Friday, June 19, 2015

Movie Review: "Jurassic World" (2015)


RAWR!  Jurassic World just had the biggest domestic box office opening weekend EVER, and right now it's the hottest thing to smash into the planet since the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs.  This movie is the roaring, stomping, jungle-crushing behemoth of the season, and even if it can't recapture the sheer thrilling novelty of the iconic 1993 flick, it will do just fine for a mega-blockbuster popcorn flick for Summer 2015.  Really, how can you lose with Steven Spielberg as producer, the latest in eye-popping special effects, and a Goliath Franken-saur that treats other dinosaurs as chew toys, never mind 20,000 tourists?  

The movie does have its flaws.  Lots of them.  I didn't care.  I pretty much ignored them except for indulging a few eye rolls, because I had sprinted to the theatre for two things and two things only.  I raced there to see (A) Chris Pratt wrangle velociraptors (my all-time favorite dinosaur!), and (B) all kinds of other prehistoric critters wreak ridiculous amounts of bloody havoc by land, sea, and air.  In terms of those two basic requirements, Jurassic World delivered.  Everything else is distraction and detail.  

Friday Fun Video: Star Trek vs. Star Wars

Remember, though, that we've long been advised to look past our differences in order to team up against a true abomination.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

200 Years After Waterloo, "The Nearest Run Thing"

June 18, 1815: Napoleon back from exile versus a coalition force under England's Duke of Wellington and Prussia's Gebhard von Bl├╝cher.  It was Wellington, by the way, who supposedly called the victory "the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life."

There are all sorts of commemorations and related news items, but since I'm in a hurry today, I'll leave you with three that stood out to me:

Monday, June 15, 2015

800 Years of Magna Carta

June 15, 1215 at Runnymede: King John agreed to the terms of the Magna Carta and acknowledged that no one is above the law, not even the king.  The document has become a powerful symbol of liberty and resistance to the arbitrary - and therefore tyrannical - (ab)use of power by rulers.

The celebrations are in full swing!  Yes, bells and all!

Need a refresher about the Magna Carta?  Here is the text.  Here is a fun little video from the British Library. (Recognize the voice?  It's Terry Jones from Monty Python!)

Want more?  Take a look at the resources of the Magna Carta Project.  Go on a field trip to the US National Archives and visit one of the few remaining copies of the charter!

Monday Therapy: A Cappella "Jurassic Park"

In honor of Jurassic World's new release (and overwhelming dominance at the box office - RAWR!), here's a cool video to tide you over until I can write a movie review:

Lest we forget, John Williams is the man!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

A Tweet For Flag Day

I almost forgot!  June 14 is Flag Day. Of course the incomparable Iowahawk is on task:

Dave Grohl Turns Awesomeness Up to Eleven

I've posted about Foo Fighters' and Dave Grohl's awesomeness before, but this is of an entirely different magnitude. 

Come on, just look at the headline:"'I think I just broke my leg': Dave Grohl finishes show after Sweden stage plunge: Foo Fighters frontman returns to the stage in Gothenburg after treatment, completing the set with his bandaged leg propped up in front of him."  

Grohl is now an even bigger rock god whose badassery is clear to all.

Apparently he then told his worried fans, "I may not be able to walk or run but I can still play guitar and scream."

Here's a song in his honor:

Ave atque Vale: Sir Christopher Lee (1922-2015)

By now the sad news has flown across the Internet that iconic actor Christopher Lee has died at age 93.  Here is a proper British obituary, but I can think of no better way to honor the great polymath and Renaissance man than by pointing you to the fact that he received the honor of being hailed as Badass of the Week while he was still living.  Hail and farewell, sir!

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Movie Review: San Andreas (2015)


I can sum up this blockbuster action disaster flick in just one phrase: The Rock vs. the Fault.  Dwayne Johnson and the San Andreas, that is!  Johnson's established himself as an action movie star of the first order long before this flick, and he'll be one long after it.  That's good, because San Andreas is pretty much a huge, noisy, bombastic CGI cartoon of geological mayhem and mass urban destruction.  (Weather forecast: Cloudy with a chance of storage ship containers.)  I'd be lying, though, if I said that I wasn't stupidly entertained for 2 hours, because I was, and that's due almost entirely to the Rock's own irrepressible personal charisma.  Is the movie preposterous in a dozen different ways?  Yes, it is.  Did I have fun anyway?  Yes, I did.

Quote of the Day: Self-Debunking Middle East Policy?

My colleague Alessandra called this long ago: Obama's Middle East foreign policy debacles would induce the Saudis and Israelis to work more and more closely, even flat out openly, against Iran.  A common fear of a regional nuclear hegemon makes strange bedfellows?  Desperate times call for desperate measures.

There's also this observation (my emphasis in boldface):
Obama came into office convinced that U.S. influence in the Middle East, as well as regional stability, revolved around one problem: the plight of the Palestinians. Resolving their conflict with Israel was the president’s top foreign policy from his first day in office. His belief that the U.S. was too close to Israel and that by establishing more daylight between the two allies, he could help broker an end to the long war between Jews and Arabs. To accomplish that goal, he picked fights with Israel, undermined its diplomatic position, and did his best to pressure the Israelis into making concessions that would please the Palestinians. The failure of this policy was foreordained since the Palestinians are still unable to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

But the events of the past six years have also shown that his focus on the Palestinians as the source of the problem was a disastrous mistake. The Arab spring, civil war in Syria, the rise of ISIS, and the Iranian nuclear threat proved that the Palestinians had little or nothing to do with the most serious problems in the region. Indeed, by forcing Israel and the Saudis to cooperate against Iran with little attention being paid to the dead end peace process with the Palestinians, Obama has effectively debunked the core idea at the heart of his foreign policy.

Hello Kitty Monstrosity of the Day: Hello NYPD


The Cinema-Mad Sibling Recommends: "Kung Fury"

This awesomely lunatic, over-the-top homage to 80s cinema hit the Internet last week, and you really have to see it to believe it. 

BONUS: Music video tie-in starring a real 80s pop culture icon. Enjoy, my lovelies! 

Sunday, May 31, 2015

All Movie Reviews

Wow, now that I've put all my movie reviews together in one place, I'm thinking: Have I really written THAT many reviews?  That's not counting the movies I've seen that I didn't write reviews for because I was short on time!

For your entertainment, here are all my reviews organized alphabetically.  All grades are listed after the movie titles.  I've also linked this list to the right, so you can have easy access to the movie review archive.  By the way, I haven't gone back to check the embedded links in 8 years' worth of reviews, so there may be some instances of link death in older entries.

Current number of reviews:  108.
Updated most recently on June 19, 2015 with Jurassic World.

Movie Review: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Hell on Wheels.

Is this a movie or a really vivid hallucination?  Whatever else you want to say about Aussie filmmaker George Miller's return to the post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max, you can't say that he isn't committed. Miller is completely dedicated to turning his fever dream roaring into maniacal life with all the gonzo gusto and automotive mayhem you can imagine ... and then some.  The premise of the thing is pure B-movie fodder, but somehow - impossibly, even - Miller turns what is essentially (let's be real here) a two-hour-long desert car chase into a surprisingly entertaining, even occasionally substantive, story.  Bolstered by actual practical special effects, moments of Oscar-level cinematography (yes, you read that right), and a much-ballyhooed performance by Charlize Theron as a bald, war-painted, one-armed road warrior named Imperator Furiosa (I can't make this stuff up if I tried), Mad Max: Fury Road both is and isn't exactly what you expect from a movie with that name ... and you will love it for being so.

I'm not sure how much I can say about the movie without spoiling your experience of seeing it for the first time and getting Miller's unhinged imagination thrown right into your face.  No matter how familiar you are with the Mel Gibson Mad Max, you won't be fully prepared for this latest go-around in the savage burning wasteland.  Of course there's Max, played by the versatile Tom Hardy (how is he not already a superstar of epic proportions?), but in one of the most subversive moves of the entire film, Max isn't the protagonist.  He shares the spotlight with Theron's Furiosa when he ends up traveling with her on her desperate mission, and it is a testament to Miller's storytelling that this diminishes neither character but instead creates a bond of mutual respect that elevates them both.  These two damaged badasses don't have time for cliched kissyface nonsense, but you don't need it or even want it here: you want to see them howling ferociously through sand dunes and gas fumes in a deadly game of chase with the grotesque masked villain, the hilariously named Immortan Joe, and his army of painted minions (including - of all people - Nicholas Hoult, his usual beauty utterly obscured). 

I'll leave you with the best line I've yet read about this movie: "Mad Max: Fury Road is like the film adaptation of your favorite heavy metal album cover."

Mad Minerva gives Mad Max: Fury Road a grade of A-.  It's a masterpiece of genre filmmaking, a cult classic from the word go, and one hell of a thrill ride, but I can't see myself watching it very often.

Mad Max: Fury Road runs for 120 minutes and is rated R for intense violence, action sequences, disturbing images, and completely unhinged vehicular pandemonium.  

Rotten Tomatoes gives Mad Max: Fury Road the unbelievably Fresh rating of 98%.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Friday Fun Video: Doctor Who Does the Time Warp Again

Quote of the Day: Dan Drezner on FIFA

FIFA, that hive of scum and villainy (remember this?), deserves everything that it's getting and probably more.  All my soccer fan friends and I are watching with unadulterated, Schadenfreudelicious glee.  Here's a hilarious comment from foreign policy prof Dan Drezner:
We live in an age when foreign affairs pundits like to bemoan the crumbling of existing order and ponder whether the United States’ best days are in the past, when rising powers seem more comfortable throwing their weight around than the U.S. government. These are days when American scandals and dysfunction and economic stagnation seem to wrongfoot U.S. foreign policy aspirations at every opportunity. 
But then there are days when the United States is the greatest country in the world, because it makes stuff like this happen ...

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Movie Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

The IT Crowd.

I'll say this for the movie poster: It really was a WYSIWYG ad for the flick itself.  Think the poster is confusing and crowded?  So's the movie.  Avengers: Age of Ultron suffers from the Spider-Man 3 syndrome of shoehorning far too many characters old and new into the story, but unlike the disgraceful Spider-Man 3, the sequel to 2012's luminous and practically perfect Avengers is still worth watching.  I don't envy director Joss "God of the Nerds" Whedon his massive task in creating and then offering this follow-up to the same audiences that had adored Avengers.  The pressure to produce a worthy sequel must have been absolutely unimaginable, and I'm not going to complain (too much) that the movie cracks a little under that pressure, especially when I know that the studio's demands must have pushed Whedon's own creative liberty into a corner.  This brings up a host of other issues of various grades of nitpickery, but the short version of my review is this: flawed but still fun, Avengers: Age of Ultron kicks off the 2015 summer movie season in fine style ... and it's almost a certainty that I'll go see it again.  The Cinema-Mad Sibling thought Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) was a better follow-up film to the first Captain America (2011) than Age of Ultron is to Avengers.  Well, he's not wrong.

OK, I'm going to try to talk about the movie without spoiling it for everyone who hasn't it yet. (Once you have seen it, you can take a look at this and join the debate. All I'm going to say now is that Marvel should be careful.  Really, really careful.)  Three complaints, and then a few observations and one unqualified hoorah.

One: The crowding issue.  Yes, I get that Marvel wants to bring all the Avengers back together and give them a new adversary to fight.  I get that.  I also get that Marvel wants to introduce a few new characters.  The problem is that we end up with not enough time with any of the characters old OR new for character development.  This is compounded by the cameo appearances of a zillion other characters who have no real role in this movie but who show up anyway because they point you to other Marvel projects.  UGH.

Two: Joss apparently did not have the narrative room to BE JOSS.  The movie is so stuffed with characters and occurrences that it doesn't have nearly enough time for it, and by that I mean time for him to give us the witty banter and bickering that he's so good at ... and that is so good at character development.  Joss is really good at people standing around and talking ... arguing ... flirting ... hassling ... The witty retort, the sly verbal jab, the underplayed humor.  For a lot of Avengers: Age of Ultron, I couldn't even tell that it was a Joss Whedon movie.  That's not to say that the movie itself as spectacle wasn't entertaining.  I was entertained ... but it felt a little hollow because it didn't feel like Joss's project.

Three: Ultron was a missed opportunity for a couple of reasons.  One is that we really could have done more with Tony Stark and, to a lesser degree, Bruce Banner.  They were the ones who gave rise to Ultron, and I didn't think the movie did nearly enough with the emotional fallout of it.  There should have been.  There should have been TONS OF IT.  That would have been character development and a real meditation on how even the best-laid plans of well-meaning superhero science bros gang aft agley ... because that has some serious real world resonances in terms of tech and artificial intelligence getting out of hand and of protective measures that become themselves perils.  Road to hell, good intentions, anyone?  While we're at it, Ultron is voiced by none other than James Spader himself, an actor who has elevated smug superiority to a veritable art form, and we could have done so much more with that.

A few observations:
  •  Give us a Black Widow movie, and the fans will stampede to see it!  Shoot, even give us a backstory movie called Budapest based on one throwaway line from Avengers, and we will rush to get in line!
  • There's a lot going on in the movie, but if I'm going to be honest, I'll tell you that the party scene at Tony's is probably my favorite scene because it wasn't jammed full of CGI and special effects and whatever else: it's mostly about people being people.
  • Let me save you some time: There's a bonus scene in the middle of the credits but not one at the very end.  
  • If we hadn't already in previous movies grown to like and care about the individual Avengers as people, we wouldn't give a hoot about any of them in this movie.  That's not a compliment.  Losing sight of characters' humanity is a mortal sin that no amount of mammoth special effects wizardry can undo.  If we the audience don't care about the people, then we'll have no emotional stake in what happens to them. 
The unqualified hoorah: Paul Bettany is back on screen!   Here's the story behind that.   To be honest, I've had a soft spot for Bettany ever since he played Geoffrey Chaucer in A Knight's Tale (and he's terrific opposite Russell Crowe in Master and Commander).  As much as I love him being the elegantly starchy voice of JARVIS, I'm frankly delighted to see him on screen again.  Yes, I know he's been in some stinkers (*cough* Da Vinci Code! *cough*), but, hey, who hasn't?

Mad Minerva gives Avengers: Age of Ultron a grade of B+. 

Avengers: Age of Ultron runs 141 minutes and is rated PG-13 for various action sequences, a bit of language, and some suggestive comments.

Rotten Tomatoes gives
Avengers: Age of Ultron the Fresh rating of 74%.

Next up: I'm seeing the much-ballyhooed Mad Max: Fury Road. (Updated: Now online!)

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Quote of the Day: "Our Stock Arguments Are Lazy Stacks of Cliches"

A thoughtful liberal takes his fellows to task (as well he should, because he's totally correct).  Read the whole thing, but here's a piece of it:
Criticism of today’s progressives tends to use words like toxic, aggressive, sanctimonious, and hypocritical. I would not choose any of those. I would choose lazy. We are lazy as political thinkers and we are lazy as culture writers and we are lazy as movement builders. We ward off criticism of our own bad work by acting like that criticism is inherently anti-feminist or anti-progressive. We seem spoiled, which seems insane because everything is messed up and so many things are getting worse. I guess having a Democratic president just makes people feel complacent. Well, look: as a political movement we are in pathetic shape right now. We not only have no capacity to move people who don’t already share our worldview, we seem to have no interest in doing so. Our stock arguments are lazy stacks of cliches. We seem to want to confirm everything conservatives say about our inability to argue without calling other people racist. We can’t articulate why our vision of the future is better than the other side’s, and in fact many of us will tell you that it’s offensive to think that we have an obligation to educate others on that vision at all. We celebrate grassroots activist movements like Black Lives Matter, but we insult them by treating them as the same thing as hashtag campaigns, and we don’t build a broader left-wing political movement that could increase their likelihood of success. We spend all day, every day, luxuriating in how much better we are than other people, having convinced ourselves that the work of politics is always external, never internal. We have made politics synonymous with social competition. We’re a mess.
... One-liners don’t build a movement. Being clever doesn’t fix the world. Scoring points on Twitter doesn’t create justice. Jokes make nothing happen. We’re speeding for a brutal backlash and inevitable political destruction, if not in 2016 then 2018 or 2020. If you want to help avoid that, I suggest you invest less effort in trying to be the most clever person on the internet and more on being the hardest working person in real life. And stop mistaking yourself for the movement.
Via Mark Hemingway of the Weekly Standard, who also notes: "The Democratic party's complete ideological breakdown in favor of party leaders fragging each other would be an amusing spectacle if so many of America's imminent problems didn't depend on working together."

Friday, May 22, 2015

Friday Fun Video: Peter Dinklage Sings About Tyrion's Survivability

I'll say this much: Tyrion Lannister's outlasted many another character on Game of Thrones so far.  Furthermore, Peter Dinklage is absolutely fabulous.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Summer Reading? 100 Novels to Consider

How many have you read?  Like all lists of this kind, it's plenty arbitrary and subjective.

I must confess that I thought Joyce's Ulysses was a bloated behemoth and a hot mess that isn't worth your time.  I can be an insufferable masochist, and even I could not force myself to get past the first half of this miserable monstrosity.  If you want Joyce, do yourself a favor and read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Wuthering Heights is a bit of Gothic nonsense with two of the worst characters I've met in literature.  Heathcliff and Catherine are both terrible people, and they pretty much deserve each other.  There, I said it.  If you must read a Bronte, read Jane Eyre.

Read more Jane Austen, please.