Category Archives: Movies

Second Suckerpunch Review

We needed two because I had such a different reaction to the movie than, well, everyone else who watched it with us last night, apparently, but most importantly, different than David’s.

Honestly, I liked Suckerpunch. I liked it in the way I liked the Matrix movies, in that while I agree there are serious issues with the details of the surrounding story and maybe the parts don’t add up to a cohesive whole, I liked the individual parts so much, my enjoyment of them at the time outweighs any issue I might have with the movie as a whole piece. Does that seem like a poor way to judge a movie? Perhaps. But I look at this way – “2012” was a giant waste of my time. When that movie was over I wanted that part of my life back. “The Postman” I just walked out of. This movie did not even begin to approach that level of disappointment. No, it didn’t live up to the awe inspiring “300” for steampunk chicks potential it had, but I enjoyed it right up until the last “real world” sequence, so I’m going to give that a pass. I’ve had alot of movies let me down at the end (heck, I’ve had alot of books let me down at the end…. *cough cough*Stephen King), so it doesn’t really bother me that much that the ending didn’t really match what I thought was going on, but okay, it was a bit confusing and a let down.

But, the rest of movie was really awesome. It’s been pretty rare that I’ve had a moment in a movie where I’ve felt that sense of childish delight at some sequence in a movie that was just really really cool looking. For me there is value in that, much like I enjoy playing many a fantasy RPG game that looks really awesome and has fun characters, even if the story makes little to no sense. The movie delivered in many a sequence on that point. The fight scenes staged like a music videos were especially fun. The music choices were really cool – I’m looking forward to checking out the soundtrack. Much of the music seemed to be the original tracks (I was much delighted with the samurai fighting scene set to Bjork’s awesome “Army of Me”, but the eerie rendition of “Sweet Dreams” that sounded like the Marilyn Manson arrangement with a female singer was both moving, and perfectly married to the opening sequence.

There was one other level where I really related to the movie, which I think is why I find myself so fiercely defending something that honestly was maybe a 6 out of 10 in my book – much of the movie touched on ideas and situations that spoke to me on a personal level. But the personal situations and ideas are, admittedly, so outside the norm that I could hardly reasonably expect a majority of others to relate to the movie on the same level. For me, the movie really took me back to a time when I had also suffered a bit of a nervous breakdown due to a deep traumatizing series of events that also involved a death of a close female relative, fearing for my little sister while dealing with a close male relative with evil intentions, and spending a short period of time in fear of being locked up in an institutional facility (albeit it was only a day, but still… these are not nice places to be), and I also coped with all these by having an active imaginary life where I wandered through dream sequence versions of events, which probably wouldn’t have made sense to anyone else if they had been filmed (even by Zack Snyder), wherein I tried to work out my issues in a world where I had cool superpowers, or more supportive friends, or just generally had more control and kicked butt. So the movie spoke to me on this level and dredged up many memories both good and bad, and for that, I was really glad I watched it, and was happy to see someone at least TRY to capture that onscreen.

For everyone else… your mileage may vary.

But *I* liked it. Any maybe you will to. I’d see it and make up your own mind.

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Battle Los Angeles – A Short Review

There was lots of action. Aaron Eckart is still awesome. Michelle Rodriguez is my girl power hero. The aliens look like the rough draft for the ID4 aliens. The plot made no sense. Imagine for a moment someone wanted to make a movie, sort of like Black Hawk Down, sort of like one of those first person shooters (I don’t really play realistic military shooters, but I’ve watched other people play them), but didn’t want to deal with the PC police over whomever they chose to be the bad guy, so they just used completely underdeveloped aliens with not very well explained motives instead. That said, the movie was fun. I’d rather see a nonsensical action movie that doesn’t pretend it’s got anything more to offer me than some crazy shoot em up scenes, than a pretentious art film that’s pretending to be deep, but, honestly, is just as poorly thought out and written (yes, I’m looking at you Black Swan). Is there really that much difference between the broadly painted military stereotypes of this movie and the “Oh, she’s the bad girl because she’s a dancer who EATS BURGERS! And SWEARS!” of Black Swan? No, there isn’t. So =P to Ebert.

Also =P to Ebert’s sexism when it comes to reviewing action movies. You know who wanted to see this move? My mother in law. The one that also made me see “Pride and Prejudice” and “Twilight”. And she loved it. So there.

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Zombie-pocalypse! Mama Milla!

Due to a severe illness in our immediate family, we had to take an unexpected hiatus, but things are better now. In between hospital visits, we managed to watch ALL FOUR Resident Evil films. We’re actually currently on a quest to fill up the holes in our pop culture/geek knowledge. We watched Repo! The Genetic Opera and Superbad. Now we’ve covered all the Resident Evil films to date. Fight Club, Firefly (or anything by Joss Whedon, really), and The Big Lebowsky are all in the ever growing queue, just to give you an idea of how much catching up needs to be done here. But in the meantime, there’s Milla.

Milla Jovovich is amazing to me, personally – not that her acting is going to win her any Oscars, but she does get to act, in some pretty fun movies to boot, and she also sings, designs clothes, gets paid to wear clothes, and is a mom. That’s just cool. There’s some girl power for you here on International Women’s Day (OR MARDI GRAS TO THE REST OF US WHO STILL KNOW HOW TO HAVE FUN – sorry, the lack of Mardi Gras love here in SoCal was a pet peeve of mine today.)

Anyhow, there were lots and lots of zombies involved. As well as lots and lots of Milla’s in the fourth movie, which has what is now one of my favorite movie openings ever. The first movie was fun, even if it didn’t feature any major characters from the game. The general ideas were there, the mansion was cool, Michelle Rodriguez kicked ass (still love her from “Lost”), and it was a decent completely silly video game movie. If you never played the games, you probably won’t like it, so I’m going to forgive Ebert his awful review of this one.

I’ll also forgive his review of the second one, even if it was my favorite of the first three. The fact was, most of the awesome of RE: Apocalypse was in going “Oh, I totally remember that from the game! Squee! She’s wearing the right Jill outfit!”, which would totally be lost on someone who’s never played the game. As an added bonus, we recently played Dead Rising 2, and I’ll be damned if that game did not just totally steal half that movie, right down to the Asian newscaster. We came up with our own drinking game while watching the movie, which probably deserves a post on its own. A Southern accented good ole boy shooting zombies from behind a couple signs on top of a building? Take a shot. A kid infected with the zombie virus that has to get her antidote meds every few hours? Take a shot again. And so on, and so forth. (I’m really serious. If you’ve played Dead Rising 2, go watch RE: Apocalypse and you will totally see what we mean.)

On to number 3! RE: Extinction was my least favorite of all 4 movies. It was okay, and some of the action scenes were really cool – like when the crows attack or some of the massive zombie fights at the end, but the Mad Max feel just didn’t work for me. Also, I’m getting tired of movies (and games for that matter – I’m looking at you Fallout New Vegas), that have other cities like LA and Washington DC mostly intact post-apocalypse, but then Vegas is reduced to one tiny portion of the strip. Have these people been to Vegas? It’s HUGE. And surprisingly developed and urban (and suburban, for that matter.) It has MILES of streets and buildings, some of which rival the size of the strip. It’s a pet peeve, I know, but still, it takes me out of the movie. Especially since in RE: Afterlife, LA is practically untouched, other than the lack of people.

Now, RE: Afterlife, was awesome. The beginning was super cool, and while the story lagged at times, and made almost no sense in others (for some reason certain characters are still wearing the exact outfits they were wearing the day of the first zombie attack years later, and in perfect condition. Where is that Hollywood producer dry cleaning his suit in a prison? Seriously?) Anyhow, ignore some of the complete nonsense, the action sequences are wicked cool – especially the fight scene between Claire and the Executioner in the prison shower. And there was a huge amount of nods to Resident Evil 5, and we finally get Chris Redfield! Woo! If you have played RE5 (which was a fun game, even if the last hour or so basically sucked), you will totally understand what is up with the freaky Chthulu zombies and you might even be inspired to yell at Claire to shoot at the red barrel that is in the prison shower for no good reason to kill off the Executioner zombie, and you will be delighted with the fight scene with Wesker. If you have not played Resident Evil 5, well, this might just be the most confusing zombie movie of all time. The movies just don’t have the 30 or so hours to explain everything the games have. They do their best. I liked them. I understand why alot of critics wouldn’t though, and there’s not much else to say.

Now go eat some King Cake!


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Tron: Legacy

I have mixed feelings about Tron Legacy. The beginning was nearly unbearable -Flynn’s son as an X-TREME prankster who steals from his dad’s old company and escapes by parachuting off the tower only to get caught again maybe five minutes later (but it’s okay, he still owns the company so they won’t prosecute) were so weird I almost felt like I was watching a spoof – ‘He’s like the old guy! But he does X-TREME parachuting! And he lives in a storage shed and drives a motorcycle!’.

But, most of my objections melted away when I saw just how damn good the new computer world looked. The designs were recognizable as the old NES-era Tron graphics but way, way, way cooler. The girls were strange but beautiful, the soldiers were much, much more intimidating with the new faceless helmets, and the lightcycles and all got a great upgrade. Especially the new flying wings, jets, and ships.

I am not usually such a sucker for special effects – see the execrable 2012, overrated Avatar, or parts of the Matrix – but this movie greated a whole world, which is something you don’t see as much these days, I think. I mean, you hear so much about Pandora, but I never thought the world building there was as impressive. Giant trees? Pretty fauna and glowing lights? OK, sure, but this was something completely different from normal life, which you don’t see as much.

I feel compelled to pick apart the plot, of course, but I almost can’t do anything with it. On one hand, you have basically nonsensical ideas such as travelling into a computer with a laser and grouchy computer programs trying to take over the world. On the other hand, you have classic stuff – the orphan boy goes into a fantasy world and finds out his dad is there and basically a good wizard (see programming powers and big white robe), that the EVIL son is in charge of everything (the truly creepy CLU), and wins the heart of the elf princess. Er, the ISO. You know.

So, a mixture of familiar cliches, utterly nonsensical science fantasy, a lot of ambition and ideas, and some truly mind-bending visuals. Worth mentioning on its own – the excellent score. Maybe the best part. Anyway, when all is said and done, I am super glad to have seen this movie, and you should too, preferably in 3D. I think it will lose a lot on the small screen. I can’t believe that it wasn’t nominated for effects (maybe this is an in-joke after they ignored the last Tron?). Oh well, and here I was complimenting the Oscars… so it goes.

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Ultrastar Ultrasucks

The Gardenwalk mall near Disneyland has more than it’s share of problems – it’s not very well laid out, it lacks any real “anchor” stores like a Sears or a Target, it’s hard to tell it’s actually a mall from the street, and you could go on and on. So it hasn’t been very surprising that many of its residents have had issues, nor was it surprising when the theater went under. But then Ultrastar bought the theater and it seemed at least we would have that again. This was maybe not an improvement on the situation.

We went to the Ultrastar this past weekend to see “Tron: Legacy”, which David is supposed to review sometime this week. Our first sign something was still amiss at the seemingly cursed Gardenwalk is that even though we went to see the movie at 5pm on a Saturday, there was almost no one at the theater who didn’t work there. There was no line to buy tickets, no line to get snacks, no one in the actual theater when we went to get seats 10 minutes before the movie was slated to start. It was kind of creepy, actually.

Their ticket prices weren’t that off in comparison to other theaters, although it did remind us why we only attended 2 movies in a theater last year, and one of those was because we had a gift certificate. I could buy a half dozen downloads on Xbox or 3 months of Netflix for what we paid just to watch Tron Legacy. (Granted it was in 3D, but there was no other way to watch it either.)  

But I’m still pretty peeved about the snacks. The popcorn was stale, the M&Ms were stale, and that plus 2 bottles of water was almost $20! I know concessions are usually expensive, but that seemed like more than AMC charges, and the food was stale on top of the high cost. Also they did not have Jr. Mints or any sort of ICEE product. So, that was a lose for us as well. But seriously, STALE popcorn? I expect that from a dollar theater night, not a first run movie. Sheesh. (Maybe they spent the popcorn money on their poorly named “d-box” seats?)

Anyhow, we got the theater for Tron Legacy almost to ourselves, with the exception of one other small group of people who came in right before it started. There may be some people out there who would enjoy a theater all to themselves, but I find it a little disconcerting. It didn’t help that one of the workers came in to talk to us just before the movie started, and you know his speech was prepared for addressing a theater that was maybe at least a quarter full and the whole thing was just sort of awkward instead.

So, we won’t be going back to that theater, nor do we recommend it to anyone. Not that it seems like it needs any help from us in going under, because if that was their Saturday night business level, I don’t think Ultrastar Anaheim is long for this world.

(Although, as a side note, what’s really weird is this is a CHAIN. You’d think they’d be better at picking locations or advertising or something.


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Little Gold Men

It’s that time of year again! The Oscar nominees have been announced and now the collective internets will spend the next couple of weeks trying to guess who the winners will be. I actually haven’t watched the Oscars in many years – they seemed to be out of touch with what everyone was actually watching that year. The quality of a film seemed to be judged by how few people paid to see it in years past. This year’s inclusion of “Toy Story 3” in the Best Picture category might be a overcorrection, but at least it seems like nearly all the nominees are movies that either did decent box office, or at least had major buzz during the year. I’m hoping they re-release “Inception” as a result of its nom, so we can see it on the big screen finally. We didn’t go to the movies much this year, but at least 2 of the 3 movies I saw at a theater were Best Picture nods – “Toy Story 3” and “Black Swan”, even if based on my viewing experience, neither deserves to win. “Inception” and “True Grit” are on our viewing list, so we might squeeze those in before Oscar time, while “The King’s Speech” doesn’t seem like it will lose much on the small(er) screen here at home and is destined for the Netflix queue. Last week I would have said “The Social Network” seems like it’s going to pull an Oscar sweep just due to the end of year buzz, but it appears “True Grit” is going to be the dark horse candidate this year. (I haven’t seen a Coen brothers movie since “Barton Fink”, although I keep meaning to. We probably need to just have a Coen brothers marathon or something and get caught up.) “127 Hours”, much as I love Danny Boyle, just seems like it would be hard to watch, especially given our habit of hiking in the desert.

But the really important this is that you (yes YOU) could win $100,000 (or a piece thereof) if you can outguess Roger Ebert! (Or me. I might win! I MIGHT!)


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Black Swan Review

Black Swan is almost universally acclaimed, no?

That is what I thought before watching it, but when it turned out I did not particularly enjoy it, I did some research and found some opinions that like mine. Most of the mid-level reviews on Metacritic, including some pretty respectable ones like NPR, Time, and New Yorker, match mine pretty well.

Fair disclosure to start – I grew up with a ballerina sister and stage mom. Also, the Cloverfield-esque camerawork made me nauseated almost from the beginning. The second is an obvious problem, but I mention the first because some of the people I discussed the movie with seemed to think that being a ballerina and having a domineering mother were in themselves enough explanation for Nina (said ballerina) going insane. I disagree, obviously, but it is sort of a bias.

I am a fan of Natalie Portman and Darren Aronofsky (very much so, in the second case –  Requiem For A Dream is absolutely in my top ten movies of all time). All of the cool visual innovation of the second is there (though the gritty / shaky cam seemed a bit out of place in, say, the ballet sequences), and Natalie did a great job acting…

But there is a problem there, which is the script. Nina is a pretty flat character. Basically, mundane things frighten her. She can be reduced to a stammering, whimpering state by simple questions from long-term acquaintances, and even before she wins the role that I think was supposed to drive her insane, she is having weird anxiety attacks about really random things like seeing another girl on the subway.

She has a few moments here and there where she breaks from her shell, but basically she lives like a little child, with no real explanation why other than that she “is the white swan”, a comment made several times in the movie. So, she is lovable and sheltered. In the Black Swan world, ‘sheltered’ means you have never dated, sleep with stuffed animals, and your mom undresses you every night and tucks you in while turning on a musicbox for you.

Did I mention the characterization bothered me? Not only is Nina weird and stereotypical, but basically everyone else is. Her mom is overprotective and controlling. How do we know? She constantly hovers over Nina, insists on helping her get dressed, and has a giant room full of portraits of her. Yep, her mom’s idea of a good time is sitting around and drawing pictures of Nina. There is a ‘bad girl’ in this movie, t00 – you know she is bad because she eats cheeseburgers, smokes constantly, and has fun by picking up random guys for one night stands while downing liquor and taking Ecstasy. subtlety is not part of this movie’s repertoire, to say the least. By the way, the bad girl does all the above while being a professional ballet in New York because, even though she is said to be not so good at dancing, she has passion. Or something like that.

I am trying to avoid spoilers as best I can, so I will cut back on the detail. Basically, the characters were cartoonish, and nothing really very interesting happened, which is to say interesting things happened, but they were always undone with Nina suddenly waking up from some vision and realizing none of it had happened. This is especially disappointing when it comes to her interactions with the ‘black swan’, since basically every interesting thing that happens in the relationship turns out to be imagined by Nina. I think in the end the other girl hardly knows who she is / was trying to be nice to her, and Nina just pushes her away because, well, she is something like a  paranoid schizophrenic.

I was also frustrated by a tendency to imitate the ballet, which is fair enough but not only did they parallel the events of the ballet, but they basically pointed it out (‘YOU are the WHITE SWAN’, etc) multiple times throughout the movie, which really took me out of the events and reminded me I was watching a film about Swan Lake. It killed any sense of immersion remaining after the 7th or 8th ‘just kidding!’ the movie threw at me.

Basically, I would skip it if it was not the Big Movie of the awards season. So, go see it but be well-warned that it has several flaws, especially if you agree that ‘ballerinas are crazy!!’ isn’t enough of an explanation to buy into a movie about a grown woman wandering around being terrified that she is turning into a bird.

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Tron Legacy – our kind of stuff?

I loved Tron (didn’t you?). And the sight of ol’ Flynn standing over his virtual world got me surprisingly excited.

And the update looks good!

But… I have to admit that I am getting a bit weirded out as time goes on. First, how excited can I really be to see the sequel to a 20 year old movie? I mean, sure, it’s not just any movie, it’s Tron, but still, there’s something odd about that.

So, I decided to fire up Tron and check it out again, let the little one see it. But it’s kinda gone. (Apparently this is old news).

Now you have Disney trying to hide the old movie, which is itself a midly odd concept… I mean, at least it isn’t another remake, something a bit more ambitious, but there is still something odd about it.

It’s not dominating over at Rotten Tomatoes, which does not have to mean anything, given some of the empirically bad movies I have enjoyed the hell out of over the years, but is a negative for sure.

(It doesn’t help that I’m a little burned out on Effect Movies after the agonizing Day After Tomorrow).

On the other hand, we got free movie tickets and the local theater has new motion seats, so I guess we’ll have to see for ourselves… Really wish we could get that copy for the little one to see, though. I’m imagining total confusion on her part.


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Silent Film

It greatly saddens me whenever I’m reminded that Roger Ebert can no longer speak. Once upon a time I happened upon his DVD commentary track on our copy of “Dark City” and it was amazing. It was like attending a film class lecture on one of my favorite movies, by one of my favorite critics (in fact, if memory serves, the track itself was based on one of his actual lectures). Having tried my hand at being a film student in college, I was giddy. I was more giddy when I discovered a similar track on “Citizen Kane”. But, alas, there are no more lectures from Mr. Ebert, and I consider that a crying shame.

On the up swing, I discovered his website a few months ago, and have been an avid reader since. I love Ebert’s reviews because he doesn’t just critique a movie based on his personal whims doled out as factual statements – he tries to actually understand the movie, however much fluff it may contain, and gives out a rating based on how well the movie achieved what it was trying to achieve. It the movie was never trying to be anything more than entertaining nonsense aimed at kid’s, that’s how he rates it. He’s upfront on his personal opinions and biases, so even if you don’t agree with him, you at least have a yardstick to measure by. When I read a review of a movie, I don’t really want to hear if it’s “good” or “bad” (unless it’s really at either extreme), but I do want an idea of what I’m walking into, and I think Ebert does an insanely good job on that end. It probably helps that he seems to have not only watched, but studied and remembered nearly every film ever made. His movie knowledge is mind boggling. I could spend a few hours just reading though his “Two Thumbs Up” Files looking for something new to watch, or reading his entertaining “Your Movie Sucks” files.

But the real diamond on the site is his journal. The essay I read on it today, which chronicles both his own tribulations in dealing with his inability to speak, as well as the trails of a reader who is similarly afflicted, was just heartbreaking and thought provoking.  Profoundly heady stuff that will truly make you appreciate all that you have this season. Imagine your one big wish was to just enjoy a tall cool glass of water. It’s a good essay to mull over before stressing out too much over the old Christmas shopping.

Read it here.

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