Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Movies Revisited

I don't see enough movies - at least not new movies - to warrant a top 10 list. Instead, I rank every movie I saw that was released in theaters this year from the worst to the best. Well, really I'm ranking them from movies I liked the least to movies I liked the most... but that's a pain to type out.

In total, I saw sixteen new movies this year. I'd only describe one of these as bad: the rest were at least decent. The catch is that none of these movies floored me like Avengers or the first Hobbit did last year. Overall, I thought 2013 delivered a large number of good movies, but nothing I saw struck me as great.

Granted, my tastes generally keep me away from most anything that has a shot at Best Picture. Plus, I still haven't seen Catching Fire, which is supposed to be awesome.

Here's the list:

16. G.I. Joe: Retaliation
The only thing I expected from this - THE ONLY THING - was that it would be better than the last G.I. Joe movie. Every review I read promised it was, and the trailers made it seem like a slam dunk. So imagine my disappointment when I finally sat down to see it and found it less engaging, less funny, and less exciting than the pitifully mediocre Rise of Cobra.

This movie was a let down on almost every level: I honestly don't know why so many people gave it a pass. The one thing they did right was assemble an appropriate cast. Not that they made use of them.

The first one was bad, but at least it had a few enjoyable scenes.

15. Warm Bodies
I enjoyed Warm Bodies quite a bit, though it's easy to imagine how it could have been improved. The inclusion of the "Boneys" felt like a cheat, and the ending was uninspired. I mean, come on, at least have Julie turn into a zombie and have R help her regain her humanity like she helped him. Sure, it would have been corny, but at least it would have been felt satisfying.

Regardless, the movie offered a great twist on the zombie genre. It was funny, sweet, and - most importantly - as disturbing as a romantic comedy about brain-eating zombies should be.

14. Monsters University
Monsters University wasn't bad. In fact, it was pretty good. It's about on par with Pixar's other release this year, the Toy Story Halloween special. But that's the issue: this wasn't remotely good enough to justify a theatrical release. At one time, Pixar was the company that made a direct-to-video sequel so good, it was released theatrically. Now, they're making theatrical releases that should go right to DVD. They're still producing good movies, but there's no question they've fallen a long way.

13. Thor: The Dark World
I seem to be in the minority here, but I found the Thor sequel a little disappointing. The Loki sequences were a lot of fun, as was the end fight, but I think this is one of the Cinematic Marvel Universe's weakest movies.

12. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters
Probably the year's most under-rated film, Hansel and Gretel is a good reminder there are some movies out there that critics still can't understand. Yes, the swearing was anachronistic - that was intentional, just like all the anachronisms. It was a steam-punk hard-boiled noir comedy/adventure story set in the middle-ages, and it pulled those genres together in an extremely interesting manner.

In addition, the movie stands out as having an almost unheard female-leaning cast. Not that it scores perfectly on issues of gender: they fridged a character who should have made it out alive and strangely focused on Hansel for the final battle (shouldn't that have been Gretel's fight?). Still, Gretel was a great character and a good example of Hollywood starting to come around on female action heroes.

The movie was fun - a hell of a lot of fun, in fact - and I'm excited they're making a sequel.

11. The World's End
In case you're confused, this is the one about a group friends on a pub crawl who uncover an alien invasion, not "This is the End," which is about a bunch of actors hanging out during the Apocalypse (I haven't seen that yet, by the way).

This was good, but it was also a victim of sky-high expectations. The first Frost-Pegg movie was Shaun of the Dead, which remains one of the best comedies of the past twenty years. Both this and Hot Fuzz were good movies, but neither managed to match Shaun.

10. Star Trek Into Darkness
For the first few days after Star Trek Into Darkness came out, everyone loved it. Then a funny thing happened: someone pointed out that the movie didn't utilize its female leads to their potential. Pretty soon, it was being decried everywhere I looked.

I want to take a minute to defend this, though. While it's true the movie underutilized Uhura, it wasn't really about her anyway. This was about Kirk and Spock. And I think that's all right.

Don't get me wrong: there's something seriously wrong with Hollywood right now. The fact studios refuse to green-light more than a handful of movies with female protagonists is idiotic and sexist. But that doesn't mean that every movie made needs to focus on a female lead to be good. In other words, the real problem is with the industry, not this movie.

Yes, the underwear scene was dumb. A lot of scenes in this movie were dumb, in fact - same with its predecessor. But, on the whole, Into Darkness was dumb and fun, which is why it's as high on this list as it is.

9. Riddick
I really enjoyed this movie, though I can't defend the bizarre direction they took with Katee Sackhoff's character in the last couple minutes. Overall, the movie is a great Conan in space story. The first third is particularly awesome. I just wish they'd been able to make a more faithful sequel to The Chronicles of Riddick, but I've made my opinions on that clear already.

8. Frozen
Frozen is an intelligent film, sometimes to its detriment. It feels extremely intentional, as if every plot beat was debated by a committee of scholars before they arrived at the story line that best outlined their thesis: that true love is that of family and not of flights of fancy.

Its saving grace is its characters: all five of the leads are great, and the character we all expected to despise turned out being the movie's best. The movie didn't fill me with wonder, but it certainly entertained me for an hour and a half.

Plus, it's about time Disney made a princess movie about sisters.

7. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
The Desolation of Smaug is a weird one. On one hand, I was extremely disappointed with it. I don't mind the liberties taken with the plot, but it bothers me that this doesn't feel like Tolkien anymore. The intricate character moments and emotional arcs that have carried us through all the previous Middle Earth movies were missing or felt forced. The love triangle was unnecessary and lacking subtlety. I hope I turn around and eat those words after part three, but for the time being, I thought it was ridiculous.

All that said, as a fantasy-action film, it was still a lot of fun. If you divorce it from its source material, it still buries 90% of fantasy out there. I just wish it felt like part of The Hobbit.

6. Gravity
Gravity is an experience film. Is it gimmicky? Sure, but when the gimmick is that the whole thing is in space and the flow of zero-G is realistically portrayed, it's not something to complain about.

5. Pacific Rim
Depending on who you ask, Pacific Rim is either an example of Hollywood incorporating women at its best, it's worst, or both. There are a few reasons for this discrepancy. The movie deserves credit for having one of its main characters be a woman with extensive combat skill who's not a love interest. But there's a lot of debate over whether she comes off as competent or timid. Then there's the fact that she's almost alone: only one of the movie's minor characters is female.

In the movie's defense, you could pretty much replace every human character with a hamster without seriously impacting the film. Ultimately, this is robots punching monsters and monsters biting robots. The rest is there to fill time.

And the fight scenes are spectacular. Easily the most memorable visual experience of the summer.

But maybe - just maybe - the script could have used some more work. And maybe it's time for Guillermo del Toro to reflect on the fact that he keeps putting women into his movies who are strong... but eerily similar. How many adult female protagonists have been shy, repressed women with a deep inner strength? I hope he continues incorporating female characters in major roles, but maybe it's time he got over that girl he liked in high school.

4. Iron Man 3
I love almost everything about Iron Man 3, but I just like the movie. It's a lot of fun, but - at least for me - it doesn't really come together. I feel like the plot points are there to pull us from bit to bit, but none of it ever adds up to a complete story.

To be fair, the same could be said about Iron Man 2, which is my second favorite Marvel movie after The Avengers. The difference is that IM2 was filled with comic book nonsense, while IM3 contained 80's action movie tropes. Personally, I prefer comics, so I love part 2 and just like part 3.

3. Man of Steel
It's not that I disagree with the criticism being leveled against Man of Steel - that Jonathan Kent's death was idiotic, that the level of destruction was a tad excessive, and that more time should have been devoted to Superman minimizing the loss of life - I just don't think these flaws were enough to ruin the movie.

This was a great Superman movie; in many ways, the one we've been waiting for. We finally got to see Kal-El in a real fight: that's never been accomplished in live-action before. Yeah, I miss the red shorts, but the core character felt right. That scene in the church when he's discussing his dilemma with a priest was perfect. And Lois... they got Lois right in a way I don't think anyone has before. They sacrificed a massive piece of the mythology, but wound up with something far, far better: a version of Lois Lane who's as capable as she should be.

I honestly have no idea whether the sequel will be the most amazing thing we've ever seen, a pile of garbage, or something else entirely, but I enjoyed this one quite a bit.

2. Much Ado About Nothing
Yeah, it's this high. Based on the reviews, I expected to like Joss Whedon's Much Ado. But, when I finally got around to seeing it, I discovered I really, really liked it.

The movie is a hell of a lot of fun. Just about everything about the production is inspired, but the casting is especially fantastic. I loved the take on the characters and setting, and the jazz version of Sigh No More was the best take on that song I've ever heard.

This almost made it to the #1 spot, but then something unexpected happened....

1. The Wolverine
I loved The Wolverine when I saw it, but there's no denying there were serious issues. The issues were things I felt like we had to accept: you can't make an R-rated superhero movie. That's simply a reality of the business. It's impossible to show Wolverine impaling enemy after enemy: you just can't do it.

Here's something you might not know: they managed to make that movie anyway. Turns out, you can make a violent, gritty Wolverine movie. You just can't release it in theaters.

You can, however, release it on DVD. The version of this movie that tops my list for 2013 isn't the one I reviewed last summer. The theatrical cut was already good, but the extended version exceeds it on every level. The action is greatly improved, but so are the characters. Mariko is given a lot more to do here, and Yukio is even more kick-ass.

The extended edition is as good - if not better than - any of the X-Men movies before it, including X-Men 2. I highly recommend you track it down.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Movie Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

I loved An Unexpected Journey and have spent a good portion of the past year arguing with people who thought it was too long. Ultimately though, most of the scenes in the first Hobbit installment people whined about were straight out of the book. There's not a minute of the movie's forty minutes in the Shire I'd cut. Hell, I even love the extended edition. Sure, the "Pale Orc" felt a bit silly, but that felt like a minor price to pay for a great interpretation of the first part of the book.

So then. All that makes this rather uncomfortable.

I just got back from seeing Desolation of Smaug, and... uh.... Why the hell didn't Peter Jackson just do these as two movies?

Let me back up a bit. I actually like Desolation of Smaug. Or, more accurately, I enjoyed watching it and expect to enjoy watching it at least once more before it leaves theaters. Then I'll buy the extended edition and enjoy that. It's a fun movie, full of zany action sequences, incredible monsters, and beautiful settings. But as a narrative story... it ignores or rewrites the book. What we get instead is, well... kind of dumb. Cool, but dumb.

The movie touches on moments from the book and even has some good twists on a few. Beorn was neat, and I really liked Jackson's twist on the Mirkwood spiders. Unfortunately, he rushed through these, which was an odd decision for a 2 hour, 40 minute film based on a third of a book.

But he had plenty of time for the adventures of Legolas and Tauriel. I don't mind so much that these characters weren't in the book (or in Tauriel's case, any book): I just don't like what he did with them. Legolas would have been amazing in an extended cameo, but his presence here felt absurdly out of place. Hell, it didn't even feel like Lord of the Rings: his scenes were more reminiscent of Pirates of the Caribbean.

I liked Tauriel when she was introduced, but when they revealed where they were going with her... ugh. I get what they were going for, but I wish they hadn't. I'll put it like this: when they reveal a detail so cheesy you cringe, rest assured they haven't even touched on the cheesy part yet.

The movie's last act focused on Smaug, and it was awesome. But it involved a major rewrite in the same scale as Frodo, Sam, and Gollum being dragged to Osgiliath. It gave us some great adventure moments but added nothing to the story.

I said this movie was fun, and I mean it. I compared it to Pirates, and that's not a bad thing - the scenes where Legolas is jumping around make for a rollicking, swashbuckling adventure, and that's a hell of a good time. But as an adaptation of Tolkien, this is way off mark.

So, I'll ask again, why do three movies? If they'd cut the Pale Orc entirely, you could have left in everything else in the first movie - songs included - and still had time to get through almost everything in this movie that had some basis in Tolkien. Maybe you'd cut when they reached Laketown, but I'm betting they could have filled in the rest with the time they'd have saved cutting him from part three. 

Is it worth seeing? Sure. Just be aware it's by far the weakest of the five movies we've gotten so far. Let's hope the last installment is better.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Movie Review: Thor: The Dark World

Thor: The Dark World was an entertaining movie. I'm just not certain it really deserves to be called a good one. It was far more like its predecessor than the trailers would have you believe: this is still more comedy than action, though the producers were far more liberal in the special effects budget this time so the fight scenes were bigger.

I was mostly bored for the first third of the movie. The jokes didn't really win me over, and I didn't find the various plot threads all that engaging. A number of characters from the first movie showed up, but their roles felt more like cameos. Once again, Sif felt underutilized - I think she had a bigger part in the first installment. Other characters are given brief sequences, some of which seem to set up subplots that are immediately dropped. Is there a longer cut of this movie out there that delivers on some of this? Jane Foster is a major character, but she essentially comes off as comic relief.

I was about ready to write this one off when a funny thing happened. About forty minutes in, Loki stole the whole damn movie.

I've never been anywhere near as big a fan of the character as some people. I enjoyed Hiddleston's Loki in the first movie and in Avengers, but I certainly didn't worship him the way many of his fans do. But here, once he becomes a major character, he's really able to cut loose and enjoy the role. And in doing so, he makes the movie fun. As soon as he's unleashed, the movie's much stronger. There are some hilarious exchanges and ridiculous adventures.

The finale revolves around a strangely constructed fight sequence that works extremely well, despite fundamentally being slapstick. It's kind of fascinating to see: it's played for laughs, but the scope is large enough to be awesome.

This movie is, if nothing else, a lot of fun, even if it takes some time to get up to pace. There's a lot that needs to be overlooked - and it's essential you go into this understanding it's a comedy - but it's an enjoyable experience.

This is worth seeing for Loki, but - in my opinion at least - it's Marvel's second worst after Captain America.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Give Us Your Worst, Part 23: Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

In 1994, a Fantastic Four movie is made that's so bad, Fox decides not to release it. Ten years later, they produce and release a movie that's actually worse. Three years after that, they make a sequel, introducing the Silver Surfer and a cloud that is not, under any reasonable definition, Galactus. It was, in fact, the worst of the three.

Two years from now, Fox is planning on releasing a relaunch. If the present trajectory continues, mathematics dictates the movie will be so abysmal, its presence onscreen will create a black hole of awfulness that could swallow the Earth.

Rise of the Silver Surfer was already damn near that bad, and they'll have had an additional eight years to screw the characters up further.

You may be wondering what we should have expected from the people who made the previous installment. I'd respond by saying, at bare minimum, we should have been able to expect that the sequel wouldn't be worse than part one. History has clearly proven me wrong.

I just tried typing out a synopsis of this movie, but the result was so awful, I deleted it. Look, I just... here's a paragraph from Wikipedia that explains this better than I ever could:
After an animal has digested eaten material, the remains of that material are expelled from its body as waste. Though it is lower in energy than the food it came from, feces may still contain a large amount of energy, often 50% of that of the original food. This means that of all food eaten, a significant amount of energy remains for the decomposers of ecosystems. Many organisms feed on feces, from bacteria to fungi to insects such as dung beetles, which can sense odors from long distances. Some may specialize in feces, while others may eat other foods as well. Feces serve not only as a basic food, but also a supplement to the usual diet of some animals. This is known as coprophagia, and occurs in various animal species such as young elephants eating their mother's feces to gain essential gut flora, or by other animals such as dogs, rabbits, and monkeys. 
I want to explain why this movie is as bad as it is, but I honestly don't even know where to start. Maybe Sue? Alba has a major role in this movie, very little of which has to do with her as a superhero. Instead, she's stressed about her wedding.

Think about every cliche they could possibly include. Guess what? You missed a few. Unfortunately, the writers did not: the first half of the movie is mostly a string of scenes that would feel trite in a 50's comedy.

Then, at the end, she inspires a male character to save the world.

But before you accuse this movie of sexism, rest assured it mistreats its male characters, as well. Reed and Ben are given next to nothing to do the entire movie, while Johnny gets all their powers at the end to fight it out with a galactic-powered Doom. And yet, when all's said and done, it almost feels like he was absent the whole movie.

The Surfer actually has a few sequences where he looks cool at the end, demonstrating the technology exists to bring him to the screen, but the not the talent. He's got maybe a half dozen lines the whole movie, none of which are remotely interesting.

Then there's Doctor Doom. Look, the character this guy's based on is easily one of the best villains ever created. Hell, you could argue he partially inspired Darth Vader. The fact they can't make him remotely interesting is astonishing.

This movie looks better than Origins: Wolverine or X-Men 3, but it's actually worse. For what it's worth, it's not as bad as the lowest tier, reserved for movies like Barb Wire and The Spirit, but it comes disturbingly close.

If you've avoided this so far, pat yourself on the back. Kudos. Most importantly, keep your distance, folks. This is an awful, awful movie.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Give Us Your Worst, Part 22: Fantastic Four

I had so much fun with the 1994 film, I decided it was time to revisit the 2004 streamlined remake (when I say "streamlined", I just mean they dropped the word "the", and when I say "remake", I'm just trying to insult Fox). Unlike its predecessor, this was released on the public, which tells us the studio was less humane than it had been a decade before.

Okay - maybe I'm exaggerating. In the scheme of things, this movie isn't actually that awful. There are a handful of amusing moments and gags that are occasionally funny. But this movie irritates me quite a bit, and a big part of that comes from just having seen the Corman version. Because that movie was bad - it was low budget, cheesy, and badly produced. But, for all its flaws, it managed to feel like a Fantastic Four movie. Not a good Fantastic Four, but at least authentic.

And the Fox version is just a generic superhero movie. Sure, it tries to be funny, which is a feature of the comics. And it leaves in a character trait here or there, but it doesn't come close to delivering the experience. The reason is pretty clear: they don't even try.

Fox obviously had the rights to these characters and wanted to repeat the success they'd had with X-Men and Sony had with Spider-Man. So they tried to make them modern, sexy. They tried to turn the FF into a team modern teens would relate to.

And that's not who the Fantastic Four are. None of these characters felt right, though The Thing and Human Torch came a lot closer than Mr. Fantastic, who was in turn a hell of a lot better realized than The Invisible Woman. God, they mangled her character, and even she came out better than Doctor Doom.

Any director who can't at least make Doctor Doom fun has no business working in film.

The script was as boring as the direction, which resulted in a movie lacking any real tension. Its attempts at fun were undermined by a self-serious tone. This is worse than a bad movie: it's an utter waste of time.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Movie Review: Gravity

Gravity is at the very edge of greatness, but held back by a catch-22 imposed on the director by a harsh reality. It's a good movie, but that's the problem: it doesn't want to be a movie at all. It wants to be something else. The complication is that this particular "something else" doesn't exist, at least not in a way that would have allowed the director to play with the elements that make Gravity awesome.

There's a lot of cool stuff going on here. This is the closest most of us are ever going to get to being in space, and supposedly, it's a really good facsimile. That was clearly the director's goal: to show us what it's actually like in orbit. Appropriately, the threats they encountered were all completely real. No aliens or super science here: just space junk.

In fact, the technology and threats present in the movie are all so real, it's not even clear this should be called science-fiction. This is a dramatized thriller about something that could happen. And while there's certainly an existential undercurrent to the story, the primary theme being communicated is simply the experience of being in space itself: the sense of weightlessness, the total lack of direction, the beauty, and the terror.

That's where the vision of the movie is held back by the very fact it's a movie. CuarĂ³n set out to create an experience, and that experience isn't enhanced by a 90 minute run time. He could have shaved this down to half that and lost none of the movie's impact. But he'd never have managed to get it on every IMAX screen in the country, which was essential in delivering his work to an audience.

For all intents and purposes, there are three characters in Gravity, and one is the camera. The other two are Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, both of whom do a great job. But they're not really playing movie characters: structurally, they're actually closer to people in video games.

Bullock plays a point-of-view. From time-to-time, the camera even dips into her helmet and gives us a first-person perspective. We're meant to experience the movie as she does: it's a testament to her skill that we do. Clooney has a different role: he's the NPC telling her (and by extension us) how to survive the next objective. Likewise, the dialogue and acting is good enough that we don't mind, but the similarities are difficult to ignore.

It's definitely pushing boundaries. This has elements from video games, amusement park rides, and - yes - films. As such, it doesn't deliver everything we're used to getting from a movie, but instead gives us something a bit different.

Gravity is extremely cool. Seeing it on the big screen is a fantastic experience, and I'd encourage you to give it a try. There's very little here that would survive being viewed at home: this is definitely worth seeing in 3D (and on IMAX, if at all possible).

Friday, September 6, 2013

Movie Review: Riddick

First, a disclaimer: I'm one of The Chronicles of Riddick's few defenders. No, scratch that: I'm pretty sure I'm its biggest advocate. It's simultaneously good and so-bad-it's-good for entirely different reasons. You laugh at it and cheer it on at the same time: it's like getting two completely different, equally satisfying movie experiences for the price of one. It... out Fifth Elements the Fifth Element. It....

Sorry. I'm supposed to be talking about Riddick.

Well, this one - the third in the series - is pretty great, too. It's ostensibly more Pitch Black than Chronicles, but I was happy to see some elements from part two survive. This one might not contain any blatant fantasy, but there's a vein of barbarianism that runs to its core. I've seen it compared to Conan in more than one spot, and the parallels are easy to see. Unfortunately, there aren't any D&D characters running around, but the pulp sensibilities remain intact.

Like Pitch Black, this one is fairly disjointed. While part one was split neatly between day and night segments, this one was broken into thirds. They almost felt like episodes in a serial. The first third is the best, though I enjoyed the entire movie. The very ending felt a little anti-climatic, though I remember thinking the same thing about Pitch Black (Chronicles of Riddick, on the other hand, had one of the best endings I've ever seen).

There's not much to the characters or plot, but I don't see that as a negative. With the possible exception of Pitch Black, these are more about the imagery and a visceral sense of strength. Is that juvenile? Of course, but there's nothing wrong with that.

I'd love to spend more time in this universe, especially if we could explore more of what the second movie touched on. I don't know how likely that really is, but it's more than a little surprising we got this one after Chronicles bombed.

It might not be the best in the series, but it's a worthy addition and a hell of a lot of fun. If you're in the mood for an enjoyable dark SF flick this weekend, check it out. Just make sure you bring your inner 12 year-old with you - unlike its PG-13 rated predecessor, they won't be able to see it without an adult present.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Movie Review: The World's End

I hate to be the "It's really good but it's not Shaun of the Dead" guy, but that pretty much sums it up. The World's End is a cool SF flick crossed with a drinking comedy. It manages its genre-mashing well, but its use of tone is nowhere near as nuanced as it was in Shaun. That isn't to say the tone is bad - it's still light years ahead of most movies - it's just not as astonishingly brilliant as it was in the first movie they made.

The World's End might not be the instant classic Shaun of the Dead was, but it's still a hell of a lot of fun. Once again, Pegg and Frost are the leads, and - once again - they're fantastic. Simon Pegg, in particular, plays a character miles away from the ones he played in Shaun or Hot Fuzz. I've seen some critics gripe that he isn't very likable here; I agree with the assessment, but I liked the choice.

I've also heard some grumbling about the ending, but I liked that, too. Actually, I think the ending was my favorite part of the movie (in case anyone's wondering, I'm including both the plot climax and the afterword as the ending - loved them both).

Just like before, this film is extremely clever. The jokes are solid, and the story is well thought out. I'd also like to personally thank Edgar Wright for making a drinking comedy with almost no vomit. That takes class.

My only real complaint is that the movie kept the horror at arm's length. I almost never say this, but I actually think we needed to see a little gore to sell the horror. On some level, the antagonists just didn't feel all that threatening.

This is definitely an impressive movie. If you're a genre fan, I strongly suggest you make a point of seeing it. However, I'm not sure it absolutely needs to be seen on the big screen. There's more than enough to make the trip worthwhile, but I think it would play almost as well at home if you're looking to save a few bucks. But if you're a fan of Wright, Pegg, and Frost, you'll feel like you're getting your money's worth regardless.

Just go in knowing this is as good as Hot Fuzz, not Shaun of the Dead.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Movie Review: The Wolverine

Fox just made a drama about Wolverine. A large portion of the movie is built around the events of X-Men 3, particularly the death of Jean Grey.

By all rights, that formula should have resulted in a movie which fell somewhere between Origins: Wolverine and X-Men 3. Instead, we got something between First Class and X-Men 2. How did that happen? I'm honestly not sure.

It probably helped that this seems to have been directed by someone who knows the difference between a camera and a toilet and was therefore able to deliver a movie to the screen (take note Brett Ratner and Gavin Hood). It also helped that this movie pulled in some fantastic characters and does them justice. Yukio more or less steals this movie from right under Wolverine's nose.

A lot of X-Men fans - myself included - wanted future installments to bury the mess that was X-Men 3. Well, the makers of The Wolverine had another idea: they wanted to salvage it. They dug into the trauma of Jean's death. They wanted to make it clear that X-Men 3 happened.

And you know something: that's what they'd have done in the comics. You can't maintain continuity and ignore a bad story. You have to place it in the context of a larger story. The Wolverine takes place between The Last Stand and Days of Future Past. It serves as epilogue to one, a prologue to the other, and story of its own.

And it works on all three counts.

The movie isn't start-to-finish action, but there's plenty of violence for Wolverine fans. The claws come out, and blood gets spilled, including a lot of Wolverine's. As you know from the trailers, Logan spends a large portion of the movie mortal. But unlike Superman and Spider-Man 2, it's not to make him see how much the world needs him. If anything, it makes him into more of a bad-ass. Wolverine's best weapon was never the healing: it's the willpower. They got that.

The movie has flaws, of course. The final act villain was far too CG heavy and was the one character the movie didn't do justice. And even I had a hard time ignoring the fact Wolverine couldn't heal but his knuckles were mysteriously fine.

But make it a point to look past those details, and there's a great film here.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Movie Review: Pacific Rim

The first thing that crossed my mind as I was watching the opening sequence of Pacific Rim is that the screen I was seeing it on was too small for this movie. The second thing to occur to me was that every movie screen in the world is too small. We, as a species, don't make movie screens large enough to handle this movie.

Actually, the premise of Pacific Rim works surprisingly well as an allegory for the need for the human race to come together and produce larger 3D movie screens for the viewing of Pacific Rim. I'm not sure whether that was what Del Toro had in mind, but it fits.

Oh, and that brings up another point. Remember how you had to see Avatar in 3D? You need to see this in that format, too. Actually, it might be more important here than with Avatar.

Alright, let's talk about the movie. You know most of the premise from the trailers, but probably less than you think. There are giant robots fighting giant monsters: I assume everyone's up to speed on that. But less well advertised is the fact this thing is infused with 80's nostalgia. I've seen several people note the movie's similarities to Top Gun - they're hard to miss. And it's not just the plot: the dialogue and music reminiscent of adventure and even sports movies from that decade.

I might be mistaken, but I also found myself recalling elements of the Speed Racer movie while watching Pacific Rim. Both movies took a similar approach to constructing a fusion of live action and animated elements to translate concepts originating in Japanese animation to the movie screen, and both chose to embrace the absurdity of their premises rather than try to replace it with realism. After far too many "Post-Matrix" SF movies, I kind of feel like we've gotten the first Post-Speed Racer.

It should be noted that Pacific Rim is more interested in its action scenes than its drama. The dialogue is cheesy (though it's clearly intentional). The characters are fairly dull (probably less intentional), but they're not so bad they ruin the movie (looking at you, Avatar).

Pacific Rim is also an uneven movie. The opening is breathtaking, while the ending - while solid - certainly doesn't meet expectations.

Nonetheless, this movie raises the bar on monster movies in a way that's completely unprecedented. There are more than a half-dozen kaiju in this thing, and they're all awesome. The robots are equally cool, though the movie definitely leaves you wanting more. I could gleefully watch an entire movie about any of the jaegers. It's kind of tragic we got so little time with Crimson Typhoon and Cherno Alpha.

There's room for debate on whether indulging in 80's nostalgia was the best choice, but I have a hard time understanding anyone who walks away from this not feeling amazed. The movie is awesome. The setting and scale are bread and butter to animation, but I don't think we've ever gotten anything close in live action.

This has been a decent summer so far: Iron Man 3, Star Trek, and Superman were all good, but none of them really offered anything new or surprising. Pacific Rim is easily the most incredible movie we've gotten this year. This is the one you really can't miss.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Give Us Your Worst, Part 21: The Fantastic Four

I want to be crystal clear: this movie isn't to be confused with the 2004 movie, "Fantastic Four", which also deserves consideration in this series, but this is rather its predecessor from a decade earlier. Produced by Roger Corman for an estimated 1.5 million dollars and never released or shown in any official capacity, "The Fantastic Four" is infamous as one of the worst superhero movies ever made.

There's a rumor that it was never even intended for release; that it was filmed simply in order to retain the movie rights. It's a good story, but it's not actually true. This was made in order to utilize (and presumably retain) the rights, but there's no indication that the producers didn't intent to screen it. What is accurate is that they were paid to not release it (more accurately, the studio with a long-term interest in the franchise bought the rights to the movie in order to bury it).

The question you're probably asking is, "Was it really that bad?"

Disappointingly, the answer is: not entirely. Don't get me wrong: this is definitely low budget. The effects are abysmal, and the production values are laughable. It's a B-movie, through and through.

Actually, if it weren't for a few sequences of awful computer effects, this would be indistinguishable from something made for TV in the 70's or 80's. But... here's the thing - if that was its origin, if this had been made in the 70's and aired on NBC, it would be a cult favorite. People would remember it from their childhood and adore it. It may not have been good, but it's more watchable than the live-action 70's Spiderman or some of the direct-to-video superhero flicks of the 80s.

Of course, this wasn't a made-for-TV production from the 70's, so it's hard to overlook how bad everything looks. But strip that away and you're left with something that's fun almost as often as it's tedious. The script's certainly not great writing, but it's got far more right to the name Fantastic Four than the 2004 film. The origin story for the team and Doom are straight out of the comics (no random lightning powers for Victor, either). Likewise, the leads do a decent job with the material. I wouldn't say they deserve any awards, but the team sure felt a lot closer in spirit to the Fantastic Four I know than the cast assembled a decade later.

I don't want this to come off as too positive. There are things in this movie that are painful. When the camp isn't carrying it, the tedium sets in. There are also scenes in this movie that are painfully out of place, sequences where an actor overacts to the point of absurdity or there's an extreme tone shift.

This isn't good; not by a long stretch. But, as a campy superhero comedy, it's nowhere near as unwatchable as its reputation suggests.

Like most in this series, there's no reason to seek this out unless you're a serious (and I do mean serious) Marvel fan interested in all the minutiae of the Fantastic Four's history. Then again, same goes for the 2004 movie and its sequel.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Give Us Your Worst, Part 20: Steel

It took me a while, but I finally got around to Steel, the 1997 movie starring Shaquille O'Neal. I don't think I need to tell you this is a bad movie. I knew what I was getting into when I went in: history has judged this movie and it has done so fairly.

My biggest issue with the movie is that I happen to like the DC character it's based on quite a lot. In the comics, John Henry Irons was introduced as one of four "replacement" Supermen during the arc where Superman died fighting Doomsday. Irons was a former weapons designer who quit after having a crisis of conscience. Inspired by Superman's example and sacrifice, he built a power suit and started fighting evil. He's essentially become the Tony Stark of the DCU.

The movie, of course, threw out all but a handful of details. Irons still starts out as a weapons designer, though he's portrayed as significantly less cutting edge than he is in the comics. The movie implies the real genius behind the weapons is a new character, Susan Sparks (more on her in a minute). Needless to say, the connections to Superman are severely cut back. There's actually a little more than I'd anticipated - Irons has a Superman tattoo containing the phrase "Man of Steel." It's strongly implied this is the source of his costumed name, too. For what little it's worth, I appreciated the nod.

Setting that aside, it's pretty clear the filmmakers were bigger Batman fans than Superman. Steel's mask bears some resemblance to versions of the live-action Batman masks, and his power level is dropped to something closer to the Dark Knight's.

And then there's Susan Sparks, the super-genius red-head who suffers a spinal injury in the first five minutes of the movie then goes on to help Irons build his crime-fighting gadgets and uses a computer to monitor his progress and hack into everything from traffic lights to illegal weapons auctions.

So, yeah. They more or less put Oracle in this movie. And, shockingly, they didn't do a horrible job with her. Granted, it's about the only thing in the movie that isn't horrible, and it's still a long way from good.

The movie's pace drags even more than you'd expect. It takes more than forty minutes for the suit to be built, and things don't pick up when it's constructed. The costume is among the worst I've ever seen in a superhero movie, and the fights are astonishingly boring. For the most part, combat is reduced to Steel and bad guys shooting at each other. I've read some quotes suggesting the director had no interest in superheroes - it shows.

The acting is pretty awful for the most part, but I can't imagine anyone expected otherwise. The direction's even worse, but - again - no surprise there. The movie's tone is uneven: it can't decide whether it's supposed to be serious or a farce.

I'm glad I can cross this one off my list, though I'm not sure I can say I'm glad I saw it. It was pretty awful, but I've seen worse.

Someday, I hope Steel gets a chance to appear on screen in a film that does him justice. I'd love to see him introduced in a Superman movie (maybe in Man of Steel 3 - I'm hoping the next installment is reserved for Kara). Irons is a great character, and he deserves better than this.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Movie Review: Monsters University

I think my wife called this one: when we walked out of the theater, she said it felt like a really good direct-to-DVD sequel. Before everyone assumes that's strictly a negative, I do want to stress the really good part of that summary: Monsters University is a lot of fun. There's some great world-building on display here, and the core story is really effective. But there's no denying the movie is extremely unambitious in scale.

It's definitely worth seeing if you enjoyed the original. But unless you loved the first movie, I don't think you need to see this in the theater. And it kills me to say that. You see, I do love the original. I skipped it when it was in the theaters, dismissing the colorful trailers as cheesy. When I finally watched it on DVD, I immediately swore to never again miss a Pixar movie until the company started to disappoint me.

After numerous successes, they finally faltered with Cars 2. Yeah, I actually kind of enjoyed that movie, but there's no denying it was pretty bad. And now, a few years later, it's becoming clear that Pixar has grown stagnant.

Sure, they're still making enjoyable movies. Brave was really good, despite what critics continue to say, and - like I've already said several times - Monsters University was good. But I don't think anyone could seriously claim it's great.

Let's get into the details. The movie's setting is topnotch. It builds on the world of Monsters, Inc., expanding it in new directions. The character and building designs are a lot of fun: the rival fraternities and sororities are awesome. The main characters are incredibly interesting, both as earlier versions of the characters we met in Monsters, Inc. and on this movie's own merits.

As a fantasy, it almost crosses that line into greatness. But this isn't a fantasy, at least not solely. First and foremost, it's a comedy, and as a comedy, it's disappointingly mediocre. A large segment of the supporting cast are over-the-top caricatures: the exact type Pixar used to be famous for avoiding. The jokes are mixed - there are several hilarious gags, but there are at least as many that just aren't funny.

The rivalry and eventual friendship between the leads saves the movie. It's more Wazowski's movie than Sullivan's this time, which works a hell of a lot better than making Mater the main character of Cars 2. The theme of the film is also impressive. Remember when Incredibles called bullshit on the notion that "everyone is special?" This time they're putting the notion that anyone can achieve their dreams on the chopping block. And it's about time: that poetic turn of phrase probably does more damage to kids than any of the other lies they're fed.

So, in summary, this is a good little movie, but it's not something you absolutely have to go see in the theater. I'm glad I saw it - I did have a good time - but it's certainly not a classic. All said, I'd still go see a movie about Mike and Sulley in a retirement community if Disney decides to cap off the trilogy.

Before I wrap this up, I want to mention the short that prefaced Monsters University. It's a brief, sweet piece called "The Blue Umbrella" that invokes old Disney cartoons. I enjoyed it quite a bit, but that's not why I'm bringing it up.

When the short finished, I leaned over to Lindsay and asked her whether it was live action with some digital effects or if was entirely computer generated. I honestly couldn't tell, and she couldn't either. Apparently, it was entirely digitally created.

Okay, I'm impressed.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Movie Review: Man of Steel

Between the movie's sub-60 freshness level on Rotten Tomatoes and my lukewarm response toward the trailers, I wasn't expecting to have a great reaction to this. Most of what I saw beforehand suggested a hard-SF spin on Supes; another in a long line of DC superhero movies embarrassed of being a DC superhero movie. But it turns out while Warner's marketing department might be having cold feet, Zack Snyder was making a comic book flick through and through.

Sure, this is a different interpretation of Superman and Krypton than Donner's. And, yes, the costume looked better with the red shorts (I suspect the director secretly agrees: there were very few shots showing Kal-El's waist clearly). But, overall, this adaptation of Superman felt as valid and as authentic as any live action version that came before it. Maybe more so.

All the talk about this being a new version of the story is bull. The Superman on display here is one generations of comics readers have imagined. It's a darker spin than we got in the older movies, but it's nothing new to the comics, where Superman has had to face incredible odds - and often stark reminders of his limitations - for a long time. On some level, this is the story Superman II tried to tell in 1980... it just does it much better.

The movie opens on Krypton and puts to rest any concerns about them taking too serious an approach. This is pure, unapologetic Burroughs science-fantasy. And it's fantastic.

When Krypton blows, the linear story-telling goes with it. Much of the movie is a series of vignettes, feeling almost like a silent picture at times. The movie's actually at its best when it embraces this, using images to build a cohesive world, characters, and tone. It doesn't quite succeed in delivering a fully cohesive narrative, but it doesn't really need one. Superman was never really about stories, anyway.

Man of Steel struck me as fundamentally true to the character and mythos of the world's first Superhero. Just as importantly, it delivered easily the greatest Lois Lane we've gotten outside of the Timm/Dini animated series.

This is absolutely worth checking out. It's got some issues - you'll roll your eyes at least a few times before the end credits roll - but the movie delivers a live action portrayal of comics' first hero a lot of us waited a long time to see.

Here's hoping Warner Bros. moves forward with plans to expand this into a fully realized DC live action universe, including a new Batman, Green Lantern, and - for the love of God - a long overdue Wonder Woman movie.

Only, if it isn't too much to ask... maybe give Superman his shorts back for the sequel.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Movie Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

J.J. Abrams' second Star Trek movie is more or less just what you'd expect: it's a very big, very loud summer action flick that mines elements from the original series and movies and rearranges them into a modern cinematic experience. It's sort of the big-budget Broadway musical version of Trek: operatic, a tad melodramatic, and about as subtle as a space ship crashing into a city.

Oh. It's also a hell of a lot of fun. That last part's kind of important: like the first installment, this is pure summer escapism. If you're in the theater looking for something else, you're either in the wrong place or the wrong era. Sorry.

Part buddy comedy and part action movie, Into Darkness is fairly unrelenting. It throws jokes at you faster than most slapstick (and with far more success), even as it manages to ratchet up the excitement. The effects are as good as in part one, and the action is even better. The returning characters do an even better job filling the shoes of the original cast than they did in the first movie. Sure, the movie is riddled with plot holes... but who cares?

Let's see how much I can talk about the villain without delivering any major spoilers. For the past year or so, there's been a question as to the identity of the movie's bad guy. Abrams consistently refused to answer, which only fueled speculation. By the time the movie was released, neither answer would really have felt satisfying or shocking.

Going in, I was irritated Abrams had bothered keeping this a secret. Walking out, I thought he was a genius. It was slight of hand: while we were busy speculating on this one little detail, he'd managed to distract us from asking about the rest of the movie. Our premise was wrong, anyway. The figure we'd been wondering wasn't exactly a villain in the traditional sense: he was a character in the movie. And a fascinating one at that.

Interestingly, Into Darkness addresses (at least superficially) one major critique of the first film: that it wasn't about anything. In the style of the original picture, this was actually a metaphor for a contemporary issue. I doubt it will silence the critics complaining this still doesn't feel like Trek, but they were always a small (if vocal) minority of fans, anyway.

In short, it's a great summer action flick and worthy successor to its predecessor (actually, I think I liked this one even more than part one). It's also a good omen: apparently, Abrams' success wasn't a fluke, which bodes extremely well for the future of Star Wars, the next franchise he's taking on. Hopefully Trek will find someone competent to pick up where he left off.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Movie Review: Iron Man 3

I think I saw Ben Kingsley give the best performance of his life yesterday. Not in Iron Man 3, though he was good there too, but in an interview on The Colbert Report where he lied his ass off about the character he was playing, The Mandarin. I don't want to go into too much depth, but the big screen adaptation of The Mandarin had a lot of parallels to the Dark Knight Rises's portrayal of Bane. The difference was that Iron Man 3 was competently written and directed, and it owned the rather substantial changes it made to the character. I know there are a lot of fans who hate what they did with Iron Man's most iconic villain, but I kind of enjoyed it. I was more irritated by how they treated Maya Hansen, honestly.

Iron Man 3 is a bizarre movie, but I think I understand how it came to be. Imagine you're an executive putting together plans for this. Note that this is happening before Avengers hits theaters. You have no idea that it's going to have the largest opening weekend of all time: you don't even know whether it's going to flop. So you hedge your bets. Avengers, like Iron Man 2 and Captain America, is made for the die-hard fans, the ones more interested in the Marvel Universe than Tony Stark. You want to be prepared for the possibility the public is going to reject the connections in that Universe.

So you put together a movie that isn't about them. It acknowledges what's happened (in fact, the events of Avengers had a major impact on Tony's personality), but the expanded Universe didn't really show up, even when they probably should have: where was S.H.I.E.L.D. during all this?

In short, this one wasn't made for the comic geeks: it was made for fans of the first movie who didn't like part two. How was Marvel supposed to know those people would love Avengers?

I saw this with a bunch of friends who - like myself - are major fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I think all of us would name Avengers as our favorite movie of last year and Iron Man 3 as one of our most anticipated movies of this year. We're certainly not alone - there are a lot of Marvel geeks out there these days.

So... did we get what we wanted from Iron Man 3? Well, I'm not actually sure what we wanted. Maybe we wanted to be wowed, like we were for the Avengers. The movie didn't deliver that: it probably couldn't have. What it did deliver was a series of more modest surprises and twists, all wrapped in an classic Shane Black action-movie package.

As a pallet cleanser, it was kind of fantastic. It was what it claimed to be: a stand-alone film set apart from the rest of the Marvel Universe. It featured some great dialogue, and some amazing action sequences. Were they contrived? Of course - this is Shane Black, after all - but they were exciting and well executed. This was funnier than the previous installments while simultaneously being the first in the trilogy that didn't feel like a comedy: I was invested in the fights to a degree I haven't been in this series previously. The heroes felt more mortal, and the villains felt more threatening.

Was I bothered this was less a Marvel movie than a Tony Stark one? A little, honestly. But it was still a hell of a great summer action movie, and I'm no less excited about seeing Thor: The Dark World in November.

Huh. I feel like I'm forgetting something important about this movie. What could it be?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Give Us Your Worst, Part 19: X-Men: The Last Stand

I last saw X-Men: The Last Stand (more commonly known as X-Men 3) when it was in the theaters. Even with the generally low reviews and lower expectations, I found the movie a massive disappointment at the time, for reasons I'll get to in a moment.

In the meantime, I've assembled every other movie in the franchise on DVD - including X-Men Origins: Wolverine which I picked up for a buck or two last Christmas. When I came across a used copy of Last Stand on a clearance rack for three bucks, I felt obligated to complete the set. Besides, I wanted to include it in this series.

Overall, my reaction hasn't changed significantly since the first time I saw it. The movie is bad, but its most serious issues are in context: it seriously damages the franchise and fails to meet even a fraction of the promise of the previous installment. But I don't find it anywhere near as painful to sit through as most people report. Frankly, I think this is orders of magnitude better than Origins: Wolverine; again, setting aside the damage Last Stand does to its source material and Singer's franchise.

On its own merits, the movie is more bizarre than anything else. Essentially, this is Brett Ratner trying to prove he can handle serious material. For those of you unfamiliar with the behind-the-scenes mess that led to Last Stand, here's a synopsis: Bryan Singer made the first two X-Men movies for Fox, despite serious problems with the studio (they cut half a year of production from the first film, gave both ridiculously low budgets for their exposure, and held off on green-lighting the third despite the fact the second was immensely successful). Singer got a better offer from Warner Bros. to make Superman Returns, so he took off.

As soon as Singer left, Fox fast-tracked The Last Stand. They cycled through a handful of directors before setting on Brett Ratner, who was willing to agree to a release date before Superman Returns. They also killed Cyclops off screen in the first fifteen minutes of Last Stand, presumably in retaliation for the actor signing on as a supporting role in Singer's Superman.

Watching Ratner attempt to fill Singer's shoes is weird. He fails, of course, but damned if he doesn't give it his all. The movie is filled with numerous asides and sequences clearly intended to instill a sense of gravitas and drama to the story. The result is mostly just funny, but at least he put in the effort.

The best part of the movie is Magneto. Despite working with a moronic script, Ian McKellen manages to remain interesting: no small feat. There were a handful of other sequences I enjoyed: I still say the danger room Sentinel fight at the beginning is kind of fun.

I mentioned at the start that I left the theater mad, despite going in expecting the worst. The reason wasn't what was in the movie, so much as what was absent... namely, Phoenix. Setting aside the fact Ratner completely undercut the character's concept, he couldn't even give us the visual of Jean Grey manifesting the fiery form that was promised at the end of X-Men 2. More than anything else, that pissed me off. I wanted to see the Phoenix brought to life, even if it was in the middle of a bad movie. Ratner couldn't even give us that.

Fox threw more money at The Last Stand than they spent on the first two combined, and the result wasn't half as good as either. It derailed the franchise, which is only now recovering (thanks in no small part to Singer's return). That said, this often gets high placement on lists of the worst superhero movies ever made, and I think that's a stretch. This is bad, but I'd take it over Wolverine, either of the two recent Punisher movies, Blade Trinity, either of the Schumacher Batman movies, Barb Wire, The Spirit, and others. It's bad, but there's much worse.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Futures Market 2013

Another summer is almost upon us, which means another set of summer movies is on the way. It's become tradition around here to have a look at what's on the horizon and what it'll take for me to see them. As always, I could care less about anything that isn't geeky in nature, so we'll just be filtering those out.

Here's what's coming:

May 3

Iron Man 3
Projected Tomatometer: 87%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: NA - I'm seeing this movie

The first of Marvel's post-Avengers flicks is coming right up, and there's a lot to be encouraged by: the writer/director, Shane Black, might be the world's foremost authority on snappy dialogue, the footage we've seen looks fantastic, and we're finally getting the Mandarin in a movie. If there's one area of concern, it's that Black is largely inexperienced as a director - he's actually only made one previous movie, and it certainly wasn't a big budget feature. Granted, that movie was Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, a fantastic noir picture.

All signs point to this being great, but I'm trying to keep my expectations properly managed. Regardless of what critics say, I can't imagine I'll be anywhere else on opening weekend. I'm really looking forward to this one.

May 10

The Great Gatsby
Projected Tomatometer: 75%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Good word of mouth, bad weather

The trailer for this certainly piqued my interest. The fact it's directed by the same guy who made Moulin Rouge! doesn't hurt either. While that's hardly my favorite movie of all time, I have to admit to really enjoying the over-the-top style. If this can deliver an experience like that, I might have to check it out. Well, unless the weather's nice: then I might have to spend that time outside.

May 17

Star Trek Into Darkness
Projected Tomatometer: 88%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: NA - I'm seeing this movie

Ultimately, it doesn't matter what the critics - or anyone else, for that matter - says: there's no way my wife would let us skip this. Not that I'd want to. I really enjoyed J.J. Abrams's first installment. Sure, everything except the characters is closer to Star Wars than Star Trek, but who cares? It's a hell of a lot of fun, and the casting was just about perfect.

May 24

Projected Tomatometer: 45%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Tomatometer of 85%, Some Indication this isn't Crap

Some of the early imagery for this movie was incredibly promising, and elements of the premise - while certainly derivative - were pretty intriguing. But then the snails started talking in the trailers, and expectations plummeted. On top of everything else, this is being made by Chris Wedge, the guy who made Robots and Ice Age, so I'm not exactly anticipating greatness. The trailers for Robots also looked pretty, but it wound up one of the most disappointing experiences I've ever had at a theater: I want some guarantee this is better before I consider investing my time and money in what's almost certainly going to be another disappointment.

June 7

After Earth
Projected Tomatometer: 25%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Tomatometer of 80%, Good Word of Mouth, No Stupid Twist Ending

I'm actually bucking trends in predicting a Tomatometer of 25%: Shyamalan's movies have been following a fairly consistent trend of being 40% lower than his last film, which would give this a score of about 4%. But, at some point, you have to assume that Shyamalan will take steps to correct his downfall, even if it requires something drastic. Like, say, listening to other people's opinions.

The trailers for this look fine, but even The Last Airbender had decent trailers. My guess is that this will be pretentious SF fare that's a little better than his last four movies, but not good enough to matter. Maybe we'll all be pleasantly surprised, though.

Much Ado About Nothing
Projected Tomatometer: 92% (86% current)
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Eh. I'll probably wait for Netflix. But I'll hate myself for it.

I kind of love that Whedon's follow-up to The Avengers - the 3rd biggest movie ever made - was to film a black and white adaptation of a Shakespearean comedy in his backyard with his friends. The thing is, as much as I love Whedon's work, and as much as I love that this exists, movie tickets aren't cheap, and I can't see myself getting my money's worth.

If I hear this is really REALLY good, I might go see it, anyway, but... I don't know. As much as I want to support the guy, this really feels like something I should be watching from the comfort of my home through a streaming digital service I'm already paying for.

June 12

This is the End
Projected Tomatometer: 50%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Tomatometer 75% and Good Word of Mouth

I'm not sure what to make of this. There are some great sequences in the trailers, but there's also a lot of stuff that just seems stupid. I'm also baffled as to why there are so many comedies about the end of the world coming out this year.

If I hear that this is more than a loosely connected string of dirty jokes and self-deprecating humor, if there's actually a story here, then I might check it out. Otherwise, I'll just keep enjoying the trailers and assume I'm getting the best scenes, anyway.

June 14

Man of Steel
Projected Tomatometer: 70%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Whatever. It's Superman - I'll see it regardless.

The question here is whether Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan cancel out each other's flaws or magnify them. Snyder's a master of visuals, but he clearly never figured out how to tell a compelling story. Nolan's generally a good storyteller, but his movies lack the style a superhero flick requires. There's some potential for a great collaboration here, but I'm not entirely optimistic. The trailers have been mediocre so far. We've seen some cool moments, but very little suggesting either of these guys has much love for Superman's mythology.

This one's kind of a wildcard. But better or worse, I'll be there. It is Superman, after all.

June 21

World War Z
Projected Tomatometer: 50%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Good word of mouth.

I never read the book this is based on, but most of people who have seem to be saying the trailers look nothing like it. That's not usually a good sign (though there are exceptions). I think I'd be having flashbacks to I, Robot if there were anything memorable in that movie.

Monsters U
Projected Tomatometer: 90%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Better than 80% on the Tomatometer

So far, Monsters U looks pretty good. The trailers are funny, and the info they've leaked on the expanded world is cool. But Pixar's time as undisputed king of animation certainly seams to be waning, and it's hard to get excited about another sequel that doesn't rhyme with "The Bincredibles". That said, doing a prequel is a good way to go this time, and everything we've seen is promising. Still, I think everyone - probably even the folks at Pixar who must have greenlit this BEFORE Cars 2 came out - are wishing there was an original concept coming out of that studio this year instead.

July 3

Despicable Me 2
Projected Tomatometer: 72%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Score of 90% on Rotten Tomatoes, happen to see part one first.

I still haven't seen Despicable Me, despite having heard it's pretty good. Ultimately, neither movie looks great to me, though. If I start hearing this one's fantastic and part one appears on Netflix... well... maybe I'll give the series a chance. No promises, though.

Lone Ranger
Projected Tomatometer: 45%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: 80% or split decision with glowing positives

I'm kind of intrigued by the idea of a new Lone Ranger movie. The character was one of the most influential proto-superheroes, and it's a shame he's fallen out of favor (same goes for Zorro, The Shadow, The Phantom, and Green Hornet). But... there's not a lot of indication this is going to do the character justice. I actually liked the trailer for this when it first aired, but the more I watch it, the less I like it.

While I want the character to make a comeback, I'm just not seeing much indication this is going to be anything more than mediocre, and I'm sick of supporting mediocre movies. I'll be watching the Rotten Tomatoes when this opens, though: maybe it'll turn out better than it looks.

July 12

Pacific Rim
Projected Tomatometer: 88%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Anything better than 50% or a few good recommendations

A lot of people are in love with the footage that's out there; to be honest, I'm not one of them. I like what I've seen, but none of it really has me geeking out the way I do every time I see a trailer for Iron Man 3 or Star Trek. That said, I have a lot of faith in del Toro, and I am looking forward to seeing this. I love a good giant monster movie, and there aren't a lot out there.

July 19

Red 2
Projected Tomatometer: 64%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Good word of mouth and a chance to see part 1

Another case where I missed part one and haven't gotten around to it yet. I've heard it was decent, so long as you go in with modest expectations. If I get a chance, I'll try to see part one and decide if it's really worth going to see the second.

July 26

The Wolverine
Projected Tomatometer: 58%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: NA - I'll probably see it regardless. Then quite possibly regret it.

This is another wild card. The first Wolverine movie remains - in my humble opinion - the worst in the X-Men franchise (and, yes, that's counting X-Men 3). I get the impression the studio realized they'd released something abysmal, though, and has set out to correct their mistake. Going with a new director was a good step; getting Singer to produce it was even better. But is it enough? The footage we've seen so far has been pretty mediocre, though the same could be said about the First Class trailers, and that was awesome.

I'm keeping an open mind about this, but I'm not getting my hopes up yet.

August 2

300: Rise of an Empire
Projected Tomatometer: 18%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: A decent score on Rotten Tomatoes and good word of mouth

God, is that coming out this year? I liked 300 well enough as a ridiculous action movie, but I don't think anyone other than Frank Miller actually wants a sequel. Look, I like Frank Miller's work in the 80's as much as the next comic geek, but I'm pretty much over it now. His era is long gone, and it's been a long, long time since he was associated with anything good.

I know nothing about the director of this, other than the fact there isn't much to know. I suppose he could be some kind of genius, and the movie could be fantastic. If I hear that's the case, I'll be there opening weekend. But I'm certainly not holding my breath.

August 7

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters
Projected Tomatometer: 40%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Tomatometer above 90%

I didn't see the first of the Percy Jackson movies, nor did I have any interest in seeing the second. Then the trailer came out. Turns out, Nathan Fillion is in this one. The thing about Fillion is that he makes anything interesting. I'm pretty sure he's incapable of being filmed without doing something entertaining. Is that enough to make me rush out to the theater? Of course not. But it is enough to make me pay attention to the movie's reviews.

August 9

Projected Tomatometer: 45%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Tomatometer around 90%

This is a spin-off of a Pixar movie originally intended for a direct-to-DVD release that was upgraded to theatrical but is being released without the Pixar logo: that's probably not a good sign.

To be fair, Toy Story 2 was originally going to video, but that was done by Pixar. Actually, I'm unclear what "done by Pixar" really means these days. I've heard John Carter was originally going to be released with the Pixar branding before they switched it over to Disney (I wonder if it might have done better business with Pixar's name attached). Regardless, I can't help but suspect if Planes was anywhere near Pixar quality, it would have a Pixar label attached.

Also, the trailers look pretty bad.

Projected Tomatometer: 75%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Good word of mouth

District 9 was cool, but it certainly wasn't as intelligent as I'd hoped. Yeah, it was message-driven science fiction, but the actual story was pretty simplistic. It was also Blomkamp's first big budget movie (well, medium budget is probably more accurate, but he got his money's worth), so there's a good chance he's had some time to refine his writing skills.
I'm expecting this to be good, but I don't want to get my hopes up for anything more yet. Dark science-fiction is an easy genre to do well and a difficult one to do really well. My problem is I'm bored by the former. I give superheroes and adventure flicks more slack, I know, but that's how it is. The thing is, I love great SF: if this can deliver that experience, I'll be thrilled. But, like I said, I don't want to get my hopes up.

August 16

Kick-Ass 2
Projected Tomatometer: 60%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Good word of mouth from trustworthy sources (i.e.: people who didn't love the first one).

A lot of people loved Kick-Ass; I didn't. In fact, I felt completely underwhelmed and disappointed by the movie. But, to be fair, there were a couple extenuating circumstances. Kick-Ass was preceded by a large-scale online campaign featuring tons of footage. I think I saw at least half of the scenes with Hit Girl and Big Daddy before walking into the theater, so all I had left was the story, characters, and dialogue... none of which were really all that good.

Also, while I'm not overly squeamish, I don't really need to see people blown up in industrial microwaves or churned through car crushers. Just not my cup of tea. All that said, Hit Girl was an awesome character, and I am at least intrigued by the idea of another movie featuring her (Kick-Ass, on the other hand, I could take or leave). I'll see what people say and decide whether I want to see this in the theater or just wait for Netflix. Right now, I'm leaning towards the latter, but that could easily change.

August 23

The World's End
Projected Tomatometer: 91%
What it'll take to get me in the theater: Good word of mouth, good trailers, and/or good reviews. Really, just give me a reason to go, and I'm there.

This was a straightforward projection: both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz have a Tomatometer score of exactly 91%. While it's statistically unlikely the third collaboration will get the same score, imagine how embarrassing it be if I guessed something different and it got 91% again. I just can't take that chance.

There's not a lot of information out there about this yet. It's a buddy comedy occurring at the end of the world, which is a bizarrely common premise this year. I consider Shaun of the Dead absolutely brilliant and Hot Fuzz quite a bit of fun, so I'm certainly intrigued.

Honestly, I'm tempted to keep going: September opens with Riddick, the follow-up to the single greatest bad movie ever made. But there are a lot of geeky movies this fall. So, with that in mind, let's summarize May through August:

Movies I'm Going to See No Matter What:
Iron Man 3
Star Trek Into Darkness
Man of Steel

Movies I'll Almost Certainly See:
Pacific Rim
Monsters U
The Wolverine
The World's End

Could Go Either Way:
Kick-Ass 2
The Great Gatsby

Long Shots:
Everything else