Category Archives: movie reviews

Movie Thoughts: Without Reservations, The Shop Around the Corner

withoutreservationsOdds are that 1946’s Without Reservations isn’t on many cinema-philes list as a must see movie.

But any movie that features two of my favorite personalities of the “golden age of Hollywood” in Jack Benny and John Wayne is going to be put onto this cinema fan’s “must see” list.    Sure, Benny’s role is really nothing more than an uncredited cameo (Cary Grant gets one as well), but it’s still Benny and Wayne in a movie together (even though they don’t share any time on screen together!)

Without Reservations is not your typical John Wayne film.  Wayne has a firmly established on-screen persona and a lot of his roles are different shadings of the rugged, all-American alpha male figure.   And while I think Wayne is a better actor than others give him credit for,  Without Reservations isn’t exactly a showcase that is going to convince anyone to change their assessment of him.

Without Reservations is a romantic comedy with Wayne in the lead role, fully playing off his screen persona.  In many ways, it’s similar to what Arnold Schwartzenegger did in his roles in Twins and Kindergarten Cop.

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Movie Thoughts: The Horn Blows At Midnight

The Horn Blows at Midnight 

the-horn-blows-at-midnight-movie-poster-1945-1020197451Jack Benny got a lot of mileage out of this perceived cinematic failure on his radio and television series.  Listen to just about any episode after this movie was released and you’ll likely hear Benny or one of his ensemble quip about its failure (or perceived failure).  It’s referenced enough in the shows to make me curious to want to seek it out and see if it’s really as bad as everyone says it is.    I have vague memories of seeing it on VHS years ago and thinking it wasn’t nearly as terrible as Benny and his cast made it out to be.   But I couldn’t be sure so when it recently came in TCM’s rotation of films, I decided to give The Horn Blows at Midnight a second look.

And while it’s certainly no cinematic masterpiece, I think it’s a movie that isn’t nearly as terrible as it was made out to be on Benny’s programs.  But it’s not exactly a cinematic masterpiece either.  I feel like it’s in a similar vein as It’s A Wonderful Life — a movie that audiences weren’t quite ready to embrace in its initial release.

Like The Wizard of Oz, it’s a frame story with Benny’s character dreaming most of the movie’s main story.  The framing device is that Benny is a trumpet player in a late night orchestra who is lulled to sleep by the announcer’s soothing voice and text about how a certain brand of coffee can lull you off to sleep.  In the framing device, we see all the players who will come into the story during Benny’s dream sequence.    In his dream, Benny is a junior grade angel named Athanael who plays a trumpet in the heavenly orchestra.   His girlfriend pulls a few strings to get Benny the assignment to come to Earth and blow his horn at midnight, signaling the end of the world.   Benny has to meet the deadline or else risk becoming a fallen angel and spending all of eternity somewhere less pleasant. Continue reading

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Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

20140319151353!The_Amazing_Spiderman_2_posterCan a movie that runs close to two and a half hours be rushed?

If it’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2, you can certainly make the argument.

The second installment of the rebooted web slinger is jam packed full of spectacular action sequences and comic book continuity galore.   It’s also got three classic era Spidey foes taking on our favorite web-slinger on the silver screen, though all three don’t necessarily battle Spidey at the same time.   The film also sets the table for several other classic foes to make their way to the big-screen — either in the next two installments that are slated to come our way in the next four years or in the spin-off films.

And yet there were times throughout the movie that it all felt like all of these action sequences were disconnected that lacked the emotional core that set (at least) the first two Sam Raimi movies apart.

Part of it could also be that the film opens with a spectacular Spider-Man chase sequences, full of high flying antics, stunning visual effects and a Spider-Man movie finally getting the essentially quipiness of the character as close to perfect as you could want and it’s all (pretty much) downhill from there.    Director Mark Webb sets the bar so high in the first ten minutes of the movie that it feels like the rest of the movie is struggling to keep up.

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Movie Review: Thor: The Dark World

the-new-thor-the-dark-world-poster-looks-exactly-like-the-one-for-iron-man-3After setting such a high standard with its creative output, we all knew at some point that Marvel Studios would give us a dud.

Up to this point, the biggest creative misstep has been Iron Man 2, but even that one had things to recommend about it.   It looks like the second Iron Man has some company in the creative misstep column with the debut of Thor: The Dark World.

After being pleasantly surprised by the original Thor, I may have had my expectations a bit too high for the sequel.  There are a few moments of The Dark World that seem as if the movie is about to break out and really start humming on all cylinders.   Most of those moments involve Tom Hiddleston chewing scenery as Loki.

Part of the issue with the latest Thor offering is that it spends too much time in Asgard.  The first film was about bringing Thor into our world.  The Dark World seems to be concerned with opening up the more mythological side of Thor’s universe, with mixed results.   Again, any scene with Hiddleston as Loki, whether it be on our world or in Asgard simply hums and clicks on all cylinders.  Many of the scenes without him fall a bit flat.

Walking away from the movie, I couldn’t help but wonder if the plot required too much heavy lifting to set up future Marvel installments.  Years ago, Thor’s grandfather defeated the Dark Elves.  While it was reported that they were defeated and a super power called the Ether was destroyed, turns out it was merely stored away and the leader of the Dark Elves sent into exile.   Well, he’s had years to heal up and wouldn’t you know it, but Jane stumbles across and becomes possessed by the Ether. Thor brings her to Asgard to try and find a cure, which leads to an all attack on the city by the Dark Elves.   Thor is forced to do the unthinkable in order to protect Asgard and save Jane — join forces with Loki and try to lure the Dark Elves to the Dark World.

Part of the issue with The Dark World could be a transition in directors.   While Alan Taylor has done some solid work on Game of Thrones, he just doesn’t have the same zest and visual style that Kenneth Brannaugh brought to the first one. Brannaugh knew how to inject life into scenes of heavy dialogue and scenery chewing by his cast, thanks to his background in Shakespeare.  Taylor has a solid background in visual spectacle from Thrones and The Dark World is visually stunning.   However, it lacks some of the heart of the original or even The Avengers.

That’s not to say it’s a bad movie, per se.  It’s just a step back from the usual level of excellence that Marvel has achieved with its last several releases.

And it should come as no surprise that the movie requires you to stay for the entire closing credits.  There are two post-credits sequences.  So sit back, relax and mock those who foolishly leave a Marvel movie as soon as the credits begin to roll.

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Movie Review: Ender’s Game

enders_game_2013_movie-wideOrson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game is an entry point for many to the realm of science-fiction.   The acclaimed novel won the Hugo award when it was published in 1985 and many fans wondered for years when and if we’d ever get a movie version.

It took close to thirty years, but Hollywood has finally found a way to adapt Ender’s Game for the silver screen.

Part of the wait was allowing technology to catch up with Card’s imagination (and that of his readers) to fully render the universe of Ender Wiggin on the silver screen.  Another part was finding young actors who could help bring the characters to life on the silver screen.

That day has finally arrived as Ender’s Game hits theater this week.  And to answer the biggest burning question in many fans’ minds – yes, the movie was worth the wait.

Director and script writer Gavin Hood distills the novel down to its essential narrative points and hits all the high (and necessary) points.

Fifty years after humanity drove back a potential invasion at the hands of the Formics, Earth is still living in fear that the aliens may return for a second attempt.  The military is training children in the hopes of finding and grooming the ultimate tactician who can not only fend off another attack but also prevent any future invasion attempts.  Enter Ender Wiggin, the third child born into his family (population restrictions only allow for two) who just may be the long-awaited hope for Earth.

At least that’s what Colonel Hyrum Graff hopes when Ender is enlisted to the orbiting Battle School.  Young recruits are immersed in the history of the epic battle as well as put through intense competition in the Battle Room.  Ender is moved from team to team within the school, winning various battles and showing off his tactical skills as a leader and strategist.

The cast for the film is well chosen, from Harrison Ford’s work as Hyram Graff to Asa Butterfield’s work as Ender. Butterfield ably carries the film as Ender and proves to be an ideal choice for the iconic role.  Of course, it’s helped that he has an Oscar-nominated young actress in Hailee Stanfield as Petra to work with.  The rest of the young cast rises to the occasion as well and does solid work in the film.

Hill’s script wisely distills down a lot of what happens in the book into its essential narrative points.  The film charts Ender’s rise through the school as well as introducing us to most of the supporting character who will help Ender is his quest to defeat the Formics.   Fan favorites (and later expanded into their own novels) Petra and Bean are well served by the script, with Petra getting a solid amount of screen time and development.    (Bean isn’t so fortunate).

Visually stunning, Ender’s Game is one of those movies that demands to be seen on the big screen with a Dolby surround system backing it.   For the preview, the film was shown on an IMAX screen with the state-of-the-art sound system rumbling and enhancing every epic space battle and moments to its fullest, making you feel like you were immersed in the universe of Ender Wiggin.

And while there are a lot of epic battles and superbly rendered effects sequences, the film doesn’t forget some of the philosophical core of the original source material.  The film isn’t afraid to address some of the bigger questions raised by the original source material (I won’t say more because it would ruin several of the twists from the final hour or so of the film).  However, the movie does diminish the roles of Ender’s siblings Valentine and Peter a good deal as well as removing an entire subplot featuring these two characters.   (Maybe that’s something for the special features on the inevitable DVD and Blu-Ray release).

As a fan of the original source novel, I was pleased to see how well the big-screen version of Ender’s Game worked.  The film is not a perfect one, but it does a solid job of translating the main plotline of the novel to the screen.  My hope is that movie-goers seeing the movie may be intriguing enough to pick and up read the original source material and then want to move on to the (even better) sequel, Speaker for the Dead.

It took close to thirty years to get Ender’s Game on our screens.  And this adaptation proves to have been worth the wait.

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Movie Reviews: Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2

cloudy-with-a-chance-of-meatballs-2The original Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs was an unexpected pleasure – a bright, quirky animated movie that was a lot of fun and never overstayed its welcome.

The follow-up installment tries to recapture the zany spirit of the original but unfortunately it falls a bit short.

Picking up moments after the original ended, Cloudy 2 finds Flint accepting his dream job from childhood hero, Chester V.  Chester V had his own TV show that inspired the young Flint and now runs the scientific research corporation The Live Corp Company.

Turns out that Chester is less interested in any of Flint’s new ideas and more interested in gaining control of the Flint’s device from the first film, which is malfunctioning on their island home and creating sentient food.  Flint and his gang of friends from the first movie head to the island to try and shut it down.

Filled with lots of puns, Cloudy 2 doesn’t quite have the same spark the original film did.   Part of that stems from the fact that the movie doesn’t hide the fact that Chester V is a bad guy from the first time he appears on screen making it feel like we’re just marking time until Flint puts all the pieces together and quits alienating his friends and family.

As the movie developed, I found myself wishing the film would concentrate more on the rift the developed between Flint and his father, leading to his father taking a group of sentient pickles out fishing. (Turns out they both share a love of sardines).  This storyline leads to some nice moments in the end of the movie, but you may find that you want more from this and less silly puns of the names of food animals.

Large chunks of this film feel more like reheated leftovers than a fully satisfying new meal.

And while young viewers will probably eat the movie up (it’s visually spectacular), older audiences may find themselves checking their watches.

Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2 isn’t terrible and it was certainly a greater pleasure to watch than last year’s Sony Animation release of Hotel Transylvania.   But it didn’t quite live up to the fun of the original in the series.

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Movie Review: The Smurfs 2

smurfs-2-posterFans of the original Smurfs will probably eat up the Smurfs 2 like a bunch of Smurf-berries.   Detractors of the original will most likely want to lob the Smurf-berries at the screen.

The Smurfs 2 isn’t the worst movie I’ve seen this year (that distinction still goes to the Evil Dead reboot), but it certainly won’t make my top ten either.  It’s a pleasant enough way to spend ninety or so minutes, but the film must doesn’t’ work as well as other family-targeted summer fare like Despicable Me 2 or Monster’s University.

Thanks to the power of YouTube, Gargamel has become a world-famous magical act, packing in audiences across the globe.   There’s just one problem – his act’s magic is power by Smurf-essence and he’s running low.

In order to replenish is supply, Gargamel plots to kidnap Smurfette and force her to reveal the formula that turned her into a real Smurf at the end of the last movie.  His plan is helped by the fact that in their enthusiasm to plan a surprise party for her, the entire Smurf village has made Smurfette feel unappreciated.

He’s helped by his two grey-skinned “Naughties” who were created at the same time as Smurfette.  The trio bond and Gargamel seeks to exploit this to move forward his nefarious plot.

In order to rescue her, Papa Smurf, Clumsy, Vanity and Grouchy all head back to the real world (first New York, then Paris) to convince her to come back home again.

And hilarity ensues.

There’s nothing patently terrible about The Smurfs 2, but there’s nothing patently great about it either.

Of course, I say this having only had to see the movie once and not having children who will demand to watch it over and over again when the film eventually hits home theater.

There were a few amusing moments peppered throughout the script, most of them involving Azrael the cat being smarter than Gargamel.  The film’s theme about family is nicely done though a bit heavy-handed at times.

As I said before, not the best movie of the year, but certainly not the worst.

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