My Favorite Film Experiences Of 2018

I haven’t done a lot of blogging this year, but, don’t worry, I’ve still been watching a ton of movies! I’ve even been keeping track of everything I’ve watched or read in a pair of Composition Note Books that I’ve (not so) cleverly dubbed Pop Notes. Thanks to them, I’m pretty confident looking back at the year and piecing together thoughts on some of my fave film-watching experiences (minus horror, which will get a list or two of their own). This one’s pretty long, so hit that jump and get into it!

Continue reading My Favorite Film Experiences Of 2018

I Very Much Enjoyed The Dark Knight Rises

My wife has very kindly offered for me to head over to the theater and watch Dark Knight Rises a few times. I bowed out because it was too late one night, I wasn’t up to the three hour commitment and I just wasn’t feeling up for something so seemingly intense another night, but today I took her up on her very generous offer. As I tweeted before heading over to the theater, I actually can not remember the last movie I saw inside as the few new movies we’ve gone to since Lu was born 15 months ago have been at the drive-in.

Somehow, I’d actually been able to avoid any and all spoilers since the film’s July 20th release date. I might have written about Dark Knight Rises a few times a week for Spinoff leading up to the film, but since then any and all stories have been purely about box office. I’ve scrolled over tweets, avoided emails and even skipped some of my favorite podcasts to stay in the dark. I’m actually shocked it worked.

I don’t think I need to get into too much detail about the plot, but this film picks up eight years after the events of Dark Knight. Batman’s been out of commission since then, vilified thanks to his plan with Jim Gordon while Harvey Dent was turned into the city’s fallen knight. It’s been a good time for Gotham…until Bane comes to town and wants to knock everyone off their collective high horses.

Okay, the rest of the review until otherwise stated will take place in SPOILER country, so you’ve been warned. What I liked about this movie is the journey it took us on, even if it’s not one that’s necessarily the most original. Bruce is destroyed by the death of Rachel from the previous film and doesn’t know how he can go on living when she can’t do the same. This dovetails nicely with the plan he hatched with Gordon, giving Gotham the Batman they deserve. We also discover that Bruce’s distrust of humanity make him automatically deject any plans that might be used negatively even if their primary source could be good. That’s the kind of person her is at this point.

Bane is a whole different animal, one whose MO feels like a living breathing thing throughout the movie because we’re only hearing and seeing it from other peoples’ perspectives for the most part. I thought that was a really interesting take on him: you basically only know him by his actions and his speech, not because you know anything about him or his past. The way that his plan not only confirms the fears Bruce always had about the tech getting into the wrong hands but maybe also that you might as well get some good out of things even if they can be abused for evil (that’s not said anywhere on film, but something I thought while watching). I will say that the voice took some getting used to. It almost sounds like someone dubbed in a funny voice in that opening scene, but gets a little less cartoony as it goes on. I also had a hard time understanding him a few times, but that didn’t really bother me. You tend to understand the point he’s trying to convey.

I also want to talk about Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake. Man, I loved this character and his arc. He’s Bruce Wayne if he wasn’t rich, an orphan who learned later how to hide his anger at what happened to him and his parents, but eventually decided to do good by joining the police force. How he goes from that to freedom fighter could have been a whole movie in its own right and one I would have watched. I also enjoyed Anne Hathaway’s performance. She really dug into her bag of actor tricks going from flummoxed demure maid to femme fatale in no time flat, something that could have felt slopping in the hands of a lesser actress. She’s the bad guy side of the Bruce Wayne/John Blake model: poor kid taking what she needed to survive and never really stopping, but wanting to.

Making the proceedings even more entertaining for me was the fact that some of the Batman comics I read growing up were the basis of this story. I’m seen lots of comic movies and really enjoyed them, sometimes going back later and reading the stories they were based on, but I really can’t explain to you how much a part of me the long form Bane story Knightfall meant to me. Those were the first Batman issues I ever collected. I devoured the parts of that story I could find and it lead me to buying Batman comics for the next 20 years almost. But that’s not all, the movie also includes elements from the No Man’s Land story that saw Gotham cut off from the rest of the country and even some of the Bane/Ra’s al Ghul stuff that came about in later issues. I was even retroactively remembering how things fit in with my comics after we found out who Miranda Tate really was (facepalm, of course it was her!).

The movie wasn’t perfect though. Like I said, Bane’s voice was pretty cartoony at times, to the point where I was trying to figure out what animated character he sounded like. It doesn’t help that I have no idea what Tom Hardy sounds like normally. I also thought some of the larger crowd fighting was a little weak, specifically outside city hall, though the bouts between Bane and Batman were always gnarly. OH, and how awesome was it seeing Batman and Catwoman fighting awesomely side by side?! Oh, right, I’m on complaints. Let’s see…oh, Batman took an awful lot of very previous time to stop and say goodbye to Catwoman and Gordon when flying the bomb out, didn’t he? It reminded me of a much less campy version of that famous scene from the 60s Batman movie where he’s trying to get rid of the bomb.

Speaking of the end, I thought it was very curious. Going in, I knew that this was going to be Christopher Nolan’s last Batman film (unless the famously tricky director is playing with us once again), but I was also assuming that this would be the last Batman movie set in his movie universe, like Warners would just scrap it and start over again with a new idea. But that’s pretty silly isn’t it? In comics, sometimes a writer leaves and blows everything up, leaving the next guy to pick up the pieces and sometimes there’s a really smooth transition. It seems like Nolan was giving whoever comes after him a very easy access point. They can clearly move forward with the John Blake developments or bring our hero back any number of other ways. Heck, Nolan could even still produce like he’s doing on Man of Steel, that would give him time to work on whatever his next original project will be. I don’t know any of the answers here, but I like having the questions running around my brain.

End SPOILERS. So, yeah, I really enjoyed this movie. It didn’t grab me right away in the beginning, but kept winning me throughout and by the end, I was completely in, rooting for Gotham and believing that one man really can make a difference. I was so pumped on the way home I had to make sure to watch my speed. I also bought in hard to the idea that you have to make sacrifices to help change things, you can’t just hide behind whatever’s safe or even your family because you’re just making a crappier world for your kid to live in if you’re not helping change things.

We Want Action: RED (2010)

With all the election nonsense clogging up the airwaves last night, the missus and I decided to have ourselves a little dinner and a movie date and saw RED and The Destinta, an awesome independent theater near our place that does discount tickets on Tuesdays. We decided on this flick because the missus liked the cast and we both figured this would be better to watch on the big screen than a drama or comedy. And, boy, did we both have a lot of fun with the flick.

The idea is that Bruce Willis, a retired CIA agent has been marked for death. Since he’s been flirting with customer service rep Mary-Louise Parker has been targeted to, so he grabs her and goes on a cross-country chase trying to figure out why Karl Urban’s after him, enlisting the help of fellow older killers Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren and Brian Cox. With the exception of a few stiff line delivers, I think this might be Willis’ best movie in a while (Cop Out was okay, Surrogates was interesting, but didn’t really take up much rent space in my brain) because the action is solid (though I wish they hadn’t shown that scene of him getting out of the spinning car in the previews because it takes away a little bit of the awesomeness having seen it a billion times in the commercials). I was worried that Freeman and Mirren might have just signed up for this flick for a paycheck, but it seemed like they had a good time, or at least took it remotely seriously. I liked Parker more in this one movie than almost all of Weeds. Urban really proved himself to me in this flick. He was great in Star Trek, but he was basically interpreting someone else’s performance in that movie and really got to show what he can do in this one from both an acting and action perspective. And, damn, Malkovich as the paranoid-but-right dudes was just so damn perfect.

For whatever it’s worth, I didn’t read the comic the movie is loosely based on written by Warren Ellis and drawn by Cully Hamner. It came out while I was in college and working solely off of my established pull list. I don’t think I’d read any Ellis books at that point and it doesn’t sound like I’ve missed a whole lot. RED sounds very violent and pretty basic, kind of like Ellis’ later team-up with Hamner for Top Cow Down, which I read and dug, but don’t even think I’ll need to revisit. The movie, on the other hand, I think I’ll watch a few more times, especially if it comes on on a Saturday afternoon or I come across it on Instant. It’s fun and funny and has a nice, but not too gooey, romantic plot that doesn’t diminish any of the characters.

I had three random thoughts while watching this movie. First off, I think they filmed the rocket launcher scene in this movie (which was awesome all around, by the way) in the same place they filmed the finale of The Losers, which is kind of funny because they’re both movies based on obscure comic properties owned by DC. I don’t know what they call those giant, rectangular metal shipping boxes, but that’s what tipped me off. Second, related to the first, actually, is that the trailer was randomly spoilery. So, SPOILER WARNING if you care. One major and one minor plot point can be figured out just by watching the trailer. The major one is that Freeman isn’t really dead after the attack in the nursing home, which you know because you see him with Mirren in the preview. The minor one is that the red headed woman is actually following them. Malkovich hassles the lady, but you’re supposed to just think he’s paranoid. Of course, if you’ve seen the commercial for the movie, you know she’s the one that fires the rocket at him. And finally, I wonder if Kevin Smith had problems with Willis on the set of Cop Out. On the most recent Smodcast (#143), Smith mentioned that the main different between filming Cop Out and Red State is that on the former there was someone who clearly didn’t want to be there and on the latter everyone was excited to make the movie. You’d think it would be between the two leads–Tracy Morgan and Bruce Willis–if it caused a certain amount of problems or headaches, but Smith defended Morgan on Twitter the other day, so I’m wondering if he was referring to Willis. For what it’s worth, Smith has also praised Adam Brody and Kevin Pollack in various podcasts, which seems to leave Willis. Knowing Smith, I wouldn’t be surprised if he eventually came out and told that tale. I’d definitely be curious to hear it and also figure out if I was right.

All Out Action: Westworld (1973) & Hard Rain (1998)

2008-12-30
8:44:15 pm

Like I said recently, I’ve been trying to watch as many movies as I possibly can with the Netflix on XBox option, but I’ve also had a few Netflix DVDs sitting around (though the Broken Arrow DVD was completely cracked down the center, so that’s one less to worry about for now). So, here we go with the reviews.

WESTWORLD (1973)

I distinctly remember watching Westworld with my dad when I was younger, but I apparently didn’t remember much but the very basics from the movie. I lucked out and got Em to watch it along with me and it seemed like she liked it well enough (she didn’t make fun of me like she did after watching The Warriors so that’s a plus). Anyway, I also really dug the movie, probably even moreso because I didn’t remember every little part of it.

The basic plot is that there’s this resort populated with robots where you can go and live like you’re in another time period (Roman Empire, Medieval England or the Wild Wild West). You can basically do whatever you want there (including shooting and having sex with the robots, though, presumably different ones). Our story focuses on two visitors, one played by James Brolin, the other by a guy named Richard Benjamin who looked familiar, but nothing on his IMDb rang any bells. Yul Brenner also starts as the robot Gunslinger who keeps coming after Benjamin. Well, the vacation doesn’t go quite as planned as the robots start revolting and SPOILER the Gunslinger kills James Brolin (Em and I both thought he’d be the hero, oh well), sending Benjamin running from the relentless cowboy killer robot.

There’s a lot of cool special effects and writer and director Michael Crichton (I had no idea he directed movies) does a great job of selling the story. According the IMDb trivia he got the idea for the story after visiting Disneyland, which was pretty funny to me because it seems pretty familiar to The Stepford Wives, which I read, watched and reviewed recently. The trivia also said that The Gunslinger also inspired John Carpenter to create the greatest slasher in movie history Michael Myers. So, if you’re a fan of either of those other movies or just cool sci-fi robot stories starring Jame Brolin and Yul Brenner, then you should definitely check this one out.

HARD RAIN (1998)

I’m not even sure why I put Hard Rain on my queue. It was probably one of those suggested movies that Netlifx does when you add a movie to your queue. Anyway, I wasn’t all too excited to watch it when the DVD came in, but I’m really glad I did as this is a fantastic action movie with one of the coolest and best handled natural disaster plots I’ve seen in a while. Plus, it’s got Christian Slater, Morgan Freeman, Randy Quaid, Ed Asner, Betty White and Minnie Driver sporting a pretty bad American accent.

Plotwise you’ve got Morgan Freeman leading a band of robbers trying to get their hands on the money in Slater and Asner’s bank truck in a town in danger of flooding. Meanwhile Quaid and his fellow police officers try to save the townspeople like Driver and White. As the water rises (and boy, does it get up there) so does the tension and a great “anything can happen” feeling. It does get a little crazy at the very end with all kinds of allegiances changing and crosses being doubled, but all that water makes it okay in my book. You’ve got everything from a boat being driven through a church window to a wave runner chase scene in a high school. It really is just a fun movie that offers up plenty of “how are they going to get out of THIS” situations. I highly HIGHLY recommend this movie to anyone who like fun movies who don’t let things like science get in the way of enjoying a movie (in this world, a gun can fire no matter how long it’s been under water, so just deal with it okay?).

Wanted: My Third Favorite Comic Movie of 2008

2008-12-16
3:41:04 am

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).