Category Archives: Movies

Go See Guardians of the Galaxy


GotGBudge and I went with Deuce, Cameron, and the kids to see Guardians of the Galaxy tonight. Since Sunday is our 18th anniversary, we decided to make it our “anniversary date.” All told, it turned out great. Guardians may very well be one of my favorite movies ever. What made this movie so special is it grabbed me by the feels in the opening scene and for the next two hours and change, it did something only a tiny cluster of movies have ever done — it made me forget.

I am a worrier. My therapist says it’s difficult to help someone like me raised with worrying about everything as a family value, but it’s what I am — except during this movie. For the entire film, I forgot about bills I can’t pay, money I don’t have, sick family, the national debt, and impending asteroid crashes. Unless your entire waking life is spent in a miasma of varying strengths of fear, I can’t really describe what it feels like for the lights to come up and you realize you haven’t thought about anything for the last two hours. If the movie did nothing else for me, it gave me two hours of peace and tranquility and, folks, that doesn’t happen much.

I may get some disagreement on this one, but I liked the movie as much or more than Avengers. For one, the creative team managed to build a team with real chemistry and fairly complete backstories on the fly. In contrast, before we watched the splendor which was Avengers, we saw Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor, Iron Man I & II, and The Incredible Hulk. That’s around eleven hours, give or take, of character building. Guardians managed to accomplish the same thing in just over two hours.

Another reason I feel this film is superior to several other Marvel Studio films is it was cut from whole cloth. Everyone knows who Spiderman and The Hulk , a great number of people know Captain America and Iron Man, and Thor is pretty well known too, even if only as a lesson from Norse mythology. I would submit to you, however, that few outside the brotherhood of hardcore comic geeks had the foggiest idea who Star Lord, Gamora, Rocket Raccoon, Dax, and — not to be forgotten — GROOT were. These are characters from the B and C list of the Marvel Universe, but after this fantastic film, I doubt they’ll be also-rans for long.

None of these characters is invincible or irreplaceable. You KNEW no matter what happened, Steve Rogers wasn’t going to die in his eponymous movie. It was the same with Tony Stark  and Peter Parker, but in Guardians of the Galaxy, you really didn’t know going in who was coming out the other side. As viewers, we could form real attachments to these unlikely heroes only to see them in real peril and realize our favorite person . . . or rodent . . . might actually die. It was almost as bad as watching an episode of Game of Thrones.

All hyperbole aside, this is a movie to drop the money on. It’s big, it doesn’t drag, exposition takes place as we move along. In short, the writers follow the oldest rule in writing for page or screen: “SHOW us; don’t just TELL us!” Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that the soundtrack is full of songs I loved as a kid. I mean, come on, who can’t fall in love with a movie that features “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” in the midst of a crucial action scene? That’s solid gold stuff right there. Easily my favorite movie this year and depending on how The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies turns out, it may still be my favorite on New Year’s Eve.

Go watch it and see if it makes you forget, too! Love y’all, and keep those feet clean.

The Last First Episode Is Coming


Star-Wars-Episode-7-VII-LogoA long time ago at a drive-in theater long since buried under an I-85 interchange, a great adventure took place. It was the summer of 1977 and I sat on the roof of Mama’s 1973 Pontiac Grand Prix hugging a speaker and watching the huge Imperial Star Destroyer Devastator inexorably close in on the tiny, defenseless Tantive IV. Three years later, Daddy and Teresa took me to the now defunct Astro Twin on Pleasantburg Drive where I watched Luke Skywalker battle the evil Darth Vader right before the greatest plot twist surprise in cinema history. Then, as a high school freshman, Robby and I sat in the — once again, defunct — Oaks Theater in Laurens to see Luke reunited with his friends amidst a sea of dancing teddy bears.

Star Wars played a MONUMENTAL role in my childhood and the childhoods of a big chunk of my generation. To give you an idea of just what a cultural touchstone those films are to Gen-Xers everywhere, when I called one of my college roommates to tell him I was marrying a girl born in 1978, the first thought out of his mouth was not “Congratulations” or anything like it. Instead, Chris Hoppe shouted at me, “1978! Good God, Wham! She’s never seen Star Wars at the movie theater!” He was right, of course, so as soon as Budge and I left the theater in the summer of 1997 after watching the re-release of Star Wars: A New Hope, I called him up to let him know my beloved was now bona fide.

Now, if George Lucas had possessed the sense to get a prenuptial agreement with his wife, the Star Wars universe would probably have remained the exclusive unsullied cultural icon for Generation X. Unfortunately, the erstwhile Mrs. Lucas took ol’ George to the cleaners financially leaving him in relatively bad straits — no small feat to nearly bankrupt a man responsible of Luke Skywalker AND Indiana Jones. So, rumors started flying around the newly-burgeoning internet about something none of us Baby Boomer Babies ever dreamed we’d live to see — George Lucas was going to MAKE THE PREQUELS!!

Whatsa pissa poopsa!

Whatsa pissa poopsa!

So it was I sat in Theater 6 of The Hollywood 20 Theater with Budge on May 19, 1999 and watched the familiar opening crawl wind its way up the screen. I was more excited about a movie than I’d ever been or ever would be . . . at least until 2001 when I waited in line for hours to get tickets to Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. I quickly lost myself in the film’s first fifteen minutes; I was a kid again on the roof of that ’73 Grand Prix. Then, out of the murky green depths of one of the many planets in the Star Wars universe, disaster overtook my beloved franchise. Jar-Jar Binks appeared on the screen. Since Jar-Jar hate is widely documented, I’m not going to waste your time adding my opinions, but let’s just say, when it comes to all the negative things said about the bumbling Gungan, “I concur and then some.” I was delighted and crushed when the movie ended — delighted it was finally over and crushed that I’d waited 22 years for such a turd to plop onto my lovely memories.

After Phantom Menace, I realized Lucas was just going for money so I didn’t bother to see Attack of the Clones or Revenge of the Sith. I figured it would be a waste of time. In all honesty, I do wish I’d seen RotS on the big screen though, just to see the climactic fight on Mustafar between Obi-Wan and Anakin, but since that’s the only part of the movie I care anything about, I’ve just learned to content myself with YouTube. As a side note, if the prequels hadn’t shown Lucas’ money-making bias, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull proved to me he had completely blown up the refrigerator.

The cast . . .

The cast . . .

Well, Lucas sold the beloved space opera franchise to the ONE entity more concerned with money than he is — Disney. Less than a year after the sale, The Mouse has announced Episodes VII, VIII, and IX are in the works with Episode VII to be released next year, probably around Christmas. Today, the official casting announcements came out. The good news is Han, Luke, and Leia are all back aboard although I wonder if Harrison Ford will live long enough to finish all three films. The bad news is JJ Abrams is directing and co-producing Episode VII. So, this movie could be absolutely amazing with incredible visual effects and only slightly less boom and bang than a Michael Bay CGI-fest OR we could end up at the end of Episode IX discovering the entire nine film series actually took place in the imagination of some homeless Earth kid playing with broken action figures someone left lying in the park. To anyone who thinks I’m being silly and overreacting I can only reply with two words: Lost finale.

Hopefully though, the number of original cast members along with the addition of Gollum will pull the final three movies in the Star Wars nonology through. At least John Williams is doing the scores!

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

This is NOT a Movie


enders_game_ver12Budge and I went to see Ender’s Game Saturday afternoon. I read the book eons ago and Budge knew enough that we both expected the “twist” at the end. I sat through the movie, which was beautifully shot and orchestrated, but after it ended, Budge and I walked back to the car in depressed silence.

This movie is not — let me repeat that to be clear — NOT a faithful representation of the source material in Orson Scott Card’s novel. What it is, and in spades I’ll add, is a blatant and scathing indictment of America’s actions towards foreign countries over the last two Presidential administrations.

It doesn’t bother me that the movie could have been a Michael Moore rag; what bothers me is how spot on it was in its satire in places AND how simple it was for me and Budge (who abhors politics) to pick out the director’s theme.

I don’t usually put spoilers in my movie posts, but I’m making an exception in this one, so if you’re planning to see it 1) don’t say I didn’t warn you and 2) don’t read any further down this post.

In the BOOK, Earth is attacked TWICE by “Buggers” who show every intention of returning again, which establishes a pretty good case for some type of preemptive action on the three NATIONS of the Earth. The BOOK has two important sub-plots that involve Ender Wiggins’ psychopathic brother Peter and his beloved sister Valentine. In the BOOK, we look like a species trying to defend ourselves from another eminent attack from space.

In the MOVIE, we look like bullying, Nazi-esque douchebags.

Our planet is attacked one time. The “Buggers” show no sign of coming back, propaganda to the contrary, and the globe is depicted as a single New World Order type unified one-nation entity, thereby discarding the three warring “mega-nations” that gave purpose and tension to the novel. The book is subtle in it’s Cold War political message; the movie isn’t subtle at all. Instead, the movie invokes the old saw that, “If the only tool in your box is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Children are taken from their homes at ridiculously tender ages and sent to “Battle School” where they are pitted against each other in a series of Darwinian tasks that make The Hunger Games look like an afternoon of croquet.

The book has those elements as well, BUT in the movie, everything is stripped down. NO allowance is made for the fact THESE ARE CHILDREN, and in the end, one of those children — the eponymous main character — becomes the architect and executor of a genocide Hitler, Stalin, and Mao couldn’t have imagined in their collectively most coked out acid trips. In the movie, our wonderfully united species spends 50 years building a space-faring fleet with one purpose in mind — eradicating the “Buggers.” We don’t try to communicate with them because the bodies we discovered after the “invasion” show no vocal cords so naturally a species capable of interstellar flight couldn’t POSSIBLY have some other way of communication than spoken words.

Nope, they are different from us, they apparently don’t like us — but we don’t bother to ask them, so obviously, we have to kill every single one of them in order for our world to be safe. Does any of this sound the slightest bit familiar? If it doesn’t, turn off Rush Limburger and Sean Hennessy and think about it for a minute. If you do, you’ll see it’s a perfect picture of American foreign policy for the last 12 years.

The USA was attacked on 9-11-2001 by elements of Al-Qaeda under the influence and command of Osama Bin Laden. Quite predictably — and I think appropriately — we flipped our collective lids and beat our pruning hooks into swords overnight. All of our intelligence, indeed all of the WORLD’S intelligence, pointed to Bin Laden hiding out in the mountainous border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan. So, with revenge on our minds, we gear up for a massive beat-down such as the world has never seen. We load up the transports and carriers with men and weapons and we head across the waters to kick the everloving sh . . . I mean poop out of — wait for it — IRAQ!?

W.T.F? Bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda people are in Afghanistan / Pakistan. Why are we invading Iraq? Bin Laden is not in Iraq. Bin Laden is in Afghanistan / Pakistan somewhere. Yet for reasons NO ONE can adequately explain, we roll in to a sovereign nation, shoot the place up, destabilize the entire region, and ultimately kill Bin Laden? NO. BECAUSE BIN LADEN ISN’T IN IRAQ!! No, we kill Saddam Hussein, who, yes, is a raging asshole who killed his own people (with a lot of weapons he got from us in America) and turned the country from something resembling a nation into a festering bed of warring sects who hate each other AND, incidentally, HATE US TOO.

Only after we tidy up the loose ends that Dubya’s daddy left hanging in the family closet do we go flounder around in the deserts and badlands of Afghanistan for ten years and finally manage to kill the ONE GUY we’ve been looking for as he was kicked back and relaxing in our supposed “ally’s” backyard.

The 9/11 attacks changed everything. I know that. I sat and bawled like a baby for six hours watching the news after I got home from teaching classes that day. Unfortunately, they destroyed our country and no one seems to mind. The best estimate I can find is 2,996 people died in the attacks. In the Iraq War that followed — tell me why did that happen again — 4,486 American soldiers died. That doesn’t include the 100,000 Iraqi civilians killed because when everyone looks the same and there is no real front line, you kill them all and let God and Allah fight it out.

Despite all those casualties, the worst face of the Iraq War / “Global War on Terror” is the face of the soldiers who are coming home. It’s bad enough for our regular forces to have to face combat, but so many of the troops who’ve fought this war AREN’T regular forces. They’re National Guard troops who signed up for some extra money and to help fill sandbags during floods or look for missing people during a hurricane. They were never trained to go to a foreign country, meet interesting people, and kill them.

Now they are back and they are broken inside and from what I can see, no one gives a really good damn about it. THAT is what saddens me most about what our country has become and that is what’s brought to the fore so painfully in this mockery of Ender’s Game: the movie. One line in the movie says it best of all. The psych officer is confronting the main training colonel about his harsh training tactics and the line she delivers is one for the ages:

“You are turning these children into KILLERS and when it’s over and they finally get to come home you want ME to try to fix them. Well, they can’t BE FIXED!”

I lost my daddy in Vietnam . . . another war eerily similar to the Iraq War. Oh, he’s alive and probably sitting in his recliner watching westerns on tv as I’m writing this, but he went to Vietnam a 19 year old kid from Fountain Inn, SC who’d never been on a plane and he came back 13 months later and 100 years older. I never got the chance to know the man my mama and Granny Wham talked about.

And now, it’s happening again.

Love y’all. Keep your feet clean and I’m sorry I don’t know the answers or what else to say.

Don’t Do Number 2 During World War Z

Very good book that is NOT transferred to the big screen totally.

Very good book that is NOT transferred to the big screen totally.

World War Z is a suspenseful action movie pitting Brad Pitt as a smart ex-UN operative against a planet killing zombie apocalypse. Oh, and these aren’t your parents’ shuffling, slow, and dim-witted undead. These are leaner, meaner, and — most frightening — faster zombies who “turn” within seconds of being “infected,”  run in groups, which turn in to packs, which grow in to hordes, which are basically city-spanning swirling fuzzballs of toothy, decaying death drawn to anything living and seemingly tasked with ONE major function — eating people’s faces off.

Now, let me tell you what happened to me when I saw World War Z yesterday afternoon.

Budge and I went to see WWZ  with Deuce, Cam, and Jake after a big Mexican meal at El Tejanos. Three fourths into the movie, the salsa and nacho cheese demanded my immediate attention. So, I did the “Cornholio walk” from theater 13 to the opposite end of the multiplex where the little boy’s room resides at The Simpsonville Regal 14. Sitting pondering the lack of interesting graffiti to read, I suddenly noticed the silence.  JUST like in the movie before a zombie ate someone’s face off.

I found the stillness unnerving. Anyone acquainted with me can tell I am extremely high-strung and jumpy. I make coffee nervous. Put me on a bomb squad; we all die. Mama used to wake me by throwing things at me to avoid my blind flailing. If I hadn’t been so enamored with the World War Z novel, I wouldn’t even be in the same building as a zombie flick. I don’t do suspense or horror movies. They tear my stomach up, and my fits are dangerous to bystanders.

Also very good, but in another way entirely.

Also very good, but in another way entirely.

I sat freaking myself out when I heard the water slowly dripping. JUST like in the movie before a zombie ate someone’s face off. Now I shift into turbo-hypermatic nervous mode. I managed to finish the business at hand, rearranged my attire and headed for the door, BUT like a good little boy, I stopped to wash my hands because you never know if something from the toilet will mutate into a pathogen which will spark the zombie apocalypse. So I’m trying to wash my hands, but they are shaking so badly the water kept missing them. Finally, les mains passably clean, I looked up at which point shtuff got real!

A wall to wall mirror adorns the wall in front of the sinks in the men’s room of the Regal. Now, I’m already on uber hair-trigger when I glance up and this random guy just APPEARS in the doorway. JUST like in the movie before a zombie ate someone’s face off. One second I’m in a terrified state trying my darndest to get clean and get out; the next, I’m face to face with someone about to eat my face off.

I like to think of myself as a warrior. I have guns. I’ve shot at people . . . in video games, but still. I believe I’ll be a man of action if the proverbial “S” ever “HTF.” Since I carry myself like such a badass at all times, I whirled to face this threat and — just as ancient martial arts texts teach — screamed like an eleven year old girl at a One Direction concert. I caught myself before hurling the only weapon I had — my Galaxy S3 — at dude’s head. Incidents like this are one reason Budge is foursquare against me ever getting my concealed carry permit.

I think the poor guy soiled himself.

I pulled myself together sufficiently for a quick “bro-ish” nod before squeaking, “World War Z, Man. Zombies. Thought you were going to eat my face off.” He treated me like we teach children to treat people driving nondescript white vans and offering free candy to “just come inside.” Fully deserving “The Cone of Shame,” I stumbled out of the men’s room and back to my seat just in time for the last of the movie with my face (if not my dignity) intact.

On the plus side, I can still go to that movie theater.

I loved the book, and I really enjoyed the movie — at least what I saw through the fingers I was constantly throwing in front of my face whenever someone was about to get his face eaten off. If you’ve read the book, you do need to understand one important thing: they DID NOT bring the book to life on the big screen. The book is a well done faux non-fictional account of “The Zombie War” told in a series of interviews with various survivors. The MOVIE is about what was going on BEFORE anyone had time to worry about interviews because they were too occupied with keeping their faces from being eaten off. This is one instance of a book appearing on film where I really feel no comparison for good or bad need be made. Each is an enjoyable escapism fodder in its own right. If you read Pat Conroy’s The Prince of Tides then saw the Nick Nolte and Barbara Streisand movie made from the book, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

The bottom line is, if you liked the book, the movie is different but enjoyable fun; just don’t go looking to see an exact transfer from one medium to another. Besides, if you stop to think about it, a movie of a guy doing interview after interview would eventually get boring. I liked the movie and I typically avoid any HINT of “horror” like a tax audit.

Love y’all, and keep those feet clean.

Into Darkness Movie Review


spock-lavaI’m going to keep the review part of this entry short — I enjoyed the movie. It helped put a good spin on a really crappy day and that means at least a full star improvement for any movie (except Prospero’s Books which nothing will ever improve) in my estimation.  It included a predictable amount of J.J. Abrams’ penchant for thinly veiled political commentary and not so thinly veiled (or always successful) plot twists. It was an action flick and not an Oscar vehicle.

As far as the plot itself, allow me to introduce you non-liberal arts majors to a new term — deus ex machina. That’s a cool little Latin phrase English teachers like to bandy about that means “god in the machine.” I’ll let you Google up the etymology of the term, but writers use a deus ex machina for one reason — they’ve written themselves into a corner and the characters everyone loves are all going to die, so something intervenes that saves the day. If you think about every time an Eagle shows up in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, you’ll grasp the concept quite well. If you need a “negative example,” think about the entire Song of Fire and Ice series because George Martin not only refuses to use any plot contrivances to rescue a fan favorite character, but actually seems to delight in making sure anyone likeable and “favorite-worthy” gets killed off in some heinous way just as soon as the reader (or viewer for those with HBO) starts to invest a tremendous amount of care and emotion into someone on the page or screen.

But I digress.

The movie was entertaining and I had no idea who the main villain was or where he came from so when we discovered his identity it was a little shocking and quite cool. I like the “kinder, gentler” Spock who is not afraid to love Uhura even though his Vulcan logic and Stoicism presents a few problems for the couple. Christopher Pine has out-Shatner-ed William Shatner in my opinion and the new Scotty is my personal favorite character. He also has what I think are the two best lines in the movie: “You’ll never guess what I found behind Jupiter” and “I’m off the ship ONE BLOODY DAY and look what happens!”

So go see it. It’s worth the money, but if you are a Trekkie, you’ve already been there so this is redundant which means I will now switch to what I REALLY wanted to talk about — will there be another Star Trek movie? Even as we were leaving the theater, people around us were already speculating whether or not a third episode of the retcon would get the green light from Hollywood. To those people I can only reply, “Does a one-legged duck swim in a circle?”

Of course they’ll make another one!

As for why, it’s disgustingly simple — Star Trek is the charter member of the “Pointy Eared Dress Up Movie Club.” Let me elaborate.  In Star Trek, Spock and the other Vulcans have pointy ears; in Star Wars, Yoda and his Whill brethren have pointy ears; Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit  have pointy eared elves; the house elves of Harry Potter are pointy eared; and the Quileute shapeshifters in the Twilight saga possess pointy pinnas.

What do all five of these film franchises have in common? Costumed fanboys (and fangirls). These fans don’t just dress up in the privacy of their own homes. They don’t just bust out Yeoman Rand or Arwen for Halloween either. No, these are grown-assed men and women who will don robes, capes, fake uniforms costing hundreds of dollars, and — most importantly — pointed ear prostheses and go out to a movie theater to stand in line, buy a ticket, and sit through the movie. If you can get grown people who would generally have a little lower embarrassment threshold to go out in public carrying a reproduction lightsaber, phaser rifle, or Elven longsword, you have basically found a legal way to print money As long as the studios will make these movies, they will sell out left and right until these huge fanbases die outright or are too frail to get out of the nursing homes.take my money

The great thing from the studio’s point of view is the movies don’t even have to be GOOD! In fact, I could argue that the movies in these franchises that have the best attendance are some of the worst movies in the series because the fanboys will go see those horrible movies more than once just so they can nit-pick all the “non-canon” scenes and gripe to their friends about how the newest installment of their favorite series has irrevocably RUINED the material because the director had the unmitigated gall to make some obscure character’s hair red when THE BOOK CLEARLY STATES IT WAS BLONDE!!

I remember when Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered and every Trekkie I knew at the time was absolutely apoplectic with rage that the bridge crew wore RED SHIRTS!! Didn’t the morons know in Trek-speak Red Shirt = sudden bloody and violent death? I went to college with two of them and either one would shoot you with his reproduction Stormtrooper laser cannon if you dared speak during an episode on Sunday night even though they would spend the hour afterwards almost in tears at how the evil corporate studios savaged their beloved franchise. I can’t tell you how many Star Wars fans I’ve heard who seem to be on the brink of suicide because Lucas sold his film company for several gajillion dollars to Disney and now Disney is going to, “pump out tons of stupid stand alone movies that don’t respect the canon universe at all!” I bet ever one of those movies will be a sell out though.

Printing. Money.

So see the movie and wave to everyone dressed up because you just might work with them . . . or for them!

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

Avengers Assemble!


If you are wondering whether or not to see The Avengers, whether or not the movie could possibly live up to the hype, wonder no more. Go see the freaking movie as soon as you finish reading this review because it ROCKS.

If you look at it logically, how could this movie NOT rock? You have a demi-god, a living legend (who does an awesome job holding up the legend part), a brilliant doctor with a massive anger management problem, the world’s greatest archer (sorry DC and Green Arrow), the world’s greatest spy, AND the icing on the cake — a billionaire philanthropist playboy genius inventor who happens to own some really cool suits of armor.

Not impressed? How about Samuel L. Jackson? In a freaking EYEPATCH! Yes! Jules Winnfield / Jedi Master Mace Windu is the man behind getting this superhero buffet together.

Oh, before I forget, one other thing.  Joss Whedon wrote the script and directed the movie. What’s that? You don’t know who Joss Whedon is? Crap, dude, you live under a rock? He’s ONLY a guy who “plain and simple wakes up in the morning to piss excellence” — to paraphrase Ricky Bobby. I mean, come on, the guy made a hugely successful and long running TV show out of a vampire chasing cheerleader. If he can turn that chicken sh. . . . um feathers, yeah, chicken feathers (sorry mama) premise into chicken salad, how could a fanboy like him miss with the kind of material The Avengers bring to the table?

Seriously, the script is very well written. The first half of the movie gets everyone in place without resorting to an over abundance of deus ex machina and the second half of the film lets the newly assembled, torn apart, and reassembled-with-resolute-purpose team loose to take care of the bad guys. The pacing just doesn’t lag. You aren’t sitting in the seats going “When is something important going to happen?” Important stuff is happening all the time, but in an easily followed fashion . . . . sort of like — and I’m really going fishing here — A COMIC BOOK!

What makes this movie work is it never takes itself too seriously. This is a fantastic action film that will make everyone involved with it a tandem-axle dump truck load of money. It is NOT an Oscar vehicle. The witty one-liners and sight gags abound, but they aren’t all dumped on one character. Everyone has a great line or scene or two — even the guy playing Galaga on his terminal while the SHIELD ship is under attack.

With all the huge stars in this film the potential for someone to want to hog the screen had to be overbearing, but everyone gets plenty of screen time. That brings up another point of excellence in the movie — all the casting was spot on. I think casting Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark / Iron Man is probably the most underrated but important move a director has made since someone picked a collie to play Lassie. Downey IS Tony Stark. He doesn’t even have to act. Mark Ruffalo, meanwhile, is the best Dr. David Banner since Bill Bixby famously said, “Don’t make me angry, sir. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry!”  Jeremy Renner and the ever lovely ScarJo play their roles as physically perfect but non-superpowered members of the team to perfection as well. One piece of bad news though, girls, Chris Helmsworth / Thor never takes his shirt off in this film. In short, it’s an ensemble cast of established and rising starts who interact extremely well and make the movie a huge success and a ton of fun to watch.

Watching the movie is like reading a comic book complete with the same breathlessness and desire to turn the page. It also stays in the ballpark with established comic book canon. Not every little detail matches up, but enough stays behind from the Lee and Kirby days to make us purists happy. All in all, The Avengers gives viewers all the excitement and value for our entertainment dollar that a really good comic book movie ought to give and for longtime Marvel fanboys like me, that’s all we ask for.

So, love y’all, keep those feet clean, aaaannnnddd

Bring on Iron Man 3!

100 Years Since “A Night to Remember”


The last known picture of the "unsinkable" RMS Titanic as she left harbour for her rendezvous with fate.

At 2:20 AM, 100 years ago this morning, the RMS Titanic‘s keel broke in two just before she dove 2.3 miles down to the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean carrying nearly 1,000 people to the Stygian depths with her. Around 500 more unfortunate souls were swept from her swiftly tilting decks into the sub-freezing waters of the North Atlantic to drown or die of hypothermia or shock within minutes of entering the water.

The disastrous sinking of the Titanic is the subject of thousands of articles, hundreds of websites, a multitude of full length books, and at least eight full length feature films . . . and that’s just in English. The individual triumphs and tragedies of surrounding the voyage are the stuff of legends and people like the ebullient buoyant “Unsinkable” Molly Brown, the craven coward J. Bruce Ismay, or tragically shortsighted Captain Edward J. Smith live on in our memories to this day — one century later.

Nothing I could write about the disaster hasn’t already been written and by much better writers than I. Still, this disaster is one which resonates with something deep inside my mind and fills me with dread and foreboding even here in my warm, dry, and safe office. In my mind’s eye, I can see, with little trouble, the chaotic terror washing over the decks of the doomed ship like the water which would carry her to her grave. Imagine what it had to be like in the lower decks where the Second Class and lower passengers were trapped and trampled in the mad rush toward the top of the ship. Think of the brave, doomed men of the boiler rooms who stayed at their posts shoveling coal into the boilers to keep the spark of the wireless dancing as long as possible.

Photo of the iceberg that sank Titanic taken by a crewman of RMS Carpathia as she collected survivors and bodies following the disaster.

Should this world stand long enough and the Almighty tarry in His return, we shall all die. That is a certainty which comforts some and terrorizes others, but it is a certainty nonetheless. Still it is one thing to be felled by a lightening strike, a car accident, or some dreadful disease, but how many of us are fated to watch helplessly — as the people aboard the doomed liner were — Death’s slow, inexorable approach? Could you stand to watch the water slowly, then not so slowly, rise up the deck as you held your child upon your shoulders in a vain effort to keep him from the water a second longer? Would you jump into the frigid, salty blackness and clutch Death to your bosom like a lover just to make an end?

The wreck of the Titanic is something which haunts my nightmares even though it occurred long before even my grandparents were born because nearly every race and social strata participated on the Titanic’s maiden voyage so it is a picture of the death of the world in miniature. The people aboard the liner were happy and looking ahead to a bright future one moment then marking the steady approach of Death the next. What if instead of an iceberg plowing into a ship it is an asteroid plowing into the Earth? Those on the ship had two hours to ponder . . . how long would we have?

It makes me think of the people trapped above the crash levels in the Twin Towers. That was another microcosm of total destruction. People who are going about their everyday lives all morning then without warning they are off to meet the One whom Bertrand Russell and Richard Dawkins bet their lives and souls is not there. Can you feel the bitter cold of the water? Can you feel the rush of the air sweeping by as you plunge from 110 stories up?

The bow of RMS Titanic as she sits at the bottom of the North Atlantic, slowly turning into powder like the dreams of those who perished aboard her.

The water isn’t the most terrifying aspect of that horrible night for me, however. The worst scenario my mind can imagine is to be one of those who likely made it alive 2.3 miles down. Of course people scoff at that idea. No one could have survived that descent could they? I remember when NASA went public with the revelation that the crew of the space shuttle Challenger actually survived the initial explosion and were alive for the seven minute plunge to the ocean where the force of impact killed them. What if someone or several someones were happily sealed inside one of the many watertight rooms aboard the ship? What if they made it to the bottom? How did they die in the inky blackness at the bottom of the ocean? Suffocation or starvation? It’s a horrible thought, but not impossible. The interior of the wreck has never been even halfway fully explored. When you are as claustrophobic and fearful of the dark as I am, such a possibility is too terrible to imagine, but not too awful to be ruled out.

In any event, the loss of 1,514 people in the black icy water of the North Atlantic 100 years ago is a tragedy almost too great to imagine, if for no other reason it was so completely avoidable at so many points, but none of that matters anymore. To this day, it is the 8th greatest loss of life in a non-military maritime disaster in recorded history. So when you think of the Titanic or, God forbid, go see the hideous 3-D adaptation of the already hideous 1997 James Cameron movie, remember the words to an old hymn and say a prayer for those await the day when the sea shall give up her dead.

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

A rare postscript

I feel this particular picture did not fit with the tone of the rest of this post, but I must include it in any discussion where that abominable 1997 movie might come up . . .

This highlighted frame capture shows the piece of flotsam CLEARLY has enough room for Rose AND Jack if only the selfish cow had possessed the common decency to SIT UP or SKOOCH OVER!

John Carter is a Fun Flick


Before a curious hacker took a red pill; before a xenomorph wiped out a bunch of Colonial Marines; before a farm boy, a crazy Corellian smuggler (who shot first), and a walking carpet saved a Rebellion; before NCC-1701’s five-year mission; before a deposed duke tamed his first sandworm; even before the 3 Laws of Robotics were graven into a Foundation; a disillusioned  and haunted Confederate war hero went looking for gold and ended up on Mars.

Watching Disney’s John Carter in a cool, dark theater is a good, exciting, and not terribly educational (not that that’s a bad thing) way to spend a cloudy afternoon with someone you love. That is precisely how my beloved Budge and I spent yesterday afternoon. In the end, she liked the movie more than I did, although I did like it a great deal. It is pure escapism at its finest and the cinematography isn’t too shabby either.

I must admit when I saw the first posters announcing John Carter’s pending arrival back at the end of summer last year, I had absolutely no idea who the character was, who created him, or what the whole mess was all about. None of that proved the slightest impediment to my enjoyment of the film.

For those who have not checked out Wikipedia for themselves, John Carter is the creation of Edgar Rice Burroughs — yes, THAT Edgar Rice Burroughs — the guy whose OTHER major character made Johnny Weismueller famous. Carter is the central character of Burroughs’ Barsoom novels, which give the history not only of John Carter, but also of Mars — known to the natives of the books as “Barsoom.” Their publication in 1912, first in serial form and later as pulp novels stands as a seminal moment in the entire genre of science fiction. Fittingly, the movie came out on the same date as the first book.

Before I go any farther, let me caution anyone sucked in by the “Disney” nameplate. The movie is PG and with good reason. Limbs are hacked off, creatures are branded with hot iron, and copious amounts of blood — blue though it may be — splashes across the screen. In fact I was nearly certain the adorable little six-legged dog/lizard creature  was going to get killed and I was fully prepared to storm out of the theater as soon as that happened. Thankfully, to ease the minds of the other animal lovers in the house, the little  fellow survives the entire movie and plays the hero on one or two occasions.

The movie plays true to most of the source material, from what I can gather anyway. However, even if you know nothing about the background works — I certainly didn’t — the movie is still fun to watch. Much like Dorothy steps from black and white into Technicolor in The Wizard of Oz, we get cued in that John isn’t in Kansas anymore when the picture goes starkly desaturated. Most of the blue tint comes out and what is left is a light, slightly yellowish haze that captures fairly accurately the look of the Martian landscape sent back to us by  the Mars Viking probe and its 21st century descendents.

One knock some people have made against the film is its abuse of scientific knowledge. First of all, it IS a science FICTION film so a little suspension of disbelief is necessary — just as it requires a huge dose of disbelief in traction to think that every alien race in the cosmos is not only bipedal and at least passingly humanoid, but also that every one of those aliens speaks the Queen’s English better than my former students did. However, if one realizes that the science of the film FITS FAIRLY WELL with the science of the times of the novels, it becomes much easier to give the directors a pass.

The movie is worth seeing and it does have all the elements required of a great action flick. The damsel is in distress and fleeing an arranged marriage, the evil general turns out to be merely the puppet of an even viler overlord, and the little (if 12′ tall can be considered little) green men end up saving the day. There’s even a slight twist at the end that those with more knowledge of the source material than me might have seen coming.

Taken as a whole, John Carter wasn’t the very best sci-fi movie I’ve seen, but it is far superior to many of the worse ones I’ve endured. It is worth seeing and I give it three and a half of five stars.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Won’t Disappoint Larson Readers


It’s not often that I see two movies in two days, but then it’s not often Budge and I get enough movie gift cards to afford such a display of opulence. Last night, Budge and I joined Deuce and Cameron to check out The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Budge and I had read the novel; Cameron and Deuce had not.

My general opinion is anchored strongly in the music. I feel that any film which opens with Trent Reznor doing an excellent cover of the unbelievably hard to cover “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin AND showcases “Orinoco Flow” by Enya in the most ironic and inappropriate moment since the “Stuck in the Middle with You” scene in Q. Tarentino’s Reservoir Dogs (Google it on an empty stomach) is pretty much destined to be a good flick.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a good flick. I might go so far as to say a great flick. At the very least, Rooney Mara deserves a nomination for Best Lead Actress in a Dramatic Film. When I see a movie based on a novel I’ve read, one criteria for me is how much do the actors match the images of the characters I’ve created in my imagination. Mara’s portrayal of the brilliant and haunted Lisbeth Salander is closer than any character from any novel based movie I’ve ever seen. It’s like Mara read the novel then somehow absorbed Salander into her soul. Her eyes, her mannerisms, her genius all glare off the screen. She is a character who cannot and will not be ignored.

The rest of the cast are well suited to their roles also. Stellan Staarsgard is particularly gripping in his role as the dutiful and enigmatic Martin Vanger while Christopher Plummer lends his character acting mastery to the role of the grief broken Heinrick Vanger. Personally, two of my favorite performances were minor characters. I thought Steven Berkoff perfectly captured the role of the harried lawyer who is so deeply enmeshed in the family that he pretty much IS a member of the family while Goran Visjinic captures Dragan Armansky’s touching paternalistic solicitude of Lisbeth with pitch perfect precision. When he says, “She’s had a difficult life, can we please not make it any MORE difficult?” the audience gets the sense of a man who cares deeply for a wounded and troubled girl but who has no fleshly interest in her whatsoever.

This film is R rated and it has good reason. Some R rated films, particularly raunchy comedies like The Hangover might be okay for your kids to watch once you realize they hear worse language and cruder humor in the cafeteria and on the playground of the average public school. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo doesn’t really have much in the way of bad language. For a modern film the characters drop very few F-bombs but unless you want to explain what cunnilingus is, leave the kiddos home. What the characters do, however, is see life at it’s seamiest and most brutal. One rape scene in the first third of the film is extremely disturbing as is the revenge the raped takes upon the rapist. Consensual sex is shown graphically, but not frequently although you probably don’t want to take a first date to this show;  oh yeah, and if you’re an animal lover, don’t get attached to the cat.

As with any novel based movie, the question always arises “how faithful to the novel is the movie?” In this case, I feel David Fincher has done for Steig Larson’s work what Peter Jackson did for Tolkien’s corpus. The movie has some rearranging of events to better fit a movie and some events are changed for what seems like monetary or time concerns, but on the whole, the story is remarkably unchanged from the novel. I find that to be a plus, but some people may not really care. If you are a Larson fan, however, this movie won’t disappoint you and I think Larson himself would be proud of the way his debut novel has been brought to the screen.

Incidentally, I know this is a remake of the Swedish film of the same name from just a couple of years ago and since I reviewed Sherlock Holmes 2 so recently, I can’t help but mention that Noomi Rapace, who played the female lead in SH 2 also played Lisbeth Salander in the original Swedish film. I’d love to hear from anyone who has seen the original and would like to tell my audience how the two versions compare.

Sherlock Holmes 2 is Exceedingly Well Done


If you haven’t been to see Sherlock Holmes 2: A Game of Shadows, by all means go see it before it leaves the theaters. Budge and I went to see it yesterday with one of the many movie gift cards we acquired at Christmas and I was completely pleased with the movie as a whole. I realize some people — particularly movie snobs — will think I’m daft, but this film was crafted well enough and cast well enough to be considered for an Oscar. Now I have no delusions of it even being nominated, but if it does get on the slate, it will be the biggest Hollywood coup since Shakespeare in Love topped Saving Private Ryan for Best Picture.

As far as the cast, no one in Hollywood plays a manic dissolute independently wealthy hero as well as Robert Downey, Jr. I am somewhat biased in favor of Mr. Downey, I must confess, because I love to root for the underdog and not very long ago, RDJ was considered, rightly, by many in Hollywood as a washed up has been whose taste for alcohol and drugs had derailed a promising career. I think he has channeled some of that real world skid row gutter experience into characters like the alcoholic Tony Stark and the cocaine addicted Sherlock Holmes to bring a dimension to the screen other actors would be hard pressed to duplicate.

Jude Law as Watson comes across as anything but a sidekick second banana. Far from just a sober baseline foil for Holmes’ mania, Law plays the retired army surgeon as a concerned friend and worthy successor to Holmes’ masterful detective work. He also shows an audience how to help an addict but avoid the pitfalls of co-dependence. Jared Harris also gives a masterful performance as the brilliant but depraved Professor Moriarty — the one man whose intellect and powers of planning are a match, if not quite superior to Holmes’ own skills. When Harris and Downey share the screen, the air fairly crackles with the tension of two brilliant narcissistic geniuses crossing razor sharp intellects.

One particularly good part of this movie that I noticed and I hope others do as well is the marvelous music played throughout the film. From the somber strains of Don Giovanni to the lively wailing of an Irish fiddle, the music is ever-present and ever-changing but always maintaining a goal of helping move the action forward. I don’t know if the studio will release a soundtrack, but I for one would welcome it.

To sum up, this sequel is every bit as good as the first film and for my part attains the rare pedestal held by other second runs like Terminator 2 as even a measure superior to the original. It is more than just an action flick. It is a thinking person’s movie and it is loaded with great lines, great performances, and great music.

Wikipedia: Terminator 2: Judgment Day is a 1991 science fiction action film directed by James Cameron and written by Cameron and William Wisher Jr.