Thor: Ragnarok (2017), or Thor and the Amazing Technicolor Marvelverse

Earlier today, I had the pleasure of seeing the third installment in Marvel's Thor series. Directed by Taika Waititi of What We Do in the Shadows fame, Thor: Ragnarok has almost everyone head over heels with delight. And they've got good reason to be. Ragnarok is hilarious. From its absurd settings, colorful cast of characters, and heart-wrenching ending, this film is sure to please fans of the MCU and nab a few naysayers along the way. Read More

Movie Review: Hot Tub Time Machine (dir. Steve Pink; 2010)(A SFF Film Odyssey)

The first time I saw Hot Tub Time Machine (dir. Steve Pink; 2010), I wasn't sure how to take it.  So much of the film made me uncomfortable because the characters seemed, for the most part, painfully unlikable.  That fact became clearer as I began comparing HTTM to other films of its type, leaving me to wonder:  why would I root for anyone in this movie when I'd rather each of them got hit by a bus instead of the one-armed Phil (Crispin Glover)?  Here lies a film that I'm sure even a teenage version of myself would find impossible to stomach -- bereft of redeemable characters, excessive for shock value, and overall a perfect storm of the worst raunchy comedy tropes.  It's a film best avoided so you can spare your brain the scrubbing.
HTTM is another take on the raunchy teen comedy, albeit one which uses time travel so its adult characters can relive the glory days of their teen years.  The story follows Adam (John Cusack), Nick (Craig Robinson), and Lou (Rob Corddry), former high school friends who reconnect after Lou attempts suicide because he can't let go of the past.  Together with Adam's nephew, Jacob (Clark Duke), Adam and Nick try to raise Lou's spirits by taking him on a trip to the fictional Kodiak Valley, where the three them used to party in their youth.  The problem:  like their lives, Kodiak Valley is quickly falling apart.  But surprise...their hot tub moonlights as a time machine, and soon all four of them are whisked away to the 1980s, reliving their glory days all over again.  Only this time, they're going to do things a little differently.  OK, a lot differently.

Like most raunchy teen comedies, HTTM is about a few things:  partying, sex, drugs/alcohol, and friendship.  It also happens to be about a group of almost ne'er-do-wells striving to fix their past mistakes in what is best described as hypermasculine wish-fulfillment.  One of my favorite examples of this subgenre is American Pie (dirs. Paul and Chris Weitz; 1999), which on its surface is just another "teens trying to get laid" story, but upon closer inspection becomes a comedic critique of the subgenre's tropes and an amusing tale of young men on the cusp of actual adulthood -- mediated, of course, through a narrative primarily focused on sex.  It's far from a perfect film, in part because it relies, at times, on too many of the cheap sexist gags that continue to plague raunchy teen comedies, but it is a film that, at its core, is about something beyond the simplistic "fucks and friends" stories that lazier raunchy teen comedies present.

HTTM's narrative, however, is exhausting primarily because it is so unlike American Pie in its vulgarity.  Where American Pie attempts at a correction of its high school dickery by making most of its characters realize the absurdity of an anti-virginity pledge, HTTM flips everything in the other direction by trying to convince us that the only real answer to the world's problems is for the sex-crazed, drug-addled, lazy troublemaker to have unprotected sex with his friend's sister.  It doesn't temper its vulgarity to support its narrative of friendship, either; it relishes in the excess of its validated crude "hero."  Lou repeatedly cries out "semen" and other vulgarities as he knowingly impregnates Adam's sister, all so we can watch Adam cringe, as we rightfully should, at what is happening.  It is a film awash in its own bodily fluids, unsure how to paddle out of the kiddy pool.  Every crude act, mistake, and horror is validated in this film as appropriate male behavior.

Worse, where American Pie shows its characters actually working toward a future, almost all of the characters in HTTM are essentially thieves who either literally steal from the hard work of others, as in the case of Lou (a girlfriend who "gets him") and Nick (a music career), or who steal time to make up for past mistakes, as in the case of Adam (who uses his future knowledge to screw over the Google creators by making Lougle).  Because ultimately, all of the protagonists are losers with no perception of the future, no plan, no hope, no dream.  Their dreams have died with their youth.  In this stark atmosphere -- which can only lead us to Idiocracy (dir. Mike Judge; 2006), not the conclusion the film actually gives us -- we're also smacked over the head by the fact that the younger generation is resigned to a similar fate, as Jacob's future is practically forfeited from the moment we meet him.  The young, like the old, have no dreams at all -- as Adam says to Jacob while castigating him for spending all his time playing Second Life:  "You're twenty years old. You've never made an important choice in your life."

This would be brilliant if it were an intentional satire of what we might call the new Lost Generation of men -- if the comedy was at their expense, not as a reinforcement of their values.  But HTTM is none of these things.  It is a male power fantasy whereby self-disenfranchised 40-somethings can drink, fuck, and steal their way back to success.  That makes its comedy all the more irksome and all the more less palatable than something more honest with its narrative.  American Pie, for example, is a mostly successful comedy about young men learning what it is to be men (and sometimes (often) failing, learning the wrong lessons, or becoming mockeries of themselves); HTTM is a comedy about the men who never learned the right lessons and never will.  One of these stories is funny.  I'll let you guess which one.

About the only thing I can praise the film for is its soundtrack, which contains such classics as Motley Crue's "Home Sweet Home" and Salt-n-Pepa's "Push It."  That's what I'll choose to dwell on for the next few hours.

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Movie Review Rant: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010; dir Jon Turtletaub) — A SFF Film Odyssey Review

Though not the first live-action remake of a Disney cartoon, 2010's The Sorcerer's Apprentice is part of what might be called Disney's 1st Phase of Live Action Remakes, sitting right between the last of the Pirates of the Caribbean (At World's End; 2007) trilogy films and the much more interesting Maleficent (2014).  If this is a phase of live action remakes, then it is a loose one, with an unclear path -- a test bed, if you will, since the previous remakes have mostly taken the form of almost faithful adaptations of existing stories (101 Dalmations in 1996 and Alice in Wonderland in 2010, for example) or adaptations of existing characters or rides:  The Country Bears (2002), Pirates of the Caribbean (2003, 2006, and 2007), and The Haunted Mansion (2003).  The Sorcerer's Apprentice, along with Alice in Wonderland, appear to be "cusp" films, resting on the precipice of a second phase of live action remakes. Now, Disney has or plans to release a torrent of remakes or adaptations in what seems to be its second phase:  Maleficent (2014), Cinderella (2015), Tomorrowland (2015), The Jungle Book (2016), Alice in Wonderland:  Through the Looking Glass (2016; the sequel to Burton's previous adaptation), Pete's Dragon (2016), and Pirates of the Caribbean:  Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017).

So how does The Sorcerer's Apprentice measure up in this new "renaissance" of live action remakes or adaptations?  Unfortunately, about as well as you'd expect:  on par with The Haunted Mansion, a less-than-stellar film which probably shouldn't have been made in the first place.  Unlike Maleficent, which was flawed but thematically compelling, The Sorcerer's Apprentice is a muddled mess of an adaptation.  Tonally inconsistent and obsessive in its need for grandiosity, this film is the mark of a studio that has yet to develop a clear path, which makes The Sorcerer's Apprentice forgettable and mediocre at best.

Let's begin, shall we?

The Plot(s)(s)(s)(s)
The Sorcerer's Apprentice isn't exactly a torturous film; a better description might be painfully mediocre.  The film opens by committing what I consider to be one of the Sins of Filmmaking:  opening with a narrated prologue that turns out to be more interesting than the actual main narrative.  Right from the start, we're told that Merlin had three apprentices -- Horvath, Balthazar, and Veronica -- who vowed to maintain order against a sect of sorcerers known as Morganans -- the followers of Morgana le Fey (Alice Krige), who decided, as evil people are wont to do, to destroy the entire world, presumably so she could remake it in her own image or something like that.  The apprentices seem to have Morgana and her followers under control; that is until Horvath (Alfred Molina) decides to betray Merlin, allowing Morgana to murder the famous sorcerer and steal his power.  In the final moments, Veronica (Monica Bellucci) casts a binding spell, merging her soul with Morgana's and forcing Balthazar (Nicholas Cage) to entomb both within a nesting egg as part of a kind of stasis spell.  With Merlin's final breath, he tells Balthazar to find the Last Merlinian using his magic Merlinian-detecting dragon ring.

Thus ends the first part of the narrated prologue.  I kid you not.  The first 5 minutes of this movie are spent telling us a story that would barely fit into a movie of its own.  And there's more.  There are entire minutes of Balthazar wandering around the world for centuries in search of the Last Merlinian, all with someone (I assume Molina) narrating it for us.  This is followed by our first introduction to our supposed main character, Dave (played initially by young Jake Cherry and later by Jay Baruchel), who lives in modern day Manhattan, has a crush on a girl, and can apparently wander off in the middle of a field trip with nobody immediately noticing -- especially if he wanders off in search of his "do you like me, yes or no" note.  Go figure.  That paper magically flies into a mysterious shop, in which Balthazar lies in wait, ready to pounce like the predator that he has become.  Dave is somehow convinced that he should stick around and let a weird creepy older man put a dragon-shaped thing in his hand.  And then all hell breaks loose.  Dave accidentally opens a giant nesting egg, which releases Horvath, who has, like others before him, been entombed for quite a while.  There's a wicked cool magic fight (seriously, the magic is pretty cool in this movie), Balthazar and Horvath are trapped in a weird gizmo, and Dave has a total freakout, only to be laughed at because that's what happens when you try to tell people there are wizards and what not.

That's the end of stories two and three, by the way.  There's more.  Yes.  More.  Finally, we get to grown up post-therapy Dave, who has somehow become a physics nerd cliche.  Horvath and Balthazar are finally released from the giant weird urn that sucked them up in the first place, there's yet another fight over Dave, who was the last person to see the remaining layers of the nesting egg, and finally, we get to the point:  Dave is special McSpecial because he's the Last Merlinian; Balthazar will teach him (because he actually needs Dave to fix the binding spell on Veronica and banish Morgana forever; I know, there's a lot of shit here), and all of that has to take place while Horvath is having crazy fits of, well, crazy trying to either kill Dave, capture Dave, release Morgana while trying to kill Dave, or generally trying to hurt Dave somehow, but never actually doing it except in really small ways, because no movie villain would be complete without being utterly inept at the one job they were gifted to do:  kill the "good" guys.  Meanwhile, Dave has a crush on a girl from elementary school, and she's suddenly back in his life, so he tries to date her and be super suave; oh, no, I'm totally bullshitting, because Dave spends the entire movie assuming he's no good at basically anything other than Tesla coils...cause reasons.

That's story four.  There's also a fifth story:  it turns out that Balthazar and Horvath both fell in love with Veronica, but Balthazar actually got the girl, and that pissed off Horvath, who then turned to the Dark Side because his wittle feelings were hurt.  And that's still a thing in the present.  For narrative tension purposes, obviously.  Also:  Dave is kind of in love with Becky (Teresa Palmer), even though he hasn't seen her since the 4th grade, but since he's our hero, the film will make a big fuss about it all.  Otherwise, she's not that important to the movie.  Except for one brief moment where she moves a satellite dish and sorta saves the world.  But the film barely acknowledges that event...

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the plot we're presented in this movie.  Or, should I say, five different movies crammed into one 109-minute Disney flick.
And that leads me to...

You're a Confused Puppy, Movie
Much like the first of Jackson's Hobbit movies, The Sorcerer's Apprentice is utterly confused as a film.  It doesn't know if it wants to be an epic fantasy set in medieval Europe, a time-shifting magic journey through various exotic locals, a love story, another love story (but with a triangle and lots of betrayal), a kid's fantasy adventure in modern America, or a really late coming-of-age story about a dorky "uncool" kid finding out he's got wicked cool powers and can totally get the lady, y'all. It's like the film is having this conversation with itself (over and over):
It wants to be all of these things (even though the trailer is clearly of the "dark" variety), but by trying to do so, it ends up being none of them.  The overarching magic apocalypse plot is not enough to tie the pieces together into a coherent whole.  Rather, that overarching plot is so thin that it reveals how poorly constructed this film really is.  This was cobbled together from multiple subgenres, with no logical transition between any individual point.  The only real binding element is Balthazar, but he is discarded as the "main character" as soon as young Dave appears on the screen, reminding us that this story isn't actually about all that other stuff from "back in the day" -- and never was.

By being so cobbled together, The Sorcerer's Apprentice is tonally inconsistent.  The first narrative is actually quite dark by comparison to the subsequent stages of the film, each less serious than the supposed frame narrative -- this despite the pending magic apocalypse.  The "true" narrative is meant as an action comedy, with predictable (though sometimes amusing) master/apprentice banter and villainous buffoonery (most of which isn't actually funny).  The comedy feels out of place.  This is such a serious film from the start, so to try to turn that serious plot into a less serious one seems like an act of desperation:  the writers had to find a way out of what was clearly not a plot for kids (and, yes, this is a movie meant for kids because it's essentially that part of Fantasia, but drawn out for two hours).

Nicholas Cage, Will You Always Be My Magician Daddy?
Cage's role as Balthazar is probably my favorite of his numerous acting jobs in the last five years or so.  Though he has little to work with in this film, his role as the somewhat subdued but quirky mentor is actually enjoyable -- and almost lovable.  Given Cage's storied career, there's a certain irony at play here.  Rather than indulging in the kind of antics one might find in a film like Face Off (1997), The Sorcerer's Apprentice pokes fun, deliberately or otherwise, at the kind of characters Cage so often plays.  Balthazar is not Face Off crazy:
He's this much crazy:
That's a still shot from the actual movie.  After a fight scene involving an ancient Chinese wizard and a dragon, David literally asks Balthazar, "Are you insane?"  The response is almost precious.  These small bits of humor make the film enjoyable at times, so much so that I almost wish this were more of an epic film whose primary plot was the story of a sorcerer and his apprentice than a film that wants to be everything.

Cage has a dozen or so moments like this, sometimes facilitated by Baruchel and sometimes reliant on a previous context (such as the joke about the shoes he forces David to wear).  Essentially, the film made Balthazar my favorite character, since it never seemed like Cage was trying to be funny.  He just was.  Horvath's apprentice?  Almost desperate to be the funny incompetent villain, but never successful at it.  He's just incompetent and irritating.  Baruchel?  The same.  Desperate whiney apprentice becomes mostly annoying apprentice who probably should die just to make the film interesting again.

But Balthazar?  Actually funny.  Actually interesting, if not flawed or thinly developed.  Such is life.

Oh, the Ladies Sorta Do Stuff, Too
There are three "main" female characters in this film:  Becky (a college student who runs her own radio station), Veronica (one of Merlin's apprentices), and Morgana (the villain...sorta).  You'd think a film featuring three women in various positions of power would actually get things right, but it doesn't.  For the most part, the women in this story do nothing of consequence.  If they do anything of significance, it either occurs in off screen or in the final minutes of the film.  Let's do a quick rundown:
Veronica, the first woman we're introduced to, is technically fridged in the opening moments.  She is ultimately what motivates Balthazar to spend centuries searching for the Last Merlinian, even though he actually needs David to do the job of finally killing Morgana.  Balthazar even keeps his love of Veronica a secret, leaving David to find out about it from Horvath in what is a convenient "see, your mentor lied to you and probably told you that girls were a distraction, right" plot twist that doesn't actually amount to anything because David doesn't react and nobody really seems to care.  And in the final moments, Veronica is not an active participant.  Despite being a far more powerful sorcerer than David -- if not in terms of power levels, then certainly in terms of experience -- she spends most of the battle lying on the ground or standing around doing nothing.  At the very least, you'd think she'd offer David advice in his battle with Morgana, but she neither helps him in the fight nor in his attempts to bring Balthazar back from the dead.  The great sorceress:  fridged love interest, and that's about it...
Morgana is a different story.  Taking the form of cosmic villain or force, she's less a person in the movie than the film's version of Voldemort.  Horvath does most of the work as villain, though he turns out to be more incompetent than his master.  Though Morgana does lose in the final moments, it's a mostly forgivable loss, since she did spend centuries in a nesting egg.  One is bound to get rusty, after all.  I think the portrayal of Morgana as cosmic entity suits the story, though I wish she had been a more active participant.  A more interesting narrative would have had Horvath release her near the beginning of the modern narrative, putting him as second fiddle to her villainous appetites.  Alas, like so many female characters in this movie, she spends most of the film doing nothing.
Like Veronica, Becky spends a lot of time staring at the man for whom she is the love interest, and despite running her own radio station and appearing to be in control of her own life, her role in this film is almost entirely that:  to be the love interest.  Though she does help David and Balthazar in the final confrontation by facing her fear of heights and climbing to the top of a satellite dish perched atop a skyscraper (so she can turn it and prevent Morgana's spell from functioning), this feels almost secondhand.  So little of Becky's story is integral to the overarching plot that any intersection between the two seems like just an excuse to make her more part of Balthazar's world, and thus also a hybrid like David, than a good reason to give us a competent female character who just happens to be the lead's romantic compatriot.  This is no more apparent than in the framing:  the first time we meet Becky (as a young girl), she is coded as "young boy's love interest" by David's presentation of a note that asks her whether she wants to be his friend or girlfriend; this is brought up again right before David goes off to fight Morgana and is finally answered after Morgana is defeated:  girlfriend.  That Becky faced her greatest fear and managed to save the world?  I guess that happened, but we can all forget that because of this:
The Sorcerer's Apprentice is hardly the worst offender when it comes to the portrayal of women in sf/f films, but it isn't one which does anything memorable with its female characters.  These are bog standard characters:  villains, fridged loves, and love interests whose actions are less important than whether she kisses the hero.  I guess I just want more, and now that there are so many films which feature female characters who give me more, I'm less patient with contemporary films that don't.

Jay Baruchel, Oh How I Loathe Thee
The Sorcerer's Apprentice holds the distinction of being the only film to date that has made me dislike Jay Baruchel.  It's not that Baruchel is a bad actor or anything like that; the problem is that Baruchel is never given a chance to transcend his nasally "no confidence" caricature into anything resembling a sympathetic hero.  He does participate in the final battle by actually becoming a Super Saiyan...
OK, well, not quite.  He really did a thousand hadoukens while fighting a shadow version of Morgana, having spent most of the movie being remarkably inept at actually using his magic powers.  But, y'know, in a clincher, he can just fire off ten straight minutes of hadoukens like they were nothin'.
Here.  See for yourself:
Sure.  That looks cool (not really; the whole "let's borrow stuff from DBZ and Street Fighter" is beyond lame), it has no bearing on the rest of the film, since at no point does Dave actually grow as a character.  There's no transition.  Right up until the final "battle," Dave is always on the verge of walking away or believing he is basically worthless.  Some of that is understandable, given what happened in Narrative #3, but after a while, it gets tiring.  The attractive college girl is obviously into you, dude.  You know how we all know?  She willingly came over to your not-quite-legal underground physics lab (in what looks like an abandoned camp for war time prisoners) at night, and also willingly climbed into your metal cage and let you shoot lighting from Tesla coils all around her.  By that point, either she really really likes you, she's really really really into slightly mental physics tricks, or she's insane.  Those are your three options.  

Also:  when a guy who has been around for nearly 1,000 years and rides a giant metal bird monster tells you you've got what it takes to be a great sorcerer, you should probably listen.  Especially if he's Nicholas Cage.

But, no.  What the film gives us is a Doubting Dave doing his doubt face all over the place.  Totally ace.  It's exhausting...

One Final Thing:  That Scene You Know a Film Called The Sorcerer's Apprentice Would Have
You know what I'm talking about.  This scene:
Well, The Sorcerer's Apprentice remakes it:
My problem with this isn't the act of the remake.  The scene is fine by itself.  It's even a little fun.  The problem I have with the scene is that it feels so forced in the context of the film.  David is already kind of a failure by this point of the movie.  He gets flustered by his inability to do what Balthazar wants him to do, despite numerous attempts on his master's part to remind him that it takes time, and he never seems to accept that his responsibility in this new world is such that Balthazar would naturally be disappointed by an apprentice going after a girl instead of training.  So we don't need this scene to make that disappointment more apparent.

Likewise, the scene just doesn't fit.  The Fantasia version is lighthearted.  Mickey Mouse stomps around and conducts an imaginary orchestra while mops run about cleaning things -- per silent instruction from his master.  It's fun.  Silly.  Goofy.  It's a moral tale about messing with powers beyond your control, but told through a children's cartoon.

The version in The Sorcerer's Apprentice is none of those things.  David only wants to clean his magic physics dungeon so he doesn't drive Becky away by seeming immature.  If there's a moral lesson here, it's one muddied by the intent, which is implicitly a sexual one.

Given that the film bears no resemblance to Fantasia's most memorable sequence, this all seemed painfully unnecessary -- in the same way that the reversal of the Kirk/Spock relationship in Star Trek Into Darkness seemed unnecessary.

Conclusions:  Oh, Right; I'm Supposed to Have Final Opinions
Honestly, I don't think The Sorcerer's Apprentice is anywhere in the worst 100 films of all time.  It's probably not even in the bottom 200 or 300.  But it's certainly not a good film.  If anything, this is just a lazy movie, and it's that laziness that makes this film less than enjoyable.  From the bloated plot to its confused tone to its typical treatment of its female characters, The Sorcerer's Apprentice is more or less what you'd expect from a studio trying to cash in on a quick buck.  Unfortunately for Disney, it doesn't look like they succeeded.

Directing: 2/5
Cast: 2.5/5
Writing:  1/5
Visuals: 4/5
Adaptation: 2/5
Overall:  2.3/5 (46%)
Inflated Grade:  D+

Movie Review: The Maze Runner (2014)

I didn't really have high hopes for The Maze Runner (2014).  Sure, I looked forward to seeing it on the off chance that it would be a lot of fun, but I didn't expect it to be a particularly "good" movie.  And it's not, but neither is it "bad."  The Maze Runner is just another entry in a long line of YA dystopia adaptations, one which never seems to escape the confines of a cinematic formula.

At its most basic, The Maze Runner can be summed up as follows:
Thomas wakes up in a mysterious elevator cage without any memory of who or where he is, only to be thrust into the company of a ragtag group of boys who have learned to survive in the Glade, which rests at the center of a massive, murderous maze.  But Thomas isn't as willing to accept the status quo as the rest.  Desperate to understand why they are in the Maze and who designed it, Thomas tries to piece together his fragmented memories and find a way out of the Maze.  Doing so, however, may threaten the entire community...
The premise of the film is fairly standard YA dystopia stuff, although what apparently separates Thomas from the rest of the boys is his curiosity, which sounds less like a magic skill than some kind of behavioral conditioning that the film barely acknowledges.  Fans of the books have been raving about this film, as to be expected, which might explain why it has earned nearly $200mil worldwide as of Oct. 5th, 2014.  But I'm not convinced that The Maze Runner will have a lasting impact.

Clearly, I'm less enthusiastic about this movie than fans of the book.  First, the film ends on a massive cliffhanger that is only barely foreshadowed in the handful of clues offered to us throughout the story.  Though I generally loathe cliffhangers, I did at least expect this one because I had read the novel.  However, what the film doesn't do is provide a cogent motion from "we know absolutely nothing about what is going on, except some vague speculation" to "oh, now we have the whole story because [spoilers]."  The ending is so abrupt that it shatters any semblance of logic the audience had pieced together throughout the rest of the film, leaving a kind of cold, detached sensation that I'm not convinced was intentional -- and if it was, not in the way I mean.  There are likewise numerous gaps in the film's logic, such as why the stingers on the Grievers (the monsters of the maze) have the effect they do or what the Maze has to do with what has happened in the real world (I still don't understand how that part works).

Second, the film's pacing is either stilted or simply "off."  In one important scene, Thomas is attacked by a Runner (folks who map the maze in order to find a way out) who has been stung, but this scene comes out of nowhere without any real buildup, and it ends in a remarkably anticlimactic way.  There are likewise moments in the film which arise in such a hackneyed fashion that I could see the "character development time" coding on the figurative wrapping paper.  These types of scenes jump back and forth in a way that limits the buildup to the climax; for me, this meant that those final moments lacked the impact that they needed to escape the bonds of the cliffhanger.  I almost want to blame this on the script, but I think there is a deeper problem here.

That problem might be that The Maze Runner is utterly forgettable.  The direction, while serviceable, falls short of delivering something that would separate this film from its contemporaries.  There is tension here, but it is lackluster, simple.  Take this scene, for example:
This is the first time we hear the sound of the Maze or witness the doors closing, and it is clear that what we're supposed to feel is not dissimilar to what Thomas' face conveys:  fear and confusion.  But what the scene evoked for me was less tension, fear, or confusion, but rather the activity of producing those feelings.  I should feel chilled by that howling wind or the sudden realization that something weird is going on.  A shift of sound or a manipulation of perspective shots could do the trick, but what this clip does -- and what much of The Maze Runner does -- is give me the feeling of a feeling, but rarely the feeling itself.  Simulacrum, if you will.

This became apparent to me upon rewatching Gareth Edwards' Godzilla (2014).  Though an imperfect film, there's a clear sense in Godzilla that Edwards understood the scale of a world at the mercy of giant monsters.  Thus, we end up with scenes like this:
The above clip is the first time we see Godzilla "in full," though he remains too larger for the film's frame.  The entire scene is built on tension, moving from the almost ant-like motion of humanity and its devices to the slow, deliberate crush of Godzilla's foot, which severs the massive wall of sound, as if suggesting that everything has simply stopped.  And then the roar.  That roar.  The buildup to it is gorgeous, with the discordant choir building to crescendo.  It's beauty incarnate.

To be fair to The Maze Runner, perhaps I should point to a genre-related example:  The Hunger Games (2012).  In doing so, however, I hope it will become apparent what I mean when I suggest that The Maze Runner manages to be serviceable, but never seems to use the various regions of the filmic space to convey the feelings it intends the audience to receive, just as its characters, as I'll discuss later, so often lack those same emotions (even Thomas seems less scared than utterly confused in the clip provided above).  Take the Cornucopia sequence from The Hunger Games as an example:
As in the Godzilla clip, this sequence uses sound to enhance the tension of the scene, rolling in and out from the discordant music to Katniss' footfalls and back again.  Additionally, the scene uses light to give that sense of confusion and disorientation, albeit somewhat unsuccessfully because it doesn't maintain the POV shot long enough in my opinion.  Basically, there's depth here.  Certainly, neither The Hunger Games nor Godzilla are as well-crafted as, say, 12 Years a Slave (2013) or the low-key science fiction "comedy, Her (2013), but they do make use of the filmic space at least in a simplistically "deep" way to enhance the spectacle of what we're seeing.  But The Maze Runner is saturated, simplistic, and thin.

This also comes down the film's inability to present characters with much in the way of actual character or development.  The lone tragic villain, Gally (played by Will Poulter), is one of the only characters with any real arc, moving from stern toughy to violent overlord who wants to preserve the existing order out of fear.  But even he is an archetype of sorts, never rising above the scripted narrative we should have all seen coming from the first fifteen minutes of the film.  The same could be said of Chuck (Blake Cooper), the adorable chubby kid who thinks about the parents he's never met -- my friend and I knew exactly what would happen to him in the end.[1]  But the rest of the characters are simplistic and, sadly, dull.  The lead, Thomas (Dylan O'Brien), spends most of the film with a confused look on his face, which would be fine for the first twenty minutes, but quickly becomes irritating as you realize this is the only emotion he seems to have:  confused fear with a side of confused yelling.  There's little else to him, and that can't be explained away by his initial amnesia, unless we're assuming (and falsely, given how the narrative progresses) that the builders of the Maze stripped everyone of their personalities before leaving them to their own devices.  Instead, we just have to assume Thomas was as dull before the Maze.
This is doubly true of the only main female character in the novel -- Teresa (Kaya Scodelario).  At no point do we learn anything about her that would suggest that she is anything other than a female anomaly.  What little we do learn is filtered through Thomas, who remains the focal point for the conspiracy underlying the construction of the Maze.  The result:  Teresa becomes an object, not in the sense of a "sex object," but in the most literal sense of the term.  She's just this thing that exists in the movie to serve the plot.  Her gender is incidental.  Meaningless.  In fact, the only reason Teresa must be female is so that the boys can comment on the fact that they don't know anything about women -- though, in fairness, the jokes are had at the expense of the boys and are less about sex than about their supreme ignorance about what women are like as people.[2]  Otherwise, Teresa's sex is completely irrelevant to the plot.  This wouldn't be a problem if not for the fact that she is the only girl for most of the film, and there's no way to ignore that fact when so much of the story that precedes her entry is coded as irredeemably "male" (tribal man fights, drinking alcohol to put fuzz on your whatsits, and so on).

All of the characters suffer from this dull, archetypal mindlessness.  Given that the bulk of the film focuses on life in the Maze, this dullness allowed me to wander to the Maze itself.  Rather than the environmental horror it was meant to be, it became the one true character in the entire novel, adapting and shifting from start to finish to accommodate the plot changes.  That the Maze was more memorable than the people is telling of the film's lackluster performance in most other respects.
On so many levels, The Maze Runner is simply "present."  It never rises up to offer anything beyond the models on which it is clearly based, nor does it ever totally fail at imitation.  Even an ambitious failure would have been notable, but Wes Ball's directorial debut (at the feature length level) aims for comfort.  While I'm sure fans of the books will enjoy the film, I'm convinced that The Maze Runner will be forgotten because it isn't bold enough to transcend its genre.[3]  I started to forget the movie mere days after seeing it, not because I thought it was a bad film, but because it seemed to me to be a film without a purpose other than mere entertainment -- and even on that mission, it was fleeting.  Perhaps I am becoming bored with the YA dystopian model in film in the same way that I have become bored with it in literature:  imitation that barely meets the burden of original take.  Here, though, I think the problem has less to do with the narratives than it does with their presentation.  The Maze Runner was an OK book, but I always thought it would make a better movie; unfortunately, I may have been wrong.

Directing: 2/5
Cast: 2/5
Writing:  2/5
Visuals: 4/5 (the visuals are quite nice, actually, even if they are not presented in a particularly compelling way)
Adaptation: 2/5 (though reasonably faithful to the book, I don't think that actually works in its favor)
Overall:  2.4/5 (48%)(for lackluster direction, dull characterization, and forgettable-ness)
Inflated Grade:  C- (I'm tempted to give this a D+, but I don't think it's actually bad enough to qualify as Torture Cinema)

------------------

[1]:  Cooper does give one hell of a final performance, though.

[2]:  Honestly, I don't think the film relays a sexist message here.  There is only one noticeable joke about Teresa's gender, which occurs after she has hidden herself away in a watchtower and begun chucking rocks at the boys in an effort to get them to go away (mostly because she has no idea what is going on and they're trying to help her through the transition period).  One of the boys comments, "Is this what girls are like?," indicating to the audience that a) he's never seen a girl in his entire life, and b) he has no idea what to expect from a girl given that his daily experiences involve boys.

[3]:  Granted, The Maze Runner is a modified form of the Minotaur and the Labyrinth myth from ancient Greece.

Movie Review Rant: Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

I've only recently decided to watch the new iterations of the (in)famous web-crawler.  Originally, I had no intention of ever doing so, in part because of a misplaced loyalty to the Raimi renditions (2002, 2004, and 2007).  The real kicker, for me, was the fact that these films came hot off the heels of a preceding adaptation, and they were not a continuation of the original story, but a reboot.  Something about that rubbed me the wrong way.  But then I broke down and watched Amazing Spider-Man (2012; I'll talk about this movie another time) and liked it well enough that I wanted to see how the character would progress.  And so here I am -- reviewing Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)(ASM2 from now on).

(There will be some spoilers in this review.  I have, however, refrained from spoiling major plot elements that you wouldn't have learned about from the trailers.  I will discuss some of these elements in the footnotes, though, as they need to be discussed in the context of my rant.)

ASM2 is about a lot of things.  Peter Parker's relationship with Gwen Stacy and his conflict with her now-dead father's last request (stay away from her).  The truth behind Peter's parents' deaths -- what they were doing when they disappeared, etc.  Harry Osborn's desperation to live.  Spider-Man.  Angst.  Honestly, the more I think about this movie, the less coherent its plot seems.  There are so many things going on here that it is actually hard to determine what actually matters for the overarching narrative.  Is this about Peter Parker and his parents?  The film wants us to think so...for a while.  Is it about Peter and Gwen?  Ditto.  Is it about Harry and his daddy issues?  Apparently.  Max Dillon (a.k.a. Electro)?  Yup.  There are at least two new origin stories in this film, most of which draw attention away from the more interesting personal elements -- Peter's parents and Gwen.  In fact, if this had been a film about one villain, one parental issue, and one romance, with each tied together into a cohesive whole, this might have been on par with Captain American:  the Winter Soldier (2014).  Alas, it was not to be.

If it's not clear, I'm going to tear this film a new one.  But to make you feel better, I'll start with some things that I liked about the film.

First, though I know there are some problematic gender-related issues with regards to Peter and Gwen's relationship, I can't help but admire the dedication to the complexity of their relationship.  There's a sense here that their relationship is real, based on a mutual interest in what one another is feeling or desires (in life or a relationship).  This contrast with the Spider-Man elements is needed to humanize the character and remind us that, yes, Peter Parker really is just a young dude.  One of the things I loved about ASM2 was its brief focus on Gwen's career and the decisions she makes (a reminder that Gwen is actually a young professional on her way to bigger things than just "graduating high school" -- this film, in a way, is as much about her as it is Spider-Man, or at least feels that way).  This is not a movie where the woman is asked to give everything up for the guy; instead, Gwen and Peter both understand that Gwen's opportunities abroad are one-of-a-kind, and that it would be unfair for him to ask her to stay simply for a high school romance.  In the end, it's Peter who offers a solution that involves neither of them giving anything up at all:  he'll move with her.  I don't know how often we see compromise of this sort in film; regardless, it was an element that gave the film a bit of life.
There's a lot more I could say about Gwen, too.  For a film that essentially sidelines the female characters for the male hero (it's Spider-Man, after all), it does at least give Gwen something to do other than play the damsel in distress.  True, she's rather limited in that she's got the brains to out-think Spider-Man's superpowered opponents but not the physical prowess.  But she does help Spider-Man by giving him information for his tech and by participating as an active agent in the climactic fight scene.  In fact, probably the strongest bit of characterization in the entire movie takes place in that fight scene.  This scene condenses the overarching narrative that defines Peter and Gwen's relationship into two important thematic components.  First, Peter's attempts to stop Gwen from participating -- to control her -- when he webs her to a car so she won't follow him on his way to face Electro.  Second, Gwen's assertion of her own agency, and Peter's relinquishment to the reality that his powers do not give him the right to control her decisions.  This is shown when Gwen frees herself and reappears on the scene (I won't ruin this whole scene; just know that her involvement is important), accusing Peter of being "a caveman," to which Peter responds:  "You can't be here right now.  I'm not messing around."  Gwen's response puts Peter's perhaps unintentional patriarchal paternalism in its place:  "OK, guess what.  Nobody makes my decisions for me. OK?  Nobody.  This is my choice.  K?  My choice.  This is mine."  The contrast is almost beautiful.  If there's something to be said about the character development here, it's that Peter is actually pushed into becoming more feminist by the conclusion -- a man who listens to his significant other, who takes her choices seriously and respects them.  This is, unfortunately, undercut by the concluding moments of the film.[1]

Visually, the film is quite beautiful.  I particularly liked the look of Electro and the incorporation of sounds (like a giant, walking tesla coil) into his lightning-style powers.[2]  His final fight with Spider-Man perfectly captures the flexibility and dexterity of Spider-Man and the raw, emotional fury of Electro.  This is obviously a CG-heavy film, but I think they kept the CG at a minimum, allowing for enough of the real to shine through when it was needed.  This is not something that happens often in CG-heavy blockbusters (the Hobbit movies are a prime example).  You'll still need to suspend your disbelief more than normal, but ASM2 at least makes it (mostly) easy.
I likewise mostly enjoyed the film's pacing.  Some folks have complained about the heavy attention on Peter and Gwen's relationship -- their somewhat melodramatic breakup and return, their cutesy romance and banter, their conflicts, etc. (I've talked about some of this above).  Personally, I though these greatly humanized Peter and gave substance to their relationship that might have been forgotten.  Even the Raimi films didn't have nearly this much depth in the relationship between Peter and Mary Jane, so I couldn't help but appreciate the shift back and forth between the Spidey/Parents stuff and the Peter/Gwen stuff.  The film also doesn't drag as much as I thought it would, despite the fact that there are three villains and a lot of subplots.  That's not to say that it doesn't drag; rather, the film's pacing is more on par with a drama that merges for heavy stints into action spectacles than a straight action movie, where the personal is often subdued in favor of the larger conflict.  For the most part, the film is on point when it is focused on those heavy action sequences and the Peter/Gwen narrative.

That said, this is a film that suffers from a lot of structural problems, most notably in the fact that it has so many bloody things going on.  For example, there's almost no need to fulfill the "what happened to Peter's parents" narrative here, as it serves as a distraction more than anything else.  The resolution isn't so much a resolution as a relinquishment to the necessity of an ending.  We just get to the end and...eh, we're done with this now.  Sorta.  Add onto that Harry's narrative, which I'll discuss in more depth later, the relationship between Peter and Gwen, what happens to Aunt May, the Peter/Gwen's dead daddy conflict, and Electro's origin story and you have almost as many subplots as the first Hobbit movie in a space no less than 27 minutes smaller.  It's a bit much, and it certainly feels overbearing here, as if the audience is supposed to keep everything cohesive in their mind as the film jumps us about between conflicts.
While I'm on the subject of all these bloody characters, there are a few things I should say about the interpretation of the Spider-Man characters.  First, I actually like Andrew Garfield's take on the smart-mouthed character in these films, even more so than Toby McGuire's version in the Raimi films.  This is the Spider-Man I've come to expect (for reasons I can't quite explain).  He cracks jokes.  He uses his powers to humiliate villains while defeating them (see the opening fight sequence with Alexsei Sytsevich (the Rhino), wherein Spider-Man ties Alexsei by the arms and drops the man's trousers -- you've all seen this scene in the trailers); he also uses his words as a manipulation tool, either to drive villains to irrational anger or to disarm them by saying what they want to hear.  This is a definitively better Spider-Man.  A smarter Spider-Man.  Garfield's performance as Parker/Spider-Man is also much stronger in this particular film, as if he feels more comfortable in the character's shoes and isn't afraid to enunciate and speak.  Perhaps this is intentional on the filmmaker's part -- to convey the growth of Parker through an apparent confidence in presence.

Second, though many have had problems with Jamie Foxx's take on Electro/Max Dillon, I personally found the character a perfect villain for Spider-Man -- he also happens to be the only sympathetic villain in this movie.[3]  The challenge he presents is psychological (an unhinged, maligned man who terrorizes the city out of fear), physical (electric shocks hurt, after all), and intellectual (electric shocks also damage Spider-Man's tech, which requires him to adapt -- see above about Gwen Stacy refusing to be a damsel in distress).  If we were to leave it at these two main characters, I think the film would be better for it.  Alas, that is not so.
ASM2 has too many bloody villains.  Three, in fact:  Electro, Green Goblin, and the Rhino.  Well, two-and-a-half, since one of the villains only appears in the film for ten minutes.  This might not be such a problem if the film didn't also try to give origin stories to the first two of those villains or if one of those origin stories actually made sense.  Green Goblin (Harry Osborn)(played by Dane DeHaan) basically appears out of nowhere.  If Harry is mentioned in the first film, it's so subdued as to be irrelevant.  Here, we're to believe that Peter Parker and Harry were best buds when they were kids, and now they've reconnected and are best buds again.  Sure, if by "best buds" you mean "really awkward creepy friendship with a spoiled rich brat."  Harry's magical appearance in ASM2 means we're to accept that there is a character arc that leads one to sympathize, but aside from the fact that Harry, like his father (Chris Cooper), is dying of a genetic disease, there's really nothing for us to work with.  Harry is an asshole.  An unsympathetic asshole.  But we're supposed to feel sorry for him.  That's clear.  He's not a villain until the end, when he reacts out of absolute desperation, but I couldn't find a compelling reason to feel bad for him, to understand why he went down that dark path.  If anything, it made me think that he was never really friends with Peter all -- that he used Peter in a moment of weakness.  This might make Harry somewhat sociopathic (or whatever is the correct term).  Add to this the fact that DeHaan's interpretation of the Green Goblin character is sort of like a drug addict who hasn't brushed his hair in a while (why this comes and goes, I'll never know, but it apparently does) and you end up with a character who really doesn't belong here.  This should have been a "Harry and Peter become best friends" movie, not a "Peter betrays Harry" movie.

Additionally, we have the Rhino (Paul Giamatti), who may be the worst thing about this entire film.  This feels like a moment when Giamatti needed money and decided "eh, I don't need to actually act."  For most of his lines, I had no idea what he meant to say.  I think he might have said "spider" once.  Maybe.  Giamatti blurts and yells these lines in a horrendously bad Russian "accent," providing nice bookends of absolute trash to an otherwise OK film.  We begin and end with Giamatti giving up on his acting career (or at least doing what may be the most brilliant piece of meta acting, in which he pretends to be an actor named Paul Giamatti who has given up on his career and accepted the Rhino role only to blurt things out like a raging drunk turd; if this is the case, I say he needs an Oscar nomination).  I also have no idea what we're supposed to think about the Rhino.  Is he a serious villain?  Is he a caricature?  Is this a new way to represent the comic book format, where a film refuses to conclude by simply throwing random villains into the mix to keep Spider-Man busy?  Whatever is going on, it's not unlike getting clawed in the eye by a cat.
This is the pre-CG look.  Imagine this is what the Rhino actually
looked like in the movie and you'll have a sense of how ridiculous
Paul Giamatti is in ASM2.
There's just too much going on in this damned movie.  If I recall, one of the things people hated about Raimi's Spider Man 3 (2007) was the fact that it had too many villains.  The writers for ASM2 clearly didn't listen.

I really wanted to like this film.  It's certainly better in places than the first film, but it is ultimately a mess that tarnishes all of its good with horrendous cinematic sins.  But it made a lot of money, so don't expect the writers to do much to correct these errors in the next movie...As a thematic "ride," it is quite fun.  As a film, it is subpar.

Directing:  2.5/5
Cast:  3/5 (on the basis that Giamatti's performance is so utterly horrendous that he drags everyone else down with him, even though he's not on the same screen with most anyone else; also:  the Green Goblin mostly gives me the heebee-jeebees instead of a "threatening" or "truly villainous" vibe)
Writing:  2.5/5
Visuals:  4/5
Adaptation:  2.5/5
Overall:  2.9/5 (58%)
Inflated Grade:  C- (for a bloated plot, poor direction, and terrible performances)

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[1]:  The film, sadly, shoots itself in the foot by killing off Gwen Stacy, presumably as a form of fridging.  Instead of having her leave Peter for a special program in England, they opt to kill her off as motivation for Peter to, well, I guess do more of what he's already been doing.  Wouldn't it have made more sense to have had her leave the relationship to pursue her own path?  Wouldn't it have been a better message to remind us that sometimes relationships end?  Nope.  The film says "Gwen must die because she had to die."  Derp derp.  It basically nerfs everything Gwen did in this film, however little; she's rendered into a corpse, because corpses are less dramatic than a fully-realized woman who makes her own decisions which sometimes hurt the hero and doesn't die because of them.  In effect, the message the film relates about young men learning to respect women's choices, as Peter does, is undercut by the realization that letting women do that will apparently get them killed (I'm not kidding; the film reinforces this message, probably by accident).

[2]:  Electro actually plays a version of "Itsy Bitsy Spider."  I don't know how many people caught that in the theater.  I certainly didn't, but upon watching an online clip from the finale, it became crystal clear.

[3]:  We learn throughout the film that Max Dillon, a socially awkward fellow who wishes he were liked, has been systematically abused by basically everyone, such that his fragile trust in Spider-Man is so easily shattered along with everything else.

Movie Review: Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013)

Last night, I saw Jodorowsky's Dune, a documentary about a film which was never made but has nonetheless had a remarkable impact on science fiction film since its development in the 1970s.  In all honesty, I had never heard of this ill-fated "adaptation" of Frank Herbert's classic novel, and so it was with great pleasure that I saw the poster at my local theater and realized I'd have the chance to watch a documentary about something science fictional.

Jodorowsky's Dune (JD from now on) is an insane journey into what may have been the most experimental science fiction epic ever devised.  Alejandro Jodorowsky was a noted surrealistic filmmaker in the 60s and 70s, producing such works as El Topo and The Holy Mountain, and so anyone familiar with his work might understand just how ambitious, and, indeed, insane, Jodorowsky could be.  The documentary, however, provides enough context about Jodorowsky's career -- namely, through short excerpts from the aforementioned works -- to convey the wildly imaginative vision that led to Dune.  Throughout the documentary, Jodorowsky passionately lays out the spiritual and ideological agenda that guided the film from start to finish and his view of film as a medium for producing art and capturing the human spirit.  From his perspective, Dune was always meant to be a spiritual journey created by spiritual "warriors" (his term), and so the eccentric and seemingly counter-intuitive choices made throughout the initial development has a certain kind of logic to it.  The documentary lays these elements out primarily through Jodorowsky himself, whose passion and yearning for the promise of Dune almost flows out of the screen like a river of dreams.  Insofar as a documentary can present beauty, JD does so by giving room to its primary subject.


Part of the documentary's charm, as such, rests in Jodorowsky's character:  an enigmatic, uncompromising filmmaker who appears to honestly believe in the liberative potential in film as an art form.  It's that uncompromising nature which might explain why Dune was never made, though JD never explicitly says as much.  Whatever one might think of his filmography, JD's character study reveals a visionary whose passion and spirituality guide his artistic process.  This isn't just a film about Dune; it is a film about Jodorowsky and his methods, about the processes of making art as opposed to entertainment.  From the often humorous tales about cast selections and negotiations (Salvador Dali being one of the more amusing examples) to Jodorowsky's amusing style of telling these tales, there is much to love about the framing of JD as a kind of surrealist documentary adventure.  Jodorowsky himself acknowledges that he imagined Dune as taking the audience on an LSD trip without them ever actually taking drugs and that this process should alter their perceptions:  of film, of the human subject, of reality.  JD explores this vision with an unmeasured hand, giving Jodorowsky space to expound upon his visions, desires, and dreams rather than remaining focused on the objective truth one might receive with a history.  Unlike, for example, a Star Wars documentary (which I happen to be watching at this moment -- Empire of Dreams), JD is a deeply personal exploration.  That subjective perspective gave me a deeper connection to the material, as it is only through the personal element, I would argue, that we can understand what Dune was meant to be.
In that respect, the remaining elements are all funneled through Jodorowsky's spiritual agenda, such that all of the production crew and cast choices are identified with the spiritual "warriors" about which the audience is repeatedly reminded.  H.R. Giger (Alien), Michel Seydoux (Cyrano de Bergerac), Dan O'Bannon (Alien, Total Recall, etc.), and others each have their moment in the spotlight, each reinforcing Jodorowsky's narrative, which JD frames by beginning with Jodorowsky and ending with a brief discussion of the influence Dune has had on sf film since -- the actual conclusion tells us that Seydoux and Jodorowsky have teamed up to make another film (The Dance of Reality).  I do take issue with the conclusions drawn from this influence, though, as it seems specious to assume similarities in future films are always necessarily influenced by a single predecessor.  True, Giger and O'Bannon worked together on Alien, but JD tries to support this claim by placing images side-by-side, as if suggesting that two similarly-shaped items are necessarily connected on the same line rather than, perhaps, the product of an individual's visions (Giger's, for example).  There are also moments where JD tries to argue that other films were influenced by Dune without having any direct connection to its creative talents -- at least, no connection that is made apparent to the audience.  This seems to undercut Jodorowsky's claim that Dune was meant to inspire, even if the final moments of the film are, indeed, rather inspiring.  Perhaps I expect such claims to be more firmly grounded in objective truth, which JD seems averse to doing precisely because of its primary subject.

For me, part of what made this documentary so fascinating was the feeling that I too was being taken on a journey of sorts.  I didn't know about Jodorowsky's Dune, and so every stage of documentary revealed details which breathed life into a project I had no personal connection to.  By the end, I felt the same yearning for Dune that Jodorowsky relived as he explored his memories of the film that was never born.  There is something unique about this version of Dune that I now feel deserves to be on the screen, even if it will never be so.  The worst case scenario would be the release of the rare production book Jodorowsky and Seydoux used to entice the studios to fund them; this would give all of us access to a vision that has remained hidden, and it just might open new pathways to the imagination in a manner consistent with Jodorowsky's spiritual agenda.  Whether that will ever happen is up to speculation, but it should happen.  It must happen.  I'd certainly buy such a book.

Regardless, this is a film I recommend any fan of sf see immediately.  It's crazy, beautiful, and enormously entertaining.  As far as documentaries go, this is easily one of my favorites.

Directing: N/A
Cast: N/A
Writing: N/A.
Visuals: N/A
Adaptation: N/A
Overall: N/A (note:  the point-based grading is worthless here, so I'm only providing an inflated grade)
Inflated Grade: A

Movie Review: The Lego Movie (2014)

I can't remember when I saw the first footage for The Lego Movie (2014), but I do remember thinking to myself that it would be the geekiest, most reference-laden work of 2014.  Indeed, if any film tops this one in its insistence on crossing genres and referencing geek cultures from comics, films, books, and, hell, even Legos, then that would be a feat unto itself.  As it stands, The Lego Movie is sort of like that friend who beats everyone at Trivial Pursuit every single time because he spends too much time on the Internet or with his nose buried in Netflix or the library stacks (or her, for that matter).  And I mean that in a good way.  What makes this such a lovable film is the fact that it shows so much love to the communities from which it borrows, not just in terms of the Lego work, where franchised media properties are well represented, but in terms of the worlds from which those properties originate.  This is, in point of fact, a film for geeks, and it is a film I think everyone should see, if only to count off all the jokes based on DC characters or pirates or Star Wars or a number of other geeky things.  Expect a drinking game upon the DVD release.
The Lego Movie follows Emmet, a regular construction worker in a regular town with a regular job and a deep desire to be like everyone else.  Indeed, in this ordinary city, everyone is like everyone else.  Everyone sings the same happy song ("Everything is Awesome"), enjoys the same television, and goes through life with the same hopes and dreams:  to be part of the team that is the city.  But when he stumbles upon a mysterious woman searching the ruins of a building, Emmet discovers the Piece of Resistance and learns that he is the Special, tasked with preventing Lord Business from freezing the entire world just as it is with the Cragle (crazy glue with some of the letters missing).  With his world thrown into chaos, Emmet must discover who he really is and how to put the world back to rights.
If it's not already clear, I loved The Lego Movie.  For the most part, there aren't a lot of good geeky movies that reference things that I actually know, and so to sit there in the theater laughing at jokes that were funny on their own to everyone else, but also funny to me on a different level was a treat.  Much as Pixar's films frequently engage their audiences on multiple levels (jokes for kids that work for adults and vice versa), this is a comedy film with multiple levels of engagement.  That's not an easy thing to do, and so I have to give this film major props for keeping me, and my less-geeky friend, utterly entertained from start to finish.  The geek-minded, I'm sure, will find so much to love about this film based solely on its referential nature; indeed, this is the kind of film built just for us, and it knows it.  There's an almost charming awareness in the film -- surely translated from the geek love of the writers and cast -- as if it were subconsciously crashing down the 4th wall to share with us its own in-jokes.

All of this referential humor is supported by a stunning cast of voice actors (and equally stunning and hilarious characters or caricatures).  Batman (Will Arnett) is the caricature we've all known and loved, but with a side of emo-EDM artist and frat-douche; it's hard not to find him hilarious, even as we recognize the qualities that make him a horrible person.  The clueless Emmet (Chris Pratt) gives solid grounding to the film, as he is the closest character to us -- not a ninja fighter, not a wizard, just a guy lost in a world of craziness (maybe not as much like us after all).  Even his boneheaded ideas -- the bunkbed couch -- are fodder for hilarity; they also happen to be important to the plot, which gives depth to the comedic elements.  It's too easy to make jokes for the sake of the joke, but to make that joke central to the development of the plot requires some degree of writing skill.  Additionally, Morgan Freeman's turn as Vesuvius, a Gandalf-esque figure, adds a certain gravitas to the cast, if only because it's Morgan Freeman playing a silly wizard with crazy light eyes, and Elizabeth Banks' rendition of Wyldstyle, the "love interest" and biggest ass kicker of the film, adds some much needed sass to main cast (the Lego fight scenes are hilarious, by the way).  There are even brief appearances from Green Lantern (Jonah Hill), Superman (Channing Tatum -- oddly enough, not dancing without a shirt on), Wonder Woman (Colbie Smulders), and more.  Throw in Liam Neeson as Bad Cop/Good Cop, a two-faced (literally) caricature of the classic cliche, and Will Farrell as Lord Business, the high-style, crazed villain, and you have an exceptional comedy cast.
It's here that I'd like to talk a little more about one character in specific.  A lot of people have talked about the treatment of Wyldstyle throughout this film.  Some have suggested that she is unfairly shafted here, that it should have been her that got to be "the Special" or perhaps that she simply fell into the trap so many female characters do:  the love interest/object.  Much of this is true, in a sense; Wyldstyle is coded as "love interest" from the second Emmet sees her -- the camera shows her in slow motion, waving her Lego hair in the wind for an inordinate amount of time -- but I must admit that I found this less a reflection of the film's adherence to the tropes of Hollywood than a deliberate play on the absurdity of the trope itself.  I also always viewed her as a major supporting character, as Emmet seemed central from the start.  Though women should appear as the main hero more often than they do, I think Wyldstyle's presentation is, overall, a good one.  In fact, I think it's the fact that she's not "the special" that makes her character so great -- women don't need to be "the one" to kick ass.  Though she is disappointed about her "normal" status, she is far from normal; rather, she is capable, driven, and badass.  In fact, it is Wyldstyle who rallies the troops in the final battle, reminding us that she isn't some romantic lead that has to be won, but someone who is fully capable of taking action on her own.  There are certainly flaws to her character, such as her all-too-familiar reliance on a seemingly abusive relationship with Batman (though I'm not 100% convinced it's intended to be abusive -- just that Batman's abrasive idiosyncrasies mean he's almost sociopathically anti-social) or the over reliance of Emmet's Wyldstyle-centric jokes on romantic or physical interest.  That said, I found her refreshing, if only because I love seeing female characters do more than just sit around waiting for dudes to romance them. Wyldstyle certainly doesn't do that.  She seems to balance the romantic (Batman) with the definitely badass (Lego kung fu).  That doesn't happen that often, even in serious films.
I also think the focus on Wyldstyle's flaws draws attention away from what is the real issue with the narrative of The Lego Movie.  It's at this point where I'll say DO NOT READ FURTHER IF YOU DON'T WANT SOMETHING SPOILED FOR YOU.

Fundamentally, The Lego Movie is what you'd expect:  geeky, ridiculous, cute, and, at times, stark raving mad.  When it is all of these things, it is also brilliant, hilarious, and downright lovable.  There's so much detail on the screen that one could watch this movie again to see what the creators snuck into the background for us to find.  But all of this is partially gutted by the film's underlying "message":  namely, that adults should let children be children.  This message is facilitated by Emmet's sacrifice, wherein he falls into a swirling vortex and suddenly appears in the real world.  There, we learn that this whole story is the elaborate creation of a child, Finn (Jadon Sand), who is acting out a giant metaphor of his father's (Will Farrell) desperate need to control everything, including the Lego "worlds" he constructs in the basement (in the same way adults own train sets, I imagine).  There's likewise a message about conformity, which is perfectly facilitated by the nature of Legos:  one can follow the prescribed use of each piece (the father) or one can mix and match to invent entirely new things (the son); this is the nature of the Special in the Lego narrative.

My problem with this scene is that, though it is set up through some clever flashes of human hands and so on throughout the film, it utterly destabilizes the "in world" narrative by appearing basically out of nowhere.  What should be a movie about Emmet discovering himself and maybe saving the world -- or at least inspiring others to do so -- is instead neutered by this secondary, last-minute exploration of a father and son.  Eventually, Emmet returns to the Lego world, after which, we're told that Lord Business is actually "the Special," and that he just needs to stop being evil and use his smarty powers to help the world.  And it works.  There's no narrative tension.  There's no discussion.  The film cuts back to the father and the son, and then everything is set to rights again.  All of that narrative tension -- Emmet trying to find himself; Wyldstyle trying to save the world; the builders and the Justice League and crazy pirate ships and so on and so forth...all of that is thrown away for these final moments, which tell us that this was never a film about Emmet or Wyldstyle or the Builders or Lord Business; it was always a film about a father and son.  In a way, I felt played.  These were never the characters I was made to care about, and so to have their narrative supersede the narrative for the rest of the film felt, on the one hand, forced, and, on the other, destabilizing.  If not for this small, significant flaw, I think the future of the film franchise to come would be a largely positive one, but now that the door is wide open, I can see the mistakes waiting to consume the characters.  It's not the picture I imagined when I first sat in the little theater chair.

Overall, though, I did love the film for all its eccentric humor, ridiculous characters, and general insanity.  If it's still in theaters wherever you are and you haven't seen it yet, do yourself a favor and go.  You may not agree with my take above; hell, you may even love the film more than I did.  Even so, it's a fun film experience; kids will probably love it, but the adults with a solid geek pedigree will love it even more.
Taco Tuesday is awesome, amaright?
Directing: 4/5
Cast: 5/5
Writing: 3.5/5
Visuals: 5/5
Adaptation: N/A
Overall: 4.375/5 (87.5%)
Inflated Grade: A-
Value:  $9.00 (based on a $10.50 max)

Movie Review: RoboCop (2014)

So.  They remade RoboCop (1987).  And while I've been looking forward to it for months, it wasn't until some of my friends said "it was surprisingly good" that I decided, "alright, I'll see it in theaters."  Unfortunately, my friends are liars (love you guys).

If you've seen the original RoboCop, then you already know the basic story.  The 2014 reboot, directed by Jose Padilha, alters the original concept as follows:  in 2028, OmniCorp, a high-tech military contractor, has teamed up with the military to combat crime and terrorism abroad, using robotic enforcers.  OmniCorp's CEO, Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), wants to bring this technology to the United States, but the public and Congress fear the absence of the human component.  In steps Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman), an overzealous Detroit police officer who is seriously injured in an assassination attempt after discovering dirty cops within the DPD.  In order to sway public opinion, OmniCorp repairs Murphy's body to create RoboCop, a cyborg which will, we're told, end crime for good.  Unfortunately (or fortunately), the human component almost always gets in the way...

Honestly, that description is pretty crap.  Trying to explain what this movie is about without simply saying "a guy becomes a robot and fights crime; things don't go according to plan" reveals a lot of what's wrong with this film.  How do I describe the massive disappointment that is the remake of RoboCop?  I could say that this film is a testament to the fact that good things from the past are better off left alone.  We would have been better off receiving some kind of Final Director's Cut version of the 1987 classic.  The studios could have given us a cool box set with documentary material and a remastered film -- maybe they could have shoved an mp3 download for the soundtrack and a RoboCop figurine in there, too...or the box could have sung to us as if it were an advertisement for that spoof Robocop musical from Funny or Die.  Or maybe the box could have been a mini-RoboCop that actually walks to you when you call it.  All of these would have been better uses of the studio's money.

Alas, what we've been given here is little more than a sad, bloated, confused little "update" of a film.  Sure, the writers tried to add some more stuff about downloading data and memory overloads and other techno mumbo jumbo, but in the end, it's just a mess of a film that wishes it could capture the feeling of the original.

A mess.  That's what I'm calling it.  RoboCop is not unlike the first Hobbit film in that it tries to do so many different things at the same time, but without any clear tie between them all.  In the first half hour of the movie, we're presented with a satire of FOX News or Glenn Beck (seems like both), a commentary on the use of military drones and robots in the Middle East, questions about the use of said machines in the U.S., police corruption and rampant crime, a buddy-cop drama, the shock of prosthesis, what it means to be human, how memories are not easily controlled, human autonomy, and a whole bunch of other minor threads I won't talk about here.  There's so much going on in the beginning of this film that I'm left with a series of questions:  What exactly is this movie about?  Is it a commentary on drones?  Is it a commentary on the human condition through the use of cyborg tech?  Is it about the police?  Is it about corporate greed and the desperate push for technology?  Is it about human relationships?  WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS MOVIE ABOUT?

I ask these questions because I think it's obvious from the start that this film is about something.  It has a message or a point.  It wants us to follow that point to its logical conclusion and ask ourselves to consider the possibilities.  But the film asks so many fucking questions that I can't fathom how we are supposed to go from Point A to Point B to Point C without jumping from Question #2 to Question #13154.  The end of the film seems to suggest that question we should have been asking is the one about corporate greed and human autonomy, with a side of human relationships, but the beginning of the film and the middle are all over the place, jumping from a narrative about politics to one about technology to one about the police to one about family relationships to one about X and Z and Y and Q.  There's no narrative cohesion here.  RoboCop is a film that tries to do so much at once that it loses sight of what made the original so good:  it set up its major concerns right from the start and did its best to keep those in sight.  In the reboot, the main "issue" of the original (the idea of one's memories clouding one's programming) is saved until more than halfway through.  Sure, the original takes a while to get to that point too, but the reboot goes about it by showing us normal Murphy-as-RoboCop (combating all of his "I'm a robot" worries and family problems), reverting him to the RoboCop we remember from the original (the corporate greed is coming!), and then proceeding with the "but his memories will take over" bit.  It's a mistake of order -- too much back and forth.

If the structure of the narrative doesn't provide a sense of cohesion, then the tone of the film doesn't help either.  RoboCop cannot decide if it's a blistering satire or a serious thinking flick.  From the start, we're presented with Samuel L. Jackson's patently absurd Pat Novak, modeling himself, I assume, after FOX News and Glenn Beck.  Novak provides our introduction to OmniCorp's involvement with the military, but all of that is funneled through an insanely biased mockery of cable news.  Unlike in the original, which was itself a withdrawn satire, this reboot doesn't bother for a measured approach to future news.  It goes full Idiocracy (2006) in its absurdity.  This might not be a problem if the rest of the movie was likewise absurd, but the second we leave Novak behind for the proper narrative, it's quite clear that RoboCop is a serious movie.  It's about big ideas.  Big questions.  Serious questions.  It's not an absurdist microdrama, but an attempt at a critical commentary on real world issues.  To jump from Novak to this draws into stark contrast the tones each presents:  mockery and reality.  This disconnect infects the whole narrative, particularly when Novak returns, but also when characters mysteriously become someone else entirely for the sake of the narrative.  Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) easily sacrifices his ethics throughout the film to do things he claims he'd never do (he "corrects this" in the end, but the damage is already done; he's hardly sympathetic).  Sellars likewise becomes a bloodthirsty maniac in the end, even though this is completely unlike the calculated CEO we've come to know.  Why?  Because he's supposed to be Mr. Bad and RoboCop has to get him (there's a reason in the film, obviously, but that, too, seems uncharacteristic to me).  The film jumps back and forth between these mockeries (of itself or the news), such that it's impossible to get a handle on what kind of movie this wants to be:  an updated 80s action flick w/ a side of satire OR a serious flick about cyborgs and robots OR a flesh-rending satire of everything I've already described.

I could go on, but I think that's a good place to stop with the criticism for now.  There are some good things about the film.  For one, it's pretty.  A justifiable concern these days is whether filmmakers will rely too heavily on CG.  While the remake of RoboCop certainly uses more special effects than its predecessor, it at least does so sparingly in comparison to typical science fictional fare.  The update of RoboCop is far more realistic than the clunky blob from the original.  Here, RoboCop is sleek and almost beautiful in his complexity.  Padilha even gives us a gorgeous scene where Murphy's robotic parts are pulled away from what is left of his organic self, giving an almost horrific quality to the affair.  Second, the cast performs well within their assigned roles, though I would have preferred RoboCop to pay more attention to Kinnaman's personal conflicts with being a cyborg to give it more depth -- this would require restructuring the entire mess, though.  Oldman is likewise well-cast for the ethically-conflicted Dr. Dennett Norton.  Keaton and Abbie Cornish (playing Clara Murphy) also do well with their fairly small parts; Keaton is particularly believable as the amoral, pro-business Sellars, though I think his final turn to "bad guy" at the end is underdeveloped and too "easy."  Yes, Sellars is all about the money, but there's a sense here, as in the original film, that Sellars has at least some interest in the well being of the nation, just more so because it will benefit his company.  In this sense, he seems like an amalgamation of 1987 RoboCop's The Old Man (Dan O'Herlihy), Dick Jones (Ronny Cox), and Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer).

Unfortunately, none of these good elements can save the film from its greater flaws.  In the end, RoboCop (2014) is a bloated, confused, mishmashed action film trying to masquerade as something interesting.  If the writers had bothered focusing on two or three narrative threads, we might have ended up with a RoboCop for modern times, one which speaks to our present moment in a cogent manner.  Instead, we got pandering and cliche.  We would have been better off if the studios had left this one to the 80s...

Directing: 1.5/5
Cast: 3/5
Writing: 1/5
Visuals: 4/5
Adaptation: 1.5/5
Overall: 2.2/5 (44%)
Inflated Grade: D+ (for narrative disarray with some nice visuals and acting)
Value: $3.00 (based on $10.50 max)

Movie Review: Monsters (2010) (A SFF Film Odyssey Selection)

I didn't realize until pulling up the IMDB page for Monsters (2010) that its writer and director, Gareth Edwards, is also the director of the upcoming Godzilla (2014).  And that makes a ton of sense.  While Monsters is hardly Godzilla-ish in form, it does take what is a painfully small budget for a kaiju film (supposedly $500k) and put it to good use, providing a measured and sometimes look into humanity's interaction with nature and with himself.  In short, where Cloverfield fell into all the wrong traps, Monsters simply avoids them in favor of what should have mattered in Abrams' viral-media monstrosity:  the characters.

The plot of Monsters is fairly straight forward.  Six years ago, enormous alien creatures arrived on Earth.  Everyone believes this is an invasion and quarantines the "infected zones" in hopes of keeping the aliens from taking more territory.  Jump ahead to the present:  a photojournalist in search of the perfect shot of the enormous creatures is forced by his boss to escort Samantha, the boss' daughter, out of Mexico to the American border before the next cycle of aggression threatens the quarantine borders.  In their struggle to escape, Samantha and Andrew learn about one another's past:  what they're running from, what they're running towards, and who they really are in a world that wants them to conform to contradictory identities.


I'd like to take a moment to focus on the last line of my description, because I think one of the points of this film is to question the nature of the title.  What does it mean to be a monster?  One of the things I had expected from this film, particularly given the locale and the ways in which places south of the American border are typically portrayed, was a sea of humans doing horrifically violent things to one another.  In many respects, I think that was a narrative this needed, if not in a direct allegory about "the third world," then certainly as a commentary on what desperation does to people.  But the film never goes there.  Instead, it opts for humans betraying one another on a relatively mundane level while the "monsters" are shown to be, as I expected, misunderstood.  It also tried to convey a message about the interaction of man and nature, particularly when a group of armed escorts tell Samantha and Andrew how these enormous aliens fit into the new ecosystem -- they likewise convince us that we really don't know what to think about the creatures; thus, we shouldn't come to any hard conclusions on the matter.  When we finally see the creatures, that narrative is already apparent, and the film handles that revelatory moment with a deliberate minimalism:  the only ones who seem to have any significant dialogue are the aliens (albeit, it is animalistic and unintelligible to Samantha and Andrew, as well as to us).

That said, I don't think the narrative about humanity's "monsters" is given the attention it deserves.  While Samantha and Andrew do get screwed over a number of times in this movie, the threat this poses always seems muted by the fact that there's really no reason for Samantha and Andrew to enter the quarantine zone to escape when they could simply head south (maps in the film suggest this is a possibility).  The monstrosity of man, then, is hardly monstrous.  It is mundane and largely uninspired.  A corrupt ferry worker?  A thieving "prostitute"?  A thieving and corrupt armed transport system?  All here, and all are resolved with uncharacteristic simplicity (or sort of ignored).  In effect, the dread these situations should have produced never came to fruition.  This isn't a terribly suspenseful film, even though it needs to be.  It's a numbed film, one which opts for an almost extreme minimalism by the standards of the kaiju format that I think something really does get lost in the translation.

Part of the flaw of the film's minimalistic approach likewise limits the performances of the lead actors:  Scoot McNairy (Andrew) and Whitney Able (Samantha).  Overall, their performances are serviceable, but not as emotional as one might expect given a) the situations they're in throughout the film (the verge of death), and b) the situations they were in before everything went to hell (Samantha and her broken relationship with her fiance; Andrew with his "I'm the father, but I can't tell him because it would confuse him" scenario).  In a weird way, I thought I was watching an anime along the lines of, say, Makoto Shinkai, with minimal, limited performances (The Place Promised in Our Early Days, for example), but what differentiates Shinkai from Monsters is a kind of Hemingway-an iceberg effect, in which the larger plot concerns are made almost secondary to the internal conflicts of the characters and their struggle with how to express it; even with that minimalism, a film like The Place Promised in Our Early Days gives in to the necessity for emotional displays in scenarios where the internal explodes over the external.

Monsters, however, contains so few of these bursting moments that the emotional connection to the world is sometimes lost.  Andrew has one incredibly tense scene in which he engages in a phone call with the boy we now know is his son (but who himself thinks Andrew is just a family friend); McNairy loses composure and struggles to keep his voice straight as his body and face contort in agony -- the intensity of this scene is notable because it is so separate from the film's previous performances.  Samantha has a similar moment at the sight of several dead bodies, including that of a young child.  But everywhere else, it's as if these characters haven't entered a certain kind of hell; they seem detached, but without a clear reason for it.

Though I've largely criticized the film for many of its important aspects, I will say that in terms of the portrayal of characters over spectacle, Monsters succeeds.  These are characters, not caricatures.  They have real motivations and flaws, and these are presented evenly throughout the narrative so it is clear that they are supposed to be the real concern, not the critters wandering about in the dark.  Though I know Godzilla will be more interested in the spectacle than Monsters, I do appreciate that Edwards saw fit to make a kaiju film that was so invested in the lives of its characters over a weak found footage fetish beset with college kid caricatures.

Monsters also succeeds in its attempts to present a kind of kaiju sensibility.  The creatures are mysterious and shown infrequently to maintain that mystery.  For a film with such a small budget, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Edwards didn't feel it necessary to opt for cheaper graphics to put the creatures on the screen for longer periods.  If this were a Syfy film, it would have spent half its runtime presenting painfully bad CG renders; instead, Edwards gifts us a simplified portrayal that is both gorgeous and wondrous.  One of the ending scenes, in which a lightning storm provides brief flashes of the creatures walking in the dark is one of the most haunting and gorgeous scenes in kaiju cinema -- or so I believe.

Likewise, I appreciated Edwards' use of local color in his work.  This easily could have been a film set in some generic U.S. city, but it is instead set and shot in Central America (Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Mexico, to be specific).  Though they play fairly small roles, many locals are also part of the film, though I suspect much of this was a matter of budgetary necessity than anything else.  Still, the attention to locals, however limited (and, perhaps, concerning), is something to appreciate if only because it's good to see in a film set just over tomorrow's horizon.  Maybe that's just me, though...

Overall, though I enjoyed this film a lot more than Cloverfield or the horrendous Godzilla (1998), it is also a flawed work.  Would I recommend seeing it?  Absolutely.  It's a film that deserves a lot more attention than it received when it first graced the big screen (and the little screen, if I recall correctly) in 2010.  When it is on the mark, it is a treat.  If anything, I'll certainly remember it in the years to come.

Directing: 3/5
Cast: 3/5
Writing: 3.5/5
Visuals: 4/5
Adaptation: NA
Overall: 3.375/5 (67.5%)
Inflated Grade: B- (for compelling kaiju style, decent visuals, and solid locations)
Value: $8.00 (based on $10.50 max)

-----------------------------------

This post is part of my 2010:  A SFF Film Odyssey feature.  Past reviews, discussions, and so on can be found on this list.

A SFF Film Odyssey (2010): The Official List

The following is a list of every film I'm going to watch and discuss/review this year.  These titles will eventually link to posts here or on The Skiffy and Fanty Show.  Keep an eye out as I fill this whole thing up!

Note:  if something is missing from the list, please let me know in the comments; I've tried to include every sf/f "feature" film released in 2010, but I could have missed something.  I'm also going to go back to some of these films if I have already reviewed them in the past.

The full announcement about this project can be found here.

Here goes:

("F" denotes a film that did not originate in the U.S.)

Alice in Wonderland
Alien vs. Ninja (F)
Altitude (F)
Arctic Blast (F)
Arietty (F)
Arthur 3:  The War of the Two Worlds (F)
Arthur and the Minimoys (F)(Filler)
Arthur and the Revenge of Maltazard (F)(Filler)
Avalon High
Beyond the Black Rainbow (F)
Clash of the Titans
Daybreakers
Denizen
Despicable Me
Die kommenden Tage (F)
Downstream
Enthiran (F)
Future X-Cops (F)
Growth
Gulliver's Travels
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1 FIN
Hot Tub Time Machine FIN
How to Train Your Dragon FIN
Hunter Prey
Inception (review; post on emotion; post on emotion) FIN
Iron Man (filler)
Iron Man 2 FIN
Kaboom (F)
Legend of the Guardians:  The Owls of Ga'Hoole
Mardock Scramble:  The First Compression (F)
Megamind
Monsters (F) FIN
Mutant Girls Squad (F) FIN
Nanny McPhee (Filler)
Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang
Never Let Me Go (F)
Percy Jackson and the Olympians:  The Lightning Thief
Predators
Prince of Persia:  The Sands of Time
Rare Exports:  A Christmas Tale (F)
Repo Men
Resident Evil:  Afterlife
Shank (F) FIN
Shrek (Filler)
Shrek 2 (Filler)
Shrek Forever After
Shrek the Third (Filler)
Skyline
Sleeping Beauty (F)
Space Battleship Yamato (F)
Tangled
The Book of Eli
The Chronicles of Narnia:  Prince Caspian (Filler)
The Chronicles of Narnia:  The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
The Chronicles of Narnia:  The Witch, the Lion, and the Wardrobe (Filler) FIN
The Crazies
The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya (F)
The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec (F)
The Last Airbender
The Nutcracker in 3D (F)
The Sorcerer's Apprentice FIN
The Strange Case of Angelica (F)
The Tempest
The Twilight Saga:  Eclipse
The Twilight Saga:  New Moon (Filler)
Tooth Fairy
Toy Story (Filler)
Toy Story 2 (Filler)
Toy Story 3
Trollhunter (F) FIN
Tron: Legacy (Strange Horizons review; mini review) (F) FIN
Twilight (Filler)
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (F)
Universal Soldier:  Regeneration
When in Rome
Womb (F)