Saturday, May 31, 2014

Movie Review: Maleficent

I grew up watching Disney films and loving a good number of them. One of my favorites was Sleeping Beauty because of the visuals, the action scenes, and the brilliant villain. When I heard Disney was creating a live action version, I was pretty excited. The trailer looked excellent. But would the movie be?

Maleficent is a 2014 live-action, fantasy film based on the animated film Sleeping Beauty. It is rated PG and is appropriate for most ages but may be a little scary for the littlest ones.

The Good

Angelina Jolie. Angelina Jolie did an excellent job portraying the title character.

Recapturing the Original. In terms of visuals and a few key scenes,  Maleficent did a great job recreating the original. Angelina Jolie looked like Maleficient. Prince Phillip, the King, and the cursing scene looked like they did in the animated version.

Premise. The producers approached the story from an interesting place and gave the main characters a back story and motivation completely different from the original creating a whole new story.

King Stephan. The changes to King Stephan are really the crux of the whole story. While I didn't find the character likeable, it did create a whole new perspective, and the producers did an excellent job of showing how his choices affected everyone and everything else.

The Bad

The Visuals. One of the best parts of the original animated feature was the unique look and gorgeous visuals. It had a unique and distinct look. The live action version had a unique look, but it wasn't the beautiful, colorful, stylized version I fell in love with, which would have been okay if it had been something neat. Unfortunately, it was kind of a weird and somewhat creepy fantasy version that looked similar to other recent films.

Same Approach as Frozen. After watching this movie, I thought to myself, "Self, that movie was just like Frozen, only live action and without the music." It basically took the traditional fairy tale story and twisted the usual troupes: true love's kiss, love at first sight, making the heroes pursue their best interests instead of being purely good, and making the clearly wicked villain misunderstood. If I hadn't seen Frozen, I probably would have thought it was clever, but like most other people I had seen it.

Characters. This film took a film noir approach where no one is truly good or evil but flawed and make decisions based on what will benefit them most. It's the complete opposite of a fairy tale. It was a risky move that didn't work as well as it needed to.

Fairies. In the movie, the human world and the fairy world don't like each other. The three fairies come to Aurora's christening to try and bridge the gap. This was an interesting take, but it made handing over the newborn baby to the three to raise completely insane. Also, the three fairies were so annoying and didn't do any cool magic.

Music. The animated version had a memorable soundtrack. The live action film didn't. I missed that.

What I Would Like to Have Seen

I wish the producers had done something original instead of copying Frozen. I wish the visuals had been more exciting and not just strange. I wish the characters had been more likeable or at least more compelling. I wish there had been good and evil instead of a lot of moral ambiguity. I wish they had used the music from the animated film or composed a new score equally as memorable. I wish they either would have been true to the original or had gone further with changes instead of stopping in between.


This movie was entertaining, but it's not a classic. It had a really good premise, but the director just didn't exploit it to its fullest. The approach was almost identical to Frozen, which was great for one movie but not strong enough for two. So many things that made the animated version work were either changed or left out which was disappointing considering how well the few things they recreated so faithfully turned out. I wasn't in love with the film noir approach. I give this movie a 3 out of 5 boxes of popcorn. It's worth watching once, but you may want to wait for DVD, streaming, or even TV.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Movie Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past

While I'm a huge fan of superheroes and comic books, I've never gotten into X-Men, mainly because it's just a big soap opera at its best and heavy handed propaganda at its worst. Fortunately, the movies focus more on the story and character exploration and aren't as heavy handed with the preachy messages, although plenty of that jumps out in your face.

X-Men: Days of Future Past is a 2014 live action, science fiction, superhero movie rated PG-13 for violence, killing, nudity, language, and a few tense scenes. It's appropriate for teens and older. It is a continuation of the X-Men story seen in the previous six films.

The Good

The Story. The story was solid and the movie did not deviate or go off onto any unnecessary tangents. It was interesting, original, and true to the spirit of the comics and the previous films. It moved at a great pace never going too fast or too slow. Everything was explained well, but not overexplained.

Use of Characters. When I heard who was cast in the movie and which characters were being used, I was very worried that it would be a jumbled mess with too many character and too little screen time. Fortunately, the film focused on a handful of main characters and followed their story. Most of the other characters were still given a respectable amount of screen time and something important to do so they didn't feel like mere cameos. The two characters who did appear at the end as mere cameos only needed to show up for a few seconds to make their impact. A cast of characters this large could not have been handled better.

Ties to Previous Movies. When X-Men: First Class came out, I wondered if it was a relaunch of the franchise and would ignore all previous movies as so many others have (I'm pointing my finger at you Dark Knight and Amazing Spider-man). Fortunately, the previous six movies were all woven into this movie with their events being essential to this one and several clips shown as flashbacks. I really appreciated that. It made the story that much richer. And being a time travel story, they could believably undo parts of previous movies and did.

Character Development. I really enjoyed seeing the different sides of characters portrayed by two different actors at two different stages of their lives. You really got inside of their heads and understood what they were going thru. The only one who seemed short changed was young Magneto, but after all we saw of him in First Class, I don't know that we needed to see much more in this movie.

Ties to History. As with X-Men: First Class, this one ties into two major events in history, the Kennedy assassination and the end of the Vietnam War, and integrates its story seamlessly into those events without disrespecting what really happened and without requiring too great a stretch of the imagination.

Apocalypse. The next movie has been announced, so I'm not spoiling anything by saying the coda after the credits featuring Apocalypse was one of the most satisfying and meaningful teasers yet. I'm excited to see what they'll do with that movie.

The Bad

Charles Xavier's Change of Heart. One of the main themes and story lines revolved around Charles Xavier and his struggle to deal with what he considered his failures. I loved and appreciated everything about how he was portrayed, the stark contrast between young and old, and the journey he went thru. My only complaint (and it's a small one) is he seemed to come around and get out of his funk a little too quickly and easily. While that worked well to keep the film moving and the story going, I felt it was too little and cheapened his depression and struggle.

Special Effects. The special effects were very disappointing. The heavy use of cgi was average and looked like a video game. The live actors were obviously on wires and did little to make you believe otherwise. The special effects looked like they did in the previous films from a decade ago. While the movie was more about story than visuals, this is a comic book movie and the visuals are still very important. They really dropped the ball on bringing anything new or different to the table.

What I Would Like to Have Seen

 Sentinels. I'm not sure why they changed the design of the Sentinel robots from the Jack Kirby bots of the comics to a weird hybrid of the robots from iRobot and the Gamilions from Space Battleship Yamato. They used the original design in X-Men 3: The Last Stand, and it worked beautifully.

Special Effects/Action. As I stated earlier, the special effects and action look like they did in the first two X-Men movies. It's been a decade. Couldn't they have brought something new to the table and made a few leaps forward? They didn't need to reinvent the action movie, but at least one scene that had me going "Wow! That was so cool!" would have been appreciated.


Overall, I thought this movie was excellent. The story was solid, the acting was top notch, the use of characters was impressive, and the integration with the other movies couldn't have been better. I give this movie a solid 4.5 out of 5 boxes of popcorn.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Movie Review: Space Battleship Yamato

When I was in college, one of my roommates recommended Star Blazers to me knowing of my interest in anime. I had never heard of it, but eventually checked it out and loved it. It was an English dub of the Japanese anime Space Battleship Yamato. There were three 26-episode seasons and several animated movies in the franchise.

Space Battleship Yamato is a 2010 Japanese science fiction, action, adventure, live action film based on the 1974 anime series of the same name. It was recently released in English in a Blu Ray/DVD combo pack as both a dubbed and subtitled movie. It is rated PG-13 and is appropriate for teenagers and up due to language, violence, and death.

The Good

Special Effects. One of the main aspects the trailers and other promotional materials featured were the special effects. They were top notch and impressive, something one doesn't usually expect from live action Japanese productions that are famous for Power Ranger like battles scenes and creatures. The ships felt real, the space battles exciting, and the costumes top quality. The space jumps were well done. The dying Earth looked like they put some thought into it. The aliens were cool, unique, and threatening.

Action. The action was really exciting and intense, albeit a little short and repetitive. But for a Japanese film, it was much better than I was expecting. There were space battles between large ships, dog fights between single-man fighters, hand-to-hand combat, ground battles, and more.

Characters. The characters in the original series had a lot of personality and interaction. The actors cast in this live action adaption did an excellent job of capturing the spirit of the originals while still bringing something new to the table and presenting the characters in a way that worked for a live action movie. The acting for the most part was well done. (The captain was a little stodgy and the marine over the top, but not so much it ruined the movie.) The filmmakers devoted sufficient time to the interactions between major characters to really develop them, their back stories, and their relationships so that the viewer knew and cared about each and every one.

Faithfulness / Adaption. This film was a 2+ hour adaption of a 12+ hour anime series, so you know a lot of things had to be cut out. Too often it doesn't turn out well. But not with this movie. The choices made by the filmmakers were brilliant and wise. They selected the essential parts, themes, characters, and scenes from the anime that I didn't feel like I was being cheated out of anything. And they left everything unessential out to keep the story flowing and to avoid confusing nonfans with nonessential tidbits that would only distract from the story. The villains of the story were completely changed, but I wasn't annoyed, because they did it in a clever way that worked for this movie and the story they were telling. They still put in enough nods to the original (like Deslock/Dessler) that fans knew they weren't being shafted or ignored like so many other adaptions have done.

Story. The story was solid, clear, and flowed very linearly without a lot of side trips which really helped to keep the interest. At the same time, they cut the majority of the series out completely instead of trying to cram everything in a make a convoluted mess of the production, which I really appreciated.

The Bad

Japanese movie. This isn't a bad per se, but it is something American audiences will hold against the film. While this movie was much more western in feel and tone than most Japanese films, there is no question this was a Japanese film with a lot of Japanese cultural influences that a western audience would find boring or unnecessary. Some of the pacing and the way character emotions are portrayed may seem slow or strange to someone who doesn't watch a lot of Asian film.

Doctor. I'm not sure why they felt the need to turn the old doctor into a younger female doctor. It made no difference to the story, so why do it?

Captain. The Captain is a pretty cool character in the anime, but he is so reserved and stodgy in this adaption without his bad@$$ dialogue or actions. He could have been better developed and made more interesting, because honestly I didn't care that much when he died, and that should have been one of the most emotional scenes in the movie.

What I Would Like to Have Seen

I wish they hadn't made the ending so final. I won't spoil the ending, but the producers really didn't leave it open to a sequel, at least not with the same cast. You could easily adapt the other two series or any of the movies and make a whole series of movies.


Overall I thought this was a really entertaining movie with great visuals, a strong story,  enough content from the original anime to satisfy fans, but wasn't dependent on having any knowledge of the original series to enjoy so nonfans could enjoy it as well. For anyone who likes a good action flick, special effects flick, space opera flick, or science fiction flick, I'd highly recommend you pick this movie up. I give it a solid 4 out of 5 boxes of popcorn.

Friday, May 9, 2014

DVD Review - JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time

I grew up on SuperFriends, waking up each Saturday morning before 6:00 and watching the countdown until the viewing day began with a patriotic montage and the national anthem. I remember when SuperFriends went off the air for a year, and then came back as SuperPowers. I was so excited. After two more seasons it disappeared again forever. I kept hoping it would come back, but it never did.

And then in college Justice League debuted and I was excited thinking SuperFriends was back. Alas, it was not so. Justice League was a miserable failure until the end of the second season when it started to pick up, and by the fourth season (Justice League Unlimited Season 2) it came close to capturing the magic of SuperFriends.

Then I was in Target one day and saw the cover on the left and wondered what this was. I had heard nothing about it, and I keep my ear pretty close to the ground when it comes to superheroes.

JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time is a direct-to-video animated action, adventure, science fiction, superhero movie staring the Justice League (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman, and Robin). It was released as a Target exclusive for a few months before gaining a general release. It is appropriate for all ages.

The Good

SuperFriends is Back! After the disappointment of Justice League and DC Entertainments move to DC Original Animated Movies, I thought SuperFriends was gone forever. I'm so glad I was wrong. This movie had the classic heroes and villains we loved from the original series, the Hall of Justice, the Legion of Doom, a scientific fiction trope to drive the plot, and lots of action.

The Action. This movie opens with a giant brawl between the Justice League and the Legion of Doom, and has plenty more fight scenes before the story is over. The animation was well done with all the characters given a decent chunk of time to show what he or she can do.

The Cast of Characters. One of the things that was so fun about the original SuperFriends was seeing all of my favorite heroes and villains together, and being introduced to new ones. The producers didn't let me down. They included over a dozen heroes and villains and gave each a good chunk of screen time and opportunities to use their powers and abilities.

The Costume Designs. The character designs were very true to the original with a fun, modern twist to keep them fresh. While my preference would be for the classic looks, these stayed true enough to the originals that I actually kind of liked them.

The Bad

Robin. Robin was really annoying. They portrayed him as a bratty hyperactive kid with no self control. I suppose they were trying to make him edgy, but instead they made him unlikable.

Wonder Woman. I love Wonder Woman, but she is a hard character to get right. The producers of this show decided to go with the tough, fierce warrior instead of the kind, compassionate, strong woman that we fell in love with in the comics and Lynda Carter TV show. While she wasn't as angry and witchy as some interpretations, she wasn't as likeable as she could have been.

What I Would Like to Have Seen

I enjoyed seeing the SuperFriends back in action. I wish the movie had focused on them instead of the two new characters, Karate Kid and Dawnstar, and Lex Luthor. While they were interesting characters, I really miss the heroes I grew up with. Hopefully the next one will focus more on the old heroes.


Overall this was a very enjoyable movie with a lot of action, interesting character development, fun new costume designs, and a bit of a twist on the time travel trope. The movie has a good pace and while it is skewed for younger viewers, there is enough story and excitement to hold an older audiences attention. I give it 4 out of 5 boxes of popcorn.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-man 2

I've been a Spider-man fan for as long as I can remember. When I was little, I loved seeing the live-action adventures on The Electric Company with the cheesy animated webbing that I thought was the coolest thing in the world and all, and I loved his animated adventures on Spider-man and His Amazing Friends. The first comic book I ever bought when I began collecting comics was a Spider-man comic. So of course I was excited and had some pretty tall expectations. And I wasn't disappointed.

The Amazing Spider-man 2 is a 2014 action / adventure / comedy / romance / science fiction / superhero / comic book movie rated PG-13 and is appropriate for almost all ages. There are a few scenes of brief intense action and some killing that could disturb more sensitive children, so you may want to think twice about bringing the littlest ones. It is the second Spider-man movie in this franchise.

The Good

Comedy/Humor. Spider-man is well known for his wisecracking jokes and his fun loving nature, but so often the comics and their adaptions focus on the turmoil and angst he feels and neglect the fun and funny. This movie definitely had the angst, but it was also chuck full of jokes from start to finish. And these aren't your average jokes. Each one was so clever and so fresh that it kept you laughing thru most of the movie. And it had a great mix of visual gags and audible jokes. The movie would succeed on the strength of the jokes alone.

Peter Parker/Spider-man. I thought Andrew Garfield did a great job in the first movie, but in this one he is even better. He really sells the awkward teenager who isn't sure about anything. He also does an excellent job channeling the wisecracking, fun loving Spider-man we've grown to love from the comics and cartoons.

Gwen Stacey. I never liked this character in the comics or the cartoons, but Emma Stone has created a lovable character I really cared about. She has the right balance of being feminine and strong without ever becoming overbearing or witchy.

Chemistry/Romance. Whenever Peter and Gwen get together, you can feel the sparks whether they are flirting, fighting, or foiling super villains.

Harry Osborn. Harry has never been an interesting character in any incarnation (except for occasional moments in the first three Spider-man movies), but this version brought something completely new and wonderful to the table. The character was interesting. He had passion. You could feel his pain. You could totally empathize with what he was going thru and why he chose to do what he did. And yet he had heart. You could really feel the friendship between Harry and Peter. It felt real. It felt like there was history. I've never seen that before. The movie could have been just about him, and it would have been interesting.

Action. From the previews I was expecting to be blown away by the action, and I wasn't disappointed. The camera views were spectacular. The details such as Spider-man swinging from one side of the street to the other to the other running along the side of buildings were so nice. And the freeze time so Spider-man could analyze the situation was really well done and helped make the action understandable so we could truly enjoy all that was happening. Too often fight scenes are filmed in such a way to elicit strong emotion that they become confusing as to what's going on and we can't enjoy them. Not so here. I enjoyed every moment of every fight except for a couple of over the top stunts that looked like a video game. Much like Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier, this felt like I was watching a Todd McFarlane Spider-man comic come to life.

The Bad

Electro/Max Dillion. When I heard Electro would be the villain, I kind of groaned. He jsut isn't a strong character It's kind of fun to see him shoot electricity for a 20-page comic story, but after that he's kind of boring. And the producers did nothing to improve that for the movie. His origin was just as silly as the comic, which felt out of place when you consider how well thought out everything else was. Jamie Foxx played the character very flatly and unlikable with a cartoon version of a nerd for Max Dillion (kind of like all the villains in Joel Schumacher's Batman & Robin) and an emotionalless villain we care nothing about as Electro. The character's powers were played more like a weak version of Magneto not really taking advantage of what electricity can do. The special effects were weak. It looked like Electro was dangling from a wire when he floated, and the electricity just flew from his hands. There was nothing new or original about it. It looked like it had been taken straight out of a boring comic panel for panel. And the character did not fit in the plot, story, or themes. It really felt like a sideline or a second movie when he was on screen, because he did nothing to advance the main plot that anyone else couldn't have done. There are so many other villains to choose from that actually would have advanced the theme and message of the movie.

Ravencroft Doctor. Electro is sent to a prision for the criminally insane, and the doctor there brought back visions of Joel Schumacher's Batman & Robin with the over the top acting, cardboard cutout characters, and silly environments. Compared to how well cast and acted the other parts were, this really felt out of place and felt silly and unnecessary.

A Few Convenient Plot Twists. There were a few convenient plot twists, but they are forgivable considering how they helped keep the movie from lagging.

What I Would Like to Have Seen

A stronger villain than Electro.


Overall, this movie had me thoroughly entertained from start to finish and wanting more when the credits started to role. The action was spectacular, the comedy so funny, so clever, and so fresh, and the romance so compelling I can't wait to see the next one. The story was strong minus Electro and the Ravencroft doctor. I give it a solid 4.5 out of 5 boxes of popcorn.