Category Archives: Monday’s Movies

Monday Memes: Musing and Movies


Time to kick off the week with a couple of memes.  First up is Musing Mondays hosted by Books and A Beat.  This week’s open-ended question is:

Have you ever read a book after watching the movie/television version only to find that you don’t like the book as much as the adaptation?

For the most part, my literary side wants to read the book first (if possible) and then see the adapted version.   But there have been a few times I’ve seen the adaptation and gone back to the source material to find I didn’t like it as much.  One of these is Forrest Gump, a movie that took some of the good ideas from the book and created a far better movie.  The original novel doesn’t quite have the same heart that the movie does and I think it loses something in the translation. Continue reading


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Monday’s Movies: Catching Up


Thanks to my local library, I’m catching up on some movies I missed while they were in theaters.  Here are some (hopefully) short thoughts on some of what I’ve seen lately.

Terminator: Genisys

tgOne of the hallmarks of the Matt Smith era of Doctor Who was a heavy reliance on the implications and mechanics of time travel.   So it’s interesting to see Smith join the Terminator franchise in an entry that has a heavy reliance on the implications and mechanics of time travel.

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Movie Thoughts: “Scott Pilgrim vs the World”

I wanted to see Scott Pilgrim vs the World when it appeared in theaters last summer, but couldn’t.  It wasn’t lack of funding, time or interest but the fact that I hadn’t read the entire graphic novel series before the film left theaters.   That’s what I get for deciding to read an entire series of popular graphic novels from my library just as the film is coming out, I guess.

You can also blame my lack of seeing the film before now on my desire to read the graphic novels in order.  That makes things a bit trickier on the old library reserve list.

Earlier this year, I finally completed my quest to read the entire series and I, for the most part, enjoyed it.   The plot is essentially the same as the film, though like all good books there are some subplots and side stories that have to be left out.  For example, the book spends a lot of time with Scott trying to find a job so he can support his budding relationship with Ramona.

As for the movie, all I heard from friends and fans was that it was one of the best movies to hit theaters last year.  I heard a lot of despair that the film hadn’t been a bigger hit or found a larger audience, but there was a secret hope it’d become a cult favorite on home video.  Certainly, I’d not helped things by intended to see the film but never getting to the theater to do so.  So, I decided to help out by picking up the film on the Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack and then….having it sit on the shelf for months on end, mocking me.

OK, maybe it wasn’t mocking me so much as I find it harder to watch movies during times when most of my favorite shows are in full swing.  I understand that Blu-Rays and DVDs have this magical stop button and you can come back later to finish the movie up, but sometimes I just don’t take advantage of it like I should.

All of this brings me to last Friday when I finally decided it was time to stop procrastinating and cross Scott Pilgrim vs the World off my list of “movies I should have seen before now.”

And so, I popped the Blu-Ray into the player and sat back to enjoy the film. I’d seen isolated bits flipping by on HBO in recent weeks (I only got HBO to see Game of Thrones.  Once that’s over, my subscription will go away until season two), so I had some idea of what to expect.  But those isolated moments didn’t prepare me for the next two hours and what I saw and experienced.

There’s no such thing as a perfect movie, but Scott Pilgrim is pretty close.  First of all, let me say that the casting is, for the most part, spot on.   The movie does a great job in having characters look like they do on the printed page.  With the exception of Michael Cera, that is.  I’m not sure who I think is a better casting choice for Scott, but something about Cera struck me as not quite as perfect as it could have been.  I get that he’s the new low-key, sarcastic slacker actor and I loved him on Arrested Development.  I just don’t think he was the ideal choice here.

Visually, the movie is a treat and one that demands repeat viewings.  I’ve liked Edgar Wright for a while now but this one took him up three notches in my estimation.  The movie takes elements from the graphic novel and realizes them on-screen and keeps the video game sensibility that made the graphic novel work here.  Seeing various foes burst into coins when Scott defeats them was nicely done as was the superimposed animations used at various points in the film.  The movie has a wonderful pace that never slows down and the editing is superb.  The way Wright moves from one scene to the next feels like a comic book and the colors chosen for this world are spot-on superb.  Ramona’s constantly changing hair color is a nice touch as is the scene in which Knives has her dye job knocked out off her hair.

I started the movie figuring I’d watch the first bit and then come back to the rest later.  Not so much.  I was pulled in and stayed with the movie the entire two hour running time.  And as the final credits rolled, I wanted to loop back and start again.  For me, that’s the sign of a good anything–be it movie, book or television show.

It’s a movie I definitely plan to watch again, probably sooner rather than later.  I have a feeling I missed a lot of fun things the first time around.  And this looks like a movie that will only continue to grow on me the more I see it.  If you haven’t seen it yet, you should.  And if you, isn’t it time to see it again?

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Movie Monday: “The Karate Kid” (2010)

You realize you’re getting old when Hollywood begins remaking movies you saw as a teenager for a new generation.

The first time I saw the original “Karate Kid,” I thought it was one of the greatest movies I’d ever seen.  Six months later, renting it on VHS, it had paled a bit and was never quite the same.  I’ve caught bits and pieces of it on cable over the years and it has its moments.  Most of the charm of the first movie comes from the give and take of Daniel-san and Mr. Miyagi.

So, when I saw the trailers for a remake, I wasn’t quite sure.

Seeing the new version, I can say it’s a fairly faithful modernization of the original.   No surprises here if you’ve seen the first one, though moving the setting from California to China is an intriguing move.  Our hero is Dre, forced to move to China after the death of his father and his mother gets a new job there.  Dre crosses paths with some bullies on his first day in his new home, defending the honor of a cute girl.

Dre is beaten up and soon begins hiding from the bullies at his new school.   One afternoon Dre is following his tormentors at a distance and throws a bucket of dirty water on them.  This leads to them chasing him and beating him up, six on one.  Enter Mr. Han, the building maintenance man who drives off the attackers and takes Dre to their kung fu school to talk to the instructor.  Han agrees to allow Dre to fight, but only in the upcoming kung fu tournament.

If you’ve seen the original (or really any underdog sports movie ever made) you’ll know there aren’t any surprises here.   As I said before, what the movie’s success comes down to is the on-screen pairing of Han and Dre.  Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith have the right give and take to make it work, even in several scenes as we learn about Han’s inner struggle and pain .    There aren’t any scenes as memorable as “wax on, wax off” but visually this version has a lot more going for it with the backdrop of China.

I do wish Dre hadn’t had quite as much attitude as we see early on, but at least they try to have some character arc to it.  Neither this or the original will be mistaken as a classic, but both are fun in their own way.

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Monday’s Movie: “Avatar,” “Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs,” “The Hound of the Baskervilles” (1939)

It’s been a while since I did a “Monday’s Movie.”  I’m not sure if the meme is still active, but I’ll post anyway…

“Avatar” (2009)
Finally got around to seeing “Avatar” over the weekend.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want to see it, but it’s just been finding the time.

I’ve read a lot of places that James Cameron spent the better part of a decade waiting for the technology to catch up to what he wanted to do in “Avatar.”  Looking back, I wish he’d spent a bit more time working on the script and not having it be a retread of “Dances With Wolves.”

Cameron has created a movie that is visually stunning but lacks any depth when it comes to story or characters.  Every plot point is clearly telegraphed well in advance and the characters rarely grow beyond their original character description.   Within five minutes of meeting everyone, I knew pretty much how their story would work out and be resolved before the final frame unfolded.  It’s a shame really that a movie that looks this good can be so empty.  It’s the Lays potato chips of movies.

I’ve also read a lot about how some audience members have returned to the movie multiple times because the world of Pandora is so immersive and they want to feel like they’re a part of the culture created there.   Looking beyond the environmental message that Cameron beats you over the head with like a two-by-four, I was reminded a lot of my recent experience watching “The Invention of Lying.  Both movies, on some level, deal with the question of how human beings find a greater meaning and order to the universe and their lives beyond just themselves.  Where “Lying” was a satire and offered up the viewpoint that religion is based on a lie, “Avatar” seems to say that we find meaning from how we’re connected to the world and each other.  On Pandora, all things are connected and can interconnect, which is a fascinating concept if one that isn’t necessarily all that well explored or thought out.

But we do see some moments where the natives do have their own types of religious expression, related mostly to the natural environment of their world, and how that has a greater meaning for them.  They worship and find meaning from a mother earth figure, which plays into the final act of the film and serves more as a deus ex machina than offering anything substantive to say about Pandora, the characters or the story.

The movie has some opportunities that it really fails to explore, including the fact that in the real world, Jake is paralyzed but in his avatar body he’s able to use all his limbs.

There are some interesting ideas that could or should have been explored in a better script and story.  Unfortunately, “Avatar” ends up being all style with little substance.

And I’d say that, quite frankly, if you were looking for a better genre film to put up for best picture, “Star Trek” was far more deserving…

“Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs”
It was fun, it was breezy and it didn’t overstay its welcome.  Running just under 90 minutes, this animated feature is a real joy and I really enjoyed it.  I watched in on DVD and found myself amused the entire time.   It’s not “Up” but it still has a good heart.

“Hound of the Baskervilles” (1939)
The first pairing of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Holmes and Watson is a fairly faithful adaptation of the original novel.  The script does play up the red herrings as to who is behind the infamous hound and the story does seem to have a kind of gothic horror sensibility to it at times, esp. once the action shifts to the area surrounding Baskerville hall.   Interestingly, Rathbone doesn’t get top billing (the movie seems more a vehicle for the actor playing Sir Henry).

It’s been a while since I’ve seen any of the Rathbone and Bruce movies and I found the typical image we have of Bruce at Dr. Watson to both fit and not fit here.  Bruce, at times, seems a bit bungling or there in the role of a “Doctor Who” companion–around for Holmes to explain the plot to.  But here he has a more active role and despite one scene in the cave when he throws a tizzy about Holmes being out on the moor in disguise, his take on Watson works fairly well.

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Monday’s Movie — “Lakeview Terrace”


“Lakeview Terrace” (2008)

“Lakeview Terrace” is one of those movies that’s both fascinating and frustrating in just under two hours.  The first hour is a fascinating, character driven story that asks some interesting questions while the last forty-eight minutes or so quickly descend into something less satisfying and a film that takes the easy way out rather than offering any real or substantial answers to the questions raised in the first half.

Abel Turner is a widower, father of two children and a veteran L.A police officer.  Abel lives by a very strict code of conduct and is the type of person who sees right and wrong as absolutes.  For Abel, there are no shades of gray, as clearly evidenced in early scenes when he insists upon a certain code of conduct and behavoir by his children and showing him out on patrol as a police officer.  Abel lives in a nice neighborhood and is, at first pleased to see the house next door has sold and he has new neighbors.

Abel is clearly attracted to the young woman moving in next door, the newly married Lisa Mattheson.  Abel assumes that her father is her husband upon first glancing at them only to be less than happy when he finds out that her husband is Chris and that Chris and Lisa are an interracial couple.  Abel begins to harass the couple to show his displeasure in their being in the neighborhood–from refusing to move his flood light to not shine in their bedroom window to his refusal to allow his children to have anything to do with Chris and Lisa.  Chris and Lisa try to reach out to Abel with varying degrees of failure.  Abel comes to a party thrown by the couple and ends up aliennating the couple and their friends.  Abel is suspected of coming onto their property and slashing the tires of Chris’ cars (the car is parked in the garage when this happens).

Abel follows an agenda of passive-agressive harassment of the two and it quickly becomes cleary Abel has some problem with the couple that extends far beyond just Chris and Lisa.  Things aren’t helped with Chris and Lisa christen their outdoor pool where Abel’s two children can see what’s going on.

The early scenes show that Abel, who is African-American and played by Samuel L. Jackson, has a bias against white men.  His reaction to Chris and his reaction to a suspect underline this, as does his interaction with other male characters of other backgrounds.   It’s as this point that “Lakeview Terrace” raises some interesting questions for viewers to ponder, including how do you fight back against someone in power who has some kind of vendetta against you.   Abel clearly relishes his authority, at one point daring Lisa to call the police, saying he knows everyone on duty.

And Abel’s moments aren’t exactly helping Chris and Lisa’s marriage, since it’s established early on that the two each have secrets. Chris hides his smoking from Lisa and Lisa hides that she’s stopped taking her birth control from Chris.  If Abel is trying to break them up or get them to move, his plan could work, except the two seem to be too stubborn.  Or not willing to lose a lot of money on the home investment.  (A subplot of Lisa’s father wanting them to move back closer to her family goes largely unresolved, but does add some tension to the film).

So, where does it all go wrong?

Pretty much from the point we find out why Abel is so upset.  After Chris finds out Lisa is expecting, despite their “agreeing” its not the right time to start a family, Abel and Chris share a drink in a bar.  Abel reveals that three years ago, his wife was called in a car wreck with a white man driving.   Apparently his wife wasn’t at her office or job, but instead somewhere she shouldn’t have been with the man.  The implication is that she was having an affair or on her way to have an affair with this man.  Abel can’t imagine any other reason she’d be with the man, in the area of town of the wreck at the time of day it occurred.   Abel clearly has issues and is taking it out on Chris.

It’s at this point that some fascinating questions come up, such as was Abel this strict before the accident?  And was what Abel assumed was going on really going on?  Or was it his imagination?  Or is it part of his world-view and his own racial bias that is clearly established in the first half of the film.

Unfortunately, none of these questions is really answered in the second half of the film.  Abel is put on leave by the department over a lawsuit by a subject and slowly becomes more and more unwound.  He goes so far as to hire a man to break into Chris and Lisa’s house, trash the place and encourage them to leave.    It’s at this point the movie goes from one that is raising questions about racism to pretty much your standard pyscho thriller.  Abel is desparate to cover his tracks and that leads to, well, pretty much the ending you’d expect.  A subplot of California fires slowly threatening the homes comes into play here as their homes are threatened.

The final few minutes of the film are a bit over the top and overblown.  As I said, from the time we find out why Abel is so upset, the film takes a dramatic turn from a fascinating, compelling thriller into the area of being little more than your standard crazy person is threatening us story.  And the ending while it wraps things up in terms of eliminating the threat of Abel leaves far too many questions unanswered.   There are no easy answers to the questions raised, but it might be nice to see the film at least make some effort toward addressing them, rather than sweeping them under the rug.

Also of interest are the deleted scenes, that actually add some depth to Abel’s obsession and highlight his attraction to Lisa.  One in particular should have been left in, I think, if only because it helps add a different layer to the film.  One that the film really needs in its final hour.

I’m not going to not recommend this movie, but I will say I recommend it with reservations.  Don’t go in expecting a lot and you won’t be disappointed.


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Monday’s Movie

It’s not book-related, but it still looks like a fun meme.  I found this meme over at A Novel Menagerie and decided it looked like fun.  Plus, I actually sat down and watched a Netflix rental on DVD this past weekend….

Tropic Thunder

Starring:  Ben Stiller, Robert Downey, Jr., Jack Black
Directed by: Ben Stiller
Time: 2 hours, 1 minute (director’s cut DVD)
Rating: R
Studio: Dreamworks

Every time I see one of the new Hollywood comedies that everyone raves about, calling it the next big thing, I have to wonder–do I just not have a sense of humor any more?  Because nine times out of ten, these comedies have their amusing moments, but more often than not I fail to see the point or why everyone else thinks they’re so funny.  Cases in point: Anything with Will Farrell post “Anchorman,” most Adam Sandler films, “Napolean Dynomite” and now, “Tropic Thunder.”

“Tropic Thunder” is the latest in a long line of films in which Hollywood pokes fun at itself.   After blowing a huge scene and putting production of their war movie behind schedule and severely overbudget, a group of actors is dropped off in the wilderness, given a list of scenes and told that hidden cameras will be filming them.   Little do they know they’ve been dropped off inside the zone of a group of drug lords, who mistake them for DEA agents.  Basically, it’s the same premise as “Three Amigos” where you have a group of actors who think they’re playing while the bad guys are deadly serious and out to kill them.  Only difference is that “Three Amigos” was funnier and a bit broader in humor.

There are moments in “Tropic Thunder” that work well.  Tom Cruise is hilarious as the foul-mouthed Hollywood big-shot.  But when the real highlight of the film are the fake trailers that play before the movie, you know there’s a problem.  The cast is trying hard and there are some funny moments here.  But the movie goes for the throw jokes at the wall and see what sticks mentality that a lot of comedies seems to use these days.  And a lot of the jokes just don’t stick. 

The cast is solid, the movie looks and sounds great.  It’s just not as funny as it thinks it is. 

My rating: 2 bags of popcorn out of 5.


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