Blog Archives

What I Watched in… March 2017

logannewposter

Favorite of the Month: Logan (2017)

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 or talked 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. I also choose my favorite of the month among those movies I saw for the first time, marked in red. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!

  1. John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017), A-
  2. Logan (2017), A
  3. Into the Woods (Broadway Cast, 1991), A
  4. Anomalisa (2015), B
  5. My Sucky Teen Romance (2011), B
  6. Volunteers (1985), B
  7. Werewolf of London (1935), C
  8. Quiz Show (1994), A-
  9. Lifeforce (1985), C-
  10. Honor and Glory (1993), D-; RiffTrax Riff, B
  11. The Magic Sword (1962), C+; MST3K Riff, B+
  12. Gamera (1965), B-; MST3K Riff, A
  13. Phantom of the Opera (1943), C+
  14. Newsies (1992), B+
  15. Up (2009), A+
  16. Moana (2016), A-
  17. Hobgoblins (1988), F; MST3K Riff, A-
  18. Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013), B+
  19. The Uninvited (1944), B
  20. Into the Woods (2014), B+
  21. Kubo and the Two Strings (2016), A-
  22. Nintendo Quest (2015), B-
  23. Dune (1984), D+
  24. Dracula (1931), B+
  25. Retro Puppet Master (1999), D-; RiffTrax Riff, B
  26. Zombie Nightmare (19870, D; MST3K Riff, A
  27. 50 Years of Star Trek (2016), B-
  28. Innerspace (1987), B
  29. Marooned (aka Space Travelers, 1969), D; MST3K Riff, B-
Advertisements

2016 in Film

rogue-one-imax-poster

Favorite of the Year: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Once again, it’s a new year, and that means it’s time to take a look back at the releases of the previous year. I managed to clock in a a lot of movies in 2016, although as always there are still several I haven’t seen yet (Arrival, Shin Godzilla, Moana, and many more). So as always, consider this list incomplete. It’s every 2016 movie I’ve seen so far, including TV movies and direct-to-DVD fare, ranked from my favorite to least favorite, with commentary where I find it necessary.

  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story — Two years in a row, a Star Wars movie has claimed my top spot. Under its new Disney home, Lucasfilm is on fire.
  • Doctor Strange — Amazingly, for a character I’ve never fully connected with in the comics, Benedict Cumberbatch has turned in one of my favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe performances to date.
  • Captain America: Civil War — Although they may as well have called this Avengers 3, the third Captain America movie was a blast. I especially liked the fact that this time around the stakes were much more personal, rather than a save-the-world scenario. It was a nice change of pace.
  • Zootopia — This was a huge surprise to me. Not that it was good (John Lasseter taking over Disney animation is the best thing to happen to Disney animation since Walt Disney himself), but how good it was. Funny, sweet, and surprisingly poignant.
  • For the Love of Spock — Adam Nimoy directs this touching documentary about his father, Leonard.
  • Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice — I don’t care what the critics say, I had a great thrill seeing DC’s trinity on screen for the first time, and I can’t wait to see Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman.
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them — I felt the same way about this as Rogue One. The studios have learned that if you can make the universe itself the star instead of a particular character, you can make a franchise last much longer. This was a fun addition to J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World.
  • Star Trek Beyond — It’s rare that the third film in a franchise is the best, but this was the most exciting, most “Star Trek”-like film in the Kelvin Timeline to date.
  • Finding Dory — Lovely follow-up to Finding Nemo, with a heartfelt message.
  • The Nice Guys — Like so many people, I loved this movie, and wish that it had found a larger audience in theaters.
  • Deadpool
  • Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan-Film Ever Made — You may have heard the story of a couple of kids who spent years working on an amateur shot-for-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark. This is that story.
  • Batman: The Killing Joke
  • Hush — Tense little thriller about a home invasion in the home of a deaf woman.
  • 10 Cloverfield Lane — One of the year’s best surprises.
  • Suicide Squad — Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn was fantastic. The rest of the movie was pretty good.
  • Hail, Caesar!
  • The Witch
  • Independence Day: Resurgence
  • DC Super Hero Girls: Hero of the Year — Cute direct-to-DVD movie starring DC’s latest franchise. I love the fact that this series exists, and so does my 6-year-old niece.
  • X-Men: Apocalypse — Weakest of the “First Class” trilogy, but that still places it ahead of the likes of X-Men: The Last Stand or the first two Wolverine movies.
  • Keanu
  • Ghostheads
  • Justice League Vs. Teen Titans
  • Holidays — Fun, if uneven, horror anthology.
  • Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday
  • Batman: Bad Blood
  • LEGO DC Super Heroes: Justice League-Cosmic Clash
  • LEGO DC Super Heroes: Justice League-Gotham City Breakout
  • Mascots
  • The Jungle Book — I know a lot of people were blown away by this, but it just didn’t do it for me. Admittedly, it may just be because I’ve never been able to get into talking animal movies. It’s a weird hang-up of mine, I admit.
  • Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders — Animated film featuring Adam West and Burt Ward, and damn, do they show their age. When Batman and Robin sound like they’re in their 70s, maybe nostalgia isn’t enough.
  • Dwarvenaut
  • Criminal
  • Grease Live!
  • Dead 7 — Weak-ass SyFy movie starring a bunch of washed-up boy band members in a zombie western.
  • The Neon Demon — Probably the most controversial opinion I’ll have here. The latest from writer/director Nicolas Winding Refn of Drive and Only God Forgives, and like those other films, I found this unbearably dull and overblown.
  • Ghostbusters — A weak script and a weak director tanked this remake.
  • Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again
  • Paradox

What I’ve Watched In… December 2016

rogue-one-imax-poster

Favorite of the Month: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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 or talked 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. I also choose my favorite of the month among those movies I saw for the first time, marked in red. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!

  1. I Am Santa Claus (2014), A
  2. A Christmas Carol (2009), B-
  3. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (1983), B+
  4. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964), D; RiffTrax Live Riff, B
  5. The Night Before (2015), B-
  6. Santa Claus (1959), F; Rifftrax Live Riff, B
  7. A Muppet Family Christmas (1987), A
  8. Snow (2004), B
  9. Snow 2: Brain Freeze (2008), B
  10. Christmas Eve on Sesame Street (1978), A
  11. Christmas With Rifftrax: Santa’s Village of Madness, B
  12. The Shop Around the Corner (1940), A
  13. Trans-Siberian Orchestra: The Ghosts of Christmas Eve (1999), B+
  14. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie (1998), D
  15. Christmas Eve (2015), A-
  16. Scrooge (1970), B+
  17. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), A-
  18. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), A-
  19. Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July (1979), B-
  20. Trading Places (1983), B
  21. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989), A
  22. A Very Murray Christmas (2015), A-
  23. Marvel Super Hero Adventures: Frost Fight (2015), B
  24. The Ref (1994), B+
  25. An American Christmas Carol (1979), B+
  26. Popeye’s Voyage: The Quest For Pappy (2004), C
  27. Ebbie (1995), D
  28. Scrooge and Marley (2001), C-
  29. Die Hard (1988), A
  30. Home Alone (1990), A
  31. Santa’s Christmas Circus (1966), D; RiffTrax Riff, B
  32. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), A+
  33. Santa Claus: The Movie (1985), A
  34. Miracle on 34th Street (1947), A
  35. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), A+
  36. A Christmas Story (1983), A
  37. In the Good Old Summertime (1949), B
  38. Captain Phillips (2013), B+
  39. Hail, Caesar! (2016), B+
  40. Life of Pi (2012), A-
  41. 12 Years a Slave (2013), A
  42. Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016), C
  43. Night Shadows (1984), D-; RiffTrax Riff, B
  44. No Country For Old Men (2007), A-
  45. Keanu (2016), B
  46. 12 Angry Men (1957), A+
  47. Wild Things (1998), B
  48. The Sting (1973), A-
  49. Singin’ in the Rain (1952), A+
  50. The Jungle Book (2016), C+
  51. For the Love of Spock (2016), A
  52. Ghostbusters (1984), A
  53. Ghostbusters II (1989), B

What I’ve Watched In… November 2016

doctor-strange-poster

Favorite of the Month: Doctor Strange (2016)

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 or talked 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. I also choose my favorite of the month among those movies I saw for the first time, marked in red. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!

  1. Hardcore Henry (2015), B-
  2. Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (2016), A
  3. The Neon Demon (2015), C
  4. Doctor Strange (1978), C
  5. Time of the Apes (1987), D; MST3K Riff, B+
  6. Thinner (1996), C
  7. A Grand Night In: The Story of Aardman (2015), A
  8. Doctor Strange (2016), A
  9. Mascots (2016), B
  10. Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991), B+
  11. Star Trek Beyond (2016), A
  12. Spectre (2015), B-
  13. Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988), F
  14. Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (1988), B
  15. Teenage Caveman (1958), D; MST3K Riff, B
  16. My Fair Lady (1964), A
  17. Gunslinger (1956), D; MST3K Riff, B
  18. Fun in Balloon Land (1965), F; RiffTrax Riff, B+
  19. The Dwarvenaut (2016), C+
  20. The Addams Family (1991), B+
  21. Addams Family Values (1993), A-
  22. I Accuse My Parents (1944), D; MST3K Riff, A
  23. The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961), D-; MST3K Riff, B
  24. Young and Beautiful (2013), C
  25. Mouse on the Mayflower (1968), C+
  26. Garfield’s Thanksgiving (1989), B+
  27. BC: The First Thanksgiving (1979), C
  28. Intergalactic Thanksgiving (1979) B-
  29. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016), A-
  30. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1974), B+
  31. Planes Trains, and Automobiles (1987), A
  32. Mickey’s Magical Christmas: Snowed In at the House of Mouse (2001), B
  33. Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas (1999), B+
  34. Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas (2004), B-
  35. Magic Christmas Tree (1964), F; RiffTrax Riff, A
  36. Gaslight (1944), B+
  37. Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (1972), F; RiffTrax Live Riff, B+

What I watched in… August 2016

Room

Favorite of the Month: Room (2015)

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 or talked 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. I also choose my favorite of the month among those movies I saw for the first time, marked in red. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!

  1. Kinsey (2004), B+
  2. Suicide Squad (2016), B+
  3. The Lobster (2015), A-
  4. Star Trek Beyond (2016), A
  5. Eegah (1962), F; MST3K Riff, B
  6. Mothra (1961), B; RiffTrax Riff, B
  7. Final Girl (2015), C+
  8. The Little Prince (2015), A-
  9. Fantastic Planet (1973), B
  10. Witching and Bitching (2013), B+
  11. The 30-Foot Bride of Candy Rock (1959), B
  12. Room (2015), A
  13. The Dark Power (1985), F; RiffTrax Riff, A-
  14. Welcome to Leith (2015), B+
  15. Freaks of Nature (2015), A-
  16. The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), A
  17. Equinox (1970), C
  18. Big Eyes (2014), B+
  19. The Raven (1963), D

What I watched in… July 2016

star-trek-beyond-poster-international

Favorite of the Month: Star Trek Beyond (2016)

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 or talked 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. I also choose my favorite of the month among those movies I saw for the first time, marked in red. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!

  1. Godzilla Vs. Destoroyah (1995), B
  2. Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla (2002), B+
  3. Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964), B
  4. Godzilla Vs. Megaguirus (2000), B
  5. Godzilla Vs. Space Godzilla (1994), C+
  6. Godzilla (2014), A
  7. Red Dawn (1984), B; RiffTrax Riff, B+
  8. Bone Tomahawk (2015), A-
  9. The Neverending Story (1984), A-
  10. Overdrawn at the Memory Bank (1985), F; MST3K Riff, A
  11. Ring of Terror (1962), F; MST3K Riff, B
  12. Monster A-Go Go (1965), F; MST3K Riff, B-
  13. The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984), A-
  14. Star Trek (2009), A
  15. Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), B
  16. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), B
  17. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), A+
  18. Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (1984), B+
  19. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986), B+
  20. Ghostbusters (2016), C-
  21. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989), C-
  22. Star Trek Beyond (2016), A
  23. Batman: The Killing Joke (2016) B+
  24. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), A-
  25. Star Trek: Generations (1994), C+
  26. Star Trek: First Contact (1996), A-
  27. Star Trek: Insurrection (1998), C+
  28. Star Trek: Nemesis (2002), B-
  29. LEGO DC Comics Superheroes: Justice League-Gotham City Breakout (2016), B
  30. Justice League: Gods and Monsters (2015), B
  31. Back to the Beach (1987), B
  32. Summer Rental (1985), B-
  33. Scooby-Doo (2002), C+

Who are the Long Runners?

Bond BluRayLast month, during the Christmas spending frenzy, I alerted my sister to a prospective birthday present for her husband. My brother-in-law (Happy Birthday, Will!), is a James Bond fan, and during one of their Christmas blowout sales, Amazon was offering a Blu-Ray box set of the entire Bond franchise for a great price. This was almost exactly the same set (including the packaging) that was released last year except this time it included the most recent Bond film, Skyfall. Amusingly, the previous set was also still available, but was not on sale, which meant on that day you would have paid an additional $75 to not have the most recent film in the series. You’ve gotta REALLY hate Skyfall to do that.

This did get me to thinking, though. Bond has appeared in 23 canonical films, plus two other non-official movies (including the original version of Casino Royale which I’ve never seen but which, according to my mother, was bad enough to convince her not to watch another Bond film for over two decades). That’s a pretty long run. But is it the longest run? I’m going to try to answer that question – what is the longest-running (in terms of the number of installments) franchise in movie history?

Now I’m not going to count things like the endless remakes of A Christmas Carol or The Wizard of Oz, none of which have anything to do with each other. No, a true franchise has to have some sort of official nature to it – the same copyright holder, the same producer, the same continuity, or some scrambled combination thereof. So who are the true long runners?

Man-of-Steel-Flight-Poster-550x801Action movies are the obvious place to start. Die Hard is at five and Rocky made it to six movies, but that’s amateur hour compared to Bond. Not counting old serials or direct-to-DVD animated films, we’ve had six Superman movies (four with Christopher Reeve, one Brandon Routh and one Henry Cavill so far) and eight Batman (one Adam West, two Michael Keaton, one each for Kilmer and Clooney and the Dark Knight Trilogy featuring Christian Bale). However, I think one could convincingly argue that these are different continuities, and therefor different franchises. In fact, Man of Steel is supposed to be the launch point for a DC Cinematic Universe, which will hopefully be a franchise of its own.

Avengers PosterSince we’re talking about the cinematic universes, though, let’s look at Marvel. They’ve had seven movies so far (Iron Man, Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers and Thor: The Dark World), and with the intention of adding two more a year (including scheduled 2014 releases Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy), they could theoretically pass Bond by 2021 or so, depending on how many more Bond movies are made in the interim. Of the other Marvel franchises, those not part of the MCU, the only one close is the X-Men, with six films so far (X-Men, X2: X-Men United, X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men: First Class and The Wolverine) and a seventh (X-Men: Days of Future Past) coming out this year.

Star Trek 2009Again, none of this is getting close to Bond territory. Let’s move on to the world of science fiction. Star Wars has had seven theatrical releases (people often forget, perhaps deliberately, the Star Wars: The Clone Wars movie that preceded the cartoon show), plus two made-for-TV Ewok movies and the staggeringly bad Star Wars Holiday Special. I think we can agree not to count those. Depending on how we want to count the two big 20th Century Fox sci-fi franchises, we may have a winner. Four Alien movies, plus two Alien Vs. Predator movies, plus the Prometheus prequel equals seven. We could theoretically add the three Predator movies as well, though, if we want to count them all as the same continuity. That’s ten. But not so fast! Star Trek moves into the second-highest spot compared to Bond with 12 movies – six featuring the original cast, four with the Next Generation crew and two from the most recent reboot. Still, twelve compared to 23? We can do better than that.

friday01How about horror? Horror franchises go a long way, and now that we’ve reached a point of remaking the originals and making sequels to the remakes, it could go even further. Freddy Krueger starred in six solo films, a film in which he battled Jason Voorhees, and a weak-sauce remake. Not good enough. Jason? He had ten solo movies, the versus film and an adequate remake – twelve. Tied with Star Trek. How about Halloween? Without debating the relative merits of any of those movies, and even if we include the Michael Meyer-less Halloween III and the remake and its sequel, we’re still only at ten. Can nobody approach Bond? Nobody?

Wait a minute, though… we’re forgetting somebody. We’re forgetting somebody big. We’re forgetting somebody really big.

We’re forgetting Godzilla.

Godzilla-King of the MonstersThe King of the Monsters has appeared in three different series of Japanese films, all of which technically have different continuities, but can easily be considered part of the same franchise. The original Godzilla movie was released in 1954, and for the next 21 years the films followed a continuity in which he slowly evolved from an enormous monster to a sort of giant superhero that protected Japan from other enormous monsters. This era, the “Shōwa” period, included fifteen movies all on its own. It’s already taken the number-two spot from Star Trek.

Godzilla returned in 1984 with The Return of Godzilla, which ignored all of the movies after the original and was more sci-fi oriented, digging into the genetic nature of the creature and even giving him an origin. This franchise, known as the Heisei series, lasted for six more films bringing us up to 22, just one short of Bond.

Godzilla 2000But we’re not done yet. Beginning in 1999 we got a series of six movies, collectively known as the “Millennium Series,” which were mostly-self contained. There was little actual continuity between the films, and even Godzilla’s height tended to vary wildly from movie to movie. Still, the films went on until 2004, ending with 28 movies in the “official” Godzilla franchise.

And this is not counting any of the American Godzilla films, which include the 1956 Godzilla: King of the Monsters (made largely from cutting scenes from the original Japanese film with scenes of Raymond Burr reporting on the attacks), the incredibly bad 1998 Roland Emmerich remake (which was actually mocked in one of the installments of the Millennium series), or the upcoming Godzilla film directed by Gareth Edwards, scheduled for release this May, which I’m actually really excited about.

So depending on how you want to count it, Godzilla has racked up either 28 or 31 movies, and even more if you start counting his enemies and allies who went on to star in spin-off films of their own. So there you have it, my friends. Godzilla is not only king of the monsters, but the king of the movie franchise as well.

Snow White and the Seven DwarfsFrozenHmm? The official Disney Animated Canon, which is up to 53 films so far, and which tends to add a new movie every year? Including this year’s Big Hero 6, which is also coincidentally based on a Marvel comic, but is not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? The franchise which gave us the Disney princesses, Winnie-the-Pooh, Wreck-It-Ralph, and the unforgettable drama of Home on the Range? And even though most of them are not, technically, in continuity with one another, they are considered a single collection by fans and cinemaphiles alike?

Geez, could Godzilla really be toppled by a mouse?

Aw, I’ll let you guys fight it out.

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.

What I Watched in… July 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. Man of Steel (2013), A
  2. The Incredibles (2004), A
  3. Independence Day (1996), B+
  4. Brave (2012), A-
  5. Despicable Me (2010), B+
  6. Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1984), B+
  7. Flash Gordon (1980), D
  8. Howard the Duck (1986), D
  9. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), A
  10. Star Wars Vs. Star Trek: The Rivalry Continues (2004), F
  11. Lockout (2012), B-
  12. Q: The Winged Serpent (1982), C-
  13. Warm Bodies (2013), B
  14. Fangs of the Living Dead (1969), D; RiffTrax Riff, B
  15. The Deadly Bees (1967), D+; MST3K Riff, B+
  16. Monsters University (2013), A-
  17. That Guy… Who Was In That thing (2012), B+
  18. Pacific Rim (2012), B+
  19. Peter Pan (1953), B+
  20. The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (2001), B-
  21. Godzilla (1954), B+
  22. Lethal Weapon (1987), B+
  23. Little Shop of Horrors (1986), A-
  24. Cloverfield (2008), B+
  25. Gamera (1965), C; MST3K Riff, A
  26. The Invisible Maniac (1990), F
  27. Gamera Vs. Barugon (1966), D; MST3K Riff, B+
  28. YellowBrickRoad (2010), C-
  29. Gamera Vs. Gaos (1967), D; MST3K Riff, B
  30. Gamera Vs. Guiron (1969), D; MST3K Riff, B+
  31. Gamera Vs. Zigra (1971), C-; MST3K Riff, B
  32. Sharknado (2013), F
  33. Chopping Mall (1986), F
  34. Lilo and Stitch (2002), B+
  35. Lilo and Stitch 2: Stitch has a Glitch (2005), B-
  36. Dave Barry’s Complete Guide to Guys (2005), B-
  37. Little Shop of Horrors (1960), D; RiffTrax, B+
  38. The Rubber Room (2013), B+
  39. The Dark Crystal (1982), B
  40. Dark City (1998), A
  41. Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013), A-

Gut Reactions: Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

74202_10151312194336999_1827486701_nDirector: J.J. Abrams

Writer: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman & Damon Lindeloff

Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Benedict Cumberbatch, Anton Yelchin, Bruce Greenwood, Peter Weller, Alice Eve, Noel Clarke

Plot: Starfleet is rocked by a terrorist attack orchestrated by the mysterious John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch). As he escapes across the galaxy, James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and the crew of the USS Enterprise begin a desperate chase to bring him to justice. And to say anything else would be majorly spoilery, so let’s pretend I’ve recapped the entire movie for a moment and wait until after you see the spoiler line below before I say anything else too specific, shall we?

Thoughts: When J.J. Abrams rebooted the Star Trek franchise in 2009, fans of previous incarnations seemed to fall squarely into one of two camps. On one hand, there were those die-hards who felt like the liberties and changes taken with nearly 50 years of canon went too far to be acceptable and couldn’t find enjoyment in the movie. On the other, there were those who were willing to accept the Abrams Trek as a different continuity, inspired by but not beholden to the original, and were therefore more forgiving of the changes. Although I certainly understand the feelings of those in the first camp, I steadfastly belong to the second. I really enjoyed the 2009 Star Trek, and although I tried to keep my expectations reasonable for the follow-up film Star Trek Into Darkness, upon finally seeing it, I think I liked this one even more.

Some general spoiler-free thoughts before I get into the real hardcore nerd analysis that will scare half of you away. This is most definitely not your classic Star Trek. Not only is the tone very different – more high-octane, rapid-fire action, and while the philosophy is still there it’s much more subtle and hidden under flashy set pieces and a hell of a lot of lens flares – but there are certain things in the film that just wouldn’t work based on the physics of the original series. (For example, it was well established that starships weren’t designed to operate in a planetary atmosphere, let alone go through some of the things we saw in this movie.) I had to make a conscious choice to let go of that sort of thing, because if you can’t, there’s really no chance of enjoying the new series. Having made that choice, though, I’m glad I did, because the spirit of this new Trek is incredibly exciting to me.

Abrams’s version of Trek places its emphasis on action. There are some brilliant sequences here, both in the CGI-heavy outer space arena and in more practical moments of hand-to-hand combat, all of which look good. The cast, once again, is great. Karl Urban has encapsulated DeForest Kelley’s Leonard McCoy in a way that would have been impossible to believe not long ago. Simon Pegg’s Scotty very much has the soul of Jimmy Doohan’s, and brings in some much-needed comic relief during the more serious moments of the film. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto as Kirk and Spock, of course, are still the stars of the series. Each of them has a character that’s more of a tangent to the original than some of the other cast members – you can see the blueprints of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy in their performances, but they’ve been dressed differently. More about that in the spoiler section, though.

Benedict Cumberbatch, the man with the most British name in human history, steps into the villain’s role in this film and really steals the show. There’s a taste of his character from Sherlock here, in that he’s the smartest man in the room and he knows it, but replace Sherlock’s inability to empathize with an innate savagery and deep passion for his people (and hatred of virtually anyone else), and you’ve got someone who is scary as hell. Cumberbatch is not only a lot of fun to watch on screen, but terribly menacing at what he does.

Finally, a word for Michael Giacchino, who in a relatively short time has very much earned a place next to the likes of John Williams and Danny Elfman as one of the great movie composers. Bringing back both the classic Trek theme and the new theme he composed for the 2009 movie, Giacchino’s score fits the action and energy of this movie perfectly. He and Abrams have worked together several times now, on Super 8 and the Mission: Impossible films, plus on the TV show Lost. Add to that an impressive body of work for Pixar, and it has become very easy to put together a playlist of the greatest Giacchino scores ever.

Okay, I’m pretty much itching to get into the spoiler stuff, so those of you who haven’t seen the movie yet may want to head out. In closing, I really liked this movie, but I think a person’s enjoyment of it will depend largely on how they feel about Abrams’s new Trek timeline in general. If you liked the 2009 movie, this one will knock your socks off. If you didn’t, there’s nothing here that will change your mind.

And that’s that. Spoilers begin after the line:

_____________________________________________________________________________________

In Into Darkness, we see an Enterprise crew that has been together for a little while now, but Chris Pine’s Jim Kirk has yet to let go of the wild, rebellious streak that defines him. While there’s something to be said for the character’s daring, he doesn’t know where the line is and he doesn’t understand what he did wrong when he crosses it. In this film, we see a real journey for the character. He sees firsthand what happens when somebody goes too far, and the horrific consequences of someone who isn’t willing to accept responsibility for his actions. Peter Weller’s Admiral Marcus is a nice counterpoint to Kirk in this – although he’s one of the ones who comes down hard on Kirk for breaking the rules early, at the end he becomes a reflection of what might be if an officer is left unchecked. As a result, we’re left with a slightly changed Kirk at the end – not one who will be unwilling to flout the rules for what he feels is right, but one who will be more aware of the consequences of his actions. Pine’s Kirk isn’t Shatner’s Kirk, but the man he is at the beginning of this movie wants to hide breaking the rules, while at the end I believe he will become the man who does the right thing but is willing to take the heat for it (as Shatner’s Kirk did in the original Star Trek III and Star Trek IV).

On the other hand, Zachary Quinto’s Spock has taken a rather wide curve away from Leonard Nimoy’s version, and I somewhat think that may be a direct response to Nimoy’s presence. Although Spock’s struggle between his Vulcan logic and human emotion was always at the forefront of his character, this movie really does show us a greater depth of struggle than Nimoy traditionally had. Quinto’s Nimoy has maintained a romantic relationship with Uhura (Zoe Saldana) for some time now – Nimoy’s Spock never had any such connection – and he makes it explicitly clear during the film that he fights to suppress his emotions. He also fails, and fails big, when Kirk dies saving the Enterprise, blowing up with rage and tearing across San Francisco to take down Cumberbatch’s Khan.

Ah yes, Khan. Let’s talk about Khan, shall we? This is one of those times where I sort of bemoan what the internet has become. While it’s a great communication tool, it can sometimes ruin surprises. From the minute a sequel to the 2009 movie was announced, people started asking “Will it have Khan?” When Benedict Cumberbatch was announced as playing the villain, people asked, “Does he play Khan?” When they said his character’s name was “John Harrison,” people asked, “But he’s really Khan, right?” I can’t blame Abrams and the rest of the cast and crew for lying – there had to be some attempt at surprise – but they were fighting a losing battle from the beginning.

Like the rest of the cast, Cumberbatch’s Khan isn’t quite the same man as the original series Khan. His accent isn’t as ridiculous and he never takes his shirt off to reveal a plastic chest, for example. Also, he’s not as upfront about his intentions as Khan Classic. He’s sneakier, more manipulative, toying with the lives of others to orchestrate events in the direction he wants them to go. In case the dedication at the end of the film doesn’t make it clear enough, this is a Post 9-11 Khan, and in that way, he’s scary. He’s also a lot of fun to watch, tearing through a squad of Klingons almost singlehandedly, and helping Kirk in their freefall through space between the Enterprise and Marcus’s warship.

This film uses Cumberbatch very well, but he’s not nearly the only callback to the original series’ two Khan stories. Technically, this is more analogous to the “Space Seed” episode of the TV show (certainly in terms of timeline), but Abrams and the writers never passed up an opportunity to remind people of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. An early scene has Quinto’s Spock reminding us that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,” for instance, but from there the film pulls a nice switcheroo on us. Instead of Kirk watching helplessly as Spock dies to save the Enterprise, the reverse happens, with Pine’s Kirk dying to save the ship. The death, like everything else in this movie, reminds us of the original but kicks it up with more action and a heavier dose of special effects, but the result is the same: two men on opposite sides of a pane of glass, one of them dying, one of them grieving, both of them admitting to a friendship that stupid male ego or a suppression of emotion has left unspoken until now. Then we get one more callback – Spock borrowing Shatner’s bloodcurdling howl of “KHAAAAAAAAAN!” just before the final action sequence.

There was one more callback worth mentioning: Alice Eve as Carol Marcus. Sure, they tried to pretend she was somebody else when she first showed up (Carol “Wallace,” her mother’s maiden name), but like Cumberbatch as Khan there could never really be any doubt. This is the new timeline equivalent to the mother of Kirk’s son. Unfortunately, she’s one of the few things in the film that’s kind of wasted. She’s there to look hot in short skirts and underwear (which I’m male enough to admit she is very successful at doing), but she adds very little to the story. It’s likely that Abrams is setting her up to play a larger role in the series down the line, which I’m fine with. Considering how he found great moments for virtually every other player – including Scotty, Sulu and Chekov –it’s kind of a shame they couldn’t do the same for her.

The callbacks, by the way, may seem a little silly to some. They may seem a little over the top. They may seem like the filmmakers are winking at the camera. There’s a reason for that: they are. But they’re over the top and winking in a way that’s really acceptable to me. I think they work, and not just because I’m a big nerd and love that sort of thing (although I am). There’s an actual, honest, in-universe excuse for it if you look back at the first movie. Nimoy, as “Spock Prime” (as they’re calling him now) says that the altered timeline is trying to course-correct a little bit. Although there have been irreparable changes to the timestream, like the destruction of Vulcan, the universe itself is trying to adhere to the old timelime as much as it can. That’s the reason the same characters that assembled as the Enterprise crew in the old timeline all happened to wind up on the ship together in the new one as well. If you extrapolate that, it’s easy to explain the renewed conflict with Khan, Kirk’s introduction to Carol, and even Kirk’s death. (Since Spock wasn’t in place to die in this timeline, the universe found a substitute. And as Kirk, like Spock, was going to come back from the dead anyway, that was okay.) It may be more metaphysical than science fictional, but I like the idea of these characters being tied together by fate, bound by destiny. They are, to borrow a word from Stephen King, Ka-Tet, and they will be Ka-Tet in any timeline in which they happen to exist. These people are together because they’re supposed to be. And there’s something a little inspiring and very comforting about that.

So anyway, yeah, I really liked this movie. I can’t wait to see it again. And although I know Abrams might be a little busy soon with that “other” Star franchise, I really hope they find a way to bring him back to the helm of the Enterprise at least one more time.

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!