Russell Guest's Movie Ratings - Rotten Tomatoes

Movie Ratings and Reviews

You Only Live Twice

Perhaps this is the weakest of the Sean Connery Bond movies, but it is still tons of fun and there are plenty of redeeming qualities here. Savor the style of the movie, because after that the series loses its iconic Mid-Century sheik. It gets off to a strong start and takes us to Japan. The Japanese setting is exotic and makes for escapist fun, but it also comes with a few dated karate movie clichés that do not fit. The worst part of the movie is a time-consuming and poorly substantiated plot tangent in which James Bond must become a ninja. Why does James have to have fake a marriage to a Japanese woman? Why must he become a Ninja in order to get military backup? Some of the middle parts make no sense at all. Thankfully, it recovers and finishes strong with a climactic battle inside a wonderfully staged volcano lair. The main villain played by Donald Pleasance and his foxy henchwoman Karin Dor are both excellent. It lacks focus and if you can look beyond the ninjas and the martial arts then this is still a great time.

Stargate
Stargate(1994)

Combining aliens, gateways to unknown places in space and time and the history of ancient Egypt is a unique and exciting idea. By studying Egyptian ruins and artifacts, a team of historians and scientists under control of the United States military, open a gateway to another world. The story takes time to introduce you to a likable but overlooked historian character played by James Spader. The audience parallels his experiences as his pessimism slowly turns into curiosity, then excitement and then ultimately of wonder. Spader's enthusiasm and sheer joy of uncovering ancient mysteries keep the movie fun. It is particularly helpful to the movie by sharply contrasts the stern attitudes of the military crew around him. The light situational humor and Spader make for a playful take on a conceptual science fiction adventure like this. Action during the climax does quite not hold up to the rest of the movie. It does not look particularly bad for its time, but has a somewhat campy feel to it. Without establishing the playful tone earlier, this could cause the entire production to collapse, but because it is there, it still works. It is a wildly imaginative concept. No wonder a successful television series followed it to expand the idea and build off this story.

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters

Oh boy, this did not look good going in, and I was right. This is a strange meshing of modern weaponry and old-time fairy tales. The classic charters of Hansel and Gretel grow up to become bounty hunters of witches and monsters. They are equipped with machine guns, and elaborate gadgets. There is part of me that wants to take it for what it is and enjoy over-the-top explosive action mixed with magic. This could actually work, but the movie does not deliver those kinds of fast-paced thrills until late in the movie. The closing scene is the best and was just a taste of what this movie could have been. Instead, this movie attempts to make too much out of the characters and their back-story. Sometimes with a preposterous concept, the best thing to do is embrace the silliness. Join in on the joke and make a fun-loving spectacle with big action. I want to see the characters break the wall of reality down and make small jokes about the ridiculous things they are doing. Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton both play the part seriously, which is a shame. The same actors could have worked in an approach that is more self-aware. This movie went for all out exaggerated thrills; it just did not go far enough. It lands in an awkward middle ground that is hard to enjoy.

The Devil-Doll
½

Two men escape prison together. One is an old scientist, and the other is a middle-aged man in jail for embezzling his bank practice, but he claims that his partners framed him. The younger man helps get the older man back to his home and laboratory. There he sees the old man is obsessed with shrinking animals and even humans down to miniature sizes. In some ways, he succeeds, but the brain function of the shrunken individuals breaks down. They become tiny mindless drones that follow commands of their creator without question. The younger man questions the morality of the old man's work. Later, he plots to use the miniature drones posed as realistic dolls to get revenge on his partners and reclaim his name. There is supposed to be a dark suspense to the movie but the tiny people are just not very threatening. The filmmakers seemed fascinated by the camera technology of making miniature people on film. This movie comes off the heels of the Bride of Frankenstein, which used these techniques in a more limited and more effective way. There is actually enough story content and substance with the characters to save the movie from falling into cheesy chiller movie territory. In fact, I would rather see the escaped prisoner outsmart those wronged him in the shadows on his own. The story of men escaping prison and man seeking revenge on his partners would actually be better without the tiny sinister drones.

Amityville II: The Possession

Despite the title, this is actually a prequel of the first Amityville Horror movie. It is, however, a fictionalized story and not based on the same accounts as the previous movie. Real or not, there are some scary and unnerving things about this movie and some quality moments in the direction. There is not much fall of from the first haunted house film, but the story is darker and has some strangely unsettling plot points. The actors are adequate, but the characters do not feel as realistic as they did in the first movie. It is very much a divided movie of two halves. The first hour involves a family moving into the haunted house where the oldest son becomes possessed by demon type power. The second part focuses on a priest who is determined to fight the evil within the house. That shift in the plot is shockingly abrupt. I much prefer the intangibility and tension of the first half of the movie. Politics and events of the priest's story go on too long and do not have the same emotional impact. Without this final half hour, the tone of the movie would be unreasonably cruel. The story makes sense as a whole but concluding scene is a directorial mess. Most of the special effects are impressive, but in the climax, they are simply bad. There are structural flaws here, but it is scary and uses the characters to tell a story effectively. It is far from perfect, but most horror movies fail to do some of the things this one gets right.

House of Wax
House of Wax(1953)
½

A sculptor struggles only manages to draw modest crowds. His business partner pressures him to shock and scare people to bring in more money. A fire burns the museum to the ground with the artist inside. Years later, the now handicapped artist reemerges with a brand-new collection of work depicting shocking subject matter, and work that is uncharacteristically real looking. The new museum is a spectacle drawing a swarm of people. Concurrently, a masked menace is breaking into people's home and stalking women. The concept and story are original and interesting. Perhaps it is predictable, but it does not keep it from being fun. Vincent Price specializes in a particularly enjoyable brand of creepy. It will not scare you to the core, but the dark humor and charm still make it work today. This movie is more than a moderately chilling story. It looked for new ways to engage audiences with 3D technology. When viewed on TV the prolonged paddleball scenes seem out of place. They are simply tangential 3D fun that thrilled audiences at the time. It was a box-office smash, and it revived and redefined Vincent Price's career as well.

Firestarter
Firestarter(1984)
½

A man and his young girl are on the run from a powerful corporate entity. They both possess mental powers that others want to control, weaponize, study, and sell. The father can control his, but his daughter lacks the ability to control her gift. When the little girl gets angry and scared, bad things happen all around her. It has a compelling science fiction concept. Good acting performances and a fitting score offer a lot to appreciate here. There are fragments in the story that do not get the full level of development they deserve to make everything come together. There is an ominous Native American figure that wants to kill the little girl, but his motivation is vague for most of the movie. He is a major character, but his reason for being there and his position within the corporation is not clear. A mysterious dark character can be good but as things unfold, his character should be clearer. I hate to see a good idea for story crumble, but this movie does not finish well. Drew Barrymore is cute in this, just do not make her mad.

The Tingler
The Tingler(1959)

Vincent Price plays a pathologist performing autopsies on executed prisoners. In his work, he sees vertebra shattered by something with great force. He believes that there is a creature within the spine that grows and can kill its host, unless they can expel their stress by screaming. It is a stupid theory by today's standards, but it is the premise of this movie. The story turns darker when a deaf and mute woman fascinates Price. The scientist in him casts morality aside to prove his work an extract the creature from its host. If the fear of the creature were unseen, this movie would work much better. It insists on showing a terrible rubber prop on a wire for the creature. You have to try hard to suspend disbelief in order to look around the heavy-handed special effects. This is supposed to be a more playful scare, so that helps. When this movie premiered, the scene where the screen goes black was a trick on the audience. They wanted audience to believe that the creature is actually lose in the audience. The film encourages the crowd to scream to subdue the creature and save their lives. Certain seats had vibrating motors placed underneath to trick people into thinking something was under their seats. It is neat to see the playful scares of a funhouse merging with a film, but the film on its own when watched on TV today is missing the most fun and inventive aspects of the movie.

Curse of Chucky
½

I am not sure how this franchise keeps going, but it does. After five movies of steadily diminishing returns, the series hit rock bottom with its self-referencing parody approach. The character needed retired or rebooted. Without going for a complete re-boot, this movie removes the humor and gets back to the original tone. It is the darkest, most suspenseful, and serious movie in series since the first movie. Although it is not apparent until late in the movie, the story connects with the first movie in a surprisingly nice way. It wisely chooses to overlook all that came in between. The infamous Chucky doll shows up on what seems to a random doorstep of a disabled woman in wheelchair and her mother. As expected, there is an unexplained murder occurring in their house brining the relatives of the girl and her mother home for support. The sister of the young woman in the wheelchair has selfish motives for returning home. This subplot is an attempt to add drama, but it requires better characters to work. There is now a full family saying in a historic large house with the killer doll, including a little girl. As things unfold, we discover that this is not a random occurrence with Chuckey arriving at this particular house and this family. It all sounds good, but the acting and exaggerated characters and low-level acting are terrible. The dysfunctional in-family relationship could be interesting on its own, but it only serves as a framework to set up Chucky's killing. It is not terrifying, but it does have some style and story. With better acting, this could have been a complete turnaround for the series, but it settles for middling results.

Seed of Chucky

In Bride of Chucky, the series became self-aware and began making satirical jokes while carving up bodies in a playful way. It gave a new wind to a stale franchise. This movie goes too far down the comedy well for its own good. The result is a disastrous movie that feels like a B grade horror movie rather than the fifth movie in an established and well-liked series. The movie revolves around a timid but good-natured doll brought to life looking for his parents and his origins. He finds out that his parents are none other than Chucky and Tiffany. He finds them in hopes of a happy reunion but is horrified to see they are serial killers who relish murder. Under their pressure of their child who has no determined sex, they agree to be a family and stop killing. Chucky argues that they have a son named Glen while Tiffany insists that they have a daughter named Glenda. Naturally, Chucky and Tiffany target human hosts to transfer their soul into, as they always do. Tiffany targets the actress Jennifer Tilly playing herself. This is the same actress doing the voice work for Tiffany. It is laying the satire on thick with this. Neither of the parents can kick their murderous habits, and the usual carnage ensues. This series is no longer scary at all; it is entirely campy laughs and self-referential jokes. It is not funny enough to bother with, and the Doll characters are not fun anymore. This series disintegrated from suspenseful horror, to bad horror, to self-aware parody, and finally to a big sloppy joke. This should mark the end of this series. I rarely say this, but it is time for a reboot that brings the darkness and seriousness of the story back.

Byzantium
Byzantium(2013)

It is interesting to see a vampire movie that focuses more on what life would be like for someone who does not age. A life like that could be lonely, especially since you would need to kill people and drink their blood to stay alive. Most vampire stories focus on humans and view vampires as monstrous figures, but this movie places the focus on the vampire and thus humanizes them. It is less about drinking blood and more about a sense of family, growing up, and finding love. Unlike the Twilight series, this has a darkness and realism to the movie. The relationships between the characters are not straightforward feel-good fairytales. It has a strong story that takes time to unfold; there are mysterious elements to the main characters and their past. Through a series of conversations, writings, and flashbacks, a rich and full story of interconnected characters emerges. At times, the somber expressions and melancholy of the main character pulls the energy down, but not too much. Saoirse Ronan is believable as a lonely girl who craves a rewarding warm relationship with others. Gemma Arterton is even better as her protective guardian, who lives in the shadows, always on the move and avoids close relationships. If you like typical vampires, this will not have enough action to satisfy you. It is primarily a drama; the vampire lure is secondary to the characters. They get the most important things right with the story and acting. If you have the patience for the slower pace and a different take on vampires, then it is a good pick.

The Last House on the Left

With help, a dangerous fugitive escapes into a rural wooded setting. This setting happens to be near a lake where a married couple and their teenage daughter spend their family summer vacations. The daughter takes the family car and goes into the small town to visit an old friend. In what is surely any parent's nightmare, the daughter does not return and is unreachable on her phone. Indeed, things take a nasty turn when the fugitive and his cohorts cross paths with the teenage girl and her friend. There is a nice build up and establishing of the characters, for a horror movie. Like most horror flicks, character development is not the primary focus here, but it does not neglect in building characters and fleshing out evil doers that matter to the story. It is violent and ugly; one scene, in particular, is hard to watch. This represents an unrestrained type evil that is sadly far too common and real. Mid-way through The story dramatically alters direction and becomes more than just a grisly abduction movie. The band of violent fugitives comes to the house of the concerned parents, acting like lost campers seeking hospitality. This is where this movie has finesse and becomes more suspenseful. The audience knows everything but both sets of charters only know different pieces of the situation. It is gripping to watch this tense situation unfold. It is a brilliantly unsettling and darkly ironic story. The rural setting and smooth camerawork are better than expected in a movie like this. The acting is not impressive, but it does not feel like the typical moronic horror acting either. If you can get around one exceptionally violent and disturbing scene, it holds high-level excitement and thrills.

Evil Dead
Evil Dead(2013)

Normally, I prefer a horror movie that features good story and characters and operates through subtly and suspense. This movie goes against everything I like in a horror movie, but I still like it. The story involves a group of friends attempting to force their friend to beat her drug addiction cold turkey. They hope to supervise her early stages of withdraw and remove her from the temptation of buying more drugs. Once they reach the cabin, they find several disturbing omens that should signal them to leave. Of course, they do not depart; they even find a book, bound with barbwire and clasped shut. It looks like the sort of thing you should leave alone. Like any horror movie demands, they open the book and read it. Then the chaos and carnage ensues. This movie is somewhat weak in the acting department, and the build-up is a little rushed. At least, it is better than the usual gore movie. Once the horror unleashes, it does not hold back or let up to the very end. It is relentless horror for over one hour straight. It is guilty of countless dumb teen-horror clichés, but it does so without coming off as cheesy. The visuals are completely terrifying. I am not a proponent of scaring people with blood, guts, and violence, but it is so effective here. It is intense horror by force in the vein of the 80s gore-fest, but it is more than that. If the characters mattered more and the acting improved, it would be even better. It is everything I was not looking for in a horror film, but even with the shortcomings, it delivers the scares.

Jurassic Park III

No third book? No problem, dinosaurs are still fun to watch. Brining Sam Neill back and having him guide a group of parents looking for their lost son works well enough. These movies have always been about the thrills more than the characters. The Lost World fought that and pandered too strongly to children, but this movie finds a reasonable balance. Early in the movie Dr. Grant from the first film remerges and needing money to continue his research. A newlywed couple wanting a guided air tour of the island bribes him into returning to the place that still gives him nightmares. The unimpressive story just serves as a lose framework to get people back onto the island of dinosaurs. The couple played by William H Macy and Tia Leoni feel forced. They are both good actors, but most of the time they just to run and scream. The special effects improve once again. Computer graphics made an enormous leap since the second movie, and it shows here. The motions of the animals are smooth and more bird-like, reflecting the evolving theories of the extinct animals. This movie features exciting airborne dinosaurs that are the best part of the movie. It introduces the Spinosaurus, which was an even larger predatorily dinosaur with more teeth than the Tyrannosaurus Rex. I wish more informative tidbits wove into the dialogue like the first movie, but these new creatures emerge without much time for explanation. Having the paleontology leader of the group sprinkle in more theories and information along the way makes the creatures more impressive. At least they do this some with Dr. Grant's fascination of how Raptors might have communicated with each other, but I want more of this. It is enjoyable entertainment, despite its lack of depth.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Sometimes I feel like the drop in quality of sequels is not as bad as it once was. Then I watch a movie like this, and I remember why everyone laments that sequels are never as good as the first. Minimizing the main attraction of the transformers themselves and focusing more on people is a questionable strategy to begin with. Worse yet, failing to write a decent story around those human roles is unforgivable. It is interesting how the transformers inhabited earth since the beginning of civilization, but that leads to tons of unanswered questions that the film did not even try confronting. It exhibits mass amounts of flawed logic and lacks connectivity the previous movie or even to itself. We do not learn anything new about the two main characters or their relationship together. Instead, the filmmakers spent tons of money to make a visually impressive movie with glitzy action sequences and special effects. Effects never compensate for bad content. Constantly orbiting cameras and distracting foreground elements do not focus on the subject. At one point during the movie, a grumpy John Turturro demands "Beginning, middle, end, facts, details, condense, plot, tell it." I am certain the cameras were rolling while a descent actor explained to Michael Bay what this movie was lacking. It was better than most of the movie, so they added that part in. The only good news here is that it moves fast, Megan Fox is still pretty, and John Turturro gives the movie shred of integrity with his humor. Even that it is nothing but lazy, shallow, forgettable, and disposable filler.

The Revenant
The Revenant(2015)
½

Willpower is more than a particular desire; it is the capacity to act decisively on one's desires. The Revenant is about the sheer power of one man's will. His driving motivation is the vengeance of an angry man who loses everything. It is a dark theme and a painful movie to watch, yet it is somehow uplifting and motivating at the same time. The story begins with a pelting expedition in the Western United States during the early 1800s. Natives attack their party and soon they are trying to escape with their lives. The action scenes are powerful and capture the ugly battles between Westerners and Native Americans as well as any film I remember. It also captures the social fear and hatred between the two cultures throughout the story. Although a few of them escape, they panic and blame their leaders as their goals shift to survival. Leonardo DiCaprio plays the expedition's guide alongside of his son who is half Native-American. For the main character, the pain is just beginning. He experiences personal loss, horrifying injuries, and parlous situations to track down one of his fellow hunters who turned against him. DiCaprio's character is at the edge of death and is painful to watch, but he keeps going. It is a powerful thing to behold. Scenery throughout the movie is spectacular. The filming and score make you feel like one of the pioneers at that time moving through the vastness of a pristine wildness. The entire movie is shot only using natural light, which is a feet to work out logistically for a film crew. Even more impressive is how stunning it looks. Alejandro González Inarritu is a truly gifted director, and this is his finest work so far. Leonardo DiCaprio delivers one of his strongest acting performances of his impressive career. He finally gets a much overdue Oscar for his performance in the leading role. Tom Hardy and Domhnall Gleeson both deliver notably strong performances as well in their supporting roles. The pacing is slow, but experience is rich and there are bursts of suspense to make sure it never becomes too slow or too dark.

Get Hard
Get Hard(2015)
½

The writing does not live up to the talent with this one, but the two stars make it mostly appealing. Will Ferrell portrays an ambivalent white collar executive unaware of the corporate corruption around him. He finds himself framed for financial crimes and headed for prison. Knowing nothing about African-American culture offers to pay the black man who cleans his car to help him survive in prison by making him tough. His mentor, played by Kevin Hart, never actually went to jail, but the businessman assumes he has simply because he is black. For a flat one-note concept leaning heavily on racial stereotypes, this gets more mileage than you would think. Kevin Hart's animated delivery and Will Ferrell's naivety and good-natured ignorance are funny. The problem is that this movie struggles to expand beyond the racial stereotypes and prison rape for humor. Some of the best scenes in this movie are when Kevin Hart is at home with his wife and daughter or in his reluctant friendship with Will Ferrell. There is not nearly enough of this organic warm humor in the movie. Some attempts to expand to physical humor fail. It makes an isolated attempt for an outrageous homophobic site gag to change the pace. It is not funny; it is just awkward. When you have two people this funny together, you can keep it simple and reap the rewards. I wish these characters had more to do, because the chemistry of the actors is very good.

Scoop
Scoop(2006)
½

A little whimsical fantasy, some foul play, and Woody Allen's touch do wonders to put a spin on a simple rom-com. A prominent journalist dies and on his way to the afterlife, he uncovers the identity of a notorious serial killer in London. He speaks from beyond the grave to a young female journalist in the middle of a magic show. Now she must uncover the news story and substantiate it with supporting evidence. It is a widely creative idea for a comedy. The charming cast is fantastic and Woody Allen sets the tone with his brand of jittery sarcasm and good-natured pessimism. Scarlett Johansson is endearing as a naive but nerdy young reporter. The pair of unlikely friends improvise and lie themselves into position to get the story. When the movie looks like it could turn sappy, the quirky characters veer away and keep things interesting. It is not hysterical, but the story and the characters are interesting. The third act loses momentum and the ending does not seem right. Overall, it is quite enjoyable, and rewardingly unpredictable.

The Martian
The Martian(2015)

During a space exploration to Mars, a powerful storm forces the crew of astronauts to evacuate early. In their rush to leave, they lose track one of their crew members; they believe him to be dead. Against the odds, he lives, but he now finds himself alone stranded on the red planet. He knows it will take at least four years for a rescue mission to reach him, and that he has limited air and food supply. It inspires and thrills with a realistic feel, but at its core, it is extremely personal. Matt Damon is excellent. For much of the movie, he is alone talking to into the camera, speaking to himself while working, or using only physical expressions to covey his thoughts and feelings. The character does not wallow in self-pity. He knows he must channel his energy into surviving; that gives the movie a more optimistic perspective. The movie celebrates his triumphs, shows his sarcasm and humor that keep him going. There are still moments of sadness, fear, and defeat, but the main character is admiringly resilient. Damon conveys this range very well, and director Ridley Scott captures it all perfectly. The stark but beautiful rendering of the Martian landscape is powerful. It expresses the still loneliness and insignificance that the main character is feeling. While Matt Damon is superb, there is a strong supporting cast too. Characters on earth argue and debate how to handle the situation. This advances the plot and creates an interesting the subplot where the entire NASA organization works together to rescue their man. The events on earth also give important tonal breaks from the stillness of the Mars setting and make the move more exciting. There is part of you that knows things will work out, but this movie is more about how the lone astronaut survives and how some of the smartest people on earth plan the rescue mission. How they accomplish the impossible is completely fascinating in itself. Everything works exquisitely here with the story, characters, acting, direction, use of music, and visuals. Despite the grounded premise, this will go down as a classic science fiction movie.

Seven (Se7en)
½

An aging detective nears retirement. As he comes to his final week, his superior pairs him with a young partner to pursue a particularly unique serial killer. Each of this killer's victims represents one of seven deadly sins. The two detectives are on a clock to find the murderer before he kills all seven victims. It is a conflicting movie because there is so much to admire but the story itself is not what I want in a movie like this. Strong acting, storytelling and rich details take this to the point where it could be great. This movie deserves credit for pushing the grisly visuals to an extreme so that they resonate and disturb the viewer, as much as a murder scene should. David Fincher is a director who knows how to use darkness, shadows, and sound to build tension; his movies often dwell on dark stories. This movie has an aged feeling to it with washed-out gold tones, shallows that focus the attention on the characters or the subject in the foreground. Fincher forces you to read the facial expressions of the detectives in a highly effective way. At the same time, he also shoves the murder scenes in your face to achieve a repulsive visceral reaction. It does not show the violent actions, but the evidence left behind is truly terrifying. The murder and his psychosis are conceptually fascinating for a murder mystery. It moves in unexpected directions, builds an interesting sub-plot between the partners and shows intelligence and craft in the story. A nagging problem is hard to overcome is the resolution. The mystery, suspense and story all build to an exciting climax, but what happens is unfulfilling, and even unsettling. The direction is excellent and the acting performances are commendable, but when the story does not sit well it is hard to fully praise it. If dark subject matter compels you, and you appreciate an unpredictable yet unorthodox finish, then this could be a bulls-eye.

The Darjeeling Limited
½

Having a good cast with interesting characters but nothing for them to do is a frustrating problem. Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman play three brothers who drifted apart in their adult lives. After a near death, experience the oldest brother feels a need to bring his brothers together by going on an extended train excursion across India. He gets his brothers to join him, but they do so grudgingly and their tension escalates to arguments. The dynamic between the three characters is emotionally stiff and unnatural but there is some subtle humor to it. Their dysfunction and reason for straying from each other is unclear at first. Through their bickering and flashbacks, their situation slowly becomes clearer. Their Indian adventure, however, is dull and lacks direction. The journey does not directly affect the relationship between the characters in a meaningful way. Worse yet, the adventure does not lead to a fulfilling conclusion and ends abruptly. Each of the three brothers undergoes a character transition and in turn reconnects with his brothers, yet the other aspects of the story around them are a series of unsatisfying loose ends. The actors are capable and the characters have potential but it just does not know where it wants to go. Wes Anderson has a particular style but his dry characters rely on a better a story than this. Even if you do like Anderson, this is not his best effort.

Adventureland

Considering the talented cast of Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Martin Star, Ryan Reynolds and Jessie Eisenberg, I hoped for a funnier movie. There are scattered laughs along the way, but this is primarily a coming of age romantic and drama. The story is about a high-school senior forced by his parents into getting a summer job. He goes to work for the local amusement park. Working there is no fun, but the staff forms a unique mixed community of teenagers floating through their summer. Once there he meets a girl he likes, but he unknowingly gets into a complicated situation. It is messy and lifelike; each character has their own dreams, insecurities and struggles. Nothing is perfect and there is not a storybook finish, but it is good-natured. The characters and story seem real and honest. Jessie Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart capture what is like to be a confused teen full of nerves, lacking self-esteem, and excited for attention and potential love. An uneventful story does not do it any favors; it relies solely on the dialogue and interactions between the characters. Using the comedic talents of the cast could greatly improve this movie, but it chooses a quieter subtle approach. The amusement park setting has more potential to influence the story, but it is merely incidental, for the most part. At least, it is from the heart and not full of blatant clichés.

Ex Machina
Ex Machina(2015)

We live in an exciting time where algorithms filter through masses of information and respond to your interests. Advances in robotics are developing rapidly and major changes in our world are coming. Ex-Machina is an amazing movie that raises political and moral issues that we will undoubtedly face soon. It is a smart conceptual science-fiction thriller about a young programmer recruited to assess a robotic prototype with advanced artificial intelligence. The man who selects him for this task is a wealthy tech genius who has isolated himself from the world on a vast remote estate. His estate and home are gorgeous, but immediately upon the young man's arrival, there is a dark suspense and things seem mysteriously off, but it is not readily apparent why. Alex Garland's writing and direction are an exquisite masterpiece. The audience follows the emotions of the main character in a most effective way. There are moments of excitement, curiosity and discovery, but there is also a strong cloud of fear and suspicion throughout the movie. As things unfold, you do not know is trustworthy. There is a constant sense of claustrophobic danger. The tone is unnerving and creepy, and it builds to moments that are downright frightening. The direction and acting are top-level and the story is full of surprises and suspense. Despite a limited budget and a cast of only a few talented actors, this movie achieves everything this ambitious film sets out to do. Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander and Oscar Isaac are perfect for their roles, and they do a fantastic job to bring a great story to its full potential. Most of the movie is dialogue but the physical acting and the actor's ability to get into character will keep you fully engaged. It will mess with your emotions, get in your head and leave with big picture questions for weeks. I think this is one of the all-time great science fiction movies, and I cannot recommend this one strongly enough.

Jurassic World

After a long hiatus, the Jurassic Park series revives itself for a fourth movie. It is not a reboot, but it is a new beginning in its own right. There is only some overlap with earlier movies; most continuity is in the form of small fan pleasing references. It feels more like the first movie than the other sequels and rekindles some of that magic. The storyline acknowledges the previous attempts to establish a theme park. This time John Hammond's vision comes to fruition. The island theme park is highly successful, but over time, people are still interested but less enthralled. This leads the genetics team at Jurassic World to create new dinosaurs that are larger, faster, stronger, and scarier in order to draw more people to the park. Of course, this is a bad idea, and things will go wrong. This movie makes an effort to build the main characters, which is something the classic original movie did not do well. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are both enjoyable in the lead roles and Ty Simpkins is an impressive as a child actor. At the same time, there are plenty of overstated supporting characters fit for a comic book. At its core, the story is a still about people making terrible decisions that lead to lots of running from dinosaurs, so it is not complex. Despite some efforts to become more story driven, it is a simple fun action movie. That appears to be what fans of the series want and why it made a ton of money. The new cast is likeable and dinosaurs are always fun to watch, even if they are making mutant super-dinos.

No Escape
No Escape(2015)

Brace yourself; this action-thriller overflows with frantic intensity. Typical action movies combine elements of humor and love with bold stunts in the framework of a larger story to offer general entertainment. This is rougher than most action movies; it is not shooting for exciting entertainment with highly violent gritty imagery. John Erick Dowdle wants to shake the audience with a panicked or frightening situation to get people's heart rate up. There is not much of a story and there is only a little exposition to add context. It features a father working in the water industry moving to an undeveloped poverty-stricken country with his family. Soon after they arrive, riots break out with terrorists brutalizing and murdering Americans. The reason for the rioting is not clear most of the time, but there is no time for questions. This father must get back to his family and get them out of this hostile environment. It is continuous action and suspense to the end. The anti-American villains cover a large area, making it difficult to escape. They are ruthless as they assault and kill people on site, even women and children. It may go too far sometimes. Casting Owen Wilson in the lead role may seem strange here, but the story does not call for a super-soldier type of hero like Bruce Willis. He is supposed to be a regular dad cast into a perilous situation, in which case, Owen Wilson does fit the part quite well. This is not for young audiences or people with a weak stomach. It operates on high doses of unfiltered violence, and the camera rarely shows discretion or cuts away from ugly scenes. The fast pace action makes an exciting experience, but it is not very fun and the politics and plot are slim.

Iron Man 3
Iron Man 3(2013)

It is nice to see a simple Iron Man movie without SHIELD or Avenger movie messing it up. Tony Stark is a dismissive jerk, and this time it comes back to haunt him. In a flashback to 1999, he rudely disregards an emerging enthusiastic scientist. Fast forward fourteen years that scientist reemerges as a handsome and successful businessman who soon finds himself at odds with Stark Industries. Amidst his business relationships, Tony Stark publicly challenges a global terrorist known as the Mandarin, who swiftly retaliates by targeting him. It is finally nice to see Tony humbled and undone by his reckless abrasive personality. In the course of events, he finds himself without a functional armored suit for much of the movie, and his better qualities shine through to save the day. We get to appreciate Tony Stark for the mechanical genius he is, not just a spoiled brat with infinite funds and firepower. The villain is good, but the showdown action scenes between him and Iron Man do not come through. There is too much going on at one time during the climax of the movie. It would be nice to distil this down to a clearer and more exciting finale.

The China Syndrome
½

Timing can be everything for a movie. When this movie hit theaters, it garnered mild praise but was not dominating the box office. Twelve days later the Three Mile Island nuclear plant accident happened, igniting the fears of nuclear technology and directing people's attention to this movie. It is amazing how acting and dialogue alone can build suspense like this. The story features a female reporter in the 70s struggling to establish herself as a serious journalist and not just a vapid pretty face. While in the field at the local nuclear power plant, she and her cameraman witness alarms going off. The plant staff seemed panicked, but they tell her that it is no big deal. Hungry for a story she is not convinced. She senses there is more to this incident than they are telling her. It devolves into a dangerous situation of conspiracy, politics, and corporate deception. Most of this movie takes place in dull interior rooms with no windows talking about a potential problem within the nuclear reactor. There is no score, just the constant haunting sounds of plant. Even so, it is tense because the stakes are high. The acting carries the movie with superb performances from Jack Lemmon, Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas.

Weird Science

Two high school nerds use their home computer to design the perfect woman. In just one Friday evening, the boys discover how to program an intelligent being and bring her to life using a home computer, their phone line and some electricity. If this were actually possible, male teenagers would quickly give up video games for computer programming and computer science. It knows how preposterous it is and takes nothing seriously. Once their supermodel babe is alive she takes them on the town, tells their parents off, throws parties, and stands up to their bullies for them. The computer-generated woman is not only beautiful, but she has magical powers too. Like a genie, she can make a sports car appear, change the character of a room, and move objects with a snap of her fingers. There seem to be no limits to her power. With this woman, the two boys could rule the world, but they are content with just being popular at school. After creating the woman, the adventure and humor that follows does not fully deliver. It is a fun time even if it is inconsistent and lacks focus. There is no significant moral to the story and the character progression of the two nerds throughout the movie is minimal. It is just an amusing indulgence any teenage boy's fantasy. Anthony Michael Hall and Ilan Mitchell-Smith are enjoyable as the two teens, although writing a more entertaining dialogue between the two friends would greatly help add comedic value. This made Kelly Lebrock an 80's sex symbol, but she provides more than just a body. It is simple retro fun, the 80s at its finest.

Catwoman
Catwoman(2004)

There is a great deal of hate and criticism towards this movie, with good reason. I do not understand why Halle Berry wanted to do this movie, her reputation as a former Oscar winner cannot benefit from doing movies like Swordfish, Die Another Day, and this. I do understand why Halle Berry landed the role of the confident Catwoman clad in all black, but that is only half of the role. Berry flounders as her secret identity of Patience Phillips, who is a meek struggling graphic designer nerd shoved in a cubicle. The two-sided character of Catwoman could make for a complex hero and anti-hero, but heavy-handed storytelling ruins that too. The movie implies that there was a long line of women throughout the ages selected for a double life of power and freedom. The movie neglects to play up this interesting concept. How the main character earns that privilege, the transfer of that power, and how she learns about her new abilities fall short. These important plot elements are all lazy, flat, and shameless exposition. The overbearing soundtrack makes it seem like this is all a bad second-rate Destiny's Child music video. Scenes with her male love interest are particularly painful and feel like a daytime soap opera. Making the character scarf down fish, hating rain, and hissing at dogs is also too much, even for humorous relief. The villain role played by Sharon Stone is dull. She appears to be thinking manipulative corporate type of villain. She plans to release addictive cosmetics that slowly destroy people without continuing its use. Suddenly, in a plot hole the size of Texas, she reveals that the same toxic cosmetics made her superhuman and feel no pain. Poor decision-making by the director along with the Halle Berry's lack of acting range kill this movie. I will stick with Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman, thank you.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
½

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles came out in the late 80s. For the kids of the 80s and early 90s, nothing will ever come close to the nostalgia of original TV show and the live-action trilogy of movies. When a new animation series and CGI animation movie came out in 2007 to revive the series fans of the originals crunched their noses up and disapproved strongly. The series was more serious and rendered in an artistic way. Seven years later, Michal Bay and Jonathan Liebesman lead the way on another face-lift for the franchise. The four turtles are now CGI, but they use motion capture technology and splice that animation with real-life human actors. The results look pretty good. Each of the turtles looks different now; they have accessories that give them more individuality and personality. People stuck in the past will complain for sure, but they are unfairly judging through adult eyes by comparing it to something from the past that is probably not a perfect as they remember. The same animation that looks great for the turtles is less effective for sensei Splinter or their nemesis, Shredder. Splinter appears harsh and Shredder has a ridiculous high-tech suit making him look like something out of transformers. Turtle fans love transformers, but the two worlds should remain separate. Luckily, the main villain this movie is Eric Sacks, a corporate leader with a sinister plan to overtake New York City with poison gas. William Fichner plays the part well, but it does not totally excuse this dumb version of Shredder. It has a nice new version of the origin story. April has a backstory with a connection to the turtles and villain at a young age, which gives the story more interest and depth than previous iterations. The general tone is lighthearted fun. Will Arnett, Whoopi Goldberg, and Michelangelo maintain an appropriate level of goofy humor. Fight scenes look good, but the action scenes are over the top. When the action has sarcasm and verbal jokes it works but in the climactic showdown things become more dramatic, and it seems like too much. It is far from perfect, but the story is better and the experience makes for a good time. The excellent voice work and new cast of human characters give me hope for the rebooted franchise.

Get Shorty
Get Shorty(1995)

John Travolta plays a Miami mafia enforcer goes to Vegas to collect a debt. He does so amidst shifting scene in the underground crime world Miami. The plot thickens when he must collect from a movie producer who is even more in debt. When mafia man gets to Los Angeles he finds the money, he hits more complications. That money is part of a movie industry investment that could make an even larger return. The collector decides to push the production of the movie to take a cut before returning with the debt. This is a highly entertaining comedy storyline with a large set of interesting characters. Travolta is a delight in the main role of the mafia collector turned movie maker. His aggressive and direct way of dealing with people turns out to be a funny juxtaposition to the flaky passive-aggressive Los Angeles film executives and stars. In addition to Travolta, Gene Hackman, Rene Russo, Danny DeVito, Dennis Farina, and Delroy Lindo all make for a talented cast. The depth of the cast helps each member of the large set of characters have a meaningful individual impact that strengthens the story. The result of having several characters operating independently with their own unrelated agendas is a brilliantly funny perfectly constructed commotion. The involved plot goes in unexpected directions, and separate story lines converge in rewarding ways. It becomes stranger, funnier, and more enjoyable with each level of development.

The Verdict
The Verdict(1982)
½

A disillusioned alcoholic lawyer in Boston gets what appears to be a soft malpractice case from a concerned friend trying to help him. Nothing comes easy for the lawyer, who coasts through his work while he destroys himself by drinking. The case should lead to a simple settlement with a good payout, but when he begins the case, he finds himself in a personal struggle. He uncovers a legitimate injustice and struggles to accept a settlement, which effectively results in a cover-up of a major medical error. The case symbolizes his individual struggle to take badly needed easy money or to regain his professional integrity and peace within himself by bringing the case to trial. The story works well, and the internal conflict within the main character is clear and emotional. It picks up as the powerful opposition, his high-paid defense attorneys attempt to sway trial outcome with bribes and underhanded tactics. Watching him research and build his case is exciting. He knows he has a case, but his formidable opponent makes it difficult for him. It all builds to a climactic court scene. A drunk lawyer on the skids is a different type of role for the usually likable Paul Newman, but he pulls it off very well. His character has a conscious, but he is uncertain of himself. He knows he must defeat his internal conflicts in order to be the lawyer his clients need him to be. It is a very good movie, with the emotional backbone needed to leave a lasting impact. The story also has enough tension to keep it interesting. It received five Oscar nominations but came away empty handed in a challenging year with tough competition.

Trainwreck
Trainwreck(2015)

Most romantic comedies are fluffy and short on laughs. They seem to be full of flat characters and easily resolvable miscommunications. Thankfully, this is not your typical rom-com. With Judd Apatow directing and Amy Schumer you get something fresh and funny. It uses its actors well and has depth in its main characters. This is more than a story about two people falling in love. That romantic component is there, but it is primarily about an insecure woman who fears commitment due to her parent's relationship and her childhood. She is broken emotionally and does not know how to be in loving relationship even when one presents itself. Amy Schmer uses a full array of acting talents here. She is funny, mouthy, and thick-skinned, as we know her to be in her stand up career. She makes fun of everyone, including herself and holds nothing back. More surprisingly, Amy also shows love, sympathy, and vulnerability in dealing with her sister and her father who suffers from multiple sclerosis. When a dorky but lovable athletic surgeon played by Bill Hader takes an interest in her it is not straightforward fireworks. The main character is confused, defensive, and inconsistent, showing her immaturity. There is so much more happening than the love story. It is as chaotic as real life. Some parts are merely funny tangents whereas other parts have a serious direct impact, but it is happening at the same time. It gets great performances from Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Colin Quinn, Brie Larson in the main roles. There are some fun sports star cameos; the ones by Lebron James are particularly funny. The dramatic parts of the story are dominant so do not go into seeking Judd Apatow's earlier work like The 40 year Old Virgin. Nevertheless, quality comedy and feel good moments balance it out. This shows us what a romantic comedy can be.

The Lost World - Jurassic Park

Seeing extinct dinosaurs come to life with Hollywood effects is an amazing thing. The first movie put a simple set of characters in tense situations and let the action and effects carry it. This movie takes the same approach, but it takes the simple characters for granted. The characters and plot feel do not work as well it results in a typical popcorn movie with big action, nothing more. Jeff Goldblum was fantastic last time, but forcing his character back on the island to save a never before mentioned love interest does not feel right. Of course, there has to be a stowaway kid in the mix to continue appealing to younger audiences. Unlike last time, however, Vanessa Lee Chester is a bad child actor and she pulls down the movie at every turn. The early exposition is heavy handed. Mercifully, the movie hits it stride as the story shifts to an abandoned island for developing and cultivating dinosaurs that operated independent of from the now destroyed theme park facility. Once there the expedition group comes across an injured juvenile T-Rex. They bring it back to mend its leg. When the parents come after their offspring things really get exciting and the magic is back. The attack leaves them without communication and it becomes a survival game to get off the island. Insularly characters die off perhaps too quickly. In a ridiculously poor plot turn that differs from the book, the main characters get off the island all too quickly. Their moronic entourage decides to bring select dinosaurs back to Los Angeles for a zoo. As expected, they cannot control the T-Rex and it unleashes a corny rampage across suburban Los Angeles. Why would the filmmakers abandon the second story by Michael Crichton? Action scenes mean nothing when the situation is this preposterous. It completely breaks down into head slapping stupidity. Aside from Vanessa Lee Chester, the rest of the cast is competent, but they have little to work with. The story turns into complete junk, but at least the dinosaurs look great.

High Fidelity

We meet a man in the midst of a difficult and emotional breakup played by John Cusack. He is self-destructive, sarcastic and too cool to care, which makes it hard for him to process and understand his romantic failures. He mopes around the record store he owns with his fellow music enthusiasts. With his recent breakup, he begins reviewing his past failed relationships going back to junior high. Cusack talks directly to the camera and walks the viewer through a series of flashbacks. Seeking closure and self-reflection, he looks each of these women up to ask why their previous relationship ended. It has a compelling delivery of the story that is personal and amusing at the same time. Humor helps make the main character's skepticism and insecurity go down easier. Cusack's charismatic personality and range of emotions carry the movie. Because the main character loves music, the story involves discussions about music throughout the movie. Any viewer that shares his love of classic-rock albums and vinyl records will love these tangents and musical analogies. The music is a devise to break the tension and builds characters that are more complete. Despite the moping from the breakup situation, it never weighs down too much. There is a satisfying character transformation takes place. A jerk who blames his problems on others matures to appreciate woman and his friends more completely for who they are.

Lucy
Lucy(2014)

Do not go into this looking for Luc Besson to rekindle the magic of the Fifth Element. The marketing made it seem like it would be a Borne Identity type of action movie with a vixen wielding guns and outthinking everyone. If we got that movie, everyone would be happy, but instead this is a messy and overly ambitious misfire. Scarlett Johansson plays a simple woman taken prisoner by vicious drug lords and forced to smuggle surgically implanted experimental drugs in an airplane. Not everything goes as planned and a large amount of the drug releases into her system. The newly developed drug unlocks the full potential of the human brain, whereas we only use ten percent of our brains. The rest of the movie is a jumbled yet gradual increase in her brain potential. There is no interesting goal for her to achieve other than to pass on her knowledge to humankind. She grows smarter and more powerful, but she becomes too powerful. Accessing her full potential of her mind allows her to read minds, control gravity, generate matter, contort her body, read and see electrical signals. No one can challenge her; maybe even Superman would have tough time dealing with her. She is too strong to the point where it is ridiculous, and it becomes hard to care about anything. No one else takes the drug with evil intentions where she has an equal opposition. In fact, after an early scene in the movie, the undeveloped villains do not do anything but add pointless action filler. Some of the visuals are impressive, but the artistic cut scenes from the animal kingdom and Morgan Freeman lecturing about the concept of the full potential of the brain do not work. They kill the momentum and any suspense the movie has. There is tons of potential to work with here, but it does not work on any level.

Laggies
Laggies(2014)

A woman in her later twenties is in a lengthy quarter life crisis. She avoids looking for a career and leans on her parents, friends and boyfriends until they pressure her to find a path in life. It takes most of the movie to understand this character played wonderfully by Keira Knightly. The character is easy to like because sweet and fun loving, but she has the major flaws that are so apparent to her family friends. When she no longer relates to the people around her, she flees everything. While running away she befriends a typical slightly rebellious high school girl played by Chole Grace Moretz. She sees herself and her friends when she was happy as a teenager when she is around the high school girl. It is an unorthodox friendship, but it is sweet. Both the woman and teenager grow and gain perspective from their friendship, but the girl's divorced father takes an interest in his daughter's older friend. The plot is constantly unfolding in unexpected ways with the irrational decisions Knightly's character makes. Splashes of humor, touching realizations, and moments of rewarding character growth keep the loose story moving well. Even if the main character is reckless, a bit selfish and lost Knightly plays the part in a way that we come to understand her and sympathize with her. The talented cast is particularly good. I enjoy seeing this fun lighter side of Keira Knightly, but she still plays a part with complexity and a serious side. She handles it so well. Chloe Grace Moretz, Sam Rockwell, Mark Webber, Jeff Garland and Ellie Kemper are superb as well. This is a strong pick slipping in under the radar. It is touching without being insultingly dumb or plagued by clichés. It is messy, complicated, and meandering, but overall beautiful, much like life can be for a confused dreamer floating through their twenties.

Still Alice
Still Alice(2015)

Alzheimer's is a cruel disease and watching it slowly break a person's mind down is extremely difficult. You know a movie like this is going to be a downer, but it is important to tell stories like this to make people aware of the condition. It helps people relate to those diagnosed and encourages charitable donations for research. Julianne Moore portrays the role of an accomplished and intelligent woman of the age of 50 diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. She handles the role with respect, compassion and skill. It is perhaps her finest acting performance in her diverse and wide-ranging career. She affectively conveys the mixture of emotions, and gradual degradation thought the movie. Her moments of anger, frustration, fear, and confusion are genuine and make you feel for the character. Moore completely deserves her Academy Award for Best Actress. The rest of the cast is also worthy support. Alec Baldwin plays her reluctantly supportive husband and Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth and Hunter Parrish playing her children. Of the children, only Kristen Stewart stands out, but she is the only one who has the opportunity to make an impression. Richard Glatzer Wash Westmoreland made a movie that handles a difficult subject with dignity. With Moore's acting and their direction, the audience understands the confusion and emotional struggle of the main character, which is key to the experience. Movies like this are hard to watch for me; I cannot say I enjoyed it. There are love and compassion within the story but like the disease, it ultimately tells a story of a heartbreaking defeat. Still, it is a story worth hearing.

Lee Daniels' The Butler
½

It is historically interesting, but the scope of subject matter and time this movie attempts to cover is daunting. We meet Cecil Gaines as seven-year-old in 1926 working on a sharecropping plantation. The movie walks us through various stages of his life. Lee Daniels works his way from poor farm hand to a White House Butler serving seven different presidents over thirty-four years. It is a remarkable life story of a man of great dignity and integrity. The story uses Lee Daniels as a mechanism to walk through time and see the enormous challenges and changes in American civil rights. It also tells the contrasting path of his oldest son, who resents his father's seemingly subservient job. The scenes between Cecil and his wife and sons are far more interesting than the scenes of his work at the White House. It makes its political points on a large scale well, but I wish the individual or emotional scales were of greater focus. Forest Whitaker plays the quiet Cecil Gaines well. He conveys a great deal with his physical and facial acting without talking. Oprah Winfrey does such a good job playing his wife; I wish she would act more often. Cuba Gooding Jr., David Banner, and Terrence Howard each do a commendable job as well. Seeing the different actors play famous presidents was a lot of fun. Sadly, the Presidents time on screen is short. We do not fully get to enjoy the performances from Robin Williams, James Marsden, Liev Schreiber, John Cusack, and Alan Rickman. Unexplainably the story completely skips Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. Even if they were two of the less appreciated presidents in history, I would still like to see them briefly mentioned. There is a lot of good information in this fictionalized biopic, but it tries to cover so much ground it lacks the concentrated focus that can deliver a poignant emotional impact.

Guys and Dolls
½

It has everything you want in a musical: humor, romance, catchy songs, a charming cast and story. The story involves slippery New York underground gamblers in late 1940s finessing the police, their love interests, and each other to set up a craps game. The sweet story stands on own surprisingly well. The music lightens what could be serious situations and gives it a bright fun feeling. Retro movie sets and wardrobe ooze charm and class. Not surprisingly, Frank Sinatra is the MVP. He balances the singing and acting perfectly. He is an irresponsible schuck, but you cannot help but love him anyway. Marlon Brando has the just the right style and personality in the lead role of Sky Materson, but his voice is below average. He gives it a valiant effort, but his insecure talk-singing is not particularly pleasant. The light mood and the rest of the ensemble make up for his deficiency in the music department. The songs themselves are great fun, and they complement the story in a meaningful way. Some of the musical numbers may fail to grab you, but it never kills the momentum. It is an all-around enjoyable feel-good time.

Noah
Noah(2014)

There may be too much complaining from people in terms of this interpretation secularizing a Biblical story. The Bible story, after all, is vague and does not go into detail. It is normal to have questions about how one man (or a few men) could construct such an enormous ship and how they collected the animals. This is one person's creative interpretation of how this story could have happened. It clearly goes well beyond what is in the scripture in terms of characters and giant stone guardians, but the fact is we really do not know the details. To get upset about it is a waste of time. The characters refer to God as the creator and the messages from God come from dreams that are open to interaction. None of this upsets me. Personally, I do not ask for a limited literal approach. I like showing human flaws in Noah, but it is too dark for my taste. At 138 minutes, this movie overstays its welcome. The cast is fine, but the writing cannot support a movie this long. The issue I have with this disappointing movie is the copious amounts of useless action and drama. There is not enough awe in the presentation of the miracles. Instead, it attempts to spice things up with needless aggressive confrontations and fight scenes. The payoff is not there, as the movie drags, particularly in the last act. It is a simple story, and the challenge of the movie should be to make an inspiring visual and musical experience to make one feel the power of the story. There is not much of an experience here.

Insurgent
Insurgent(2015)
½

Falling to The Hunger Games formula nagged the first movie, Divergent; by cheapening what seemed like an interesting concept for science fiction movie. Rather than distinguishing itself, it dives headfirst into the marketable formula. Unfortunately, that does not make for a good story. The hero figure Triss is strangely impulsive and reckless his time. This is not consistent with her character from before. Her bravery is turns to blind stupidity as she walks right into the hands of the oppressive government she is fighting. Her enemies use her natural-born gifts as a Divergent to undergo a series of digital trials. If she completes the trials, an artifact from long ago will unlock and potentially change their world. Hey, do you remember that important artifact from the first movie? No? That is because they are making up rules as they go along. Suddenly, there is this game-changing thing that hero must unlock and get from her opponent. This is simply bad writing. There are no thoughtful story transitions either. Other smarter people or sheer luck constantly bails out the hero and advances the movie. It predictably ends on an incomplete open cliffhanger that feels more like a TV episode. Movies like this tell young people that they are the masters of their future, and they are special and different, but that alone is not a means to an end. Just being different will not cause a revolution. Revolutions take personal sacrifice, dedication, discipline and hard work. I understand the appeal to the target audience, but with just a little more effort a story like this could work. It frustrates me to see such flimsy writing rake in money while good stories struggle to reach production.

Congo
Congo(1995)

Michael Crichton is probably not happy that his thriller book converted into an intentionally humorous playful action movie. This movie has its own campy charm and when taken for what it is can be good fun. It helps that the director and cast do not approach it too seriously. Tim Curry and Joe Don Baker in particular, have just the right amount of crazy cartoon character in them. The settings of the African jungle and ancient ruined city of Zinge look great. Making a gorilla interact in human ways and using sign language is not easy. Simple sign language would be better than the special computer gloves that convert and translate in robot voice for everyone to understand. The makeup and costume team did a decent job of making an actor seem apelike enough without becoming a distraction. It is not a highly crafted movie, but it knows what it is. I do not understand why the jungle romp replaces the excitement and violence of the Crichton story. It would be nice to see a more serious and faithful adaptation of the book in the future. As long as you do not enter this movie looking for a realistic or suspenseful thriller, it should entertain.

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

Our favorite museum night watch, Larry and his dependable goofy historical friends notice something wrong when they come to life. The magic of Ahkmenrah tablet is fading, and it begins to grow a green corrosive film. Larry rounds up his display wax friends and takes them to Britain on a traveling exhibition. Once again, we get a new museum of untamed creatures and historical and literary figures coming to life, and chaos ensues. The British museum does not add up to much in terms of colorful companions short of its Lancelot character played by Dan Stevens. Luckily, it leans on familiar faces of Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Steven Coogan, and the monkey to carry it. As an adventure, it is merely average even for a kid's movie, but the tangential gags and goofy side jokes save it. Despite a potent cast of big-name talents, only Ben Stiller has the chance to shine. The British night attendant played by Rebel Wilson, in particular, could have been so much better. The first two movies underutilize a gifted cast as well. Like the characters in the movie, this series is losing its magic in some ways, but a jovial cast and short runtime keep in check. If you enjoyed the first two, then this will prove adequate. In a way, it is sad to see Stiller closes the door on the series, or at least his participation in it. It is, however, the right thing to do, and he does so with dignity.

Dark Shadows
Dark Shadows(2012)

It is hard to explain this movie, because it is tragically uneven. Things start of so well with a narrated back-story where a wealthy young man in Victorian times betrays a witch in love with him in favor of another woman. The witch, played by the lovely and versatile Eva Green, enchants his lover and casts her over a cliff to her death. Depp's character is not so lucky, she makes him a vampire and buries him alive, incapable of dying and reuniting with his true love in the afterlife. This is all good so far; the sets and costumes look great, and the story is sound. Depp finds himself unburied in modern times and finds the town he once knew is now completely different. He reconnects with an enjoyable cast of decedent family members living in his old estate. The present-day family is quirky and off beat and full of dysfunctionality. It has upbeat sentiment as his loyalty to his bloodline compels him to help his new family. There is still a dark undertone to the protagonist though, because he is a vampire and must feed off the living. Three-quarters of the way through the movie, everything is enjoyable with colorful characters and a plot that has heart and humor. Then things unexplainably lose their way. The story rushes itself and devolves to expensive computer generated action scenes. Where did the personality and cleverness in storytelling go? It does not recover until the final scene and by then it is too late. Strong performances from Eva Green, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, and Michelle Pfeiffer mean nothing when the director loses control this badly. Tim Burton shows his strengths in finding kindness and fun within inherently dark characters, but the story telling falls by the wayside as the finish line is in sight. It is a pity.

The Dark Crystal
½

Normally, technique is only secondary to the plot and the characters. On a rare occasion like this, the methodology and skill of the director equal or even surpass the story content. From the genius mind of Jim Henson comes a deeply immersive and magical futuristic fairytale. The Dark Crystal is a visual splendor made without any onscreen human actors. Henson uses puppets, costumes, and stunning surreal set designs to bring to life a magnificent unique world. Complementing the amazing visual richness is a superb soundtrack composed by Trevor Jones. The story is extremely simple, but it has the beautiful simplicity of a children's fairy tale. I love the clear division of good and evil how the puppet designs keenly celebrate that. The good-hearted characters draw you in and show kindness and joy despite being inanimate puppets. The evil characters look even more amazing. They look as scary, mean, and disgusting as their personalities. Henson rightfully understands that children want to be scared sometimes, and that it is a good for their development. Some adults may complain that there are not deep emotional complexities in the characters. Those people are missing the point; it is more about splendor, excitement. For me, it makes me feel like I did as a child and hearing a great story or watching a fantasy movie for the first time. That is a difficult thing to pull off; few movies achieve it as an adult. It is a delightful movie directed at children, but adults will enjoy as well. The skill in constructing and executing a unique vision like this is a real accomplishment. My only regret with this movie is that I did not see it as a child.

Spy
Spy(2015)
½

Melissa McCarthy finds a perfect vehicle for her talents, and it works beautifully. Once again, she teams up with Paul Feig, who is the writer, producer, and director here. Feig seems to know how to get the best out of McCarthy. The two worked perfectly together on Bridesmaids and The Heat, which are Melissa's strongest efforts to date. Spy lives up to and may even surpass the duo's previous projects. McCarthy's role utilizes her physicality, high energy, and her uniquely aggressive mouthy behavior. Her character is also rounded character with depth. She is a kind person, with self-doubts and emotions to make her vulnerable. McCarthy is at her best when she is not just playing a fool and lets her lovable soft sideshow. It is an exceedingly funny movie. It pokes fun at the spy movie genre, but does not reduce itself to a full-fledged spoof. More surprisingly, it is also a good action spy movie in its own right. The plot is not the typical flat action-comedy format. It has a few surprises and action scenes that really deliver thrills. Melissa McCarthy may look harmless, but she is kicking butt in this movie. Sure, it is ridiculous and it is fun to watch. Rose Burn plays a terrorist villain who is a deliciously exaggerated uptight snob. She provides a straight character to banter with McCarthy and her deep bag foul mouth comebacks. Perhaps the greatest pleasant surprise is funny performance from Jason Statham. He plays an idiotic loose cannon antihero messing up at every turn and has a never-ending stream of terrible ideas. Statham is completely self-deprecating and self-aware. He relentlessly makes fun of the roles he typically plays. Feig and McCarthy are a winning team and a joy to watch. It is unusual for a comedy movie to deliver legitimate fun thrills, but this movie does both extremely well.

The Breakfast Club

In high school, most people fall into ridged social categories. The vast division between groups is staggering when you consider how much people often have in common. Simply having different physical attributes or interests seemingly determines how many or which people will be your friends. This movie understands that, but it does not accept it. It challenges that social structure in a thoughtful way. The story involves a small group of students serving detention on a Saturday. Each student represents one of the defined categories that all schools have. There is a brainy but awkward nerd, a beautiful popular girl, an athletic jock, an eccentric artistic outcast and a rebellious troublemaker. I can say from personal experience that Saturday detention is not such an interesting and diverse cross-section of the student body. In the doldrums of their detention, they talk to each other and share how they got in trouble. Like real teenagers, they make fun of each other and put forth a front to validate their social designation. The longer they talk the more they get under each other's skin; soon truths and inner demons start to emerge. By removing superficial peer pressure these teenagers can see how much they have in common. Each one thinks they have problems the others cannot understand. As they share their hardships and views of the world, they find no answers, but they find unity and a cathartic reassurance that they are not alone. Contrasting the teen perspective is the equally insightful is the assistant principle played by the dislikable Paul Gleason. He plays a judgmental bitter educator full of self-importance. His bullish character harbors the frustration of an adult who is not happy with how his life went and takes it out on young people he views as inferior. The cast is sincere and the dialogue, direction, and writing are brilliant. The 80s soundtrack and style maintain a restrained charm that is very much of its time and yet the characters and situations are universal to all generations.

Nightcrawler
Nightcrawler(2014)
½

At the onset of the movie, we meet a lone mysterious young man who clearly is trying to make meager money selling stolen scrap metal. Late one night he witnesses a freelance film crew shooting a car crash to sell to news stations. In the process, he sees the craft of the camera operators, fast pace thinking, and a morbid fascination with the violence and carnage. With no prior experience, he sets out to start a freelance camera business for himself. Jake Gyllenhaal plays the peculiar yet ambitious character. Although the main character is not likeable even off-putting, he is fascinating. He is clearly smart, persistent, and capable of great charm, but he is also calculating, manipulative, and unfeeling. His competitive spirit and unyielding drive to succeed cause him to hurt people, blackmail them, and force them into doing what he wants. It is chilling to what unethical lengths he goes to earn more money on a story, beat his competition to a story. Perhaps even more disturbing is how successful he is using his immoral tactics. I am not sure why I previously doubted Jake Gyllenhaal as an actor, but I did. This movie completely caused me revaluates his acting abilities. His physical mannerisms and facial acting are most impressive. He seems creepy with his overly crisp movements and his hollow go-getter act. There is a predatory animal-like, an analytical nature to his sociopath character. The direction completes and enhances the off-putting feel of the movie with strong camera work music and lighting. Dan Gilroy skillfully uses darkness and blue-green fluorescent lighting to make the viewer feel uneasy and build a growing tension throughout the movie. The story insightfully lampoons flaws in modern media news coverage and corporate world, much of which seems hauntingly believable. It is not a complete thrill ride, but there is smart subtle tension and the acting and directing make this a great pick.

The Wedding Ringer

There are good laughs and it more than passes the time but a few directorial decisions, and some of the writing have me frustrated at what this could be. The premise of an underdog hiring an entire wedding party to look cool is funny. Fundamentally, it seems strange that any person would want to fool their soon to be spouse and family. Thankfully, the plot addresses this flawed line of thinking. Kevin Hart and Josh Gad are a lot of fun together. Gad is believable as a lovable loser with no friends; we feel sorry for him like you should. Hart comes off as mouthy and deceitful but clever and willing to commit. The two have an agreeable chemistry. All of that sounds good but Jeremy Garelick does not see it through as the director. The sentimental side is sound, which is admirable for a comedy, but the construction and execution of the jokes is not right. Often it set up a gag but when it delivers the punchline they do not dig into it or take it far enough. Inversely, there are also incongruent moments of extreme gross out gags that might be funny in another movie, but not this one. Garelick's best-known work, before this effort, was the terrible 2006 movie, The Break Up. It is a shame not to get the full effect of the simple but enjoyable premise and the chemistry of two likable leading stars. A more skillful director with the ability to elevate a simple comedy could do a lot more with this. If you enjoy goofy comedies still see it, but just do not expect to remember it in five years.

The Other Woman
½

Leslie Mann and Cameron Diaz are great, but the rest of the movie is not up to their level. Mann plays an adorable peppy housewife discovers that her husband is having an affair. She does not confront him, but spies on him to understand who he is cheating with. When she finds the other woman played by Cameron Diaz, she confronts her but discovers she did not know her husband is married. The two women they form an unorthodox yet heartwarming friendship. They team together and try to exact revenge on their betraying lover. It is an interesting premise, and it starts well but when the plot device sets in it the comedy underachieves. As Diaz and Mann spy on the villainous womanizer, they find that he is a shady businessman and has yet a third lover, played by model Kate Upton. Upton might be pretty, but is out of her league as far as acting goes. Her character brings nothing to the movie and only muddies the storytelling. When you have Leslie Mann and Cameron Diaz there is no need for tacked on eye candy. A side love story develops between Cameron Diaz and Taylor Kinney playing Leslie Mann's brother. I like the intent that everyone comes out better in the end but the writing of their relationship is lazy and transparent. More laughs might make these problems in the middle of the movie go down easier, but it loses its way. It is still worth seeing for the two main characters, but try to maintain low expectations.

Love Actually
½

People seem to like this one. When discussing the most bearable chick-flicks for men this often comes up. I, however, do not like it. Sure, there is a deep cast, but it is a sloppy mess with a severe case of attention deficit disorder. I am imaging the screenwriters' process for this movie involved a brainstorming session to come up with ideas for a romantic comedy. They came up with a dozen decent ideas or so. Rather than using, their brains to narrow down and develop the most promising one or two ideas into a full movie, they said, "Let's just do them all." Then they went to lunch and talked about who to put in the movie to make people want to see it. With no exaggeration, there are at least nine distinctly different plotlines at one time. The movie ambitiously starts by introducing you to each storyline. Some of the stories begin to cross paths. I found myself hoping that all of them would merge in a clever way or at very least dramatically effect each other. Astoundingly, they do not come together in any meaningful way; some of the storylines are completely independent. Each story has a different tone pulling your emotions in all conflicting directions. One story has a hilarious idiot traveling to Wisconsin, so he can meet hot women. Another is about a grumpy middle-aged man thoughtlessly cheating on his wife; devastated, she pretends not to know. These things do not fit together. It is incongruent and jumbled to the core. Some of the characters and cast members are likable. Hugh Grant is pleasant. Kris Marshall is quite funny, and Liam Neeson offers up a heartwarming performance as a single father, but it is all in a vacuum. None of the stories have time to develop any complexity, leaving it as an emotionally shallow unrewarding movie.

Taken 3
Taken 3(2015)

At a high level Taken is excellent, Taken 2 is a shamefully flimsy, and Taken 3 is somewhere in between. It still pales in comparison to the first movie but at least the story holds water this time. Liam Neeson's character finds himself framed for killing his ex-wife, who he never stopped loving. He is running from the police while simultaneously trying to find and prove who killed the woman he loved. If that sounds familiar, that is because it is exactly the premise of the classic 1993 movie, The Fugitive. Needles to say, it is not as good. Unoriginality aside, it is still a reasonable premise and gives legitimate motivation the character. The path to discovering the murderer lacks interest. It is painfully obvious who the bad-guys are and what is happening all too soon. The writers seem to know this and try to compensate with a complex sub-plot motivation of the killer. More attention to the detective hunting down the wrongfully accused hero and his investigation would have helped create interest that is more meaningful. It lacks craft in the storytelling. The larger issue is that the stunts, escapes, and action scenes are so incredibly overblown. I know the hero is a former super soldier, but reality goes out the window. Complete realism is not necessary, but when it gets so carried away the sense of danger and concern for the characters fades. When that sense of danger or suspense is broken, the audience cares less. It is still good fun, but it is somewhat disposable.

Bad Santa
Bad Santa(2003)

This is not just the usual edgy comedy; it is completely irreverent. When juxtaposed with the good nature of a Christmas movie you get some bold moments that are not for everyone. Indeed, Billy Bob Thornton is downright nasty as he plays a self-loathing drunk crook with no moral boundaries. Billy Bob is simply perfect for the role. He breaks your heart as he stumbles around drunk in a Santa suit, yelling at kids, and stealing from anyone he can. In the strangest of story twists, a naïve, even stupid, kid who believes he is the real Santa offers him food, shelter and friendship. The bad Santa takes advantage of him, uses him and cares nothing for him most of the movie. It seems cruel and is a little hard to watch. In the true spirit of Christmas, there is some semblance of a caring human in him, and it becomes a comical semi-redeeming story. It does dig a deeper and darker hole than you might guess before coming back to the light. A strong supporting cast, including Bernie Mac, John Ritter, Lauren Graham, and Tony Cox help make the movie. Lauren Graham and her Santa fetish is memorable to say the least. There are plenty of off-putting dark moments but there are good laughs too.

Home Alone 3
Home Alone 3(1997)

The kid grew up, the robbers are gone, but that did not stop this sequel from happening? I am not sure how this constitutes as being part of a series. A more appropriate title might be "A Rip-Off of Home Alone." We have an entirely new set of characters that are not as good as the first time around. This time there are four bumbling and incompetent spies, because two must not have been enough. They are nowhere near as funny Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern, not even as victims of booby-traps. Alex Linz is good but not as lovable as Macaulay Culkin. The setup for this new kid is a sickday where his mother must go into work anyway is extremely weak. It is not the end of the world, I suppose, but it is too short of a time for the given situation. It is disappointing how the physical humor of the traps is tamer this time around. The traps themselves are good, but the dumbed down reactions are not. They must be supposedly "more acceptable for kids." The biggest reason why it pales in comparison to the first two movies is it lacks the heartfelt moments and strong supporting roles. It is amusing and has some fine cartoonish humor with the traps, but this is a Home Alone movie in name only for me.

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

It is not a bad sequel, but this is very familiar ground. The filmmakers went to great lengths to replicate the first movie. The only difference is that this time the setting is New York City, instead of the suburbs of Chicago. Pretty big difference, huh? The unsupervised kid in Manhattan provides some sense of an exploration adventure, but it does not do much for the overall movie. Even though it makes little sense for them to be in this, I am thankful the same robbers were back. With Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern falling for Macaulay Culkin's rudimentary traps, there is plenty of physical slapstick humor. The dynamic between the kid and the scary pigeon lady in the park is too recycled from the first movie to forgive. It is a shameless rip-off of the creepy next-door neighbor. I did enjoy watching Macaulay Culkin outsmart and slip around Rob Schneider and Tim Curry in the plaza hotel. These parts act as nice plot transitions and are the only new aspect of the sequel. Luckily, the original was so enjoyable that a second lap with just a few slight changes is agreeable.

Home Alone
Home Alone(1990)

This is one of my favorite movies to pull out at Christmas time. It is very funny, and like all good holiday flicks, it makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, by reminding us of the importance of family. It appeals people of all ages. Watching a kid go wild with no parents and no rules is any kids dream. It is funny for adults, at the same time, to watch a naive troublemaking kid take care of himself and learn some responsibility. Macaulay Culkin is a talented young actor. His animated facial expressions and conversations with himself make otherwise uneventful scenes funny. Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern are a hilarious comedic duo as the two most incompetent burglars in the world. They take over every scene they are in with their excellent physical humor and great chemistry. No matter how many times I see these two nitwits fall victim to a child's crude booby-traps it still makes me laugh. The creepy neighbor and family components of the movie give the movie the meaning and feeling to make it more than just a silly movie. All the good laughs, strong casting, meaningful sentimentality and broad appeal make it a great movie and true Christmas classic. It is, in fact, one of my favorite movies period.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Of all of Dr. Seuss' stories, this is the most direct and faithful conversion from book to movie. It is a thoroughly enjoyable heartwarming Christmas classic. Chuck Jones' animation is not quite as playful or imaginative as the Dr. Seuss illustrations, but they are very much in the same spirit. The animation adds a little more detail and structure, which are necessary for this medium. It still maintains the right softness and feel. The music is a perfect addition and a skillful way to extend the length without forcing new elements into it. In terms of the story, it is a tried and true classic appealing to viewers of all ages. It is brief at only 26 minutes, but it accomplishes everything it needs to and is every bit as enjoyable as any full-length feature. It captures the good-willed spirit of Christmas and has a timeless appeal.

Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Nothing can measure up the 1965 animated version of the How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but this real-life remake is shockingly good. It follows the classic Dr. Seuss story but because the classic children's book is so short, it must insert new characters and fill in the gaps to make it a full-length movie. Adding to a classic is risky business, but in this case, it works. The costume design, makeup, and environments look wonderful and bring the lovable Seuss illustrations to life in a delightful way. Above all Jim Carrey is brilliant as the infamous mean green holiday hating machine. This is one of his finest performances, and he truly carries the movie on his back. He is fittingly rude and gross, yet funny and lovable at the same time. Several moments have an exaggerated cartoon-like feeling to them. Adults may actually enjoy this one more, but there is plenty of simple cartoon-like fun for younger audiences as well. The music is a little weak but the imaginative world Ron Howard renders and Jim Carrey's excellence makes this a fun holiday experience worthy of re-watching.

Trading Places
½

A great comedy does not necessarily have to overwhelm you with hilarity. Sometimes they can make a statement or make you think. I do not ask all comedies to do this but when they combine substance, sentiment, and humor, it is a special thing. Trading Places is one of those movies. It is a great comedy with the backbone of a good story and fully developed set of characters. The plot involves two old bond trading tyrants debating if people circumstances in life are more a result of genetic nature or environmental nurturing. For the wager of just one dollar, they arrange an elaborate swap of a poor black man living on the streets begging for money with a successful but spoiled educated white businessman. The result is two funny yet insightful fish out of water situations. Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd are excellent playing the two confused men involved in the swap. Both have keen acting and comedic talents. They become their characters without going too far or distracting from the story and its humorous situations. Jamie Lee Curtis and Denholm Elliott are valuable in their supporting roles. Their characters give a sounding board to develop the two main characters in an organic way. The comedy is light, but it works in enough humor to keep it moving. Warm emotions and thoughtful writing sets it above most comedies. There are plenty of role switching comedies, but this on stands above others. The acting and characters elevate this to a memorable movie with heart, humor, and meaning.

The Wolf of Wall Street

Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio team up again to relive the excessive lifestyle of a1980s Wall Street tycoon. The acting and direction are everything you would expect, but the story based on Jordan Belfort's memoir is a complete downer. It is a long three-hour haul for a movie with a dislikable main character. Like Scorsese's Goodfellas, we have a flawed protagonist rising to power by exploiting others. He breaks laws and gets rich while living a reckless lifestyle of drugs and prostitutes. The second half is the inevitable destruction of a man who seemingly has it all. There are enough drugs, nudity, cheap sexuality, and greed to sink a barge. This may be the most explicit movie I have seen, but it has no appeal or sensuality. The overindulgence is only off-putting and shameful. The movie has a political mission to repulse the viewer with the excessive greed of a corporate monster whom many aspire to become. It attacks the Wall Street gluttony and makes it point rather effectively. The acting from DiCaprio, Jonah Hill and the rest of the cast is impressive. In that regard, it is an admirable well-made movie. I personally get no enjoyment or learn anything in watching this unfortunate tale.

Thunderball
Thunderball(1965)

Following Goldfinger in the 007 series is not an easy task, but Thunderball is up for it. The Spetre terrorist organization reemerges by hijacking nuclear missiles, and it is up to James Bond to save the world. It understands the value of keeping the plot simple and letting the action, location, and visuals of the adventure be the focus. This could be the most imaginative of the entire Bond series. It features jetpacks, submarines, bomb-detecting watches, and villains that disguise themselves with plastic surgery. It is a bold, expensive, beautiful, and fantastic; everything a Bond movie should be. A mid-60s aesthetic along with the underwater scuba diving and exotic and festive Bahamas beach setting gives this an amazing sense of style. Terence Young deserves a great deal of credit in making this an icon of its time. The inspired undersea action scenes make this a significant technical achievement alone. Savor Sean Connery's performance; this is the last movie James Bond where he is fully engaged and his highest form. He has his trademark style, charm, humor and grit in his prime. Aldolfo Celi makes for a strong villain and his beautiful but deadly henchwoman Luciana Paluzzi is excellent. Paluzzi's character does not to fall for Bond's good looks and charisma; she has charm herself, but she is a killer at her core. Even now, she stands out as one of the most formidable and interesting henchmen in the series. It does not have a relentless high pace, but the actors have a magnetism and the director has the flair and intelligence to make it great. This is a standout in the 007 cannon and one of my personal favorites.

Goldfinger
Goldfinger(1964)

Perhaps this is the most stylish and charming of the Bond movies. This movie hit all the notes at the right time in history. It solidifies the successful formula and acts as the foundation that carries the series through the next fifty years. The Golfinger character is an iconic greedy villain with a bold plan to spike the cost of gold by blowing up Fort Knox. His henchman, Odd Job, has super strength and provides the needed physical opposition to complement such a thinking villain. Brining Bond to the United States for this adventure was a brilliant marketing move that greatly expanded the fan base of the franchise. Under Guy Hamilton's direction, this movie is a spectacle. It is more expensive and flexes a bigger in concept than the previous two movies. With stimulating global locations and sleek sexy interior set designs, this movie looks fantastic. There is incredible creativity with an abundance of forward-thinking gadgetry in this movie. Q's gadgets are one of the most important aspects differentiating Bond from other action movies. Some of the technology may seem dated, but if you remind yourself that it is set in 1964, you will appreciate the innovation that captivated audiences at the time. Sean Connery is in his peak here. He is funny, smart, charming, and convincingly tough with the action and fighting. Connery's physical movements, fashion, facial expressions, and attitude become a part of the character. It even influenced the way Ian Flemming's novels. All subsequent actors to play the role will face the comparison to Connery's performance in this movie. Female supporting roles played by Honor Blackman, Shirley Eaton, and Tania Mallet are memorable as well. This is the quintessential Bond movie; it is one of the most successful and probably the best all-around of the series. It captures its time beautifully and shaped action movies in general for years to come.

From Russia With Love

After an impressive introduction to the James Bond character, the second movie, From Russia with Love, builds on the strong start and takes the franchise to the next level. Connery is completely at ease here in playing the part; he is just simply Bond, James Bond. The plot meanders and covers more ground than most 007 movies. It is more complex and has a larger set of developed characters, but it remains coherent and consistent throughout. A mysterious terrorist organization seeks revenge, and in the process attempts to provoke opposing world superpowers against one another. Their plan aims to manipulate British and Russian spies into pursing a decoder while hunting each other and amplifying tension between their governments. Despite a bit of a slow start it picks up and turns into great action and fun. The end of the movie is particularly exciting with big action scenes, chases, stunts, and fighting. His female companion played by Daniela Bianchi is one of the most interesting of the Bond Ladies. Of course, she and Eunice Gayson add plenty of sex appeal as a nice bonus, but Bianchi's character makes a meaningful impact. The first four Bond movies are truly special. They helped define their time and raised the bar for all action movies. No matter what your favorite Bond era or actor may be, this is a safe bet to please fanboys and casual fans alike.

Bride of Chucky
½

Chucky is a fine character, but with each movie that comes out, the sillier it gets. The third movie failed to deliver good scares and feels unbalanced. Chucky movies are now a parody of themselves. They are violent yet beyond believable and completely silly. Now it is a playful romp of a serial killer slashing and burning through disposable characters. If this is the approach, you like in a horror movie than you may have renewed interest in this series. The main characters are a set of teenagers in love, but held apart by an overbearing stepfather. This part of the movie offers nothing. The acting is terrible, and the delivery of the story is heavy handed. The twisted love-hate relationship between a Chucky and his past lover, Tiffany, has more of a redeeming quality than expected. Through a set of strange circumstances, Tiffany also becomes a live doll, like Chucky. Here, there is some redeeming humor in the dialogue as they bicker, make puns, and take joy in murdering. Overall, this no longer feels like the Child's Play series; it is more of a satirical tangent. I do not tend to appreciate horror movies taking the light-hearted silly approach and mowing down idiots. Given what it is, it is not that bad.

Dr. No
Dr. No(1962)
½

This one started it all! It is stylish, sexy, and sophisticated and has a ton of mid-century charm. The pace is slower than subsequent movies in the series, but the time spent is valuable in shaping a film icon that will last for decades. Sean Connery as 007 is a timeless hero who is lightly humorous, resourceful, smart, tough, and an irresistible to women. Other actors will follow him but none will surpass him, because Ian Fleming even admitted that Connery helped shape his character in the later books. This first movie is more about the lifestyle and constant danger for a spy. The diabolical Dr. No is a mysterious villain who is not fully developed. Still, his base of terrorist operations is stunning, and he seems properly threatening even without a complete back-story. Cementing this movie as an icon of the time is the beautiful Ursula Andress. She plays Honey Rider, an innocent bystander who catches Bond's eye but soon finds herself captive of Dr. No. Andress is more than a pretty accessory. She establishes an important precedent of the Bond girl. The female companions and adversaries along with fantastic villains, sharp fashion and forward thinking technologies are what make this series special. Despite a slower pace earlier in the movie, there is plenty of excitement, mystery, romance, charm, and imagination to entertain, and it packages it all together so well. This gets the 007 franchise of to a great start and is still in the conversation for one of the best.

Tremors 4 - The Legend Begins
½

The first three Tremors movies depreciated greatly with each movie. I was not excited to proceed to the fourth movie after the third one was so bad. Fortunately, this movie shakes things up and moves away from the stale set of secondary characters in feature roles. This time the adventure takes place in a flashback set in the Wild West. It takes influence from Back to the Future III in a number of ways. The western characters are humorously similar versions of their distant descendants. They look and even sound like their great-great-grand-children. Michael Gross, however, is dramatically different. After seeing him be gung-ho for three movies it is a fun juxtaposition to have him playing a cowardly and delicate proper type of gentleman. The tone is still campy and comical, but now the series confidently pushes primarily for humor with less emphasis on thrills. It is a good move, and it pays off in a big way. The general sense of fun and likability of simple characters returns to the series for the first time since the original movie. I like it enough to say that it is completely worth the trudge of third movie in order to get to this.

The Haunting Passion
½

A married couple moves into a new house on the beach. Dan is a depressed retired professional football player who struggles to accept that he is no longer able to play. He neglects his wife, Julia in his depression often leaving her alone in the house. Mysterious occurrences start happening in the house when Julia is on her own. She begins sleepwalking during erotic dreams. Her reoccurring dreams always involve the same mysterious man. She is unsure if her mind is right or if a haunted figure is seducing her. To the audience, it is all too straightforward and lacks the excitement of not knowing what is happening or what comes next. It is unfortunately less about a haunting than a married couple that will not communicate with each other. I do not hold a television movie to the same standard, but even so, this is not particularly good. The story is flat, and the sense of mystery and suspense is only mild. Most of the acting feels like it belongs in a soap opera. Horror movies do not demand great acting, but it should be better than this. It mainly serves as a vehicle to sport a provocative Jane Seymour in steamy solo scenes made acceptable for TV. If you want to see a 24-year-old Jane Seymour, then have at it, but otherwise you are better off with any number of other haunted house stories.

Let the Right One In

This is actually a beautiful, albeit dark and dysfunctional romance. The young age of the characters may shock and disturb some people, but it is grimly honest and very realistic in many ways. It takes a while to flesh itself out, but a story about a lonely outcast boy develops into a story of friendship, love, and vampires. It is romance and a drama primarily and a horror movie second. The vampire attacks and killing are not the focus. The vampire lure here supports the movie's focus, which is the development of two young characters. The desolate and icy Swedish winter setting is stark, colorless and empty. Even daytime scenes at the beginning seem appropriately unnerving. That tension remains constant throughout the film thanks to the discretion and good direction of Tomas Alfredson. Kare Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson, the main characters, nail the off-putting in their behavior and physical appearance to make their characters fit the story. The subject matter is dark and has strong themes of sexuality but the filmmakers bravely remained true to the emotional story without candy coating it. These are kids just beginning to transition to adolescence, making the nature of their relationship important to the story. It is a well-written dramatic story of two outsiders with hints of mystery, some gruesome violence, and the ugliness of the world in general. At the same time, there is also beautiful companionship and heart. I highly recommend it, but it is not for the highly conservative crowd or for people looking for thrills of a murderous killing spree.

Let Me In
Let Me In(2010)
½

There is no need to remake the Swedish film Let the Right One In from 2008. It was great the way it was. This version is so similar; the only way I can review it is to compare it to the Swedish version. I suppose there was money or a larger audience to gain by remaking it just two years later in America. Surprisingly, this remake does not bastardize the original. The haunting yet beautiful story is still intact with only minor changes. Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Grace Moretz are fantastic in the lead roles. The largest differences are non-linear storytelling and superior special effects. Neither modification makes it better, but it does offer the director a different interpretation and a new experience of a great movie. Having a larger budget and more technology enabled the visible horror elements to be more intense. This version is more violent, darker and more gruesome. Showing more does not necessarily equate to scarier or more exciting, but seeing some difference in the approach is good. The grim lighting that carries thought the movie, soundtrack, and more involved camera techniques are impressive. I might prefer the stillness and stark somber nature of the Swedish version. Overall, this is an excellent movie, despite the copying of a recent foreign film. My guess is whichever one you see first will make you fall in love with the story and will be your favorite. I encourage people to see both and enjoy two subtly different experiences of the same great story.

Friday the 13th Part 3

I have no love for the Jason series, but this is a slight rebound from the deplorable second movie. It is nice to see the movie cut down on the stupidity of the characters, even if the acting is well below par. I appreciate deemphasizing the gore in favor of tension. This movie actually has some legitimate excitement. It has longer chase scenes and more thoughtfully set up kill situations. This all sounds like praise, but it is in comparison to two terrible movies. There are still more than twenty bone-headed false alarms. That may be fewer than the previous movies in the series, but it still cheapens any tension the plot, music or camerawork attempts to build. I can respect its low-budget campy feel, but it is not funny enough to be satirical. It may be the strongest of the series, but that still does not mean that it is good.

It Follows
It Follows(2015)
½

It is extremely difficult to hold tension throughout entire duration of a movie, but this movie does it magnificently. It has the relentless pace of an unstoppable slasher but also has the mystery and intangibility of a ghostly haunting. David Robert Mitchell clearly takes directional influence from John Carpenter's Halloween, and it does so most effectively. Horror in the mid-2010s is in an era of remaking or revisiting previous ideas and using new technology to enhance the imagery. That is not particularly a bad thing, but it makes a truly unique concept like this a real treat. While it features teenagers that seem to have no parents, it is hardly a dumb horror-teen flick. The story uses well-constructed teenage characters. Their insecurities and loss of innocence are important plot devices. Three are no cheap scares or distracting breaks in tone. It is tight, disciplined and consistent in its mood. The plot never stagnates and things are continuously unfolding, keeping you at the edge of your seat. One interesting aspect of the movie is its vague period. It deliberately mixes clothing, building types, accessories, and household items from different eras. There is a feeling of 70s or 80s, particularly in the camerawork. At the same time, there are also obviously present day elements. This approach my help the movie age well by removing the distraction of things that unintentionally date the movie in a negative way. The best horror movies are the ones like this that build and maintain suspense the best. This makes its mark as a high-quality horror film with its excellent execution and simple yet original concept. Take the recommendation to see this knowing as little as possible before going in and enjoy the ride.

The Babadook
The Babadook(2014)

Do not fall for the title; The Babadook is an excellent horror movie. Great horror movies like this one scare us, but they go beyond that. The Babadook has a plotline that builds suspense and establishes an important understanding and emotional connection to the characters. When you get inside of the characters, their fears and pains become yours. That is one of the most important things for any drama or horror to be effective, and this movie does it perfectly. The story involves a troublesome child who acts out and displays violent behaviors and his ragged single mother. While the child is full of problems, he is still innocent and endearing even so. The boy finds a book and begs his mother to read it to him, but it is full of threatening images and rhymes that foreshadow dark events to come. It develops into a brilliantly original take on the monster under the bed. This alone generates excellent suspense, as an innocent child and his mother are completely vulnerable in their own house from some kind of dark force. It layers more complexity by making the viewer questioning whether the things happening are real or psychological. The story is about more than a haunting; it is about grief and loss. In fact, the haunting itself is a superb metaphor for grieving process. Even with a modest budget, the movie looks great and the acting is excellent. Essentially, there are only two characters in the story, the boy and his mother. It is hard to find good child actors, but this Noah Wiseman is great. Essie Davis is amazing as the mother. Her physical acting and worn facial expressiveness conveys enormous amounts to the viewer without saying a word. This is a first effort for Jennifer Kent as a director, and she shows immense potential. She also wrote the story and co-produced it. She understands how to scare people with unseen suspense and character development rather than special effects and cheap jump scares. This is an intellectual horror movie that has details and symbolism that require more than one viewing to appreciate it fully. It did not get much attention, but it is a true horror movie classic.

Fright Night
Fright Night(2011)

A new neighbor moves next door to a high school boy and his single mother. Quickly, we learn that he is a vampire looking forward to colonizing and procreating. My expectations were low going in, but I found myself pleasantly surprised. This movie does not take itself too seriously or settle in as another static dumb teen-horror movie. There is humor and a fun sense of adventure here. The goal is not to scare people but to excite them using vampire lure. While it is not a primarily comedy, the adventuresome playfulness and humorous undertones will make you smile. It takes no time at all to know what is happening; it lacks subtly and mystery. While it lacks finesse, the real fun is when the boy realizes no one believes him forcing him to go on the offensive and hunt the vampires. He seeks out Peter Vincent, master of the dark arts to teach him how to hunt. David Tennant is delightful, as the dark master. His personality changes the pace and gives the movie a second wind to carry it through when it needs it most. Colin Ferrell usually lacks the depth to be convincing in a more serious role, but his cocky tough-guy persona is right for this role. It may not be scary or crafty, but it is fun.

When a Stranger Calls
½

Here is a remake the probably was worth making. After an exhilarating opening scene, the original movie loses its sense of direction and veers off on a lengthy unsatisfying tangent. This movie wisely focuses on the part of that movie that did work. There is a back-story, a slow lead up, and the killer remains shrouded in mystery. Check, check, and double-check, this should be perfect now right? Not so fast, this has cardboard acting and has the feel of "dumb-teen horror movie." The setting of a gorgeous modern house in a remote location may seem more isolated and feel scary, but it defeats the point. I like how the original movie takes place in a typical suburb and involves a tragedy that could happen anywhere in middle-class America. Having a babysitter that must protect helpless children is enough to keep her anchored in one location. Some things in the plot are better in the remake, but the style and tone of the movie are wrong. I still think this concept can become a horror masterpiece in the hands of the right director. We will need to wait another fifteen to twenty years to try again.

The Skeleton Key

This movie has skill and a worthy technique, which is a lost art in most modern horror movies. The movie does a good job of establishing collection of characters that matter and introducing an appropriately eerie setting in the backwoods of Louisiana. Next, the movie introduces us to Hoodoo, which differs from Voodoo. The Hoodoo plot device is a refreshingly different strategy for inducing terror in a horror movie. It is full of mystery, old-time history, and the discomfort of witch-like black magic. The pacing is good; it knows not to rush things. There are important pieces of information in the carefully constructed start that form a picture of what lies ahead. At first, it seems all too straightforward and disappointingly predicable. You think it might still be enjoyable enough if you try to take in the journey and silently put the obvious ending out of mind. This is where the movie exceeds expectations, with a delightfully dramatic set of twists and surprises. It finishes of with tension and action that comes from the right place with its strong story building. The environment of the remote swamplands and the old plantation mansion deliver, as they should. This story is clever and tight, but it may take more than one watch to put all the pieces together fully. Kate Hudson gives us a rare reminder that she can act when she feels like it. Gena Rowlands, John Hurt, and Peter Sarsgaard are all well above-average castings for a horror flick as well. This is a very pleasant surprise if you like a more involved scary movie with mystery, plot, characters and substance.

A Night at the Opera

The Marx Brothers invade the opera houses with their hilarity. As always, the Marx Brothers are great, but the plot actually gets in the way of their magic this time. One of the main components of the story involves a sappy star-crossed couple of opera singers. One of them is an established talent but the other just cannot catch a break to prove his talents. I am highly in favor of a plot with substance and incorporating musical numbers to change the pace, but this time it detracts from the Marx Brothers comedy. The sarcastic and slapstick humor are extremely enjoyable, but things come to a screeching halt with the music numbers. Maybe my attention span was not in full gear, but the continuity is not there. Still for all the shortcomings, there are some iconic scenes. The contract negations and the tiny room with tons of room service people crammed into at one time are sidesplitting. Perhaps the best scene involves Harpo and Chico hiding from an officer in Groucho's room, by shuffling from hiding place to the other. Many consider this the strongest Marx Brother film, but I prefer others to this one.

Jurassic Park
½

Everyone who visits a museum and looks at the enormous dinosaur fossils cannot help but wonder what these extraordinary creatures were like. We would love to see how they look, move, and eat. The magic of Jurassic Park is it finds that childlike sense of wonder, excitement, and curiosity we all have about dinosaurs. Rather than traveling through time to see dinosaurs, it has an enticing science fiction plot that involves genetically reengineering dinosaurs from prehistoric DNA. Naturally, the entire world would want to see these reanimated creatures so the researchers set up an enormous zoo park on a remote island in the Pacific Ocean to host tourists. The foundation of the plot sounds good enough that you actually wish you could clone dinosaurs to see their magnificence in a zoo today. These movie effects to render dinosaurs in a realistic manner are simply spectacular. Dinosaurs never looked so good in movies before. John Williams' score compounds Steven Spielberg's memorable imagery and it touches the viewer in a special way that movies rarely achieve. The overall impact is one of wonder and awe. That amazement soon transitions to suspenseful tension and peak thrills as the park experiences electrical problems. Without those electrical systems to keep the animals separated and under control, they break free. It maintains top gear excitement to the end of the movie. If there is any room for improvement, it is in the character development. Except for characters played by Jeff Goldblum and Sam Neill the other roles are oversimplified and lack any rewarding emotional complexity. Action and visuals make up for the weak storylines between the human characters. Jurassic Park is one of those special movies that captures the imagination, delivers thrills and defines its time.

Mallrats
Mallrats(1995)
½

Two young college-age friends hit a juncture in their lives. Each of them loses their serious girlfriends and lean on each other to cope and plot on how to win them back. To distract themselves from their troubles, they choose to hang out at the mall. There they encounter and introduce the audience to a slew of unusual friends and enjoyably exaggerated enemies. Overall, it is a pair of simple feel good romance stories enlivened by the strong presence of secondary characters serving as effective comedic relief. It jumps around with numerous tangents, but eventually the inside jokes and separate facets begin to connect and refer to themselves, making for compounding laughs. Having so many people and sub-plots also makes it a good movie to enjoy multiple times. The dialogue is full of unforgiving raunchy humor, slapstick gags, and pop culture references. Adults who take life too seriously or cannot remember what it is like to be young will roll their eyes at this, but there is much more to this than the typical movie pandering to 90s MTV generation. In addition to sharp writing with attention to detail, Jason Lee is the difference maker. His unfiltered sarcasm and insensitive opinions are hysterical. In a movie with so many fragments, he serves as an important semi-narrator that brings everything together in a cohesive way. Lee steals the show with his personality and elevates this movie to an enduring cult classic that I will always love.

Father of the Bride: Part II

It is not as humorous as the first movie but the cast and characters are still loveable enough to carry out a decent second movie. Similar to the first movie, the story is somewhat predictable, and nothing unique. Still, the heartwarming story of a loving family makes it incredibly enjoyable. Steve Martin is more than just a silly, sarcastic comedian with precise timing and delivery. Movies like these two Father of the Bride movies and The Parenthood are showing that he is capable of great warmth and relatable personality. Martin's narration brings charm and depth to the movie. The narration serves a dual purpose, as it is also funny when his honest unfiltered thoughts contradict or exaggerate his exterior physical response. Diane Keaton's chemistry with Martin is still excellent. The two of them seem as organic and effortless as can be. Against the odds, this sequel does not fall on its face, nevertheless; I do not want to see this series continue. I would rather see Steve Martin move on take other roles that highlight his empathy and kindness. That does not mean he should give up being a wild and crazy guy.

Blades of Glory
½

Will Ferrell is always willing to make himself look ridiculous and become the butt of a joke to push it over the top. Where most comedians stop, Ferrell pushes beyond with his larger than life idiotic characters and physical humor. Will Ferrell goes big once again, but this movie is different from his others. It is not as raunchy or outwardly goofy and the dialogue is not brimming over with quotable character lines. This is more of a physical and situational comedy, where the imagery and actions become the comedy. Both John Header and Will Ferrell form wonderfully exaggerated characters that are likable underneath and carry the movie. The scenes where they train and skate together are hilariously awkward. Both remain within the bounds of their characters and play the skating scenes straight and let the physicality garner the laughs, and it works well. Spouses Will Arnett and Amy Poehler are one of the best parts of the movie. They play the jealous but meddlesome rival brother-sister couples skaters. Their real-life love helps fuel the awkward vague sibling relationship that humorously hints at an unspoken sibling romance. It is equally as off-putting and funny as couples skating with two men. The goofy costumes, exaggerated skating moves and announcer presentation are dripping with a comical satirical tone. It takes you out of your comfort zone in a friendly and funny way and roles in the satire to make a well-rounded comedy that even some Will Ferrell haters may like.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

As sad as it is, there is no surprise that the Hobbit Trilogy series feels stretched. That feels especially true in the first and now last movie. The initial movie is a long dry buildup. The second movie achieves a perfect balance. The final movie is one enormous action-filled battle. Expanding the Hobbit story two movies would probably lead to a higher level of quality that may rival the JJ Abrams Lord of the Rings Trilogy. This movie wastes little time in getting into the action. The wrath of Smaug, the dragon, is on full display right off the bat. That scene is the true climax of the three movies, and it is very exciting. Afterwards, things get murkier; it becomes a battle between five armies all pursuing a cut of Smaug's treasure horde. The dwarves fight a rather unjust fight between, orcs, elves, men, and another clan of dwarves. This battle lasts a long time. As good the action is, it is so scatted and there are so many parties involved it loses momentum even during the first viewing. I imagine the re-watch value of this is low. The visuals and detail of the battle are fun for nerds like me, but it is a long tread to wrap the series up. Casual watchers may be in over their heads and will most likely struggle to keep up who is who and why they are even fighting. Through all of my disappointments, it still has a great cast, solid characters, and quality visuals. It supports, compliments, and ties into the superior Lord of the Rings very nicely. There is still a strong story in there, even with the stretching and there is many positive things to say in favor of it.

Horrible Bosses 2
½

Pulling off a good sequel out a hit comedy movie is not easy. So often, the same pieces return but there is no framework in place to recapture the magic. Usually, a comedy sequel ends up being a retread and an attempt to take the same jokes farther. Luckily, this movie has self-awareness and a completely different premise. Now Nick, Kurt and Dale are the bosses of their own startup company. With a lack of experience, a corporate shark swindles them. Once again, the trio find themselves resorting to desperate measures. Instead of murder, this time the game is kidnapping. It is not as dark as a murder plot, but it does make for a different kind of humor, as they must deal with a hostage and collecting a ransom. Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, and Jason Bateman are excellent together. They always keep the comedic energy moving back and forth at a fast pace with their wit and sharp timing. At no point does this pace and momentum lag. It is a nice steady stream of funny bickering, dialogue, and jokes. Obligatory sequel appearances from popular secondary characters like Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey and Jennifer Aniston happens, but for the most part, they do not feel shoehorned or out of place. If you liked the first movie, as much as I did, then it is a good bet you will like this one too. Against the odds, there is only a slight fall off.

Snowpiercer
Snowpiercer(2014)
½

It is a thoughtful well-crafted science fiction movie, but it has underlying has flaws in its ideology. The setting takes place in a desolate dystopian world frozen over in ice in the near future. The last bastion of humankind lives on a train that never stops in order to keep its passengers warm. There is a strict caste system with the wealthy in the front cars and the poor treated almost like cattle in substandard conditions in back cars. The difference between the classes is extreme, and the occupants in the lower-class cars plan to revolt and take control over the train. As pure entertainment goes, it is exciting, and continues to develop and build complexity in rewarding ways. Visually, it is not that rich. There is an overall lack of style, and the unpleasant grimness becomes fatiguing. Sure, the tone needs to be dark, but the train environments are not creative or memorable. A worthy cast, well-formed story and strong characters carry this movie a long way and make up for some underlying issues. I do not appreciate the misguide commentary on the flaws of capitalism. It makes the incorrect assumption that when an individual prospers that the masses are automatically deprived. There is a scathing social commentary against the wealthy. It portrays the prosperous as feeding off the poor. In Snowpiercer people have an assigne label with no way to rise above it and an oppressive police system to keep them in line. This literary parallel up does not reflect capitalism, because there is no opportunity for passengers to move up or back in the train. Taken for face value the movie is not bad, but the meaning is flawed and the ending is unfulfilling, which that can be hard to get around.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
½

For the first time in an individual Marvel superhero movie the S.H.E.I.L.D. sub-plot does not feel weighty, award, and tacked on. S.H.E.I.L.D. operations become the main plot and it is full of corruption, spies, distrust, fun twists, and of course supervillain drama. The first Captain America movie fumbled a strong origin story and lost its way in an overly long mess. This is a rare example of a sequel that is appreciably better than the original. That movie took place in the 40s, but this movie has Captain America awakening from a cryogenic sleep in modern times. It makes for a compelling sacrifice and internal struggle for the main character. Chris Evans is still superb at playing a wise man of principle. He is exactly what you want in an honorable superhero to inspire us all. Not since Christopher Reeve have we seen a super-hero actor so likable. The role of Nick Fury is finally worthy of Samuel L Jackson. He gets involved in the action and becomes a worthwhile hero himself, rather than a grumpy commander barking orders. There is meaningful character development for the full set of characters, not just the hero. Unlike the last movie, every interaction has purpose and makes the main character even stronger. That is what support characters are supposed to do, strengthen the foremost character and enrich the plot. Of the Marvel Avengers, I like Captain America the best. He has depth and complexity in his character, like Batman, Superman, Spiderman, and to a lesser extent Wolverine. His character grows, evolves, and does not feel like an applied extreme personality like Thor, Tony Stark, the Hulk or other less interesting superhero protagonists. This is fun and full of surprises from start to end. It is a nice recovery for the Captain America series and a commendable stand-alone superhero movie, in its own right.

The Help
The Help(2011)
½

Although it is fictional, it feels like it could be an uplifting and heartwarming true story that restores some hope in the human race. It confronts the heavy subject of racism, but it holds back from the full ugliness of the fear and hate that existed in the early 60s in Mississippi. While it keeps the tone of the movie brighter than the reality of the period, it still manages to make its point and its emotional impact. The biggest strength of the movie is the deep cast that delivers top-notch acting across the board. Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer are amazing in their roles. The depth of intensity and emotion of their characters is where the power of this movie lies. Most of the white characters do not resonate as strongly they certainly do a good job, in their own right. Bryce Dallas Howard and Ahna O'Reilly both do a great job of playing truly despicable and ignorant racist people. Jessica Chastain and Emma Stone are enjoyable as kinder spirited and more open-minded characters that audiences of today will admire and identify with. Even the supporting roles from Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek, and Mary Steenburgen make a worthy contribution that raises the overall quality. The direction captures the physical environment early 60s Southern period well. More importantly, it connects with the less tangible feelings of hate, sympathy, love and love within the characters. It will pull at your heartstrings, even if is a bubble-wrapped and sunshiny fictional story. Everything comes together with an inspiring story, solid direction, and a phenomenal cast, and in a highly enjoyable way that feels good. It also has strong replay value.

X-Men: First Class
½

Finally, a good Reboot/Prequel!!! None of the X-Men trilogy movies lived up to my expectations, particularly the final movie. Sometimes it is best to go back to the beginning and start fresh. That is what this movie does; in doing so we get the X-Men movie we wanted all along. The story goes back to the beginning when mutants hid amongst humans just trying to blend in. It tells reveals the back-story of Prof Charles Xavier and Magneto. This lays the groundwork for everything the X-Men series stands on. It is nice to see how the mutants divided into two factions. One of the factions wants to help mankind and promote peace. The other group of mutants feels the outcasts or social pariahs causing them to resent humankind for it. At first, Magneto joins the peaceful group of mutants try but there is obvious tension that foreshadows his future shift in thinking. This critical social climate of the story is clear and completely believable. These characters feel more complete emotionally than in previous movies. More effort goes into fleshing out the personalities, motives, and differences in the mutants. The cast of young emerging stars is phenomenal. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender both impress in the lead roles. Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne, Nicholas Hoult, and Lucas Till all show promise. Veteran actor Kevin Bacon plays the main villain Sebastian Shaw, who looks to build an army of mutants to rule the world. It is finally more than seeing a robust cast look like your favorite comic book heroes with a slew of special effects. This is a well-constructed story with strong lead characters and respectably developed supporting characters. It is not the most action-packed superhero movie, but the content and quality are there.

The Little Rascals

The original Little Rascals short films and early television show aired in the 1920s-30s. It had several reruns, which passed it down to another generation. This movie aims primarily at kids and parents with nostalgic affection for the old short films. Parents who remember the originals may enjoy seeing their familiar characters more than their children may. Kids of the 90s have no knowledge or connection to these characters. Most of the scenes incorporate reconstructed classic scenes and storylines from the old series. The storyline is not amazing, but it does effectively tie together the separate retro highlights. It is still enjoyable for kids today, but there is something old-fashioned about it even though it is set in present times. The children actors and silly situations revived from the old short films are cute. It does not stand out as particularly fun or funny. It attempts to get by on cuteness more than anything.

Almost Famous

Cameron Crowe wrote, produced and directed this story based partially on his own personal experiences. Like Crowe, the main character is a bright child who skips grades leading to him graduating at a young age in the 70s. Following Crowe's path, the sixteen-year-old high-school graduate lands a dream job of writing for Rolling Stone where he interviews and tours with the rock bands he loves. The band and many of the characters are fictitious, but it still maintains a deeply personal authenticity few movies have. It shows you that the often-idealized life of a rock star is not so attractive. The more we know about our heroes the more disillusioned we become. Even though the story is not truly remarkable, but the fulfilling characters make it completely worthwhile. The cast has depth and quality. Great acting performances from a young Patrick Fugit, Billy Crudup, and Frances McDormand make the story shine. This may be the best performance to date from Kate Hudson and Zooey Deschanel. Even small support roles have quality performers like Jason Lee, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rainn Wilson, and Jimmy Fallon. The story is not necessarily happy or inspiring, but it has heart, passion for music and journalism and most rewardingly family love.

The Iron Giant
½

For the most part, animated movies are upbeat brightly spirited affairs with personified singing plants, objects, or animals, but this movie breaks that mold. It has a highly original style and approach that are most refreshing. The animation employed here has a straightforward and has a soft realistic look. More importantly, it has quality characters and an excellent heartwarming story with meaning behind it. An alien robot sent to destroy earth it lands in New England, but the landing damages its programming, and it has no memory. The 1950s setting is so great here, because it is the height of paranoia from the cold war and outer space invaders. A lonely boy discovers him, teaches him and forms a genuine friendship with the giant. Even though he is a walking weapon, the boy teaches him that who you are who you choose to be. Their interactions along with the animation style give the giant a soul and make him feel as lovable as a pet dog. It is a touching story with an emotional ending that resonates. This is more than a feel-good animated movie; it is a worthy science fiction movie.

Sex Tape
Sex Tape(2014)
½

Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel had a nice chemistry in Bad Teacher. Jake Kasdan directed that movie as well. The ingredients are the same, but the results are inferior here. Perhaps my hopes were too high going in, but this was a highly disappointing movie. Many of the funniest parts are in the trailers. Worse yet, it wastes the strong cast by making them into idiots. More than once the sticky situation, they are in turns out to be easily resolvable. They do not realize what an easy fix it is and instead go about trying to fix things in the most difficult way possible. Having a buffoon sidekick is funny in this situation, but when main characters are idiots there probably needs to be a straight man to provide point reference. I am one to enjoy a comedy and not ask too many questions, but the main characters are dumb in a frustrating way that is not funny. Rob Lowe, Rob Corddry, and Ellie Kemper create better laughs as supporting characters than the lead roles, which is a problem. In a misguided attempt to force personal growth of the characters into the story, underdeveloped and unneeded drama makes it worse. The supposed marriage trouble the two between Diaz and Segel is never established. In a true display of lazy writing, this marital issue comes up late in the movie and then is quickly resolved. For a raunchy comedy with the title Sex Tape, it is disappointingly tame. While it is tamer than it should be, the director struggles with knowing what to show and what to keep hidden to make the best joke. The premise is fine, and the cast is right but this movie is the dead on arrival with shoddy writing.

Boyhood
Boyhood(2014)

There is a beautiful simplicity to this movie. Filming over twelve years is an extraordinarily ambitious undertaking for any director, but Richard Linklater is up for the task. This coming of age movie follows one boy and his family, as he transitions from childhood to adulthood. Rather than making a movie with different actors, Linklater uses the same cast of actors and filmed it over a twelve-year period. There is no artificial movie magic to age the characters, and the effect is profoundly powerful. The characters not only literally grow older, but their characters evolve slowly and organically throughout the two hour and forty-five minutes of the film. The acting is superb; it makes you stop and remember how different we are as individuals at various points in our lives. Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke are great as the parents and Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater were phenomenal young actors as their children. All four of them handle their character transformations impeccably well. This is particularly impressive considering how different their character is at each stage of the movie. They are essentially playing multiple roles, even if they all portray the same individual. By making the movie over a twelve-year time span, the actors are paralleling their roles. It allows them to pull in their real-life energy, attitudes, and emotions into their roles; that is why it feels so genuine and realistic. The thoughtful story and a well-crafted sincere dialogue feel like watching a real family. It is not a particularly eventful story, which makes the movie more of an experience than a theatrical entertainment. The story meanders along slowly changing, similar to our own lives. Not everything is important or happens for a reason, but it shows how even snapshots of dull moments in our lives hold great amounts of meaning and can represent who we are at that point in time. It is an incredibly insightful movie, because it makes you reflect your personal journey through life, regardless of your age or generation. There is a universal quality of truthfulness to it in how it confronts the viewers with their own childhood, adolescence, romantic love, heartbreaks, youth, parenthood, and late-life mortality. It is hard to believe a movie can do all this, but it does it all and there is nothing else like it.

Gambit
Gambit(2016)
½

Having not seen the original 1966 version with Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine, this seems like it is harmless yet disposable fun. It is not as clever as it wants to be, leaving it leaning on its comedy more than it should. The laughs are only mild, but there but nothing substantial to make you remember it. Cameron Diaz usually brings a bright energy to her roles, but I am not sure she is right for a Texas cowgirl with a little more intelligence than meets the eye. Had this been a goofier comedy or a short sketch her performance would be e fine but this is a more restraint semi-British brand of humor. Colin Firth is pleasant, but not particularly funny. This will pass the time, but something tells me the 1966 version is worth looking up. It is probably appreciably better as well.

Private Parts

I do not like Howard Stern's radio or television show, but I still like this movie. It is nice to see there is a real person with an eventful story underneath his media persona. While I am not into his show, his road to success is actually quite interesting. It looks at the radio industry and points out a number of insightful flaws. You have to admire his determination and desire to challenge the system even if it means breaking the rules. The tone strikes the right balance in humor and substantive character development, which is not so easy. Often this movie is funny, but more impressively, the serious side of his professional career and personal life work just as well. The plot avoids the trap of needless details or lingering in one part the life story. Nor does it gloss over or skip important steps. For the most part, it is entertaining, though it does slow down towards the end. It tells the story well and has the bonus of a humorous undertone. This is also a unique biopic in that Howard Stern plays himself. He is not doing an impression or an interpretation of someone else. It feels very genuine as if he wants people to understand him better. This movie's biggest achievement is how it gives you an entirely different perspective and a more complete understanding of Howard Stern the man.

Great Expectations
½

Considering this is a television reproduction of the Charles Dickens classic novel, it is surprisingly good. Even more surprising it was supposed to be a musical, but the filmmakers completely cut the music, and it does not show. The problem is that the Dickens story and the main character, Pip, is most frustrating, undoing much of the good efforts. It is a classic coming of age tale divided into three parts. First, we meet a youthful boy amidst a difficult life of a laboring family. An eccentric wealthy old woman pays Pip to play with a rich girl, Estella, for her entertainment. He immediately falls for her and her luxurious lifestyle, even though she treats him like garbage. Later as a young man, he seeks to rise above his current poverty to a life of riches where he can win Estella's affection. Amazingly, he encounters an offer of a large sum of money from an anonymous donor to become a refined gentleman, just as he wanted. After becoming a distinguished man of class, he learns where his money comes from and feels disillusioned with his phony lifestyle. He matures as a man but at no point puts this despicably proud woman out of his thoughts. The characters and the situation are interesting, but the values I identify with are not. Pip's unwavering love for Estella is largely for her superficial lifestyle, but he does not realize this or rise above her. The acting and direction are good but with a frustrating main character like this, it is hard to like it. It is a fine movie, but I blame the shortcomings on Charles Dickens and his characters.

The Indian in the Cupboard
½

Having your toys come to life when you are a kid seems like an awesome concept. The magic is there, but unfortunately is not as fun as it should be. It has some nice moments, but it is often serious and the mood deflates. Bringing the plastic toys to life comes with the price of removing them from their time and history. That changes the game from a lifeless plastic thing taking on personality to putting a kid in control of a real human. This is a case where the flaws mainly come from the source material. The movie does a fine job of faithfully adapting the book for young readers. Like the book, the movie is entertaining but not special. The Cowboy and Indian characters are not that fun. There is a maturation in the main character but no real suspense or joy.

Sound City
Sound City(2013)

Dave Grohl must have learned a great deal from James Moll during the making of the documentary Foo Fighters: Back and Forth. This time Grohl not only tells the story, but steps behind the camera as the director. Grohl shows skill and makes a seemingly insignificant story interesting. The film tells the tragic, yet glorious tale of the Sound City Studios in Los Angeles. Against the odds, a seemingly a rundown sound studio in a former manufacturing facility produced several classic rock n roll albums. Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Neil Young, Rick Springfield, and Slipknot recorded watershed albums there. The film walks through the formation and history of the studio and explains a great deal about the process of making a recorded. It also comments on how different the process is today, not necessarily for the better. It is almost a perfect documentary, but the end drifts into the making a reunion album involving collaborations of various artists who recorded at Sound City. The resulting music from that album is nice, but watching the making of the reunion album is less interesting. It is still a very well made documentary with tons of great interviews. Any fan of rock music from the 70s-90s will love it.

The Double
The Double(2014)
½

If you like movies like Brazil, The Zero Theorem, or Blade Runner then this movie is right for you. Personally, I find the ultra-bleak dystopian future is too much of a downer. Without the comedy of Brazil and the action of Blade Runner, I am unenthused. It is a strong enough drama with good characters, but the storytelling needs clarity. Ambiguity and incompleteness does not equate to clever or artistic drama. There is excellent character development but poor context and lack of definition in the events throughout the movie. We identify with the main character, in large part from the narration and the strong acting performances by Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska and the rest of the cast. Richard Ayoade has style and constructs quality environmental settings. It is most unfortunate that Ayoade cannot deliver the needed plot context to support the movie. When a movie constructs an environment that is drastically different from our own then it is an obligation to explain why things are the way they are and what is going on. Without understanding these things, it is impossible to empathize and identify with the charters fully. You are unable to understand the full impact of their situation. Maybe a second viewing will shed some new light on it, and I may feel differently about it later, but I suspect my complaints are valid.

Terminator 3 - Rise of the Machines
½

Arnold Schwarzenegger is back, but rest of the production is not up to par with the two landmark movies preceding this. Nick Stahl is terrible as John Conner in his early-20s. It feels like we are watching him act. His stale delivery and poor physical expression truly hurt this movie. Claire Danes is not much better; she feels out of place in an action movie her abilities. Often her emotions do not seem to fit the moment. Clearly, the director, Jonathan Mostow, is no James Cameron. The pace is not as fast or consistent as the first two movies and fighting lacks the magic from before. A slower pace can still work if the acting, the characters, and the story compensate, but they do not. The story lacks the urgency this time, and the resolution is unrewarding. I am not sure how Mostow secured his role as the director for such a coveted movie. His previous work is not that impressive, and this is not helping his case. When taken as a stand-alone movie, it is a middling and forgettable action movie. Without Schwarzenegger reprieving his iconic role, this may have been a total disaster. Even with Arnold, it is a complete disappointment when you consider the greatness of the two prior movies.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Finding a sequel that surpasses the original is difficult, but it is almost unheard of when the initial movie is as great as The Terminator. Hard as it is to believe, this is even better than the first Terminator movie. There is a mind-blowing twist early in the movie that changes how everything works from the original movie. That changes the entire dynamic and makes it a completely fresh adventure. Things still tie into the first movie in a rewarding and tight fashion, but this movie is distinct and strong enough that it can stand completely on its own. Linda Hamilton's character is entirely different now; she is no longer a confused damsel in need of rescuing. She is kicking butt and taking care of herself this time. Edward Furlong plays her son. Both actors are just right for their roles. Arnold Schwarzenegger's character has the chance to expand now. He is still robotic in nature, but this time he has a greater grasp on human interactions and has significantly more personality. He adds a tasteful amount of dry humor to the mix. Robert Patrick as the T-1000 is equally impressive for different reasons. He looks like a pure killing machine that will stop at nothing as well. Unlike Arnold, he is lean, light on his feet, cat-like in how moves and surveying a scene. Once again, James Cameron does a phenomenal job from top to bottom. The fast pacing is exhilarating, but there are substance and meaningful plot throughout. There is great acting, special effects and camera work. This is undoubtedly one of the greatest action movies of all time. It holds up extremely well over time and holds great re-watch value.

The Terminator

This is a brilliant science fiction movie with a great concept and non-stop thrills. It wastes no time getting into the excitement, and it never lets up or loses momentum for even a minute. Arnold Schwarzenegger certified Hollywood megastar, but this will always be the role people remember him most for and with good reason. Arnold does not say much, but his physical acting as an assassination robot is convincingly mechanical and extremely intimidating. Michael Biehn portraying the hero and Linda Hamilton as the relatable target of the Terminator do a bulk of the traditional acting. Both deliver excellent action movie performances that are both likable and believable. James Cameron does an exceptional job of building a tight story with no holes on the go. The visual effects are most impressive for 1984. Only a few isolated moments could improve at all with newer technology, and even those moments are not bad. That is extraordinarily impressive achievement considering how effects driven a movie like this is. Top to bottom this is a perfect movie and an absolute classic that holds up in every way, unless you count the bad 80's hairstyle for Linda Hamilton.

Die Hard
Die Hard(1988)

Not only is this is a pure action movie classic; it is one of the best of all time. Countless movies over the next 20 years follow the Die Hard formula, but none of them come close to matching it. This was a springboard for Bruce Willis. It took him from TV acting and playing small parts in movies to mega-stardom. Over the years, Willis goes on to star in numerous notable movies, but this is what people best remember him for. Bruce Willis is so great in this kind of role because he does not have to act. His natural personality is charming, sarcastically humorous, expressive, and exemplifies absolute tough-guy. He is versatile in terms of what roles he fits into, but his characters inevitably become him, rather than an actor portraying a character. While that may not define great acting, it does make him ideal for this movie. He is not over-analyzing a simple movie or forcing it to be more than it is; he is comfortable as himself. When the fit is right, like this, it adds intensity and authenticity to types of movies that are hard to validate. Alan Rickman as the infamous terrorist, Hans Gruber is equally amazing. The movie is truly exciting and keeps you at the edge of your seat with excellent effects, camera work, fight scenes, memorable stunts, and gunfights. The characters are simple but have enough depth and development to make them matter. As far as the gun firing, high-octane action genre goes this one stands above the rest.

The Bad News Bears
½

There are countless movies try to repackage this movie, but nothing matches the original. It involves a team full of misfit, and rejects lead by a reluctant coach who is a self-loathing drunk. They discover an unwanted talented star that carries their team against the odds. The protective remakes or carbon copies do not match up because most of them are as bold and real as this. These kids are not just sweetheart wimpy kids who make you sympathize with them. They are the real, foul-mouthed, angry, kids picked last in gym class. Walter Mathau is excellent as the drunken former minor-league player and now the worst coach ever. Against the odds, the deadbeat coach finds himself identifying with the team of rejects. He tries to be hands-off but finds himself caring about them. The coach means well as he tries to stand up for them and make them better. It is funny, because the character does so without shedding his thorny behavior and flaws. As adults often do, he cares too much about getting their kids to win. He transforms into a competitive drill sergeant who cares nothing for his players and just wants to win. It weaves comedy into messy and dysfunctional social issues. Sometimes it is not funny; it is just mean. It is more about the evolution of the character. This is more than getting kids to believe in themselves; it is about destructive adults trying to prove something by winning. Unlike numerous knock-offs, this works on multiple levels and delivers a comedy that adults will appreciate more than kids.

The Return of Jafar

It feels like a Saturday morning cartoon made for television. It feels like that, because it is three-episodes of a television show or a special three-part TV featurette. Instead of airing, Disney thought it could stand on its own as a straight to video effort. This is all about perspective. It is disappointing, short and stale as a movie, but fine as the start of a television show. You can feel where the commercials would be. It lacks the polish of the second Aladdin adventure, which was not bad. There is an obligated retreating of the first movie that a TV show would needs but not a movie. Why does Jafar need to return? The second movie wrapped him up nicely. If this were a true movie, I would rather see the familiar heroes facing a new foe. As a television show, Jafar needs to be in there. It is such a strange dichotomy. There is no return of Robin Williams as the Genie, which is disappointing. That could have injected some needed life into this as a standalone feature film. One thing I do like about it is the increased emphasis on the sarcasm and loudmouth humor of Iago. Overall, it is not bad but not special. It is apparent that this is a long Saturday morning cartoon. Taken for what it is, it is reasonably enjoyable for kids.

Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey
½

Before Bill and Ted traveled across history, this time they venture through Earth, Heaven, Sell, and Purgatory to win a battle of the bands. Evil robot clones replace Bill and Ted and again their guardian from the future gives the two dim-witted teenagers a time machine to save the day. Luckily, there is more substance in the sequel, but there are not necessarily more laughs or a better adventure. The special effects may dazzle, but the comedic payoff and sense of fun are just not there. Parts of the movie drag and it never builds any momentum. The likability of the bumbling duo encountering historical figures could carry the first movie. This time, there is not a cast of enjoyable characters. Only the incompetent personified character of Death gives Bill and Ted something to work with. As with most sequels, this regresses slightly.

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure

The idea of two metal-head teenagers riding back in time and meeting great historical icons is a lot of fun and holds amazing comedic potential. It is a simple yet fun adventure, but it never takes off. As far as comedy goes, it is a little light on the laughs. The historical figures are probably the funniest, but they do not develop as characters. I wish they had a bigger part and influenced the plot more than they do. It becomes more about the boys ability to travel across time to dictate their near future, rather than amusing situations that arise from the time travel. Alex and Keanu Reeves are loveable idiots, and are probably why such a shallow movie works as well as it does.

Iron Man 2
Iron Man 2(2010)
½

Superhero sequels should be a layup, but it is amazing how often they go awry. This is a perfect example of a sequel that goes wrong by trying to too much. At least, it has a reasonably fleshed out corporate villain in Hammer, but the super-villain, Whiplash, is horribly undeveloped. It detracts from important plotlines by trying far too hard to set up the upcoming Avengers movie. Cramming the SHEILD organization in there with little explanation is a bad move. Black Widow is unnecessary and just further complicates things. She is only there to introduce her character for the Avengers movie. No matter how attractive Scarlet Johansson in black leather may be, it needs to have a purpose and a meaning. It merely mentions a blood toxicity condition Tony Stark faces is instead of explaining it. It is not until far too late in the movie that this is understandable. Even the good chemistry Pepper and Stark had in the first movie is absent for most of the movie. They are more serious this time around and not as fun. For an action movie, I could use more fighting, shooting, explosions and excitement. When a underdeveloped movie is over two hours long insufficient action is an unusual problem. At least the effects are still great and replacing Terrance Howard with Don Cheadle is a huge casting upgrade. It is a messy massive disappointment, and Ironman deserves better than this.

Iron Man
Iron Man(2008)

Hollywood opened the superhero floodgate, but this one stands out over most of them. This movie has done an amazing job of popularizing Iron Man, and that is understandable with how good this movie is. I do not like the character of Tony Stark's character. Initially, he is intentionally dislikable but even as his character finds a new purpose and undergoes a transformation; it is still hard to warm up to him. Robert Downy Jr. is right for the part; he captures Stark's humorous quick wit, sarcasm, arrogance, and well-concealed vulnerability. Without Downy Jr, I am not sure how successful this movie would be. The story properly develops his character, showing his brilliance, his insecure façade of arrogance, and a concealed good heart. Jeff Bridges is also good as Obadiah Stane, but I wish there was more attention given to his back-story. Unfortunately, I want to understand him better. There is little information about Stane's origin, what motivates him and causes his unquenchable thirst for power. On a similar note, the Iron Monger villain fleshes out relatively late in the movie. This shortchanges the opportunity for a series of epic showdowns between the hero and the main villain. The movie has strong themes of how invention and technology are power, and with greater power, humanity becomes more important. The costume and visual design are excellent, and the heavily utilized CGI effects look fluid and natural. It has several aspects that can be nit-picked, but overall it is a high quality and enjoyable superhero movie.

Juwanna Mann
Juwanna Mann(2002)

A man dressed as a woman is usually funny. This is no Tootsie or Mrs. Doubtfire, but there is still good fun here. An egotistical NBA player finds himself banned from basketball. Rather than learning his lesson, he disguises himself as a female pro basketball player. Nothing is remotely believable and it often takes things a step too far, but it is consistent in its approach and shakes out pleasant simple laughs along the way. Miguel A Nunez Jr is animated and colorful in the lead role. Except for his manager, played by Kevin Pollock, the rest of the cast is rather flat. While that is not a good thing, a movie like this can survive acting deficiencies as long as it has a main character to lead the way. It will not stick with you for a long time, but it is worth watching if you enjoy a goofy sports comedy.

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
½

One word describes this super-comedy, loaded. There are so many television, movie, comedy, and various other celebrities packed into one movie, maybe even too many. The movie starts with a dying man divulging the location of his valuable treasure with an obscure reference under the big W. Soon a slew of colorful characters embark upon a chaotic mad dash to find it first. It is a brilliant concept that works very well to incorporate numerous stars in one storyline and still make sense. It moves fast and is always changing, which is important for a long movie like this. At three hours and twelve minutes, it is an atypical epic comedy movie. That lengthy run time works against it though. Too much of a good thing is always a bad thing. It does go on a too long and there are too many cameos. None of these comedy masters has the time or space to rev into high gear. For those alive during the 60s, the novelty of countless familiar faces makes it enjoyable on its own, but audiences today most likely will not understand who the stars are or get the pop-culture references from the time. It is funny overall but it is oversaturated.

The Maze Runner

I miss the days when a production studio was not sure if the movie would succeed or not. It forced them to make complete movies with a sufficient beginning, middle, and end. The blessing of a huge fan following for this series of books turns out to be a curse for the movie. There is a promising concept with the mysteriously forbidding labyrinth. I like how the movie troughs you curelessly into the action. The main character has no memories at all, not even his name, and likewise, the audience is asking questions. As the story unfolds, the ground-rules and constraints of this new world are interesting. The characters, however, are not as compelling as the concept. There are a few characters with strong personalities, but we do not understand much about them, who they are or what motivates them. This protagonist may have no memories, but a little more charisma and depth than this would be nice. As far as the action goes, it is entertaining, which is a plus. Once the plot reaches a major turning point it gets in a rush. Before you know it, the movie turns inside out, and it comes to an unfulfilling abrupt finish. The finish amounts to a "To be continued." This is not TV where we need a cliffhanger to make sure we return next week. I still expect a tight finish or chapter ending. The shortcomings of The Hunger Games series continues to infect this wave of adolescent science fiction. Can no one refine or perfect a successful formula? I want more from the characters when there is so much dialogue. It needs to have a greater sense of resolution or the ending of a chapter, even if it is dramatically open.

Donnie Darko
Donnie Darko(2001)

Get ready to watch this movie and leave scratching your head. This is a mind-warping movie that requires more than one watch in order to catch all the subtleties that are so important to the story. Even then, it helps to watch a video recap and explanation to appreciate it more fully. Things are not overly complicated, but rather undefined. It is hard to tell what is happening without understanding of the Philosophy of Time Travel book. The characters refer to this book more than once, but never explain it or the significance of the writings. This book that is the key to understanding the rules and structure to the time travel and alternate relies that are taking place in the story. One should not have to read the Philosophy of Time Travel to understand what is happening. That is the responsibility of the screenwriters and the director, and they left it out. Despite the vagueness, it is an exceedingly clever story. On the surface, it is a melancholy story about a depressed and troubled but bright teenage boy. He is seeing disturbing things and having unusual dreams, that no one else understands. A closer investigation turns up an extremely well constructed highly consistent set of details throughout the movie that give the story the intended deeper reading. Only in the details do we come to understand that this more about an unstable fractured alternate set of realities and time travel. It is more involved than most time-travel movies, but with some homework and reviewing, it is unexpectedly rewarding. The story is still full of darkness and sadness, but it weaves in bits of humor and works on a conceptual level so effectively that it is somehow not a major bummer. This is a must-see if you have patience and like to think about the movies after watching them. If you are in a casual mood for simple entertainment save it for another day when you want a movie and its story to challenge you.

Muppets Most Wanted

The Muppets are back for their sixth movie, and it is good to see them again so soon, even if it is not as great as the previous movie. There were twelve years between the last two movies. Thankfully, it only took three years for the follow-up of the much-loved sentimental reunion. This does not attempt to rekindle that sentimentally from last time. As nice as that emotion was, it is probably a good thing that the Muppets to keep it light this time. They just act silly, have fun, and put on playful musical numbers with celebrity cameos similar to what they always did in the past. The storyline involves an international fugitive frog named Constantine acting as an imposter to Kermit the frog, as part of an elaborate heist scheme is not the best storyline. For some reason, most of his Muppet friends cannot tell the difference. At times, this is funny, but the charade goes on a little too long. Ricky Gervais does not add much as Constantine's partner and crime and fraudulent stand in manager. He is not particularly funny or charming. Despite these bigger issues, not all is lost. Tina Fey greatly helps compensate for Gervais. She plays a Russian a deliciously exaggerated Russian prison guard. In addition, Ty Burrell plays an equally over-the-top French Interpol officer reluctantly teaming up with a rivaling CIA officer played by Sam the Eagle. Sam and Burrell are the best part of the movie as incompetent feuding detectives trying to catch a series of bank robberies. The big moves are not great, but the Muppets are still just as fun and goofy as ever, and it works.

Wreck-it Ralph
½

Video games have now been around long enough that there is a generational gap and nostalgic affection for early arcade games. This movie plays off this nostalgia for retro arcade gaming and combines it with the elements of a fairytale. Ralph, the main character, is a bad-guy in his video game. The other characters in his game shun him and make him feeling like an outsider. This makes him want to be a good-guy and leave his game. This lovable brute wanting to be a beloved hero is an effective and unique concept. There are enjoyable references for video-gamers, but they are good characters that non-gamers will love just the same. The voice-work by John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane is excellent. They are some of the best voice-actors since Shrek, and they give their characters great personality. Another nice touch is how animation rendering of these characters plays off the corresponding actor's real-life physical features. The story is a simple yet fulfilling fairytale, where two outcasts come together and help each other overcome their individual trials. Ralph and Vanellope form a heartwarming friendship, and their shared adventure is full of fun. All ages will enjoy it; adults and gamers will especially relish in the animation and pop-culture video game references.

Mr. Nobody
Mr. Nobody(2013)
½

The thought that there are in any given moment infinite possible realities and that just a one change or decision in our life can render completely different results is so thoroughly compelling. Mr. Nobody explores that idea by tracing multiple parallel realities of an elderly unknown man who does not have any record or existence. It is not clear which one of these realities leads to this old man in the distant future, if any of them do. You find yourself wondering what is real or if each parallel story converges to the same ending. Each of the drastically alternate realities shows highlights that span several years, all of which are interesting and feel believable. Some are happier than others are, but they all have their pros and cons, and inherently no reality is significantly better or more correct than the other ones. It is one of the most conceptually compelling and thought-provoking movies I have seen. The acting from the whole cast is strong. Jared Leto and Toby Regbo are particularly impressive. They both play several subtly unique versions of the same character at various stages in life. The movie looks great too. It is an extremely ambitious movie, and Darren Aronofsky executes it masterfully. Each setting reflects not only the period but also the emotional mood of each segment of life. It orients the viewer to when things are happening and more importantly, which reality it is. Throughout this process of exploring alternate future realities it makes the viewer reflect on their own life and wonder what key events lead to where they are now and what would be different if they took another path.

The Son of No One

A faulty premise holds this story back from the beginning. It is a shame to see when the storytelling technique, acting and direction are all clicking as they do here. It starts ambiguously, but clearly dark secrets from the past haunt a young New York City police officer, portrayed by Channing Tatum. An unknown source is tipping off a journalist aiming to expose the local police department's corruption. It is all very promising, but not entirely logical. The problem is that the past events do not make sense as form of political threat or blackmail, as the story implies. It affects multiple people, but the main plot device just does not seem to matter as much as it should. While events in the past have high stakes, the actual circumstances are mostly justifiable. It almost negates any dramatic consequence. Even worse, it cannot pull its illogical storyline together for a coherent and meaningful ending. It leaves the viewer wonder what the point is. The characters and their motives are just as fuzzy. Director Dito Montiel does a very good job at building the right mood. He tells the story in a deliberately paced dramatic fashion that only reveals a carefully crafted piece of the story at one time. Channing Tatum, Ray Liotta, and Al Pacino are all on their A-Game. Even Tracy Morgan is surprisingly skilled in a dramatic role as well. Nearly every great movie starts with a strong story or solid concept. This is a prime example of how it is virtually impossible to overcome a weak story, no matter how good the rest of the production and acting team is.

Identity Thief

Taking Jason Bateman on a reluctant road-trip with Melissa McCarthy holds a ton of potential. Bateman can play a straight man on a slow burn as good as anyone can and McCarthy is a truly gifted comedic powerhouse. The results are reasonably humorous, but it is not as funny as one might think given the talent. There is nothing creative or particularly eventful as the duo crosses the country. To its credit, the unlikely friendship comes together well and the emotional connection aspects of this movie work. At the end of the day, it is a comedy, and it is not that funny. Many of the physically exaggerated jokes are too much. I love goofy physical humor, but it is trying too hard here. When a poisonous snake bites a person, and he just wakes up from a nap or a high-speed car collision only mildly affects a hit pedestrian, it enters a cartoon-like sense reality with no consequences. Worse yet, the dialogue, for the most part, do not serve as a vehicle to fill in the gaps or achieve a stronger diversity of laughs. It counts too heavily on the isolated outlandish actions and situations. Some of these extreme situations do work, but some miss. It spreads the laughs too far apart and when it misses, it dips. Bateman and McCarthy are both very good and make it watchable; I just wish they had better writing.

Tremors 3 - Back to Perfection

The sub-title, Back to Perfection is misleading. It implies that Kevin Bacon and Reba McEntire are back, or that it will be as good as the first movie. No, it is not; in fact, it is much worse. This time the returning cast consists of one secondary character, Burt. His character was very funny when paired with Reba McEntire the first time, but in the second outing, he lost much of his humor but still made a small contribution. This is not the kind of character to carry forward and build an entire third movie around, but that is exactly what this movie does. Of course, there is another group of townspeople to make a rounded out hunting team. Tremors was always campy but in this movie, the bad acting across the board is distracting and prevents the formation of likable characters. It reduces the movie to the action or the experience of what is happening, which is not something a movie like this should emphasize. The second episode tried to introduce a different metamorphic evolution of the Graboids to fight something new. In this movie, the creatures undergo an additional set of metamorphic changes, now they fly. This idea to evolve the creatures in the second movie was a fair at best, but to repeat that same process twice to make a new monster is just stupid. It is hard to see how this movie got funding when investors read a script like this, even harder to believe that they came back for a fourth movie later.

Tremors 2: Aftershocks
½

Graboids appear in Mexico, and rather than the military, they call in the rag-tag team that overcame them a few years ago, or at least half of the team. The first Tremors movie had two wonderful acting duos with Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward and Reba McEntire and Michael Gross. Both pairs had a good dynamic that gave the movie the fun personality it needed. The problem is Bacon and McEntire did not return. The stronger half of each duo is gone and all we have is fragmented pieces that do not go together the same way. It tries to insert Christopher Gartin into the mix to inject so rambunctious energy. Sometimes Gartin is pleasant, but other times he can be annoying. Technology makes some of the monster shots easier to film, but that is not necessarily a good thing. The camera work is not as skillful this time, without the craft the playfulness suffers as well. Nobody likes reliving the first movie. Fortunately, this movie has a big curve ball that changes all the established rules. It is not as clever as last time and the pieces do not fit so perfectly but it still enough there to make it a somewhat fun adventure.

Tremors
Tremors(1990)

It is hard to categorize this movie, because it walks the line between horror, action, comedy, it keeps it clean enough to be PG and could even be counted as a family flick. More than anything, it is simply fun. It does a lot with a small budget as well. It resourcefully uses of point of view (POV) camera angles or shoots people's physical or facial reactions, to avoid showing these underground monsters. When the monsters do revile themselves, they are not bad. The tone of the movie and the reactions keep it light and humorous, and it does not seem cheesy. Director, Ron Underwood understands that what is happening is secondary to the characters and their interactions. I really enjoyed the chemistry between Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward, who play two simple but highly likable handymen. Reba McEntire and Michael Gross are sensational as an adorable right wing, gun toting married couple just waiting for a crisis. You can tell the actors are having fun making the movie, and that rubs off on the audience. The action is enjoyable because it comes with humor that mocks the seriousness other horror and thriller movies in an effective manner. It walks the line between exciting and humorous the whole way through with skill and consistency. This is campy with taste and restraint in all the best ways, and it makes for a great time.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

At the end of the first movie, Johnny Blaze realizes he can use his powers for good. Now with no transition or explanation, he becomes a recluse and resents his powers. The main plot involves Johnny reluctantly helping a monk protect a boy from becoming a human vessel for the devil to occupy. That premise is fine but it never goes anywhere. The flimsy structure is incredibly one-note. You might think a movie like that would make it up with lots of action scenes and visual splendor, but it does not. There are a few fight scenes, but they are so uneventful and slow they are actually boring. Even the special effects are well below par. Nicholas Cage is hard to buy as haunted stuntman and former wild-child. There is nothing stoic about him. The digital form if Ghost Rider is even flatter. At least, Idris Elba has some presence, but his role is limited as a supporting character. Things happen, but they are not exciting and there is no emotion or impact. It is so underdeveloped it hurts. When a paper-thin plot is the best thing going for a movie, you have a disaster and that is what this second Ghost Rider movie is.

Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth

Another sequel with a different director not surprisingly results in diminished returns. The strongest aspect of Hellbound: Hellraiser II was the continuity of the characters and story with the first movie. Sadly, this movie discards Kirsty and her story, for the most part, and replaces her with a new protagonist. Despite the fresh set of characters, the movie starts of respectably. The new main character works well; she is a filed news reporter, who stubbles on the path of some unexplainable dark magic and inquisitively digs deeper. It is unclear what the result of the second movie was exactly, and it is not clear for some time here either. Dramatically it turns out the Pinhead has split into two separate forms. One is his past identity that rediscovered in second, and the other is the demonic evil in him. The evil half aims to free himself and rule over humanity. A little more explanation would be nice, but this is all respectable at this point. It is not until Pinhead comes to earth that things plummet. Suddenly, the dark tone and story with consequences from the first two and a half movies go out the window, and it turns into a Freddy Kruger-like joke. New poorly thought-out Sinabites emerge to change the pace; they are ridiculous and awful. Numerous over the top intentionally corny kill scenes kill the mood. It is almost as if the director changed at the three-quarter mark. The movie climax and finale are just bad and ruin a decent start. Fans of the first two will feel let down. The only people who might approve are fans of Freddy and Jason, which is really a disappointment, even for a third movie.

Warm Bodies
Warm Bodies(2013)

Here is something guys who crave zombies and girls who yearn for a sweet love story can agree on. It is, quite possibly, the only movie able to bridge that gap. It takes fun influences from zombie-lure and adds in Romeo and Juliet to make an atypical love story. There are zombies and humans in place of Montagues and Capulets, and yes, their parents do not approve. It sounds off-putting, but it is extremely creative, somewhat endearing, and if nothing else, it is a very original concept. The main character is a zombie that cannot speak, but continues to have internal thoughts. These narrated thoughts let us inside the thought process of zombie and advance the story. Zombies have always enjoyed eating brains, but this comes up with a great reason they do it. They absorb all the information and memories of the person as they eat their brains. This zombie takes a liking to a particular human girl and wants to keep and protect her as friend or pet. The nonverbal communication between the two is a lot of fun. As the story advances, the Zombies learn to speak, perhaps too well for the good of the story. Things break down and get a little silly and melodramatic from zombie to human dialogue. Regretfully, the clever writing and concept get lost in the second half of the movie. It warps and twists into a political zombie rights movement to live with humans. The simple love story works nicely; the rest of it feels like a noisy distraction.

Child's Play 3

There is no surprise here, but it is another sequel, and it is another step down for the series. More of the dark humor is working its way into writing this time. Some may like that it becomes more of a parody of the first movie. It is meant to be more humorous which has some good things going for it, but I still prefer scary stuff to be more serious. The kill scenes are getting a little silly, and the victims are too predictable. Where this movie really falls short is how Andy grows up. He is even in an unrealistic over-the-top military school now. What made Chucky so scary the first time was how he terrorizes a vulnerable young boy. Everyone thinks the boy is lying when he tries to get help, but now it sounds like he is just losing his mind. Andy is older and he can fight back, to compensate there is a new young target of Chucky's malice in a boy in a military academy named Tyler. It is unclear if Tyler's character is younger than the actor who plays him, or if he is the dumbest and most immature eight-year-old ever. If you appreciate the character of Chucky, it is still worthwhile but objectively looking at it in terms of a standalone scary movie it is not very strong.

Oculus
Oculus(2014)
½

The main plot device of the cursed antique mirror that kills its owners is a strong concept. How it imposes its malice on its victims is even better. It is clean and simple and leaves the scary stuff in the hands of the director. The storytelling technique bounces between two timelines of a sister and her brother. One features their traumatizing past experiences with the mirror as children, and the other is in the present day, where the two attempt to claim revenge and destroy the mirror as adults. There is a mountain load of opportunity within the concept to deliver a decent scare, disorient the viewers, and tell a story in dramatic fashion. Unfortunately, it shows its hand prematurely and confuses viewers in a negative way. The worst decision in the movie is the scene early in the movie when Kaylie (Karen Gillan) reviews the history of the mirror all too completely. This is problematic for a number of reasons, but the worst of which is how it robs the flashback scenes of their intended impact. In a self-defeating move, she tells the fate of each family member way before the excitement even begins to build. This is where some strategic ambiguity of past events would go a long way in adding some dramatic suspense. The visuals are all there and both the acting and storyline are sound, but the storytelling mistakes put a low ceiling it. Throughout the movie, we see confusing mirages or hallucinations through the eyes of the two siblings. These scenes are greatly different from the actual reality, which they do not perceive due to the mirror. Again, this holds enormous potential, but Mike Flanagan paints himself in a corner. Flanagan cannot keep the real events and the perceived events straight and clear. There are gaps in logic where this promising storytelling approach reduces itself to mere trickery. I want to be disorientation not confusion, and I want misdirection and surprise not trickery.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

It is the first movie of its kind, and it may still be the best at what it does. Normally, I strongly believe the best scares come from a more psychological or suspenseful brand of horror movie. This is not that kind of horror movie; this is just straight up raw and gruesome, but it is still highly effective. For the most part, the main characters are actually somewhat dislikable, but most part they are believable and well acted. Thankfully, these characters are not intentionally annoying, which is a common mistake many later horror movies make. There is not much plot to speak of, just four fiends visiting an abandoned house. Right away, there is a foreshadowing scare at the start of the movie; this puts the audience on edge. The director skillfully maintains an uneasy feeling, even as he lures the audience with a strategic prolonged lull. The heart racing mayhem and sheer horror begin abruptly, and it does not let up until the end. Not everyone can tolerate a movie so brutal and disturbing. Some of the scenes are hard to watch at all; it will scare anyone, to be sure. It is well shot, frightening and exhilarating, but it is also joyless and cruel, leaving me with mixed feelings. I respect it, and even admire it, but I do not enjoy it.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

It is hard to conceive of a movie as unrelenting and gruesome as the 1974 Texas Chainsaw Massacre, so they remade it instead of writing a new movie. There are a number of small changes in this version, most of which are bad. The original characters are not particularly likable. This time they are intentionally annoying and completely unlikable, except for the main character, played by Jessica Biel. I did not mind Jessica Biel, but having a main character is bad because it immediately spells out who will live and who will die. Worst of all the filmmakers want the audience to root for the murders as they do away with annoying teenage douchebags, a strategy I always hate. This time there is even more gore and the violent acts are slower and more torturous, as if the old grizzly swift killings are not hard enough to watch already. This actually works against the cause because slowing down the pace diminishes the heart-pounding horror and excitement. R. Lee Ermey is normally a good character actor, but this movie goes too far with his rewritten character. This movie makes less sense and just goes for the gross out dirty rednecks and plenty of gore.

Land of the Dead

George A. Romero returns to his post-apocalyptic zombie world 37 years after his classic Night of the Living Dead. The zombies are evolving and can now communicate on a basic level and work together, making them a more interesting threat. This may seem like Zombie heresy to some. They still have human brains that hold an abundance of information, so it makes good sense. The carnage and excitement are there, like before, but the characters and most of the acting fall flat. John Leguizamo adds a spark with his performance. Dennis Hopper is not bad as the greasy aristocrat hiding in the ultra-secure condominium, but the rest of the cast fails to make the viewer invest. Focusing on a small group in the midst of the crisis is normally a good thing. However, these characters are so dull that a greater focus on the large-scale threat seems like a lost opportunity to compensate for the weak set of main characters. To George A. Romero's credit, his zombie movies are more about the ugliness of humanity and that a crisis makes us even uglier. This time the politics are just not as interesting. The prevailing theme revolves around a class system in which as a select few reside in luxury while most live in poverty-stricken conditions. Sure, this is a real-world condition, especially with wealthy tyrants in third-world countries, but it pushes the political agenda too hard down our throats. It is not a brain-dead movie, but stronger characters are necessary to live up to the Romero standard.

The Thing
The Thing(1982)

Normally in a horror movie, whatever generates the fear is typically more frightening when we do not see it. In most cases when a monster, ghost, alien, or demon is unveiled, it is a disappointment. No matter how good the movie magic is, it just never seems as intimidating. Typically developing quality characters is as important in a scary movie any other genre, because it makes the viewer invested. The Thing is a rare exception to these things, but still results in an excellent movie. That is not to say it does not have suspense or a well-crafted build up, but it does not shy away from showing the element of horror. It hides very little, as it shows the source of horror in gruesome bloody detail. Gross out gory horror, like this, is usually one-note and used as a cheap punchline, where it is the only method to induce fear. In this case, there is certainly gore and harsh imagery, but it has a purpose because it intensifies the emotion of a mysterious and suspenseful situation. It helps that special effects are very good, especially considering there were no computer graphics to lean on. During attack scenes, the visuals are extremely scary and deliver the desired impact rather than cheapen it. Another powerful tool to construct the mood is the claustrophobic research station setting located in an isolated and desolate arctic area. The research team characters are very simple, but that is fine. We learn what need to in order to have an emotional impact and nothing more. Even after the crisis takes shape the tension and uncertainly prevails. Questions arise as to who is trustworthy, who is simply hysterical and who is a true threat. John Carpenter directs a masterpiece with this one. He forms a suspenseful start up and establishes an intentionally hazy but important background. It does not take long for it to ramp into high gear and does not let up much from there. Carpenter knows how to generate fear and emotion in the moment even without specifically refined characters. It is about the human condition of panic and distrust in an extreme survivalist situation. It breaks many of the rules of what makes a great horror movie, but does so with skill and purpose and is one of the greatest thriller-horror movies ever.

Stephen King's 'Graveyard Shift'

This is an unusual horror movie that establishes a descent set of characters and paces itself properly, but has an awful concept. The mechanism for horror is flesh-eating rats, and one extremely disappointing monster. I found myself more satisfied with the characters working in this dilapidated old cotton mill, then in the supposedly frightening threat in the basement of the mill. Brad Dourif is a plus is his small role. The rest of the cast is slightly below par, but they are not distractingly bad. The setup works well enough, but when it counts in the climax things are almost comically bad. The low budget does not help, but where it fails so miserably is the main monster. It lacks explanation and reason. Not every Stephen King short story must be made into a movie; some are better than others.

House of 1000 Corpses

This is in the ten worst movies I have ever seen! It is simply horrible! Rob Zombie makes his directorial debut with this, and I hope it is his last (it is not). It lacks any style, skill, or subtly. It wants to be Texas Chainsaw Massacre so badly, and yet it tries to be funny at the same time. This cannot work. It is a tasteless freak show exhibition, but what makes it a true failure is that it is not frightening in the least. The tone is so misguided, and it only comes off as messed up. It has no story to speak of, annoyingly dislikable main characters, and a slew of cheap clichés. Rob Zombie failed several times to get his movie to achieve an R rating instead of the NC-17. This movie supposedly was the most disturbing and extreme movie that mainstream theaters would allow in the early 2000s. I like Rob Zombie's music, but I do not care for his work as director, outside of music videos.

House on Haunted Hill

Oh no, where do I begin with this disaster? Taking the original setting and turning the whimsical mystery with no scare-factor into a real horror movie is a valid reason to do a remake. Although with this much divergence, it would be wise for them distance itself from the 1959 classic with a different name. This time the random guests have the challenge to say in a decommissioned asylum. The fact that a ghost of an evil doctor who performed horrible experiments on his patients is a scary concept. In a bad move, the selected focus is more on the cursed facility itself and not enough on the doctor's ghost. It is dripping with cheesy 90s scary teen movie clichés, in all the worst ways. Early to midway through the movie completely stops making sense, as a rigged spooky game turns into a real ghost story. Meaningless kill scenes just fill the minutes before the stupid and disconnected finish that makes even less sense. With the exception of Geoffrey Rush, the acting is lame. The dysfunctional husband wife relationship is supposed to be fun, but it is not; it is just distracting. It attempts to slap the same-old title on it while completely failing to live up to the name. That is particularly bad considering the original is no masterpiece, in its own right.

House On Haunted Hill

The name, House on Haunted Hill, implies something far spookier than it really is. It is more of a playful mystery with dark undertones than a scary movie. There is plenty of classic film charm, but not much in the thrills department. At times, it is downright cheesy. There are a few moments where the effects are so bad that they seem funny, but it is reasonably appropriate considering the tone of the movie. The eccentric and slightly dark Vincent Price is a good fit for the mischievous lead role. His interactions with Carol Ohmart are enjoyable, as they play a humorous married couple who both love and hate each other. What appears as a simple story of a group of seemingly random people taking a challenge to stay the night in a haunted house has more misdirection than you might expect. Even as bad things start to happen, it never seems fierce or uneasy. There are a few inconsistencies, and it feels like it is trying too hard to be clever. It effectively deflates or dismisses certain moments that seem important or dramatic as unimportant distractions. I love the model of the Frank Lloyd Wright's Ennis House in the beginning; too bad none of the interior shots inside the actual interior of the Ennis house. Scaring people was not the goal here; it wants to be fun. Going in with that in mind, it is not bad, but if you want scares than look elsewhere. It is not that fulfilling but if nothing else, this is much better than the 2005 remake.

Identity
Identity(2003)

A stormy night leads to a flood that forces a seemingly unrelated mix of people into a remote highway hotel. Soon people start to die. It is a great setting for a murder mystery-thriller. Simultaneously, a court case in another location is taking place. It is not apparent how the two plotlines will tie together, but we know they will. Out of sync storytelling can be a very dramatic way to tell a story and maximize a plot twist. The story remains consistent, but it may be a little too clever for its own good. The journey is fun and end is surprising, but it is ultimately unfulfilling. Maybe this would be better off as a simple murder mystery in a hotel and leave the courtroom business out of it. Some of the deaths try too hard at times, which deemphasizes the mystery and pushes the horror element. The good news is that is a better than an average slasher, but sometimes simpler is better. John Cusack and a strong cast help give validity to an ordinary set of characters.

Jennifer's Body

Unless you like movies with an extremely bad plot and no depth at all, I suggest avoiding this one. The premise of a boy-eating vixen is fine, but how this movie constructs the character of the cannibalistic demon is simply awful. I do not ask for top shelf acting in a horror movie, but I do ask for better than this, especially when the budget is there. The characters are annoying and flat and the friendship drama never seems to hold water. While it breaks new ground for terrible writing, it still manages to work in all the typical clichés from bad teen-horror movies. The direction is poor as well; it tastelessly plugs random new songs that contradict the mood of the movie. There is little action, suspense, surprise, or character development here. In fact, the only redeeming quality of this movie is that Megan Fox is very pretty. Instead of watching this movie, pick up an issue of Maxim and save yourself the trouble. It is a disposable dumb teen movie, in the worst kind of way, and it is nothing more than a waste of time.

House of Wax
House of Wax(2005)

It shows great potential with strong visuals and a concept that is quite scary, but it by typical horror movie mistakes hurt it. The opening flashback scene looks very promising, but things quickly devolve by shifting the attention to a group of idiot college friends. The movie slows down to establish its characters, but it fails because these characters are garbage. It is painfully obvious who will live and who is kill-count filler right from the start. Superfluous character interactions plague this movie with a prolonged slow start and later deter from the mysterious and frightening aspects of the movie. When the main story finally gets going, it is good. The mystery and suspense of the ghost town, the wax figures, and the house of wax are quite scary and interesting. Just when things are rolling, the movie cuts back to cheap skin exhibitions and meaningless killings that have no consequence to the main story. Most of the cast is adequate for a movie like this, but they are nothing special. The bad writing and direction are more to blame for the poor dialogue and character construction. It is hard to believe how much these silly horror clichés and weak characters pull down such a strong story.

The Haunting
The Haunting(1963)
½

This is one of the finest examples of how millions of dollars and elaborate special effects are not necessary to generate a good scare. Skilled cinematography, lighting, simple sound effects, and acting can achieve just as much, if not more of an emotional response. Director Robert Wise is a master of subtly and the sublime. He especially makes the house seem as if it is watching, its visitors in a twisted and evil personified manner. The story is may be a little thin, but it is enough when characters and dialogue are interesting. By using effective narrations, it allows the viewer to understand the story and the characters on a deeper level. The hollowness of the narration and a fitting soundtrack truly intensify the eerie tone of the movie. The unseen horrors allow the imagination to run wild, and they seem convincingly real. That is what makes it so effective, as a scary movie.

The Haunted Mansion
½

Take everything you like about the classic 1963 Haunting and ruin it by making it silly for kids; that is what this movie does. It is unoriginal and completely uninspired. In theory, the story originates from a Disney theme park ride. While that tactic somehow worked for Pirates of the Caribbean, it does not work here. It is going for ghost humor, but it is not funny. It flexes poor acting from the kid roles and is completely corny in a bad way. It does serve as a low-level entertainment that kids seem to enjoy, but the more you think about the worse it is. Short of the big paycheck, it is hard to understand why Eddie Murphy took this job. His career is heading in a dreadful direction with bad kids movies like this. He is still talented and if Robin Williams can recover from Flubber than Eddie Murphy can rise again.

The Amityville Horror
½

The 1979 version of Amityville Horror was almost a great horror movie, but it falls apart at the end. This time the ending has a little more explanation, which is nice, but it lacks the style and skill of the original. Ryan Reynolds is out of his element in a role where he supposed to become professedly colder, cruel, and eventually psychotic. He is better suited for comedy or light action with his quit wit and easy-going likability. Unbelievably rest of the cast is actually worse. Disingenuous poor acting robs the movie of its fear factor. The plot is also weak, because it is blunt and rushed. There is no mystery or gradual sense of a slow-growing horror. This is only a disappointing remake; it is just a bad movie overall.

Omen III: The Final Conflict
½

The movie starts strong, but it slows down and becomes to dialogue driven. There is some mild suspense, but the tension, scares, and excitement are missing. There are seven priests with seven daggers on a mission to eliminate the Anti-Christ before he rises to full power. That sounds good, but the movie botches this part of the story. These priests should have been central characters that add excitement and offer interesting biblical references along the way. Instead, they are so inept that they only muddy the plot and equate to lame kill count fodder. I quite like Sam Neill as the evil yet charismatic Anti-Christ role. Neill is probably the strongest point this movie has in its favor. The ending is disappointingly abrupt and a tad anticlimactic. I am not big on this movie, but if you think of it as a third movie in a horror franchise, then it is not so bad.

The Omen
The Omen(1976)

This was a dark and unsettling movie. Gregory Peck is perfect in the lead role, and the 70's camera work and effects are ideal for conveying the chilling mood. The little boy is definitely creepy; his babysitter might be even creepier. The soundtrack does a great job of enhancing the ominous mood. I do wish that there were a stronger effort to tie in biblical prophecies, but it at least it makes some use of these. Overall, it is a well-crafted scary movie with good suspense, strong acting, and has more of storytelling skills to offer than most of the horror genre.

Jaws: The Revenge

The first Jaws was a great movie, but the 80s were an especially rough time for sequels. The two subsequent movies are an embarrassment to the name. They are some are some of the greatest sequel falloffs ever. This movie may not have anything on the original "Jaws", but at least it the best sequel. It is not just a dumb teen movie and a kill-fest. It is slower than before and it is more about the characters in the Brody family than the shark and its malice. It actually values the acting. They utilize Lorraine Gary's acting once again. Lance Guest is better in the lead role than the Dennis Quaid from the last one. Michael Caine in supporting role always adds integrity. One thing this movie did not do is shake itself from the entire premise of the sequels where sharks take things personally and seek revenge. They drive that lame theme so hard with the premise that Great White Sharks swim to the Bahamas, where Great Whites do not live, to exact revenge on the Brody family. Even in after all the years from the first movie, the effects are still not impressive, but at least they do not boast and flaunt bad effects like the other sequels. The ending is a little abrupt, but overall this movie is watchable.

Jaws 3
Jaws 3(1983)
½

Fortunately, this is better than Jaws 2, but then again, most movies are better than that. It is impossible for the same town to ignore warning signs of a shark so the setting is different. You might think the second movie would consider that, but they did not. This time it is at a Florida theme park like Sea World. It is not a promising concept, but at least it is different. The main calling card for the movie is that it is 3D in the theaters. Relying on gimmicks like 3D to sell seats rather than making a good movie never works. Sharks do not take things personally, but in the Jaws sequels, they do. This flawed concept is the main theme in them. Somehow, the workers in this theme park accidentally let a baby Great White Shark into the park. The mother comes storming into the park on a killing spree, mad that people are messing with her baby. Again, sharks do not care for their young, but they do here. This movie shows the shark far more than the last two movies. It looks better than in the past, but it turns it more into an action movie. Substituting suspense for action is fundamentally not a good idea. On the upside, a bad action movie is usually better than a poorly made suspense movie.

Jaws 2
Jaws 2(1978)
½

If anything shows how what a perfect culmination of directing, acting, score, dialogue, and marketing first Jaws movie is, it is the sequel. This is the same concept revisited, but it does not come close to the original. The subtly and suspense that made the first movie a masterpiece are no longer intact. This feels like a buffet for sharks consisting of dumb teenage characters who do not matter. Higher kill count and more attacks do not equate to more action. Worse yet, the on-land parts do not work like before. The drama of the shark threat situation now feels forced. Stephen Spielberg worked a B-movie into a classic with his movie magic. Without him, the skill and craft are not there, and the cheesiness takes over. The absence of quality support characters like Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw do the movie no favors either. This was somewhat of a doomed sequel from the beginning anyway. It is hard to build a story to recapture the mystery and magic of the first Jaws.

Jaws
Jaws(1975)

Going to the beach may never be same after watching this one. This is Stephen Spielberg's first smash hit as a director. Before this watershed movie, summer was normally a slow season for theaters, but this became the highest grossing film in history. It changed the summer movie culture by defining what a summer blockbuster is. The plot itself is actually not particularly remarkable, but the direction is masterful. This is an exceptional movie because Stephen Spielberg knows how to set the right mood, establish characters that matter, and understands the value of the unseen. The masterful suspense of this movie is a quintessential example of how an unseen terror is far scarier than any visible reality. For most of the movie, the characters talk about the shark or uncover the results of its wrath with very little direct scene time dedicated to the shark. John Williams significantly increases the tension with one of the impactful scores of film history. Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw contribute greatly, as well, with their acting. Their performances along with the Williams score and Spielberg's tasteful discretion all come together beautifully. This is not only one of the most frightening and exciting thrillers ever, but one of the greatest movies of all time.

The Cabin in the Woods

People seem to love or hate this movie. I am one of the few who fall in the middle. I respect the humorous nature of the movie and enjoy the homage to various other horror movies, but the execution is not quite right. This group of college friends has to be the dumbest group of smart people ever. They are insufferably obnoxious, and even if they are intentionally exaggerated stereotypes, their interactions are hard watch. I can understand that this is not indeed to be a spoof, but exaggerating these characters just a little more to make them a little funny and not so annoying would greatly help this movie. There are some clever surprises, but many of them would be more fun and dramatic if they had concealed certain things better early in the movie. The funny control room scenes, in particular, unveil a little too much a little too quickly. It is creative and original, but better character construction and some subtlety would go a long way.

I Know Who Killed Me
½

What we have here is a torture-fest that thinks it is smarter than it really is. It has its fill of messed up gory stuff, without much else going for it. The plot is extremely weak, and the jumpy storytelling lacks clarity. A typical abduction-horror becomes too clever for its own good when it complicates things with a convoluted case of mistaken identity. The material is weak, but even with the potential of playing two parts or personalities this is not a good showing for Lindsay Lohan. This is a bad fit for her talents. She is out of her depth as a mundane brainy college student. The trashy stripper side of her role only exacerbates her negative perceptions in real life. All the characters are lifeless; the movie seems to lack a necessary sense of goodness needed to invest in what is happening. Unless grisly torture scenes get you off, I strongly recommend passing on this one.

Insomnia
Insomnia(2002)

It is a gripping and original type of crime-thriller where the intensity derives mostly from an internal moral conflict within the main charter rather than the external mystery of who committed the crime. Everything is on the movie. A highly regarded detective must carefully choose in he will bring in a killer. This killer is different because he has dirt on him that can ruin his career and free guilty prisoners. There is such a fascinating contrast in the two main characters, both physically and in their behavior. Robin Williams and Al Pacino deliver excellent acting performances. Each confrontation between the two puts you on the edge in a very effective manner. Hilary Swank holds her own as a committed yet inexperienced detective in a rural town. Christopher Nolan does a first-class job as the director. He effectively conveys the internal struggle and physical suffering of the main character. Conversely, he makes the killer seem so calm and collected that it is creepy. The silent and hazy Alaska landscape makes the mood of critical scenes all the more effective. This is a unique story with masterful execution and superb acting. It is highly memorable and worthy of the title as a classic.

The House Bunny

An airhead Playboy Playmate loses her pampered lifestyle of the Playboy Mansion and finds herself forced to live in the real world. Instead, she gets a gig as the housemother for a sorority full of unpopular outcast girls. She hopes to help the girls with their social skills and remake their image. Anna Faris is funny as the exaggerated talentless ditzy model stereotype. A supporting cast of Emma Stone, Kat Dennings and the other sorority misfits help to compliment and balance her. Even the sub-plot of the love story between Anna Faris and Colin Hanks maintains the pleasantly humorous tone without turning mushy. Overall, it is pleasant, moderately funny, and makes for a fun time. It fails to break through as a hard-laugh underdog story, as it does not break any new ground or make any lasting impressions.

Divergent
Divergent(2014)
½

There is certainly a wave of movies here in the early 2010s that feature adolescent characters searching for self-identity. Harry Potter matured into this and a series of lesser movies has since followed with Twilight, The Host, Hunger Games and others. This post-apocalyptic futuristic society in Chicago is actually compelling, particularly how all members of society fall into one of five stringent social sects. There is Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Erudite (the intelligent), Amity (the peaceful) and Candor (the honest). Basically, everyone breaks down into nurturing liberal government officials, peacekeeping soldiers, academic researchers, hippy-like farmers, and those who are dedicated to truth and law. Occasionally there are those who defy category, known as divergent. Society considers them a threat and seeks to expunge them. All the makings are there for a real winner, but it lacks personality within characters. Judging by the tone and approach of the director, Neil Burger, is on a mission to emulate the Hunger Games series. I hate seeing this because the story is significantly better than The Hunger Games and there is a real potential to become so much more than that. The movie takes its time and builds a strong foundation by immersing the viewer into this futuristic society, which is mostly good stuff. Some may feel bored by the details, but geeks, like me like details. However, it gets in trouble by dwelling too much on an obvious budding romance between the main character, Beatrice, and her commanding officer. Kate Winslett and Ashley Judd do help in supporting roles but Beatrice's friends, fellow students, and trainers generally do not add much. Unfortunately, the end feels rushed, like a TV show that will return next week. There will obviously be a profitable series of movies, but the ending still felt too abrupt. I want each movie to stand on its own by opening and closing in deliberate fashion.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
½

For hard-core Star-Trek fans, there is nothing better than this. It incorporates all the fan-favorite characters effectively. The familiar characters are more interesting with greater dimension and emotion in this movie than in the last. It is a good move allowing each of the classic characters to influence the story in a meaningful manner. The visuals are most impressive; they still look great. While it is more interesting than the fist movie, the main problem with the Star Trek franchise persists. Dialogue drives the tension and action, but never builds into a fully rewarding excitement. The action sequences just do not hold the impact they should. Kahn is a quality villain with a good story, but Kirk seems to manipulate him a little too easily. Character development and story are most important, but a little more action would help a great deal. This is an emotionally polarizing story that finishes in an awkward manner. Parts of it are uplifting, as expected, but there are uncharacteristically sobering events that I did not care for. It finishes off on a gloomy note that leaves an empty and unsatisfying feeling.

College Road Trip
½

Touring colleges on a road trip seems like offers the opportunity for family growth and development and offers the opportunity for funny things to happen along the way. It works the obvious angle of how hard it is for parents to let go and have faith in their children can make good decisions. There is nothing wrong with that, but it just keeps hammering away at the one theme in the most direct manner. Short of a genius, younger brother and his pet pig there is not much else happening. The little brother is a completely ineffective and superfluous character. The move suffers from mass overacting. It seems like something from a Disney TV show, rather than a movie. Even Martin Lawrence is a let down, though he does not have much to work with. He tries too hard to make something happen when it just is not there. I still believe Martin Lawrence is a funny man; it does not show here. Oddly enough, the best laughs come from Donnie Osmond, who plays a reoccurring character of an overenthusiastic corny dad and his ridiculous daddies-girl daughter. Younger audiences from ages 10-15 may find it entertaining and there is some feel-good family stuff, so there is some redeeming value. Still, there just is not enough comedy or eventful plot points to make it worthwhile for everyone else.

What Women Want

As far as chick-flicks go, this is one of the better ones. It is surprisingly enjoyable. The concept of a man blessed, or haunted, by hearing what the women around him are thinking is both funny and original. Mel Gibson is right for the lead role. He transitions from a smug, chauvinistic, womanizer to a caring individual who listens and cares about his daughter, his co-workers, even strangers he meets. It is a fun character evolution to watch, and it helps that it maintains humor all along the way. Perhaps the change takes it one-step too far, but maybe that is what women want. One reason this works better than other romantic-comedies is that the romance between Helen Hunt and Gibson is secondary to the issue of the female voices that Gibson hears. Hearing women's thoughts go beyond just affecting the protagonist's romantic life, it influences every aspect of his life, which is much more fulfilling and interesting. This makes for supporting characters and side stories that add complexity and have a real purpose to the story. For the most part, it does not delve into needless irrational drama, until the climax, that is. The climax feels a little too standard for a romantic comedy for a movie this good. At least it does not drag its heels through the process like countless other movies. If it is your wife or girlfriend's turn to pick a movie, you could do far worse than this one. In fact, guys may even want to watch it on their own, enjoy it and then never admit they saw it again. That is what we call a guilty pleasure.

Rambo (Rambo IV)

First Blood was an amazing movie, but the two sequels seem like something else altogether. They were fun but lack any meaning. It is hard to understand why anyone would revive such a series after 20 years. Does Stallone need money? Is he unable to get roles as an older character? Is he just bored in retirement? Who knows but the result is more of the same as the other sequels, only with better effects and more violence. It is fun as a shoot-em-up adenine rush, but there is nothing sustaining here to make you remember it later. The location and mission are actually at a reasonable scale this time. I was afraid he would single handedly eliminate all of Al-Qaida and restore peace in the Middle East, but thankfully it is more restrained than the third movie. A missionary group tries to persuade Rambo to take them into a hostile territory in Burma to help, but he resists. The only woman in the group gets in his head in an almost spiritual way, causing him to re-evaluate how he ran from the world and its problems. These scenes are a little rocky and seem to reverse a damaged character's psyche in a matter of hours. This group of missionaries is a somewhat annoying, but luckily, their role fades to the background quickly. To Sylvester Stallone's credit, he does not come off as a 62-year-old has-been, who is pushing it too far. He still looks like he can rip someone's throat out with his bare hands. Unlike the previous sequels, it is mercifully concise.

Rambo III
Rambo III(1988)

This movie attempts to bring back some sense of emotion to the Rambo series, but it is very slight. This is just another round of mindless go, go, go action. I suppose that there is nothing wrong with that so long as it is. The dialogue is weaker this time; it often verges on unintentionally funny. Rambo is out to save his mentor, who is a prisoner of war in the Afghanistan conflict. It seems strange that Col. Trautman cannot hold his own better than he does, considering he helped train Rambo. It takes a bit of time for the story to set in but when it does, the exaggerated action entertains, for the most part. The final battle of the movie pushes it too far and persists for too long, and it starts to get ridiculous. Stallone is giving the people what they want, and is now just playing a parody of his original character. The Rambo sequels are fine as disposable popcorn movies, but they feel like they are another series of their own. It is hard to believe how great the first movie is when you watch the goofy sequels. Regrettably, these sequels are now the lasting image of the series.

Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!

The concept is there and the voice work and animation are good, but there is something missing. It suffers from stretching a short story for children into a full-length movie. There are attempts to fill in the gaps by embellishing how crazy and mean the other animals are to Horton for believing in something he did not see. The message of the story is great and there is nothing wrong with the plot itself. Horton's character is lovable, and the townspeople in Whoville are enjoyable as well. Steve Carell and Jim Carrey are great fits for this. It is a shame the execution of the screenwriters does not live up to their level. Somehow, the animal-to-animal interactions are lacking. Their level of refinement feels more like a Saturday morning cartoon than a big-screen movie. Some of the other animals are a bit too silly while others lack the personality it takes to make a strong impact. Sadly, the dialogue and support characters in the big world are one of the biggest components to this movie, but the major weaknesses in this department keep it from achieving more.

Encino Man
Encino Man(1992)
½

There is nothing ambitious or fancy here; it is a simple early 90s teen comedy. Two high school nerds uncover a prehistoric caveman trapped in a block of ice while digging a pool in their suburban backyard. They try to preserve him in ice, but he melts and is now alive in Southern Californian in the year 1992. The two friends decide to pose him as a foreign exchange student and enroll him in high school. The concept is deliciously absurd. From here, the plot dissolves, and it loses its way. Sean Astin is fine as an actor, but his character is whiny and a little hard to warm up to. Polly Shore works in this application because he is a supporting character, which moderates his goofy antics. Early in the movie this duo of Shore and Astin does not work that well, you begin to wonder how these characters are even friends. Brenden Frazer, however, is completely lovable as the surprisingly gentle and very silly Neanderthal. His energy and childlike enthusiasm make it fun, even if the movie has no diction and very little structure. Perplexingly, the movie ends very abruptly, as if there is more to the story, but it just stops without wrapping up the loose ends. Picking this movie up now is like uncovering an artifact from the MTV generation in 1992. It seems dated, but in many ways, that is part of the charm. It is not a well-made movie, but it is still a fun watch and is worth the time for a simple laugh.

Bushwhacked
Bushwhacked(1995)
½

A dimwitted deliveryman finds himself framed for murder. In attempts to escape, he hides by posing as a Ranger Scouts leader. Daniel Stern is a funny man. He is very expressive and has a lot of physical humor. Making him the lead role might work if there is good enough support around him, but this movie offers nothing else. It forces Stern to overcompensate, as he lays it on too thick. This is a movie for kids; nevertheless, it does not have much going for it. The kids in the scout troop are simply so dumb and gullible they are frustrating. Worse, yet, they are not funny. Eventually, the kids wise up to their imposter scoutmaster, but it does not get any better from there. It is one preposterous gag after another. The tone is right, but it is too dumb even for younger audiences. As a 10-year-old, I found myself amused by Stern, but it was not particularly special even then. It offers less as an adult and is completely forgettable.

American Beauty

If you enjoy depressing stories about dysfunctional families, then this is for you. It is a sad story of an unmotivated selfish man going through a mid-life crisis. His wife cheats on him; his daughter hates him. He is in a dead-end job, and even his neighbors are miserable creatures. Rather than adapting and maturing, he self-destructs and it is hard to watch. Every character struggles with significant internal issues. None of them trusts anyone, communicate their troubles or reach out for help. There is no sense of love or goodness to offer hope or to root for. It is hard to relate or connect with such miserable and selfish individuals. There is no balance to identify with in this slowly unfolding train wreck. It is one thing to say everyone has problems, but this is too extreme. Admittedly, the direction and acting are good, but the characters are despicable. The story is a slowly unfolding train wreck and a true tragedy. I think the only way you can enjoy this is if you somehow think you are better or more normal by consuming your attention on the dysfunction and sadness of others.

Air Bud
Air Bud(1997)

The story is about a lonely boy in a new town who comes across a runaway dog that can play basketball. The dog does not really play basketball; he simply tips a basketball into a hoop when the boy holds it over his head for him. The boy gains self-confidence to play on the school basketball team and makes friends. Yes, it is stupid as it sounds. It tries to pull at your heartstrings with the classic boy and his dog template but the basketball component is so stupidly outlandish that it is dead in the water from the start.

How to Be a Player

For a movie about a ladies-man going from hookup to hookup, it seems surprisingly tame. The movie gets its name because this master womanizer is teaching two of his friends the tricks of his trade. Meanwhile, his sister and her friend are on a mission to sabotage him. The problem is the dialogue between the player and his pupils is not that funny. In addition, the women in this movie are portrayed more as sexy and do not provide much comedic value. Who says these characters cannot do both? Much of the movie feels like a collection of lead-ins for a porn, which is not a good thing. It is not all bad though. At least things pick up later, as the main character finds himself in a sticky mess. Side characters like Bernie Mac and Gilbert Godfried actually provide the best laughs. It is too bad the circus of different characters does not kick in sooner. There are funny moments here and there but in general, there is not enough humor in the mix to make this go.

The Untouchables

There is a lot to like about this movie. It has a historically interesting subject, impressive cast, visual richness, and it packs some quality excitement. The streetscapes and interior shots of the Prohibition Era Chicago setting look great. It has tons of charm as a period piece. It is not full force action, but it moves right along and there are some very intense moments. The climax scene in the end is particularly enjoyable. Sean Connery is memorable in his Oscar-winning performance. He helps build a character lively that is full of fire. It is not perfect though, for all the strong points, it has it still fails to develop a potentially interesting set of characters. Kevin Costner and Robert De Niro are not as lucky as Connery with their characters. They do not develop the depth or personality, and the writing does not give them same opportunity to spread their wings. I want more from Elliot Ness and his family life; maybe get into his back-story to understand what drives him. Similarly, Al Capone is a larger than life character, but he does not get the focus required to capture who he is.

Under the Skin

This artistic movie evokes many questions and intentionally answers none of them directly. It is very sparring with the dialogue and deliberately vague every step but heavy on conceptual ideas. Not often does a mainstream actor like Scarlett Johansen take such a bold role in an independent movie like this. She portrays an ambiguous female entity attempting using her good looks to lure men into her van in a predatory manner. Her motives are not clear for some time, but they are compelling on a symbolic level. Watching this feels more like witnessing a process rather than the experience of a typical plot structure. It moves slowly, and some may find it boring. This slow pace, however, is important in establishing the palpably provocative yet ominous mood. It also allows the viewer to absorb important subtitles and to think about them as the movie progresses. The viewer is not spoon-fed what or why things are happening, leaving them to form their own deductions and insight. This likely takes more than one viewing to get the fully appreciate the copious details and their meanings. It has clear themes of gender, beauty, and human nature. Undoubtedly, there are more questions than answers in the end, but it makes you think in a way few movies do. The greatest question I have is that if Scarlett Johansen is trying to get Scottish men into a van, how is this van not full like a clown car in the first five minutes of the film?

Desperado
Desperado(1995)
½

More money and bigger names do not necessarily equate to a better product. This is a loose continuation of the 1992 Robert Rodriguez's low-budget success, El Mariachi. Like El Mariachi, Desperado combines violent gangster movies with classic western movies. The result is a fun, stylish and unique hybrid typology that makes for a good time. Things get off to an extremely promising start with Steve Buscemi foreshadowing the bloody fate of a bar full of thugs and a mysterious gunman heading their way. Buscemi has excellent storytelling and narrating skills. This is the best part of the movie, and it is unfortunate that he does not narrate the entire movie. Rodriguez shows good craft in his cinematography and visuals. The numerous gunfights are full of adenine, but they are not as inspired. For example, one reoccurring flaw is where the hero blatantly stands in the line fire, as if he is bulletproof. As expected, the henchmen miss while the hero's shots kill. I do not ask for realism, but keeping things like this in check is not too much to ask. Despite a colorful and inspired performance from Steve Buscemi the other main characters lack the warmth and personality of the first movie. This is due more to the writing than acting of Antonio Banderas or Salma Hayek. Instead of wonderful southwestern Mariachi music, Rock n Roll now dominates the soundtrack. It may seem like a small thing, but it is so out of place that is a major distraction. It is still a good time, and it has style, but the writing is just not tight enough.

Good Burger
Good Burger(1997)
½

Keenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell take to the big screen with their popular characters from the kids sketch-comedy show, All That. The story of a mom and pop burger joint threatened by a giant chain across the street actually works as a decent plot. Kel's character, Ed is a funny stereotypical idiot, but this movie succeeds in making him more of a lovable idiot. This elaboration on a simple character and the backbone of a reasonable story successfully expands a basic five-minute sketch into a full movie. There is a dip or two it, but they are short-lived. Surprisingly, it manages to carry through without becoming agitating. This is largely due to the well-established strong chemistry of Keenan and Kel. They are having fun making this and it shows. The target audience here is ages eight to thirteen. It is highly formulaic and adults probably will not appreciate it as much. There are still some good moments for them as well. It is harmless silly fun and when taken for what it is, it is not that bad.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Just when it looks like the Marvel well is running dry with substandard sequels, they reignite our appetites for comic hero movies with this one. This misfit group of unlikely heroes is incredibly likable. Each of them has an interesting back-story on their own. They come together to form a partnership that develops into an unusual friendship, which is funny and fulfilling. Each of the Guardians is so interesting that I wanted to expand on a few of the characters and their origins. I hope that this is fuel for other adventures and strong sequels. The casting and voice-work are excellent and make the characters even better. Chris Pratt is particularly great in the lead role as Star Lord. His sarcasm and quick timing paired with good-natured heart make the movie. The adventure is incredibly fun, but the main villain, Ronan, could use more development. The dynamics of the five Guardians and Pratt's personality keeps this at a highly enjoyable level.

Ted
Ted(2012)
½

Seth McFarlane makes the jump to the big screen, while managing to stay true to his signature Family Guy brand of humor. The character of Ted feels like a cross between the blithely careless Peter Griffin and his dog companion, Brian. Ted's rowdy and adult humor is funny on its own, but it is particularly funny because the animation is so good. He does look like a real teddy bear that came to life. The interactions between Mark Wahlberg and Ted are great. Their conversations drift into amusing random tangents, like Family Guy, but still work to build depth in the characters. The slightly unorthodox storybook classic narration is also enjoyable and works very well to set the scene and introduce the characters. Unfortunately, the relationship between Wahlberg and Mila Kunis is not as good and provide little to no humor. Kunis feels like an annoying nag. Even when her character has valid points, they come off in an unappealing way. When a creepy yet funny Giovanni Ribisi and his son abduct Ted, it looks like things will improve. Wahlberg and Kunis must find their friend, and it is fun again. Sadly, this promising plot element is short-lived and too close to the end of the movie. If this movie did not piddle away so much screen time with painful formalities of the romance, then a more inspired adventure might ensue. As it stands, it is a good time with some good laughs. It is just frustrating how a few adjustments would make it much a better product.

Jobs
Jobs(2013)

Steve Jobs is one of the most fascinating figures in recent history. With such an interesting subject, a biopic movie, like this one, comes down to casting, storytelling, and presentation. Against the odds, the casting is good. When it comes to casting the role of Steve Jobs, Ashton Kutcher would never enter my thoughts. I generally believe he is best suited for comedy and when he attempts a serious role, the results are not pretty. It turns out with a different haircut and the option of a beard Ashton resembles Steve Jobs, particularly in his younger days. To my surprise, Kutcher also pulls off the walk, speech nuances, and some of the more identifiable public mannerisms. Indeed, Ashton's performance is a pleasant surprise. Josh Gad is also good as Steve Wozniak; it is sad that his part is not a little bigger. The storytelling and presentation, however, are not quite there. It is not that it is boring, but it lacks feeling and excitement. The beginning of the story feels rushed, robbing us of an important understanding of who Steve Jobs really was before Apple. The movie skims Jobs' personal life in the most awkward of ways. It makes a distracting tangent about an out-of-wedlock child, but then fails to see that part of the story through. There is no explanation or focus on how this affects him. Huge portions of his life are missing, particularly the time while he is away from Apple. Far too much focus goes into the decline of Apple during the 80s and the eventual firing of Jobs. It leaves out too much and makes things feel like things happen in a rather sterile way. It fails to make the emotional connections to the characters, including Jobs. Joshua Michael Stern does not have an impressive resume as producer and director. It is unfortunate that a more skilled filmmaker, like David Fincher (The Social Network) did not get this project.

22 Jump Street

Some movies are better off without a sequel. Comedies, in particular, have a difficult time bringing a set of beloved characters back together and forming a fresh situation. That is why this movie's strongest asset and key to its success is self-awareness and the ability to mock the Hollywood system. The movie repeatedly points out how everything is as it was last time or may have the smallest of changes, but is essentially the same. Tacked on familiar characters from the original are obviously forced back into the story in a mocking way. It points out how sequels are more costly and emphasize bigger effects and more of the same in misguided attempts to top themselves. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum developed an unexpectedly good chemistry in the first movie. It carries over, and that is the other most significant component to why this movie works. It would be nice if the story capitalized on the college setting more. Some of the scenes in the dorms and classrooms are great, but injecting even more elements of college student-life would be a nice improvement. It is not up to the level of 21 Jump Street, but it admits that about itself in a refreshing way. It tries to take a different approach at "doing the same thing" and it works.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
½

The first Hunger Games movie has an empty feeling. The characters are paper-thin and there is a complete lack of depth and detail. Worse yet, the action scenes are tame and unexciting. The second installment in the Hunger Game saga rebounds nicely. It is not perfect, but it is significantly better. Finally, this oppressive government system and the social conditions are starting to take shape. The gladiator games themselves are boring, it the society that is interesting. It is nice to see this story expand beyond a poorly crafted romance for teens with a splash parentally approved action. Even at the end of this movie, there are still many unanswered questions. While some of the characters are fleshing out most of them remain underdeveloped. Details are a weak point for this series, and the love triangle is painfully forced. The good news is that this is not a waste of time, and the ship is righting itself.

The Hunger Games
½

The movie has a strong concept and offers some light action, but it feels like something is missing. It shows good imagination of a futuristic society ruled by a brutally strong government with an extremely lopsided social structure. I wish there was more focus on the nature of this drastically different society. It would build a better understanding the characters and their situation. The movie revolves too much around the selection and ceremony and not enough time goes to the bigger picture or even the gladiator fight scenes. The concept seems grizzly but the action hardly delivers the power, instinct, action and emotion of gladiator or survivalist movies like Gladiator or Predator. The love triangle side of the movie works well enough but a stronger cast would have only improved these aspects. Jennifer Lawrence does not bring enough confidence or personality to her character. The main characters are just as out of their element. Stanley Tucci, Lenny Kravitz, Donald Sutherland, and Woody Harrelson are good but their parts are all small. A stronger cast, with more action, and a much greater focus on the bigger picture would have made this a very impressive movie, possibly even a sci-fi classic, but it settles for less. It manages to entertain but offers far less than it should.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

After a lackluster X-Men trilogy in 2000-2006, the franchise made a wise decision to go back to the very beginning with X-Men: First Class. The storytelling was much better, and the new cast proved to be every bit as talented as the earlier big names, if not more. Here is where it gets tricky; Days of Future Past attempts to tie the two productions together. I had great reservations that original three movies would taint all the good work from First Class. Luckily, the writing still shows quality, and the cast was never the problem from the first movies. It bridges the two worlds perfectly, which is certainly a difficult challenge. The movie starts in an oppressive dystopian future. Sending Wolverine back in time to change events in the past and rewrite history for a better outcome is the only hope for mutants and humans alike. Despite the ambitious concept, it is clear and coherent. The action is visuals work well, and the writing incorporates the new and old casts seamlessly. In fact, this is so good that it almost makes you forget how disappointing previous series was. It is not clear where the series will go after this, but what is important is that the good momentum from starting over is carrying through.

Glory Road
Glory Road(2006)
½

As a sports-drama, it is certainly a strong movie, but what makes it special is the true story about overcoming racism through sports culture. No doubt Jerry Bruckheimer and Walt Disney are playing off the successes from their excellent 2000 film, Remember the Titans, here. While the characters and the story may not be quite as touching on a personal level as Remember the Titans, they are still inspiring and make for a strong movie, in their own right. The main character is Texas Western basketball coach, Don Haskins, played by Josh Lucas. He portrays a forward-thinking coach who boldly reaches for overlooked athletic talents in the African-American community. Instead of color, he sees talent. The storytelling does a commendable job of developing the character of most of the key team members. Watching these players come together as a team to prove the abundant racist ridicule and pessimism is inspiring. It took bravery and perseverance as individuals, but ultimately, they had to be a great team and win to change people's perceptions forever. The dramatized basketball action scenes are appropriately full of emotion. James Gartner has not directed any other movies, but he tells a good story and smoothly transitions a wide spectrum of moods effectively.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

At first, I thought another Indiana Jones movie sounded great!....Wait, what if it sucks? Going back and adding another movie to the legendary series comes with the highest of expectations. Simply making a movie with the same-old characters may pack the box offices, but makes people furious if it taints them. This movie is tragic in so many ways. The digitized sets look terrible and seem completely out of character for these movies. Indiana Jones never was realistic, but at least the laws of physics still applied. Many of the action sequences are a joke. At one, point Indy survives an atomic blast by hiding in a refrigerator. If that sounds bad, how about some sword fighting while simultaneously swinging on jungle vines amongst angry moneys like Tarzan? It gets worse the same sword fight continues while opposing foes balance on the structural framework of two safari jeeps moving at 50 miles per hour. This is unacceptable garbage for any movie, much less Indiana Jones! Brining Shia LaBeouf on board as a son, rather than a sidekick is another painful flaw. His acting is not the problem; it is just a horrible character. The dialogue between is LaBeouf and Ford is a woefully bad. The overall plot is questionable, and the extraterrestrial ending is unbelievably terrible. Here once again, it defies the established level of reality for the series. It is hard to know who to be disappointed with more. George Lucas is defiling one of his greatest creations. Yes, it is a significantly worse let down than the new Star Wars trilogy. How could Spielberg with all of his integrity let this happen? Why did Harrison Ford agree to do this after reading the script? I tried making excuses for it at first, and tried to like it because I love the other three movies so much. After a point, I realized this is just a bad movie. In fact, I hate this movie, and wish it did not exist. It is a disaster in every way, from the down to the details and execution. This failure is the sort of thing people will talk about for decades later.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

With this third excellent Indiana Jones movie, the series solidifies itself as true classics. They raised the bar for action and adventure movies by masterfully balancing pure fun with excitement and bits of humor. Harrison Ford has shaped a unique and memorable hero character that will greatly define his impressive legacy. There are noticeable similarities to Raiders of the Lost Ark in the structure but new characters, and a slightly expanded back-story makes it just as strong as a standalone adventure. Sean Connery is amazing. He and Harrison Ford have a great chemistry together. Their playful bantering while facing extreme danger is quite funny. It is by far the most humorous of the trilogy. Amazingly, at no point does the action or intensity suffer from the comedy; it is a harmonious balance. Alison Doody may lack the fire and spirit that Karen Allen does, but she is a far more enjoyable female counterpart than Kate Capshaw. The opening flashback scenes featuring River Phoenix as a younger Indian Jones have a pleasant vintage quality to them. They are so enjoyable it led to a television series spin-off about young Indiana Jones. As with the other Indiana Jones movies, the perfect soundtrack, exotic settings, stunts and adventure are all epically exciting. What really defines this series though is a great hero accompanied by fun companions who influence the story in important ways make it interesting. It is toughly fun in a way few movies ever achieve, and I love it just as much as the first one, maybe even a bit more.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
½

As with most sequels, this is a slight step down from the original Raiders of the Lost Ark. There is less substance in the story and less to love about the companions. To make up for it, there is a steadier unrelenting stream of action to carry the movie. The adventure, once again, is simple but extremely thrilling and very well done. This movie builds a separate adventure prior to Raiders of the Lost Ark. All the things we love about Indy's character are still present. Thankfully, it does not recycle old material or get caught up in trying to one-up itself. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas do a great job of conceiving an evil layer worthy of the title "Temple of Doom." The enslaved children, creepy sacrifices, dark voodoo magic and endless mine tracks are highly memorable environments. Ke Huy Quan as Short Round is excellent as a spunky young tag-along companion for Dr. Jones. Kate Capshaw, on the other hand, is less appealing. Her character is a prissy out-of-place damsel, but she is just too annoying to warm up to or even tolerate. This is the weakest of the trilogy, but that is like marrying Gwen Stephani and finding out she is a bad cook. There is nothing to complain about here when there is so much going for it as a fun and exciting adventure. The visuals, soundtrack, direction, and stunts in this movie are what escapist action movies are all about.

Raiders of the Lost Ark

I remember seeing this and instantly for the first time when I was a kid. It has a real energy that captured my imagination and hooked me from the beginning. As I get older, it impresses me how much I still love this trilogy, particularly the first and third movies. It is a thrilling adventure filled with great chases, fright scenes, and daring escapes. This movie has an easygoing humorous tone and a touch of imaginative fantasy, which make it completely fun at the same time. Thankfully, it is never so farfetched as to cheapen the action. Indiana Jones is a great hero character. He is rough around the edges and has the tendency to get in over his head, but he is resourceful, persistent, and fearless, so long as there are no snakes involved. Harrison Ford brings his sarcasm and smirks that suggest he is constantly getting away with something, and it is just perfect for the role. Several colorful companions, enemies, and side characters add a great deal, as well. The always-adorable Karen Allen is an especially wonderful compliment to Ford. John Williams delivers one of the greatest movie scores ever. His music truly elevates the experience by making everything feel more lively, vibrant, and epic. The brilliant minds of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg nailed everything so perfectly. It is a great movie, and it ranks up there as one of the best and most fun action movies of all time.

Ice Age 2: The Meltdown

The first movie did not have much going for it as far as the story goes. Unfortunately, those problems persist in the sequel. Last time the novelty of the three core characters made it work, but it these characters are not good enough to make it work for a second go around. These characters are likable, but they are losing their luster. The new characters voiced by Queen Latifah, Jay Leno, Seann William Scott and Will Arnet do not inject the freshness into the series that the makers intended. Only the misadventures of Scrat the prehistoric squirrel and his quest for a delicious acorn work as well as the original. Lack of content is a hard thing to overcome.

Forrest Gump
Forrest Gump(1994)

Few movies do it all like this. It is remarkably funny, but also has contrasting moments of impactful sadness. There is a heartwarming tenderness but it still encourages reflection of our culture and history. Trying to do all of this may seem overly ambitious, but it is impressive how seamless and effortless all of these emotions come together in one great package. The story and the characters are highly original. Tom Hanks is amazingly lovable as a simple man with an extremely low IQ. He does not take it so far that his character is not relatable, nor does he undersell his differences. The mental simplicity of the character gives him a unique view of the world, one that is less cynical. He has an alluring innocence to him that brings out best in humanity. Forrest knows right and wrong, works hard, and loves people unconditionally. It is a remarkable character, but it is an extremely hard acting balance to achieve. Hanks does it better than anyone else could, and it is his finest performance of his prestigious career. The incredible story summarizes this man's life in a series of flashbacks, and it covers an amazing amount of ground, both historically and emotionally. The direction is solid as well. Each period feels right; I particularly like inserting Hanks into actual historical footage. More importantly, it connects the audience emotionally to the characters and to his journey through life. This is an excellent movie in every aspect and it is one of the all-time greats.

Enemy at the Gates
½

This holds the potential to be one of those special war movie classics, but it trips over itself and loses focus. It is very interesting to see a historical WWII movie with no mentioning or strong presence of the United States. This offers a forgotten perspective of the war, which makes it unique. The battle scenes, landscapes, and visuals are all extremely well done. Jude Law and Ed Harris both deliver strong performances as they engage in a deadly chess match. One detail that really bothers me is how the Russians sound British, and the Germans sound American. These are good actors capable of pulling of accents for their respective nations. It would help clarify who is from what country as well as intensify the mood and add a touch of authenticity. The bigger flaw is the overemphasis of a love triangle aspect of the story. It only distracts from the rivaling snipers and steals intensity and power of the movie. Casting Rachel Weisz may be the cause of overemphasizing her character, either way it does the movie no favors. The beginning has a very broad perspective, which oddly enough is more captivating, but it loses its focus and in the details of a love story that is only moderately interesting.

Blood Diamond

This movie goes beyond simply telling a good story with strong acting performances. It also raises awareness about an important issue, by combining fast-paced action with, potent violent imagery with a powerful story that makes a personal connection. The willpower of the main character is inspiring, as he stops at nothing to save his son and escape danger. It also builds complexity with an interesting set of characters who try to help him, each with differing agendas. One character looks to capitalize on the situation, while another is an altruistic journalist. The acting is excellent with strong emotion-filled performances from Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Connelly, and Djimon Housou. It helps people understand what terrible baggage comes with conflict diamonds and how consumers have the responsibility to buy conflict-free jewelry. Having images and story like this, even if they are fictional, contribute to a more powerful understanding of the world around us. This humanist value organically ties into the story. At no point does the dialogue or story bog down or feel too preachy.

Father of the Bride
½

There is something universal and truthful about this that makes it so appealing. It is a straightforward and uncomplicated story, but it resonates so well because it has very real feelings behind it. There are humorous parts but it more about the process and emotions of a parent letting go of their children. Steve Martin branches out from his typical quick-witted cool sarcasm and his wild and crazy guy persona. Here he shows convincing warmth and genuine quality in his acting. There are several scenes where his Martin's disbelief, cynicism, and sulking are funny in a way, but they are also reflective difficult process of a father letting go. The narration from Steve Martin really makes the story more personal and adds a great deal of sincerity as well. Martin Short adds a lot with his valuable animated splashes of humor. It has a wonderful sense of effortlessness to it. No curve balls or surprises are necessary in this story. Simply experiencing the complexity of emotions during the wedding process at a personal level proves to be highly touching and extremely enjoyable on its own.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

It is hard to categorize this movie in a genre, because it is so unique in that it is many things at one time. Mostly, this is a wildly unpredictable adventure. There are a few action sequences, yet they show a unique solemn restraint that deliberately reduces them to whimsical events in a plot, rather than raw excitement. Often it is sentimental or reflective with themes of old age, friendship, and young love. Thankfully, the substantive emotion never pulls the mood down. It has wonderfully intriguing characters and an amazing cast to bring to personality and life to them. There are even somewhat mysterious elements to the story to keep you guessing and a few mildly humorous moments. It really defies categorization, but it certainly bears the stamp of a Wes Anderson movie. This is by far my favorite Wes Anderson effort. His pretentious subdued monotone dullness normally rubs me the wrong way. The difference here from his other films is in the delightfully spontaneous and eventful story that has colorful characters with definitive personality. Ralph Fines, in particular, makes an unforgettable with great presence that defines the movie. He is the main character, but his story comes through the perspective of his protégé. The story moves quickly and smoothly and the flashback conversational narration has a pleasant storytelling quality. It is many things, but Anderson brings it all together in one clear and incredibly fun adventure.

A Million Ways to Die in the West

Seth McFarlane brings his talented writing, quick timing, witty delivery, and slick charm to the Wild West. In doing so, he also helps revive a genre mostly forgotten today. The writing works nicely on multiple levels. It is a comedy primarily, but it has light romantic elements, a bit of action, and western charm. Of course, it is all still very silly, but the quality of the simple story makes for stronger characters and provides a well-managed structure. It serves as a nice base point for Seth McFarlane to go on his tangents and pop culture references without getting lost in them. The main character played by McFarlane rants as he unhappily trudges around in the Wild West, hating almost everything about it. Adding the heartbreak of losing his girlfriend makes it worse. Thankfully, he has a great delivery; his sarcasm and negativity come off as funny and good-natured, and he remains a highly likable throughout. Charlize Theron works unexpectedly well with McFarlane. Her performance comes very naturally. She effortlessly plays off McFarlane. She does not come off as a pretty face merely tacked on nor does she try too hard to compete for attention. Giovanni Ribisi, Sarah Silverman and Neil Patrick Harris are also an excellently funny supporting cast that makes a great contribution. The humor is largely off-color lowbrow dialogue with good actors delivering it perfectly. If you feel like you are above fart jokes, politically incorrect jabs, sex references, and a ton of bad language, then this is not for you. I, however, love it and this is the kind of movie that I can watch multiples times and love it even more.

The Flintstones

Wow this was a bad Idea to make, or I should say re-make. John Goodman and Rock Moraines come one your better than that.

Election
Election(1999)
½

Is this supposed to be funny? If so than it is a dry, dark and sad brand of humor, I do not appreciate. The story is about a teacher who tries to sway a high-school student election in order stick it to an excruciatingly obnoxious overachieving student. Reese Witherspoon does a fantastic job of playing a truly despicable character, perhaps too good. I hated her character so much it put me in a bad mood watching her. A big problem is that the teacher played by Mathew Brodrick is also dislikable, just not nearly as insufferable as Witherspoon. The greatest failure, however, is how the story does not go anywhere, have any purpose or mean anything. That is bad enough on its own, but the resolution is very frustrating, even a little sad. One positive quality of the movie is that Alexander Payne directs in a unique style with each of the main characters sharing their internal thoughts at different times. The small amounts humor there is mostly from these inner-monologues. Sadly, the cold and lonely tone of the main character dominates the feeling of the movie. It is appropriate for the dislikable story but is unengaged and uncomfortable.

Die Hard: With a Vengeance

It is hard to believe an action franchise can maintain such high standards through three movies. Rather than everyone's favorite rouge cop stumbling into another again, this movie does something different. This time trouble seeks him out in his hometown of New York City. Not only that, but this time another innocent civilian finds himself implicated in John McLane's crisis. It is nice to see a reshaping the template from the first two movies. There is no "here we go again" generic sequel feeling to this. Samuel L Jackson brings intensity as Willis' informal partner. Bruce Willis still delivers exactly what a movie like this needs. He is just as tough and stubborn as ever, but has the qualities that make us care about his character. He and Sam Jackson work well together. Another nice touch is how this terrorist threat links back to the conflict from the first movie. Jeremy Irons makes another worthy British villain. His bomb threats, riddles, and scavenger hunt approach to his dastardly plan move the story along well, and continue to change in a gratifying way that builds good suspense. The only letdown is the showdown in the final scene. These movies are not supposed to be realistic, but this last scene takes things a little too far. Still, when everything else works so well in terms of the story, the action, and the characters, this is forgivable.

Neighbors
Neighbors(2014)
½

The perspective is different than one might expect for a movie about a neighborhood feud between a noisy frat house and a quiet couple in their mid-thirties with a baby. Oddly enough, a bulk of the focus is on the typical new parents rather than the youthful party animals. The stronger themes revolve around coming to terms with adulthood and becoming a parent. Many of the scenes involve Seth Rogan and Rose Byrne lamenting that they have so much responsibility or arguing with each other about growing up. It is surprisingly character driven which is not a bad thing. Unfortunately, it is not outrageously funny and at times feels a little uneven. There are several comical moments, for sure, but at the same time, there are gaps where it lags without laughter. There are also awkwardly out of character moments featuring extreme physical humor. I expected a slew of these types of scenes and an appropriately lighter mood. They are funny, but that the tone of this movie is more serious, and they feel misplaced. It is hard to fault a movie for being substantive or insightful, but the funny dialogue and goofy fun comedy take a back seat too often.

Bewitched
Bewitched(2005)

When Hollywood cannot find any original scripts or interesting books, they recycle old material. This is an attempt to revive a classic TV show and without coming off as a remake. Unlike most formulas, it "indirectly remakes" Bewitched by having new characters that are actors within a revival TV series. Instead of normal modern actors, these actors are characters that are moistly similar to the old TV show characters, including actual witches. It is every bit as misguided and messy as it sounds. At its core, it is a cute but typical romantic comedy. It is not super funny, but it is moderately humorous and pleasant enough to watch. I would much rather just watch Nichole Kidman play a character with powers courted by an egocentric Will Ferrell, free of any ties to source material. I suppose that involves the difficulty of writing a script that was good enough to stand on its own rather than cash in on an old title. This is lazy writing; the stars do what they can with it, but it still does not amount to much.

Alexander
Alexander(2004)

You will have to look hard to find the redeeming qualities in this one. It is a prolonged and tedious slog. Alexander's conquest took a long time to play out and covered an enormous area of different cultures, but this movie feels excessive and lacks editing. There are too many chapters and battles, many of which lack important plot or character development. The visuals of different geographic locations and battle scenes quickly lose their novelty. After a while, they all start to feel the same whether they are Persians or Indians. There is no focus devoted to the conquered cultures and people, which seems like it is an important part of the story. Worst of all, the chapters do not fit together in a way that tells a story. Colin Ferrell has limited abilities, and he is out of place here. He is better suited for the role soldier rather than a ruler and tactician. His performance is insincere, lifeless, and flat. It is overly long and completely lacks any storytelling ability. Avoid this one even you like ancient history.

Accepted
Accepted(2006)

When a high school graduate floating through life fails to gain admittance to any of the colleges, he makes one up to keep his nagging parents off his back. That alone is funny, but then he takes it further when forges acceptance letters from a number of other rejects. They even collect tuition and stage an academic building in an abandoned asylum. It is a preposterous concept, but it is very self-aware. There are no standouts in the cast. Collectively, they are quite funny and make a silly story like this work nicely. The only mistake is that it tries to make sense of the chaos with a message that college stifles the creativity of renegade geniuses. Fortunately, it does not drive it too hard that it loses its slacker underdog appeal. It may not be an essential college movie like Old School or Animal House but it sure is an enjoyable good time.

The Wolverine
½

It is a wise decision to distance this movie from the disappointing X-Men trilogy and X-Men Origins: Wolverine movie. This solid standalone adventure does not overreach by trying to tell the lengthy X-Men saga in two hours. It is nice to get into the thick-skinned character of Wolverine, see his internal struggles, and understand his lonesome pain of being essentially immortal. Despite the lack of quality in the first four X-Men movies, Hugh Jackman was a perfect fit for the role of Wolverine, and he still is. He has a quiet toughness to him that the character needs. He nails his dismissive nature, while carefully balancing a hidden sense of goodness and his softer side. The action in this movie is exciting and the injection the Japanese setting and ninjas work surprisingly well. Wolverine faces by an internal conflict where his has the opportunity to give up his healing powers that prevent him from aging. He wants to a normal life fall where he can fall in love, grow old and die with someone. At the same time, he understands it is a responsibility and a power that others may abuse. It is a strong theme and helps make the character relatable and less god-like. One of the shortcomings is the support characters. Marico, the damsel in need of Wolverine's protection, never adds real value. The storyline and secondary characters do not achieve the same rich complexity of the main characters. As good as the principal plot device is, the execution during the climax is too transparent and loses seriousness. It is still enjoyable, but the missteps in the last act hold it back.

Zookeeper
Zookeeper(2011)

It is in the vein of Night at the Museum where the zoo animals get out of the cages and verbally communicate with each other at night and reveal themselves to their favorite zookeeper to help him with his lady troubles. Judging by the previews this has bad movie written all over it. Sure, it is highly formulaic and extremely predictable, but it is harmless enough. It is mildly amusing and has a light mood that is inoffensive. Kevin James does not overdo it and is actually likable in the lead role. Rosario Dawson is also quite pleasant in the role of the predictably perfect girl who is right in front of the antagonist the whole time. It still underachieves and lacks a greater sense of imagination or magic, particularly with the animals. Quite simply the animals are not very funny. This actually works well as a romantic comedy, but it is a bit weak for a movie about a zookeeper taking to his animals. The animals just have random stereotype voices that are supposed to be novel and funny, but they are not. Younger audiences will enjoy it more than adults will, but it is not a chore to sit through once.

Hollow Man
Hollow Man(2000)
½

A few select scientists are working on a top-secret project to make a human invisible and more problematically, restore visibility. The story shows reasonable construction and a clear concept in the first part of the movie. It lays good groundwork and effectively foreshadows complications where the animal test subjects become highly aggressive and violent in the invisible state. The main characters and their relationships are adequately established. This in large part is due to Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth Shue overachieving with the simple material they have to work with. There are also stunning special effects throughout the movie. The transition scenes where subjects become invisible or regain visibility are very impressive. Additionally, the movie does a fantastic job of helping the audience keep track of an unseen man, with surface paint, body sensors, swimming in water, sprinklers, footprints and more. Unfortunately, the good subtly early on goes to waste as it devolves into a formulaic slasher movie. It is a better than average slasher, but it is still subject to many of the typical clichés for movies like this. I, however, do give it credit for a character-driven story, rather than having a glut of insufferable nitwits who "need to die." Still, I ask for the same tension and subtly in the climax and action as the buildup.

Mamma Mia!
Mamma Mia!(2008)
½

The Broadway play does all the hard work here. It laid out a sweet and simple romantic comedy framework cleverly told through the lyrics of popular Abba songs. So right off the bat, if Abba rubs you the wrong way then definitely avoid this one. The story works fine and the dialogue and music flow well. It features an impressive cast of big names, including Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard, and Amanda Seyfried. The big-name actors may be fun for some, but they do not equate to great singing. In fact, much of the singing is dreadfully bad. Seyfried seems adequate in comparison to the rest of the cast, but regrettably this is a vocally inept group overall. Making matters worse, the actors are far too giggly. They break form and cut up continuously. The actors look like they are having fun, but it gives the whole thing a sloppy feeling. The Gorgeous Greek island scenery is very nice, but the director and cast fail to live up to the Broadway source material. Chicago was a great Broadway conversion that featured big-name actors, but they actually have loads of talent, and a skilled director made the play come to life. Mamma Mia simply does not do that, it is only moderately fun, at best.

Independence Day

If you are in need a simple but fun science fiction-action with good special effects and no frills, then look no further. In many ways, this is a callback to the old-fashioned alien invader movies from the mid-century. The major difference here is that it is self-aware and never takes itself too seriously. There is a nice undertone of humor sprinkled along the way to keep things from becoming corny in a negative way. This is a good thing, because there is nothing conceptually complex here and the characters are very basic. It is still undoubtedly a good time. Will Smith skillfully balances the right amount of toughness with easygoing wisecracks. He does this while seamlessly inserting bits of emotion into the mix. Pullman is good at this, as well, to a lesser extent. Randy Quaid provides a purer form of enjoyable comedic relief. The aliens do not disappoint once they are unveiled. They are awesomely fierce foes and they definitely not here to be friends or phone home. Do not go into looking for big smart science fiction ideas and themes. This is a fast-paced popcorn movie, but it is a very good one at that.

Bicentennial Man
½

Is what makes us human a biological condition involving vital organs or is it emotions, creativity? This story about a particularly special robot, named Andrew, questions that very subject. Andrew is an anomaly; he shows signs of creativity and expresses desires. He appears to be an error, but he also holds remarkable potential. It is an interesting concept and unlike most science fiction stories, it has heartwarming moments and emotion. The costume design and the voice work of Robin Williams do a nice job of making Andrew, the robot a lovable character with a personality who audiences will empathize with and care for. Sam Neill is excellent as his owner and friend. Most of the story is great, as Andrew bit by bit wants to become more humanlike and eventually accepted as an equal. Tragically, this compelling concept and heartwarming story become long-winded. The early parts have the emotion of discovering what it means to be human, but it turns into detailed technicalities and formalities late in the movie. The ending still works, but by that point it feels less effective. Overall, it is a good movie; it is just a shame it does not finish as strongly as it started.

Scissors
Scissors(1991)

Few movies this divided. Clearly, this is a B level production with sub-par acting, for the most part. Even so, there are redeeming qualities here that save some face. The story takes a long time to kick into gear, but it turns into an interesting and darkly ironic story. Some of the audio dubbing is extremely bad, which unfortunately robs the feeling of important scenes and cheapens it. That is too bad, because some of the camerawork in the later part of the movie is actually decent. The pace putters along but late in the movie the tone completely shifts. It takes obnoxiously bold post-modern interior design and cameras and music slowly shift to an uneasy feeling then building until it becomes altogether unnerving. The director takes a number of cues from Alfred Hitchcock in the climatic scenes, and they are surprisingly good. Luckily, the main two parts played by a young Sharon Stone and Ronny Cox are not terrible, and the story is enough to keep it from failing.

Couples Retreat

A married couple with relationship trouble tricks three other couples into joining them at an exotic designation resort, which turns out to be a couple's therapy resort. There is real potential in the concept of these dysfunctional couples getting the help they did not want. The cast is extremely talented and attractive, but it is just not as funny as it should be. Despite the deep cast, these characters and their problems lack dimension. The therapy sessions are excellent opportunities for hilarious arguing and dialogue driven humor. It also opens the door to deeper character development that better connects the audience to the characters. Sadly, the therapy sessions do not receive much focus, and the subject matter remains very light. There are no surprises or particularly hard laughs it is pleasant and fun enough, for the most part. Thankfully, there are no major negatives pulling it down, but given the quality of cast it is certainly a disappointment.

Cool Runnings
½

When an aspiring track star from Jamaica has his Olympic dreams crushed, he turns to an unlikely place to fulfill his dreams. He looks to assemble a Jamaican bobsledding team for the Winter Olympics, even though he knows nothing about the sport. The story is a little slim side, but it is still fun. The problem is that it gets caught in an awkward place for what it wants to be. With limited laughs, it settles for a pleasant mood, but the makings for a strong comedy are not there. At the same time, it has a likable set of characters that hold potential. Unfortunately, it does not emphasize the characters sufficiently to mold the story into a full-fledged inspirational sports-drama with a touch of humor. There are some admirable attempts to build subplot stories for each of the individual team members, just not enough. Likewise, the main star, John Candy, is enjoyable, but he never exudes enough personality to give the movie a decisive direction.

Journey to the Center of the Earth
½

The 1959 version got all the set up right and even started the journey well, but it was all undone in a sloppily rushed finish with visual effects so terrible that it cheapened the movie. This movie has the opposite problem. It looks nice, but the story component is much weaker. Rather than remaking the movie, it more or less takes the old adventure component and applies a different, less interesting set of characters in modern times. The new characters and the acting are overly kid friendly. It has a sillier tone that distracts from the amazement, surprise, suspense, and power of an epic discovery like this. Who decided kids cannot handle or would lose interest in a more serious adventure? On the bright side, modernizing the excursion to the 2000s does not hurt the movie. Even with the new characters, it still flexes solid imagination and serves as a dose of escapist fun. I am still in favor of a faithful remake of the Jules Verne classic.

Zero Dark Thirty

It is very interesting to get a glimpse into the world of government intelligence and spies fighting terrorism. This is a world the public never sees and cannot understand through the lens of news reports. Even if it is not a perfect account, some changes are necessary, and it is still very believable. It also holds good tension and is interesting throughout. This is especially impressive, considering the ending is common knowledge and holds no surprises. A movie like this makes you appreciate how incredibly difficult it is to find an international fugitive when he is so protected by people with such strong religious convictions and extreme hate for their enemy. It does an excellent job of avoiding a bias towards Republican or Democratic parties. Still it responsibly explains how torture is necessary in situations like these. Kathryn Bigelow is a skilled director; everything feels very real from the toned down but still ugly torture scenes, to assignation attempts, to the speed and precision of the final raid. The entire cast is good, but Jessica Chastain stands out in particular. She represents the dedication, resolve of the CIA and Homeland Security workers to bring Osama Bin Laden to justice.

Sliver
Sliver(1993)
½

Do not go into this one looking for quality story construction, a good mystery, or suspense. The main selling point here is sex appeal of Sharon Stone and William Baldwin. A woman moves into a condo only to discover that the previous resident was a victim of a mysterious murder. Even more interesting the victim greatly resembles her. It is a promising setup where this vulnerable woman is instantly suspicious of everyone in her building and rightfully fears that she may be the next victim. Instead of using subtly, misdirection, and a dramatic process of elimination, the plot quickly derails. Anti-climatically the list of suspects instantly narrows down to two of the residents. It turns into a sticky story of observation and a dysfunctional love triangle. One of the suspects is a voyeur who watches every inch of every unit in the building through hidden cameras. This is the operative plot element, but it muddles everything. It would be better off sticking with a traditional who-done-it formula. A little steaminess is fine, but there needs to be substance to go with it. Not to ruin anything, but it also has a terrible ending that makes no sense.

Matilda
Matilda(1996)

Few children's books make the jump to the big screen as well as this movie. It does a fantastic job of maintaining the charm and feel of a children's storybook. The narration by Danny DeVito helps give it a warm feeling, almost as if someone were reading the book aloud during story time. There is also great personality in the animated exaggeration of the characters and set details. Danny DeVito and Rhea Pearl are very funny as slimy, dream crushing, neglectful parents. Pam Ferris is even better as the sadistic principal character, who takes no joy in children other than tormenting and scaring them. It also has all the sweetness you expect in a family flick. Danny DeVito owns this movie by producing, directing, narrating and staring in it. In every way, he does a great job. Kids will like it, but adults may find themselves appreciating the details and inflated personalities even more.

Thor: The Dark World
½

I wanted the second Thor movie to maintain momentum from the first so badly, but the sequel bug unfortunately bites it. The main let down is that story is not as strong this time around, not to say that it is all bad. There are some unpleasant illogical gaps and even some larger unexplained holes in the story, particularly the ending. The earthling characters are not nearly as interesting this time around, often they feel like a lost interruption. The playful weaving of the realms from the first movie does not work very well this time. Even though he gets less focus than he should, Malekith, the main villain and his evil plot are cool. Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston are still pillars who almost manage to overcome some of the noticeable infractions. The developing relationship between their characters, Loki and Thor is the best part of this movie. These characters are good, but the overall writing is too loose and does not live up to them. I cannot help but feel let down.

The To Do List

A nerdy high-school valedictorian graduate realizes she has conquered everything she ever wanted except for men. Her older sister and friends intimidate her by telling her about how college will be a giant erotic buffet, and if she is not ready things will be hard. Panicking, her ambitious attitude kicks in, and she sets out to master a wide array of sexual experiences before going to college. This is not a new concept for a raunchy comedy. What makes it different is how women are the ones cracking the funny rude comments and acting as the sexual predators. It is refreshingly honest and helps restore some shock value to the jokes. Aubrey Plaza is a perfect fit for the main role. She has the awkward neediness one expects, but she also conveys a bossy wrongfully placed sense of confidence that makes her character uniquely funny. The humorous 1993 setting adds more to the humor more than expected with silly pop culture references. More importantly, the early 90s setting removes the presence of the Internet, now the go to learning tool for these matters. This nice move makes her mission to educate herself about sex much funnier. There are a number of side characters, some better than others, but overall they make strong enough support. In a surpassing but interesting move, it avoids becoming a romantic comedy. Perhaps this deflates the feel-good vibe, but it keeps the tone of the movie funny from start to finish and does not fall into a formula. This greatly exceeds expectations and is a strong comedy, so long as you take no offence in raunchy humor or the thought of teenagers having sex.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Growing younger and going against the natural order is an extremely compelling concept. It also holds great potential for an unconventional but beautiful love story. This is a well-made movie, but the story is often sad and hollow, even somewhat tragic. Like any life story, it is full of high points and low points, but it is lonelier than most. At no point does it establish any lasting friendships or relationships. This of course is the tragedy of going through life backwards, but I wish there was more beauty in it as well. It does achieve a fine poetic commentary on the processes and different stages of life, yet it is not fulfilling on an emotional level. I like the retrospective perspective, and interesting storytelling technique comes from alternating between the present and a collection of flashbacks. David Fincher has matured into a talented director, and it shows here. The changing times read clearly at each step, and the settings and backgrounds reflect and enhance the mood in a positive way. Most of the cast is good, but Kate Blanchet comes across as cold and harsh, even when she does not intend to. I think this would be stronger with a lead female actor who has more warmth and life in her.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2
½

I am still not sure why the Spiderman series needed rebooting, but it looks like The Amazing Spiderman series is putting roots down with a second movie. I like Andrew Garfield, but his Perer Parker is still cockier than I would like. It makes it harder to build up the emotion that separate Spider-man from the average comic book superhero. His difficult relationship with Gwen Stacey gets plenty of time, but still does not fully blossom. Luckily, Jamie Foxx and his villain role of Electro are nicely developed. There may not be quite enough super-power fighting between Electro and Spider-Man, but it is better to be plot heavy than action heavy. This series is taking a very different approach Harry Osborn's character. Dane DeHaan is exactly what they wanted, because he is all bad-guy this time. It works well, but when you compare it to the rich complexities of James Franco's performance, you cannot help but feel a little slighted. Maybe it is not fair to continually to compare this to the Spider-Man series from the early 2000s. After all the greatest shortcoming is that does not build on the great work Sam Raimi and Toby Maguire did, but it is hard not to compare them when it such a short turn around. Extra scenes at the end draw it out and suggest the need for some subtractive editing. Overall, it is still a strong superhero action movie.

The Book Thief
½

For a historical-fiction, the characters and story feel surprisingly real. The rich visuals also help thoroughly immerse the viewer in the WWII German setting. The story captures the ugliness and hardships of war, but it also shows the resilience and best facets of humanity. An exceptional cast makes the strong story even better. Geoffrey Rush is in high form, as he shows an abundance of warmth and tenderness in his character. Emily Watson is another great casting. She comes across as cold and prickly but as the story advances, she proves to be a loving mother figure, despite her stern exterior. Even more impressive are the performances from the young actors Sophie Nelisse and Nico Liersch. Both skillfully express a wide range of emotions though physical as well as native acting. They also nail their German accents, which is a nice contextual touch. The relationship between Liesel and Rudy remains a little too innocent, especially as they age, but it is still pleasant nonetheless. No war story is fully happy, but this one has its share of painful moments that may cause one to tear up. I did not like how jarring and abrupt the ending is at first, but the longer I thought about it the more I saw the beauty in it. It poetically shows the impact good deeds can have and how it takes courage and love to endure times of darkness and evil.

Invincible
Invincible(2006)

The true story of Vince Papale alone is moderately inspiring but not remarkable. In real life, Papale made the Philadelphia Eagles roster for three seasons, which is an amazing accomplishment for man who did not even play college football. Still, he only recorded one reception and recovered one fumble in those three seasons, playing mostly special teams. The story may be impressive, but it is not an underdog hero story that makes for a great big-screen movie. It drags on a little too long, partially because the unremarkable characters, but also because there is not enough career content to work with. This causes the movie to cut off at a very strange point, where Papale plays his first game. It feels like all build up with no payoff. Mark Wahlberg has limited acting abilities, but he is a good fit for this role. Greg Kinnear does a fine job of playing Dick Vermeil, as well.

Ice Age
Ice Age(2002)

Do not go into this looking for a fantastic touching story or colorful music. Even without a strong story, it is fun because of the animation and the affable characters. Three mismatch animal friends, including a Sloth, a Mammoth, and a Saber Tooth Tiger discover a human baby and decide to return him to its tribe. The tiger, however, plans to deceive the others. Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, and Dennis Leary offer excellent voice-overs for the three main characters. I cannot think of a better voice for playing a Wooly Mammoth than Ray Romano. However, it is Leguizamo, as Sid the Sloth, who steals the show and is easily the best part. The transition scenes involving a squirrel trying to secure and enjoy an acorn are also a nice and amusing touch. It gets no points for the story, but the lovable characters pull it through.

Inception
Inception(2010)

Dreams are one of the most mysterious aspects of human existence. They can take us to impossible places or seem so real that we question if we were asleep at all. Inception is an excellent movie that builds a richly complex story from looking at dreams, the mind, and ideas in a truly creative and original way. A great amount detail and craft go into the story, which make it the kind of movie you may need to see more than once to absorb it fully. The top-notch cast includes the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Marion Cotillard, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, and Michael Caine. Christopher Nolan is a great director, and he brings the discipline and vision that this movie needed to live up to the full potential of the story. The action and special effects throughout the movie are all excellent. It also features dreamlike settings with vivid environments. More importantly, he tells the story with coherence. This movie has it all with a great story, cast, visual effects and skilled director. I love how it is always moving and changing, continuing to push the limits of our imaginations and develop the characters. It is possibly the best sci-fi movie since the first Matrix.

I, Robot
I, Robot(2004)
½

It does not have a deep plot nor does it have staggering visuals, and yet it works. It works because Will Smith has the charisma and special presence to carry a movie like this to its maximum potential. He brings so much personality with his humorous sarcasm and little comments that lighten the mood. At no point does this rob the movie of its excitement or turn things into a joke. Smith also brings the emotion and the intensity when needed. It is a difficult balance to get right, and few actors nail it as Will Smith can. He makes this movie work by giving it a general scene of fun. The futuristic setting feels reasonably believable. It looks different enough from the present, but is not so foreign to erase everything we know from the present. The Isaac Asimov inspired story is very simple and mostly straightforward, but it is interesting enough. A healthy dose of fast-paced action and Will Smith's delivery make it a winning recipe for a summer action blockbuster. The simplicity and fun make this a highly enjoyable science fiction movie.

I Spy
I Spy(2002)

This is only a moderately fun buddy-flick that suffers from several flaws. It has an overly predicable plot, lack of character development, poor editing, and bad direction. The cast of Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson holds great potential, but it does not live up to the billing. There is not much meaningful content after it waddles around a clumsy start. With the flip of a switch, two bickering main characters seem to have an instantaneous friendship, which is notably weak character transformation. When it finally gets going, there is only one big chase scene and one typical fight scene. Poof, then the movie ends. The good stuff is completely rushed. It kills any chance of build quality characters, relationships or interesting situations. While it lacks skill, it does strike a good balance of comedy and action. The stars keep it from totally tanking, but even with them, the whole thing comes off as an uneventful movie. It will pass the time, but Murphy and Wilson deserve better material than this and so do the viewers.

I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry

Adam Sandler can still make a funny movie, but his best days seem well behind him, at this point. The story lacks any depth and is weak, even for a Happy-Madison comedy. It is an unfortunate time to produce this movie, where homosexuality is no longer a major taboo. The humor generated by the awkward situations around pretending to be gay has no weight anymore. This brand of stupid or sarcastic humor does not mesh well with social agendas. It preaches tolerance while constantly playing off stereotypes and invites laughter at those who are different. Normally, Sandler's wild man antics and cache of cameos and side characters can carry a movie and overcome this, but not this time. This movie is predictable, which is fine if the road to the predetermined ending is good, but in this case, it is only average. It certainly has its moments and little gags that are funny, but it has a number of awkward moments that bring it down. The chemistry between Kevin James and Adam Sandler does not work for me. Perhaps the biggest problem in this movie is how Sandler's wastes his talents playing a grumpy straight man. This leaves Kevin James to generate most of the silliness while Sandler just sarcastically jabs at him. I am all for Jessica Biel in a cat costume or undressing from getting drenched, but this is a shameless ploy to get the target audience of young males in the theaters. Biel looks fantastic, but her character and her acting contribute very little. Sandler should avoid getting preachy and stick to the funny business.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Basing a movie on a theme park ride seems like a terrible idea, but in this case, it works surprisingly well. More impressively, this actually has a thoughtful plot full of twists, loopholes, and deception. It is a fantastic pirate adventure loaded of the usual swashbuckling, muskets and cannons, but what separates it from most classic pirate movies is the interesting supernatural curse element of the story. Johnny Depp has starred in many notable roles, but this is his most notable and memorable work. He is crates an amazing dirty double-crossing pirate character, Captain Jack Sparrow. He is cunning, humorous and likable, yet he is still manipulative, dishonest, and full of trickery. Sparrow is a true wild card; you never know what he is going to do next. Geoffrey Rush is also impressive as a more prototypical pirate scoundrel, but he nails the part perfectly. Keira Knightly and Orlando Bloom have far more limited roles. They play the typical new-age feisty damsel and classic hero with a heart of gold well enough. It helps that they are both easy on the eyes, but Depp and Rush own every scene of this movie, and Knightly and Bloom are lucky to be along for the ride. This movie reinvigorates the forgotten pirate typology and reintroduces it to a new generation. It combines great visuals, action, imagination, and a bit of humor in the most fun and satisfying ways.

I Love You, Man

Making friends always is somewhat easy when you are in school or college, but when you are in the professional world; it is not so easy, as this movie points out. This is a refreshing spin on a romantic-comedy structure reapplied to a movie about friendship. Jason Segel and Paul Rudd have a wonderful and effortless chemistry. It succeeds as well as it does because of how well these two play off each other and how natural their interactions seem. Sydney, Jason Segel's character, represents a lost youth in all men. He is a laid back yet outgoing single guy, with no responsibility and a free spirit. This is the exact sort of friend an uptight and reserved individual like Paul Rudd's character needs. Rashida Jones and Rudd also have a pleasant dynamic. Despite sticking to a predictable template, nothing about this movie feels forced. It has several silly moments, but it is not extremely funny. Several insightful moments and an overall sense of sentimentality and friendship better define this movie. The content blended with the moderate humor and these actors makes for an enjoyable watch.

An Inconvenient Truth

Whether or not you like Al Gore and whether or not you believe in global warming this contains some startling facts that everyone should think about. It confronts one of the most important issues that governments and individuals around the world need to address together. More than anything, it is a timely reminder of how we live affects our earth greatly. This is a calling and a challenge everyone to be better stewards to our planet. I cannot say that it deserves a Nobel Peace Prize, but it is an important message. I hope that Al Gore promoting this message does not make this a more divided partisan issue. It would have been nice had a Republican friend or other officials from around the world joined Gore in his message.

Did You Hear About the Morgans?

There are tons of movies like this, and by now, you know if you like them or not. It is harmless enough, but it is completely forgettable. The setup of a separated married couple forced into witness protection together is a promising idea. Adding to that they are big-city people sent to live in rural Wyoming is another nice touch. Where it comes up horrendously short is the laughs department. There are almost no funny parts. Far too much of the movie is relationship mending dialogue. Some of this is fine but when there is no complexity, and people overreact to simple one-dimensional issues to fit a template it becomes burdensome. The worst romantic comedy cliche is a couple coming together against the odds and a single trivial detail from the past causes the whole thing to fall apart. This then requires a big gesture that wipes the slate clean. Yes, this movie does that. When it builds a little momentum, it takes this boilerplate turn, and I do not like it. Hugh Grant is his normal likable self, but Sara Jessica Parker brings little to nothing to table and is simply not sweet enough. The necessary chemistry between the lead roles for this type of movie is just not there.

Honey, I Blew Up the Kid

Honey I Shrunk the Kids showed great imagination, broke some new ground, and was fun for a relatively broad audience. This, however, does none of those things. The magic in the first movie was a group of kids experiencing a familiar world from an entirely different perspective. There is not much magic in a giant toddler running amuck while aimlessly traipsing around suburban neighborhoods and downtown Las Vegas. Character development was not a strong point before, but this time it is even worse. All the characters are just too dumb to overlook. On top of all of that, visuals also look awful. Many scenes exhibit some blatantly rough blue screen effects. Often it looks grainy and out of alignment. Even for 1992, this is poor execution in the effects department. Young kids may like the idea of a baby being in command and able to ignore the parents, but there is nothing there for anyone over the age of eight. This highly disappointing follow-up suffers from one narrow and unsatisfying level of writing.

A Very Brady Sequel

Not that it is hard to do, but this is actually much better than first movie. The writing is exhibits greater focus, and a more consistent plot than the original. Fortunately, it preserves the only redeeming part of the first movie, the cast. These actors look and sound so much like the old television characters. This time they more clearly portray funny exaggerated versions of the familiar characters. It is also good that it disconnects from the TV series with a fresh adventure. It reads more clearly as a parody now, rather than a sloppy rehash. This movie actually uses the time differential to its advantage. I also particularly enjoyed the cross-references to other TV series. Still, it is not perfect. The awkward reoccurring semi-incestual relationship between Marcia and Greg is a very bad move. A Psychedelic drug trip with Brady is funny, but Marcia and Greg informally dating each other is just too weird.

The Brady Bunch Movie
½

At first, this movie is humorous, but the novelty of look-alike actors and rehashing old television series references quickly wear thin. The casting for the Brady characters is perfect. They are slightly exaggerated versions of the original; this is by far the most enjoyable part of the movie. The rest of the movie is completely off base. For some reason, the Brady's must have entered a time warp. They are somehow in the mid-90s now, but their looks, diction and behavior are unchanged from their offbeat So-Cal 70s roots. Changing the times does nothing to enrich the movie; in fact, it misses numerous opportunities to play off other 70s cultural differences. The lame plot revolves around the Brady family trying to pull together money to save their house from a greedy suburban mall developer. It is a meek attempt to provide some structure as the movie relives multiple disconnected old TV show references. People unfamiliar with the show will not appreciate it at all. Even if you are familiar with the old show, it still does not offer much. Even with some fun cameos and a few mildly humorous moments, the shtick loses effectiveness in 15 minutes. After that, it is a tedious and mostly unfunny trudge.

1408
1408(2007)

Its a creepy movie good cast and a great concept, but didn't quite live up to potential. The end of the movie could have been better and a few more weird things have happened along the way to make it a little trippier and mess with your head more.

The Big Green
½

Disney is the master of at reusing a template and recycling movies. I am not saying that is a bad thing or good thing, but when they know what works they go with it until the wheels fall off. This is a retread of the Mighty Ducks, and that took heavy influence from the Bad News Bears. Therefore, it is not original, but it is harmless fun and is still an enjoyable watch. A young British teacher comes to America to teach a misfit underachieving group of rural Texas kids. They have no attention span and no motivation. This leads her to teach them the game of soccer, because it is what she knows. The kids learn the game build self-esteem, become better friends, and become a source of pride for their small town. Olivia d'Abo is charming as the teacher. Steve Guttenberg is limited as an actor, but this silly sort of role works for him. The kids are not particularly funny, but they are peasant and thankfully do not come off as annoying. Younger audiences will like it better, but it is no chore for adults to endure. It is a typical optimistic family movie, but sometimes there is nothing wrong with simple fun.

Oblivion
Oblivion(2013)
½

As far as science fiction goes, this pretty much has the full package. It has an original concept, an ever-changing plot that keeps your thinking, and great visuals. The setting is planet earth in the year 2077 after a devastating alien invasion. Humans won the war with the aliens, but radiation from nuclear weapons has made it nearly impossible to inhabit the planet. The post-apocalyptic earth environments are beautifully picturesque; they seem almost peaceful. Even so, it is hauntingly empty and a few dangerous straggling aliens still lurk in the shadows. The two main characters have a mission of overseeing the evacuating earth's water supply for a massive space colony for the surviving humans. The story unfolds very slowly, and the straightforward mission gradually becomes more complicated. In the beginning, there are a few unknowns but slowly things happen that make you question everything. It is gratifying to watch this unfold at a deliberately restrained pace. Things become clear well before the end, but the action picks up to compensate. Fortunately, it keeps a few interesting points hidden for later. The futuristic settings, robots, and aircraft look excellent and show great style. One tiny thing that did bother me is that the only ruins left are New York City' most identifiable structures like the Brooklyn Bridge, Statue of Liberty, and Empire State Building. Absolutely, nothing else remains, but this is only a detail and does not hurt the enjoyment. The small cast is mostly "effective," but Olga Kurylenko lacks personality and warmth her character should have.

My Cousin Vinny

Two Brooklyn college students traveling through Alabama, in a funny set of misunderstandings and unlikely circumstances, find themselves wrongfully accused of murder. With no money to hire a stud lawyer, they call on a family member who happens to be a lawyer from Brooklyn, unbeknownst to them not a very good one. Even after watching it numerous times, I still find it hilarious and only appreciate this movie more. It has good writing with well-crafted characters and a developed plotline to carry the humor thought to the finish. Every scene is funny, as the humor never wanes or wears out its welcome. It is a fish out of water concept with a group of Yankees immersed in a world of Deep South formality and tradition. It cleverly makes fun of northern and southern stereotypes alike. Joe Pesci and Marisa Tormei have a wonderful chemistry and are simply hysterical together. Fred Gwynne also sets Pesci up for some very funny cultural clashes and passive-aggressive prodding. There are tons of laughs, and it seems like every scene is memorable, even quotable. These characters are so good, and the cast is simply perfect. It has all the special qualities of a great enduring comedy movie should have, and it is one of my favorite movies of all time.

I Love You Beth Cooper
½

Nothing about this movie will stick with you later. I admit that it is moderately enjoyable, but a month later, you may forget you saw it. There are some light laughs, but none of the dialogue or highlight scenes stand out. It is a typical teen-underdog story where the dorky boy gets the pretty girl, who is way out of his league. Clichés are fine when there is enough development or supporting humor to make it work, but this just does not quite have it. The characters are not interesting enough to be insightful nor are they sufficiently wild and goofy for a zany comedy. A ho-hum cast of bland actors does not help matters. It strives to be like American Pie with its youthful awkward sexual energy, but this is no America Pie.

Fight Club
Fight Club(1999)
½

I cannot tell you how many people insisted that I see this movie. It took me several years to see it, but when I did, I did not have the same positive reaction. I really do not understand why so many people fell in love with it. It is more strangely off-putting than compelling. The more the story unfolds the less it makes sense and the more out of control it gets. Admittedly, it is a twisty story that will make your head spin, and it has a clever climax. Normally, these are good qualities, but the rest of the movie simply did not work. It is too cold, dark, and disconnected. Considering the subject matter, it is not even that exciting. The acting is fine, but it was far from amazing. Edward Norton and Brad Pitt do not do anything particularly impressive. There is no shortage of strangeness and eccentricity, but it has no meaning in the bigger picture and does not result a satisfying conclusion. The style is there, but even with one of the most iconic twists ever, it still lacks charisma and coherence.

The Kings of Summer

There is something agreeable about the cast and the characters, but the mood and plot do not know what they want to be. Two teenage best friends grow weary of their parents and run away to live in the woods. A third eccentric loner type of boy joins them. All the groundwork is sound, but then things start to stray. It starts with a promising snappy angst driven humor. It establishes hazy conflicts that suggest that these characters will bond, mature, and confront their inner demons together. The problem is the story about friendship and family dysfunction turns into a messy adolescent love story with a side of friends betraying one another. Some seriousness and meaningful content taking center stage while mixing in sarcastic humor feels right. Instead, the laughter is lost and the melodrama takes over. Even worse, the characters do not really show growth. Things just happen and there is no reason or meaning to them. The fractured relationships simply resolve themselves with no actions or real conversations. Everything abruptly wraps up. It is a shame to let such good characters and casting float through with no direction. The inconsistencies in the director and the story keep it down.

Now You See Me

Parts of this movie are very enjoyable, but some aspects feel incomplete or underdeveloped. The pace of the movie is very fast, perhaps it is too quickly for its own good. The hurry-up pace makes it seem exciting, particular during escape scenes, but it does the storytelling no favors. There is no attempt to develop any of the four main characters, which seems like a crime when you have such a strong cast. The ending is interesting, but it is also troubling how it somewhat contradicts critical portions of the story. It is a fun whoosh of action, but the delight of illusion and misdirection that the movie is seeking to celebrate is not as gratifying as it should be. When a character deceives and tricks another character, it is fun. It is not as fun when a movie tricks the viewer.

The Devil's Own

An uneven pace and storytelling compromise a promising cast and premise. It starts by building two well-established characters in unrelated parallel stories. One is a terrorist fighting the Irish government; the other is a New York cop with a strong belief in following the rules. Both characters are interesting and when the Irishman comes to America to buy weapons, things seem to take a fascinating turn when he gets housing from the police officer. Regretfully the good execution ends. Somehow, these two men form a close family-like bond. The problem is there is little explanation or development to make those genuine connections. When the action attempts to pick up, the emotional and moral conflict of the two main characters should be intense, but they are not. It loses momentum and slows down, in spite of the action picking up. It is frustrating how brutally uneven it is. To make matters worse ending is sad and unsatisfying. Harrison Ford is a very good fit for his role. Brad Pitt is not as ideal; He comes across as an American trying to act Irish. Still he has presence and holds greater potential than where this movie has. Alan Pakula is a normally a better director than this. I would expect him to tell the story with more feeling, precision, and clarity.

I Am Legend
I Am Legend(2007)

The thought of being the last man alive is already a cool concept. Fittingly, humans have essentially destroyed themselves, but they are not entirely dead. They are infected and mutated beyond recognition, and they are dangerous. This adds another level interest. The visuals are extremely rich. This modern world, as we know it, turns into a wasteland, slowly reclaimed by nature. It is poetic yet haunting at the same time. Will Smith is also impressive, carrying the one-man show with ease. His facial expressions and physical acting are great and hold emotional weight. The limited dialogue with his canine companion and talking to himself works nicely and never feels too empty. Unfortunately, the infected are not as inspired or rich as Will Smith and his dog. They are merely your run-of-the-mill zombies, no different from any other zombie. This cheapens the movie and holds the movie back from being more emotionally powerful.

Rush
Rush(2013)

A true rivalry motivates competitors to push their abilities to the limit, in a way they cannot muster on their own. There is an external resentment and dislike for each other, but there is also internal respect for one another. That respect can grow into a unique form of friendship. This movie is about the real-life rival formula-one racecar drivers Niki Lauda and James Hunt. Daniel Brühl and Chris Hemsworth both play the parts well. Neither of characters is particularly likable. One is an impulsive and immature playboy, and the other is confrontational, curt, and coarse with almost everyone. Not having an obvious good-guy to root for and a prominent bad-guy to hate makes this so much more interesting. This means it is no longer about who wins and who losses. It is about the two drivers and the sport itself. Ron Howard does a great job of telling a simple story in an interesting way. The racing scenes are well shot and are very exciting. Howard is also careful not to go overboard with too much action. There is a nice balance in the integration of dialogue driven character development and flashy race scenes. Lauda and Hunt are absolutely rivals in the purest form, just like Bird and Magic or Chamberlain and Russell. This presentation and packaging of their relationship and story is interesting and entertaining.

Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves!

Yes, because it is a 90s movie this final chapter in the Honey I Shrunk the Kids Trilogy is a straight to "video," not straight to DVD, release. This time we have a mostly new cast for the Szalinski family. Rick Moranis is the lone carry-over from the previous cast. Adam, the giant toddler from Honey I Blew Up the Kid, is now in grade school and is the only kid in the house. This time Moranis shrink himself along with his wife, his brother and sister in law. It has some fun and imaginative moments like going through a roach hotel, riding in a Hot Wheels car track, and climbing in a VCR, again it was the 90s. Overall, the magic of the first one is just not there. The unrealistically cheerful dialogue is empty in spirit. Stuart Pankin is mildly humorous, but he never gets a real chance to cut loose. Moranis looks like he is going through the motions at this point. The parents are the better half of the movie for sure though. This movie will appeal to younger audiences, for the novelty that the parents disappear. However, three kids are no fun at all once the parents are no longer around. They seem so sugarcoated and safe that they are lifeless. You get what you expect for a straight to movie release, it is harmless entertainment, but largely uninspired.

Houseguest
Houseguest(1995)
½

Admittedly, I have not seen it in a long while so my perception might be off. That said I remember liking this movie a fair bit. Sinbad is quick-witted and smooth and carries the movie. Phil Hartman sets up Sinbad well and offers good physical acting with his exaggerated Middle-America suburbanite mannerisms. The movie fails to cash in on Hartman's versatility and comedic talents, which could have elevated this to another level. The McDonalds product placement is a bit too much, even if it does play a part of the story. A number of the fish-out of water situations are quite funny, and they do not lose their effectiveness as the movie progress. As a kid, I enjoyed it, but it the kind of movie I revisit and think to myself hmmm, when I was a kid, I liked bad movies.

Hot Fuzz
Hot Fuzz(2007)

Not everyone has the patience to appreciate this movie, but I love it. It has a rather unusual structure for a comedy involving an intentionally long setup that is dry, for the most part. Slyly this lulls the viewer before erupting into an amazing drawn-out hilarious climax. It is compression and release at its finest. There are numerous details or subtleties during this buildup. They may only seem mildly humorous or even pointless at the time, but these small details are like seeds that grow into larger laughs later through callbacks, repetition, or by subsequently juxtaposing with exaggerated circumstances. All of this detail and attention in the writing gives the movie great re-watch value. Each time different things pop out that you previously did not catch or remember. This is the type of richness and quality writing is the mark of a great comedy movie. The director, Edgar Wright runs a tight ship and makes each scene and every line valuable. This brand of comedy plays off larger than life action movies; it is exceedingly violent and dark in nature, but the playful dynamic of the main two stars offsets this. Nick Frost and Simon Pegg have a delightful effortless chemistry; they are simply outstanding together. They give some of the darkness a wonderful sense of lightness with their goofy faces and fun-loving attitudes. You can clearly tell the actors have a blast working together, and it shows how much they loved making this movie. For me, this is the best movie featuring this fantastic duo, and I would even go as far to say that it is one of my favorite comedies ever.

The Hangover Part III

The Hangover is a perfect example of a movie that needs no sequels. The characters are enjoyable, but it is too hard to construct another adventure and recapture the same magic. The second movie was a rehash that simply attempted to be wilder, and the results are not so good. This time the writers came up with something new and built on their previous adventures. It still pales in comparison to the original movie, but at least it does not feel like we have seen this movie before. While it is marginally better than the second movie in some ways, it still has its own set of problems. This time the story is too serious and dark. Zach Galifianakis no longer seems like the funny wild card. His character is troubled and in need of help from his family and friends. This is the wrong tone for this series. These characters are funny, but caring and sentimental they are not. This movie makes a fatal flaw and quintuples the amount of Mr. Chow. Ken Jeong is hilarious as his signature character, but making him a main part of this story proves to be too much off a good thing. Worst of all the chemistry between Galifianakis, Ed Helms, and Bradley Cooper is fading. It looks like they are just taking a layup and cashing a big check in this one. Even John Goodman and Mellissa McCarthy cannot inject new life in this. With any luck at all this will be the final chapter.

Ender's Game
Ender's Game(2013)
½

For the most part, it lives up to the high expectations of the Orson Scott Card book. Some of the violence and cruelty of the character are unfortunately restrained, but the meaning and excitement are still intact. The movie opens with a quote from the leading character, "In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him." This profound statement expresses the interesting internal conflict that the main character faces throughout the movie. Ender is a complex character who is still finding out who he is as a young teenager. He must do so while undergoing fierce military commander training. The secondary characters are polarized and static in comparison. This keeps the focus on Ender's character development, which is appropriate for the story. Even with lots of cuts, the movie must cover a lot of ground, and it moves right along. There are times where it would be nice to slow down and immerse more fully in the details. I like that cast of age appropriate actors; they maintain the necessary youth of the characters. Asa Butterfield plays the lead part well. He shows the necessary emotions when he needs to, does not overdo it and seems genuine. The supporting cast of Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley, Abigail Breslin, and Viola Davis is also strong. Visually, this movie is not particularly striking, except during battle scenes, but it never holds the movie back. It tells a great story, and that is what matters most.

Holes
Holes(2003)

Disney movies featuring real-action actors in their lower teens normally have paper-thin plots, bad acting, and only appeal to tweens. Pump the brakes, not this time. This is a fun filled unique and imaginative modern fairytale with a good cast. A young and energetic Shia LaBeouf has presence, and he stands out in a cast that includes veterans like Sigourney Weaver, John Voight, and Tim Blake Nelson. The storytelling alternates between the present and a historical Wild West setting. At first, the two stories do not seem directly related, but bit by bit they come together, in a rewarding manner. LaBeouf finds himself wrongfully labeled a degenerate troublemaker and must enroll in an unorthodox reform camp. The troubled young men in the camp dig holes in the desert all day and receive minimal therapy. Something seems wrong right from the moment the main character arrives, and it turns out there is. The interactions between the campers are surprisingly enjoyable and the camp managers, Weaver, Vought, and Nelson certainly add a lot. Throughout the movie, there is a nice touch of light humor. It does not try to take itself too seriously, and it keeps things fun, even as the story evolves into an offbeat fairytale. I enjoy this far more than I expected. It would be nice to see more movies like this that are playful, yet still have good content.

A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash

Oil production has peaked and now on the decline. This documentary does a good job of explaining and supporting that statement. I give it credit for allowing the science and data stand on its own without acting as an alarmist fear mongering film pushing an agenda aggressively. It is more of a question that we need to think about now, before implementing solutions becomes more difficult. I wish more time went into considering the potential physical and social impacts of this situation and what steps the viewer can take in response to this development. It starts strong, but there are not enough points to keep it interesting the whole way through. Still the sobering message is one all people need to absorb and think about.

How to Train Your Dragon

The story is an extremely simple boy and his pet scenario, only in this case, the pet is a dragon and the boy is a Viking. Despite a plot that is about as deep as a puddle, it does pull at your heartstrings and make you smile. Some entertaining action sequences and thrill ride tactics help make up for lack of content. Toothless, the dragon does not talk but still has a lot of personality. He effectively conveys emotions through his endearing expressions and mannerisms. The voice-work of Jay Baruchel is fitting for an unpopular weak bodied underdog type of character. Craig Ferguson also offers good voice-work. It is not groundbreaking, but both adults and children should enjoy it.

How to Marry a Millionaire

The story of three gold-digging bachelorettes trying to bag themselves a wealthy older man has the potential for zaniness, but this is not a zany movie. It is cute, yet extremely straightforward and highly predictable. The lead character played by Betty Grable is abrasive and dislikable. It is a realistic character, but she is unpleasant to the point where you are not rooting for her. Marylyn Monroe and Lauren Bacall are cuter and sweeter, but they have complimentary parts that limit what they bring to the table. Even though the laughs are very mild and the resolution is obvious from a mile away, it is still pleasant and sweet. There is nothing particularly remarkable about it, other than it is one a handful of movies prominently featuring the iconic Marylyn Monroe. Overall, it is just a light, fluffy, and easily digestible good time, but nothing to remember later.

Hot Tub Time Machine

Four guys going back in time by way of a magic hot-tub time warp may sound too silly, but this is a just a simple plot device to set up a surprisingly enjoyable adventure. The rest of the movie is not so ridiculous; in fact, it cleverly makes fun of the fuzzy logistics and absurdity of how they got back in time at all. Time travel is very important to the success of this movie. Rather than just settling for the simple novelty a mid-80s setting this movie goes further by humorously reflecting on the 00s, joking about time-space paradoxes, and dives into the pasts youths of the characters. This unlikely mismatch set of characters actually works very well together. Each of the four characters sets up a parallel story that later intertwine in a satisfying way. They must choose to protect the future they know or change things as they explore past triumphs and regrets of their youth. The excellent cast solidifies this as a great comedy. Casting John Cusack is particularly comical, because his character pokes fun at the very movies that made him a star. Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, and Clark Duke are all very funny. Small roles played by Crispin Glover, Chevy Chase, Lizzy Caplan and Collette Wolf really add significant value as well. This movie has thought put into the details, as it plays off of funny 80s pop culture references and makes lots of little jokes that give it excellent re-watch value. The characters have depth; there is meaning and tenderness in it, but above all it a very funny good time.

How to Lose Friends & Alienate People

I am not sure why such a worthwhile movie lost so much money and finds itself swept under the rug. This underrated movie achieves the right balance of comedy and romance. It does not rush the pace too much, which keeps it from falling into typical rom-com clichés and dips. More importantly, the slower pace enables the characters to unfold gradually and develop some nice complexities. It has a deep cast with Kirsten Dunst, Jeff Bridges, Megan Fox, and Gillian Anderson, all of whom are great fits in their roles. Megan Fox pokes fun at herself playing the stereotypical Hollywood starlet almost too well. I particularly enjoy how Simon Pegg branches out in this one, playing a snarky and arrogant troublemaker with hidden integrity and creativity. His crass remarks, quick comebacks and physical humor carry the movie for sure. The comedy comes first but there is pleasant substantive quality in the mix as well.

Housesitter
Housesitter(1992)
½

It follows a typical romantic comedy template with two characters that do not get along gradually falling in love without realizing it. What makes it different is that both main characters are compulsive liars. This makes for an effective twist on what would otherwise be a predictable formula. It also greatly helps that these characters do not feel like flimsy cardboard stereotypes, as many movies of this type often have. The humor derives more from the situations that these lies create and less from what the characters actually say. Martin's character is somewhat uptight and reserved, but he brings the needed energy and sarcasm to the character to make it work. Goldie Hawn is even better as the free-spirited wild card that shakes up his whole world. Their chemistry helps to get the most out of the simple story. The movie does a nice job of establishing Martin's character, but it is unfortunate that it takes so long for the main plot device to kick in. It is only mildly funny, but it has good characters, as well as a unique and credible plot. The mood is right, and it has an authentic sweetness to it, making it an enjoyable watch.

Hot Shots!
Hot Shots!(1991)

Considering Jim Abrahams is part of the creative trio that wrote The Naked Gun or Airplane this is somewhat disappointing. The brand of humor is similar but the detail and continuous flow of gags that make a spoof great are not there. Part of enjoying a spoof is appreciating the source material. This primarily parodies Top Gun, which is not my favorite movie to start with. It parodies several other movies as well, but the story and characters are mainly from Top Gun. It picks up on several of the late 80s to early 90s movie clichés, but several of the references have not aged particularly well. Some of the references are not funny without the connection to the original. This is not bad, but it is a lower level of writing when it cannot stand on its own and still be funny. Charlie Sheen and Cary Elwes both work nicely though. Charlie Sheen says plays the part with straight seriousness but there is a pleasant sarcastic undertone in his delivery that is perfect for a spoof movie like this.

Hostage
Hostage(2005)

Like in so many of his previous action movies, Bruce Willis is a natural in this role. Unlike of many action movie heroes he is not a dumb bodybuilding superhuman. He has a realistic toughness to him, but more importantly has dimension that adds emotion and believability to his performances, and he most certainly still has these qualities in this role. This movie has not only one, but also two layers of suspenseful hostage negation situations, with flashbacks to a previously failed situation. Everything is related and ties together tightly for a good action movie story. Emilio Siri, the director, does a solid job of getting things started quickly. He efficiently builds a complete picture by establishing each of the characters and their motives in a timely fashion, while transitioning into the action smoothly. The plot continues to unfold in ways that add complexity. This good cause and effect writing that continues to evolve as the story progresses and is therefore, more interesting. The high-security Mcmansion setting is a nice component of this family hostage the hostage situation. It helps validate the threat posed by these three armature punks, who are in over their heads. The good writing and direction, well built suspense and exciting climax along with Bruce Willis and Kevin Pollak's acting make this movie a winner.

Horrible Bosses

Three average friends from various types of work plot to kill them horrible bosses. The subject sounds dark, but the three murderers so harmless and incompetent at spying on their prey and going about the murder business it is just hilarious. Sudeikis, Bateman and Day are a great comedic trio. They complement each other very well and the work together to carry the comedy load beautifully as a team. Their murderous misadventures involve breaking an entry, staking out their targets, hiring a hit-man/murder consultant, and countless other amateur blunders make for tons of hard laughs. The three boss characters add a whole lot as well. Spacy, Aniston, and Ferrell are all wonderfully exaggerated and ridiculous characters themselves. This has a strong mix of funny dialogue, slapstick physical humor, situational irony, and crude humor. It makes for a steady stream of laughs, but there is also nice diversity in the humor as well. The concept is ingeniously fresh, and the situations that these three get into make for great comedic value.

Hope Floats
Hope Floats(1998)

Sandra Bullock looks great and she does a fine job, but this movie is extremely slow even by romance movie standards. It is painfully predictable and takes forever for what you know is coming to unfold. Predictability is not a bad thing, as long as the road to know finish is interesting. This, however, is a snooze. Bullock gives it her best, but her character is not likable. Who wants to see the little miss popular homecoming queen come home, land on her feet; much less become the toast of the town again? Yuck! Spare me, please. Not even her supposedly cute little girl is palatable. Other than Bullock, the soundtrack is the only other nice thing I can point out about the movie. It is lifeless and bland, do yourself a favor and avoid this one at all costs.

Rebel Without a Cause
½

Times change, but this iconic movie still has loads of appeal. It does not make a big statement but rather just lets the angst, apathy, and confusion of the teenage years shows through. It captures the difficulty of being a new kid, trying to make friends, and the stresses of family dysfunction due to changing roles. James Dean and Natalie Wood knock their performances out of the park. Sal Mino is strong as well. The movie is massively influential. James Dean's character transformed the way Hollywood depicts teenagers, young men in particular. He portrays uncertainty, energy, emotion, and confusion. Natalie Wood's performance is certainly worthy of the Oscar nomination she received for her role. A number of things in this movie are strange, whether it be the creepy nature of Plato's character, the awkward interactions of Judy and her father, or Jim's entire family. These offbeat things are messy, as they often are in life, and it greatly enriches the movie.

Revenge of the Electric Car

It feels like this documentary is attempting to piggyback on the success of Who Killed the Electric Car. It is exciting to see there is growing momentum in the car industry to make a push for electric cars. That excitement, however, does not translate into enough content to make an interesting full-length feature. There just is no meat to this, and it makes it move slowly. The subject matter is worthy, but the presentation and content are just not there. Sometimes good documentaries take years to make; this one needed to cook much longer.

Katy Perry: Part of Me
½

As with any music documentary, your enjoyment of this will depend on how well you like the artist. This is a well-made documentary, which captures a likable Katy Perry shortly after her meteoric rise, in what is likely to be her career peak. It may be a bit premature to make a documentary when the story is just unfolding, but from a marketing standpoint, it will sell more now than later. It is a seemingly balanced look into the world of a pop star and the music industry. The movie does not put her on a pedestal by over glamorizing her life nor does it paint her as some miserable martyr. The most interesting part of the film goes into Perry's upbringing and road to get a record deal. I gained respect for her in that she started as a simple Christian singer and singer songwriter, who actually could play an instrument and write her own material. The music business is sadly more about image than substance, but it seems as if Katy has found her place in that system without totally compromising herself as a person. It shows that the life of a music star can be a lot of fun, but that it comes with sacrifices. So far, Katy appears to work hard and does not take her fans or her success for granted. She seems to handle a grueling pace of stardom and without breaking down or falling into substance abuse. Hopefully, she handles the rest of her career and inevitable decline just as gracefully.

Gremlins
Gremlins(1984)

There are not many Christmas-Horror movies, but even if there were, this one would stand out. This is not scary in the least; it is just plain and simple fun. The settings like the eccentric Chinatown shop and the various parts of this quaint small Mid-West town are visually rich and show consideration for detail. Each of the character's houses is a noticeably physical extension of their personality. Even better are the gremlin puppets. These puppets can be irresistibly cute, or humorously repugnant and gross. The puppet-work is wonderful, and it brings these silly magical creatures to life. The seemingly simple or hammy characters poke fun at numerous classics of the Christmas genre. At no point does it veer from its lighthearted mood or attempt to become a warm holiday movie. The success lies in the consistently playful tone and enjoyably simple characters.

Taken
Taken(2009)

Who knew Liam Neeson was such a bad mother....shut your mouth. Neeson is simply awesome in this one. He plays a retired CIA super-soldier who will stop at nothing to save his kidnapped daughter, and I mean nothing. Neeson's conviction, intense rage and merciless wrath are something to behold. He still operates with cool calculating precision, making him the perfect hero figure for the situation. This is cut from the same quilt as Die Hard and Air Force One. Yes, it is that good! The sex trafficking peril that this kidnapped girl faces is a much more serious villain than most movies employ. This type of awful abduction seems like something that could actually happen, and that makes things feel even more frighteningly real. Audiences will invest far more in this helpless girl due to her horrific situation, then a typical family hostage situation, missing girl, or damsel in distress. This is a huge step up from the director Pierre Morel, who until know is mainly known for the goofy Transporter series. The premise is simple, but the unrelenting action and fast moving camera motion is exceptional. Some critics diminish it for being a somewhat unrealistic, but it never loses touch with of its established level reality or seems corny for a minute. No doubt, about it, this is a great action movie, and it gets everything right.

Patriocracy
Patriocracy(2012)
½

It is a fair and balanced assessment of the ever-widening political extremes in American politics and the loss of moderate representation. The film explains the inefficiencies and problems that arise when our elected officials are so extreme and cannot work together. It traces the problem back to why the voting base is continuing to elect such difficult and uncompromising representatives. Negative effects of political talk shows and saturation of opinionated media warp the public's perceptions in concerning ways. This alone is not the only issue in this matter, but this documentary is correct in saying it is a major problem. I appreciate the diversity of viewpoints from former and current politicians of both parties as well as some news representatives. It offers simple solutions for viewers to be critical of what they see and read. The message is worthwhile but sadly, people with interest in this documentary are probably already aware of the concerns it raises.

Philadelphia
Philadelphia(1993)

Considering this debuted in 1993, this is a brave yet sensitive statement about the controversial subjects of AIDS and homosexuality. The story is infinitely more interesting and far easier to digest with its courtroom-drama format. Denzel Washington and Tom Hanks both deliver very strong acting performances. Hanks plays his part in such a way that he helps break down stereotypes by showing that homosexuals are not so different from straight people. There are a few sincere moments between the main character and his partner, played by Antonio Banderas and a warm family visit. This is nice, but it treads too lightly and does not attempt to get very emotional. I feel like the climactic opera scene between Hanks and Washington is not particularly effective. Once again, this shortchanges the story's positive emotion. It finds a nice middle ground that effectively shows the ugliness of the AIDS disease but shows tasteful restraint and does not go into too far with painful details. The ending is predictably sad, but the character transformation of Denzel Washington's character helps soften the blow. It is an inspiring movie, and the good acting along with the quality courtroom drama makes it a strong movie.

Hoosiers
Hoosiers(1986)

There is no fluff, and nothing fancy about this movie. It is just a simple mid-west town set in 1950s and the joy of basketball. Gene Hackman plays a perfect basketball coach. He is wise, stern, and filled with emotion. Several times I forgot I thought I was just watching a basketball coach act, rather than an actor playing a basketball coach. The movie goes a step beyond a typical underdog sports story with the personal redemption story of the coach. It is also a heartwarming redemption for the town drunk and controversial assistant coach, played by Dennis Hopper. The movie is so likable immerses the viewer in the nostalgia of a simpler time and small-town. It is overflowing with charm, and it is hard not to like this one, even if you do not like sports movies.

Hook
Hook(1991)

Normally putting a modern twist on a classic tale is a recipe for disaster, but not this time. Instead of blatant remake or sequel, this movie acknowledges and plays off the original Peter Pan fairytale. It is the same magical Neverland but this time the viewer not only experiences this fantasy world from child's perspective but also through the eyes of an adult. The themes celebrating imagination and youth are still there. In addition, it also has new parallel themes reminding adults to slow down from their busy lives to spend time with their families and never to lose their imaginations. Robin Williams is great for this role, because he acts with children so well. He handles the transition from a stiff workaholic adult to a playfully joyous yet caring parent and funnyman with ease. Dustin Hoffman is equally great as the notorious Captain Hook. Spielberg's environments are not overly imaginative, but they are certainly fitting for a world of pirates. There is plenty of sword fighting, and Williams has a delightful dynamic with a nicely developed set of lost boys to keep things interesting. The excellent cast and remixed adventure are a lot of fun for adults and kids alike.

What's the Worst That Could Happen?

I suppose the worst that could happen is good actors are wasted on an uninspired movie like this. Danny Devito and Martin Lawrence can be very funny, but these characters and this script limit them. John Leguizamo and Bernie Mac should round a strong cast, but mostly they go to waste as well. The plot of a homeowner of a burgled house robbing the burglar is one note; nothing of any consequence builds off it. One mildly ironic plot device stretches out over 90 minutes rather than building a more complex situation. Devito's character is not an ideal setup man for Martin Lawrence and his shtick. It is harmless fun, but the sprinkling of cheap light laughs stretches too thin.

Vegas Vacation

The Vacation franchise maintains its integrity for one final Griswold family adventure. The Las Vegas location may not seem like the most promising setting, but this movie squeezes the most out of what Vegas has to offer. Clark's bad luck at the tables, a funny trip to the Hoover Dam, and Wayne Newton attempting to woo Clark's wife away from him keeps things interesting. An always-memorable visit with Cousin Eddie adds a lot as well. The series backs down to a PG rating; surprisingly, the comedy does not suffer. Chevy Chase is still funny with his naïve character with a knack for biting off more than he can chew. Beverly D'Angelo remains a pleasant complement to Chase. While Marisol Nichols does nothing for the movie as the daughter, Ethan Embry as her brother is one of the best parts of the movie. It may not be quite as funny as the original or Christmas vacation movies, but it still has a very enjoyable balance of family sentimentality and goofy comedy.

The Seduction

This is one is hard to make it through. It falls under the thriller category, but it is very thrilling or suspenseful. The story is dumb and predictable right from the start. Everything is on the table in the first few minutes of the movie. This is just bad writing, which leaves no mystery or complexity to hold the viewer's interest. The acting is not particularly strong, but with such paper thin characters, they have nothing to work with. The main selling point here is seeing Morgan Fairchild swimming, bathing, and changing. It is almost like the writers took those three scenes and wrote a patchwork story around them. Even when it comes to showcasing their eye candy the movie lacks skill. The scenes that highlight Fairchild's looks lack style. She does not vulnerable enough to invoke tension and suspense, like a good thriller should, nor does it titillate or steam things up in a memorable fashion. At least things pick up a little near the end, as the main character fights back. Even then, it is highly predictable and exhibits unskilled direction.

Knight & Day
Knight & Day(2010)

Going in I predicted that this was a generic action-comedy spy movie, in which Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise were the only calling card. What I did not expect is how excellent Diaz and Cruise would be together and how their personalities and great chemistry could keep this from tanking. The movie is actually good fun; some of the early action scenes are surprisingly strong. It responsibly balances decent action with a tasteful dose of humor. Unfortunately, things begin to crumble halfway into the movie. There are a number of annoying first-person scene transitions, where Cruise drugs Diaz causing her to black out. The camera drifts in and out of random scenes before she wakes up in a new location. These repetitive lame transitions rob the movie of great action scenes, and more importantly do not make sense in the story. The climax is predictable and is a major letdown. Diaz and Cruise are at their best, and they surpassed all of my expectations, but the writing is lacking.

The Heat
The Heat(2013)
½

A buddy-cop movie depends primarily on the chemistry of main actors and a decent plot to go with it is icing on the cake. Luckily, for this one, Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock have a wonderful chemistry, and they make this a great movie. Melissa is a fearless comedy powerhouse. She keeps the laughter coming the whole way through the movie. Bullock performs in the straight man role quite well. Surprisingly, she also does a fine job of contributing some of the laughs herself. The plot provides a good structure for the comedy, moves things along nicely, and keeps things from getting stale. The development of the two main characters as individuals as well as their relationship together is very strong. Understanding each of these characters more fully validates the bond they build and makes the movie enjoyable on a level many comedies fail to reach. It is great to see two very talented women letting lose and acting so ridiculous, in a buddy-cop movie no less. Movies like this one, along with others like Baby Mama and Bridesmaids are beginning to usher in a new era where multiple women carry a comedy every bit as well as men.

Looper
Looper(2012)
½

Few science fiction movies are as substantive as this one. Time travel is nothing new, but this one flips the script with a thought-provoking concept that weaves the present and past together in intriguing ways. Gone are the stringent time-space paradoxes that say the world will implode if you encounter yourself from another time, and the result is liberating. The satisfyingly complex story is excellent, even though it gets to be a little too dark and cruel at times. It takes time for the characters to develop, but the slow pace of discovery is dramatic and makes for some interesting surprises as the movie progresses. It is particularly fascinating how different the past and future versions of the same character are. Bruce Willis is perfect as a desperate but sly rogue from the future bent on vengeance. Joseph Gordon Levit continues to develop into a great actor in this role. He plays a younger, more arrogant and defiant version of Bruce Willis nicely. The unneeded facial prosthetics Joseph Gordon Levit wears to look like Bruce Willis is somehow off-putting and distracting. Everything else looks great. Both the near future and the dystopian distant future environments do not look so different from our present world, which feels realistic. Clever moments in the dialogue help anchor the time things are happening. The great concept, strong cast and direction, interesting characters, and a story with plenty of surprises all come together nicely to make one superb movie.

The World's End

Director Edgar Wright teams up for his third movie with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. The product is starting to feel familiar, but it has the content and humor to make it a fun new adventure. Like Shawn of the Dead or Hot Fuzz, this has a carefully crafted long slow start that gives way to a contrasting explosion of mayhem and physical humor. The story starts on such a serious note that you may almost be lulled into thinking you are watching a different kind of movie altogether. The weighty story deals with a depressed alcoholic trying to rekindle his high-school glory. Themes of dreams deferred, loss of youth, and missed opportunities surface. I did not like how the old friends are so stiff and uptight in this beginning part. Even as they reunite, they seem to do so grudgingly. They do not really transition out of it either, which would be a nice touch. Without giving anything away, things take an abrupt turn for the supernatural, and the movie stands on its head. It turns into a fast paced free for all action comedy, where Pegg and Frost's trademark chemistry finally emerges. The end is fitting and ties itself back to the beginning so cleanly and skillfully. Edgar Wright is an adept director, and this is not exception. This movie has style, good story telling, and flawless execution.

The Departed
The Departed(2006)
½

I love movies with rich characters, where nothing is as simple as it seems, you never know what exactly is happening, or who can be trusted. This is one of those movies. Martin Scorsese fully emeses you in the world of Boston's brutal mobsters and corrupt law enforcement. Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon deliver strong performances, as they portray two spies from similar backgrounds working for opposing sides. One is an undercover cop infiltrating a criminal organization, while the other is a gangster informant in good standing with the police force. The movie operates as two related storylines following each of the spies. These two stories develop details in parallel but do weave together; they even unknowingly share cross-relationships. This makes the plot rich and satisfyingly complex. The big names in the cast do not disappoint DiCaprio and Damon are great as the leads, and Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, and Alec Baldwin round out an excellent cast that is full of swagger. Such high-quality direction and acting reinforce an outstanding story with quality characters and atmosphere. Alas, it is not perfect; the unfulfilling finish lacks meaning and leaves things feeling unsettled.

G.I. Jane
G.I. Jane(1997)
½

Demi Moore is an incredibly beautiful woman, but she also has toughness and strength to her. Nowhere does her toughness show more than here. This is one of her boldest and most memorable roles of her career. Her performance is perfect for the role, but the rest of the movie is not quite up to her level. It starts strong as a powerful testament of a woman's will power pushing her body to the absolute limit. Viggo Mortensen is quite convincing as officer and drill sergeant. Regretfully somewhere in the middle, it begins laying it on too thick and loses itself. The politics get more attention and focus than they should. They only slow the pace down and distract from the dramatic parts of the story. Jason Beghe, Moore's love interest is woefully miscast. He simply cannot act on the level that this movie demands. Ridley Scott does a fantastic job of capturing the power and the physical strain of the training process. The actual combat, however, does not live up to the training scenes. The final mission feels terribly rushed and under developed. Perhaps if this movie did not waste so much time with bureaucrats, the climax of the movie could have the intended effect. It is still an inspiring movie and Moore's performance is certainly worth watching.

Oz the Great and Powerful

It is a tall order to make a prequel to one of the greatest movies of all time. When compared to the Wizard of Oz it is quite disappointing, which is not shocking. However, when you access it more fairly as its own adventure, it is enjoyable. The characters are good; the adventure works for me, and it ties nicely into the classic movie that we all know so well. An excessive reliance of CGI and 3D effects to create the environments and characters shortchange the magic and do not show enough imagination. Perhaps the biggest problem is the lack of playful musical numbers. The soundtrack is a poor fit for the movie, which is a typical Danny Elfman score. The cast is a bit of a mixed bag. James Franco is believable as a slippery con artist, but his underlying good heart does not exactly come through. Mila Kunis, on the other hand, is all wrong. She overacts every step of the way and fails to deliver proper emotion in her important role. Michelle Williams is lifeless as Glinda, the Good Witch. The good news is Zach Braff and Joey King are great companions and offer both solid acting and quality voice work. Rachel Weisz is excellent as an evil witch. There are many things pick on with this movie, but it has a good story and characters; that is what is most important.

Diary of a Mad Black Woman

There are two movies coming together as one in this lopsided Tyler Perry venture. Odds are you will like one or the other, but probably not both. This is predominantly an overdramatized obtuse love story. A cheating husband betrays his wife, leaving her with nowhere to go but her grandmother's house. Then a new handsome suitor magically falls in her lap. This simple story would work it the characters or dialogue was worth anything, but it is poorly written, flat, and overdramatic. The needless melodrama is too serious, and it wears on you quickly. From out of nowhere are little tangents and spots of comic relief from Madea. She is a goofy and exaggerated grandma caricature played by Tyler Perry in drag. Madea brings nuggets of wisdom and simple laughs with her over-the-top reactions, but it is hardly inspired. These lost interrupts of humor are out of place and get lost amid a sea of junky soap-opera-type romance goop. The movie is incredibly uneven. Madea belongs in a playful Earnest type movie not in the middle of this drivel.

How Do You Know

I thought this would be better with a strong cast that includes: Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, Reese Witherspoon, Jack Nicholson and Kathryn Hahn. It is an enjoyable sweet story, but the characters are a problem. No matter how great a cast is they cannot cover up poorly written characters. Witherspoon's character is too stern and tough to like. Paul Rudd is a very likable actor, but his melodramatic character is annoying and just too much to deal with. The only enjoyable character is Owen Wilson's professional baseball player. He is lovably stupid and good-natured, but he is also cluelessly selfish. It is an interesting twist on the "other guy" jerk type role. The story takes longer than it should to set in then it should, but eventually it starts to make sense and builds some momentum. There are some nice patches of humor, but it also goes for long boring draughts. Overall, it is not as clever as it wants to be, the storytelling lacks clarity, and these characters never really work.

Hollywood Homicide

Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnett are not to blame for this. Their characters suck, and the writing is worse. Nothing remotely funny happens in the first half of the movie, as a straightforward murder case it set up. If the filmmakers want us to take this seriously, then why spell everything out right up front. On the other hand, if they are shooting for comical, they flat out missed. Are we supposed to think two cops working part-time jobs on the side while on duty during a serious case is funny? The second jobs of real-estate agent and part time yoga instructor and aspiring actor do not enrich the story, nor do they help crack the case . They do not even contribute any amusing laughs. Things seem to pick up, and then it loses all credibility when they go to Ford's psychic girlfriend to locate the murder. The only thing worse than this is that it works! The ending is a long chase sequence that is funny and entertaining, but payoff is not there. It is just not clear whether this movie intends to be serious police mystery or playful action comedy, either way it fails at both. I can excuse Hartnett for taking this movie, but Harrison Ford is above this kind of work. He has a legacy to protect and disappointments like this tarnish it.

Hellboy
Hellboy(2004)
½

I never heard of Hellboy before this movie, but as it turns out, he is a decent superhero. Like any good superhero movie, this has fun action, great makeup, and cool visuals. It has a strong main theme about what makes a man is the choices he makes, not where he is from or what others expect of him. The character development for Hellboy is quite good, although the specifics of his powers could be clearer earlier in the story. The love story is noticeably better than what you might expect for a superhero movie. Through this love story, we understand Hellboy and Liz to a greater degree as characters. Liz's choices also define her, which effectively reinforces the main theme with a support character. Unfortunately, the villains do not get the same level of development, which is too bad because it seems like they could be quite interesting if given the opportunity. Certain details and ground rules about the monsters and their relation to this world are not well established. The plot is a little slim and lacks necessary information, but when so much attention goes to the developing the characters, this is mostly forgivable. Overall, the movie is a pleasant surprise, especially considering this a lesser-known comic book hero.

Grumpy Old Men

Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau still work very well together. The scenes where they are bickering and prodding each other are completely enjoyable. I just wish the feud between them had escalated more than it did. The problem with this movie is that the focus gets away from the funny interactions between these two rivaling neighbors. They find themselves caught in a potentially humorous love triangle fighting over a beautiful younger woman. It is a very promising situation for a comedy, but it veers away from the strengths of the cast. Interactions between Ann-Margret and her two infatuated neighbors are funny at first, but the humor fades as the mood shifts to a deeper serious romantic tone. Showing the loneliness of each man is necessary in developing the story, but this necessary down note is too much. Donald Petrie's direction fails to keep things simple and light. The cast is excellent and story is pleasant, but the emotions are unbalanced.

Hot Rod
Hot Rod(2007)
½

It is so incredibly stupid that it is funny. At times, it is too random for its own good. Most scenes are incredibly short and have almost no sense of transition. Andy Samberg is not at his best and the promising supporting cast of Bill Hader, Jorma Taccone, Danny McBride, Isla Fisher cannot reach full potential in this format. Andy's character is so simple and immature that he seems like a kid, but he is just an incredibly awkward adult. Equally confusing is the 80s soundtrack, even though it is set in the 2000s. Is it randomly funny the first time? Yes, but not the other dozen times it tries it. When one character is a buffoon, it can be funny, but when all the characters are of the same level of stupidity then things lose a point of reference. It has isolated moments that are truly funny, but they do not fit together, and they are too far apart. If you can check your brain at the door, and you may just enjoy it in spite of its offbeat brand of humor.

Valkyrie
Valkyrie(2008)
½

The true events that this movie is based on are not something I encountered in history class at any point. The fact that the German people tried multiple times to assassinate Hitler is an important part of history that is worth telling in movie format. This assassination attempt is particularly interesting, because it almost worked. In addition, the number of people involved and the amount of strategy and planning that it took to pull this off required great courage and intelligence. The movie starts a little slow, and it takes a while to warm up to the characters involved. Luckily, it picks up considerably. The director, Brian Singer, does well with the visuals and sets the bleak tone of Nazi Germany during the war effectively. However, I do wish the camerawork and music intensified the most tense and emotional moments. Scenes of great tension pass over too quickly and do not maximize the dramatic suspense of certain situations. The cast plays most of the main characters as overly stern and quite reserved. I would have liked to see more softness with Tom Cruise's character, particularly with is his family. It may lack a little style and personality, but the events portrayed here are interesting enough to work.

We're The Millers

You might expect a stupid all out raunchy comedy from the premise, but looks can be deceiving. There are a few moments of R-Rated shock value, but it manages to be quite comical by drawing most of its humor from the character interactions. The premise of fake family smuggling drugs across the border is beautifully simple and very funny. It introduces its characters, establishes the situation, and leads to the action very smoothly. Comedies rarely set things up so well. Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Will Poulter and Emma Roberts show good chemistry. Their characters are four distinctly unrelated characters, but they wind up making a funny but caring family unit nonetheless. This is predictable right away, but it is still funny all the way through and that is what matters most. Adventures along the way introduce enjoyable support characters like Ed Helms, Nick Offerman, Kathryn Hahn, and Molly Quinn to change things up and keep them interesting. The road-trip component to the movie is funny, but perhaps another layer of complexity or some more things happening simultaneously would make it even better. I like how it has a little sentimental sweetness and meaning to it, but it never turns mushy or veers away from the comedic tone.

Holy Man
Holy Man(1998)
½

It is a feel-good movie, but it is only moderately funny. Eddie Murphy's character is quite likable, but the story does not do enough with him. At first, the home shopping network setting is a funny place for Murphy's philosophy and spiritual guidance, but it becomes confining. The best part of the movie is the funny product pitches on the shopping network, but they are just a small tangent and do not keep things moving. Jeff Goldblum is an adequate setup man for Eddie Murphy, but he is capable of more than this. The romance side of the sorry between Goldblum and Kelly Preston is typical and uninspired. Eddie Murphy is a very funny actor, but he cannot transcend ho-hum writing. This movie tries to get away with nothing more Eddie Murphy playing than a restrained character with an upbeat likable demeanor. For all of its shortcomings, it still amounts to some lightweight fun, but it is will not make any lasting impressions.

Eames: The Architect And The Painter
½

This is an inspiring well-made documentary about an influential pair of great designers. There are a number of accounts from employees, peers, clients and friends. These different perspectives build a wonderfully multi-dimensional picture of who the Charles and Ray Eames were and how they worked. The documentary excellently points out how Ray and Charles were more than just chair designers. They were pivotal figures in advancing the Modern movement, who challenged the norms to improve the way people experience their environment and interact with each other. It is very interesting to see how they worked together to design everything from products, furniture, buildings, graphics, film, museum exhibits, and more. Sadly, they were not perfect, and this movie points out how Charles took most of the credit for a whole team's worth of hard work, and how their personal married life was not ideal. Like any good documentary, it tells the complete story, the good and the bad. Ultimately, this film inspires people to have imagination see the world around them in a different way. It challenges all creative minds to look for new and better ways to doing things that look great, function at a high level and are accessible to the masses, or as the Eames would say, "The best for the most for the least."

The Third Man

An American paperback writer travels to a gloomy post-war Vienna to meet a long-time friend. Everything quickly changes when he discovers his friend is dead from an accident, and nobody has any information about what happened. It turns into a great mystery story of murder, conspiracy, love, moral dilemmas, and betrayal. At first, things move slowly, but as the story progresses and number of big surprises picks the pace up. The lighting and stark settings within the city exude somber mood, making things feel uneasy and uncertain, just like the main character. Wide camera angles, tilted perspectives, creative viewpoints, and high-contrast lighting reinforce these feelings all the more. The climax is a thrilling set of chase scenes moving through the city and down into the city sewers. These last scenes are boldly sublime and display an impressive level of craft and directorial creativity. They are a joy to watch and are exciting even by today's standards. The story is not a typical feel-good formula, but the great acting, tense action, sincere emotion and rich character complexities make this a rewarding to watch more than once. It is of exceptional quality in every way, and I cannot recommend this enduring murder mystery classic enough.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

What a relief, the Hobbit trilogy starts to live up to its potential after a slow first chapter. This time the adventure is full of excitement, interesting characters, and fast-paced battle scenes. There are some exciting new characters, and some old favorites return. Shape shifters, a different clan of elves and one magnificent dragon keeps things feeling fresh and imaginative. Orlando Bloom reappears as Legolas, who helps tie things into the subsequent Lord of the Rings trilogy in a nice way. He and his she-elf counterpart, Evangeline Lilly are excellent additions to the story, from an action standpoint as well as for some needed emotional softness in this new series. Without a doubt, the best part of the movie was Smaug the dragon. He is an unforgettable villain, who looks and sounds great with the brilliant voice work by Benedict Cumberbatch. The cast is top notch, and luckily, the story and the characters are now living up to the acting. As you would expect for this series, the music is fitting and scenery and rich imagery of the various environments are stunning. Peter Jackson picks up the pace and once again, now everything is as it should be in middle earth!

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

It is no surprise that this prequel holds up to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Once again Peter Jackson does a phenomenal job as the director. He really does justice to J. R. R. Tolkien's storytelling and offers powerful visualizations of the middle-earth. The diverse scenery is always impressive, whether it is a beautiful natural setting or an imaginative computer generated environment. Howard Shore's score suites the movie, complementing each scene perfectly. As expected, the familiar faces in the cast are still great in their old roles. Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage and the other new faces fit in perfectly. Most importantly Tolkien's epic story and well-formed set of characters are great. The only drawback that I noticed was that this movie gets too into Tolkien's detail. By splitting one book into three movies it allows for more thoroughness, but causes some movements to drag or get too into the weeds.

47 Ronin
47 Ronin(2013)
½

Most critics ripped this one apart, but I liked it. I love the inspiring story of the ancient Japanese legend. The movie tells the story well, and it is enjoyable, even if there are some inconsistencies in the attitude. There is a little awkwardness in the balance between a detailed realistic period piece and artistic fantasy. It is not the end of the world to have serious actors with witches and dragons. I am glad that the director did not opt for the video game glitz and Matrix-like physics. The restraint keeps the focus on the story, and I think that is a good thing. It is an epic legend and fictional races of people, magic spells, and dragons have their place here. Keanu Reeves is not a good serious actor, but his role does not demand much from him. His mixed heritage is right for the role, and he does a fine job. The other samurai actors show him up, but his performance is hardly distracting. Having not seen the original versions from the 1940s I have to say the bad reviews are not fair, and that it is certainly worthwhile.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
½

This sequel is as funny as the first, but it is not as structured or as disciplined. Two-thirds of the movie work well, but it loses focus on random tangents and it does not recover for an ending that makes sense. Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell & David Koechner are more lovable this time around, because their stupidity and anger target a better foe in James Marsden. Moving the setting to a global twenty-four news network was a great plot device. It results in a number of humorous satirical cracks directed at the modern media industry. In this regard, it is even better than the first movie. I am sad to say, late in the movie things take a turn for the worse. Rival anchor, Marsden just disappears, leaving no direction or framework for the story. In this last third too many unconnected gags, meaningless cameos, and cheap retreading of the first movie kick in causing things to implode. The great cast and steady stream of one-liners keep it funny but a lack of discipline take away from the overall enjoyment.

My Best Friend's Girl

It is harmless, light, and fun, but it is nothing memorable. Dane Cook and Kate Hudson are good together, but the writing is not up to their level. Unfortunately, Jason Biggs and his trademark jittery, underdog, nice-guy humor is mostly wasted. This is an attempt to bring a little more edginess to a romantic comedy. It starts with some things that are funny, but its humor dissipates as it progresses. By the end, it is just a feel-good finish with scattered chuckles. As romance, it needs better characters to work. Each of the characters is an oversimplified typology, and it feels completely uninspired. It needs more balance and evenness. Cook and Hudson are cute together, but the movie is unrefined. It is moderately fun, but it is disposable, and I doubt that I will remember it for long.

Rambo: First Blood Part II
½

First Blood Part II? What a terrible title. Gone are the emotions, political messages, social commentaries and humanist lessons of the first movie in the series. In their place are even more explosions and larger-scale destruction. The strong characters from before seem oversimplified and do not line up with this story. Sadly, this is just a good ole fashioned, larger than life popcorn action movie. I hate to see the thought behind the first movie, and a great character wasted like this, but oh well; it is good mindless fun. Disappointment for not measuring up to the original aside, it is an intense and fun action movie. The situations are ludicrous but there is something is gratifying about one super-soldier taking out a whole army and saving the day. It pales in comparison to the first, but it is still enjoyable.

The Animal
The Animal(2001)
½

I appreciate physical and stupid humor, but this movie is just too simple. It is an extremely weak premise for a movie. This feels like a funny idea for a reoccurring sketch, but there is not enough writing to go around for a full-length feature. Each scene has a joke or two that makes you chuckle, but it stretched thin and never builds up to more intense laughs. The main reason for this failure is not that Rob Schneider is not funny enough. It misses the mark because the entire comedy burden falls on one character. The undeveloped situations and other characters do little nothing to construct higher-quality laughs. It is not a total abomination; it does have some funny parts, but it is lightweight and disposable, because of underdeveloped writing.

The Internship

I was happy to see Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn team up again. I cannot say this would be much of a movie without them. Luckily, a comedy can make it work when the bright stars shine bright enough. These two guys are a great comedic duo and do just that by filling up the room with their high energy that makes you smile. The premise of two highly unqualified guys fudging their way through a highly selective yet extremely unorthodox internship that they are not suited for is pretty funny. Vaughn and Wilson find themselves presented with a number of unusual and uncomfortable situations where they hilariously flounder. It becomes a predictable underdog story but it is fun and upbeat. The weak support characters and weak supporting cast is where this movie glaring deficiencies. Good supporting roles could have added that next layer of jokes, situations and gags that could have make this great, but it just was not there. Wilson and Vaughn mask a lot of problems in this movie though and save it with their great chemist and likeability. It is no Wedding Crashers but they make it is surprisingly enjoyable.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers
½

Although critics initially brushed this movie off, time has proven that this is, in fact, an influential and inventive classic chiller. Even by today's standards it is chilling and thought provoking. It serves as a powerful reflection of its time, as an unnerving social commentary on McCarthyism. There is a strong sense of mystery as the story unfolds nicely by revealing a little information at a time, until things become clear, when it may be too late. This is a different, more silent brand of horror. Instead of death, the victims experience loss of emotion and identity. This provokes the viewer to reevaluate and appreciate the subtle human qualities that make a person, a unique individual. The character development and the anywhere America small town setting is a strong point of the movie. It develops into an exciting and suspenseful, yet believable paranoia that hits close to home. It feels like it could happen in your town to the people you know and care about, and that is what makes it so good.

Children of the Corn
½

This movie has some shortcomings, to be sure, but it is still an enjoyable horror movie as it is. The idea of a cult of violent children taking over a rural small town is extremely creepy. However, the result of this low-budget production does not live up to its horrifying concept. Even with an unskilled director, and limited resources Stephen King's writing has a way of writing his characters to keep the story from being about more than a one-dimensional monster or haunting and nothing else. I like how the viewer can emotionally invest the main characters before the principal plot device kicks in. The first scene removes some of the mystery, but there is still is plenty to unfold later. After that there is good suspense through most of the movie. When the movie reaches the climax, and it comes time for the movie to show its hand, it cannot quite deliver the full impact by using rough special effects. Better direction and acting could have made this a horror movie for the ages, but the B-movie execution does not do the Stephen King story justice.

Super 8
Super 8(2011)
½

This movie is surprisingly well done and very enjoyable. It is an excellent example of how good writing, mystery, and suspense can deliver more excitement than special effects and action overload. The young adolescent characters are nicely developed, interesting, and believable. First-rate casting makes these characters even stronger. J.J. Abrams does a great job, as the writer and director of the movie. He skillfully balances parallel stories and sub-stories without dropping any balls. The small-town setting and characters help create a pleasant nostalgic tone. I also love how the story is told through a group of young teenagers making a home-made chiller movie. This movie within a movie advances the plot effectively, offers opportunities for developmental dialogue, but also captures the joy of movies and filmmaking.

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids

It is an incredibly fun adventure with great imagination. Shrinking down to a 1/16'' makes you realize what a wonderful world we live in, and how never stop to notice it. The pre-CGI era special effects are excellent, even now they hold up. These excellent effects help create a wonderland of grass blades that feel like a dense forest, ants that big enough to ride, and giant cheerios. Countless other ordinary things become amazing just by changing scale. Rick Moranis is great as the mad scientist and zany father of the shrunken kids. He helps make up for the rest of an otherwise average cast. It might be nice to have some deeper characters and relationships written for the kids. Then again, keeping it simple is not so bad when the magic is so strong. This movie lacks a little complexity but it is a lot of fun and it is highly memorable.

This Is the End
½

Having a collection of movie stars portraying exaggerated caricatures of themselves is brilliant. Adding that to the apocalypse and you have an incredibly unique and very creative concept. This movie exquisitely satires the vein Hollywood culture that these actors are immersed in. With a core of Seth Rogan, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson and Danny McBride this movie keeps the laughs coming with off color dialogue and hilarious idiotic logic from every direction. Each of them different but they are all arrogant, selfish detached from reality, and very superficial in their own way. There are also a slew of wonderful fun celebrity cameos to make it even better. The setting of the apocalypse starts of very well in the same ilk of "Shawn of the Dead" or "Attack of the Block". The only painful drawback is how the end of the world crisis that starts so strong, gets away from itself later in the movie. The ending may be too goofy and random, given the tone of the rest of the movie set. It is still a very fun and very original concept for a movie and it is an incredibly good time.

Elysium
Elysium(2013)

It is interesting how futuristic science fiction movies of the 50s-70s depict a world of technological advancements that better world. Since then more of sci-fi future movies tend to depict a bleak existence. It is interesting how our optimism has disappeared and we now assume things will be worse, not better. Elysium is one of the bleakest depictions of the future since Blade Runner or 1984. It is depressing to see a helpless government that fails the people while all altruism seems to be dead. One of the strengths of the movie is the sharp contrasting imagery of the utopian Elysium space refuge and a wasteland of earth. Early on the story lacks direction and gets off to a bit of a slow start. Luckily the main character is interesting and keeps you invested. Once the main plot device kicks in then things become far more interesting. The action is strong and the cast is great. Matt Damon, in particular, is great as a reformed underdog with a good heart trying to make an honest living. The movie is clearly making a political stance on the divided subject of wealth distribution today. I not sure it delivers its political message effective; at times it seems preachy. It is still a stylish, exciting, and well-made movie.

Casablanca
Casablanca(1942)

This is completely deserving of its title as a timeless classic and one of the greatest movies of all time. The thing that makes it so special is the great storytelling. The plot is fairly simple, but the viewer is introduced to the main characters in such a way that there is a fascinating mystery to them. These strong but vague personalities make you want figure out who they really are and why they act as they do. It takes time but as the movie progresses the characters slowly and dramatically unfold and make things clearer. Their intertwined past is quite emotional, and leads to a beautifully ironic moral conflict for each of the main characters. It is ultimately a beautiful bittersweet story that is about hard decisions, unselfish love, and personal sacrifice. The movie has moments of humor, genuine romantic tenderness, tragic losses, bitter remorse, suspense, excitement, and drama and it is all tied together so very well. The historic WWII setting is interesting, but the political climate is only secondary to personal aspects of the story. This story is as effective as it is because it deals with a complex relationship where there is not necessarily a clear or right solution. Each of the main 3 characters turns out to be highly likable and even admirable. It is unique in that each of the three main characters must make personal sacrifices by choosing something else over their own love. It is well shot, well casted, but it is the great story and characters, along with the great storytelling that make it so great.

Despicable Me 2

Sequels of animated family flicks usually come up very short, but not Despicable Me 2. It holds to the high standards that the first movie set. Once again the characters are charming and heartwarming, but also genuinely funny. I like this brand of exaggerated slapstick humor that reminds me of the old Loony Toons cartoons. Gru is anything but despicable; in fact, he is completely loveable. His character is humorously awkward but still has great big heart for three adorable daughters. This time around he plays an overprotective father, shielding his oldest daughter from boys. His super-villain tactics applied to the average struggles of parenting are quite humorous. I like how the Minions were more thoroughly incorporated into the story. They make for excellent comic relief every step of the way. The voice work is top-notch. Steve Carell brings so much personality and makes Gru's character so great. Newcomer to the series, Kristen Wiig, also a delivers solid voice-work for her character as well.

Friends With Benefits
½

Even though this movie pokes fun at the clichà (C)s of romantic comedies it falls in line and becomes one itself. That is not a bad thing, and at least it does a better job than most within the genre by being blunt and more in your face with sexual conversations. The boldly honest conversations are funny and Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake make them work well. Both Kunis and Timberlake do a great job. They have an excellent chemistry together and it is the two of them that make the movie work. I also appreciated how they made these characters have a deeper set of issues and family factors than the run of the mill romantic-comedy. The family characters played by Richard Jenkins, Patricia Clarkson, and Jenna Elfman do a good job and benefit the movie. Perhaps if this movie utilized these support characters a little earlier and incorporated them into the story more it could have taken yet another step up. Even though it falls in line with the romantic comedy genre that it set out to parody, it still works well, has al little more depth and is enjoyable.

50/50
50/50(2011)

Cancer is a difficult and sad subject to base a movie on. This movie manages to achieve a good balance and gets things right. It handles the issue with a sense of realism that is not too light and fluffy, but at the same time shows tasteful restraint. It is very serious and emotional but it does not unload the full brunt of depressive details and ugly realities that come with battling cancer. The cast is extremely good from top to bottom; it is one of the strongest aspects of this movie. The friendship between Joseph Gordon Levitt and Seth Rogan are particularly strong. Anjelica Huston is great; she plays the part as an overbearing mother perfectly. Anna Kendrick also delivers a notable performance playing a rookie therapist. Bryce Dallas Howard does a good job in her less than likable role. It is uncomfortable and heavy at times, but keeps it all within reason. This is a very well made movie about friendship and the resilience of the human spirit.

Superhero Movie
½

I went in expecting nothing. To my surprise, it was not a worthless throwaway spoof that cannot tie gags together in a coherent manner. It is not remarkable by any means, but it is kind of fun. The spoofing is very mainly targeted at the Spiderman series. They borrow from other sources as well, but these parts feel a little forced; so perhaps it is for the best that they kept it simple. There is not an effective train full of gags that a great spoof requires but at least there are not painful draughts of laugher. Drake Bell knows what he is doing, he knows it is ridiculous and he has fun with it. His high energy help prevent this movie from tanking. Also he gets great support from Christopher McDonald, Kevin Hart, and Leslie Nielsen, the king of spoofs. I only wish these secondary cast members were utilized even more, because they help immensely. Unfortunately the movie loses its discipline and prematurely wraps things up in a very haphazard manner. This is not polished at and all and it could have been better in many ways but it is worth watching and it is still a good time.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2
½

Splitting the already overextended final part of the story is completely needless. After a lifeless part one, this recovers as well as it could, but it still suffers from over-length. There is more excitement in the final chapter, which is a positive, but given the prolonged build up the payoff is not really there. It is frustrating that these characters are no longer developing at this point. The manufactured and forced drama remaining between the three main charters wears thin. The movie draws out and gets into too much minutia, but it wraps up the saga tightly and fans of the series will probably relish it. After looking back on these five movies, I cannot help but feel like there is something interesting to work with in these stories that never fully materialized. As a series, it consistently fails to fully take advantage of its compelling concept.

First Blood
First Blood(1982)

Extremely intense and very exciting, this is one of the best action movies ever. It is has larger than life action but still exhibits tasteful restraint and does not get obnoxiously carried away. John Rambo is noticeably withdrawn, but he still has humanistic qualities that build empathy and make him easily identifiable. Sylvester Stallone plays the part perfectly and is more than just a meathead. He displays strong emotion and conveys a great deal of substance in his physical and facial acting. When he opens up in the memorable the final scene, his frustration and emotion are powerful. As an action movie it is top notch, but what elevates it to the next level is how it confronts the viewer with a poignant social issue and ethical dilemma. This movie raises questions about what happens to a human mind when it is trained to kill and experiences unspeakably atrocities during war. Furthermore, this movie points out how the psychological scars of war can make it very difficult to integrate back in with normal society. It shows how brave soldiers, particularly during the Vietnam War, are often condemned, criticized, and ostracized when they return, from war rather than being greeted with compassion, respect, and gratitude.

I Know What You Did Last Summer
½

The concept is original and overall it is pretty good, but it is somewhat a victim of its time. It starts well with a decent setup that looks like it will lead into a promising mystery. It, however, does not have the level of misdirection and complexly that I was hoping for. That is not to say that it is transparent or one-dimensional, rather it is just not very smart. The camerawork, production, and special effects are above average, making for some intense moments and decent thrills. Where it falls short is the late 90's teen movie packaging that detracts from many of the positives things going on. The cast is mixed; it is clear the four leads got their roles for sex appeal and marketing, rather than their acting abilities. This is forgivable in a horror movie, I suppose, but at times it takes something away from the experience. The soundtrack feels horribly out of place and often distracting. The music on its own is good and the soundtrack probably sold well, but it fails to enhance the scenes. Director, Jim Gillespie forces senseless cut scenes and needless transitions just to plug the soundtrack. This is low class marketing to the MTV crowd and it cheapens the movie. It extremely frustrating to see such a promising concept with the potential of making a great horror movie marred by immature decadence and heavy handed filmmaking cliches of the late 90's.

Hellraiser
Hellraiser(1987)

This has more to it than most run of the mill scary movies. It does not the settle for weak jolting surprises and cliches. It is a surprisingly a well written darkly ironic supernatural story of murder, betrayal and fate. The characters are good and the slow pace seems right, but bad acting and some breakdowns in logic hold the movie back. All of the actors overact and it takes away from what could be decent characters. The director Clive Barker makes up for some of this with this by keeping the audience on edge with his camera work during standard scenes. The movie had budget concerns that lead to some poor supernatural effects towards the end. Still, the gruesome visuals and costume design help make up for a lot. This movie gets a lot of the big picture stuff right and is surprisingly enjoyable as a low budget B movie. It is a shame that there was not more money to see this thought to its full potential. I rarely say this but it is a strong candidate for a reboot. Better effects and better acting could move this up from 80s horror staple to classic horror movie status if done correctly.

Hocus Pocus
Hocus Pocus(1993)

When I was in third grade I thought it was pretty good but it is hard to see why now. It does not hold up as an adult at all. This movie delivers little scare or excitement for adults so that makes it rely mainly its humor. The problem is this movie just forgot to be funny. It is excusable that the young actors are not very good for a family flick like this so it falls to the witches to make up for them. The three witches are incompetent buffoons to be sure, but they should have been FUNNY incompetent buffoons. It has a lot of running around, but it has little purpose and I quickly quit caring. I question my 3rd grade self for liking this and I will not be giving it a third watch unless I am in 3rd grade again.

Lilo & Stitch
½

It has a cute story, but it lacks the magic and imagination it should have overall. The move takes a while to set in because the early outer space scenes do not offer much. Too much time goes by before the story starts over on earth, where it should have begun in the first place. The Hawaiian setting is a lot of fun and gives the movie a unique and memorable quality. I also credit it for the heavier and more realistic set of domestic problems that the characters face. They are a bit atypical for a Disney movie, but it works. The interactions between Lilo and Stich start off well, but break down in the back half of the movie. It fails to capitalize on what should be special moments. Scenes like when Lilo discovers that she is encountering an alien from outer space, lack the needed sense jaw dropping amazement and wonder. This is sad to see, because it really robs the movie of its full potential. Even worse, the climax feels rushed, the emotion gets lost, and it wraps up rather abruptly. While it is original and memorable, it is also lamentably unbalanced.

Saw III
Saw III(2006)

It is unfortunate to see such a good villain and fresh premise go awry. Any attempts to smoothly transition from the previous movies are forced or completely botched. The last movie leaves you hanging, wanting to know what happens to Detective Matthews next. Unfortunately the first 20 minutes do nothing but wipe the slate clean and disconnect from all of the good groundwork and momentum of the series. In the place of tight writing are larger doses of even more brutal games. These games lose their impact when there is no connection to the victims or when there are three in a row to start the movie with no context. Angus Macfadyen plays the main victim this time, but his acting is atrocious. He is unconvincing as a grieving parent and as a depressed lost sole bent on revenge. I liked Shawnee Smith in the second movie, but this time her character, Amanda, is very different. Bad writing disappoints here, as her behavior and actions are in direct contradiction of her well written character in Saw II. Tobin Bell is the only reliable constant from the first two movies. Sadly his cancerous condition is taken way too far, with a distracting side story where he kidnaps a brain surgeon. This third film has no continuity or consistency with the first movies. Worst of all, it lacks the discipline, intelligence, focus and smart storytelling of the previous installments. It is a complete disappointment in terms of its writing, and not worthy of the Saw title.

Saw II
Saw II(2005)

It may not be up to the overall quality or have the huge surprises the original, but this is a very decent horror sequel. After the first movie the viewer will be on guard for huge surprises and plot twists, but this sequel is clever and still delivers a well constructed plot full of dramatic turns that the viewer does not see coming. Early on it appears that this murder trap is more transparent and dumber than before, but the surprises are bigger and back loaded towards the end. Once again it builds great suspense of a countdown timer, and it is still very effective. Where it fails to measure up to its predecessor is the acting. Despite Tobin Bell's strong performance as the unmasked killer, Donnie Wahlberg is a weaker lead role and the support actors are simply bad. Most of the group of captives should be forgettable insular characters, but these parts are regrettably over acted. This only cheapens dramatic scenes of what is otherwise a very solid horror movie.

Saw
Saw(2004)

This is a shockingly good movie that exceeded all my expectations. The plot unfolds very well and just when you think you think you get what's going on another layer of the story unfolds and it gets more interesting, exciting and complicated. The concept of the killer is excellent, the plot is tight, and the suspense keeps you at the edge of your seat every step of the way. Without giving anything away, I have to say the ending is perfect. The cast is top notch and the acting is always genuine and completely fitting, given the gruesome situation.

The Ward
The Ward(2011)
½

Most critics hung out to dry by but I cut this movie some slack. It may not have breathtaking thrills and chills, but it makes up for it by being clever. It is also more skillfully executed than your run of the mill scary movie. This is not John Carpenter's best work but he manages to instill an uneasy feeling and keep the audience uncomfortable the whole time. The mysterious main character and her ambiguous background are pry at the viewer as they try to figure her out. The plot is paced well and it does not reveal its cards too soon and contains some gratifying plot twists and has a few nice tricks up its sleeve. People going in to pick it apart and over think it will manage to disappoint, themselves but I enjoyed the story and its surprises. Where it could have been stronger was in the scare department. There are some jumpy moments, but the good suspense building does not result in proportionate horror. Still an insane asylum is a creepy place and overall it works pretty well for a horror film.

The A-Team
The A-Team(2010)

Simply put this movie is a sad and messy tribute to an average television show. The only enjoyment to be had here is that new actors are imitating old characters that people may fondly remember. That does not, however, mean they do a good job. It attempts to be clever with the plot, but it trips over itself every step of the way. The main characters are somewhat likable but the adventure and action is uninteresting and not nearly as fun enough to pull off what the filmmakers were going for. At times the special effects are surprisingly rough, but that is the least of the problems. The story is not strong and the characters are hollow shells of what people used to love. It just does not have much going for it.

Taken 2
Taken 2(2012)

Taken was an excellent action movie, but I was skeptical the magic could be recreated. To my chagrin I was right. You never expect a sequel to be as good as the first, but this is more of falloff than most sequels. The movie tires so hard to tie back to the last movie and lay reasonable groundwork in attempts to create a similar situation, but it still seems contrived. This time Liam Neisen and his ex-wife are kidnapped and it is up to their untrained teenage daughter to save them. This aspect is a disaster and just takes things way too far. It gets back on track later in the movie, but it is too little too late. Just when things are looking up, the movie wraps up too quickly, as everything is resolved all too easily. I still like Liam Neisen's character, but the situation is forced and the journey, and even the action are nothing but a hollow and dumbed down shell of what the first movie.

Homeward Bound - The Incredible Journey

It is a simple yet affable adventure that kids and adults will both like. This is a rare exception where the remake is more enjoyable. Indeed this is a worthy remake, where new technology enabled the filmmakers to better present the already strong story. The biggest change is how the pets themselves talk to each other. These talking pets are much more than childish gimmicks. The strong voice work by Don Ameche, Michael J Fox and Sally Field are surprisingly lovable and bring great personality to the animals. It is a fun journey with lots beautiful natural settings. Who knew talking animals could be so enjoyable.

Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1
½

I feel like this series has run its course and is beginning to overstay its welcome. The third movie was a nice piece to finish the story and wrap things up.... But there was more money to be made with another movie. Compared to the rest of the series very little happens, this feels like bonus deleted scenes after the happy ending, except that there is two hours of them. The wedding and honeymoon sequences are dreadfully boring and uneventful and at times awkward. I venture to say that the first 40 minutes of the movie could be cut. It certainly did not need splitting into two movies (except for making more money). It is nothing new for the series, but the bad guy is underdeveloped once again. The amount of effort and commitment from Jacob's character toward Bella is beginning to feel strained; shouldn't a whole family of vampires be able to handle this on their own? Logic goes out the window as a knowledgeable Vampire-Doctor for centuries does not warn or understand how to deal with this unusual pregnancy. The ending is predictable more than an hour ahead of time and with no interesting side story it flounders the whole way through. This is a waste of time, only diehard Twilight fans will appreciate it, but then again there is no short of those.

Pitch Perfect
½

The string of glee club type musicals continues with Pitch Perfect, but I cannot figure out why. Luckily this one is more tongue in cheek and does not take itself too seriously, but it still clearly caters to the same tween girl audience. The trite story is light and predictable, full of exaggerated and overly simplified characters. There are a few moments that get some light laughs, mostly from Rebel Wilson and a pair of announcers played by Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins. The music and dancing, however, are relentless. It takes fleeting pop songs and makes them even more intolerable by packaging them in a childish and sunshiny A cappella delivery. Anna Kendrick has charisma and charm in the lead role, but it is all for naught. The music, lame characters, and long gaps with no jokes keep this grounded. It serves only as a fleeting and disposable filler.

Man of Steel
Man of Steel(2013)

It seems like it is time to reboot the Superman franchise. The Christopher Reeve series has plenty of charm, but it seems dated when you revisit it now. There are a several changes for this new series, some of which are good while others seem like heresy. The movie looks great! Finally Superman gets the special effects he deserves. The battle scenes are impressive and showcase the superhero's speed and strength. Unfortunately the movie lacks discipline in the editing room and overloads the movie with action sequences that drag on. These action scenes look great but they lose their effectiveness when they go on for so long. The decision to embellish the heroe's back-story on planet Krypton was an excellent one. We get a better look at what Kyrpton is like and it also lays the groundwork for a well-constructed villain. I really like Russell Crowe as Jor-El, Superman's father. Unfortunately the movie skimps on Clark Kent's upbringing with his earth family. There is a lot of lost opportunity by glossing over his childhood and teenage years in a series of flashbacks. The most interesting part of Superman is not what he can do. It is about him coming to understand this planet and his place within it. The cast is good, but somehow it lacks that certain magic I was hoping for as we rediscover to the classic characters. Most of all I was extremely disappointed to see that Louis Lane discovers the identity of Superman! With Louis knowing the difference between Clark Kent and Superman, the new series will not have that emotional conflict of an implied love triangle. It is fun and entertaining, but Superman should more than this.

Lara Croft - Tomb Raider
½

This movie successfully breaks from reality makes sure it is completely unrealistic and over the top, a trick that more movies should learn. It has good special effects and fast paced action that make it fun. The problems that completely pull this movie down are the lack of depth and the muddled plotline. The viewer spends too long confused about why things are happening or the significance of the coveted artifact. Things move quickly but we never get a very good feel for any of the characters. Angelina Jolie was the perfect selection to play the rugged but beautiful Laura Croft. She is a physically matches the videogame character amazingly well but more importantly does not over act or come off cheesy. Unfortunately the bad guys were not cast as well and it is painful to watch Daniel Craigâ(TM)s American accent. This could have been another fun franchise like the Mummy or even Indiana Jones but came up short in the plot, delivery, character development, and general charm departments. This movie did so much right but poor writing and direction kill it.

Star Trek Into Darkness
½

This new series is doing a fantastic job of capturing an entirely new audience for the Star Trek franchise. Great storytelling, casting, character development and dialogue make for a strong connection and appreciation of these characters. This is a major improvement over previous Star Trek iterations, which fail to make the viewer fully invested in the characters. As far as action goes, it is also far more exciting than the classic movies. The movie looks great in general; foreign planets, space sequences, and a future version of earth show great imagination and more importantly consistently set the right mood. I really appreciate that throughout the movie the motives and true goal to the mission are unclear. Not knowing who is trustworthy and what is really going on keeps things interesting and moving fast. The developing chemistry of the Enterprise crew shows great promise for a sustainable long series. I like the familiar faces and fun references from the original series. JJ Abrams has done what is nearly impossible with this series by re-building, improving and expounding upon a groundbreaking series with quality and integrity. These new movies should please both the dogmatic science fiction fans as well as newcomers.

Kung Fu Panda

Despite a great cast for the voice work this leaves a lot to be desired. It has the feel of a typical Saturday morning cartoon, with a recycled cliché story that is never meaningful or heartwarming. The main character and his story are pretty thin. Jack Black's hyper up-tempo energy goes to waste in this role. Anyone could have done it. Seth Rogan was probably a better fit for the voice of the Panda. Oddly enough he is in the cast. Master Shifu, played by Dustin Hoffman is one of the few bright spots of the movie. His character and voice work actually have personality. The rest of the loaded cast plays insignificant support characters that do nothing and are almost swept under the rug. It seems like the movie attached a lot of big names to it to incentivize parents to take their kids to see it. In the end it is harmless, lightly humorous and mildly entertaining, but it is nothing special and completely forgettable.

Our Idiot Brother
½

This is not what you would expect from the title or even the preview. It is surprisingly substantive and not a stupid comedy at all. Paul Rudd expands his horizons by portraying a good-natured character who surprisingly delightful and lovable. Instead of a goofy clown-like idiot the main character is uncommonly honest, trusting and naive. Through his well-intentioned and simple-minded ambivalence he accidentally does the right thing, where most people would lie or avoid dealing with unpleasant situations. His incredibly dysfunctional family does is not open with each another. Rudd unknowingly forces the family's individual issues out the open where they must resolve them as a family. There are not a lot of hard laughs; often times you feel sorry for the main character, because he is so likeable. Luckily there is a series of good endings that make it all better. The cast pretty good as a whole, but it is Paul Rudd who really makes this work. It is a good movie; just do not go into it looking for slapstick, sarcasm, and crude humor.

The Watch
The Watch(2012)
½

This is somewhat disappointing, given the strong cast involved. Ben Stiller can make for a great straight man and having two goofballs like Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill playing off of him seem like a sure-fire hit. The main problem is that it is just too simple. Many of the jokes lack the kind of set up and construction for a rewarding laugh. The jokes are disposable and shallow; they seem to come and go. It gets a few chuckles, but or the most part it fails to reach or sustain a higher quality level of comedy. The story jumps around too much lacking focus and discipline. This can turn out fine for a comedy but it needs to funny. There is not a scene in the movie that pushes it to the full comedic potential. The dialogue is only average and the writing comes off as lazy or underdeveloped. The aliens and their invasion bring little do very little for the movie. It might have been funnier with the same four guys struggling with more mundane concerns and just arguing amongst themselves. It is lightly humorous and is still worth watching, but I wanted so much more.

Hall Pass
Hall Pass(2011)

The Farrelly brothers deliver yet another original and funny off-color comedy. Two immature lady ogling married men are given a no consequences break from marriage for a week. They quickly get a hilarious dose of reality and realize they are not lady-killers now and never really were. Jason Sudeikis & Owen Wilson are well balanced and are quite funny together. Sudeikis plays an obnoxious and over the top pervert while Wilson is more hesitant, humouredly awkward. The biggest drawback is how the supporting cast is not as funny or effective as intended. Christina Applegate and Jenna Fischer are not bad as their wives but they relegated to stern and serious roles. They were both capable of so much more. Sudeikis and Wilson's friends are mildly humorous but they do not they fit together well. There is a bit of a slow start but it picks up well and finishes even better. Several tangents and disconnected pieces all start to overlap later in the movie, making for a wildly hilarious climax. I also like the truthful wrap up that has a nice touch of sentimentality where both couples rediscover why they fell love.

Men in Black III
½

Men in Black II left much to be desired, but this is a candidate for best bounce back movie sequel. The unpredictable magic and humor of aliens living amongst us has diminished returns, but this time there is more character development and heart than the previous movies. The time travel aspects of the story inject some new blood in the franchise and open up some fresh possibilities for the series. Josh Brolin is a delight with his spot on portrayal of the younger version of Tommy Lee Jones. The chemistry between Brolin and Will Smith is even more enjoyable than Jones & Smith. It is more dynamic two-way street, in terms of generating laughs. I particularly enjoyed the character that has the ability to see all parallel variations of the future. The new villain, Boris the Animal, is only so-so. He is still able to facilitate a good adventure and fun final showdown at the Apollo 11 launch. It has the fun agent-to-agent banter that you would expect, but it has sweet sentimentality that you would not expect.

Phenomenon
Phenomenon(1996)
½

John Travolta comes into contact with a UFO and gains telekinetic powers as well as the ability to learn at an extraordinarily rapid pace. The early going works well enough but once the main plot device kicks in it does not go anywhere remarkable. It is frustrating, sad, and perhaps even tragic to watch this gift turn into a curse for a good natured simple man. There is not an insightful ironic twist; it is just unfortunately sad. John Travolta is likable but miscast; I have a hard time buying him as small town good ole boy. The romance Travolta and Kyra Sedgwick is painful. Sedgwick's character is persistently irrational and dislikable. Even after we are supposed to warm up to her I did not. It was a chore to watch her reject and cold shoulder Travolta time after time. The resolution is empty and unfulfilling. I cannot in good faith recommend this one to anyone.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2

This is a great ending to an amazing series that for over a decade has maintained the highest quality of acting, effects, camera work, excellent cast, and faithfulness to J.K. Rowling's books. The classic saga closes perfectly with excellent visual richness, epic battles, and tons of warmth. Not since the first two movies of the series has there been such an inspiring and striking presence of magic and imagination. Harry and his friends are now fully adults and they take responsibility and protect not only themselves but also the people they care about. Even when you think all of the cards are on the table and you think you have the story figured out, Rowling adds a few unexpected twists that making things interesting all the way to finish. Everything in the series builds up to one climactic battle between good and evil, and it does not disappoint. It all moves very fast and you will need to be on your toes to catch it all. It also does a good job tying up all of the loose ends in a gratifying manner. Over the last decade this talented cast did such a great job of breathing life into the wonderful characters. The actors, artists, and directors have truly made something special and lived up to the standards of J.K. Rowling books. These movies are timeless and will to continue to capture the imaginations for generations to come.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1

Harry, Ron and Hermione must grow up fast, as they leave Hogwarts behind to take on the powerful Lord Voldemort. This time there is no help from teachers or mentors. Even though the movie is long at 146 minutes, it really just feels like things were getting started. I hate the decision to cut the movie in two halves. It allows for more detailed story telling but it becomes less disciplined and becomes a little overburdening. There is a barrage of minor characters both new characters and barely mentioned characters from early in the series. It is a little hard to keep everything straight, even for an enthusiastic nerd, like myself. Thankfully knowing every minor character and every detail is not essential to enjoying the experience. It is nice to see that there is more to plot to unfold and evolution of characters to keep things interesting this far into the series. One thing is for sure you will want to watch Part II soon after this, so reserve a big block of time.

For a Few Dollars More (Per Qualche Dollaro in Più)
½

This is a simple yet fun western. It is technically a sequel, but the cast is the only continuation from the first movie. Just like the first movie, A Fistful of Dollars, none of the characters have much of a back-story or depth. The plot is thin and the structure is more of a series of interesting situations loosely tied together. Normally this is a bad thing but this movie makes up for it in other ways. The main characters may be vague but they have a good-natured chemistry that is a delight to watch. Lee Van Cleef and Clint Eastwood play two mysteriously silent rugged bounty hunters that reluctantly team up. Their lightly humorous dialogue and tough guy mannerisms are what make the movie so enjoyable. There is not a lot of realism to the action scenes but they are fun and exciting. This movie series takes the short crescendo of the western shootout and extends it to a 15-man all out gunfight. It is a major step forward for action movies, making for a prolonged fast pace and way more adrenaline. This is deservedly labeled a classic because it is so successful at keeping things fun and simple.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
½

The stakes are raised in this round and things become extremely serious after the ending of the Order of the Phoenix. There are still rewarding personal moments where Harry can find time to smile and experience love, but they are fewer and farther between than in previous movies. There is less joy to be found in the series in general at this point. Harry is angrier and more stressed than ever before. He becomes less open with his thoughts and feelings, even from those closest to him. Rowling makes her characters so authentic and real that they very easy to relate to, as Harry enter those transitional mid to later teenage years. The action may be dialed back a few notches but the suspense; mystery and drama are all increased. It is the most intense and emotional the entire series. I do not like how the ending is open-ended and unfinished. It will no doubt carry over to the final (two part) chapter, but this series normally ties things up better than this.

Failure to Launch
½

The premise seems promising enough for a stupid romantic comedy. Sadly this movie just is not funny at all. A good romantic comedy needs to be either goofy with lots of jokes or more dramatic and substantive. I regret to say that this is neither. It tried to be goofy and fun but the jokes miss the mark. More than once it resorts to childish humor where a dolphin, bird, lizard, squirrel...etc bite the characters. This is a lazy plead for laughter. Americas Funniest Home Videos has more depth than this. With the exception of Sarah Jessica Parker the cast involved seemed promising. Matthew McConaughey can do better than this; he deserves better roles than these horrible chick flicks. Terry Bradshaw is pretty good at acting like himself. I just hope he tries it again with a better movie. The relationship of McConaughey & Sarah Jessica Parker is cliché and feels artificial. I found myself more amused with Zooey Deschanel and Justin Bartha on screen chemistry, even though they are only a small part of the movie. The climax and resolution are so poorly written I cannot believe they made it out of the writer's room, much less made into the final movie. I admit that this is not my genre, but even if it is your cup of tea I suggest passing this one up.

Contagion
Contagion(2011)

The premise and fast pace of this dramatic crisis are not bad but the plot reaches for too much and gets jumbled. There is a lot of switching between several unrelated storylines at one time. This storytelling approach effectively conveys the impact and widespread scale of the epidemic, but without a strong protagonist it feels unfocused and lost for direction. The cast is good but most it is unutilized. There are characters that could have been entirely cut from the movie. Cutting some of the tangential storylines would have improved the movie by strengthening the stronger parts of the story. Marion Cotillard's storyline is completely superfluous. It is not her fault that her part of the story was not well put together or wrapped up. Jude Law's part of the story is also a bit of an unneeded tangent as well. Laurence Fishburne's part of the story is interesting and allows you to know what is going on at a technical level. Matt Damon's part of the story offers some much needed emotion and humanity for the audience to connect with. It is highly realistic but it lacks punch. Epidemic plagues are scary but the undisciplined writing and direction fail to give this the clarity to succeed.

Green Lantern

Most critics slammed this one but I will go out on my own and say I liked it. That is not to say that it does not have a few shortcomings that keep it from being awesome. The concept and story of the Green Lantern is a comic book is quite good. I really love the overarching theme of will vs fear, and how they translate to green energy & yellow energy. This movie does a respectable job of establishing the characters and laying good groundwork. The villain is developed reasonably well and the internal conflict within the hero himself works as well. I do wish the discovery of the alien, the ring, and a new galaxy had been more dramatic and handled with a greater sense of awe. I think the casting of Ryan Reynolds as the hero is a good choice, but he plays many of the important scenes too lightly. It is misses out on great opportunities to create that magical and emotional resonance that could have made this highly memorable. I am thankful that it did not attempt to be super-serious and dark like the Nolan's Batman series, but the pendulum swings back a little too far the other direction here. I just cannot help but think a more skillful director could have made this even better. Despite this it still has a great story, good imagination and is a fun watch.

A Good Old Fashioned Orgy

I like how this movie took the casting approach of featuring a group of fun actors who typically are relegated to supporting roles. A blossoming Jason Sudakis anchors the cast, but the group structure evenly spreads the laughs out rather than relying one star. It somewhat dissolves the hierarchy of the core characters, resulting in what feels like a real group of friends in their late 20s. Some of the characters have changed a great deal, while others remain immature. So much so that it seems realistically odd that they are still friends but share a strong bond that takes years to forge. The characters and their friendship are a strongpoint of the movie, but the story is awkward. These friends are threatened with losing the summerhouse where they come together and make great memories. Rather than collectively raising the money to buy the house or find a new place they plan one last big party. There is not a lot rational why orchestrating an orgy becomes the goal. The movie somehow forgets to exploit the extreme situation with over the top crude humor. Oddly enough this comedy has merit on the tenderness of the characters and the gentle laughs are quite secondary.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Things get particularly dark in the fifth part of the series. The number of people Harry can trust is diminishing to his closest of friends. Hogwarts has been a refuge for Harry and his friends up until this point but even it is not safe anymore. There is a different kind of evil in play this time, one that is harder to fight. As evil political pressure consumes Hogwarts and threatens everything Harry loves. For the first time in the series there are painful defeats and losses for Harry. The local media and his peers also negatively single him out, making things all the more frustrating for him. J.K. Rowling's writing is excellent and her characters continue to evolve in the best of ways. The cast has excellent familiar faces that are continuing to grow and develop their characters perfectly. Ralph Fiennes, Jason Isaacs and new the faces of Imelda Staunton and Helena Bonham Carter are nasty and formidable villains for the ages. There are some real down points that make this less enjoyable than the earlier movies but the feeling, quality, style and content are still there.

13 Going on 30
½

It was mercifully rated PG-13, sparing us of a brain-dead lifeless production intended for the Disney channel, which is honestly what I expected. It is harmlessly cute, despite being underwhelming and lifeless. The concept of a kid waking up as an adult has been done before but it is a fun premise to revisit. I like how she wakes up older to what seems like a dream come true only to find out that she is not happy with what she has become. It is old hat and nothing about it is fresh or groundbreaking. Jennifer Garner is not a good fit as playing 13 year old trapped in adult's body. She is the right amount of awkward but she is not exactly funny or believable. I do not mean to pile it all on Garner, after all, the supporting cast is considerably worse. The simple love story component works fine without laying it on too thick and bogging things down. While it does not drag too much, it does suffer from being highly predictable and bad acting. Overall it is not a total waste of time but it is not funny or insightful enough to be memorable. There are better movies with this same premise that I would suggest before watching this.

Cars 2
Cars 2(2011)

It is hard to add onto the first Cars movie when it was closed up so nicely the first time. This time the adventure revolves around the goofy but lovable rusted tow truck, Mater. He stumbles his way into an undercover spy conspiracy. Unfortunately Mater's character works better as comedic relief rather than the main character. The spy cars and the main plot line of their mission fail to build on the first movie or bring new life the sequel. It is just another vehicle to have Larry the Cable Guy bumble his way through a serious situation with even fully knowing it. There are several moments where it gets too silly for its own good. Young kids will like it all but it the adults may lose patience with it. This sequel has completely lost touch with what made the first one so good. The first Cars movie had a touching story and did a great job of personifying of the different kinds of cars while capturing the charm of the mid-century highway culture. Cars 2 does not have a touching story and the cars are just silly exaggerations. The charm is gone and so too is the fun.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
½

This is perhaps the biggest jump in the maturity of the characters as well as the series in general. For the first time the series to carries the PG-13 rating and it is appropriate. The actors, characters and audience are all growing up together as J.K. Rowling had intended and it is impressive how well it does so. There is more violence and excitement now. The villains are certainly more formidable and it is beginning to become harder to know who can be trusted. As always, the well-crafted story involves an exciting adventure that leads to big picture plot devices and opportunities for the characters to evolve. More than ever this episode boasts the human dimension as a strong point. The charters are changing rapidly now that they are decisively teenagers. Anyone will be able to relate to how the characters are noticing the opposite sex, experience ugly social drama, experiencing new feelings and developing a desire to become their own person. This may be a fantasy world but it also paints an extremely accurate picture of one's late Junior high to early high school days. I love how this series maintains its imagination, quality of craft and above all the ability to relate to its audience.

Highlander
Highlander(1986)

This is a pretty divided movie; it has some real strong points, but also has some glaring weaknesses. Most of the problems are the result of when the movie was made. The concept of immortals living amongst us while killing one another until there is only one is original and compelling. The time jumping structure of storytelling keeps certain things unclear longer may be nice but it does make for dramatic storytelling. There are, however, some displeasing plot holes where things should be better explained and make more sense. Some of these issues may be due to all of the jumping back and forth. The action is decent; it has exciting battle scenes with very active camera work that are ahead of their time. Unfortunately the special effects, music, sound and general style of the movie did not age well. It often comes of as goofy or cheesy. The villain is underdeveloped and most of the acting is not where it should be for such a good story. Fortunately I was able to get around most of the 80s cheese and allow myself to get immersed in the concept and action. It is still a good movie and qualifies for sci-fi classic status.

Hitch
Hitch(2005)
½

This romantic comedy gets off to a respectable start but later it tries to do too much. It started off as a charming and simple story that is fitting for what it is. The miscommunication that leads to the typical romantic-comedy low point is more frustrating than anything. Will Smith and Kevin James have a fun chemistry together, but I think a lot more could have been done with these two characters. The Will Smith and Eva Mendez chemistry is not as fun to watch. Their part of the story felt like a distraction from the fun half of the movie where Kevin James pursues of a woman that seems to be way out of his league. It is fun but there are not enough funny moments or quotable lines to make it memorable either.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

The series continues to evolve in the best of ways, as the arching plot of the series thickens a great deal. For a third go round there are still a few moments of magic and discovery. This installment transitions to more substantive plot to compensate for familiar content. Daniel Radcliffe Emma Watson and Rupert Grint are no longer kids. The story and their characters parallel the actor's transition of early adolescence remarkably well. Harry has become more confident, angry, and inquisitive. The dynamic of the friendship between two boys and a girl is also changing in a very real way. J.K. Rowling's story is an excellent balance magical fantasy and emotions of a universal human dimension. It is deeper than just good vs. evil; it is also a relatable coming of age story. This adventure is much more exciting than the previous two. The stakes are higher and there is a greater sense of danger. Director Alfonso Cuaron takes over the series and stays faithful to the two Chris Columbus movies. Everything that worked before is maintained, but some of the action scenes and camerawork are better. The series was also able to overcome the death of a key cast member, Richard Harris (Dumbledore), as Michael Gambon fills in nicely. The series has proven it can overcome major changes of director and major cast changes without skipping a beat, which is very promising for seeing it all the way through maintaining such quality. This is my personal favorite of the series.

High School High
½

This is a great spoof on the super-serious genre of movies that were popular in the early 90s about life in the hood and underprivileged inner city schools. Writers David Zucker and Pat Proft (Airplane and Naked Gun) effectively establish wall to wall humor that makes spoof movies like this work so well. A lot of time and attention went into the details and dialogue to make sure there is always a joke present or often of multiple funny things going on at once. There are enough minor things going on in background and smaller lines that are really funny, making this fun to watch over and over again. John Lovitz is excellent; his half serious but still lovably goofy delivery is perfect for this brand of humor. In the midst of the ridiculous and exaggerated gags there are some moments that make interesting comments or observations on the differences in cultures and may even make you think. The only thing holding it back is how the back end gets a little serious and caught up in too deep of a plot for a comedy, but it does right the ship and ends well. There is a lot of material crammed into one comedy and while many of the references may not age well and it connected with me and I loved it.

The Mask of Zorro

It is hard to explain why I enjoy this as much as I do. The action does not bowl you over and the dramatic side of the story is somewhat slighted, but it is surprisingly fun without coming across as dumb or whimsical. The story is well put together. It establishes a strong back-story, with well formed characters that actually have interesting relationships and motives. Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Anthony Hopkins make for a strong cast. Banderas is likeable both as the bumbling and incompetent buffoon and as the compassionate, smooth, and skillful hero. His chemistry with Hopkins and Zeta-Jones is strong. Their lighthearted and playful dialogues keep you smiling. The fight scenes, horse chases and swordplay do add some excitement, but are done in a fun loving way rather than being super-serious, which fits the tone of the movie. Captain Harrison Love, Matt Letscher, is the only notably weak spot in the movie. His character and acting are not up to par with the rest of the cast. It has the look and feel of an old western in many ways, which is something you do not often find in current times. It is therefore a refreshing change of pace and a good time.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

It is good to see the series maintain what made the first movie so great. The actors are noticeably growing up since the first film, but so too are their characters in the story. Changes in the characters are only subtle, but they show how skillfully crafted the story and characters are. This time around the adventure is more detailed, involved, and certainly darker, which makes it a lot more exciting. The filmmakers continue to create a rich experience and effectively instill a sense of wonder. They do a great job of injecting new discoveries and unveiling new parts of this magical world, both in the details and on the jaw dropping larger than life scale. Chamber of Secrets gets the viewer more immersed in the school life, teachers, magic, and most importantly the characters. It is enjoyable to watch the developing chemistry of the three core characters, as they are starting to develop strong bonds. The execution of the human dimension is very good and it elevates the movie to become far more than just an imaginative adventure; it has heart. This is the highest form of sequel, where it actually strengthens, advances, and builds upon a great series foundation.

History of the World---Part I

"Columns get your columns! Doric! Ionic! Corinthian! We have columns here!" It is rambling, aimless and scattershot, but it is still funny. Normally a movie with no structure, no plot, no defined characters and so little direction cannot work, but the genius that is Mel Brooks. Mel Brooks does it all in this one as the writer, producer, director, and plays most of the major roles himself. It has the feel of Mel Brooks almost improvising and making up funny jokes while using a vast array of elaborate historical period sets. In fact, it may not be a stretch for how this comedy was conceived. There are a ton of good one-liners, good physical humor, and a hilarious blend of cheery modern Hollywood/theater presentation of serious historical scenes. Brooks carries the comedic load well, but the lack of structure does eventually take its toll. It is only 90 minutes long it seems to go on just a little too long.

Hercules
Hercules(1997)
½

This is not a Disney classic, but people overlook it more than they should. It is underrated and totally worthwhile. Disney takes legendary Greek mythology and injects humorously out of place new references into it. The result is a somewhat of a fun Looney Tunes feel, though it is toned down and less exaggerated than that. The juxtaposition of gospel influenced music with Greek legends works surprisingly well. The music is not highly memorable but it is a fun narration device and advances the plot with style. There is not much effort to expand on the mythological details or inject any history, but in this case it is forgivable. It keeps things light and lively letting the music and redefined characters bend and reshape the classic story. There is a definite Disney animated musical template applied in full force, but that is not a bad thing. It has an underdog orphan main character that must grow into the hero's role. There are lovable side characters for comedic relief, a purely evil villain, fun music and a damsel that the hero wins over by his great deeds. It is formulaic but if it works, don't knock it.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

This is a truly magical story and a perfectly crafted beginning chapter to an epic series. It is a powerfully sublime experience that instills a a grand sense of wonder and imagination that all ages and generations can appreciate. It wisely stayed faithful to wonderful J.K. Rowling story. I applaud the direction of Chris Columbus, as he makes this world really have the impact that it should. He wonderfully juxtaposes the depressive nature of Harry's earth home with the magic of Hogwarts, making the discovery and sharp change all the more powerful. The incomparable John Williams delivers yet another memorable score that enhances the experience of the movie. The cast is remarkably strong from top to bottom. By selecting lesser known or unknown actors they were able to find the perfect personalities and physical traits that Rowling envisioned. Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint are superb young actors. They are all a natural fits for their respective characters. They are cast so well that it does not feel like they are acting at all. There is excellent character development and background established for each of the core characters and there also a strong identification of good and evil. It is not just a setup to a series, it gets right into a very solid stand alone adventure with good thrills. The story brings everything full circle to a nice tight closure. This movie does everything right and I have no doubt that this has all of the qualities to make it a timeless classic.

Head of State

It has some funny parts but overall there is not enough meat to make a full movie out of. Chris Rock is very good; I cringe to think what this would have been with anyone else in the lead. His timing and ability to satire the political system with keen remarks and cutting delivery keep this from failing. As a satire the movie works pretty well but I wish they had exaggerated more and dug in deeper in a more while making their points. Chris Rock carries the whole movie on his back and it is a shame that there were not better support characters to bolster this movie and push it to the next level. Bernie Mac's character was unfortunately undeveloped and underutilized as the Vice President candidate. The overly simple plot did not do any favors either. If Rock had more help this could have been really good but there are too many things that do not work and it settles for middle of the road.

GoodFellas
GoodFellas(1990)
½

There is no doubt that it is well made and deserving of its title as a classic, but I did not enjoy it. I liked the earlier parts of the movie that were about a young kid getting into the mob. It seems harmless at first, with narration that is unexpectedly optimistic and humorous. As the movie progresses the main character gradually becomes less and less likable, as his mob lifestyle proves to be destructive. The story spirals downward with the main character and becomes depressively downbeat. It still does a number of things right. The characters and their relations are extremely well developed and it is well shot. I do appreciate that the message is that crime does not pay and this kind of lifestyle will catch up and destroy anyone. What makes it a burden to sit through is that there is no one to root for; there are no good guys or redemption to be found. I understand that is the message and realism of the movie, but I just do not get into movies like this.

The Bucket List

It is a warm and touching story about an unlikely friendship. In it each character finds out more about themselves and life in general from their friendship during their last days than they have in years. The journey in the middle of the movie is entertaining and fun, but the emotion is back-loaded. The end of this movie is a sad but sweet tearjerker. I appreciate how it does not get too real or down and comes off as inspiring, sentimental, warm and fuzzy. Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson are excellent together. Nicholson's character is completely dislikable which suits him well. Freeman is great as a strong but warm character and also does a great job as the narrator. These two great actors do the most with their characters, and make the movie work. I might have liked to see the soul searching get a little deeper, but the acting makes up for this lack of depth.

Les Misérables
½

There is a lot to love about this and it almost ends up as a grand slam, but some of the casting decisions keep it from being a truly special Broadway to movie transition. Vicor Hugo's story is heavy spirited on its own, but when paired with the excellent music the bittersweet emotions go down better. It has resonating themes of redemption, love, and compassion. Musicals with no talking can be tricky to pull off but this does it perfectly. Small interludes are very effective at filling in need gaps of information while transitioning smoothly to the next song. Tom Hooper was an excellent choice as the director. The scenes and rich visuals immerse the audience in the period as well as intensify the emotional tones of most scenes. The acting and vocal performances of Samantha Barks and Anne Hathaway are amazing. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter are perfect for their roles, which are not vocally demanding. Hugh Jackman and Amanda Seyfried could be stronger vocally. Russell Crowe, however, is a fish out of water. He looks the part and exceeded my expectations but it is one of the most vocally demanding roles. He does not have the power or authority with his signing. The casting of Eddie Redmayne, Russell Crowe, and to a lesser extent, Hugh Jackman makes this fall short of perfection. It is no Chicago, but it is still very good.

Paranormal Activity 2
½

I had some serious concerns about a sequel (or prequel, which is actually what it is) to Paranormal Activity. In some ways this is my concerns were just, but for a movie that never should have had a follow up they did a decent job with it. It is, however, nowhere near as scary or as good as the first one. I praise them for tying the plot and set up so tightly to the first movie. Katie's sister and her household haunting is focus this time. We see Micha and Katie a little; these scenes are thoughtfully set up there haunting, which is soon to come. It answers some of questions from the first movie. Some of theses answers, however, I would rather not know. The family of four does not seem as scary as the emptier house with just young couple in the first movie. This is a major step down is the camerawork and direction. The full out security system make it seem a little too much like the MTV's Real World with so many views and cameras that happen to catch everything, and still manages to selectively miss other things. It is still enjoyable but everything is ratcheted down a several notches from the first fright.

Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay

Just as I had hoped, Kal Penn and John Cho teamed up again as Harold and Kumar. This time they their adventures involve them going to prison at the notorious Guantanamo Bay. This sequel has a similar formula to the road trip from the first movie. The tone is the same but it is converted to an adventure of fugitives on the run, which also works pretty well. The adventure, this time, is sadly not as good as the first movie. This will not age as well as the original because it is more topical and plays off of current politics and news stories. The characters they encounter and the stops on this adventure are just not as funny before. They just might be too dumb at times. That is saying a lot, coming from me. There are still plenty of funny parts to enjoy. Rob Corddry is very funny in his role as the brain-dead Deputy Chief of Homeland Security. Having Corddry chase these two stoners does work well. Penn and Cho really do have a great chemistry together and even though this adventure was not as strong as the last I certainly would like to see them keep the series going. Their best days may still be ahead.

Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle

A road trip comedy holds huge potential to tie together independent or random situations and this movie capitalizes nicely off of it. John Cho and Kal Penn make a particularly good comedic duo. They play atypical stoners, where instead of two buffoons there is a responsible one acting as a straight man. It makes things funnier having a grounded guy to identify with as he is getting sucked into horrible situations on a flawed adventure. The ridiculous motivation to drive miles to get to a White Castle become increasingly hilarious as they get derailed and mixed up with inbreed hillbillies, police, zoo animals, cameos, Asian fraternities and slew of other deliciously random funny stops, all of which are funny. It does some soul searching and the characters have meaningful conversations here and there, but it is always done without getting too heavy. Penn and Cho have great chemistry that feels natural. I can only hope they work together more and become a much funnier modern version of Cheech and Chong.

Hairspray
Hairspray(2007)

This is not a successful conversion from Broadway to Hollywood. Having seen the stage version of the musical (which is very good) it may have made my distaste for this movie stronger. The music and simple story is still the same they just are not performed well and do not come to life like the play does. When the movie Chicago got already famous actors to sing it was great because that cast could sing at a high level. Hairspray got established stars that could not offer the necessary talent to sign and dance at the highest level and it gets ugly at times. Leslie Dixon and Christopher Walken are good but the rest of the cast is out of their league. John Travolta is extremely bad in a make or break role. It also fails to fully capture the charm and style of the 60s, which also hurts it. Let the movie version go and make the trip to the theater for this one.

Of Mice and Men

This is one of very few remakes that get it right. It does not attempt to put a new spin, update the setting, or impose political statements to try and find a new meaning. Gary Sinise does a great job both the director and in the lead role. As a director he was able to deliver the full power of the classic Steinbeck story by keeping it simple and staying faithful to the book. As the lead actor Sinise gives the movie its warmth and sincerity. John Malkovich gives a good performance in a difficult role. Sinise & Malkovich are great together, they nailed their characters and formed the necessary chemistry to elevate the movie to the highest level. There characters complete one another and need each other in beautiful way. They are both likable as hardworking honest good workers. It is a very well made movie in every way but the story is extremely sad and completely heartbreaking. It is hard to watch, especially if you know what is coming.

Happy Gilmore

This is one of those generation defining landmark comedies. This is Caddyshack and Animal House for Generation X. It is highly quotable and has numerous scenes that people recall on golf courses or just hanging out for years to come. This is undoubtedly Adam Sandler's best writing and acting. His trademark anger, immature stupidity and youthful energy as well as his more sensitive side come together perfectly. Sandler has a strong supporting cast around him with of funny support characters to set him up well complement his humor and add little laughs throughout the movie. Seeing the stiff uptight world of professional golf shaken up by vulgar and violent hockey punk is hilarious. It never drags or and avoids going through the cliché mushy comedy lull without laughs. Older generations scoffed at it when it came out but has stood the test of time and is a true classic.

Hannibal
Hannibal(2001)

This is several steps down from the previous installment, Silence of the Lambs. Even though it is written as series this part of the story lacks so much of what makes Silence of the Lambs so good. There just is not that sense of fear that the previous movie had. A large part of it is because Hannibal is much scarier as a specimen behind glass than as an elusive killer on the run. Julianne Moore replaces Jodie Foster, she is a decent actress and it is not her fault but her character is less compelling now that she has become more callous and hardened after 10 years in the FBI. There are some issues with things that come off as corny. The mutant pigs, eating of exposed brains, and the make up for Gary Oldman's character all look pretty bad and distract more than they help. These things are hard to convert to a movie but in even 2001 you could do a better job. On its own it is mildly exciting and decent but it is an overall disappointment because it is connected with the 1991 classic.

Happy Feet
Happy Feet(2006)

If it were not for the cute penguins this would have been a total miss. But not even penguins can make this a movie work. The premises of a penguin not being able to sing but discovering dancing instead did not work for me. An underdog or outsider movie is a tried and true formula, but it did not fit here. The story is too shallow and it drags on with the same one note throughout the movie. Instead of writing thoughtful original scores that are meaningful and contribute to the plot it ops for lazy classic pop music re-performed in a "cute manner". It is lazy, uneventful and mind numbingly stupid. Kids may like the novelty of the cute penguins dancing around, but I was not amused.

The Fog
The Fog(2005)

This movie seemed ripe for remaking; John Carpenter's 1980 version had the style and mood down but the plot was a little thin and the characters could have been develop better. This movie made the same mistakes again, only this time the shortcomings were even worse. The revamped cast featured more eye candy but it comes with horrible acting. Not only is the cast bad but also the writing is even worse than the original. There is no attempt to add depth to these characters; many of them are intentionally annoying. The original made you care a little bit about all of the characters, where as this movie wrongfully intends the audience to cheer the murderous fog on. Perhaps the biggest disappointment is how the new high budget special effects are wasted. John Carpenter understood how to use lights, music, and camera work to set an ominous mood and built suspense very well in the original, it was actually the strong point of the movie. Rupert Wainwright has more tools at his disposal but fails time after time to generate suspense, which can build into a stronger form of scare. This was a disaster; it misses the mark in every way. I hoped that this could right some of the problems with the story, but it only made everything worse. Steer clear of this and just watch the original instead.

Airheads
Airheads(1994)

Three lovable idiots in a rock band highjack a radio station to play their demo. Watching these buffoons stumbling through a poorly conceived plan and sabotaging themselves every step of the way, is very funny and completely enjoyable. The movie sarcastically comments on some of the flaws within the music and radio industry, while spoofing the Rock and Metal culture too. Mostly it is just good spirited fun as the movie deliberately goes over the top with no shred of realism. Nearly all of the characters are goofy exaggerations and that makes it a lot of fun. Brendan Fraser, Steve Buscemi, and Adam Sandler are great together. They keep it simple, successfully playing it straight, and letting the metal-satire be the humor for their characters, instead of going wild. Their blank clueless facial expressions, flawed logic, and impulsive behavior make for funny dialogue with each other and sets up some ridiculous situations. It is fun to see these guys earlier in their career, before they became major stars. Michael Richards and Chris Farley add a lot with small but highly effective doses of goofy physical humor. Michael McKean and Judd Nelson are enjoyable as slime ball corporate music jerks well. Joe Mantegna, Ernie Hudson, Amy Locane, and David Arquette all bring something to the table as well. The subtle jabs on the music industry and the strong deep cast make it really fun.

Citizen Kane
Citizen Kane(1941)

It perplexes me how the AFI could proclaim this as the greatest movie of all time. There is no doubt that it is well shot and the style of the film is top notch. Plot, characters, and viewers emotional gratification should matter more when assessing the greatness of a movie. This is where Citizen Kane fails. If this weak story were a book it would be uneventful and unfulfilling. There are no strong or identifiable characters in the movie. There is inconsistency and contradiction with Kane's character and it is hard to decide how to view him. He is dislikable with his controlling, irrational, destructively proud and fiercely stubborn behavior. Everyone around him is so callous, selfish and unloving you understand why he never feels happy. Kane is hard to paint as a truly despicable man but cannot be viewed as a victim. The story flounders in contradiction and never develops into a more complete understanding of a complex man. The rosebud mystery resolution is incredibly unfulfilling. This is not a terrible movie, but it is highly overrated and goes nowhere.

Dan in Real Life
½

This is pleasant romantic comedy that works so well because it is not weighted down by sappy drama. Rather than the normal cliché romantic comedy structure this goes for a more organic simplicity. The structure is one prolonged humorously awkward situation with relatively little on the line. This keeps peoples' lives and feelings from becoming too extreme and helps maintain a light mood. Steve Carell is highly likable in the main role as an average Joe with a good sense of humor. His performance looks effortless and natural. Carell is smooth with little jokes that do not try too hard. Juliette Binoche brings little to the table but her chemistry with Steve Carell works. Dane Cook is enjoyable as Carell's less mature brother; I could have used more of him though. It never gets really funny but it is sweet and simple and goes down well.

Megamind
Megamind(2010)

Megamind is completely unique and original by making the protagonist a likable villain. The humor plays off of countless superhero and cartoon clichés. The evildoing duo of Will Ferrell and David Cross are good characters and are quite funny. Both of them bring so much humor and personality to their characters with their strong voice work. Unfortunately the other characters are range from dull to weak. This is too bad considering Brad Pitt, Tina Fey, and Jonah Hill could have played on the level Ferrell and Cross with better characters and writing. There is nothing wrong with the plot but when humorous the narration fades out and the story settles in it is just not as funny as I would have liked. Megamind?s main flaw is that it gets caught in an awkward place, in terms of its target audience. The adult crowd will certainly understand and appreciate the sarcastic anti-hero humor a good bit more than the kids. I only wish the movie had been bolder and put more laughs and depth into the characters for the adults to really love it.

Fast & Furious

There is nothing to get too excited about here. It is a little more than mere cheap thrills but the abysmal acting, predictable story, and reliance on fast driving is nothing special. I give it credit for having a story and making a well established set of characters, but when all the actors are this bad it cancels out all of the good intentions. Vin Diesel may be playing a meathead but he is supposed to have depth too. Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, and Michelle Rodriguez are all horribly plain and one-dimensional. It is painfully obvious that they are trying to act. The chase scenes and driving based stunts are somewhat entertaining but when they are the crux of the movie it quickly loses its luster and wears on you. It is not a brain-dead movie that is all action but it lacks finesse, detail, and talent.

This is 40
This is 40(2012)
½

It is surprising how funny this movie is, given the amount of serious subjects and stressful real-life content. Judd Apatow has a gift for seeing the humor amidst some of life's most stressful times. The movie is very true to life and personal, dealing with subjects like: stresses of parenting, trying to make time for intimacy with kids, running a business, living beyond your means, dysfunctional parents, as well as the disappointing effects physical effects age has on the body. Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd are fantastic together and have great chemistry. There is also a slew of great support characters Albert Brooks, John Lithgow, Jason Segel, Melissa McCarthy, Megan Fox, Chris O'Dowd and some fun cameos. Often the movie goes on tangents, spends a surprising amount of time on insularly characters, and has abrupt mood swings. This lack of structure could have been frustrating; like it was in Apatow's "Funny People", but here it works beautifully. The messy sprawling structure and tangential characters work well because they facilitate so many deliveries, types and directions of humor. It does not have a decisive storyline; instead, it is series of funny and honestly insightful snapshots of everyday life. As in real life these snapshots are often good, some are bad, some are funny, and some are sad, but overall they are all enjoyable when taken with a good sense of humor.

Quartet
Quartet(2013)

This is a romantic comedy that is very light on the humor. It is slow uneventful, and uneven. For a movie about a music conservatory that is also a retirement home, the music plays a very small role. The love of music and opera should have been the spine of the movie, but somehow it just tiptoes around it. Instead, the main focus is the romance side of the story, which continuously makes the movie drag. The best scene of the movie involves a retired opera master sharing his joy of opera to high schoolers by relating to them through hip-hop's similarities to opera. This short-lived moment is the only part of the movie that seemed to hit the mark. It seems completely unlikely that the main character could be so bitter, considering the time that has past since his failed engagement. If he still harbors a grudge against his former fiancé, the fact that he gets over it so abruptly is hard to take seriously. It is cute how their relationship is happy rebuilt, but there are "Leave It To Beaver" episodes with more emotion and conflict, before arriving to a resolution. This is a dry brand of comedy that offers a chuckle or two, but the funny moments are too few and far between.

Out of Time
Out of Time(2003)
½

The general storyline of a sympathetic hero breaking the law and getting in over his head in a thoroughly sticky mess is sound. However, the execution lacks finesse and it has many moments that come off as contrived. There are too many close calls for the main character that he unrealistically sidesteps or just lucks out on. This mid-level detail is where the dialogue and writing completely let you down and the movie suffers the most. Denzel Washington is good in the lead role. The only problem is how much he stands above the rest of the cast. The acting of the supporting cast is on par with daytime TV. With a more skilled director and some more toughness put into the writing this could have been quite good, but as it stands, it is just an amusing but disposable movie.

The Day the Earth Stood Still
½

Like many of the greatest science fiction films, it has powerful visualizations and poses a story that asks mankind to reflect upon itself. This was the right movie at the right time in history. It carries a particularly insightful message for the Post-War era. The period is significant because it takes place in a time of rapidly developing technology and deep paranoia, both from foreign powers, as well as the unknown frontier of outer space. The stylish imagery of the alien spacecraft and the indestructible robot are so starkly modern they still seem advanced today. Michael Rennie backs it up with an excellent acting performance. He plays the part so distantly and seems unsettlingly unhuman. Something seems good in him but his unbridled power and off-putting coldness do come off as threatening. The suspense, imagery, packaging, and message are still thought provoking and convincing today as they were in 1951. It must have resonated in the strongest of way at the time it was released. It is well-crafted science fiction classic and it has aged extremely well.

Bedtime Stories
½

This is enjoyable as a lightweight silly movie for all ages, but I feel like it could have been more. It starts off strong with the narrated story. Adam Sandler and Russell Brand are right for the job and the kids have good chemistry too. Somewhere in the middle the movie begins to stubble over itself with unneeded distractions and gimmicks. Kids will like these goofy moments but it begins to lose its way for the adults. This could have been as special as the "Never Ending Story" or "Princes Bride" with its format but it falls well short of that. There was real potential to do something much greater to capture the magic of storytelling and child's imagination. Sandler and Brand keep it a fun experience, but a better director and a more skilled with the writing team would have gone a long way to improve this.

Tower Heist
Tower Heist(2011)
½

It is enjoyable and fun, but with the awesome cast this should have been much better. The set up, plot, and the characters that were established seem promising. When you get all of this right it seems like working funny lines and situations should be easy. This movie, however, proves you cannot take that for granted. Instead of working in humor all along the way this movie all builds up to an over the top set of heist scenes with outlandish stunts that do not work. It does not bother me that these scenes are not the least bit realistic, the problem is that they are not funny. Switching the tone of the movie to an adventure does not make good sense. The biggest infraction is how a talented cast is underutilized. Matthew Broderick and Casey Affleck's parts could have been played by anyone. How do you not write them better parts? Even worse than that, is how movie and never lets Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy loose to let the magic happen. The whole movie is too reserved, and thinks too seriously of itself. It never plays the great hand it has and it is a real shame.

Tenure
Tenure(2009)

I like the foundation for the story and the cast is likeable but it settles for a low dose of light humor. Instead of poking fun at academic culture and escalating situations to more exaggerated and goofy tone, this movie gets caught in an awkward place that does not result in a high laugh count. Luke Wilson leads a capable cast that makes the most of the given material. It is enjoyable but not memorable, and has its share of moments that come off as odd rather than funny. The shame is that the characters are developed well and the emotional side is well done for a comedy. With more humor this would have really worked, but as it stands it is not strong enough to excel as a romance, drama or comedy.

Swordfish
Swordfish(2001)
½

Swordfish is a bad B action movie with a high budget. This is disappointing, especially given the cast. All of the characters are so heavy handed and flat. There is at least an attempt to make a decent main character with motives and a back-story but is so off the shelf and executed so poorly. It is unclear exactly what is happening at first and that seems promising, but once the prices of the puzzle start to come together the result is a complete disappointment. Things quickly get too farfetched and the movie dissolves. After a certain point it begins to rely solely on action scenes, pyrotechnics and stunts. The major plot line is contrived and lacks consideration for detail or feeling, like most of the characters. I expect better from Hugh Jackman, John Travolta, and Don Cheadle. I do not think much of Halle Berry as an actress, but even she can do better than this. Her character is forced and is even more poorly written than the other characters. It has fast paced action and shows some early promise but comes up way short where it matters.

Psycho
Psycho(1960)

This is a true masterpiece! It is not often a film does everything right but this one sure does. Alfred Hitchcock elevates a great story to the highest level with his ability to set the right mood at the right moment, developing plot, creating suspense, and delivering truly shocking and abrupt scares. Shooting it in black in white somehow strongly intensifies the mood. Hitchcock's silhouettes, camera angles, timing, iconic soundtrack and use of unnerving silence (long periods of without dialogue) are downright eerie. Hitchcock clearly understands that less is more when it comes to delivering a scare, and that it is what we do not see, hear, or understand that is the most frightening. The plot is excellent, as it establishes a tight set of well-developed characters, in which every person is in some way important to the overall plot. Janet Leigh, the main character, is charming; right from the beginning we understand her character and her motivations. There is excellently constructed misdirection and twists in the story that will shock and horrify any viewer in the best way possible. Story, direction, acting, and style are all are top notch here; it makes this a true icon and is undisputedly one of the best movies of all time.

The Final Destination

It has a great concept that really could have been scary, but it takes on the wrong tone and suffers from being underdeveloped. It winds up being a brain-dead movie aimed at teens, which is a total lost opportunity. It gets off to a strong start where a premonition creates a wrinkle in death's design by a group of people get off a plane before it blows up. An effective and darkly ironic sense of fate comes into play where death will correct no matter what you do to avoid it. You soon know what will happen but you do not know how, and that is unnerving. Sadly, the good setup is only amounts to one senseless kill scene after another. The fundamental flaw of the movie is that the viewer is emotionally detached from nearly all of these characters, so that you will enjoy the process of them dying off on at a time. If you do not care about any of the characters it is hard to care about anything that happens in the movie. Another misstep was how the death scenes are over the top and too farfetched to take seriously. They unfortunately come off as darkly humorous rather than frightening. This movie is misguided and a really good concept is squandered and it results in a mediocre series of kill scenes.

Bullitt
Bullitt(1968)
½

Steve McQueen is just stone cold cool in this one and was a natural fit for his role. His rugged, tough guy personality with his reserved poker face work perfectly. The style and action are there but something seems to be lacking in the substance department. The twisted crime case is has some complexity but it does not live up to the action of this movie. A few more layers of complexity or perhaps strengthening the dialogue would make it really click. The writing is not that strong. As a police-mystery story it leaves a little more to be desired. Jacqueline Bisset is gorgeous but her character is forced. It almost feels like they tacked her on at the last minute to get some eye candy in there. Where Bullit succeeds and makes up for all of this is in the action. The airport pursuit in the final scene is intense and the famous car chase scene is one of the best ever. It is not highly memorable but it is exciting and entertains well enough.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

This is a landmark movie, a total classic, and one of my favorites. Few movies have heart or imagination like this. The friendly alien story is simple and has been imitated many times. What makes it so magical is how the audience experiences the same range of poignant emotions that the main character does as he interacts with this alien. The excellent camerawork, special effects and music are of highest level and shape the experience. Steven Spielberg and John Williams make truly memorable moments of mystery, discovery, danger, and wonder with their camerawork, effects, and music. The character of E.T. was executed perfectly. He is mostly unseen at first and he can be a little scary, but once you fully see him he quickly disarms you and warms your heart. It is so relatable how this boy and his siblings transition from fear, curiosity, and confusion to amazement, understanding, and love. Henry Thomas is a phenomenal child actor, and at no point overacts or comes off as cheesy. Robert MacNaughton and the adorable Drew Barrymore were great too. This has the same multi-generational appeal, magic, and timelessness as the Wizard of Oz and I can offer no higher praise than that.

Jack and Jill

This is not Adam Sandler's best effort. As he is getting older he is sadly dialing it back to a sarcastic, passive aggressive, one-liner guy. Sometimes it works, but this is not what Sandler fans love about his earlier movies, and why this is another lazy disappointment for him. The undercooked plot feels like the premise for a short sketch elongated to an hour and a half. Dressing up as his own female twin looks funny, but what he does with this character is disappointing. The novelty the sister being extraordinarily annoying and the brother makes fun of her can only carry the movie for a short distance. It quickly grows tired and at times is just too mean to be funny. Some of the slapstick or random things are funny but many of them swing and miss. Normally Sandler works in his long list of funny bit-part friends for side laughs much better than this. Allen Covert, Nick Swardson, Kevin Nealon, Peter Dante, and Norm McDonald are all in this but they do not do anything funny. Al Paccino does help pick it up a little with his contribution, so its not all on Sandler. This is certainly not as bad as Grown Ups, Funny People, or Little Nicky, it does have some funny parts, but Sandler used to do so much better than this.

Meatballs
Meatballs(1979)
½

There is a sizable cult following for this movie, but its appeal is lost on me. It felt like Friday the 13th without any of the killing. This movie lacks any focus and does not really have a definitive main character. It is a jumbled collection of games and interactions between summer cap counselors that are only mildly humorous. Bill Murray is the only thing the movie has going for it, without him this would have a total failure. His goofy fun personality is infectious and made me want to like this at times, but the rest of the cast is just lousy. Murray reveals a more caring and vulnerable side, as he is protective of one of the outcast new campers. I really appreciate Murray in this, and I like how this was a useful step in his career, but the rest I could leave. It is an awkward PG movie (sort of clean), so kids will enjoy it, but still supposed to be wild. I feel like this movie should have been edgier and it needed to be far more disciplined and structured.

Grosse Pointe Blank

It is refreshingly original how it takes on the dark subject matter of contract killing with such a nonchalant and lighthearted approach. John Cusack is so laid back and smooth he makes the hired assassin business seem like the normal daily grind. His comfort, honesty and bluntness about what he does for a living is so farfetched everyone thinks he is kidding, which becomes progressively funnier as the movie develops. To mix things up there is some soul searching and a high school reunion romance that takes center stage amidst the killing. The dialogue is cool and funny without trying too hard. The cast is awesome and all of the main players have great delivery. Minnie Driver and John Cusack have a playful onscreen chemistry that will make you smile. Dan Aykroyd gives a noteworthy performance as the rival hit man. His character adds complexity and excitement that make this movie really stand out. Alan Arkin is hilarious as the only character that does react nervously when dealing with a killer. This is a fun movie; it goes in unexpected directions and makes you laugh with its unorthodox delivery every step of the way.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

There certainly is no surprise where the movie will end up, but there is enough story and excitement there to make this prequel work nicely. The plot's logic, structure, and execution are all well formed and this does not feel like a forced money grab, in fact it might be one of the stronger movies in the series. I am not one to get massively excited about effects, but the CGI animation on the apes is stunning. The apes look so real, and the convincing level of emotion conveyed through facial expressions is really impressive. James Franco was good in the lead role, and the support cast is sound. The always dislikable Tom Felton stood out in his part as the abusive hired primate caretaker. Most of characters like his are mean and callous, making you root for these apes. Like the rest of the series, this movie does a great job of making you reflect on the ugly side of human nature. Science Fiction at its best forces us to confront our own shortcomings and challenges us to be better for the sake of the future and this does exactly that.

Skyfall
Skyfall(2012)
½

The revamped series dramatically rebounds with this installment and it results in one of the strongest bond movies to date. This is the first of the rebooted series that does not alienate the old-school 007 fans like myself. We have some fun banter with the female counterpart, a small dose of gadgetry, a new Q, a great incorporation of M's character and the wonderful surprise of a great car. As a dogmatic fan, I did not like passing up the opportunity for a classic Bond-girl character but it forgivable when everything else is done so well. Javier Bardem does an excellent job and makes a great villain. His character is intelligent but off-putting and creepy. Daniel Craig is still not a very good Bond; he continues to be a dislikable brute void of any charm, humor or charisma. Despite Craig this the movie succeeds. The plot has a surprising amount of depth for a 007 movie and it also raises the bar for character development and dialogue in the series. More than any other movie in the franchise this forms great supporting characters that are important to the story. I was relived to see that it acknowledges the history and charm of the 007 legacy. It may lack some imagination and style that the classics had, but Skyfall finds the right middle ground for the new generation of Bond movies.

Cloverfield
Cloverfield(2008)

The gritty and shaky cinematography is the major achievement here. It is a fast moving thrill ride that feels surprisingly real for a monster movie. Matt Reeves' brilliantly combines jerky low-tech cameras with higher end special effects to make a truly original product. It almost has the freighting panicky feel of the 9/11 attack. It really makes it feel like New York City is crumbling from a monstrous alien attack. The action almost makes up for the weak plot and characters, but not quite. I admit the movie does the right thing and takes a decent chunk of time to establish this set of friends and sets the table well, but the problem is that these characters are annoying or boring and hard to invest in. The acting is not entirely to blame for this, but it certainly does not help. It is full of surprises but the style and glitz do not make up for lack of substance. I appreciate not getting a perfect glimpse of the monster, but I would like a little more explanation through an emergency TV or radio broadcast to better understand what we are dealing with. Without the camera work this is basically amount to a B grade Godzilla knock off. I love the intensity but the strong shortcomings unfortunately hold this movie back.

21 Jump Street
½

It highly exceeded my expectations an 80's TV series parody and delivers lots of good laughs. Luckily this is not an attempt to revive the old series or stay faithful to the show. It just borrows the main concept and transforms the characters and tone into a completely fun and goofy underdog-buddy comedy. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum make a great comedic team together. Hill's physical inadequacy, sarcasm and witty timing are showcased perfectly here and he really makes the movie. Tatum is a great compliment to him playing the humorously exaggerated role of popular dumb jock. The two characters take on a uniquely interesting comedic structure, in that they take turns in being the screwball and the straight man. Hill and Tatum are do a great job of switching who is setting up and who getting the laughs. The drug case provides a nice structure and advances the plot effectively but the action never aspires to that of Beverly Hills Cop. It is very funny but by upping the action throughout the movie just a touch this might have been perfect.

For the Bible Tells Me So
½

I got into this one expecting something completely different with a range of broad subject matters and scriptures. Instead it is entirely about the strongly literal interpretation of a very few passages on homosexuality. The movie frames an interesting issue of how followers of God can become self-righteous and destructively judgmental. Their literal reading and natural fear of different people can lead to some ugly hate. These fundamentalist followers have these same issues with other subjects and I would have preferred the documentary go more into these other directions too. The individual case studies were not bad, but as the film progresses it gets away from the bigger picture a little too much and delves too deeply into the personal stories. I mostly appreciate how the film challenges Christians to always read scripture critically and to remember all of Jesus' lessons of compassion, tolerance, love, and humility, rather than focusing on very isolated lines.

Cloud Atlas
Cloud Atlas(2012)
½

This movie may have tried to do too much here. It takes quite some time for the viewer to get a grasp of the structure, much less an effective understanding of the bigger picture. Cloud Atlas is extremely ambitious as it attempts to simultaneously jump back and forth between six mostly independent stories in different timelines. Several of these individual stories could make for entertaining stand alone movies, particular the futuristic Neo Seoul and the retirement home. Each story has a different emotional tone, some are exciting, some are sad, and one is even funny. The biggest achievement here is the amazingly elaborate makeup work applied to the small cast, who all play multiple roles. Each cast member looks drastically different as they take on a different character, often becoming unrecognizable. Unfortunately the final result is not worth all of the elaborate structure and simultaneous plotlines. I had my hopes up that these six stories would weave together tightly and come together as one in the cleverest of ways, but they do not. The stories loosely connect, but they never weave. Split finishes make for a mixed and confusing emotional reaction. The details and execution are clever but an overly abstract purpose and mixed resolutions leave it bogged down with big picture problems.

South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut
½

So many TV to movie efforts feel like one long episode, with a little less censorship and a few bells and whistles tacked on. Making it a musical was to a little more ambitious for South Park, but overall this still holds true. The first hour is right on target. It is classic South Park, making sarcastic observations on political trends and moral issues subtly through the comedy of four wonderfully foul-mouthed children. I regret to say there is a fall off in the last third that drag and somewhat lost me. The monumental approach of the musical starts well, but the numbers towards the end were fewer in number than and not as effective. The story seems stretched and forced with the Sadam and Satan aspects. Their contribution to this was minimal. Keeping it simple and sticking with funny songs would have taken this to another level. It is still enjoyable and a must see for any South Park fan, but there are many 30 minute episodes that can run circles around this.

Big Trouble in Little China
½

This is cheesy. In some ways it is charmingly cheesy and fun, but then there are more times when it is a bad cheesy. The movie seems scattered in the beginning but then pulls together well, only to lose control again. The action scenes have lost their punch and it's not as fun of a ride as I once may have been for a four year old in the 80s. The story and characters are too exaggerated and the dialogue is heavy handed. Kurt Russell was a good pick for the role of the misguided hero, who improvises his way through every slippery situation. He can be funny and tough at the same time, but his character is too one much of a one-dimensional blockhead. Had this movie taken a stronger agenda to be funny this could have worked well and would have aged better, but as it stands it misses the mark. This is what happens when a movie relies so heavily on special effects ages. It is not pretty.

Hanna
Hanna(2011)

I like the feel and presentation of this movie, but there is something lacking with the characters and that keeps it grounded. I really liked the action scenes and thought they were exciting. Even though Hanna is teenage girl super soldier it does not feel over the top at any point. I only wished that things had not slowed down for as long as they do. More action and less focus on how maladjusted Hanna is would have dramatically improved this. The way the protagonist is written is too disconnected and cold for my taste, even if that is the point. Saoirse Ronan is not to blame; she plays the part of creepy little killing machine like she is supposed to. Cate Blanchett was also right for her part as she exemplifies impersonal and cold, but her awkward southern diction felt forced. Eric Banna is brings warmth as well as intensity and feeling to the cast is probably the strongest asset of the movie. The premise is good and the action is excellent, but the journey gets too far off track and away from the excitement.

Journey to the Center of the Earth

This is a tricky movie to breakdown. The concept and imagination of the Jules Verne story are superb and this movie gets off to a great start. It sets the table with good characters and puts in the time to build an understanding of the mission and establish the personalities of each of the party's members. Unexpectedly the move really falls apart during the journey, when it matters most. The visuals at the earlier portion of the expedition are pretty decent but things go south as the movie progresses. By the later scenes the lack of special effects it is just too goofy to overlook today. The filmmakers lost control of what they could and could not effectively represent with their means. Sadly the climax is unsatisfying and plot is completely rushed, rather abruptly, to a finish. Part of me wants this movie to be remade, but the other part of me is not so sure. A remake would offer special effects could deliver the visual splendor and sense of awe that the story intended. Yet, there is another side of me that doubts a remake would do such a good job laying the groundwork and focus on building characters so well.

Dawn of the Dead

A sequel 10 years after the original sounds like a bad idea, but there is only a minimal overlap and continuation from the 1968 Night of the Living Dead. It has a whole new set of 4 main characters that seem weak at first but actually develop very nicely as the movie progresses. The tone of this movie more humorous and whimsical than the first and therefore does not pack anywhere near the same fright factor. What it does better though is develops characters that we feel connected to and emotionally invest in. It is also as good as, if not better than the first movie at reflecting the ugly side of human nature during a crisis. There are no real heroes in this anarchic environment even the protagonists are far less than honorable. The zombies actually look awful and cheesy in this version, but I think it was done to make them seem funnier, which for me was the most questionable decision on filmmakers' part. The zombies themselves do not pose enough threat and do not exert enough force to make it quite as exciting as it should be. With better zombies this movie really could have been really special and even surpassed the first film.

Crips and Bloods: Made in America
½

It is a well-made and highly informative documentary that offers and excellent big picture understanding of the issue of gangs and race. Director Stacy Peralta presents the information an interesting and more dramatic manner by jumping from the present to the past and then forward again. The narration from Forest Whitaker was bonus. It introduces the issue clearly and then moves on to an excellent historical explanation of gangs, racism, and Los Angeles' cultural climate. It then delves into the mindset and current culture of the hate filled gangs with interviews of current and former gang members. Step by step this film builds an understanding for the situation that makes you reconsider how you view these horribly misguided individuals, not that you fear them any less. It is a about how rampant poverty, drug use, violent surroundings, lack of education, along with the scars of racism has lead to the disintegration of families for the people in these communities. It is the lack of community and family structure that provides stability, love, discipline, and guidance that these people desperately need.

And Soon the Darkness
½

This is an uninspired low-profile fear flick about two girls on vacation falling victim to a serial kidnapper and killer. There is nothing particularly special about it. The main flaw is that it lays all of the cards on the table too clearly and leaves little to the imagination. It is predictable every step through the movie. We are made suspicious of things that should surprise us later, or critical information is revealed too soon. Perhaps the main selling point here is the eye candy, as it features Odette Annable and Amber Heard. They are both attractive and play their undemanding parts well as they can, but they are not in a situation where they can shine. The rest of the cast and is only worthy of daytime soap operas. Another complaint is that the long set up does not help develop the characters at all. Many of the earlier scenes have nothing but through away dialogue and are a complete waste of time. More time should have gone into the action and mystery. This is a completely heavy-handed effort, with bad writing mainly holding it back. This could have been an exciting movie but it misses the mark by some large margin.

Hancock
Hancock(2008)

I enjoyed it. It is an atypical superhero movie where Hancock is more of an anti-hero who lacks motivation and is drunk all of the time. Will Smith does a good job playing the drunken bum as well as the hero trying to get back on the right track. Bateman & Theron were both good as well. Halfway through the movie things get much deeper with Bateman & Theron and it does not take time to get flesh things out effectively. The villain is good but he comes along too late and is not given the necessary attention to develop properly. This movie needed to move through the earlier stuff faster if it wanted to be so ambitious. I give this movie credit for making such a creative and different superhero, but more discipline in the plot structure was sorely needed. It is still a fun time, but it stops short of reaching it's potential.

Hamlet
Hamlet(1996)

Hamlet (1996) (.5)
(Drama, Tragedy) Let me start off with a disclaimer, I hate William Shakespeare's writing and Hamlet is my least favorite of his works. It is one of the worst things I ever had to read for school and this movie is just as unbearable. That being said, I absolutely hated every part of this movie to its very core. It was dull, whinny, slow, and drawn out. So very little happens in the story yet Hamlet has so much to mope and complain about in an awful series of asides that seemly never end. Kenneth Brannagh often over does it and does not convey Hamlet's sincere grief and emotion, as he should. The visuals and camerawork do nothing to help either. This was extremely hard to sit through and one of the most tedious movies I have had to sit through, and I just hated it. Sorry Shakespeare lovers.

The Pruitt-igoe Myth: An Urban History
½

I really enjoyed this documentary and how it debunks many of the preconceptions or rash conclusions that some architects, planners, governmental figures, and social scientist come away with when looking at the Pruitt-Igoe housing complex. This documentary correctly explains that the failure here is an individual set of circumstances and that this is a unique problem that does not speak for all public housing or all of modern architecture. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the film is the wide variety of accounts and experiences from the actual Pruitt-Igoe tenants. Surprisingly, not all of them were bad, especially people who were there earlier. This helps to better understand the people who lived there and the real reasons Pruitt-Igoe failed.

It goes on to explain how issues of race lead to poor planning and decision-making that hurt the entire city. It shows how damaging the white flight many cities experienced during the Mid-Century suburbanization was, particularly in St Louis. The federal government funded an overbuilt the project expecting continued urban growth when the postindustrial wave hit the city causing St Louis to lose a substantial portion of its population and tax base. Pruitt-Igoe did not have enough tenants to pay rent, the shrinking city had no tax revenue to take care of it and the federal government was hands off after construction. As expected, the building fell into disrepair and became notoriously unsafe. There are many lessons from this painful urban disaster, and this film does a fantastic job brining light to the subject.

The Amityville Horror
½

This is the most famous haunted house movie and it does several things well to deserve its popularity, but there are some egregious mistakes late in the movie that frustrate me. Director Stuart Rosenberg sets a great tone for a horror movie. The sound, 70's camerawork, and grim lighting all make for a good presentation, and unnerve the viewer. Margot Kidder does a good job with her part and James Brolin very good as he comes slowly undone as the movie progresses. What holds the movie back in the greater picture is that the very concept of the unseen evil presence of the house itself. For me it has less mystery and ability to deliver a good scare than ghosts, aliens, demons, or monsters. The movie works well most of the way through, but takes a very unsatisfying turn in the later scenes. The cause of the haunting is seems be on the right track, but the execution completely breaks down when it is matters most. The unveiling of the haunting is cheesy and the rushed finish following it is a letdown. It is deservedly an icon for the direction and concept, but it is a shame it ends like it does.

As Good as It Gets

Jack Nicholson plays a grumpy, obsessive compulsive, curmudgeon that slings a never ending barrage of insults at anyone he encounters. In some ways most of them are quite mean spirited but somehow Nicholson delivers them in such a way that disarms them and makes it seem like he really means it, but cannot communicate any other way. The dialogue walks a fine line between humorous and harsh. Nicholson might be the only one who can make this role work by packaging all of this negativity behind facial expressions and sarcastic delivery that soften the blow and may make you smile some. I liked Nicholson's character and his rocky transformation, but I was annoyed by Helen Hunt and her character, who is unreasonably determined to hate Nicholson's character to his core. Hunt's character is just so bitter, self defeating, and proud that I found her frustrating more than anything. The unlikely romance of these two strong personalities is more awkward and head scratching than compelling. Greg Kinnear and his dog help the movie out considerably by take some of the focus off of the tense bickering between Hunt and Nicholson and adds some more warmth, sensibility and a little humor.

Stephen King's 'Thinner'

It has a few redeeming qualities but overall I was left unfulfilled. I like how this movie brings a strong sense of fateful drama and dark irony that Stephen King does so well, but this is one of his weaker stories to begin with. The premise, set up and early execution work, but it feels like it gets away from itself in the back half of the movie. The most glaring problem of the film is that the placed in the hands of Tom Holland, who is an under-talented director. There is no style or creativity to this film it is just too straightforward. It fails to make the emotional impact or instill the dark uneasy feel that King intended. Robert John Burke does a fine job in the lead role, but his character is not particularly likable. The makeup work done for his character was not easy to pull off but it was decent, considering when it was made. Later in the movie main character takes an unreasonable turn that I just did not care for, as he loses his mind. The ending seems abrupt, and is completely uneven, and unsatisfying.

Final Destination 2
½

This movie works pretty much like the first movie. There is an all-new set of victims that have cheated death. Just like the first time around death begins to claim them one by one in the most over the top ways. If you liked the first movie you will like this movie as well. I liked how it ties back to the first movie in a couple of ways. It is frustrating that this does not correct some of the shortcomings of the first movie. The characters are all exaggerated or stereotypes that are not particularly likable. The filmmakers intended the viewer to be emotionally detached from these characters, so that you will cheer as they are killed off. The problem with that is if you do not care about any of the characters it is hard to care about what is happening to them. It is one farfetched death sequence after another, which some people find amusing or funny, but I do not. Sadly a really good concept is squandered once again. It is an average scary movie that entertains but is certainly nothing special.

Final Destination

It has a great concept that really could have been scary, but it takes on the wrong tone and suffers from being underdeveloped. It winds up being a brain-dead movie aimed at teens, which is a total lost opportunity. It gets off to a strong start where a premonition creates a wrinkle in death's design by a group of people get off a plane before it blows up. An effective and darkly ironic sense of fate comes into play where death will correct no matter what you do to avoid it. You soon know what will happen but you do not know how, and that is unnerving. Sadly, the good setup is only amounts to one senseless kill scene after another. The fundamental flaw of the movie is that the viewer is emotionally detached from nearly all of these characters, so that you will enjoy the process of them dying off on at a time. If you do not care about any of the characters it is hard to care about anything that happens in the movie. Another misstep was how the death scenes are over the top and too farfetched to take seriously. They unfortunately come off as darkly humorous rather than frightening. This movie is misguided and a really good concept is squandered and it results in a mediocre series of kill scenes.

Heat
Heat(1995)

The general tone of this movie is downtrodden and it moves a little too slow for my taste. Most people really do like this movie but I personally did not find Pacino and De Niro's characters very compelling. The point of the movie is to point out how much the cops and robbers in this story have in common as their careers occupy their whole lives. I do not like how there is no strong sense of who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. It is conflicted and makes it hard to invest in one side over the other. All of the main characters have dysfunctional family lives or lack of family life. The women in these men's lives are swept under the rug and are always a second thought. Sure the acting is good and the characters thoughts are deeper than most movies, but when you do not have a horse in the race it fails to resonate with me, no matter how true to life that may be. The story is unremarkable and the characters are all fairly dislikable.

Shocker
Shocker(1989)

This movie has a solid concept, and most of the movie works well, but once the movie reaches the final chapter it turns into an utter disaster. The main character is reasonable but underdeveloped. It seems like he has a decent back-story that was worth going into, in order to make the audience care more about the character and his dad. Pinker, the villain, is even less developed, he works as a dumb slasher, but more elaboration on him and his motives would have been a good move. The movie takes its time and lays good groundwork with a race to identify and catch a serial killer. Once caught, he is sentenced to death, but then gains the ability to posses anyone he comes into contact with. How this happens in highly unexplained. There is also an unexplained guardian ghost figure that makes no sense either. Lack of logic, structure or rules for the supernatural aspects is just poor writing. Things take a bad turn when a chair sprouts eyeballs and grabs the hero. It only gets worse in the resolution, as Pinker chases the hero through different TV shows. All of a sudden it feels more like a bad early 90s music video on MTV. There was a lot that could have worked here but it is all flushed down the toilet by bad writing and poor execution. This just reaffirms Wes Craven is not a master of anything.

Look Who's Talking, Too
½

I wish this movie revolved more around the internal thoughts of the babies and less around their boring bickering parents. Once again the bright spot of the movie is voice-work of Bruce Willis which is done with an adult delivery but maintains the basic logic of a baby thinking. Sadly Julie, the new baby does not bring much new wind into the sails of this sequel. I think Rosanne Barr was a good choice for the voice-work but as a character she was totally underutilized. John Travolta and Kristy Alley are not bad actors but their characters wear as the movie progresses and hurt more than they help. The movie has cheesy moments that will make you smile from time to time but is slim for laughs or even heartwarming moments. It does not offer anything new and is not a worthwhile sequel.

Look Who's Talking Now

I was not so sure about a third round of this franchise but I admit that it was a step up from the less than likable second movie. This time the kids are grown up and can talk and the dogs are doing the talking. It sounds like a bad idea but it worked well enough. The talking dogs were not bad, in fact, they were the best part of the movie. The Christmas spirit helps a little, but I thought the holiday angle should have a stronger impact on the plot than it did. John Travolta and Kristy Alley thankfully dial it back from their earlier performances and are tolerable this time around. Travolta has a new job and his new wealthy young boss is set on luring him into an affair. This part of the story is acceptable but it is highly predictable and sort of detracts from the dogs and their relation to the family. Where it is fails the worst is the cheesiness. It does not have enough heart, Christmas sprit, or laughs to give it a memorable identity, but this has been a problem for the whole series.

Halloween
Halloween(1978)

This is one of few great horror movies that transcends the genre and is just a great movie. It is creepy, suspenseful, and flat out scary. This is a brand fear that is convincing, believable and executed in a completely realistic manner. A stronger sence of realism makes it far more effective and delivers a greater impact on the viewer. Haddonfield is a seemingly peaceful sleepy suburb and this gives you the chilling insecurity that this really could happen in your town. The acting is better than most scary movies. Donald Pleasance and Jamie Lee Curtis are both excellent. Curtis seems so vulnerable and connects with the viewer in a way that makes them invest in her character and really fear for her. Pleasance does a great job to advance the story and his convincing performance lets us know how dangerous this monster of a man really is. John Carpenter was skillful with the low budget 70s camera equipment. The camerawork is excellent and it could not have been done any better today. Carpenter also wrote an amazingly spooky score that completely intensifies the mood. It is one of the most effective soundtracks ever because it really enhances the movie and totally shapes the experience. It has the total package and has held up extremely well over time.

Halloween H2O

Halloween H2O (7) (1998) (2)
(Horror) Sadly this movie is victim of the late 90s scary movie clichés and pitfalls. I am all in favor of establishing good characters and starting slow by building content, but there is a lot of needless and annoying teen character clichés going on with Harnett and his school peers. There were too many dumb false alarms; this is only a cheap way to make audiences jump without doing any clever writing. Bringing Jamie Lee back was the best move of the movie, I only wish Hartnett, LL Cool J and bunch of other bad characters had less emphasis. I felt like the story needs to follow Lori for most of the time. The direction and style of the movie look good, but the substance is lacking. If the focus had stayed on the good characters this could have been the best sequel of the series, but it gets tangled in its distracting secondary characters. I did really like the ending; it was long overdue and was the perfect way to end the series.... Or is it?

Halloween - The Curse of Michael Myers (Halloween 6)

Who knew mediocre could taste so sweet? This is a nice comeback for the series, particularly after the total bomb that was Halloween 5. The movie would have been a bigger success had they not gone on a tangent trying to explain why Michael Myers is evil. What was the unfortunate downfall was trying to integrate the cult, based on consolations and Irish witchcraft. It did not really work, but I do appreciate the writing at least putting some thought into things. The quality of the cast and the general craft and the general level of movie making are much higher than Halloween 3-5. Paul Rudd & Marianne Hagan are actually competent actors and offer convincing performances. Thank goodness the cheesiness and goofy characters are dialed way back, and things are taken seriously once again. I really appreciated how the writers tied Rudd's character, Tommy from the first movie, back into the story in a deliberate and well thought out manner. The experience is nothing new, minus the cult stuff, but at least it is done with some level of integrity and thought. It is far from perfect but it is entertaining and at least deserving of the Halloween title.

Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers

Is this a Friday the 13th movie? I almost thought it was because it is that bad. This is the absolute low point for the franchise and the bottom of the barrel for scary movies in general. The story is ludicrous from the beginning. For some reason Jamie now has premonitions and is telepathically linked to Michael? Early in the movie the Rachel the previous protagonist is crudely written out in what proves to be a horrible move, because in her place we now have a new set of poorly formed annoying teenagers. The new characters are poorly formed and make it impossible to invest in them. What makes these poorly written new characters even worse is the bad acting. Adding comedic relief through buffoon police is unforgivably bad. This is not the kind of series that should have had comedic relief at all. There is a never-ending stream of brain-dead false alarms that are merely intended to generate cheep jumps. Any realism or subtlety from the series is gone for good in this installment. The cheesy kill scenes are poorly done. On top of all of that Michael Myers is now an invincible superhuman. He is supposed to just be a man, any logic for that was gone after the first sequel, but this takes it to a new low. The ending is simply terrible, who is this awful man in black from nowhere? This is a steamy pile of manure and is marred by every cliché and shortcoming of most bad late 80's slasher movies.

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
½

This is not bad for a fourth sequel horror movie. No Jamie Lee Curtis hurts the movie, and introducing new characters feels forced to make the story work. Michael Myers is a bit too strong in this installment and is sadly drifting towards the exaggerated or ridiculous side of thing. Danielle Harris does some nice work as a child actor and Donald Pleasence as Dr Loomis helps stabilize things and make up for some of these shortcomings. If you can get around the weak plot connection to the first two movies and some bad reality gaps, particularly toward the end you can enjoy it. I am not sure how I feel about the ending, on one hand it opens up some new doors with where this series could go, but I cannot say it makes sense.

Halloween III - Season of the Witch

What perplexes me to this day is what makes this Halloween III? This is a completely different story with no connection whatsoever to the first two films. It does not take place in Haddonfield, there is no Michael Myers, Lori Strode, or Dr Loomis whatsoever. It feels like a TV episode from Are You Afraid the dark or the Goosebumps TV series. While I liked those shows as a kid, they are not exactly high quality and that is not a good thing for a major production movie. It is too light in spirit and never really gets scary. There is a mystery component to this that I liked but the resolution is subpar. The main issue with this is the incredibly low level of acting from the entire cast. It offers a little bit of fun and manages to entertain during the Halloween holiday season but it is uninspired and should not be counted as part of the Halloween series.

Halloween II
Halloween II(1981)

This is one of a very few decent follow-ups to a successful horror movie. It is a noticeable step down from the original but it is still good. One thing that I particularly like is that this movie picks up immediately where the previous movie left off, on the same Halloween night. That smooth transition was perfect; there was no forcing of the story or any inconsistencies with the first movie. The setting of the low staffed night shift in a small town hospital was superb for making the viewer feel uncomfortable. Jamie Lee Curtis returns as Lori but this time is sedated as is dealing with a severely injured leg from the first movie. This makes her even more helpless and sets up some intense scenes. Myers wreaks havoc on the low-level night shift staff and continues up his suspenseful pursuit to kill his sister Lori. Curtis is great, the setting is great, Myers is a classic villain, and Director Rick Rosenthal sets the right mood and makes it all come together, though he is not John Carpenter. There is a slight issue with some of the hospital staff being a bit cheesy, but the action and tone more than compensate.

Just Go with It
½

There is nothing groundbreaking or original about it, but it has enough charm and humor to make it work. It is a basic scenario where one lie leads to another more elaborate lie and the characters, well.... just go with it. At times this movie has a swing and a miss with a joke but most of the laughs work. What does not work is the structure and serious parts that should act as the framework for the whole plot. Also, this movie unfortunately tried too hard to keep it safe and target younger audiences and ended up holding it back from being funnier. This movie could have been stronger had it taken the time to develop some the chemistry between Sandler and Brooklyn Decker's awful character. Adam Sandler, Nick Swardson, Jennifer Anniston, and the two child actors have good energy, enthusiasm, and chemistry. Brooklyn Decker was nothing but eye candy was a huge drain on the movie. She has no acting talents and this was not a role to just look good for, causing the movie to suffer. Sandler and Aniston do have such a good chemistry that the answer to love triangle is all too obvious. A few more jokes for the adults, a little more care with the writing and a better casting of the love interest could have taken this movie up a several notches to become a memorable movie.

Short Circuit
½

Number 5, or Johnny 5 may be the most lovable and personable robot ever made for a movie (if not then he is right there with R2D2 and WallE). I do admit that the acting is flat and both Ally Sheedy and Steve Guttenberg overdo it. I did, however, like Fisher Stevens as Ben Jabituya, the Indian assistant. He is a walking stereotype but what he says is funny. The story works well with a killing machine malfunctioning and developing a sense of life and ability to think and feel. His naïve and curious personality is heartwarming and lightly humorous. The military and tech company that is chasing him are exaggerated buffoon characters, but it works for the lighthearted tone of this movie, which is in no way serious. It may be predicable but it will still put a smile on your face, because Johnny 5 is such a great character. Perhaps I have a nostalgic appreciation for this movie and can overlook some of its shortcomings, but I enjoyed it as a kid and still like it today.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

I expected a methodical mystery that would keep you guessing and unfold slowly, but I never expected it to move this slowly. This is a boring movie, despite what should have been an interesting set of situations. I liked the charm of the mid-century 1960s setting but the director's overuse of gloomy grays and blacks give it an incredibly somber appearance throughout the movie. The glum tones along with the mumbling monotone conversations make it hard to follow, much less stay awake. There is too much dull and wasted footage of people walking around, with musical interludes, and zooming camera effects on someone thinking. This was a complete waste of Gary Oldman's talents. For an accomplished actor who has created such a broad range of rich characters, playing a mumbling chain-smoking grump who quietly stares into the distance all of the time is so flat almost anyone could have done it. There is content here but it is so boring it becomes hard to follow.

The Hangover Part II

Often sequels are rushed out due to the success of the first film and they do not take the time or care to create a quality follow up and take the easy way out by recycling and regurgitating the first movie, this is the case with the Hangover II. The structure of the movie is shockingly similar the first movie with similar phone calls, hazy memories, sequence of events, conversations, epiphanies, and last minute resolutions to save the day. Luckily the first movie was exceptional and the countless references and shameless recycling of the first adventure do provide laughs. The characters are still funny, the cast has good chemistry, and the new ridiculous raunchy adventure is fun. I liked the movie but I was disappointed how it felt more like deleted scenes of the first movie moved to a setting in Bangkok. I wish the story had done something fresh and different. It could have inserted new characters to lead to a fresher product. Despite all of the recycling it is quite funny but this could have been so much more and goes down as a lost opportunity and a lazy cash grab.

The Sitter
The Sitter(2011)
½

Jonah Hill plays the incredibly irresponsible reluctant baby-sitter and might be last guy you would ever want to baby-sit three difficult and unhappy children. It is hard to understand if Hill's character is supposed to be a nice guy doormat or an entitled bratty jerk. Two of the kids were funny characters, one being neurotic and the other strongly mimicking celebrity party girls like Paris Hilton. I hated the third kid, who was adopted was just a little punk for no reason, who constantly causes trouble from no reason. The druglords played by Sam Rockwell and JB Smoove are the best part of the movie. I only wish they had been in it more. The two of them were in all of the best scenes and nearly stole the movie. The adventure certainly has funny parts but better constructed parts for the kids and more transformation and growth from the main character could have made this a stronger movie. It is uneven with some characters that work while others are annoying or poorly formed, but Jonah Hill saves the movie with his humor and witty sarcasm. It is not a memorable classic but there are enough laughs to make it worthwhile.

30 Minutes or Less

I was expecting a goofier and more slapstick brand of humor but it was surprising violent and dark, which made it unexpectedly more original. The two low life slackers who conceive the get rich terrorist heist scheme are completely dislikable (more so McBride's character). Their plan of wiring a completely innocent stranger to a bomb and forcing him to rob a bank is a fresh idea that would have worked well in an action movie and is a surprising well thought out premise for a comedy. The seemingly loose early scenes of the movie begin to weave together in a gratifying manner. Jessie Eisenberg was a good fit for the underachieving slacker who turns into a jittery spaz once strapped to a bomb. The high-strung sarcastic Aziz Ansari adds a lot of laughs and he has great chemistry with Eisenberg. The numerous details and side characters all make for one interesting and fun messy adventure. Many people were turned off by this movie and found it to be too mean for a comedy but everything turns out well enough in the end and I thought it was both humorous and fun.

Marvel's The Avengers
½

I thought that one movie with this many unique character stories and personalities and stories would try and do too much and in turn fail miserably. I was pleasantly surprised to see I was completely wrong. This has a well-constructed story that successfully brings together all of these superheroes in an effective manner and offers a nice dynamic as they struggle with their egos to come together and work as a team. The villain is good and is actually formidable enough and merit putting this dream team together. It is a long movie but it never feels like it drags or seems overly long. It successfully avoids stepping on itself by contradicting earlier set ups and pervious movies, a task that was not as easy as it sounds. We were familiar with most of the loaded cast from previous movies but they work even better when they share the stage as a team. This movie has a great soundtrack, a strong cast, good direction, quality special effects, and a solid story to make it stand out as a special superhero movie.

Prometheus
Prometheus(2012)

This is a science fiction gem that can stand alone or hold its ground as a prequel to the first two the classic Alien movies. It is such an intense movie, I found myself actually clenching my teeth in the theater. The futuristic setting is imaginative and yet highly believable. The story develops in a dramatic fashion, building suspense, while letting the viewer invest and become familiar with the main characters and some of the crew. The cast is strong from top to bottom and all of the major characters are well cast. Noomi Rapace delivers an excellent performance in a difficult role. She is strong female character who handles a broad spectrum of emotions, ranging from amazement, curiosity, grievance, intimacy, to frightened animalistic survivalism. Michael Fassbender is equally amazing as an eerily human-like robot. Director Ridley Scott nails every aspect of this movie. The pace and mood of this film are skillfully crafted. There is a real visual richness in this movie that adds to the experience to a level that few movies achieve. The scenery and environments both on earth as well as in space are stunning and the life forms do not disappoint either. More than anything Prometheus is purely thrilling. It is divided into two acts, the first has a sense of mystery and amazing discovery and the second is an exciting and frightening battle to merely stay alive. This is everything a great science fiction film needs. It is a thrilling classic that is on the level of the first two Alien movies and I cannot recommend it enough.

Snow White and the Huntsman

This is a great example of how a movie re-adaptation can work nicely without cheapening the original. This is a much darker and more realistic telling of the classic tale. The entire story is basically the same but the cute packaging is completely ripped away and several parts are handled in a more adult way. There are added characters and parts to the story that help the story make more sense and add needed depth to the fairy tale. I was impressed with the stylish a visuals and direction. It keeps things exciting while effectively maintaining a fantasy feel. Charlize Theron makes for a formidable villain and does a very good as the evil queen, but she does make it very hard to find a casting for a prettier Snow White, like the story requires. Kristen Stewart is close enough to make it work though and she does a good job as a shy and freighted girl that becomes a reluctant leader. Chris Hemsworth is good as the Huntsmen, a new character, which fits into the story well and adds depth. It is a whole new take on the classic story and I think it worked quite well.

The Amazing Spider-Man

There has not been enough time that has passed since Sam Rami's 2002 & 2004 Spider-man I & II. This reboot submits itself to an unavoidable comparison with two of the best made superhero movies made, which seems unwise. The movie is good. Once again Spider-man has a great back story and good characters and translates well to the big screen. The new cooler, cockier, skater Peter Parker did not sit well with me. I have seen this version of the character in cartoons and video games and I much prefer the quiet nerd genius. I also hated the high school setting. Are we supposed to believe two high school kids have real positions and hang with veteran scientist at Oscorp? The whole cast was weaker across the board, except for Martin Sheen who does a great job as Uncle Ben. I did like the character of the Lizard I only wish we could have seen more of him. The characters are fun and the action is good. If it did not have to be compared to Toby McGuire's Spider-man I might say nicer things about it if it had not just been done 10 years ago so well. It is a good superhero movie, but it does not have the magic, the emotion, or acting from the earlier series. If it is not broken don't fix it.

Paul
Paul(2011)

It is a fun mix between science fiction and a road trip buddy comedy. Paul, the Alien, is a humorously anti-climatic alien, because he has been here long enough that he talks and acts just like one of us even though he clearly looks different. The animation, along with Seth Rogan's good voice work makes him a lovable and funny alien. While the journey to get Paul home is not as eventful as I would like, it has some good laughs all along the way. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are brilliant together, they have really developed a great chemistry and even though the story and their roles change they are always a joy when they work together. Kristen Wigg, Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, Jane Lynch and Jo Lo Trugilo all add a lot of the humor from their supporting roles. I enjoyed the numerous geeky sci-fi references and the fun dialogue. Sci-Fi fans will therefore appreciate this one more than other audiences, but there is enough there that most audience will still enjoy it. At times it gets a little preachy by mocking religious culture, but it does not too far. A little more eventfulness and zaniness on Paul's journey home would have made it even funnier as well as more interesting.

Paranormal Activity
½

Less is more for this movie, as it proves that a strong concept with convincing acting performances and clever camera work are what is most important to delivering a good scare. This was a quality amateur production costing only $15,000 to make and only utilizes three actors. It plays off the fear of the unknown perfectly and does a masterful job at building suspense throughout the movie bit by bit. It never turns cheesy, and it manages to deliver a toughly satisfying finish. The filmmakers worked their way around not having elaborate special effects in a highly effective manner. What camera work and special effects they did employ were extremely effective. The couple in movie interacts in a completely believable manner that goes a long way in making this feel so genuine and real. It is an original and beautifully simple idea full of surprises and good scares and overcomes restrictive resources to become a special movie.

It's a Boy Girl Thing

It is a straightforward switch-places movie with nothing special about it, but it is simple and enjoyable. The movie has no star power and the acting is average, but there is enough there to make the characters have some charm. The movie may be lacking in originality and acting but it makes up for its shortcomings with simplicity and enough feel-good moments to make you smile. It is more of a story of two people at opposite ends of the high school social structure switching places, rather than the male female switch, seems like a waste. Body swaps provide lots of good opportunities for comedy and interesting juxtapositions, but this one settled for the obvious newly gained perspectives and did not push for laughs or more insightful thoughts. Younger teens, or tweens, may get full enjoyment out of it, but other audiences may want more.

Insidious
Insidious(2011)

While this movie does a lot of things well it feels lopsided and disconnected, almost as if there are two separate movies here. The first act has the tone of a mysterious intangible haunting with great subtlety and the back half of the movie becomes a highly defined supernatural story that drifts into the realm of a dark fantasy. It feels like watching the first half of Amtyville Horror and then turning to the back half of Poltergeist. Both sides of the movie are well done and work but the problem is they just do not fit together. It does have a decent scare factor and does entertain but its shortcomings pull it down to mediocre status. Actors, Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson do a good job as scared and frustrated parents and Barbara Hershey is also good in the major supporting role. I find it frustrating when the director, soundtrack, and the cast all come together well only to be undone by the bigger picture of the overarching plot. This movie got all of the hard stuff right, and that alone may please some people, but the schism in movie holds it back from becoming something more special.

Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star

I usually love dumb comedies with exaggerated characters, but this is just a total miss. Even though this is the type of movie with a high frequency of jokes, most of them fail. There is almost no plot to speak of and even though some movies can be funny enough to overcome a flimsy plot, a little more story than this would be nice. The main character of Bucky tires very quickly and wears on you for most of the movie. Even though things go his way overall, he takes the brunt of too much ridicule making the movie come off as mean spirited. I hate to see this blemish Nick Swardson's career so badly. It is his first shot at a lead role and while I do not think he is first billed material, I do think is capable of better than this. Dumb comedy can be great but this ventures past dumb to full out retarded.

Halloween: Resurrection

Just when you thought that is all there was to the Halloween series... Even after Michael Meyers was decapitated (or was he?) there is always more money to be made from the masked murderer. This movie takes a far more lighthearted approach than any movie of series by sending a reality webcast/TV show into the infamous Meyers House for one night. It sounds like a terrible idea but the execution is really not all that bad. The thing that bothered me with the exception of the first scene or two this movie did not have to be about Michael Meyers, and it may have done better by creating a new killer and distancing themselves from the countless sub-par sequels. Most of the movie works pretty well, but then it totally gets away from itself at the end with massive reality gaps and some major inconsistencies. It is also a victim of the time and suffers the same set of problems that most scary movies from the late 90s to early 00s have, most notably bad support characters. There is a lot of overacting which leads to overly annoying, flat, and dumb teenage characters that the viewer does not connect with. It is hard to feel the impact when only there are so many stereotypical mean and annoying characters and they are the only ones that die.

The Dead Zone

It has a well-written plot that is darkly ironic and extremely compelling. Although the tone of the movie is quite chilling, it is not a typical Stephen King scare because it drifts more into the realm of drama, suspense and with a touch of science fiction. The simple concept of a man haunted by the ability to see disastrous future events is excellent and the situations Stephen King constructs from that framework are suspenseful and thought provoking. It makes the viewer question their own set of values several times about what they would do if they could see the future. It makes you ask yourself if you had the ability to alter future events, would you? Christopher Walken does a very nice job playing a character that undergoes a continual transition throughout the movie. He skillfully handles going from confused and scared to grieving victim turning into a bitter curmudgeon, and finally regains perspective that his abilities give him the power to help others. Walken's performance carries the movie and makes the profound moral dilemma more potent. It holds up well over time even though the concept has been reused and imitated several times.

When a Stranger Calls

This movie wastes no time and immediately gets creepy with a vulnerable babysitter home alone with two sleeping kids. Unfortunately the movie climaxes early with the iconic opening scene and does not become interesting again for at least another 30 minutes, which is a total buzz kill. The entire middle of the movie follows a completely different character, which is much harder to care about and emotionally invest in. The focus shift from the innocent teenage girl to a random, less interesting, grumpy middle-aged woman was a mistake. Also the middle of the movie has a rather ineffective development of the murderer. The killer is much scarier when we do not know who he is or what he wants, getting to know him ruins it. The later part of the movie finally becomes interesting again but I do not think it makes up for the prolonged lull in the middle of the movie. It is a shame the movie went on such a prolonged tangent because when the movie working, it is highly suspenseful and very entertaining.

The Dark Knight Rises

This is an excellent third installment for Christopher Nolan's Batman series. It recovers from the oppressive gloom and depressive darkness of the Dark Knight and gets back to all of the things I love about Batman Begins. Bane was never a good character in the cartoons or old comics, but this movie rewrites and completely transforms his character. This is a very good thing, as a weak villain becomes very interesting with an excellent background that ties perfectly into this series. This is also a different Catwoman character than I was used to, but I loved her character and thought Anne Hathaway was a natural fit for the part. The writing, characters and story are extremely well developed and is absolutely seamless with the previous movies. Even though the movie is very long it never drags or feels overly long, because there is a lot going on and everything is just done so well. I appreciate how this installment, in some part, gets back to the more exciting action and fighting. The acting is of the highest quality for a super hero movie. Christian Bale, Michael Cain, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman are excellent in their returning roles. Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Leveitt were just as strong as newcomers to the series and really added a lot. This raises the bar for how great a superhero movie can be.

The Bourne Legacy
½

I am not sure I can fully count this as part of the Bourne series, because there is no Jason Bourne. As I had feared, this movie takes the great concept from the previous movies but does not deliver the same gratifying complexities to the story. Sadly this does not feel like a continuation of a story, so much as a separate story added on after the fact. It makes very little attempt to tie into the Matt Damon trilogy and the few places they did felt forced and ineffective. Jeremy Renner and Rachel Wiesz do a fine job with their parts and are effective, although the story gives focus to Wiesz's character a little too much at times. What is noticeably insufficient is the government intelligence side of the story. This is a fault of lazy writing and Edward Norton is not blame. I think he could have been great with better writing, but unfortunately his scenes slow things down and come off as flat. The action, stunts, fights, and chase scenes are the strength of the movie. They look great and are a lot of fun. The primary plot works well but it just does not have the parallel stories and development that made the other three movies so rich. This has the excitement, look and feel of a Bourne movie, but just lacked the content.

Halloween
Halloween(2007)
½

If it isn't broken don't fix it. I give credit to Rob Zombie for not just regurgitating the same movie verbatim, but this falls well short of the original. Zombie as a director just does not come close to the skill that John Carpenter exhibited in creating a suspenseful mood through great camera work, music, and subtlety. This version takes a more tormented and disturbing approach to the story, which I did not care for. There is more development in the backstory of Michael Myers and his relationship with his therapist, Dr Loomis in this version. I like depth and character development but in this case it does nothing to better the story. The other characterizers flat out suck and are just annoying. Instead of fearing for the people of this small town, Rob Zombie is making us sympathize and root for the masked murderer to get rid of those obnoxious teens. This is the Friday the 13th approach and I hate it, especially when seeing it applied to this classic. Some of the liberties Zombie took made sense but I much prefer the 1979 version. It was a classic that stands above its peers, and a remake was completely unnecessary.

Cinderella Man
½

This is more dramatic and emotional than your typical boxing movie. While the boxing scenes are well done and very exciting the greater focus of the movie is about a family's hardships to survive during the great depression. I liked learning about the true story of 1920s boxer, James Braddock and his inspiring comeback. Paul Giamatti and Russell Crowe were both excellent and their chemistry as well as their individual performances elevate this to the next level. It is interesting how this is a kinder and warmer character than Russell Crow tends to play. I was impressed how he did playing such a kind and ethical type of role. Rene Zellweger was not at her best in this. I often like her acting but this time I felt she overdid it and made her character come of as annoying and weak. It does drag a little in the middle but it regains its steam and finishes strong. The highlights are the great fight scenes later in the movie and the big heart of James Braddock.

Dr Seuss' The Lorax
½

Dr Seuss' wonderful concept and message is more relevant and important than ever and I really enjoyed this movie adaptation. The movie effectively appeals to all audience from children to seniors and everyone in between. It is a smart reminder to take care of our planet and to always respect nature. The characters are well formed and cleverly represent the different aspects of real society. They are enriched further by some nice voice work from DiVito, Ed Helms, Betty White, Zac Efron, Nasim Pedrad and others, as well. It is scary how realistic the plot seems and how much it reflects on human nature. This movie shows how destructive greedy corporate entities and masses of thoughtless people can be when they are not thinking about how they affect their surroundings. It is not an easy task but this movie manages to expand the short story while staying very faithful to Dr Suess and his message. The only issue I had was that the computer animation failed to fully capture the magical feel of the wonderful Dr Seuss art work and a more drawn-cartoon rendering method would have seemed more appropriate. Hopefully it may even inspire a few conscious people to care more and stand up for the right things when it comes to being good stewards to our planet. It is the best Suess movie adaptation and I really enjoyed it.

Half Baked
Half Baked(1998)

I normally do not like drug humor very much but this movie does takes it to the highest level it can be done. It has several awesome lines than make it a fairly quotable movie. The success of the movie hinges on how well these three exaggerated idiot characters go together. They are like an odd group with completely contrasting personalities but each one brings something different to the table and they are pretty funny together. Dave Chappelle, Jim Breuer and Guillermo Díaz were all great selections for their parts. Breuer, in particular, was born to play this role. He is not the main character but steals several of the scenes. Chappelle has plenty of charisma and shows off his comedic versatility by playing two roles and narrating. He has great delivery as the narrator and gives an overal strong performace. There is also an loose story that works well for a comedy like this. It does things the right way by establishing good framework to build funny ideas off of and lets good characters be the comedy and it works very well.

Mean Girls
Mean Girls(2004)
½

Wow, remember when Lindsay Lohan was not all strung out on drugs? She used to be charming, pretty and actually had some talent. This is Lindsay in her prime; it is just sad that it came when she was 18. I was shocked to see the movie was actually good. Tina Fey gets points for the writing in this one. It is a teen movie with a little more thought and it has some decent laughs in it as well. It shows how popularity can warp someone's personality and create an entitled and manipulative monster. The movie has pretty good characters and the casting was strong as well with several SNL alumnus and some early appearances for some future stars. Rachel McAdams plays a truly mean girl and is actually a good representation of how nasty popular rich kids can be. Lindsay Lohan has good charisma and is great in the lead role and narration. She seems so sweet and innocent but also handles the transition to a popularity princess and back again with ease. A few more laughs would have been nice, but the content and characters hold it together.

Wrath of the Titans

This is an incredible disappointment following up on the 2010 version of Clash of the Titans. If ever there was a sequel that was quickly slapped together with no magic from the first film, this is it. The premise of the gods losing their powers and humans being destroyed is absurd. It just does not have the complexity or flacor of the great fable-like qualities of Greek Mythology. Perseus is not as heroic this time around. It is hard for anyone to still be the reluctant savior after finding solace in their own indentify, gaining a reason to fight and forming sense of duty in the previous installment. Has Perseus forgotten all of that in this adventure? All of the behaviors and motives of Perseus, Zeus, and Hades are out of character and are weak to say the least. New characters are added but they bring nothing to the table, while others, like Io are completely omitted with no explanation. It has a few attempts at humor, which are way out of place and do not work at all. The new journey is totally a half-baked attempt to recreate the tone of the first story and it fails miserably, because it has no content or integrity. The effects and visuals are still nice but without the great story this is nothing but a digital showcase and a complete waste of time.

Who's Harry Crumb?
½

This is a perfect fit for the lovable John Candy. He plays a cheerful underdog detective who cannot seem to do anything right but somehow stubbles his way into a good outcome mostly by luck. For the most part it is a lightly funny movie with Candy being clumsy, going under cover as ridiculous characters and being a likable dork. The biggest drawback is that there times it becomes inconsistent with animated or cartoonish sequences that seem to come from out of nowhere. There are also times where this movie reaches for a laugh and comes up empty but there are plenty of laughs and smiles to be had. The kidnapping mystery plot is the right amount of structure for a comedy like this and it ties together facilitates several good scenes like a good comedy plot should. Jeffrey Jones is also a great pick for Candy's contrasting straight man. Without John Candy this movie could have easily turned out to be a dud but it is because of him it turns out to be a likable and nutty 80's comedy.

Clash of the Titans
½

I am a sucker for Greek Mythology with their gods meddling in human affairs and inspiring stories of their great heroes, so I found myself loving this movie. The story is a tried and true classic about Perseus, a reluctant hero and his incredible journey to save an entire city from the wrath of the gods. The action, settings, and effects are visually impressive and bring the legend to a vibrant new life. The epic journey is eventful and entertaining at every step. Ralph Fiennes is quite good as Hades and Liam Neeson was a solid Zeus, but the rest of the cast is less than memorable and in some cases bad. While this movie does not have quality acting it does just about everything else right. The movie manages to establish good core characters and the story and action more than make up for the weaker support characters and sub-par cast. This is a quality re-make where the special effects actually do enhance the action and helps it to overcome the cheesiness of the original. It sticks to the same great story from the book and the movie delivers a great adventure and is a whole lot of fun.

Colombiana
Colombiana(2011)

There is less to this movie than I had hoped for. It an overly simple movie of a girl has her family killed and has a never-ending hate that fuels her to kill her parents murder (and nothing else). The problem is the character is so cold blooded and bent on revenge it is hard to fully root for her. All of the characters are all very flat and there is very little substance between action sequences. We never get any closer to the main character through her stained relations with her adopted father or from her semi-love interest. The final resolution is predictable and unfulfilling. On the positive side, the action scenes are quite entertaining even though they are hardly believable. Zoe Saldana does not bring much to her character. It is not totally her fault though, this type of role usually only asks that the heroine look good and does not provide much opportunity to showcase acting. Every other member of the cast is actually quite bad, like soap opera acting bad. The writing was bad and the story never really takes us anywhere. This is good as a dose of sexy, farfetched, fast paced action, but do not look for anything more here.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice
½

Younger audiences may have fun with this movie, but there is hardly anything memorable here. It is quite formulaic and for a do it all family adventure flick with a little action and comedy it does not do anything very well. It is not funny or exciting enough to work and worst of all it lacks the rich imagination needed for a fantasy tale leaving. This movie ends up floating in the most awkward of places between action, comedy, and fantasy. This is supposed to capture the wonder of a blend of science and magic. It puts a Mr. Wizzard twist on sorcery that was an interesting idea but they do not develop it well enough. These characters have do not have much depth, they are not totally flat but they feel slapped together and unconvincing. Jay Baruchel's characters seems too reluctant and this role seems like a bad fit for him. Nicolas Cage was even worse he was dry and lacked the qualities of mysticism and wisdom his role as a mentoring master wizard demanded. I did like Alfred Molina and Monica Bellucci but their characters are underdeveloped as well. I wish this had been a little more serious and put more time into the back-story of the wizards. There is just not much to get excited about and it misses the mark and does not really succeed on any level.

The Flaw
The Flaw(2011)

It simply retraces the breakdown of 2008 economic collapse. I wish it had more points or had more lessons to be learned from this, but it is more of a here is what happened and why kind of documentary. The subject is pretty interesting but will leave you disappointed by the result, especially when so many people saw the problem coming and nothing was done to help the problem until it came to a head. It has a decent presentation and holds the attention but perhaps it is still too close and we have already heard the story so many time and some ways. This does not bring much new to the table or shed any new light on the subject, but it works for what it is.

Tapped
Tapped(2009)

It seems like a small issue but it has many impacts, this is a well made documentary, with good content, a good message, and a viable solution to a valid concern. The presentation and soundtrack are very good and it takes a fairly narrow topic and expands on it to make it interesting. I did not realize how bottled water and plastic bottles were so harmful. I was surprised that large drink companies buy land for the purpose of water mining and end up depleting a community's water table, ruining their ecology. It would be better if they just filled their bottles with public tap water, but this happens less than you would think. It does not come as a big surprise to hear researchers are beginning to find health concerns with drinking out of light weight PET plastic bottles. Bottle water tastes like plastic. If the taste has changed, what makes us think those same chemicals do not affect other worse things in our body? Perhaps the saddest part of the movie is seeing the damage to the ocean. Where glass and most materials get ground into sand in the ocean plastic is too light as it only tears and then floats. This stuff accumulates in large density the oceans where currents intersect and are destroying the habitat for wildlife. After seeing this I do feel more compelled to have my own water bottle and to refill it with clean and safe tap water. It is an interesting and well-presented documentary with good information.

The Avengers
The Avengers(1998)

There are a lot of problems here, where to begin... For a movie that is supposed to be primarily an action movie it forgot to bring the action. It is dull because the threat of the villain has such a small focus. Sean Connery is barley in this movie. The villain could have been good and his plot to control the weather seems like a winner. Instead, they ruin everything by trying to do too much. Forcing an evil cloned Emma Peel, a boardroom of evil teddy bears, mechanical bees, and a random unexplained man of mystery (Eddie Izzard) were all painful mistakes. All of these scenes should have been given to Connery to build his character and make a more coherent story. The movie wrongfully puts all of its chips on the playful banter between Steed and Mrs Peel. This may have been the charm of the 60s TV show but it feels very forced and unnatural here. Ralph Fiennes was an alright Steed but Uma Therman was too cold and mechanical for her part. They just do not have the chemistry that was essential to make this work. This fails in nearly every way and only takes away from the Avengers name.

Rosemary's Baby
½

Rosemary's Baby is a unique scary movie because the suspense and thrill what happens next in the story is less important to the overall experience than the characters and their behavior. It is interesting how scary the movie is without many startling moments. What makes the fear so powerful is how we are helplessly subjected to watch a horrifyingly inevitable result draw closer bit by bit. It is extremely effective and completely unsettling. The characters and acting are all very convincing throughout the movie. Rosemary, the main character, is so innocent, naïve, and vulnerable that we cannot help but be afraid for her as truly horrible things are in play. The viewer quickly knows something is not right but it is not clear exactly what it is. It keeps unfolding and even when things start to take shape you do not really get an idea of how deep the hole goes until later. Roman Polanski does a fantastic job of making the viewer feel uneasy right from the beginning and he carries it all the way through the movie. There are several small details early in the movie that go somewhat unnoticed that later become major pieces in understanding the situation. It is all tightly put together and very well constructed. Three quarters into the movie all the cards are on the table and everything seems clear but that does not make the finale any easier to sit through. The end is highly unsettling, and is one of the most horrifying finishes ever. It is very well made and highly effective at delivering a scare.

Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price

I hate Wal-Mart as much as anyone so I was excited to see this but I have to say I was extremely disappointed with this. They begin with it closing local store but it quickly loses track the big picture. Far too much of the movie focuses on the workers conditions. This film fails to hit you with necessary stats and facts to support their case. Instead it has countless boring individual testimonies of workers, managers, and communities to build their case, which comes off as opinionated. They also do not focus enough on communities that have legally acted to restrict Wal-Mart from coming to their communities. There should be more about the process and benefit those communities have had from these policies. Why couldn't this movie have business experts, economists, and government figures to back their arguments, gain credibility, and to inject more provoking thoughts and dimension to the subject?

The Smurfs
The Smurfs(2011)

I enjoyed the TV show as a kid and was a bit skeptical when I saw the previews. Unfortunately all of my concerns were right on the mark. The transition of the smurfs from drawn animation to a combination of real time and CGI was a failure. They look too real, causing them to lose a lot of their cuteness and come of as weird. Not only did the smurfs look bad, but the voicework and dialogue were simply dreadful. The plot seems like it was from a lazy sequel effort, as if it were Smurfs 4: Lost in the Big Apple. I thought the first family film had to be good enough to sucker people back for another three rounds of sub-par efforts like this. The transition of cartoon to real life actors is a flop. Hank Azaria was an awful Gargamel, who over does it and is too incompetent and goofy to pass as a bad guy. Perhaps the only thing worse than the Smurfs & Gargamel was idea that we were supposed to take Sofía Vergara seriously. She is terrible and casting her for the cutthroat boss. Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays have weak characters and have nothing work with so they get a pass from me. This is an utter disaster and should be avoided at all costs, especially by fans of the old TV series.

North
North(1994)

The premise of a kid putting himself on free agency and picking his new parents seems like it could work. I also liked the classic message of the grass being greener on the other side of the hill relating that no parents. The movie just does not make the experience eventful enough. It has an awesome cast but with a few exceptions most of the talent is totally underutilized. It should have spent more time within each trial family. It would provide more good laughs and would use the cast better. It would also better reinforce the moral message of the movie as well. The movie comes off as flat because it glosses through a lot of ground too quickly and does not settle in for the purposes of comedy or for genuine heartfelt lessons. Winslow, the mastermind conspirator of was only distracting and hurt the movie. It is incredibly hard to hard to believe when you get Elijah Wood, Bruce Willis, Dan Akroyd, Reba McEntire, Jon Lovitz, Kathy Bates, Jason Alexander and Julia Louis-Dreyfus all involved that you get such a lackluster movie. It misses on the comedy level and the emotional level.

The Insider
The Insider(1999)
½

The Insider (1999) (4.5)
(Drama) It is a surprisingly true but sadly believable story of a multibillion-dollar corporation exerting an enormous amount of power to threaten and destroy an ethical individual who stands in their path. The story is well written, very interesting and extremely insightful to the way our government, media, and corporate powers operate. Even though the movie is long it never becomes dull, as the story is constantly unfolding. Seeing these series of events from the viewpoints of two very strong and well formed characters also keeps the movie intense. Director Michael Mann does a good job at setting an uneasy mood. You feel this man's struggle to do a good deed and empathize with him as he sacrifices time and time again to do so. The strongest asset of the movie is the cast; Al Pacino and Russell Crowe were both excellent. They bring so much emotion, anger, frustration, fear, sadness and depth to their characters. Christopher Plummer was also excellent in his supporting role. The story and strong acting make this more complex and richer than most movies and make it a stand out.

Secretariat
Secretariat(2010)
½

It is an inspiring and heartwarming story and this movie does an excellent job at telling it. Both the writers and Director Randall Wallace did a fantastic job by skillfully conveying the story with such great information, explanation, detail and emotion. The dialogue and narration are top notch and the cast does not disappoint either. Diane Lane is excellent as she plays an intelligent, confident, and strong woman who with very little support saves her father's horse breeding legacy and develops one of racing's greatest champions. John Malkovich was also very colorful and did a great job with his character as well. This movie has exciting race scenes but what makes it so great are the characters. The movie does a great job conveying the feel of the late 60s-early 70s period setting in the film with nice details that effectively immerse you in the times. The main characters are extremely well-cast and developed, but even more impressive are the number of supporting characters and detailed supplementing story elements that are given the same great care. This movie is exciting but it will also make you feel all warm and fuzzy at the same time.

The Fog
The Fog(1979)

This works much better than you would expect for a movie with such large gaps in the plot. John Carpenter overachieves by mastering the fear of the unseen, good camera work and strong use of music and lighting. I wish the very first part of the movie better established the history and motives of the fog. This would not only add interest, but also better establish some ground rules for when the fog appears, who it kills, and how it operates. I liked the historic haunting of a small coastal town and how the villain takes form as a mysterious illuminated fog, it just needed way more development. There is nothing wrong with the cast but with a plot this week the characters do not become fully formed and the viewer will not connect with them or become invested in them like they should. It may be low for content but it avoids being cheesy, the chilling mood is there, and provides some good scares.

The Human Centipede (First Sequence)

This is one of the worst movies I have ever seen. It more than crosses the line and results in a movie that is sick rather than scary. It has a truly repulsive concept and the movie takes things way too far. It has very little story or sense of characters and offers no redeeming qualities. There is no attempt to understand the doctor, his psychotic obsession or get into his mind which is where the true horror lies. The format is actually nothing more than a cliché scary murder movie the only difference is the extremely gross actions of the villain. It is resorts to tasteless physical scenes and merely plays out a series of truly grotesque actions. This is a nightmare to sit through, even nauseating at times, and is nothing but a true disgrace. The goal was gross out shock value and it certainly achieved it, but the thought that anyone would enjoy it is the scariest thing of all.

Leprechaun 3
Leprechaun 3(1995)

A third installment of the Leprechaun franchise was unnecessary to say the least. Our not so favorite little green guy is back with absolutely no explanation of how he is alive again or how he came to Las Vegas. There is an unexplained magical medallion in the mix that only adds confusion to the story. For the first time the series begins to incorporate the concept of granting wishes. It seems odd the wishes come from possessing a coin, rather than the leprechaun himself granting the wishes. Once again the acting is atrocious and the plot is flimsy. Luckily this is the first movie in the series that acknowledges that these are bad movies and comes off as more humorous than anything. I appreciated how they celebrated the cheesiness with more jokes and a lighter mood. Even though they embrace the humorous side this is still a poorly made movie and not a good investment of time.

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind

This movie has a creative concept and was filmed in a very artistic manner, but it I did not connect with the characters and did not enjoy the gloomy sad tone of the movie. I commend the ironic and trippy venture into the mind, but it still adds up to a downtrodden break-up movie. We see a man make a rash reactionary decision to have his memory erased of his ex-girlfriend only to change his mind mid-process. One shortcoming was that the movie focuses too much on the actual erasing process and it wears on too long. It is perhaps too jumpy, I wish more development and time had been given to the post-procedure to make the irony and science fiction elements stronger. Most of the cast was good but this is hardly a good use of Jim Carrey's talent. I would prefer that he avoid heavy dramas altogether.

Moneyball
Moneyball(2011)
½

It is a different kind of sports movie, in that is not about a player or coach overcoming insurmountable odds but rather a general manager and the business of baseball. It opens the doors for fans to understand the complexity of happens in putting a team together and shines a light on the broken financial system of professional baseball. The excitement here does not come from hitting and pitching but rather from statistics, wheeling and dealing. The backstory and family aspects of Billy Bean's character add some needed depth and emotion to the movie. It would be nice to see more of this with further development from Peter Brand, Jonah Hill's character. The acting was good, but the parts were not particularly demanding. What sells this is uncovering the hidden side of the business of baseball. I appreciate how it points out the need for a salary cap as well as several other problems with how profession baseball operates. This shows just how hard (nearly impossible) it is for smaller market teams to be successful. I wish it had a more optimistic tone and inspiration but it is a fascinating true story nonetheless.

Black Swan
Black Swan(2010)
½

This is a confusing film where the viewer does not know what is really happening to the main character throughout the whole movie. It is perhaps a little too fussy and clever for its own good. I appreciate the unsettling tone of the movie, the music and stylish cinematography, but I felt like the emotional punch would have been stronger with more clarity of the situation. If we had had more information about the main character's mental state of mind, background, or just a better feel for her personality it could have been much more effective. In the very end it more or less comes together, but it still seems like it has inconsistencies. Natalie Portman delivers what is one of her strongest acting performances and Winona Ryder was very strong in her memorable supporting role as well. I found Mila Kunis to be annoying, and would have preferred if she took it down a notch and been a little more genuine. Perhaps I need to watch it again to better understand it or more fully appreciate it, but I was not taken by this like many people were.

Dial M for Murder

This turns a typical murder mystery on its head by following the villain as main character. All the cards are on the table from the begin, or so it seems. Watching this calm killer plan a murder is a clever and unexpected flip and it works very well. It is not often where we get into the head of the bad guy like this. Alfred Hitchcock is very resourceful in this effort, as he succeeds at telling an excellent story with a limited number of characters and almost no changes in scenery. The fact that it was originally a play helps, but the interactions, camera work, and fast pace keep the simple story very exciting. Hitchcock achieves a high level of suspense with excellent dialogue and by building good characters with established personalities and strong motives. Even though the viewer knows the diabolical plan inside and out, it keeps them on their toes and is hardly a predictable story. As things move in unexpected directions the suspense builds. This is a classic with good reason; it holds up over time very well and still has tons of charm, originality and good thrills.

WarGames (War Games)

While certain parts of this movie are quite dated the message stands is still relevant. Computers will only do what we tell them to do and we need to be very careful what we design them to do. It has a solid science fiction concept where a computer learns by assessing multiple strategies and selects the most certain route to win in anything from chess to thermonuclear war. How the story gets executed is not as sophisticated though. Mathew Broderick and Ally Sheedy accidentally stumble into the defense strategy computer all too easily and begin to play around not knowing what they are actually doing. This route is a too playful at times killing the suspense they are attempting to build. Buffoon military characters, teen puppy love, and the little one-liners do not fit the tense situation, and only distract from what is important. I praise the movie for establishing a solid background of the programmer of this super computer and being consistent with the logic and rules the computer program. It appeals a little more to younger audiences, but it has a solid sci-fi concept that stands up over time and continues to be a fun watch.

K-19: The Widowmaker

K-19 actually feels like a true story, partly because it is not as exciting or eventful as a fictional submarine movie like The Hunt For Red October. The acting is quality and there are moments of emotional intensity, but it feels long and does not deliver the level of excitement I was hoping for. It would have been nice to have more background on Harrison Ford's character might better clarify his orders and decision making later in the movie. Liam Neeson and Harrison Ford are both great in their contrasting roles. They both build strong characters that define the movie. Peter Sarsgaard also delivers an admirable performance as the unsure and inexperience nuclear engineer of the ship. I liked how the cast uses Russian accents, it was a nice touch to more fully immerse the viewer and constantly remind you these are Russians. The incident is exciting at first but it drags and never regains the excitement. The end of the story may be based on a true story but it is heavy and not very fulfilling.

Lucky Number Slevin

It is a compelling movie that wastes no time at all and gets right into an exciting and complicated situation of a mistaken identity. The story is excellent and continues to move well, keeping you on your toes the whole time. It successfully layers in an intricate set of characters and provides good misdirection and plot twists. It really succeeds in divulging the right amount of information at the right time and provides for some dramatic surprises that are highly rewarding. The cast is very strong; Bruce Willis, Ben Kingsley and Morgan Freeman are excellent actors and they all bring their A game. I was impressed and surprised how well Lucy Liu or Josh Hartnett both pulled their own weight in this loaded cast. They both did a great job and this is the strongest performance of both of their careers. It is an excellent movie with an intricate plot, crafty dialogue, excellent acting, solid direction, a good soundtrack, and a strong sense of mystery.

Gattaca
Gattaca(1997)
½

It has an excellent science fiction concept of a futuristic world where social structure is pre-determined by genetic superiority. This view of the future is stylish with awesome buildings and landscapes, and yet it still feels very believable. The ideas presented in this movie may not be far away from becoming real issues. It is well thought out and thinks of everything without leaving any lose ends. Gattaca is a more sophisticated than a majority of science fiction. It is very smart in how it reflects on the current society as well as the flawed nature of mankind. I like how it calls attention to the ugly but real human tendencies to discriminate, labels and judges based on differences. It raises the moral issues about genetic engineering and selection as well as the potential unintended consequences of a world with this technology. Ethan Hawk, Jude Law, Uma Thurman, and Alan Arkin make for a great cast. Even though it has exciting moments but it never attempts to become a thriller and is more of a suspenseful science fiction drama that is meant to make you think. This is a very unique movie with an original concept, good acting. If only the romance aspect and the supporting characters had a little more development this would have been perfect. It the grand scheme of things it is still a science fiction classic.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
½

This is a really fun movie, where the game is constantly changing and there is no shortage of sharpshooting dirty double-crossers to keep things interesting. This is an epic adventure that goes in unexpected, but always interesting directions. It is without any true heroes but is fun to watch these three ruthless characters tricking and deceiving one another. Clint Eastwood is born to play this sly, cool, and composed cowboy and he does it perfectly. I appreciate how they do not make him into a superhero that never get beaten up and always comes out on top. The iconic theme song is simply awesome and the rest of the soundtrack is also amazing. My only complaint is a little on the long side. It takes a little too long to get going and then again towards the end the whole civil war scene is needless. If these were edited it might trim the movie 20 minutes and make it flawless. It is a western classic.

The Tourist
The Tourist(2010)
½

I like how the movie gets right into a face paced man hunt. It takes a promising turn by introducing an ambivalent tourist into the middle of the hunt, but it goes downhill after that. The problem is the two characters do not really blossom, as Joilie and Depp never develop great chemistry. Both characters behave in strange ways towards one another. You keep hoping it unfolds to become more, only to be disappointed. The plot develops, but not in a good way. Three quarters of the way through the movie the plot is turned on its head and the viewer is jerked around, with one poorly crafted trick after another. I love being taken by a well constructed plot twist, but this movie drops a couple sloppy curve balls that do not equate to rewarding surprises. These surprises only muddle what was fairly simple idea that could have worked with better dialogue and character development. The scenery is great and Joilie looks striking, but the characters leave much to be desired. The talents of Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, and Paul Bettany are wasted, and that is shame.

Alvin and the Chipmunks
½

I was skeptical that a hybrid of real time acting and CGI animation would be a good fit for the chipmunks but it works nicely. The chipmunks continue to evolve and appeal to another generation by being cute and funny, like always. I enjoyed the arcing plot which pokes fun at the big corporate machine side of the music business. The chipmunks were animated well and sounded squeaky like they should. It was a big relief to see that this format of movie does not ruin their appearance or personalities. David Cross steals every single scene he is in as a sleazy and greedy record company executive. Sadly, Jason Lee was entirely out his element and the key role of David Seville suffers for it. I like Lee, just not in this role. There was shockingly very little singing by the chipmunks of any credibility or recognition. This may be a bit of a shortcoming but at least we were spared of seeing our childhood cartoons tainted by singing songs by the Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus, so perhaps this is for the best.

Grown Ups
Grown Ups(2010)
½

It is an odd comedy, in that it feels like you are just watching five friends hang out and have fun. Unfortunately this is not a great strategy for a movie. It is a lazy effort for all of these talented comedians who are capable of so much more to put there names together and cash a check. These guys look like they are having fun thought this movie and it makes you smile here and there but shouldnâ(TM)t we expect more from this cast? The entire movie is a collection of short scenes that build up to one simple or even flat joke and then transitions to another. The light laughs do not mask that the characters and their chemistry are poorly developed. There is very little plot in this other than to keep your valuable friends together and to unplug and go enjoy the outdoors. It lacks of any highly memorable moments or dialogue. I have to say that this is disappointing on the whole. I expect better from each one of these guys (even Rob Schneider).

Due Date
Due Date(2010)

This movie has the sound formula of two very different guys being forced to take a road trip across the country. It worked perfectly in Planes, Trains & Automobiles, but it does not work as well here. The journey is a lost opportunity for the movie and short of a Mexican border mishap it is relatively uneventful. It is a shame the stops on the road trip did not lead to funnier situations for these characters. . I would liked to see these two characters getting into more trouble, meeting better characters along the way and stumble into events that cause them to reflect on themselves. The other major drawback is how Robert Downingâ(TM)s character is just so dislikable. Robert Downing Jr and Zach Galifianakis seemed like good picks for their parts but they are both capable of more than this. The characters and their relationship should have been the strength of the film but the writing holds the movie back. It has some feel good moments but too often this movie comes off as being mean spirited. I found myself wanting more laughs and a better transition of Robert Downing Jrâ(TM)s character, but it just missed the mark.

Groundhog Day

This is a great comedy movie that is the kind of movie you can enjoy over and over again and continues to stand test of time. The brilliant concept of the movie involves being stuck repeating the same day over and over again in a twilight zone-type scenario. The comedy starts off as cynical and sarcastic humor that evolves into outrageous situations and hard laughs. There is also a side of the movie that has heart. This has a refreshingly atypical romance component to a comedy movie that is so effective because it is both genuine and original. Bill Murray is excellent in this and showcases a variety of moods and comedic approaches as his character evolves. It is some of Bill Murrayâ(TM)s finest work and is absolutely one his funniest as well. It is in every way a well-crafted comedy film and one of my favorites.

Green Zone
Green Zone(2010)

This movie has plenty of excitement but the plot is very straightforward with only few surprises. I wish this movie had not been so close to the realities of the W Bush administration and their intelligence to go to war in Iraq. It is too close to reality to ignore but it lacks the facts to make a poignant statement. The cast was the strength of this movie. Matt Damon Greg Kinnear and Brendan Gleeson do a great job and build strong and effective characters. The plot is not as dramatic or as complicated as I would have liked and that is the ceiling for the movie. I do like the direction by Paul Greengrass his fast paced camerawork gives intensity and puts the audience in the right mood. It is too bad the plot cannot meet the level of the Director and cast. It is entertaining but it feels like a little bit of a lost opportunity to do more.

Grease
Grease(1978)
½

The story of the high school romance and social life is pretty thin, but this is excusable for a musical if the music is good enough. The story or characters are not what makes this movie the classic. What keeps people coming back is the nostalgic 1950s setting. Some of the musical numbers are classics like Summer Nights & Your The One That I Want, but some of them are unfortunately lackluster. Many people praise Travolta for his performance but I found his character to be more annoying than anything. I just do not like the characters much and the music does not make up for to me. To its credit, this is a one of the better adaptations from a Broadway play to a movie. I like the energy and spirit of Grease but there are some things really missing. I can not fully agree with the labeling this a timeless classic, but I it has some redeeming qualities.

That Thing You Do!
½

There is not a lot of depth or conflict to this move, but it has a good cast, fun music, and it is enjoyable to watch. It is a fast paced rise to fame story about a band moving up through the ranks of the music business. None of the characters are very complicated, nor do they develop any rich chemistry amongst one another. It is just a lighthearted movie and while the characters are not very complex they are likable. It has a fairly innocent for a story of a rock band, and never takes a turn to the dark side. Perhaps the biggest success of the movie is how well it captures the idealized energy and optimism of life, in the mid-60s setting. I was thankful for Steve Zahn and Ethan Embry for adding humor along the way and lightening the mood. Tom Everett Scott was very good in the lead role, and actually reminds me of a young Tom Hanks in this role. Liv Tyler and Tom Hanks are good and round out the strong cast. Hanks wrote and directed it and did a good job, nothing earth shattering, but it is well done.

Inside Man
Inside Man(2006)

This movie seems to give away the whole story right upfront with a narrated introduction by the main character, but luckily there is more to this than meets the eye. What starts off as a typical bank heist movie quickly begins to veer in unexplained directions. The motivation of the robbers is hard to understand at first and their calm confidence while operating a high profile hostage situation is even more difficult to grasp. Denzel Washington is very good as the p