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.

I Watch A Lot Of Movies: The Beach, Glory Daze, House II & Take Me Home Tonight

The Beach (2000) is one of those movies that I remember coming out, but don’t remember hearing much about. For some reason I thought it had a sci-fi element to it, but instead it’s about a secret island split between a bunch of hippie pot farmers and some bad ass dudes with guns. Leonardo DiCaprio finds out about the island and sneaks his way in where he soon becomes part of the gang. It’s kind of an interesting idea that gets really weird towards the end.

See, Leo left a map with someone and that’s a problem because the guys with guns don’t want anymore people to join the hippies. The boss lady finds out about this and stations Leo on a ledge so he can watch for newcomers. While doing this, Leo loses his damn mind.

The problem isn’t so much in the story or the turn it takes at the end, but in how long the movie goes in one direction showing how life on the island is and THEN switches to this descent into madness kind of thing. The meandering part is kind of fun to look at as you get interested in how life on the island works, but then the tone and mood shift and it’s almost like you’re watching another movie set in the same world as the first. At the end of the day, the performances are solid and Leo does well with an uneven script, but I’m not sure if I’d recommend checking The Beach out if you haven’t already seen it.

We’ve all got types of movies and stories that we’re suckers for and Glory Daze (1995) fits like three of my preferred subgenres. First off it’s got Ben Affleck, an actor I seem to like no matter what he’s in. Second, it’s an “end of college” movie which I’ve been a sucker for since I saw PCU and Animal House. And finally, it’s a 90s movie about the kind of existential crises Gen Xers had when looking at their future in the real world.

Affleck plays a tormented art student who lives with a group of his friends that include Sam Rockwell and French Stewart in a party house. Most of them are on the verge of graduation, but Affleck doesn’t know what he wants to do with the rest of his life and tries convincing his friends to stay on for one more year in the house to party and put off joining the real world.

Like I said, I’m a sucker for these kinds of movies, but I think it’s actually pretty good. Affleck hits a lot of the same notes that he would go on to hit in Chasing Amy (the movies actually shares some similar themes and beats at times) and the movie is funny, but there is a heart in it that I found appealing. It’s about fear of the unknown, discovering the truth of the world and trying to make the best of a bad situation. Sure, it’s formulaic at times, but it reminds me of a lot of the movies I liked in my high school days.

As I said in today’s Ad It Up, I know I saw and enjoyed the first House movie, but I don’t actually remember much about it. I think it had a dude fighting monsters in another dimension after opening a door in his house. House II: The Second Story (1986) one is about a guy moving into his treasure hunting great grandfather’s house that’s decked out in Incan stuff, finding his undead grandfather and trying to keep a crystal skull out of the hands of some demons. Or something.

The poster, which is awesome, might make the movie seem like a creepy horror movie, but it really feels like a campy family friendly romp. The main guy and his friend just kind of run around with a zombie as different rooms in their house turn into crazy locales.

The film also has a pretty fantastic cameo by John Ratzenberger as a repairman who doesn’t bat an eye when an Incan warrior tries to kill him and also fights it off like a boss. Also, there’s a tiny green dog-bug thing that I wish was my pet.

It’s so, so goofy, but if you like that kind of thing, do yourself a favor and check out House II on Netflix Instant.

When I saw trailers for the 80s-set Take Me Home Tonight (2011), I figured it would be your average throwback with lots jokes that are only funny if you’re living in 2011 and the kind of attitude that pokes more fun than pays homage. Thankfully that’s not the case. There are only a few of those anachronistic-style jokes, but for the most part, it’s a coming-of-age, finding-yourself story that just so happens to be set in the late 80s. They don’t even seem to look down on the decade that gave us big hair, strange clothes and rolled up jacket sleeves. Those things are in the movie, but they’re not the focus. It’d be dishonest if they weren’t there.

I was also happy with how some of the usual tropes of this kind of “telling my high school sweetheart I like her story” were handled. You’ve got Topher Grace telling a lie after meeting the girl of his dreams that comes back to bite him in the ass. But, he actually has a really good argument for why he lied. It’s an honest conversation that you rarely see handled so well in this kind of thing.

Like I said, I’m a sucker for these kinds of stories and really liked the performances by Grace (who I’ve liked since That 70s Show), Anna Faris who I didn’t even recognize with brown hair at first, Dan Fogler, Teresa Palmer, Chris Pratt and Michael Biehn. Add in a setting that’s not usually handled this way and I’m in. Give it a look.

Halloween Scene: Jennifer’s Body (2009)

I was pretty excited for Jennifer’s Body, but it had nothing to do with plot or acting or story or the fact that it was written by Juno’s Diablo Cody (I thought Juno was mostly boring and kind of ridiculous when it came to dialogue), but because I’ve always had a thing for Amanda Seyfried and Megan Fox is crazy hot. Oddly enough, it’s the leads’ star power that kind of derails the movie’s sleaze (just to let you guys know ahead of time, there is sex in the movie, but no nudity, which kind of deflates it a bit).

Anyway, the story’s about Fox (Jennifer) getting turned into a succubus by a band with Adam Brody in it. They’re trying to make a sacrifice to become gigantic rock stars, but it turned out that Jennifer wasn’t actually a virgin when they sacrificed her so she turned into the succubus (which kind of eats human life/blood to stay hot and healthy looking). Her best friend Seyfried sticks by her, but turns into the story’s hero as she figures things out.

I can’t really place my finger on it, but this movie just seemed kind of whatever. Maybe it’s because a lot of the gore was shown off camera (what’s the point if you’ve already got an R?). Maybe because of unbelievable/sketchy plot points like Seyfried learning all about succubi from the local library (does Giles run it?) or even the fact that Seyfried and Fox are friends. She says its because they’ve known each other forever, but I just didn’t buy it. Why would the ultra hot and popular Jennifer want to hang out with the nerdy girl? Why would the nerdy girl put up with her abuse? Maybe it’s because I don’t still have friends from when I was very young anymore, but that “well, we’ve known each other forever” thing doesn’t hold water with me once you hit high school.

I will say that there are some good lines. I liked the dialogue in this one way better than Juno because it didn’t seem as in your face or mile a minute or all over the place. I also liked Johnny Simmons as Seyfried’s boyfriend, JK Simmons as a hook handed teacher (I didn’t notice it at first and unfortunately it has NO pay off throughout the film) and Amy Sedaris as Seyfried’s alcoholic (I think) mother. It was cool seeing her especially play outside her normal wheelhouse.

All in all, it wasn’t a terrible movie, but it didn’t really do much for me as a story, which is too bad because there’s such a dearth of original non-remake, non-sequel horror movies coming out. This one clearly got made on the strength of Cody’s name and a solid cast, but I think it’s wobbliness says more about why the movie didn’t do super well than why new horror movies shouldn’t get made. There have got to be better horror scripts floating around just waiting for some new studio looking to make some bucks can put some money behind. Hell, I’ve got a nice little slasher script I bet could be made for short money if anyone’s interested.

Wanted: My Third Favorite Comic Movie of 2008

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Yup, I said it. Of course Dark Knight and Iron Man were the cat’s pajamas, but what movie holds the third spot in my heart for this year? Well, without thinking about it too much (and not doing any real research), Wanted, which I saw for the first time this weekend on DVD easily takes the bronze cake. I also saw Incredible Hulk, which I found to be generally boring and mostly uninspired, and Hellboy II, which Rickey just watched. I share his sentiments and you can check out my comments over there for a few specifics.

Even though I liked Wanted for all of it’s action movie craziness, I gotta say, I’m not a fan of the comic. I’m not a big fan of the idea of raping various women showing how much of a bad ass you are. We get it already, he’s not held by society’s rules. Plus, I found the end of the comic to be pretty dull, even though we were kind of influenced by it for the recent Secret Invasion TTT over in ToyFare.

Fun fact for those of you who might not know already, the screenwriters actually started writing the script after the first issue came out, but before the rest of the issues. They apparently came up with a lot of the same themes and plot points which I found very interesting. If you’re interested in hearing them talk about their experiences writing the script check out the interview done with them on the Creative Screenwriting Magazine podcast via iTunes (I’ve enjoyed a lot of the podcast interviews on there). Anyway, that explains the differences in the plot, which include them not being supervillains among other things.

So, what I liked about the movie is that they just kind of went crazy with it. I’m not sure how I feel about the whole “loom of fate” idea, but whatever, it’s just a goofy plot point that didn’t bother or intrigue me, it just kind of sat there. I’ve always been a fan of stories where it turns out that a normal dude is actually really special (and in this case a born assassin) and Jame McAvoy plays the roll very well, going from schlub to annoying new guy to total badass (how can you not love the scene where he tells off his boss?). But beyond that, I also really like just how good these assassins are at their craft. They’re not just good enough to shoot a dude from what looks like hundreds of city blocks away, but they can flip one car over another and shoot a dude through the sun roof. It’s just a lot of fun and I had fun watching it.

Of course, it’s not a perfect movie. It would have been cool to see them as villains, but hey that’s just my inner geek talking. There’s also a scene where James is chasing this dude who he thinks killed his dad and out of nowhere all of the other assassins that we know (Common, Angelina Jolie, a few others, but not Morgan Freeman) and things just go crazy. Why were they there? I really didn’t get that and I don’t think that it got explained even with the twist ending (which I was expecting, but Em even called it before the reveal). I also thought the twist got a little confusing. If he did what McAvoy says he did, then who’s to say he wasn’t lying about the other ones? That will make sense, if you’ve seen the movie and you’re thinking of the library scene towards the end of the movie. Oh, also, McAvoy’s assault at the end is freaking sweet even if I’m still not quite sure how he got them to explode.

I guess I should comment on the other stars. Morgan Freeman definitely elevates what’s probably not a very good role on paper (as you’d expect). Common’s pretty cool as the Gunsmith. I think this is the first movie I’ve seen him in. I wouldn’t mind seeing him as Green Lantern John Stewart, as he was potentially cast in the Justice League movie. And then of course there’s Angelina Jolie. She’s one of those actresses that I’m not a big fan of until I actually see her in something. I’ve got this kind of mental block about her (probably because I don’t like the person I see on TV and whatnot), but then I think about Hackers and Gone in 60 Seconds and I dig those movies, so I guess I like her.

So, in the end, congrats to Wanted for getting my coveted (heh, who am I kidding?) third place in my 2008 comic book movie list (I’m sure I’m missing something, but maybe not). But watch out, I still haven’t seen Punisher: War Zone, which I’m hoping will fill the same kind of niche (I love Dolph’s original and it looks like WZ follows in its footsteps pretty well, though without the Shakespeare-quoting drunk bum).