Friday, November 17, 2017

Movie Review: Justice League (2017 film)

I love the classic DC Universe. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, The Green Lantern, and others are icons for a reason. I've been wanting to see a live action SuperFriends flick my whole life. I never understood why Christopher Reeves, Adam West, and Lynda Carter didn't team up. I'm not a fan of what DC has done to their characters over the last 15 years, so I was very nervous for this movie.

Justice League is a 2017 action superhero movie featuring Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, and other DC Comics characters. It is rated PG-13 for language and intense action and is appropriate for most ages.

The Good


Characters. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and The Flash were all well cast and fun to watch. I loved their interactions. The characters playing off each other and fighting together are the highlights of this film and what make it work.

Zach Snyder Visuals.
 Zack Snyder puts some amazing visuals in his movies, and this film is no exception. Some of the cityscape shots at the beginning with Batman hunting a Parademon looked like a painting come to life.

Action.
 This movie is an action movie, and there is some great action with all characters showing what they can do. It really looked like a comic book come to life.


The Bad


Villain. In the comics, Steppenwolf is a pretty cool hunter and general for Darkseid. Whoever came up with this version has obviously never read the comic. He's portrayed as some lumbering giant that spends the movie mindlessly destroying and conquering for no real reason.

Cyborg and Aquaman. Cyborg was annoying and Aquaman acted like he was high. Neither were interesting characters.

Story. This is an action movie, and the story is no deeper than that of a typical action movie or Saturday morning cartoon. As long as you don't think too hard about what's going on and just go with the flow, the gaping plot wholes and logical inconsistencies won't disrupt your enjoyment.

What I Would Like to Have Seen


I wish the filmmakers had chosen a really great story from the comics to adapt instead of coming up with their convoluted mess. I also wish they hadn't replaced real League members with Cyborg who works much better in the Teen Titans.


Overall


Justice League is an entertaining movie filled with some fun characters, great action, and many nice visuals. The characters' interactions and fighting together are the highlights that make this movie work. The story makes as much sense as a typical action movie or Saturday morning cartoon--as long as you don't think too hard about it and just go with the flow, the gaping plot wholes and logical inconsistencies won't disrupt your fun. I give this film 4 out of 5 boxes of popcorn.

    

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Movie Review - Thor: Ragnarok

I really enjoyed the first two Thor movies and felt they were two of the strongest entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (I know there are many of you out there with opinions to the contrary, but I think a couple of decades of time will change your opinions), and I loved The Incredible Hulk movie. So I really excited for the latest Thor film prominently featuring the Hulk. But would it live up to my expectations? Was I setting myself up for disappointment?

Thor: Ragnarok is a 2017 superhero, action, adventure film from Marvel Studios featuring characters by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby. It is rated PG-13 for language, some sexual jokes, and violence. It is appropriate for tweens and up.

The Good


Chris Hemsworth. Chris does a great job portraying the God of Thunder. He's very likable, serious when he needs to be serious, and is very powerful in this role demanding attention like a Norse god should.

Planet Hulk scenes. I enjoyed the Planet Hulk animated movie from a few years back, and thought the producers did a great job integrating that with Thor and making it feel like both stories belonged in the same movie. And the scenes were fun, entertaining, visually delightful, and funny. This was without question the best part of the film.


The Bad


Plot and Pacing. This movie was thin on story and dragged until they reached the Planet Hulk scenes.

Hela. The villainess Hela was supposed to be this all powerful goddess of death that couldn't be stopped. Instead she was this shallow, prancing, two-dimensional character that was all talk and very little action. She just wasn't strong enough to provide real menace, nor interesting enough to be memorable.

Special Effects. I'm not sure if it is the director, the producers, or the special effects houses dropping the ball, but this movie felt very cgi and very cheap video game like. The leaps, flying, and fighting all looked badly rendered and cheaply put together. It took away from the film.

Humor. This movie had the usual Marvel movie jokes, except they weren't that funny. Every one you saw coming, and none were impeccably delivered.

Music. This film had some good music, but there were several different styles that didn't mesh well together, and several of them didn't fit the mood or feel of the film. I found myself conciously noticing the music, which you should never do. It should seamlessly blend with the visuals and other audio for a complete experience that you don't notice.

End Credit Scene. I don't expect a lot from the end credit scenes these days. The early ones always revealed something cool, but lately they've been desperate. The end credit scene for Thor: Ragnarok scraped an all new low that makes bottom of the barrel look elevated. Don't waste your time sticking around for it.


What I Would Like to Have Seen


I would like to have seen more originality instead of following the Marvel Movie Formula so closely. Thor is a unique character with a unique backstory different than most superheroes that gives you options to break out of the Marvel Movie Mold and do something new. I also wish the villain had been stronger and that they had shown more Planet Hulk scenes.

Overall


Thor: Ragnarok is an entertaining film that continues the story began in earlier films and advances the characters and the story to the next chapter. The Planet Hulk scenes were so much fun and so entertaining and by far the best part of the film. The villainess Hela was weak and not a serious challenge. I give this movie 3.5 boxes of popcorn out of 5.

    

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Movie Review: Murder on the Orient Express (2017 film)

I am a huge fan of murder mysteries and the early Twentieth Century, so when I saw the trailer for this film, I said to myself, "Self, you should go see that."

Murder on the Orient Express is a 2017 murder mystery film based on the novel of the same name by Agatha Christie staring Hercule Poirot. It is rated PG-13 for mild violence and suspense and is appropriate for tweens and up.

The Good


Kenneth Branagh. Kenneth Branagh brought Poirot to life. He captured the brilliance and superior brain power of the character without making him unlikable or superhuman. I could watch another dozen movies with him in them.

Michelle Pfeiffer. Michelle Pfeiffer is one of the greatest actresses to walk the face of this planet. I don't know why she isn't staring in more films. She gave such a strong and varied performance that sent chills down my back and made me feel for her.

Art Direction. This is one of the most visually stunning films I have ever seen. From Istanbul to the steam locomotive, everything looked like a painting come to life. When I imagine the 30s or listen to old radio broadcasts or read pulp fiction from the early 20th Century, this is how I imagine it looks. The visuals alone make this movie worth watching.

Cinematography. This movie was beautifully shot with really well thought out camera angles, movements, and cuts. Watching this movie is like watching a master class in how to shoot a well-crafted film.

Music. The music did not feel old, yet it felt appropriate for the period. It was classic in that respect.


The Bad


Expected. If you've ever read the book or seen any of the earlier adaptions, you know who the killer is so there isn't the suspense or tension of most murder mysteries. Also, this film played out exactly how you expect it to, so that made it a little less interesting than it could have been.

What I Would Like to Have Seen


I with there had been more character development. The film was filled with very talented actors and actresses that didn't have the opportunity to show how great they were. Those that did get sufficient screen time really shined.


Overall


Murder on the Orient Express was a beautifully shot film filled with some of the best acting I've seen in years. The film is so well directed, constructed, and shot that watching it is basically a course in how to masterfully craft a movie. The story is pretty straight forward with the revelation of whodunit not much of a surprise. I give this movie 4 out of 5 boxes of popcorn.

    

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Blu-Ray/DVD Review - Cartoon Roots: Halloween Haunts

I am a huge fan of early film and early animation. I love how original and innovative they were. I love how surreal the stories are. Many people look back at Looney Tunes shorts from the 40s and 50s and say how clever and innovative they were, but really they were only copying what had been done for decades before.

Cartoon Roots: Halloween Haunts is a Blu-Ray/DVD anthology of short films from 1907 to 1948. All feature animation, and many feature live action mixed with animation. They are unrated and appropriate for most ages.

The Good


Restoration. Some of these films are 110 years old, so it is really incredible to see them looking this good. Considering the projection technology that existed when these were first created and shown, they may look better than they ever have. I really have to hand it to Tommy Jose Slathés' Cartoons on Film for preserving and presenting these treasures.

Innovation. One of my favorite things about early film is how creative and innovative the early filmmakers were. This was all new with no real precedents, and the animators were a lot of young kids with wild ideas, so they were really free to experiment and fail. I don't think we'll ever see such an era again.

History. Included with this set is a booklet with background information on the shorts that is fascinating and helps put them in perspective.

Three Felix the Cat Cartoons. I love Felix the Cat. His early cartoons are still some of the most original, fun, feisty, and original adventures I've ever seen or read. I think he could be a big hit today if a filmmaker would go back to his roots and make something that daring, bold, and irreverent. And we get THREE cartoons on this set. Granted, one is a mediocre color cartoon that lacked the feistiness of early shorts, but it was still fun.

The Bad


Mundane Selections. Not every film that has ever been made is a classic and deserves to be viewed or preserved. There are a few examples on this set.

No Real Special Features. This definitely targeted to a small and specific audience. While we love these old films and a beautiful presentation of them, we also love the story behind them. It's a shame there weren't more special features beyond a few newspaper clippings on the DVD and a small booklet with a little background information.

What I Would Like to Have Seen


Honestly, this set is everything I could hope for when I first saw it advertised. I've purchased several sets like this in the past and have always been disappointed in them. This one I was truly pleased with. My only minor gripe is a documentary about the films would have been nice. A lot of the work has already been done on the Cartoon Research website.

Overall


Cartoon Roots: Halloween Haunts is a true treat. The short films are beautifully restored. Most feature amazing, innovative techniques and original storytelling. And THREE Felix the Cat cartoons! Does it get better than that? I give it 4 out of 5 boxes of popcorn.

    

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Monday, October 23, 2017

Movie Review: Sully

I enjoy movies based on true events, but because it is a true event you know how it will end. This presents a challenge for filmmakers to create suspense, tension, and hold the audience's attention without the audience becoming bored. Sully succeeded marvelously.

Sully is a 2016 drama film based on the true story of a pilot who landed a commercial jet on the Hudson River and all passengers lived. by writing their name in it. It is rated PG-13 for language and is appropriate for teens and older.

The Good


Tension. Even though I knew what was going to happen, I was still at the edge of my seat during much of the movie wondering what was going to happen and whether they were going to make it.

Acting. The acting was all really well done. The characters made me feel like I was watching the actual event happen.

Cinematography/Special Effects. The visuals were really strong. It looked like I was actually sitting in New York watching the plane go down or sitting in the plane while it crashed. During the rescue scene, I felt like I was on the plane trying to get out and on the rescue boats heading to the Hudson to save lives.

The Bad


Story Structure. This movie is not told in a linear fashion but jumps around in time to try and show Sully's mental state and set up a question then show the answer. While I understand why they chose to go with this approach, it didn't add to the film. It actually detracted by breaking up the tension.

What I Would Like to Have Seen


I wish the filmmakers had opted for a more linear mode of storytelling. The drama was there. The questions were there and were obvious. The timeline of the story didn't need to be manipulated so much to make the point; the audience is smart enough to figure it out for ourselves. The pilot's concerns and mental state were obvious and clearly portrayed.

Overall

Sully was a great film that did an excellent job presenting real events and made the audience feel like it was actually happening and they were part of it. The filmmakers did an excellent job keeping the audience at the edge of their seats with incredible tension making us wonder whether the plane would make it or not even though we already know how it ended. The choice of nonlinear storytelling is the film's main weakness, and while I understand what the filmmakers were trying to achieve, it was unnecessary and didn't add. I give this film a solid 4.5 out of 5 boxes of popcorn.

     

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Friday, September 29, 2017

Book Review - All These Worlds: Bobiverse, Book 3 by Dennis E. Taylor



The first two books of the Bobiverse trilogy were so good, I was a little nervous the author wouldn't be able to maintain his momentum and deliver a strong finish. My worries were for naught.

All These Worlds: Bobiverse, Book 3 is science fiction, philosophical, space opera, adventure written by Dennis E. Taylor. It's available in all formats: eBooks, Audiobooks, and those paper things your grandparents used to read.

Overview


The "Bobs" continue to prepare to fight a Borg-like species determined to strip mine the galaxy while sending the remaining humans on Earth to other planets.

The Good


Ending an Epic. This book perfectly ended this massive epic by tying up all the loose ends, finishing all the subplots, and leaving the story at a point where a whole new epic could begin but doesn't have to. I felt very satisfied.

Philosophical Discussions/Dilemmas. While this is a science fiction story and space opera and includes a lot of cool scifi elements, the real story is about the nature of existence, identity, and the interactions of societies. This author does an excellent job of taking a well known scifi idea the readers will quickly be able to understand and be comfortable with and uses it to explore these philosophical and sociological ideas in great detail. Star Trek couldn't do any better.

Comedy. This book is filled with great humor and pop culture references.  For those who are into those, you won't be disappointed.

Ray Porter. Ray Porter may just well be the greatest reader ever. He is able to convey so much emotion without every going overboard or sounding over dramatic. He also reads so well that you feel like he is talking to you and not reading to you. The man can do no wrong.


The Bad


No Exposition. This story picks up right where the second novel ended with no exposition or explanation. This could be a problem for new readers. I know I've picked up books in the middle of a series and was grateful for the author at least briefly filling me in on what had come before.



What I Would Like to Have Seen


I wish this had been a little longer. While I felt all the stories were fully developed and loose ends tied up, the shortness of the novel just didn't feel sufficient to end such a dramatic and epic story.  



Overall


All These Worlds: Bobiverse, Book 3 is a fitting ending to a really enjoyable trilogy. 
It continues to explore the same philosophical discussions and comedic tones readers enjoyed in the first two books while bringing the story and subplots to a satisfying conclusion. I give it a solid 5 out of 5 eReaders.


     


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Friday, September 22, 2017

Book Review - Brave Companions: Portraits in History by David McCullough

History is so important. So many people and their contributions have been

Brave Companions: Portraits in History is a collection of short, historical writings by David McCullough. It's available as an eBook, audiobook, and those paper things your grandparents used to read.

The Good


Journey to the Top of the World. This tells the story of an early scientist and his journey thru South America. His name and contributions are mostly unknown today, and yet at the time he was one of the greatest living scientists making some of the most remarkable discoveries. This section is heavily science focused, but still interesting.

The American Adventure of Louis Agassiz. This is another mostly unknown scientist and educator today who was a major name in his day. He was a bit essentric, which makes his story a little more interesting.

Glory Days in Medora. This is the story of the creation of the myth of the Old West. It was a bit sad and melancholy but still fascinating.

Remington. This is the story of a western artist. I found it interesting, because I'm an artist and the author focused on the method and progression. But to a nonartist this will probably be seen as boring.

Steam Road to El Dorado. This is the story of the Panama Railroad. If you've read McCullough's Panama Canal book, then it's nearly the same story only shorter. But it is still interesting and worth the read.

The Builders. This was probably the most interesting the essays. It tells the story of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, and it is a fascinating story filled with drama, twists, and unbelievable events.

The Treasure from the Carpentry Shop. This is the story of the discovery of the plans for the Brooklyn Bridge and the unbelievable treasure of craftsmanship they were. The story itself is pretty mediocre, but it makes an excellent coda to the story of the Bridge itself, and for that I enjoyed it.

Long-Distance Vision. This tells the story of the writings of the early aviators of the 20th Century and makes several interesting observations, such as how no other group had similar literary aspirations or accomplishments. The author postulates that the factors which drove these individuals to fly during the experimental days of aviation are the same factors that causes one to write. I had heard of these pilots, but I had never heard of any of their books, but I plan to check them out.

Extraordinary Times. This was a really interesting look at the history of the world from 1936 to the present focusing on the political events while ignoring the cultural and technological changes. Despite the glaring omissions and prejudices for the best known events, he makes many excellent observations that I found insightful.

The Bad


The Unexpected Mrs. Stowe. This tells the story of the writing of Uncle Tom's Cabin. The name of the book and basic plot is well known, although the author and details of the writing are less so. I found this chapter so boring I actually hit skip halfway thru.


Cross the Blue Mountain.
 This is the meanderings of an author I've never heard of and have no intention of reading after hearing his story.


The Lonely War of a Good Angry Man. This is a rant against strip mining. Instead of presenting a logical case with facts, it really is little more than an angry rant of an angry man.

Miriam Rothschild. I have heard of this person, but the story was more strange than interesting. I was glad when it finally ended.

South of Kankakee: A Day with David Plowden. I love photography, and I found the ideas interesting, but the way it was told could have been so much better executed.

Washington on the Potomac. I learned a lot of interesting history from this, but it was sure a painful trip to get to it. It could have been more interestingly told.

Recommended Itinerary. The point this chapter made was excellent and one ever American needs to be aware of. I just wish it wasn't so painful to get thru.

Simon Willard's Clock. Like the last chapter, this one made excellent points. But again, I wish it hadn't been so painful to get thru.

What I Would Like to Have Seen

I wish the writing had been stronger. This was not up to David McCullough's usual standard, and I was very disappointed.

Overall

Brave Companions: Portraits in History by David McCullough is a mixed bag of essays and speeches he's written over many years. Most featured people I had never heard of, and a few I can see why. But others made significant contributions and should be better known. Some of the essays were very concise and fascinating while others meandered to uninteresting places. Overall, I give it 3.5 out of 5 eReaders.

   

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