My Favorite Blockbuster “Discoveries” Of 2017

Happy New Year everyone. I decided to celebrate by compiling a series of lists celebrating my favorite films and shows of 2017. Sounds like pretty standard stuff, right? Yup, totally. However, these lists will include not just new films from last year, but new-to-me ones that I enjoyed. This one celebrates the glory of big screen blockbusters, most of which I saw on the small screen because, you know, kids.

First off, I’d just like to reiterate how much I enjoyed Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla (2014) and San Andreas (2015) from director Gary Peyton.  I had a great time watching both of those movies earlier this year and highly recommend checking them out if you’re looking for big budget disaster fare. I also had a silly amount of fun watching Vin Diesel in 2015’s The Last Witch Hunter helmed by Breck Eisner. I think this will make a great weekend movie tune-in type of movie.

Continue reading My Favorite Blockbuster “Discoveries” Of 2017

Parks & Recreation Is Awesome

parks and recreation castI sure have fallen for Parks and Recreation. This is a show that I went from writing off to enjoying to abandoning to now mainlining on Netflix. Thanks to a bad start that went way too The Office, my wife and I weren’t fans of the first few episodes. Eventually we came back around and watched chunks of various early seasons but fell off thanks to the many time slot changes and other shows popping up we were more into. Now, I can’t think of a better show on television (or that was on TV).

I know a lot of people call this the Golden Age of TV because shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad and True Detective are telling these amazing, complex, dark stories, but the shows that I continue to be drawn to all revolve around friendship. I realized not long ago that, instead of watching mean teenagers get bumped off in horror films or henchmen get face-kicked in action films, comedies make me feel better when I’m down. Sure the laughs in Parks & Rec, but I can’t think of a show that’s a better example of what real, honest human relationships should and can be like than this one.

As a work-from-home dad who spends the majority of his time behind a keyboard partially below ground whose friends all have regular jobs in other parts of the state and country (who is also super-shy, but thrives on human interaction), it can be difficult for me being so isolated. I love my wife and kids and my folks moved here not long ago which was an amazing sacrifice on their part, but you start to miss your friends and wonder if you still even have connections to those people when you mostly exist to them as a person on an email chain.

Recently, I had the chance to be a good friend and was helped out by another. A friend-since-high school’s brother passed away a few weeks ago and I drove to Ohio to be there at the wake and the funeral before coming right back home. It was an important thing for me to do because being friends isn’t just hanging out, drinking beer and telling old stories, it’s being there for the hard times as well. Thanks to the support of my wife and parents, I was able to make this happen and I’m glad I did. Another longtime friend and his wife were nice enough to let me stay on their couch the one night I was in town, so the circle kept on going. This past weekend, another set of good friends came up for a visit. I can’t even remember the last time just the four of us hung out. It was a great recharge for my system.

Anyway, this is all a long-winded way of saying that friendship has been on my mind a lot lately and Parks & Rec exemplifies how I feel about friendship in all of it’s many forms. First of all you’ve got Amy Poehler’s Leslie who is such an amazing, positive person that she actually makes everyone around her better. Her peers and even superiors see this and do their best to help her in any way they can. They don’t just vote for her when she runs for city counsel, they run her campaign. You really get to see this intense friendship these people have formed in the Season 5 episode “Ben’s Parents” when just about everyone from the office threatens Ben (Adam Scott) harm if he hurts Leslie.

But, it’s not just that. Like I said above, being a friend involves wading into the bad times with them, but also moving way outside of your comfort zone to help them. The loner April (Aubrey Plaza) participates in government not just because Leslie and other characters believe in her, but because she knows they would help her out. Ron, the grizzled anarchist/libertarian often times breaks his rule of staying out of peoples’ business because he knows that no one has a bigger hear than Leslie. Or Tom (Aziz Ansari). Or Andy. And, at the same time, he’s grown a bond with April thanks to their shared interest in not liking most people. We also get to see the real talks that people have when they’re this close. Anne (Rashida Jones) might not have it together as much as Leslie does, but she is often the voice of reason when the overly enthusiastic government employ starts to lose her way.

The romantic relationships are also some of the best around. They’re real and complicated and feel earned even though you don’t necessarily spend entire seasons wondering if the people will get together or not. I worried that Andy (Chris Pratt) and April might be rushing into things too quickly when they got married, but the work so well together, it’s amazing! And how great is it watching Ben and Leslie? Sure there was some of that will-they-won’t-they stuff, but most of it felt real and honest instead of “Uh oh, Ross came back from Europe with a girlfriend just as Rachel realized she loved him!” (I love Friends, but boy did that relationship tumble around like a drunken gymnast.)

Better yet, those relationships have grown and changed over the seasons (I’m towards the beginning of five as I write this). If you saw a first season episode with April being snotty and then a fourth season one of her being nice to Chris (Rob Lowe), you might think the character had been radically altered for some reason, but watching the whole thing shows you all the good things that she’s done that have changed her in various ways. Some people balk at the idea of changing. They think that however they are is the way they are and that’s that, but my parents instilled in me pretty early on that people go through life and a lot of different things can happen that result in changes. Basically, nobody’s perfect, but there are ways to better yourself and P&R shows that without being preachy or even that obvious about it.

All of this might sound like I’m talking about a serious show, but it’s also one of the funniest around. How can you not like Ron? Or cringe-laugh at all of Jerry’s nonsense. Or just love (and pity) Tom at the same time? I laugh so loud at some Andy-related incidents that I worry I might wake the kids up.

And a lot of those laughs come from the show’s own sense of continuity and history. I’ve always been drawn to narratives that give readers or viewers or listeners little easter eggs. The world of Pawnee Indiana is filled with insane sugar companies, wildly literal newcasters, the oddest assortment of residents this side of Twin Peaks and people who adore a tiny horse simply for existing. These more out-there elements get balanced so well with the heart-based ones that you almost don’t notice. The little nods here and there to previous storylines and episodes probably would have gone unnoticed by me were I watching this series when it was on, but I’m catching and appreciating a lot of them this time around.

All in all, I’ve had an amazing time re-watching this show and can’t wait to see how it ends. I’ve seen that the last season isn’t on Netflix Instant yet, so I just added them to my disc queue and will pop them up top when the time comes.

Everyone’s Right, Guardians Of The Galaxy Is Awesome

guardians of the galaxyI was a huge fan of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s Guardians Of The Galaxy series which came out of the Annihilation events, though apparently I never wrote about it here on UM (though I did review a trade collecting the first issues of the original series). The mix of comedy, action and cosmic threats made for a thoroughly entertaining series that seemed perfect for the big screen, even if characters like Star-Lord, Rocket Raccoon, Groot, Drax, Gamora, Mantis and Cosmo were completely unknown to a larger audience.

When the actual film version was announced, I was shocked, but excited. I got even more jazzed when Slither director James Gunn was revealed as the captain of this ship. Throw in a stellar cast including Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, John C. Reilly, Benicio del Toro, Glenn Close, Lee Pace, Djimon Hounsou, Karen Gillan, Josh Brolin and Michael Rooker. Of course, I rarely see movies in the theaters anymore, so it took until last weekend for me to see the film which everyone loved. I almost never say this — just look at my initial review of Cabin in the Woods — but this is a movie that lived up to the hype.

I won’t bother going into the film’s plot, because I assume you’ve all seen it, are waiting to see it or have no plans to see it. I will say that I was shocked at how little of the film was spoiled for me going in. I realized as we put the film on — yes, I watched this with my wife and 3-year-old daughter who also both loved it — that I knew very little about the actual story. Sure, I knew about the dancing, the team-up element, the adorable mid-credit sequence and the cheer-worthy post-credits sequence (from my daughter and I, at least), but as far as the actual story went? I was in the dark and that was delightful.

 A lot of people credit this film for being funny as well as action packed and that’s a dead-on assessment. Even after watching the flick three times in four days (like I said, the kid fell in love), I still found myself laughing at Groot, Drax and Rocket. But this isn’t just a fun adventure. There’s also a lot of heart. That opening scene is ROUGH, especially if you’ve lost someone close to you. And if Rocket’s drunken monolog doesn’t hit you hard, there’s something wrong with you. On top of all that, the film is packed with clever ideas. Introducing the adult version of your hero with a dance number on an alien planet? Awesome. Rocket’s plan for getting out of the prison? Genius. The way these wildly unique characters fight on their own and together? Fantastic.

I do have three complaints about the film, though, but only two of them are valid. First, I really disliked that moment in the beginning where Quill says he forgot about the alien woman. I also don’t like how Drax called Gamora a whore towards the end, which makes very little sense. I was primed to see both of these flaws because of the people I follow on Twitter, but I agree that they didn’t need to be there and could have easily been changed. The third complaint is that it took me a while to get used to the different versions of these characters, specifically Gamora. In the comics I’ve read Gamora is a ruthless warrior with little compassion. In this version she’s a lot more human which works perfectly for this story, but took me some time to get used to.

We had such a fun time watching this film that I feel compelled to buy it and add it to my collection. That hasn’t happened with a new film since…Man Of Steel I think. Going even further, this movie got me excited for what’s going on in the Marvel Studios films leading into both Avengers: Infinity War. The Guardians have to be involved right? They’ve just gotta be!

Quick Movie Review: The Five-Year Engagement (2012)

five year engagementI had pretty high hopes for The Five-Year Engagement. I’m a big Jason Segel fan from the Freaks & Geeks days. He co-wrote this film with director Nicholas Stoller, the guys behind one of my favorite recent movies, The Muppets. Plus, you’ve got a cast packed with hilarious people like Chris Pratt, Alison Brie, David Paymer, Dakota Johnson, Mindy Kaling, Kevin Hart and Brian Posehn, all actors and comedians I like a lot. And yet, I was definitely left wanting after watching The Five-Year Engagement.

The movie follows Segel and Emily Blunt from the time they get engaged through their titular five-year engagement. It’s not that either one of them has particularly cold feet, but that life gets in the way. Blunt’s sister (Brie) has a kid with and gets married to Pratt, then Blunt gets a new job that takes them to Ann Arbor, Michigan (which is only about 45 minutes from my home town of Toledo!). Segel, a chef, kind of loses his mind while Blunt goes on with her life and he’s there spinning his wheels, having left a really great job back in San Francisco. Then things get pretty bad and I won’t get into the ending right now.

I have two problems with the movie. First off, it’s 124 minutes long which is too damn long for a comedy. I’m fully in the “90-100 minute” camp when it comes to movies that are supposed to make me laugh. My other problem is that it’s really, really, really hard to make the dissolution of a relationship entertaining and funny. It’s the kind of plot that usually works better in indie dramas or romantic comedies and it could have worked better here if about 20 minutes of the film had been cut. I love Dakota Johnson in Ben & Kate, but her character here is so obviously terrible that she could have been almost completely excised without losing anything of substance.

Stoller and Segel did a somewhat similar kind of movie with Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but the key difference here is that Segel didn’t stay with the girl who did bad stuff to him. You’ve got to see all the warts of this relationship (and there are some huge, seeping ones) and you’re still supposed to be charmed by and like these people. It’s like knowing too much about your best couple friends, it’s hard to look at them the same way.

However, SPOILERS, the damn movie won me back with that charming ending. I mean, I wasn’t surprised that they got hitched, but the way they went about it was pretty fantastic. It doesn’t necessarily win me back, but it was well done. Really, I’d like to see a non-director’s cut of this movie, with big chunks chopped out and re-presented for my viewing pleasure. However, if that does happen, the editor needs to leave that part where Brie and Blunt have a relationship conversation while doing Elmo and Cookie Monster voices. That was fantastic.