“BvS: Dawn of Justice” Review

I saw “Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice” last night.

Were the critics right? Well, I could give a short answer, but that would seem very out of character for these write-ups.
I’m not certain what film the critics were watching, frankly. It’s possible that they were expecting something lighthearted and goofy like ‘Guardians of the Galaxy,’ which is a great movie (I thought), but that’s just not the tone of a Batman/Superman film.
The dialogue is great, as is the characterization of the various comic icons that we’re seeing on-screen. The film is pretty dialogue-heavy for the first act or two, which might throw some people off, but…stick around. Trust me.
The film looks fantastic. The visuals are rich, often leaning a little noir (particularly during the Batman segments), with striking detail and bombastic special effects. The costumes are wonderful- I assume you all saw the ‘Dark Knight Returns’-inspired armor that Batman is wearing in the trailer, with the glowing eyes? The clunky style that Frank Miller put onto paper back when he made the comic is transferred onto film with remarkable success.
Hans Zimmer did the score. Hans Zimmer does great scores (apart from whatever was going on with ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2. That was pretty lame.). This film, therefore, has a great score.
The acting is great. I already knew Henry Cavill wore the red cape with pride and power, and the movie hasn’t been made where Jeremy Irons isn’t the best thing ever, but Ben Affleck surprised me by turning in what might very well be the best live-action portrayal of the Dark Knight I’ve seen, though MIchael Keaton may well still be on top there. Jesse Eisenberg played Lex Luthor as a half-cracked eccentric, which was a fresh direction to take the character, and one that I very much appreciated. My favorite performance, though, might actually have to go to Gal Gadot as Diana, who has one reaction during a battle with the (no spoilers here) big bad guy that topped my list of favorite moments during the film- it was a brief, fleeting facial expression that captured the character perfectly and elegantly. Beautiful work by the whole cast.
The action is stellar, once it gets going. I had the same reaction during the fight scenes that I did watching ‘Creed:’ involuntary exclamations whenever a particularly devastating punch lands.
The opening credits are as good as those of ‘Deadpool.’ Not as funny, of course, but simply and elegantly catching the audience up to the backstory of Bruce Wayne, with some truly impressive visuals.
Zack Snyder’s hand is pretty obvious in a few dream scenes, but unlike when such scenes appeared in ‘The Revenant,’ they’re not contrived (they’re representing enormous stress, or possibly a revelation by a third party), and they’re not stupid. Indeed one of them, right in the middle of the film, is going to make the DC nerds really excited, and confuse everyone else until their DC nerd friends explain it to them.
All in all, I’m having trouble understanding what the critics were talking about. This is a buildup movie, sure- like ‘The Avengers,’ only the dialogue is better and the characters aren’t shackled by having to be funny. (I quite like ‘The Avengers,’ but I’ll stand by what I’ve said) And yes, this is a more serious film, but I’m not sure why that’s a strike against it- not every movie is a comedy, and this one in particular would have been weakened, were they to throw more jokes into the script.
It’s beautifully acted, subtly written, and has truly great visual and musical backing. It is one of the greatest superhero films I can remember seeing, and you should definitely go and see it, unless you’re one of those people who hates DC films. In that case, I’d tell you not to hold ‘Green Lantern’ against DC- no one’s holding ‘Fant4stic’ against Marvel.
Go see it. It’s brilliant, and it made me terribly excited for the unfolding DC cinematic universe.

‘Deadpool’ Review

I saw ‘Deadpool’ last night with my good friend Jettsen Keck. Before I go any further, I assume that some of you have seen the notices from Deadpool to children, warning them that this is not a children’s film. He’s right. It’s rated R for a reason, and it’s not a soft R. Don’t bring kids. Language, violence, adult content- the trifecta.
Now that that’s said…if you’re of age, you can handle the above features of a hard R film, and you like a silly action superhero movie, go see ‘Deadpool.’ From the opening credits, I knew I was going to love this film- they’re self-referential and irreverent, and perfectly set the tone for what you’re about to watch.
Ryan Reynolds should enter a contest for smart-alecks. I think he’d win, or at least walk away with the silver or bronze. He is absolutely wonderful as the Merc with the Mouth, and whether he’s being genuinely funny, over-the-top childish, or frighteningly violent, it was a tremendously entertaining performance to watch. The rest of the cast tends to fall to the background, as expected, but did a fine job. My favorites were probably Ed Skrein as the delightfully hate-able Ajax, and Brianna Hildebrand as Negasonic Teenage Warhead (on which point, by the way, I agree with Deadpool when he said that hers was the coolest superhero name ever).
The action scenes are fast-paced and exhilarating, fun and exciting. The scenes are helped along by a truly fantastic soundtrack, including an eclectic mix of tracks from Wham! to DMX, and an original Deadpool rap that was genuinely funny.
Speaking of funny, this is something of a comedy. Comedy’s difficult to judge, as far as its effectiveness goes, because everyone’s threshold for humor is different. I am pretty picky when it comes to my comedies (something that my friend Branden has been quick to bring up when I talk about movies), so I am as surprised as I am pleased to say that I thought that the vast majority of jokes in ‘Deadpool’ were solid hits. Some are worth a half-smile, perhaps, but there were many times that I found myself laughing out loud in the theater. It’s funny. Irreverent and ridiculous, but undeniably funny.
The visuals are crisp and frenetic. The pacing is fast and exciting, splicing the origin story of the title character into a more ‘in the moment’ scene in a way that I thoroughly enjoyed. The action is great. The characters are fun. It’s FUNNY. Go see it.
And make sure you stay til the end. Not only are the ending credits amusing on their own, but Fox seems to have forgotten that this one isn’t a Marvel studios film. It’s good stuff.

’13 Hours’ Review

I saw ’13 Hours’ last night. I know everyone’s probably already seen this one, but I’m still going to do this.
I don’t like Michael Bay much. I thought ‘The Rock’ was an awesome movie, ‘Armageddon’ was flawed, but had good moments…and he’s made other movies, as well. None of those ‘others’ have been more than cheap action schlock, in my opinion. The man has proven time and again that he doesn’t understand comedy, he doesn’t understand subtlety, and he worships the military with an almost fetishistic fanaticism. So, here was a military film from Michael Bay. I approached the theater with trepidation.
First of all, Michael Bay still cannot do subtlety. The quiet moments in-between action scenes are riddled with some pretty sub-standard dialogue, and characters are kind of boiled down into archetypes: the quiet, well-read one, the leader, the new guy, the jokester, and the tough old soldier. The CIA chief, in particular, is an absolute cartoon character, drawn as this incredible bureaucratic blowhard, which I think must be a ploy by the actual CIA to throw people off what they’re really like.
Secondly, Michael Bay still can’t really do comedy. Thankfully, there were far fewer characters like Sam’s parents in the ‘Transformers’ series, but there were still some awkward, cringey attempts at humor that just didn’t work at all. However, we’re dealing with barracks-room soldiers, so barracks-room humor is called for, and sometimes the jokes landed, and were actually entertaining, so he is improving.
My question going in, after having seen the ‘Transformers’ series, ‘Pearl Harbor,’ and the like, was ‘Can Michael Bay make a film in which the American flag is not poignantly destroyed, and then lingered on more than the deaths of actual characters?’ My answer, as far as this film goes, is ‘no, he cannot.’ I don’t feel that I’m spoiling anything by saying that.
However (and this is a big however), whatever the film’s shortcomings, when it wants to be tense and exciting…it can definitely be tense and exciting. The action scenes are great, managing to go from edge-of-your-seat tension to that involuntary grunting noise that (typically) guys make when someone gets hit really hard in a film.
The acting is also pretty solid. Look, I don’t like the characters in ‘The Office.’ I think they fall under either ‘insufferable,’ or ‘boring,’ and John Krasinski’s Jim Halpert was definitely in the latter category. I admit that I blamed my lack of interest in Mr. Krasinski’s lack of talent, but he pulls off a really nice little performance here, tough and compassionate, and he’s only ever really let down by the script.
It’s not a perfect movie. The dialogue is amateurish, the characters can be a little archetypal and over-the-top, but the acting is solid and the action is great. If you’re interested in a pretty good military movie, and don’t mind the truly remarkable amount of bad language, then this isn’t a bad watch at all.

“The Revenant” Review

I saw ‘The Revenant” last night. This might be a long one. No shock there, right?
I like Leonardo DiCaprio just fine. I think he’s a pretty solid actor, and he generally turns in a pretty solid performance. I know everyone thinks he’s been robbed of an Oscar every year ever, but I can’t say that I agree- I think he’s pretty good, and he’s generally beaten out by someone great. That said, he’s the main character of ‘The Revenant,’ and his performance was…pretty good. Sorry. He was perfectly functional, and had some great moments, but it wasn’t a perfect, Oscar-worthy performance. Between the two ‘like Cast Away but in a different setting’ films this year, Matt Damon from ‘The Martian’ delivered, in my opinion, a better performance.

However, this film did have a couple of truly standout actors. Tom Hardy stole almost every scene that he was in- it was truly wonderful to watch, even if you could call his voice ‘redneck Bane.’ My favorite performance from the whole thing, though, was Domhnall Gleeson, as Captain Andrew Henry. He has one scene between him and Will Poulter (who also did a fine job) that was easily my favorite sequence of the film, for its raw emotion.

So, the acting was good, approaching great in several places. So too was the camerawork. This film favored those grand, sweeping shots that you see in nature documentaries, only without the sweep. ‘The Revenant’ was very content to let shots linger, showing us a massive piece of landscape, with a character trudging along in the middle of it, lost in the vastness of their surroundings. It was all very pretty and impressive, particularly the use of light and fog, which allowed for some truly gorgeous shots.

The soundtrack…now that I’m thinking back on it, I can’t remember much of it. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, for two reasons. One, this is the kind of film that benefits from contemplative silence. Two, the one piece of music I do remember was a sudden, heart-rending swell, straight out of a Hallmark movie.

Now we come to the plot, and the scenes in general. Look, ‘The Revenant’ is essentially ‘Cast Away’ meets ‘Hatchet’ (the book about wilderness survival, not the slasher film) meets ‘Kill Bill.’ And that’s fine with me. I like a good survival movie, and I like a good revenge movie, and I really liked ‘Hatchet’ (the book about wilderness survival, not the slasher film). And the parts of the film that are following that storyline are great. The action is intense, watching DiCaprio’s Glass survive is interesting, and the cinematography is really pretty. Unfortunately, this film suffers from several different conditions.

The first is ‘Gladiator’ disease, or possibly ‘Zack Snyder-itis.’ I like ‘Gladiator,’ and I like most of Snyder’s films, but if you’ve seen any of those, I think you’ll know what I’m talking about. The incessant flash-back scenes, shot in a really, REALLY artsy manner, both to generate sympathy for the main character, and to make the movie look really artsy. The difference is that both ‘Gladiator’ and ‘Man of Steel’ show the characters that show up in the artsy flash-backs beforehand, allowing us to know them even a little bit, so that we care about them. In both cases, it shows us what the title character is fighting for. This just wasn’t the case in ‘The Revenant,’ as the character that features most prominently in those scenes has (spoilers, but not really) been dead since well before the movie began, and DiCaprio isn’t fighting for them.

The second condition doesn’t have as pithy a name. It’s something I blame on mainstream drama in general, so I’ll go with ‘TWD-osis’ (that’s ‘The Walking Dead,’ by the way). This basically means that the plot is driven by what will generate the most drama, rather than what makes sense for the scene in question. It’s not a constant issue, and it’s a relatively minor one, but it did happen once or twice, and it was pretty obvious when it did. I think I can probably blame most of these issues on the book, though, as this film is an adaptation.

Thirdly, this movie has chronic B-plot. There is a side story in this film that takes way, WAY too much time out of the main plot. It is actually staggering how pointless the whole thing is, as well- I was waiting for a payoff, something that would make me think, “Oh, that’s why they included this,” but it never happened.

Finally, fatally, this movie was Sundance Syndrome. It’s trying so hard to be an arthouse film that it comes right around and starts being irritating and/or annoying. As an example of each: there is a moment during a flashback scene where the deceased character appears levitating, facedown, above our main character, who is lying on the ground, looking up, and they just stare at each other. I burst out laughing here, because it didn’t look poignant- it looked ridiculous. On a less funny, and more annoying note, there were multiple occasions when DiCaprio’s breath would fog up the camera lens. In an attempt to be more artsy, the film completely pulled me out of its setting. There was nothing nearby that could have been fogging up- he was breathing directly into a camera. These decisions are baffling to me.

I can’t say that the film isn’t good, because it is. It’s got some pretty great acting, some pretty great cinematography, and some pretty great action. But I can say that the film is disappointing, because it is, depressingly so. I wanted so much to love this one, and I just couldn’t. It tried too hard to be too many things, and so none of its many hats are quite the right fit. I’ve said before that a film should be either ‘Interstellar’ (i.e. a work of art, a great film), or ‘Sahara’ (i.e. a lot of fun, a great movie), in order to be good, and that some films can be both. ‘The Revenant’ was suited more for the ‘Sahara’ camp, I think, but it tried far too hard to be ‘Interstellar’ as well, and so it didn’t quite reach either camp. It’s worth watching, particularly if you don’t analyze things as incessantly as I do, but it’s hardly the top film of the year. Well, I mean, it kind of is, since it’s one of the first major releases this year, but you know what I mean.

“Everest” Review

I saw “Everest” last night. 
I’m not really big on disaster films. I find that believable storywriting often takes a backseat to impressive setpieces, and generally excellent actors often turn in lackluster performances on what they know is a quick paycheck of a film. However, having seen films moving in an ‘experience’ direction, with films like “Gravity” and “Interstellar” I was willing to take a chance. 
And I’m glad I did. “Everest” has none of the hallmarks of a ‘disaster’ film- except for the whole ‘disaster’ thing. That part still happens. 
All of the actors did an excellent job. Even actors that have had a reputation as mediocre like Sam Worthington- though I admit I’ve not really thought that; I quite like Worthington- turned in an excellent performance. A large portion of the characters were Kiwis- natives of New Zealand- and I know that not all of the actors were, so their accent work should be commended. Jason Clarke as Rob Hall, the mountain guide, was an excellent ‘wise leader’ type, and Keira Knightley pulls off a really impressively emotional performance as Rob’s wife Jan. Jake Gyllenhaal had an excellent turn as a cocky, adrenaline-junkie mountain guide. My favorite performance probably came from Josh Brolin as Beck, an arrogant Texan, who bordered on parody at times, but since I know Texans who are like that, I’m willing to forgive the man.
Nor, indeed, does ‘the shot’ have mastery over good storytelling. This is helped by the fact that “Everest” is based on a true story, and therefore details can’t be outrageously exaggerated, or they risk offending the families of those who did not survive. Spoilers, I suppose: not everyone in a disaster film gets out alive. Nor, indeed, does everyone who tries to climb Everest.
The cinematography was everything I’d hoped for. There were a few shots that truly had me pressed back into my seat, gripping the arms of my chair. Perhaps this is partly because I saw the film in 3D, which I highly recommend, if you’re not one of those whose stomachs are upset by the effect. The camera often does those grand, sweeping shots, but it was often more impressive when the camera would simply start from a close-up of a character, or a medium shot of the group, and then pan to the side, to show the vastness of their surroundings, and how terrifyingly high they were. There is one shot that involves a character watching a storm approach his position…from below. There is also one sequence with a helicopter near the end that is probably one of my favorite pieces of cinematography that I’ve seen since “Interstellar.”
The soundtrack was very fitting, soaring and calming as the situation required. It added to the scenes without being overt about it, which is the sort of thing one wants in a film like this.
It’s not exactly a heartwarming film, people. (Well, I suppose it’s not much of an anything-‘warming’ film. It’s a bit cold.) Characters will indeed die, and since it’s based on a true story, don’t think that certain characters are safe because of how big-name the star is, or how much screen time they’ve gotten. I’m just warning you- it’s not a happy ending for everyone.
I came out of “Everest” ready to recommend it, and as I type this up, I still am. If you get too nervous with heights, or cold, or bad weather in films, or danger in general, then you might want to give this one a pass. If every film that you go and see must have a happy, sweet ending in order for you to feel that you’ve gotten your money’s worth, then this isn’t for you, either. And finally, if you are easily irritated with the phrase ‘Come on down,’ then I cannot recommend enough that you pass this film by, as they say that quite a few times. Otherwise, give it a shot, make the climb, this film’s the very top…some sort of quippy mountain pun.

“The Martian” Review

I saw ‘The Martian’ today. I know, it’s been out for a while, and I’m sorry, but we’ve had election work to do the past couple of weeks, and also I am in a house with three people and two cars.
First of all, I haven’t read the book. It might be incredible, and it might be dreadful. It might be an awesome adaptation, and it might be the equivalent of M. Night’s ‘The Last Airbender.’ I’ll assume, for the sake of argument, that the film was an excellent adaptation of an excellent piece of literature.
I really, really like the first scene of Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, once he is (spoilers but not really) stranded on Mars. It’s a frantic scene in which he very quickly makes several snap decisions that mean the difference between difficult, painful survival and death, and it really sets him up as a clever, inventive man who is willing to do what it takes to stay alive.
Speaking of Mr. Damon, the acting in the film is pretty great. Matt Damon rarely turns in a bad performance, and this is no exception. He has a lot of ‘by himself’ acting, reminiscent of Tom Hanks in ‘Cast Away’ or, more appropriately, Sandra Bullock in ‘Gravity,’ and he does a nice job with it. He is often sarcastic to the recordings he’s making, and you get a good sense of the kind of man he is, even though he’s not interacting with anyone but himself and the hypothetical viewer of his logs. It is always a good sign to have Jeff Daniels in anything, ever, and he doesn’t disappoint. Chiwetel Ejiofor, whose name I am proud to announce I spelled correctly without having to Google it, serves as a great mediator between Daniels and Sean Bean, who is another delightful presence. All the supporting roles are fairly solid, and fill their roles, with the crew of the spacecraft ‘Hermes’ all delivering very nice performances, particularly Jessica Chastain as the commander, although it’s very, very nice to see that Kate Mara is capable of doing better than ‘Fant4stic.’ 
The cinematography is what you’d expect if you’ve seen either ‘Gravity’ or ‘Interstellar,’ if you dial it down a couple of notches. Most of the film is set on the surface of Mars, which means much more static landscapes, and far fewer Mass Relays. That’s not to say that the film is unappealing visually- far from it; I’m just warning those of you who’ve seen ‘Interstellar’: you’re not getting ‘Interstellar’-level cinematography here.
The soundtrack was an eclectic mix of sweeping orchestral score and added music. Of particular note was their use of Bowie’s ‘Starman,’ which I’m sure was an easy choice, but it is also, evidently, a very nice choice for a montage.
I’d like to take a moment and make a very nerdy comment in the midst of my little write-up here. They make reference to a certain ‘Lord of the Rings’ character and setting in the film (extra points for the scene in which the reference is made being in a conference room and involving Sean Bean), and soon after, I noticed a couple of comparisons between a short scene of Watney musing about his being ‘the first’ to do most things on Mars, and the character of Durin from Tolkien’s works. Perhaps this was an unfounded comparison, made by my subconscious and fanned by my love of things Tolkien, but I found it an interesting moment nonetheless.
I did have a few problems with the film. Perhaps they’re problems from the book, faithfully adapted onto the big screen, but they were problems regardless. A few of the characters, particularly an eccentric scientist played by Donald Glover, were kind of jarringly silly, and it really did pull me out of the moment on a few occasions. Secondly- and I know Brody Ratto has heard this particular criticism too many times from me- the pacing in the film does drag a bit on a couple of occasions, in between the conflicts. It’s not a boring sit by any stretch, but there are a few moments where I feel the film could have benefited by picking up its pace. Finally, and this last one is only a half-criticism, the film fell straight into the twists I predicted…some of the time. There were times, however, where things did not at all go according to my expectations, which is, of course, to the film’s credit.
All in all, I’ll recommend the movie to any fan of a solid science fiction. There is some language, and an emaciated Matt Damon derriere, but so long as you can tolerate that, and have the patience for what can, at times be a somewhat methodical film, it’s a good choice.

As a forewarning to the two or three people reading this who occasionally take my little write-ups as a guide for whether a film is worth seeing or not, I haven’t bought my tickets to see ‘The Force Awakens’ yet, and so my ‘review’ of it will likely go up late. That being said, if you’re waiting on my say-so to decide whether to see the new Star Wars film…don’t do that. Just go see it.

“The Peanuts Movie” Review

I saw ‘The Peanuts Movie’ today. In direct contrast to yesterday’s write-up, I saw this film the very day that it came out. On a Friday. And there were only about twelve children in the theater with their parents. Nobody respects the classics anymore.
Let me start by saying that I’d forgotten that this film was brought to us by Blue Sky Studios, the same company that produces the long-running series ‘Ice Age.’ That fact was smacked into my head before the film began, as there is a several minutes-long short featuring the squirrel Scratt. I recognize that I am no longer an eight year old, and that perhaps the humor of a squirrel partaking in comic shenanigans that were dated forty years ago is not intended to be the sort of humor that impacts me particularly, but impact me it certainly did not, and I found myself hoping desperately that this sort of lazy slapstick wouldn’t find its way into the main film. I’m afraid that it does, but it’s spaced out and, what with the style being so slap-bang and rushed, doesn’t last long when it does show up. It was annoying and jarring, but not enough to ruin the film by itself.
Something strange was up with the eyes of the characters sometimes. They usually went for a black dot, like the classic depictions, but occasionally some of them, especially Snoopy, had the more traditional wide, white eye with a black pupil, and watching eyes change shape like that in a medium that is far more restrictive and realistic-looking than 2D cartoony animation was startling.
The film pays homage to the classic ‘Peanuts’ shorts in the same way that a copy machine pays homage to the original document, and with similar results. There were many moments recreated line-by-line from their original shorts, down to the word and gesture. 
I debated with myself for a moment before I started typing this about whether I should begin with my complaints or my praise, and I thought I should get my complaints out of the way first. That’s all I’ve got. On to the good, then!
The film centers around everyone’s favorite blockhead, Charlie Brown, and the rest of the ‘Peanuts’ gang. If you know the classic shorts, or the comic strip, you know the characters by name and archetype, and the film wastes no time in making sure you remember each character’s gimmick. Schroeder plays piano, Lucy is vain, arrogant, and overbearing, Sally is a flaky idiot, and so on. I apologize to anyone who considers Sally their favorite character, and am deeply sorry for how poor your taste in characters seems to be.
The exceptions to this rule of one-phrase characterization are Linus and Charlie Brown himself. Linus is childish and naive, but also far wiser than he has any right to be. He constantly appraises the world simultaneously through the eyes of a child, and the intellect of a well-versed scholar. If one were to assign Charlie Brown a quick description, the temptation would be to simply say ‘loser,’ or ‘blockhead.’ Indeed, the film tends to agree at the beginning, with Charlie’s bumbling failures taking center stage to everything else. The film is the introduction of a long-running but rarely-seen character in the strips, the otherwise unnamed ‘red-haired girl across the street.’Charlie Brown’s instant childlike adoration of the girl is his driving motivation for everything that he does for the rest of the film. She is endlessly fascinating to him, and a curiosity to the rest of the gang, and the film still manages to make it all the way through without revealing her name.
I should probably get on with technical comments now. The film is, as I said, animated in a more realistic style, but it keeps the artistic aesthetic from Schulz’s original strips, complete with the golf putter-feet and round heads. Overall, I liked the way it looked, though I think I would have enjoyed it more without the darkening tint that comes from the 3D glasses. By the by, you can skip the 3D. It adds very little, and I only chose it because it was my only option.
The music is a blend of pop songs and classic Peanuts. The former is a little off-putting for me, but was, judging by the loud comments from behind me, a hit with the children in the audience. The latter…well, it’s the music of the Peanuts. Anyone who’s ever watched a single short knows the music I mean, and it is hard to pin down why I love it so much, but I do.
The voice acting is, again, an attempt to recreate the style of the original. The only performer I recognized at first glance at the credits was the actress who played the squeaky-voiced female beagle in Snoopy’s daydreams- Kristin Chenoweth, which is incidentally a name I did have to look up in order to spell correctly. It’s a solid effort, with Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty being my favorite performances.
What the film does best, I think, is to highlight who Charlie Brown is. They say it a few times in the film, as it had been said several times in the shorts, and it’s still the case. ‘Good old Charlie Brown,’ they say, and you really do get a sense of the good man Charlie is. It’s a wonderful digression from just making him the loser, or the depressive, or the blockhead. He is all of those things in turn, of course, but that’s not at the core of who he is. The film asks us to recognize greatness in a gesture, even if the greatness comes from an unusual source, or in an unusual way. There is a victory at the end of the film that I won’t spoil. It’s not a huge victory; it’s a small, personal triumph that means very little to anyone except the victor, but to that one soul, such a triumph means the very world. It’s a validation of who you are because what your heart reveals about you, and not because of your failures.
In the end, I can only say that the film is utterly charming. I’m a cynical person by nature, something which can be attested to by anyone who has tried to talk to me about ‘Where the Red Fern Grows.’ I dislike being emotionally manipulated for manipulation’s sake. For all that…I’m not made of stone. There is a part fairly early on where each of the characters, having been identified by their trait, is pulled along the ice on their skates in a pattern, while the Peanuts theme plays, and I admit to having sat there with an enormous grin on my face.
It’s perhaps not the most graceful film, but by its very message, grace in action is far less important than grace in intention. You should definitely check this one out.

“The Last Witchhunter” Review

Well, hey there, and welcome back to ‘Greg Sees Too Many Movies!’
I saw ‘The Last Witchhunter’ today.
This film is in a genre for which I have no quick, pithy name. I’d be forced to describe it as ‘gothic urban fantasy’ if I had to, but that doesn’t quite nail down the feel of the films. If you’ve seen any two or three of the following, however, you’ll know what I’m talking about: ‘Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters,’ ‘Van Helsing,’ ‘I, Frankenstein,’ ‘A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,’ ‘Seventh Son.’ Now, there are those who hate this genre, and I cannot fault them for it. The films often have moments of strange comedy that could be considered tonally jarring when juxtaposed with the more intense action. However, I must place myself in a different camp entirely.
Look, I’m a nerd, alright? I’ve got a Lord of the Rings goblet, I listen to weird bardic music, and I play Dungeons and Dragons weekly. I’m not ashamed to say that sometimes I like a thing because I like the thing, and not because the thing is cool. In this case, I’m aware of the borderline silliness that is inherent in the genre. I know how most of these films are going to go down before I see them. However, I cannot deny that this little niche market is one of my absolute favorite styles of film. I love every film on the list I made above (with the exception of ‘I, Frankenstein,’ which I thought was alright, but not great). If I see that a film looks like it’s following the tropes of the genre, I’ll go and see it. They just rub me the right way, I suppose.
It’s a wonderfully shot film, full of dark and creepy imagery juxtaposed with bright, shining city life or green countryside. There were one or two moments when a long pan caused the scene to blur for a moment, but even then, the pan was a revealing shot, so I believe it was deliberate.
The music was fine work, underscoring the scenes like it was supposed to, without drawing too much attention to itself. The exception was the wicked, languorous cover of ‘Paint it Black’ by an artist named Ciara, which was the credits song at the end of the film, which was very much drawing attention to itself. I loved it.
Vin Diesel plays the lead. Have you seen a Vin Diesel performance that you particularly liked, perhaps Riddick? Then you’ve loosely seen his performance here, but honestly it’s my favorite live-action performance that I’ve seen from Diesel. One of his very first lines, “By iron and fire,” was so well-delivered that I would have had my attention yanked fully to the film, were I not already invested. I knew Rose Leslie from her work in ‘Game of Thrones,’ and liked her more in this than I did in the HBO show. It is, I think, impossible to get a bad performance out of Michael Caine, and so it was with this film- he’s Michael Caine, and is therefore awesome. Elijah Wood is also in the film, and delivers a line that involves the phrase ‘keep it secret.’ I managed with difficulty to not exclaim ‘keep it safe!’
I liked the pacing of the film. It’s a buildup to the fight with the Big Bad, of course, but it had enough restraint to keep the buildup slow, but throw in bursts of excitement when necessary. I would probably have to say that I think the film is quite well constructed.
I left the film with the great desire that it should receive a sequel, because I liked the characters, I liked the world they’d set up, and I liked the setup at the end of the film. I was gratified to learn that Vin Diesel, who is also a producer, has already made plans for such a sequel in spite of the poor reviews of the first film. Hurrah for the artist, driven to make what they want to make in spite of criticism.
There is one fantastic, jarringly out of place D&D reference made by Diesel’s character in the film, involving the phrase ’13th level,’ which is never brought up again, and which I am certain Mr. Diesel threw in because he, like me, is an enormous nerd.
I’m not sure how best to rate this film. It’s a niche film for a niche market. If you’re one of the strange folks who really loves these films, you’ll love it. If you absolutely hate these films, you’ll hate it, and also you are a stick in the mud. For everyone else, I have a way that may help you gauge your interest in this film.
I’ve said before that enjoyable films fall into two categories: ‘Interstellar’ and ‘Sahara.’ The former is an unquestioned work of art, finely sculpted and beautifully subtle and majestic. The later is a well-constructed bit of fun. If your film doesn’t have what it takes to be ‘Interstellar,’ that’s all well and good. It doesn’t have to be a pristine work of art, but if it’s not, it should be fun. ‘The Last Witchhunter’ is definitely in the ‘Sahara’ camp. It’s not a brilliant work of art. It’s not a staggeringly impressive new story. It is, however, a tightly-constructed, well-presented gothic fantasy, and I loved it tremendously.

“Bridge of Spies” Review

So, you know that spy movie that came out more than a month ago? Well, I saw that movie- ‘Bridge of Spies’ today. 
I’m not sure what I can add that hasn’t already been said. I didn’t know going in that this was a Spielberg film- not sure how I missed it, but I didn’t know- but I could tell pretty quickly. The Spielberg musical cue is pretty obvious- when one character sees another, and has a swell of positive emotion, there is an accompanying swell in the score. It’s classic, it’s timeless, and it’s very indicative of Spielberg’s hand, even if he’s not the composer.
What did I think of the actual movie, then? Well, to my shame, I didn’t recognize Mark Rylance as the alleged spy Rudolf Abel, and so of the cast I recognized only Tom Hanks. Fortunately for the movie, I’m not sure that a finer leading man than Tom Hanks currently lives and works. His turn as Jim Donovan was a beautiful performance, complicated, sympathetic, funny and commanding. Hanks is always a joy to watch, and this was no exception- in fact, I’ve yet to find such an exception, and if someone knows of one, I’d prefer they keep it to themselves. The rest of the cast performed very well, including the aforementioned Mark Rylance, who kept a cool serenity throughout the film that was so remarkable as to have been remarked upon by Hank’s character more than once.
The story follows Donovan pretty much exclusively, save for brief cutaways to other locations, and that’s fine. There are moments when characters are speaking other languages, and no subtitles are provided, and that’s fine. Donovan’s confusion is our confusion, and his feeling of isolation is ours to share. The few action scenes that occur are brief and serviceable, nothing fancy except for one sequence which I won’t spoil, but was a nice bit of stuntwork and special effects. You really get a sense of what kind of a man Donovan is as the film goes on, and that’s the best kind of character study- one that reveals more of its truth as it goes on, rather than showing its hand from the outset.
The real beauty in this movie, I think, is the cinematography, and the direction- hardly a surprise, since this was brought to us by Steven Spielberg. My favorite moment in the whole movie was a single cut between two shots, both involving people standing to show respect. It seems simple, and probably is, but the execution was so slick and professional that it lingers as my single favorite moment. There are shots in the film that are allowed to hang for a time, lending the film a ponderous nature which might turn some viewers off, but which I enjoyed thoroughly.
Speaking of ponderous, this isn’t a particularly fast-paced film. We’re watching events unfold as they unfold for Donovan, and his is not a quick slam-bang mission. Not all spy work is a James Bond film- or a Jason Bourne film, if the latest iteration of Bond has anything to say for itself- and scenes are slow and dialogue-heavy. Tension exists throughout most of the film, but it’s subdued and almost lost in the background- but only almost. There is a sense of unease about the whole film that I think neatly encapsulates the attitudes that possessed the nations on both sides of the Cold War.
Look, the movie released in mid October. If you were going to see it, I’m sure you already have. If, for some reason, you were thinking about it, and you know of a theatre nearby that’s still showing it, but you haven’t gone, and you’re not turned off by a more sedately-paced film, then you now have my hearty recommendation to go and see it. Tom Hanks is the man, and he’s always worth watching.
As a final thought, this has made me even more excited to watch ‘Trumbo,’ and I wasn’t even sure that was possible.

“Mockingjay Part 2” Review

I saw ‘Mockingjay: Part 2’ today, or as it would be more aptly entitled, ‘Climax and Conclusion: The Young Adult Film.’ Let me say, before I go any further, that I have seen only one Hunger Games film, and it was the first one, when it first came out on DVD. I have also only read one of the books, which was also the first one, and I read that right before I saw the film. I was caught up to the events of this film in a frenzied, rushed recap by my sister on the way to the theatre. Hunger Games fans, know that I’m going into this one with very little personal history with the source material.
The score for this film is gorgeous. It’s sweeping, exhilarating, calming, and heartbreaking, and complements every scene. It is easily the best part of the film. 
There is an action sequence that spans several scenes that is fast-paced to the point of being frantic. It’s chaotic, intense, and very rarely lets up. It doesn’t take enough of a breath to allow the audience to do the same, and the result is very exciting.
Josh Hutcherson and Woody Harrelson were quite good.
That’s the good. On to the rest.
I do not have a memory of the last time I watched a movie that was this painfully easy to predict. Nearly every single scene has several moments that are foreshadowed to such a degree as to be impossible to ignore. There is no subtlety to be found here. There are moments when a character’s lines, the shots in the scene, and, of course, the soundtrack make it painfully obvious what is about to happen. The ultimate ‘twist’ of the film became very clear during the first full scene with the character who is the focus of said ‘twist,’ and some exaggerated touchy-feely nonsense in the TRAILER foreshadows a bad thing that happens in the film (I won’t spoil it, for the sake of fairness, but it wasn’t subtle.).
The score has to do most of the acting in the scenes. Not to hate on Jennifer Lawrence- I’m sure she’s great, and everyone loves her- but her dialogue is not cleverly written, and she is very difficult to connect with. She comes off as kind of a jerk, actually, and a mindless pawn of people playing a game that she doesn’t understand. I was under the impression that she was supposed to be a strong female character, but from what I saw she really is little more than a Bella Swan with a fresh coat of paint and a bow and arrow.
The camerawork is nice, if melodramatic, apart from the sequences of shot/reverse shot that seemed more at home in the Star Wars prequels.
Look, I’m well aware that I came into this with an outsider’s perspective. I don’t care about the books, and I don’t particularly care about the films, but I was something of a blank slate coming into this film, ready for the story to imprint itself upon me, and leave a great impression. Instead, I am left with a notion of confusion as to why this series is considered the mold from which all of the other Young Adult post-apocalyptic dystopian future novels are wrought, and not simply one of the faces in a crowd of boring, safe writing designed to cater to the overly-emotional minds of young teenagers, which is what it truly appears to be.