Movie Review: BATMAN

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batman (1989)Warner Bros.
1989
PG-13

“Batman! Batman! Can somebody tell me what kind of world we live in, where a man dressed up as a bat gets all of my press? This town needs an enema!”

I remember all the hype surrounding the Batman movie of 1989. There was suddenly an explosion of merch items and tie-ins everywhere you turned. The classic 1960s television show was being shown in daily afternoon re-runs on the local UHF station in my area. The billboards were ubiquitous. There was a cereal, for crying out loud. I knew of at least three guys from my class that watched it multiple times in the theaters that summer. Even if you never had an interest in the comic book character itself, you knew of its existence that year, let me tell you.

And I never watched the original 1989 Tim Burton movie. I had better things to do, really. You can send your hate mail to my email address.

Seriously, even though I did watch all the other following sequels in the Tim Burton Batman series in the theater, I never did get around to watching the 1989 Batman, until about last year when I finally got around to popping it in and seeing what all the hype was about. And I know I’m going to be in the minority here, but…I really wasn’t all that impressed.

Maybe it was because I’m writing this post-Christopher Nolan Batman Trilogy, or because this is what you would call the Comic Book Movie Renaissance. Maybe it was because everybody who not only have seen it and were equally shocked that I hadn’t yet (despite being both a Batman and Tim Burton fan) and had raised my expectations of this being the GREATEST MOVIE EVER(TM), that I was rather underwhelmed when I did watch it.

Mind you, I don’t hate 1989’s Batman. Far from it, for all of you extremist fanboys out there. It was quite entertaining, and had a nice dark yet whimsical quality that is vintage Burton shining through. For my money, Michael Keaton remains the undisputed Best Bruce Wayne / Batman in cinematic history (all apologies to the late, great Adam West). And Jack Nicholson made The Joker an icon all his own. No argument there. I think everybody should watch this Batman at least once, preferably as a double-header with Batman Returns.

I know, I know. There’s the point that, when this was released, the whole live action comic book adaptations available were dismal, and this Batman proved that you could make a dark and somewhat serious comic book superhero movie without delving into camp. And, I’m sure if my parents did decide to let me watch this back when I was 15, it would have certainly blown my mind, and I would be writing this with less jaded nostalgia glasses.

And so, here we are. 1989’s Batman. I like it, but I don’t love it. It is what it is.

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Movie Review: THOR: Ragnarok

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thor ragnarokMarvel/Disney
2017
PG-13

“Well, I tried to start a revolution, but didn’t print enough pamphlets so hardly anyone turned up. Except for my mum and her boyfriend, who I hate. As punishment, I was forced to be in here and become a gladiator. Bit of a promotional disaster that one, but I’m actually organizing another revolution.”

Imprisoned on the other side of the universe, the mighty Thor finds himself in a deadly gladiatorial contest that pits him against the Hulk, his former ally and fellow Avenger. Thor’s quest for survival leads him in a race against time to prevent the all-powerful Hela from destroying his home world and the Asgardian civilization.

It seemed like not too long ago that a young and excitable Marvel Studios was releasing what would become their First Wave of the grand-reaching Marvel Cinematic Universe, that included the first Thor movie. I remember being enthusiastic about skipping the first Thor movie, because I really wasn’t a fan of the Marvel comic itself. A comic book hero based on Norse mythology? Hard pass. I prefer my comic book heroes dressing up as nocturnal rodents or bitten by radioactive critters, thank you very much. Or, failing that, written by the British Triumvirate (Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, and Alan Moore). You get the idea. Pity my prejudices, as when I finally did get around to watching both Thor and its sequel, I actually enjoyed them. Not my favorites of the Marvel Movie bunch, but certainly not terrible. Good enough to warrant trying to watch the third movie in the theater when it was released. And watch it in the theater I did, with the other members of the Coven of Exalted Geeks, which we also recorded a podcast about immediately thereafter. But, since I like to go a bit more in-depth with my coveted opinions on things on this here blog of mine, here’s what I thought of Thor: Ragnarok.

My first thought of the movie was, “This is, hands down, the best Hulk movie I’ve seen.” And no, that’s wasn’t a spoiler, because the trailer to this movie flat-out shows the Hulk, right out in the open. Which is a bit of a point of contention I had, letting that cat out of the bag long before the movie, but then again, I’m just a pseudo-journalist with a blog, and not one of them Hollywood execs calling the shots on this. Not that I’m bitter or anything (wankers). But, yeah, the Hulk makes up about a third of the fun times had with Thor: Ragnarok, what with his gleeful antagonism of Thor like the good frienemy he is.

My second thought: “Wow, they actually managed to get ‘The Immigrant Song’ for the movie, not just the trailer.” Which is a feet unto itself, really. They may be loosening up their iron-clad grip on licensing out their songs, but Led Zeppelin still doesn’t just hand them out like Pez candy. “The Immigrant Song” plays not just once, but twice here. Excellent get. Well, it was either this, or something from the equally tonally-appropriate Amon Amarth. “Guardians Of Asgard” comes to mind…

My third and final big thought on this: “They’re really trying to capture the magic of the Guardians Of The Galaxy formula, aren’t they?” Yeah, while this is a rather dark movie (which is to be expected when the concept of Armageddon and destruction is right there in the subtitle of the movie), there are also a heavy dollop of humor mixed in to help lighten the tone up. This works maybe 85 percent of the time, maybe.

You may have noticed that I decided not to go with my standard method of summarizing the plot of the movie. That’s mainly because Thor: Ragnarok really is an epic fantasy action movie in and of itself. It starts with a massive battle between Thor and the undead army of Hell (or whatever the Marvel equivalent is), and then it ends with a giant fiery demon destroying Asgard. In-between, major characters in the franchise die, Thor goes on an unexpected journey of discovery, we’re introduced to one of the greatest side characters since Luis in Ant-Man, and of course HULK SMASH! A lot of HULK SMASH! All this, and some of the most mind-blowing visuals this side of a Kirby splash page. On the other hand, this may all be part of the downside of the movie, as there’s so much to take in. Also, sometimes the humor itself seems more juvenile than not. And it was mentioned in the podcast we did that Hela seemed to be yet another arbitrary villain introduced without much buildup or fleshing out beyond some brief exposition. I tend to agree with this assessment.

Overall, despite its flaws, I would still urge anyone reading this to try and watch this on the biggest screen you can, and try and take in as much as you can. Thor: Ragnarok may be a filler movie before getting to the main event with the next Avengers movie, but it’s a grandly entertaining filler movie, full of bright shiny things and genuinely laugh-out-loud moments, along with great action sequences. In other words, it’s a Marvel movie. Go enjoy it for what it is.

Movie Review: SPIDER-MAN Homecoming

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spiderman_homecomingSony / Marvel
2017
PG-13

“Can’t you just be a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man?”

Thrilled by his experience with the Avengers, young Peter Parker returns home to live with his Aunt May. Under the watchful eye of mentor Tony Stark, Parker starts to embrace his newfound identity as Spider-Man. He also tries to return to his normal daily routine–distracted by thoughts of proving himself to be more than just a friendly neighborhood superhero. Peter must soon put his powers to the test when the evil Vulture emerges to threaten everything that he holds dear.

So, here we are. Fifteen years since the very first Spider-Man movie made us believe it could be done. Since then, there’s been two sequels, a reboot, and another sequel. Now, everyone’s favorite web-slinger is back home with Marvel, and we have a third reboot. Did we need another redux? Have you seen Amazing Spider-Man 2? I haven’t yet, I was just asking. I hear it’s not good. I digress.

So, as I mentioned, Marvel Studios, through a deal they brokered with Sony (who has held the rights to Spider-Man for quite a while), they were able to play with their own toy again. And after a well-received cameo in Captain America: Civil War, I couldn’t wait for the full-length stand-alone movie to see how bad they could screw things up.

You may have picked up that I’m a tad cynical about these Spider-Man movies. Since Spider-Man 3 ten years prior, my wide-eyed fanboy love had felt jaded that anything after Spider-Man 2 would be disappointing at best. There was a glimmer of hope with the introduction of him in Civil War; but, would a side character rol translate into a feature-length movie? Could Marvel make Spider-Man…well, amazing again?

Well, they did a good job trying.

Don’t misread that–Spider-Man: Homecoming is a very good Spider-Man movie. Easily my second-favorite to date, right behind Spider-Man 2.

There’s a lot to like about Homecoming: Tom Holland is probably the best teenage Peter Parker / Spider-Man going, as he convinced me that he could be bullied and picked upon in his civilian garb. The chemistry between the main characters was fantastic, especially between Pete and his best friend / “Chair Guy” Ned. And Michael Keaton as The Vulture was inspired, as he took what I consider to be one of the more goofier Silver Age villains in Spider-Man’s rogue gallery and made him into something genuinely chilling. The script was well-written, witty and smart, and had me laughing out loud more than just a handful of times. The action scenes were very well done as well, culminating in a final battle scene that had me holding my breath. Good job there, movie. And yet, with all of that going for this thing, I do have to point out what I found to be kind of, sort of not good about it. Minor quibbles, maybe, but they have to be said.

Also, I should point out that I’m probably going to be letting lose with some spoilers ahead, so if you’re one of those who haven’t seen this yet…go see it first. Also, welcome back from whatever isolated cave you emerged from. Anyway…

Spider-Man: Homecoming didn’t feel like a full-on Spider-Man movie. The second half did, certainly. But for the first half or so, this felt more like a teen show on the Disney Channel. Which, okay, I understand that Marvel is owned by Disney, and this is a teenaged Peter Parker, interacting with his teenage chums in high school. But for a handful of Spidey scenes, the first half was more of a sloggy, sudsy teen soap. A very well made and engaging teen soap, but a teen soap nonetheless. Freaks And Geeks, if you will. I would wager to say that it wasn’t until Peter got his high-tech Stark suit taken away from him, that this truly became a Spider-Man movie. The moment that Peter steps up to the hero plate despite not having all the nifty gizmos and gadgets, you didn’t have to say “With great power comes great responsibility”, it was demonstrated by the actions perfectly.

I could continue on like this for pages, but I’d rather just urge you to watch Spider-Man: Homecoming for yourselves. It’s a rather good take on Spider-Man, and kudos for finally getting back home to Marvel. Here’s to many more.

Wait…”Homecoming”…back home at Marvel…I think there was more to that title than just that Homecoming dance in the movie…mind blown…

Movie Review: WONDER WOMAN

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wonder womanWarner Bros.
PG-13
2017

“I used to want to save the world, this beautiful place. But the closer you get, the more you see the great darkness within. I learned this the hard way, a long, long time ago.”

Before she was Wonder Woman, she was Diana, princess of the Amazons, trained to be an unconquerable warrior. Raised on a sheltered island paradise, Diana meets an American pilot who tells her about the massive conflict that’s raging in the outside world. Convinced that she can stop the threat, Diana leaves her home for the first time. Fighting alongside men in a war to end all wars, she finally discovers her full powers and true destiny.

So, by now, if you’re reading this, you fall in one of three categories: 1) you’ve already watched Wonder Woman (perhaps multiple times), 2) you have yet to watch Wonder Woman, as you’re still iffy about the possible quality due to the track record of the previous DC movies in the past couple of years, or 3) you’re trying to find something to be angry about to satisfy your inner sense of political self-righteousness. I wish I could say I was joking about that last part.

Anyway, Wonder Woman. Officially the fourth movie in DC’s Extended Universe, this one had the stigma of needing to be not as bad as the previous films turned out to be. I say this as the general overall perception of the previous films; you might recall that I ended up liking Man Of Steel a bit more than most of all fandom did. Batman v. Superman was a hot mess, while Suicide Squad was also a hot mess, but a far more entertaining hot mess. As such, by the time Wonder Woman rolled around, my expectations were rather low. All the movie had to do was not suck obnoxiously, and it would be the best DCEU movie of the bunch. And on that basic front, Wonder Woman succeeded. Boy howdy, did it succeed.

After a prologue scene where Diana Prince receives a special package from some guy named Bruce Wayne, we’re taken back to the Greek island of Themyscira, the home of warrior women called the Amazons, at a time when she was a precocious little tot who wanted so badly to be a warrior like everyone else, but her mother–Queen Hippolyta–would rather she pursue a more mundane existence, for her own good. Diana’s aunt, however, disagrees with the sentiment, and begins training the young girl in secret. In time, though, they are found out, which leads to…Diana getting even more training. And after a surprise hint as to Diana’s true nature, in comes the first male to visit Themyscira since ever, with WWI pilot Steve Trevor crashing into the coast. After Diana rescues him, the Germans soon invade, causing havoc and, after interrogating Trevor, Diana decides that Aries, the god of War is behind this World War (under the guise of German General Ludendorff), and sets off to kill him to bring peace to mankind. After a brief stint in London, Diana, Trevor and a motley crew travel to the front lines, where Diana wastes no time in invading No Man’s Land, takes out a machine gun nest, whups a bunch of Germans into submission, and punches a tower (the tower loses) to liberate a small Belgium village from the occupation it was under. However, General Ludendorff decides to wipe out the village the next day with a big ol’ Mustard Gas bomb, which pisses Diana off even further, and she goes off and manages to kill Ludendorff…only Ludendorff isn’t Aries. In a twist that everyone saw coming miles away, the real Aries shows up, he tries to explain that mankind isn’t under his spell, that mankind is capable of all sorts of atrocities by themselves, which clashes with Diana’s sense of altruism, which leads to a big fight with lots of damage and ‘splosions and stuff. Meanwhile, Trevor sacrifices himself to save London from being hit with a cargo plane full of Mustard Gas, Aries is defeated, and we flash back to current times where Diana decides that the power of love will blah blah blah, something-something I’m Wonder Woman now. The end.

It took them a few times in this shared universe of theirs, but DC has finally stumbled upon the formula for making a superhero movie feel like a genuine superhero movie. The tone and feel really brings back the sense of (no pun intended) wonder that Richard Donner’s Superman The Movie did, where you’re watching and manage to go beyond seeing some actor dressed as Wonder Woman, and believing it really is Wonder Woman. With maybe the exception of the CGI heavy boss fight at the end (yeah, it did feel like a video game cut scene), the two-and-a-half run time didn’t seem that long at all.

I went into Wonder Woman expecting it to fail, and wound up suddenly having hope for the other DC movies coming up after this. We’ll see. In the meantime, if you still haven’t seen Wonder Woman, go do so now while it’s still in theaters. Assuming you’re reading this while it still is.

Movie Review: BAD KIDS OF CRESTVIEW ACADAMY

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Movie Review BAD KIDS OF CRESTVIEW ACADEMYSony
2017
R

It’s four years later, and a new group of students has been placed in Saturday detention at the infamous and prestigious Crestview Acadey. When Siouxsie, sophomore ‘undercrust,’ crashes the party to avenge her sister’s death, a Saturday detention reserved for the privileged seniors of Crestview Academy turns into a date in hell. It’s not long before a naive pussycat lover, gay drug dealer, smokin’ hot preacher’s daughter, squeaky-clean senator’s son, and the uninvited younger outsider find themselves locked-up in school with no way out, wondering who (or what) has set them up. Hilarity and suspense ensue while each ‘bad kid’ pits one against the other, and one by one each falls victim to absurdly gruesome ‘accidents’ while trying to escape.

On the strength of the better-than-it-should-have-been Bad Kids Go To Hell, I decided to immediately watch it’s sequel, Bad Kids Of Crestview Academy, as kind of a back-to-back double feature. The result was…well, I’m not surprised, let’s just say.

I’ll just come out and say that Bad Kids Of Crestview Academy is a lackluster sequel, and kind of a mediocre movie in and of itself. We have the same basic premise of the first–weekend detention with a whole new bunch of stereotypes kids, only one of them has infiltrated their upper crust clique’ to solve the murder of her older sister at a party.

Mind you, things are a bit more subverted with the plot when compared to the first movie, as the kids never get to the library (it’s locked and no one knows the security code), and the whole conspiracy hinted at in the first one is more to the fore here. And there’s no implication of any kind of “hauntings” here, just a bunch of serial killer offings of everyone until the culprit is revealed in the third act, with the remaining movie kind of losing steam until the end.

It really says something that the best parts of this movie involved brief scenes with Sean “Still Working After Lord Of The Rings” Astin, taking over from Judd Nelson as Headmaster Nash, who hams it up with cheerful abandon. Outside of that, we have characters who lean more towards annoying rather than quirky, there are so many flashback scenes injected in the main narrative that it would give Quentin Tarantino a headache, and the big reveal of who’s doing the killing is revealed rather early in the movie (not that we didn’t finger the culprit early on just by virtue of having seen so many of these things to begin with…also, there’s a scene that not-so-subtly gives things away if you pay attention), turning the rest of the movie into a siege movie for the last third.

Bad Kids Of Crestview Acadamy was “Meh”. I didn’t enjoy it as much as the movie it was a sequel to, but at least it didn’t try to just rehash the entire plot of that one. This movie needed more involvement from Sean Astin, for certain. Watch it if the thought of not seeing the sequel gets you twitchy, otherwise you can just skip this one.

Movie Review: BAD KIDS GO TO HELL

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Movie Review BAD KIDS GO TO HELLPhase 4 Films
2012
R

“Like a massive gravity sinkhole, he deforms every positive thought he encounters before sucking it into a vortex from Hell.”

On a stormy Saturday afternoon, six students from Crestview Academy begin to meet horrible fates as they serve out their detentions. Is a fellow student to blame, or perhaps Crestview’s alleged ghosts are behind the terrible acts?

Giving credit where credit is due, I only learned about Bad Kids Go To Hell by way of this movie’s sequel, Bad Kids Of Crestview Academy. I was browsing the Upcoming Rental Releases on the Family Video website (I usually go there to see what’s coming up, then use that to see if I can rent the streaming video on Amazon or Google Plus or whatnot). I came across the sequel title, did a bit of research, realized it was a sequel, and then checked out the original one first to watch, because OCD.

Useless fact: Bad Kids Go To Hell is based on a “best selling” graphic novel that I’ve never heard of (no surprise there, as I had forsaken all comics since that “One More Day” abomination that Marvel did with Spider-Man), and was seemingly released nationwide in December of 2012 to presumably every other theater except for any in Eastern Nebraska, because I don’t recall any of the theaters in Omaha or Lincoln getting this. But, I digress.

Having watched Bad Kids Go To Hell (for some odd reason, I presumed it was British in origin…it is not…sadly), I must admit that I was surprisingly entertained. It’s kind of a mash-up with The Breakfast Club (including Judd Nelson as the school’s headmaster) and a Scooby-Doo mystery, with a lot more murder and mayhem.

After an opening that starts things off at the end of the movie, we then flash back to a few hours earlier in the day, where a bunch of stereotypes kids from mostly affluent society are gathered together in the library for weekend detention. We learn that the library itself was recently remodeled, and is rumored to be haunted. The stereotypes kids begin doing that “bonding” thing that most movies aping John Hughes movies from the 80s do, and then try to bust out of the library, only to find the going rather…tough. Then the stereotypes kids start dying off in horrible ways, paranoia begins mounting as they try to figure out who’s doing the killing, and the mystery as to whether or not the ghost of the Native American whose land was stolen and the school is currently standing on is causing all the weird things happening. Spoilers: it isn’t, but the twist reveal behind everything will make you appreciate the work the culprits put in for everything. Then final confrontation wackiness ensues, and then we’re back to where we started, and the poor kid is carted off to an insane asylum while it looks like everything has to do with a (local) government conspiracy with the janitor of the school. The end.

Overall, Bad Kids Go To Hell was amusingly good for what it is. And that is a dark comedy thriller that has a tongue in cheek delivery while borrowing generously from other tropes, which results in something that doesn’t really pretend to be original, but gives us some fun times. Definitely worth a rental, here.

Movie Review: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY Vol. 2

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guardians of the galaxy 2Marvel / Disney
2017
PG-13

“I’m Mary Poppins, y’all!”

Peter Quill and his fellow Guardians are hired by a powerful alien race, the Sovereign, to protect their precious batteries from invaders. When it is discovered that Rocket has stolen the items they were sent to guard, the Sovereign dispatch their armada to search for vengeance. As the Guardians try to escape, the mystery of Peter’s parentage is revealed.

Leave it to the Marvel Cinematic Universe to effectively ruin the rest of the Summer Blockbuster Season right off the bat. Again. It happened last year with Captain America: Civil War. And now, we have all witnessed the kind of big action blockbuster that will effectively ruin all other movies that would come out after during the coveted Summer months. Yeah, I’m gonna call it:

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 is the best Summer movie of 2017.

Seriously, all of the others that are coming out in the next few months after this have their work cut out for them. And this is a movie that, really, doesn’t even have much of a concrete plot. Regardless, HERE THERE BE SPOILERS.

So, after the greatest opening title sequence ever realized, we find our motley crew of space heroes on the run from the very race they were hired to protect, where they stumble upon Peter “Star Lord” Quill’s father, who just happens to be Ego, the Living Planet. And in case you’re wondering just how a planet would get it on with a human lady from Earth, there was a Kurt Russell avatar involved. All the other questions about that are actually handled in the movie, so please don’t ask me. I want to be able to sleep at night. Anyway, Quill, Gamora and Drax go with Ego and his consort named Mantis, while Rocket and Baby Groot stay behind to both repair the wrecked Milano, as well as guard Gamora’s sister Nebula. Only, the Ravagers are looking to capture the Guardians for a payout, and after a bit of wackiness that sees both Rocket and Groot captured, along with the help of Nebula, the Ravagers decide to mutiny against their leader Yondu. Which, of course, eventually turns out to be a bad idea. Meanwhile, Quill’s getting some quality time with his intergalactic sperm donor, learning that he’s half Celestial (essentially a demigod) and uses his new-found powers to…play catch with Ego. How heartwarming. Of course, underneath all this shiny-happy outer shell lies a chewy nougat center of horror, as Ego’s true plan is finally revealed, and it’s up to the Guardians to take him down before Ego’s plan destroys the universe as we know it. No sweat.

So, what we have here is a rare sequel that is better than the predecessor, but also manages to flesh out the main characters to the point that when repercussions happen, you feel them in your gut. You get the feels. All the feels. But, you never think that you’re being manipulated into this, and actually balances out the action and comedy that works so well together.

That’s not to say the movie wasn’t without its weaker points. I didn’t think the character of Mantis was really that necessary, except for some exposition (maybe she’ll get fleshed out more in the inevitable sequel of this sequel), and while still a joy to watch, Drax seemed…off. I can’t really explain why, he just does. And probably the most minor quibble would be that the movie throws so much at you during its run time that you really do need to take in a second showing to process it all. Or even a third.

Regardless, Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 once again proves that James Gunn is not only a very competent director, but can turn a potential dud into a fantastic blockbuster. That is no easy task. Especially when we’re talking about sequels. My advice, go see this while it’s still in the theaters. It’s worth the price of admission, plus the overpriced soda and popcorn.

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