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Freaky Firsts Day 5: Beautiful Creatures (2013)

Beautiful CreaturesNote: If you’re new to Reel to Reel, I’m more about dissecting and commenting on film than writing a straightforward review. As such, please be warned, the following is full of spoilers.

Director: Richard LaGravenese

Writer: Richard LaGravenese, based on the novel by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Alice Englert, Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, Emmy Rossum, Thomas Mann, Emma Thompson, Eileen Atkins, Margo Martindale, Zoey Deutch, Tiffany Boone

Plot: Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich), a teenager in a small South Carolina town, is plagued by dreams of a beautiful girl he’s never met. His town is crushing him – oppressive and overbearing, driving him to read banned books like To Kill a Mockingbird (this is how you know he’s edgy, kids). When he gets to the first day of school, he meets a new girl, Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert) who looks mysteriously like the girl in his dreams. People in town gossip about Lena, even accusing her and her uncle Macon Ravenwood (seriously, that’s his name, and he’s played by a Jeremy Irons who chews so much scenery he probably got lockjaw) of being devil worshippers. When the crowing of her catty classmates becomes too calamitous, Lena accidentally causes the large windows in the room to shatter, convincing everyone she’s freakier than they thought.

Ethan gives Lena a lift home from school, and they grow closer, which Macon doesn’t approve of at all. Eventually, Lena confesses to Ethan the truth: she and her family are “casters” (because “witch” isn’t a politically correct term anymore), and on her 16th birthday she will be driven to embrace either the light or dark nature of her power. Because this is a movie and the plot requires it, she fears that she’ll fall to the darkness. To make matters worse, her cousin Ridley (Emmy Rossum) shows up, aiding Lena’s long-lost mother Sarafine, who has possessed the Bible-thumping Mrs. Lincoln (Emma Thompson, who along with Irons clearly made this movie as a lark). Sarafine wants to drive Lena to the dark and use her power to exterminate all the humans in the world.

Ethan and Lena discover their ancestors during the Civil War were in love, and when Lena’s great-great-ish grandmother used a forbidden spell to save Ethan’s great-as-sour-candy grandfather’s life, she cursed the Duchannes women in some way that isn’t entirely clear but, I believe, has something to do with their stupid southern accents. In order to undo the curse, someone Lena loves must die. To protect Ethan, she gives him a snowfall for Christmas and wipes out his memory.

During the town’s annual Christmas Civil War reenactment (who the crap knows?) Ridley arranges to Ethan to be shot by a real bullet. When he lies, dying, Ridley and Sarafine try to turn Lena to the dark, but fails when Ethan reveals himself to be a magically-disguised Macon, whose death satisfies the terms of the curse and lifts it. He dies telling Lena to “claim yourself.” She rips her mother from Mrs. Lincoln’s body and traps her, but still isn’t really sure if she’s good or bad. Six months later, Lena runs into Ethan – still with no memory of their time together, and she gives him a book to take on a college tour. As he rides away, he reads a passage that triggers his memory of her and calls her name. She hears him, and wrenches herself free of the darkness.

Thoughts: I’m a high school teacher, so I’m usually aware of what books are popular with teenagers at any given time. For a few years there, that Beautiful Creatures series was on a pace to perhaps outstrip Twilight as the pseudo-horror romance of choice. As such, I pretty much stayed away from it. When the movie came out last year, I was somewhat amused to see how violently the book’s fans seemed to react to it, saying it “ruined” their beloved novel. It just goes to show you, doesn’t matter if it’s comics, books, TV, video games… hardcore fans are all the same.

It would be easy to write off Beautiful Creatures as just one of the dozens of Twilight knock-offs out there, but based purely on the movie, there aren’t as many similarities as one would think. There’s no creepy stalker vibe, first of all – Lena is actually 16 years old and not a century past her sell-by date. There’s legitimate tension within her family. There’s no attempt to paint either Ethan or Lena as perfect, and in fact, they both take strong, decisive action at various points in the movie in an attempt to protect the other, something that Bella Swan couldn’t even imagine doing.

None of this is to say that Beautiful Creatures is a good movie, mind you, just better than Twilight. There’s still a lot about this movie that’s just plain goofy, and not really in a fun way. The nonsense about calling witches “casters,” first of all. In The Walking Dead, we’re asked to accept the conceit that this is a world where there were never any popular zombie movies, books, TV shows, etc., and that the word “zombie” does not exist, so it’s okay to call them “Walkers.” Silly as that is, at least it’s an effort. This movie has several people straight-up accusing the Ravenwood family (whose name we need not even begin to discuss in terms of pure goofiness) of being witches, but they somehow can’t quite embrace the term.

Ehrenreich and Englert, our star-crossed lovers, both put in passable performances, but never really heat up the screen together. There’s as much chemistry here as any high school production of Grease (and here I am specifically referring to the chemistry between Kenickie and the high school principal), and while you can kind of see why they’re drawn together, the script works way too hard to convince us they’re right for each other than the end result puts on display. Their mutual love for “banned books,” for example, is pretty heavy-handed… almost as heavy-handed as the scene in English class where one of their classmates says she can’t read To Kill a Mockingbird because it’s been banned by the church and that she doesn’t think she should have to be in a class with non-Christians like Lena anyway. As if that weren’t enough, she immediately starts a prayer circle, which the teacher impotently warns her she can’t do in school. Between the Christian-bashing and the mocking of the politically correct crowd, I’m not entirely sure who the movie was trying to slander, but it succeeded mostly in making the viewer wish they’d rented Hocus Pocus rather than convincing anybody of anything of substance.

The accents in this movie are so over-the-top that you want to climb into the screen, look behind the camera at the director and shout, “Okay. They’re southern. WE GET IT.” The only ones who even come close to selling it are Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson, who are in fact both treasured actors and way the hell too good to be in this movie. One can only assume that each of them either has a teenage daughter that really wanted them to take the part or that they’ve reached that blessed pinnacle of their careers where they’ve made all of the award bait they can handle and they feel like just screwing around for a few years making fluff.

While not a horrible movie, there’s not an awful lot to recommend Beautiful Creatures either. You won’t need to set your TV on fire if it happens to show up when you flip to HBO, but there’s no real reason not to switch to HBO2 and watch a rerun of Game of Thrones either.

The first Reel to Reel study, Mutants, Monsters and Madmen, is now available as a $2.99 eBook in the Amazon Kindle store and Smashwords.com bookstore. And you can find links to all of my novels, collections, and short stories, in their assorted print, eBook and audio forms, at the Now Available page!

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Freaky Firsts Day 4: Devil’s Pass (2013)

Devils Pass 2013Note: If you’re new to Reel to Reel, I’m more about dissecting and commenting on film than writing a straightforward review. As such, please be warned, the following is full of spoilers.

Director: Renny Harlin

Writer: Vikram Weet

Cast: Holly Goss, Matt Stokoe, Luke Albright, Ryan Hawley, Gemma Atkinson, Richard Reid, Jane Perry, Boris Stepanov, Nikolay Butenin, Nelly Nielsen, Valeriy Fedorovich

Plot: Based on the real-life Dytalov Pass incident, this movie features a film crew venturing into Russia to solve the 50-year-old mystery of a group of lost backpackers. Holly King (Holly Goss) believes the victims fell prey to real and documented symptoms of hypothermia, whereas her film partner Jensen Day (Matt Stokoe) refuses to believe such expert hikers would have died so easily. With their sound operator Denise (Gemma Atkinson) and a pair of climbers (Luke Albright as JP Hauser and Ryan Hawley as Andy Thatcher), the crew trains and heads to Russia…

Then vanish.

Their disappearance becomes international news, and theories as to their disappearance grow as wild as that of the original Dyatlov hikers: magic, aliens, or a thin membrane in the fabric of time and space that leads to another world. Their footage is found (making this one of the few “found footage” movies to take the name of its subgenre quite so literally), and although the Russian government attempts to suppress it, a hacker group steals it and releases it.

Arriving in Russia, Holly’s crew interviews Alya, one of the searchers who found the bodies in 1959, who describes the scene with such lovely terms as “a trail of organs.” The most disturbing part of her description, though, is that the rescuers found 11 bodies, not the nine that have always been reported.

As they march into the mountains, they begin finding unusual phenomenon, such as a trail of enormous footprints made by what look like human feet in far colder temperatures than anyone could stand being barefoot for more than a few minutes. They start to hear things, then find an old weather station with a human tongue. Jensen breaks down, and as Holly tries to comfort him, a pair of creatures run past in the distance, unseen by the crew, but captured on camera.

Arriving at Dyatlov Pass, the crew marks the spots where the bodies were found and Holly describes their deaths for the camera – all dead of hypothermia, but all suffering assorted injuries as well. Exploring the area, Holly and Jensen find a metal door buried in the snow. In the night an avalanche destroys the camp, killing Denise and breaking Andy’s leg. Jensen is convinced that someone set the avalanche on purpose to dispose of them. They think they’re saved when a pair of hikers arrive, but they shoot JP. Forced to leave Andy behind, the others make it into the door.

They follow a long tunnel underground, ending in a lab (Of course it ends in a lab) which has been utterly trashed, although the light bulbs still seem to work. They find photos of the old Philadelphia Experiment, an American teleportation project that went terribly wrong. JP is attacked and consumed by a pair of the creatures – ugly, emaciated, twisted people who contort in weird shapes and seem to blink in and out of existence. They find a tunnel that looks like some sort of hole in time (it actually looks really cool, I can’t think of a better way to describe it), and Jensen speculates it’s where the creatures originated from, that similar portals could be responsible for unexplained phenomenon around the world. Trapped, he convinces Holly to try to use the portal to teleport to safety. They wind up on the side of the mountain, but in 1959, where their bodies are collected by the Russian military and brought down into the lab (along with Holly’s camera). They hang Holly and Jensen’s bodies on hooks below ground, and we see them mutating, becoming two of the creatures that stalk Dyatlov Pass.

Thoughts: A lot of people have an irate, visceral hatred of “found footage” movies, as if there’s nothing good that can be done with the genre. This is pretty short-sighted to me. Sure, there have been tons of crappy found footage movies, films that try to use shaky cameras to cover up bad special effects and cheap budgets, but then you get something like the magnificent Chronicle, and the form pretty much justifies itself.

For the most part, Devil’s Pass is much more entertaining than the average found footage fare. Unlike the bulk of such movies (set in the woods or caves or similarly dark places), this movie is set in a snow-covered mountain range. It gives it a very distinct visual appeal, much clearer and cleaner than most found footage films, and the stark white vista is far less forgiving of cheesy camera stunts. When there are camera tricks – at several moments the picture bounces and glitches – it’s almost always done to signify that the crew is near the otherworldly creatures, even though they’re unaware of it.

The big night scenes, such as the avalanche, are actually really effective, as the slow crumble of the snow down the mountain turns into a wave. Denise’s death is even cool – she slides directly into the camera, which in this movie is literal, her head cracks the lens when she crashes into it. The movie even addresses the usual “why the hell are you still filming this?” question that found footage falls prey to – Holly explicitly says that she wants a record of what happened, no matter what, so that they don’t wind up as another Dyatlov mystery.

It’s by no means perfect, though. The movie definitely falls prey to what TV Tropes refers to as “Awesome McCoolname.” When you hear about characters with monikers like “Jensen Day” and “JP Hauser,” you get pulled out of the movie any time they call each other by name. But Devil’s Pass’s biggest weakness probably comes in with the reveal of the creatures. Although the design is good, they’re heavily CGI, and it looks like Holly and Jensen are trying to fight creatures from a video game. I know that’s a standard complaint to make about an effects movie, but damn it, sometimes there’s simply no other way to explain what you’re looking at on screen. My wife, who had been enjoying the film up to this point, simply said, “And that’s where it lost me.”

It didn’t lose me, not as badly at least. Bad computer graphics aside, I think Devil’s Pass has a lot going for it. It avoids a lot of the tropes that damn bad found footage movies, and at the same time has a fairly clever storyline that pokes a hole into actual history and mixes it with a very healthy formula of science fiction and horror. While it isn’t going to be remembered as one of the all-time greats, and it’s not a movie I picture myself watching over and over again, it’s an enjoyable way to spend 100 minutes and worth taking a little time on.

The first Reel to Reel study, Mutants, Monsters and Madmen, is now available as a $2.99 eBook in the Amazon Kindle store and Smashwords.com bookstore. And you can find links to all of my novels, collections, and short stories, in their assorted print, eBook and audio forms, at the Now Available page!

What I Watched In… December 2013

In the interest of full disclosure (and to generate a little content here) I thought I’d present a regular tally of what movies I managed to see in the previous month. Some of them I’ve written about, most of them I haven’t. This list includes movies I saw for the first time, movies I’ve seen a thousand times, movies I saw in the theater, movies I watched at home, direct-to-DVD, made-for-TV and anything else that qualifies as a movie. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!

This being the December list and me being a big Christmas nerd, you’ll notice a trend here, both in feature films and in shorts and specials. Try to act surprised.

1. Scrooge (1970), A
2. Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983), A
3. Yodelberg (2013), B
4. The Hockey Champ (1939), B+
5. Pluto’s Christmas Tree (1952), A
6. The Art of Skiing (1941), A-
7. Corn Chips (1951), B
8. The Sound of Music Live (2013), B-
9. A Christmas Carol (1984), C+
10. Scrooged (1988), A-
11. Frosty the Snowman (1969), B+
12. Mickey’s Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse (2001), C+
13. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1993), A
14. A Flintstones Christmas Carol (1994), B
15. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965), A
16. Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales (2002), B-
17. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the Island of Misfit Toys (2001), D
18. A Chipmunk Christmas (1981), B+
19. An All Dogs Christmas Carol (1998), D+
20. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013), B+
21. Christmas Comes to PacLand (1982), C-
22. The Smurfs Christmas Special (1982), C
23. ‘Tis the Season to be Smurfy (1987), C
24. He-Man and She-Ra: A Christmas Special (1985), D
25. Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer (2000), C+
26. The Alpha-Bots Christmas (2004), F
27. The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978), F; RiffTrax Riff, B+
28. A Christmas Carol (1999), B+
29. Christmas Carol: The Movie (2001), F
30. A Christmas Carol: The Musical (2004), B+
31. A Christmas Carol: Scrooge’s Ghostly Tale (2006), D
32. A Sesame Street Christmas Carol (2006), C
33. The Adventures of Huck Finn (1993), B+
34. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989),  A
35. Bah Humduck! A Looney Tunes Christmas (2006), B
36. A Dennis the Menace Christmas (2007), C+
37. A Christmas Carol (2009), B-
38. Mister Scrooge to See You (2013), C-
39. The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1985), B+
40. Home Alone (1990), B+
41. White Christmas (1954), A
42. Babes in Toyland (1961), B-
43. Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas (1997), B-
44. Ernest Saves Christmas (1988), B
45. The Second Honeymooners Christmas Special (1978), B-
46. A Garfield Christmas Special (1987), B+
47. Shrek the Halls (2007), B
48. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), A
49. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), A+
50. Miracle on 34th Street (1947), A+
51. Love Actually (2003), A
52. A Christmas Story (1983), A
53. Frozen (2013), A
54. Saving Mr. Banks (2013), A

Reel to Reel ranks 2013 in movies

And once again, we reach the end of another year. And as usual, I didn’t get to see as many movies as I wanted to. I saw most of the ones I was really excited about, all but one in fact (which wound up not being made at all, sadly). For the record, the ones I didn’t see yet that are still on my to-see list are American Hustle, Wolf of Wall Street and Her, all of which will be readily available after the holidays, what with being award bait and all.

So here, for the second year (here’s last year’s list if you’re interested), the list of movies I saw this year roughly in order of how much I liked them, along with brief comments on a few films. This list includes made-for-TV, direct-to-video, and streaming films, as long as they were feature length. The rankings are based purely on how much I enjoyed watching the movie, and no other criteria. I caution you, though, that my opinions on rankings and such change frequently, so if you ask me to make this same list tomorrow, it may well be slightly different:

1. Saving Mr. Banks. Simply a beautiful movie that hits me hard as a writer. I get where both the characters of P.L. Travers and Walt Disney were coming from, I sympathize with them both, and I found the movie deeply moving. I know that a lot of it was conjured up for the sake of cinema, but I’m kind of afraid to look up how much for fear it would ruin the film for me.
2. Frozen. Disney’s best animated movie in years. I particularly like that the film was undeniably a love story, but at the same time, broke every major rule in the usual “princess” formula.
3. Man of Steel. A controversial choice to be this high, I know, but I don’t care. As someone who’s loved Superman since childhood, I thought this film was a worthy jumpstart for both the character and for DC’s effort at a cinematic universe.
4. Pacific Rim. The most underrated movie of the year, in my opinion. Visually exciting and a hell of a lot of fun.
5. Monsters University.
6. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.
7. Ender’s Game.
8. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
9. An Adventure in Space and Time. TV film about the original star of Doctor Who, William Hartnell, made in conjunction with the series’ 50th anniversary. I really liked it.
10. Evil Dead.
11. The World’s End
12. Oz, The Great and Powerful.
13. Star Trek Into Darkness.
14. Thor: The Dark World.
15. Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox.
16. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part II.
17. The Rubber Room. Intriguing documentary about the New York public school system, specifically the practice that leaves teachers accused of assorted mistakes stranded without work for months or years without the opportunity to defend themselves.
18. Crystal Lake Memories:The Complete History of Friday the 13th. Good and terribly thorough documentary about the horror movie series. Make sure you’ve got the time to watch it, though – it’s SEVEN HOURS LONG.
19. Iron Man 3.
20. LEGO Batman The Movie: DC Superheroes Unite.
21. The Wolverine.
22. The Sound of Music. Live TV production of the classic musical.
23. Necessary Evil: The Villains of DC Comics.
24. Europa Report.
25. Superman Unbound.
26. Kick-Ass 2.
27. Warm Bodies.
28. Upstream Color. I really liked the director’s last movie, Primer, so I had high hopes for this one. I felt somewhat let down, though. The movie thought it was smarter than it really was.
29. Escape From Planet Earth.
30. Side Effects.
31. A Good Day to Die Hard.
32. World War Z.
33. Mister Scrooge to See You.
34. Jack the Giant Slayer.
35. Iron Man: Rise of Technovore.
36. The Purge. Intriguing idea – a world where all crime is legal for 12 hours a year – but the film is handled poorly, set up on a soapbox, has a horribly predictable ending and is so heavy-handed it’s impossible to enjoy as a thriller.
37. The Host. The only thing I have to say about this Stephanie Meyer adaptation is that I initially mistyped it as The Hose, and I couldn’t help but think that would have been a more interesting movie.
38. Riddick.
39. Oblivion. I challenge anybody to explain the backstory and plot of this film in a way that does not invite a six-year-old child to point out how outrageously stupid the aliens are. I DARE YOU.
40. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.
41. Sharknado. I know that this TV production was supposed to be bad, but I disagree with those who think it was both bad and fun. I just didn’t enjoy it.

Scrooge Month Day 20: David Ruprecht in MISTER SCROOGE TO SEE YOU (2013)

Mister Scrooge to See You 2013Director: Steven F. Zambo

Writer: Steven F. Zambo

Cast: David Ruprecht, Matt Koester, Shannon Moore, Curt Backlund, William Beglinger, Nancy Ferdyn, Tyler L. Johnson, Jeff Johnstone, Daniel Koester, Torry Martin, Arlensiu Novelli, Rick Richter, Karen Spiegelberg, Chris Taylor, Ken T. Williams

Notes: I thought it would be fun to end Scrooge Month with a different tale of the character. In Mister Scrooge to See You!, David Ruprecht plays the former miser one year after his redemption at the hands of the ghosts. This time out, Jacob Marley (Rick Richter) sends him on a mission of his own, casting him into the distant future to save the embittered soul of Timothy Cratchit VI (Matt Koester), who has lost the very Christmas spirit his ancestor helped restore to Scrooge

Thoughts: This is by no means the first time someone has attempted a sequel to A Christmas Carol. There have been versions that show Tiny Tim as an adult, Marley getting redeemed himself, and all manner of stories featuring the older versions of these characters. This one is a cute enough film, if obviously made on a low budget. The greenscreen effect use to insert Marley into the shots is crude, the footage looks cheap (although that’s probably an ironic effect of using digital video rather than actual film), and the performances are straight from an amateur production of… well… A Christmas Carol.

Of the cast, David Ruprecht’s Scrooge is the best performance. In one scene he pulls off a fake-out on Bob Cratchit before making him a full partner in the firm of “Scrooge and Cratchit,” and he’s pretty convincing both as the nasty miser he used to be and as the cheerful soul he’s become. Ken T. Williams’s Bob Cratchit isn’t bad either – still a bit downtrodden, but a man who has happiness in his heart. It really shows in that same scene, when he gives Scrooge a gift of the original Tiny Tim’s no-longer-needed crutch.

In the present day, Tim VI’s life has matched that of Scrooge in several neat ways. Now a wealthy developer, he comes back to his hometown to buy up the property. There he runs into his own girl that got away, coincidentally named Belle (Shannon Moore), who is running her little diner into the ground by giving free meals to homeless citizens who drive off other customers. What’s more, Tim’s company now owns the mortgage on Belle’s diner and he’s there to shut her down if she can’t meet her back payments by Christmas. (Does anyone else find it odd that the companies in these movies always set a Christmas deadline? I’m not a businessman, but isn’t the first of the month more traditional for this sort of thing?)

Belle (Belle Dickenson – aaaah? Get it?) is in trouble, but Tim’s soul is in far worse shape. He’s greedy, nasty, and frequently spouts slightly-altered versions of Scrooge’s classic pre-redemption lines. He comes across here even more actively malevolent than Scrooge usually does in the traditional versions of the story.

Scrooge is mysteriously transported to the present day, where he meets up with Belle and learns how Tim is planning to shut down her company. Unfortunately for Tim, Scrooge still has the paperwork marking him as a partner in Scrooge and Cratchit Financial, and uses it to block Tim. He begins to turn the company around, driving Tim crazy while making everybody else in town merry as can be. Once we hit this mark, where Scrooge starts driving Tim insane, the film actually gets entertaining. There are some great comedy beats where he’s integrating himself into modern society, and a few fine mirrors of his own time while Tim gripes and complains about all Scrooge’s efforts to bring Christmas down upon him.

The movie ends with a surprising twist – surprising in the sense of “utterly ridiculous and impossible to believe.” On the other hand, it does prevent the movie from having the same ending as 90 percent of these movies do, so I’ve got to appreciate it for that if nothing else.

The story actually isn’t bad – it’s at least as good as the endless carbon copy made-for-TV movies that turn up on the Hallmark Channel this time of year. It would be nice to see what would happen if someone with a budget got their hands on this script. This is pleasant as a diversion, but a talented filmmaker could probably make something really memorable out of it.

The first Reel to Reel study, Mutants, Monsters and Madmen, is now available as a $2.99 eBook in the Amazon Kindle store and Smashwords.com bookstore. And you can find links to all of my novels, collections, and short stories, in their assorted print, eBook and audio forms, at the Now Available page!

All New Showcase at the Movies: The Hobbit-The Desolation of Smaug

Hobbit-The Desolation of SmaugOnce again, I’ve released a movie review episode of my podcast, the All New Showcase. This time out, Jason, Kenny and I tackle The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. In a (mostly) spoiler-free discussion, we talk about how the movie diverges from the book, how they feel about the additions to the original story, and their overall feelings about the film.

And what’s cool this week? Jason has been watching Gypsy Sisters, Kenny got a new toy from Japan, and I’m doing my annual re-read of The Autobiography of Santa Claus by Jeff Guinn.

All New Showcase at the Movies Episode 39: The Hobbit-The Desolation of Smaug

The 2013 Holiday Movie Preview

Twice a year my podcast, the All New Showcase, devotes an episode to movie previews. This week, my fiance Erin and I look ahead at all of the big releases coming out in the months of November and December — which ones we’re excited by, which ones we’re passing on, and which ones look utterly ridiculous. If’n you’re so inclined, give it a listen.

All New Showcase #296: The 2013 Holiday Movie Preview

What I Watched In… August 2013

In the interest of full disclosure (and to generate a little content here) I thought I’d present a regular tally of what movies I managed to see in the previous month. Some of them I’ve written about, most of them I haven’t. This list includes movies I saw for the first time, movies I’ve seen a thousand times, movies I saw in the theater, movies I watched at home, direct-to-DVD, made-for-TV and anything else that qualifies as a movie. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!

1. Pete’s Dragon (1977), B+
2. Ernest in the Army (1998), D
3. The Artist (2011), A-
4. The Wolverine (2013), B
5. 101 Dalmatians (1961), B+
6. Puppet Master (1989), C
7. Cloud Atlas (2012), B
8. The Revenge of Dr. X (1970), F; RiffTrax Riff, B-
9. A Goofy Movie (1995), B+
10. Chicken Run (2000), A
11. Starship Troopers (1997), C; RiffTrax Riff, B+
12. Enchanted (2007), A
13. Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988), C
14. Nightmares in Red, White and Blue: The Evolution of the American Horror Film (2009), B-
15. Kick-Ass 2 (2013), B+
16. Shaun of the Dead (2004), A
17. Hot Fuzz (2007), A-
18. The World’s End (2013), A-
19. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), A
20. Robin Hood (1973), B
21. Robin and Marian (1976), B
22. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), B+
23. Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993), C+
24. Would You Rather (2012), B
25. Masters of the Universe (1987), C
26. Gamer (2009), C

Gut Reactions: Kick-Ass 2 (2013)

Kick-Ass 2Director: Jeff Wadlow

Writer: Jeff Wadlow, based on the comic book series by Mark Millar & John Romita Jr.

Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace Mortez, Morris Chestnut, Claudia Lee, Clark Duke, Augustus Prew, Donald Faison, Steven Mackintosh, Monica Dolan, Garrett M. Brown, Lyndsy Fonseca, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Yancy Butler, John Leguizamo, Jim Carrey, Robert Emms, Lindy Booth

Plot: It’s been two years since the events of the first Kick-Ass, and both Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Mindy Macready (Chloe Grace Mortez)  have remained retired from action as the “real world” superheroes Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl. When Dave starts to feel restless but is unable to convince Mindy to get back into action, he finds a new team of citizens eager to fight to take back the streets. Meanwhile the former Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) finds himself with the freedom to take action against Kick-Ass for killing his mob boss father with a plan that could plunge the entire city into all-out war.

Thoughts: As big a geek as I am, I’ve never actually read any of the comic books the two Kick-Ass movies have been based on. I’m not a fan of the writer, Mark Millar, who I feel often goes for shock value at the expense of real emotion and discards characterization at a whim. Despite this, I liked the first Kick-Ass and wasn’t surprised that I thought the sequel wasn’t bad at all.

With news stories about “real world” superheroes like Seattle’s Phoenix Jones becoming more prevalent in the news, this story hits a nice chord that examines the philosophy of a person who would choose to put on a costume and try to beat up gang bangers at night. This time around, with Nicolas Cage’s “Big Daddy” character out of the picture, the relationship between Dave and Mindy becomes the center of the film. The two of them both shift back and forth between craving the life of a hero and trying to reject it at various points. What’s more, it’s easy to understand and even sympathize with both points of view – on the one hand, it’s a remarkably dangerous and (frankly) stupid lifestyle. On the other hand, when confronted with evil, how can a decent person simply choose to do nothing?

Interestingly, the most press I’ve seen about this movie in the last few months seems to have come from the fact that Jim Carrey, who plays “Colonel Stars and Stripes,” has chosen not to promote the film. Carrey says that the events at Sandy Hook Elementary last winter (which happened after filming was complete) affected him deeply and he cannot, in good conscience, promote violence. While I don’t take issue with him choosing a pacifist lifestyle, I have to wonder if he actually paid attention to the movie while he was making it. Kick-Ass 2 in no way promotes a violent lifestyle. While there is a lot of comedy in the film, and while some of the fight scenes are somewhat exaggerated, that’s not the same thing as saying they’re glamorized. The film clearly shows the consequences of violence in general and the lifestyle that Dave has chosen in particular, and neither of these are things that any sane person would willingly accept. In this movie, as in the first one, choosing a life of violence hurts, both physically and spiritually.

Which is not to say there isn’t fun. Mintz-Plasse’s character, embarking on a quest to become the world’s first real super-villain, is pretty laughable for most of the film. Even once it gets dark, when he starts to recruit real muscle to back up his threats, he’s still a caricature of every stupid, overblown villain cliché you can imagine. He’s a point of ridicule, a pathetic character, and would be pitiable if he didn’t pull off a few legitimately evil acts in the film. (It’s also worth noting that the film scales back on the comic book, dropping the most evil act he commits as apparently being too much to put on screen. I haven’t read the comic, as I said, so I can’t judge how well it worked there, but I do think it would have been too much on the screen.)

With so many superhero movies these days, it’s nice to see one that brings the action down to a (mostly) human level, that doesn’t treat average citizens as cannon fodder, and that shows that being a hero can hurt. There are two other comics in this series (a Hit-Girl spinoff and the currently in-progress Kick-Ass 3), and I’d be anxious to see both of those make it to the screen too. If not, I may actually have to break down and read the comics to see how the saga of Dave Lizewski finally ends.

The first Reel to Reel study, Mutants, Monsters and Madmen, is now available as a $2.99 eBook in the Amazon Kindle store and Smashwords.com bookstore. And you can find links to all of my novels, collections, and short stories, in their assorted print, eBook and audio forms, at the Now Available page!

Showcase At the Movies Superhero Double Feature

Justice League-The Flashpoint Paradox WolverineThis week’s episode of my podcast, the All New Showcase, features myself and my cohort Kenny giving our opinions on a pair of new superhero movies. We took in The Wolverine and the new animated feature Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox. To hear our thoughts on those, as well as a comic book and TV pick, click on the link!

At the Movies Episode 37: Superhero Double Feature