Thursday, March 31, 2016

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice Review

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, the film that launches DC's larger film universe and introduces audiences to a new Batman, yet does it succeed?
With a 29% on the Rotten Tomatoes and many mixed reviews, Batman V Superman is a divisive film. The question is whether or not it deserves such a harsh rating, and by the end of the review, the question will be answered. But admittedly, I feel like I need to say, "I told you so" because BvS is exactly the disjointed and pretentious narrative mess than the trailers implied, yet that does not mean it is all bad.

Directed by: Zack Snyder
Genre: Action, Comic Book, Sci-Fi,
Release Date: March 25, 2016
Running Time: 151 minutes
MMPA rating: PG-13

The Good: Ben Affleck is great, Batman looks awesome, Jeremy Irons is brilliantly cast, Wonder Woman is cool, Fun teases for Justice League, One incredible Batman action sequence, Stunning visuals at times, Entertaining action set pieces, Batman parts are excellent, Superb Zimmer OST,

The Bad: Batman kills!? WHAT THE HECK, Jesse Eisenberg is painful to watch, Henry Cavill is wooden, Zero character development, Too many plot threads for one movie, Doomsday is terribly shoehorned in, Disjointed and convoluted narrative, Lacking character motivations, Lazy Justice League setup, Lex's plan?, Laughable dialogue at times,

Plot: 5.2/10- BvS's plot is all over the place. The first two Acts are serious and heavy with drama, with the Batman parts being brilliant, and the Superman parts falling flat. There are discussions of Superman as an almost religious figure, and while some may say that adds thematic depth, it boils down to about ten minutes of news reports blatantly discussing the topic with zero subtly. The theme is essentially dropped as a theme towards the end as soon as the action begins, so it feels hollow.

Many plot points and mature tone of the first half are just dropped as soon as the action starts, and the poor execution across the board does not help either. There are so many missed opportunities throughout the film. However, there are hints of greatness, yet nothing comes to fruition with the final Act being a big throwdown with rushed narrative elements. As for the film as a whole, there are far too many narrative aspects, setup for future films, and general lack of cohesion between the various aspects to really feel like a competent narrative. Additionally, certain plot elements are far too convenient, especially with Lex's plan. However, the film address Man of Steel's largest criticism of pointless destruction with a well executed scene of Bruce Wayne running through the carnage.

Characterization: 5.0/10- Batman V Superman's characters are a big mixed bag. Batman, essentially the star of the film, is mostly brilliant. This Batman is old and seasoned, having fought crime for over 20 years at this point. Affleck's Batman is the most comic book accurate one in live-action yet, except for one very important thing: HE KILLS PEOPLE! With no explanation, Batman fires his machine guns on the Batwing and blows vehicles up with people in them. You never see any specific death scenes, but it is obvious that people are dying. The strange part is that there are no mentions the fact that he kills people. I literally threw my hands up in the air in the theater when he did for the first few times. A one-off line by Alfred, who is great in the film, could have explained everything, but nope, nothing, as if he isn't killing people. So the problem isn't that Batman is killing people, but rather there is no acknowledgement of why or even confirmation that he is killing. Regardless of this strange aspect, Batman is easily the best part of the film as he is a bad*ss and does a little detective/espionage work. Even the Bruce Wayne aspect of the character is arguably better than Bale's portrayal, and Batman's motivations are the only character motivations that make sense. If anything, BvS made me wish this Batman had his own solo film with more of this gritty bad*ss detective version of the character.

Superman is even more poorly portrayed than in Man of Steel. Clark Kent and Lois have one good scene together towards the beginning, but everything else about Superman's character is flat and lacking in character development. Nothing about Superman is particularly well done. He is just boring and void of character development. Superman is basically a plot device in that his mere existence creates the conflict, yet not his on-screen actions. Overall, Superman is awfully dull, lacks motivation, and Lois struggles to remain relevant throughout the film.

Lex Luthor is a joke, maybe even more so than Gene Hackman's Lex in the original Superman. His motivations are weak, his character trait of being insane is lazy, and he only serves to drag the film down. As expected, Doomsday is literally just a creature for the heroes to fight for visual spectacle with a shoehorned in creation.

Wonder Woman is the only other character with any significance, and she is definitely an afterthought. However, the hints at her backstory and her scenes towards the end make me more excited for her solo film than even the Justice League. She doesn't do a lot, but what he does do is cool.

Direction: 7.9/10- Visually, Zack Snyder is at his best with a fairly solid balance of artistic style and realism. The dark and washed out colors are not nearly as bad as Man of Steel, and honestly, this is what I have come to expect from Snyder. Some scenes are simply stunning. Unfortunately, the visuals are often undermined by disjointed editing between scenes. The Batman scenes are great, and Affleck's input is clearly seen by the superior performances and camera framing, whereas the Superman scenes are more dull and uninteresting, much like Man of Steel.

However, Snyder does not disappoint in the action, well, at least for the most part. When the action does start, it never really stops as it moves from action set piece to the next, which mostly works. Any scene with Batman is exactly what I have been waiting for since the Batman: Arkham Asylum video games, particularly the scene towards the end. This Batman is brutal, fast, strong, and uses all his gadgets to the fullest. The big throwdown between Batman and Superman is fun, yet felt lacking. It is essentially two guys punching each other and throwing each other through walls, nothing original. Lastly, the big battle at the end is mostly CGI, and it is fine I suppose; nothing special or exciting, but a decent spectacle. As a whole, the action is all fun, entertaining, and well directed. However, in this age of Marvel movies, Mad Max, and Kingsman, many action flicks lack the X-Factor in their action sequences and BvS is no exception. Fellow critic and guest author,  Jordan Rath, makes a brilliant in his review with "Almost every Marvel movie I've ever been to has something where I go 'Hmm! I've never seen that before!' BvS has titans locking horns, yes, but the actual fight isn't all that innovative." And Jordan is right. There is nothing that matches the originality of Marvel's action sequences, except for that one aforementioned Batman scene.

Acting: 5.1/10- BvS is a massive mixed bag of brilliant, decent, and atrocious performances from the cast. Ben Affleck is undoubtedly brilliant. He is one of the best live-action portrayals of Batman. Henry Cavill is wooden, and his laughable dialogue and delivery doesn't help. He is horribly dull with no charm or depth. Cavill says his lines in the most mundane way possible. Come on Snyder, when are you going to learn how to direct actors!? Jesse Eisenberg is awful. You might hear the term "Cringe-worthy" thrown around, but Eisenberg's performance is the embodiment of the term. It was painful and uncomfortable to watch Eisenberg's take on Lex. Later in the film, he improves a bit, but still, he is the worst part of the film and drags it down a few notches. Sure, Eisenberg always plays a spastic, out-of-control character, which sometimes works, but this a whole new level of awfulness, except for a few decent scenes. Jeremy Irons as Alfred and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman give performances that make me excited for their future portrayals. Amy Adams is average at best, and the rest of the cast do their jobs and nothing more.

Special effects: 7.8/10- Until the final big fight, the special effects are consistent, even when certain scenes are obviously CGI. Nothing amazed me, yet nothing looked awful. Doomsday looked decent, but not nearly as well done as other recent CGI characters, like the Hulk, Gollum, or Groot.

Soundtrack: 8.6/10- Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL's score is quite strong. There are points in the film where it was noticeably brilliant, specifically the track "Is She With You?," and the rest is fitting for the film.

Humor: N/A- BvS balances the lack of humor better than Man of Steel, yet is still mostly humorless, so my expectations were essentially matched.

Entertainment Value: 8.5/10- Despite the two and a half hour runtime, Dawn of Justice is an entertaining watch. Batman's parts are a lot of fun, and the novelty of the DC's Big Three on screen for the first time is great. Oddly enough, critiquing such a flawed, yet decently entertaining, film is a joy itself as a writer. However, if you did not grow up watching DC cartoons or reading comics and have not been excited for Batman and Superman to finally meet on the big screen, then BvS is likely underwhelming.

Overall: 7.0/10- Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is an enjoyable watch for some viewers, myself included. However, the plot is all over the place, the characters, aside from Batman, are flat, and the action, while entertaining, is nothing mind blowing. In fact, my score is much higher than my individual category scores indicate because this is not a "great" movie, just a decent one with tons of missed potential. But there is something about the novelty and mostly brilliant portrayal of Batman that makes the movie more enjoyable and memorable than it ever should be. More objectively, BvS deserves a 6.2/10, but personal factors push it up to a 7.0/10.

Closing comments: Batman V Superman is basically a guilty pleasure at times. If you adamantly hate the film, by all means do so, because there is plenty aspects of the film that are worthy of the 29% Tomatoe rating. However, if you managed to find certain parts enjoyable, that's great too. But I'm sure most can agree that this is not the type of start that the DC Cinematic Universe needed to convince everyone that DC can make great movies. Well, at least they can make decent ones. And lastly, if you did not already plan to see the film in theaters, just wait for the Blu-Ray/DVD because you aren't missing much.

Recommended for: DC fans, Batman fans,

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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice First Impression

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is finally here and I have seen it. Usually, I try to avoid reviews. However, it is difficult to miss headlines like "Critics Tearing Apart BVS!" and "Why BVS Sucks," so yeah, I knew the reviews were bad. But hey, low expectations are not always a bad thing, right? Well, BVS was definitely fun at times, but long story short, if you were excited and already planned to see it, nothing I'll say that will change your mind. If you were not excited, there is no reason to go watch it if you disliked Man of Steel. I'll save the rest for the full review, which will come tomorrow or the next day. After my review is written, I'll go check out everyone else's reviews, and if you want, post a link to your review in the comments for me and others to see it.

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Friday, March 25, 2016

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice - In Theaters

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice hits theaters today! Expect a review within the next week, and as usual, I plan to avoid spoilers, reviews, and all but the first two trailers, so it will be interesting going into the film figuratively blind. Not knowing whether or not the film is good will prove to be an interesting watching experience, especially since I have no idea if the movie will be good or completely awful. Unfortunately, a title of an IGN article spoiled the general opinion of the film, yet I still do not know why, so that will be interesting. Are you excited for the film? Do you plan to see it in theaters? Please comment below and let me know! And if you missed it, click on the links below for my Top 10 DC Comics Movies.
Top 10 DC Comics Movies: Part 2
Top 10 DC Comics Movies: Part 1

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Top 10 DC Comics Movies: Part 2

My countdown to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice continues with my final five picks for the best DC films. And if you missed Part 1, click here.

5: The Dark Knight Rises
While some Nolanites holdfast, The Dark Knight Rises has undeniably fallen from grace. But that is not to say it is a bad film. It is stunningly directed and contains many of the best action sequences of the trilogy, even if the plot is a total mess and lacking in the thematic weight it so desperately believes it contains. Even though the movie is very enjoyable, hence the placing on this list, and I was crazy about it after watching it in theaters, after every repeat viewing the movie gets worse and worse to the point that I almost want to consider it a guilty pleasure. At the time of my first viewing, I even considered it better than The Dark Knight, yet every time I watch it, I find something else not to like. Despite those problems, The Dark Knight Rises is still a very fun movie.

4: Superman
"You'll believe a man can fly," that was the tagline in 1978, and Christopher Reeve made an entire generation believe man can fly! The film is almost like an epic following Clark Kent on his journey to becoming Superman. Christopher Reeve defined Superman and Clark Kent, playing each part differently almost to the point that you can believe how Clark's co-workers would not notice the similarities between the two. Reeve and Margot Kidder's brilliant performances and chemistry almost make up for the awfully campy performance of Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor, which clashes with the seriousness of Reeve. However, Reeve's take on Superman is legendary and still holds up well today, even if it is campy.

For me, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is the best work of animation the west has ever produced, and that is not likely to change anytime soon. Based on Batman: The Animated Series, Mask of the Phantasm features the fantastic voice cast of the best Batman, Kevin Conroy, and Mark Hamil's brilliant take on the Joker. Unlike other adaptations of Batman, Mask of the Phantasm highlights the detective and mystery aspects of Caped Crusader to excellent effect. Also, the film’s romance is, by far, the best of any Batman movie. Overall, Mask of the Phantasm is well crafted Batman tale that goes deeper into the character than most other film versions.

After Batman and Robin killed DC's films for nearly a decade, Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins kick-started the Batman franchise in the right direction with a serious take on the character. While Christian Bale starred in the film, the supporting cast is the real star of the film. Gary Oldman's James Gordon proves to be a brilliant casting choice and Liam Neeson plays an exceptional villain. The film might not be perfect by any means, but it finally gave audiences a serious, high quality live-action film.
Could there be any other? The Dark Knight is, by far, the best film that DC has produced. Nothing even comes close. Heath Ledger’s Oscar winning performance is legendary. He steals every single scene he is in. Everyone knows that The Dark Knight is a brilliant film and is almost universally adored. Christian Bale isn’t bad as Batman, but we all know that the movie is great because of Ledger’s performance. It's The Dark Knight, what more can be said?

What are your favorites? Please comment below and let me know!

Honorable Mentions: Batman: Under the Red Hood, Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, Red II, Red

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Monday, March 21, 2016

Indiana Jones 5 is Officially Announced! Ford and Spielberg Return!

Indiana Jones 5 is Officially Announced! Harrison Ford and Steven Spielberg will return and the film opens on July 19th, 2019. Wow, this is exciting news! Of course, Walt Disney Studios now own the rights to Indiana Jones in the deal for Lucasfilm, and honestly, the fact that the new film is neither a reboot is surprising. Even more surprising is that Spielberg is returning to direct. In the past, he indicated that he was finished with action adventure flicks after Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but hey, Disney probably waved a wad of cash in his face and a lot of creative freedom, so he is back! 

If you are somehow unaware, the Indiana Jones franchise is one of my all-time favorites, right behind Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings. However, due to Kingdom of the Crystal Skull being the most disappointing film in cinematic history, or at least from my perspective, I used to think that leaving the Indiana Jones franchise finished was the best idea. Now, with The Force Awakens bringing back Star Wars to its former glory, my faith and confidence in Disney to do the same for Indiana Jones is rather high. Spielberg is one of the greatest film directors of all-time, and some of his best work lies within the Indiana Jones trilogy, particularly Raiders of the Lost Ark. Considering The Force Awakens’ return to practical effects, it should be no question that Indiana Jones does the same with practical stun work. My only concern is that Ford is 73, and who knows how long he can keep being an action hero. Hopefully, he can give Indiana Jones a strong sendoff and pass the torch to the next generation, much like he did in The Force Awakens. 

Other information released is that Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall will produce the film, and David Koepp, who has worked on Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Mission: Impossible, and Spider-Man, will write the script.

What are your thoughts on this news? Please comment below and let me know!

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Saturday, March 19, 2016

Ben-Hur Trailer

Ben-Hur, the 1959 Charlton Heston classic, of the same name, which won 11 Oscars, is getting a remake, or rather re-adaptation of the novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. The original Ben-Hur is a historical epic that spans more than three hours and is one of the best film epics of all-time. If you are a cinefile, you should watch the original. On the other hand, this new Ben-Hur looks like a typical Roman era revenge tale. The CGI is subpar, the set design appears adequate, and the casting is fine I suppose. If this wasn't titled Ben-Hur, there would be nothing really to say about the film. But this is a remake of a classic, so it is impossible not to compare. It just seems unnecessary and pointless and all around meh. What do you think? Please comment below and check back soon for more movie reviews!

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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Pulp Fiction Review

Pulp Fiction: "The Best film Ever Made?" Or at least that's what many say, but is Quentin Tarantino’s iconic crime drama black comedy truly one of, if not, the best films ever made? Well, let's find out!
Of all the films that are beyond classic in terms of popularity and acclaim, Pulp Fiction is one of the last ones that I finally got around to watching. And as with any film that has been praised beyond imagination, there is always that question of just how overhyped the film might be. Thankfully, to my surprise, Pulp Fiction might be overrated, but that does not mean it isn't one of my new favorite films!

Here's the thing about Pulp Fiction's popularity. Unlike some other popular, and often overhyped, films, Pulp Fiction, on a surface level, is entertaining, witty, memorable, and fun, assuming it's your kind of movie. If you dig deeper, there are theories that may offer something more, but ultimately, Pulp Fiction is a piece of entertainment that tries to entertain first and foremost. Most importantly, Pulp Fiction is that it is not pretentious. It knows that's a fun and witty take on the noir genre of old. There might be some deeper meaning, but understanding that is merely a bonus, not the crux of the appeal. It is all style and cool factor, and Tarantino knows that is all it is and all it needed to be. It never wants you to think it is better or more important than it is. Compared to other "classics," I respect the film for that.

Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Genre: Drama, Black Comedy Crime,
Release Date: October 14, 1994
Running Time: 154 minutes
MMPA rating: R

The Good: Samuel L. Jackson steals every second of screen time, The quotes!, The dialogue!, All-star cast equals all-star performances, Tarantino style, One of the funniest scenes ever, Undeniable cool factor, Snappy editing, What's in the briefcase?, Brilliant humor, A few suspenseful scenes, Fun soundtrack,

The Bad: Some superfluous scenes, "The Gold Watch" is noticeably weaker, Aimless at times, Not for everyone,

Warning: Pulp Fiction is rated "R" for profanity, violence, and other very mature and likely disturbing content.

Plot: 9.0/10- Pulp Fiction is notoriously out of order with its narrative structure. However, the structure is never confusing, and while it works, it feels as though it is structured out-of-order so that the film is bookended by the best parts, which most certainly worked to leave me off on an extremely high note. Unfortunately, the only drawback is that we know certain characters live past certain scenes, and therefore, the tension is lost at the end, although the entertaining dialogue more than makes up for it.

Time for a breakdown of the story; the parts following Samuel L. Jackson's character are an easy 10/10; I would rewatch those scenes again right now. Uma Thurman and John Travolta parts are weaker and somewhat superfluous to the narrative, yet still entertain with the witty exchanges. And finally, the middle part of the film following Bruce Willis is noticeably weaker. It is still good, yet it lacks some of the cool factor and wit of the other scenes. At points, it even drags a bit, with a few scenes seemingly unnecessary. This might sound a bit nitpicky, but due to the intentionally disjointed narrative, it feels like a "great" short film between two near masterpieces of entertaining dialogue and wit. Despite my criticism, there is little to nothing about the film that's anything less than "great," and the dialogue contains some of the best lines of all-time.

Characterization: 9.3/10- What makes all the characters great is how the simple dialogue humanizes them. Jules Winnfield, played by Samuel L. Jackson, is easily the highlight of the film. He has a believable character arc, and anytime the character speaks, the dialogue is absurdly entertaining. Vincent Vega is a fun character, and if you dig deep into the film, there is an interesting parallel, yet opposite, character development compared to Jules. Mia Wallace, Butch Coolidge, Winston Wolfe, Ringo, and Marsellus Wallace each have their part to play in the narrative, and while each character isn't particularly deep, each one is most definitely memorable and distinct thanks to Tarantino's writing and the actors' performances.

Direction: 9.2/10- Pulp Fiction commented Quentin Tarantino’s stylish and slick director with the undeniable cool factor that made him famous. The direction is fiendishly simple, yet that's it charm. Each scene is framed effectively to capture the dialogue. The editing to the licensed music tracks is top notch. It might not be the most stylishly directed Tarantino flick, but it might be his most streamlined and slick film, albeit a bit self indulgent at times.

Acting: 9.9/10- This is Samuel L. Jackson's quintessential iconic role for a darn good reason, because he is easily the best part of the film. Sam L. just kills it in every single scene as he delivers the witty dialogue to perfection. I could watch him and John Travolta talk about nothing all day long and it would still be entertaining. Travolta is quite good as well in his role, as he plays off Jackson excellently. Uma Thurman is great, albeit a little flat compared to the other cast members. Bruce Willis gives the typically strong performance that you would expect from Willis, nothing more, nothing less. Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Ving Rhames, Christopher Walken, and several others round out the all-star cast.

Soundtrack: 9.5/10- Classic music from multiple decades is used to perfection in the film's narrative, most of which is diegetically (aka played within the narrative). The editing of the music to many of the scenes is spot on!

Humor: 9.0/10- Pulp Fiction is not a comedy per se. However, there are moments of humor, mostly black comedy, aka dark humor, which are hysterical! Well, hysterical if you find someone randomly getting their head blown off funny, because *Minor Spoilers* "Oh man, I shot Marvin in the face" is one of the funniest scenes in movie history. I laughed until it hurt at that one! *End Spoiler* But generally, the parts following Travolta and Jackson's characters are witty and often humorous.

Entertainment Value: 9.5/10- Thanks to the structure, the film opens on ends on its highest notes, which left me feeling satisfied. Certain parts of the film are seriously near masterpiece level of dialogue exchange, while other parts do drag a bit. And despite a scene that is a bit too disturbing for my taste and a few more f-bombs than I'd like, Pulp Fiction is definitely a film worth watching again, especially the parts with Sam L. and Travolta.

Overall: 9.3/10- Despite the superfluous material and one weaker story treads, Pulp Fiction is undoubtedly one of my new favorite movies. It's entertaining, witty, darkly comedic, and all around fun. Sure, Pulp Fiction isn't perfect by any means. However, Quentin Tarantino crafted an incredibly cool film and one that's most definitely worth watching, assuming you are old enough.

Closing comments: Honestly, my rating might be higher than it even deserves, but that's the appeal of Pulp Fiction. It's better than the sum of its parts. Objectively, it's a great film, yet when you combine everything together; it is a classic with wit, style, and unforgettable moments! So, if you haven't seen it, grab you a "Royale with Cheese" and enjoy one tasty burger while watching Pulp Fiction.

Recommended for 18+: Dialogue fans, Crime fans, Cinefiles,

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Monday, March 14, 2016

Top 10 DC Comics Movies: Part 1

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is about to hit theaters soon! And while DC Comics' film adaptations might not be nearly as vast as Marvel's collection of films, DC actually produced the first massively successful superhero film in Superman (1978). Sure, there were superhero serials shown and the old Adam West Batman film, but Superman was the first film to really take things seriously, or at least mostly seriously. For this list, DC's popular collection of Direct-to-DVD animated films will not be included, with a focus on any theatrically released films, animated or not. Also, I am not a DC hater. The Dark Knight is one of my favorite films ever, and, as always, I have not seen every film.

10: Man of Steel
More or less placing tenth by default, Man of Steel is Zack Snyder's attempt to launch the DC Cinematic Universe. Did he succeed? Well, we will have to wait and find out when Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice hit theaters. But as a film on its own, Man of Steel is a moderately fun action flick with dull, lifeless characters, and cool special effects, even if the wanton destruction is disregarded.

9: Watchmen
Another Zack Snyder flick, Watchmen is an interesting film. Based on the legendary graphic novel of the same name, Watchmen is a deconstruction of the superhero, and the source material featured deep commentary on the genre, human characters, and an enthralling narrative. On the other hand, the film contains the shell of the fascinating themes contained within the original story. First, I watched the movie and found it to be decent, yet nothing remarkable, although the sexual content was extreme. Then I read the graphic novel and realized just how incredible the story should have been. But on the flipside, Watchmen serves as a visually stunning adaptation of the graphic novel that accurately adapts many of the visual aspect, while leaving the story and characters mostly wooden. Here’s hoping for that miniseries adaptation of Watchmen!

8: Superman II
Due to creative differences, the director of the original Superman film, Richard Donner, left the project and Richard Lester took the helm. Years later, a second cut of the film, titled "Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut," was released using a combination of deleted scenes and the original footage. While I have not seen that cut, the original Superman II is still a fun film. General Zod is an entertaining, theatrical villain, and Christopher Reeve is an exceptional Clark Kent/Superman.

7: Batman
While Superman launched superhero films onto the big screen, Tim Burton's Batman effectively proved that the genre wasn't dead after two failed Superman sequels. Michael Keaton also proved that he was more than "Mr. Mom" as he played a competent Bruce Wayne and Batman. But of course, Jack Nicholson stole the show as The Joker in his iconic turn as the character. Certain elements of the film might not hold up today, but Tim Burton's gothic style was the perfect fit to bring Batman back to the masses! And who can forget that iconic Danny Elfman score!

6: Road to Perdition
Did you think all comic book movies had to be about superheroes? Well, Road to Perdition is an Oscar winning mobster film starring Tom Hanks and directed by Sam Mendes, the man behind Skyfall and Spectre. Road to Perdition is ultimately a story of father and son bonding with the backdrop of a 1930s mobster revenge tale. Mendes' cinematography is stunning, and Tom Hanks' performance is reliably exceptional as expected. If you like crime dramas and want to see one of the more unique comic book films, give Road to Perdition a watch.

Are these any of your favorites? Please comment below and let me know!

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Saturday, March 12, 2016

Movie Music and More # 47: "The Princess Bride" (1987)

I (Hamlette) am here to discuss one of my most recent soundtrack acquisitions.  It's quite ridiculous that it took me this long to buy this soundtrack, because I've loved The Princess Bride (1987) for more than twenty years.  Sometimes, I make very little sense.  Anyway, Mark Knopfler's score for The Princess Bride is as subtly off-kilter as everything else in the movie.  Fairy tale motifs get twisted slightly to make them fresh, funny, and surprising.

"I Will Never Love Again" begins very sad, pensive, minor.  Lots of strings, a bit of a twangy '80s sound going on here and there.  It's a love theme gone horribly wrong, which suits the early part of the film perfectly.

"The Friends' Song" is an obviously humorous song, got a good swagger and a bounce to it.  Some cheeky guitars open it, then a flute joins in with a delicate little strain of sweetness that is eventually overwhelmed by more strings.  But that flute isn't going down with out a fight, and reasserts itself, learning to play nicely along with the strings.  After two minutes, the whole mood shifts to almost a dance, bits of a menace coming in underneath.  It's like a little peasant dance that's being interrupted.

"The Swordfight" is delightful.  Parry, thrust, parry, thrust -- even the music is dueling.  There are some blithe castanets at the beginning to bring in a Spanish flair as befits Inigo, and lots of worried strings keeping us anxious as to what the outcome of this duel will be.  Some trumpets try to butt in triumphantly, but they get pushed back out, and the song twists minor, the strings get dizzyingly busy, and it almost feels like something you'd hear during a swashbuckly silent film where the story has to be helped by the music because there's no dialog.

You can listen to the whole soundtrack on Mark Knopfler's YouTube channel here.  And if you've never visited it, the Official Site is a delight for any Princess Bride fan :-)

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Kingsman: The Secret Service Review

Kingsman: The Secret Service, an action satire of the spy genre starring Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Taron Egerton, and Michael Caine!
From James Bond to Jason Bourne, I love spy movies! They are the movies I grew up watching, and Kingsman: The Secret Service takes the spy genre parodies and deconstructs, yet honors, the spy genre all at the same time. But is it a good movie? Let's find out.

My viewing of Kingsman is a bit different than other recent films that I have reviewed. Long story short, I watched Kingsman by myself and enjoyed it fairly well, wrote a first draft review, and about a week later I watched it again, except with my dad, an avid James Bond fan. Thanks to a variety of reasons, including different expectations, Kingsman was quite a bit better on a second viewing with my score being raised by more than a point and an overall more positive impression. Therefore, this is my rewritten review based on my second viewing.

Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Genre: Action, Spy, Espionage, Action Comedy,
Release Date: 13 February 2015
Running Time: 129 minutes
MMPA rating: R

The Good: "Free Bird" action scene is mind blowing, Mix of serious and parody, Strong performances, Stylized action, Spy gadgets, Shocking twists, Humorous spy jokes, Smart deconstruction of spy movie elements, Colin Firth is exceptional and does many of his own stunts,

The Bad: Loses a little steam after 2nd Act, Overly silly towards the end, Potentially offensive, Spotty special effects, Pointless swearing,

Warning: Kingsman is rated R for mature content and is not suitable for some viewers.

Plot: 8.4/10- Despite parodying many aspects of the spy genre, Kingsman: The Secret Service is surprisingly competent, albeit intentionally silly. The film directly references that it isn't the typical Bond spy flick and makes fun of the tropes, while still honoring the genre and taking it in a darker, more logical direction at times. However, after the 2nd Act, certain parts of the film go a bit too far into silly stupid territory and disrupt the flow of the film. Without spoiling anything, after a certain big plot twist at the end of Act 2, the movie had me hooked. I began wondering if this was the second best movie of the year. Unfortunately, the movie does not necessarily fall apart, but it does lose steam. However, this misstep felt far more forgivable on the second viewing.

There are two aspects of the film that do not necessarily impact the overall score, yet still bother me. The first is the absolutely pointless amount of swearing. It felt lazy and added nothing to the film. Of course, my personal issue will not affect the overall score. The second issue is different. *Minor spoilers* The infamous scene in the church scene featuring a cult massacre can be rather offensive to some, but ultimately, it's the villain that's causing it, so it wasn't extremely offensive to me personally. The brutal battle itself is incredible, but it is understandable if you were offended. *End Spoiler*

Characterization: 8.7/10- Despite being a satire, Kingsman's characters are surprisingly well realized. Thanks to the actors superb performances, Galahad and Eggsy are likable characters. Eggsy goes through the best character arc, while Galahad is a majorly cool character with tons of style because “manners maketh man.” The villain, Richmond Valentine, is an intentionally silly and over-the-top, but he works fairly well as Bond-esque parody.

Direction: 9.5/10- Matthew Vaughn's action direction is absolutely insane! The first big action sequence with Colin Firth is entertaining, a bit humorous, and superbly directed. The aforementioned church fight scene, set to the song "Free Bird," by Lynyrd Skynyrd, is one of the most insane, brutal, and incredibly well directed action sequences ever. It may be too brutal for some, but as a fan of hardcore action direction, this fight scene is immaculate. Comparatively, the other action sequences are weaker, yet still fun, entertaining, and mostly well done, except for the spotty special effects.

Acting: 8.7/10- Colin Firth kills it as Galahad! He is said to have done many of his own stunts, and he really brings class to the film. Taron Egerton is a relative newcomer, and he is great as Eggsy. He makes the character likable and relatable, while still believing he has skills. Samuel L. Jackson plays the villain with a lisp and a weak stomach for violence. This is not Jackson's best role by any means, and some might straight up hate his character, but he works, and did not drag down the film for me. Everyone else from Michael Caine to Mark Strong is great.

Special effects: 6.2/10- Easily the weakest aspect, Kingsman's $81 million budget shows as some of the special effects miss the mark. The green screen is a bit obvious at times as well. Thankfully, the parody nature of the film makes the mistakes a little more forgivable and doesn't kill the flow of the movie.

Soundtrack: 8.5/10- Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson's score fits the film very well, with a score reminiscent of Jackman's score from X-Men: First Class. Another highlight of the soundtrack is the use of licensed music, including "Free Bird" by Lynyrd Skynyrd and "Money for Nothing" by Dire Straits are perfectly used.

Humor: 8.4/10- Kingsman is part comedy, yet not truly a comedy. However, it is often funny. For the most part, the humor is well delivered and often witty. There are not too many laugh-out-loud jokes, at least not when you are watching it alone, although it is funnier with friends. Generally, the comedy does not fall into the traps of vulgarity and crudeness, which is rare of R rated comedies, yet that fact makes it all the more hilarious and smart. There is a joke at the very end that is somewhat off putting and might bother some viewers.

Entertainment Value: 9.7/10- Upon my first viewing, the film started to lose me towards the end. However, on the second watch, it was even more enjoyable, and the excellently pacing really showed. Heck, the movie is worth a third viewing; it’s just that much fun, especially for spy movie fans!

Overall: 9.2/10- Kingsman: The Secret Service is witty, satirical, smart, and crazy fun for spy movie fans! It might not have convinced me of its quality until my second viewing, but Kingsman: The Secret Service is one of the best movies of 2016 and an entertaining gem that brings over 70 years of spy movies together into one cohesive package. 

Closing comments: 2015 was a year full of spy flicks and Kingsman: The Secret Service stands as the strongest one. Action junkies and spy fans should definitely give Kingsman: The Secret Service a watch, assuming the R rating isn't too much for you.

Recommended for: Spy fans, Action fans, Colin Firth fans, Parody fans, Matthew Vaughn fans

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Monday, March 7, 2016

Reader's Choice: So Many Movies!

So Many Movies! Thanks to Netflix and a free weekend of HBO, the last two weeks have been full of movie watching! And with so many popular and critically acclaimed that I could review, today I want you to decide which ones I should review first. Below are the films that you can choose from, so please vote for five or less movies in the comments! The films below include the Stanley Kubrick’s horror classic, The Shining, and even the first film by Rian Johnson, Brick, who will is directing Star Wars: Episode 8!
  • All the President's Men
  • The Big Lebowski
  • Brick
  • The Departed
  • Django Unchained
  • The Giver
  • The Hangover
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
  • The Shining
  • Sin City
  • Reservoir Dogs
Check back Wednesday for my review of Kingsman: The Secret Service and another day for a Pulp Fiction review, so look for those! And thanks for voting everyone!

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Friday, March 4, 2016

Movie Music and More #46: "Emma" (1996)

One of my (Hamlette) favorite film scores, Rachel Portman's Emma (1996), won the Academy Award for best original score that year.  Since we've got Oscars on our minds, I thought this would be a great time to discuss this delightful soundtrack.

Rachel Portman is one of those composers whose scores I almost always enjoy.  She's great at writing joyful music that moves scenes along, and she can layer deep emotions under the surface of that joy as well.  

"Main Titles" gives you a great idea of what the tone of the movie will be before anyone says a single word of dialog.  It begins softly, sweetly, a little bit pensive even, then picks up tempo and becomes sprightly and humorous.  Then it ends with grace and dignity.

"Harriet's Portrait" makes me smile, and not just because the part of the film it belongs to makes me laugh aloud.  It's such vivacious music, isn't it?  Playful and bright and energetic.

"The Dance" is pure fun.  It makes me want to cavort.  Sometimes I do.  It's a little bit repetitive at first, and you can envision people doing an English Country Dance with it's fancy patterns, and then about 40 seconds in, it gets louder and boisterous, and yeah... who can resist dancing to such music?

"Emma Insults Miss Bates" is a more serious track, as befits a more serious scene.  You hear that same theme from the opening credits, only now it's very slow and sad, mournful in places.  Emma grows up quite suddenly in this scene, realizing that her behavior can affect others in bad ways as well as good, and this delicate, wistful song fits the scene perfectly.

The entire soundtrack is delightful -- you can listen to it on YouTube here.  It's one of my favorites to listen to in the early spring, when I'm feeling very bright and hopeful, but with a touch of wistfulness here and there too.

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