quick and violent way.

The biggest threat facing the world and the Kingsmen is a billionaire madman (played with a lisp by Samuel L. Jackson) who is planning to kill most of the population in order to save the planet.  Further down the list of concerns for the Kingsmen is their need to find new agents to train.

Enter Taron Edgerton, who plays the son of a Kingsman who died saving Firth.  Edgerton also displays natural, raw talents to be a good spy, so Firth takes him under his wing to learn the trade and see if Edgerton can finish at the top of his class in order to become a Kingsman.

And so, we have these two stories intertwined and mixed with a heavy — and I mean heavy — dose of rated R violence and language to give the audience an extremely entertaining, fast moving, very funny (“Kingsman” is an action/comedy, after all) movie that will surprise you in many ways.

Second place for my memorable moments of this movie I will give to the church massacre scene.  Describing the who, how and why will spoil too much; so let me just say that the body count in this church is about the same as the entire “Rambo III” movie.  I’m not kidding.  I’ve seen about as many violent movies as your typical politician sees hookers, so I’m used to seeing carnage on screen.  But this church scene had me stunned.

Taking first place among my memorable, movie moments of “Kingsman” is the scene when Edgerton comes upon the prison cell of a Princess.  He’s about to get her out, when more pressing matters demands his attention.  He tells her he’s off to save the world.  And her reply?  “If you save the world, we can do it in the *@#hole.”  Whoa!  Whoa!  Now that’s what I call a reward!  And that’s a Princess I can get behind and give my full support!

Fans of “Shaun Of The Dead,” “Hot Fuzz” and “Kick-Ass” will enjoy “Kingsman” and therefore should give it a try.  And yes, Maximus, I was very entertained.

— M

 

In “Taken,” his daughter (Maggie Grace) went missing.  In “Taken 2,” his daughter and wife (Famke Janssen) went missing.  In “Taken 3,” his wife goes missing.   If “Taken 4” gets made, what will be missing…the audience?  This series is getting old, and so is Liam Neeson, the star of the “Taken” movies.  Don’t get me wrong, I like older characters — I have more common with them since I’m no Spring chicken myself.  But Neeson — despite the fancy, quick editing during his fight scenes — sometimes looks slow and tired (and I’m not talking about fight scenes when his character is injured).

Okay, here’s the quickie of the story: Janssen is killed and Neeson is framed for the murder.  Neeson goes on the run, beating the hell out of the LAPD and causing dozens of car crashes as he solves the puzzle of who killed his ex-wife and why.  The audience is sent on a wild ride (made more wild with the overuse of fast cutting and a camera so shaky I wondered if the cameraman had Parkinson’s Disease) as we get closer to the end and the truth, which thankfully had some decent plot twists to keep the movie from becoming too predictable.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Taken 3” is **SPOILER ALERT** the scene near the end when Neeson has proven his innocence and he is having a conversation with Forest Whitaker, who plays a cop in charge of Janssen’s murder investigation.  Whitaker lets Neeson go but asks that he doesn’t leave the city in case he has further questions.  Are you kidding!  Neeson put a lot of cops in the hospital, directly caused high speed car chases that resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage and probably dozens injured if not dead — I know he’s a white guy, but come on!  I’m calling shenanigans!

Overall, “Taken 3” is worthy of taking 109 minutes of your time.  For those who have seen the first two movies, you may as well finish the trilogy; Liam Neeson is a likeable actor who plays a likeable character; the movie moves fast and has lots of action to keep you awake; and there is a big gunfight where a bad guy has a big gun but no pants.

— M

 

The seventh movie in the “Fast And Furious” series has Vin Diesel’s and Paul Walker’s crew under attack by Jason Statham, who plays the brother of the main bad guy that Diesel and Walker took down in the previous movie.  “Furious 7” opens with Statham leaving the hospital where his brother is in a coma; a hospital that Statham destroyed single handed, with bodies of special response team police lying dead and wounded.  This is a clue that we’re in for a violent, outrageous, ridiculous, extremely unrealistic, and entertaining movie.

Deciding to take the fight to this shadowy assassin/gangster/terrorist, the fast and furious crew travel the world to find and put a world of hurt to Statham.  But there is another part to this story: there is something called God’s Eye, which allows the user to usurp tech devices that have cameras and GPS to find anyone anywhere.  Statham has it, the CIA wants it, and the CIA is willing to help the fast and furious crew find Statham in return for retrieving the God’s Eye.   Game on.

One of my memorable, movie moments is the scene when mixed martial arts champion Rowdy Ronda Rousey fights Michelle Rodriguez.  Completely unbelievable, as Rodriguez’s character lasts for a few minutes against Rousey, and the fight was a draw.  I love Rousey, and I enjoy anything she’s in!

Another of my memorable moments of this movie is the scene when Dwayne Johnson is carrying a mini-gun ripped from a Predator drone and fires thousands of rounds at bad guys.  The problem is…based on the feeding belt that was attached to the mini-gun, it only had a couple of hundred rounds left.  Military advisers?  We don’t need no stinkin’ military advisers!  Oh, yes you do, director James Wan, yes you do.  But then again, “Furious 7” is basically a live-action cartoon, and not to be taken too seriously.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Furious 7” is the final scene.   SPOILER ALERT here, albeit not much of a spoiler as it is shown in the music video “See You Again.”  Walker and Diesel, each in his own car, say their final goodbyes, and they drive off, taking different paths.  The camera follows Walker’s white Toyota Supra, and pans upwards into the heavens.

Paul Walker, I’ve enjoyed your movies; and from what I’ve read, you were a good person.  May you be happy and at peace, surrounded by friends and relatives who have gone before you.

— M

Fourth in the “Jurassic Park” movie series, “Jurassic World” proves that some people just don’t learn from others’ mistakes in the past.   Taking place decades after the original movie, the idea for a Jurassic Park has turned into a full blown theme park called Jurassic World.  New technology is in place to control the dinosaurs; but the old way of thinking — profits over safety; believing that large, extremely powerful and dangerous, genetically engineered animals can be fully controlled and contained — still exists.  As you may have guessed, the newest Frankensteinasaurus escapes, causing a domino effect that releases more dinosaurs, giving the audience shocks and giggles when we see the puny humans devoured by the animals they paid to see.

Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard have the starring roles as a dinosaur trainer and the manager of Jurassic World, respectively.  Pratt basically plays the same character he did in “Guardians Of The Galaxy”: smart-ass, charming, and witty with a heart of gold.  Howard starts is an ice queen whose entire reason for being is to manage Jurassic World in the most efficient, cost effective way; but her character arc was a bit of a surprise to me, and that’s always a good thing, because a predictable movie sucks.  The Pratt and Howard characters are polar opposites that manage a very good chemistry that adds to the appeal of this movie when the crap hits the fan and the running, screaming and dying begin.

One of my most memorable, movie moments is the prolonged attack on Howard’s assistant.  Fought over by multiple dinosaurs, she is tossed, flipped, dropped, grabbed, scooped up and finally eaten.  This part will either make you cringe or laugh.  I did both.

Another memorable, movie moment is the scene that has the first appearance of a Mosasaur, an aquatic dinosaur the size of a whale with a mouth bigger than the average car.  Too bad the wow factor is severely diminished due to the endless commercials showing the entrance of this beast.

And now, for my most memorable, movie moment of “Jurassic World”: the scene when Pratt tells Howard that she has no business going out into the wild looking for Howard’s nephews.  Howard rolls up her sleeves and ties the ends of her dress shirt into a knot by her stomach, hinting to Pratt that she’s ready for action.  Pratt asks her what all that is supposed to mean.  Ha ha, funny stuff.  Unfortunately, it does decrease the tension quite a bit, and the movie does that quite often; and that’s not what you want to do when this kind of story is in full swing and it’s a life and death situation for everyone on the island.

Overall, “Jurassic World” is a very good, highly entertaining movie.  Sure, there are things that doesn’t make sense, for example: Pratt being able to somewhat train the raptors, supposedly because he was there when they were born and they imprinted on him.  Huh?  These are velociraptors, not ducks.  Whatever, I give this movie a pass on the shenanigans, because it delivered on its main purpose.  Yes, Maximus, I was very much entertained.

— M

 

The final movie of the original “Star Wars” trilogy, “Return of The Jedi” bestows upon fans the rescue of Han Solo (played by Harrison Ford), the truth of the connection between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker (played by Mark Hamill), a massive, Rebel Alliance offense against the Empire’s new Death Star; and the long-awaited, final duel between Vader and Skywalker.

For the hundreds of millions who have seen this movie countless times, there’s almost nothing I can say that you haven’t already read or heard about.  For those who still haven’t seen the movies, what are you waiting for? Take 6 hours of your life and watch Episodes 4 through 6.

So what’s so special about this Special Edition?  An enhanced, Sarlacc monster (you know, the big mouth in the desert that looked like an angry anus), a new song and dance number in Jabba’s palace (which I thought was not in the same tone as the rest of the scenes in that place, and therefore made the movie worse, new celebration scenes and music at the end of the movie, and a bunch of little things here and there that most won’t notice…ksjgl…wlodkwwwlloosp0-0%$…sorry, I fell asleep.  Okay, let’s keep it moving.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Return of The Jedi” is the scene when Vader’s helmet is removed.  After 9 years of the “Star Wars” trilogy, we finally see what is behind the mask!

Second place for my memorable moment of this movie is the scene ***Spoiler Alert*** when Mark Hamill realizes that Leia (played by Carrie Fisher) is his sister!  She is the person whom Yoda referred to in “Empire…” when Yoda said there is another hope.

Taking third place among my most memorable moments of “Return…” is the scene that had Fisher in the Slave Girl outfit that put a smile on so many young boys.   Princess Leia/Carrie Fisher was at her hottest!

3 years after “The Empire Strikes Back,” George Lucas and company ties up the first trilogy in a mostly satisfying way.  Ewoks, eh, I could have done without them.  I would have preferred the original vision of having Wookies instead of Ewoks.  Sadly, the Special Edition didn’t replace the midget bears with Wookies.  On the upside, “Return of The Jedi” is the movie that had the least tampering when it comes to the Special Edition.  And that is a good thing, because Lucas has a tendency to keep changing the first 6 “Star Wars” movies.  I’ll take this movie as it was, flaws and all, back in 1983 when it first came out, the same year my parents took me to the movies to see it.

Flaws are usually not a good thing, but they are part of what makes us what we are.

— M

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My parents bought me these 2 items when we saw the movie in 1983

I had my doubts about “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” before the movie even came out.  Why?  Because I watched it’s predecessor, “Captain America: The First Avenger,” and found it unsatisfying.  Although the first movie had a lot of heart, and there were many things done right, too many of the combat scenes were corny, and that’s what killed it for me.  It reminded me of the 1980s “G.I. Joe” cartoons where the violence was done in such a way that you got the feeling that no character was truly hurt.  Sooooo…I was very surprised and happy to see that “…Winter Soldier” mostly got rid of the corny fight scenes and embraced the gritty, brutal nature of combat.

Also gone is the boy scout attitude of Captain America, played by Chris Evans.  The U.S. government, with the help of SHIELD, has created weapons that are supposed to fight our enemies and keep Americans safe; but Evans sees a great potential for abuse and the weapons being turned on those they were meant to protect.   As his trust in SHIELD deteriorates, Evans digs deeper and uncovers shocking secrets about SHIELD.  Evans’ discovery turns him into a fugitive, on the run from SHIELD who unleashes The Winter Soldier, a man who has the same fighting skills and powers as Evans.  Who is this Winter Soldier?  Well, that’s a surprise.

One of my memorable moments of this movie is the scene early in the first act when Evans drops into a ship that has been taken over by pirates.   Moving at a speed that is almost too fast for the human eye to catch up, Evans destroys the enemies in an almost savage way.  With some of his attacks, he clearly kills his enemies.  Other times, it is ambiguous whether he kills them or knocks them out/cripples them.  He is, after all, so powerful that he can easily break bones and rupture organs with one blow.  Whatever the fate of his enemies, the fights are more graphic than “…The First Avenger.”

Another memorable moment of “…The Winter Soldier” is the scene in the elevator where SHIELD soldiers are packed in with Evans.  Seeing signs that this is an ambush, Evans says to the large men, “Before we get started, does anyone want to get out?”  Haha!  I loved that!

My most memorable, movie moment of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” has to be the sequence that shows Nick Fury (played by Samuel Jackson) being attacked by dozens of police officers using fully automatic rifles.  It was a lengthy assault that brings this movie to a higher level of intensity.

“…The Winter Soldier” is not just an action/adventure movie.  It also goes into the realm of suspense/thriller, and we can thank the writers for that.  Of course, the glue that holds all this together is the actor Chris Evans.  He is so well suited to the role of Captain America that I can’t think of anyone else who can play that superhero better than Evans can.

Be sure to watch the end credits because bonus footage is hidden there.

— M

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